I recently connected with Ryan Lacey, a professional drummer, percussionist and educator in La Grange, Illinois, who is the founder of Eucatape, a eucalyptus infused tape for hand drummers. With a music degree from LA Music Academy and 30 years in the music industry, Ryan has toured extensively around the globe as well as recorded and co-produced six Billboard World Music Chart #1 records with the band Gaelic Storm. His unique drumming style, melding hand percussion and drum set playing, has made him a percussive pioneer in the Irish Music world.

In this interview I think you'll find Ryan's story on how he came up with the idea of creating Eucatape both encouraging and inspiring.

Ryan Lacey

Bart: So what exactly is Eucatape?

Ryan: Eucatape is a eucalyptus infused tape to help you avoid bruises and blisters, protecting your hands from the stress of drumming.

Bart: How did you come up with the idea of Eucatape?

Ryan: Eucatape is a strange, ironic phenomenon in my life. First of all, I hate stickers. I know that sounds weird but it’s true. I think it’s some psychosomatic thing, or maybe I inherited a fear of stickiness from my mom. Either way, I freaking hate stickers. So as you could imagine, I was always a bit averse to tape. Which makes it funny that I started a company with tape as its main product.

Bart: It is interesting that an individual like yourself, who really can't stand anything sticky, would find a solution by inventing a tape product!

Ryan: I still wish someone had invented this product years ago because as a drummer it would have made learning hand percussion a lot easier on my hands and joints, preventing a lot of the aches and pains I felt after a long day of hitting drums.

Bart: I'm still curious as to how you got from point A to point B. Can you give me some back-story as to how you went from playing drums and realizing you had physical issues with your hands, to coming up short in your quest for an existing solution — thus prompting you to create Eucatape.  

Ryan: It wasn’t until I was 11 when I started messing around with hand percussion. I'd been a drum set player already for a few years, but my world really opened up when my dad brought home our first djembe. Like a lot of guys I just started going right at it, no hand protection, no technique, nothing, just a keen interest in beating on that thing. I hurt my hands all over the place. In fact it was so easy to see where it hurt just by looking at the bruises.

I needed to do something about the pain, so I took my brand new djembe to my drum set teacher and he gave me a few pointers on the hand drum (to be honest he didn’t know what he was talking about, but I believed him anyway). But the biggest thing he told me to do was use some sort of protection, tape or gloves when you’re starting out. I’ve always thought drum gloves were lame, even when I was 11, so I went down the tape route.

As you can imagine, when I was starting out on hand percussion I thought I was so cool, I was taping my fingers like Poncho Sanchez. I saw a picture of him all taped up, and I figured that guy looks like the epitome of a hand percussionist; he must know what he is doing. But I even took it one step further. I started wrapping my hands in the spots where I was getting the most bruising. The tape I used was fine yet it didn’t stay on very well, but as a beginner I thought it was great since it didn’t alter the sound too much. It protected my hands so I could wail away for hours on end and not hurt myself too badly.

Bart: If the tape worked okay for you, although it didn't last long, when and why does the eucalyptus come into the picture?

Ryan: After long practice sessions I’d ice for a bit and use my dad’s menthol rub to cool down my hands. I guess that’s where I originally started mixing drums and aromatherapy.

Bart: Oh, okay.

Ryan: Flash forward to when I was 22 years old and attending the LA Music Academy in Pasadena, California. I had been through the drum set program with the likes of Ralph Humphrey, Mike Shapiro, JR Robinson and Mark Schulman as my teachers. So what does any good-natured drummer do once he’s heaped in college debt? He takes another huge loan out to do a second degree, but this time for hand percussion.

Bart: <chuckles>

Ryan: Sounds fiscally responsible, right? What was I supposed to do? I got to study with guys like Billy Hulting, who played with Zappa Plays Zappa and Natalie Cole, and West Coast Motown studio percussionist, Jerry Steinholtz.

Bart: That's great.

Ryan: As you could imagine, the amount of playing you have to do in this school is immense. Hours on end you’re practicing, so it takes a real toll on your joints, first of all, and on your hands generally. So again, I turned to homeopathic solutions like menthol rubs and the old trusty ice. But it was always annoying because there was no real all encompassing solution out there yet for people like me.

When was 25 and out of school and gigging around LA, I got a call from a friend informing me about an audition for a Irish band called Gaelic Storm. I had lived in Ireland from when I was 18 to 22 so he thought I would be perfect for the job. Turns out I loved the music and fit the gig... so I landed the percussion spot on the Gaelic Storm drum throne.

Bart: Nice.

Ryan: This band tours a lot... and I mean a lot. I can’t complain though; nothing better than making a living as drummer. I have to say, however, that my hands were taking a beating. I know I have good technique so it was never about how I approached the drums. It was just about the volume of playing. This got me thinking and I instantly remembered how much the tape helped me out as a beginner drummer. I still thought drum gloves were lame so again, I went the tape route. I did a large amount of searching and couldn’t find the tape so I bounced around to different types for years. All the while I still used that menthol rub and ice.

I’m not the smartest cookie in the jar, and it took me a while to figure it out, but I finally put the tape and essential oils together. I have the perfect tape now, and the oil I’m using is top-notch. After trying multiple oils and wasting multiple days smelling like peppermint and menthol, I found my essential oil in eucalyptus.

I have to be honest, it took a long time to figure out how to combine the elements into the perfect balance, but I’m now proud to say Eucatape is what I consider a perfect treatment. It was such a great feeling going on stage the first time with that balance. Now I practice daily and gig with Eucatape.

Bart: So as a full-time player... who hates sticky things... who invents a tape product for hand drummers... how does your small business (Drum Nerd), get Eucatape to market?

Ryan: Well, I still hate stickers, but it's become even more ironic. There is a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into Eucatape. Not only do I personally infuse the eucalyptus into each tape, and hand paint each roll, but I also package them in these great reusable tins and guess what? I apply the sticker labels to the top and bottom of each tin! That's how much I love Eucatape. It's from me to the consumer.

Bart: Thank you, Ryan!

For more information about Eucatape — its applications and uses — visit www.eucatape.com.