We had the good fortune of connecting with Ryan Albaugh and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ryan, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
Growing up in West Des Moines, Iowa, my midwestern roots gave me a sense of community, respect for others and hard work and dedication for what I do. I spent my childhood actively involved in sports until at age 12 I discovered my passion for music through the physical expression of drums and percussion. I felt an instant connection with drumming and started taking lessons at the local drum shop with a world class drummer named John Kizillermut. I joined the school band and started to develop a love for performing on stage and soon started looking for performance opportunities outside of school. I was raised Catholic so I started playing drums for our church every Sunday and joined a local jazz combo where I began learning how to improvise and take solos.
In high school, I joined the drumline, became the section leader my sophomore year and went on to perform a self- composed solo at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in Austin, Texas, where I placed third. In addition to drumline, I also gained valuable performance experience playing with my high school jazz ensemble, continued performing with local jazz combos and started attending jam sessions downtown. My senior year I was admitted into the Grammy Foundation’s Grammy Camp LA, held at the University of Southern California, where I learned from industry professionals and made friendships that I carry to this day. This eventually inspired me to move to Los Angeles in 2013 where I attended college at California Institute of the Arts under the mentorship of Joe LaBarbera. After two years at CalArts I left to attend Musicians Institute, studied with several incredibly accomplished drummers and learned a lot about what it takes to be a professional musician in the modern age. After a year at Musicians Institute, I returned to CalArts to finish my bachelors and in 2018 graduated with my BFA in Jazz Drums.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without my incredible drum teachers and the important lessons they helped me learn along the way. One of the most important lessons was playing for the song and not for yourself. As a young drummer I was a bit of a show off. I was excited to start learning all these Jon Bonham fills and techniques from listening to Led Zeppelin and I just wanted to play them everywhere. Building your vocabulary is important as a drummer, but you also have to develop the maturity to know what the song calls for. My time spent performing in jazz ensembles, combos and going to jam sessions helped reinforce this idea and taught me the importance of playing with a light touch and proper dynamics. I’ve learned a great way to work on dynamics is to take a solo, but try to play everything as quietly as possible. Another important lesson I learned throughout my career is to embrace space. Sometimes what you don’t play is more important than what you do. Using space effectively is more enjoyable from a listeners perspective and has lead to some of the most iconic drum solos in history.
My biggest challenge was taking music theory and ear training courses in college. I had spent already spent a few years taking piano lessons so fortunately I had a reference for all this new information, but as a drummer I still felt at a disadvantage. Overcoming this obstacle required a lot of hard work and countless hours in the practice room, but I came out the other side as a stronger, more well-rounded musician.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Whenever a close friend is coming to LA I always make sure to take them to the Bungalow in Santa Monica. To me it is the quintessential California bar and many of my out of town friends end up claiming it as their new favorite.
Another spot I love introducing people to is Sugarfish, a restaurant chain in Los Angeles that specializes in serving traditional Japanese sushi to Americans. I insist on taking all of my sushi-loving friends here because it will change the way you think about sushi. This is the best tasting and highest quality sushi you will ever eat.
A trip to LA wouldn’t be complete without hitting the beach so I’d take them to see Paradise Cove in Malibu and then grab some fish tacos at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Cafe Habana.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to thank my parents first and foremost for always supporting my passion for music and my pursuit of a music career! I wouldn’t be the man I am today without their love and support throughout the years. I want to thank Joe LaBarbera for his extraordinary mentoring throughout my time at California Institute of the Arts and after graduating. Getting to study with him for four years was truly a once in a lifetime experience, he was an incredible teacher and inspiration to me. I also want to thank all of the other amazing drum teachers I’ve been fortunate to learn from over the course of my career.
Hao Feng, Brenna Mcdugald, Gray Whisnant, Matthew Albaugh