Our Guest List curator for April is drummer and educator Chris Avgerin. Chris is well-known across multiple genres in Chicago’s music scene. He has an impressive resume of projects and bands including Nequient, Varaha, Hedgehog and The Fox, along with being respected as a session and live drummer. We asked Chris to curate a 90-minute playlist featuring some of his favorite Chicago bands. Following is an interview with him to get his background and perspective being a professional musician getting through a year of the pandemic.
Reflecting on his beginnings with drumming, “There wasn’t any really grand revelation or anything. In 4th grade, my school started up the band program and playing drums/percussion seemed to be the most interesting of all the band instruments. I was into rock music, and percussion was the only instrument they offered that I saw on MTV. After a while it seemed like I was actually decent at it, so I stuck with it.”
A common path for musicians looking to pursue music full-time is also to teach. “I kinda fell into that. My main goal was to always perform. When it came time to choose a major/focus for college, I wanted to do music performance. My parents told me to get an education degree so I would have something to fall back on. During and after college I started having people ask me for drum/percussion lessons. It seemed logical to keep on teaching while I kept on pursuing my performance schedule.”
“I teach at a few high schools/middle schools doing percussion lessons and directing percussion ensemble and marching drumline. So, that involves a lot of teaching rudimental and orchestral type of playing along with jazz drum set. I also do private lessons and teach at a music shop. Those lessons are mostly drumset-oriented and are kinda tailored to whatever music the student enjoys (along with some helpful guidance from me). It’s mostly rock, but there’s jazz, pop, funk, metal, etc. I currently have students who range in age from 7 to 50. I’ve taught anywhere from retired musicians to 4-year-olds.”
The role of a teacher has definitely informed Chris’s approach to drumming and writing. “Most of it is subconscious though. Looking at someone’s technique and critiquing it forces me to look at the way I do things. Sometimes a student will bring in a piece of music that they’re learning for school or a song/drum beat they’re trying to figure out and I have to then go about learning it and teaching it to them in the process. I’m always trying to think about different ways of approaching rhythms, counting, etc., because not everyone is going to comprehend it the same way. That forces me to create new ways to explain concepts to my students, but also creates new and quicker ways to learn things for my own playing.”
Chris offers some bits of sage wisdom to those getting into music and wanting to pursue it as a career. “Never stop learning or improving yourself. The minute you think to yourself that you know everything is the minute you lose out to someone else who is willing to go that extra mile. Be adaptable and check your ego. I don’t think I’ve gotten the work I’ve had because I’m necessarily this incredible drummer or anything; I think it’s because I work well with other people.”
“Most of the things I’ve performed have had their own set of difficulties. Whenever I’m playing heavier styles of music, it’s always a matter of keeping the energy, volume, speed, and precision up. If I’m playing with more of a singer-songwriter group, it’s about not getting in the way and being very mindful of the dynamics while keeping a good support for the music. Performing with an orchestra is challenging due to the concentration involved. Being a percussionist, you may only play one or two notes during a 15 minute piece. You better know when to play that one note. If you lose focus or your mind wanders even for a second, you can get lost and not be able to regain your bearings.”
“If I’m playing a show with one of my own groups, it’s a little less intimidating, to be honest. I’m always hard on myself, but if I mess something up, I don’t stress it too much; I just make a note of what I need to practice. As a sideman, I always check my ego at the door. I’m there to play someone else’s music and I really don’t want to screw that up. That’s messing with someone else’s passion. Whatever the bandleader wants is what I try to give them.”
There are also the experiences on the road as touring musician and working with a variety of personality types within the music industry. “I’ve had some memorable and lesson-learning moments from tours that include: breaking down in the Utah desert, hitting deer on the Kansas turnpike, driving through snow storms in the middle of the night on unlit backroads, cancelled shows due to promoters/club owners getting arrested, having intoxicated people want to fight us, etc. Individually, they’re not amazing stories or anything, but bundled up in a list like that makes it sound cooler, ha!
I’ve been lucky to work with some really great producers and engineers over the years including: Sanford Parker, Steve Albini, Michael Freeman, Pete Grossmann, and many others, and it’s always a thrill to watch them work. They know what they’re doing and watching anyone who’s good at their craft is inspiring.
There was one time where I did an EP with a band at Earth Analog, which is the studio owned by Hum’s Matt Talbot. He wasn’t engineering the session, but he was hanging around the studio a bit. The drums were done and we had moved on to guitar when he came and just sat in the back of the control room. We were listening back to a take and Matt leans over to the engineer working on our EP and says, “Who’s the drummer?” The engineer kinda points back to me and says, “That guy.” Matt looked at me with a blank expression and just said, “You sound good.” Hey, at least I got one fan!”
Chris reflected on getting through the last year of the pandemic: “I’ve actually been doing ok. I sincerely empathize with everyone who has had it rough, and I’ve certainly had my fair share of anxiety thinking about my friends who have been affected by the pandemic either by illness, mental health, or financial stability, but I’m really doing fine. Being an introvert, I’m totally at ease with being alone. I’ve been able to slow down and relax a bit. I’m always so busy with band/music projects that I don’t always get to spend time with my music collection, reading and watching movies and just being able to be still and take a breath. As much as I love playing with my bandmates and other musicians, as well as going to shows and seeing my friends, I’ve really been enjoying the solitude. It was strangely liberating to suddenly not have anything on my calendar. Some days the biggest decisions I made included what I was going to make for dinner, and whether or not I’d spend the rest of the evening listening to records or watching horror movies. My cats are pretty good company, too.”
Chris maintained a fairly heavy schedule of active concurrent projects before the pandemic hit. Some updates and shout outs on his current roster: “Nequient just turned in our new album to our record label, Nefarious Industries, back in February. We tracked it with Pete Grossmann back in Jan/Feb. of 2020. Sanford Parker mixed and Collin Jordan mastered it over the course of summer and fall. We certainly took our time with that. Everything was put on pause for a lot of people due to the pandemic, so there was no rush to get anything out. We figured we might as well take our time to get it right. Scott Shellhamer did the artwork, and it looks amazing. I really can’t wait for everyone to see and hear this thing. Not sure exactly when the release date will be, but we’re hoping to be able to release it alongside the hopes of touring.
Varaha is still pretty new to me. I joined the band right when Covid hit a year ago. So, we haven’t been able to rehearse as much as we would probably like to just for safety reasons. I know the rest of the band has been steadily writing new material and we’ve passed ideas back and forth through email and whatnot. Therefore, we’ll be able to get new stuff down pretty quick once it’s safe. I’ve already got ideas for drum parts, and I’m looking forward to working with them on the songs.
Hedgehog and the Fox hasn’t done a lot in a while. When we play live we normally do a lot of our own compositions, which pretty much consist of quirky prog instrumentals, but the last few shows we’ve done we’ve focused on doing more covers. I think it was mostly a decision that we made as a palate cleanser. Getting back to doing some covers made us remember why it’s fun to be in a band with your friends.
Puke in the Icetray has a full album recorded; all that’s left is some final mixing/mastering touches and it’ll be ready to go. Unfortunately, our bassist moved out to the west coast before the pandemic hit and it doesn’t look like he’s coming back anytime soon. So, if anyone out there is interested in very long instrumental Zappa/Zorn/Mr. Bungle/Secret Chiefs 3-type of jams, hit us up!
I’ve also been filling in here and there with a punk band called Modafoca and a traditional metal/doom band called Professor Emeritus.
I also need to mention my friend Brett. He’s got a project called Belleisle, which has been going for a number of years. It’s singer-songwriter based indie rock/folk. The cool thing about it is that he can transform the group into whatever size he wants. He’s done solo acoustic shows all the way up to having 12-13 people on stage at once. I’ve been playing drums/percussion with him for a while now. It’s not normally the type of music I play, but the music and the musicians are so good that it’s always a great experience. Having a constantly different stage lineup is also an interesting challenge.”
Saving the best and most pertinent subject matter for last in regards to Black Sabbath…is Chris team Ozzy or team Dio? “Definitely Ozzy. No question. I love Dio, and one of my biggest regrets is never having seen him in any capacity. But, the Ozzy years of Black Sabbath have had a profound impact on me. I mean, Bill Ward (along with Art Blakey) is my biggest inspiration. When people talk about a “Sabbath” sound, they’re talking about the Ozzy years. I could go on for another few pages on this subject, but I won’t bore everyone, ha!”
|CIty of God||American Heritage|
|Ritual Killer||Lord Mantis|
|Strange Fronts||Mine Collapse|
|Charred Fields of Slaughter||Bear Mace|
|The Ultimate Destroyer||Lair Of The Minotaur|
|Gw / Mammoth (Live)||Pelican|
|House of Anhedonia||Immortal Bird|
|Change to a Crawl||The Swan King|
|Worthless Prize||Melting Rot|
|Belt of Venus||Night Versions|
|Carnage Your Fate||Cardiac Arrest|
|Fucking Fertilizer||Sweet Cobra|
|Fashioncore ’88||Weekend Nachos|
|Bastards Will Pay – Remastered||Trouble|
GUEST LISTCurated by Chris Avgerin
Chris notes on his playlist choices: “I actually spent a lot of time trying to pick the right artists and songs for this playlist. I’m still not confident I got it completely right. There are a ton of favorites/classics/and even great friends that didn’t make it on the list. But, these are the artists that really stuck in my head and defined my time in the Chicago heavy music scene.”