Drummers to Watch: Joe Sturges

Contemporary drummer and composer, Joe Sturges, released his debut EP, Awareness, on April 2nd, 2020. Of the EP, he explains, “The main goal I wanted to achieve with this work was to show, with all honesty, who I am as a composer, performer, and person.”

Sturges explains that Awareness is inspired by the idea of enjoying and living the now. “A problem I face on the daily is reminiscing too much on things that happened, that should happen, or that could ́ve happened, and through writing these pieces I aimed to leave and encapsulate all of those memories and thoughts into the stories.”

Born and raised in Madrid in an English/Spanish household, Joe Sturges discovered his passion for drums at a very young age. Being self-taught and extremely disciplined Sturges managed to balance his undergraduate studies in Audiovisual Communications with constant practicing and performances at the different venues and jam sessions around the country.

After spending all of his musical career as a performer, Sturges came to terms with the fact that it was time to start telling his own stories, to show a bit of who Joe Sturges really is through his music.

From spending a lot of time practicing, Sturges developed a style that took from a wide variety of genres. Jazz, hip hop, classical music, OSTs and many more, he practiced to any sort of music that felt unique and took as much inspiration from all of this as possible.

Awareness is an example of all of these different influences. While having a clear “jazz” tone to it, the melodies and harmonies draw heavy influence from Romantic and Impressionistic composers, such as Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt or Debussy, and new composers that add a fresh point of view to this way of writing, such as Ryuichi Sakamoto or Joe Hisaishi.

While having some solos, the pieces are mostly short, with a clear narrative attached to them, where every note is written with a purpose.

Joe Sturges Portrait

Joe was kind enough to share with us some insight into his start with drumming and composition, along with the process of recording and releasing his debut EP.

Hi Joe, thanks for taking time to do an interview with Drumming Review!

Thank you!

Can you recall your first drumming memory? When did you get serious about playing the instrument along with composing music yourself?

Apparently my first experience with drumming was at age 4 or so, when I got my first drum kit as a Christmas present, and broke it after a week, but I don’t remember anything from it, my family always recalls it though. The first memories I can think of are banging on restaurant tables and such whenever music was on in the background, trying to emulate the rhythms and driving my family crazy. 

I started really getting serious and practicing on the kit at age 12-13, which is when I began practicing an hour or a couple of hours daily. As far as composing it wasn’t too long ago. Maybe four years ago, when I turned 20, after learning a bit of music theory, piano, and many years of drumming I felt it was the right moment for me to start writing my own music, I felt the need to begin sharing my own thoughts.

Who are some of the “greats” who have inspired you as a musician, drummer, and composer?

I usually listen to a lot of Chopin, Debussy, or Ryuichi Sakamoto for inspiration. Some other composers I feel very attached to I discovered from other media, like films and videogames, with composers like Howard Shore, Koji Kondo, and Joe Hisaishi.

As far as drummers I always look up to Mark Guiliana, Nate Smith, Steve Jordan or Ian Chang, I feel they are explorers of the instrument, driving it in new directions. 

Joe Sturges Behind The Kit

What is your compositional process like? Do you first start at the piano alone, or work with other musicians during the entire process? Or maybe some other way?

I start with the piano, yes. In general, I do the whole process alone, and then bring in the musicians to revise their parts or go over the sections. It´s a fairly straightforward process, though I still can’t manage to crack the code on how to do it efficiently.

It sometimes takes me weeks and other sometimes months to finish a composition. One thing that I have to always know is the meaning or the “why” I’m writing that song in particular, in order to finish it. If I don´t know why I’m writing it, I can’t finish it. But apart from that, it’s piano all the way until the general structure is finished, and then I polish the arrangement and different parts.

Joe Sturges Awareness EP Album Cover

How was the process of releasing your debut EP “Awareness”? Are there any moments that stuck out to you during the writing/tracking/mixing process? Jazztone Studios looks (and sounds) beautiful based on the video from “Summer” and the rest of the EP.

The process was very humbling and inspiring for me. Before writing the EP, recording and releasing my own music felt very distant, but it’s just about putting in the time. Things start taking shape and eventually all the songs come together.

Rehearsals really stuck out for me. Even though being in the studio and hearing the first mixes and masters of the songs felt surreal, rehearsing the songs after just hearing them through my computer, or looking at them on paper, and then hearing them with actual instruments and actual people was definitely a very important moment.

Jazztone Studios is an incredible place, Sebastian Laverde is an extremely kind man, a good friend of mine, and makes that space very inspiring to work at.

Near a Cherry Tree caught my attention immediately. I love the unison section playing the syncopations in 5. Is there a tip you can give up-and-coming drummers for learning and understanding complicated meters?

 I think it’s all about the melody, and relating it to the music. Western music is based around four most of the time, but it’s just because of being constantly given songs around that meter that we feel so comfortable in it.

Trying to learn about different cultures, their music, and WHY they write in 5, 7, 11, and such, helps when trying to internalize the different pulses, but at the end of the day, for me it’s just about relating it to the melody, the music, and the bigger picture. Instead of thinking about the pulse or the subdivisions, I try to make it sound natural, and things come much easier then.

What was it like studying at the Berklee College of Music? I know a lot of drummers dream of attending (I know I did at one point)

 I loved the experience and owe a lot to the friends I made there. It was just one year of graduate studies, I cannot relate to the big four years and more that people do when in an undergrad of music, but for me that year was all about the friends I made, and the music and lessons I got from them. Music is about culture, communication and sharing, and when you are in the same building creating with people from all over the world, you learn a lot. 

It’s true though that I think music universities, and art universities in general are highly overrated. They are extremely costly a lot of times, and an immense amount of the development for artists comes from introspective practice and time spent on your own. People think art grad school or art colleges give you a shortcut to personal development a lot of times, and that’s definitely not true.

Are you already in the process of working on new music now? What do you see happening in the near future?

Yes! I’m currently working on a couple of individual tracks I will release probably next autumn or so. I´m very happy with how they are turning out, and excited to see what they’ll turn into in the coming months.

As far as the future, who knows nowadays really, everything is so in the air it’s a bit unnerving to think about for too long. As of now, I´m focusing on creating as much as I can, and hopefully, things will start falling into place again.

Nick Cesarz

Nick is a drummer, percussionist, and blogger from Milwaukee, WI. He toured extensively with Vinyl Theatre, opening up for acts like twenty one pilots, Panic! at the Disco, and more. Now no longer touring, his passion lies in gear and playing the kit as much as time allows.

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