Exclusive Interview with Dan Mayo & Mike Shinoda
The name ‘Dan Mayo’ was up until recently a musicians’ secret. Everyone talked about his mad skills and how he is “Israel’s best drummer” while exchanging links to his Instagram showcase videos, but it was last summer when Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park announced his world tour with his “Post Traumatic” album and Dan as his drummer that truly made him into a household name.
The Linkin Park community in Israel was buzzing with excitement as “one of their own” is joining the most talked about solo project in the international rock and hip-hop world, after all, this type of opportunity doesn’t come on knocking every day.
A short Google search told me that Dan, 28 years old from Tel Aviv is actually a star since a young age and in the alternative music scene he is considered a phenome as part of the extraordinary instrumental trio “Tatran” (alongside Tamuz Dekel and Ofir Binyaminov) that creates a unique musical buffet of rock, jazz, classic and electronic music that blows up concerts and festivals world-wide.
Being in “Tatran” is only part of the success as Dan performed, played and recorded with a large variety of artists from every genre you can think of and was awarded “World’s Best New Drummer” as chosen by his fellow musicians in “Music Rader” magazine.
With a new solo album (coming out on March 2019) featuring live drums while collaborating with other musicians, all doors are open to the Israeli sensation.
In order for us to understand who is Dan Mayo and how he evolved from starting as performing in Eilat Jazz festival while he was still in high school to rockin it out in arenas all around the world alongside Mike Shinoda, I caught up with him to a close and personal interview filled with important messages to young people who dream of becoming international musicians.
How did you first hear about Dan, was there an audition process?
Mike: Honestly, not really. A friend showed me Dan Mayo’s videos on Instagram. I started following him, and more important than his technical skill, I loved his creativity and style. I took applications from 5-10 drummers, and even spoke to some on the phone, but I thought Dan was a much better fit for what I had in mind.
Dan: He sent me a message and we started talking, from there we started doing these online rehearsals, he sent me the songs and I filmed myself playing the songs and send it back to him, then he would send me some notes and comments about what he thinks needs improving and I re-sent him the videos until he liked it. He knew exactly what he wanted musically and artistically so that by the time he reached out to me he already made up his mind about what he wanted and he went for it, without being scared, even though it is kind of scary taking on someone he never actually met or played with before from Israel.
What made you choose him?
Mike: Dan has a technical ability that you usually find in music-school drummers, one that I typically associate with jazz drummers. But I immediately recognized he has a unique style about the way he plays. It’s the micro-decisions he makes in a performance, and the natural character of his playing, that I like. Now that I know him, I also think it’s the fact that he grew up listening to soul, funk, R&B—basically the same breakbeats that formed the hip hop I grew up on.
You both come from pretty different musical backgrounds, were you worried on how your styles with “mesh” together?
Mike: Sure. We had very limited rehearsal time to see if it would fit. We rehearsed remotely for a couple weeks. I was in LA and Dan was in Tel Aviv. I sent him tracks and notes, and he recorded videos of him playing the songs. I then gave notes on the performance videos. We only did two short in-person rehearsals before the first show, which was super risky. But it worked out!
Dan: I love a lot of different styles of music and for me this is just another thing that I love doing. Also, much like many other people, I grew up listening to Linkin Park from a very young age, so it felt very natural to play the songs I grew up listening to.
How is it like playing with an artist you grew up listening to their music?
Dan: at the beginning I was really nervous but then when I first met him, in a rehearsal before the first show in Asia, he was so nice and easygoing that I felt comfortable from the start. You don’t meet someone like Mike every day, that he is still very much grounded and cheerful, from the very beginning he didn’t expect me to play like they play in Linkin Park or like in his album, there were things he insisted on, naturally, because they are important to him, but for the most part he just liked my interpretation and he is like ‘that’s cool’ and just let me do my thing which is really nice.
Dan became very popular very quickly amongst the Linkin Park fans, how do you feel about that?
Mike: The LP community is really warm and welcoming, and Dan’s a funny guy. Of course they love him!
Dan: I had no idea how amazing the LP family truly is until I started going on tour with Mike and then I found out how amazing and caring they are. I don’t have enough words to describe it, it’s just overwhelming in the best possible way.
Can you share any story about touring together?
Mike: Dan just loves to play so much. He drums and taps on everything, all the time. We were walking through a shopping mall with expensive crystal dishes and glasses, and I said, “Dan don’t tap on everything in this store, you’re gonna break something.” He said, “but Mike this is the best sounding stuff!” I feel like he hears music in everything around him.
Dan: for me it was the intensity of the fans that was truly shocking and owe inspiring. Mike’s and Linkin Park’s fanbase is incredible, I have never seen anything like that in my life, especially in shows, they are so engaged and the way they encourage him and how powerful they are when he plays “In the end” by himself, if I’ll take my earpiece out I’ll go deaf, you can’t even begin to describe something like this, you can see the crowd screaming the lyrics at such a high volume it is so intense and it was the first time I’ve seen such love and admiration for an artist. For us as musicians to play for such an attentive audience is a blessing, we want to play the best we can so that the fans will have fun and enjoy the show.
With Dan being from Israel, how much has he told you about it?
Mike: I grew up with a lot of Jewish friends in Los Angeles, many of whom have family in Israel. I played a show in Tel Aviv, I think it was in 2010. We had a wonderful and meaningful visit to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We ate the local food, and visited the Wailing Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And the fans at our concert were so loud and welcoming. I loved that trip. We talk about the cultural similarities and differences all the time. It’s such a fascinating place.
Is there a chance to see you bringing Post Traumatic to Israel?
Mike: I can’t say at this point; we’re still collecting ideas about future touring.
Let’s talk about Dan “The Origin Story”, when did you start playing? Did you have any official training?
Dan: It’s going to sound a little bit funny but according to my family I’ve been drumming on pots and pans since I was 2 years old and when I was six years old I went to art school where I was first exposed to the concept of playing in a band with a drum set. From the age of 7 to 14 I had a private teacher and he was an amazing teacher but I was a problematic student. I was a little bit different than most kids and if something didn’t catch my interest I just refused to do it, so when they say “the world is my drums” that is how I used to train. To me it was expressing things through sound, I used to take different objects and put them on the drums and see how it sounded like and every sound has its own technic, so it made me come up with new ideas and new technics so that I got better and better in talking through sound, so the whole thing was very organic because I did lean through sound but it wasn’t an exercise on a piece of paper. If someone tried to teach me out of a book I just got bored and didn’t want to do it.
Did you have “make it or break it” moments with the drums?
Dan: I studied Jazz and a lot of Jazz institutes are very “scholared” and they teach you to play low and quietly and it just brought me down. There was a time that I didn’t play the drums at all, for a year I only played the piano because I was deflated. This was something that I always struggled with, you go to these school and you play with people that tells you have to play this way or that way and you need to sound like that guy and I ended up losing myself and not wanting to play at all. So when I play without thinking about someone else and just being me, expressing myself in the most honest and sincere way, then I have the most fun, but there will be teachers who will say it is wrong and it’s not the way and for me as a kid who liked to express through drums I had a lot of problems with that way of thinking. I came across many places who didn’t like it, that told me it wasn’t good enough until I reached a point where I decided I didn’t care anymore about what other people think, I’m doing this for me, I play and I express myself and this is what’s important to me, and that’s when people started noticing me and reacting positively to what I was doing which is wonderful and amazing but it’s also empowering that after all these years of expressing myself and getting rejected suddenly people do like it, because it is not necessarily the most “educated” way of music, the way I play and sometimes I have some very strange ideas, even my album could be conceived as odd to some people, so I just let it be, without judgement and hope people will like it.
Speaking of your album, can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect from it? What made you go solo this time around?
Dan: My second instrument is the piano, I always liked playing the piano so I decided to buy a computer and record it, taking it to the next level, but the funny thing was that through the computer I discovered a whole world of sound, so I ended up ditching the piano very quickly and started experimenting with the computer, I didn’t really expect it to flow that well, but in a few months I found myself with an actual album. I recorded the drums within 2 days, combined a few pieces with the guys from Tatran and finished editing it. As for why not taking it to the band itself and going solo, I think that the content of what I’ve created felt more me than the band, when I worked on the sounds it felt very personal and this is how it should stay, this is how I was able to create so much music without over thinking about it. A lot of times when I used to write stuff for the band I ended up discarding them because it always felt not good enough and it was easier for me to work on this album alone and for myself, because in my eyes, Tatran is bigger than me, it is something that is truly amazing, a unique connection between 3 people and the music we create on the stage is sometimes even beyond music, like a different experience, so this solo album is like a first step for me to be able to come up with the courage to bring my own materials to the band with something that I’m happy with, excited about and comfortable in taking it to the next level.
You have won some serious titles in the last couple of years like “The Best Drummer of the Year”, “Breakthrough Artist of the Year”, “The Best Drummer You Should Know” etc. by some big magazines world-wide, how does it feel to get such a recognition and does it change your attitude in everyday life?
Dan: To be honest it came as a surprise. The day I decided to make videos where I don’t think about impressing anyone and I’m not trying to be like anyone else or play like anyone else, only to express myself in video, without words but in the most natural way, without thinking about complicated or simple, just playing honestly from the heart, this is when it began to really catch on. People usually notice if something is honest or not and I ended up gathering more and more people, followers, that really liked what I was doing. As for the titles, I try not to think about things that can make me lose my head and just focus on doing what I know and love to do, that is how I can keep getting better at it.
For a lot of teenagers and young Israelis, you being chosen to play with Mike proves that you can dream big, dream internationally, is there something you would like to say to those aspiring musicians that are afraid to dream too big?
Dan: There is no such thing as dream too big, on the contrary, I encourage people to dream as big as they possibly can. On the other hand, when people dream about something too specific it can narrow their view and horizons to some things and then you can also miss out on some amazing opportunities, so my advice is, let everyone focus on what makes him feel whole and good about himself and about what he like doing, do it in the most true and honest way, that fits them and then people will see and hear them, this will lead to things happening around them, and it will feel amazing because you’ve expressed yourself in the most uncompressible way.
When Mike contacted me, he chose me not just because he need a drummer but because he saw the things I’ve done, things that are 100% me, that I love doing, that I’m having fun with, that I do all the time and it’s natural to me, he saw these things and felt what I feel when I create, so when he wanted me to come and play with him he wanted me to be myself. He didn’t take just a drummer, he took me, Dan, because that is what he wanted.
Lastly, Mike, do you have anything you would like to say to the young fans in Israel?
Mike: I am so grateful for all the wonderful support the fans have given me and the band over the years, but particularly grateful for the support they’ve given me individually this past year. Thank you.