Like many toddlers, Paul Stoot started toying with percussion when he was 3 years old, banging on pots and pans, improvising his beats.
Unlike other kids, he stuck with it, trading up to a drum set by age 4 and playing in talent shows a few years later. Now 17, he’s been drumming almost his entire life.
His skills are starting to pay off. After clinching a victory at the regional finals during the fourth round of the Guitar Center Drum-Off 2007, he won an impressive seven-piece drum set with cymbals. He plans to head to California to compete in the Jan. 5 finals for a grand prize valued at more than $45,000.
“I always told myself I’m going to see how far faith can take me,” said Stoot, the son of an Everett Baptist minister. “As strong as my faith is, I believe I can win.”
The competition drew 4,328 competitors from across the country, according to Guitar Center spokesman Dustin Hinz.
“To get to be one of the final four, you’ve obviously got an incredible amount of talent,” Hinz said.
It’s hard not to agree when you see Stoot play. When he’s behind the drums, his arms move in a blur, the sticks transformed into smears of tan. A video on YouTube shows him competing at an earlier stop on the Drum-Off, playing with a lot of cymbal and plenty of bass as his solo meanders through tempo shifts and snare rolls.
Stoot, a Mariner High School senior living in Everett, said he plays in high school band and during church services, but otherwise isn’t in a musical group right now. Outside of what he’s picked up in school, he is self-taught, he said.
“I play everything by ear,” he said. “It’s just a gift that God gave to me.”
In California, Stoot will face drummers from West Virginia, Georgia and Colorado in the four-man finals at the Music Box in Hollywood. During the sold-out show, which includes performances by emo-rock group Angels &Airwaves and Roots drummer ?uestlove, Stoot will have five minutes to set up his drums and five minutes to play.
“It’s best if you map out a routine, because sometimes you don’t want to go up there and freestyle,” he said. “You may pause to think.”
He has a Zenlike attitude about the competitions. During one of the earlier Drum-Off matches, he shut himself away when the other drummers played, trying to avoid hearing them. And when he takes the stage, he said he tries to block out the sound of the crowd. Applause can be distracting, he said, particularly if it stops.
“Once they don’t do it, you may mess up,” he said. “I try to play like I’m here (in church) by myself.”
Stoot has been judged on aspects such as originality, technique, style and stage presence during past competitions. In Hollywood, he could win $10,000 cash, a Toyota FJ Cruiser and a $2,500 Levi’s shopping spree.
Stoot has a rough idea of what he would do with the booty: Use the cash to pay off any taxes on the prizes and then use the remaining money to set up a studio in the basement of his Everett home.
He doesn’t need to save too much money for college; he’s been awarded a Washington State Achievers Scholarship Program, his family said. He stands to receive a four-year ride, Stoot said. He’s focused applications on places such as Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and the University of Washington, where he could further tighten his skills.
“I just love music,” he said. “It attracts me, the drums, the beat.”
Reporter Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455 or e-mail email@example.com.