Tyler Zarzeka: The Story of An Active Touring Drummer (Interview)

Tyler Zarzeka is an American touring drummer from Los Angeles, CA currently on the road with Taylor Grey opening up for mega-pop band Why Don’t We. His story is inspirational to all drummers.

The interview with Tyler is near the end of the article.

Late Beginnings

Zarzeka got his start in Northern California’s hardcore-emo/pop-punk scene. He wasn’t always a drummer, noting his late start at 17 years old.

In a podcast appearance on The Drum Shuffle, Tyler noted that his parents were reluctant to get him a drum set, instead, receiving a pair of sticks for his 16th birthday, which he played on his bed and binders for an entire year until earning his very first kit.

Immediately after getting his first drum set, he and his friends started a hard-core emo band called Second Session, which lasted for a few years. In that time he decided to take his first lessons.

Formal Lessons

His first drum instructor was the one and only Mike Johnston (mikeslessons.com).

At that time, Mike was just another teacher at the local drum shop Skip’s Music, not knowing that he would have the empire that Mike has since created for himself.

Mike taught Tyler the basics of rudiments, linear playing, and some reading in order to prepare him for Musicians Institute.

Grinding at Musicians Institute

Tyler entered MI with a positive attitude, despite being at a disadvantage to fellow drummers and musicians.

Most of his peers had begun studying and playing at a very young age. While in school, he worked extensively for two years straight, practicing in the early morning, before and after his classes, and before going to his job.

He studied closely with the late Bubba Bryant (Backstreet Boys, George Benson, Ronnie Laws) and Donny Gruendler (Kenny Burrell, John Medeski, D.J. Logic).

Despite his late start, Tyler graduated from MI with a BA and quickly booked a tour playing with pop singer Maren, touring overseas.

Touring and Becoming a Drum Tech

The tour with Maren was part of the AFE (Armed Forces Entertainment) for military personnel overseas covering Alaska, Hawaii, Japan, Malaysia, The Philippines, Diego Garcia, and Singapore.

After returning home, Tyler quit his day job at Best Buy and started working at Center Staging.

Center Staging is LA’s premier rehearsal and backline facility. This job would lead him to his work as a drum/backline tech.

His first tour as a drum tech was with Hanson, working with their drummer Zac Hanson. It wasn’t just Zac’s drums he had to care for, however. Tyler also teched keyboards and guitars on that tour.

During his stint of being a backline tech, Zarzeka had the pleasure of working for Aaron Spears (Usher), Eric Greene (Jay Z), Teddy Campbell and Gordon Campbell (American Idol Tour), Mike Reid (Demi Lovato), and many others.

One of his stand out moments was working with Aaron Spears (Usher). In the interview with DRUMHEAD, he notes teching around ten tours with Aaron all over the world.

He said that Aaron had a massive impact on him, showing him how to be happy and enjoy the work you do.

Back to the Drums

In 2014, after years of travel with various artists, he was ready to get back to the kit and give his drumming career a second chance. His first tour back was with artist Tiffany Houghton.

Since then, he’s had the honor of performing with artists like Charlie Puth, Cher Lloyd, Emblem 3, Noah Cyrus, Kiiara, AJ McLean, Bobi Andonov, and currently Taylor Grey.

Highlight TV appearances include Ellen, The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel, American Idol, The Late Late Show, The Today Show, and more.

His appearance on Ellen was with Charlie Puth, and it’s one of his favorite memories. His was able to fly his mother out to the studio and watch from the second row.

Ellen was/is her favorite show and meant the world for him to be able to include her in that part of his career. On top of Tyler’s success, he is always actively learning and studying.

He practices and takes lessons as often as he can when not traveling. Recently, Tyler has studied with American drummer Dave Elitch, best known for his work with The Mars Volta, M83, and Miley Cyrus.

Elitch’s most significant contribution to Tyler’s playing was his technique and posture.

Before working together, Tyler’s grip was closer to German with the hands pointed at a sharp 45-degree angle. His grip now resembles American grip, with the sticks following profile of the arm.

Drum Setups Vary

Depending on the artist Tyler is out with, he’ll change up the setup he uses. With Kiiara he uses a two snare, two tom setup (one up one down) with effect cymbals and a lot of electronics.

For Noah Cyrus, he had a much larger 2 snare, 4 tom setup (two up two down) with lots of cymbals.

His traditional go-to setup is two toms (one up one down), one snare and cymbals that complement whatever gig he is on.

Interview with Tyler Zarzeka

NC: “Tyler, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer some questions for DR! Looks like you’re heading up the east coast right about now! How’s the run going with Taylor Grey?”

TZ: “Thanks for having me! The tour is going great, small crew, but amazing people to work with. I actually only found out about this tour a week and a half ago. So it was scramble-mode for a hot second, but escaped unscathed. Thankfully I only had to learn a 20-minute set and not an 80…haha. “

NC: “Since you’ve been a touring drummer for several years now, are you finding tours and gigs easier to come by?”

TZ: “I’m noticing that the flow of being on the road is easier, but it’s never easy “finding” gigs. As much as I would like, I can’t make gigs just appear out of thin air. All I can do is be prepared mentally and physically and do the best job I can each time I perform.”

NC: “What do you find to be the most frustrating/challenging part about touring?”

TZ: “The hardest part is finding good local coffee shops. Haha!

Honestly, nothing much really, I love traveling so much. Airports and hotel rooms feel just as much like home to me.

Anytime at a venue is always a blast, so maybe staying away from catering and not gaining weight, that’s pretty tough.

This is what we signed up for right?! Might as well enjoy it.”

NC: “I understand you used to play in a hard-core band back in Sacramento. What was the catalyst that prompted you to take private lessons and move on from it?”

TZ: “I did! It consisted of my close friends at that time, our band was called Second Session and I was the weak link in the band (musically). The reason I wanted to take lessons was to not be the worst drummer on a bill. There were a lot of great bands around me at the time like Shop 11 Phoenix, Prescription, Facedown, and Yesterday’s Hero. I took lessons not with the intention of quitting my band, just to be better in my scene. I knew I was terrible… haha.”

NC: “I hate to ask since I’m sure you’ve gotten it a bunch, but how was the experience one on one with Mike Johnston. I’ve applied so many of his concepts and ideas to my playing, so I would imagine being in the same room would be very rewarding.”

TZ: “Haha, I never knew Mike would be the person he is today. Back then, he was just a drummer in a local band (Headrush) and taught drums at a little drum shop called Skip’s Music. He opened my eyes to so much; rudiments, linear playing, Latin, etc.

I used to get so nervous before going into a lesson, I had never seen a drummer do the things he was doing, It was life-changing. He’s still a good friend, and I even attended one of his drum camps last year (2018). I love learning from Mike, he’s one of the best teachers in this solar system. “

NC: “What can’t you live without on the road?”

TZ: “simple… Coffee!”

NC: “Are you still studying with Dave Elitch? According to your video interview with Vic Firth, he helped your grip considerably. I had a similar grip change a few years back and it feels much more comfortable.”

TZ: “I took several lessons with Dave about a year and a half ago. I will for sure be going back, he just gave me so much to work with that I’m good for quite some time. My hands have never felt better, I highly recommend his instructional DVD for anyone wanting to improve their technique.”

NC: “For all the aspiring touring drummers out there, what’s one piece of advice you can offer?”

TZ: “Play every gig as if it was your biggest. You never know who’s watching you from the audience or even other band members. That doesn’t mean play a local club as loud or hard as you would an arena, but the effort and passion will always shine through.”

Tyler’s Setup

Tyler Zarzeka Drum Setup

Shells – Q Drum Co. Mahogany

  • 22” x 16 Kick Drum
  • 10” x 8 Rack Tom
  • 13” x 9 Rack Tom
  • 16” x 16 Floor Tom
  • 18” x 16 Floor Tom Bottom head removed with custom mute ring on top
  • 14” x 7 Aluminum Plate Snare
  • 14” x 7 Brass Plate Snare with BFSD

Electronics

Zildjian Cymbals

  • 15” A New Beat Hi Hats
  • 10” A Custom EFX Splash
  • 22” K Ride
  • 18” A Custom Crash
  • 19” Constantinople Crash Ride
  • 20” K Custom Special Dry Ride
  • 16” EFX Crash staked with 14″ Trashformer

Heads & Hardware

  • DW 9000 Hardware
  • All Snares: Coated CS Dot
  • Toms: Clear Emperor
  • Kick: Clear P3

Tyler is currently out on the road with Taylor Grey with whydontwe from now until August 26, 2019.

Be sure to give him a follow at his socials below!

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