ARTIST FEATURE: Rudy Royston from ‘Overcome’

We’re featuring drummer Rudy Royston as part of our series on the musicians who contributed to the Overcome album.

A native of Ft. Worth, Texas, Rudy was raised in Denver, Colorado, and he spent his formative years there before receiving a Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music and Poetry from the University of Denver. After teaching public school music in Colorado for 10 years, he relocated the New York City area in 2006 to focus on playing music.

He has performed with a host of artists including Les McCann, Ben Allison, Jason Moran, JD Allen, Sean Jones, Greg Osby, Jennifer Holiday, Tia Fuller, Ravi Coltrane, George Colligan, Don Byron, Tom Harrell, John Ellis, John Patitucci, and Jenny Scheinman. He’s been a member of the Dave Douglas Quintet for almost ten years and he’s been performing with Bill Frisell for about that long and he appears on Bill’s most recent release, Valentine.

As a leader, Rudy has released four critically-acclaimed albums on Greenleaf Music, including the 2018 quintet album Flatbed Buggy, and a recent solo drum album, PaNOptic, which benefits the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

In his essay about the making of the album, Dave Douglas said, “Not only did Rudy record and mix his own drums, he also nailed all the forms, while also adding some unexpected new elements to the pieces. In retrospect, that feels exactly what Rudy would do on a live show.”

Rudy responded to our email questions with these words:

What are the projects most dear to you during this time of separation? Any special musical experiences you’ve encountered?

I think the Overcome record was one most dear two me. It just felt great to create – from my home – music with others after being thrust into quarantine and uncertainty. There was something comforting and grounding about doing this recording. It was comforting because it helped to remember how much enjoyment I get out of playing and it was comforting and grounding to know that we CAN yet create music together even in the environment of the pandemic … hearing and feeling the music of amazing, fellow musicians. The process of making the recording was for me new and adventurous and therapeutic.

My solo drum project Panoptic was also very dear to me as it gave me the opportunity to offer some kind of help and show of support that was so important to others and myself.

What adaptations did you have to make to record yourself?

I had never recorded any tracks from home, so recording like this presented me the opportunity to learn a bit about microphones and methods to mic the drum kit. And, just adapting to the approaches of playing tracks to live musicians outside of live, in-person performances was the biggest adaption for me. Many of us have done this before when, for instance, recording the backing tracks in studio for a soloist who couldn’t make it that day. But this process was different in that it was as if more than half the band couldn’t make it that day. So, it was fun to imagine what you think the other musicians MAY do or where they may go.

What contributions do music and the arts make to your life and to the life of our culture and society?

Essentially, the arts are our outlet for expressing what are our most inward and ardent and pressing thoughts and emotions about the world around us what we believe and think, desire …

Music and the arts remind me what it means to be a person; living, with feelings, with thoughts and evolving, complex emotions. The arts confirm who we are as human beings. They are an outlay and output of the parts of us that make us individuals, while at the same time confirming how much we are all tied together in mutual humanity. In the end, it all settles under the umbrellas of how beautiful it is to be alive, to be us; the umbrella of what is all the beauty that surrounds us and that we all need the consciousness of that beauty. The arts are a part of us all; our souls are sustained by the arts.

Does the unity of purpose we felt in making Overcome during a time of widespread social justice movements and a crucial election carry on in this new period of transition?

I hope so. I know it is so with the members of the band. I think it is even more clear to us having ‘Overcome’ the obstacles of recording this music under such challenging conditions. The music speaks to our genuine feelings of empathy and unity and love. After experiencing, musically expressing, and internalizing such a national move for justice, our music will continue to come from what lives inside us.

But this new period of transition is not quite that of just a few months ago when we were shook by the onslaught of a pandemic and in anxious anticipation about an election that would certainly affect the health and future of our country. With the public murder of George Floyd, for many this was a time of awakening. It feels like we as a country are now coming out of the shock and grogginess of a sudden awakening into an awareness and reality of transitioning to a new normal of racial, social and cultural regard and self-examination. I do think the impetus and the thrust of social justice movements newly embarked is unique and will certainly yield significant changes in our culture and society. So yes, we as a society are yet in motion with unity of purpose. However, with one election obstacle overcome, we now have come to face-to-face with the challenges of keeping our momentum into the fullness of racial, gender, social policy level justices, and will perhaps have to overcome the urge to again settle back into complacency.

What is your latest project either in development or recently emerged?

My latest project still in development is another Flatbed Buggy project I’ve entitled, “Day”. It is a casual but close exploration of what came to be my typical emotional cycle of a quarantine day. I recently had a first performance of this project on the Manhattan’s Saint Peter’s Church livestream platform for their “In This Moment” series. Check it out here.

With only five days to go in our Overcome LP campaign, we really close to meeting our goal. Help us over the finish line by making a pledge here.