An Interview with Mark Schulman

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As a drummer myself, I always love having the chance to speak with other drummers, and Mark Schulman is one of the best there is. Having worked as a gun for hire for the better part of the last 35 years, Mark has played with artists such as Pink, Cher, Simple Minds, Foreigner, Billy Idol and more. With a style rooted in old school Funk, there is a whole lot to love about the way that Mark goes about his business behind the drum kit. So, I’ve got Mark with us today for an interview. I really enjoyed getting to know him a bit better, and I know you all will, too. If you would like to learn more about Mark Schulman, head over to his website here. After that, dive into this interview with one of the hardest hitting drummers around. Chers.

Andrew:
Mark, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Mark:
Well, I set up an entire virtual speaking studio in our annexed garage which we had just completed before COVID as a photo studio for my wife and I’ve been doing very well doing virtual speaking gigs for fortune 500 clients and some smaller clients as well. I’ve also been doing a lot of sessions and been spending lots of time with my family and it’s been a blast.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway so to speak?

Mark:
I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan when I was about two years old and I was transfixed because I first saw John and Paul and George and some thing resonated deep inside. Then I saw Ringo and my heart was pounding as I saw him playing with a big beautiful nose and swishing his hands back-and-forth. Then I saw all the screaming girls and that was it, I was fucked. And I sat at a drum set when I was five years old and I could just play. So, drums chose me.

Andrew:
You’ve sat in and played drums for many artists and bands. Cher, Simple Minds, Billy Idol, Foreigner and more. What’s it been like having the opportunity to work with so many amazing artists across so many different genres?

Mark:
I feel so grateful to have been able to be of service to all these incredible people. I’ve had wonderful experiences with every artist except one whom I will not mention, but everybody else has been brilliant, and everybody has their own vocabulary of music, so I add my vocabulary of drumming and I love the variation in styles and how I get to approach all of the music so differently. 

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Image Credit: John Pellingrinelli

Andrew:
On the subject of Simple Minds, you were the drummer for their album, Good, and you toured with them for the album. You ended up returning to session work after the tour ended. What went into the choice to leave Simple Minds?

Mark:
I never officially left the band and I did not really return to doing session work per se because I’ve always done session work and touring. I just started working with some other artists and touring with the German Artist Udo Lindenberg and the Japanese artist, Himuro. I also got into doing an abundance of drum clinics and teaching, so my life diversified musically and I never went back to Simple Minds. I ended up joining Cher and continued to work with Billy Idol during that, and even went back to working with Foreigner. 

Andrew:
Currently, you’re the touring drummer for Pink. How did you end up with the gig?

Well, Pink‘s manager is Cher‘s manager and Pink’s drummer at the time couldn’t do a couple weeks of club gigs during the summer. So, the manager put me in as the sub and it worked out so well that they ended up hiring me, and I’ve been with her for 14 glorious years. 

Andrew:
You’re also the co-owner of West Triad Studios and also work as an audio engineer and producer as well. What went into the decision to step into the field outside of your session work as a drummer?

Well, ever since I was 13 years old, I’ve been producing my bands with analog tape machines and so producing and engineering has been in my blood as much as drumming since I was young, so I love doing both because it gives me a chance to expand my horizons and be more diverse musically.

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Image Credit: Jordan Todd Kaplan

Andrew:
Let’s talk more about your production work. What is it that you like about production? How does your work as a producer and engineer inform your music, if at all?

Mark:
I learned more about how to be a better drummer when I started producing because I started looking at the whole picture rather than just my parts. And I love being able to arrange music, write music and come up with different interesting ideas to enhance the music and approaches to getting sounds and experimentation. And I love working with creative artists and helping to expand on their creativity, and inspire them to be better artists. And it’s really fun because I can also take mixes and ideas in my computer and work on them while I’m on the road in the back of the tour bus!

Andrew:
Aside from your work as a drummer and producer, you’re also a classically-trained cellist. How did you end up playing cello and what led you to drums from there?

Mark:
Well, I told you I got the bug as a drummer that came with my spirit and soul in this lifetime. But my brother played violin and my mother thought drums were too loud and she said, “Can’t you play a nice instrument like your brother Randy?” So, I was in one of his violin lessons and I saw what appeared to be a very large violin in the corner and it turned out to be Cello, so I started playing cello even though I really wanted to play drums. My godfather, my uncle Ben who was our teacher would give me a drum lesson at the end of every cello lesson. And gradually, my parents bought me a snare drum and then a symbol and a stand and then some high hats and then I got my first drum set when I was nine because they could not deny my passion any further, but I kept on playing cello and I even conducted my junior high school orchestra and played in the LA junior Philharmonic. And years later, I played cello on stage on the Pink “Funhouse” tour, so it’s wonderful to maximize all of your skills. But I would never call myself a cellist because I don’t practice enough for that and I have too much respect for working cellists!

Andrew:
What do you prefer about being a session musician as opposed to being in a band?

Mark:
I love both because I grew up playing in bands, but I also love being a session musician because I get fresh music that I’ve never heard, and I get the challenge of being able to create drum parts right on the spot. I take pride in being able to do it quickly so someone will send me a file online usually and I record almost everything in my studio. So it’ll take me less than an hour to receive the file, to listen to it, to chart it out and then to record 2 to 3 takes with alternate verses and choruses and alternate fills, and then send it back to them within an hour. And I usually work with my engineer partner in my studio, Erich Gobel who is incredible. But I also have actually engineered many sessions myself. I put out a DVD called A Day in the Recording Studio which explains every aspect of recording drums and I produced it myself; it’s very fun and encompasses everything from approaching parts to charting, to micing, to signal flow, to tuning and even client relations. It’s very funny as well. You can find it on the Hudson Music site.

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Image Credit: Jordan Ana Gilbert

Andrew:
As a drummer, who are your biggest influences? How would you describe your style?

Mark:
Well, my biggest influences are everybody from Buddy Rich to my favorite living drummer, Vinnie Keller Utah. I was most influenced as a kid by Ringo and then by David Garibaldi of Tower of Power, and Floyd Sneed of Three Dog Night. Also, Bobby Columbia of Blood Sweat and Tears, then of course Geoff Porcaro and Steve Gad. I just listen to everybody I can listen to and I’m influenced by my friends like Gregg Bissonette, Antonio Sanchez, Stanton Moore, Abe Laboriel Jr and Matt Sorum and the list goes on. Overall, I would describe my style as a hard-hitting Funk drummer.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CD’s? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Mark:
I love vinyl and I even play vinyl over my digital Sonos system and have a reasonably large record collection. Tapes not so much. CDs not so much, because I just listen to MP3s, and I do a lot of my listening like everybody else does online. 

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Mark:
Well, obviously because I am a huge Beatles fan, Sgt. Pepper is absolutely masterful and means so much to me as I grew up on it. Three Dog Night naturally was a big influence when I was a kid because of the great singing, songs and Floyd Sneed‘s drumming. I loved Radiohead‘s second album The Bends. That was my favorite album of the 90s. I love Buddy Rich’s A Different Drummer as that impacted me so much, because it was such brilliant drumming and big band arrangements. I am a fan of just about any album by the Struts…I think that steely Dan’s Aja is a nearly perfect album…

Andrew:
Once COVID-19 calms down, what’s next for you?

Mark:
I will continue speaking and hopefully be doing many more live speaking gigs and less virtual gigs, and hopefully there will be a Pink tour coming up sooner than later. I will also be releasing my book this year on the power of attitude, and doing many more recording sessions. I also have plans to produce a documentary but I’m keeping that secret for now! 

Andrew:
Last question. You’ve had a long career, with hopefully a ways to get yet! Looking back, what are some of your fondest and most interesting memories as a musician and producer?

Mark:
Playing the Glastonbury festival with Simple Minds for 225,000 people with Peter Gabriel standing on the side of the stage was an extraordinary experience for me. Playing two nights at Wembley arena with Pink was extraordinary, special and electric. When I was hired to be in the band Foreigner after I auditioned…my friend told me that he was recording next to Foreigner in one of the LA studios. I immediately called the manager and said, “Kevin how come I am not recording with the band?” Kevin said, “We hired a producer named Keith Forsey to record a few tracks and he used a drummer and he was comfortable with because he does not know you.” I asked for Keith Forsey‘s number and with a shaking hand I called him on the phone and got his voice message. I told him that I was the drummer for Foreigner and that if his regular drummer, Tal Bergman who is a friend and a brilliant drummer was ever unavailable, that he should call me for a session.

Three months later, he called me to play on the track for Beverly Hills cop 3 because Tal was unavailable. I came into the session and I nailed the track in the first take. When I came out of the studio into the control room, he hugged me and we became very close quickly and from that point on he started calling me. The first thing I got called for was to play on the end title theme for the movie speed with Billy Idol…and if you may recall, Keith Forsey was the co-writer and producer of all the big Billy Idol songs. Well that session went so successfully that for the next eight years I played with Billy Idol on and off. When I got off the road with Foreigner briefly in 1994, Keith called me to play another session which was to play one song with Simple Minds…for a movie and as you may recall Keith wrote and produced, “Don’t You Forget About Me” for Simple Minds for The Breakfast Club. So, ten years later this was for the movie Mario Brothers. So, we recorded one track and I got on so well with Simple Minds that I ended up playing on nearly the entire record and leaving Foreigner to join Simple Minds and doing a world tour with them. So the moral of that story is make the call!

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Interested in diving deeper into the work of Mark Schulman? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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