In 1992, Rob Chursinoff and his bandmates saw Tommy Lee filling up his Harley at a gas station on the corner of 12th and Cambie. The boys approached the Mötley Crüe drummer and asked if he would listen to their music. Lee said yes and invited them to come down to Little Mountain Sound Studios, where he was recording, the next day.
“He commented on the heaviness of the song, the guitars, the vocals, the precision drumming,” Chursinoff remembers. “He and his engineer thought it was a drum machine. Just them kind of being really cool and positive and giving us some praise about the song was awesome. We were like 20, 21 years old and [when] a respected musician says stuff like that, you go home and you play harder.”
Beats Per Minute, Chursinoff’s mini-music-memoir, is full of stories like that encounter with Lee, vividly describing anecdotes from his time as the drummer for bands like Tegan and Sara, Kinnie Starr, Ben Lee, and The Belle Game. The Castlegar native commences his narrative with modest beginnings as an aspiring drummer in the Kootenays, leading readers through a journey peppered with great successes, disheartening frustrations, and both a loss and rediscovery of himself in the often tumultuous world of music.
“I had been chipping away at writing it for a couple years now,” Chursinoff says. ”So I guess I had a lot of time to process the different snapshots and different moments throughout my musical life. And having it finished and ready to send off coincided with a time in my life now where I’m focusing more on writing and less on music, so it felt timely.”
Chursinoff’s initial big break came with Kinnie Starr, a Canadian singer-songwriter known for her blend of alternative rock and hip-hop. Chursinoff worked with Starr for quite some time, playing gigs like Lilith Fair and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill tour. It was at a Calgary stop during the latter that he first met Tegan and Sara. As fate would have it, their paths would cross again a couple of years later at the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival in B.C.
At the time, Tegan and Sara were without a drummer and about to record their third album. Chursinoff was determined to set up a jam session. “I pestered them for weeks and weeks afterwards,” he laughs. “They thought jamming was for hippies. I just kept pestering them and finally they relented. ‘Okay, just to get you to stop calling us, we’ll go in and jam with you.’ And they were very reluctant, but that jam ended up being a lot of fun and they ended up hiring me to record that record, If It Was You.”
Chursinoff would go on to drum for Tegan and Sara for five years and two albums — the aforementioned If It Was You and So Jealous. Mentions in magazines like Entertainment Weekly and television appearances legitimized his career path to his parents (something, Chursinoff maintains, was the gauge on feeling like he’d really made it). However, years of constantly grinding it out on the road with various bands inevitably became wearisome. Chursinoff got burnt out and found himself searching deeply within to unearth something different.
“In terms of identity, I’ve let go of the phrase ‘I’m the drummer for,’” he says. “I had to let go of that and kind of re-form my identity based on things other than being a drummer, being a musician. I was more that that. And I started to look into my writing more. I started a high end painting company with a friend. I started doing other things and being okay with doing other things and forging a different path other than music — and that kind of saved me.”
These days, Chursinoff works in real estate and as a travel writer. And while he admits that he doesn’t miss its high demand lifestyle, music is something that is inherently part of his nature and he jams from time to time to fulfill that innate artistic desire. “That’s why I’m always doing something creative. I’m writing, I’m playing music, I draw. I need to do something, anything.”
Intimate and enthralling, Beats Per Minute is both a peek into the life of a successful musician and an honest reflection of the dogged pursuit of a life in the arts. And, for Chursinoff, a special keepsake of an important chapter in his life.