Drew Shoals ’05 zigged away from a career as a jazz musician to become a corporate lawyer, but this May zagged back to music, leaving law behind to drum in the award-winning band Train. Over the last six months, the band has toured all over the world, dropped a new album, Bulletproof Picasso, and left the former African American studies major with little time to catch his breath. We caught up to him for a few questions on drumming, transitions, and being a rock star Whittie in the world.
Q: How did your colleagues at Shearman and Sterling take your departure?
A: They were very understanding, given how it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. No law firm partner I talked to said, “You’re making a huge mistake.”
Q: One of Train’s most famous songs is “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)”, which pretty much anyone who has lived in America in the last fifteen years can sing along to. Do you ever get tired of playing the big hits in concert?
A: Train has had, what, 13 top ten hits throughout the years? There are a lot of songs we play every show. They are different every time we play, and we feed off the way people respond. “Drops of Jupiter” is a beautiful song. It means so much to so many people – actually, Pat wrote it about his mom when she passed away. So I try to consider the sentiment behind it, and it’s exciting to play every night.
Q: How did your studies at Whitman College – you were an African American Studies major and a Garrett Scholar, among other things – prepare you for the life of a rock star?
A: Whitman really embraces students who are good at a lot of things; the majority of the student body are people who excel in academics as well as whatever extracurricular activities they choose to do. They wholeheartedly jump into everything they do, which is what I’ve tried to do my whole life.
At Whitman, I took a lot of history, politics, philosophy and English classes, played in the jazz band and a ton of campus bands, and participated in theatre sports for a little bit -- a lot of performative types of things. I was also Director of Public Events, in charge of bringing bands to campus. During my time we had Ben Folds, Maroon 5 back when they were just getting started, and Death Cab for Cutie.
Later on as a lawyer, I was getting a general kind of big law corporate experience, some high-profile securities cases, then shifted to mergers and acquisitions, learning quite a bit. And, working at the firm, I got to host Garret Sherwood scholars [who visit NYC to network with alumni in leadership roles] two years in a row, which was like coming full circle.
Now, I’m a co-chair of the Whitman Class of 2005 10th reunion scholarship fund – we’ve been raising money for a need-based scholarship, and it’s cool to stay in contact with classmates on the committee. I was lucky to be a Paul Garrett Scholarship recipient, along with diversity and music scholarships. Now that I have the ability to give back, I’m happy to do it, financially and with my time.
Q: What do you listen to when you’re not performing?
A: Spotify. I really like New Music Tuesday; through that I’ll find new bands like Alt-J, or Banks, out of L.A. – she kind of sounds like Lorde. My favorite albums over the past year? The newest Vampire Weekend album. And a band called Haim. I still buy albums, and listen to a lot of indie music; I try to support as many bands as I can.
Q: What’s your favorite Train song?
A: It used to be “Calling All Angels”, but now it’s “Cadillac Cadillac” – there’s a really cool drum part that’s a little more flashy, the one where I get to show off my chops the most when we play it live. This album [Bulletproof Picasso] is a little more soulful [than Train’s previous albums]. It has more of an R&B vibe to it – with rock interpretations of that kind of music, which is a little more in my wheelhouse. I love playing it, and fans are responding positively to it.
Q: What do you think gives Train the staying power to still be putting out hits after so many years?
A: Train has been on the radio for 20 years! Pat has been able to adapt, to keep a consistency with his voice, but still get stuff on the radio. The fact that fans still care what we’re up to is amazing. And Train caters to such a diverse fan base: people who are my parents’ age, teenagers… Luckily, our album debuted at #5 the week it came out.
You have to adapt or fade away, take risks and kind of evolve. I’m super lucky to be a part of it this late.
Q: What will your next career transition look like?
A: Well, I hope it lasts [with Train] for a long time. But, given my background and intellectual curiosity, at some point I might synthesize law and music, maybe manage a band or go into entertainment law. Whitman laid the foundation for me to be open to making those types of career changes – to make bold intellectual and artistic choices and commit to them.