An interview with Bruno Esrubilsky
Bruno Esrubilsky is an Argentine born-Brazilian raised drummer who is currently on tour with the singer-songwriter Mitski. Bruno has already toured all around the world, played at prominent festivals such as Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza, and performed numerous times on television (Conan, Ellen, Kimmel etc.). He has accomplished quite a lot in his young career.
We took a moment to ask him some questions about his life to get to know him a little better.
Hi Bruno, please share your story with us and how you got started as a drummer. How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and consider myself lucky to be from such a rich rhythmic place; but I truly picked up drumming after listening to Rush’s Moving Pictures and Kiss’ Creatures of the Night, those albums really spoke to me drum wise. In Rio I was lucky to have amazing teachers, most noticeably Pascoal Meirelles who was a big influence on me, pushing me to sight read a lot and focus on the touch and feel aspect of drumming.
He was also instrumental in me pursuing going to Berklee in Boston and that alone led to learning from some of the very best, Terri Lyne Carrington and Dave DiCenso being some of them. Moving to the States was huge for me, and it helped me quickly realize that playing lots of different music worked well for me, so it felt natural to pursue a career as a sideman drummer.
Learning lots of world music and hand percussion instruments was also fundamental in expanding my horizons and helping me feel comfortable in as many situations as possible. During my 20’s I was playing anywhere from big band jazz, Flamenco, Brazilian music and pop/rock.
When I moved to NYC, I played every gig that came my way; it was tough for me to say no to anything. That helped me feel comfortable in so many situations: I was playing singer/songwriter gigs (with and without rehearsals…), off Broadway shows, Broadway shows (Hedwig and The Angry Inch), shows with dance groups, TV performances (Kimmel, Ellen, Conan, America’s Got Talent, Today Show), and that has led to a lot of touring now.
Overall, how has the journey been? Has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Moving out of my country, especially to try a career in the arts felt like a gamble; I took it because I was set on playing drums for a living, and I truly believe that if you trust yourself and know that you love doing it, then there’s a place for you. That being said, it’s not an easy path to follow.
It takes building resilience, a thick skin, self confidence, learning to deal with rejection, lots of hopes and expectations. I try my best to go with the flow, trust the process and just work hard through the good and bad moments.
Being able to shut the inner voice that tells you you’re following the wrong path isn’t easy, but you can get good at it. I’ve found it helpful to mentally pat myself on the back at every small victory, whatever they may mean to me.
This lifestyle is built on small victories, knowing how to recognize them, and knowing that you’ll also probably fail a lot - keeping in mind that failures are actually tiny lessons just waiting to be learned from. I now realize I lost gigs that I thought were going to lead me places, only to find that had I not lost them, I wouldn’t have gotten even better gigs, with amazing people that I now call friends.
Mitski's "Be The Cowboy" has been acclaimed by numerous critics and music fans. How is the touring experience so far? What are some of the highlights of the tour so far?
Mitski is such an amazing artist and I am truly thankful to be a part of her world and to help make her creations come to life on stage. Her music covers so much ground, so each show feels like a musical workout, and I thrive on that.
The very first tour I did with her was supporting Lorde on an arena tour, and it was awesome. It was also good having to hustle it, sometimes play shows without even a line check, and be prepared to set up and break down gear in personal record time. Since then we’ve been touring for more than a year and it’s been phenomenal. She is a true performer, and I try to match her energy every night, to help her do her thing.
She can also play a bunch of instruments and played bass in the first couple of tours. Now she added amazing choreography, and I keep my eyes on her basically the whole show, watching for cues and little movements that may give me a hint of where things are going.
So many highlights so far, we’ve played amazing shows in 2018, performed on Jimmy Kimmel, played sold out Europe and North America tours including 4 nights at Brooklyn Steel, which is home for me. I’m quite lucky.
What is a typical warm up / practice routine that you do on a regular basis, and what is a routine that you would recommend to a drummer?
Nowadays when I get time alone in my practice space, I enjoy playing to music that is different from what I play on tour. I may go back to playing some jazz, Brazilian music, world music styles, trying to get my brain flowing a bit differently than on tour.
Also, a book I always seem to go back to since I started playing is New Breed by Gary Chester. It’s such a good book to get the limbs moving and have you thinking about different patterns and possibilities. On tour, my warm up before a show usually consists of jumping rope for a few minutes, doing a few running drills, stretching and playing rudiments on a pad. Nothing fancy, basic rudiments with different stickings and playing around with accents to get the hands flowing.
When it comes to songwriting, everyone has a different approach. Can you walk us through your philosophy and approach on composing drum parts for songs?
I love simplicity and enjoy finding patterns and ways to play things within simple ideas. When I’m learning material, I’ll listen carefully to the song and think “what can I do here in a way that will portray the record but also add my personality to the table?”.
From there, I shed the songs over and over to get as comfortable as possible and memorize every single aspect of it, that way it’ll up my self confidence when it’s time to play live. I rarely ever play a song exactly the same way two nights in a row.
Maybe only drummers would notice that, but I try to constantly find different spots in songs where I can try something different. Wether that is a different sticking pattern, a different fill, opening the hats in a different part of the measure, or maybe even playing open handed for a whole section. That way, I trick myself to always be engaged and to be as creative as possible.
What also seems to works for me is that every time I sit at the drum kit, I make a mental note of how lucky I am to be there. I remind myself of how much fun, how engaging it is to play drums and to make music and I give a silent thank you to the world for allowing me to do this as a job. As cheesy as that can sound, I literally thank my life right before I play my first note, open a big smile and keep it throughout the show.
Can you walk us through a day in your life (Tour and Non-Tour)?
I’m an avid runner, so I do my best to keep fit in general. On tour, I wake up early before lobby call and get my run, that makes a huge impact on my day. That way I also get to know many cities in the world through running, and I sort of keep a log of all my runs around the globe and make a hobby of it.
Keeping fit and eating healthy also helps me at night during the show - Mitski’s show is over 22 songs long, barely stops between songs and I start a lot of them so feeling physically and mentally strong is a big part of the equation for me. Also not drinking alcohol was a huge game changer for me, I feel less drained during the show and wake up easier the next morning for my crazy runs. When I’m not touring I love spending time at home with my wife, cooking, reading, listening to podcasts and sometimes training for some crazy races that I’m into (marathons, obstacle course races, relay races, etc…). I also love playing hometown gigs in NYC, so I try to make myself available as often as possible.
What are some products that you would recommend to a percussionist?
I’ve played Zildjian cymbals since I can remember. Joining as an endorser was a childhood dream come true and I think they’re the best cymbals in the world. For years I played small percussion gigs using a foldable cajon and that’s an awesome piece of gear to have for convenience.
I carry around the Big Fat Snare Drum everywhere I go; you can get an average backline snare sounding real deep in no time. I usually have the LP red hi hat attachable tambourine above my hats and love playing long patterns on them when I’m leading on the ride or floor tom.
Can you walk us through your drum kit / stick set up?
I play and endorse Zildjian, Evans and Pro Mark and really love what they make. For the vast majority of the time, I’m using 17” crashes as Hi Hats; and a general mix of K Custom Dark cymbals with A Customs. I really enjoy how they blend, specially 19” and 20” crashes
I play an incredible Ludwig kit when touring in North America and a bunch of Roland stuff: with Mitski, the SPDS-X sampler pad and the BT-1 trigger bar.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to a percussionist that is planning to pursue a career in music?
Put the time into it. Practice as much as you can, play with as many different musicians as possible, be humble and surround yourself with people that are better than you. Learn from them and remember that there’s always more to learn and that you never really know enough. If you truly put the time and work into it, then the playing should come as second nature. Once that happens, relax and trust the process.
Also, you can think about this: people aren’t just hiring you to play drums. They’re hiring you for the many years of work you’ve put into it, for the personality you’ve built through the years and for the attitude you bring to the table.
What are some projects that you are excited to work on this year?
As I write this, we just wrapped an awesome sold out Australia/Asia tour in January/February and have a packed year ahead (e.g.: some major festivals like Fuji Rock in Japan, Lollapalooza) and headlining tours, so I’m really looking forward to the rest of 2019.
Who are some of your favorite drummer(s) and why?
Jeff Porcaro has been my #1 drummer since I can remember. His sensibility, his touch, his groove, the grace he brought to everything he played on has always inspired me and continues to do so. Rich Redmond is an incredibly badass drummer who means every note he plays. His workshop is wisely called CRASH (commitment, relationships, attitude, skills and hunger) and that says IT ALL. If you bring all of that to the table, then you’re doing something right.
Neil Peart was the first reason I wanted to play drums. His playing on Moving Pictures literally felt like he was talking to me and telling me to go learn drums. Carter Beauford of the Dave Matthews Band was a huge influence on me growing up. I had a DMB cover band in Brazil, and even though I didn’t necessarily attempt to copy Carter while playing live, studying his playing helped me tremendously, especially feeling comfortable playing open handed style and thinking of creative variations to playing fills.
Steve Jordan is a groove king and I don’t get tired of listening to him; his playing on John Mayer’s CONTINUUM is some of the most incredible playing I’ve heard. I’ve also been digging Dave Elitch a lot lately and would love to take some lessons with him; his knowledge on body mechanisms related to drumming is off the charts.
I basically admire all versatile drummers, especially the ones who appreciate simplicity and can mean a lot by doing very little. That to me is where the center of drumming lays.