Interview: Drummer and Percussionist Extraordinaire Chris Maas

Chris Maas

There is little information available on one of the best session musicians of today. And I say ‘the best session musician of today’ as Chris just ‘smashed’ this years Glastonbury headliner with Mumford & Sons during their encore and finale. Chris’ drumming is a core and integral part of this performance, and I had goosebumps watching and listening to the drum beats throughout… Watch the performance here.

After becoming fascinated by Chris’ skills at a Marcus Foster gig back in November 2011, I wanted to know more about this foreign drummer and percussionist, so I followed him with a keen interest and was also pleased to see him become part of Matt Corby’s band for his 2012/2013 tours.

When I follow a musician, I want to know all about their musical background, ambitions, and influences. It helps me to see beyond the artist to discover why and how they decide on the music they make. Chris is no exception. Session musicians are always in the background and very respectful of the artist they play for. I wanted to showcase this particular musician, as I feel he has made a special journey, both personally and musically and is living out his dream.

Chris Maas, Drummer

Chris has quite a back story already. Born and bred in Luxembourg, he made his way over to the UK in 2006 after finishing his A-levels to pursue his dream of becoming a session musician. He came to London to visit a friend, who is also a drummer, and was studying at a local music college. Having been in a band called ‘Hot Rocket’ with Ben Lovatt (Mumford & Sons) and Kevin Jones (Bear’s Den), he also joined forces with another band called Cherbourg where Kevin Jones was also a member along with current Bear’s Den band mate, Andrew Davie. Chris has also recorded drums for various musicians on several records.

Having met Chris a few times at Marcus Foster and Matt Corby gigs, he was gracious enough to agree to an interview with me, and comes across as quite modest regarding his skills and popularity. I think he underestimates himself and is a very humble person. A beautiful quality to possess in the music industry. Read on to hear more about Chris and why he chose the drums as the instrument he wanted to play and the record that ‘changed his life’ as well as the bands he has been in previously and why he loves his job as a session musician.

SP: Hi Chris, why did you choose the drums as an instrument to play? Was there a song/artist/drum riff that made you instantly want to play, or was it progressional?

CM: My earliest memory of why I chose the drums is because my Dad used to be a drummer. He didn’t play professionally or anything, but he played small gigs on the weekends with a brass band. He used to take me to rehearsals with him when I was a kid and I would sit in the corner and watch them play. To me that was the coolest thing ever and the reason I picked up my first pair of sticks.

SP: What bands/artists did you listen to growing up in Luxembourg?

CM: Growing up I used to listen to anything I could find in my parents old record collection, which was mostly The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Genesis/Phil Collins and Pink Floyd. My dad then bought me my first CD when I was six or seven which was ‘BAD’ by Michael Jackson – that record changed my life!!

SP: Did you go to music school or are you self-taught?

CM: I went to music school when I was really young. I think I was six. I not only had drum lessons but my parents also signed me up for music harmony and theory lessons. At the time I used to hate going to the harmony and theory classes because all I wanted to do was play the drums. But now that I’m older, I’m thankful they made me go to those classes as it gave me a much better understanding of the music I’m playing and will enable me to write my own music one day.

SP: Do you play any other instrument?

CM: I don’t play any other instruments professionally apart from drums and percussion. However, I did pick up bass guitar about a year ago and had a few lessons from a couple of bass player friends of mine who explained the basics to me. I really love the instrument. It has given me a better understanding of the rhythm section as a whole and the interaction between bass and drums. It also helps me understand the tunes I’m playing better, as I pay attention to the chord changes more now rather than just the rhythm.

SP: When and why did you make the move over to the UK?

CM: I moved to London in 2006. After finishing my A-Levels back home in Luxembourg, my dream was to move to a big city and become a session musician. I chose London because one of my best friends, who’s also a drummer, was already here and studying at a music college. I went to college for two years before dropping out and joining my first UK tour as a session drummer. I’ve been touring and recording ever since.

SP: How did the collaboration with Mumford & Sons come about? Did you know them, or was it through Communion Music that you met them?

CM: I used to be in a band called ‘Hot Rocket’ with Ben Lovett (Mumford & Sons) on keys and Kevin Jones from Bear’s Den on bass. This was around the time when Communion was just starting out as a monthly night in Notting Hill. We became good friends and they were the ones that introduced me to the other musicians they were hanging out with. Those people included Marcus Mumford, Winston Marshall, and Ted Dwane, but also people like Justin Young from The Vaccines, King Charles, and Laura Marling. The core of Communion back then was a small group of friends who loved playing music together. It’s still the same now, just on a bigger scale.

SP: What’s your Mumford highlight?

CM: These days, every time the boys call me up to join them on stage instantly kind of becomes a highlight. The biggest one has to be Glastonbury 2013 when they asked me to jump on drums to close their headline show on Sunday. We played the Joe Cocker version of a Beatles original called “With A Little Help From My Friends”. I felt so blessed sharing the stage with so many incredible musicians like Mumford & Sons, The Vaccines, Vampire Weekend, First Aid Kit, and The Staves. Playing the Pyramid Stage in front of all those people was definitely not only my “Mumford highlight” but also the highlight of my career so far!!

SP: You’ve toured/played with other Communion connections – Marcus Foster and more recently Matt Corby. Do you foresee yourself becoming a permanent band member for either musician?

CM: The part I love most about being a session musician is that I get to work with so many different artists. I wouldn’t want to limit myself to playing with just one artist. I’ve been down the ‘permanent band member’ route a couple of times as I think every musician should try his luck of becoming successful in a band setting. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me. I took that as a sign. This is not to say that I might not have another crack at it at a later stage in my career, but right now my goal is to play and record with as many different musicians as possible.

SP: What’s the most enjoyable part of touring for you?

CM: The most enjoyable part of touring for me is the traveling. Although on smaller gigs, sitting in a van for hours at a time can be tough, but as soon as we arrive in a new town you forget about that straight away. I get to travel around the world, to places I’ve never been before. I get to meet new people everyday, and on top of all that, every day I get to do what I love most which is play the drums.

SP: Can you explain what the best use of the Cajon is? Intimate settings? Is it dependant on the tone of the song? Or how the song is composed?

CM: The cajon is a very cool instrument. It is mostly used in intimate settings like unplugged or acoustic gigs. It’s really fun to play – it has three basic tones, which if you’re recreating a drum set groove represent bass drum, snare drum and hi-hat. There’s a lot more to it than just those three tones, but most drummers I know, myself included, never really get past that barrier.

Chris Maas on cajon

SP: You used to be in a band, Cherbourg, with Bear’s Den’s band members Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones. How did this come about? Could you say why it ended?

CM: I met Davie as part of the Communion crew. I remember sitting in with Davie and his band on a gig in Brighton once when their drummer couldn’t make it. After that gig he called me up a couple of weeks later and asked me if I was up for doing a couple more shows. Later on that band became Cherbourg. We toured a lot and I have a lot of great memories from that time. I don’t remember exactly why it ended. It was a combination of different reasons. Davie and I are still really good friends though and I’m a massive fan of his current band Bear’s Den.

SP: Have you composed/written your own music with lyrics?

CM: Not yet. I’ve written some music, but since English is not my first language I find it very difficult to write lyrics. I have a huge respect for people who can write beautiful lyrics.

SP: You played as part of “The Tribe of 4″ on Denmark Street in August of last year. Any plans to reunite?

CM: I think that was a one-off, but then again you never know. There are no plans yet, but I’d definitely be up for resurrecting “The Tribe of 4″ one day. The musicians in that set up were incredible and I really liked the whole idea of rehearsing a classic album and covering it in its entirety without stops.

SP: You seem to have gelled really well with Matt and his other band members. Did you have a good experience in L.A. whilst Matt was writing his album?

CM: L.A. was amazing. We really had a great time out there. I was very fortunate to be a part of the recording process of some of the tunes that will hopefully make Matt’s first album. He is an amazing musician and human being. I also really like being part of his touring band as he pushes himself to the limit on stage every night and therefore the band has to do the same and follow him wherever he goes musically – which makes it a cool experience for the people who come and see the show as well as for us musicians on stage.

Following on from this interview watch Chris play a stripped back version of Matt Corby’s hit ‘Brother” here.

You can follow Chris on twitter here.

Sara Parker

11 July 2013.

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One response to “Interview: Drummer and Percussionist Extraordinaire Chris Maas

  1. Pingback: Chris Maas Interview | Lost in Muzic·

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