World-renown performer and innovative drum instructor Joe Nevolo has been at large in the New Jersey music scene for over three decades. Having played with luminaries like Bruce Kulick, Garry Tallent, Frank Marino, Pat Travers, Greg Howe and Richie Sambora, Nevolo has long been sought after for his brilliant technique and dedication to his craft.
In the late-1990s, Joe was approached by members of a progressive metal band called Shadow Gallery. The music was challenging, they needed a talented drummer to record and, with no touring obligation, it seemed like a good situation for Joe, who had two children and his own business, Big Beat Music Studio, to take care of.
Joe’s first recording with the band was their 1998 release, Tyranny. After that, he says, “They would call me every three or four years [to record].” And though it may have seemed like a peripheral commitment at the time, with each new release, Shadow Gallery’s legend grew as their albums were snatched up by prog addicts worldwide.
It was not until Room V was released in 2005, that the band, still yet to play a show together, got a sniff of how much their adoring fans wanted a tour. Still, nothing happened. Years went by, plans were made and then cancelled and Joe, a man well known as an entertainer for his exciting live performances, began to believe that Shadow Gallery would always remain a studio project.
In 2009, Joe got the call that it was time to record again. This time, it was for Digital Ghosts, another successful release that stirred up rumors about the band taking the stage. It was not until months later that years of patience from Joe and the fans finally paid off when guitarist Gary Wehrkamp finalized plans to do a couple of warm-up dates in the states before heading off on a 12-date, nine nation tour.
Joe called The Aquarian Weekly a day after returning from the near three week trek, sick as a dog thanks to some damn dirty Euro-virus, to talk about Shadow Gallery, drumming and his pioneering theories on music instruction, which he applies everyday at Big Beat Studios in Neptune City, NJ.
How do you think the Shadow Gallery tour went?
Oh, it was phenomenal. If you go to YouTube—I just saw some of the clips—people were going crazy. In every country… it was hysteria. In Athens, Greece and Milan, Italy the people went a little more crazy. Overall, it was pretty amazing. In these concerts you’d have the people singing the songs and they were almost louder than the band!
The last show that we did in Belgium, we hired a seven camera [team]. So there is going to be a full-length live DVD.
Does the band write your drum parts?
No. Some of the parts they would write, but I would transcribe those, because they wanted certain bass drum kicks to be with the bass guitars. Then with the fills, wherever they had fills, I put my own fills, I put my own beats. But the underlying bass drum patterns had to match the bass player. Because we weren’t really rehearsing for six months together, y’know composing this stuff. So they would do a lot of the composing.
Where did you record Digital Ghosts?
That was recorded at Gary’s studio [New Horizon Music Studios] out in Pennsylvania.
When did you start playing?
When I was a kid, about 40 years ago. My dad was a drummer so there was always music around me. I was a pretty shy kid and I took to playing. There would be times when I’d be practicing for so many hours in my room, that I think it concerned my dad. “Well, I hear him always in there playing,” I heard him talking to my mom. “He’s always in there, hour after hour,” and my mom would say, “Well, it keeps him off the streets.” Not that I would be getting into trouble, anyway.
I just developed a big passion for playing. I was in a lot of different bands when I was a kid. I went through different phases though; I wanted to be a basketball player for a while. Then there was this one guy, who was a keyboard player in a band, and he’d say “Nevolo, what are you doing? You’ve got a talent, man. What do you wanna be a professional basketball player for?”
So if you were up in your room practicing drums all the time did you have time to play basketball at all?
Well, there were phases. When I was playing basketball or baseball, I wouldn’t practice as much drums. When I was around 15, 16 I started really practicing a great deal. Then when I was 18, and out of high school, I studied with a lot of different drummers, one was Carmine Appice, and I looked up to him as a kid. I’d go up to Long Island to take lessons with him. That’s when I put down the basketball and started practicing like eight hours a day.
Wow, how does someone practice an instrument for eight hours a day?
Well, I broke it up a little bit because just going over the same patters—you kinda burn out. So you break it up into different technical exercises. You play along with music, there’s so many different subjects.
I would just go into a music store and if I saw a drum book that I could learn one thing from, just one thing, I would purchase it. [I wanted to] learn more and get better at my craft, so I have hundreds of books, some of the parts are redundant, but then a lot of them have something that I didn’t know.
At Big Beat I have 20-something teachers that teach for me.
In doing so much reading did you pick up a lot of different styles?
Yeah, I learned a lot of different styles and I can play a lot different styles and I’ve been teaching a lot of different styles. That’s a good point because people will see me at a show and say, “It sounds like you play jazz” or “are you into drumcore?” Or some parts have influences like Jimmy Cobb, Tony Williams and jazz guys and that’s not just from drum books, but I guess it was formulated from that era.
When you go back to the early ‘70s, like Led Zeppelin, one of my favorite bands, there was all these different influences at that time. You had fusion with Chick Correa—years later I ended up studying with Lenny White for a while. It was an era where there was a lot of different music happening and a lot of experimentation. I was always open-minded.
In my drum solos, you can see a number of different influences. I like to entertain people. You could play the most polyrhythmic, technical thing, but most people aren’t gonna get it.
You were one of the driving forces behind getting this tour going, right?
Yeah, I believe that. I remember for Room V, the CD prior to this one, people would come from Montana, from Florida, everywhere—all over to the CD release party and people were always asking, ‘When are you gonna get out and play.’ Then a couple years go by and we’re still not playing and then we go do Digital Ghost, and [at the CD release party] I’m hearing these guys talk about this and that and I get up on the microphone and I say to the people, “Listen, do you wanna come out and see us play? We gotta play, guys!” Because to me, it doesn’t make sense to put out these CDs and not play—you gotta play. That’s the main thing. And people roared, man. They were applauding, cause that’s the main thing.
You go into the studio and you talk about the record—and they make good music—but to me it was senseless. I don’t know if was me only, I think it was good timing, but shortly thereafter there was mention of us playing live.
Unfortunately, the first singer, Mike Baker, passed away about two years ago. And now we’ve got this new singer, Brian Ashlen, I think he also helped to get the band moving in that direction. But I think it was just time, because everybody always had a job prohibiting them [before]. But I think that what I said was one of the forces behind it.
Time went on and I didn’t ever think we were gonna play and then I get a call saying that we were supposed to do a cruise ship early on last year. We were gonna be headlining on this cruise ship with a bunch of progressive rock bands… but something came up and it got cancelled. So, again, I thought it was never gonna happen.
Then Gary called a few months later saying that they had a tour lined up in Europe.
We did a warm-up gig in PA and even at that show, I’d be signing autographs and asking people where they were from, and there were people there from Toronto, Miami, everywhere.
Are there any plans on a more extensive US tour?
There’s some talk of it. I’d rather leave that to Gary. There is one thing that we are definitely doing, [a festival] in Gettysburg, PA. There is also talk of a tour.
Can you tell me a little about Big Beat Studio?
It’s a school of music. I’ve been teaching since I was 14 years old.
Do you have a certain school of thought or philosophy on teaching?
My mission statement would be to develop a passion in aspiring students for music, so they can always have happy thoughts of musical experiences. I’ve been doing it for so long, I have a system now that is very unique. I teach some students that have Down syndrome, autism and I have a system for doing that. You have to make it fun for them.
But if I was to break it into a three step process: they learn the technique behind playing, musical application—learning how to play with music is so important, you can have all the chops in the world but if you can’t make the band sound and feel good, it’s not going to do anything. Towards the end of each lesson I try to make them experience the feelings that go along with playing. I have a light show, I’ve got a spinning mirror ball, a laser light show, I’ve got everything… three projecting big screens, big 54-inch TV, bubble machines, this that and the other thing so that when they leave here they’re like, “Wow, that must be what it’s like to play in a band! Wow, this is really fun.”
Shadow Gallery’s latest record Digital Ghost is available now on Inside Out records and through the band’s website, ShadowGallery.com. You can learn more about Big Beat Music Studio by calling them at 732 – 774 – 8861 or visiting them online at BigBeatStudio.com.