BATTEUR MAG Interview, 2005

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For more than six years now Roy Martin has taken care of the tempo alongside Patricia Kaas. This gentleman has a cv that would impress even the most seasoned musicians, having also worked with Robert Palmer, Paul Young, Gavin Friday, Barclay James Harvest, The Christians and even Aretha Franklin.
Batteur mag met him.

How did you join Patricia Kaas's team?

I had a friend who was a sax player, Martin Green, who toured with Patricia in 93. When they wanted to change drummer, Martin recommended me and I was ready to go to Paris straight away and learn the repertoire, but the job went quickly to someone else... And that was that. Three years later, I got a call telling me Patricia was auditioning drummers in London. The producers remembered me. Finally, they hired me and I'm still here!

Have you participated in all the tours since then?

Yes and they're pretty long tours. We are going to do 160 concerts in 25 countries on this tour. I discover places I would otherwise probably not have been to such as China, Russia, the former Soviet Republics, Siberia, Japan. It's an incredible opportunity.

Do you also work on the albums?

I did eight tracks on Sexe Fort, Patricia's latest album. On Piano Bar, the previous one, I played on two, but the rest was mainly programmed, which, I must admit, is not my strong point.

What's it like working with Patricia?

Quite easy, really. When we rehearse before a tour it's very hard work, really intensive. After that, she lets the musicians do what they feel and let their personality show through in the music. She doesn't tell you what to do all the time. And above all, she doesn't act like a star.

Do you understand the lyrics of the songs?

Not word for word. But I do understand the spirit and the tone. I have had the lyrics explained to me because obviously you play differently if it's a love song. In the show, we go from very gentle songs to much more dynamic ones. You have to get right into them straight away.

How does your own personality show through in this music?

You have to understand that it's not a group. With a singer, you really just play for her and are at her disposal. So you only have to play what is necessary. That doesn't necessarily mean trying to be overly original. I wouldn't hesitate to copy specific rhythms and breaks from the original if I thought they were essential. But during the show I try to keep pace with the other musicians, to react to what they're playing.

You're from Liverpool. How did you start drumming?

Right at the start, my cousin was a drummer. I was about 4 or 5. He showed me a few rhythms. Quite soon, he decided to stop and he gave me his kit. I started to play listening to the Stones and many other records. But I was very shy and I didn't want anyone to see me. One day, some guys knocked at the door. They'd heard me and they wanted a drummer for a concert, so I went. Then, everything just sort of came together: I played in quite a few groups in Liverpool. I took a one-year course at a College in Liverpool. I didn't like it very much. I was 19.

Then you went to live in NY. Why was that?

I was working quite a lot in London and things were going pretty well for me. I was playing with quite a few people and specifically, a group that was starting to make a name for itself. We'd recorded, given interviews. We thought 'This is it! We're going to be big stars!'. But it was a total failure [laughter]. I was a bit sad. And all the drummers I listened to were American. So I decided to go. Today at 43, I think it was a bit mad, but I don't regret it.

Tell me about the rest of this adventure.

At the start things were pretty tough. But gradually I got the chance to play with incredible musicians. I studied at the PIT, I played with loads of groups. I even did a session for Aretha Franklin: my phone rang at three o'clock in the morning. A sound engineer friend of mine called me and said: 'There are some overdubs to do before lunch, come down'. When I found out it was for a record by Aretha Franklin I leapt out of bed. Ten minutes later I was in the studio with the drums set up. Unfortunately, she wasn't there... In NY you often find yourself in situations in which, even if you don't really know how to swim, you have to get on with it or you'll drown.

And then you moved back to the UK?

Yes, I went back in 1988 when my daughter was born. I live between Liverpool and Manchester. It was a life choice rather than a career choice. When I went back no one knew me in the UK. But a call from a Liverpool songwriter really helped me. A group was being set up for a few showcases. He said he'd heard about me but that he didn't have enough money to pay musicians. I replied: 'Well, I can't play for nothing now, like when I was a teenager. I've come a long way since then.' He simply replied: 'Listen to who else's is in the group and I'm sure that will make you change your mind'. One of them was Martin Green, the famous sax player. Everything went great. I think I owe about 70% of my work to that call and the contacts that came out of it.

What about your taste in music?

I like songwriters who sing to acoustic music. Most are Americans like Rickie Lee Jones, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell. But I also listen to Chaka Khan and The Stones. 80s instrumental things like David Sanborn. It's no doubt a reaction to the uniform nature of things today. When you listen to the radio, a lot of the stuff sounds the same. There's too much sampling and programmes. I adore the Stones because they really play without trying to be a totally clean sound. U2 have some of the same qualities. There are some good groups on the UK scene at the moment, such as Keane. I also like Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

What drummers do you admire?

When I was young I was very much influenced by Ian Paice, Jim Keltner, Charlie Watts. Then I discovered American drummers (Steve Gadd, Andy Newmark, Jeff Porcaro, John Robinson, Steve Jordan )). All these guys play so perfectly but at the same time they've got their own style. On the same groove you could hear big differences depending on the drummer, his personality, which is more difficult today because of the technology.

The people you've mentioned are able to play highly complicated things, but also very simple stuff...

Yes, especially Steve Gadd, who can make a song so perfect. Without being over the top. Today there are loads of drummers whose technique is highly complex. I have great respect for them because I can't do what they do. But I don't really want to either. I recently saw a very well-known drummer in London and he played very simple songs with beats flying everywhere. It's what I hate most about so called virtuosos. Some of them don't play music.

What advice would you give a young person starting out as a drummer?

That's a bit of a problem because I think it's harder and harder to get work. There are groups appearing, but the music business is still quite limited. But if you really feel deep down that you've got to do it, then you have to take that step. And give yourself the resources by seizing every opportunity that arises. And of course always go to auditions or interviews fully prepared knowing what you're going to play because there are always 10 drummers for each job. Then, put your ego to one side, which means playing with the other musicians and not playing drums for drums sake. So you have to listen really carefully to be sure that what you play really is in line with the style that's wanted.

Do you like life on tour?

Well, it's always a bit strange because you have people assisting you all the time. It's not bad, but it's not real life. When you go back to normal life, you have to organise everything and sort everything out. It's more tiring but quite honestly I prefer it.