'No Reply' from Abacab is an interesting example of a drum performance
within a 4/4 structure that still employs a lot of unique phrases
and rhythmic turnarounds. The fact that it has such a strong groove
leads one to think that you had a major hand in writing it.
It probably sounds like I wrote it because I suggested the horn
lines. Prior to that the band wasn't really interested in using
horns in our music. The way the tune came about was, like most of
our compositions, through improvising in rehearsal. We just get
together and play, and if we find something we like we record it
Later I wrote the lyrics for the tune and suggested the horn arrangement.
In rehearsal Tony played a drum machine while I played my drums
and Mike guitar. We just follow our noses and play until we collectively
hit upon something we think is nice. Quite often our music happens
by accident. It's a difficult process to describe, other than to
say that just getting together and playing as a group and coming
up with beats and parts that we like is the basis of our songwriting.
I wanted, in `No Reply,' to write something that the Jackson 5 might
like to record. I also wanted to steer the group into an area of
music that we hadn't tried before. Tony and Mike hadn't really been
open to using horns in our music, so it was partly that desire to
try and introduce new forms and styles that motivated me to write
Speaking of the Jackson 5, the Motown sound that you achieved on
the drums on `Can't Hurry Love' was very true to the original.
Motown artists like drummer Benny Benjamin and bassist James Jameson
were big idols of mine, and their playing is still a source of inspiration.
The idea of doing `Can't Hurry Love' was to see if Hugh Padgham
(producer of Genesis and The Police) and I could duplicate that
Sixties sound. It's very difficult today because most recording
facilities are so much more sophisticated than they were back then.
It's therefore hard to make the drums sound as rough as they did
on the original. That's what we were going after, a remake, not
an interpretation, but a remake. To duplicate the drum sound we
listened to that tune for ages. We kept referring back to it for
the tambourine echo. For the snare sound we eventually had to loosen
the snares until they were barely resting on the drumhead. We kept
listening to the original drum fills, harmony parts and everything
else in the song until we felt we had duplicated them as closely
as was possible.
Your recording of Hand in Hand' from Face Value reminded me of Weather
Report's 'Jungle Book,' which had a very tribal and primitive sound,
a sound based on the percussive treatment of the song.
I'm a big fan of Weather Report; that's no secret. There are parallels
in those two songs, not necessarily in the notes played but in terms
of the feelings and emotions that each song evoked. Actually though,
`Hand in Hand' was inspired by a Marx Brothers film I had seen.
In one scene Harpo was playing a clarinet, leading all these black
kids around a village while they sang, `Who that man?' As he's leading
them around the village more and more people begin to join in line
dancing. `Hand in Hand' portrays the image of one person starting
off to work in the morning, walking through a big valley, while
one-by-one others join in. By the end of the song everyone's happily
sharing a sort of communal spirit, and that's the feeling behind
The drums sound very full and resonate on the track.
Well, the thing that I've been going after lately is to get a drum
sound that compliments the song's tonal imagery. The reason behind
that is that when I find a sound that fits the song's mood, I tend
to play less. And when I play less the sound says more. That's why
in bands like Weather Report, even when very little is actually
going on, the music still sounds strong and compelling. So for myself
the sound of the drums has become actually more important than the
actual beats that I'm playing - literally the sounds and tunings
and how they're treated electronically during recording.
On Peter Gabriel's album Intruder your drum sounds were altered
electronically. Is that a direction you'll be employing more in
Peter's album was interesting to do in that he specifically requested
that I not use any cymbals. I know Peter quite well, and I respect
him as a man of principle, yet I told him that there are times when
using cymbals is good. Yet he remained steadfast in wanting no metal
on the album whatsoever, so I said, `All right,' and got along with
it. His ideas inspired me to create, on `No Self Control,' a very
interesting drum part. A lot of that was due to Hugh Padgham, who
set up noise gates and limiters on the drums. I was in the live
room just playing some simple patterns on the drums, yet through
the headphones was hearing these incredible sounds. The noise gates
would clip in and give an added tonal dimension to the sounds coming
off the drums. So Hugh's changing the drum sounds on the board and
I'm playing off those sounds, each time waiting for the gate to
clip in and the noise to stop before playing something else. After
a while I began to string some of those sounds into patterns and
in no way saying that noise gates are my thing and that from this
day on I'm sticking to them exclusively. If it's a straight ahead
sort of song my drum sound will reflect that, using the existing
technology one generally uses when recording drums. You have to
change and adapt your drum sound to whatever aterial you're recording.
That's why I'm getting more involved in production. The art there
is to hear a song and then be able to choose the sounds and recording
techniques that will best realize it. I've been fortunate lately
in that on Eric Clapton's new album, which I produced, Jamie Oldaker
(who played drums on the album) was very open to all these ideas.
It was the first record I've produced and not played on, and sometimes
trying to explain to another drummer what you want to hear can be
tricky. But he was a great help in that he could see what the end
result was going to be.
A lot of rhythm tracks today are recorded with the intention of
adding subsequent parts. For a drummer that means he may not hear
the solo instrument or vocal that his playing will eventually accompany
on record. I like the new Genesis album because the songs all feel
like the group played them live.
What if I were to tell you that during the sessions for the album
there was no time when the band played together as a unit? I put
the drums on afterwards on everything. The way we've come to record
is to initially play each song live and later rerecord each individual
part. What we did on a song like `Home by the Sea' was to record
with a programmed drum machine. Tony would play a guide keyboard
part, Mike would play a guide guitar part, and I'd sing a guide
vocal. These `guide parts' enabled us to settle on the format for
the songs. If we liked what we got, we would then go in and record.
Tony would go in and record his keyboard parts, Mike would record
his guitar and bass parts, I'd replace the Linn drums with my drums,
and after all of that I'd go in and rerecord my vocal.
idea behind this method of record-ing is to simply capture the feeling
of the song without everyone worrying about playing their parts
right. Everyone plays initially just to get the feeling of the song
on tape. Once the feeling's there you can't take it away. On the
other hand, you can't get the feeling on tape if it's not there
in the music and performances. Really, the guide parts are played
only to establish the mood of the songs. Things like tempo and feel,
that are so crucial to a song, are easy to get; once that's there
it's easy to go for a good drum sound. I have, as a drummer, the
opportunity to go back and have two or three cracks at playing the
song, instead of it being: We've locked in your part, I'm afraid
you can't do anything else. Too bad, but you're stuck with it. Sorry."
my solo albums I've never had a complete band in for any of the
sessions. I do the keyboards and vocals at home, playing along with
a drum machine. Then I take my home eight-track recording into the
studio and copy it from eight to twenty-four tracks, which rees
sixteen new tracks to work with. I rerecord the drums using my own
set in the studio, and then bring in a bassist to play along to
my drum, keyboard and vocal parts. Then one by one I bring in guitarist
or a horn section or whatever arrangement of instruments feels best
for the tune. In the end what you have is a complete recording that
sounds like it was done live in the studio.
a lot of people will disagree with this method of recording. Yet
the freedom that each player received, knowing that if he were to
make a mistake the whole band wouldn't turn to him and say, `You
mucked up,' is enormous. Saying to someone, `Just have a go at this;
relax and play what-ever you think is right,' takes away a lot of
the barriers that being in a studio often produces. In this way
a musician feels free to stretch out and make the best musical statement
he can make.
the instrumental from Hello, I must be Going, sounds like a big
band. In fact, there was never a time when more than one person
was in the studio at a time. I did the keyboards at home, playing
along to a Roland drum machine which I programmed. I also did the
bass part at home, playing a set of bass pedals with my fists. The
Roland was playing very up-tempo sixteenth notes, so when I re-recorded
it in the studio I did so separately, playing on one track only
my hi-hat. Then I re-corded the bass drum and snare parts, and only
after that played the fills, with a sort of Latin feel in the phrasing
and sound. Later, when the band went on tour we had to relearn the
complete song. We had to learn how to play it as an ensemble.
You've recorded a version of `Tomorrow Never Knows' from The Beatles
Revolver album. I've always felt that Ringo did some of the best,
most creative drumming on that album. How much effect did his drumming
have on your own style?
An enormous amount. When I'm playing a song I'll often think about
how another drummer might play it, and try to be that player in
my per-formance of the song. Often I'll think, `How would Keith
Moon play this?' And I'll don my Keith Moon hat. For another song
I'll think about John Bonham, or even on occasion Stewart Copeland,
but more often than any other drummer I think about Ringo. `That's
All,' from Genesis, is a Ringo Starr drum part. `Through These Walls,'
from Hello, I Must be Going, is a Ringo drum part.
I recorded `Tomorrow Never Knows' I went after a Ringo drum sound,
which I've always felt, thanks to George Martin, was one of the
great drum sounds of all time. I've had the pleasure of getting
to know him and have told him, `The things you did with four track
were incredible. I wish things were that way today.' And he said,
`No, it's really much better now. Back then you had to live with
those limita-tions and with a very compressed drum sound, because
with four tracks that's the only way you could record drums.' Yet
that's just the sound I wanted to get, so we went with maximum com-pression,
for that real Ringo sound.
know Ringo has stated that he could never properly play a roll.
Yet when you listen to `Ticket To Ride' and Tomorrow Never Knows,'
he's playing these very intricate things throughout. He played some
great rolls all through `Ticket to Ride' and some unbelievably individualistic
fills. That's the magic of his playing: he just does it; there's
no self-consciousness about it whatsoever. The fills he played on
`Strawberry Fields Forever' are classic rock fills; the drags and
his way of phrasing just slightly after the beat on the toms all
make for an incredible drum part.
Your playing on Illegal Alien,' especially on the verse that begins,
'Consideration for your fellow man,' is very sparse, yet so effective
We went through a few dif-ferent drum parts on `Illegal Alien.'
I initially was trying for a more sophisti-cated drum part than
the song actually required. Eventually I ended up with that basic
rock-and-roll part-two and four on the snare, one and three on the
bass. That's what made the tune work. I'm happier with my playing
on `Illegal Alien' and `Mama' than I am on something like `Dance
on a Volcano,' in spite of the fact that `Dance' is a much more
intricate part. To me the drums are played much better, and that's
the bottom line. I'm not afraid to take off my schooling hat, and
I've matured enough to say, `People won't laugh at me,' if I play
something simple, direct and effective.
I'd like to get back to something I feel about your playing: opposed
to the Carl Palmer, Alan White school, it is more concerned with
feeling and emotion than with technique and slickness.
I've always felt that drums should reflect the personality of the
player. That's why I'm not afraid to say that I put on a Keith Moon
hat or a John Bonham hat, because I feel that even when I'm playing
something that I feel Keith or John might play, it ulti-mately comes
out sounding like me. I think one's personality does come through,
and that's what I'm going after. On the session the other night
with Steven Bishop I was just playing very naturally, and he said,
`That sounds so typically you.' I thought, `Uhmm, that's good; I'm
glad; it's a stroke of luck that it does.' I didn't even realize
it until he mentioned it, but it's true. In Alan White's defense,
I think he's not at all like Carl Palmer, whose playing I don't
particularly enjoy. He might be a nice man, but his playing does
nothing for me at all. Bill Bruford, on the other hand, is a drummer
I like very much. He's got great individual style. In the past he
had a tendency to think too much at times, yet the things he's currently
doing with King Crimson are very interesting and moving.
Your playing on It Don't Matter to Me' is one of the most infectious,
driving drum parts I've heard in a long while. How did your drum
part and the song come about?
That was just a song I had lying about for ages. The drum part that
you hear is actually a guide drum part-the part I originally laid
down as a guide for the other instruments. As the track developed
I suddenly realized that I couldn't replace the drums because everyone
had locked into that original part. Hugh Padgham always wanted to
get a better drum sound for the track; yet to rerecord it would
mean wiping out everything that was later recorded. If it didn't
happen again with the same feeling we would be in a position where
we had lost everything. Maybe that's why the drum part works, because
I just sat down, played along to the song and thought, `All right,
that will do for the moment.'
Having begun playing drums at such a young age, can you reflect
on what they mean in your life?
That's just it - drums have been part of my life as long as I can
remember. It's very natural for me to play drums. I also know that
I talk like a drummer and sing like a drummer. It's only when asked
questions that one tries to come up with answers. I've never really
done anything else in my life.
During your performances with Genesis, do you feel more centered
behind the kit than you do singing?
It's when I sit behind the drums that I feel completely at home.
As I said before, I sing in our shows because I have to, yet I'm
first and foremost the band's drummer. When I'm behind the drums
I know exactly what I want to do, and I think that comes through
in my playing. Even when I play Chester Thomson's kit during a sound
check and he plays mine, I invariably retain my own sound, as does
Chester. A drum is a drum, and the sound of one's personality should
come through on any. That's why when people want to know what skins
or sticks or tunings I use, I don't feel that there's that much
point in replying (apart from giving them a direction), because
I coax the sound out of the drum, and for that matter so does Bill
[Bruford], or Chester, or any drummer with a sound and style of
his own. I've always worked as hard as I can at my playing, and
have always been open to a lot of different things musically -and
that's paid off. I think a lot of people know me now for my diversity.