MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Mountlake Terrace High School senior Josh Setala loves jazz.
The 18-year-old Hawk plays in the school’s jazz band and on the side with friends. Setala will pursue a music degree in college, next year, but he hasn’t made a decision on where he’ll go. Wherever he ends up, he’ll bring his drums with him.
Question: How long have you been playing the drums and what got you into it?
Answer: I’ve been playing for about six or seven years. It’s kind of a full-circle story because the first time I got into jazz music specifically was when I heard the Mountlake Terrace band play at the quad concert my sixth-grade year. That’s what kind of put my focus on jazz music because that’s what opened my eyes to the possibilities. From there, I expanded my focus by not just looking at the Ellington era but everything before and after, or as much as I’ve been able to absorb.
Q: You play outside of the school band, too. How’d that start?
A: Mostly just the common interest. The friends that I play with, we enjoy a lot of the same music. We’re always showing each other new things and things we haven’t heard before. Me and my friend Andrew, he’s one of my closest friends. He’s the bassist in the band and my first-call bassist for all the gigs I line up. We play a game where we have to guess who’s playing on a record. We’ll pick songs and guess who the other musicians are on the record.
Last year, I had a friend Ben and we had a trio called the Blue North Trio. That was a blast. We basically made a book of songs we wanted to play and we’d call tunes from that book. That was a great time because we had a gig, it didn’t pay anything, but we had a gig that we’d go and play every week. We’d rehearse pretty regularly and that was foundational in building the small-group aspect of my playing.
Q: Is there any music outside of jazz that you’re interested in?
A: One of the big things is a lot of crossover between genres. That’s really interesting to me. There’s a lot of modern musicians who would be called jazz musicians, or Black American music, that’s kind of the more favored term. Jazz has some negative connotations. It’s a long story. A lot of fusion, funk and hip hop, that crossover is what interests me.
Q: What do you like to do outside of school and music?
A: I like being outdoors. I like hiking. In college, I’m thinking about pursuing a minor in statistics. I like math. I like the statistics class I took here. Music takes up a lot of my time. School takes up a lot of my time. Being outside is the third main thing.
Q: Do you have any plans for after you graduate?
A: Nothing is set in stone. With music programs, there’s a lot of factors that go into that decision, including financial aid, admission to the actual school, admission to the music program. Thank goodness decision day isn’t for another month. I’ve applied to San Francisco Conservatory, University of Washington and DePaul University in Chicago. I’ve heard back and been accepted to UW and DePaul, but I haven’t heard anything from San Francisco yet.
Q: Two of those schools are pretty far away. Are you comfortable going somewhere new for school?
A: I would say I’m pretty comfortable with that. Most of it comes down to the scene and the people. The schools that I mentioned really vary. Like San Francisco is like 500 people. UW is 50,000 and DePaul is kind of in the middle of that. At each school there’s someone I really want to work with, like a drummer I want to work with. At UW, there’s Ted Poor. He’s kind of on the modern side of things, he’s got a lot of his own projects going. Matt Wilson is at San Francisco Conservatory, he’s absolutely stellar and such a nice guy I’d love to work with him, as well. Dana Hall, he’s a drummer at DePaul. He’s also the head of the jazz studies program. Those are all people I look up to a lot. It kind of depends on who gives me the most money, which is what it comes down to.
Q: Are you hoping to pursue a career in music?
A: I’d love to make a living as a musician but that’s not always realistic. Ideally, I’d have a day job, where preferably I could work from home, with statistics. I see myself making a nice cup of coffee and working, and at night I could teach privately and play gigs. That’s really what I’d like to spend my time doing.
Q: What are you listening to, right now?
A: An album that I’ve really been digging right now is Bob Brookmire and Friends. He’s a trombonist and he does a lot of composing and arranging. I’ve been listening to an archive of radio interviews with jazz drummer Mel Lewis. It’s basically him talking about the history of jazz drumming. With that, I’ve started listening to more of his albums. “Soft Lights and Hot Music,” that’s one that’s really killing. In terms of the modern sphere, I really like Marquisse Hill and Joel Ross. Thundercat. He’s a bassist, very prolific with just ridiculous technique. I saw him in concert and he has an upcoming concert I’m really excited for.
Q: Do you think people mostly know you around school for your music?
A: People pretty much know me for my height. They’re like ‘How tall are you?’ If they’re trying to clarify who I am they go, “Oh, is that really tall guy?” Everybody asks me if I play basketball. My go-to answer is, “I don’t play basketball, I just play drums.” I would say people know me for my music, as well, which is kind of the goal.
Q: Is there a particular sound you want to pursue with your music?
A: I’ll probably have to do more exploring before I make that decision. There’s a lot of stuff that I like so it’s really hard to find a particular sound that I’d like to explore. It also has to do with the interests of people around me because if I want to do something, but there’s nobody else to pursue that with, it’s hard to do all on my own. It’s really cool to have people with different strengths, put them together and see what happens.
Q: Have there been any people that have pushed you or supported your music career?
A: My mom and my dad, first of all. They finance me a lot. I work, too. It’s not like I’m completely living off of them. Mr. Fall. We have a clinician who comes in, Steve Korn, he’s been really helpful. There’s been other people around, professionals who I’ve studied with. Reuel Lubag, he’s a pianist and he’s kind of taken me and Andrew under his wing. Everybody in the jazz band has been great. Kieran Ferris, he’s a drummer at Western. He graduated last year. I was kind of in his shadow, not in a bad way, he’s just a great musician. He was really inspirational. My friends in the band now — Andrew Vinther, Kaden Hargrave, Ernesto Torres. Everybody in that band is great.