Jason Hartless is a 23 year old drummer with a resume’ a 53 year old would be proud to have. A child prodigy, Jason started drumming at just six months (!) old, and by the age of eight had appeared on his first album with rock veterans Corky Laing (Mountain), Richie Scarlet (Ace Frehley), and Jim McCarty (Cactus, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels). Since then he has been mentored by drum legends such as Laing, Eric Singer, and Anton Fig.
Now a full fledged drum virtuoso, he has done numerous session work gigs and played with rock legends such as Joe Lynn Turner and Mitch Ryder. Jason is currently the drummer for the Motor City Madman himself, Ted Nugent. Like many exceptionally driven people, Jason is not content to “just” be a stellar musician. He attends Berklee College of Music where he is pursuing his Masters in Music Business and teaches drum clinics across the country.
I wanted to get some insight on the mindset of this young talent and get his take on the music biz and life in general. Jason provides some profound wisdom for an up and coming artist. He has always been on a path that takes many of us 40 or 50 years to arrive at. Read his interview here, and keep your ears and eyes open. You will be hearing more about Mr. Hartless in the years to come…
1. Going back to the beginning, how did your relationship with Corky Laing start?
When I was 5, I started doing cover gigs around Detroit, playing tunes such as, “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain, “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, a few Alice Coopertunes and a whole host of others. My dad ended up sending a video of me playing “Nantucket Sleighride” to my godfather Richie Scarlet, who was playing bass for Mountain at the time. Richie then showed the video to Mountain drummer Corky Laing. Corky called my dad up and expressed interest in working together on a record. From the time I was 7 to about 10 years old, Corky would drive to Detroit from Toronto and we would sit behind two drum kits, woodshed for hours and work on writing songs. That record was really an excuse to give me my first experience of working in the studio as a musician.
2. When drumming for legends like Joe Lynn Turner, you are filling the shoes of some great drummers that played those songs originally. Are there striking differences in styles you notice?
With Joe Lynn Turner, I had to learn the parts that were played by guys like Cozy Powell, Bobby Rondinelli and Ian Paice. Each of those guys have completely different styles and groove, so it makes it a really fun challenge to play my rendition of their style. I really like the challenge of studying a drummer’s style.
3. You are juggling your business, college, and touring dates. Do you get much practice these days other than on the stage?
Every time I play drums, I look at it that I am practicing and striving to be the best I can be. I usually don’t sit behind the kit and play along to songs unless it is something that I have to learn for a session or tour. However, I am always listening to music to learn and pick up different grooves and styles to implement into my playing.
4. What have you learned about song craft from working with Ted Nugent?
Well with Ted, I am not involved in the songwriting process. However, on the upcoming Ted Nugent record, it was very much like most session work that I do where I was able to create my own parts and interpret the music as I hear it.
5. A more obvious question, what have you learned about showmanship from Ted?
Even at 70 years old, seeing Ted is like seeing James Brown on steroids, it’s crazy high energy for an hour and a half. With that, he expects myself and the bass player to push out as much energy and insanity as he does every single gig.
6. Like Ted, you have a strong sense of self, and ideals about a healthy lifestyle. Was this part of the mutual attraction for playing with Nugent, or was it even a consideration (Meaning, was the decision solely based on music and career trajectory)?
Honestly, I don’t know that answer; but, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was something that crossed his mind when he was thinking about hiring me.
7. As a managing partner at Prudential Music Group, and as someone in their twenties do you see a revival in the new generation picking up instruments and playing “hands on” music?
I don’t think there has been a major drop in new musicians picking up instruments. However, I don’t think there really has been a major event that created a major boom in kids wanting to learn an instrument. The last major boom might have been when Guitar Hero and Rock Band came out in the mid-late 2000s. That being said, I am a music director at a School of Rock in Metro Detroit when I am not on the road, and we always have a real steady flow of young kids that want to learn an instrument and all come in with a large musical taste. So I think with the modern times of streaming music, kids are able to new discover so much easier, which then gets them interested in learning music.
8. You have had many iconic mentors in music. What is some of the best advice you have received?
Since a very young age, many people I looked up to have been told me to stay clean and sober. It has definitely been something that I have stick to my guns and proud to say that I have never smoked, done drugs or been drunk in my life. Growing up in this business, I have seen so many amazing musicians die or throw their careers away with drugs and alcohol, and I never want to follow that path.
9. Do you hope to strike out on your own at one point, do you see yourself as a music industry manager/player? What is your long term goal at this point?
I actually have no plans, nor any desire to start a solo project at this time. I love being the “hired gun” session & touring musician. Being a guy like Jeff Porcaro that can go from doing a jazz session, to touring with a rock band, to doing a Latin session is so much fun and keeps the job fresh. For example, I was on tour with Joe Lynn Turner in January of this year, after doing a gig in St. Louis with Joe, I flew home to Detroit to jump immediately into a big band jazz session with some of Bob Segar’s horn section for a Christmas album. That’s what makes this job so fun, being able to go from Classic Rock/Metal to Big Band Christmas music in less than 24 hours.
10. You seem to be an aggressive, hard hitting powerhouse on the kit. Do your favorite drummers tend to be guys like Carmine Appice and Bonham, or do you like more subtle textures like Stewart Copeland or Tony Williams? Is it a combination?
I try to be as much of a chameleon musician as possible, because the day that you label yourself as a rock musician or a jazz musician is the day that your gig potential is cut down exponentially. When I comes to my style, I try to study as many drummers as possible and learn their techniques so that I would be able to imitate if an artist or producer ever asks me to sound like a certain drummer on a track. Conventionally, I am more of a finesse player, but when a situation calls to be a bashing drummer, like with the Ted Nugent gig, I am able to do what the gig requires. However, when tracking the new Ted Nugent record, I treated the job very different than I do when playing with him live. Being a live musicians and being a studio musician come with many different aspects that should be separated in the right situation. I have so many different musicians that I have been influenced by such as: Corky Laing, Jeff Porcaro, Buddy Rich, Todd Sucherman, Keith Moon, Zak Starkey, Bernie Dresel, Anton Fig, Eric Singer, Stewart Copeland, Mick Tucker, Steve Smith, and Vinnie Colaiuta. I have always had the outlook that you should be influenced by a ton of people, because you end up building a melting pot of styles to pull from in different situations.
(Photos by Brown Photography)
Be sure to go to Jason’s official site to learn more:http://www.jasonhartless.com/