1. How and when did you get your start playing drums?
I got my first kit when I was 5, it was called a Ranger, I was given the kit by a family friend and I’d get lessons from different friends of the family here and there. I think before that it was a toss-up between cardboard boxes and the kazoo, my folks steered me in the right direction.
2. Who influenced you early on and who inspires you today?
I remember really early on when I was about 12 there was a NZ drummer called Paul Russel who played with a band called Eight; he had a unique way of drumming. Of course Michael Franklin Browne my drum teacher, and then some of my good friends. My friend Brent Harris who plays for a band Cut Off Your Hands has got an incredible feel and really tasteful way of playing. I went through a short Blink 182 phase, I think Travis Barker is responsible for a whole generation of drummers to having a completely flat setup including mine. A few years ago I really got into teaching myself gospel chops off youtube, Aaron Spears and Tony Royster Jr. etc. It wasn’t all that practical for what I do but very fun. I love what Questlove and Chris Dave do with timing and try to drum along to J Dilla albums when we have breaks. In the future I just want to be Charlie Watts.
3. What is the music scene in New Zealand like? Are there many opportunities for drummers there?
We have so many amazing artists in NZ, it’s a tough place to crack because it’s so small and removed. But the gap is getting smaller between NZ and the international stage. I have a handful of really talented friends who are drumming for amazing artists in NZ and slowly but surely those artists and drummers will make it overseas. NZ is a great place to be but to make a living from music there is really tough no matter how talented you are.
We have a really strong alternative scene in NZ, which can be quite harsh and protected, but I think it breeds b acts because they have to be real about what they are doing. There’s been a bunch of NZ alternative bands that have done well globally because they have had a unique sound. The pop scene in NZ tends to be a bit of a bubble as it’s tough to compete with international pop in such a small country.
4. How did you get gig with Lorde? Did you realize at the time what you would be stepping into?
One of Ella’s (Lorde’s) manager Tim Youngson used to manage both my old band and also Jimmy the keyboardist’s old band. We knew Ella’s producer Joel Little from playing with each other’s bands earlier on and had both expressed interest in playing for Ella. I was sitting at my desk at the architecture firm one day and out of the blue Tim rang asking me to audition. It was one of the most stressful weeks of my life staying up late every night memorizing all the parts and I was up against three good friends who are all amazing drummers. After a day or two of not being able to eat properly I got the call and I had got it.
When Jimmy and I first got the job we would say to ourselves, this is a pretty big deal in Auckland, our city, right? Then the next week we were saying woah this is a great opportunity to get in NZ and within a month we were blown away at how well she was doing internationally. It was a very sudden and well deserved rise for her. It is both my and Jimmy’s wildest dream to be doing what we are doing, we are extremely fortunate.
5. Your first show with Lorde was playing to 150 people in a small Auckland bar, and in less than a year you were on stage at the Grammys, playing to 30 million - what has that journey been like for you?
It’s been the craziest year. I remember being so nervous for that first show. Jason Flom, the head of Lava Records, Ella’s label was there. He would have been the most influential person any of us had played in front of at the time. My kick pedal snapped at the base plate hinge one song in, so I played the whole show with the pedal still connected to the chain, kind of fishtailing around. I made it through though; it was a hold on for dear life scenario. I have, fortunately, a few back up pedals now. Slowly the shows got bigger and her song Royals also got bigger until it hit number one. The whole process has been quite surreal. I think also because New Zealanders are really down to earth, it never went to anyone’s head, so it was like riding in a little bubble through this insane world and laughing about it, saying what is going on, this is madness!
The Grammys were crazy, we had played the Clive Davis party the night before in front of a silly amount of very famous and a few iconic artists (Teddy Campbell and Kenny Aronoff were both playing!!! both lovely guys) so that helped get rid of our nerves a lot for the actual Grammys. Then on the night we just had to get up there and go for it surrounded by almost everyone in the industry. It was all live so we had a lot of pressure on us but we managed to pull it off, and Ella did an amazing job and got two Grammy’s.
6. You’ve talked about your teacher Michael Franklin Browne who in High School would make you do math for 30 minutes before your lesson. Was that to help you pass math, or did it help you overall with your rhythm? What advice did he give you about fitting “tastefully” into a band?
Yeah, I wouldn’t be where I am without Michael, he was an amazing teacher and drummer. The math was purely for school, I think I got 52% in the end haha, which is great considering all I did the year before was tag in my math book. I got a bit side tracked early on in school so needed a bit of help. He did teach me a huge amount of theory so he taught me how to read music, which has been really beneficial. He talked a lot about not overplaying, just playing what is necessary. If the song is good enough then it can speak for itself, it generally doesn’t need heaps of fills, etc. I appreciate there are bands out there who have a different approach to writing though, so playing a lot might be the whole point.
7. How did the Ted Reed and the Tony Cirone books help you – would you recommend them to other young drummers who are learning to play?
Absolutely, I’m pretty sure Ted Reed has this one classic page where it’s just a simple 8th note solo. But Michael would get me to do independence exercises with it. So I’d hold down a simple swing pattern on the Ride with the HiHat foot on the 2 and the 4, then play the page with my left hand on the snare and fill in the rest of the triplets with my foot. Then swap it around so my kick was playing the page or the HiHat foot, and filling in the triplets with my left hand. It just helped break all the brain paths that had been locked in since I had started drumming so all my limbs could work independent of each other. This has helped with the Lorde stuff as it was all computer programmed drums, so a lot of the parts don’t feel natural to play at first.
Cirone was great for getting my speed and reading up; it also has given me a bit of a language that has stuck with me today. A lot of beats I play naturally would be derived somehow from those pages even if it’s just a bar or two here and there. Cirone is great for rudiments also.
8. Tell us about your studio cymbal set up versus your live set up. Why only one pair of HiHats live?
If I play in other bands I play mostly K’s and Constantinople’s, and quite big sizes. I find 20” Crashes to be really dynamic and you can get so many sounds out of a cymbal that size as well as the complexity in the sound of the K and Constantinople range. I usually just use 14” HiHats, a 20” Crash and 22” Ride. I like a washy, dark sound.
Because Ella’s music is all electronic all the cymbal sounds are samples taken directly off the album. Most of them don’t sound like a normal cymbal so to stay true to the sound of the album we opted for keeping it all electronic. However I use the 14” Constantinople HiHats which I love! They are super dry and fit perfectly in with the rest of the samples. I first tried them out on Jimmy Fallon where I borrowed a pair from Questlove’s drum tech and wanted them straight away.
9. What did you do to translate the drum sounds from the album ‘Pure Heroine’ to a live playing situation.
Me and Jimmy the keyboardist sat down with Joel Little Ella’s producer and would go through the songs working out how we would play the parts. We basically do as much as we can before running out of fingers and toes, then there is minimal track with backing vocals or extra HiHats etc. Joel would bounce out all the drum samples individually and then I’d load them into my Roland Spd-SX and work out how to lay the samples out on my pads.
There are some songs with 9 different snares in the same song so it can get pretty hectic at times and some songs are spread over a couple of Spd-SX kits which I change half way through a song. Its mainly about muscle memory once I work out how I’m going to play it, it’s just a sea of black pads if I have a mind blank. I have an acoustic kick drum, floor tom and snare drum also with triggers on the Kick and Snare always. The acoustic drums sit underneath the samples and sound really big and look good in a live setting. I’m lucky enough to be endorsed by Ludwig and their drums sound and look incredible.
10. What’s your favourite Lorde track to play and why?
I like a bunch of them for different reasons. “Tennis Court” is fun and has some cool fills and some faster foot work so the challenge of making it all as clean as possible is fun. “400 Lux” has such a great feel so is really nice to play. Then “Bravado” is fast paced and has some quick hand work which keeps me limber. I’m mostly playing exactly what is on the album but you start noticing the crowd responding to certain songs with slight changes in feel, that’s really noticeable in songs like “400 Lux”.
11. Which drumsticks are you using and why?
I use Zildjian 5AN’s. They have a nice throw and aren’t too long which is good for my set up being quite compact and needing to move around pads fast, and they are heavy enough to play loud with. I go with the nylon tips because they are more durable and last longer. If I was playing cymbals outside of Lorde I’d switch to wood tips as I prefer the tone they have on cymbals.
©COPYRIGHT 2000 - 2014
The Avedis Zildjian Company Inc. All Rights Reserved.