Kit Chatham – KURIOS Drummer
“The Third Time”

What is it about a drummer that attracts diehard Cirque fans to them? From Quidam drummer BJ, who met up with the first CirqueCon Vancouver group, to Paul Bannerman, drummer with Varekai who has been very fan-friendly, we as fans seem to be drawn to those who bash the skins. And now we add another stick-wielder to the list, Kit Chatham.

Few artists or musicians have the honor of going through three Cirque du Soleil show creations. The process (for Varekai) was documented in the Emmy-winning series, “Fire Within,” and shows the hopes and the challenges. It is a time of high stress, tight deadlines, and intense emotions.

When we spent a day in 2004 observing the dancer auditions process, (documented in our article series, “Who Has What it Takes,” the first part of which can be found here) we also discussed the process with Richard Daganais – Logistics Supervisor, Casting (now Director of Creation at the Cirque special events company 45 Degrees):

“What I liked about “Fire Within” was how well it documented what the artists went through. It showed the reactions to the different environment that’s been created in Montréal. The creation process is one of the most wonderful things an artist can go through because something is created on them based on what they do, as opposed to something that’s been done before by somebody else. But it’s also incredibly demanding, physically, emotionally. That’s what makes it wonderful, that intensity that you live with. But it’s not for everyone, not everybody likes it, but some people thrive on it.

“For some people, creation is all they’d like to do; go from one creation to another. Because artists are extreme, they love the intensity of emotions of the creation process. It starts out like a honeymoon and gets intense until the completion is in sight. When they look back on the creation they feel it was all worth it.”

In 2003, while interviewing the lovely Steben Sisters (which can be found here), they cautioned that there is more than one view of the process:

[Karyne speaking] “You give everything, and keep giving and giving. Then at the end of the day they say they’re scrapping everything and we’ll start fresh tomorrow. Or they change the apparatus. And you know all your effort is wasted, you just want to die.”

38-year old Las Vegas-based percussionist/drummer Christopher “Kit” Chatham has been through THREE creation processes in his 10 years with the organization. His extensive experience in marching band and drum & bugle corps, further honed by his featured role in the groundbreaking Broadway show “Blast!” put him on Cirque’s radar. Yet it is his versatility and adaptability that brought him back to the creation table again and again.

Kit got his Bachelors in Music Education from the University of Georgia in 2000. It was there he started writing and arranging music for marching bands, including the University of Georgia Redcoats, Crossmen, Odyssey Percussion Theatre, Atlanta Percussion Theatre and Terminus of Atlanta. He is also one of the authors of the Principle Percussion series of drum practice books.

BANG ON THE DRUM ALL DAY

We met in the Kurios kitchen, at the back of the asphalt-covered site created to Cirque specifications in Marymoor Park in Redmond, Washington. Sitting amongst the hustle and bustle of preparations for the evening show, in makeup but out of costume, we started by discussing his history.

The name Chatham (CHAAT-UM), “…is of English descent, I’m originally from Atlanta, Georgia, and Chatham County (.org) is right there in Savannah, so a lot of my family comes from there. I’ve been married for over 10 years now. I got married just months before I joined Cirque, before I did Corteo creation (in January 2005). She stays in Vegas; she’s a public school music teacher. We met at university; we were both music majors so we were in classes and did marching band and everything like that together.”

Kit was raised in a musical family. “My dad was a preacher so I grew up in a gospel setting with all my family singing. My mom was an organist and pianist and amazing gospel singer, so we kind of went that route. I did choir and all of that in church.”

It was his older brother (who now teaches marching band and works in a music and arts store) who first introduced him to drums. “My brother, who is five years older, started drumming before me. That kind of got me going. I think it was just seeing my brother bring them in the house and it was like, “Wow, what are those things? Awesome!” Whenever he wasn’t home I’d sneak into his room and play on them and then try to make it look like I wasn’t there.” (Laughs)

“When I got to middle school [that’s when you] pick an instrument. My mom said, “You’re either going to be in the chorus or play an instrument.” I had started piano lessons earlier, but when I got to middle school I wanted to play drums. So that’s when I technically started drumming, age 11 I think.”

Who did he look to for inspiration? “(Jazz drummer) Buddy Rich (.com) by far, he’s a drum god, I love him still to this day. When I was growing up there was no YouTube (which is amazing because there are so many videos that you can watch that I never had access to). For me to get access it would have to be a VHS tape, so I had VHS cassettes that I would wear out because I would watch him in slow motion and try and figure things out. And he’s one of those guys where it was a challenge to figure out how he did things. I still idolize him.”

“And (session drummer) Steve Gadd (drstevegadd.com), who’s a great drummer. [And] Vinnie Colaiuta (who collaborated with Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, and Sting in addition to being a busy session drummer).”

When it came to college, he and his brother, “…both went the music education route. [Though] he decided he didn’t want to teach. I never really intended on teaching, but my dad, being a real smart guy, saw that none of my teachers had degrees. They were all doing [music] professionally and he said, “Look, you don’t need a piece of paper to do this for a living. But if you’re going to get a piece of paper you might as well get something you can use.” So that’s why I did music education.”

It was in college where Kit discovered how he could make money playing drums. “I was in college when I actually started making money doing [music]. I went to school in Athens (at the University of Georgia) which is a very musical town. REM, The B-52’s, Widespread Panic; there’s a whole big music scene there.”

“It took me five years to graduate because I was doing all the performance tracks. And I would play a lot at night; I would get some of my income that way. Luckily I was on full scholarship; they had a HOPE scholarship that would pay tuition and my music scholarship would pay for a lot of my other stuff. So all the money that I made was to help me keep going.” (A HOPE Scholarship is available to Georgia residents who have demonstrated academic achievement.)

College was also where he discovered marching bands and band culture, which would have a powerful influence, eventually leading him to his first professional stage musician job. “It’s all over the country. Some of the best groups are in Texas and California. It’s one of the big things in the US, that’s for sure, because of football half-times, etc. But it’s very big in secondary and high school marching bands. I think that’s where a lot of the money from the band boosters comes from.”

“I liked it so much I started teaching in college. It’s a culture, that was a big part of it for me. I had a lot of fun with it. Up until recently I was really involved in the activity because it was nice additional income writing music and creating shows for schools and colleges. But it got to the point about a year and a half ago where I felt I should stop doing all that and work on some of my own stuff.”

“It’s funny, when I finally graduated from college my first big professional gig was a touring Broadway show, Blast!, that was based on that.”

BLAST!

The show Blast! (blasttheshow.com) can best be described as taking drum & bugle corps instrumentation, music and choreography and placing it on a theater stage. Created in 1998 by a team led by Star of Indiana Drum and Bugle Corps director James Mason it first debuted to rave reviews in London, moving to Broadway in April 2001. It then toured the US and internationally, with particular success in Japan. It spawned spinoffs Blast II – Shockwave and Cyberjam. It toured Japan as recently as 2014. (Star of Indiana, though now defunct, has an interesting history, which can be found at Wikipedia.)

Blast! played our hometown of Seattle, Washington from Oct 8-27, 1992. We were at the Tuesday Opening Night performance at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. It was there we had our program signed by several of the performers – including Kit! It brought a smile and laugh when we showed it to him.

“This is exciting; I don’t meet a lot of people that know Blast! or understand what Blast! was. [Looking at the program cover and pointing at one of the enthusiastic, aggressive drummers] “That is not me. We always made fun of that. (flipping to a page) That’s me and my buddy Aaron Guidry (yataforluda.com), who is also with Cirque now in Zarkana. We were the two dueling guys. It’s so funny how we both ended up in Cirque.”

Looking for a job wasn’t the first thing on Kit’s mind at the time, though. “Right before finishing up my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Georgia, my roommate, who was also a percussionist, told me that the show Blast! was hiring to do a big national tour. As soon as I heard that I decided to send in my Graduate school audition video to Blast!”

“At the time I was deciding between going to the University of Miami or the University of North Texas to get my Masters in Percussion Performance. When I got the gig I told both schools that I was going to do Blast!, as I figured school would always be there. My roommate also passed the audition and made it into the show.”

“When we got deep into rehearsals for Blast! they told me they wanted me to be one of the featured performers for the show. So I started to work and develop a Snare Drum solo I would perform alone on stage nightly in front of thousands of people.”

“If it wasn’t for Blast! I wouldn’t have gotten into the whole theatrical aspect of my drumming. Being one of the main guys in the show I spent a lot of one-on-one time with George Pinney, the acting teacher (current Professor of Stage Movement and Head of Musical Theatre at Indiana University Bloomington, indiana.edu). He has a Tony and Emmy, so he’s doing pretty well. I spent time with him learning just how to get people to watch what I want them to watch, and how I can show a lot of energy in drumming without expending a lot of energy. Especially in Viva Elvis it looks like I’m going nuts, but I’m not. I couldn’t do 10 shows a week if I was really going nuts like that.”

“One thing I remember about coming to Seattle. After the show we [would do] a meet and greet and that’s probably where I signed this [program]. Because I was one of the featured guys. We always had a ton of high school kids we would sign autographs for. And I remember signing autographs one night, and a guy comes up to me and says, “Your drumming’s amazing.” And I’m saying, “Thanks, thanks.” And he says, “I’m probably too old for you to remember, my name’s Alan White (drummer for legendary progressive rock band Yes).” I stopped everything! I was like, “Sorry kids. Alan White, of course I know who you are!” It was an awesome experience; I spent a little bit of time with him and his wife. It was like role reversal – I’m signing autographs for these kids and all of a sudden he shows up – “Oh my God, Oh my God!””

“In the show tonight you’ll see I do a little homage to Blast!. I’m not going to tell you what but I do a little bitty thing, it’s in the first act (“Juggling Chaos”) which is the only time I spend a lot of time on stage.”

After touring with Blast! (from 2001-2003), Kit was chosen to join the cast of successor show Cyberjam for its debut in London, England (where it played from September 23, 2003 until January 3, 2004). “Blast! had the Broadway troupe and the touring troupe and things were starting to meld together. They wanted to do a new show, a new concept incorporating what they did with Blast II – Shockwave, which was a show they tried to do. And basically they took key players out and made it a smaller ensemble, with people more involved, more multi-role players. It took some highlights from Blast! and expanded on some of the electronic things and added some new stuff. And I’ll be honest with you; I hated the name, but was a great show.”

“It was nice because I was in London performing in the West End. I lived in Leicester Square, a five-minute walk from the theater. It was amazing; I couldn’t imagine how much they were paying for us to stay in a flat right next to St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church. I’m sure it was like 2,000 pounds a week. I shared a two-bedroom flat with other cast members. I could literally walk out my door and there’s the church.”

“It was rough because it was a brand-new show. We were in the Queens Theatre in London where we slowly got a following. But we knew we had to close because Les Misérables was coming in (starting in mid-April, 2004, where it continues to play to this day). [When] that happened we all kind of went our ways. I was debating going back to Blast!. But that was when I got married and we were thinking about what we were going to do. So I settled down for a bit.”

ENTER THE BANNER-MAN

It was here another fan-favorite enters the picture, and pointed Kit towards a Cirque-centric future. My wife and my first interface with a Cirque performer was with Varekai drummer Paul Bannerman (pauljbanerman.com). He was most kind to greet our group (thanks to connections made through the late Cirque Tribune Discussion Board) when we saw Varekai during its opening weekend in Montréal in April 2002.

“I love Paul to death. He’s not only a great drummer, but he’s an amazing guy, super nice. And he’s known throughout Cirque for it. Like when Cirque Tribune was around, being friends with them, he would let people sit behind him and watch him do a show. They don’t allow that anymore.”

“Paul Bannerman is the reason that I’m in Cirque. We were roommates for like two weeks in Orlando, Florida. He was hired by Blast! but he had to leave, it was a visa thing (though born in Belgium, he is a citizen of Canada). And we were all bummed out because he’s a super great guy. And then we found out he got the gig with Cirque with Varekai. And he was telling me, “You need to come, you need to be in the show with me, blah blah.” If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have auditioned for Cirque, 10+ years [ago] now.”

“He’s still with it, hasn’t missed a show. He was actually going to be here last week, he was going to come and stay with me. But he said the prices to Seattle have gone up, so I’ll come and see you in Calgary. So when we go to Calgary (from April 9 to May 24, 2015) he’ll come out and visit and hang.”

THE CORTEGE ARRIVES

It was his audition “10+ years ago” that made Cirque take notice. Though there was a misunderstanding. “In 2005 Welby Altidor, who was in Casting (later Director of Creation on MJ One and now Cirque’s Executive Creative Director) called looking for somebody for Corteo creation. And he got me confused with another person. Did I know somebody who could help them out? And I was like – me! “But you’re already working for Cirque.” “No, I’m not!” But it worked out, so I didn’t have to audition for that one. They had my audition from before. I had also sent them a couple of audio files because they wanted to make sure I could play electronic stuff. And I had just come off Cyberjam, and I was playing a lot of electronic stuff with Cyberjam.”

We were then surprised by this nugget of info. “Originally René Dupéré (Cirque’s first full-time composer) was supposed to write the music for Corteo.” We had not heard this before, but it makes sense time-wise. Corteo, whose romantic style would have been complemented by Dupéré’s lyrical composing style, would have been in creation during the latter half of 2004. Readers will remember how KÀ was delayed to November of that year, making it difficult for Dupéré, who was already stepping into KÀ after Benoit Jutras has been removed from the show, to do both. This is corroborated by the bio on Corteo composer Philippe Leduc’s website which states, “Four months before the premiere of its show Corteo (that would have been January 2005) Cirque du Soleil asked Philippe to compose the music for many numbers in this touring show…”

“For Corteo there were five different composers (if you include director Daniele Finzi Pasca, who wrote lyrics for most of the shows songs). Philippe Leduc (.com) wrote a lot of the big scores for the show. Maria Bonzanigo was part of the troupe (from Cirque Élioze, cirque-eloize.com), she was working on the transitions and part of the clown acts. We also had (Kooza composer) Jean-François Côté (jfcote.com) and we had one song by Michael Smith at one point which got taken out. That was crazy.” (Michael A. Smith does have one song in the production, for the second act finale “Tournik” act, “Che Finalone.”)

“Corteo took some time, it was a crazy creation. It was a little bit tough at first, but it gelled over time. There was a slow crawl, then walking then running. The fixation for Corteo was long – weeks – and even [after that] it was another year and things still weren’t settled. But it’s still a lovely show and it’s one of my favorites because it’s my first Cirque show. Daniele is the nicest guy.”

Despite being involved in Corteo creation, like other members of the Corteo creation band Kit did not appear on the soundtrack CD released 18 months later. “That was when Cirque was still outsourcing CD production. It was very sad. Because only one person from the [creation] band appeared on the CD and that was Paul (Bisson, lead singer and current lead in Zarkana). It was a very, very sad.”

THE KING TAKES UP RESIDENCE

When the opportunity came to perform in a residence show in Las Vegas, and move home to be with his wife, Kit didn’t hesitate. The inspiration for the Vincent Paterson (.com)-directed show was to be the life and music of Las Vegas icon Elvis Presley. My wife and I had the opportunity to view both “versions” of Viva Elvis, and we both felt Kit was the best part of the show, when we saw him come out onstage we instantly knew who it was and couldn’t watch anything but him. The re-interpretation of the music was incredibly creative; the opening number, “Blue Suede Shoes,” was overwhelming in the way it mixed things in and moved things around and backed things up and used samples and quotes.

“Elvis died when I was six months old, but growing up in the South I knew all about him. It was a fun show to play. I miss that show. It was such a musically-driven show, and it had a nice strong dynamic. Of course being a musician I was really spoiled because we were onstage a lot, and the energy that we got from the artists was really strong.”

“The arrangers re-arranging the music did an amazing job. Because they had to take material that was not theirs, material that was recorded with one microphone back in the day where what you heard was what you got. So they had to deal with Elvis’s voice and the band behind him and try to tweak it so that you couldn’t hear the band. So they did a lot of genius things.”

Was the creation schedule or process much different from the Grand Chapiteau shows he had been part of? “The creation processes for Corteo and Kurios were both very similar and the timeframes from my arrival in Montréal to the premiere were almost identical. For both I arrived in Montréal in January and the premieres were in late April. So the creation and integration was quite a bit shorter than that of Viva Elvis. [In addition] we started at the IHQ in the rehearsal facilities and in early March we moved to the Grand Chapiteau at the Old Port. Of course there were slight differences as you would expect working with different directors, composers and personnel.”

“The creation process for Viva Elvis was quite different given that it was to be a resident show in Las Vegas. For the band, we spent only 5 weeks in Montréal (including a weekend trip to Memphis and Graceland) and then went to Vegas to finish the process. We spent 4 months doing creation in the theatre at Aria before Previews and then we had a few more weeks of changes before the premiere in February of 2010. This process was quite long, but there were many more technical issues since we were working with a complex stage and scenery that was a big part of the show.”

“The best part of the creation process was all the jamming with the band. Viva Elvis was definitely a special band and we had so much fun jamming on the musical arrangements of (composer/arranger) Erich Létourneau (also known as Erich Van Tourneau).”

Being a music-centric show, the musicians worked quite closely with the Musical Director. The variety of instruments Kit was to play allowed him a degree of, as he called it, “”controlled freedom.” Throughout the process I would suggest parts, Erich would listen and we’d build from there. Erich had a great percussive sense and at times knew exactly what he wanted. It’s great working with someone who has a strong percussive sense, and even more so with composers who are completely open to and encouraging of suggestions.”

Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the show for me was the sound of the theater, it sounded like I had headphones on, it was just so crisp and clear. Kit agrees. “The sound designer, Jonathan Deans (designingsound.com), is ridiculous. And it’s a very simple [design]. Some of the other shows Jonathan Deans has done you have internal speakers in the seats (KA and Love and MJ One). But for Elvis there were no speakers in the seats. There are 12 subwoofers in the concrete underneath you and just the traditional speakers. Being a proscenium [theater] I guess it’s a little easier to control.”

Despite the technical or artistic accomplishments, the show never really found its audience. Not that there weren’t attempts to revise the show. “Towards the end they brought in the Banquine act and elevated the show to a whole new level. There were a lot of [other] things that were planned to revamp the show, but they decided to bring in Zarkana.”

“Honestly, everyone had great spirits about it. [But] a lot of us saw the writing on the wall. They had great expectations for it but it turned out not to work financially. I know how it feels when a show closes, like with Cyberjam. “What am I going to do next?” Of course the first reaction is like getting hit in the gut. But backstage, even knowing that we were closing, for what it was it was a very positive atmosphere.”

“A lot of those technicians are still there working with Zarkana. And a lot of the artists have moved around and most of them are back with Cirque. For instance, Jason the trumpet player is in Kooza. Casey joined Kooza right after I left (January, 2014). Mikey the bass player is now on Varekai. A couple of the other guys tour with a big-name artist from Québec, Garou (http://www.garouofficiel.com/), who was the original lead in Zarkana. So a lot of the band is touring with him and actually this week they’re on tour, I think they’re going overseas. A few of them are now doing a special event in Milan. And Bruno (Dumont) the saxophone player is on Quidam. So a lot of us found other places in the universe to go. And surprisingly a lot of the artists, the acrobats, found places quicker and a lot of them are in Vegas doing other shows.”

“It’s crazy going to Facebook and looking at what all the dancers are doing. Like Eliana (Girard, dancer < https://www.facebook.com/Dance9Eliana >) won “So You Think You Can Dance” (Female winner of Season 9, summer 2012). You’re watching her on TV going, “I know her, she’s amazing!”

WHEN FOUR EQUALS ZERO

When we talked with Erich Van Tourneau, Producer and Arranger for Viva Elvis (which can be found at http://www.cirquefascination.com/?p=2414) he had kind words for Kit, but also spoke as to why – for the second time – Kit does not appear on the CD soundtrack to a Cirque du Soleil show:

““Kit is so cool and has a strong presence in the show. I clearly remember when I saw his audition tape. [I got] a really strong impression of Kit and he was the first musician that I chose.” … “I think the main difference between the album and the live performance is really an aesthetic one. [With the CD] I tried to bring Elvis samples into the picture as much as possible. So when I had a choice between using a musician from the show or using samples coming from Elvis’ work or world, I would use Elvis samples. I tried to use the musicians every time it was possible, but if I had access to nice percussion coming from [the world] of Elvis I would use those.” (Indeed, there is no one listed as performing “Percussion” on the CD.)”

“They were originally talking about a two-CD set, because there were so many songs in the show,” Kit revealed. “So we all went into the studio. And the horn players did some horn tracks. I recorded four songs for the CD. I did the Cajon part for “It’s Now or Never,” the one with the classical guitar on the stage. “Return to Sender” was the big marching band one.”

“Of the four songs I did, none of them ended up being on the album. Only Toscha (Comeaux, singer) and I are not on the CD. And Stéphane Mongeau, the Executive Producer, brought me in and talked to me one-on-one. “It just happened, man, that your stuff isn’t on the album.” I had already had the experience of not being on the Corteo CD, and that crushed me. And then it happened again! Yeah, I got paid for it but that doesn’t matter. It was one of those things. [Later] they were thinking they were going to do a revamp and would put out another album that had all the other songs on it.”

We ourselves pondered why some of the songs that would be considered standouts for their stagecraft alone, such as “Jailhouse Rock” with its huge jail-like apparatus, weren’t included. Kit noted that the artists also had the same question. “A lot of the songs that ended up on the album we were wondering, “Why is this one not on there?” And it’s true; I wasn’t doing drums, I was doing percussion and the whole vibe was wanting to be more, not house music, but with a different flare. I wouldn’t want to go into a studio and just play tambourine on two and four. And I love Erich. Hugo (Bombardier, Assistant Producer and Arranger), who was a part of that, actually texted me yesterday about the University of Georgia versus Kentucky basketball game. And Georgia was winning! So I still keep in touch with those guys. But it was heartbreaking, I won’t lie to you.”

FROM SHOW TO SHOW

Even with the closure of Viva Elvis, Kit wasn’t without a job for long. In fact, Cirque’s desire to continue utilizing him meant they changed their policies. “By the time Viva Elvis closed I’d already been contacted by Zumanity and KÀ about being on call, doing the shows in rotation. They still had their main guy at both, but they needed someone to be in rotation. And I had to go in and audition, which was kind of funny. Because the bandleader was like, “Why did you have to audition?” And I said, “It’s fine, I like to audition. I like being fair.” Because I did [only] percussion on Viva Elvis, the drummer didn’t know I played drum set. But I said, “Yeah, I’ve been doing that since I was a kid.””

“I always tell people I’m more of a percussionist then a drum set player. It just so happened that the handful of jobs I’ve had with Cirque I’ve done drum set or both. [Kurios] is the first full-time show that I played just drums, because I wasn’t full-time on Mystère or Zumanity. [And on] Kooza and Viva Elvis I was just percussion. And Corteo I played percussion and drum set.”

“So I auditioned for both Zumanity and KÀ. And they would only allow me to work on one show, so I had to decide which one I wanted. Well, Zumanity asked me first and it’s a fun show, I love it. [In fact] as soon as I go home on the 23rd, I’m going to go see it since it’s just been refreshed so I’m going to go catch it again.”

So I was at Zumanity (from August 2012 to July 2013). And what happened was [Senior Artistic Director at Mystère James Hadley] said, “We want Kit to come in and do this.” So they contacted me and said, “We’ve already talked to the Artistic Manager and we’re going to make it okay for you to do two shows at once and rotate.” Which was great! So I went into Zumanity and learned the show in a week. And then a few days later I was on the rotation. Same thing with Mystère (where he was in rotation from January to July 2013).”

“So for the next year, “…I was pretty busy. I was doing a lot of teaching. And then I started getting into the school system teaching marching band, and several schools would have me write shows for them. And I was also gigging with some side projects; in Vegas there is so much music. Doing Cirque for so long, a clock-in clock-out show where I have to show up at the theater at 5:30, the show starts at this time and I leave [hours later]; it was nice to go back to the old school of gigs at night, hustling my own gear, setting up, which took me back.”

So I played a lot of casinos. I did a lot of jazz stuff that I hadn’t done in 15 years. I couldn’t remember the names of the songs but the singer would sing a couple of lines of lyrics and I’d go, “Oh yeah I know that song.” But I was pretty busy.”

“So I did that for a little bit, until I jumped on with Kooza. That was nice; I was more of a family man, spending time with my wife and my two kids, my dogs.”

THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES STEALS FROM THE PUZZLE BOX

Kit eventually moved away from the comforts of home (and multiple, if temporary, jobs) in favor of a full-time touring gig, this time with Kooza. “In July 2013 I signed on for Kooza and went to Montréal for two weeks to do training. I was only with Kooza for a very short period of time July 2013 and ending in January 2014.”

“I had just signed my signing papers for Kooza. (Usually you sign a piece of paper that says you’re going to do a show, then sign the official [detailed] documents later.) And not even a month later I get a call from Casting – I look at my phone and see it’s a call from Cirque du Soleil and I’m thinking, “That’s weird.” [The voice said] “Hey Kit, this is Claude Vendette.” He’s music casting (a talent scout specializing in finding musicians). And I was like, “Hey man what’s going on, why are you calling me?” “They want you for Kurios (which was then called “Cirque 2014”). And I had just signed for Kooza and hadn’t even left yet. “Do I have to audition?” “No, you’ve got the gig.””

It took more than one phone call though. “What definitely made me take the gig was when Michel (Laprise, Kurios Director) called and we [spent] an hour and a half just talking about the show. He was at home chilling, showing me all this stuff, and I was getting excited. And so I signed my contract for Kurios the same day I signed my contract for Kooza.”

“Kurios brought me in in November 2013 for a couple of weeks of creation, and then later for another week. We had workshops that I would come in on. We were just brainstorming with the composer and Michel. It was kind of tough because I did 10 weeks in Russia (with Kooza till early November 2013), then I was in Montréal (for Kurios creation), then I was in Paris (back with Kooza around November 20, 2013). Trying to squeeze time in with my wife as well, that was kind of tough.”

The music for the show, with its quirky steampunk aesthetic, was mostly composed by French composer Raphaël Beau (www.raphaelbeau-compositeur.com). However, a third of the compositions to make it to the CD were written by frequent Cirque collaborators Bob & Bill (Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, bobandbill.net). And, as it often is, it was a matter of time. “[For Kurios] Bob and Bill were brought in, there were a lot of changes and they needed music pronto and they’re really good at doing quick. We needed stuff quickly, [we only had] a month-and-a-half before the show was supposed to open. That’s a lot to ask of one person when you’re trying to change and adapt things. If it was me I would be stressed out, I would be crazy. It actually worked really well.”

“Most of it is still Raphaël Beau, who is an amazing person; he has a huge heart, super great, super nice. And the two components worked really well together. It’s always strange being a musician working with multiple people in control, you don’t know how that chemistry’s going to be, but it was super smooth, super cool.”

This being his third creation process, how did it go? “Time-wise we had the same amount of time. I was brought in in December 2013 because of the “Juggling Chaos” act, the first number (“Steampunk Telegram” on the CD). And the musicians came almost a month later, in January 2014. I came to Montréal from Paris something like January 4 and they were there on the 24th.”

“[But] I would say the amount we worked in this show is more than we did in Corteo. And I think a lot of it had to do with the circumstances of the music already written or things that we needed to change. We came in January and by the first week of March we were in the tent. That’s when we started to have longer days.”

“When we were working in the studio we could just walk across the street and we’d be home. And our hours were pretty flexible when we were working on music, so we had a lot of freedom with that. The composers were off writing so they weren’t around that much. Corteo was the same way. With Viva Elvis they were with us a lot because a lot of it had already been pre-done. A lot of [a composer’s degree of interaction] has to do with the situation, the time frame, and what is going on.”

“The amount of work for [Kurios] involved long hours but it was very well thought out. The thing with Michel was he knew what he wanted and what he expected and so he put a lot of time into that. This is a crucial reason why we didn’t have [much of] a fixation; ours was four days. The show was already set up ahead of any other show, so there were not many changes at all. And even during the four days of fixation it was very minor things. So the show you’re seeing tonight is not very much different from what it was in Montréal, which is very, very rare. Out of the three creations I’ve done this is the one that has been the furthest ahead at this point in time compared to all the others. I’m happy to be part of a show that was off to a good start from the beginning.”

BRINGING IT

Every artist or musician brings something unique to a show or project. Their experience, emotions, technique, outlook. Kit plays the drums for the show, obviously. But where might we hear his touch in the music of the show? “There are a lot of little bitty things that I had the freedom to do. I had more freedom with the raw feel stuff [for Kurios] because Raphaël [Beau, composer] isn’t a drummer. [But] one of the Bob & Bill composing team, Marc (Lessard), is a drummer. Working with a drummer can sometimes be a weird dynamic, but it was super cool. He was like, okay, go to town. And I was like, really? All right – cool!”

“Even though I’m only on drum set, we have some songs that are old-school 40’s and 50’s sounding Gene Krupa-type stuff, and we have more rocking stuff. The book is very varied and that’s partly from me.”

“And what was great about Corteo and even a little bit [with Kurios] was that I got to come up with a lot of my parts. The composer comes up with the main theme and melody and everything, but rhythmically they usually don’t have an idea and they’re really open. So I will try different things. With Corteo especially, that whole percussion “world” was like my ideal setup. (See images of his various drum setups, including the one for Corteo, here.) I had my drums and my world percussion all around me. I wouldn’t say it was the hardest or toughest score to play but it was one of the more involved for sure.”

“The thing that I try to bring to a show is that I have a lot of experience. Usually a lot of times it’s also my versatility in what I can play, like in terms of grooves. My whole thing is about being consistent and trying to make my shows sound the same night after night. But not always be exactly the same; I might play different fills, I might play different nuances here and there but still make it feel like I do every show.”

“I’ve been really fortunate to work with Daniele (Finzi Pasca-Corteo Director) and Michel (Laprise, Kurios director), both super great human directors who work with you one-on-one. It’s not where you feel like there’s a distance between you, they’ll come and talk to you and they’re very personable. They’re not distant or hard to approach at all.”

Part of the first act set piece, “Juggling Chaos,” involves Kit and show percussionist Christa Mercey (.com) playing and banging on tables and suitcases. “The original concept for the table thing was a duo that did drumming on various objects; I don’t remember the name of the group. In November we [were] exploring and talking about the show and Cirque wanted something like that. I said, “Do we want to do stuff that’s already been done? I don’t feel we should copy, I think we should come up with something new.” So even the little bit that we do on the table we’re not trying to be stoic, I wanted it to be aggressive.”

“When we got to doing explorations I was on YouTube quite a bit. And we already knew that [our characters] were travelers because we had luggage. So I brought up an old Fred Astaire bit. (I grew up with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby and “White Christmas,” my mom was a big fan.) I remembered a YouTube clip of Astaire playing drums but it’s all with his feet, kicking and stuff. (From the film “A Damsel in Distress” from 1937, the scene can be found here.) And I thought that would be really cool to do with the luggage. It didn’t really work because it wasn’t loud enough. But that got us into the whole concept of playing on the suitcases.”

“[Playing on] the table happened because they knew I did a lot of tricks from Blast!. So they said, “Okay, why not do your bit on the table.” So the very first thing we do on the table I do some of my more Blast! things. I’ll do the tongue trick or something like that. I’m getting too old to do a lot of that stuff, though. I need to be able to play through the rest of the show; I can’t get injured on the first act.” (Laughs)

While Kit is onstage during the first scene, drums are keeping tempo in the background. But isn’t Kit the drummer? “It’s a track. That’s the only song where we actually have a drum track that plays. It’s our one number that’s more like a Broadway-style number, which is choreographed to a “T.”. It’s a minimal drum track, which is great because it creates more space, so when I play on the table it allows you to hear what we’re doing.”

Kit is also the “Assistant Bandleader” – what does that entail? “I basically call the show when [Marc Sohier, bass player and Bandleader] is out. That’s pretty much the main role, if the bandleader’s out I can take over calling the show without a hitch. And I’m in a rotation to make sure, every week I’ll call a show or two.”

“I’m actually drumming as I call the show. And I have pre-recorded samples of me calling, because in a lot of cases I’m playing, and if you opened up the microphone you’d just get a world of noise. So that we don’t have everyone hearing drums every time I turn on my callback I have a lot of that stuff prerecorded so I can just trigger it, and it goes, “three-four.” I can trigger it anywhere during the program. It’s a pretty technical program, and when I trigger “three-four” it will go to the next section. Other bandleaders will verbally count “three-four” and then trigger the next section.”

THIRD TIMES THE CHARM

For Kit’s first Cirque creation, Corteo, the CD production was outsourced so didn’t include the creation musicians (except the aforementioned Mr. Bisson). It also took 18 months to be released. Though the lag time was reduced to 10 months for the Viva Elvis CD, the music for the CD again did not include him. Not using creation musicians and re-arranging the music so it sounds different than the show had gone on for awhile though, all the way back to the “EDM-influenced” CD of Varekai. “I remember buying the Varekai CD; I haven’t listened to it in years. You watch the show and it has a very nice groove to it, yet the CD is all electronic. It was one of those things where it wasn’t the show and it was disappointing. Even to me as a musician, it was like, “Aww man, I really wanted that song and it’s not on here.” Or it is but it’s like a remixed version of it.”

Since Alain Vinet has been Cirque’s Musical Director the CDs have begun sounding like the show, with most of the music from the show and creation musicians playing the music. “I can’t remember if it was with Zed, or what show it started with. That’s great, you know. If I go to a show, I want to hear the closest thing to the shows music. I mean a studio-quality album version.”

For its part the Kurios CD was recorded, “…the day after the Cirque 30th anniversary party, Tue & Wed June 17 and 18, 2014 – just those two days. It felt a little rushed but we got it done.” With the music being well received by all at Cirque and a high demand for the CD, recording was quickly completed with the CD hitting Chapiteau shelves just 7 months after Kurios’ gala.

“They did some things where there were some re-arrangements; not like a medley, but taking two songs and kind of combining them. I don’t know the name of the songs on the CD; they are still the show song names for me. I look at the CD and I’m like, “What’s that?” When we were doing the little drumming videos for the website I was like, “Which is this? Oh yeah, Fearsome Flight – Rola Bola.” (He has quite the selection of videos at YouTube.)

CHALLENGES

Having had experience with many Cirque scores, which was the most challenging to play? “There was one song in Corteo where I was playing drum kit and then I would have to play darbuka and tabla (middle-eastern drums) and go back to drum kit. It was the Roue Cyr act [“Anneaux” on the CD], that was probably one of the most difficult things to play.”

(That act was also the first, and last, time he felt tempted to learn a circus art. As he explained in a recent interview with 303 Magazine (available here), “When I first joined Cirque over 10 years ago with the creation of Corteo, I was amazed at the act Roue Cyr. It’s basically just a human sized ring that you can manipulate and spin while doing acrobatic moves on. I started working on it with one of the artists for a while and after an unfortunate incident involving my fingers and the big circular pole rolling over them I decided to retire from my roue cyr career.”)

“[Kurios] is great because I get to go back to my roots playing drum set. And I get to work on it practicing and developing. There are a few songs [that are favorites], “Rola Bola” (“Fearsome Flight” on the CD) for instance, that’s one of my favorite songs to play. It’s very simple but it’s a nice hard rocking song, so for me energy-wise it’s a lot of fun. “Banquine” (“Wat U No Wen” on the CD) is also a lot of fun because it’s all over the place. All the drum heavy songs in this show I like to play.”

There are some rather unique occupational hazards to being a professional musician, especially one that holds a drumstick in their hand for a living. But Kit says he doesn’t really suffer from a common malady of those that use their hands for repetitive tasks, such as typing or drumming, carpal tunnel syndrome. (Symptoms include numbness, tingling or weakness in the hand.) “No I don’t, and it has a lot to do with the way I play. I’ve been very fortunate. When I played marching band music I was very poor about it; they really want you to be tight. I’m a drum nerd geek and I’m always trying to find the best way [to play]. I never try and hold the stick with tension in my body. If there’s tension in your body there will be tension in the way you play. It’s like driving your car with the emergency brake on. So I try to not have any tension in my playing; still being controlled, but without tension.”

But he can’t say the same about tinnitus, the persistent ringing in the ears most often caused by prolonged exposure to loud sounds, such as those of – drums! “I do a little bit, but a lot of that stems from marching band. When you’re in a snare line with 10 snare drummers, which is a really high-pitched drum, and you’re cranking shots, which are the loudest stroke on the drum, it’s crazy. There were times when we were marching and the guy next to me would do a loud shot and it would trigger my ear to ring. I can remember walking off the field and throwing down my drum and freaking out. So I think most of my damage was done there.”

“I’m really smart about it now; I get my ears checked every year. Last time I was in Montréal I got my ears checked and the tester said that for a drummer I have super good hearing. He said I have the ears of a 10-year-old. I don’t know where to go with that, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Don’t tell my wife, she thinks I’m deaf.” (Laughs)

As we were winding down our time together we got to some of our “life & philosophy” questions. What gives him his greatest satisfaction? “It depends. Of course there’s my life, my wife and my two little rats, my dogs. And I’ve been very blessed to do this.”

But that has to be complicated by his wife, home, and two “rats” being in Las Vegas, and him traveling the world with the show, doesn’t it? “It’s tough; it sucks most of the time. We make it work; she understands that my passion and one of my big loves is to play, and she’s very understanding. She comes from a musical background – her mom and dad are both musicians – so it’s somewhat easier that way. But we make it work; we try to only go a certain amount of time without seeing each other, usually no more than four or five weeks. I think our longest has been 10 weeks.”

WHERE PREPARATION MEETS OPPORTUNITY

Kit could be considered to be lucky to have had the opportunities with Cirque that he has had. But the opportunities have come because he has been prepared. He’s applied himself to his craft, the result being technical excellence. “I have, yeah. But you know, I work hard, and I always try to put myself in a position where I can do this, but I’ve been very, very fortunate.”

“And I learned from an early age to be humble. I’m definitely not the best at it but I still strive to be the best. Whatever I can do to help me elevate to that level or above I still do. I always try to better myself not only in music but everything.”

“I’m 38 years old and I’m still in my apartment here in Redmond practicing. [For example] today I was watching House Of Cards season three (which I finished today). And while I was watching I was practicing, working on my feet. Being a percussionist my hands are usually fine, but I work on my weak things. I’m always practicing things because I want to be versatile. I don’t want to be considered a jack of all trades and master of none. I don’t like that; I want to be a jack of all trades and I want to master them all. That’s one thing I always try to bring to the table, the versatility of what I play. And having that versatility helps the musical score, like in Corteo especially.”

And what suggestions does he have for a young person who may be interested in pursuing a career in music?

“Nowadays I’d walk away from social media, get away from the computer. I think social media is great, but there’s a point at which you see a lot of kids are into so many things that they’re not putting in the practice.”

“When I was in high school we moved out of Atlanta and there wasn’t that much to do, so when I came home I practiced. I would put on my Rush CDs and I would practice to Neil Peart. I would put on rock ‘n roll or Led Zeppelin, and I would sit there and I would practice. There were no video games, no distractions – just practice.”

“So the biggest thing I tell even people my age is to step back, and if you really want to elevate to that level you have to put in the time. And if there are distractions you need to figure out a way. [For example,] I don’t own a videogame system anymore. Because when I was in college I didn’t practice at all, I would just play video games. Now I don’t.”

“My advice is practice, you have to put in the time, it’s not going to come to you naturally. And just keep working. Don’t think that you’re already at that level, keep trying to grow. And be humble. Especially in work; when you’re working with other people you’ve gotta be workable and you’ve gotta be humble, or you’re not going to get jobs. You could be the greatest drummer in the world, but if you’re not a very friendly or nice person you’re not going to get hired.”

Kit can be found at:
     • Website: www.kitchatham.com
     • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kitchatham
     • You Tube (a number of practice and performance videos): https://www.youtube.com/user/KitChathamPercussion
     • Sorry folks, No Twitter.

My sincere thanks go to: Mr. Chatham for so graciously spending time with us; Amélie Robitaille, Kurios Publicist; Chantal Côte, Corporate PR Manager; And my patient wife LouAnna, who sat in on this interview and puts up with my sometimes obsessive hobby.