When did you start drumming?
I started drumming at a very young age, about 4 years old I think. My Grandad lived at our house at the time, and he was a drummer. My parents are both musicians and so we had a small recording studio on the end of our house, and Grandad had his kit set up in there. Some of my earliest memories are sitting at his drums, nobody forced me to sit at them but for some reason I just naturally picked it up and could keep a beat even then. When I was about 7 or 8 I used to go out to pub gigs with my Grandad with his Ceile band, and he would eventually always call me up to play while he went to the bar and chatted up the ladies haha. Beyond that, I really took the same route as most other drummers. Played in teenage bands etc. After School I went to the Ballyfermot Music College and once that had finished I joined my Parents country band, where I really started to get serious about all things music!
What drum gear do you use?
I’ve got a few kits:
Live, I use an early 80’s Yamaha Recording Custom in a really cool ‘Mellow Yellow’ colour. Sizes are 24x14, 14x10, 16x16. I absolutely love this kit. I bought it from a great UK based session player named Jamie Little. It’s quite scuffed up close, it’s no museum piece, but from a distance it looks great, and it sounds amazing.
I also have a 1965 Ludwig Superclassic in Red Sparkle, 22x14, 13x9, 16x16.
I love these drums too, they sound amazing in the studio. Though they don’t quite do the job for me live, if I’m honest, and besides they’re in amazing condition so I’m afraid to bring them on the road!
And I have a 70’s Premier Concert Tom Kit, The Phil Collins Job! My parents got me those for Christmas when I was about 11 or 12. My first kit, still have them.
The one I use most is a beautiful Joyful Noise ‘Anchored’ copper 14x6.5. I had this drum custom made for me, with a personal engraving by John Aldridge in memory of my drumming Grandad. It truly lives up to its name, a joy to play! Very sensitive, responsive, and versatile. It’s quite dark sounding, and metallic obviously, but with a beautiful earthiness.
I’ve also got a 1962(ish) Pre-Serial Ludwig Super, the Chrome Over Brass version of the ‘Supraphonic’.
I’ve got a Pre-Serial Ludwig ‘Jazz Festival’, in a ‘Black Diamond Pearl’ finish.
And lastly a Tama Starclassic maple snare drum, given to me by a friend.
I LOVE all things Paiste, and I’ve got 2 different set ups.
I have a set of Paiste Signature Traditional’s. 14” Med/Light Hi Hats, 18” Extra Thin Crash, 20” Thin Crash, 22” Med/Light Ride.
And I have a set of Paiste Dark Energy’s. 15” Mark I Hi Hats, 17” Crash, 19” Crash, 21” Mark I Ride.
I use Evans Drum Heads, and ProMark sticks, mostly 5As and Hotrods.
Growing up in a professional musician’s household I was influenced a lot by the people my parents worked with. My Mother is Sandy Kelly, and so she has had many good drummers come through her band. I’ve always had a great relationship with those guys and they taught me a lot. My Mum worked with Johnny Cash in the 90’s. I remember going to those gigs as a kid and sitting on the side of the stage glued to Cash’s drummer Fluke Holland, he’s amazing! And another Session Guy Mum worked with was Buddy Harman, an old school Nashville A List session head who recorded for everyone. He was amazing to watch too, I really learned a lot from him in so far as playing for the song, and keeping it simple.
I personally had the chance to work with Ken Coomer formerly of Wilco. I am also a singer songwriter, and I made a solo album in Nashville in 2007. Ken was the guy the producer hired to drum and what an eye opener that was. I loved the freedom and expression in his playing, and insane energy, but he never let it get in the way of the song. He also turned me onto the Paiste thing! I took a lot from working with Ken, in fact I’d say I somewhat tried to copy him a bit once I got back to the drums myself haha.
Beyond that, I just love drummers in general. I’m one of those guys that really get’s excited when I see and hear a good drummer. I watch tons of videos online of the usual suspects really, and mostly guys I could never even dream of getting close to! Like Jeff Porcaro, John Robinson, Steve Jordan, Abe Laboriel Jr. etc.
And a shout out for some newer guys like IIlan Rubin, Charlie Hall, Ethan Johns and Miles Miller.
What current projects are you and Rackhouse Pilfer involved in?
Rackhouse Pilfer released a new album in 2017 called ‘Solar Lunar’, which we are incredibly proud of. We put a ton of work into it, it took a couple of years to bring together. And we were fortunate to get to work with legendary producer Gareth Jones, most famed for his work with Depeche Mode and Erasure. Quite an interesting mix when you consider Rackhouse previously had been an acoustic bluegrass string band kind of set up. But we purposely set out for change with the new album, and sought out somebody in an entirely different world to us, just to see what might happen. Gareth really got the best out of us, and in such a natural organic way. He got us to set up our gigging PA in the studio (Attica Audio Ireland), so none of us were using cans. And we were very much going for takes, rather than layering the tracks up with overdubs etc. In fact, very few overdubs were done at all. We didn’t use click tracks or anything like that. Very organic! And he took it down a new road for us, where we ended up using electric guitars and electric bass etc. A lot more atmospheric, a lot rockier. Not a changing of the wheel in the big picture by no means, but a big change for Rackhouse and our followers!
Actually at the moment, Rackhouse is taking a break from live gigging. Most of us have young families, and we’ve been doing around 200 live gigs a year for the last 6 years, in IRE/UK/EU. Add to that, the fact that we’re an independent band, totally self-managed, we look after everything ourselves, so that’s a big job and it was time for a break really.
Personally, now I’m working for Sligo Live festival behind the scenes, and I am delighted to be working with another Irish band ‘Mongrel State’ in a management role. I would love to make more records in the future somehow, I really love the studio and creative aspect of all this. So, I would love to get into production eventually. And I love song-writing, that always has a huge part to play in anything I do. I am one of the main writers in Rackhouse Pilfer, of the singles we released I wrote ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Go Straight’.
What are your favourite songs/albums?
Songs? God there are so many. But as a songwriter there’s two guys I know had a huge influence on me. James Taylor, if I had to pick one song I’d take ‘Sweet Baby James’. And Noel Gallagher, again if I had to pick one I’d go with ‘Talk Tonight’. I always loved Jimmy Webb as a songwriter too, some of his classic country stuff is amazing, like ‘Wichita Lineman’ recorded by Glen Campbell. And I think Ryan Adams is such an undervalued contemporary country songwriter, a favourite from him would be ‘La Cienega Just Smiled’.
Albums in a classic sense, if I could just pick a few:
Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Album
Oasis – What’s The Story Morning Glory
Ryan Adams – Gold
Jeff Buckley – Grace
Guns N Roses – Appetite
And a couple of more contemporary albums:
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
War On Drugs – Lost in a Dream
Jason Isbell – Southeastern
In your opinion what makes Irish drummers unique to other drummers?
As Francie Conway, one of my teachers at Ballyfermot used to say…. “You’ve got to lick the ashtrays”. Meaning get out there in the pubs and clubs, and just do it, harden yourself up and bring that experience with you no matter how far you go in this crazy business. In Ireland we have this amazing circuit of hard ass pub and club gigs. These are not for the faint hearted, you’ll be found out quick, and you’ve got to keep the Irish dancing! Most of us Irish Drummers are from that kind of background I would imagine. It gives you a great grounding I feel in preparation for what drumming should almost always be about, get them dancing!
Thanks very much Irish Drummers, good luck and happy skinning to all your readers, Willie.