Brian: On DC Music Rocks, we're shining a spotlight on the great songs, artists, and incredible people behind the DC region's local music scene. Ben Tum ... Ben Tum? I'm so excited you're here, I just can't speak your name right, man. Gosh darn it!
Ben Tufts: We'll fix that in post.
Brian: Ben Tufts, one of the premier drummers in the DC region, grew up in Sterling, Virginia and bought his own drum set in 8th grade from the money he earned delivering newspapers. He spent a lot of his early youth listening to his parents' record collections, including and especially, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. He's played with over 100 bands and artists in the DC region and beyond over the years. I met Ben through the scene. We're both drummers, but then, I also ... I took a lesson with this guy at 7DrumCity. I've looked up to you for ages, man, so it is a treat to actually have you here live so I get to share the news about Ben with everybody. Thanks for being here, man.
Ben Tufts: I appreciate it. It's my pleasure to be here. May I say, I wanted to at some point say this. What you're doing with this show for the scene is really remarkable. It's one of the things that I think doesn't get said enough. So, thank you for that
Brian: I appreciate it. Absolutely. Now, let's talk about you. Talk about you professionally. You're a musician. You're a drummer. How would you describe yourself [crosstalk 00:01:24] front?
Ben Tufts: I would describe myself as a drummer. I do also play bass guitar and a bunch of different percussion instruments, and I'm dangerous enough on keyboard and guitar to sit down and plunk out some chords, but I wouldn't dare to perform on those instruments most of the time, because I'm in bands with people who are much better at it than I am.
Brian: Got it.
Ben Tufts: But I'm a drummer, and a teacher. Teaching is actually a huge piece of what I do and who I am.
Brian: Yeah, talk about that. The teaching. We said earlier, 7DRumCity, and the place out in Chantilly. What was the name?
Ben Tufts: Contemporary Music Center. I've been at Contemporary Music Center for over 10 years now. I've been teaching in the area for almost 20, actually. 7DrumCity, I was actually the first drum teacher that 7DrumCity hired. Miles Ryan, who runs that place, is a visionary. If you had told me four years ago that the DC area would embrace a lessons and rehearsal studio, but a lesson studio that was dedicated to just drums, I would have laughed you off the sidewalk. I've never been happier to be so wrong, because Miles identified a real need within the scene. It's a beautiful place, not just because I get to teach drums there. I really appreciate that, but there's just a sense of community there, which you've witnessed.
Ben Tufts: It's really unlike any other place I've worked, and I've taught at a lot of places.
Brian: Definitely, if you're a musician or you're looking to be involved in the music scene, 7DrumCity is a great place to go to at least find an entry point and find people like you, for sure.
Ben Tufts: Yep.
Brian: Absolutely. So, there's lessons, and then you play with a lot of different artists. How many currently? Can you even keep track? Does it get crazy?
Ben Tufts: Well, it's kind of a boring answer, so I'll try to get through really quickly. Essentially, when you're a freelance drummer, there's a little bit of a gray area, but there's bands that you're invested in where you rehearse every week and everybody's on the hook for money stuff, and everybody gets to make decisions about the band. A show doesn't get booked without everybody being on board. That's a band.
Ben Tufts: And then, I also play with a number of artists, and with some of these folks, I have an even longer musical relationship than the bands I've been in. But folks who ... Generally singer/songwriters. Folks who play many shows where they don't even need ... not only do they not need a drummer, but they don't need a band. They might play wineries. They might play coffee shops. They might play open mics. It's just them and a guitar. When they need to make a record with a full band, or when they need to play a bigger show, I might be on the list of drummers that they would call.
If you include just bands, the projects that I'm invested in right now are FuzzQueen, who we just heard, a band called Uptown Boys Choir, which is a band formed around Kevin de Souza, who's the primary songwriter there, and a noise rock outfit called Virginia Creep.
Ben Tufts: J.R. Hayes, who's also the vocalist for Pig Destroyer.
Brian: Wow. Now you said ... I meant to ask you. So, FuzzQueen. Where does the name come from for that?
Ben Tufts: FuzzQueen is a relatively new band. At least, that's what we tell people. Because people like to hear new. We'd been playing shows for about a year. Chris Stelloh and Erin Frisby, who are in the band, have a long association going back five years, because all three of us were in another band called Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray.
Ben Tufts: Yeah, it's a mouthful, which is one of the reasons why we changed the name. Essentially what happened is we had some personnel changes a couple years ago, went through some kinda band soul-searching, and we had a record that we decided we needed to shelve and not put out. We came away from that ... We decided originally to rebrand. But we very quickly realized with the election and a couple of other influences ... I like to say that Erin's songwriting (she's the primary songwriter for FuzzQueen) kinda became weaponized. She was very inspired by the events surrounding the election. Everybody in the band has always been pretty socially conscious, but we realize that we were suddenly in a new band. The band's name, FuzzQueen, was actually the name of an ill-fated side project that Erin and Chris had when they used to live on the other side of the country from me and the old bassist in that old band.
Ben Tufts: The already had all the social media, but they'd never really done anything with it. When we were talking about rebranding, I had serious band name envy. I was like, "I want to be in a band called FuzzQueen." They're like, "No, no, no. That was our other thing. We can't call it ... That was something else."
Brian: That was something else.
Ben Tufts: I advocated for it and advocated for it. We made lists, and anybody who's in a band knows how that goes. It's the least fun thing and the hardest thing about being in a band is picking a good name.
Ben Tufts: Finally, one day, I forget who said it, but Erin and/or Chris was just like, "Okay, you know what? It's FuzzQueen." Immediately, it made sense, because the band is a lot more aggressive than our older outfit. We hardly play any of the same songs. They use a lot pedals and some of those pedals are ...
Ben Tufts: Fuzz pedals. People joke when they meet us at clubs, they're like, "Oh, so you guys are the fuzz," because Chris and I both have quite long beards, "and you must be the queen." Pointing at Erin. Which is kind of goofy. So, that's our name and it couldn't have worked out better.
Brian: That's awesome! So you do all this stuff with drumming. I do want to touch on what do you do outside of drumming, like hobbies. What else do you do?
Ben Tufts: If you'd asked me a few years ago, I would have told you nothing, but being a workaholic, there's an end game to that that's not pretty, where you can really burn yourself out. Several years ago, after a couple life events, I started to think about what I wanted in my life besides music, was just something that since leaving college I never even considered for a moment, because every second, every minute, was about teaching or recording or performing. I started running. At this point, I'm a pretty avid runner. I run between 10 and 20 miles a week.
Brian: Holy smokes!
Ben Tufts: I haven't done a lot of racing this year, but I enjoy racing also. Officially, I've run a half-marathon. I've not run a full marathon yet. That's something that I aspire to do eventually.
Brian: When you can find the time.
Ben Tufts: Yeah. Also for a couple years, I've been a pretty avid kayaker, and I actually bought my own boat in July, and recently completed a three day, 45 mile kayaking trip with an old friend of mine. That's another thing I really enjoy. Being out on the water.
Brian: That's amazing. Running and kayaking. I love it, man. Very cool. One of my favorite questions to ask is if you could offer one piece of advice, what would it be?
Ben Tufts: Don't stop. Say more. Do you mean to musicians in particular?
Brian: It's up to you.
Ben Tufts: I think one of my favorite things to say, and I don't actually remember where I heard this or if I read this somewhere is would you rather live with the answer or the question? That tends to be a motivator for me with a lot of my more important life decisions.
Brian: Which way do you lean?
Ben Tufts: Always ... Ten times out of ten, I always have to know the answer. I'd rather know the answer than live with the question. Sometimes it gets me in a lot of trouble.
Brian: Yeah, but, you know what? My personal is I live life without regrets and it's almost the same idea, which is, I'd regret it if I didn't ask, so I ask, I get it. Now, if folks want to find out more about you and the cool things that are going on, where do they go to find you.
Ben Tufts: As I mentioned earlier, I'm pretty active on social media, so my Instagram account is just my name, bentufts, B-E-N-T-U-F-T-S. I'm on Twitter at bentuftsdrums, and you can also find my Facebook fan page where I list a lot of my shows and I also post a lot of educational content from lessons, transcriptions, photos of my students, and that sort of thing. My Facebook fan page. You can find that pretty easily by searching my name.
Brian: Quickly. I'd regret it if we didn't mention it. Talk about Ben Tufts and Friends real quick.
Ben Tufts: For the past few years, seven or eight years now, I've been hosting yearly concerts that are fundraisers for the Craig Tufts Educational Scholarship Fund. My father, Craig Tufts, was the Chief Naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation for my entire life growing up. He passed away nine years ago, and it was one of his wishes that any funds would be put in a scholarship fund to send kids to study nature. I host a yearly concert of original music, which we actually skipped on this past summer, because I was needing to regroup, but there's generally been a Jammin' Job in Vienna where we, for an entire day, host original artists. In the past few years, in the late winter, I've been hosting tribute shows. Coming up this February, we don't have a location yet, but we're going to be doing a tribute to the Police. All of the proceeds from those shows go to the fund.
Brian: That's amazing.
Ben Tufts: That's the Ben Tufts and Friends concept, yeah.
Brian: I love it.