When Theo Katzman stopped by one afternoon for this interview, he was cradling a salad bowl with a half-eaten salad inside. I saw this through the peep hole. When I opened the door, he looked up when I opened the door and smiled. “Let’s do this!” he said without missing a beat. A few weeks later, when I went to his house in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles to take his photograph, Theo was packing his bags for a week in New Orleans, but he made sure to make time for a little air-drumming.
One thing you should know about Theo before you begin reading this interview: his dad, Lee Katzman, was a serious jazz trumpeter — played with Benny Goodman serious (to name just one). So when Theo refers to his dad as a “be-bopper,” it’s no misnomer.
Find out more about Theo at theokatzman.com.
What was the last thing you listened to?
I’ve been mixing my album so I’ve been listening to my own songs — like, to a point of losing perspective.
Do you not listen to other music while you’re mixing?
No I do, I do, I always listen to music. But I’ve just been listening to my own recordings more. I don’t listen to my first record very often — when you’re done with an album you don’t really listen to it that much. So it’s not like I typically answer that question like, “Well, listening to my own music of course!” In this case, I’m checking this stuff out in the car, on the headphones… but let’s see, what was the last thing before that?
Yeah, what was the last non-Theo track you listened to?
Oh man, I’m afraid to be honest, because of what it will seem like on a pattern level. The last thing I listened to was, “Waitin on the Day,” by John Mayer. But I don’t listen to John Mayer all the time. Which, maybe, people won’t believe me.
So what was your first instrument?
My first instrument was the drums, though it wasn’t the first one that I studied. I first played drums when I was three and a half years old, at one of my dad’s rehearsals. I was just there. He must’ve been in charge of me for the day, while my mom was at work. But apparently I sat in — I just grabbed a drumstick and started to play. This guy John Bunch was playing piano — look him up, crazy to think I was playing with this cat when I was three-and-a-half years old — and my dad said Bunch played some rinky-dink kid thing, but then I started to really swing, do the ride pattern, ding-dinga-ding.
When did you play drums again after that?
Years later, I remember, one day, somebody played me Led Zeppelin for the first time and I completely snapped. I stole a drum pad from the school, and some sticks, and I just started playing drums on the pad at home. Then with a tin lamp shade I made this little kit and I told my dad I’m a drummer, man.
So would you say that’s the first instrument you had yourself?
Well yeah, so then my dad got me a Groove Percussion drumkit, some super cheap drum kit. I played it all the time and I really got deep into it. Took some lessons, got really into the lessons, then at some point my teacher — a jazz dude, from New York, had a dirty mouth — he apparently asked my dad for three grand once, because he thought they were homies. So then my dad fired him. I think he was just feeling chummy with my dad, my dad being the be-bopper he was. And my dad was not into that. So I got a new teacher. But yeah, the Groove Percussion drumkit. It was black.
What happened to it?
We sold it, because I ended up inheriting my dad’s old friend’s drumkit. This guy was a really serious drummer from Indianapolis, named George Freije. He was a Syrian guy, but Midwestified. Also a pharmacist. (That was back in the days when you could gig but you had a main gig, too.) And he had an incredible stutter. Amazing guy, one of my dad’s best friends back home in Indiana.
But yeah — I got Freije’s drums, man! They were 1958 champagne-sparkle Ludwigs. They were so crazy. They were incredible drums. I remember my drum teacher at the time got a custom DW kit. This thing was his pride and joy. He had ordered the special jazz sizes; he selected the woods; he saved up for years. I remember him coming over to my house and I had Freije’s drums and he just freaked. He was like “Oh my gosh, I’ll trade you my DW kit for these.”
So it felt special to me to have George’s drums, and that’s the reason I went round-about toward this answer — that’s really the first instrument that I fell in love with.
Where are they now?
Sadly that kit was destroyed in a flood, the weekend of my brother’s wedding. So we were away for the weekend and my drums were in the basement. There was a record snow storm that weekend. Power outage. Pipes froze, burst. My drums were floating in three feet of water.