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On Thursday, the 26th Annual First Glance Film Festival begins at Philadelphia’s PFS Boris Theater in Philadelphia.
Nineteen films have deep ties to the area, including the new documentary by local filmmaker Jill Frechie, “Heart of the Beat,” the story of drummer David Uosikkinen of The Hooters.
Formed in Philadelphia in 1980, The Hooters catapulted from regional to national to international stardom within a decade amid the rise of electronic dance music and new wave.
Uosikkinen has kept up the tempo to this day. He grew up in Levittown and now lives in Wayne. “Morning Edition” host Jennifer Lynn spoke with him about his life in music.
Jennifer Lynn: What does it feel like when you sit down at a drum kit?
David Uosikkinen: I’m at total peace. I don’t think about anything else when I’m playing music, whatever stresses there are outside in the world go away. I don’t really think about anything but what’s happening within the moment. I might be like rocking out, you know, and it just feels great.
JL: Being at it for so many decades, I was wondering about your body.
DU: It’s a little beat up.
JL: Do you feel like you lost some freedom of movement that you had when you were a younger drummer?
DU: Well, what happens with years of playing is that you get some wisdom. The game slows down, music slows down for you, space slows down. When I play even a solo now, I’m using all my limbs, where at one time I was more right-sided, now I’m more ambidextrous.
JL: When you were a child you got into music and thought pretty early on that you’d like to make a life in music.
DU: Well, I thought I wanted to do that. I didn’t know if I could do that. I actually wanted to play the guitar at first. There was a kid in my neighborhood that had a guitar and a drum and he could play the song “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles and I sat at the drums and I could play. I’m gonna play it right now. I could do that, and I could play it in time. So, I was the drummer and it just stuck.
JL: When you joined Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian to form The Hooters, did you like the kind of music that influenced the band such as ska, reggae, and rock, all together?
DU: Yeah, I did right away. I felt like I hit the jackpot when I started playing with those two guys. If you can play with musicians that you think are better than you or they’re gonna push you, you should be involved with them. Quickly, I engaged with the music and I like playing reggae and ska.
It felt natural for me to turn a beat around to play what they call a one-drop feel and cross-stick stuff. But the bands that I played with before I was playing with those guys were really into it too. For me a lot of the cool ska that I listened to came out of the U.K. I remember there was a band that we played with called Steel Pulse. They had a drummer named Grizzly (Steve Nisbett) and we opened for them at Emerald City. I had never seen so much ganja in my life. I remember my mom and dad were watching the show and they got really stoned from contact high from the pot, but Grizzly was like a bear behind the drums. I just couldn’t take my eyes off him, because it was like perfection in action.
JL: You’ve performed some of the greatest concerts in the history of rock music, The Live Aid benefit concert in Philadelphia, on the Berlin Wall in Germany after the fall of the wall marking the end of the Cold War. Is there some place you haven’t played that you wished you had?
DU: We have played here, but I would love to go back to Finland. I mean I have my family there. When we first started we would play in Finland. About 10 years ago we did one of those cruises that had to leave from Helsinki to Stockholm. So I was in Helsinki for a couple days and I met up with a couple of my cousins. It was a lot of fun. A couple guys in the crew didn’t realize that I spoke Finnish. So we were in one of the markets one day and I started having a conversation with somebody about lunch meats and I used the word makkara and they were like, where’s that coming from? So yeah, I’d love to go back.
JL: Part of your story falls under the umbrella of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s not a part of the story that I knew, but I heard about this in the documentary. So your bandmates intervened in your life when you had an addiction to heroin. What did you learn about yourself to undo the habit of using heroin? How did that work for you?
DU: Thank goodness that they weren’t the type of guys that we’re gonna say, ‘OK you’re fired, you’re out of here.’ They gave me a shot. I was more of the Hellraiser. Rob and Eric were really focused on what they were doing. I’m not saying that they were choir boys either, you know, but they certainly didn’t get into what I got into, but I was into that way before we even met. It was just something I brought along with me and it just kind of extended. I wasn’t really equipped for dealing with my finances. I was in a quiver for dealing with being successful or perceiving success. At the time I don’t know if I was really that happy. I didn’t really get happy until I got myself clean and sober.
JL: Did you look at what that happy was or wasn’t? What was that absence of happiness about?
DU: Well, I just felt like I had to be authentic. I wouldn’t let my emotions out. I was a Finn. So I would behave like a Finn. More Finns are getting in touch with that, but I was very stoic. I had to be willing to be more transparent with people that I could trust and then I had to, of course, find the people that I could trust. I became willing, if that makes any sense.
JL: You grew up in a Finnish household. And there are cultural norms and behaviors, and some of it rolled into how you behaved in the rock ‘n’ roll world.
DU: Indeed. I mean, it wasn’t like a lot of talking about our feelings. So it was more of you know, suck it up and deal with it. I’m happy about it now. I’m glad I had that. My experience has made me the person I am today. I wouldn’t change that for a second because I’m living my best life right now. I almost even hate saying that when referencing Finnish culture, it feels like I’m bragging. I just got great people around me and that feels pretty damn good.
The Hooters are scheduled to perform at Montgomery County’s Keswick Theatre on Friday, Nov. 3.
Saturdays just got more interesting.