STICKS MAG Interview, 2010

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Roy Martin belongs to that species of working drummers who is almost always with a major artist on tour. The Englishman as a sideman, has established himself as a sensitive player with authentic grooves and musical vision, and thus created his own field of work. 'IN OUR TIME...LIVE' is the title of the latest Snowy White Blues Project album. The band of the legendary guitarist who the drummer now belongs to. At the moment he is on tour with British vocalist Thea Gimore, with whom he has already recorded several albums with. For 10 years before this Roy Martin toured the world with the French chanson-pop star Patricia Kaas. He had a nice balance in his career, artistically and financially for a freelance drummer. But in 2008 Patricia Kaas started a new project and changed her band.

You are well known as Patricia Kaas' long-time drummer and spent about 6 years with her working in the studio and touring around the world. This gave you a comfortable life as a freelance drummer, having a secure job and a regular in-come. But in 2008 this comfortable job came to an end. How did you manage this situation? Was it a shock? Where you prepared for this? Or was it a welcome moment to start something new after many years of dependence?

It was actually 10 years that I was working with Patricia. It WAS comfortable in the sense that it was with people I liked and each tour and album was musically different, but equally I never really knew after each tour ended, that I would be called to do the next, as Patricia changes musically so much from album to album. In fact, that is exactly what happened for the last tour, as she required musicians who were multi instrumentalists to bring that album to the stage. So she changed the band. Yes it was upsetting at the time, as I had become comfortable and used to the situation, musically, financially and personally, but after a while I saw it as an opportunity to play with different artists playing new music I had not had the chance to do for some time, as I was often on tour for so long each time with Patricia. Most of the tours I did with her lasted between 12 and 18 months!

What's basically important to keep your life going as a freelance drummer?

Contacts! Really....You can be the best drummer in the world, but if you are playing in your bedroom knowing nobody, then you are not going to get work. I know one English drummer who is a big name player who works consistently with big name projects, but it all comes from ONE musical director in London, who happens to be the most in-demand MD in the Uk. So therefore my friend is always working on high profile gigs. You have to be fortunate, BUT when you get the opportunity to play you have to really be professional and be sympathetic with that piece of music you are playing above anything else. Your ego must not enter the relationship you have with the artist. You must serve the music always. You have to be at least comfortable with some different styles and be aware of what is musically required and to be able to give the artist what they want quickly without a problem.

The list of artists you have worked with is long and musically diverse: Snowy White, Barclay James Harvest, Patricia Kaas, Aretha Franklin, Robert Palmer, Black, Modern English, Diesel and many more but you have never touched on an extreme style like metal-blast-beat-drumming or bebop drumming. Is that correct?

You're right I have never touched on those styles. I am not an 'extreme' personality, so I suppose that is reflected in my playing. I have done a few ROCK projects, as that's where my roots are (Ian Paice with Deep Purple) and I am very comfortable with that, but even Deep Purple had a very strong groove to it. That's what attracted me I think. But no, I'm not a bebop player or a very fast blast-beat player.

It must have been an extraordinary experience to work with Snowy White - a guitar legend, whose name is also linked to artists like Pink Floyd, Roger Waters and Thin Lizzy, etc?

Yes I was really pleased to be playing with Snowy. I was a Thin Lizzy fan and I saw him play at Liverpool Empire when I was 18 years old, so to be in his band was a thrill.

How did you get in touch with him? One day the phone was ringing when you just had breakfast?

On January 2nd this year I got a call from my friend, a guitarist called Matt Taylor, who I have played with on other projects over the years. He has been in The Snowy White Blues Project since it started in 2008. He told me that the original drummer, Juan Van Emmerloot couldn't continue as he had decided to do some producing work instead and would I be interested in doing a tour starting in February. It was a nice beginning to the year! The tour went well, Snowy seemed to enjoy my playing and we had a good laugh together so I continued up until he went on tour with Roger Waters, who is reproducing The Wall tour worldwide, in august. Hopefully we will do more together when he finishes next year.

Why, do you think, has Snowy White chosen the drummer Roy Martin for his blues project?

Well...he didn't! He asked Matt to recommend someone and trusted Matt to bring someone in that he would like.

Where there any auditions?

No there wasn't even a rehearsal before the tour! I met Snowy on the afternoon of the 1st gig. We had a long sound check and went through all the songs once and that was it! Some of the songs were tricky to learn, but I got through it without any disasters and from then on, it became more fun each night.

How did you prepare for his music, the songs, the feel? Was it very different - comparing the work with a French-pop artist?

It's instinctive now. I had a live set recorded with Juan Van Emmerloot, the previous drummer and I learned the set from that and I spoke to Snowy on the phone and he told me to just to learn the arrangements of the song and not to copy Juan, just to be myself, which was great. It's a lot more 'raw' than Patricia's shows. Its authentic 4 piece blues with a bit of soul in there too. It's less 'arranged' and more reactive between the musicians.

Although it's a blues thing, many of the drum grooves are rock and pop styles?

As I said, I put my own style into the bands songs that I had learned and maybe brought something different than Juan, as we are different people. I'm definitely more groove oriented, whereas he maybe played a lot busier than me. I don't think it's either better or worse, we are just different artists.

I have listened to the Snowy White Blues Project live record and your 'time' and 'groove' really stood out! Is it a challenge to endure the space between the beats?

I thank you! When I was young I did a lot of work with metronomes and playing along to perfect time. Playing to Steely Dan albums, Gaucho and Aja, was a great help. They had drummers on who play perfect time, yet still retain a great feel. Then when I met Andy Newmark and became friendly, we used to talk about these strange concepts of 'time' and 'feel'. It was him who came up with this thing of thinking about the space BETWEEN the notes, not the notes themselves. It had a massive effect on me and really helped me understand what I had to do. I am very aware now when anyone in the band speeds up at all. I KNOW immediately if someone is pushing or pulling the time and I have enough experience to be able to control them and pull them back to me. It's my favourite thing about playing the drums I think.

How is it possible to explore a certain blues feel on the drums? Or, what does it mean playing drums in a blues project - even if blues has so many different faces?

I don't think of it in those terms. I listen to whatever music I am asked to accompany and then I let all the years of listening and playing 'show' me what to play and how to play. Obviously blues is traditionally quite a simplistic genre. It would sound wrong if the drums were 'over-playing'. In fact Snowy and I talked about this before we played together and he asked me to think and play quite simply. Matt had told him about me and that my natural style is to be very groove oriented and simple and I think Snowy liked the idea of this. He has since complimented me on this. But in addition to this, you have to interact with the soloists in blues I think. There is a fine line though between interacting and going too far and over-playing. This is what has to be considered whilst you are playing. Matt likes more 'interaction' during his solos, whereas Snowy likes it to be kept simple. You get to know this stuff as you play with people more. On the track 'In Our Time of Living' Matt takes a long solo in the middle and I play a lot more in that than I do in Snowy's at the end of the song, where I play simpler for him.

Currently you're working with the British singer & songwriter Thea Gilmore, which is another chapter in your career. And it looks as if your drumming life is still going on - without much changing. Is that what you expected to happen?

I have been working with Thea, on an off for 11 years and have done her last 4 albums. I'm very pleased to be doing it as it's another aspect of playing I enjoy. Its NOT blues, or French Chanson/Pop! Its very delicate, lyric-based song writing. She is an amazing lyric writer, the best I have EVER heard. Really. It's very textural and I enjoy that. I am getting better at that as I get older, building textured drum parts with mallets, brushes, rods. More percussive and quiet. It's interesting and very musical. I have done a lot of albums in this style over the last few years and it's really cool. I am very lucky to still be working with great, creative artists after this long in the business. I have been on more albums this year than any other in my career. I am very grateful.

Once you told me, that you're influenced by drummers like Ian Paice. Are these musicians still in your mind, even when you work with Thea Gilmore?

Many drummers influenced me to form the foundation of my playing. Steve Gadd is a big influence for this kind of percussive playing within a singer/songwriter format. I am also inspired by other drummers when I play that kind of style, like Matt Chamberlain and Billy Ward. Jim Keltner also.

Isn't it tiresome never being in the front row? Or is your sideman job a real gift of innumerable, wonderful moments?

I love it. I have the best of both worlds. When I get to play with famous well-known artists, I get to sample that lifestyle a little while being on the road with them, but I don't get the problems that I see fame brings. But I also don't, unfortunately, get the money that fame brings...but you can't have everything!

How do you discover the right groove for the right song?

It's very subjective; what is the 'right' groove? One person may say its right. Another may say it's terrible. That's music. I just do what my instinct tells me and what my ears suggest and hopefully it's correct more times than its wrong...

Do you change your drum setup sometimes depending on the artist you're working with?

I change some things like snare drums and cymbals. I am usually playing a 24" bass drum, a 12" rack tom and a 16" floor tom, but I will change snares depending on what I think the music needs and also the Paiste cymbal people are very kind to provide me with any cymbals I need, so I have a lot that I can then choose what would be appropriate for each project.

Do you have some projects in the pipeline after Thea Gilmore?

Yes I am hoping to do some shows in Greece with Anglo/Greek artist Athena, which I am waiting for confirmed dates now. I am also doing some shows with Mark Butcher to promote his record and also I have recently been asked by a friend who writes music for film, to maybe do some work on his projects next year. I am really excited about that, as that would be a first time for me, actually playing while watching the scene of the movie and capturing a mood. I would love to do that and hope that it works out. In between all these things I teach in Liverpool and play little one-off gigs with friends all over the place, when I get a call. Life's good at the moment, I am really lucky to still be involved in creative projects at my age, after all this time playing.