Ty Kiernan Interview

Ty Kiernan Interview.

Damn, do I love Ocean Beach.  I wedged my SUV into the parking lot behind Hodads, and walked across Bacon street.  The sounds of a raging band spilled out into the cool air.  Soon after I saw Ty Kiernan coming across Bacon St. to join me.  Ty plays congas, percussion, chekere, and many other hand instruments.  He is a staple of the local music scene and has been for a long time.  We walked down Newport Ave and ducked into The Harp for a quick interview and few pints.

The Harp in Ocean Beach.

The Harp in Ocean Beach.

Chris Lougeay:  Hey Ty.  How are you man?

Ty Kiernan: I’m good. How about you?

Good! How was your trip to Thailand?

Fabulous. The most memorable moment was probably the people. They are so friendly.  It’s a simpler life, but the asthetics are amazing.  We were on the outskirts of Chiang Mai  for about a week.

Did you see any cool ethnic percussion while you were over there?

I did! I don’t know what the name of the drum was, but the Afro-Cuban equivalent is what’s called the Bata drum.  It’s a two headed drum and it sits in your lap.  I didn’t get to talk to the guys, but they were performing in the street fairs. 

Ty Kiernan conga soundcheck.

Ty Kiernan conga soundcheck.

Speaking of percussion, lets go back to the beginning, what got you started with hand percussion?

I think I reach a pinnacle on my kit drumming.

So you were a kit drummer first?

Yeah, and getting into jazz and funk, but I just didn’t put my mind into studying it.  I needed to get with a teacher and learn how to play jazz.  I didn’t have the energy, so I gave it up for about a year.  After about a year, I picked up the conga and never looked back. For me it was neat just to start to from scratch.  It opened up a whole new world.

What age was that?

I was 16 around that time.

Who were some of your favorite drummers when you were getting started?

Tony Thompson from The Power Station.  He played with Sheik and David Bowie. David Girabaldi, Dennis Chambers. … On the rock end, John Bonham.

Do you still play kit?

Nope. Only timbales, but not kit.

What attratced you to drums as oppsoed to other insturments.

You know man, I don’t know!  You just feel it.  It’s one of those strange things.  You just gravitate towards it. I just liked the sound of the drums. 

You studied with some heavy dudes, right?

The main guy was Mark Lamson. He teaches at state. (SDSU) Well known guy. He’s very recognizable becuase he’s a white, red headed guy, playing strictly Afro-Cuban stuff, studied in Cuba, transposed bata drumming.  The interesting thing about Lamson is that drumming is a religion for him.  I also took some lessons with Kiko Cornejo Sr.  You know, just the basics. 

Do you keep in touch with Lamson?

No, not really. I don’t see those guys anymore.  There was a split within the drumming communnity .

When? What happened?

Hmm, about 10 years. Yeah, around 2005, something like that.  There were drummers coming up from Brazil, and Lamson here in San Diego. And there was some sort of faction between those two… I don’t know what it was.  Half of the community went with Lamson and half went the guy, I think his name was Juan Carlos.  He used to teach a Brazilian Afro-Cuban drum class, and a dance class.  Once I got into bands playing the congas, I broke free from those classes and stuff.

You said Kiko showed you the “basics”.  What are the basics on the conga?

The first rhythm that you learn on the conga is called the tumbao. It’s the slaps, the open notes… without that can’t really play.  That’s the first basic rhythm that every conga player learns, then you get more complex.

Ty Kiernan plays Tumbao rhythm on congas.

Your current band, Soulside Players is blowing up.  Can you take me through how you got together and what you are striving for musically?

I’ll just give you first names, Derrick is the singer, Danny plays bass, Phil on drums, Todd on sax, and I’m drums.  You can check us out at Seven Grand, we’re doing repeated gigs there.  Were also on the web at Soulsideplayers.com.

What are you guys trying to do musically?

Funk, rock, blues.  I brought an Afro-Cuban influence to it.

That’s it?! Just music for music’s sake?

Yeah, that’s kind of it. It’s not real fancy. It’s just funk rock. people take to it real easy and get out on the dance floor quickly. There are some intense moments.

Are you guys doing that Sea World gig?

Yeah! We got it.  For sure playing this Sunday.

You and I were jamming the other night with John, any projects in the works with him?  (*John Shepard – Ty’s long time drummer and musical collaborator.)

Yeah, that’s John “The Animal” Shepard. We’ve been friends since high school.  We call him that because he plays the kit like a madman.  We both wanted to do a really nice sounding album that is diverse.  I pretty much called all the players in town that I could stand, that I’m friends with and like their playing.  So we have cumbia, boogaloo and some Scofield-ish stuff.

Ty, you’re home grown here in Southern California and have been active in the scene for your entire life.  How has the music scene changed over the last twenty years in San Diego?

The support is less.  We would get a pletorha of people coming down to our shows. We would pack places. It was friends.  Family.  It was friends of family and everyone loved coming out.  They loved supporting music. That was about ten years ago.

What was it?

We don’t know what it is.  The economy tanked, clubs not paying as much, people not coming out.  But whatever it may be the support for music has declined.  For me, I feel it’s not been as strong as it used to be.

Is live music, created by live musicians, still viable in the era of iTunes and laptop DJ’s?

It’s still viable, but it’s hard man. There was a time when competition with DJ’s was almost… you know, you might as well not do that.  They still book bands with DJ’s, because people will get up and start dancing.  But there are a lot of clubs that cater to live music that are doing well.  They have a natural draw. There are also a lot of clubs that you have to bring in at least forty people or they won’t bring you back again too… no matter how good you are.  That’s depressing.

Pay to play?

I’m not a fan, but if you can sell sixty tickets and pocket that money, you can make it work.  Most people are not a fan of it.  I’ve done it a couple of times.

What is your ideal set up for music.  Let’s say money isn’t an issue?

An all original, funk, jazz, blues, and latin thing.  It doesn’t have to be a tour.  Just locally packing the place. To me that is success. 

Copyright © 2015. C. Lougeay


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