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Humes & Berg

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Dennis Leeflang

was born and raised in The Netherlands in the suburbs of a city called Leiden, about 30 minutes south-west of Amsterdam. I grew up playing soccer with friends and family, and without much exposure to music. Until I saw my uncle play trumpet in a local marching band when I was about 7 years old. My uncle was great, but it were the drums that absolutely blew me away. I had to play snare drum in a marching band. I joined a local marching band shortly after, and continued to study snare drum for the next four years. But things really started rolling once I entered high school. MTV was added to our local cable package around the same time, and I was suddenly immersed in all this great new music. This was right around the time records like Nirvana’s “Nervermind”, Guns N’ Roses’ “Use Your Illusion”, Pearl Jam’s “Ten” and The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” came out, amongst dozens or other albums that had a major impact on the global musical landscape, as well as on 12 year old me. Seeing drummers like Dave Grohl, Dave Abbruzzese, Tico Torres, Matt Sorum and Steven Adler bash the drums on MTV was what lit the fire that would never burn out from that year on.

I got my first kit at age 13 and started taking professional lessons immediately. I soon joined several local cover bands, playing everything from grunge to blues, pop and metal. All through the early to mid 90’s, I played every single day, for up to 12 hours a day, in a rehearsal room my dad and uncle built for me in a shed at a farm close to our house. In 1996, I was a founding member of a band called Within Temptation, at age 17. Unfortunately, the rest of the band was much older, and even though I was musically totally equipped, the band thought I was too young and inexperienced to be in a touring band, and I was let go. I didn’t think much of it, until a couple of months later the band was signed to a major label, played all the big summer festivals, and went on to become Holland’s biggest band since The Golden Earring. Something I had been dreaming of since the day I started playing the drums. This experience was like oil on fire, and it was that moment that I decided I would become a professional drummer.

As a kid, I always wanted to be a band drummer. But the experience with Within Temptation quickly taught me that if I wanted to make a living as a musician, I should not put all my eggs in one basket. I soon started playing with different bands simultaneously, which I really enjoyed. Less downtime, more hours behind the kit and on stage. I played with several successful hard rock and metal bands in The Netherlands (including Sun Caged and Epica) over the late nineties into the early 2000’s. But things were taken to the next level when I met guitarist/singer/songwriter/producer Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal when visiting New York City in 2000. Ron and I hit it off musically, and stayed in touch. Having visited New York, and discovering a culture where being a professional musician does not make you an outcast, and an industry where it’s far more realistic to make a living as a drummer, my eyes were opened to other options in life. When you are a musician in Holland, your audience and market are really just the population of Holland, with possibly a few fans abroad. The musical landscapes in European countries are generally very isolated, with the exception of the UK. Many of the most successful musicians in Holland still have to have a part-time day job on the side to make ends meet. When you operate out of a city like New York or LA, your audience and market are the entire world. It was there and then that I decided I had to move to New York. Two years later, Ron invited me to accompany him on a clinic tour through The Netherlands, rather than him playing to a backing track. We played anything from tiny music stores to huge multi-floor music stores with big stages, and clubs. A few months later I was in Hamburg, Germany, playing with another band, when I received a panicked phone call from Ron. He was one show into a European tour and his drummer had to quit the tour. Ron asked me to fly to Marseille the next day, and to learn an additional 15 songs to the 15 or so I had played with him previously. Rather than staying at a hotel after the show in Hamburg that night, I drove the band van with band and gear back to Holland overnight, dropped each band member and their gear off at home, drove home, took a shower, burned a CDR with the set list, and hopped on a plane to France. I learned 15 crazy Bumblefoot songs on a 4-hour flight, somehow. That night, on zero sleep, I played in front on 1000 people in Marseille, and I realized my dream was coming true.

In 2004, I had finally finalized my immigration and relocation plans, and I booked a one-way ticket to New York. I sold everything I owned, and arrived in NYC with some clothes and a bass drum pedal. I became Bumblefoot’s full-time drummer immediately and we recorded the Normal album just a few weeks after my arrival. In NYC, I immediately started doing session and for-hire work, spending every day in a rehearsal room, recording studio, on a stage, or two or three of the above on the same day. I also started teaching drums, which I had already been doing in Holland for several years.

The next few years in NYC were the most priceless experience of my life. I was literally thrown from the comfort and easy life of living with my parents, into practically being homeless, having no family around, having to make new friends, figure out the food, culture, customs and way of living of a country that was very different than where I had grown up. But it all didn’t matter to me. I was playing drums every single day, and learning more in one month than I had learned in 10 years in Holland. New York had an energy unlike any other place in the world. I had never before met musicians that were totally on the same page as I was. No safety net of a day job. Music all day, every day. I didn’t care about about being broke, not knowing where I was going to sleep at night, and sometimes not eating more than a banana all day. I was making music every day, and growing as musician with huge leaps.

Bumblefoot started to tour quite a bit and we traveled a lot. I recorded and played with hundreds of different indie artists in NYC. In 2006, the unimaginable happened. Ron joined Guns N’ Roses. I had already seen it coming, as GnR had “secretly” been pursuing Ron to join for a couple of years. Ron joining the band was a huge event, changing his life forever. He was thrust into a mammoth machine of unimaginable proportions. Unfortunately, this largely put his solo career on a hold, apart from recording the Abnormal album in 2007 (released 2008), and a dozen single recordings/releases we did around 2011.

Between 2006 and 2013, I toured and/or recorded with many different artists, including Tiffany Giardina (Disney), Anneke Van Giersbergen, Ted Poley (Danger Danger), Angus Clark (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) and Lita Ford. The 2009 Lita Ford summer tour is one of the craziest and biggest experiences of my life. It was a similar situation to the 2002 Bumblefoot tour, where I got the call when she was one show into her tour and the drummer had quit. I learned 20 songs in 24 hours and hit the road. The tour was mostly huge outdoor summer festivals in Europe as well as the US, and we shared bills with acts such as Journey, Queensryche, Heaven & Hell, Motley Crue, Slipknot, Sevendust, Down and Saxon. One crazy memory I have from the tour is when we played at a stadium in Chicago and Steven Adler was also on the bill with his band Adler’s Appetite. During our set, Steven was sitting on a road case, less than 6 feet behind me, air drumming along with a big smile. This guy is one of the reasons I play drums. Surreal!

As the music industry was collapsing and I noticed the recording session business completely disappearing (at least in New York), I decided to build my own home studio in 2007, from where I could do remote drum sessions for people anywhere in the world, as well as receive artists, producers and bands to track live. From my studio, I can create drum tracks at prices that are just a fraction of what major studio rates used to be. People don’t pay for studio time, an engineer and a drummer. They only pay for the drummer, who is also the engineer and studio owner. Over the next few years, I kept recording, working and upgrading my studio, which is now a top-notch facility and has proven to be a priceless investment. Not to mention it’s a ton of fun working with musicians from countries like Australia, Lebanon, Mexico and Siberia in real time, without anyone having to get on a plane!

In 2013, Guns N’ Roses decided to take a break, and Ron decided to get his solo career back on the rails. We did a full tour of Europe, played in Chile, and did our first full US tour, which was a blast. We recorded our first album since the 2008 Abnormal album in the summer of 2014, which is slated for an early 2015 release.

Next to Bumblefoot, I am currently working with several NYC-based artists, including the amazingly talented Kudisan Kai. Kudisan is backup singer for Chaka Khan, and previously Elton John, as well as a vocal teacher at Berklee College Of Music in Boston. She is a phenomenal singer in her own right and playing with her is a blast.

My influences as a drummer have shifted quite a bit over the years, especially after moving to New York. I started out being heavily influenced and inspired by hard rock and metal guys like Nicko McBrain and Clive Burr (Iron Maiden), Lars Ulrich (Metallica), Steven Adler (Guns N’ Roses), Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses, The Cult), but at the same time funkier rock drummers like Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Tim Alexander (Primus). My teacher in Holland also turned me on to Jeff Porcaro and Bernard Purdie at a young age, and the famous half-time shuffle became one of my favorite grooves. Inevitably, an unquestionable love for the bounce or swing feel seeped into my playing. My drum and music education in Holland had always been very formal, and something like funk or playing with a swing feel were subjects that were largely non-existent in Holland, except for with my teacher when I was a kid. But other than that, I was never really exposed to the concept of playing with a specific feel or groove. Once I was in NYC, it was like opening a huge can of delicious information, which I couldn’t eat up fast enough. I discovered drummers like Steve Jordan, JR Robinson, Chris Layton, Clyde Stubblefield and even John Bonham, to which I was somehow never really exposed in Holland. My interests have shifted from hard rock more to funky pop and rock with a soulful pocket. Steve Jordan with John Mayer, Clyde Stubblefield with James Brown, Chris Layton with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ziggaboo with The Meters. That’s where it’s at for me these days. But I am still rocking hard as well. The variety of different genres and mixing up the different “schools” are what keeps it interesting for me every day.

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