Tyler Zarzeka is a professional drummer who has toured with acts like Charlie Puth, Kiiara, and currently Noah Cyrus. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him about his career and how he got started.
What was the music scene like in your hometown?
A lot of emo and hardcore music, stuff like Blink 182, New Found Glory, Limp Bizkit. Church venues were popular as well.
You started playing music later in life, what was the turning point for you?
It was my first concert in 1999 and it was Blink 182 and I went with my dad. I liked that the audience was worshiping these people that were on stage because in school I was a geek, someone who was bullied, and to see this was eye opening.
Why drums? Why not guitar?
Multitasking made sense, and something about drums was super exciting. I played saxophone in school but I quit because I was mimicking my fingers and it freaked me out. I started tapping my fingers on my desk, which lead me to getting my first kit in 2002.
Mike Johnston taught you drums, how did that come about?
Started with my first drum kit in 2002 just teaching myself and I was in a band at the time. But it was 2003, when I said…I suck. I saw drummers on MTV and I knew I was not that good.
So I went to the closest music shop, Skip’s Music, and got their black and white brochure and I chose [Mike] based off his looks; he was a cool looking guy. I took lessons with him for about a year and he recommended me to the college I went to, Musicians Institute. I went from 0-1000 real quick.
**Mike holds Drumming Camps that last about 2-3 weeks and is basically a drumming boot camp, for people interested.**
Did you finish college? What was the job search like after school?
I finished with a BA in percussion. I had a few local gigs while in school and after. But I felt like I was the worst one at school. I felt like I knew nothing because I started drumming at 17 whereas everyone else had been drumming since they were 6 or 7. So I came into it with the mindset “don’t suck.” I would practice before and after class and work as well. But, immediately after graduation I got a job with a pop singer and went on tour overseas.
You put drumming to the side and became a drum tech. Why?
That was an accident. I knew a lot about drums, styles and techniques, but they didn’t teach tuning, maintenance, set up and posture at this school. There are a lot of great drummers that don’t know how to tune their drums. So when my buddy called me up on a whim to work at a studio in Burbank, I quit my job at Best Buy.
When I realized that people were doing this same work but on the road and making more money, I kept my eyes and ears open and at about 2008, 2009 I got my first gig with Hanson. They needed a drum tech and they called me up and asked if I could help them out. I had a blast because they are awesome people, great musicians, and I was on the road traveling.
Now you are drumming for various artists. How did you step back onto the stage?
I still do both, but I never let my tech schedule interfere with my drumming schedule. About 3 and half years ago Max Bernstein pulled me aside and said, “hey you need to stop being a drum tech.” At the time I was with Demi Lovato but he said he had this opportunity for me to get me back to drumming, and he held his promise.
So, a few weeks later I was drumming for this singer named Tiffany Houghton and that just lead to more drumming opportunities.
I will always be a drummer, though. The satisfaction of playing drums to people is pretty awesome.
You’re pretty diverse in the artists you work with. How do you transition or prepare from one to the next?
Every time I get a new artist I don’t have a lot of time to learn about them. Recently I’ve been drumming for relatively new artists. So for instance with Noah [Cyrus] she just has singles out right now. So before I get what we’re going to be playing from the music director, I download all their songs and play them in my car on repeat, just like a sixteen-year-old girl would.
I try to understand what does the audience like about the music and then recreate that live. I want to memorize it in my bones so I know that I know them. Especially since I’m a new guy coming in [with Noah]. I don’t want to be the weak link in the chain.
How long does it typically take to learn the songs?
Less than an hour. That’s one thing they taught us in school was to learn music quickly. You don’t always have the time to take your time, most of the time it’s an email saying “learn these songs, rehearsal’s in 6 hours.”
A few years back a pop punk band lost their drummer on tour; he just quit in the middle of the night. So I got a call saying “can you fly out and learn these songs tonight and when you land you’ll have sound check and then a show.” So I said okay and I learned them as quickly I could. I had one mistake during the whole show.
Now that you’ve toured all over the world, met so many amazing people, what would you say is the highlight of your career so far?
One of them was performing on Ellen. It wasn’t my first tv show performance but it was the first one that I took my mom to. She loves Ellen and that is her show, so I said, “if I ever play Ellen, you’re coming with me.”
I was drumming with Charlie Puth at the time and we were playing Ellen, so I flew her out, got her tickets and she was second row. She was actually on camera more than I was; she kept showing up, it was funny. It really made me happy because it made her happy. The whole reason why I’m doing music is to make my parents proud.
Where would you say would be your favorite place to travel to? Your top pick.
London for sure. If I had to live somewhere else, it would definitely be London. The music, the fashion, the art, the people are just fantastic. Some of my favorite singers are Irish or British. There is something about London that I just love.
Any plans for the future? Drumming or otherwise?
Main drumming goal, obviously keep this going as long as I can because I love it, but my main goal is to be based in LA and be a drummer on a television show. It would be a great 9 to 5 job with weekends off and you’re planted in one city. It would be a nice goal to have for the next 5, 10 or 15 years.
And another one is to keep taking lessons. I am not where I want to be musically, so when I get back from tour, I have a teacher that I want to take lessons from and keep learning and just focus on me as a drummer. Otherwise I’m pretty set in life, life’s good.
Finally, any advice for people just getting started?
Practice. Practice a lot! Don’t give up. I had so many people tell me that I was terrible and that my goals weren’t going to happen. I had a lot of let downs that made me think why was I even playing drums. But I never gave up and kept moving on. This was my goal in life, in high school; I wanted to be where I am right now.
You can see Tyler Zarzeka playing for Noah Cyrus on the “Witness: The Tour” with Katy Perry or find him on his social media linked below.
**Photos curtesy of Wendy Ford Publicity**