Imagine you are introducing yourself to a room full of children. How would you explain who you are and what you do?
When I say,”I do what I love the most and that is playing drums”, they’ll definitely get it.
You started your foray into playing music at the age of eight, with the piano. What moved you to take up drumming? Tell us about what drew you to it and your early influences growing up as a drummer.
A friend of mine who had a little trap kit said to me,” Hey Jost I am gonna play something for you.” …well, he did and I was mesmerised and immediately had the urge to play the drums too. My early influences were Steve Gadd, Omar Hakim and Dennis Chambers.”
Your bio mentions that you’ve played alongside Abe Laboriel Jr. and Manu Katché in the past. How would you describe the experience and how did it shape you as a drummer?
It was a proud moment to have played alongside such amazing musicians. But we never met on these occasions because we are all drummers and there is only one person playing on stage. We’d each play a few songs but never get the opportunity to share the same stage at the same time.
Many artists feel as though, at some point, certain people gave them “permission to do certain things’. How was that for you – in which way did the work of particular artists before you “allow” you to take decisions which were vital for your creative development?
When I decided to become a professional drummer I moved to Hamburg, Germany’s second-biggest city. And all the musicians I met were encouraging and they sort of “gave me the permission” to be what I wanted to be. They were my role models, boost to my head trip because for them making a living by being a musician came naturally
What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as artist and in which way have they changed over the years?
One of the main challenges in the beginning was to be able to play good in any musical situation. You need to understand what is appropriate and what is not, learn to synchronize with different musical situations.Today I am into creating things. I have published a book called ‘Jost Nickel’s Groove Book’. The writing process is hard work but rewarding at the same time. I just finished writing an upcoming book named ‘ Jost Nickel’s Fill Book’ and once this it out, I want to venture towards writing my own music.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
I totally love both depending on the style of the music that I play. When it comes to pop music I am absolutely into finding the right part and the right song structure and I don’t have anything against leaving it that way once I feel it works. So there’s almost no improvisation except maybe from the fills that I play. The challenge here is to find utter pleasure in repeating what you play every night without losing focus. But when it comes to jazz I love to improvise and take risks. So on some gigs the whole band has a great run and sounds fantastic. The challenge is to not try to recreate that great improvisation but instead look for something new everytime you play.
Music as a form of expression is well known and effect people’s social, economic and political environment usually finds expression in the kind of music they create and consume. In essence, the soundscape of a place offers telling hints as to the state of the population there. You probably get asked to describe your experience touring Iran quite often, but we’d like your perspective on the musical perceptions of the people there.
I was thrilled when I was invited to Iran. Firstly, because I have never been to Iran and traveling to a new place sounds awesome. Secondly, I was looking forward to meet drummers from Iran. Apart from that I didn’t treat my master class any different from my past classes. A student is a student no matter where they come from. As a tutor, I like to share things that I find valuable, things that I believe will be handy for their career.
Music is a universal language and my stay in Iran definitely proves it. I had an awesome time and would always go back.
You’ve spent a substantial amount of time with Matalex and you’re currently working with Jan Delay and Disko No. 1,having recently performed with them at festivals in Straubenhardt and Munich. Is fusion something you have any special affinity for?
Matalex was clearly a fusion band, I loved playing in the band. We recorded and played line with world renown trumpet player Randy Brecker when I was still in my early twenties. This was a delightful experience and I learned a lot. Jan Delay and Disko No. 1 is not a fusion band at all. We play a mix of hip-hop, funk and reggae.
In Germany and parts of Europe the band is very famous so we get to play to really large audiences. Therefore, I have to play differently than in a fusion band but really enjoy both.
According to your website, your career expanded beyond your native homeland when you began touring with Barry Finnerty. How much of an impact has he had on your career and musicality?
Barry and I play together in a band called BBFC. So meeting him was and still is very important to me. Barry has had the privilege to play with several great musicians like Miles Davis, Joe Cocker and Jaco Pastorius that it is an honor and really inspiring to be playing with him.
As a tutor at the University of Pop in Manheim and the Music Academy at Hamburg, you have a substantial number of students, Anika Nilles and Benny Greb being the most well-known. What’s the most important thing that you believe you need to impart to your students?
My absolute goal is guide my students and help them develop skills to become better musicians. I show them the exercises that worked wonders for me and hope that they benefit from it as well. I tell them about all the things that they definitely need to know to be a professional drummer.
Usually, it is considered that it is the job of the artist to win over an audience. But listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?
Especially when you perform live, the listeners or the audience is very important to me. The musician and the audience seem to reciprocate each other’s reactions and it immediately affects how you feel on stage. When the response is good you ultimately feel better on stage and play better. But I am not trying to win over the audience. I try to stay true to myself and think that the people in the audience feel that.
Music for music’s sake or music for life’s sake?
How do you want your fans to remember you and your music after having listened to you?
For drummers, I’d say the best thing is if they are inspired after hearing me play. All the rest should just have a great evening!
Any message for fans in India?
I hope to travel to India in the near future because so far I’ve never been there. And when I am there I hope to meet you.
You can find more about Jost Nickel at the following links: