Jake D: Drummer Boy
At the top of the wooden stairs, a guitar leans against the wall like a lazy support beam while an amp cord is coiled up like a sleeping snake. A snare drum waits in the corner to be struck. The upstairs loft at the School of Rock Naperville is closed to the public; the attic reserved for office work. But on this day, Jake D; a young prodigious drummer and student at the SoR Naperville, along with his father, Jim, are invited to be interviewed in this space. Jake is sporting his usual Mohawk and wearing a Nirvana t-shirt (one of Jake’s idols is Dave Grohl). He takes a seat on the padded bench by the window. Meanwhile, his father follows quietly behind and reserves himself a chair in the middle of the room.
“Jake, this is your first interview,” Jim casually brings awareness into the moment. Jim and his wife, Valerie, have been encouraging Jake to follow his musical passion since he was literally banging on pots and pans in the kitchen. When asked to go back to the beginning, Jake snatches a core memory from his second birthday when he received his first drum kit from his aunt.
“I remember breaking a guitar on the drums.” Jake’s voice is bright and small; a reminder that despite his immense talent, he’s just 10-years-old. He continues on with his recollection, “I held the guitar by the neck and broke it on the drums with the strings still connected.” After that, Jake recalls he would just mess around on his mini Ludwig kit. By the time he was five, his older cousin taught him how to play simple beats on a full sized kit.
Jake’s backstory is relatively short given that there’s only five years between his early training and this moment. But in that brief amount of time, he’s gained a tremendous amount of experience. He can answer questions about his skills and accomplishments as if he’s been playing for more than twenty years.
“The most complicated fill I’ve ever played was probably the introduction to Boston’s ‘Long Time,’ with a lot of triplets. It was hard to learn at the beginning and then I loved it. The other songs I like to play on the drums are ‘Are You Mine’ by Arctic Monkeys and…Do you remember, Dad?” He then asks politely, “Can I look this up?”
As Jim searches his own memory, Jake reaches for his smart phone and scrolls for the song title so he can move forward. “Oh, here it is! It’s called ‘Penitentiary Philosophy’ [by Erykah Badu]. That song has a lot of double bass put on one foot, a lot of foot rolls.“ He swiftly demonstrates his point by replacing words with carefully measured heel and toe taps. The sound he makes is rhythmic with Morse code undertones. Just observing this young boy in action, it’s clear that his talent doesn’t just stem from passionate dedication. Rather, he’s neurologically primed for drums.
A few weeks earlier, the young drummer was standing in the waiting area of the School of Rock Naperville. His parents were both there, talking with his instructor. In his hand, Jake was holding what appeared to be a brand new Rubik’s Cube in that each of the multi-colored sides were uniformly intact. But, in fact, he had just solved the retro puzzle. Back at the loft, we took a moment to see if there were any similarities between solving the Rubik’s Cube and drumming.
“I think it takes me 40 seconds to solve a 3×3 Rubik’s Cube. It’s all memory with the Rubik’s Cube — same thing with drums. With drums, you’re remembering certain types of beats. With the Rubik’s Cube, you’re remembering right-side, upside, backside, front-side, left-side all in a certain order and moving the pieces around without rotating other pieces that you need to keep in place. I can see the side of a Rubik’s Cube like a note. And with a Rubik’s Cube, you have to use your fingers. Same with drums. You’re using the same muscles and muscle memory. I also love Guitar Hero and doing ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ on Expert level*. It’s all fingers. You have to go up here [on the neck of the guitar] then hit notes that your hand can’t do by itself and then go back down [to the body]. I think I did ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ fourteen times in a row after I completed it because I had been trying it for, I don’t know, two years. I felt happy.” When asked where he feels the most energy in his body, Jake lifts one corner of his lips and wiggles his fingers as if he’s just revealed a drummer’s secret.
Music from a vocal lesson one floor below us is rippling up the walls and through floorboards. While the increase in volume might steal the attention of first time visitors, those who frequent the School of Rock are familiar with the constant sound of music. And so, Jake continues on, not distracted in the least.
An obvious question: Do you think you’re a good drummer?
His eyes settle to the floor as he responds, “I never want to think that I’m a good drummer because I hate bragging. But, I like playing challenging beats. If [the beat’s] complex, I want it to be quieter but if it’s not complex, I want to play louder. When I play loud, the audience can feel it more.”
There’s a video of Jake playing the Boston song he referenced earlier, “Long Time.” Midway through the song (at the 6:25 mark), his stick breaks. Like a professional, he quickly draws a replacement out of his back pocket and barely misses a beat.
“Sometimes, I have to break a stick because right before it’s going to break, you can feel it. It bounces in your hand and the vibrations can hurt. And then, if I don’t have a spare stick, I just play with a broken stick. It’s mainly just the weight that changes and I have to adjust to that quickly. I break a stick at least once a week. I have a giant rubber band around my broken ones.”
“I break a stick at least once a week. I have a giant rubber band around my broken ones.”
Jim joins the conversation, “Hey Jake, do you remember the drummer at [the store] that recommended a stick after we told him you broke sticks once a week? He told us to get this one brand because he used to break his all of the time and with this particular brand he hadn’t broke one in three years. Do you remember that?”
“I broke it,” Jake confesses with a grin.
These days, Jake has taken drum lessons from various instructors at the School of Rock Naperville. As he plainly articulates, “I probably wouldn’t be a drummer if it weren’t for the School of Rock.” He fondly recalls his first instructor and the intermediate teachers that were pulled in to take Jake to the next levels.
“And then I got Charlie,” he notes. “Charlie was with me a while. The first time with Charlie, I was working on advanced rudiments.”
Charlie Dresser is the General Manager at the School of Rock Naperville. He first started working with Jake when he was 8 years old. Back then, he describes Jake as having “an unusually mature ear for music.” Dresser articulates further, “There was some kind of X factor. He could hear a song once and [I’d say] ‘give it a shot.’ He would remember the drums and I noticed that he would also honor other instruments. So, if the guitarist was playing a riff that had a staccato rhythm on a beat, Jake might hit that beat with the guitarist instead of playing what the drummer was playing note for note…These days, he acts more and more like a pro every time I hear him. He knows how to lead and drive a band.”
In addition to being a member of the SoR House Band (a group of exceptional musicians ages 14 – 18 that perform in the community), Jake’s an original member of a Chicago suburbs-based punk band called Stellar. He articulates the band’s mission, “We just want to keep punk music alive. There’s electronic music that doesn’t require instruments. I still want to have instruments.”
“We just want to keep punk music alive. There’s electronic music that doesn’t require instruments. I still want to have instruments.”
Historically speaking, many bands were formed in basements and garages, far out of the reaches of parents. But in Stellar’s case, their existence has depended on guidance from The School of Rock Naperville as well as the kids’ parents.
“Yeah, they’re our managers,” Jake nods. “Our parents aren’t involved with the music at all but they do everything else. And the School of Rock encourages us to go off and start our own band — which I like, it’s really nice. They don’t say ‘and do this when you’re in your own band.’ They want you to figure it out yourself. But they help in their teaching. When we play, we might think it’s cool but the teachers will tell us when we speed up our tempo. It’s nice to know from a professional how to make it sound better.”
Although Jake possesses a strong analytical mind, he still thinks and operates very much like a kid. When asked what qualities he was looking for in a new band mate when Stellar’s original bassist had to move to Texas, he smiles, “crazy and fun.” And when questioned what plays in his mind when he’s not playing music, he answers, “have fun.” And when asked, What’s the funniest thing you ever thought of while you were drumming? Jake smiles proudly, “Donuts. I was hungry.”
Jake’s first interview is over. In a few weeks, he will be meeting with people at Third Man Records in Nashville, Tennessee. But for now, we make our way to the lobby. The sound of rubber soles pattering on the steps gives way to a unique, rhythmic pattern. On the way downstairs, Jake’s father reveals his son’s latest fascination with magic. He’s particularly interested in the sleight of hand technique. (Again, fingers). By the second flight of stairs, Jake and his dad are reunited with the School of Rock family where all who come are equal members greeted by name and with smiles.
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*“Through the Fire and Flames” is a power song by the British metal band, DragonForce. The Guinness Book of World Records considers it to be the most difficult song to play in the entire Guitar Hero series. Aggressive strumming and fingering is required for this song that’s almost seven and a half minutes long.
For more information on the band (renamed Stellar West as of November 2016), check out their website.
To see Jake’s latest video of him playing “Foreplay/Long Time” click here.
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This article was originally published in September 2015.