I've often heard "Adversity introduces a man to himself." If this is true, then Daren Metz was introduced to himself at a very young age. Growing up in a large family of little means, survival was the order of the day. When Daren was 12, his family left Philly and migrated to Detroit. A few years later, he would be on his own. Succumbing to the pressures of doing it all alone, Daren's single mother left home, leaving her children to fend for themselves. The state of Michigan intervened with intentions of distributing the children within its foster care system -- not Daren. Now 16 years old and wanting no parts of it, he saw tempting fate on the streets more appealing than living with strangers.
For almost two years, Daren slept wherever he could -- often sleeping in cars or on rooftops. During Detroit’s brutal winter, his bed was the floor of his high school's band room. There, within the confines of that makeshift bedroom, Daren would find temporary solace from the elements and his misfortunes.
By day, Daren worked diligently to earn his diploma. By night, he fervently beat his stresses away on a drum set. It was therapeutic and provided just enough reprieve from the daily drama to function. Playing the drums became a passion and a constant, despite the uncertainty of almost everything else in his life.
After being the only one of his siblings to graduate from high school, Daren completed four years in the Navy, and then returned to Philly to pursue a college education. It would take 13 years to earn his degree, but his determination has one speed -- succeed.
To this day, Daren's therapist, the drum set, still manages to help him cope with it all. Darker days behind, he's a dedicated husband and father who now finds joy creating musical job opportunities for other talented drummers that get overlooked by big artists for the usual brand-name suspects. That is why Daren is spreading the love with his unique venture Return Of The Funky Drums. These are but a few of the details and his story could easily fill the pages of a novel. I found his story inspiring and decided to let him tell us more about it in his own words.
Your story is inspiring on so many levels and a true testament to determination, drive, willpower and the human spirit. What motivates you?
I believe that I am motivated by seeing how ANY person can overcome any adversity if you believe in yourself and follow the right path to achieving your dreams. That path can have pitfalls and obstacles, but that is the point. If everything is easy, then you are not motivated to achieve it.
To say you had a rough childhood would be a major understatement. How does overcoming that and the lessons it provided you play into your professional endeavors, if at all?
I definitely take the lessons I learned from being homeless for a year in how I react to negative situations in business, music, family and friends. A lot of people don’t know that I slept in my band room and used a book called 'Stick Control' to learn drum rudiments that I still use to this day. It definitely shaped how I play, because in those days we didn’t have Youtube, DVDs or any other types of technology to learn.
Passing the time on those raggedy drums and 'Stick Control' kept my mind focused on my dreams and goals when I would finally get a home of my own! It also kept me off of the streets and out of the street life. I was so focused on getting my high school diploma and getting to college!
What made you want to become a drummer?
I had the skill to play the drums from around 6 or 7 years old. I don’t know how, but it really just came naturally. Being one of 10 kids, of course, we couldn’t afford drums so I beat on pots and pans, buckets, bowls and of course, my mothers couch! I beat on the cushions until the stuffing came out! But anything that had to do with drums would just stop me in my tracks! I don’t believe that drummers really have a choice in the matter. They are drummers from birth and try to do everything else!
Who are some of the people that inspire you musically?
I’m showing my age, but the start came from going to the Hitsville studios in Detroit and meeting some of the Funk Brothers as a kid. I had an uncle who took me to the studios and I got my baptism in the music world by seeing a ton of Detroit players that were amazing! But, I was equally amazed at rock music due to Detroit radio stations playing Cream, Peter Gabriel, The Police, Santana, Styx and other rock music as well as Parliament, Funkadelic, Zapp and Prince. And of course, Stevie Wonder as well. When (Wonder’s) 'Songs in the Key of Life' came out, I poured over EVERY track and wore all of those albums out! I didn’t know that Stevie played DRUMS on a lot of the tracks as well, but to pool that amount of musicians together to record such an epic masterpiece really taught me lessons that I use for 'Return of the Funky Drums.'
I’ve seen a lot of amazing drummers in my life. I've noticed they all seem to possess a particular feature that creates a unique stamp or style. What do you feel you have that represents that for you?
A lot of drummers have a signature style or move that sets them apart from the other. I believe that my style centers on playing two different time signatures at one time, which I call 'The Mad Spider!' My friends tell me when I do it; it looks like a spider making a web. I also do 'Paradiddles from Hell', which subdivides single, double, and triple paradiddles, but knowing how to come in on the '1' # of the music so the other band members don't get lost! I also love playing in odd time signatures and tons of Afro-Cuban and Funk/R&B styles.
You are pioneering your own movement in "Return of the Funky Drums." What is its purpose and function?
'Return of the Funky Drums' spawned from the art of drumming and how many kindred spirits are connected to music as an art form. In the music business, there is a growing frustration for me that there is so much talent but the general public never hears any of it because of multiple reasons that we all know: Drum machines, no A&R to develop talent, no real record companies, artists using throw-away bands or one band playing for multiple artists, no bands.
The purpose is to hopefully spawn a new appreciation for the art form of drumming and how it can make people feel good. It is a blessing to see people moving and dancing to rhythms that you are creating with a band. It is not about chops, and it’s wonderful to see some of the pyrotechnics that a lot of these drummers are doing. But I miss seeing and hearing bands and artists that use real musicians in the studio and live.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in striving to make it a successful venture?
Let’s see, where do I start? Just kidding. But seriously, the biggest challenge is finding out how to balance producing a show and DVD taping all while being one of the participants in it! It has been a massive experience as a producer learning when to stand aside to let the dream become a reality! But the results speak for themselves.
Music is such a competitive game and can be very cliquish, especially when it comes to getting the gigs. People often preach unity on music scenes but don’t necessarily practice it. Why help other drummers?
In life, there are cliques, competition and groups, but one thing that I learned from being out here on my own is to become the clique that everyone else wants to join. By letting other drummers in on my projects helps the music community and hopefully spurs other artists to join in. 'Return' represents real unity and friendship and it will always be open to other drummers that are 'homeless.' It gives them a home and a place to laugh and have fun. When you are having fun with other musicians then the creativity really kicks in.
What do you want to see for "Return of the Funky Drums" at its peak as a brand?
I have had offers to go all over the United States to showcase drums and music with the same type of format as I have done in Philadelphia! I am not sure if I want to follow that avenue, but if I can revitalize the music industry and get some soul, R&B and Funk on store shelves and iTunes then, let's do it!
What type of response have you seen from it thus far?
The first show sold out in 25 minutes, which was an amazing feat considering that I did NO advertising! We are planning on doing the show again, but bigger, with all original tunes for each drummer as well as a better DVD that can be released for sale.
Are there any sponsors getting on board with the movement? If so, how did you procure their assistance?
We have sponsors in the music and drum industry, mainly from the companies that endorse me: Noble & Cooley Drums, Drum Workshop (who donated $3,000 worth of drums to the drum students of the Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts for the cause) Sabian Cymbals, Vic Firth Drum Sticks, Evans Drum Heads, Fxpansion Electronic Drums and Acoutin Custom Snare Drums. But, I, myself handle most of the costs! I haven’t gone through the sponsor angle because I am too stubborn to beg for anything that I love to do. I have been advised to change my ways, but I need control of the project before it gets out of hand.
What are your thoughts on today's music industry and where do you feel it’s headed?
I am old enough to have seen the music industry go from Hitsville to digital home recording, so it has made a complete circle in my opinion. The bad part is a lot of today’s music has no real chords or melody. The good part is that some of the music does have good chords and melody! We just need A&Rs to come back and develop artists and let them grow.
Hopefully, the new technology coming out will spawn a new era in the recording world. They now have 48-track recording studios on an iPad! Amazing! Who knows what artists will be brave enough to use it record their next Grammy-winning concert or CD? I know iTunes is here and the CD is leaving.
Overall, we are heading in a good direction, but we need more good music and better songwriting. I have been working with a number of artists in this area: The Cooper Brothers, Niambi Michele, David P. Stevens and I believe they are bringing a fresh new approach to music in the Philly area.
What’s next for Daren Metz and “Return of the Funky Drums?"
We are currently starting production on a ROTFD CD/DVD that will feature each drummer playing original funk, R&B, and soul tracks. All of it will be featured with a live DVD that showcases the compositions at the new Uptown Theater in Philly!
The challenge is for each drummer to sit down at the piano and create your own music. Playing drum solos are easy. But can you write music to go with your drumming? I can!
How can people keep up with you electronically?
I can be reached on Facebook or contact me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
The Return of the Funky Drums project would not be possible without the other drummers that participated:
- Alphonso "Fonz" Hedgemann (John Legend, Eugene “Man Man” Roberts, Ben Tankard, Martha Munizzi)
- Nate Woodard (Walter Hawkins, Hezekiah Walker)
- Richard Lawrence Alexander (Kirk Franklin, Lele Rose, Kim Burrell)
- Ryan Young (David P. Stevens, Change of Pace)
- Brad Smith (Drexel University Jazz Orchestra)
- Joe Brown (Miche, Gospel Music Workshop of America)
And 'Thank you' to the band, sponsors, and all that helped to make my dream a reality! We just want to keep growing and hopefully create a movement that brings a great new sound to Philly!
- Paradiddle: (one of the basic patterns (rudiments) of drumming, consisting of four even strokes played in the order left-right-left-left or right-left-right-right.)
- # The "1" (the beginning, top or 1st note of a musical time signature).