With his love for pastels, hip-hop and spray paint, Santa Ana’s Michael Ziobrowski just raised the bar for other local artists with his latest commissioned piece: custom painted drums Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, world-renowned drummer of The Roots.
Although Ziobrowski has only been working as an artist for six years, he’s been grinding hard and has already achieved a reputation as one of the most prolific artists this town has ever had. He’s designed album covers for up and coming bands, self-published art books, painted multiple murals, and now his work is going to be seen by millions of viewers around the globe when Questlove plays his new kit live on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, February 15th – 19th.
Ziobrowski first caught Questlove’s eye after tagging him in a photo of a Questlove signature series Breakbeats kit he was painting for local drummer, Valerie Franco, on Instagram. After seeing the quality work by Ziobrowski on Franco’s drums, Questlove commented: “Can I marry this drum?” Ziobrowski remembers being stoked and commenting back. The two started exchanging messages and a few days later, Ziobrowski was delivered two drum kits in three boxes containing raw wood shells and a separate box with all the hardware. “It was crazy,” Ziobrowski recalls, laughing a little. “There were smiles on my face. I saw the little label on the side that read ‘Questlove’s Hardware.’ I just jumped right into it”
The five-piece kit was the first to get taped up and sprayed in the pastel palette that Ziobrowski has favored for a good while now. He refers to the span of work he’s currently done in this color scheme as his “Pastel Life” collection. His technique on the kits is deceivingly complex and that’s strange considering his main tools were tape, spray paint, and an X-acto knife. “It’s random,” Ziobrowski explained. “I might lay an angle down, let it kind of dictate itself to me. There’s a theme to it and a color palette, but beyond that, I’m always pulling away, looking at it and seeing how I can rebalance the spatial relationships.”
Being one of the hungriest artists in Santa Ana, Ziobrowski was not afraid or even intimidated by this project. If anything, it inspired him to delve deeper to find out more about “Questlove” as a person. “I’ve always been a music person, in some form or fashion, whether it was making beats, DJing, collecting…I love music, it inspires me. So to be able to do art and connect it to music—it’s amazing!” While painting the kits, he would listen to Questlove’s NPR interview with Terry Gross and various Roots records. He even went out and bought Questlove’s New York Times best selling memoir Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove. “I’m maybe, like, twenty pages in and it’s reall y good already,” said Ziobrowski. “He’s like a library of knowledge when it comes to music.”
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One of the perks that have come as a result of this project is that Ziobrowski was actually invited to a private Roots jam session in Hollywood. Although he is excited to meet the band and hear them play, his focus isn’t shaken. He’s going with the intent to also network and seek more opportunities for his art. He’s made up his mind that he doesn’t want to go as a “fanboy,” but rather as a professional that understands the value in the opportunity he’s been given. “I don’t know what to expect,” said Ziobrowski, while rubbing his palms together “Hopefully I get to talk to him, get to know him a little bit and vice versa…see what other opportunities come up.”
On February 15th, the night of the first Tonight Show taping, Ziobrowski plans to watch it at home with his wife and their daughter, probably while working on the next thing. That’s the difference between him and a lot of other local creatives: he doesn’t stop—there’s always the next thing.