PAY IT FORWARD
The Men of "Chaos & Confetti" - More than Talent and Good Looks
by Marla Santos
Many articles have been written about the Recycled Percussion show, describing how much fun it is to watch and even participate in, but you’ll have to read that elsewhere.
Recently I sat with all four of the multitalented men of Recycled Percussion, whose talents are truly extensive, as “extreme percussionists” (band founder, Justin, is considered the “world’s fastest drummer”), also body percussion, songwriting, guitar, DJ, gymnastics, stunting, and with an overall incredible athletic ability that requires strength and tremendous stamina as they perform (especially when the two lead percussionists, Justin and his cousin Ryan, climb to the top of two 18-foot ladders, drumming on each wrung all the way to the top, only to jump off, all the way back down to the floor, backwards, perfectly in sync.) Yes, extreme talent.
But this feature interview is not about their incredible talents and showmanship—it’s about the men behind-the-curtain—paying it forward—not just to their beloved Vegas community, or their East Coast hometowns in New Hampshire and Ohio—but to the world.
Vegas is bountiful with performers who give back through charity, but Justin Spencer dedicates his very being. He is hands-on, in the community giving 110 percent of his heart and much of his free time when he’s not onstage. Justin is the real deal—not just financing, but offering his own, blistered hand… to the homeless, the vets and their families, as a motivational speaker, campaigning for anti-bullying, outreaching to schools, for the needy, those in hard times… So driven to help others help themselves, Justin poured his mission into a book titled: “One Life, One Legacy – X”. Over the last five years, Justin has developed the Legacy X program, using the approach of anti-substance, pro fitness, branding-based and goal-setting lifestyle, in order to help others reach their dreams and achieve their goals. Legacy X is driven by Justin’s passion to educate and lead people to live their life to the fullest while creating their own legacy.
Recycled Percussion arrived in Las Vegas in 2010 and things haven’t been the same since. Justin Spencer, the show’s founder and high speed drummer, along with cousin Ryan Vezina, extreme drummer and body percussion expert, Matt Bowman, guitarist and percussionist, and Jason Davies, acrobat, DJ and percussionist, use everything they can get their hands on to create their junk-based rhythmic music. Watching these four talented and charismatic men own the stage during their “Chaos and Confetti” show is truly awesome. And with stunts like the “ladder jump,” only a daredevil or an extremely fit and agile athlete would try something so risky, especially when they have no backup performers to fill in, if and when they get hurt—which has occurred. They’ve broken bones, ankles, fingers and noses—and continued on through their performance enduring their injuries, not missing a beat, for an amazing 5,000 shows worldwide.
That kind of dedication can definitely be seen on stage—but it’s branded in the heart of the band’s founder, Justin Spencer—and his generous nature, and his cousin Ryan’s love to give back—like the times he has given free drum lessons to children in need, all of which has created a domino effect within the band—and it has been reverberating throughout Las Vegas and across the world ever since they collaborated.
So who are these talented men of Recycled Percussion, and what is the driving force of giving for the good of all mankind? —something in their childhood? —an inspiring mentor?
JUSTIN: I’ve been playing drums since I was two. I remember being a kid and making concert tickets on pieces of paper and selling them to my family upstairs in the kitchen, to come downstairs and watch my concerts. They gave me all the affirmation I needed to keep going. I remember very vividly, at age four, when my mom and dad took me to see the Ramones. I was in the front row and the band gave me a guitar pick. I remember wanting to be in a “Rock-n-Roll” band really bad at that time, and that confirmed everything for me. I’ve always had this desire to be on stage and to perform. Seeing the Ramones and bands like that, I was so fortunate and so inspired by that. My dad was a drummer in a band that used to play locally around the Boston area. The band was nothing special, but to a little kid, my dad was a superhero.
RYAN: My dad was a drummer and he would leave drumsticks around the house, and I would pick them up when I was really young…three or four years old. My dad was a rock guy.
JUSTIN: I grew up poor with substance abuse prevalent in my house and family. Ryan’s life was very similar to mine. I’m probably a little more hard-core about it than Ryan was. During a good chunk of Ryan’s childhood he didn’t have a father around.
RYAN: My father was also a hard-core alcoholic, did drugs, and was homeless for a long time. I never even knew my dad existed for a long time. Justin and I had a similar upbringing, so stuff really hit home with us. Neither of us drink alcohol; we’ve never had a beer. We’ve never smoked. My parents got divorced when I was two or three, and Justin’s parents got divorced around that same time, too.
JUSTIN: I had an uncle who was ten years older than I was and he was a positive role model for me. He gave me the opportunity to see the other side of things. He gave me the opportunity to see what it was that life could be if you stayed away from drugs and alcohol. That was a big thing for me! Growing up with alcoholics, I decided at a very young age that I would never drink, and to this day, I never have. Those are pivotal years between five and twelve where you’re really a sponge, and learning that your surroundings are playing a key role in your future. My uncle was a big part of things. Growing up in that environment, that atmosphere, you can either follow that path that the ones around you have set as an example, or you can look outside your immediate household to try to find inspiration, and that’s what my Uncle Matt was to me. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I would be. His mother was also an alcoholic, but he was sober and never had a drink in his whole life, just like myself. I saw what my mom was doing in life and I saw what my uncle was doing in life and it was an easy choice for me when I compared the two.
JASON: Justin wasn’t an abused child, but he grew up in a trailer park and his family didn’t have a lot and were sometimes on food stamps. Both Justin and Ryan are very anti-substance because of the way their families were.
MATT: Justin is very straight-edge. He’s never had a beer in his life. Never tried alcohol, never even tried coffee. He’s very hyper…almost an ADHD thing going on. We drink the coffee. Jason is literally a caffeine addict.
JASON: If I’m by the gym by 9:00 a.m., I’ll have a Red Bull and 2 cups of coffee, a shot of Pre-Workout. I’m movin’ in the morning!
MATT: He will wake up in the morning…it’s pitch black…crack open a Red Bull...and chug it.
JASON: Matt does regular gym, and Justin, Ryan and myself drank the Kool-Aid on cross fit training.
JUSTIN: People’s perception is: “Here’s this guy on stage, covered with tattoos and looking like a rocker that must love to party.” I’m up early, at the gym early, always trying to come up with new ideas for the show. My passions are not to be stuck in bars. I am married and have two daughters. Blake is six and a 6-month-old named Bonham named after John Bonham from Led Zeppelin. I have a three-band tattoo, where the middle band is my wife, and the two on the outside are my two girls, and each one has their names on those bands.
RYAN: The first band I saw was Tool. I grew up listening to Neil Peart and Buddy Rich, all the old jazz stuff, and Gene Krupa. I also went through a funk phase where I liked Travis Barker. I grew up with punk and grunge, but I also liked Aerosmith. Justin’s grandmother and my grandmother are sisters, so I think that makes us second cousins. Here’s the crazy story of us meeting: Justin formed the band in 1995 and I had no idea who he was, even though we were related. I was ten years younger than him. He grew up with my older sister. I was in 5th grade in elementary school. The principal came on the intercom and said there was going to be a band that played drums on recycled objects. I was so interested because I was a drummer, so I asked if I could announce whoever this was and said: “I’ll write a script,” and the principal said: “Of course.” I ended up going on stage that night. I met Justin for the first time and told him: “Your show is so inspirational, and you’re an amazing drummer.” He didn’t know who I was either. I ended up going to three more of their shows in town, and when I told my mom about it, describing how good these guys were, she told me: “Justin Spencer is your cousin.” I said: “Get the hell out of here!” So we ended up hooking up, and he invited me to dinner one day and to jam out at the studio. Then we started unraveling all the inner workings of this thing. His dad and my dad actually grew up playing drums together like we are now.
Matt grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, close to where Justin and Ryan grew up, while Jason comes from Youngstown, Ohio. Matt confessed that he started playing guitar when he was young because he wanted to be Slash from Guns N’ Roses. Jason said he was on the path to become a gymnast with hopes of trying for the Olympics.
MATT: I have played guitar for 23 years. I met Justin in 1996, a year after he started the band. I was teaching guitar, playing in three different bands, and had just gotten divorced when Justin reached out to me to be in the band. Justin is the only original member from 1995. Ryan joined about 10 years ago. We met Jason during the America’s Got Talent live show.
JASON: Being a gymnast is one of the toughest things in the world. Being an Olympian is always the goal, but it’s incredibly hard to get to that level. I had a really bad gymnastics injury, so at around thirteen I decided that I would take up dance at the studio my mom owned. Being at the studio was a good idea. There were a lot of girls there, and I thought there might even be a career in it. Right out of high school I went to New York and lived there for about twelve years. I was on Broadway, performing in Wicked. My mom moved out to Las Vegas, so I always knew I wanted to retire out here. I love it out here! I am coming up on my third year with the band.
RYAN: When I got out of school, I was working as a host at a restaurant, and Justin called and said: “Yo, dude—what are you doing today?” He said he was in Florida and one of his guys had to go back home. He asked if I could fly there—so I quit my job and flew there the same day. I remember listening to this tape on my Sony Walkman and hearing three drummers. I asked Justin which one I was supposed to be and he said: “You are the one that goes like this,” (proceeding to make the drum sounds). He threw me in the show and I didn’t realize how hard the physical aspect of it was. I thought I was dying! I guess I came out of the gate swinging too hard. It took weeks to adjust! The four of us in Recycled get along pretty well, and it’s a good balance. Justin is off the wall 24/7: “Let’s go sky diving, let’s go do this…” Jason and Matt are super chill and I’m somewhere in the middle. I do all the video editing for the show, and I write a lot of the music. That is what’s cool about the band. We all get to do our own thing.
MATT: People are always asking us if we’re having fun during the show. We are!
JASON: ...And when we hand out toys on Christmas before our show.
MATT: Then every New Year’s we go back to perform in New Hampshire, which is great for me, because my family’s there.
RYAN: In New Hampshire, our fans are crazier, so it’s a lot of fun. I’m a tapper, and if I didn’t have drumsticks, I’d tap. I remember doing it in the shower when I was very young. I was doing the body percussion backstage one day and I remember a stagehand going: “That’s cool, man!” Five years later, I’m doing it in the show. The show is a very physical show and when the show’s done, your arms are just throbbing. Justin and I are always in constant pain. Your muscles are tight and your lactic acid is at its height. Lactic acid levels get higher with strenuous exercise. The show is really dangerous. We underplay it. The ladders are probably the most dangerous part of the show. We don’t take enough precautions, because it doesn’t seem that bad. But, that’s when you start rolling ankles and chipping skin out of your legs. You have a certain muscle memory just for the show. I could be in the best shape of my life, but not play a show for a year, then go back and try to do the show. Even though I’m in amazing shape, I couldn’t play the show. Drumming is a whole different set of muscles. I can be an amazingly fast drummer, but not be able to lift anything in the gym. So they’re completely separate things. Justin and I go to the gym every day and he’s probably in the best shape he’s ever been in. He just won a cross fit competition. He had never tried running in his life and he ran and won 1st place. He’s like a freak of nature!
“ I am hoping to get to Antarctica someday. I’ve traveled the world and it’s one place I haven’t been. I can’t be greedy. I’ve already bought nice cars in my life, and had the nice houses. I’ve done those things that everyone aspires to have and do and it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. I think it scores high, worrying about what other people think of you, rather than what’s important. Am I buying the car for me or am I buying it so that when I pull into the Valet they go: ‘Wow look at his car!’ When you live life like that, trying to impress the Valet guy, you’re living in an empty hole. My aspirations of a bucket list are more about rewarding myself than anybody else.” —Justin Spencer/Recycled Percussion
One Life, One Legacy
The book, “One Life, One Legacy - X”, written by Recycled Percussion’s founder Justin Spencer, is the operating manual that lets you live life, so that when you are on your deathbed, you can look back and say: “I kicked ass.”
MATT: The day-to-day operations of Legacy X are all Justin.
JASON: I think he always vowed that if he ever got some level of success that he would give a lot back to people that are growing up in similar situations.
RYAN: Justin is not just an energetic drummer—he doesn’t believe in failure, and he’s really smart. I live with Justin, so Legacy X is so intertwined with our personal lives that I see it everyday and all that he’s doing. Justin just does everything on such a massive scale that no one can keep up with us.
JUSTIN: I’m certainly the train conductor, but the guys are always there for me. If I need something or support, they are always there to help out. I grew up in a small town with little hope of making the kind of life I desired for myself. We need to take control of what we can control, and that is ourselves. I hope to accomplish two things with Legacy X: 1) I feel like I have an internal mission to open the eyes of as many individuals as I can, and shed a little light that they may not see in their own lives—to remind them that there are grand reasons to live. I don’t get into religion or into personal beliefs. I just try to reinforce to every individual that life can be beautiful, if you choose to paint the picture that way. Legacy X really came from the idea that: “Holy Cow, look what I got from a New Hampshire small town, from no money to build and do, and we’ve truly done it the hard way. We’re not a billion dollar company like Cirque du Soleil where we can just cookie-cutter our way to the Strip. We did this for 20 years to get to this point, and we did it the right way. We’ve done 5,000 shows.” So I kinda take those lessons and reinforce them to other people. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a rock band, if you’re a landscaper, a schoolteacher, a housewife, whatever, the same principals apply that we all have to find something in our lives that really gives us value—something that makes us wake up in the morning and have that butterfly feeling in our stomach. For me, that’s where Legacy X’s seed was planted. The second part is that it’s imperative that we as humanity give back. It doesn’t have to be done monetarily. It just means that we have to be conscious that we share this earth together, that we are all in some way brothers and sisters and that just because you have money does not make you better. Just because your skin is white does not make you better. Everybody has their own problems, and I find when you give back, you self-empower yourself as an individual. That’s what Legacy X is for me. On Christmas Day this year, we gave gifts to over 1,000 kids. I spent my Christmas driving around, going house-to-house, to homes that were given to me by the school district that notified me that they didn’t have any Christmas presents. I made it my mission to make sure those kids had toys. That’s so self-empowering to me, that I would imagine I get more out of that experience than the kids receiving the toy. This was the third year I’ve done this. Legacy X started six years ago with a book. When I was writing the book, I realized it wasn’t just a book, but a belief system that I was creating—basically a template, as to how one should conduct their life to get the most out of it. Let me be very clear! There are books that make us laugh, make us cry, take us on adventures and scare us. Then the occasional book comes along that literally is designed to change your life!! Legacy X is designed to create progress for all of us. The time is now… ONE LIFE, ONE LEGACY.
Recycled Percussion performs at the Saxe Theater inside the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. RecycledPercussionBand.com • LegacyX.com