Teena Lyle recently embarked on her third tour with blues, jazz, and soul veteran Van Morrison, (this time on an East Coast US tour) who recently released his 39th LP, You’re Driving Me Crazy, at the spry age of 72. When Lyle’s not playing drums and percussion and singing backing vocals for Morrison, she also gigs in the UK with her own band, Teena Lyle’s Good Vibes Trio, and has recently finished shooting a new British comedy series called The Imitation Game.
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What is your city, country, and age?
London, UK, 55, although I have just lived in France as well for the past 17 years.
What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?
I play Meinl Fibercraft Quinto, and conga and bongos with natural hide heads. Meinl cymbals, Meinl hand percussion. They make an awesome sound like no other. Bergerault vibes, too.
What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?
Currently I am playing and singing with Van Morrison on tour. I have performed with many other artists over the years. I play for TV shows in the UK. I have just finished shooting a new comedy series using a live band called The Imitation Game, which airs this autumn.
What’s it like to work with Van Morrison?
Van is a musical genius. He manages to spot things that you never knew you were capable of musically and he draws it out of you. He is one of the greatest living blues and soul masters and is sounding 20 years younger than his age! This is my third time with him and I feel privileged to be around him during this part of his career. He remains number one at the top of American Billboard with practically every new album he releases, and he inspires me immensely musically.
Do you have endorsements?
I am a Meinl Percussion endorsee. Their standard of equipment, artist relations, and support are incredible and second to none. Norbert Saemann and Hannes Auerochs work very closely with me to make sure I get the optimum sound for Van’s music.
What led you to your instrument? What’s your origin story?
I started strumming the strings of the piano like a harp when I was two years old before I could reach the keyboard. I learned to play violin, cello, piano, and guitar before I got put in the orchestra at school to play triangle. I played piano, congas, and vibes in a big band when I was 13 and classical percussion in a symphony orchestra. I began touring when I left music college at 23, but I was already out gigging every night from 17. I received the “Wavendon All Musician of the Year” award in 1986. I originally started on drums with Van and then he spotted my congas and vibes in the back of my beaten up old car and decided he was missing that sound from the band, and the rest is history.
Who is your favorite drummer and why?
I love drummers who make room for percussionists to add to the groove or color a track. I have been lucky to work with some of UK’s finest in that regard–Gavin Harrison, Michele Drees, Andy Gangadeen, Ian Thomas, Ralph Salmins, Neil Wilkinson, and Mez Clough. US drummers I admire are Peter Erskin, Steve Gadd, Danny Gottlieb, and Michael Ode.
How do you practice? Do you have a routine?
I don’t get much time to practice at the moment being on tour. My playing is very energy- and groove-driven, anyway, and you can’t really practice that. But I love playing along with my favorite tracks at home if I get the time on drums, percussion, and vibes.
Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum readers?
Don’t practice if you’re tired. Take regular breaks. Record yourself and listen back. Don’t go for perfection, aim for loving the way playing makes you feel!
What’s something you believe about drumming or music that other people think is crazy?
I can’t imagine why people would think drumming or music is crazy. It’s my normality! Three years clear of breast cancer, I still get overwhelmed and excited when I play onstage, to the point that I start pogoing. I can’t believe how lucky I am to still be here doing what I love. Music is my life.
As artists, the goal post for “success” is always moving. There’s not one “I made it!” point. How do you think about and define success?
Success to me is playing the music you love and earning a living from it. There is always room for improvement.
Do you have any quotes or sayings that you live by?
Don’t look back. Nothing is impossible!
When you sit down to make music and are starting with a blank canvas, what’s your process like?
I think about how I want the music to feel first and foremost. Beyond that, it’s all about getting the best sound, groove, and energy for the track.
How important is failure in making music/performing?
I came from the generation where having to hustle for work is what developed my “brass neck” for rejection. If I failed at getting a job, I just brushed myself off and moved on to the next opportunity with the same enthusiasm as the last attempt. I approach my playing in the same fashion. Just play the best you can. Mistakes are part of the learning curve in every aspect of music.
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
Just see yourself as a set of hands. They are genderless. Don’t go in with a “it’s not fair, the boys get all the work” chip on your shoulder. That’s a bad vibe and people pick up on it. Love working with men as well as women. Music is for everyone. Hustle hard for work and don’t be put off by a “no.” Just dust yourself off and try again. Read Mary Beard’s Women and Power: A Manifesto. That can help empower you through the tough times when you risk losing the faith.
If you had to put together a school or resources for would-be drummers, what would the training include?
The training would include backing vocals for sure. I have found that to be a really useful thing to offer as a musician. I would also include a workshop in designing grooves, colors, etc. for each individual track.
Anything else you want to share? Website/social media/upcoming projects?
I will be doing gigs in the UK with my own band as well later this year and I have been asked to take part in a drum and percussion day in the UK 2019.