When I go and sit in with Krishna Das I can be playing drums for three hours and only feel like I’ve been playing for an hour. Whereas the Def Leppard show is a little more calculated, more structured, so I have to stay in the physical a bit more. With Krishna Das I’m able to improvise and go to more risky places in terms of playing. It is a different experience, but equally as powerful.

Your foundation, Raven Drum, empowers people through drumming. What exactly is a drum circle?

The circle really is a metaphor for community. It makes the individual feel as though they’re being supported in the worst times—but also in their good times. We’re all on a different cycle and sometimes it takes people who are emotionally strong to help people who are feeling like the world is bearing down on them. That’s really where the drum circle is so powerful. I’m sure it started out as body slaps and sort of an [ancient] form of communication and then it probably developed into a form of dance and then ritual.

We can’t deny the fact that we’re all tribal. We all sat around a fire. We were there with the family group and then with the extended tribe. We were together because we helped each other out. That’s really what the drum circle is all about.

The first rhythm you ever heard was your mother’s heartbeat, so in every way we’re such rhythmic beings. We have cycles. Our skin changes throughout the year, our hair. Life is change.

What happens in a drum circle?

We’ll normally use white sage to cleanse the circle and then we’ll start to set the intention-- and to me the intention is the most important thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a master drummer. We’re just trying to give people the experience.

I pick rhythms that are very basic at first and then we start to get more complex as people get more comfortable with playing. Normally the first rhythm—or the first round as we call it—is welcoming in the ancestors, thanking them for making this possible and the fact that we can do this because we’re all here.

The second round is letting go of things that don’t serve you anymore. Sometimes we take small groups of people into the center of a circle and symbolically with a stick strike the ground and allow the earth to absorb all the negativity.

The third round is filling the void--bringing in things that do serve you—compassion, love, all the wonderful things that we’re capable of as human beings. The fourth rhythm is the dance, which is a celebration of life, a celebration of the community. We’ll teach a very simple African dance. We finish up with a big celebration and then a moment of silence [where we] let everything sort of integrate and then close the circle properly. When there’s that many people with the same intention all at the same time, it really does stir things up.

What does the drum circle "stir up"? Emotions?

I mean spiritually. You really do feel the support from the elders, from the ancestors. And the Great Spirit as it were.

How does drumming heal physically?

The instrument itself becomes this healing tool. For instance, when I go on stage tonight and play my drums, my intention will be for the good of everybody there and the sound that I make will go out and it will [reflect my intention].

I think with there’s an alignment that happens with the vibration of the drum and the vibration of that many people in the circle playing—there’s a balancing that happens within your body as you’re feeling that vibration. Like if you went to see Krishna Das, you don’t necessarily have to be this devout Christian or Hindu or whatever--just be in the sound. When you stand and look at an ocean, when you go into a forest, that vibration dominates. I think that’s what happens in the circle—the sound and everything all gets rolled into one.

So how did drumming heal you of pain after your accident?

Interestingly enough, before my accident I wasn’t very interested in playing drums anymore. Because like the old cliché, sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, I could do without the rock n’ roll. When I got hurled out of the car and my arm got left in [it]—it was taken off by the seat belt—and I landed in a field, the first thing I said, apparently, was ‘I’m a drummer and I’ve lost my arm.
’ So the thing that I was really shying away from was the first thing I thought about in a time of crisis.

In the hospital they tried to put my arm back on but got infected, and they had to take the thing off. For a week I was off in the anesthetic, but when I came around, the first thing I thought about was wanting to play again.

They put this piece of foam at the bottom of the bed, and I started tapping my feet on [it] and all of a sudden I realized I could play all the basic rhythms that I always knew. All the information was in my head, I just needed to channel it somewhere else.