Don’t let your kids read this, but sometimes dropping out of school doesn’t foreshadow a life of menial labor and dead end jobs.
Of course it does help if you’re a musical prodigy. In the case of Dan Mayo – a 28-year-old world-renown Israeli drummer – that meant becoming enamored with percussion when he was three years old and developing into a virtuoso by his teens. Growing up in a music family where his uncles played in a band and his parents filled the home with the sounds of Led Zeppelin and Rush, Mayo developed a drumming style that meshed funk, rock, punk and jazz.
The Herzliya native wasn’t so successful academically, dropping out of high school at 15.
“I just didn’t like it, I had issues there,” said the soft-spoken Mayo last week on a brief break from an almost nonstop tour abroad as the beat man for Ester Rada, his own acclaimed instrumental power trio Tatran and most recently, Linkin Park vocalist and guitarist Mike Shinoda.
“My parents were okay about it. They knew that music was my main thing, but when I dropped out, they said, you have to learn something somewhere.”
Thanks to his prodigious talents, he was accepted to the prestigious Rimon School of Music, but he only lasted a year and a half before packing it in there too.
“It was an amazing school, but everyone was a lot older than me, and it was difficult. Like high school, it just wasn’t for me,” said Mayo, who began performing with a long string of bands over the next few years and honing his craft.
At age 20, together with childhood friend, bassist Offir Benjaminov and guitarist Tamuz Dekel, he formed Tatran to explore free-form but highly evolved music that skirted jazz and progressive rock. It has proved to be an ongoing endeavor that has seen the band release a groove-oriented album Shvat in 2014 and subsequently play festivals in Europe and tour the US and Canada to both praise and criticism.
“It’s my baby – we felt that it was something special from the first note we played together,” said Mayo. “We don’t like to describe it, but I like to call it honest music. We play what we feel.”
WHEN ESTER RADA emerged as a major talent a few years ago, she asked Mayo to join her touring band which further added to his packed schedule. In his spare time, he began uploading YouTube clips of himself drumming. They became a viral sensation, attracting millions of views and new fans.
One of them was Mike Shinoda, the Linkin Park co-founder who had just released Post Traumatic, a solo album created in the aftermath of friend and bandmate Chester Bennington’s suicide in July 2017. He was readying a band to set out on a world tour and sent Mayo a message last year via Instagram.
“He wrote something like ‘listen, I like the way you play, how would you feel about supporting me on my upcoming tour? This is my album, let me know what you think,’” recalled Mayo.
“I grew up on Linkin Park, like everyone my age, so I knew all their songs already. But I listened to Mike’s album and liked it a lot. We ended up talking on the phone and I ended up liking him too, he’s a super nice guy.
“The most important thing was that he really liked my playing and he wanted me to be myself. I’ve realized that it’s impossible to be or play like someone else, so we established this good connection.”
Last summer, Mayo finished a tour with Rada, went directly to Europe for some shows with Tatran, and then flew directly to Hong Kong for his first rehearsal with Shinoda a day before their first show.
“I had issues with a working visa to the US that prevented me from getting there to rehearse in person, so we did it all online until then,” said Mayo, adding that the show took off seamlessly.
AFTER A BREAK, Shinoda’s tour continues throughout Europe in March, culminating in two shows in Tel Aviv on March 25 and 26 at Hangar 11, the first time Shinoda’s been back to Israel since Linkin Park’s triumphant show at Hayarkon Park in 2010.
“I’ve talked to Mike a lot about playing in Tel Aviv, he loves it here, and I’m thrilled to be performing with him in my home,” said Mayo, adding that his being Israeli is just accepted as a norm in the band.
“I don’t think they see that I’m Israeli – but that I’m a human. Once I was sending my girlfriend a message on Whatsapp and Mike was sitting next to me and glanced over. He laughed and said, ‘I forgot that you write in Hebrew,’”
With his star rising and the opportunities to climb the music business ladder in the US an enticement, Mayo said that he has no intentions of relocating.
“I really like Israel, but a lot of people ask me why I still live here if I tour all the time, and that’s the main reason – I tour so much. When I come home, I want to feel like I’m home. I know the language and the people and when I’m here, I feel at home,” he said.
Before heading back out on the road with Shinoda, Mayo is stealing time to perform with Tatran Wednesday night (February 20) at the Barby Club. With the drummer constantly asking him for tips and advice, the main lesson Mayo likes to impart to potential musicians is to be true to themselves.
“Be honest with what you’re doing. It can be so stressful to want to be the best or to play with everyone, and you see these amazing drummers online who can play their asses off. Instead of thinking, ‘oh, I’m not that good,’ realize that everyone has their own style and everyone has to go on their own journey.”
For Mayo, that journey has taken some unexpected turns but it’s always accompanied by a refreshingly original rhythm.
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