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I came across some great youtube clips of Lester Estelle, this week’s SIS feature. The footage is from the sessions for Pillar’s latest album, For the Love of the Game. Lester played with Pillar for quite a few years, and For the Love of the Game was the last record he did with them. These are clips from the actual takes used on the album, with Lester giving some commentary on why he used the grooves and fills that he did…

Another week, another installment in the Studio Interview Series.  This week I’ve got a fellow Risen Drums player on tap… a ripping Kansas City drummer named Lester Estelle Jr.  Lester built his rep playing with KC rock band Pillar, and now he’s freelancing all over the US doing everything from hip-hop to country.  He’s most known for his chops, so before you read the interview, check out this video and you’ll get a feel for this guy’s relationship with the drumset…

(Me) Protools and digital recording… is it a good or bad thing for music? (Lester) There are pros and cons depending on who you talk to. Lots of different issues with this subject. To me, Protools or any other DAW is just a tool. Some people over do it, which may be understandable depending on the music. Tons of editing allows bad players to sound good which sucks for the guys who practice on getting better. The cool thing is, it’s allowed me to track from my home and email waves or session files to artists/producers, which is great. On the other hand, album budgets are down, studios are closing… people can’t afford to go to a “real” studio anymore.  So the magic that happens when tracking together with other players doesn’t happen. It’s a tough subject!

How do you handle producers/artists who have bad attitudes and are hard to work with? If you’re are hired for a session, your job is to give the artist/producer what they want (for ANY instrument). Do your best to find out what they’re after, ask for a reference tune, and have the gear to make that happen. That’s all you can do. If none of that is working I guess you can just leave and not get paid! LOL. You gotta be cool with producers especially, because that’s how you get called back for more sessions. People talk… word will get around about your attitude and your playing.

When is it ok to just cop somebody else’s ideas or go with the obvious stock option, and when do you push yourself to break new ground creatively? I’m sure this is different for everybody. Most of the sessions I get are to replace a drum loop or re-do a poor performance, so stock option is the key for that. It’s different when I’m tracking with other players, because you can create more… so if the artist/producer is cool with it, you can throw more of yourself and YOUR sound into their tunes.

What’s your opinion on being a renaissance man in your abilities and therefore risk being mediocre at lots of things, vs being real good at one thing and risk pigeon-holing yourself? If you’re wanting to be a session guy, you have got to be able to play all styles fairly well, because you want to be the go-to guy! All the “A-list” guys play every style. I saw Eddie Bayers (well-known country drummer in Nashville) the other day playing jazz and he was killing! Vinnie Colaiuta can go from Frank Zappa to Sting to Faith Hill etc… I could go on forever with him. There is a reason why guys like that stay busy!

How do you come up with grooves for a track? Do you have a method or system? This is where a reference tune is handy, especially if you’re tracking by yourself.  Or, if you’re tracking with other players, your bass player may have a good idea or something like that. There’s a certain magic that happens when you’re creating alongside good players. Drum loops can also help you come up with some cool stuff too.

How do you approach fills… strategically planned or just “feeling it” in the moment? Depends on the style of music.  In most sessions, for me, the fills are for taking everybody to the next part of the song (i.e., verse to the chorus or chorus to the bridge).

What’s your favorite snare for a wide-open rock sound? Any metal drum (brass, steel, bronze, etc…), OR any deep snare that can get loud!

Have you discovered any strange/unorthodox methods in getting cool tones? For me, some cool tones have come when I’m playing quiet. I wasn’t expecting it.  It’s amazing how huge the drums can sound when you play quiet. I’ve only done it on blues, some hip-hop, and some singer/songwriter stuff.

What are some of your favorite records that have influenced you a lot? These records changed the way I play…
DMB – Crash & Before These Crowed Streets (Carter Beauford)
D’Angelo – Voodoo (Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson)
Sting – Ten Summoners Tales & Mercury Falling (Vinnie Colaiuta)
Stevie Wonder – anything he played drums on!
John Mayer – Continuum (Steve Jordan)
James Brown – Anything! (Clyde Stubblefield, Jabo Starks, Melvin Parker)
Christian Scott – Rewind That (Thomas Pridgen)
Sevendust – Seasons (Morgan Rose)
Fred Hammond – anything (Marvin Mcquitty, Calvin Rodgers)
Israel Houghton – anything (Big Mike Clemons, Chris Coleman, Cledell King)
Incubus – Morning View (Jose Pasillas)
Lester’s myspace

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