Tacoma drummer moves ahead in contest

// Nick Pierce to take stage in Hollywood for Guitar Center's Drum-Off regionals

One of Tacoma’s own musicians will be representing the city and the Northwest in Guitar Center’s upcoming annual Drum-Off Competition’s western regional competition on Dec. 2 in Hollywood. That musician is 24-year-old Auburn-born now Tacoma-dwelling Nick Pierce.

The competition was created 22 years ago by the company and was designed to be a special one for drummers only, as the stores had held special competitions in the past for guitar players due in part to the company’s name. “What’s cool about it is the only qualifications is you need to be 16 years of age, so we get a whole array of ages, talent levels and backgrounds that come and sign up to compete,” Seattle Guitar Center Store Manager Bill Heimbach said. “It’s a really wide range of different folks that participate.”

In total there will be 26 regional drummers competing, all within their own region, which includes West Coast, midwest, southwest as well as northeast and southeast. Five drummers will be picked to move onto the finals, which will also take place in Hollywood on Jan 8.

Pierce has been drumming for 14 years. When he’s not working, eating, sleeping or hanging out with his girlfriend, he’s playing drums in his band Culling the Weak. “We’re a metal band, progressive technical, and we’re based in Seattle. We’ve been together for a year now,” Pierce said.

Being involved in a competition such as this is important to the young musician, as music is the path he’s eyeing to pursue for both pleasure and career. “Essentially, I want to stay in a band, or become a studio musician ­– anything musical, really. I’d just love to make money playing drums ideally in a perfect world,” Pierce said.

The Guitar Center Drum-Off Competition is not new to Pierce, as he entered once before in 2008. As a result of a bit more time, effort and dedication to perfecting his craft, Pierce feels he has a better shot this time around.  “I try and practice two hours a day, both band material and solo material,” Pierce said. “I typically don’t try and do metal things at the Drum-Off, and stick more to groove and tribal-esque stuff, which are the genres more people relate to. But I add my own style to it.”

Music was an integral part of growing up for Pierce, and his father had a hand at shifting his thoughts towards the drums. He started out playing stand up bass in 5th grade at the same time that his dad played drums. He soon set up a drum kit for Pierce, showed him the basics, to keep a beat, do singles and doubles and then let him loose. He soon started to play for hours after school and picked up songs from the radio by ear.

For store preliminary judging of the Drum-Off, there are three judges, Heimbach said. “Generally we will recruit local working pros or drum instructors and have them judge the competitions. Once it gets to the national level, we have more than three. The panel this year for nationals will be 10 or 11 judges and these are all going to be big-name folks like Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Matt Sorum from Guns N’ Roses and nine other celebrity judges.”

In terms of what the judges are looking for in their standout drummers, there’s a lot to consider. There are five main categories considered, and they are: overall, which takes into account the quality of the overall performance and questions whether or not the contestant has the overall package; originality, which takes into account how the drummer stands out from the crowd; technique, which focuses on whether the drummers have the rudimentary techniques and chops; style, which sets the drummers apart from other competitors; and stage presence, as winners generally have a strong stage presence and do things to engage the audience, instead of just getting up and playing.

The lineup for this year’s Guitar Center Drum-Off Grand Finals will be announced on Nov. 16 and this will include info on the event, judges and celebrity hosts. At the finals event, big name bands play in between the competition and the event has turned into a sought after concert event itself. The event annually sells out a large venue in Los Angeles and is slated to do so again this year. In 2009, Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction was the event host and this year, he’s going to return to again.

Other performers set to take the stage at this year’s Guitar Center’s Drum-Off Grand Finals include Steve Smith (of Vital Information, Journey), Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo and a rare collaboration by Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) and Simon Phillips (who has played with and alongside artists including Mick Jagger, Brian Eno and Jeff Beck), among many others.

For more information about Guitar Center’s Drum-Off and to track Nick Pierce’s drumming journey, visit the company’s website at www.guitarcenter.com.


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