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An Interview with Tony Hajjar

Earlier this week, we had the privilege of interviewing Tony Hajjar, the drummer for At The Drive-In, Sparta, and Gone is Gone. In conjunction with all of his success that he has had in the music industry, Tony also runs two thriving businesses. We took a moment to ask him some questions about his life to get to know him a little better.

Hi Tony, please share your story with us and how you got started as a drummer. How did you get to where you are today?
I feel that I got to the drums a bit late. I originally wanted to play guitar when I was 14 years old but a friend came over and could really play guitar. From that point, I knew that I needed to try something else. We had a drum set at home that my brother bought from a cousin of ours so he could let off some steam after a long day of work and school.

Months later I just found myself sitting down behind the kit and thinking that I should play the drums. That year my mother died and I just stopped playing completely. I didn’t start playing again until I was almost 17. I had to play a lot of catch up. 

I joined At the Drive-In, late 1996 and really never looked back. I had finally met guys willing to quit everything they were doing and tour. We toured hard for years until people started noticing us. The shortest answer to, “how did you get to where you are today,” would be hard work and a ton of touring. 

Overall, how has the journey been? Has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I really don’t feel any of it was smooth per say. To this day I find it challenging with many obstacles.  We went through so much in the beginning and then when we finally broke out, we broke up because of exhaustion.

Through hard work I have been able to play/compose music in some form or fashion since then. We started a band called Sparta in 2001 after At the Drive In and from 2008 on I got into the world of composing movie trailers and video games and just finished a 3 year run with At the Drive In November of 2018. I feel very lucky to still be able to do all this but it requires a lot of work and time.

With all that being said, there has been many start/stops, failed attempts, and disappointments. Probably too much to list in a written interview, but I still feel great about everything that has happened, especially the disappointments. 
At the Drive-In is without a doubt, one of the most influential bands of the post-hardcore genre. In November, the band announced an indefinite hiatus after a 3+ year stint of touring and recording. After some time to reflect, how was that run, and how do you feel about the hiatus?  
Our old record label used the word “hiatus”  in 2001 when we really broke up so they can continue selling records but we really broke up at that point. We didn’t announce a hiatus this time around because we didn’t break up again.

We finished a successful 3 year run and are now on a long break. Just like any other band, we all needed a break to see our families, create, and finish other musical projects. We now know how to keep it fresh, positive, and healthy. You can only learn that in time. We are looking forward to the future. 

I am in the process of finishing a Gone is Gone record right now and polishing up my scoring chops as well. March will be busy finishing up Gone is Gone and we are in the middle of planning some shows as well. Gone is Gone is comprised of guys that tour a lot  and this is the first time we’ve had to get some shows in. We’re super excited. 

What is a typical warm up / practice routine that you do on a regular basis?
I used to just be able to practice on a kit and that was it, but now with practice pads like Movement having such great feel, I find it so interesting to create patterns on the and then transfer them to the kit. I try to stay away from IG and other socials because I feel like I don’t practice enough compared to other guys, but I am in another part of my life.

I find too much enjoyment in scoring which takes me away from the kit, I have a family, and  I also run two other businesses. In the end, picking up a pair of sticks and playing is still the best feeling in the world to me- so I do it as much as I can. 

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 want my drum part to sing with the vocals. ATDI writes with the vocals being able to move with the drums. We don’t move on to any part of the song until the drums feel right with the vocal ideal.  From there I add fills and transitions to move with the bass and guitars. We always want it to feel jagged but smooth in our own way. 

Can you walk us through a day in your life?
Off tour is bit crazy: wake up at 6am, meditate, drink coffee, wait for the kids to wake, make breakfast, help make lunches, rush two of them to elementary, and then the third little guy to pre-school that my wife and I own. Then depending on the day of the week I either head back home to work in the studio, or stay at our company (smileandwonder.com) to work, 2:30 hits- I head to pick up my two big guys, head to eat, then to tutoring, then to basketball or baseball practice. Head home about 6pm, help make dinner, do homework, clean up, put the kids to bed, hang a bit, and depending on the night-head back into the studio for a few hours, then get to bed to rest for another round.

On Tour: So much easier :)  Wake up, meditate, drink coffee, head to breakfast with my of my bandmates, make jokes for a few hours, read, soundcheck, make more jokes, eat, jokes, some business on the computer, a few phone call, and then hopefully a great show, after show meal together as a band, then to the bus/hotel for a movie!

What are some products that you would recommend to a percussionist?
Right now there is an abundance of practice pads out there. I have found that having multiple feels really helps me. I tour with my Movement pad and my Reflexx pad and move around them. Really helps me stretch out and get ready for a show.  

What is one piece of advice that you would give to a percussionist that is planning to pursue a career in music?
Keep your head up. I have been lucky enough to have been doing this for a long time but it wasn’t without a ton of work and dedication. Sometimes I had to put my dream a side to live but always had a plan to come back to it strong. Just because you have to something else for a little while doesn’t make you any less determined, it just makes you more realistic and responsible. 

What are some projects that you are excited to work on this year?
I am super excited to be writing the Gone is Gone record. Working on Gone is Gone is always a longer commitment because of everybody’s schedules but we always make time to make it happen because we believe in the project. 

I am also in the process of getting back into scoring. I have been writing and learning new gear for the past few months. I am mostly scoring ’nothing’ but pushing myself to try things and feels that I have always didn’t do. Its been a great learning process. I remind myself constantly that I am working even though I am not getting paid for my learning right now.

I scored movie trailers/video games for years and now I’m trying to move in other directions. Just putting my head down, being humble, and taking meetings for a new path. 

Who are some of your favorite drummers?
Growing up my favorites where John Bonham, Lars Ulrich, Dave Lombardo, Vinny Paul, and Deen Castronovo. I obviously grew up on heavy music. Now I find solace in simplicity and feel even though a lot of the music that people have heard from me doesn’t have a ton of that. 

Additional Information
Website: www.atthedriveinmusic.com, goneisgoneofficial.com, and sencit.net
Instagram: www.instagram.com/tonyhajjar1www.instagram.com/atdimusic, www.instagram.com/goneisgtneofficial


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