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Published: 2016/06/29
by Larson Sutton

Steve DiStanislao on David Gilmour, Chris Robinson and the Night Train Music Club

Steve DiStanislao, or Stevie D., is a go-to guy. The versatile drummer currently holds down the beat for David Gilmour, working on the Pink Floyd guitarist’s last two solo albums and world tours. Yet, DiStanislao is just as likely to turn up at a club on a random weeknight, playing with friends, old and brand new, or jumping on the bus for a summer with Chris Robinson’s New Earth Mud. We spoke to DiStanislao in the days between a Santa Monica club gig and a departure time for London and the resumption of Gilmour’s tour.

In late March, I attended the David Gilmour concert at The Forum in Los Angeles. Sold-out, 15,000 people, and there you are on drums. Two months later, I go to the Buffalo Club in Santa Monica on a Wednesday night to see who’s sitting in with Steve Postell’s Night Train Music Club. There you are, on drums, playing for about two dozen people. Those seem like two different worlds.

They are different worlds in terms of size and scope but at the core it’s really all about the music and the relationships you develop. There is nothing better than playing music with people that you care about and the positive affects it can have whether it’s playing in front of 50,000 fans at a huge show or a handful of people at a small club. When I get a call to play with great musicians and good friends I jump at the chance. Steve Postell’s Night Train Music Club is a blast. The band is always smokin’. The few times that I’ve done it, the lineup has been Alphonso Johnson on bass, Danny Kortchmar on guitar, Steve Postell on guitar and Peter Adams on keys along with guests like guitar great Carl Verheyen and Susan Postal on vocals. It’s just incredible. The Night Train Music Club is pretty loose in the sense that I usually don’t know what we’re going to play beforehand which makes it a fun challenge.

Did you ever find out what it was that David Gilmour saw or heard that night that got him interested in you to be his drummer?

In the spring of 2005, I played a show with Crosby & Nash at the Royal Festival Hall in London and I remember that we had a particularly good night. Unbeknownst to me, David Gilmour was at that show. One thing about the music of Crosby & Nash is that it has quite a wide dynamic range. Maybe David (Gilmour) saw and heard that I had the ability to cover the dynamic range in his music as well. I also sang a lot of harmony parts with Crosby & Nash which may have also been a contributing factor. I was asked to sing the Stephen (Stills) part on the song “Wooden Ships” which is a strong three-part harmony throughout with a lot of dynamics and feel changes. It even gets into a Floyd vibe on the end vamp of the tune. A super fun and challenging tune to perform. I don’t know, David (Gilmour) might have dug that. I tell you, I’m so glad I didn’t know he was in the audience that night or I would have been too nervous and probably would have blown it. I met him briefly afterward and he was a super cool guy. So, fortunately he saw a good show and thought of me when he put his ’06 touring band together. I was so thrilled to get that call and to be given a shot. Luckily, it all worked out. Earlier, you mentioned that you were at our show at the Forum. Man, playing that concert with David Gilmour is definitely a high point for me. It was also extra special that my family and many of my dear friends came to that show. I’m so glad they refurbished and reopened it for shows. It was a great experience.

If I played you a vintage live version of Pink Floyd performing “Time,” and isolated the drum track, and did the same with your drum track from this past tour, how long would it be before you could tell which was which?

Pretty quick. Nick Mason has such a precision in his drumming and an undeniable feel to his playing that I could pick it out immediately. I also know my style pretty well so there would be no question in my mind which is the Pink Floyd version and a recording of one of our live shows.

The reason I ask is because just as David Gilmour’s guitar has such an iconic sound, and so many legendary solos that fans know note-for-note, there are some very memorable drum parts as well. How tied are you to honoring that classic sound versus allowing yourself the freedom to play in your own style?

That’s a great question and you’re so right. David has such a signature and iconic sound and approach to his playing. It’s all in his touch. Many have imitated but none have equaled. David knows exactly what he wants out of his musicians and the songs. He is very hands-on but at the same time he doesn’t micromanage. I truly respect that approach. As for playing things note for note, there are specific parts that need to be played properly but there is also flexibility there as well. Along with making sure the parts and feel are all there, we are encouraged to be ourselves and bring what we have to the party which makes it exciting and fun for us and them. (Laughs.) For me, it’s about honoring the music and the artist. I try my best to do that. I mean, I want to hear those fills and grooves as they are on the records because they are so iconic and cool.

You strike me as someone that has a fan’s enthusiasm for the work, so you must be aware of David’s role in both the legacy of Pink Floyd as well as his own solo career, and subsequently now your role in that amazing history.

Oh, of course!! It is truly an honor to be a part of this and yes, it can be a very daunting thing if I think too much about it. I know what you’re saying about the legacy and the fans which is a huge, huge thing. Fortunately, when I go to work with David and the band, a lot of that stuff goes away. They are friends and we’re playing music together. It’s like any other band. You get in there, get on the kit. David puts on his guitar Guy (Pratt) puts on his bass. We run down a tune or two. It’s fun. I guess when you play in bands all your life, it becomes a natural extension of who you are. It’s interesting playing a big show like David’s because there is so much beautiful visual as well as aural. When I’m on stage, I’m not even that aware of what’s going on visually because I’m sitting in the middle of it but I can totally feel the energy. My main focus is locking in with David and Guy, almost like a power trio of sorts. When that lock happens it is magical. At the end of the day it’s about playing good music and communicating at the highest level with people you respect and love. I am so grateful to have that opportunity.

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