Sunday 6 April 2014

Interview with Paul Byrne, Drummer with In Tua Nua

Interviewing Paul Byrne of In Tua Nua was an incredible experience. Not only did I get the chance to interview this great drummer and really decent guy but as an added bonus I got to listen to In Tua Nua sound check for their secret gig that night in The Summit Inn. The gig was in advance of their upcoming appearance at the Electric Picnic festival in Stradbally, Co Laois for the following week.

Now this particular afternoon you not only had Manchester City and Liverpool playing but you also had an enthralling football semi final between Cork and Donegal. Normally I would have been torn between the two but not this particular afternoon as the prospect of getting to hear once again In Tua Nua play their songs and have the privilege of a front row seat meant wild horses wouldn’t drag me away.  I managed to interview Paul in the quiet surrounds of the car park before the gig

Tom: Paul in relation to drumming when did you start?
Paul: We were a pretty musical family growing up, my father played piano, my mother always sang, I was the youngest, my older sisters sang. I started off drumming on the leather armchairs and there was a great sound of them so I used to play along to Top of the Pops, you know bands like Mud and The Glitter Band. All those drummy bands when I was about seven years of age. I asked for set of drums at Christmas so I got a snare drum and every birthday and Christmas after that I got a bit more and built it up then till I got my first kit at aged twelve, I think it was. So I was in school and I was playing in a big show at school and I was the only drummer and it looked silly trying to play with all these bits and then I finally got my first kit an old black and white Pearl kit which was actually belonging to a rock and roll band so it didn’t come from a jazz drummer it came from a rock drummer. It had all the bottom heads taken off it and it was really powerful sounding

Tom: Who would have been your first influences?
Paul: Yeah you grow up listening to pop music, so the first bands I would have tried to play along with would have been bands like Sweet and Mud. They were the drummy pop bands. And then the first album I listened to that wasn’t necessarily pop music was Sgt Pepper and I suddenly started to get in to The Beatles so Ringo would have been a big influence on me. So I went from a Beatles phase in to, somebody gave me, a Deep Purple album and I heard tracks like Highway Star and Fireball and I heard Ian Paice and I said this is a whole different ball game. The whole power drumming thing and that was when I bought some extra toms for my kit (laughs) and I went from two toms up to four or five and I bought more cymbals and stuff. So that was the set of early teen years and going from pop to rock I suppose.

Tom: So, did you get any formal training?
Paul: Not really no. I had a little bit of tuition but to be honest it didn’t really influence me in any way because I was about twelve or thirteen and my folks sent me to the municipal school of music but that was playing on a rubber pad and reading American march music and changing to the classical left hand stick style. I had to relearn everything to play that way and I played for a couple of years like that but as soon as I started to play more rock the left hand was just holding me back so eventually I went back to the rock grip. So I stuck at it for about two and a half years in the music school but I wasn’t interested in American march music but I never went to a drummer teacher as such. I’d be a contemporary of Larry’s you know Larry Mullen, young teenage northside drummers and at fifteen we were playing all the same gigs around here and when they played the local Howth community centre I was in the support band. Larry went to Johnny Wadham and other drummers back then went to Johnny. So for some reason I never progressed on for going to drum teachers as I suppose I was too full of myself. I was happy doing what I was doing; you know playing along to records.

Tom: What was your first band?
Paul: Actually my first band was a heavy metal band from Artane called Mercury. When I say heavy metal we were doing a lot of Lizzy covers and a lot of songs of the first AC/DC record, which wasn’t actually heavy metal. It was more punky really I think you know “let there be rock” etc. So we played a lot of school gigs and halls and that was around the time U2 were The Hype. U2 were called Hype at the time and we were called Mercury. Both bands were basically from similar areas, guys from Ard Scoil Reis were right across the road from Mount Temple and that’s when I first came in touch with Larry and that whole thing. I think that was during fifth year and I took a year off to do the Leaving Cert I didn’t play with any bands. After that I got together with some local guys and we formed a band called Soundsunreal, it became Deaf Actor. Around that time as well there was another local band called The Modulators which was Ivan and Neil Mc Cormack and they used to go through millions of drummers and I ended up playing quite a few gigs with them and we played support to U2 down in the community centre. I ended up being Bono’s doppelganger and recently there was the movie Killing Bono but I never made it in to the movie however (laughs)

Tom: You were moving to professional bands at that point so
Paul: Well I don’t think any of it was really professional then. Like there were no professional bands really. We were all getting whatever gigs we could get. You either had a day job or you were in college, I was in college. No, In Tua Nua would have been the first professional band. I gave up veterinary medicine when I was in In Tua Nua. I was a second year vet when In Tua Nua started to get a lot of interest from England so I gave it up. Leslie was three years in Art College and she got a diploma in Marketing and Design. Jack had a good job; all the others had good jobs. The only one who kept his job was Ivan because he the engineer in the Eamonn Andrews studios and we needed that for our free demos (laughs)

Tom: So drum kit wise how did your kits progress?  
Paul: So I suppose when I was about seventeen, it was when I was with Deaf Actor I sort of got to the bottom of the kit that I had, you know the very old Pearl kit with a few add on rack toms they used to call concert toms. So I saved up and I got, I think it might have been my eighteenth, with my Dad he got me a nice Pearl Export series which had just come out. It was a very nice kit, it had four rack toms, a 22 inch bass drum, a 16 inch floor and a chrome snare and Zildjian cymbals. That kit did me right up until In Tua Nua got their record deal, in 1984 and we went to London and I tried every single drum kit in England (laughs) and I found the Sonor Signature kit. I never heard anything like it in my life. So I started playing Sonor’s then you know. That kit I still have it, I retired it to the studio and all the producers that come in to the studio insist that drummers use it because it just sounds so good, there is nothing like it. It is thirteen ply in the wood, it is so heavy. I had to stop gigging with it as it was breaking my back carrying it round the place. I’ve got it in the studio now, it’s a wood finish and it has got a little bit scratched over the years. It would take a bit of time and money to get it beautified for live work plus the toms are very, very deep so if you have them on the bass drum their very, very high and I’m too old for that now. I like to get over the toms now. So last year I went out and got a tape pro-ex. It’s a very handy kit and I use it for all the pub gigs I do with Jack and the Guilty Party and it sounds great, you will see it to-nite, it’s absolutely fine. If I get a few bob together I may upgrade and go for a birch or maple kit but at the moment it suits me fine

Tom: And what about cymbals?
Paul: When I was in In Tua Nua I got a Paiste endorsement so I played Paiste 3000 all through the 1980s I had the same set, same ride cymbal, same hi-hats although the rest may have gone by the wayside. I sort of have a mixture of stuff now. When I find something I like now I buy it so I’m not confined to any one label at the moment. However, that could all change if somebody offers me another endorsement.

Tom: Sticks wise what do you use?
Paul: Sticks wise, I’ve always been promark, promark hickory, Funny enough I always use the lighter ones for the last number of years but recently I couldn’t get enough whack on the snare. I switched playing a 5A on the left with a 7A on the right with a heavier stick in my left hand because I really want to slam that snare and I don’t want the heavy stick in my right hand for all the busy work on the hi-hats. I’m very right handed unfortunately so there is no lack of power there. I got in to the habit of doing this and its working really well sonically for me.

Tom: Playing in a seven piece band how does that influence you’re playing?
Paul: It’s funny; in Deaf Actor it started as a five piece, then a four piece and finally ended up a three piece. Myself and Jack were the rhythm section and Conor Brady was the singer, guitarist and he would sing and hit a chord then a verse, and then another verse and we would have to fill up the entire spectrum. Jack was very busy, I was very busy and we were very experimental in the sounds we were using like converted old hi-hats in to dustbin lids and all kind of crazy things. We were very much part of a post punk scene. Moving on to In Tua Nua we had to strip it right back because we hadn’t had to fill up the entire sound and we now had to make way for all these instruments. At the start we were still quite busy but actually as we started to play all the big stadium shows I started to realise I don’t need four toms, instead two toms miked up properly with a solid four on the floor beat is going to be far more effective in a big stadium on an open stage then, all this busy stuff and I actually striped my drum parts back, stripped the kit right back and I went to one rack tom and a floor tom. In the intervening years I went to two rack drums until the end of the eighties I had gone right back to a basic set up with the gigs we were playing.

Tom: Over the years has that methodology stood to you?
Paul: Live now, I would bring more toms to have a bit of fun. In the studio I pretty much play the one rack tom. For me, in the studio, it is all about simplicity, being in the groove, do as little as you can really and leave room in the recording for other things, melodic things. Live, you can afford to be a bit more flamboyant. People like watching drummers doing stuff you know plus you’re not playing to a click live.

Tom: Do you prefer playing live as opposed to recording in a studio
Paul: I much prefer live. I love the feedback. I love the fact that you’re mikeing up the kit. The bigger the gig the better for me. The bass drum stuck on your foot, you’ve got the whole place moving I like that. I love the small pub gigs where you can really jam out and have that intimate sound. I think for drummers it’s to have a massive, massive kit sound coming out of a hugh PA, that’s the ultimate really, yeah. A studio is so under the microscope. You’ve got to keep re tuning your toms and after every take you’ve got to go around and check everything to make sure it’s sounding the same and it’s such a different experience. Depending on the producer, some producers can be so pernickity, you know that snare sounds different from the last take. I always say to people don’t put fresh heads on in the studio as your producer will go mad as the kit will keep changing sound every few takes.

Tom: In a band like In Tua Nua do you have a 100% licence in what you play.
Paul: I have a 100% licence in what I play but I’m completely open to suggestions. It’s funny, in In Tua Nua, Ivan and Martin who had been the original guys in the band, the reason they wanted Jack and I in the band is because they adored the rhythm section in Deaf Actor and they were constantly going can you not do something more like you used to do in Deaf Actor. So the whole opening of Seven in to the Sea was actually a lift from a drum part I’d come up with from a Deaf Actor track, you know the whole snare drum, shuffle thing.  They always pushed me to come up with different rhythms. With The Long Acre when we went out to South Carolina and a lot of the songs had been written very acoustically, sort of in a country vein, I was sticking in a country beat and just keeping time. I didn’t have to be doing something interesting every time and as you mature as a drummer you sort of get to the point where you think I’ve just got to make this song work. If I can do it in an interesting way then fine. But at the end of the day my job is to keep time and groove the song. I like to get in early though, I don’t like coming in to the studio putting down a click, putting down a song because I could have just shifted the groove this way or that. I’m a producer myself and the first thing when I hear a song is to shift the groove to suit the song. I’m also a singer and I understand how the groove affects the vocals as well. I worked with an artist there recently this year and he had been playing this song acoustically for years and he came in and I said what if we shift it to this sort of soul beat. They never had even thought of putting drums on the track and they loved the song this way because it’s now got a groove. It’s really sexy you know. That’s the thing, I’m a songwriter / drummer so I do see how the drums work in the overall scheme of things as opposed to a statement by just the drummer.

Tom: What advice would you give to someone starting to play drums?
Paul: I would say play along to records. Get yourself some sort of metronome. Play along to a click, I have meet too many drummers in the last couple of years, I’ve managed a few young bands and produced a few bands and their very, very, resistant to try to play to click. My point is practice to click, go to your rehearsal room and practice and after a while it will be inbuilt in you when you go to the rehearsal and you will keep time. That’s your job, your job is to keep time and not enough of drummers do. They want to do all this fancy other stuff and it makes the band sound like a second rate band because the air isn’t there. If the drummer keeps time then there are gaps with the correct distance between beats. It’s the air that makes you sound professional. The air between your hits and as those hits get closer and closer together the air vanishes and it sounds second rate.

Tom: Would you advise someone to get tuition early on?
Paul: Well I’m one to talk. I think if you need help then the help is out there. There’s also a hugh amount of help on the internet now. There’s the Canadian crowd, free drum lessons, brilliant. I get their emails all the time, it’s fantastic. Yeah they’ve got four cameras, one behind the bass drum, one overhead, one in front, one at the side, you can just see everything and they split the screens and you can see everything that’s going on. There just mega, I think there great. But there is always someone out there, you’re never too good for a lesson. Always go to someone because you can’t see how you are sitting, you can’t see your balance, it’s a bit like horse-riding no matter how old the horse rider is someone on the ground looking up can say you’re not sitting on the horse correctly. Someone can see that your hips are wrong, the hands are in the wrong position and then you will probably find the benefit very quickly. It’s a physical job.

Tom: On the physical side are you conscious of that, the fact that you’re up on stage for over two and a half hours?
Paul: Yeah. I did give up cigarettes last year because I did find when I was gigging with Shane McGowan and the Guilty Party and stuff doing two hour shows on a Sunday night I found that my legs were like lead the next day and even getting cramped towards the end of some of the gigs. I’m not a kid but I’m still playing some of the beats that I was when I was sixteen, you know what I mean so I gave up the cigarettes a year ago and immediately I noticed that my recovery time is far, far quicker. Now I swim and I’m getting fit and the fitter I get the quicker the recovery time is. Now this week I’m a bit leaden today because we did five, six hour rehearsals in a row this week and had yesterday off. I haven’t done that in about twenty years. I thought the day off would sort it but I’m still tired today. The adrenaline will get me through the gig tonight.

Tom: Do you get nervous playing live?
Paul: Never, never get nervous. I don’t think drummers are nervous, you’re at the back. I’m sure it’s much more nerve racking for singers. Now the only time I ever got nervous was playing Slane, eighty thousand people, our first big show. When I sat down my foot was rattling, the bass drum was doing double beats through a massive PA. I started slapping my leg in order to stop the quiver. I remember looking over and my wife was standing beside Carlos Santana and one of the roadies ran up to her after the gig and says “what did he say to you” and she says who? Carlos? Who is Carlos? You were talking to Carlos Santana. Was I? (laughs). She didn’t even know she was talking to Carlos Santana. “ This is a really interesting band, I love their sound.

Tom: Have you been able to build up a good network, particularly with other drummers over the years?
Paul: No I’ve never really been in any sort of a drummer clique.  It has actually been through face book that I’ve got to know all these drummers. There is an Irish drummers group on face book where they posted a thing on me and loads of people have befriended me since. But no, years ago drummers all seemed to keep to themselves. There was no drummers love going around then (laughs). Nowadays its funny there is a change. I’ve always been great friends with Wayne Sheehy from Cactus World News, we go back a long way but no, everyone just kind of kept to themselves.

Tom: Did you ever teach drumming?
Paul: I used to teach drums a bit but all the kids ever wanted to learn was Sunday Bloody Sunday (laughs). I was sick of teaching that one.

Tom: What is the highlight of your career to date?
Paul: The highlight of my career to date (thinks), well I’m really proud of Seven in to the Sea.  The drumming on that stands out, it’s different. I don’t think anybody has done anything similar. Funny enough it was a few years before the whole dance music thing. There is a hugh similarity between the original house beat, you know it’s the same beat except without a drum machine, it’s a real drummer. Seven in to the Sea was a dance hit for us in Holland. It was hugh over there on the dance scene which we didn’t expect. It was the only dance type track I ever did and the 12inch was a big hit over there. That’s how we cracked Holland was through the whole dance thing before there was a dance scene, if you know what I mean. So I was kind of proud of that because I think the rhythm is the strongest part of that song. That would probably be my favourite recording, my favourite drumming statement I suppose. That would be very me. In terms of live, the U2 tour around Europe would have been the highlight. Even night was just amazing, we were loved by the U2 fans, The U2 fan club in Europe was run by the same people who ran the In Tua Nua fan club. People at the U2 gigs were coming to see us as well as in we weren’t a support band going on that nobody knew. If they liked U2 they wanted to know more about Irish bands so the Dutch, the Belgians, the Germans, the Italians they all seemed to know our stuff which was great so we didn’t feel just like an opening act, so they actually know who we were and they clapped and sang along to every song which was great. That would have been the highlight I suppose. You’ve got a whole stadium of people bopping on your foot (laughs)

Tom: Expanding on that, apart from Seven in to the Sea are there other drumming tracks that are unique to you, that have your drumming style, that you want people to remember you for?
Paul: That’s a good question actually. I have no answer to that one, I haven’t really thought oh, hold on, The Innocent and the Honest Ones is interesting because I wrote the song and then had to come up with a beat for it. It was interesting because I wrote the song on piano on an onepediou. It wasn’t even a rhythmic song. I took it on and it became this kind of pulsating thing like Snowpatrol now but obviously twenty years before. I coproduced the song with Don Dickson. The snare drum it only comes in every so often, big long reverb on it when it comes in and then eventually it settles down to an ordinary beat. I suppose the drums are a musical instrument in it. They’re an effect as much as keeping time and they’re a very integral part of the song, just being the drums. All the sound men that worked on it loved it because it gave them a really interesting thing to do as at certain points they had to whack up the reverb on the snare, then take it of a middle bit then whack it back on again. It’s an interesting interaction between me and the sound man for that one song every night you know, producing the song live. So it was an interesting use of effects. It’s just a lot of reverb it’s not rocket science but I like the way the whole thing works and it became one of our most popular live tracks. In fact there was a band in Dublin they named themselves after the song

Tom: So what does the future hold for Paul Byrne, in drumming terms?
Paul: Well I don’t know if the Shane gang is going anywhere. We thought that was really going to do something. Mick Jones of The Clash wanted to produce the album. Shane doesn’t seem to be writing or doing anything that might lead us to go in to the studio. I really hoped to go into the studio and do an album with him. I suppose that will end up us doing the odd gig when he needs us. The Guilty Party is basically his backing band. We became a covers band to fill in our time and that’s great craic as I’m learning new old songs all the time. I haven’t done it in years I suppose since Soundsunreal I haven’t performed a set of covers. It’s a great way of learning and coming up with new ideas to learn somebody else’s song and think well maybe if change that bit here. Then, In Tua Nua, I suppose that’s my big hope at the moment that we can get to a point where we can tour every year and do the circuit which would be great. If things go well then we will be off doing all the European festivals next summer but it just depends how this year goes really.

Tom; Will you be doing new material?
Paul: Well we all have material I have been writing over twenty years and so has Leslie but we do need to get this band cooking first before we bring material to the table. There’s no point otherwise, you need to get the band really working as a band and then go okay were going to bring in a new song here. Try it out and everybody start thinking of parts

Tom: Regarding Irish drummers, what makes them different, in your opinion, to other drummers?  
Paul: They are different. I mean American drummers are probably far more groovy than European drummers. English drummers I think are better at pop music. Irish drummers are much better, I think Irish drummers are more interesting. Their very musical and their very interesting. They may not be as technically brilliant as the Americans or as poppy minded as the English but they really work when it comes to rock bands. You have Brian Downey who did so much interesting stuff with Thin Lizzy, like Emerald and then Larry changed drumming for so many people. His approach was so left of centre that it changed a lot of people’s ideas on how to drum. It had a hugh effect on me. I mean we have Kila with all that Afro Celt thing which is incredibly exciting as well. You have to watch as we do have an awful history of show bands in the country as well. You’ve got to watch that side creeping in as well. At times when Clannad brought drums in it was a little bit like “God it’s making you sound a little bit middle of the road”. It was Celtic up to then and once the drums came in it was that little bit MOR I thought and it’s probably because of that show band thing which is so country and western which is that thing we have hovering in our background that we all fight so hard not to allow in to our music but the trouble is, it gets in doesn’t it. You just have to try and resist stuff.

Tom: What would have been your big influences?
Paul: It’s funny the big influences for me in my reformative years would have been Pete DeFreitas from Echo and the Bunnymen. I played support at a couple of gigs with them. Deaf Actor, we supported them in McGonagles in Dublin. Pete had no linn drum with him and I had and if you remember Zymbo, it’s a seminal beat for me, I love that track. Pete saw me in the sound check and he says any chance I could borrow your linn drum for Zymbo. I said no problem (laughs). Anyway years later we were playing a festival in Holland with In Tua Nua and The Bunnymen were going on and I nipped up the back stairs of the stage as I wanted to get to watch him from the side of the stage as I had been up watching a few bands with my artist pass but the roadies said no one was allowed up. So I nipped up and they were turning away, everybody, so I ran up the back of the stage and who was round there having a piss at the back of the stage was Pete DeFreitas and I told him the story and he says come with me and he brought me up on stage behind him and I watched the whole gig from behind the kit. The other drummer I was really influenced by at that time was Mel Gaynor from Simple Minds, an absolute seminal drummer. Actually Jack and I were very influenced by Mel and Derek Forbes as a rhythm section and early In Tua Nua stuff if you listen to all that slap base stuff that was very much us influenced by Derek Forbes. But we did a tour with Simple Minds and Mel used to let me watch him from behind every night and Larry used to let me so I’ve seen my three favourite drummers which would have been Mel, Larry and Pete, I watched them all from behind which is the only way to watch. You can see what the feet are doing and stuff. So that’s a nice little thing to have.

Tom: Of the current crop of up and coming Irish drummers are there any that would warrant your attention?
Paul: Gosh you would have to name a few for me. Conor Egan of the Coronas may be one (author). Yeah very solid. He’s very in tune with the songs. Go on. I was thinking about Dec Murphy who played with The Blizzards (author).  I wouldn’t really know The Blizzards stuff to be honest with you. Eh, Two Door Cinema Club I know they started program stuff but have actually switched and they’re doing it live. I think they have a great take on drums you know. They have managed to rob what people like about house music, dance music with a live band and they’ve got the Soweto little African guitar thing going over the top, it’s a great combination. They would be one of the only young Irish bands I would know at the moment. I managed a couple, Bon Sheiks, very interesting drummer. The drummer, he’s just left them now. They are in America, he’s come home and they’ve got an American drummer. They are an interesting band in that they grew up listening to Lizzy and nothing but Lizzy and then when they started going out to play they thought gosh this is old hat so they completely re invented themselves and started coming at it from a really interesting angle. They got touches of The Two Door Cinema Club about their writing and the drumming it’s very quirky but they’ve still got very traditional two guitars going on so watch out for them they have been in New York now for six months and things are going quite well for them. They may come back here with an American deal one of these days.

Date; 26th August, 2012
Location; The Summit Inn, Howth, Co.Dublin.