Monday 31 March 2014

Irish Drummers; Johnny tell us, what is your current project?
Johnny: I’ll tell you my current focus at the moment is I have started to work for a college called BIMM. I don’t know if you are familiar with BIMM but it’s a college that teaches a four year degree in commercial modern music. I got the job last year as the Head of Drums.

Irish Drummers; Excellent, you must have been delighted
Johnny:  I suppose Dave Hingerty didn’t want the job and Graham Hopkins didn’t want the job because they didn’t want the administration that goes with it so I was quiet happy because I like the sound of the title. Last year we had a hundred and fifty students and this year we have four hundred and fifty. So we have about between fifty and seventy drummers. They're studying a four year degree and it’s all based around a live performance. The kind of the students I am teaching, they study drum techniques, drum styles, music theory and sign reading. They do artist development which is kind of jamming with lots of other musicians. They do music business so basically the course equips a lot of these kids, they might be twenty two, twenty three with their degree. Afterwards they will have knowledge that we didn’t have I suppose back when I was their age.  When I was their age you know there was no internet. There was no money for drum lessons and you know what you said to me the other day really struck a chord because you mentioned that a lot of the Irish drummers have learned their trade basically by ear.

Irish Drummers; Yes, Johnny and you have great experience that you can pass on to the students.
Johnny:  After all the experience I have had, over almost twenty five years, I suppose to be in a position where you can try and influence the next generation. Now there is a syllabus already provided there because they have a college in Brighton, Bristol, London you know no doubt they will probably open some more in other places around the world and it’s kind of flattering really to get a job there. You have Dave Hingerty there as well. You know Dave (Hingerty) teaches there and Graham (Hopkins) teaches there and then in the let’s say the bass department you have got Paul Moore who is Van Morrison’s MD. You have got Keith Farrell who I played with for years, Keith who plays with Mundy and Cathy Davey and people like that and Rob Malone who plays with David Gray and I have also been with him in Lir for the last kind of fifteen years. Then in the guitar department you have Jimmy Smyth who is like the legendary guitar player, amazing, a great guy and then  there is the song writing department and the vocal department  Tinof Rebecca. She is a Belgian woman who is Bono’s vocal coach. 

Irish Drummers; Wow, that’s incredible
Johnny: Yeah, she is the vocal coach there and people like Ollie Cole. There is a really great gang like Joe Wall from the Stunning, Joe is in there  and  I was only working with Joe the other day, it’s a nice team of people. I suppose I got a little bit tired of the road so it’s having a job where you can work during the day and then gig at the weekend and do whatever you’re doing outside of the college. It’s kind of nice to be involved because you’re not a professor. You are kind of like a coach and you try and guide these younger people in such a way that they will get the best out of their own ability.

Irish Drummers; Obviously students must be keen to learn as well.
Johnny: You know some people are, I mean you have different levels of musicianship. You have, like  some of the kids are really talented and they have got all these chops but they don’t know what to do with them and then you have people who don’t have a lot of chops but they are very musical. That’s the great thing about drums, you can be a virtuoso and do great things but you can also be let’s say like a drummer with limited ability which guys like Ringo Starr were and you know they have that tag of limited ability which Ringo was far from.

Irish Drummers; Agreed, he is a great player.
Johnny: I think Ringo was(pauses) like anybody that thinks that Ringo was an average drummer, you know needs to have their head examined because Ringo I think was a phenomenal drummer and he is the first guy to put drummers on the map and he solidified the drummers reputation.

Irish Drummers; So Johnny, how did you get started in drumming?
Johnny: Ok when I was a kid I remember we used to hang out in this girls house with a few of my friends and I suppose we were like nine or ten and they put on Cindy Laupers “Girls just want to have fun” and a couple of the guys would have tennis racquets out kind of playing the air guitar, but I was never interested in the air guitar. I was always interested in the air drumming and I had a lovely picture at home with me with my Mum and Dad at Christmas time and I am about three or four and I had one of those toy kind of drum kits you know and something that was very much in me in the sense that I always had an interest in the drums, in the drummer, whenever I listened to music. I always seemed to gravitate towards what the drums were doing. Growing up as a child what we had on vinyl you know we had “Abbey Road”, we had “Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”, we had “Abba’s Greatest Hits”, “The Dark Side Of The Moon” and “Paul Brady’s Hard Station”, so being exposed to that kind of drumming not so much Abba really but more Ringo, Mick Mason and Fran Breen who was playing on Hard Station with all his big rolling tom fills and stuff like that. You know I really kind of, I was just intrigued by them really and one Christmas, not even Christmas actually it was about August or September, I was about twelve years old and my Dad went to this shop to buy a spare part for his hover and they had a small music shop in the back so we went to this shop and they had a drum kit in the window and it was a Stryker drum kit and it was a kick snare, rack tom. There was no floor tom that’s all it was it was a very basic kind of beginners kit and I remember seeing it and it was like am I suppose it was like the holy grail I suppose the minute I saw it. It was like am like wohooo!  Like I want that so bad so it was like you know it’s amazing when you have these kind of awakenings where you realise that’s where I want to be, I want to be like that drum kit needs to be in my house right now with me playing on it .  So anyway like my dad hummed and hawed about it well he didn’t really hum and haw about it because my dad plays guitar and he is very musical so l had already done a couple of years in piano and so anyway Christmas morning, I came down and got the drum kit and actually my dad left a note on the Christmas tree kind of apologising for not being able to get the drums but then of course they were hidden in another room in the house and so I got the kit and I swear to God I played every day, every day.

Irish Drummers; Right, I think every drummer has fond memories of their first drum kit.
Johnny: You know it’s all I have like kick, snare, rack and an arm that came out of the bass drum and with a cymbal and then a couple of months later I got a high hat and once I got the high hat stand. At the time it was 1986 and I kind of started playing cassettes then and I had like “Thriller” by Michael Jackson so songs like you know Billy Jean which is just pocket playing because it’s all like four on the floor and just laying it down.

Irish Drummers; Agreed, great grooves, really great grooves.
Johnny: You know ZZ Tops Eliminator, you listen to that record and the drums are so, metronomical and Frank Beard you know, so I started playing along to those albums and basically I started playing along to anything that came on the radio like, I remember things like Pink Floyd and the songs like “Alright Now” by Free.

Irish Drummers; Yeah, great songs alright.
Johnny: Which were very kind of rock beats, a lot of rock beats and I kind of got into that and I suppose you know by learning by ear I was getting a few drum lessons at the time  by a guy called Dave Mc Quillan. Dave is a kind of producer now, Dave would have produced all the Dustin albums you know like Dustin the Turkey but Dave is an exceptional drummer in his own right like he is a lovely guy and I didn’t see him for a long time and I met him last year or the year before when Steve Gadd was in town. What happened was, we spent a year playing my Stryker kit and then my dad kind of convinced me to go electric so I got a premier electronic kit which was basically four square pads. You had the snare two racks and the floor and there was the bass drum and I hated it, hated it and I was back to having no high hat stand because I sold the other kit.

Irish Drummers: That must have been awful
Johnny: So, I essentially had four practice bands and it had all this crap like after spending the year being so enthusiastic about drums. I spent the following year being kind of stuck with this electronic kit that I didn’t care for. So I kind of it’s not that I lost interest you know so I used to go down to the guys house that I sold the kit to and I kind of asked him could I play your drums – Ha, ha!! So I spent a year with this electronic kit and I lost a year so then when I got to about fourteen I got myself a Pearl Export. So I got rid of the electronic kit, got a Pearl Export in January of 1988/99 and in April of that year my dad bumped into Dave Brown. He was the singer in Picture House and in a local pub, because myself and Dave knew each other when we were kids. Dave was always a great singer, even when we were kids he was able to hold a tune and so Dave was saying to my dad, well we are in a band and the drummer is not great and my dad said oh my son plays the drums which can kind of be interpreted as Yeah you know Dave comes up to the house and I played my few kind of Larry Mullen drum beats.

Irish Drummers; He must have been impressed with you.
Johnny: So, he brought me up to rehearsals a week later and I met all these guys I was like fourteen and they were like twenty one/twenty two and ah I think I rehearsed a bit of  Thursday night and then Saturday night. I was gigging and that was it.

Irish Drummers; So, that was really your first professional band?
Johnny: Pretty much you know there was a band called Hidden Faces and like I was in school but I was still gigging all over Ireland  When I was sixteen, we went to Japan and things like that and I changed schools at sixteen and I wanted to do my Leaving Cert in a year.

Irish Drummers; How did that turn out?
Johnny: Bad idea, I ended up leaving this school about a month in because we had gotten this trip to Japan and so I went and did that which was amazing and then I came back and everything went into limbo for a few years.

Irish Drummers; So,were your drumming influences changing?
Johnny: Yeah because when you are twelve or thirteen you are not buying records all the time. I suppose now with downloading everyone is like let’s plug in my IPod here is my five hundred albums whereas back then you would have an album you know and  you would listen to it for six months, you would know every note that was played on it but back in kind of 1990/1991 Grunge started to come out. You know the whole Grunge scene was very, very influential, but I suppose the drummers I would really cite as a big influence were Matt Cameron who was from Sound Garden who is still out there still very prominent you know playing with Pearl Jam. He is one of the best rock drummers in the world. He is just amazing. Dave Grohl and Chad Smith from the Chilli Peppers. I actually was into the Chilli Peppers before the Grunge scene ever erupted. I was into the Chilli Peppers back in about ’89 you know just before Blood Sugar Sex Magic was going to come out, which is a phenomenal record. I have to say Chad Smith is one of the most giving drummers on the planet like everywhere he goes he leaves his mark. He just can drop into any college and do a clinic. He just gives so much back you know to people and he is a really, really nice guy and a phenomenal player. I got to play with him last year.

Irish Drummers; Wow, that must have been amazing!
Johnny: He came in to the college and I got up and did a bit you know but ah Faith No More,  you know Mike Patton from Faith No More a great drummer so that kind of to be honest with the nature of the music actually I remember sitting in my mum’s house I was about seventeen and “Smells like Teen Spirit” came on and for me that was like that I was seeing something that was going to change music  and it did. It did for a long time because  back then when the whole rave scene took off a lot of venues closed down, so there wasn’t a lot of places for bands to play anymore, it was cheaper for a publican to hire a DJ then it was to hire a band. But, definitely the grunge scene you know that high energy hitting the shit out of the kit, it’s not really based on technique. It’s based on just kind of laying in to it really. I should have been listening to people like Steve Gadd. I mean I could play Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover but you know I probably should have listened to more like musical drummers.

Irish Drummers; Can you give examples?
Johnny: You know like the Jim Carroll’s and the Steve Gadd’s. I mean guys I was listening to and people  like Matt Cameron and Will Calhoun like they were doing a shit lot of stuff.

Irish Drummers; Yeah, at this stage I suppose your drumming influences were changing and I’m guessing you were with Picture House at this stage?
Johnny: No, I was still a good five years off joining Picture House. I was still only a teenager. I was only a teenager and I was with a chap called Keith Farrell who also works in BIMM with me, he plays for Mundy and Cathy Davey. We played together a lot and we were in to Chad Smith together and we did the Duckworth Lewis album with Neil Hannon and Dillon Thomas. We did that record and I met Keith and he was an amazing kind of finger style slap bass player so we were able to like try and copy a lot of the bands that we were into at the time but it never really I suppose happened for us.  Well we got signed when I turned eighteen but our singer left us a few months later and we were giving him like fifty grand which would have kind of paid our rent for a couple of years you know but at the time being young and being stupid and naive I suppose lots of weird things happen. But to be honest with you nothing really happened for me until I was about twenty two, like musically I started playing with a chap called Andy White a singer/songwriter from Belfast.

Irish Drummers; That must have been brilliant
Johnny: He is a great singer like a really good singer/songwriter so I started touring with him and I did about a year with him and around that time I joined Picture House then about a year later, I also joined Lir as well. I was doing cover gigs as well and just kind of playing, like for me it’s all about playing because if you don’t have the facility to practice you know you just take on as many gigs as you can.

Irish Drummers; Yeah, I know what you mean.  So how did a guy at twenty two years of age, end up playing with Andy White, who would have been fairly well established?
Johnny: I was just cheap – ha ha!!   Well Andy I suppose didn’t have a lot of money to pay proper musicians so he would bring in younger guys. He was making an album with a guy called Kim Fowley. Do you know Kim Fowley, he would have been I think he assembled Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

Irish Drummers; Wow that’s fantastic!
Johnny: So Thomas from Pugwash sang a lot of back vocals on Andy’s album, but Andy wanted a band and so he gave me a shout and I showed up, I went out to Andy’s house in Dunlaoghaire and we had a jam. I remember showing up with a snare drum and a set of brushes and Andy’s son was only about two at the time and he saw the snare drum and the sound it made right and the funny thing is he is about eighteen now and he is a drummer.  All because of that day I showed up with brushes. It just shows you how even at two years of age you can see something and just have that obsession

Irish Drummers; Yeah, I know what you mean alright.
Johnny: And you know we keep on touch on Face book and he is a lovely guy and I still keep in touch with Andy and stuff like that, so anyway Andy led on to Picture House and then Picture House was about four or five years of touring & mayhem and hit records and you know we did very well, we were kind of like I suppose The Coronas now. We weren’t as big as The Coronas because back then we would never have gotten that big. But we had a very good run and we went around Europe, opening up for The Corrs and Meat Loaf.

Irish Drummers; When did you get for first endorsement?
Johnny: When I was in Picture House I approached Sabian cymbals and they gave me an endorsement so I have been with them ever since I have been with Sabian for nearly fifteen years you know. A guy called Jackie Lennon, he is a really cool guy and he is brilliant. He is a great support for drummers here.

Irish Drummers; Excellent, at that stage you were fairly accomplished. Were you reading music as well  or was it just all by ear?
Johnny: Well, most of it was by ear.  I had my few drum lessons and I could read music but I tend to figure out fills and stuff like that with my little cassette player, rewind, play, rewind. You know you spend days on end trying to figure stuff out. It was amazing when you’re young because you would have these challenges and you would just really try to work them out.  Regardless of your limited ability you know I mean, so again just playing by ear and by the time I joined Picture House I was listening to I suppose, I had gone through my Grunge phase and I was starting to listen to a guy called Darren Jessee who was from Ben Fold Five who was a phenomenal drummer, a really, really good drummer.  So, while I was in Picture House and even though I was listening to Metallica and loads of different styles of music I also tried to hone in on drummers that influenced the way I played with certain bands and I think that is very important like basically what I am saying is I would listen to them to see if there was any stuff I could nick, that I could use. You know music is all about plagiarism when you listen to you know when everyone always goes on about John Bonham’s intro to rock and roll and if you listen to it it’s from a Little Richard song, I can’t remember the name “You Keep On Knocking” I think it’s from the phrasing is slightly different but it is pretty much there.

Irish Drummers; When you were recording with Picture House were you working with a click at that stage?
Johnny: Was I working with a click? I think I was, possibly but I don’t know. But you know a lot of drummers have this thing about the click and this fear of the click and it’s just a case of sitting down and listening and just playing.  It’s actually for anyone who considers themselves to be a drummer, playing to a click is like it shouldn’t be, this huge mountain to climb.  It shouldn’t be, it’s not something I struggle with. You can play behind the beat, you can play ahead of it where drummers struggle with the click is when they go around the kit and they get on to that crash they are always that little bit ahead of the beat and then they have to going into chorus pull it back again. I had that problem myself at the beginning and now I tend to relax more into my fill, I don’t jump ahead.

Irish Drummers; Do you rather playing live or studio recording and what do you get the most fun out of?
Johnny: Well, I mean you are never going to beat doing a gig and everything is going well you know and the singer is doing a good job and everyone I suppose is locked in and then you have half a dozen or a load of girls smiling up at you and you are smiling back and nothing could go wrong. You are not going to beat that feeling but at the same time the studio and the live thing they are two totally separate entities, they are completely different you know. The studio is quiet laborious for example doing karma and with Picture House I sat in the kitchen for two or three weeks working on those songs you know endless from ten in the morning to six o clock every day with our producer and a band in a kitchen. I was playing the hot rods and brushes to keep the volume down but it was just playing them again and again and again and listening and just trying to find good arrangements and good ideas and under the guidance of we had a guy called Pete Glenister actually. He was a great producer and  Pete was a kind of a songwriter as well and he would have written songs for like Alison Moyet and Mary Coughlan. He was the guitar player I think for Bros and he was a guitar player for Terence Trent Darby and his first album you know touring guitar player and  so working with those people was really good. It was a real eye opener because you realise how much every now and then you get a song that comes easy but generally it’s what do they say it’s ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration. There is a lot of that involved and just going at it and doing it again and again so you know I did learn a lot from it back then and that was back pre Pro Tools as well you know and then all of a sudden Pro Tools erupted and then we would go in and do three takes and some guy would edit you, edit your take to make you sound like the busiest drummer in the world so I didn’t like that and it kind of made me lazy for a bit because I would kind of go in and go oh Yeah whatever you know mistakes and all and they would edit it all whereas now even in Pro Tool I would try to do a full take and if I need to fix one or two things fine but generally I try to because I mean back when I was a teenager you would have to rehearse the song to death to get it right in the studio because there was no fixing things you know there was no moving a snare here and there.

Irish Drummers; You just had to get it in the pocket every time. Did you find when you were arranging songs did you have a hundred percent control over what you played or did the producer or the other lads in the band say how you should play the song?.
Johnny: Well, it’s always been collaborative and it’s never been I think when you are in a band you kind of are in a band because the other musicians like what you do, they like playing with you. There was an element of trust there especially in Picture House. I mean Angus was a great bass player, Geoff was a great keyboard player, and we had Duncan an English guy on guitar who was a very good musician, so all very, very good we were all very much in tune with one another. So there was no kind of telling me what to play, but stuff would be suggested alright as much as I would suggest stuff back but I always find that some of the suggestions I do and you take that idea and you try to emulate it and make it better and like ok that’s good but how about this, you know. So I mean I like working that way, I don’t like being told what to do, do you know what I mean but yeah I mean if your just hired to play and people don’t want your opinion it kind of can be a cold experience. Generally people hire you because of what you do and they like what you do.

Irish Drummers; I suppose you are one of the few Irish drummers I know really who take a song like Sunburst and you actually start the song with your fill and I suppose the only other person I can think of kind of doing that is Larry Mullen Jr. with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” like where did that idea spring from?
Johnny: I’m glad you asked me that because at the time I was listening to ah Ben Fold Five and their second album and there was a song  called “The Battle of who could care less” and they had this fill like the drummer plays this la da do do do and  so I remember listening to it and the lads were like let’s start this song with a bit of a fill and I was like da do do do so I just kind of took his fill and made it into my own thing so again like the Bonham thing where he took that, I just took the phrasing of Darren Jessee's fill and it goes on and on and I just thought I can add something to it but at the time you know I wouldn’t have been a very delicate drummer. It was all Yeah I love cymbals and so it was a kind of a quiet full on kind of fill you know and I mean up to that point the previous album was a very acoustic kind of record . I was always pushing for a kind of you know one with a bit more balls you know so Sunburst was probably the ballsiest song I think Picture House ever had and it was the biggest hit they ever had and to open the song you know with a drum fill, I am very happy about that and I am very proud of it you know. I suppose it’s kind of the equivalent of like a guitar rift.

Irish Drummers; Yeah, it’s your signature on that.
Johnny: Yeah, it’s when you hear a guitar rift at that start of a song you know, it’s the same thing and it’s nice that the drums can do that you know and kind of stand out and I think the minute you hear it you know what song it is.

Irish Drummers; You left  before the finishing of the second album with Picture House. Was there a reason for that?
Johnny: I’ll put it down to basically, that the album wasn’t any good.

Irish Drummers; Right can you expand on that?
Johnny: You know Duncan Maitland who is our guitar player was a kind of very important person when it came to the writing of the songs and he left the band. Now he was a very difficult person to be on the road with because ah there are some people you meet that are team players and others that aren’t and I mean I don’t want to get bitchy like but Duncan is a phenomenal musician and I totally respect him but he was a tough guy to be on the road with and touring I don’t think suited him really you know, but  Duncan left so the quality of the song writing dropped because it was left to kind of Dave the singer to write all the songs on the third album it was Karmarama the second album and Shine Box the first one after Karmarama we released a live album. We did five nights at the HQ which is now The Academy.   We recorded a live album put it out, it went top ten did pretty well and stuff like that. It was a real kind of let’s put that out so we can buy ourselves time to make the next record you know well that’s kind of how I felt about it anyway.  So, we went to Sweden and we spent a considerable amount of money making a record and you know the fact that I wrote one of the songs on the album proves kind of testimony to it kind of being an inferior record than the previous two you know and it just wasn’t a great record and I knew that going over well it’s not that I knew that going over but once I had done my drums I kind of knew that coming home that you know we had booked a studio for six weeks in Sweden and the drums were done in two days, two and a half days you know where you might spend a week doing the drums like it was all very quick and so it wasn’t really I don’t think ,it was something really that I was going to be proud of!

Irish Drummers; Ok so what happened then?
Johnny: You know so but at the same time you I had nothing else on the horizon and that’s the thing about music, unless you’re the singer or you’re the driving force behind any act, but if you’re the drummer you follow the work. I mean every band I have been in, I suppose I have been asked to be in.  I have never formed a band, not really. I don’t think I ever have so I suppose there is a certain flattery involved in that you know. I think I spent four and a half years in Picture House and the life had gone out of it.

Irish Drummers; Any regrets?
Johnny: It was the best time of my life with all of those guys, I loved them all and you know a great bunch of heads but every band has a shelf life and you have a time where you are creatively at your peak and you move on from that. In my personal life at this stage I was about twenty eight and I met a woman and she got pregnant, intentionally not unintentionally. I mean we were like quiet blaze about things and we were like let’s have a baby because I fell madly in love, so we had a baby and while she was pregnant the Picture House thing was kind of fizzling out and I got a call out of the blue and Marianne Faithfull was putting a band together so I got the call for that. I went to Scotland, met the guys from Glasgow and rehearsed with her. It was like an audition, rehearsal it wasn’t like there was a load of guys lined up to audition it was just us four guys, here is your band you either like it or you don’t. It was very much kind of one of those things and she came in and I remember she said to me we were about two songs into rehearsal and she turns around and goes “Why the fuck are you not singing” I was like ok so I had done a bit of BB’s with Picture House and then all of a sudden I had a mike and am I sang on nearly every song of that woman’s tour like you know for that tour I sang on nearly every song and she was great like she is rock and roll royalty. I got to spend a year with her with a bunch of guys from Scotland ah Brian McFie who is  a guitar player. He was in a band called the Big Dish. There was a guy called Andy May on key boards a talented key board player. He has gone on to play with people like Lou Reed and stuff and there was a guy called Garry John Kane on bass. Garry John now plays with The Proclaimers. He has been on tour with them for the last four or five years and well those guys were great because  I had walked out of this band into a new outfit. It was my first time out of the comfort zone really and with a bunch of guys I didn’t know and I remember going to Glasgow and staying in a hotel on my own for the audition and eating my little Marks & Spencer salad in my room and kind of going I hope this works out and they were the best bunch of guys ten years later I am still in touch with them, still friends, like I go and stay with them and they come and stay with me.

Irish Drummers; So, you got a call to go and play with Marianne Faithfull so is it a case that before you head over did you have her albums or like how did you prepare for something like that?
Johnny: You know I had been to see her about a year or two before, she played in Vicar Street so I went to see her so I kind of got her vibe if you know what I mean.

Irish Drummers; Yeah indeed.
Johnny: I got certain songs. I had to learn, went over and she was just lovely and I went from being somebody in a band that was kind of fading out to all of a sudden being involved in something where I was getting paid money that I never seen before you know. I was getting paid really good money. I got to travel the world kind of luxuriously really. She respects her musicians and looks after them and I was really well looked after.

Irish Drummers; That’s great.
Johnny: You know, I can’t thank her enough like the day my first daughter was born I was playing a gig with her in France and like again she would introduce her band every night and you know, we would play gigs and I went to Chicago and played a gig with Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins.

Irish Drummers; Wow, that’s incredible!
Johnny: Phil Kruzel who is regarded as one of the greatest guitar players in the world. He did a few gigs he was a really nice guy and you know sometimes you are sitting there and you’re kind of going what the fuck am I doing sitting here? You know, some lad from Dublin like just landed on his feet. I suppose, I am a firm believer in luck but I do believe in making your own luck.

Irish Drummers; Agreed, but of course if you didn’t have the chops, if you didn’t have the skills, it just wouldn’t have happened.
Johnny: But, you see I am not a chops player. I consider myself to be kind of a pocket player you know in the sense that I don’t do drum solos. I am all about the song, playing for the song and I think that is what my position in BIMM is, like it is a good position to be in because everything you teach there is all about playing for the song, simple ideas executed well and you know just as much as I love Buddy Rich and I love all the guys who run riot around the drum kit. I am as happy just going like drat, drat you know playing Billy Jean you know because I have seen plenty of drummers playing four on the floor with absolutely no feel  and I feel it’s very important. But I was never a big rudimentary guy. I survived on single strokes, double strokes and paradiddles that’s what I survived on and the great thing about the college is now  it’s really opened my mind to everything else. Every now and again you need a bit of a push to instil your kind of enthusiasm of playing because you can get a bit like sometimes you can hit a wall, you know.

Irish Drummers; Yeah I know.  I agree with you there.
Johnny: I remember Ringo, saying on The Anthology, he said I have reached a point in my life where I played every fill I knew. I played every beat I could come up with. I was dumb, like I was dumb I just couldn’t. I had nothing else to give. I know what that feeling is like as a player, like when you just hit that wall when you just think you know Jesus, Christ am I going to get any better, but luckily enough I think technically I was a better player at twenty you know almost twenty years later I am not far off forty, I think I am more of a musical player, not so much a technical player.

Irish Drummers; Right Yeah, I know what you mean.
Johnny: All I ever wanted to be I remember when I heard the opening track of Dark Side of the Moon, you know Breathe where the bass is going do do, ba bum bum bum and it almost feels like what a simple, like the simplicity but it’s what is right because if he went like if he went do, do , do it just wouldn’t sound right you know so you know, I like simple things that work you know. I am not a show off, I am not a drum solo guy, I am just kind of all about the song and am I suppose that is what’s really  like. I love guys like Steve Jordan.  I mean Steve Jordan was in the Blues Brothers band in his early twenties and he has gone on to play with like John Mayer and that but he is just a killer groover. I do like guys like Carter Beauford and stuff like that and Dave Matthews band well I like the first two albums and after that I couldn’t listen anymore. I can appreciate it for its technical proesque but ah

Irish Drummers; What is the difference between Irish drummers and other drummers?  What makes an Irish drummer unique?
Johnny: Well, the Irish drummers I listened to growing up were like Fran Breen, like Fran I don’t know Fran much but we are Face book friends. I wanted to send him a message but he plays on Paul Brady’s Hard Station, that’s an album that has been embedded in my psyche for many years.  It’s an album I love and I got to play with Paul in Vicar Street about a month ago. It was surreal, it was a bit of a dream come true because the first gig I ever did my dad took me to Paul Brady in The Olympia and we snuck in to a box and we watched the gig and we watched him and it was just him solo. So thirty years, nearly to play with him and invite my dad down it was very nice you know but guys like him and Larry Mullen Jr. Like I said to Larry Mullen Jr I said Larry you have no idea but you have been a big influence on my playing. Like I did the Meteor awards one year with The Frames and we won best Irish act and we beat U2 anyway and  I had only joined The Frames a couple of months before and anyway, but I met Larry and the band, very humble, very kind like not a lot of people say that. All they talk about is drumming like I am sure he is one of those guys who everyone talks about and everyone talks about how great U2 are and maybe they don’t say how great a drummer he is because you know how many amazing drum technicians are out there can play all the chops in the universe but you listen to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or “Under a Blue Red Sky” and you know who is playing those drums the minute you hear it

Irish Drummers; You do Yeah.
Johnny: Those great technicians you know don’t get the opportunity to come up with something so simple but it works. Well, I mean there is nothing wrong with you know having chops or anything like that I mean I think the American drummers  are technically, like the guys we all know about the Travis Barker’s and stuff like that and they are all kind of guys that ended up in jazz ensembles and stuff like that in school. They ended up in marching core bands and stuff like that but they are highly trained you know.

Irish Drummers; That’s right Yeah, these guys are technically brilliant.
Johnny: There are great facilities for all these drummers you know.

Irish Drummers; Yeah, that’s exactly it.
Johnny: So, basically Irish drummers have kind of been struggling without any of those results, we are very much self thought to a degree. I mean some guys went to Johnny Waddem and Mark Russ teaches as well like they are some great guys teaching out there like Conor Guilfoyle like do you know Conor Guilfoyle? Conor is a good friend of mine, phenomenal jazz drummer like it’s funny because I spent a year teaching music for Conor and I didn’t know what to expect I thought he might be a bit of a jazz slam like and he was completely the opposite you know he appreciates guys that are good at what they do in whatever genre it is so I think Irish drummers you know it’s very much by ear you know that’s very much talking about we will say the Graham Hopkins and the Binzers and you know the guy from The Coronas. All of those guys you know they are very much self thought but  now in the last few years myself I suppose I have gotten more into music notation.

Irish Drummers; So reading music gives you an advantage.
Johnny: What is great about reading is it makes your left hand do things that your left hand wouldn’t do if you were listening by ear because you know like Bonham and all those guys all those rock guys in the late sixties like Ian Paice. You know people always go on about Dave Grohl, you know Bonham  and if you actually study like Ian Paste I think Grohl got more from Ian Paice than he did from Bonham.

Irish Drummers; Do you feel you were just in to enjoying the music?
Johnny: Yeah, I know what you mean I was just in to music really you know I wasn’t in to being the best drummer in the world or anything like that I was just in to playing what is right for the song and trying to I suppose to realise whatever song writer you are working for or whatever musicians to realise their vision or whatever it is that they want and trying to compliment what the other guys are doing and I think what you were trying to say to me on the phone the other night, what makes drummers so unique in their own style of playing. It is what I am saying it is from learning by ear because when you are learning by ear you are immediately  involved in a situation where you are writing with bass players and guitar players you are listening and you become a good listener. We are like the psychologists of the music world – ha ha! Because we are listening to everybody and you know that is pretty much it and you know you try to be sympathetic to the song you know and sometimes you try and just that is it really like you try and complement what other people are doing and you know without being like I know plenty of guys that are kind of showy but might be over playing like I hate guys who are overplaying and showy.

Irish drummers; I know what you mean just doing it for the sake of doing it Yeah.  Just a couple of questions Johnny if there was a time capsule being put together in the morning and if someone asked you for  three records that you were most proud of and you would like to be remembered for, what would they be ….
Johnny: That I played on? Ok right, well first of all I suppose ah Karmonarma only because it is probably the most commercially successful record that I have played on, well to a degree. It brought us around Europe, I mean, I remember doing you know three and four week arena tours around Europe with The Corrs and I remember going on tour with Meat Loaf for like two and half months playing arenas every night and I remember we were the opening act and we only had to play half an hour every night and we would be done by half eight so I was like holiday you know absolute holiday like Karmonarma definitely it’s a record I am proud of because do you know what it is it’s when you are with a bunch of guys and it just kind of locks in and everybody is looking in the same direction.  Another record which sold fuck all and it was the Lir live album and probably they had a great drummer called Craig Hutchinson.

Irish Drummers; I know, Yeah.
 Johnny: Craig, he is a bit of a recluse now and he doesn’t play and he hasn’t played in many years but you know he has made a massive contribution to music and I met him when I was about seventeen or eighteen and I thought he was an asshole right and then I met him years later when I was playing with Lir. He is somebody who I will champion for many years and because he has influenced me so much and he was a drummer who had so much style and flair and to get to play with a band like Lir and we did this live album and you know we just put it out. There are no over dubs there is no tidying things up. It is what it is and it speeds up in certain places and it slows down it’s some of the best drumming I have ever committed  to record because it kind of  stretches me really because you know I have got to pull out some chops and do what I do and then I suppose other records woo! Probably the first Pugwash record because that was such a pleasure to make. Jollity it was called and I recorded the drums for that  in a place down on the quays called The Funnel and remember this is like you know back in the time when there was no budget, there was no money, there was no gear but we kind of got gear in and we did the drums and then a lot of the rest of the album was recorded in my house like I lived with my dad, lived in the mountains and we had this house where we could make a bit of noise so you know and it was just a good time because we had spent the day recording and then we would spend the night hanging out and having a few jars and a bit of craic. You know I did four albums with Pugwash, the first album we did the whole album, the second album I did a couple of songs and the third album I did a couple of songs and then the fourth album I did all the songs. I mean all the songs after that we did The Duckworth Lewis album like I am very proud of the Duckworth Lewis thing because I suppose somebody like Neil Hannon probably felt  I was a very loud drummer you know and guys like him are used to playing with more delicate drummers. I remember  the last Pugwash album we launched in Whelan’s with Neil on keys and his keys were set up just to the left of my high hat so he was getting full on snare right and he basically just said I am the loudest drummer he has ever heard in his life right and I took the head of him but we had  Neil on keys we had Nelson Bragg on percussion. Nelson has just been on tour with The Beach Boys last year  and Brian Wilson he was only in Dublin a couple of weeks ago, I was hanging around with him and I took him out and we had Dave Gregory from XTC on Guitar as well. So that was a real start of a great night but The Duckworth Lewis method thing, I did the song called The Nightwatchman and I think Neil's perception of me was ah he is to loud, he is too rock if you know what I mean. I don’t think Neil felt I had that delicate approach and not that he ever said it to me I just kind of heard it second hand, second hand news and I went in and made this song which was Neil Road for the album it’s one of my favourite songs on the record and you know I put A4 pages on all the drums, the snare and the toms and I put out the frequency and I played it with very light sticks. It was kind of a sixteen note high hat pattern and I fecken nailed it you know and it’s something I am very proud of. I am proud of the fact that was the song that convinced him ok Yeah, he is not just the big rock hard hitting guy, he can do the more delicate stuff as well so I am very proud of that.

Irish Drummers; Excellent, you must have delighted with the album
Johnny: That album was nominated for an Ivor Novello and it was nominated for a Choice Music Prize, it was nominated for a Meteor Prize. It was nominated for all of those things but you know it’s funny because ah Thomas from Pugwash went to the Ivor Novells and he is outside and Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran comes up to him and he says oh I love your album he says you know and me and Yasmin we listen to it on our yacht all the time and I’m thinking there is Thomas like living in his bedsit in Crumlin thinking fuck you and your Yacht – ha ha!  You know, but Yeah.

Irish Drummers; Oh brilliant.
Johnny: But you know, there are a lot of younger singers up and coming I kind of try and help them out but to be honest I haven’t even gotten into The Frames thing yet you know after the Marianne Faithful thing. I joined The Frames and I asked for six months playing a lot of bullshit covers gigs and then I got a call from Binzer, actually Binzer actually rang me from Australia and he was like here Johnny Yeah, can you do a couple of Frames gigs for me over Christmas because I was depping for him at The Classic Beatles. I had met Glen about eight months before that and Glen was like Yeah, we will be giving you a shout kind of thing because they were using Binser and Graham. They were kind of tag team drummers at the time and they needed a regular guy so Binser put me forward for it and he rings me from Australia saying can you cover me for a few gigs and then he basically says look can you do the whole Irish tour and says because he had commitments with other bands so I ended up doing two weeks Olympia and wherever around Ireland you know and ah two weeks turned into four years  you know and a few months later I remember  we went to and around  America opening up for Damien Rice for six weeks and that was great, Tomo, who is Damien’s drummer as well, great guy,  I learned a lot from him especially regarding playing with brushes and John Convertino from Calexico another brush player he is a kind of you know goes off camping with his dogs kind of guy you know you start kind of talking about drums he is not interested. An amazing player, a real kind of base ball cap wearing Arizona guy you know but he is a cool guy, he is a great player, a great player.

Irish Drummers; So you were with The Frames for four years?
Johnny: Yeah, but that was a funny one because Graham was recording the albums with them and I was there live, I was their touring brother basically.

Irish Drummers; Was that so, where you were kind of replicating what Graham was doing or were you just putting your own style on it? 
Johnny: I am a firm believer if you hear a song and if you can’t find a way to emulate that, if it’s ok the way it is, well then it is ok to play it that way and you know I have seen drummers in the past and I have seen it on records in the past where I have gone in on the launch like you know and some drummer is sitting in and playing the tracks I have played on and I remember one night and I won’t say who it is but the drummer basically changed every single thing I did on the record

Irish Drummers; Oh God, that must have been weird!
Johnny:  And you know for example a song that was just pocket four on the floor like this guy was  playing like a samba over it and it was just so ridiculous. It was almost like  I felt  this guy has made a decision like I am not going to play like anything he has played on the record regardless of whether it works or not. Music needs to have space I suppose. I’m all about playing in the pocket you know I am not on about big elongated fills or kind of like simple, simple drummer I consider myself to be a drummer of limited ability to the largest  degree you know I’m not the Larry Mullin, slightly a few more jobs than Larry Mullin but not like you know I ain’t no virtuouso like I don’t play jazz, I don’t play Latin but again I just try to be sympathetic for the song and like again that’s really what it is about and to be honest with you it’s always about feeding off the guys you are in the room with. I’m always about feeding off what they do really it’s not like I am ever sitting there going I am not doing this I’m always kind of listening and to spark off an idea or something like that and that is important to me as well and being with the right people that you are comfortable around like Aongus Ralston who is the bass player with Picture House his brother Gavin has a studio down in Wicklow. I do a lot of kind of session work for him and kind of stuff like that you know, when I work with him and his brother like Gav plays guitar and engineers and Aongus plays bass and when it’s just the three of us like working with a singer/songwriter it’s nice to be in a position where people trust your opinion and you can just go ok guys let’s do it this way.

Irish Drummers; Do you feel it’s important for the drummer to influence the song?
Johnny: I find as a drummer you do get to dictate the dynamic in the song whereas sometimes you might say let’s do those brushes where it needs a more delicate approach whereas if you go at it with sticks it’s going to be too loud and so I mean working with people and I mean I worked with people I haven’t been comfortable with either and am it’s been a tug of war where they want things one way and you want it another way and you are kind of  thinking well ok so have you heard me as a puppet on a string or have you heard me give my opinion? I had one situation once where I kind of did the classic George Harrison where I was like I will play whatever you want me to play you know, not what I wanted to do but felt what was right for the song, you know but again all I am about the song, that is why I am, I gravitate towards guys like Mick Mason and Ringo and like John Bonham was like leagues ahead of those guys but I love watching Buddy Rich and I love watching The Jazzers and I love watching Thomas Lang or Steve Smyth or Aaron Spears or for me actually in the last couple of years my big regret is not having studied Steve Gadd more.

Irish Drummers; Right, you a big fan of Gadd’s?
Johnny: I think Steve Gadd is like the most musical drummer that has ever lived like he just plays the drums like it is a musical instrument. I got to meet him in Xmusic there a couple of years ago and he is a lovely guy and he is just dead cool and you know I have started to kind of study some of the back catalogue and it is just kind of Steely Dan and whatever you know and Steely Dan is a band I didn’t get into until later on, when I was seventeen and eighteen you know I was still in that rebellious phase of listening to grunge and punk. I was never about chops, I was always about hitting drums as hard as you can and making a racket but at the same time it was always, I don’t know, it was just playing with energy but whereas I have only in the last few years gotten more into technique and I have changed my grip a few times and I don’t hit the drums as hard and I suppose things like that I suppose are important but you never stop learning. I suppose all you can do is follow the journey. I don’t want to get to philosophical but ah.

Irish Drummers;So, Johnny if someone comes up to you in the morning and is just starting out on a drumming career what is the best advice that you could give?
Johnny: The key bit of advice is to listen, listen to what other people are doing you know I mean listen to what your bass player is doing actually Jimmy Chamberlin from The Smashing Pumpkins one of my favourite drummers of all time. When I was with Marianne Faithfull, we played in Chicago actually the night I played with Billy Corgan and he was in at the time. So, I go up to the dressing room like a half an hour before we go on and I walk into the dressing room and go like there is Billy Corgan and Zwan and there is Joe the guitar player from Aerosmith. But when I saw all of the Zwan guys I saw Jimmy Chamberlin I went straight over. I was like you know a total fan and he was at the gig and we swapped emails and like you know for example I said to him look can you give me any pointers or can you put me on to the George Lauren Stone book stick control, do you know that book. It has endless amounts of rudiments and he put me on to that and he was very supportive and we sent a couple of emails back and forth

Irish Drummers; Wow that’s amazing!
Johnny: I bumped into him because Rob the guitar player from The Frames, he was  from Chicago and knows me from Chicago so I would be playing festivals and I remember being at South by Southwest Festivals and I was standing, like I was that close to the kit I was standing by the bass amp just watching him play and another time I was basically behind the kit and we were doing some festival like the V Festival or whatever and you know I remember walking up to him and he was like Yeah it’s my little Irish friend you know and it’s all hugs and high fives and I stepped behind and I just literally like step behind at the curtain kind of like watching him play like he is quiet a light player  but man he is just ridiculous like he is one of my favourite drummers ever. He is a guy who brought jazz into the same way Mitch Mitchell brought jazz into kind of rock with Jimmy Hendrix you know. He was very much a jazzer you know like guys like that I really like you know and Wilco, Chad Smith, Ringo and God who else, I mean there are so many drummers you know from teaching, Stewart Copeland who could leave him out.

Irish Drummers; From The Police yeah, brilliant drummer.
Johnny: But again, they are all drummers that have played on great songs you know like for example I don’t say Dave Weckl. Dave Weckl has never played on anything like I would be in to but I appreciate the genius that he is and the technically brilliant drummer that he is but you know Thomas Lang? Thomas Lang came in to the college last year but in fairness to him you know he said I am as happy playing Ticket to Ride as I am playing Buddy Rich. He is as influenced by those guys so like he is very much another drum technician where he is a genius at the drums and he was like a really, really nice guy and I took a lot from him and he gave a lot of advice to the kids and you see these guys who are on top of their game and even from their playing you learn so much about them just hanging out and talking about their career you know. Because I think you know I’m still working, I’m still doing it I can’t believe I am still doing it after all these years you know at twenty, I was thinking at twenty five if it hasn’t happened I am done you know.

Irish Drummers; So, what’s the five year plan? 
Johnny: There has never been a plan that is what’s great about it the plan is just to follow, follow whatever comes up.  Am, I have never been proactive in setting up bands like I have talked about it and I have talked to people about it and we always go let’s do this and lets to that and you know I had a few ideas but I mean I have got kids and a lot of the musicians I play with have kids now and we kind of tend to do whatever we are doing like gig wise, recording wise and we go home we kind of hang out at home. So, I got sick of touring and you know twelve years of touring and then when my kids were born, I found it harder and harder, I didn’t find it harder to go way.  I found the flying, I found flying to be a nightmare.

Irish Drummers; That must have been tough.
Johnny: Yeah, actually flying. With The Frames I did a tour, with the last year I played with them we opened up for Bob Dylan around New Zealand and Australia for three weeks. I was taking all these obscene amount of flights you know and I wasn’t a big fan of flying and then we came home after that and we had about a week off and we went to America and we spent about three weeks flying around America and it was like ah you know ah but with The Frames I knew once it came out the Oscar thing was on the horizon I knew even before it happened.  I thought Glen is going to go to London with Marketa because they were making the one album anyway regardless of the one soundtrack they were doing a thing and I saw that going that way and I thought The Frames is going to be put on the back burner and I was just a hired guy anyway so I knew that was going to go on the hiatus for a while so we did New Years Eve in Vicar Street in 2007/2008 and I kind of thought Yeah I knew it was my last gig. I knew it was my last gig even probably before they did and that’s ok I mean I got hired to do a job, I got paid for what was requested of me and they looked after me  and they were a good bunch of guys and you know Glen was really talented and I really enjoyed playing with him you know, really, really enjoyed it. You know when they are a band and  you are not really in the band if you know what I mean?
It’s nice to be in a band you know but that’s nobody’s fault, it’s not my fault, it’s not their fault it’s just kind of the way it is really but you know everybody I have played with it has been an amazing experience. I mean for example I play with a band called Spring Break now. Spring Break is a wedding band they do American eighties, they dress up in the gear and you know I remember back in the kind of the late nineties there were bands like Boogey Nights and Abbaesque and all those tribute bands and it’s kind of like a show band but what those guys give me is they give me the security of having a regular gig and bringing in regular money and that’s kind of important you know. I mean I am no spring chicken anymore, there are  certain things you don’t do anymore I mean there are certain things you do when you are in your twenties that you are prepared to do that you are not prepared to do in your thirties you know.

Irish Drummers; Yeah, I know what you mean.
Johnny: And a lot of the guys I know out there are playing in wedding bands or cover bands or whatever and then you are trying to fill in the gaps with playing with various kind of solo artists or whatever then.

Irish Drummers; I suppose things are different to when you were in your twenties.
Johnny: They are yeah, like I can’t spend a lot of time like working with people, like nowadays you have a car to run, you have to tax and insure it, you have got to put petrol into it, so if people want you to show you know well years ago with Picture House we had our own van, we had all of those things where you get picked up and you get dropped off I mean you know. But am, yeah do you know what I feel very privileged, I feel very lucky, I have made my own luck, I have been incredibly nice to people, I am a little bit grumpier now the older I am. You know I am a probably less tolerant but am I mean working in the college has been a real kind of step up for me because it kind of makes you feel appreciated for what you do because as I say like I am a half decent talker. But I am not I don’t think I am any great shakes as far as drummers go, I see a lot of these drummers now like a lot of the young kids they have got You Tube and all these facilities and young drummers are learning so fast now and you know you are trying to keep up with them and I think the whole gospel kind of drumming style now all of the mad triple d paradiddles induced fills have become very popular with drummers now. I would  like to learn a few but I still like to I don’t want to start playing like everybody else, I just want to play the way I play.

Irish Drummers; That’s your style, that is why you made it you know.
Johnny: Well, I think I have resigned myself to the fact ok I am this kind of drummer and I am not going to spend a lot of time practising anymore because I don’t have the time you know and I suppose there is that balance of trying to maintain your own professional job and then kind of you know do the family thing as well, you know what I mean?  So, the college thing for me works very well but I am still gigging like I still do close to two hundred gigs a year, you know.

Irish Drummers; Incredible  Johnny, that’s phenomenal.
Johnny: Do you know what I mean and I have gigged for the last nearly twenty years. I have done easily you know a hundred gigs a year like you know I have done a couple of thousand like two or three thousand gigs at this stage under my belt and that seems to be where I mean that I am not so much a studio drummer. I mean I do studio stuff with lots of people and I consider myself a live drummer I suppose as much as I love, I love working in the studio with people because if I find a competent songwriter the song just plays itself, you don’t have to think too much, you don’t have to maybe that is a case of I found with the Pugwash thing. I would go in and I would record the Pugwash album in a day or two you know and then it was just done and Thomas’s songs were very complete and very easy to play along to and a lot of the time you were just doing the Ringo fills and playing too but it’s a feel thing and it’s whatever is right for the song and now and then a couple of times you might get to do something a bit out there or a bit quirky or whatever you know. So yeah like I just mean I just suppose I feel I’m blessed really you know. I mean I suppose would I have a reputation that precedes maybe in Ireland. I do to a degree really from the people I have played it and it’s kind of nice to know really.

Irish Drummers; Johnny what kind of kit are you playing with at the moment?
Johnny:  I have been playing for the last few years a reference, a pearl reference.It’s not my favourite kit that I have played, I had a BLX for years which I would have recorded the Picture House album on which is Birch,  BLA  Birch,  Pearl  Kit you know which served me well. For gigging now I use a twenty. Well it’s kind of handy for throwing in the car and I used the twenty two for years you know but I have always kind of gone between a twenty and a twenty two. But, I also play you know between a twelve and a fourteen.  You know the fourteen inch floor tom is fine for doing gigs but if I am doing a rock gig I will break out the twenty two or twelve and then sixteen.

Irish Drummers; So like yeah, let’s run through it ok, so you have played with Picture House, The Frames,  Marianne Faithfull, Pugwash, Duckworth Lewis, have we missed anyone?
Johnny: Well, I mean I got to do a lot of TV work as well over the years. I got to  play with like Elton John & Westlife and as much as I hate fucken Westlife you know you get that call on the Wednesday you know, do you want to be on The Late Late with Westlife and as much as I hate Westlife, Sophie Ellis Baxter, Atomic Kitten and ah God who else but do you know I gigged with Mundy there back in June. I played with the classic Beatles, who else to be honest with you, there are a lot of things that if I don’t write it down it gets deleted from the memory banks you know. Damien Dempsey you know, like that I did one gig with Damien Yeah, Damo is a great bloke you know.

Tom: That is brilliant yeah. As a matter of interest what Elton John song was it?
Johnny: It was “Your Song” and you know Ronan Keating was doing a duet and it was the Meteor Awards or something and that was only miming. But you know these are things you can stick on your CV. But the next day on the Evening Herald there was a picture of Elton John giving Ronan Keating a big hug and I am sitting behind the kit clapping so it’s the two lads and me in the photo so I was like – great you know that will be one for the books and that will be one for the album book, yeah.

Irish Drummers; That’s brilliant Johnny , thanks.

Date; 30/10/2012
Location; Just of Grafton StreetDublin.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Dave Hingerty is one of Ireland’s best known drummers. He has played with The Frames and Josh Ritter and has a fabulous drumming C.V

How did you get started playing the drums?
I remember being bought an old Tama Blue Sparkle kit and given a book about snare drum exercises but there were two brothers living across the street who were in a band and the older brother was a drummer but he only had dustbins, chair legs, things like that and he wasn’t really any good and I was about to go off to get drum lessons and they said they would like to have me in the band as a possible drummer and the key was whoever had a drum kit was going to get the job and I took over from the brother with his dustbins and stuff and that was the first local band that I was involved in. I stuck close with that and there was a really brilliant guitar player called Diarmuid Ryan and I stuck close with him and we used to jam together for a couple of years in my bedroom and we were like a two piece Led Zeppelin cover band. That was great, really good early memories.

Did you play in many bands in those early years?
I was always fickle by nature and I tried to play in as many bands as possible, through school including college and after college. I did go to University and I got my degree in psychology and that was in University College Dublin. I never really felt like I was going to use it but it was something to fall back on.

Are you glad you obtained your degree?
 I have to say it was a good decision because the music business isn’t a secure business and I find that a lot of musicians come across as being very insecure. Gigs are like gold dust some times and some musicians can be really nasty in the way they get them and try and hold on to them and it can be quite tough out there. I always felt more secure because I had some thing there to fall back on but my vocation was drums and I knew that by the time I was 14 years of age. But having that university degree behind me did make me feel more secure. I would say to my own kids now to try and do something in their social life to be cool and to try and move up the social ladder and I never felt like I had to do anything, or do anything out of the ordinary, or do anything that I didn’t want to do because I already had the cool cred by being a drummer. It made me feel that I didn’t have to do anything that I didn’t want to do. I got great confidence out of that and I was getting pats on the back socially because I was a drummer so it was great growing up at that time and not having to prove myself all the time not like a lot of kids do in their formative years but anyway getting back to after college I was always working with five or six different songwriters until the time I got in to The Frames and then I suppose I more or less dedicated my time to them  whatever it was for five years I think from 1998 to 2003.

Looking back was there a history of music in your family?
No, although my grandfather was one of three brothers that played in the Liberties brass band and his wife, my grandmother played piano so yes they were the musical side of the family and the funny thing is that I’m now working in the Liberties with BIMM College.
There’s a new BIMM College which is supposed to have the best of Rock & Roll musicians. Myself, Johnny Boyle and Graham Hopkins we’re teaching in there so it’s a nice full circle to be hanging out in the area where my Grandad was reared.  The BIMM college is a rock & roll degree course.  This summer they asked me to write and develop a second year course. I was really delighted to be asked and they asked me to put a little bit of an Irish twist on it. So this is probably interesting for you. They asked me to include as many Irish drummers as possible. So I was picking stuff from The Frames, U2, Thin Lizzy just to make sure I represented the Irish side of things as well. Third year or fourth year courses – they were developed by English/Americans teachers and there weren’t any Irish drummers. So I like to think I added a little bit with lots of references to Irish drummers.

From the start of your career did you feel it was important to be able to read music?
No, that kind of evolved. In order to survive in the music business I found it hugely important to be able to read music. I was very conscious and thinking to myself if I could play drums and play percussion I would be twice as employable and that’s the way it works. Then I ended up at the most ridiculous and embarrassing gigs – we could be playing rock drums one week and the next week I remember we were down at Kerry airport playing with belly dancers and ankle bells and playing a tarcucon drum with coloured trousers. It was such an embarrassing moment, no rock and roll cred there at all. So anyway I was open enough to do pretty much anything. I never had to do gigs in the long term that I wasn’t interested in. I knew I had to be available as a drummer.

How did things progress?
Some time after that I got a good run of things with the Frames and Josh Ritter. I also did a tiny bit of teaching especially in the last ten or twelve years. From the time I was with Josh Ritter I had set up a drum school, The Irish Drumming Academy. I think it is the biggest drum school in Ireland. There are more competitors now but it is still the biggest drum school. It took three days full of students per week and I do one of those days there and another day in BIMM in the new college. The rest of the time I do gigs and recordings.

Given your own situation are you allowed to come up with your own drum patterns  or do other band members make suggestions?
Initially I was pretty spiky about it having to be my idea, then I realised that collaboration is the best way forward. Even though I didn’t react initially well to it, someone like Glen Hansard, although he’s not a great drummer but a great musician, he would come up with something quirky on the drums that doesn’t quite make sense but what he thinks might work in the song. I might sit down and try a version of what I was doing before plus what he was doing and then put the two things together and then he’d say yeah that’s exactly right. Initially I wasn’t too happy with some of those non drummers behind the kit and not telling me what to do but suggesting stuff. I realised that the best ideas could come from other members of the band or producers. Some of them would be very resourceful that way. Now I work quite a bit with David Odlum. I was over in France in his studio collaborating with him because we never seem to be stuck, one of us always has a good drum idea and we work forward from that point of view. I’m happy now to collaborate and I tell my students to be ready for that and not to be too possessive about their drumming.

Did that ever develop in to an awkward situation?
The weirdest situation I was ever in, we were in France, in David’s studio recording a Josh Ritter album called Animal Years and the manager who used to be the drummer is more manager type who was only filling in. He was a good friend of Josh’s in college. His name was Darius and he, for practically the whole set sat down beside me while I was recording. The whole time he sat there. So I was sitting behind the kit, headphones on and he was sitting right beside me playing tambourine. Sometimes he would just watch me.  After a take he would go ‘cool’ or he might say ‘do you think we should hit the cymbal on the chorus for that?’ Initially I didn’t mind but after a while I was going I wish he would sit in the control room. He was a little bit possessive you know. It was a strange situation.

You play open handed, do you find that challenging?
Yeah, I do find it challenging. When I first started playing drums, my kit was set up like a normal right handed drum kit.  I play open handed and I went down to my first teacher, Johnny Waddam, a famous Irish jazz drummer. He’s passed on now but he was such a brilliant drummer. I used to go to his house in Dalkey for lessons. It was close to where I lived. He had me in the middle of his schedule and he was too lazy to change the kit around –he didn’t want to change for a leftie. He just set up and I just played it as a right hander or open hander. He said a lot of famous drummers played  in that style.  People like Carter Beau Fourd and Billy Cobham. He was saying Billy Cobham used to be right handed but he learned to play left handed. It was so that he could play open handed.

Have you a preference?
There are advantages and disadvantages you know. I realised I wasn’t that left handed drummer moaning and groaning but technically I suppose as a teacher I would have to learn everything as a right hander. I definitely think it gives you more of an unusual style and maybe my bass drum isn’t the best but it’s good enough to go. I meet a lot of right handed drummers who say I’m thinking about setting up to play open handed. I don’t know if many have done it but I know Graham Hopkins said “it makes so much sense, your open, your lefts your left and your rights your right, go for it”.

Who were your influences when you started playing?
Funnily enough, when I used to hang out with my friend across the road, when he was selling a kit, Brian Downey called up to his house and he tried a drum kit out for his son. It was great to meet him at that point and I was a huge Thin Lizzy fan. I was a huge Led Zeppelin fan and I was into stuff like Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, the heavy side of things. I got fixated with Neil Peart. I was really mad about him. Then I got into Genesis, Phil Collins. I loved that so they were the main men until I started to listen to more tasteful drummers like Levon Helm, Kenny Buttrey, Jim Keltner, Steve Gadd of course, these were the people who took over when I got sick of the heavier complicated style of drumming. I just store it all up and it comes out some way somehow. Like I said I was mad about Bonham, mad about Peart for about four years.

Were you aware of Irish Drummers?
I wasn’t too aware of Irish drummers. When I was growing up there were shows like ‘Lark in the Park’.  I wasn’t too aware of who was playing or what bands. I wasn’t following other Irish drummers. I was going to gigs. I remember Robbie Brennan, he played with Mary Coughlan and possibly the Fleadh Cowboys. So I like him and I remember seeing Fran Breen with Stocktons Wing and I loved watching him as he was like Bonham as regards chatting while he was playing. I think he was a leftie as well and he was a real Dub, no nonsense and he had all these sayings. My friend Paul Cantwell, he is a drummer and is always quoting Fran Breen. He is a real hard working drummer, like a tradesman gets the gear on and plays the gig.

Do you find it difficult switching from session work to playing live?
At this stage I think I find it hard to do the live drumming because I’m doing more recording. I prefer recording because I have a young family now. I haven’t been touring as much and I haven’t been out on the road apart from going live with the ‘Swell Season’, two years back. People are gigging less and I find I record with people and then they don’t bother touring. I love the studio and I love the pressure of the studio. You have to get a certain amount of songs, there’s time pressure and you have to be creative. You have to play well, the arrangement, you can’t waste anyone’s time and live I suppose is less challenging in a way because you play the same set every night over and over and then going back to my fickle nature it doesn’t suit me as I get bored easily so the thought of playing in a band for fifty nights in a row, the same set well after about 20 nights I would be cracking up. People who like to get the security from knowing the stuff well I take my hat off to them.

What was it like playing with the Frames?
The Frames was a particularly exciting time because the live shows were so good. Because there was an element of jamming involved that always kept you on your toes because you never really knew where Glen was going. You had to try and read his mind. When was he going to stop the song. Is this going to go into another cover version, part of another song and that was really exciting, you know. Switching from studio to live is a little bit harder now.   

Do you find that playing live has any physical challenges for you?
I don’t find it too bad now. I think I did when I was travelling a fair bit. When you are travelling and drinking and you’re not looking after your body too well. I used to be mad in to photography and when we were in a new town I used to walk and walk and walk and probably didn’t get enough sleep because I was always to discover everywhere. The rest of the band would all chill out and hang back. I would go out with my camera and start walking the streets of Barcelona or Seattle or wherever we were lucky enough to be. I couldn’t believe we were in such amazing places. I couldn’t get over the fact that the lads would be sitting in the tour bus or hotel being all lazy. They were probably the wise ones because they were recharged and I was probably tiring myself out. Then by the time of say the tenth gig I may be tired and the beat may slow down slightly but now because there isn’t that many gigs it isn’t a problem. I think I’m reasonably fit at the moment. I play football. I try to eat reasonably well.

How often would you be practice your drumming?
I used to be really diligent in my twenties, practice all the time knowing that I had to keep learning my trade. I’ve gotten lazy since then so I would say roughly since I was thirty the only time I practice is when I have to learn a set.

When you play your drum part for a recording and then you hear the finished product with instruments and vocals do you ever think back and say I wish I recorded the drum part differently?
No, I don’t really like some of the stuff I’ve done and I’m always critical. I don’t think it’s ever good enough. I’m always picking and I always seem to find something that I’m not happy with. I’m relatively happy with some of the creations in terms of the drum parts I’ve come up with but maybe in terms of the overall sound or feel I always look at it from start to end of a song – does it groove well?, is it flowing? And you can compromise a little bit but by the time all the instruments and effects are added the whole song can end up feeling strange.   But really it’s your job to be as solid as possible as a drummer from the beginning because you are laying the foundation so if that is loose and wobbly then the track doesn’t sound good. It’s definitely challenging.   

Are there three songs that you drummed and that you are happy with, that represented your style?
The one that comes to mind immediately is ‘Lay me Down’, the Frames song just because its quite unusual I suppose and I played it with my hands on the drum kit. Other than that I would have to say that there’s about four or five records that I’ve done in the last six or nine months that I’m really looking forward to hearing. I think that for the first time ever that I’ve started to feel good about my drumming in the studio. So hopefully there’s going to be some good work out of those sessions but they are not out yet as the finished product so we will see.  I did a record with Adrian Crowley and I did a record with Roisin O, she’s Mary Black’s daughter yeah and also Richard Shaughnessy? I’d have to go back and listen to the stuff I’ve done but I’m not really mad about it. But that’s good I suppose because it propels me to do better drum tracks. There are really eight or ten albums that I’m really chuffed to have been involved on and I’m proud of them but I always think I could have done a better job.

What kind of drum kit do you own?
I’ve always liked the vintage kits. Tama was the first. I don’t really buy new kits. Yamaha was good enough to give me a kit as an endorsement. Zildjian gave me cymbals. I love old drum kits, I have practically a kit from each decade, from the 30’s. I have a WFL and I have a Roger 60’s kit and they say that the Roger 60’s kit is one of the best kits ever made so I’m really proud to have one of those.  I have a premier kit similar to Pink Floyd’s drummer. I would love to get the 60’s Ludwig kit. I like the new DW kit not the classic kit, the collectors series which is a vintage copy.

What advice would you give someone starting out?
Just to remind them that it’s all about music and not to get too hung up on the technical side, you know, sitting down with a book and getting too concerned with the technique.  I encourage them to listen and apply what they’re learning, to music. My lessons tend to be very practical as early as possible and I try to get them to enjoy themselves.  I do get them to practice hard, work hard on the techniques but as soon as possible to put it in to practice and try and jam with their mates. Some of the students come in and they could spend a year or two, three or even four and they still haven’t played with anyone despite my best efforts and they are a little bit nervous. They like music but they don’t really listen to music that much. You would wonder why they are even bothering to learn when they obviously don’t have the passion. Other students would be just eating and drinking and living music so that’s it so I suppose for me and for a lot of drummers it’s kind of a love affair that starts when you’re young and when you want somebody to sort of feed that that I would do that to give them more drummers to listen to, to give them more tricks of the trade and to facilitate them to go out and play with their mates.

Any other advice?
Other advice would be timekeeping. In a room full of musicians you have to keep time, help the band, that’s your first priority as a drummer whether you’re playing a simple beat all the way through or if you’re playing complicated patterns you have to keep your ear open because you’re helping the band keep together, keep time. You’re driving the train so keep it on the tracks. It’s a big job, a big responsibility.

What are your drumming highlights to date?
Yeah, some of the low key gigs have been my favourite. Some things have stood out when you say ‘Oh my God this is great that this is happening. Lots of stuff really, like I was playing at the main stage at Oxygen and I think we were sandwiched between the ‘Foo Fighters & the Pixies and I don’t know who was backstage, Dave Grohl or Taylor Hawkins, sorry it would have been Taylor Hawkins warming up backstage and the Pixies drummer on stage, it was such a thrill you know.

You must have enjoyed that gig?
Funnily enough I didn’t enjoy that gig. It was a sea of people, maybe 60,000 and musically there was such a distance between us and the audience that made it hard to connect. We kind of felt a little bit isolated. The Frames, in particular was very much a home based band, come all into the room, climb all over the drumkit, sit on a chair beside us if you like. It was all about being intimate with the audience. We felt a little bit stranded on that huge inland that was the stage, so far away from the crowd. It was a sea of people and it was a massive thrill. Other things like working with Steve Albini and working with Trevor Horn, that was really quirky and an unusual situation. I was with The Frames when they were trying to get out of their record deal. Not a lot of bands would say that they were trying to get out of their record deal. They were with Trevor Horn, famous 80’s producer, they didn’t see that it was going well and Trevor Horn passed them over to his famous farm studio. It had a swimming pool and it was a really posh studio. We went over there and the song we went to record was the pavement tune. The band being uncomfortable with their record company and wanting to get out, wanting to change their life professionally and ironically he was there recording us. He was helping us finish the lyrics in the studio even though the song was about trying to get away from that particular situation. He was there helping us with lyrics writing that song. It was the wackiest thing.

Did he realise the song was about his record company?
No, he didn’t know that, No. He was funny because he was the type of producer who would come in and make you play the song 40 times in a row and he would say “grand”. After the recordings they would head off on speck, arrive back two days later , chopped and spliced, he would do what he does, come up with a great arrangement and have a kind of chopped up sounding song. It didn’t sound like it was a real drummer if you ask me. He had a very curious way about him, very different from Steve Albini.

How was Albini different to work with?
He’s a socialist you know. He made everybody in the studio in Chicago wear the same grey suits, overalls. Everybody had to be the same. Every band is charged the same. Every band is welcomed. There is no big hierarchy. It is all about allowing everybody the chance to record. He keeps the price really low. He’s great, a real quirky guy.  He was a big hero with all the lads but not a hero of mine. The lads were really kind of licking his boots. Anything he said, they thought it was amazing. He used to like taking these sonic breaks so every say three quarters of an hour he would like to stop and have a chat. It was his opportunity to philosophise on music. He would sit there and he would listen. That was entertaining and a good chance to chat with him. I always felt that he didn’t really like the music, which was a strange feeling but it was Glen Hansard’s dream to record with Albini and it was a great privilege to be there.

What was the highlight of being there?
The highlight of being there and you are asking me about highlights I remember at one stage during these sonic breaks he said we are going to play you something of Nirvana. We recorded in Utah and he said the record that ended up in the shops even though I recorded it wasn’t the one that I would have put out in the shops so he put up the real and the masters of the album and he played the whole thing the way he would have envisaged it. It was really amazing getting to be in that situation. A part of rock history had been made and bringing it back into that vault he was showing that this was the version that he thought should have been brought out and the band probably would have liked as well.

How was it different?
It was really an aggressive version. The record company didn’t like it and they asked someone else to fix it in the end and they were going for something more poppy. They were trying to push the band into the mainstream. It was a great insight but you know festivals and radio shows there have been so many things that have been a ball and it has been great. TV shows like Conan O’Brien with Josh Ritter. Still, funny enough it was probably smaller old style gigs with the Frames, that we used to play for about 3 and half hours, hang loose, get drunk while playing at the end of the gig. I used to love those gigs.
We had a lot of great guests up on stage like Charles Thompson IV from the Pixies. He was there and he was complimentary towards me. So there was lots of stuff playing all sorts of festivals like Glastonbury – such great memories.

You’re teaching now so any other plans for the next five years?
Eh, no not really. I suppose I’m in a hurry to get as many recordings as possible that I really like. It’s just to leave something behind, recordings that I feel I’ve played well on and I really would be proud of that.  I’m not really pushed about the live thing as I feel as though I’ve had some huge thrills and that I’m spoilt and it’s like I’m slightly deconditioned to gigs and large crowds. The thrill that a younger drummer would get I suppose but I’m spoilt. I have been there and it’s not a huge thrill anymore. I like to be creative in the studio and come up with the goods but at the same time I probably need to get back and prove myself live again because it’s the other side of playing and I’ve gone a bit rusty and I need to get out there and let people see that I can still play live.

In relation to Irish Drumming, what in the future will gives Irish drummers their unique style?
I think Irish drummers already have a unique style. Irish drummers are lazy compared to the Americans, technically, really lazy. The cliche is the American kid drummer seems to be much more dedicated and I don’t know if is pushy parents attitude towards life. They say that certain young American jazz musicians or other musicians practice six maybe eight hours a day. Irish musicians would sooner be down in the pub practicing no hours a day. They hope to get by just on their talent alone, chase the chicks, drink the beer and have a good time. That seems to be the priority of the Irish drummer over the decade and I think it possibly is changing already because you see a course like BIMM, the new rock college and it’s a degree course, a four year degree course and you can see all these talented drummers coming in because I’m auditioning them and you can see there are a lot of great drummers, their technique is better than what I’ve seen in the past and their focus is a lot better. Parents are starting to see music as a realistic option for a career choice and also there are countless times I thought during the recession that drum lessons were going to be hit hard but actually parents see it as education and not a luxury at all. For me there hasn’t been any decline at all with all the stuff going on with the economy and I think it’s more of a serious career option now. There isn’t enough work for all those great drummers that will come out of Ireland in the next few years. They’re more focussed and just that they have more access to the web. They can see and they know the bar is higher and they know they have to get up there to reach that in order to compete with their American and British counterparts and get work with the likes to Beady Eye, Beyonce etc. Those big drumming gigs are out there and those artists don’t care whether the drummer is Irish, Swedish or Mongolian. They just want a good drummer who can do everything technically, is good to hang out with and is on the ball and that they can network away and get up to the top that way.

So the future is bright for Irish Drumming?
Yeah but I think it’s not just about technique. There are other factors that I think are important. Graham Hopkins is probably the most confident drummer that I met in my life and he gets work from that because when he’s in a room with the drumkit and when other musicians walk in to the room they can feel his confidence and therefore cope better. It feeds and I think it’s a great thing to have that self belief. You also need to be good to hang out with because as an Irish drummer heading off with your BIMM degree or whatever and you’re a great technician well if you’re a pain in the ass and you’re annoying everybody you just won’t last. Hopefully we will see a lot more success stories of Irish drummers. The talent is there and that unique style is there.

Will BIMM encourage that fusion of Irish music and rock?
That’s a good point and maybe BIMM should insist on some traditional drumming, Irish drumming perhaps, a course on bodhran playing or at least part of the course where you listen to aspects of traditional music. You bring those flavours in to your international drumming because it would be a shame if we became pan European clones or American copy cats. We need to hang on to that Irish ism. I got one of those ol’ visas with Josh Ritter supposedly because I had a skill that no American drummer had because of my unique style of Irish drumming, no American drummer could do what I could do. Now I don’t know what that was, that certain je ne sais quoi. Maybe it was all bullshit to get me a Visa but it was interesting they awarded it to me and they recognised  and said that okay this guy has a unique Irish style that they wanted, let him go there. Maybe if you ask Josh Ritter he might say I like Dave because he reminds me of traditional Irish folk something I don’t know who knows. I play a lot of trad and I can’t say if it comes out in my playing but I‘d recommend any Irish drummer to sit down and play trad.

Can you play other instruments, apart from drums.
No I can’t and I couldn’t play a gig with another instrument and that is the test.

Date; 15th August 2012
Location; Christy’s in Arklow, Co.Wicklow