Oscar Balza was a self-proclaimed drummer at the age of eight; spending all day long making drum kits out of his mother’s shoeboxes and playing to Bruce Springsteen’s, Born in the U.S.A. Soon after, the shoeboxes turned into air drums, which were quickly replaced with a real drum kit that would lead to opportunities the eight-year-old version of himself never would have expected.
“I have to say that I don’t exactly remember when it happened,” he said when I asked if there was a moment he knew music was supposed to be his career, “but I remember buying Kiss, Hotter Than Hell and playing it on my Mother’s record player. As soon as the opening chords for “Got To Choose” came on I got goose bumps right away, then the drums coming in… it was all so new to me! After that, I looked for opportunities to form my own band or to be part of one, but I didn’t have a clue about how to do that.
The turning point was when my band at the time, Passion, opened for MENUDO in 1989. We were in our early teens and suddenly we found ourselves playing in front of 20,000 people and being a local celebrities. I told myself on stage, ‘This is it! I want to be a drummer! I want to play in a band! I want to play live!’ Back then I didn’t have a clue about the business’ ups and downs. I thought there were always going to be concerts to play,” Balza confessed.
Going from shoebox drumming to local celebrity may seem like quite a jump, but Balza spoke about the first time he played on a real set of drums.
“I used to sit in front of the TV turned off, so I could see my reflection on the screen and start playing air drums to Kiss, Van Halen, and Iron Maiden. I would spend hours and hours just imagining I was playing a set like Peter Criss’ or Alex Van Halen’s. I’d sit and play the same songs over and over for hours – standing up every time the song would end. There were no iPods back then,” he added. “It wasn’t until our music teacher in school came to my classroom once and said that the new school band was being formed and he needed a guitarist, keyboardist and drummer. One of my friends looked at me and said, ‘you should go and audition!’ I had never played on a real drum set before. I had no idea how the mechanics worked and I even thought that the bass drum was there only to hold the toms in place. I was surprised and scared you know? My huge imaginary set at home didn’t have pedals! Needless to say I sucked at the audition.”
But time and practice were on his side. Balza didn’t stray away from the drums just because the idea of a real kit scared him, he used that as motivation and momentum to continue pursuing the career that excited him.
“Attending school at Berklee in Boston totally changed my way of thinking about music on so many levels,” he explained. “The way I looked at music before and after was totally different. Besides showing me the fact that there is a lot of great musicians in the world, some I had never heard of, it gave me the tools to develop, interact and work out situations when it comes down to music. I had access to so much music and music related literature. It was fascinating. You literally think, breathe and eat music all day when you are at Berklee.”
Balza studied songwriting at Berklee, which no doubt aided in sharpening his musical skills during college. The idea and structure behind a song may seem simple when you’re just listening on the radio, but there is a science to constructing it far behind what pleases an untrained ear. Balza was able to realize this, and it shows in the structure and development of his music today.
“My passion lies within both to be honest,” he explained when speaking about the difference between songwriting and performing. “They are two different animals that co-exist in the same jungle. The songwriting part is fascinating due to the process of saying what you want to say using rhymes, imagery, metaphors, and such. Sometimes it can be hectic though, because of the idea not coming across as you want it to. So it’s a matter of the actual craft, trying different lines, and changing the order of the lines and it’s architecture (in words and music) playing around with options and sections and what not!
The performing side however, the moment you are onstage, nothing else matters. What you play is what is. It’s the ultimate present moment to me. At times it can become surreal since you are submerged in the wave of the performing process and entertaining people and you are connected to something else besides what you rehearsed. I don’t want to put it as a ‘state of nirvana’ but is something I can’t quite put my finger on. They are both fascinating and vital to me.”
Balza described the difference between playing sporadically scheduled shows and touring.
“Touring to me is like a resistance and stamina driven thing. You go on stage, play, get off stage, go backstage, comment on the show, go on the bus to the hotel and it goes like that for all the shows. The machine doesn’t stop. Almost like running a marathon! And there’s the commitment that every city must be given the same high energy since they [the audience] are there to see you. So you must stay in shape and not over do things so that you have that energy for the next day and the next show.”
With so many different musical tastes and styles that he admires, I wanted to know who really inspired Balza both musically and personally.
“That’s a tough question since I don’t want leave anybody out, you know? Musically I have hundreds, maybe thousands of influences for different reasons; from drummers to guitar players to songwriters, in both English and Spanish. My mother is one of my biggest influences, and I also have a friend who has gone through many tough periods in life who is still standing and who I owe a lot too; I admire them big time. I won’t say names, but that person might read this interview … YEAH THIS IS FOR YOU!” He shouted out to the unnamed support system who clearly means so much to the ever-developing artist.
I could go on for hours about the moments in Balza’s career that impacted his future success, or the highlights he so vividly describes, but the truth behind Oscar Balza is in the music he so openly expresses with anyone willing to listen. Bridging the gap between English and Spanish, rock and electronic, songwriting and performing, this talented musician is constantly pushing the envelope and striving for greatness.