Ken Mary on KRK Monitors, Alice Cooper, and Drumming Documentary

Ken Mary is sort of a jack of all trades in the music business. Having had a successful career playing drums in Fifth Angel, followed by Alice Coopers band, and later on with House of Lords, Ken has moved on to producing artists from all genres at his Phoenix-based studio SonicPhish Productions. Currently, he’s been cast to host a documentary where he’s interviewing some of the most respected drummers in the music industry. Gibson.com called up Ken to get the scoop on the documentary, and to hear some war stories from his days with Alice Cooper. Ken also talk about his work as a producer, and how he got hooked on using KRK monitors.

You were the drummer in Alice Cooper's band in the eighties, playing on the Raise Your Fist and Yell album, as well as touring with Alice. What was life like on the road with Alice Cooper?

Ken: I performed with him in the late eighties, and I was on two world tours with him. I was on The Nightmare Returns Tour, and the Raise Your Fist And Yell Tour - those were both world tours. I toured with him in 86, 87, and 88. As well as the Raise Your Fist And Yell album, I also appear on The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper, and some other compilation albums, and some movie soundtracks as well. But to get to your question, as far as life on the road with Alice, to be honest it was really the most fun I ever had touring. If you looked at my background you know that I’ve toured with a lot of other bands. I’ve toured with House of Lords, which was my own band on RCA, I’ve toured with Accept, you know I did a lot of different touring over the years, and Alice was the most fun. I think probably the reason it was the most fun, especially The Nightmare Returns Tour - that was my first major tour, so I went from playing fairly midsize venues, like large clubs and small theatres, and all of a sudden in a matter of three months I was playing sold out coliseums all over the world. As far as working with Alice personally, he is a very nice man to work with, I’d say he was one of the most enjoyable personalities to work with as far as in my career. He’s a very intelligent man, but he’s also very down to earth. I have really fond memories of my time touring with Alice.

Any interesting anecdotes you would like to share with us from your time touring with Alice Cooper?

Ken: There’s a ton of different stories, but one of the ones that stands out the most is we were flying back to the mainland US from Alaska. We had just played a New Year’s Eve show in Anchorage, Alaska, and we were coming back to Montana. This is New Year’s Day 1988, and the keyboard player Paul [Taylor,] and I were playing cards on the plane. It was a chartered jet, and we had all the gear on the plane. We were all kind of sitting in the back, so it was a very unusual plane to begin with, because it’s a large jet, and were were all crammed in the back of it. There was probably thirty seats or so. Paul, and I were making fun the whole time about the plane crashing, because they had these jets on the deck of cards. So we’re getting ready to land, and the airport was surrounded by fog. Everything was going fairly well, and we just thought “hey, we’re coming in for a landing,” and all of a sudden the plane took a really, really steep upward trajectory, and the guy just gunned the engines. It scared the heck out of everybody on the plane because it felt like we were going straight up, I mean I’m sure we were going 60-70 percent up, but it felt like we were going straight up. We had no idea what had happened, so we were kind of freaking out. Then the pilot gets on, and apparently we were landing, it’s a very small airport, and they didn’t have radar, so we missed the runway, and we were actually landing in a forest. We were landing in trees, so at the last second he saw that we were landing in trees, and just gunned it. I’ll tell you what, that’s the last time we made jokes about the plane crashing. That was pretty scary. There’s tons of different things, but that’s one that kind of stands out in my mind.

I understand you're working on a documentary called "The Drumming Hall Of Fame." Tell us a bit about that project.

Ken: Absolutely! The project is a movie, and we’re trying to make it entertaining and interesting for both drummers, and for non-drummers. The focus is really the history of trap-kit drumming, it’s not going to be including different world styles of playing. Mostly we’re going to focus on players that are either jazz, pop, or rock oriented, and the players that have really influenced the art of that style of drumming. We’re covering some of the drummers that are no longer with us, as well as the drummers that are around today that have greatly influenced the field of drumming. We also want to find out more about the players as artists, what makes them different, and honestly, what makes them great. What are their attitudes, and experiences? How do they practice? How do they approach coming up with the creative parts of the songs that they come up with? We want to dig a little bit deeper than just making a movie about great drummers. We want to really make it interesting on a personal level. Some of the challenges they’ve had, some of the struggles that they’ve had. We really want to make it an exciting, and interesting movie for both drummers and non-drummers.

Who are some of the drummers you've gotten to interview so far? Do you have a dream interview? I know youre a fan of Steve Gadd.

Ken: Well, it’s funny that you mentioned Steve Gadd being maybe a dream interview, because we did already interview Steve Gadd. He’s actually one of my influences as a drummer as well, so it was really an honor to sit down and talk to him. Obviously he’s a legendary player, and he’s really an incredible person too. It was a great experience, and I really learned a great deal from the conversation. We’ve also interviewed Simon Phillips, who worked with The Who, Toto, and Mick Jagger. Are you familiar with Kenny Aronoff? He’s worked with Paul McCartney, John Mellencamp, and Elton John just to name a few.

Could you tell us a bit about how you got in to producing?

Ken: Absolutely, over all I can tell you I love music in general, and I love all kinds of different styles of music, so working with a producer has really been a tremendous amount of fun for me. Fortunately I had the opportunity to work with some of the greatest producers and engineers in music history. I learned a great deal from them, so it was really kind of a natural progression going from behind the glass to in front of the glass. I worked with producers, people like Andy Johns, who worked with Led Zeppelin, and Van Halen. Michael Wagener, who’s worked with Metallica, and Alice Cooper. I did have some physical problems that I think really did change my direction a little bit. I do think if I had been 100 percent healthy, and didn't have any back pain or problems I probably would have pursued drumming a lot more. But as it was, I basically had limited most of my drumming career to studio and limited performances here and there, whereas recently I think I’ve been able to overcome those issues, so I’ve actually been having a lot of fun playing drums lately.

Can you talk a bit about some of the acts that you've worked with at SonicPhish Productions? According to the website, SonicPhish has produced 4 Top 20 Billboard hits, as well as numerous other chart successes.

Ken: Some of the acts we’ve worked with include Megadeath, La Roux, House of Lords, and Northern Light Orchestra which is a Christmas Project which includes numerous multi-platinum singers, and musicians. Guys like Doug Aldridge, and Bruce Kulick, so that’s like an all-star Christmas project.

I understand you use KRK monitors in your studio. What models do you use, and what was it that made you choose KRK?

Ken: I’m a huge KRK fan, first of all. I think they do a fantastic job. First I’ll tell you what I’m using: I’m using KRK V8 Series 2 monitors, and I’m also using the KRK V12 S Series 2 sub. I have a full surround sound system with five of the V8’s and the sub. What I love about them is that they sound really great for the client. Like, a lot of the times the clients come in, and they want to hear what you’ve done on their projects. You’re able to play that music on the KRK’s. Then on the flip side, you don’t want to take the mix out of the studio, and feel like you’re hearing something different, which can happen. Like, if you have a set of speakers which is really over-hyped, and it sounds too good. Then you take your mix out of the studio, and you put it in a different environment, like a car, or a surround system, or somebody else’s stereo system, and it doesn’t sound anything like what you mixed. It sounds great in the studio, but it doesn’t sound great in other environments. That’s what I love about KRK, you can still have the client come in, they can still tell that it sounds really good, and at the same time the speakers are not over-hyped. They give you an accurate representation of what’s going on without coloring the sound too much. You can be sure that when it sounds good on your KRK’s, it’s going to sound good everywhere else. I was sold on them back in 2004-2005, and haven’t changed since.

Want to find out more about Ken Mary, and “The Drumming Hall Of Fame?” Check out his official Facebook page!