Drumming on All Cylinders and Cymbals: an Interview with Maxime Cholley
A pioneer on the music scene, Maxime Cholley has performed in front of audiences of all ages and backgrounds, transcending language barriers through the emotion and power of music. Combining his formal music education at Berklee with an ambition for blending varying genres, rhythms and meters has allowed Cholley to tour across the globe with a multitude of artists. Not only limited to performing on drums, Cholley prides himself on being able to adapt to the musicians around him in the studio as well. We had the chance to ask Cholley about his musical ambitions as well as his past endeavors, gaining some insight into the life of a worldwide performer.
You have toured internationally in front of thousands across France, the US, and China, and performed in multiple types of venues. In all your travels, are there any shows that stand out in particular as being memorable or special?
Maxime: I think I can pick 3 very different shows. The most memorable was playing with one of my biggest influences in music, Tigran Hamasyan. It was in Boston, along with a full choir and strings orchestra. The most rewarding socially was in France when we played in a youth center for young people and met kids that are refugees, shared a meal and played music together. This was a deep experience. And I guess the shows at the Blue Note in Beijing and JZ Club in Shanghai were special. They concluded the China tour and my first time being in Asia, so those were definitely some meaningful shows.
As a drummer and musician, are there any skills or habits that you feel aid in distinguishing yourself from your peers in a competitive field such as the music business?
Maxime: I am always working on developing my own sound on the drums, finding new ideas and working on making them feel great. That added to being open minded and listen to a wide array of styles is for me, a good combination. That helps me being able to understand what the music might need and how I can add to it. I guess I’m really trying to create something with the people I’m playing with, and make it about the common result more than about my own contribution, or worrying about how I might perceived by the listeners. The most important is the music, as a result.
For the business part, I guess what also helps me being competitive is the fact that after few years working in the industry, I learned that it’s a lot about knowing how to deal with people. Whether in playing or when talking business, organizing. It’s crazy how quickly a situation can deteriorate on a misunderstanding. A good habit is trying to create a win- win situation. This way you end up gigging and getting hired more because people feel comfortable around you.
What was the experience of touring with renowned film composer Anup Rubens like? Did you gain anything valuable from your time touring with him?
Maxime: I learned to be ready for anything. Being able to react to any situation. You’re expected to play a show in front of thousands people with barely any rehearsal. Touring with Anup taught me how to be musically flexible. When he had a vision, it was my job to help him transpose it to reality with the most accuracy, while still holding down the groove and make everyone in the band feel comfortable.
What are some of the other more high-profile bands or artists you’ve played with?
Maxime: As I was saying earlier, Tigran Hamasyan is definitely a highlight. Playing with him was intense. It’s like being surrounded by a wave of musical energy, everything you play will sound better because it will be a part of his sound too. A very profound experience. I also played with the amazing bass player MonoNeon for one of his masterclass at Berklee. I am also grateful I was able to be part of Darren Barrett’s ensemble, and having the opportunity to perform and record in studio with him. More on the musical theater side, I played in a show, “Burn All Night” with Cian McCarthy as a musical director, who worked on some of the biggest Broadway shows.
Looking forward into 2018, are you excited for your planned tour in India in April? How many shows do you have scheduled there?
Maxime: Very excited indeed as I’ll be visiting in India for the first time. We’ll play 6 shows in bigger cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai and Pune, as well as a few masterclasses in music schools.
What behind-the-scenes work goes into preparing for a tour?
Maxime: As far as the music, it wasn’t always days and days of rehearsals leading to the tour. For the more jazz influenced bands I played with, we would simply rehearse a few times, make sure everyone knows the forms of tunes, and then just leave for the tour, like diving in an adventure. After a few shows and playing with the same people every night, the real magic happens.
Sometimes, preparing for the tour was also a matter of preparing the show in order to create a bond with the audience from the specific country we’re travelling to. Learning how to say a few words in the country’s language, thinking about what kind of tune they’ll like, that sort of thing.
In regard to playing for bands and composers, is there anything that changes in your approach depending on if you are playing in a live show versus recording studio?
Maxime: Absolutely. The fact a recorded song will have the capacity to be played over and over for listeners changes the whole deal. I’ll usually try to really dive in the identity of the song and create this specific universe as best as I can, in a way that will persist through time.
Live music is different. Everything is about the moment, and that connection with the audience and the musicians in real time. I might try different things, push the music in a certain direction according to the vibe of the place, of the crowd. But then again, it really depends on the style of music I’ll be recording or playing.
When you are creating rhythms and sounds, like the ones for your upcoming EP, how do you effectively blend differing genre styles and odd-meters into fluid, cohesive tracks?
Maxime: For me music is a lot about atmospheres and feelings. So I’m trying to keep this in mind and create something that speaks to me first. I might find something by combining different rhythmic illusions, crazy odd-meters or weird chords, but in the end I’m looking for an emotional effect.
I don’t want it to be about math, counting, or musical theory. These are just tools I may or may not use, but I’m just trying to convey a vibe, a specific set of feelings, like a sonic painting or something.
When you are producing and performing, how are you successfully able to collaborate with artists specializing in different musical genres and coming from various cultural backgrounds?
Maxime: For me, meeting different cultures was of the fastest way to personally grow. So I try to make it the first thing to always be open minded, musically but also culturally, so I can benefit from every encounter I make. People come from various parts of the world and they have different habits, different musical expectations. The key to me is to sort of find the space in which I can still be myself and use the knowledge I have, while letting their music express itself through what I’m going to play on the drums, or the musical idea I’ll propose. There’s no right or wrong vision, just a grey area where great things can happen. So in short, a lot of listening and not too much ego.
You’ve said that you plan on moving to New York City in the near future. Is there anything special about the music industry in ‘the Big Apple’ that draws you there?
Maxime: More than the music industry, it’s more the specific artists living in New York that helped me make that decision. Nearly every musician I am influenced by is living or has lived there. Naming just a few like Ben Wendel, Marcus Gilmore, Wayne Krantz, Nate Wood… they are the scene I’m gravitating towards. So first of all, I’m trying to get closer to this network. I’m also part of several musical acts, including “RINI” with whom I’ll tour in India in April of 2018, “Yun & The New Definition”, the band I toured with in China, and the musical theater show “Bollywood Boulevard” based in NYC/New Jersey, so it will make everything simpler.
by Giorgio Chang