Jonny Scott – Totally Killing It

Jonny Scott. What is there to be said about Jonny Scott? Well. He’s awesome. A fantastic drummer – you don’t to get to play with The Kills if you’re not. And he’s a gentleman. Quiet, considered and a total pro. We caught up with Jonny recently and picked his brains about what he’s been up to.

Musically, you’re playing with The Kills. How’s it all going?

It’s going great, toured for around 9 months last year, was tiring but loads of fun.

How did the gig come around for you?

My friend Scott Paterson (Sons and Daughters) called me one day and asked me if I’d be up for being a part of a ëdrum corps’ for a band from London called The Kills. There were four of us all standing up with 2 floor toms and a snare each, all dressed the same doing choreographed parts. It looked really awesome and it was really cool putting it all together. The live setup has evolved since then and I’m now on kit (and Ableton duties) with Scott on Keys and Bass.

What’s your favourite thing about the gig?

It’s hard to pick out one thing actually.. I guess just having the opportunity to play night after night in so many amazing different places. I feel really lucky to be doing this gig, I love the music and they’re super cool people, they have this insane energy onstage and it’s great to be a part of that.

It’s just 2 of them in the studio from what I understand. How much further is the band augmented live, besides you?

Besides Jamie and Alison we have Scott Paterson on Bass and Keys.

Is the gig a typical sideman gig, where you take the records and recreate them exactly as asked for live, or do you have any input on arrangements?

It’s usually pretty straightforward, we tend not to mess with the arrangements too much. Since most of their songs (on record) don’t tend to have much live kit going on I’m just trying to complement the programmed stuff and not get in the way too much, it’s really about adding some weight and energy. There are a few songs in the set we do without any drum machine or tracks and they tend to be more free, arrangement-wise.

From some of the clips and things I’ve listened to, it’s clear that there are electronics involved. Had you experience of that stuff before or was it a learning curve?

Yeah, there’s a fair amount of electronics involved but nothing I haven’t had experience of before. I’ve been working with bands using Ableton/samplers/SPD/ etc for a while now and have a wee studio in my house full of synths and drum machines so I feel really at home with all that non-drumming nonsense. I did have to think of Ableton in a different way for this gig since I didn’t set up the original session so there was definitely a wee learning curve in there.

You’ve been a fixture in the Scottish music scene for a number of years, playing in different bands. Does staying active like this between tours suit you

I always like to stay as busy as possible and there was a time where I think I was probably trying to do too much. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time for that last year being away so much. I’ve been doing more production and writing recently and that tends to be what I do when I’m home now. That and hang out with my cats. I’m hoping to do some shows later in the year with my other bands, I miss it a lot.

Do you write a lot of your own music?

Yeah but I always need a co-writer, someone else’s opinion on whether an idea is shite or not.. I’ve got no confidence in myself that way! I much prefer bouncing ideas off someone else. I recently finished producing and co-writing a record with Helen Marnie (Ladytron), it’s out in March. I’ve also been producing a record for BDY_PRTS and I contribute to some of the writing there as well. The album is in the final stages of mixing and will be out in Spring, I’m super excited about that!

You’ve recently just signed as a Ludwig artists – congratulations. What gear do you use?

Thanks! Yeah, I’m so excited to be a part of the Ludwig family, I’ve been obsessed with their drums for a long time so it’s great to have their support. I’ve always loved the sound and look of the Vistalite kits, been playing a red 1970’s vista for the last 10 yrs so it made sense for me to get one for touring. I’m currently playing the Tequila Sunrise reissue kit in 24″, 18″, 16″, 13″ with a 6.5×14 Black Beauty and Atlas Classic hardware. The new Vistas sound HUGE, I absolutely love them. Good looking things too. I only use one cymbal with The Kills because Jamie hates cymbals.. I figured if I could only have one it should be massive so I’m using a 24″ Paiste Giant Beat which I bought from you guys a while back along with a set of 15″ Paiste 2002 Sound Edge hi-hats. I’ve got a special new kit coming my way this year too..

Have you always been a fan of American drums – I know you played Gretsch before?

Not always american drums specifically though it probably looks like that.. I’ve played everything from Pearl to Mapex to Premier over the years, anything that sounded good really. It wasn’t until my first tour of the states with Emma Pollock that I developed my Ludwig obsession. We were supporting The New Pornographers and had borrowed Neko Case’s drums for the tour, a 1960s super classic but The New Porno’s drummer Kurt Dahle had this amazing mod orange vintage Ludwig with a 24″kick which sounded insane, he ended up letting me use that for most of the tour to save us dragging our gear on and off the stage. I kind of fell in love with that kit so I bought my red Vistalite with my wages from that tour as soon as I got home!

What electronics are you using for The Kills?

We’re running Ableton Live on two Macbooks through a Radial SW8 switcher which will switch from A laptop to B laptop if anything goes wrong (it hasn’t yet, touch wood). I have an Akai MPD to my right which I use to line up the next song in the set and Jamie has a footswitch linked to that to fire the tracks off. Also have the obligatory Roland SPD-sx in my setup with a few triggers. I sampled a load of the drums from the record into that so I can play as much of the programming as possible live.

Does this change for your own projects?

The MPD setup isn’t something I’ve done with anyone else, I usually try to keep things as simple as possible for my own stuff, sticking to just an SPD where I can. I can usually load full tracks into that which negates the need for a laptop, it really helps when you’re doing tight festival slots when you’re not throwing cymbals and drums around then having to worry about a unplugging a load of cables and putting a laptop away. That stresses me out!

You stepped in for Martin from Mogwai very last minute recently. How was it learning their set?

It was very last minute.. I got the phone call while I was still in bed asking if I could do it, that same night I was on a plane to Hamburg listening to Mogwai on repeat trying to drill the songs into my head, thankfully I was familiar with a lot of their songs already. I never got a chance to physically play the stuff until I got to the venue and sat down with the band at soundcheck.. I’m not gonna lie, I was shitting myself! I can barely remember the 1st gig now, it was such a blur, I do remember Barry exclaiming that ìwe got away with it” afterwards. Ha! I settled into it pretty quickly after that, Martin was on hand for the first week of the tour to help me out which was awesome. I’d been a fan of the band for a long time so getting to actually be on stage with them was ridiculously fun. And loud. Very, very loud.

Did you find it challenging having to work without vocals – where you perhaps maybe take a cue from etc?

That was probably the trickiest thing about the gig. I always rely on vocal cues when I’m learning other bands’ material so not having that was definitely a challenge. there was a lot of eye contact and nods going on for the first few shows, sometimes conflicting nods depending on who I was looking at.. There were some other cues going on but I don’t wanna give too much away. Some of them were pretty funny though.

You came through a music programme and your Dad is a music teacher. What is your opinion of music education these days?

I think there are a lot of great people doing really amazing things in music education but they’re up against it when it comes to funding, music and arts are always the first to have their budgets cut and that’s a real shame. When I was teaching in Schools a pupil’s drum lesson might’ve been the only reason they bothered coming in that day, I know that’s what kept me going when I was at High School. What’s gonna happen to these kids who can’t afford private tuition? Where do they go?

Do you teach drums?

I taught drums in a few High Schools for around 8 years but had to pack it in to concentrate on touring, production and session work. I’d like to get into some private tuition this year as i have a little more free time and i miss it.

What’s your favourite thing about being on the road?

Tequila! No, playing drums every night is my favourite thing about it. I mentioned this earlier but I really do feel lucky to be in a position where I can play for a living.

Least favourite?

Being away from family/friends/my girlfriend/my cats. It’s really difficult not seeing the people you love for months at a time.

Favourite venue to play?

It’s hard to pick one.. I think L’Olympia in Paris, it’s bloody beautiful.

Top 5 records and why?

Hmmmmm.. This is difficult as it seems to change day to day.. At this particular moment in time and in no particular order.

The Cure – Disintegration

I’m a sucker for a huge synth pad..

Steely Dan – Aja

It has all my favourite drummers on it plus I love a bit of Yacht. grew up with this one.

Depeche Mode – Violator

Amazing pop songs but also dark af. I never get tired of this record.

The Blue Nile – Hats

I love Paul Buchanan’s voice and I love the fact that there are basically no drums on it. Great example of letting the songs do the talking. I listen to this on tour a lot, it reminds me of Glasgow.

Prince – Purple Rain

This needs no explanation.

What was the last gig you went to?

The first gig I went to on my own was Oasis at Loch Lomond but i think officially my first gig was Fckn Kenny G.. My parents took me when i was learning saxophone. Scarred me for life. Thanks Mum and dad.

Give me 1 piece of advice for the younger generation?

Don’t be a dick. Nobody will hire you if you’re a dick.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

Still doing music in some capacity, I’ll be 45 in 10 yrs so hard to say if I’ll still be able to handle touring life.. I dunno, 1 phone call can completely alter your path in this industry and that’s one of the things I love about it. Unpredictable.

 

Dave McCluskey – One of the Boys

Dave McCluskey is a great player. His quiet demeanour means you’ve probably missed him along the line. But if you have had the pleasure of watching him play, you’ll know he’s rock solid. A time machine in fact. He drives the band along superbly and doesn’t let up for the whole show – providing energy in spades with an awesome groove. His current gig is with English rockers The Quireboys and he held the chair with former Thunder alumni Luke Morley, in The Union. He has also played alongside Danny Bowes and Ben Matthews – also of Thunder. We caught up with Dave recently after his recording session with The Quireboys.

Hi Dave

Hi man.

So musically at the moment, you’re playing for The Quireboys. How’s the gig going?

It’s going really well. We have been all over the UK at the start of the year and been moving into Europe now and it’s going to continue to the end of the year – we’re doing the Monsters of Rock Cruise in America in October. Since joining the band in 2013 it’s been non stop but I can’t complain about working with great musicians and playing to fantastic crowds and places. As well as all that, we have just finished recording a new studio album which will be called Twisted Love and will be put out September this year.

Sounds great. Will you be touring the album?

Yes we will be touring off the back of this record once it gets put out. This year we are doing 4 small electric shows around the UK and playing paisley Bungalow on the 18th of September. Carrying on with touring around Europe and going to the states to do the Monsters of Rock Cruise. We will be doing a big UK tour next year. The guys are doing an acoustic tour this December and I will be joining them in Edinburgh and Stirling playing the Cajon and Percussion.

What’s the most demanding part of the job for you?

It might sound daft cause it’s every drummers job but its true, sit on that stool and make sure I keep that band together and keep the groove solid. It’s the great thing about the Quireboys, they don’t ask for much and the songs are not fancy wild but I make sure I play the songs and keep it really tight. It’s one thing I notice, a lot of players maybe get bored cause they are just playing 4/4 and don’t get to show what they are really all about. They start adding stuff in, doing fancy stuff. It can be done but often they overplay with all fancy stuff. You can keep a solid 4/4 groove and make it look serious and great and in the end, make sure you keep it solid and hold that band together.

I saw you pay with The Union a few years ago it was preatty full on! How do you keep the energy up for a full show?

That one is good to ask cause a lot of people really do wonder how we do it. Sometimes doing a set, you don’t have a break between songs and count the next one in right away. It’s all down to breathing I guess, if you don’t keep you breathing steady then the body is going to go into panic mode. As I read a while back, a study was put together in a university with a drummer and a pro athlete and the results came out nearly the same. With how we breath etc, drummers are compared to athletes cause we do put our bodies under a lot of stress the way athletes do. Plenty of water, try and sleep when possible on tours, eat right. It sounds boring and not very rock n roll but you will last longer and not be so done in after a gig.

Do you enjoy the touring life?

It’s what I always wanted to do. As much as I miss my own bed haha, I still love going on the road. Although you don’t get to see much cause you are living life on the motorway, it’s the buzz from playing to different crowds and going to different towns which makes it great. I started doing it lightly with my first band The River 68’s then when I joined The Union in 2010 and going into The Quireboys in 2013, its been nearly 6 years solid of it now. I’m in that frame of mind.

Touring has really got 2 sides to it and it’s what a lot players miss when they want to do it. They think its all great gigs and great times but they miss the other side of it. It’s a fantastic experience and I hope to keep doing it for a long time. That feeling you get when playing the gigs is something you can’t explain, you have to experience it yourself. Seeing all the people enjoying themselves, singing back the songs is knowing you are doing the job right. What makes it more great is when the parents bring along their kids and seeing them having a great time cause I had that same feeling when my parents took me to see a band live and I’m not ashamed to say, (The Corrs). Great players and really enjoyed it standing on the seat trying to see the band.

For the other side of touring – there is a lot of long hours travelling, just seeing motorways out a tour bus or van window or sitting around in hotel rooms waiting. If you are ok with this then it’s all good. I hope you have good patience in you to sit and do that. Find things to keep you at ease – read books, go for a walk – instead of sitting around in the hotel room. Or as I like doing now, invest in a good camera and go for walks to capture places I’ve been to. We have a laugh about it when there might be a whole day of waiting about, you start complaining then.

Do you get to practice on the road? And how you do you stay healthy?

I don’t get to practice much on the road as we are travelling a lot and everything is a hundred miles an hour. During travel times, I stretch my fingers a lot to keep the blood flowing and rotate my wrists. When waiting to go on stage, I swap the sticks around so the stick is hitting the underside of my arm to get the fingers moving. Just little things here and there but it all helps.

It’s so easy to fall in the trap of eating badly when travelling – America is bad for that haha. We made a deal over there and subway salads saved us. Always carrying water in my bag and eat plenty of fruit. Even if you have a treat that day. playing that gig that night you’re going to burn it off anyway – playing nearly a 2 hour set is like going for a run. Yeah just staying away from sweets and takeaways like Burger King etc, trying to keep that mind set of stay healthy and don’t fall in the trap.

Do you find it difficult sitting on a chair that was held by the likes of Jason Bonham?

Not really, I don’t find that part difficult. I think the bit I find difficult sometimes, especially at the beginning, is to play the songs right and keep it together. It was even more nerve wracking cause I had to learn the set in less than 24 hours with a flight out to Barcelona to play the first gig with The Quireboys. Only knowing one song, I was surviving off coffee sitting at the laptop with my headphones in going over the tracks over and over again. I never had the chance to sit down at the kit before going out to Barcelona, it was “…there’s the songs, be at Glasgow airport with your sticks at 6am and meet the boys in Spain for a tour”. It was a case of ok, I’m free, lets do it. I encourage that as well, if your willing to do that then go for it and never back down.

Do you enjoy that way of learning material or do you prefer to be fully prepped going in?

I guess I like both ways if I’m honest, being prepared and going to do it is great but when you have a short time to do it I like being under pressure learning. I like to be pushed beyond my limit and I think it’s a great thing all new players should look at. Try and push yourself beyond your limits and put yourself under that pressure. While I was learning the Union’s set I never stopped going into a rehearsal room and thrashing through the songs. When it came to rehearsal, one song through and the guys were shaking my hand afterwared which made me feel like I could relax a little but I knew it wasn’t over cause that was one song. Unfortunately I didn’t have that time to learn the Quireboys set but I liked the pressure (although the woman in front of me on the plane hated it cause my feet where tapping that entire flight haha).

How do you find having to nail the parts that fans know so well?

That I find really fun, cause you see drummers in the crowd maybe drunk or whatever air drumming but playing the parts I’m playing up at the kit. I get a kick out of it and find it really fun. I kinda think, well if they are doing the same to what I’m doing then I hope they are keeping their playing up, playing around their town and touring as well. As to the point I made earlier, playing the songs they way it was recorded so fans are getting what they know and want, so im doing the job right.

You played with Danny and Ben from Thunder – was there anything from the Thunder catalogue that you had to learn?

Yeah that was great playing with Danny and Ben. I joined them a couple of times in Glasgow on their little acoustic tours that they did. I had to learn a handful of Thunder songs and a handful of covers. I’m a Thunder fan, so getting to play the songs with them was brilliant. Danny singing, Ben on piano and guitar and me playing Cajon and percussion. No rehearsal for it, just turn up at sound check, play the tunes and make sure it all sounded fine. Was nice and laid back and great guys towork with.

That sounds great! Did you manage to keep that kind of fun vibe for doing the full band shows?

Oh no I never played with the whole band Thunder live but have joined them on stage in Japan, me with a guitar on running around like a clown pretending I’m playing the guitar. They’re fantastic guys and just had a laugh about it. It’s the same with The Quireboys and The Union, we always have great vibes on stage and such and great laugh. If you show to the crowd what a good time it is then they feed off that and have a great time as well.

What’s your favourite venue to play?

For me so far it has to be the Whisky A Go Go in L.A. Cause of its history and knowing you have played on the same stage with a lot of great acts going way back to before I was born. For a home town gig I would have to say The Garage. I’ve always has a great gig in there and such a great atmosphere. I’ve got to say a thank you to Alistair and the Mad Crew for their great help every time. Top guys and the hardest working.

What gear are you using?

I’m using a Gretsch Renown Maple on the road in Dark Walnut and it is thanks to Drummers Only for helping me pick out a fantastic sounding and strong kit for my heavy hands. Sizes are 24″, 13″, 16″, 18″. All Remo coated heads.

The small pub gigs, Gretsch Catalina. I have used this kit recording and sounds amazing cause it’s a real warm sound and great punch off the bass drum, 22″, 12″, 16″. All Remo coated heads again.

I use all Zildjian Cymbals, 14in Avedis New Beat Hi Hats, 20in Avedis Medium Thin Crash,19in Avedis Thin Crash, a 23″ Avedis Sweet Ride and finally a 20in A Custom Crash. The Crashes really hold up great, with great attack. All Tama road pro stands and a DW 5000 single pedal, a Tama Iron Cobra for back up.

I carry 2 snares with me, Gretsch 14×8 Maple and a Gretsch 14×6.5 Taylor Hawkins signature. That’s my main one I use live and even though it’s not your top end snare,doesn’t matter to me. Sounds seriously good!

I endorse a Porter & Davies throne with BC2. Great product and helped a lot now with feeling the bass drum through the seat. I highly recommend checking one out. I’m also endorsed by Regal Tip Drum Sticks. I was using 5B stretch for a while but now moved onto a 7B. Thank you to John Hornby Skewes and Gavin Coulson for bringing me on board.

Just started using in ears now which I’m finding a lot better. Using Shure in ears which are all hard wired with the jack socket on the back of the throne and going to my small mixer at the side of me. I find it a lot better to hear everything cause at moments the crowd can go louder than the band, you never know what can happen and the it all goes to pot but with the in ears I have better control on hearing the band.

Do you have to change yourset up for any of the gigs you do?

Not really, everything runs pretty smoothly. For shows that you fly to, you are obviously restricted to what you can bring. An advancement sheet gets sent out to the promoter to have all the gear we need for us arriving. Yeah sometimes the drums are different sizes but I’m still going to set it up to the same height as I would with my kit at home. Its been really good and all the gear that gets brought in for the shows we need it on has been great.

Do you have to tech for yourself? And how do you solve any problem that might arise – wingnuts or clutches going missing,etc?

Yeah I do it all myself – set up and take down all my own gear. I really don’t mind doing it myself but yeah, sometimes a tech would be nice. I’ve had all sorts happen to me on gigs. Clutches coming undone, snare drum skin bursting during a song, so play the rest of the song on the rack tom. Cymbals falling off risers, rack toms collapse…….as folk may know I’m a bit of a hard hitter, so things tend to happen. The band may notice something has happened but just giving them the signal it will be ok and make it through the song and fix it at the end of the song. The worse thing that happens a lot is when the beater comes off the bass drum pedal. When you haven’t got a bass drum pedal, everything sounds horrible but there is nothing you can do and even a tech would find it hard getting there to put the beater back on.

Do you have a lot of creative input into the drum parts?

Mainly with The Union and The Quireboys, the tracks have already been written with either a simple groove or something that they want. When it came to recording stage, yes there was room for putting my own spin on it or fills, whatever it was. There was a groove I always played on sound check with The Union and Luke and Pete took the groove and made it into a song which was called Obsession. I only did it cause when the sound guy asks for the whole kit on sound check, it involved a lot tom work to make it easier for him to sound check. With The Quireboys record I just recorded, there was a lot of trust there to let me loose in the live room but just as long as I kept it to the vibe they wanted.

How different is doing a gig like that compared with doing a covers gig? Is there any room for interpretation?

For me, way different. Because I’m playing with a band on the road that needs solid rock n roll and when coming home I’m playing with an AOR covers band, the two styles are different. There is defo a lot more room in the covers band to let loose and we add our own spin on things sometimes to make it a bit more lively. With the covers band, we are playing tracks from the 80s from bands across America, Europe and the UK. There are big hits so folk know the stuff and there is much more going on in the tracks. I think it’s what keeps things at an even balance for me, I get to play 2 different styles and enjoy it. I’m always up for different styles of playing but folk know me as the hard hitting rock drummer which doesn’t bother me.

Sounds like you have a great balance going on. Are you involved with any other projects at the minute?

At the moment I’m just working with the Quireboys and when I’m free I work with the covers band. I will never knock work back and always open to do more things as Iëve done in the past. Better to be busy.

Do you teach and if so, how do you find it?

At the moment I don’t teach but its something I would love to do. Handing down the enjoyment I got when learning the drums at the age of 9. I have to be honest – I’m not a technical player at all but I spent a lot of time training my ear and learning without a metronome. Just playing along to my favourite music back then and that involved a lot of The Who, thanks to my dad. I would still love to teach youngsters and any age group cause I think its a great thing.

What kind of things are you working on practice wise (outside of the show)?

Actually picking up rudiments I didn’t look at when I was first learning and finger control. I really am enjoying moving whatever I’m doing with the right hand and swapping it over to the left to help build up the strength on the left, as I’m right handed. Setting up 2 bass drum pedals and trying to get the 4 limbs doing different things. I’m in no rush to get it all nailed, I’ve still got many years ahead of me to learn it. One thing young players miss, you are never finished learning.

What are your top 5 records and why?

ëWho’s Next’ – The Who. Childhood memories of learning a lot of tracks off that and Keith Moon is my favourite player.

ëIV’ – Led Zeppelin. Got all my favourite Zeppelin songs on it and one of the top solid players of all time – John Bonham

Ogdens Nut Gone Flake – Small Faces. For the most craziest recording ever. If you sit and listen to that album with a set of headphones you will see what I mean but the songs are fantastic.

Stanley Road – Paul Weller. Thanks to my sister as hearing it blasting from her room. Steve White becoming a great inspiration with his great grooves on the album, learning the track Changing Man and plucking up the courage at a young age to go along to one of his clinics by myself.

Earth Rocker – Clutch. To pick a more modern album I have loved it has to be that. The drummer – Jean-Paul Gaster – is a fantastic player and has a great feel. Learning his parts has been great fun. One drummer I think a lot of people should listen to.

Please give me one piece of advice for the younger generation coming up?

Very good question. I mind saying this a while back. If you find yourself in a position you get that phone call or email to come for audition, don’t go into panic mode or think you can walk into it doing ur own thing. Spend time listening, knowing what’s going on with the tracks and learn the songs the way they are recorded. Don’t walk into the audition playing the tracks but adding all this fancy stuff cause it could be guy that played before you that gets the job cause he played what was needed. If the band want more, they will ask for it. If you watch Michael Jackson’s ëThis Is It’ DVD, he stands there and tells his keyboard player to play the track the way it was recorded. Stick to that and do it to the best of your ability and never give up.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I really hope to be doing what I’m doing still. I will keep working hard at it and do hope at some point in my life I’m teaching.

How valuable to guys like yourself are local drum shops?

Very valuable, you and the team have helped me out so much and I have so much praise and thanks for you all. For a kit we need for the likes of pub gigs or touring kits, with the knowledge you know and help pointing out the right kits for these things have been amazing. For someone that is a hard hitter like myself, picking the right cymbals and kit to last long on tours, you have helped a lot. The team at Drummers Only I can’t thank you enough for all the great help and advice. The most welcoming shop and most helpful.

Jamie McGrory – Top of the Class

Our 2nd interview in the ëIn Time’ series, we caught up with Jamie McGrory. Jamie has been a feature in the Scottish music scene for a number of years now, playing the function circuit in a variety of different bands.

He has toured in Asia and Germany, he teaches at the Rock n Pop School of Scotland in Paisley, where a handful of his students have gone on to the final of the Young Drummer of The Year competition with his latest student to get to the final, Tom Potter, taking the crown in 2015.

He also spends his time rocking out with Bad Mannequins, a power trio that have music featured on American TV. We spent some time catching up over some food and talked drums like two real drum geeks.

Hello

Hello

How are you?

Yeah I’m good thanks man.

So musically, what are you doing just now?

So at the moment, . I play for an original band called Bad Mannequins, its great to be playing original music, its been a while. It’s a 3 piece rock thing, it’s been ages since I’ve made a big racket up the back of a rock band and it’s great. I play for a touring show, ìThe Scottish Music Parade” that tours all over europe, asia and america doingÖit’s almost like Riverdance but Scottish stuff, so pipe bands, highland dancers etc and I play in the house band for the show (Aceltica) I’m really enjoying that. Appart from that, I do lots of functions and lots of corporate gigs with a band called Replay/Killer City Sound.

Teaching wise I’m till teaching at my Dad’s place – the Rock N Pop school of Scotland. And that’s me basically.

Great! So whats you favourite thing about each of these projects and what do you have to change in order to play them, as theyre all very very different in terms of whats required?
I suppose my favourite thing is that are all so different. I don’t really spend too much time doing the same thing over and over again. Em. Usually how it works is, the touring show does 2 blocks during the year – so one around May and one around October – Christmas so that’s 2 defined times where I do my Scottishy stuff.

Right in the middle there’s loads of weddings and usual stuff. And Bad Mannequins is sporadic throughout the year.

So my favourite thing of it all is that I’m not doing the same thing too much. In terms of what do I change?ÖI don’t know. It’s strange. Not a lot changes. I try not to think about playing in boxes. I just play what I need to play. And although the playing in each gig is slightly different, my approach is similar. I thnk the practice room is for getting different styles, genres and stuff down. When it comes to playing live, I try to just play. The gear changes a fair bit, cymbals, snares n all the usual stuff.

Do you have a lot of creative input in Bad Mannequins and the touring show?

Aceltica is kinda weird as it’s a mixture of the Scottish songbook (Caledonia, trad songs etc) which means I’m really just playing the parts from those songs. A lot of the time because of the instrumentation on the show, the arrangements change from the original so there’s bits and bobs of coming up with parts and arrangements with the rest of the band. With BM I basically get to do what I want, so that’s really great. It’s been awesome going into the studio and being creative.

Sometimes when you do a lot of weddings etc you can start to turn into a wee bit of a robot – you listen to the song, you copy the song which is fine, but after a while you can start to forget what it was you loved about making music in the first place.

Well on that, what was it that got you into playing the drums?

HmmmÖ I don’t really know. 2nd year music at school, I got a shot of the drums, kind a found that IÖdon’t wanna say I found it easyÖbut I found that I could do it quite quickly and I enjoyed it. I could play grooves and stuff. And at that time a couple of mates played guitar so it made sense for me to play something different. And I just kinda fell into it. I think the big thing was my background as dancer when I was younger, although without actually realising it then, made it easier. I grew up moving my two legs and hands at different times.. so I dunno if that helped.

A lot of people start playing drums and kinda have to be brought to music, so..if you started at the same time as friends, did you start playing music right away?

Yeah! Absolutely. I think I got my first drum kit in 3rd year at school so..maybe 13 years old..and we had a PA System in the garage so within weeks I was playing with my pals. But I didn’t really have lessons for the 1st couple of years, I would just put on records and try and copy them.

As a teacher, does the way you learned inform how you teach people and do you think thats missing from how a lot of people learn now?

Yeah I definitely think there’s a huge value in not always knowing at the beginning what it is that you’re doing and just doing what you think and feel is goodÖa lot of copying.

I’ve kind of seen both sides of it. I taught for Yamaha for years which was great. Their teacher training and techniques are amazing – second to none. But it’s very academically led – it’s systematic and from books and exam focussed. And it was great but one thing I realised very quickly is that the kids that could play well, grade 5 say, once you took their books away, they couldn’t playÖ or I’d put an easy song on and ask them to play the groove on the song and they couldn’t hear or decipher it. So in my private teaching, without ignoring things, the first good chunk – the first year say, is grooves, fills and learning to play music. Because I think the quicker you get that under your belt, the quicker you’re off and running.

I think thats great. Our instrument is perhaps the only instrument the doesnt use pitch in the same way to teach music.

I also think it’s important for the student. Going back to me as 14 year old, I’d have been really disheartened if that after a year or 2 in, I wasn’t playing along to the records that I loved. I reckon I’d have patched it by then. Cause for me that’s what it was. I wanted to put on Zeppelin records and play ëGood Times, Bad Times’ (laughs).

So with that then, who was it for you at the beginning? Who fired you up to play?

Strange actually. I got into music as I said, through getting a shot of drums at school. And my pals who played guitar have older brothers, so they already had a developed taste of what they liked and what they didn’t as a 13 year old. I really didn’t, I just knew that I enjoyed hitting drums. My first real thing that I fell in love with was that I went into McCormack’s (Music – former Glasgow music shop) and came away with a Dave Weckl DVD. I used to watch it all the time – couldn’t play any of it, but I loved it. I ended up getting into drummers before I got into loads of music. But very quickly from there the first guys that I really loved, from growing up in the 90s in Britain, so Oasis were massive. Loved them. Bonham with Zeppelin was huge for me. Steve Gorman from the Black Crowes. The Black Crowes back then were probably what I listened to more than anything else. Loved him. Super groovy. It was always band guys..not sure why. Aaron Comess as well, the Pocket Full of Kryptonite album. Loved that album. Mega drums! I listen back and a lot of that album is quite muso-y but at the time, I loved it. What a drummer.

Your Dad has always been a big influence for you musically, so did his record collection help straight away or was that later?
He came into play straight away really. I came home and said I want a drum kit etc and managed so save up over christmas and birthdays until I had enough to buy a kit. I was going to buy this rotten starter kit thing from McCormack’s and my dad dragged me out moaning and we picked up this second hand Premier kit that was infinitely better than what I was going to buy. So he knew about drums, he’d pals that were drummers, he played brass in a marching band, he was into American Drum Corp. and had friends in that so he knew what was good and not so good.

Though the marching band thing he was pals with Gary (Montgomery – DO Teacher) and Alan (Parker) at The Drum Shop (Glasgow dum shop) and that’s how I started going to lessons with Gary which was probably the worst decision of my life (both laugh). Na he was great! That changed the whole thing for me from hitting drums in a garage to this is how you get better – a clear path, this guy can give me things to let me do what I can hear other people doing on albums etc.

Were you a practiser
Yeah. I practised loads. For the first few years I don’t know if I can call it practise, but I played a lot. I’d come home from school and play till 9pm every night. Wasn’t constructive ëpractise’ as such but more playing along to songs and trying to work out things that I could hear. As soon as I started getting lessons from Gary and was given The ëFat Back’ stuff (Gary Chaffee bass drum patterns) and the Syncopation (Ted Reed book) I definitely shedded all that.

Puts some of that Weckl stuff into perspective?
Yeah. When you go back and watch it starts to (half) make sense.

Because your Dad was into the drum corps did you ever get into that and get really dialled into hands or was it all still music?

For the first ages it was all about music. It wasn’t till about 19/20 – I had stopped going to lessons for a while – when I went back, I wanted to see if I could make a go of it and actually be a drummer. At that point I got lessons of a guy called Iain McMillan who’s one of the American drum corps. guys. I went to him for a few lessons to do Traditional grip stuff. I also had a few lessons off a guy called Gordon Smith, Scottish ceilidh drummer with crazy hands. Other than that all the hand stuff I’ve ever done has been from DVDs or sitting by myself. I’d actually, in all honesty, love to do a lot more of it.

Thats a pretty comprehensive introduction, great!. Has there been anything that you were taught in the beginning that still resonates now? As much as youre much more formed as a player, has anything remained consistent?

I don’t know. I think the biggest thing would be the drummers that I like haven’t really changed. I’ve gone through spells, especially when I was practising certain things – latin or chop things etc, I go through phases delving into those kind of guys. But when I come home and put a record on or whatever it’s always the same guys I listen to. And maybe because of that, my approach to playing has remained the same. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. I play what I play because that’s what happens. I try not overthink it.

What gear are you playing these days? Youve seen a fair few kits in your time. (both laugh)

Em, I have quite a few. My main gigging kit is the Craviotto Solid Maple kit. So 22,13,16 and 14◊6.5 snare. Which is new actually – I’ve never had a 13″ tom. But I’ve been loving them. I think that comes back to the guys I was listening to at the very beginning. Bigger drums, slightly less intrusive. Band song guys rather than kit player, players.

In my teaching room I’ve got a Yamaha Beech Custom Absolute 22,10,12,14,16 so that can do anything I need it to do and it’s perfect for practising. And it’s Yamaha so it sounds like great drums! So thats pretty much what I use kit wise. I’ve a vintage Rodgers kit that makes an appearance now and then for different things. And that’s pretty much it.

Zildjian?

Yeah. I have a set of As. 15″ New Beat Hi Hats. 18″ and 19″ Thin crashes and a 21″ Sweet Ride and I use that for the Germany tours wth Acetica and functions. Straight down the middle, sounds like cymbals, cymbals. Nothing quirky about them. They sound like great cymbals. And then I’ve a set of big daft, dark Ks (both laugh) that are really just for my own enjoyment and studio stuff.

Let’s totally nerd out on drum heads. What heads are you using and why? Im an Emperors guy.

Coated Emperors. Cause they sound like drums?

There you go. Never a truer word been said (both laugh).

I’ll be honest man, I’ve tried everything. Various Aquarian heads, various Evans heads, Remo. Double ply, single ply, dampening rings, stuff, stuff , stuff. Coated Emperors. When I put them on and tune them they just sound like drums.

Do the make your Vintage drums sound as good as they should?

Yeah man. Every bass drum I own has a Coated Powerstroke 3 on the Batter and Resonant. Every single tom has a Coated Emperor on the top and a Coated/Clear Ambassador on the bottom. And it just works. I think the inherent difference between vintage and modern is in the drums.

Have you seen the Matt Chamberlain video of him playing his 1948 Gretsch Broadcaster vs. his 2016 model? Its great. Where are you on the Vintage vs. Contemporary drums thing?

Man I’ve been done this path for a while. I bought a bunch of Vintage gear. Some of it was really good and some of it was really bad.

I dont think its true that vintage drums were made better than contemporary drums. Some drums were hardly round.

I’ve got Slingerland toms that you need a crow bar to get the heads on. You know how you put the head on, rim on then finger tighten all the lugs and it starts to make a tone. By the time you get the head over the bearing edges of my 13″ tom it’s already making a tone because it’s so tight! So they’re not better. Definitely not.

Manufacturers nowadays go on about bearing edges being flat or round or 30 degrees or 45 degrees. I don’t think it was even properly on the radar of drum makers back in the 60s. So were they checking for all this stuff?

I think we’re very used to hearing it which is why people are so fond of it. And from a studio point of view, it’s handy because they don’t sustain the way that modern drums do so you spend half the day trying to kill the sustain. But from the opposite side, if you want big sustaining toms, you’re not getting it from a 60s Ludwig or whatever, it’s never happening. If you want to play live and play a lot of weddings and functions and that kind of thing, the sound great but they don’t project in the same way that modern drums do so they’re really quiet. So you can be struggle to be heard. That being said, if you want that old school sound you need old school drums and when it works its amazing.

Youre newer set, your Craviotto. Thats some drum set. Does it have something that your past kits dont?

Well it’s got the different bearing edges top and bottom. The baseball edge make a huge difference because there is tons more wood touching the head so if that’s on the top they don’t have the same attack and sustain as say a Yamaha Maple drum. (Jamie’s drums feature different bearing edges on the same drum so can be reversed for a different sound.) But they have thisÖ.clarityÖI think because there are no plies or glue there’s nothing to interfere, they have a clarity of tone that’s really quiet something. I don’t really know how else to explain it.

What are you practicing?

Recently it’s been hand stuff. I played Traditional grip for the longest time a while back, purely because it’s something I wanted to get in to. And for teaching so I could answer questions about it. But I’ve gone back to matched it feels easier to play loud. But my left hand is kinda funny. Obviously the motion is very different but my left hand still wants to move like it’s in traditional grip so I’m working on ironing that out. I’m watching loads of that guy Bill Bachman – his YouTube stuff and website is great. So trying to do bits of that. Outside that, tonnes of metronome work – making bars of click disappear and come back in n all that to really see where your at. Then really just maintenance work and using the Syncopation book and using the various ways of exploiting that.

I’m not one of these guys who can learn it once and it’s always there, I have to keep doing or I lose whatever it is I’m working on. It doesn’t always take a whole lot of work to get it back but if I don’t do it for 6 months then I know about it.

Great! Sound awesome.
Its no secret round these parts to those that know you that youre quite an accomplished teacher – your students have won awards (Tom Potter – 2015 Young Drummer of The year). What do you think about music and drumming education?

I think drumming education is probably a lot further on than most instruments. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve spoken to my Dad loads over the years about this but there’s a huge community within drumming that I don’t think exists in any other instrument, to my knowledge. We do loads of clinics, all the best guys have books and DVDs, we’re all sharing whatever they have to share. I think as an instrument, we’re way ahead.

I think that teaching techniques and styles maybe have to move on slightly. You know this kinda putting the pad on the stand and wrapping the students knuckles for not reading it properly doesn’t really work today. I think the world is quite instant now – you want food, you hit a button on your phone and it turns up at your door, you want a new t shirt, it’s the same thing. Everything happens instantly. I think it’s important for a teacher to realise that to tell a ten year old kid that they won’t be able to play the things they want to play till they’re 18, is quite hard now.

Does that inform how you teach then?

Definitely. I think that’s a lot of the reason of why I spend a good chunk getting them to play, cause at least if they’ve been coming to lessons for 6 months to a year, then they can go home and rattle off their favourite song, or at least the interpretation of what they’re hearing. I would hope that the fun in doing that keeps them on the path to getting better. Whereas the kinda old school vibe of sitting on a pad for 3 months before you’re allowed a drum kit – I don’t think kids today would respond very well to that.

Do you use any technology in your teaching? iPads etc

So all my notes and books are all pdf’d. I dunno if a metronome counts as technology but use one of them (both laugh). I’ve got this cool app actually, it’s called Tempo Slow. It’s free and and anything in your iTunes library, you can run it through this app and it’ll slow it down without changing the pitch. So I use that alot. EmÖI use an app called Beat On – metronome app. So you can get progressively faster with that – you can set it to change every X amount of bars. So that’s really great. You can remove the click after so many bars etc. My teaching kit is rigged up to Pro Tools at all times so I can record anything that anyone is playing. I’ve got Go Pros on the kit so I can film anything that needs filmed and we can watch it back. So yeah I use all that.

How do you find parents to deal with? In the main Im assuming theyre supportive but have you ever come up against any issues there?

I don’t knowÖI’ve been quite lucky. I think because I’ve had a few good students, I get a lot of people coming to me because they want to be good. Which helps. I still teach a lot of people that don’t practice n all that, but most of em are really great. I think the set up my Dad’s got is really great – he teaches every instrument then puts people together into bands and they have a tutor that does band workshops with them and they do gigs etc. So we kinda get through the door, people that have sought that out and want experience playing with people. So we end up with a lot of families that are pro active and into it.

I’ve never had a parent that’s been blocking the whole thing or anything. Money can be an issue for people obviously – an hours one on one every week can be a lot of money. Over a year or so, that’s a serious amount of money. And I think from their point of view, I’ve had parents that get nervous about it – they want to know if they’re wasting money or if it’s working.

Have you got a way to measure it for them?

It’s really hard because I think to someone who doesn’t play, even quick progress can sound really slow. Realistically what someone thinks vs. what they actually get done in 6 months can be a shocker. You’ll know yourself, there’s been times in my lessons when we’re doing independence exercises from Syncopation and you can spend 3 months on 1 page. Again with my Dad’s thing, we do loads of gigs n stuff which keeps parent enthused and see their kids playing in a band it’s easy to visualise.

Going back to the money thing, for anyone teaching, you just need to make sure you’re doing your absolute best. We do 45 minute lessons usually, so I just try and run it really tight so that the when a lesson finishes, it finishes about 2 minutes before the end so that the change over time is minimal and I can talk to parents while someone is setting up. And give them as much time as possible. I write a lot of lesson plans which I learned from Yamaha and they’re great. I always try and have a short, medium and long term plan set so that the lessons are tangible for parents. It means you can be clear with people.

So youve mentioned about technology in your teaching but what about your playing?

Yes. I’ve an SPD-S with kick and snare triggers and an extra one pad thing that plugs all into it so I run samples and kicks and triggers from it and all that stuff. A lot if gigs I do, I don’t need it. The Bad Mannequins gig, I don’t even need toms for (laughs). I take a floor tom actually and just one big 20″ crash so there’s nothing technological in that.

An old teacher of mine Rick Chandler (Calvin Harris) was majorly into all of that stuff. I saw him do it all. So I got into all of it and spent a bunch of money on an Emu sampler and a Roland Octapad at the time and then this device to sync the two and Reason for my laptop to then load things in to the sampler. This was like maybe 12-15 years ago so you had to record all the samples and physically play them in to the sampler and then adjust them in the sampler which you couldn’t do without and honours degree so essentially I bought a whole bunch of stuff and never used it because I could’t figure it out. (laughs). I recently got back into it with this Roland stuff and it’s a different world – you just turn it on and it works. It’s so easy. The software editor lets you drag and drop the sample onto the corresponding pad and it’s just there. Amazing. Beyond easy to work. That’s been great and the fact that it’s so easy to work means you use it – it doesn’t put you off.

So in terms of how I use it – I did a gig with some of the Bad Mannequins guys in a band called Model Jet Pilot and on that gig I had kick, snare and toms, all triggered. So we’d mic the kit and have an acoustic kit but I’d have all the samples from the studio on the kick, snare and toms going through the Roland, running backing tracks and click tracks and a couple of loops. I used it loads and loads on that gig and it’s fun. It’s an odd discipline. It’s not like drums. On beat 2 of such and such a bar I’m going to hit pad 4. Doesn’t correspond to drumming as such – it’s outwith the parts you normally play. So it’s cool to try and get it in to your playing and try and remember when to hit what. Or where the big STOP button is incase it goes all wrong (Laughs).

If I’m running loops I alway try and keep them as short as I can possibly have them which makes it a bit of a pain sometimes because you have to keep launching the sample but it means that if you launch it in the wrong place it’s not going to be too much a car crash. But I think you only need to turn the radio on to realise why it’s something that we should all have a handle on if we can. It seems like a necessity now for that kind of music.

So Im gonna ask this to everybody. Top 5 records and why?

Haha. You know when you asked me about this interview I knew you were gonna ask a question like this. I was gonna sort it before I came here and I haven’t (laughs).

Right. So it changes every week, new records come out etc but I bunch that have stuck with me from very young until now and I can always got back to and find something to enjoy –

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – the Beatles.

Massive. I could listen to it probably everyday. Love it. The whole record it great. Ringo is brilliant. And just the end of it, for anyone reading this (laughs)

Shake Your Money Maker – The Black Crowes

That was massive for me when I was 15. That was my first rock n roll moment – they all had long hair and cool looking, with killer songs.

(Whats The Story) Morning Glory? – Oasis

This was huge as well. Not something I spend a great deal of time on nowadays but when I was younger it was massive.

Sign of The Times – Prince

I only say that one because I’m only allowed one but really all of my top 5 could be Prince.

Inner Visions – Stevie Wonder.

Classic. Great songs, great playing. Just magic. Controversial but this is my favourite Stevie wonder record.

*So Chris gave me this to proof read and I figure im gonna squeeze in some more while I have the chance and see if I get away with it haha. Go on Chris, leave them in.

Led Zepplin – 1

Michael Jackson – Off The Wall

Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon

King Crimson – Court Of The Crimson King

Herbie Hancock – Headhunters

 

YASSSSS!!!

 

Great. All good choices. Gimme some advice for younger players/students?

A bit of a broken record with this but I think You Tube is the best thing since sliced bread. If that was about when we were younger I don’t think I’d have ever left the house. It’s amazing. BUT. I always try and tell my students if they’re going to go watch a video of Buddy Rich or Vinnie or whoever, try and not watch the 40 second chop or solo clip but instead the 9 minute clip that has the same solo or chop but also the whole song. Try and hear these guys playing music. It’s easy to hit a button and hear a 300mph blushda mental fill in being slowed down for you to learn – which is cool right and I love it – but it’s easy to lose the context in which these guys are using it. Thers much more to these dudes than their technical ability.

Great, thank you. So in the length of time Ive known you, youve done a lot of travelling and touring. Are there pit falls as a player to all of that? How do you deal with jet lag and playing in humidity? Cause you played in Indonesia where its really hot etc.

With the humidity bit for a start, I just didn’t deal with it. I was absolutely dying, It was horrible. We did like 6 weeks in South East Asia and it was the height of summer. 40 degrees outdoor festival gigs and it was just too hot. Talcum powder on my hands, sanding drumsticks down just to keep them actually in my hands and just sweating buckets. I travelled actually with loads of those wee..I think they’re for diarrhoeaÖrehydration pouches so they’ve got loads of salts and minerals and you pop it in a pint of water and down it. So I travelled with loads of them. I was coming off stage all shaky and feeling burst. You know when you sweat and then you sweat another level and you have those white marks from all the salt coming out of you? That was happening. I was a mess. I really just got on with it. But those sachets were great.

Apart from that, the jet lag thing, for the most part tbh a tour manager organises it and you either do or you don’t. I think you just need to try and behave yourself. The more you behave and go to bed when you’re supposed to, the easier the whole thing is. If you stay up and party, it’s going to be hard. Sometimes it’s worth it, most times it’s not. Trying to find a balance is key. I should maybe listen to my own words more often (laughs).

What do you about gear? Youre at the mercy of what turns up for you.

For the most part you send a tech spec and they accommodate as far as they can but aye you do get hit with some shockers. Tuning is major. If you work on tuning on your own gear and use things like toilet roll and gaffa tape – things that you can get more or less anywhere then you can get a decent sound out of most kits. Then after that when you’ve got it sounding as well as it will, you just need to try and forget about it. You know forget that it’s a 26″ bass drum or whatever. Don’t sit behind the drums let all that stuff get in you head – the cymbals sound dreadful or what ever it is. Cause it’s not gonna change or get better so just forget it and play the drums. At least that way you’re gonna do the best you can do. Which is easy to say, and for someone like me who is a gear geek it can be challenging. Turning up to things like that breaks my heart. Especially when I know what gear I have at home.

If you didnt play drums what would you do? Would you still dance?

Na. The dancing thing was amazing and I was really lucky – did a bunch of tours with big companies – but it’s not a world for me. It’s very competitive with people all trying to get one up on each other and I never really liked that side of it. And by now I’d be retiring so yeah.

I went to uni and I have a degree in Civil Engineering so I think by all accounts I’d be doing that but whether or not I’d be overly happy about it..I’d maybe have more money but I’d have less drums and nae pals (both laugh).

HA! Indeed. Lets talk about recording. Youve already said your studio is always set up with Pro Tools so I would assume that one does sessions from there and how do you find that?

It’s something that I got into fairly recently. I really love recording and I think anybody reading this will know that there’s not really much of a scene in Glasgow for getting a shout to go do a session. It might exist in London but it’s not a Glasgow thing for the most part. You get the odd call to do some things but it’s not overly regular. So I kinda figured that the only way I was gonna get to do more of it was to do it myself. And do it relatively cheap so that people could afford it and get it done quickly. And it’s great – really good. Kinda daunting at first – the responsibility of getting paid and sending the guy the stuff and hoping it was good enough.

So I spent ages doing favours for mates and recording things and letting engineers I knew hear it to make sure I wasn’t gonna send something to someone who’d paid me and it was rubbish or it wasn’t what they’d wanted in terms of the quality of the recording.

The only weird thing is, and it’s not so bad if you’re working with people that you know, but if it’s people that you don’t then the trickiest bit is trying to get them to explain to you what they want. Cause I think a lot of the time they know what they want, they just don’t know how to vocalise it. Whereas a drummer would be like ëgive me this kind of vibe, a la this guy’ or whatever’ and you can kind quickly get an idea of what they’re after. Whereas most songwriters don’t have that vocabulary. So in that case I just get them to send me a bunch of songs that they want it to sound like or that they like the feel of.

Did it change your playing or teach you anything about playing?

Yeah. That I should have done lots more work with a metronome when I was younger.(both laugh) It teaches you a lot. It goes into the computer and you’re convinced that it’s not you. You listen back and you find out that your pocket is maybe not what you thought it was or the big one for people is that their cymbals are too loud. Its very telling. Great practice tool. Even just using the mic on your phone.

So did that make you buy different gear or inform what kind of gear to buy?

Aye. Totally. The sound of the drums is totally different – I’ve got quite a lot of dampening on my drums. Typically, my snare drums tuned really quite low, kinda baggy and puffy sounding. Diffent to how I would normally have them when playing live. Cymbals – darker, bigger stuff that aren’t going to get in the way quite as much. You know what it’s like. I’ve got A’s, I’ve got K’s and all the sounds are kinda covered in there.

Whats your favourite venue to play?

I’d love to play the Barras. Like we all would I guess. And I’ve kinda done it. I played a battle of the bands thing when I was 15 and it was there but I’m not letting that count. But in terms of places I have played – I played in Taiwan last year in this huge Amphitheatre that was broadcast live on the telly n stuff. It was the first time I’d done any kind of live broadcast thing so it was pretty nerve-wracking. If you make a mistake, a lot of people are gonna notice. But it was great, really huge – 15,000 people or something crazy so that’s been the biggest crowd I’ve played to.

In terms of a one off gig that I played that was amazing was the Hague Jazz Festival in Holland. I was only like 19/20 and I had one rehearsal before we flew out. And I got there and Dave Weckl’s drums are on the stage (laughs). So he was there playing with Hiromi I think it was and Billy Cobham played that day with Level 42. There were loads of guys – can’t remember them all but it was amazing. So basically it was this serious jazz festival all weekend and then on the Sunday night when it was all finished in the main hall they had a big party basically, for all the ticket holders and artist to wind down. Ray’s music is kinda acid jazz, dancefloory type so he was almost like the entertainment for the big party. So I got to play Ray’s gig with all of those folks having a beer and dancing and watching.

Brilliant.

Amazing. Shittin bricks (both laugh). Horrid.

Gigging in front of Weckl. Class. So. What was your first impression of Rhythm Base?

Well the thing is, like we mentioned earlier, it’s all about toys for me. Kid in a candy store vibe. My first impression was that it was bigger than anything I’d seen, had more of things that I loved than anywhere else, a lot of top end stuff, that I think now is taken for granted. Back then, a drum shop would have a wall of sticks, 10 cymbals and 2 kits. To go into a big ass drum shop was amazing. To see and to get to play that kind of stuff.

Weve spoken about this before but I guess not everyone has. So how important do you think a shop like Rhythm Base is to the local community.

It’s key. And it’s so easy to justify why it’s so important. For guys at all levels. Pro guys who’re touring and need heads in no time at all because they burst at soundcheck. You also can’t go into Amazon and ask a guy who’s been playing at a decent level for 20 years whether or not a Constantinople Bounce Ride is better than a Medium Thin Low. Amazon doesn’t know that. But you and Paul do. Gordon doesn’t. But he’s a nice guy (both laugh).

Do you know what I mean though? It’s dead easy for me to walk in say I need some that does this and and you guys will point me the right direction.

For me, and I think Rhythm Base is pretty clued up to online prices, it’s the expertise that you can’t quantify. Especially for the wee guy who’s saved up all his money and he’s got £600 and he’s saved for a year or 2 and wants to buy a drum kit. Is he gonna be better off speaking to you guys or hitting a button online because he likes the colour. It’s you guys all day long. That’s the big thing.

The other thing is, we spent time talking today about the community vibe and how drummers teach each other, n all that. All that stuff dies for me if you don’t have drum shops.

I can genuinely say I only have any kind of ëcareerif you like because of there. I hadnt met anyone before I started in there. Its been amazing.

Totally. You don’t get that sense of community if there’s no hub. And to go one step further and be quite militant about it – and I don’t work for Rhythm Base – but if you’re gonna use their experience, expertise, go to their free events, all of that stuff. Don’t go and buy your cymbal from Amazon for the sake of a fiver or whatever. Just support the store so that all of that other stuff keeps happening. support your local drum shop kids (laughs)

Great. So what was the last gig you went to?

Eh. Paul’s. I went to the Bee(f)cake gig (laughs).

Ha! Im actually gonna write Beefcake.

(Laughs) If his vinyl wasn’t so beautiful it’d have written an F on it. But aye that was the last one I went to. It was great! Before that I can’t remember. Id love to go to more gigs but im usually gigging at the same times.

Smashing. So how important is the relationship between drums and bass for you?

Aye well that’s just it really, isn’t it?! It’s major. Everyone has an idea of what the feel etc is and there is definitely wrong. But within the bracket of right there’s a lot of variance. Wether it’s slightly pushing, slightly behind, right on top, kinda swung, absolutely straight, there’s loads and loads of wee things. I think you either find guys who it feels really good to play with straight away or you work with people to find that common ground and make sure that it ends up feeling good by the time you’re on a stage.

It’s learning to pick your battles too. Either you go with them if you think they could be right or sticking to your guns if you think you’re right.

Slightly off topic but I hear drummers talk about more bass in the monitor or more click, or more hi hats or whatever it is, but for me, it’s hundreds of vocals. Loads of vocals. If you’re doing a singer/songwriter gig like that, then to the audience, there’s a singer and then there’s some stuff going on. There’s a vocal and then there’s texture and that’s really it for joe bloggs. I think especially as a drummer in that sort of role, when you’re not playing anything overly technical or whatever, your major job is to make sure the song gets delivered the way it’s supposed to. So if you go with the vocals and everyone goes with you, it’ll be fine. At least for me anyway.

Studio or live?

I don’t know man. I think right now, studio, because I’m playing live so much. But I think if I didn’t play live a lot then I’d want to be.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

(laughs). I dunno man. Still pulling my drums up the lift in Oran Mor. I think the older I’m getting I’ve been thinking a lot about taking my teaching even more seriously. In terms of my development of how do I make money playing drums and make it suit a lifestyle I want to live, then the teaching thing is going to be bigger. So I want to try and start some sort of website and do Skype lessons is my plan. So I’d like to do more of that.

Apart from that, the Bad Mannequins recently got a song place on the HBO show ëLimitless’, we have an albums worth of material ready and a video in the bag so its exciting to see what will happen there. From when I was about 16 I’ve pretty much always been a hired guy and it’s great to be a band guy and get a taste of that for a while so I’d love to more of that cause it’s great. Aside from drums, me and my wife are due a baby any day now so there will be big changes there and im really excited to see what that has in store haha.

Martin Johnston – Unbreakable

As part of a new interview series ëIn Time’, Drummers Only caught up with Martin Johnston. Martin is a great up and coming young player who spends his time with Pronto Mama and Emma Pollock. A former member of Scottish band, The Delgados who founded the Chemikal Underground label, Emma’s third solo album In Search of Harperfield was released in January of 2016. He also fronts his own project on guitar and vocals under the banner of American Clay. We met for lunch in Glasgow’s Ad Lib and chatted all thing music and drums.

So Martin. How are you?

Fine thanks. What about you?

I’m great thanks. Let’s get stuck right in. What are you doing right now?

Musically, I’m playing drums with Emma Pollock and Pronto Mama. Pronto Mama have just recorded their first album, so just done that. And I’m playing in a variety of function bands.

What’s your favourite thing about the projects you’re working on – I don’t think those gigs (Emma Pollock and Pronto Mama) could be further apart as far as drumming goes?

Well in Pronto Mama I have free reign with my parts and it always has been like that. It’s much more likeÖwhat’s the wordÖ? It’s like a democracy. And everyone has an opinion on everyone else as well. On top of that, we’re really close pals. We hang out all the time. It’s like a family band.

Emma Pollock on the other hand, I have been brought into that band because Jonny (Scott – The Kills) is away. I’ve had to learn her whole back catalogue just in case. On each record is either Jonny Scott or Paul Savage playing drums. Paul’s drumming is completely different from Jonny’s so between each record the parts change quite a bit. And Emma really prefers having what’s on the record played live so I need to emulate that, which is a totally different challenge.

So how do you approach it then? Do you write out or transcribe the parts?

See it’s weird. Some of the most simple parts I’ve had to transcribe – just on a notepad, just to be sure that is what I’m playing. My brain is totally fine sometimes with picking up really complex things because there is so much going on that it really comes together, and you don’t think about it.

See the simplest parts? Sometimes I’ve had to say to myself ëwait, hold on, this is the pattern’
There’s a part on one her new record on a SPD-SX that’s so easy that I’ve had to transcribe it (laughs). I kept on playing it wrong for no reason. But then there’s others that Jonny has recorded, one in particular, that he said he was just mucking about and Paul (Savage – producer, Chem19) thought it was a perfect and it sounds like the drums have fallen down stairs. That one is easy as it’s so mad.

I guess with Pronto you’ve always been like that? Linear parts and frantic fills etc?

There’s never been a conscious effort with my drumming though where I’ve sat down and said ëI want the part to sound likeÖ’ we’ve just gone in and jammed and the band will say they like something or they don’t like something or can you try this or that and I’ll say cool and it grows naturally.

But I grew up with that band as well – my drumming has changed over the course – 5 or 6 years.

It’s pretty awesome to see that band grow into that and evolve. I saw you support Fatherson at the QMU. It’s quite a show – amazing to see rock band with horns. Not something you see regularly. And the band has a lot of power. It must be quite a challenge to keep that up for an hour?

All the guys studied (music) as well so everyone thinks they’re right all the time (laughs). It’s strange. Because it’s a democracy, it’s really, really tiring but I think it works out for the best. Live – compared to playing with Carnivores, which was a mad work out – there’s more emphasis to play for the song. Especially as I’ve grown with the songs. It makes it easier – I don’t have to do as much. Or at least as much as I thought I used to. I need to warm up now as I get sore if I don’t.

It’s no secret that you also write and play guitar and sing – doing the whole Dave Grohl bit. Does that change your relationship with the drums? And/or does it change the way you think about drums when you write songs?

Em. So the weird thing with the American Clay project is that I’ve always written wee songs in my bedroom. But when I got GarageBand and a Mac, I realised I could record them. I always found that the drum parts I wrote for those songs were a lot simpler than what I’d usually play – because I’d actually developed the song myself. I record all the parts myself which was my choice.

So you simplify?

The drums? Kinda. I just don’t think the music needs that much. If you listen to Nevermind (Nirvana) the drumming on that is totally for the tune. There’s nothing flash.

So are you aware that you have to take those parts and give them to someone else to play live? And is that a thing you think about when you record them?

WellÖit’s been a new thing recently. What happened with the first wave of songs is I already had them recorded. And Chris McKeown who’s playing drums, turned up and had either heard the songs or we just sat down and I showed him what I had in mind. But the more we’ve been in the studio recently, rather than me giving them the whole song, I turn up just with a guitar part. I’ve still got an idea of the drums in my head roughly but then Chris might play something better. So when it comes to recording them, I have all that in mind.

Cool. So who inspires you?
Drumming?

Anything.

Well the easiest one is Dave Grohl. It’s pretty obvious. Clay just got asked yesterday to do a tribute night in Tuts for the 25th Anniversary of Nevermind in September. Which we have to do.

But..you won’t be playing drums..?

Nope. But I’ve done one before with Carnivores. And we headlined it and played Teen Spirit etc. Was great.

EmÖdrumming wise it’s always been closer to home. Getting brought up in Coatbridge and going to St. Ambrose and then coming to Rhythm Base to get lessons from Ryan (Ross). Ryan was a huge influence. After that it was yourself and then Gary (Montgomery – Drummers Only). And through that as well, Alyn Cosker (Tommy Smith, SNJO, Wolfstone). Even seeing Chris (McKeown) playing with his bands, when I was younger, he was an influence too.
I remember seeing Rodney Holmes doing a clinic and he played something that I right away wanted to learn. It’s the thing he does on the Modern Drummer DVD. It’s a mad cowbell groove he plays (plays pattern on the table).

Outside of drumming, who else?
Well I say this to everyone. I always remember going to King Tuts and seeing Bombay Bicycle Club in 2009. And you know that way you see something and it’s not even like they’re going to be huge or whatever, it just pure changed me. I went home that night and I was like ëI wanna play guitar and write my own songs’. It made me really want to do that. They’re incredible.
And he’s (Suren De Saram B.B.C drummer) not necessarily an incredible drummer but he’s a multi instrumentalist and plays a lot of tuned percussion. He plays interesting parts that totally work for the songs.

What do you think about music and/or drumming education?

I’ve been lucky. If you had to talk about it in sporting terms – grass roots etc, I think there’s a brilliant platform in Glasgow for it. Em. I can only speak for the west of Scotland cause I don’t know anywhere else but think it’s been completely essential for my development as a musician and a person. Having the community you get within it – everyone you meet, how you end up swapping gigs with these people, going to shows, hanging out etc. It’s essential. Things like you guys are doing in Drummers Only – the pad nights sorta emphasise that again. It’s a community.

How did you find your time at Napier and going through that kind of system – did it help or hinder you?
My music ëeducation’ started before that obviously. Doing the big band stuff in High school, the North Lanarkshire Rock band and Jazz Orchestras all led me into University and making a career out of it. And it wasn’t even that I wanted to make it a career, I just didn’t want to study something I hated.

But Napier certainly gave me time to work out what I want to do with my life. Education wise, I dunno it’s weird.

You were already a fairly evolved player before you got there.
It let me grow up. Gave me a chance to meet people n all that. What was hard was I struggled with motivation to practise sometimes. And still do. Going to uni can take the thing you love the most and it can suck the fun out of it a bit. And that was always a bit of a struggle at Napier. It was a mad feeling – not wanting to play drums or not enjoying playing drums.
I’ve never had the facility – you know how some people can have a kit in their house? I couldn’t do that, which made it a bit of an effort play drums and it was getting a bit weird with wanting to play.

Talking about drums. What gear do you use and why?
I’m terrible at gear chat. The gear that I have just now is the stuff that hasn’t broken (laughs). And that’s why I like and use it. But to get into specifics, I use a Tama Starclassic Maple (12,16,22). I used to have a Yamaha Oak X. Starclassic Maple I bought because Chris McKeown used to have a Starclassic Performer and the toms, in particular, sounded amazing. And I always thought the toms on my Yamaha didn’t sound as strong. And one was sitting in Rhythm Base that was a totally neutral colour that I could use on any gig. Great sizes that I could use on any gig. So I sold the Yamaha, got that and it sounds great!

Snare drum – depends on the gig. I’ve got a Tama SLP Steel guy. The finish though is coming off – I think it’s cause I’ve sweated on it so much. It looks mental but it sounds great.

I’ve got an Iron Cobra.

Cause you’ve not broken it? (laughs) You’re the only guy I know who’s broken a foot board.

Ha! Aye. That’s definitely a thing that happened. That was silly. Still don’t know how it happened.
I actually had to used a Sonor Perfect Balance pedal recently but it’s not for me. Really love my Iron Cobra.

Cymbals?

Zildjian. A Custom 22″ Medium Ride. It’s stood up to everything so far. If I had unlimited gear then I’d get all the really cool dry stuff that everyone is using. But realistically I’d break it. I have toned down my drumming though in the past year – how hard I hit etc. Because I’m learning all about playing for the song etc – it’s not all about me.
Hi hats are the Zildjian 14″ New Beats. So great for recording and versatile too – playing in so many bands, they help.

I’ve got an Avedis 20″ Medium Crash – it’s totally fine. Sounds great.

Really I’d love to get some cool drier sounds but I don’t know much a Meinl dry crash would work for Emma.

For the Pronto recording I borrowed some darker gear from friends and it was great. I loved it. Was smashing. But I’d definitely break them.

Cool. Ok. So top 5 records and why?

Hmm. Right.

1.) Oasis – What’s The Story Morning Glory.

No way! I’d never have pegged you as an Oasis fan.

All the tunes on that are absolutely banging. Totally reminds me of being three with a toy drum kit just lovin’ it. Now this is total changed days. But I remember seeing Oasis on Sky Box Office – playing the Barrowlands. Now me and my Dad watched it and I remember that start of Morning Glory – watching it on surround sound. Now the start of that tune has the huge tom intro thing and I remember it being the greatest thing and wanting to play the Barras. So that record made want to play drums and appreciate good tunes.

No.2)

Led Zeppelin – II. My Dad telling me Bonham was playing those Moby Dick fills with one foot. So I was like pure gimme drums now!!

No.3) Nirvana – Nevermind. And we’re not even getting into that. Deal wae it. (both laugh). Just a really important record.

No. 4)?
Bombay Bicycle Club – I Had The Blues, But I Shook Them Loose. Totally reminds me of growing up and being a teenager and going to buy records. And hearing different things on it as I got older. Em..just made me want to write my own music, do my own thing. Play live.

No. 5 is a hard one. I’d have to give it to My Bloody Valentine’s first album ëLoveless’. I heard that when I was at uni. It arrived at the perfect time for me. Totally spaced out and it just sounds phenomenal. The drums are completely buried in that record actually!

We’ll come back to it. Um. Give me one piece of advice for students to younger players.
Em. I’ll pass on advice that was given to me. If you do the leg work and practice then great. If you have all that together, then think on top of that and just be a cool person. Be sound. Be a nice guy. Don’t get weird or heavy or acting like the big man because you’re playingÖ.T In The Park say. It’s cool. So are 300 other people. Music is a community so just be cool.

Do we really need more cowbell?
I got a text today for This Town Needs Guns tech looking for a cowbell. So yeah. Very much so.

If you didn’t play drums, what do you think you would do?

Study art.

Aw cool. Any particular period?

Not really. I don’t actually know to much about it – I just had a knack for it when I was younger.

Great. What’s your favourite venue to play? You’ve played a few in your time, including the QMU. Have you played the Barrowlands?
No and it’s the only one I really wanna play. After we’re done today, I’m meeting a guy who’s doing a photography portfolio with musicians. He asking me to go down and show him a venue that means a lot to me etc. I really had to think and I remembered the Barfly that was on Clyde street.

I remember coming to drum lessons when I was a wee guy, and thinking I want to play there. And then it only took about 2 years. Audrey Tait (Hector Bizerk) actually put on The Deneros – an old band of mine – in there. I think Biffy (Clyro) played there and the X-Certs played there. So after that at 14 it was Barras!! Still not done it. I’ve sound checked it a million times for people but never actually gigged it.

Favourite venue so far was when Pronto played in St. Lukes. We did an end of year thing last year and it was full of hundreds of people and they sang back the chorus of ëStill Swimming (I Love You)’ to us and it was amazing.

Was it better than standing in the street in Ayr, singing it A Cappella and having the whole crowd sing it back?

I mean we’ve been really lucky for the past year or so to do these great things. St. Luke was really special though cause it was total milestone for us all – we’ve never had any money put into promo for this band. It’s always been us working our arse off. And to see that may people turned out to see us made us think we could maybe build it up.

What other instruments do you play? Apart from guitar?

Well on the American Clay stuff it’s bass as well but nothing special. I sing a little bit but I would never call myself a singer. When Pronto went to record I decided I should learn the piano a but to call myself a real muso but I only got as far as the verse of ëTrouble’ by Coldplay which obviously means I’m now a fully fledged piano player (laughs).

Depping on wedding gigs?

Ha! Totally!

Do you use any technology in your set up?
Yes! With Emma I had to get used to a Roland SPD-SX and I was quite wary at first because the last gig we did at Wickerman, I had to use a crazy set up of Ableton and headphone amps etc etc and it was a nightmare – the whole thing blew up on basically the first tune. Basically our 30 minute change over got changed to 5 minutes . I had never played with the band before but I was like ëCool, let’s just do it”. The thing just didn’t work – I had to kill the tracks and we did the gig as just a normal band. So Emma feeling inspired by it all thought there was an easier way to do it. So obviously with Jonny (Scott – The Kills) being on board at that time suggested an SPD-SX and they’re amazing. Really. So great. They’re also really musical. If you have a rough tempo of what you usually start the song at, you can trigger a part and click will usually be round about the same pointÖso it feels as if you’re live triggering..rather than just hitting a space bar and it’s really mechanical.

When I’m writing stuff, I use Logic to loop ideas and Ableton I’ll use to try and live perform new ideas and be able to manipulate samples and stuff.
Dave Hook helped me do that. That’s one thing Napier was great for – learning how to use technology properly and it’s such a great tool for writing music.

What about with any of the Wedding band stuff – do you ever trigger any backing tracks or any of that?

I’ve always depped with Wedding bands – it’s never been ëthis is my gig’ so it’d be too complicated to rock up and do it. If you rehearsed it then maybe, but it’s never usually the case.

Would be an idea though to try it if it was my band. If I can marry up technology with live stuff and make it a better band and show, then why not?

Are you pals with the click?

No. And Yes. I meanÖpracticing when I was younger and when I do nowÖyou should use a clickÖthey’re a good anchor.

I started to think about it as a teacher anywayÖthat when I’m teaching it, to just think about it as you’re playing with a percussionist who has amazing time!
Yeah. The click is good.
Pronto tried to use a click a while ago for a tune that we were demoing and I kept speeding up the end. And it was really annoying as I couldn’t feel it happening. I was really annoyed at myself. But I also love when a tune ramps up at the endÖand of course you can automate a click, of course you can..but I love capturing it as authentically as possible. And for Pronto, it’s not with a click.

All the American Clay stuff is recorded to a click..but that’s because it’s just me and I tried to play drums just winging it but clicking was easier in the end.

I tell you something..Chris McKeown is amazing at recording without any tracks to play to.

Chris McKeown is a human click! Which has become more evident with the tunes I’ve brought in. So I’ll come in with something and we’ll play it and I’ll suggest he comes up on the chorus (in tempo) and it’s just alien to him. Because he’s just always totally in time. And it’s funny cause it messes with him a wee bit to just tempo change a wee bit. But that band is great for that – he can do stuff I just can’t and vice versa. I’ll bring stuff in and he’s like ëwhat even is this?” but also he brings parts I just wouldn’t have thought of. But his time is amazing. And yeah. The click is an anchor.

Serious questionÖcan you play and eat a burrito at the same time?

Em. Yes. I could eat a burrito and play a function at the same time. (laughs). Not with Pronto. But yeah.

What was the last gig you went to?

HmmmÖ.actually – it was 3 Trapped Tigers. There’s a cool answer. And it was amazing. He’s the best guy at hitting the drums one after the other. In time. Pure best guy at that.

Great answer. Do you like jazz music?

Yes. Why not? Well I guess some people don’t. Actually that could’ve been my 5th record. ëLyn’s Une’. Cosker’s record made me go ëoooft’. I saw him in Rhythm Base with Davie Dunsmuir and Ross Hamilton and he was amazing.
He made me realise you make jazz..rockin’. I played ëOh Dear’ at my recital which was great fun.

Are you pals with the bass player and how does it work in your bands? Is your kick and their right hand in the same place?

Me and Michael (Griffin – Pronto Mama) have made a conscious effort on the newer Pronto tunes to lock in more but there’s other tunes like One Trick Pony where he’s playing a constant scale/arpeggio and I’ll play around that. Michael, Tom Dallas (Hector Bizerk bassist) and I were flatmates for a while in Edinburgh so when we play together we have a total understanding of each other. Beyond locking in etcÖjust knowing the person. It’s weird.

What about with Emma?

I’m playing with (Graeme) Smillie who plays in the Vaselines – Kurt Cobain’s favourite band. He’s a total total pro. Amazing. It’s completely effortless because we are both playing what we need to play at the same time. Hopefully. Graeme is so on the ball. Incredible piano player too.

Studio or live? Or Both?

Em.Live. Everyday of the week. But if you have a great studio that sounds great it can be magic. Although some people get red light fever..which I’ve had myself. On a session that Pronto done straight to tape, we all got it. It was really hard, but totally worth it.

What are you thoughts on kit sharing etc?

Well I did a gig recently and we were told to bring breakables (cymbals, snare, pedal) but the kit had no felts, cymbal sleeves or anything which was kind of crazy. The promoter counted those things as breakables. I really don’t mind if people have a legitimate reason to borrow something as long as those people know that if it breaks then I’m snookered too. So please treat it with care. It can get heated really quickly though but if you have a good promoter then it’s easy.

I did a gig recently and we sound checked and I left my drums etc set up. A drummer turned up with a band unannounced – they weren’t supposed to be bringing a drummer. And he used ALL of my stuff without asking. He just assumed it was cool to use my cymbals, sticks, the whole lot. And after it I mentioned it to him and he turned to be the nicest guy who had never actually gigged before. So I had to break it down for him and guide him through what he needs to actually own. Cause he had none of it and no clue that he needed it.
I’m not being overly precious about my gearÖbut it’s how I make my living and I need it to be reliable. It’s part of being professional. There’s an interesting perception about if you turn up with everything flight cased, people think you’re the real deal. So I try and maintain that. I’m in a good band so my gear should be good.
And also, it make you want to play it. And I like that. I like that playing good gear makes me feel good.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Probably in Ad Lib, talking to you about when we were here (both laugh). It seems to be the way of things. You know, I don’t really see too much different. I’ll be in my 30s. What I’m doing now is great and I’m really happy with it – Emma’s gig and Pronto etc. I remember being younger thinking that Emma’s gig was a great gig to get. Hopefully I’ll be playing with more people and still enjoying music. My pals and I have talked about all of this before.. If we can play music at any level and get by, it’s the dream. It’d be better than working in M&S or something. Any day of the week.

Inside the Radiohead of Phil Selway

I’ve been a big fan of Radiohead for a number of years. In fact my first ever concert was Radiohead, in 1997, on the Ok Computer tour. It was an amazing experience and I still maintain that they are the best sounding live band I’ve ever heard.

The engine room of the band is a drummer by the name of Phil Selway. He’s perhaps not the most famous of drummers in the world which is a shame as he’s a very, very good player. He has amazing, almost machine like time and an instantly identifiable sound, harnessed from his time studying at Drumtech

 

For this post, I’m going to look at a selection of Radiohead songs from ‘The Bends’ through to ‘In Rainbows’ which I consider to be typical of Selway’s playing – creative and consistent. As ever, click the highlighted title for the PDF.

 

High and Dry

High and Dry was a huge single from ‘The Bends’ which starts off with the drum groove. An 8th/16th note groove in the hats, syncopated bass drum pattern and cross stick. The cross stick evolves to main snare halfway through the verse.

The pre-chorus fill into the chorus is a very typical pop/rock fill, simple yet effective. Selway plays it into every chorus and it becomes like a drum ‘hook’ which is a big feature of his playing. The chorus groove is again a staple of the pop/rock genre, and was featured heavily at the time period of The Bends (1995) and again Selway drives along the band without over powering them. A great part for a great song.

 

Paranoid Android

Paranoid Android was the first single from ‘Ok Computer’ which was the beginning of Radiohead’s departure from their sound of the first 2 albums. At over 6 minutes in length, it was unusual for a band to have a song that long in the charts and on the radio.

The groove at letter A is the verse groove, which features a syncopated pattern between the bass drum and cross stick, which never wavers, allowing the song to comfortably sit and groove. He occasionally switches from hi hats to ride cymbal, without letting the groove falter. It’s also helped along by the use of shaker and cabasa played by some of the band.

The groove continues until the band change pace and begin to rock pretty hard. The groove switches to main snare and at 2.55 there is a section in 7/8, (letter B) which features a nice bell hit on the last note of the bar. This section comes and goes through the song, moving between that and the previous groove in 4/4.
Letter C shows a typical fill of the song – a 32nd snare and cymbal fill which is a feature of Phil’s playing at times on Ok Computer.

 

Subterranean Homesick Alien

Another song from ‘Ok Computer’ A simple 6/8 groove is the ticket for this song. Letter A, the snare drum part mirrors the bass drum part which helps the groove move along and also echoes the guitar part at the beginning of the song.

1.26 sees letter B come in, which is the chorus of the song. A 16th note open hi hat pattern, which is phrased in groups of 2 takes up the first 2 bars which is followed by a half bar of groove and a half bar 32nd fill which repeats (2 different fills). This is again a kind of drum hook feature and happens each time the chorus comes back.

A perfectly constructed part for the song.

 

Pyramid Song

This song was a big departure for the band. It’s from the album Amnesiac which was recorded alongside Kid A and has influences of electronic music, classical, krautrock and in this case, a very heavy jazz influence. Inspired by Charles Mingus’ ‘Freedom’, it’s a heavily syncopated, piano led tune, that has a kind of 3 over 4 feel, with the piano being played in groups of 3 yet the song remains wholly in 4/4. Selway uses simple triplet fill ins every 4 bars to cadence the band back to beat 1.

 

15 Step and Idioteque

15 Step is the first track from In Rainbows. It’s in 5/4 for the whole tune and starts with programmed drums for the vocals to lay over with the acoustic drums coming in at around 0.24. As is the want of Radiohead, the acoustic drums are blended and mixed will with programmed beats and layered percussion, which helps the grooves create a hypnotic effect, especially when they stay static for the tune.

Phil has a tendency to switch to the ride cymbal unannounced (i.e. without a fill to get him there) and he does it again with this tune, which really helps the groove open out. From his zildjian.com profile it says he uses a K 20″ Dark ride which provides plenty of wash and therefore lift for the song/groove/band.

 

Idioteque is a song from the Kid A album and the reason for the mention here is twofold. Firstly it was a complete departure for the band at the time and the track features no acoustic drums at all on the album. It features a programmed groove that varies between 2 bars in structure and 5 bars in structure which creates this almost trademark Radiohead effect of a hypnotic groove.
The live version is very different however, and I’ve chosen the Glastonbury 2003 version to look at. The second verse features very heavy acoustic drums, almost drum and bass like, alongside the sampled drums which has an amazing impact when it comes in. Selway treats the tune much the same way as the programmed drums and creates a 5 bar pattern. The pattern is embellished with ghost notes but I’ve chosen to outline the main groove (bass drum and snare drum hits with hats).

 

 

So hopefully from these grooves you can get an idea of the kind of creativity that goes into Phil Selway’s parts. None of the music calls for insane chops but it does call for strong consistency and amazingly strong time which Selway delivers in spades. It also, for me, highlights, that a little time and effort into creating a drum part rather than just knocking out beats goes a long way to creating better music. If you haven’t heard him play, I suggest you go check him out. You won’t be disappointed.

The Tools of Danny Carey

For those of you who don’t know, Danny Carey is the drummer for American Prog Giants TOOL. The band are something of an enigma these days. They haven’t released any material since 2006’s ì10,000 Days” with their lead singer, Maynard James Keenan, being busy with other projects (A Perfect Circle, Puscifer and becoming a vintner).

I want to look at some material from their albums ëAenima’ ëLateralus’ and ì10,000 Days’. The music is some of the most refreshing metal that I have found myself listening. The latter 2 albums (Lateralus and 10,000 Days) rarely employ a 4/4 time signature and a lot of the music comfortably and seamlessly shifts time signature. In this respect and many others, they are very ëdrummy’ albums and a great challenge to both transcribe and play. The highlighted track in the description will link to a pdf file. I’ll look at the sections that I enjoy the most from these songs.

The tracks I want to look at are:

  • ëJimmy’ and ëEulogy’ from ìAenima”
  • ëThe Grude’, ëLateralus’ and ëTicks and Leeches’ from ìLateralus”
  • ëVicarious’ and ëJambi’ from ì10,000 Days”

ëThe Grudgeë is the opening track from ëLateralus’. It features a variety of time signature changes. The first example is a motif in 5/4 that comes in and out of the track. On this occasion (5.00) Danny is playing it in unison between the ride and snare – and it’s perfect unison, no flams anywhere. Earlier in the song he plays it unison on the floor toms and lacks no power at all, it sounds huge.

Towards the song’s play out (7.36), there is a 5/8 repeated section that is played in unison (rhythmically) between the bass, guitar and drums, as transcribed. Danny augments this pattern with a mechanical sound sample that plays 1/4 notes of the top of the figure. He does this with his left foot, so I’ve notated it as a hi hat part as there isn’t notation for the sample sound.

ëLateralusë has a slow burning intro in 4/4, that’s guitar with a subtle drum figure that comes from almost inaudible to bringing the song into a powerful riff. (1.12)

I’ve transcribed the riff which i’ve worked out as a bar of 9/8, a bar of 8/8 and a bar of 7/8. I’ve chosen to notate or think of the second bar as 8/8 as opposed to 4/4 as although mathematically they’re the same, it’s much easier to think in 8th notes when shifting time signature so much and so quickly. It also doesn’t feel like it’s in 4/4, rather a phrase in 24/8 and just divided into these bars/phrases.

At 5.37 on the track, appears what is probably my favourite drum moment of the entire Tool catalogue. The guitar and bass are playing in 6/8 but Danny has constructed a groove in 5/8 so it creates a hypnotic pattern that takes time to resolve. It sounds overly technical, but with the bands mastery and the dynamic level (mf) it never feels anything other than awesome. It’s a really creative rhythmic device and if played by lesser players, could have sounded terrible. I’ve notated it both in 5/8 and in 6/8 to show how it’s both understandable and playable but also goes over the beat and bar line.

ëTicks and Leeches’ kicks off with an aggressive tribal, 16th note tom groove in 7/4. The snares are off in order to create more of a tribal effect. The bass line locks in around the groove.

The double kicks on the first 2 beats of the bar evolve the groove and in typical metal fashion, the double kicks eventually blast through the whole bar (not notated).

After the intro, the groove stays in 7/4 and round the same kind of bass line, however with the snares on and this time on the hi hats and ghosted snare notes instead of toms and snare. He opens the hi hats on beat 1, the ëand’ of 4 and the ëand’ of 5 adding to the already heavily syncopated groove. The track is pretty relentless until around the middle of the tune. However it doesn’t take long to come back to a similar vibe as the intro.

In ëEulogyë the track features a dotted 8th note motif the plays in other instruments throughout the track, but at 6.36 in the track there is a vocal/drum break down and Danny plays the dotted 8th open/closed idea in the hi hats, over the top of a heavily syncopated bass drum pattern, that takes 3 bars to resolve back to beat one. He only plays the groove for 8 bars and then it’s gone, which is a big feature throughout all the albums, due to the nature of prog, and much like this section, they’re usually musical gold.

ëJimmyë features a hypnotic riff, in either 10/4 or two bars of 5/4 however you want to count it. For ease of reading, I’ve written it out as 2 bars of 3/4 and a bar of 4/4.

The intro features a nice spin on how normal grooves are constructed – the floor tom is played on beat 1 of the top of the phrase, and crash cymbals placed on off beat notes, in order to mimic the guitar line.

The verse features a similar groove to the intro, however instead of the ride cymbal, he moves to the hi hats and plays slightly different embellishments in the cymbals/open hi hats, and the floor tom playing the last crotchet of every bar, as the guitar lines moves downward.

The first chorus groove stays in 3/4 and features a cool cymbal bell line played on beat 3 of each bar.

ëVicarious’ is the first track from 10,000 Days and is for the most part in 5/4. The chorus shifts time signature as does some later sections.

Here I’ve looked at the first verse groove and notated out 4 bars. These aren’t necessarily in order on the track this way, however I wanted to give a flavour of the hi hat work Danny does. The back beat and bass drum part are consistent all the way through the verse. The ghost notes change occasionally as do the additional 16th notes in the hi hats.

The chorus section really lifts out of the 5/4 groove and is a typical time signature change idea that TOOL are great at. The 3/4 sections almost feel like a half time groove is appearing, as there is immediately a lot more space, due to Danny simply playing less notes.

The end of the first chorus sees the man riff in 5/4 return and Danny plays an awesome two bar fill in, which incorporates a typical 5 note phrase idea (the first half of the first bar is literally 16th notes phrased in groups of 5) and the 2nd bar is 16th notes, phrased in groups of 6 with some flams which takes up 3 beats, which leaves a very simple 2 beat grouping of 16ths around the kit. Magic!

ëJambi’ is another lesson in odd time grooves and switches. The initial groove starts in 9/8 as notated. He then starts to evolve the groove by making the hi hat imitate the guitar riff, and then to evolve that by starting to change the bass drum and snare underneath.

The song continues in 9/8 until the guitar solo (which is played through talk box) when it moves into a fairly normal groove in 6/4.

After the solo, the song moves into alternating bars of 5/4 and 4/4. Danny starts a tribal type groove, which is a big feature of his playing. This acts as great counter point to Maynard’s vocals which flow over the bar line comfortably.

The phrase that the band are playing then really opens up and at 6.06, Danny plays a very hip but simple fill using 16th note triples between the toms and snare, which again is a typical feature of his playing. Altogether very awesome.

These tracks are of course only a tiny snapshot into Danny Carey’s playing. The 4 TOOL albums (Undertow is the first album, before Aenima, which I didn’t look at) are all really worth digging into for drumming inspiration. Having seen the band live, I can attest that it’s quite something to see and hear Danny play. He’s a real powerhouse and has a ridiculous command of rhythm, which, outside of timekeeping, is to me the real role of a drummer. Danny has this in spades, and he has no problem negotiating difficult time signatures.

I really love this band. Their music has been really inspirational to my composing – just check out the tune ë2,4,1′ on my band’s album ëGrounded’ – it’s a real homage to TOOL, with the time signatures being twisty and weird. Thank you Danny, thank you TOOL!