Five Questions: Abe Rounds
Abe Rounds is a professional drummer from Sydney, Australia who studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and currently lives and works in Los Angeles. He’s best known for being a member of Meshell Ndegeocello's band, and has worked with some other serious heavyweights in the music industry including Seal, Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles, Andrew Bird, and Aimee Mann.
Abe and I met up in a studio in Downtown L.A. where he writes and records. We talked about his fear of losing his creative spark, the many important people in his life, following one’s heart instead of money, and how music and love are like elevators; they lift you up. Meet Abe.
What’s your greatest fear?
There will always be certain things that’ll be there. Fear of loss. Loss of family pops up. I’ve lost family, but I haven’t lost family that’s really close to me. Yet. I know that’s coming. I fear that. That’s real for me.
Me: Is it someone specific who may pass?
Abe: I’ll be really upset when my grandmother passes. She’s 80. She’s still totally with it. But every time I go back to Australia—I only go back once a year for Christmas—so you really see the change in demeanor and physicality of a person and how it diminishes. The brain is totally still there, but you just think, “Wow.” I fear that day.
I definitely fear the loss of creativity one day. Playing music and just in general. Having the spark and the ideas coming to fruition and coming to the ether of the music that I’m doing. I fear that. I’m always trying to listen to new stuff, read new things, see new things, be as open as possible. There’s a fear of losing my openness and creativity.
Me: I feel you, man. You said you listen, read, watch. Do you gravitate towards any specific medium of art?
Abe: I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, so I’ve been soaking in other cultures. Whether it’s music, art, or dance, there are some really cool things. I go to galleries when I’m on tour and just stare at paintings to figure out what I gravitate towards. I’m influenced by everything. I’m influenced a lot by the people who are around me. I’m basically a vessel of the people who are around me. I’ve been lucky to be around people who are incredibly giving and gifted, so a lot of their influences have soaked into me I’m sure.
Who is the most important person in your life?
It’s so hard to be singular. I would say equally, my parents. They are the most important. They’re the reason I’m here. They’re the reason I can do what I love to do. They’re the reason that I can be a musician as a job. They gave me the tools and the ability to—I wasn’t inhibited, I was able to do what I wanted. I was like, “I want to be a musician!” They said, “That’s cool!” And, “I want to move to America and go to college!” And they helped out as best as they could. They’re the most important people in my life. Family. My sister.
Another most important person in my life is Meshell Ndegeocello who’s band I play in. She found me in college. I had a chance encounter with her at a master class and next minute I knew, I joined her band. I’ve been in her band the last three years. I’ve almost grown way more than I ever did having a college education just being around her. She is so important in my life. And definitely being in America because I have no family in America. So it’s like her and Chris Bruce and Jebin Bruni who play in this band with me, they’re also very important in my life.
And my best mate, my roommate. Yeah.
Me: Shout out to the roommate!
Abe: There’s heaps! I can’t be singular with that answer because it wouldn’t make sense. There are all these people.
I’m sure, as you get older, there are varying levels of different people and their importance level changes. In ten years, I may be like, “Ahh, that’s all bullshit!” [Laughter]
My father’s a musician, so my musicality definitely boils down to his influence. He played the bass, so I grew up playing with him. I learned some lessons early on that are very valuable. Some things you can’t learn at an institution.
Me: Do you remember one of those lessons?
Abe: The importance of when you’re playing in a band or a musical situation that it’s not about you. You’re trying to make the musicians and people around you as welcomed as possible. That’s with the people listening and watching or dancing, and the people you’re playing with. I call them—the best musicians are like elevators, you play one note with them and you jump in and they take you up, they make you better.
When you play music, listen to everything else that’s going on. Don’t just listen to what you’re doing. Otherwise you lose the big picture.
Me: For sure. You’re just the sum of your parts at that point. You’re just one of many making something beautiful.
What's the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do?
I’ve had to make a big decision about a gig based on the monetary or what I wanted to do in my heart. That was a huge decision I made last year. I went with my heart. It was the best decision I made. It felt right.
Me: What was your process to make the decision?
Abe: I spoke to all my best friends, I spoke to all those people I mentioned before. Then I broke things down, I made a list, pros and cons. Just like when I was considering to move to New York or L.A., I did the same thing. And then I went with my gut. The decision I made was to step back from it and be like, “How do I feel about this?” And I said, “I feel right inside.”
Me: Is that a mantra you have in your life?
Abe: Definitely. Especially now with playing music in general or even just the people you want to surround yourself with. You want to put yourself in situations where you love the people around you and they love you. You don’t want to be in some sort of fake environment where you’re trying to be someone you’re not, or you’re perceived as someone who’s not really you. Especially living somewhere like L.A., that can run rampant. At first when I moved here, that was really difficult. But now I’m just like, “Be yourself and do the things you want.” It’s not all breezy. Then the money aspect comes in like, “How am I going to pay my rent?” But you just try to do the best you can without losing your mind.
So that was one of the biggest decisions of my life at that period. And then also just moving to America. I had quite a comfortable life in Sydney. I was playing lots, I was making good bank, my family was there, it’s very cruisy at the beach. The culture and lifestyle in Sydney is fantastic. Why did I want to leave? But I got this lucky break getting into college in America and I thought, “Just go for it.”
Me: Did you do four years at Berklee?
Abe: I did the four years of work, but I did it in two-and-a-half years. I did all the summers because if I took summers off, that means I was paying rent and I was paying to go home if I wanted to go to Sydney, and I was just like, “I should just stay and pump it out.”
Me: Was your focus drums at the time?
Abe: I did diploma in jazz performance.
Me: I wish I could transcribe that the way you said it. [Editor’s note: He absolutely said it with the flair and whimsy of a jazz performer.]
Abe: It’s hilarious to think that I have a certificate of authenticity for my musicality. It’s totally bizarre. Especially in the context of jazz where that was born completely out of the context of what was going on versus being taught. It was rebelling against something. It was a complete original art form. Out of the blues.
But yeah, I did it. I was one of the few that actually graduated. Not many graduate. The thing is that all the successful people never graduated. That’s how the story goes.
How do you define being “in love”?
I’m learning at the moment. I haven’t been in many reciprocal love situations. Other than my family and friends. Love, in the terms of having a partner… Love is just an understanding that you have their back regardless of what goes down. The lowest, the highest, I’ve got your back and I’m here for you and I enjoy being around you and I enjoy your company and you make me feel wanted. That’s a lyric of somebody’s. [Laughter] But I think that’s definitely true. That’s the kind of relationship I would want to be in.
Also, a lot of it comes with challenge. That’s part of love, too. Being with someone who challenges you.
Me: You said something earlier when you talked about playing music, you get in and it’s an elevator. I’m hearing that in my head while you’re talking. Someone who can encourage you to be better.
Abe: Yeah, definitely. That’s powerful.
Me: And you’ve never had the reciprocal love? I appreciate that word. I feel that love is either reciprocal or non-existent. In a romantic sense.
Abe: I’ve tried. You can’t force things if it’s not meant to be. And maybe it’s not meant to be at a particular time. Things change. I just haven’t been in a reciprocal relationship. Maybe in ten years.
Me: Within ten years.
Abe: Hopefully! I’m open!
What will you miss the most when you’re gone?
Well, will I be able to miss when I’m gone? That’s the thing. Maybe I will look forward to not being able to miss anything. Maybe I’ll reach the point when I’m totally free and I’m just me being and existing somewhere and there’s no real train of thought and there’s nothing to miss. I’m going to say that.
Obviously, I would miss family and all those kinds of things. Maybe being able to touch or feel the people around me and feel their intrinsic value. Maybe I won’t miss anything. Maybe I’ll just be free.