Nate Morton, drummer for the house band of NBC TV’s THE VOICE, may be the most heard drummer these days. When you calculate the airings of the show & music downloads of these performances, Morton's talent reaches the ears of millions upon millions of fans on a daily basis. His career is far from a traditional one, as he readily admits, but the preparation he did was with the intention of proceeding forward in the standard template; bust your butt learning, attend prestigious musical school (Nate went to Berklee College of Music in Boston), make connections, audition, land huge gigs, and become a mainstay of the music scene. While his career has been and continues to be admired and inspiring to musicians and fans alike (Morton has toured with Paul Stanley of KISS, Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan, Poe, and others…including a 2002 performance at the Grammy’s with Madonna), it’s not what he mentally expected. Morton has graced the cover of the industry’s biggest magazines, is highly visible on both traditional and new media (his Drum Cam channel has a massive following/subscriber base), & balances performing/recording with established/respected artists as well as emerging new talent. In fact, he’s so busy that there is almost no time for the drum clinics that the companies which he endorses (Zildjian, Pearl, Remo, etc.) and his fan base clamor for. Hard work, talent, and tenacity paid off for this drummer who came to LA seeking a career in music. His career arc is so innovative that we asked Nate to give us some insight about what his life and perspective is in regards to how he came to be in this professional situation. As long as we were at it we thought we’d get a little insight as to how this success effects his day to day. In a discussion of time machines, the ideal adult beverage, and how drums and tennis share mental proclivities, Nate Morton communicates how he has manifested dreams into reality.
You're the new breed of TV drummers. In addition to guys like Questlove & others, you follow in the footsteps of Ed Shaughnessy, Vinnie Colauita, Terri Lyne Carington, and others. Who did you watch back in the day, who do you watch now, and what do you appreciate about them?
Nate Morton: He wasn’t exactly a “tv drummer” per se, but I’ve ALWAYS worshiped and adored Omar Hakim on so many levels. Obviously he’s an incredible player. Obviously he’s supremely versatile. Additionally, his “jazz fusion” resume with Weather Report garnered him much cred so his true musical ability was never questioned when he played with more rock or pop artists like Dire Straits, David Bowie or Madonna. He was ALWAYS my idol but then, when he was in the rhythm section on David Sanborn’s show (Night Music) that sealed the deal. In the way that generations of basketball kids grew up idolizing and wanting to be Kobe Bryant, Omar was that to me!
As for who I watch now; well, as an old man, I try to at least be informed about what the next gens are up to these days. Larnell Lewis and Louis Cole are cats I stalk on Youtube. Also of course, the icon Vinnie; he never ceases to amaze me. Chris Dave continues to be mind-altering, expanding, bending, & exploding. Every time I see/hear him, I’m always taken back to the first time I ever heard him when he swinging with Kenny Garrett... somewhere in Baltimore if memory serves.... I had NO idea what I was in for. That cat... wow... just wow!
You have kids. Do they appreciate the noteriety and success you've achieved or are you just as uncool to them as your non-famous friends are to their kids?
NM: HA. Okay, first of all…I’m not famous...let’s start there. My kids don’t care what I do as long as I pick up Jersey Mike’s on the way home. lol. I was recently “interviewed” by my fifteen- year-old Branden for a school project. The assignment was to interview someone about their career. I said, “So Branden... you’re interviewing me because what I do for a job is pretty cool right?” Without dropping a beat, he responded, “No. The project is due tomorrow and no one else was available.” lol. So yeah, clearly I’m REALLY cool! Haha.
You've been known to partake in a celebratory adult beverage to mark the occasion. What's your preference and why?
NM: A “fresh”... Caddy Margi.... Mmmm... Fresh squeezed lime juice, top shelf tequila, homemade simple syrup or organic agave nectar, a splash of fresh squeezed OJ... rocks, no salt... that’s my jam! Hmm... why you ask? Well... maybe on some level, because all the juices are fresh squeezed and the simple syrup is homemade, it’s almost... dare I say... HEALTHY... it’s practically a kale and spinach smoothie!
You love tennis. Gary Chaffee (former Berklee instructor) was known to give some students the book "The Inner Game of Tennis" for insight. What's the tennis connection for you?
NM: Whoa, there’s a fabulous left turn for ya! Gary never gave me that book, nor did he ever reference it. That said, Lauclan (my 11 year-old) is a tennis kid and yes, I draw frequent parallels between tennis and drumming. One clear similarity is the concept of an OCD commitment to repetition. As drummers, we can sit and focus on the motion of a proper single stroke or double stroke or kick drum strike without burying the beater. We might sit with our ride cymbal and spend hours for several weeks on end just playing a jazz ride pattern, subtlety adjusting and dialing in the way we attempt to capture the appropriate nuance. Similarly, a tennis player can’t hit one good forehand and call it a day; they must hit, ten, twenty, thirty, a hundred, two hundred, two thousand, five thousand forehands...every single time focusing their attention on technique and attention to detail. Tennis is not unique in this regard. The pursuit of excellence in numerous chosen pursuits requires a similar single-mindedness and focus on repetition and attention to detail. I believe it was the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden who said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, PERFECT practice makes perfect.” The parallels across numerous pursuits; musical, sporting and otherwise, are numerous.
You've played a lot of cover songs in your TV career; what's the one that you still look forward to playing and why?
NM: The first song that pops into my head is September by Earth, Wind, & Fire. I don’t really have an explanation, just for some reason that song NEVER gets old to me. It comes on the radio and I don’t immediately change the channel, I crank it!
Finish this sentence: If I had a million dollars I would________.
NM: ....be shocked because I have 6 kids!
The most influential drummer to me is ________, because _____.
NM: Animal from the Muppet show because he showed me that hyperactivity and/or being a “spaz” and/or being “challenging to educate”... and/or “having a mind of my own”... the reason given to my mom when I was expelled from Montessori school, didn’t have to necessarily be a bad thing.
The app I’m most ashamed of using constantly on my phone is _____, because______.
NM: I only ever use one app constantly and it is Words With Friends, but I would never be ashamed of it because I am a straight up NERD and I own that. #comfortableinmyskin
Whenever I talk and bore/frustrate other people I'm probably talking about_____.
NM: That’s easy. Tennis. Ha. I’m actually speaking to you from a hotel room in Palm Desert, Indian Wells to be exact, where I’ve travelled with my tennis kid Lauclan to the BNP Baripas Open Quarter finals. I enjoyed watching Fed & Venus today.
If you could speak to a ten-year-old Nate Morton via a time machine about how to better prepare for a career in music, what advice would you give young Nate?
NM: “better prepare myself?” I don’t know if I could have done more than I did to prepare. I put in a lot of work because I was driven. I guess I’d say to listen to as much music as possible and, given an opportunity, play as much as you possibly can with as many musicians as possible.
Check out “Funky Jazzy Stuff”, the new full length CD/download by Nate Morton and multi-instrumentalist Kenwood Anderson here:
Watch The Voice Live Finale episodes May 21 (part 1) and May 22 (part 2) on NBC.