Saturday 22 March 2014

Interview with Dave Hingerty, Drummer with The Frames / Josh Ritter Dave Hingerty

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