Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Ripple Conversation With Jason Hartless

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.    What have been your musical epiphany moments?

I have minor epiphany’s occasionally, but I think the biggest ones were when I discovered The Who and Toto. The raw, powerful energy that each member of The Who gave in each performance is something that I do not think will ever be matched. On top of each member being amazing musicians, they had the luxury of having one of the greatest composers in history as the guitar player in Pete Townsend. I had been familiar with The Who like most average rock listeners throughout most of my childhood, but one of the biggest epiphanies that I ever experienced was when I saw them live for the first time at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit in 2012. That tour they were playing all of Quadrophenia. I wasn’t very familiar with the record, I only knew the singles like “Love Reign o'er Me” and “The Real Me”. So, the first time I listened to the whole album was when I saw them perform it live and it blew my mind. It has been my favorite album of all time since. As for Toto, when I discovered them, it changed my outlook as a musician. In my opinion, there hasn’t been a band comprised of that level of musicians in the history of contemporary music. The fact that every member of that band collectively has played on something like 3,000 separate records as session players blows my mind. I aspire to model my outlook as a drummer after Jeff Porcaro, being the guy that can play in any situation no matter the style and genre. He was simply the best and I try to help continue his legacy by introducing his amazing work to other young up and coming musicians.

You're currently drumming for a legend, Ted Nugent.  How did that come about?  What's it like?   Did you pee yourself when you first got the call from him?

I was touring with a band called Pistol Day Parade from 2012-2015 and had some good commercial success in the Active Rock market. In 2014, when we were about to drop our lead single from our record, we booked a tour opening for Ted Nugent for 2 and a half months. So, I built a really good relationship with some of the crew members and connected with Ted's manager. Unfortunately, not long after the tour, the band imploded due to a few members deciding to quit touring just as we were on the verge of having a #1 hit single. In early 2016, I sent a few emails out looking for a tour to do that summer, one being sent to Ted’s manager. I got a call from Ted a few days later, auditioned and got the gig. Now, I am wrapping up my 3rd year touring with Ted and can’t be happier to play and work with a great group of guys.

At such a young age, you've amassed quite a resume of working with major established artists, like former Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner.  How did that gig come about, and how have you managed to get your name out their so widely?

I actually got recommend to do the Joe Lynn Turner gig by my bass player with Ted Nugent, Greg Smith. Greg had been in Rainbow in the 90s and used to work with Joe’s solo group in 90s and 00s as well. To save travel costs, Joe has a group of musicians all around the world that he calls to do certain dates. Over the past 2 years, I have done all of his Midwest US tour dates and have had a blast playing all of those Rainbow and Deep Purple classics.

Who has influenced you the most?

I have so many different musicians that I have been influenced by such as: Corky Laing, Jeff Porcaro, Buddy Rich, Todd Sucherman, Keith Moon, Zak Starkey, Bernie Dresel, Anton Fig, Eric Singer, Stewart Copeland, Mick Tucker, Steve Smith, and Vinnie Colaiuta. I have always had the outlook that you should be influenced by a ton of people, because you end up building a melting pot of styles to pull from in different situations. I have been lucky to have been able to been personally mentored by Corky Laing, Eric Singer, Tommy Clufetos, Anton Fig and Todd Sucherman.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

By always listening and discovering new music as well as new drummers. It allows me to pick up on different grooves and styles to be implemented into my playing.

You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?).  You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?

That’s a tough one, but I think it might be either “Baba o’Reily” by The Who or “Rosanna” by Toto. Both are masterpieces through and through.

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

Over the years, there have been so many hilarious stories from the road. One of the funniest was in 2009 when I was touring with Motley Crue with a support act. While we were driving from Portland, OR to San Bernardino, CA, the bus stopped off in a small road side stop in the middle of nowhere in Northern California. The only thing that was at that stop was an Outhouse and a hole in the ground to empty and fill tanks on the bus. It was an extremely hot day, so when our bus driver went to go dump the tanks, the guitar tech went with him to help. During this process, the guitar tech saw a water pump with a long hose sticking out of it, so being a hot day, he turned on the hose and started drinking the water. After the guy had taken a few swigs of the water, our band assistant yelled out the window and pointed to a sign that was above the water pump that contained skull and crossbones. Needless to say, the guitar tech freaked out and then proceeded to call his doctor and drinking straight rubbing alcohol. All was fine, but the running joke for the rest of the tour was that the guitar tech drank “crap” water.

Tell us about playing live and the live experience?

I have been performing live since such a young age that it has become second nature to me and because of that I never get nervous. I feel the same if I’m playing in front of 5 people or 35,000 people. Touring all over the world and playing shows is the greatest job in the world. Being able to travel parts of the world that I wouldn’t have never traveled to is one of the biggest perks to the job.

What makes a great song?

Simplicity, all of the best songs have 3-4 chords.

You recorded your first album as a mere child, how did that come about?

When I was 5, I started doing cover gigs around Detroit, playing tunes such as, “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain, “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, a few Alice Cooper tunes and a whole host of others. My dad ended up sending a video of me playing “Nantucket Sleighride” to my godfather Richie Scarlet, who was playing bass for Mountain at the time. Richie then showed the video to Mountain drummer Corky Laing. Corky called my dad up and expressed interest in working together on a record. From the time I was 7 to about 10 years old, Corky would drive to Detroit from Toronto and we would sit behind two drum kits, woodshed for hours and work on writing songs. That record was really an excuse to give me my first experience of working in the studio as a musician.

Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?

I am really stuck in the past and mainly listen to music from 40s-80s, but I really like the music that is currently coming out of Nashville in the Country Pop market. They are pumping out so many super simple but catchy tunes.

Tell us about the song that in your mind has the single greatest drumming?

That’s a really tough one that I don’t think I can answer. There are some unbelievable performances on so many records.

How have you avoided the temptations that normally come with a rock n roll lifestyle?

Growing up in this industry, I have seen so many extremely talented musicians throw their careers and lives away with drugs, alcohol and even egos. It’s just something that I have always had an awareness of, and have learned to deal with until it starts to affect my job that I have to do.

When not touring you're a student at Berklee College of Music and run your own label.  How do you keep it all balanced?   How do you stay focused?

I actually go to college full time, even when I am on the road. When I began my degree, I had 2 choices: quit my career for 4 years and move to Boston or study on Berklee’s online degree program. I choose the online route, so I am able to study while I am touring. Being a managing partner for Prudential Music Group has been such a great opportunity for my career as an industry executive because I have been given a lot of creative and business responsibility for the company. Being able to run a company, while I am studying the field, works out great for me to be able to use my current business situations in my class work.

How and why did the label start?   What's next on your label front?

The label has been around for a number of years under different brand names. When the company moved to Sony distribution in 2015, the brand was changed to Prudential Records. Since joining the company, we have built it into Prudential Music Group to be the umbrella parent company for Prudential Records and founded a vinyl focused label called, Rouge Records and also created Prudential Publishing to house the Prudential and Rouge publishing catalog. Rouge Records has really taken off quickly. Since founding the brand in fall of 2017, we have already released 7 releases and have 4 pending projects. The Rouge brand mainly focus’ on vinyl re-issues of music from 60s, 70s and 80s, and have recently started to sign a few local Detroit acts to give them a jump start with a vinyl product. Prudential Records has released a record by Paul Moran, who is the music director for Van Morrison, and signed up and coming Pop Country artist, Max Ater.

All The Best,
Jason Hartless
Touring/Session Drummer

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