Danny Young, drummer for Green Day’s “American Idiot”
Green Day's "American Idiot" brings drummer Danny Young, Wisconsin's own, to the Milwaukee Theatre April 12-13.
Danny Young is the drummer for the national tour of Green Day’s American Idiot, which stops in town this Friday, April 12, at the Milwaukee Theatre. Previously he has toured internationally for Jerry Lewis’ musical rendition of the Nutty Professor, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and Nelson, the 80’s hair metal band. Currently based in New York City, Young was born in Milwaukee before moving to Viola, a small town in western Wisconsin. He talked with us over the phone about his career, musical upbringing and love of cheese curds.
We are currently at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
You went to Luther College; is that nearby?
Yes, about an hour, hour and a half away. I actually had a bunch of friends come to the show yesterday. And a couple professors and people are coming tonight as well.
At what age did you start playing drums?
I actually started in about sixth grade. I was sort off tapping on stuff before that point, buy my official start was when I got my first drum set for Christmas in about sixth grade.
You’re from the Milwaukee area. Did you go through any music programs around here?
My dad actually grew up in the Milwaukee area. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on, we moved more mid-state to a town called Viola. But all my relatives to this day live in Milwaukee. All my holidays were spent there and that sort of thing. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Kids from Wisconsin, the musical touring group, but I was part of that for three years. We did all of our rehearsals in Milwaukee, and we performed every day at the Wisconsin State Fair. I was involved with that for the last three years of high school.
So you went into college intending to major in drums?
Yes. I ended up graduating with a double bachelor’s degree. One in Percussion Performance and the other one in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Marketing.
What was the transition like graduating from the conservatory at Luther to your now thriving career as a professional musician?
Four days after graduating from Luther I actually drove out to Los Angeles. I had a job working in the film industry. I started in the Vault, which is sort of the library where they store old classic films. So I started working there and training to continue moving up with the company, but then realized it wasn’t for me. It was too cookie cutter and there was no creativity. So after about six months working in film, I decided I’m just going to pursue music full-time. And then shortly after that I ended up on a tour called Lost in the 50’s with the Platters.
Was that a strenuous period of time or did it just seem obvious that you had to make this move?
I mean it’s sort of funny. When you’re in college and you’re majoring in music, everyone tells you that you have to have a backup plan. So I think that got me so freaked out with the music industry that I decided I might as well pursue my backup plan and try to do music on the side. Little did I know that my actual plan was actually the correct path.
Did you see yourself working with musicals as a young drummer?
Actually no. I mean when I started playing drums obviously like every young drummer, my dream was to be on a big rock or pop tour. After I finished with the Platters, I ended up on cruise ships for a couple years and it just so happened that they opened two Broadway shows with Royal Caribbean on the Oasis and the Allure, the two largest cruise ships in the world. They opened up Hairspray and they opened up Chicago. A few weeks before they opened up Hairspray, the drummer actually backed out, so I got a phone call in Venice, Italy asking if I’d be interested in transferring ships. So they flew me from Venice to Finland, I hopped on the ship, I learned the show and I debuted Hairspray. That’s really what started it all.
Do you feel at ease in this role?
Yeah! I really love the musical world. It’s sort of a niche that I found for myself that really works. But just like any job, you’re work’s not done once you’ve got the show. You’ve always sort of gotta keep looking forward. I do seminars out at universities when I’m on the road for a program called Beyond the Gig. It’s something I started with my friend Danny Taylor. But what I tell them is that it’s a full-time job just to continue marketing yourself and networking, and it can never stop because the work doesn’t book itself.
What preceded American Idiot? What were you doing before this?
I was working on a show called the Nutty Professor, the new Jerry Lewis musical. He was actually the director for that. I was working with Marvin Hamlisch. He wrote the music before he passed away. I had actually been offered the position [in American Idiot] that August but ended up turning it down just because I had another show and it wasn’t going to work out date-wise. But then I ended up becoming available this past January. I was really lucky this worked out. This [American Idiot] is one of the shows at the top of my list of things I wanted to play more than anything.
Does it throw you back to your days of wanting to be a rock drummer?
Yeah, exactly. The drums are on-stage in this show. You’re center stage, in the action. It’s just a chance to rock out and do what I’ve always dreamed about doing.
You’re playing Tre Cool’s kit. How does that compare to your standard set-up?
The actual drum set is almost identical what I personally use. It’s actually almost the same exact set up that I used on the Nutty Professor with the two floor toms. So it just worked out that this is the same set-up I’m using in this show. It took a little practice. When I first started, I always missed that third tom.
Was the kit in good shape when you got it?
Yeah. It’s a beautiful kit. It’s really nice. I actually using the same drum heads that Tre would’ve used as well. I’m trying to keep it as accurate as possible, same goes with the playing. The original drummer worked with Tre Cool, I know, in creating and writing the drum parts. I learned the entire show based on what he had done.
How was it learning the parts?
It’s a really great book. The hard part was learning all the drum fills and committing them to memory. The challenge, being that it’s a Broadway show, is trying to play it identical every single night. But that’s one of my favorite parts about being in this world.
Were you a Green Day fan before American Idiot?
Honestly, I didn’t know a ton of their stuff. I mean I know the stuff that was popular on the radio but had never focused on the actual drum parts. I grew up in a pretty strict family musically, so my dad was really adamant that we listen to jazz and classical so I never really listened to a lot of pop music until I started becoming a junior or senior in high school, so learning the show was interesting because it meant studying a style of music that I had never actually tried.
So after growing up in a pretty strict musical family and graduating from a conservatory, are you still a pretty big adherent to the traditional stuff?
I can play jazz and classical, but my favorite stuff to play is more the rock, pop, hip-hop, and gospel stuff. I will take Stevie Wonder, Tower of Power, Earth, Wind & Fire any day over Jazz. I love Jazz, don’t get me wrong, but that’s the kind of stuff I’d love to be doing. I think my musical upbringing worked out to my advantage because it let me study piano. I was singing since I was four. We actually had a touring quartet in my family. I was actually the lead soprano in the group, but it allowed me to understand a different side of music other than drumming that I think has helped me more than anything in my career. Because being able to understand piano, being able to understand rhythms, being able to sing, all of that has been one of the most important things in my career in terms of advancing forward quickly.
Do you miss Wisconsin?
Oh yes. I am the world’s biggest cheese fan. I know all of the spots in New York that still sell Wisconsin cheese. Also, I guess all the beer. I have been telling every single person in the cast about all the independent breweries and stuff in Milwaukee. There’s just so much good stuff, especially in the Milwaukee area. First place I’m going is to get cheese curds.
Any other homecoming plans?
I just can’t wait to see my family. Unfortunately, being on the road with the profession that I have, it’s usually about once every eight months to a year that I get to see my family. There’s about fifteen of them coming to Milwaukee to see the show. So I’m just extremely excited that they get to see what I’m doing. Like I said, it’s really rare that this actually happens, so I think that’s going to be my favorite part.
Green Day’s American Idiot runs three times at the Milwaukee Theatre, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave. Times: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 & 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $75, $63, $48, $33. For tickets and details, call the box office, 800 745-3000 or visit the theater’s website.