PRECISION. STYLE. FIRE! HITTING THE MARK @POIESZNBEATS
Whether you set out on a long run or a prolonged march, it’s all about finding that rhythm, that beat you settle into that helps to finish what you started. For a drummer, the need to find that primal beat starts early. Once the passion takes hold and drumming becomes a life force, targeting a path to get where you want it to take you is essential. Mark Poiesz, drummer for Tyler Farr, set a target for himself early on in his education. Perhaps by looking at a poster of a drum idol on his bedroom wall, he could envision the outlines of a target and set his sights on how to get from the outer rings to the bullseye in the middle representing his ultimate goals. Over the years, he would become hyper-focused on preparing for and creating those bullseye opportunities. He understands that how much work you put into something increases your odds of hitting the mark. From Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania to Miami to Nashville, by way of preparation, drive, practice, and heart, he has worked his way from the outer rings of that target to the center. The fire inside keeps him always on target and ready to seize every opportunity that comes his way. With fiery performances that are as technically sound as they are visually enticing, he is poieszd to crash the Nashville drum scene with a style and passion worthy of neon lights.
Growing up in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Mark was happily playing soccer…..until he discovered the drums when he was ten. It was a quick decision to trade that soccer ball for drumsticks. He joined the band program in fifth grade and never looked back. Whatever was offered through the public school music program, Mark took advantage of, soaking up every bit of music knowledge and experience he could. Mechanicsburg High School had an award winning music program, providing the solid foundation he would need to move on to the next level of that target he was aiming for. He was quick to give credit to his band instructors from those early years for being a motivating factor in his decision to continue his music education and pursue a career playing drums. The notion that “it takes a village” is one Mark believes he is absolutely a product of. Several of his bandmates went off to elite schools to continue their music education as byproducts of the strong support system this community provided. However, going after what you want at the next level takes individual determination and the guts to go after it.
Deciding on a college program, to continue his music education, was not something Mark took lightly. If you’re going to set lofty goals and shoot for the top professionally, it starts with finding out which schools have the best music programs. Mark did his research on three of the best: Berklee School of Music in Boston, the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, and the University of Miami in Florida. On his visit to the University of Miami, he talked to mentor, Steve Rucker, and said he knew in his gut this was where he wanted to be. He looked at the drummers who’d come out of this program and what they’d gone on to do. Many were playing for pop, rock, and country artists, half of which were on the charts. Mark believes that if you want to get to a place someone is, you should walk the path they walked and listen to what they listened to. When he chose Miami, he still had to go through an extremely competitive audition process to land a spot in the program. Less than 10 percent of those who auditioned would be chosen, but Mark made the cut. He was prepared to give this audition his best shot, and his hard word paid off. The University of Miami has one of the most comprehensive music programs in higher education. Their jazz program was groundbreaking at the time of its inception and they were among the first to offer a degree in Studio Music and Jazz. Mark found this program to be a perfect fit for him, finding success at the next level of his targeted goal. He graduated in 2007, having earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Studio Music and Jazz Drum Set.
Having accomplished what he’d set his mind to, in terms of his music education, was no small undertaking. However, Mark said earning that piece of paper was just a new beginning, and the road ahead can suddenly look unnavigable. That impressive piece of paper, suitable for framing, likely didn’t come cheap. Sometimes saddled with student loan debt, music majors will enter a market that is largely based on feast or famine. Post-college, most will enter the famine stage of a music career and may be discouraged enough to give up before they’ve even gotten started. There is no yellow brick road for musicians that points them in the direction of fame and fortune. For most, there isn’t even a paved road. Even if you target a city for your future success, you can’t put that zip code in a GPS and expect some woman with a monotone voice to tell you how to get there. The most challenging time for a musician with career aspirations may be post-college. Filled with musical knowledge and experiences earned over years of instruction and countless hours of practice time, you’re faced with the question: “Now what do I do with it?” Mark’s next challenge was to find a way to turn that fancy piece of paper into a paycheck.
South Florida was the place Mark called home for the four years of his college studies. He’d built a network there and made some contacts that led to gigs. This would continue to be his home base over the next six years. The job opportunities were plentiful. He played with the best wedding band in town, helped put together a successful rock band called Ghost of Gloria, played with Grammy winning artist, Jon Secada, taught private students, and did a lot of session work. Had he stayed in South Florida, he said he could easily have made a decent living and been busy seven days a week. Being this successful straight out of college, I asked why he would give up this job security for the unknown in another city. For Mark, the answer was simple. This was not the bullseye on the target of his determination. He was not where he wanted to be in life, or in his career, and saw no path forward to playing the way he wanted to in South Florida. He saw himself as a chameleon rather than having a real identity as a player, being able to play anything from reggae and salsa to rock, pop, rap, hip-hop, jazz and polka. To get to the next level and achieve his goals, he felt he had to move on to another city with different opportunities. The choice came down to Los Angeles or Nashville. Doing his research carefully, he talked to people in both cities. Being in Los Angeles, he could likely find work in rock or pop and make a good living as a touring musician. Time on the road versus time at home was a concern. In Nashville, he could have more of a blue collar lifestyle with consistent work, time for family, and an affordable place to live. The work in LA pays better but it costs more to live there. Nashville offered a better community atmosphere for musicians. His biggest goal in music has always been to play his heart out for thousands and thousands of people in arenas and stadiums. What style and what city were secondary to that goal. In the end, he felt Nashville was the best place to pursue that.
Moving to Nashville meant having to move to a place where he knew no one, just as he’d done in Miami. Nothing short of hard work would help him build the relationships he needed to gain some traction in his new home town. His advantage would be in the experience he brought to the city and the work ethic he’s built his reputation on. Nashville is a big city run on small town politics. What you know is important. Who you know, more so. In the absence of those vital connections starting out, Mark built his foundation on the assets he had. He had experience playing big shows and television events, so tour work was in his wheelhouse. His playing skills were solid and he had the knowledge to tackle any musical challenge. What he lacked in connections, he more than made up for in attitude and work ethic. His attitude can be summed up in a story he told me that he says he heard when he was 18. A now legendary studio musician and tour drummer was hired by a major artist back in the 80s and replaced on the first day of a studio session in favor of another drummer. Rather than quit after this snub by his new boss, he opted to stay and watch his replacement work. He wanted to know what this guy had that he didn’t. If there was an opportunity to grow as a musician, he was going to take it. As a result, he went on to record ten albums with the artist and toured with him for 17 years. He turned a session snub into a prolific session career. Had he walked out that day, this story may have a different ending. Mark has kept that story in the back of his mind, using it as inspiration to seize every opportunity for what it’s worth. It could mean the difference between having a career and walking away from one.
Finding work in Nashville would mean being able to put his skill set to work in a new musical environment. Mark had learned and played using both the jazz and rock styles of drum techniques. Drawing from his jazz influences, Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, and Vinnie Colaiuta, he excels where the music allows the space for technique. In rock, where the music is more meat and potatoes with no time to be technical, he looks toward rock drummers such as Will Hunt, Josh Freese, and Shannon Larkin for inspiration. Mark considers himself a cross between a jazz drummer and a rock drummer, having created his own style of play over the years. His likes to surprise the people he plays with during a performance. He sees playing modern country as not a lot different than playing in a rock show. The music allows for the same head space, it’s what you do with that space that lends itself to exposing your passion and creativity as a drummer. For a drummer like Mark, this space is his personal stage. When he first came to Nashville, he says he avoided telling everyone that he could do anything, just to land a gig. He wanted to be hired for the person he saw himself as, a passionate ball of fire who cannot be ignored. If you’ve ever seen him play, he hits the mark on that goal with every performance.
Arriving in Nashville in June of 2013, it would take just two months for Mark to find his first gig with Chuck Wicks. In addition to that, he was still doing fly dates with Jon Secada on occasion. When his work with Chuck Wicks ended, another drummer in town, Rich Redmond, called to ask if he’d consider playing with new artist, Lindsay Ell. Lindsay required a unique skill set from her drummer on the upcoming tour and Mark’s previous experience made him a natural fit. It was a nine week tour with Lindsay, who was opening for The Band Perry. When the tour ended, Lindsay had a few things scheduled but was primarily going back into the studio. What happened next is Nashville hiring personified. An artist needs a drummer. He asks a musician friend for a recommendation. That musician asks another musician who knows an artist who’s played with a potential drummer. The opportunity presents itself and Mark is suddenly on a three day run with Tyler Farr. It’s now March, 2014, and Tyler is opening for Jason Aldean on the last week of the Night Train Tour. Nothing like a pressure packed situation to get the fire burning inside and Mark’s focus razor sharp. He said he’d had just one rehearsal with Tyler’s band to go over the songs before he was expected to play in front of large crowds at three sold out shows in Orange Beach, AL. To add to the pressure, he said nearly everyone with the tour was side stage watching him. As expected, Mark nailed the performance and is still on tour with Tyler Farr. Looking back on it, he says that while being prepared and having the right image, skill set, and attitude is important, without the right lottery ticket, there would have been no audition. He feels he owes the people who handed him that opportunity. Once he was in the hot seat behind those drums, it was his to win or lose.
Playing with Tyler Farr has been an empowering experience for Mark as the two share a similar vision through music. After listening to a record, he is able to visualize how he and the band will play it live. Tyler grants the opportunity for him and the guys to do this untethered. To understand how he plays, you have to see the role of a drummer through his eyes. Drumming is a primal thing. When you add the lights, the smoke, and all of the technological stuff happening around the drummer, it causes his emotion to push from the core and exert itself in his style of play. Unrestrained, it can have an animalistic quality to it that moves people to react strongly. In the same way, it moves the artist. Mark likened the potential of primal energy that can come from a performance as being like a “nuclear power plant running at full throttle.” With an artist like Tyler Farr, he feeds off that energy and it sets fire to everything happening on the stage.
In Nashville, last minute changes are the norm. It requires that you be cool under pressure as a player. When things get crazy, Mark says that is when it’s most important to be able to hyper-focus, double down, and get the job done. It’s likely you may have to deal with equipment failure, lack of sleep, illness, and any number of set list changes. Both the artist and the player may be under pressure to keep their jobs. Mark says he works best under pressure and feels if he stays hungry all the time, he will be at his best every time he hits the stage. With little job security in the music business, Mark’s attitude is the best insurance policy you can get.
From a purely visual perspective, Mark’s style of play is intoxicating. Once he’s grabbed your attention, you won’t want him to stop playing until he’s left everything he has on that stage. When I asked about the power he exhibits while playing, he said he doesn’t hit as hard as some would guess. He says he’s never busted a drumhead, but has cracked a few cymbals. He works on his technique agonizingly so that when he’s playing, he’s relaxed. Technically, he described the moment of impact as shoving energy into each part and drawing sound out depending on how you hit it. To get the desired sound, you may have to sacrifice some visual flair. He admits, there are a lot of ways to do the same thing and ultimately, it comes down to taste. You can explode onto the drums like a ball of fire, get crazy loud, and look very cool doing it. Mark likes to find the best of both worlds, visually exciting yet with enough control to get the best possible sound from each hit. He stated several reasons why he doesn’t bash the drums – it doesn’t sound good, doesn’t feel good, and makes you tire quickly. At the end of Tyler’s 90- minute headlining set, Mark usually performs a drum solo in the encore. In order to do that, he says he can’t afford to run out of gas by overexerting himself during the regular set. Finding his balance of style and energy is the challenge of hitting the mark every time he plays.
Someone like Mark Poiesz isn’t going to be in a town like Nashville and be able to fly under the radar for long. The drumming community is a tight-knit one and once the word was out that there was a new kid in town, he began to draw a crowd. Poieszd to crash the Nashville drum scene, his skills, attitude, and work ethic have drawn attention from fellow players. One of the first drummers he met after settling in Nashville, Rich Redmond, had this to say about him: “Mark is truly a force to be reckoned with! He is equal parts power and musicianship. I’m a true fan of his playing! His attitude and work ethic have served him well and will continue to. When people ask me how they should prepare before they move to Nashville, I’ll have them talk to Mark! I’m so happy to have Mark in the Nashville drumming community, but most importantly, call him a friend.” Another power hitter in the community who combines style and force, and someone Mark was anxious to meet, Kevin Murphy, shared this: “ He is a great drummer, an inspiring, fun drummer, that I have no doubt will be an influential one. One of my favorite dudes out there right now.” Mark is humbled by the acceptance he’s found amongst fellow drummers and honored they see him as a peer. Earning their professional respect is not something he takes for granted.
Going forward on the Nashville scene, Mark is rounding out his resume nicely. Tyler has a new album coming out at the end of April called Suffer In Peace. The band is busy learning the new songs and touring as a supporting act on Jason Aldean’s Burn It Down Tour, in addition to headlining shows of their own when the schedule allows. At home, he keeps himself busy giving drum lessons via skype and doing session work. In Florida, he said he taught 12-15 students a week. In Nashville, he’s cut back on that number and screens prospective students now. He’s not looking for just the best players to teach, he wants those with passion above all else. Doing session work out of his house was something he got started doing by necessity rather than convenience. He said he couldn’t afford to go into the studio all the time so he embraced DIY to get what he wanted. He learned to solder and built a studio in his home. True to his nature, he says he obsesses over things and building it himself was a way to get exactly what he wanted. With the ability to do work out of his house, he can build his own schedule to suit. Adapting to life in Nashville, he says he loves the balance between touring, studio time, and lessons. He sees the opportunities to supplement tour work as a positive thing, believing that if you’re always hungry for more, musicians can create more work for each other. The only limit he sees is the sky.
The University of Miami has a long list of notable alumni in the music business, including, Bruce Hornsby, Jon Secada, and Ed Toth. I fully expect that Mark Poiesz’ name will have its place among those notable alumni in the not too distant future. Mark has had a plan from the beginning. He had the guts to go for it and the determination to execute it at each level. He doesn’t cut corners in the learning process and no opportunity gets by him. His attitude and work ethic will get him in the door despite the fact that his playing could easily knock that door down on its own. Setting himself a target, he takes aim at what he wants and fires his best shot only when he’s fully prepared to do so. On the hot seat, he is focused and fierce. Sitting relaxed behind his drum kit, prepared to play, he is poieszd to strike a drumhead with the precision of a surgeon, giving life to a song and energy to the artist whose job it is to put some heart in that beat. Attempts to emulate his style will not come easy. Anyone can take aim at a target, shoot the hell out of it, and make a lot of noise. It may appear cool to leave it in tatters, having never hit the bullseye. With countless hours of practice and preparation behind him, Mark Poiesz will eye his target, take a seat behind his drum kit, and take his performance shot with the skill of a sharpshooter. Nothing broken except a sweat, he’ll exit the stage knowing his play hit the mark. He may smile while the audience reacts the way I did, “What the hell just happened?” @poiesznbeats is what just happened. Welcome to Nashville!
Mark endorses Ludwig Drums, Sabian Cymbals, Gibraltar Hardware, Evans Drumheads, Promark drumsticks, Cymbolt and Drumtacs.
Visit Mark’s website: http://www.poiesznbeats.com/live/
Visit Tyler Farr’s website for tour info: http://www.tylerfarr.com/
Photographs courtesy of Bill McClintic, 90 East Photography.
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