He’s Got Mad Skillz… Interview with Drummer Rob Chursinoff

He’s Got Mad Skillz… Interview with Drummer Rob Chursinoff

I met Rob Chursinoff about six years ago at shows around Vancouver — that tends to happen in such a small city with such an abundant music scene. In the years since I learned not only is he an outstanding drummer — he’s played with Tegan and Sara, Ben Lee, and The Belle Game — but also an accomplished travel writer and geography buff. He is funny and genuine, and recently we sat down at to talk music over some beers and nachos.

I start, “Do you remember what first turned you on to playing drums?”

“It would probably be my oldest brother Tom,” he says. “He brought a drum kit home when I was 10. My Dad had a shop detached from the house and above that they made a music room. Both my brothers played, there was a PA, guitar amps, and a drum kit in there. I watched my older brothers and thought I want to do that. Tom had a late 70s or early 80s blue sparkly Slingerland model. The first song I played along to was “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by the Scorpions. Tom played drums and my brother Nick sang and played guitar. They would have friends over and jam and I would watch them. My mom sings in traditional Russian choirs and my Dad plays the accordion — I have a fairly musical family. When I go back for Christmas my Dad brings out the accordion, the guitars come out and my mom will sing and dance.”

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“It sounds like a lot of fun.”

“It is a lot of fun. I feel fortunate to have grown up around that.”

“I get how older siblings can influence your musical taste. My older sister definitely influenced mine.”

“Still some of my top music (is) from what my brothers were listening to. My top six artists, in no order, would be The Rolling Stones, that would be from Tom; The Police, which would be from Nick; David Bowie would be from both Tom and Nick; The Cure, not necessarily from either of them; The Clash, my brother Tom turned me onto punk rock; and then Bob Marley would be Nick. Nick was into the lighter stuff and Tom was darker, he liked stuff like Sabbath. He turned me onto heavier stuff. I had a good balance between both of them.”

“What was your first big concert that you went to?”

“I grew up in Castlegar, in the southern interior of BC. The nearest Canadian city is Kelowna and the actual nearest city is Spokane, Washington, which is closer than Kelowna and bigger. Everyone would go see concerts in Spokane or go shopping, dentist, or whatever. It was a two and half hour drive south. But my first concert is kind of embarrassing. .. it was in the hair metal era  — I think it was 1986 or 87 — and it was Cinderella, Winger, and Bullet Boys.”

“I love it!”

“It was at the Spokane Coliseum. Me and a bunch of friends went down to see the show. I was probably 16. You know the song “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til’ It’s Gone” — it’s a Cinderella song — it was one of their hits and they opened with that. They were headlining and the lead singer Tom was sitting at a piano and it descended from the ceiling as fake snow fell..”

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“Wow! Quite the spectacle! What were some of the first bands that you were in here (Vancouver)? And would I know anybody that was in them?”

“Ha! Yes. Yes you would. So my very first band that actually started in Castlegar was with Jason Corbett, who you know plays in Actors. We went on to play in a band called Speed To Kill and then TV Heart Attack. But our first band was Skull Flush and the only song we recorded was called One Death.”

“Ha! Sorry I don’t mean to laugh..…”

Rob agrees. “It’s funny. Death metal is funny.”

“That’s what I love about it though…”

“We never played any shows, we did too many drugs and were too fucked up and dysfunctional. We never got it together to play live. So my very first real band was an all-girl
band (except me) called The Concubines.”

“What kind of music was that?”

“That was early 90s so it was kind of grungy. The girls were all older than me. The bass player was my brother’s girlfriend. It was kind of riot grrl.”

“You played on Tegan and Sara’s album So Jealous. How did you get that gig? Did you audition? Did you know them personally?”

“I was playing with a girl named Kinnie Starr and we were on tour opening for Alanis Morissette for two dates, one in Calgary and one in Saskatoon. We were rehearsing in Calgary and Tegan and Sara showed up after our rehearsal. They looked up to at that time to Kinnie Starr at that time as there weren’t a lot of female rock artists out there.  Kinnie was doing a cross of indie pop, urban, hip hop and spoken word poetry. She really was ahead of her time… I remember them coming in with their puffy mops of bleached blonde hair, I think they were about 17 at that time. I saw them again when I was playing Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival with The Be Good Tanyas. I had to get a ride with them (Tegan and Sara), so I got to know them in the six or seven hour car drive up. I finally got to see them play at that festival with just them and their acoustic guitars and they blew me away. On the ride home I asked, “Are you guys working on an album? Do you have a drummer?”. And they told me that they were starting to record an album and that they didn’t have a drummer” And I told them that I was going to be their drummer. And they said, ‘Haha. Okay. Sure.'”

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He continues, “By that time they were probably 20 they were both living in Vancouver and I kept pestering them every week. I was trying to get them to a rehearsal spot and jam. And they were like “We don’t jam.  What is jamming? We don’t know what that is.” I kept asking them to come over, and that we’d play along to some of their songs. See how it feels, it would be fun. I don’t know how long it took me, maybe months after calling them week after week. And finally they said, “Okay, weirdo! We will jam with you!” So I picked them up in my friend’s van which looked like a pedophile van, it was all sketched out —and took them to a sketchy jam spot. We ended up having lots of fun and they ended up really like jamming! They wouldn’t admit that now as they claim they still hate jamming. But it was fun enough for them to be like, ”Okay. We will use you on our next album.” Which became, If It Was You. I recorded that with them and toured that.  And from there we did So jealous.”

“You have toured quite extensively with Tegan and Sara, Kinnie Star, and the The Belle Game. What are your favourite things about touring? And what are your least favourite things about touring? You seem to enjoy the traveling.”

“It’s different, when you touring on a bus which is what I did with Tegan and Sara and after them Ben Lee, it’s pretty much all enjoyable. You don’t have to drive, you can sleep whenever you want, provided that you’re a person that can sleep in a moving bus. I was fine with that. It’s all fun, you get to go to new places. The only thing with bus tours is that you don’t stay in a city overnight. Usually bus call is around 2am. You have to leave that city, so if you’re single and you’ve met someone and you want to get to know them a little more bus call is at 2am — and the bus will leave without you! You will need to get yourself to the next city. I came close once. Then the other level of touring is van touring. I drove a lot. In the early stages of a band’s career you have to share a lot — two, three, four people to a room,.. five, six,  whatever… You get a few hours’ sleep. You never get a full good night’s rest unless you have a night off and even then- that aspect of touring is tiring, especially as you get older.”

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“Recently you were in LA for music. Can you tell me what you were doing there?”

“When I was touring with Ben Lee my bandmate, Nic Johns, introduced me to a songwriter by the name of Chad Anderson. Chad flew me down there years ago so I could play on his album and I took the time also to play some drums on this demo for a girl that he was mentoring and working with named Chloe Chaidez. She eventually formed a band called Kitten. Chad wrote songs for her and got her signed to Atlantic. They put out a record and toured as Kitten, . I’m not sure what happened, but they got out of the deal with Atlantic and now they are working on their new album. And so Chad brought me down there in the early stages of pre-production. They had a bunch of songs that they have had demoed. So for four, five, six hours a day we were jamming and experimenting and collaborating. It was a lot of fun.”

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“Sounds like a lot of fun. So my last question is: Where do you see yourself in five years from now with music?”

“I don’t really know because after I parted ways with The Belle Game I took a big step back to kind of re-evaluate what I wanted to do with music. I came out of that period doing no music
and no drumming which was about six months of that. I decided that I just want to play music again for fun with friends. Jamming —the J word- a lot of people hate jamming.”

“A lot of people love jamming too.”

“It’s weird ‘cause I asked Tegan recently, “Would you ever like to jam?” and she was like ‘Yuck. God no. I hate jamming.’”

“Hahahahahahaha…” I’m laughing. “Still! Isn’t that a part of their song writing that they write their own songs separately? That they don’t write the songs together? Like this is a Tegan song and this is a Sara song, from what I’ve heard. It could have changed.”

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“They definitely co-write each song, it may start as a Tegan song and then she will give it over to Sara from what I understand. And Sara will be like, “You gotta do this or do that.” Or, “you sing this one ’cause it’s a better fit for you.” They definitely jam in their own way. I hung out with Sara when I was in LA. They are starting to work on their next album and it was really interesting ‘cause it was kind of the opposite of what I was doing with Chad, Chloe, and Kitten where we were actually jamming a bunch of songs. There were six of us experimenting. Tegan and Sara have gone the opposite direction where it’s just them two and a producer, which is the same producer from their last record,  — their big pop record. Sara was describing how they put their songs together and it sounds like ‘producer jamming.’”

“Whatever works,” I say.

“Okay. So the original question was where do I see myself in five years? Now I’m drumming just what I want and I don’t want to get involved with an indie rock band that is trying to make it. Been there done that. Good luck to you.  If they want to get on The Peak or on Pitchfork… I mean that sounds horrible to me now. It’s a fun process to go through, I just don’t want to go through that anymore. Would I love to get hired to go on tour with a well-known band? Yes, but it’s kind of hard to do that out of Vancouver. I don’t plan on living in LA so I see music now as something I would do just for fun and, if an opportunity arises, that’s in a professional direction again — that’s fine, but I’m not pushing for that. I’m just happy playing the drums, playing with friends, and making music that I like.”

Headline Photos: Brendan Meadows

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