Becoming the Living Dead Drummer: An Interview with Nick Mason

Growing up, Nick Mason watched Joey Kramer, Lars Ulrich and John Tempesta absolutely shred as the drummers of Aerosmith, Metallica and White/Rob Zombie, respectively. When Mason began playing music in the early 1990s, these bands shaped his approach to song structure and sound.

As the early 2000s came along, Mason found A Perfect Circle’s Josh Freese and learned that not only was he the band’s drummer but he was featured on records for bands such as Evanescence and the Offspring. The same goes for Kenny Aronoff, who has made records and toured with Smashing Pumpkins, John Bon Jovi and Celine Dion. That was how Mason decided that he wanted the same with his drumming career.

Mason would go on to become known as the Living Dead Drummer and work alongside artists such as Street Drum Corps, TUFF, Shania Twain, Corey Feldman and Nik West. He has also made guest appearances on GLEE, MasterChef, Cartoon Network, Showtime, FOX and ABC, and has done corporate work with NIKE and Jameson Irish Whiskey.

With all these credits to his name, it might be a bit of a surprise that with any big decision came some apprehension.

I’m a creature of habit, especially when I find something that works,” he said. “Change can be a little difficult for me, so anything that could disrupt my routine causes me to think twice. While it’s hard to pull the trigger, I almost always do and rarely regret it… I feel that my instincts are also well tuned. I can’t think of any time where I said no to an opportunity and regretted it. If I say no to something I always find out later that I dodged a bullet.”

The same can be said for his teaching career. When he was a teenager, he thought it would be fun to get a job at a music store and applied to one near his home. He was told that they weren’t looking for anyone to work behind the counter but were in need of a drum teacher. He had only been playing for seven or eight years, and didn’t feel confident enough to take the position. Thankfully, this wouldn’t be the last teaching offer.

When he was a freshman in college, he found Grizanti Music and stopped by after class to check it out. He went with the same approach for asking to work behind the counter and was met with the same drum teacher offer. This time, he accepted.

He ended up working the sales floor selling instruments while building up his teaching practice and even crossed over into instrument repair before growing his teaching schedule and expanding into other stores and music schools in surrounding areas. Grizanti Music closed in 2005 and the owner, Mary Grizanti, passed away earlier this spring.

“[Grizanti] set me up with the teaching career I have today,” Mason said. “Because of her I found a passion I never knew I had and have been providing drum lessons for nearly 20 years.” 

Mason is currently the Senior Drum Instructor and Show Director of School of Rock in southern California. He tries to bring as much real-world experience to his lessons as possible and has found a way to tailor each lesson to the students’ playing levels, musical tastes and goals.

“Not everyone wants to be a rock star,” Mason said. “Not everyone is going to put the love and care into his or her instrument, and some are going to go above and beyond expectations. I’ve had to try and gauge that over the years and use it to tailor the lessons to the student. It’s a practice, so I’m always learning and growing from that.” 

Nick Mason not only continues to learn and grow with new experiences but gives equal opportunities to those interested in following his footsteps. As the Living Dead Drummer, his impressive career shows no signs of stopping.