I’m not sure how I became friends with Kent Aberle on Facebook, I am friends with many musicians that I have never met. I check my Facebook page daily. I began to noticed some interesting updates by Kent all relating to a tour an Australian band called “The On Fires” was doing in China. I found myself looking forward to his latest adventures. As soon a s I read that he was getting tattooed by a Chinese tattoo master, I knew I wanted to talk to him in person. I contacted Kent and we after a few failed attempts scheduled a time to meet up and interview him for The Backstage Beat.
Kent and I met up before his gig playing drums for a popular live band karaoke. I was curious about his trip to China, his tattoo but also about how this man has devoted his life to his passion for playing the drums.
Rose Riot: Tell me about your trip to China with “The On Fires,” how did that happen?
Kent Aberle: I got a call in the middle of the night, it was a girl from Australia who had been given my name by somebody who knew somebody. “The On Fires” were a duo and they needed a drummer for a show in Georgia. I agreed to do The Georgia show. We really hit it off.The duo went up to New York and we stayed friends. I got a call back from them saying, “The drummer we hired for New York flaked on us, can you fly up here and do the rest of the tour?” So I did, we finished the U.S, tour with them. In January, they called me back again and asked me to do more dates. They planned on using different drummers, I suggested that I play all the dates with them because we got along so well. They agreed. We started off by doing Canadian Music Week and then an eight week tour of the States. After that, it was China for a month. They had always wanted to tour China, this would be their 11th DIY tour.
RR: The kids in China must have been crazy for some American rock.
KA: Yeah, there was definitely an element of them enjoying a new sense of freedom and the ability to see rock n roll in person for the first time. We played festivals, there have only been music festivals for like five years in China. It was like 1990s Nirvana crowds. The kids were crowd surfing and stage diving. The first festival we played was to like 50,000 kids. It was an explosion of expression. It was the most grueling tour.
RR: Why was it so grueling?
KA: We toured by plane, train, boat, cab and I actually rode in a rickshaw. We would get off of a plane, I would be carrying all this stuff. I had a giant bag with my stick bag, snare, click track, cowbells, double pedal, single pedal, etc…, then I had my back pack consisting of my lap top, cameras, and other things, carry on bag for my few clothes I took, and a hardshell cymbal case full of cymbals. We did like 16-20 dates in 25 days. We would literally get off a train, play a gig, get on a train and play a gig. We would climb up and down crazy flights of stairs. The hardest part was dealing with the mass of humanity. I had all this gear it was so crowded and there is no such thing as a line. You’d be in a train station with 5,000 people crammed right up next to you. When the train doors open all those people try to move at the same time. I know for a fact that I cup checked guys on the train. Haha! They were so polite about it. I would say, “dui bu qui” ( sorry in Chinese). The train was like a prison bunk train. We’re talking bunk on bunk on bunk with a squat toilet. Smoke was everywhere, they all smoked. I’d be trying to sleep on this train and it smelled like a bathroom and smoke. Traveling by cab was also chaotic but somehow they make it work. It was such a change from U.S. tours where you just get in a van and go.
RR: Would you do it again?
KA: We are doing it again next year!
RR: I read that you got a tattoo while you were there. Tell me what that was like.
KA: I had one that I got 10 years ago. It’s a symbol that stands for family, friends and faith. Under that I had John Bonham’s symbol. We were staying at a hotel in Changsha, China. I was walking through a market place that was near the hotel and this little dude ran up to me and points to my tattoo. He barely speaks English but he says “so coo, so coo! [so cool, so cool]” He pointed to his arm and shows me a tattoo of his brother and he says, “drumma [drummer]”. We started up a conversation. He didn’t speak my language and I didn’t speak his so we sort of speaking in gestures. I went back to his place and we sat down in front of his computer, through google translator we started talking about all kinds of stuff. It turns out, he was a tattooer. He showed me his work. It was all so amazing, it didn’t even look like tattoos.
RR: What was his name?
KA: Master Li Miao. Masteri Miao says to me, “I tattoo you.” His apprentice then says, “Master Miao says he will tattoo you for 600 yuan.” That was like the equivalent to $105 bucks! I was like , let’s do it!
I go get 1000 yuan just to be safe. We set up a time right after a gig. His apprentices took me up to his tiny apartment. Master Miao had written me this beautiful letter. In the letter he says that his normal rate is 750 yuan an hour but for me he will do it for 600 yuan an hour. He also says, that what he wants to do will take about 9-12 hours but he will only charge me 3500 yuan for the whole thing. I’m like, “I’m an idiot, of course he meant 600 an hour not for the whole thing!” It was just a major communication breakdown. I felt so bad and I looked him and said, ” I’m so sorry, I don’t have that much.” He and his apprentice step aside and talk for a minute. The apprentice comes back and says, “How much do you have?”, I say ,'”1000 yuan” Master Miao comes up to me and looks me in the eye, hits his chest and says, “I do it!” he tattooed me straight through the night. We started at 11:00 p.m. and finished at 8:00 a.m. we drank Chinese coffee. He was drinking some tea and chewing on some leaves. He had his shirt off and his pants rolled up. He ended up using me to teach his apprentices. I was the first non Chinese person he had ever tattooed in 15 years of tattooing.By 7:30 a.m. my arm was so swollen and his apprentice says, “Now Master will use white ink to make it pop.” I’m like,”now!?” We finished and Master Miao looked at me and said, “You me brother.” I never thought that I would get a tattoo that was beyond just going into a shop and getting work done. We did this because we both believed in what each other does.
RR: What is the tattoo of?
KA: It is Guan Yu. He was a general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han Dynasty era of China.. He symbolizes strength and honor. I got to see a statue of him at Lama temple in Beijing. Underneath my tattoo of him is an army, they symbolize unity.
RR: When you go back will you get more work from Master Miao?
KA: Here’s the funny thing, while I was with Master Miao he was on the phone and he handed it to me. It was his brother Po Po. Po Po lives in New York and is a tattoo artist as well. Po Po told me how excited his brother was to be working on me. My goal is to get the rest of my arm done the next time I’m in China but if for some reason that doesn’t happen, I’m going to get Po Po to do it here in The States.
RR: That is an amazing story.
KA: The whole tour was amazing like that. What I really loved about the trip is that it was so much hard work. I’m a workaholic. When you go there you have to want it. You have to want your ass to be kicked. I’m not scared of any tour now.
RR: In your everyday life, you are a professional drummer, what does that mean?
KA: Basically, when I wake up in the morning, I’m thinking about drums. I teach drum lessons to anyone from 10 to 50 years old at Atlanta Pro Percussion in Smyrna, I work part time at a drum store, I play for Metalsome and I write a column for “Drumhead Magazine.” I feel that to be a professional anything, you must focus on a constant strive to improve and be the best at what you do. That’s what I try to do everyday.
RR: Why did you choose drums over other instruments?
KA: I played piano when I was like four or five. When I was six, my parents took me to a fundraising dinner at Fairbury Cropsey High School in Fairbury, IL.There was a kid there playing drums in a band named John Singer, I was captivated. Drums chose me. My parents bought me a drum set for $50 at a garage sale. I couldn’t stay off the drums. I still play that $50 set occasionally! Haha!
RR: Who are your top three favorite drummers?
KA: Instead of top three favorite drummers, I’m going to say top three favorite era’s of drumming. Number one, I would say late 60s, early 70s Bonham, Mitch Mitchell, Bill ward of Sabbath. Those guys were jazzydrummers that had to learn to play with power as hard rock was still be invented. Number two, would be the 80s guys like Bobby Blotzer, Frankie Banali Third would have to be the early 90s. That’s when my drumming really progressed. I like Jimmy Chamberlin from The Smashing Pumpkins. Newer post punk like John Ellis who played with P.J. Harvey and Shawn Kinney from Alice In Chains, his grooves were sick! There were so many drummers from that era that don’t get the props they deserve.
RR: What do you think about the era of Death Metal drumming?
KA: I love everything. My only thing is, I challenge the music industry to get rid of things like Beat Detective and Pro Tools, just let a drummer play! I respect the extreme physicality it takes to play Death Metal but I’m really a fan of music you can dance to.