You’ve seen them on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” now YOU can play along….LIVE at The Quad in Las Vegas. Grab drumsticks and an instrument as you enter the theater, or just kick back and watch the most exciting show on the Strip! Produced by one of Las Vegas’ most highly-regarded producers, David Saxe, the new Recycled Percussion show promises to be the most impressive yet. The show has been rocking the Las Vegas Strip for over two years with an unprecedented combination of extreme percussion, engaging humor and extraordinary athleticism. Whether playing on buckets, ladders, grinders or sinks, Recycled Percussion’s boundless energy and creativity are sure to blow audiences away.
In what can only be described as the most interactive show in Las Vegas, upon entrance to the show guests are equipped with a drumstick and instrument, encouraging them to play along to the junk rock fun. Formed in 1994 in New Hampshire at a high school talent show, Recycled Percussion’s first performance gave birth to the style of music now known as junk rock. Justin Spencer, who has been named the world’s “fastest extreme drummer,” along with fellow drummer Ryan Vezina, guitarist Matt Bowman and DJ Todd Griffin have averaged more than 250 shows a year since. The band was introduced in living rooms across the country on the hit TV show “America’s Got Talent,” where the group placed third out of more than 100,000 acts and became the first non-singing act to place in the top three in show history.
Recycled Percussion has appeared on the cover of USA TODAY, has performed on numerous television shows including the “Today Show,” and most recently played their biggest show ever by performing on “China’s Got Talent.” The audience at the outdoor stadium was over 80,000 and the home viewership reached more than 610 million viewers. The band has also performed at the 2010 Latin Grammys, World MMA Awards, NBA and NFL halftime shows, convention general session openers, corporate events, college performances and more. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Justin Spencer to discuss the origins of this unique group, the evolution it has experienced through the years, the challenges they face and much more!
To understand the full story, I wanted to jump back to the beginning. What can you tell us about the first memories of music in you your life?
My Mom and Dad brought me to see a band called The Ramones. Do you remember The Ramones? I was around four years old. It changed my life! My Dad was a drummer, so I grew up with music around the house and when I saw The Ramones, it was a perfect fit! Ever since I saw that concert, I was hooked! My parents gave me a drum kit when I was a little kid and I spent my time playing music and destroying my Mom’s Tupperware parties! [laughs] I was an ADD child, a product of the system and music was my outlet. I don’t know any different! I grew up performing and don’t know what it is like not to!
You mentioned The Ramones but who were some of the other musical influences who influenced you early on?
It was all about my Dad. He was in a band and as a kind, I grew up watching him. As a performer, as a kid, you want to be like your Dad! That is your biggest influence. Outside of the typical man-crushes of bands like Rush, Van Halen and Led Zeppelin, it was all about being just like my Dad.
Obviously, you are very gifted musically but what was it about music that made you want to pursue it professionally?
I had aspirations when I was growing up of becoming a lawyer. I took a swing at it but really it boiled down to finding what my passion was and that was always music. I was destined to ultimately have a career in music, so I don’t think anything was going to derail that!
It certainly seems to be working out OK for you so far!
Yeah! It’s going OK! [laughs]
What initially sparked the idea for the Recycled Percussion?
Recycled Percussion garnered our influences from the New York City subways and the street performers there in the mid-90s. We wanted to take it to another level, so for a high school talent show, thinking it would be a one time show, we performed for the show by stealing some ideas from the New York City subways and brought them to a suburban town. It was something they had never seen before. It was going to be a one time deal and then it was another gig, another gig and that was 18 years ago!
Tell us a little about the progression of the band through the years and how you have evolved up until this point.
It really hit us in 2001. That is when Clear Channel had signed us and we started touring and doing colleges. That as really the first time I thought, “Ok, this is going to be a financially rewarding situation for us.” Up until that point, we had touch and go success playing local areas in the Northeast. That is when it really kicked off for us and we started touring with tour buses. Over the course of those eight years, we built an enterprise. We owned it ourselves, we started our own labels, we did everything in house, we owned our own sound systems and tour buses. We set it up the right way which really allowed us to grow. In 2007, we were asked to make an appearance on “America’s Got Talent,” which opened the eyes of some Vegas agents and basically lead us to where we are now. We have been in Vegas for the better part of 4 years now and have opened two shows, one at the MGM Grand and the Tropicana. Now, we are at Caesars Palace at The Quad and just opened our new show a few months ago! We haven’t gone under 300 shows in the last 9 years! We have always hit the 300 show mark and last year we did 400 shows in one year!
Wow! That is very impressive and quite a run!
Yeah, we never taken more than a week off. There is just no time! We get one day off a week and it is usually on Friday and that is it. Every other day is a show!
What has been the biggest evolution of the band has been through the years?
That is a good question. Evolution from a creative standpoint, being in Vegas with a big stage every night and not having to pack up, travel with your gear and travel city to city, allows us a big sandbox to create in. Every day, we come in and say “This is our home, let’s try this! Let’s do that!” For example, when our whole show, when the curtain opens up, our whole show comes in up-side-down from the ceiling! We can build things that you wouldn’t be able to build in a traveling situation. Another example is everyone who comes to our show gets instruments and drumsticks and plays along with us on multi-media screens. Everyone is involved with our show the whole time! It is almost like a live version of the “Rock Band” videogame throughout the entire performance!
That sounds amazing! What goes into the choreography and planning of your show. Is that something you are always tinkering with along the way?
Because we play so many shows, we get the feedback from the audience. Sometimes we will try something and it will be like “Woah! The crowd liked that! Let’s build on that.” We view the show through the eyes of the audience more than anything. We always try to write the shows thinking, “If I was an audience member, what would I like?” That is really what it comes down to for us! It is all about what the audience would like and if we think of something cool, we do it!
Tell us a little about the other members of Recycled Percussion and what they bring to the table?
There are four guys — Mr. Blue, Mr. Black, Mr. Green and Mr. Red. I am Mr. Red and my right-hand man, Ryan, is Mr. Blue. He is the good-looking heart-throb or the band and he is also my cousin. His dad and my dad were in bands together growing up and our grandparents are sisters, so we have some family bloodlines there! Jason is the newest member of the band. He has been with us for six months now, he is Mr. Green. We brought him in and he was in the cast of “La Reve” and “Wicked”. We also have Matt, who is a long-time friend, who is Mr. Black. He is on the guitar and is a very skilled guitar player. We all wear a lot of hats in the show and we all play drums in the show, so there is a lot that each guy has to bring to the table every night!
Where do you find yourself drawing creative inspiration these days? Do you look at other percussionists or everyday life?
Believe it or not, I kind of alienate myself from looking at other percussionists, so we don’t steal anybody’s ideas. I think inspiration is all around us. Sometimes, I will be making a protein shake in the kitchen and go “Whoa! We can make music with this thing!” [laughs] We live in that kind of world for our show! Musically, there are always new bands coming out that we like and enjoy, like we all do, but our show is so different. We aren’t really a band, it’s a show but it is really a hybrid of a rock band and a show. You go see it and you relax or we can come out and be a band. It is a really strange situation for us because we want to be Led Zeppelin but we have to be “Phantom of The Opera,” so you combine those together to get that kind of feel!
You mentioned the amazing amount of performances you do yearly. What is a typical day like for you when you aren’t performing?
We spend a lot of time in the gym. We are straight-edge guys, so we don’t drink or do drugs. We spend a lot of time with the homeless people and try to help out in our communities. Fitness is a big thing for us. Right now, I am in Utah and I am about to do five hours of mountain biking up here in the mountains. We have to stay active because we are getting older, so we have to keep ourselves young. Even on our off days, we don’t get a lot of time of. We will be making phone calls, doing red carpets or meeting people, like any Vegas act would do.
Do you ever time to soak in the achievements you have made over the past decade or is it all business?
It is all business! There is a time for everything. You know, we have a closet full of some cool plaques and memorabilia. There will be a time to break that out and show our families. It is funny because my dad will text me sometimes or call me and say “I saw you just got your own holiday in Las Vegas!” and I say “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! I forgot to tell you!” He says “That is a big deal!” [laughs] It is always moving on to the next thing and the next thing! It isn’t that we don’t appreciate it because we are so humbled by all of those things but we can’t sit for too long because it is such a fast paced business. You have to keep it fresh constantly!
You have many career highlights with Recycled Percussion. What is the biggest recent one that jumps out at you?
For this past Fourth of July weekend, we got to represent America as the only American act to perform for The America’s Cup in San Francisco. That was a big deal! We were hand selected from many different acts. We also got to represent America last year in China for six hundred million people on “China’s Got Talent”. We went to Paris two weeks ago and represented America on a TV show called “The Best of The Best”. It is a show featuring hand-picked pop acts from all over the world. The selections are not amateurs, they are all professional acts. It is almost as if you were having a battle of the bands between Aerosmith, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin and all of these of other bands — Who would be the best? We have been a part of some really cool things lately and those just highlight a few!
How do you feel you have evolved through the years and what is the biggest thing you have learned about yourself on the journey?
I think the evolution, for myself personally, has been how, from a creative standpoint, we have opened some tunnels and passageways within the front cortex of my brain to come up with some really cool ideas. Personally, it is all about giving back to people. I am so thankful for what we have and what I get to do everyday for a job. Trying to help anybody come to fruition in their own lives to say “I can do this too!,” whether it is being in a rock band, being and athlete or an accountant, it doesn’t matter. We are really interested in anything we can do to help facilitate young people to achieve their goals. That is the biggest thing for me and my biggest goal right now.
I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on your very dedicated fan base. What can you tell us about them and what they mean to you personally?
They are awesome! We just did a contest on Twitter this week where people could submit their impersonation of our band. We are taking the winning group to the movies! We just selected the winner yesterday and now we are going to pick up a group of girls and take them to the movies! We also have them donate at the show or we are doing a camping trip for them next month where they can pay fifty dollars to come camp with us and all the money goes to charity. The fans are amazing. The fans mean everything to us. You hear bands say all the time and half the time they are full of shit! When it comes down to it, without our fans, we wouldn’t be talking right now, so anything we can do to give back to them is priority number one!
You mentioned the charity work you are involved with locally. Is there any advice you can give to those looking to lend a hand?
There are so many charities and things to give back to. I think it is great for people to get involved with something that tugs on their heartstrings or is close to them. For example, if someone in your family has an alcohol problem, help kids out to understand substance abuse. If you have been down in the dumps and wondering where your next paycheck will come from, go out and help some of these homeless people. These people need some help right now. We all can find some places to donate our time, money or resources. Anybody can! Just find something that is important to you!
What is the best piece of advice you can pass on to those looking to make a career for themselves in the entertainment industry?
It is easy, man. Don’t let anybody or anything derail you from what you want to do. Don’t let anyone convince you that you have to conform to be part of the society we live in. I was told I was crazy for dropping out of law school to pursue my passion. Don’t waver from pursuing your dreams — ever!
Thank you so much for your time today, Justin! We really appreciate it and wish you continued success! You guys are terrific!
Thank you so much! Thank you for your kind words!