Thursday 1 January 2015

Interview with Dec Murphy, former drummer with The Blizzards

Tom; How did you get started as regards playing drums?
Dec; Well I started when I was about 13 year of age. I aspired to drum before that but it was difficult as I was living in a housing estate in Mullingar and it was hard to get space. It took me about 3 years to persuade my mother to let me have a drum kit. She agreed, so I worked in Dunnes Stores for a year, saved my money and bought my first kit which was a Premium Drum kit.

Tom; Was there any history of music in the family?
Dec;No, we were a very unmusical family. I have two older brothers. My mother doesn’t play a musical instrument neither does my father, but they enjoy music. There was no major influence from my family but I was always interested in music especially heavy rock, heavy metal. I’m a real fan of that music style since I was 9 or 10 years old.

Tom; How did you progress with the drums from there?
Dec; I was in various bands. I never got drum lessons and I still haven’t to this day, I possibly should. So as I said, I played in about three or four bands with friends, during school and I started playing with Bressie. He was in school at the same time as me and the rest of the lads from the Blizzards were in school at that time as well. We were just like any other band starting out – just coming up with a few tunes.

Tom; How old were you at that stage?
Dec; I was about 19 or 20 at the time.

Tom; Who were your drumming influences back then?
Dec; Well Metallica, would be my all time favourite band and although I listen to all types of music now they were always the band that inspired me. Other bands, in recent years would be Queen of the Stone Age, The Foo Fighters. I always got a huge buzz of energy from that music particularly the drumming and it reflects on my style of playing.

Tom; So when you were listening to drummers like Dave Grohl, what were you learning?
Dec; I suppose it was that energy and he is an unbelievable drummer. I love that whole thing of being loose, beating the shit out of the drums but at the same time coming up with incredible beats. However, I was never in to double bass drum.

Tom; What type of drums did you start off with?
Dec; I started out with a ‘Premier’ kit, then I switched to a Yamaha 9000 and I’ve had that kit for about 15 years. I’ve gone through other drum kits but I always go back to the Yamaha. My cymbals would be Sabian HX5. I always use a washy ride cymbal say 24” and a 22” crash and my hi hats would be 14”.

Tom; Did the other members of the band try to dictate or influence how you played?
Dec; It was probably 50:50. Sometimes a song would be written around a beat that I might not have come up with.  I think Ringo Star came up with a great one when he said ‘the best drummer in the world, shit I wasn’t even the best drummer in my band. Justin the guitar player is technically a brilliant drummer, he wouldn’t have half the balls playing that I’d have but he’d have the rudiments. Bressie knew how to get an idea across and he has probably become a better player of the drums than he was in the beginning. Other times we would play around with an idea. Beats wise, I always try to be different but generally what would always work, would be the simplest thing.

Tom; How did you come up with the beat for the ‘Reason’?
Dec; I just followed the music. I think we started off with a dance beat. Bressie might have had something to do with that beat, I cannot exactly remember. You play a song perhaps twenty different ways before somebody else hears it. I am a very tom heavy drummer. I play a lot on the floor tom and I just like the feel of it and it adds a real deep sound to the music.

Tom; How do you tune your toms?
Dec; I tune them by ear. I try and spend very little time on the bottom skin as it just wrecks your head. You can always dampen it out. I have a 16” floor tom and I tune them as loose as possible without the skins being flappy live wire. We would get the mikes set up so that the sound was booming and it has an impact.

Tom; Did you find that with your style of drumming you need to work on your upper body strength?
Dec; Yes, I go to the gym and do exercises especially for my wrists. I used to struggle not as much now, but when i was in the Blizzards mistakes would happen as I played drums the wrong way – I used to hit them too hard. Our producer Michael Beinhorn wanted me to murder the drums. He would be in your face saying ‘come on, hit them, hit them’ and we would end playing that way live and people couldn’t get over how heavy a drummer I was. My impact on the snare I used to be breaking 3 or 4 sticks a gig and there was no way you could keep that up no matter what kind of a man you are. I’m trying to change it now but I would still be slapping the shit out of them. I am trying to bounce back a bit more as opposed to putting the stick through the snare. I’m not with the Blizzards anymore and I don’t have a budget for my kit. Anyone who used to talk about my drumming spoke about the energy and how hard I hit them.

Tom; That energy certainly comes across. Who would you credit for that?
Dec; If anyone complimented my drums it would have to go back to Michael Beinhorm.  If I became any way a good drummer and I think I’m average, then credit must go to Michael. I would have been poor to say the least but once he got hold of me he just tore me apart. I remember a week and a half pre-production I couldn’t get over it, I was shitting a brick, over the fact that a big time producer from LA coming in, never says hello, just tells us to play and at the end of it the energy level from the start to the finish is so obviously a million times different just by him going around standing in front of the drumkit and punching his hand in the air, saying ‘hit them, hit them’. Funny thing, the more he is doing it the harder your going and you feel the whole energy of the song picking up. Michael Beinhorn definitely took me out of my comfort zone, he wouldn’t let me record with cymbals, we would record the whole track without cymbals and then the cymbals were overdubbed. That was tough. We would rehearse the song with cymbals and I would say do we have to record them as in and he would say no. He probably is the single most influential person on my drumming. I would look at a lot of drummers and I would say, they lack energy. Definitely for rock music, you need an energetic drummer, he may be technically brilliant and if he just doesn’t look like he is spending energy, it doesn’t do it for me.

Tom; Recording with a click track. Was that a problem?
Dec; It came to a point with a click track where I didn’t have to practice at all. On an eight bar I would come in and after that I wouldn’t hear a click track at all and that was because I was practicing so hard. It got to a point where using the click track, it didn’t bother me at all and I used to learn it off  after a few songs. It was set up on the high hat stand. Using a click track did effect me at the beginning but not now as I have been playing for eight years and you get to the point where your body is moving for the click and my head is keeping the time. You go with the flow then and your body is moving to the click.

Tom; When you were recording, was it you by yourself or were you going down with the bass guitar?
Dec; I didn’t really enjoy recording that much to be honest with you. Some tracks, it was me and the bass, other tracks, it was just me and a click track. When you are rehearsing and playing, with the full band, I always thought that was the way you should record. It’s very hard to pull a good sound out of each individual instrument.  When we were recording the album the producer was never happy even after 20 or 30 takes and we would play with the most unbelievable energy. Beinhorn would never be happy, he was a perfectionist and when he was happy it was amazing and you’d be thinking I can’t believe he enjoyed that, but it was generally drums and bass and a click guide track and the lads wouldn’t be around.  It’s funny really, because recording should be more fun because when bands go in and the energy you have in rehearsing most of that is taken away in the studio. Sometimes you don’t see the person you record with, they lay down one track, go out the door and have a cup of tea and your listening to this and it gets real methodical and it’s hard then to put the same buzz into it, if you know what I mean, your not getting the full blown sound and when you over concentrate, you make mistakes.

Tom; How do you feel your drumming style progressed, from the first album to the second one?
Dec; The first band I was in was a real acoustic band, just brushes and all that. I think my style is still progressing, nothing too radical and I believe I started off as a rock drummer and I’m just a better rock drummer now. I’m just heavier. In the early days I did a lot of reggae and I was doing all these off beats and that was good. I enjoyed that. It was a new element, a new learning curve, but by the time I got to the second album, that cut out of it altogether but I wouldn’t think my style has changed in any great shape.

Tom; Is there any aspect of drumming you would like to focus on now?
Dec; No, not really because any time I go in to practice now, I wouldn’t call it practicing. I would call it beating away and I’m just driven by energetic songs and all I want to do is lose myself when playing songs. I’d listen to a broad range of music but I’d know what my limitations are. Sometimes I’d say, I’d love to be able to do that but this is what I do. I suppose you can try and be good at everything or be really good at one thing and I wouldn’t want to be trying to do jazz drumming or blues, reggae, because it’s just not my style. The main thing is that I enjoy what I do. I never intended to be a professional drummer. It’s just something that happened to me and I’ve enjoyed every minute. It never really appealed to me to do rudiments as I enjoy what I do.

Tom; Regarding the Irish drumming scene, is there anyone who would really influence you?
Dec; Yeah, over the years there were a couple of drummers, Dave Hingerty, I really enjoyed  him, particularly his work with the Frames. He’s a left handed drummer, he’s open, but he can play whatever way he likes , he’s that good. I was into The Frames when I was a young fellow and he was with them at that stage.
Some songs he would play with his hands on the kit, beautiful sounds, and then some songs he would rock the shit out of them. During the first album I met him actually, the only drum lesson I got was from him. He just said ‘stick to what you’re doing as I wasn’t in to putting my head down. Binzer Brennan, he would be another, he’s got an old vintage kit, always playing fairly loose but he is on the button each time.  There are a few others, I wouldn’t know by name but I remember we had The Minutes playing here and they had a really good drummer. He has nearly the exact same set up as myself. Larry Mullen is unbelievably consistent and although I like U2 I never played along with them if you know what I mean. I really enjoy his drumming, but his style isn’t for me as he sits with his shoulders back, really straight and its very clinical looking and I’d be completely all over the place, sticks flying, dropping sticks, breaking sticks. I’ve never seen him breaking a stick. Apart from that, there are a lot of drummers around Mullingar and some really good ones.

Tom; How is the local scene around Mullingar?
Dec; Ah it’s really brilliant, it’s really vibrant and there are some good bands and older bands.  I’ve come across a few of them, as I’m in the pub trade here. A really good drummer is Steve O’Keeffe who used to play with The Pale. He is a fantastic drummer. He lives for drumming even more than I do and drumming is his career, his bread and butter. He’s playing with a cover band now, yeah he’s a really sweet drummer.
I was at Bruce Springsteen last week and all I could do was look past Bruce and the drummer and I could spend my time, non-stop, looking at drummers. I really love looking at the different styles, different set ups, as I’m always intrigued as to how the kit is set.

Tom; If you were giving advice to someone starting out, what would it be?
Dec; When I started drumming, I took the toms out. You need to get the basics right and young drummers in particular can start at doing things that are beyond their grasp. Any song can be played with a snare, high hat, cymbal and bass drum. It doesn’t really matter about the fills, rolls. When young drummers start they move straight from the snare to the toms and you can hear that they haven’t played 3 hours straight, with just a four-four rhythm with just a snare and bass drum.
I used to play a lot of REM tracks and they are good and there was good clarity in them. You could always just play along. Just keep to the basics and take away the toms when you are starting. Just play four-four and do that for months because, that is where it all starts and you can progress from there. Drums, if you kick the shit out of them as I do, can be financially straining.

Tom; If someone came up to you and said ‘I want to do a time capsule and you have to decide on three songs, what would they be?
Dec; Apart from the Blizzards, there is a song I do with the new band called Run and Jump, it’s not been released yet. I would say ‘The Reason from the Domino effect album and finally one of the first songs we ever wrote together called ‘Trouble’, which was on the first Blizzards album. They might not be the best songs, but they are the ones I think my style suits.  On reflection, I might change my mind, but it’s better to say it from the top of your head.

Tom; What are your future drumming projects?
Dec; Sircles is the name of the new band. Since the Blizzards finished, I’m working full time. I’ve taken over the lease of this place and drumming is more of a hobby at the minute and I’m enjoying that part. There is no serious element to it. We get in and rehearse for a couple of hours each week and I’ll always be playing drums. I would like to get back to playing full time again.  I’ve never put myself out there as a session player as I don’t think I ever thought I was up to it. It’s just a matter of trying to find the right thing and just get another couple of years out of it. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I’m still happy playing away. Playing drums with the Blizzards was like a drug and I was delighted to do it and if I get to do it again brilliant and if I don’t, well at least I did it.  

Date;                   28/July/2012
Location;           John Daly’s Public House in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.