Known for his blazing hand and foot speed, Royster excels at funk, R&B, Latin, rock and jazz. Listing Dennis Chambers, Jim Chapin and Billy Cobham as top influences, Royster currently plays with hip-hop legend Jay-Z, jazz/funk bassist Francisco Fattoruso, pop artist Joe Jonas and soul singer Joss Stone. While Royster's incredible versatility as a drummer allows him to quickly move from one style to the next, he says the trick is knowing when to reel himself in.
"It's somewhat challenging, playing with Joss Stone for a month, then playing hip-hop a day later. You have to kind of switch your mind from actually being able to play freely with a lot of accents under their vocals, to playing hip-hop grooves at full volume and just smashing," Royster says. "At the same time, it's really about adapting to the artist and putting yourself in the music. Artists always want you to bring your own feel and style to the picture, because you have different colors that they might want to see."
By age 10, Royster had already mastered the fundamentals of drumming, which allowed him to further develop skills across so many genres. Partly through his success leading up to and during Guitar Center's Drum-Off as a very young man,
Royster became known throughout the country as a child prodigy. Like others who have found early success, he believes it was a combination of nature and nurture. After all, both of his parents were musicians, and provided him with the opportunity to discover making music very early on.
"Drumming for me-it's a gift from God," Royster says. "My mother and my father play drums. And my father plays guitar, as well. I want to say 60% is natural and 40% is learning and understanding right from wrong. Like going to martial arts class and learning what the proper techniques are. Some have a special gift for martial arts. They're already naturally athletic.
"And with drums, there's groove, technique, speed, all of that. Either you have it or you don't. Of course, there are people who can practice for years and develop a certain technique, but you can tell that they were, in some kind of [way], taught. For me, a lot of it was just a gift. It's just that my mind is kind of crazy; I can just pretty much play what I think. It's weird."
As one might expect, given his family's musical connection, Royster's interest in making music goes well beyond the drums.
"I like the piano, and that's something that I'm really
trying to get better at. With a piano, you can start coming up with melodies, as far as producing your own music and then coming up with ideas that you can convey to whomever you want to play on your record, or make music with. Piano is a universal instrument that's really easy to relate to other instruments," says Royster.
"The bass is also something also that I would like to pick up and get better at, just because drums and bass go hand-in-hand as far as feel on the bottom end of the music, which is very important," Royster says. "I started playing the French horn when I was in school, like middle school back in the day. That lasted for a little while. The French horn is definitely a difficult instrument to learn, but I'm willing to try anything."
For as many different gigs and styles of music as he's involved in at one time, Royster keeps his kit remarkably consistent. So, he needs a kit that sounds great in any musical setting he steps into. While Royster admits that it was the look of DW drums that first got his attention, DW's versatility and attention to detail have made him a life-long endorser.
"You have to really feel a certain way about the drums, or anything that you play," Royster says. "You want to look good, so you find something that has all the elements that will make you happy. DW drums look good and sound good. They're amazing in the studio and live. John Good (nicknamed DW's "Wood Whisperer" by Neil Peart) puts so much passion into the drums. It's really kind of hard to go somewhere else because of the dedication that they have for the drums, even putting different notes into each shell to help you tune the set. It's just the extent that they go to make you feel comfortable and one with the kit."
Royster's core DW Collector's Series maple kit includes 10x8 and 12x9" rack toms, 15x13 and 18x14" floor toms, a 22x18" kick drum and 13x5" snare, all with Evans heads, and DW 9000 series hardware throughout the kit. Depending on the artist, Royster says he'll add toms and vary his generous Sabian cymbal setup. Andof course, he plays his own signature Vic Firth sticks.
In addition to his DW Collector's Series kit, Royster often expands his sound palette with a couple of Roland SPD-SX sampling pads. The trend of incorporating electronic percussion with an acoustic kit has steadily increased over the last few years, with companies like Roland marrying advanced synth
technology and rich sound with ease of use. Royster says having electronic percussion available is especially important for recreating the feel of hip-hop tracks on stage.
"I like to use the Roland SPD-SX for certain sounds, especially with Jay. It has claps and 808 sounds that I can use within the songs, and it helps add elements to a song that might otherwise be missing. When we play with Jay, we take out all the electronic drum beats and try to emulate everything the drums are doing in the song. Then we play along with Pro Tools, so we've got all the other elements like the sample, keys and everything else.
As part of Royster's look on stage, he's developing a new line of high-end stick and laptop bags in collaboration with Vic Firth, his stick endorsee. The bags, scheduled to debut later this year, will feature a single backpack-style shoulder strap and carry handles, a soft fleece interior, and what he calls a seamless zipper that almost disappears into the bag's fabric.
"It's a great all-around bag," Royster says. "It's simple and, at the same time, it's complex in its ability to hold different items. There will be pockets for everything, and a fleece interior so your laptop or tablet won't get scratched."
For those who admire his ability to jump from genre to genre and maintain his signature sound, Royster says it's staying true to himself that's most important.
"It's okay for me to inspire you, but let me inspire you to develop your own sound. Don't try to sound like me. If I have ideas and different things that you like, take my ideas and try to flip them or do something yourself. No one wants to continuously sound the same. That defeats the purpose of liking different drummers. So my advice is to create your own sound using other drummers as inspiration to grow and get better. Use drummers who are better than you or have more experience than you, use them as a motivational tool to get better at your craft."