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Pearl News

05 May

'Superstar' drummer Chuck Tilley

CMT's Next Superstar is well on its way to becoming one of the most watched series on the network. Partnered with American Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe and his son, Simon Lythgoe, each hour-long episode has contestants complete for the top spot. In addition, these undiscovered singer-songwriters will try to impress celebrity judges through a series of music business-related challenges and grueling performance rounds. Each week, one finalist will be eliminated and viewers will have the final vote to determine who will win the title of CMT's Next Superstar.

You'll probably recognize house band drummer Chuck Tilley and the members of Sixwire from CMT's Can You Duet? and as contestants on Fox's Next Great American Band . We sat down with Chuck to talk about Next Superstar, playing with Sixwire, and his large drumkit collection.

Pearl Drums: You've appeared on many other reality-based talent series, how has the CMT Next Superstar experience differed from the others?

Chuck Tilley: Next Superstar is unlike any other I've had the chance to play on. It's produced by the American Idol team, and has elements of several other "reality" shows. Unlike Idol, this show has singer-songwriter artists perform not only their songs, but also issues songwriting challenges for them. In one episode, they had to take a Pop song and make it Country. My favorite example of that was Wynn Varble, a very traditional Country artist who took Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" and making it a Country shuffle. It worked, was hilarious, and both the crowd and judges dug it! (who knew?) There were many other writing challenges but that was one that really sticks out in my mind.
The other BIG difference is that we change locations on every episode. We filmed in a couple of the dowtown Honkey Tonks, a biker bar, an old historic theatre, a warehouse , Sun Records in Memphis, and the Ryman Auditorium (my favorite venue in Nashville). We rehearsed at the Music Mansion where all the contestants lived. Sixwire is the house band and we recorded music for the show off-site at our producer/music director Steve Mandile's studio (it's also the Sixwire hideout). At any given moment, I had 3 or 4 Pearl kits scattered all over town for this show.

PD: Speaking of your bandmates from Sixwire. I'm sure the many years of playing together helps the prep for the show. Can you talk about the Sixwire synergy?

CT: Sixwire synergy... it's amazing when you've played together in a band for 11+ years. We work together live and in the studio all of the time. Anyone who has played in a band for a long time will agree with me that there is this unspoken understanding.. mind reading.. that's going on between all of us. It's one big cohesive unit. We're all on the same musical page as we've all had many of the same musical influences growing up. Guitarist Steve Mandile, bassist John Howard, and I have been playing together for 22 years now. People have told me that they'd believe we all grew up in the same house and I don't disagree! Our other guitarist, Robb Houston was drafted (or abducted) into the fold 16 years ago and lead singer Andy Childs (who is also a solid acoustic player I might add) used to hire us to be his session band when he was a solo artist in the mid-90's. We tricked him into being our lead singer after his solo deal was up. He's still the new guy after being with us 11 years and we still haze him... bless his heart! (laughs)
All of the guys are studio quality players/singers and I think that's why we have been blessed with so much TV work the past few years. It's one self-contained unit with vocals that can cover just about any style thrown at us... and it happens... trust me! Depending on the musical requirements of each episode, we'll add long-time extra Sixwire member Steve Hornbeak on keyboards/vocals. Also joining us are the amazing violinist/vocalist Megan Mullins and multi-instrumentalist Pat Severs playing anything with strings on it.

PD: You're playing your infamous red sparkle MMX 4-ply maple kit on the show and it sounds great. This is also one of your main recording kits, right?

CT: Yes, the infamous Red Sparkle kit. This is the main kit that you'll see onstage in all of the episodes. It's the 24" bass drum of doom! A MMX Masters Series 4-ply maple shell and I just loved that drum so much that I built a kit around it. I had Pearl's custom shop put a Red Sparkle wrap on it and left the white hoops. I then added a 12" tom and 14" & 16" floor toms. They sound huge and it's one on my main recording kits.

Naturally, I have my old Pearl Steve Ferrone Signature snare drum (note: Pearl's new 14x6.5 SBR1465SF is a remake of the Ferrone Signature drum) which I used on all of my TV show gigs... "Nashville Star", "Can You Duet?", and many other award shows. That snare has been on TV so much it now has its own S.A.G. card! (laughs) I also love my 4-ply maple and birch Masters Series Custom snares.

My recording kit for the show is my Sheer Blue MMX Masters Series from the mid 90's which is a 22" bass drum, 12", 14" & 16" toms, with a matching or brass Free Floating snare drum. My rehearsal kit needed to be smaller for the smaller room so I went with my MMX Masters Shag-a-delic Peacock Satin Flame kit (another custom kit Pearl did for me) which is a 20" bass drum, 10" & 14" toms, and 14"x5" matching snare. I've also used the kit in some Sixwire music videos. It looks great on film and the kids just love it! (laughs)

PD: Tell us about some of the other projects you're working on.

CT: I have been so fortunate and blessed to have been busier than ever this past year. In addition to my Sixwire activities, I did a tour of Japan with Felix Cavaliere's Rascals where I got to sing backup and play all of those awesome Dino Danelli drum parts that we all know and love. I'm still touring and recording with Richard Marx and I'm on his new Greatest Hits project. I do a lot of overseas dates with him including Taiwan, India, Trinidad, and most of Europe. I'm very excited to be playing my first show at London's Royal Albert Hall with him at the end of May and filming a PBS music special with him in June.

I'm on Ronnie Dunn's (Brooks & Dunn) debut solo album and I just returned from France with country artist Wade Hayes who has quite a following in Europe. I'll be back with Wade later when he tours Switzerland and Italy. Last weekend, I played with former Kansas and Mastedon lead singer John Elefante... he's an amazing artist. I can't begin to tell you how much fun it is to play the 70's and 80's era Kansas stuff that I had learned note for note when I was in school... kudos to Phil Earhart on those drum parts. Lastly, I'm still doing dates with Alabama lead singer Randy Owen. Alabama had 42 number one hit singles so that makes for a ridiculous setlist... trust me!

PD: Even with all of this on your plate, your side project, Small Time Rock Stars, has a great following in town...

CT: We started the trio before Sixwire got a deal on Warner Brothers. It's guitarist Steve Mandile, bassist John Howard, and myself. It's a fun cover band that does a bunch of Classic Rock, 80's, 90's, and some current Rock songs. We started S.T.R.S. to play around town for fun as we were always learning songs. The next thing we know, we had a 200-song playlist and that comes in handy whe we play things like music industry after parties or when we're hired out by artists to be their backing band. 

We're the first-call band to perform at all of the play-off, televised, and weekend games for the NHL's Nashville Predators. We play the period breaks and recently we've incuding some unannuonced surprise guest artists.Vince Gill, Lee Greenwood, Carrie Underwood, Randy Owen, Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson, and Alice Cooper. It's become such 'a thing' now that artist reps are calling to have their clients sit in.

PD: You also have quite a large drum collection...

CT: I've collected various Pearl kits over my 20+ year relationship and I can't get rid of any of them. They're all unique and sound amazing. I'm also just as happy with my mid-80's DLX birch recording, SRX Sessions Custom, or my 6-ply Masters Customs Series kit as the day I got them. The low-end from the toms and bass drum on the Reference Series drums? Incredible.

PD: Since you do a lot of travel dates, how has the gear situation worked when you couldn't take your own gear?

When I'm not trucking my personal kit on a domestic or international date, Pearl always finds a way to get me a great kit. It's usually a Reference or Masters Series kit but once I got a mid-80's 6-ply maple kit with power toms... they were cannons... I loved it! No matter what series I get, they sound amazing and the hardware is the best. I've played many different types of snares and there are just too many great Pearl snares to pick from. I have 5 or 6 on my rental snare drum list whenever I have a fly date. Even when I can't carry my pedals, I can tweak the rental Pearl pedals in about 2 minutes and they feel just like my own. Now that is consistency.

Pearl has a series to fit whatever I'm doing - an arena date, a session in a small drum room, or an outdoor festival... it's covered.

interview by Derek Wolfford - Marketing Department

You catch Chuck on a new episode of CMT's Next Superstarevery Friday 9:00 PM ET/PT on CMT