High praise from Stef Leron "POS" Alexander, but drummer Ben Ivascu lives up to the hype every single time he plays. And chances are that he's playing right now. In a set of cities blessed with some of the finest, hardest hitting drummers of anywhere in country, Ben stands out not just for his maniac skills but for being one of the most humble folks in town. When he talks about people who've inspired him it becomes an impossible-to-annotate laundry list of some of the best musicians in indie rock, but you can tell it's the local guys who move him the most. Ben loves his local scene. The sheer volume of bands he's been in borders on the ridiculous: 20+ by any reasonable count over the years, and nine--count 'em--nine active bands right now.
That means that in any given night of the week, if you hit a show, there's a reasonably good chance Ben Ivascu's going to be playing the drums, the way he does it every night: being a maniac, holding it down so hard, being The Dude, earning the respect of pretty much anyone who watches him play or had the luck to play with him, and never asking for more than a chance to play music with his friends.
Fresh back in town after drumming for POS at Coachella last week, I tossed Ben a few questions about what it means to be a great drummer in a town full of great drummers and how he manages all those bands.
Okay, seriously, how many bands are you in right now? What's the most bands you've ever been in at once? How do you divide your time with all your bands?
This is the most amount of bands I've played in at one time. Lately, it's been Falcon Crest, St. PauliGrla, Total Fucking Blood, Private Dancer, Building Better Bombs, Marijuana Deathsquads, P.O.S., Double Bird & Stnnng. I've actually played a couple of shows with Voodoo Love Mint over the last couple of years, too. Mostly in Eau Claire or Madison. I do what I can, when I can. I don't have any children and I don't watch much T.V. That gives me time to do things I want to do.
That many bands takes a pretty high level of dedication. Who or what inspired you to start playing the drums? Did you always know you were going to be into drumming as much as you are?
When I was younger I wanted to play bass because I was captivated by music videos. Particularly, John Taylor from Duran Duran. I guess I thought that his skunk hair-do was cool. I also liked Van Halen and was a huge Michael Jackson fan, too. I picked up playing drums in 6th grade. A friend of mine in my neighborhood played drums in the 6th grade band for about two months, but whenever I went to his house I'd always see that snare drum and I wanted to play it. I thought it was cool. I thought, "Oh, this that thing I hear in music!" When I got into 6th grade I tried out for trumpet, drums, and saxophone. I wanted to play saxophone because my grandpa used to play saxophone and whenever he brought it out to toot on it a little... I thought it was so cool, but I had a friend in my class that said he wanted to play drums and when I was told I could play any of the three instruments I tried out for, I chose drums, because of Artie Gorans. I wanted him to think I was cool. He lasted about 3 three weeks on the drums and I lasted 25 years.
The career or life counselor or whatever you call it lady in my high school asked what I wanted to do with my life and I told her that I really liked playing the drums. I did about 2 quarters as a music major at the U of M. The head of the percussion department told me he didn't think I fitted in, so I dropped out of the music program. He told me that if I wanted to play rock music, I should just go out and play rock music. So I did.
Who are some other musicians, past and present--drummers, sure, but other folks as well--that really turn your head/inspire you/make you love music?
There's the usual gang of idiots (Buddy Rich, Tony Williams, Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart, Max Roach, Billy Cobham, John Bonham, Keith Moon, Elvin Jones, Phil Collins, Art Blakey, and Alex Van Halen). When I started to play in rock bands, my friends got me into the whole punk rock/alternative/post something or other stuff. Bill Stevenson, George Hurley, Martin Atkins, Rey Washam, Mac McNeilly, Zach Barocas, Mario Rubalcaba, John Wright and Fred Armisen were also huge inspirations to me. I'd definitely have to say that seeing local drummers up close in bars and basement shows really was the biggest influence on me. Seeing drummers like Dave King, Scott MacDonald, Ethan Lebovics, Matt Entsminger, Jonathon Warnberg, Pete Beeman, Dan Vickburg, Todd Trainer, Andrew Beccone, J.T. Bates, Adam Patterson (who actually is an old roommate of mine), Shawn Walker, Freddy Votel, Charles Gehr, Bob Drake, and Jeff Brown made me want to keep playing and be a better drummer.
Musically, I've mostly been inspired by those loud rock bands with that little bit of "huh?" added to them. Bands like Fugazi, Nomeansno, the Jesus Lizard, the Ramones, the Cows, Six Finger Satellite, the Who, Brainiac, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Rush, Iron Maiden, Shellac, the Minutemen, Arcwelder, the Buzzcocks, the Clash, Pigface, fuck... I could go on and on.
If you really want me to get deep, I guess what really inspires me and makes me love music is that it's probably been the most comfortable and most reliable way that I've been able to connect with people. From my friends in marching band in high school to those friends that let you sleep on their couches or floors in Chicago, Wichita, New London, etc., music has connected me to really awesome people.
It really seems like over the years you've always remained committed to the local indie scene. Have you ever been given the opportunity to join a band you didn't give a crap about or be more "pro?" What keeps you keepin' it real?
I played drums in a touring production of the "X-mas Carol" for a local company called Troupe America. It was the easiest job I've ever had. Brian Herb got me that job. He's been a really good friend. That's why I play in the bands I play in. I'm friends with my band mates. By the end of those Xmas Carol tours, your brain started to feel like mush because you're just doing the same thing over and over and having to hear all the dialogue kind of drove me crazy. I think I always had the feeling that I'd never be a professional musician. I just like doing it, so I do. If all my income came from playing music, I'm sure it'd be really cool, but I'm not counting on it. I lose more money playing music than I make. The government would call what I do a hobby, but it really is kind of my life. It's just something that I really love to do; play the drums. I really, really, really want to tour and play drums all over the world and make people feel the way that I've felt when I've been blown away by music, but I really don't care if I get rich. I just wanna do it, you know? I just like making music that I like with my friends. I think I always felt that if I was going to make money playing music, it would end up being shitty music. Usually it's shitty music that gets popular.
What's your favorite personal rock and roll story?
That's really hard to narrow down to one story. Let's see...
Strumpet: Played up in Winnipeg with Mickey Finn. Our van had all the gear (ours and theirs) in it. We tried to space out the border crossing so it didn't seem like we were together. We were trying to get out of paying the musician's tax or whatever they call it. Unfortunately, when we pulled into the garage for inspection, we pulled up right behind Mickey Finn's van. Matt Pirkl told the border guards that he didn't know anyone in Mickey Finn after Dan Cochrane (from Mickey Finn) told the border guards that Amy Larson (in Strumpet) was her roommate. I'm sure we looked like idiots.
Voodoo Love Mint: Got to do my first west coast tour with them, but I think the big-ass farm parties we played in Wisconsin we're some of the best times I had playing with those guys.
Brits Out of America: Recording with Steve Albini and Martin Atkins. Being in that band made me feel like I was actually going to do something with music. We ended up not doing much. None of the recordings saw the light of day. Just one song on a compilation and a cdr we did after one of the members quit. But, I have to say that playing in that band was a good learning experience in approaching the drums in a "different" way.
Falcon Crest: One of the most perfect shows in my life was with Falcon Crest in Denver, CO. It was a Memorial Day BBQ at our friend's house, Pancho's Villa. Some girl convinced me to climb onto the roof with her. When we climbed back down she fell about 15-20 feet to the ground. She refused to go to the hospital. We played the best show of our tour. Probably the best we've ever played. For me it was one of those "in the moment" type of shows where that's all that's going on in the world and it's the best fucking thing ever. We had a dance party that night. Also, that Quincy Punx reunion show we played at the Triple Rock was insane.
Signal to Trust: Playing on the back deck overlooking the harbor at the Brass Rail in New London, CT. That was my favorite show of that tour. My friend Gina Kent's friends treated us very well. Also on that tour, I was making very overexaggerated loud noises in the john at a rest stop somewhere along the New Jersey turnpike. Dave and Pete told me that some guy said, "Sounds like he's passing some sort of lodge shock (large shark) in dere."
Total Fucking Blood: I accidently grabbed Pete's dick the morning after Halloween night in Ames, IA while trying to grab his blanket. I am permanently scarred.
Building Better Bombs: Getting arrested in Mississippi. We spent 2 1/2 hours at the workhouse in Hattiesburg, MI. They served lunch while we there. Worst cornbread I've ever had in my life. After lunch, some of the other guys in the cell passed around the very same thing that got us into the cell. They did not share with us. They asked us where we were from. When we told them "Minneapolis," someone replied, "Aww, fuck the Colts!" Yep, flyover territory, folks. That's where we live.
Private Dancer: The west coast tour we did last October was such a positive experience in my life. We played 8 shows in California with the Careerers. They were the coolest, nicest, most laid back, rag-tag group of folks I've met. I got to swim in the ocean for the first time in my life. Almost all the shows were a bust, but I had so much fun with my band mates and the Careerers folks, it didn't seem to matter at all to us.
Playing Coachella last weekend with P.O.S. was pretty much the biggest show I've ever played in my life. Tons of fun.