BATTEUR MAG Interview, 2010

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How did you learn that Patricia Kaas was changing her team for the 'Kabaret' tour?

In May 2008, Patricia phoned all the band members herself to explain that she wanted to use different musicians for this tour, which we appreciated. Normally if you are not wanted for something then you hear nothing. The most you could expect is a call from the manager, which is unusual in itself. But the fact the artist herself called us all personally was very nice. I think she enjoyed working with us all on the last tour, we have all worked with her before and I think she thinks of us as friend's now - that's why she made the calls. But I guess it can't have been easy for her to tell us though. I was the longest serving member having been with her for 10 years, so I have to say I WAS disappointed.

Did you get the opportunity to come back in France?

Yes, I came to Paris to see the show when she played last January. We are still friends and I was interested to see it and to say hello to Patricia and the other people in management and technical crew I know, who work with her. It was strange to sit in the audience and watch her instead of being behind her on stage, but I enjoyed it. It was a beautifully presented show and the band were excellent.

What have you done these last few years?

After we finished the last Patricia tour at the end of 2005, I started touring more with Barclay James Harvest, which I hadn't been able to do while Patricia was touring. I also did a tour with a brilliant English female singer songwriter called Thea Gilmore in the U.K. In between, I was teaching and also doing some studio work with various artists here in England. I also started to do some private shows around the world with Patricia again in 2006/07 as she was preparing her next album. 2009 has been a really good year. I have played on a lot of albums this year, which I love to do. I also got to work with a singer songwriter whose work I have admired for years. He is from the Faroe Island and his name is Teitur. He had released 2 albums before 2009, which I absolutely love and when his 3rd came out, which is called 'The Singer' I got a call from his manager asking if I would like to tour with him in the U.K. It was his first release in the U.K so we were playing very small clubs, but it was great fun and his music is really beautiful. He writes such incredible melodies and I love his voice. We had a really great time, although it wasn't a long tour and then I did another in the autumn with him. He has just produced (French artist) Nolwenn Leroys new album. Another fun project was a Christmas album with Thea Gilmore. Her American label suggested she release one, as it has become quite a fashion for singer songwriters to release seasonal songs at this time of year. We recorded it in Liverpool in June/July, when it was 23 degrees! To get the atmosphere, the engineer put up a Christmas tree with lights on and all the trimmings! Hopefully it will be another for Bruce Springsteen's collection, as he is a huge fan of Thea's.

Athena is a new artist I have just been asked to record with. I have just finished her album, which I did in London with two Swedish producers. We recorded it very organically as a band and it was a very creative experience and also a lot of fun. I am looking forward to hearing it when its finished. Recently, I have been touring with legendary guitarist Snowy White (Pink Floyd, Thin Lizzy).

What about the World Cup theme for South Africa?

Yes, that's really exciting for a big football fan like me! I was asked by my friend Matt Clifford in London to play on the official FIFA theme for the World Cup 2010. Matt writes and produces a lot of the music for the big sports events around the world. I also did the drums for the opening ceremony of the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester Utd. It sounded great when we finished.

What are your plans for 2010?

I am hoping to continue playing with my friend Mark Butcher. I am gigging consistently with him. I hope to do some live work with Athena, when her album comes out in spring. I would also like to think that Teitur will call again when he needs a drummer. But we will wait to see. That's the good thing and the bad thing about freelancing. You have to wait for the phone to ring, which can be stressful but it can also bring something very exciting, very suddenly...

Is it difficult in England to keep working as a free-lance drummer?

I think it gets more difficult as each year passes. The industry is shrinking. Financially everything is smaller. Record sales are very much smaller and therefore so are recording budgets. This gets passed down, so even when we are working, these days the amount that you are paid is a lot less than it used to be. I feel sorry for young drummers now starting out wanting to freelance. It's because I have been doing this a long time that during those years I have worked with a lot of people, so some of those people remember you when they need a drummer. I have always tried to be professional whenever I have worked and therefore I get called again for things. Trying to build up those relationships from the beginning while the industry is in such a state would be very difficult.

With experience how has your playing evolved?

When someone plays a rhythm, there are a lot people that cannot help but move or dance to that rhythm. That is an incredibly powerful thing. I love to see an audience moving to a groove I am playing. That really makes me smile. That is my aim, to make everything I play 'feel' good. However simple, however complex, it must feel good to the listener. When I play, not practice, but play, I never think of technique. In the last few years I have been getting a lot of calls from artists that are acoustic based organic artists, like Teitur, Thea and Athena. They want accompaniment to their lyrics and melodies. They want me to create a backdrop of rhythm and texture for their story. This requires a certain amount of technique, but technique that is derived from control of your instrument, not clever, show off fills. Looking for different sounds from the kit. Playing very lightly maybe, very subtly, sensitively. Playing with different types of sticks, brushes maybe. Always thinking of what would be appropriate for the song and making the artist comfortable. It is not about trying out your new exercise you practiced last week. Definitely not.

Whenever I pick up a pair of sticks to play a song I am thinking of where the song is going. The shape of the arrangement. How I can make the song rise and fall and move around the vocal. When you do it as long as I have, I suppose a lot of that becomes instinctive and you don't have to think much at all. When everything just flows and you're not thinking, they are the best nights. I read an interview in Modern Drummer by Vinnie Colaiuta a couple of years ago and it was a brilliant summation of the 'technique versus feel' issue. He basically said that it shouldn't be an issue. You just have only to think about THAT piece of music you are playing and as a musician be sympathetic to that. When I am playing music that requires simplicity I find that I suddenly CAN'T play any clever flashy things. Its almost as if my technique deserts me because the music is telling me not to play it! When I am playing stuff that requires something a little more, then I find that I can do it. Not that I have anything like the technique of someone like Vinnie, or many other drummers. But its about playing within the team and thinking about the music as a whole, that you are playing. Not thinking just as a 'drummer', but a 'musician'.

What music do you listen to at the moment?

I like what John Mayer does right now. But my all time favourite I think, is an American female singer songwriter called Shawn Colvin. Marc Cohn's album called 'Join The Parade' I think is a masterpiece too and I have been listening to that a lot recently. There's another girl from LA called Jessie Baylin who I discovered this year who I like very much too. I recently got Al Greens new album, which sounds amazing. It's just as if it was recorded in the early 70's. A great vibe. Questlove on drums. Amazing grooves. Nowadays I don't buy an album purely for the drummer on it though, but when I was young I would buy and listen to anything with Andy Newmark, Steve Gadd or Jeff Porcaro on it.

What about your equipment?

I am still using a custom Pearl maple set I bought 20 years ago in New York. They still sound brilliant. When I go on bigger tours abroad I don't usually take them, but in the UK and for sessions I use them. It's a 24" bass drum, a 10" and a 12" rack tom (which I usually use one at a time) and a 16" floor tom. I usually go between a Ludwig Black Beauty 6.5" snare, a Ludwig 400 5" and a Pearl free floating 6.5" Maple snare, depending what the music is. I have an artist deal with Paiste and they have provided me with incredible cymbals for 6 years now. I have bags of them to choose what I think is appropriate for each project and so it's a lovely luxury and I feel very lucky to have that.