If we go back to the very beginning, what sparked your interest in music?
I suppose my first memory of music was my Welsh nan who used to play the piano, and used to sing dirty songs which used to make me laugh! Then later on at school when I wasn’t really happy studying, I’d hang around with some friends and play at lunch break in the music department. That started to get me excited about making music with other people and the fun we could have creating stuff together. I didn’t really start properly until I was a lot older, around 18, when I first started hanging round with proper musicians, and I realized very quickly that I belonged amongst that group of people. The kind of people that make music, creatives, just seem to make sense to me. And this sense of purpose and excitement to play music started then, and has never stopped since.
How come you ended up behind a drum kit? Were you always drawn to drums and was it your first and only alternative?
I actually started, weirdly enough, on cello when I was a youngster, but my school music teacher was a bit of an old dragon, and that really put me off. Drums came later on, I think mainly because the other two guys I was messing around with played lead guitar and bass guitar, so it just kind of happened like that. Like most professional musicians I’ve messed around with lots of other instruments, and can get a tune most things, but drums has been the only instrument I’ve been serious about. I played bass for quite a while to try to understand how a bass player makes their noise, so I could try to lock in with them. That was a good exercise in appreciating how another musician approaches their instrument and their sound. This is especially useful when I try locking in with a new bass player.
To you, what defines a great drummer? Name a few that you think stand out in today’s scene (regardless of genre) and some that helped shape you as a drummer growing up and learning the instrument.
There are quite a few elements that I think, for me, define a good drummer. Firstly, as I’ve got older, I’ve learnt to appreciate character and someone with a unique voice. Playing in such a way where you lay yourself out, and your personality can be heard (at least when appropriate) I think is a great thing. There are plenty of great players out there who sound technically incredible, but it’s much more interesting to me to hear somebody with an individual voice rather than just a groove or a chop. Great time, groove and feel are obvious things as well that I like to hear. These things I’m constantly chasing and looking to improve myself as well. Great groove and time isn’t just confined to to groove music – every genre of music has a groove and feel whether it’s metal, thrash, jazz or soul. I’m currently loving listening to guys like a Josh Freese, Ilan Rubin, Steve Jordan, but have spent plenty of time obsessing about the older greats as well, like Ringo, Keltner, Bonham, Levon Helm, Bill Ward, Simon Kirke.
You’ve played with Iggy Pop now for years, toured with Razorlight, jammed with an amazing cast in Gutterdämmerung and much, much more. Looking back on your journey as a professional drummer, what would you say stand out? Any milestones or moments along the way that you think you’ll remember or cherish forever?
The first time I recorded with Thomas Dolby at Real World studios was a big thing. The first session went really well, and as a result of that I learnt a lot working with him and met some really great musicians which eventually let me onto other great stuff as well. My first gig with Iggy was also big deal. It was a festival called Down the Rabbit Hole, and I remember being on that stage with him for the first time, looking out at the audience while we played “The Passenger.” There is a breakdown in the middle of it where it goes down to just drums. I was playing that looking out at the massive crowd and almost got lost in the moment, before having to re-focus myself and make sure I stayed on the ball! Playing for Gutterdammerung had some crazy brilliant moments as well. Sharing the stage with Henry Rollins, Grace Jones, Alain Johannes and The Eagles of Death Metal (all the same time!!) was pretty awesome and unforgettable!
When you’re not behind the kit, you’re teaching – both privately as well as at one of Europe’s most respected music colleges, The Academy of Contemporary Music in the UK. How did this come about?
When I was home from touring with iggy and I had some downtime, I did a few masterclasses and one-off lectures for ACM. I really enjoyed that, and got a lot out of chatting with the new, young and up-and-coming guys. As a result of doing that, I just kept doing a few masterclasses here there and the odd one-to-one lesson, and it’s still something I enjoy doing. I still value greatly advice I got from older guys when I was young and learning. I learnt so much from them. So, if I can pass on a little bit of knowledge that I might have picked up along the way, I think that’s great.
On the subject of teaching: What is your number one tip to someone aspiring to make playing the drums a career?
Two points I think, and quite simple things. The first thing is to get out and play with as many people as you can. Every gig and every rehearsal you do is a lesson – the more people you get to meet with and play with the better. You’ll become a better musician and you’ll get your face about. I can’t think of anything more important than being out there actually doing it, meeting people, making mistakes, and getting better at it. The other thing would be, and this is also quite simple, to just not give up. Keep going, keep working, keep trying to get better – and just keep at it. I think a lot of people try for a while and find it too hard, understandably, and go and do something else. Be the dogged person that keeps going, keeps getting better and keeps trying – in my experience, that eventually pays off.
If you weren’t playing music and being a touring drummer, what would you do for a job, you think?
Do you know what, I really don’t have any idea at all! My life has been dominated by music, which I’m eternally grateful for. As a youngster at school I was sporty, so maybe something to do with sport perhaps. But to be completely honest, I’ve only ever wanted to do one thing, set my heart on one thing, and that’s brought me so much happiness I can’t imagine doing else.
What drum kit do you use for live shows and the studio?
Well, that changes depending on the gig. Live I’m always using one of my trusty Ludwig kits. On my more modern gigs I’m using my new Ludwig Classic Oak kit, which sounds fantastic. It’s modern-sounding, punchy, and reliable out on the road. For some of the more vintage-sounding music I get involved in live, I’ve been using recently my ‘60s classic Ludwig. You can’t really beat an old Ludwig for that vintage sound. In the studio I’m generally using one of my Ludwig kits, the ‘60s and ‘70s Classic maples, or the new classic Oak. Sometimes, I also use my Hayman kit which is fantastic in the studio. That kit also appears in the Fields of Rock SDX as well as a lot of my other kits. Cymbals-wise, I’m always using my Istanbul Agop symbols. They’re just fantastic and all their ranges cover everything from the vintage-sounding 30th anniversaries to some of the more modern-sounding stuff they do – they’re just the best thing out there, and are all over The Fields of Rock SDX as well.
You just created a library of drums for Toontrack together with Tom Dalgety. How did your paths cross and what was the experience of making this project together like?
I think Tom and I first crossed pass on one of my early gigs with a Iggy. We were supporting the Foo Fighters at the Milton Keynes bowl and Royal Blood were also on the bill. Tom was there supporting those guys, so I think we became aware of each other then. Working on this project with Tom been fantastic. It was great to be in the studio with him and whole experience was just a lot of fun. It’s really good to spend time just geeking out about drum sounds and recording drums, especially with someone like Tom who is at the top of the business when it comes that stuff. As a drummer, you take an interest, obviously, in the process of recording the drums. also especially as I’ve recently set up my own studio, so working with someone like Tom and picking his brains was fantastic. I think we also both have a similar work ethics. We wanted to record as many drums as cymbals as we possibly could, so the days were long, but we had a great time and recorded a lot of stuff!
What’s next on your agenda?
At the moment I’m spending a lot of time in my own studio doing lots of sessions, and I’m midway through the recording a couple of albums for a couple of great artists. I’m working with a great engineer/bass player called Mark Neary, and we spend a lot of time getting a great sound out of the studio. It’s really exciting, and I’m becoming a bit of a geeky engineer at the same time! We’ve recently been recording the debut album of Jesse Smith, an incredible rock and allround singer. Watch this space for that one. I’m currently also working with an artist called Iraina Mancini, a very different style of music to the stuff you guys will be used to hearing me play. It’s a ‘60s-inspired groove fest, with the great vocals of Iraina on top. It’s really fun and it’s a great band, but definitely not rock! I’ve also some stuff with Marc Almond at the end of the year, as part of his band The Loveless, which is a rock outing for Marc with us playing much heavier stuff more akin to Deep Purple!
FIVE QUICK QUESTIONS.
Double-pedal or double bass drums?
Double bass drum!!!
Click track or no click track in your headphones live?
Totally depends on the gig!
You can only keep one cymbal on your kit – which one?
My 18” 30th anniversary Istanbul Agop crash.
Club gig or festival – what do you prefer?
Festival – I love the whole vibe of festivals
Dream team band (with you on the drums!):
Paul McCartney on bass, Chris Cornell on vocals, Jon Lord on hammond, Jimmy Page and Robbie Robertson on guitar.