Carter McLean is one remarkable guy. Forget the fact that Carter is an exceptional drummer for one second to consider how he has been able to juggle professionally photography, competitive Rock climbing, and Skiing during different phases of his life’s journey. Today Carter McLean plays drums full-time, working with an array of exceptional artists while also holding down drums for NYC’s Lion King on Broadway.
Carter shares not only how he started, but the philosophy behind developing skills and being led by your inspiration. Our team at 180 is impressed by not only Carter McLean’s resume but his down-to-earth attitude and desire to help others learn while following what fuels him at whatever stage of life he’s at.
Carter McLean Interview
Raw Show Notes
Carter McLean moved to Boulder, Colorado to Rock Climb and Ski while playing gigs in the evening, opening for the likes of John Scofield & Maceo Parker early in his career.
Shortly after moving to NYC, Carter landed a job in a music store, providing him with a new perspective: “As soon as I get a call for one gig, I’m quitting.”
First NYC gig – Melvin Sparks – total soul jazz gig.
Carter then began subbing on the Lion King gig rather frequently – playing between 2 and 5 shows a week which is an unusual amount of subbing.
Following a conductor and listening to the entire string section is a weird gig (in comparison to what Carter had been used to)… being the rock between singers and strings.
“Broadway’s a very cool avenue… you can play 8 shows a week, work 2 1/2 hours a day and get a pension, health care… from home. I know guys in the biggest acts on the road, and none of them have that.”
Carter McLean Early On
“First record I ever consciously put on – Guns N Roses ‘Appetite for Destruction’ – Pretty straightforward rock stuff… Simplest stuff… But when you’re a kid, it was the first time I learned a record cover to cover. I could play all the songs note for note (that Steven Adler drummed). There’s a sense of accomplishment that came from thinking you could do the gig.” Remember, this is Carter McLean at 10-11 years old!
Self-taught by putting on records and really listening.
“It’s one thing to learn and get good, it’s another thing to convey information in a clear way so people can understand it… I’m learning how to get information to people.”
Carter McLean had a lesson with Peter Erskine when he was younger. Peter’s drum lessons are remarkably clear, concise and musical. “It really made me understand there’s a beautiful way to deliver information with Clarity. He (Peter) shared a couple things that clicked, that previously hadn’t registered with me.”
“I took one lesson in town to learn to read note values… I could technically play a lot but couldn’t read middle school drum charts.”
“I taught myself by playing to records and listening. But really listening. Actually listening to what kind of sound was coming from the drums. Is he using a pillow in the bass drum? There was no internet, it was VHS and cassette.”
“You really had to listen.”
Carter’s parents are not at all musical.
Peter Gabriel is one of Carter’s all time favorite “genius” songwriters.
Manu Katche was a drum idol growing up for Carter.
Carter tracked a record with Melanie Gabriel whom he soon after moving to NYC. She was just a singer he knew through a friend. McLean had no idea she was Melanie, daughter of Peter Gabriel. “I was 22 or 23 years old at the time… I was lucky but prepared.”
“I almost quit playing a few years ago and walked completely away from it. I was doing photography professionally. The week after opening my new (photography) company, Lion King (on Broadway) called and asked if I would take over the chair…”
“I guess I’m supposed to be playing drums.”
Carter McLean wrote another solo record in 2010 where he sings and plays acoustic with different guests – ghost bridge.
He hired Evan Felts for his own CD cover… Evan encouraged carter’s eye for photography. McLean picked up a Canon 7d, zest one fix lease… teaching himself how to shoot. “This is an amazing way to get out and see all these places.”
While touring Europe, Carter taught himself by reading the booklet during his flight.
Carter McLean’s Approach
Whatever excites Carter – he goes after, following the passion. “The key is to figure out a way to take what you love to do and make it your life because at that point your life is not about your job…. you get to do what you love and not worry about getting rich and famous.”
Carter lost his dad when he was 14… He got really sick on a business trip and passed away only 24 hours later. Both parents were loving and supportive and Carters’ mom loved having bands over.
“It was great. My mom has always encouraged following passions (which enabled me to be) super focused on the drums. I felt more comfortable behind a drumset than doing anything else. When I dropped out of school, I dropped out then called my mom and told her, I didn’t ask.”
“You’re not guaranteed anything man. Until you suffer a loss like that (Carter on his father’s passing)… It makes you think… I’m going to pursue what I want to do as much as I can do it now.”
“My thing is, do whatever you’re doing to the absolute best you can every day… Beyond the music and your job and all that stuff… If you don’t treat people well… Like really well… Look them in the eye, give them a good handshake or hug… because they’re special…. You really have to treat people well… You don’t want to be known as the guy who doesn’t write someone back.”
“A lot of the stuff I play is really simple. I’m way more concerned with the sound and textures. Letting the instrument breathe.”
“Learning is doing. you have to jump in and push. Try to do something you think is absolutely impossible, and I learn by doing. I don’t have a secret. If you’re paying attention to things, you have to really pay attention.”
“People are on their phones… Walking through traffic… It’s terrifying…. You’re missing the world around you…. It’s relationships that come out of that stuff.”
Carter McLean on Great Drumming
“Be present throughout your day… that has to do with playing as well.”
“You need to go back to basic stuff… how is my single stroke roll? Is it a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10? Start as quiet and slow as you can play… You’ll get better in a week if you’re actually paying attention to the sound you’re creating… You haven’t analyzed your basic stuff.”
Carter on the ‘Greats’: “Their base level is so solid that anything on top won’t waver at all. it’s got this huge foundation that it’s sitting on.”
“Be super honest with yourself about good and bad, practicing what’s terrible. Get out of your way. I live an hour outside of the studio. I sit in the studio with a cup of coffee and let the day dictate the way I’m going.”
Simple Drum Practice Tips
“Put on a click at 50 and play a rock groove. Hi-hat, kick and snare meeting at 50BPM, locked in like your life depends on it. 70-80% fail at this. That’s the stuff you gotta practice.”
Carter McLean on Socials
Carter McLean Mentions