John Chong is a Los Angeles drummer and producer who was formerly a part of the band Run River North. Throughout his career, he performed with numerous musicians, worked with producers such as Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse, The Shins etc.) and Lars Stalfors (Cold War Kids, Local Natives etc.), and is currently producing music for other artists.
When we started Movement Drum Company, John kindly helped us with our first ever promo video. Having the chance to work with him was an amazing experience and will always be a moment we'll remember. We haven't spoken with him in some time and wanted to catch up to both hear his story and see what he's been up to.
Hi John, please share your story with us and how you got started as a drummer. How did you get to where you are today?
I started music with the violin rather than drums. In jr high, the orchestra was looking for an upright bass player, so I decided to ditch the violin for the bass. The same year, they started a jazz band, and I got to play bass for it. Definitely enjoyed playing jazz vs classical, but the drummer looked like he was having more fun than me.
Adding to the fact that I wasn't super good at bass, it seemed like a great time to move onto the skins. From then on, I was playing in jazz bands, marching band, and garage bands throughout my youth. For me, learning the foundations of reading definitely helped me with my development. It allowed me to understand ideas, and the history of where modern music started at. Another huge aspect to the development of my playing was jamming with friends. Being in a collaborative environment showed me what it's like to have musical chemistry with others!
I believe that the journey for everyone is different. For me it wasn't smooth, and I don't think it'll ever be. I always like to view life in the "pay your dues" perspective. I feel like I'll always have to practice and take on opportunities that will have the potential to lead nowhere. But these experiences will pay off, as they have for me. Sometimes the journey is even more exciting that the results, and that's what pushes me to keep going.
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?
When I create parts for songs, I'm listening for a couple of things. I listen for what the melody is doing first, being vocals or a lead line, because it's usually the main focus at the certain time. If the melody is busy, then I stay simple.
If the melody is more spacious or loose, then maybe I can get a bit more creative. I then listen to see what the bass player is doing, as that's my favorite instrument, and will allow them to create their parts first usually.
I would rather listen to great bass lines than play an awesome drum part. If the rhythm guitar is playing a straight forward driving rhythm, then sometimes I wouldn't add to it and let them take that space. So with drum parts, it's usually trying to make it fit within the puzzle.
But if nobody has stepped up to the plate to make something great, then I'm ready to make something that'll be a good focus.
What have you been up to this year? What projects/ventures are you currently working on and excited about?
I started a new project and have been producing for other artists. The project is coming along slowly, but it's been great to be in developing mode again. Got to always start with the songs.