Photo by Ollie Dolling
Photo by Susan Phelps

The eccentric ’80s rock and pop heavyweight revisits his smash debut solo effort on the road, with dual drummers in tow.

Originally released in 1982, Friend or Foe marked the first solo record for Adam Ant, who had previously led the new-wave group Adam and the Ants during the late ’70s and early ’80s. Friend or Foe peaked at number 5 on the U.K. charts, thanks in part to the dance-infused rockabilly single “Goody Two Shoes,” which hit number 1 in the U.K. and Australia and number 12 in the U.S. Now, more than three and a half decades later, Ant is hitting the road for an international Friend or Foe live run that lasts through late November. Backing the singer/songwriter on the road with a two-drummer approach are Jola, who joined Ant in 2010, and Andy Woodard, who joined in 2011. Let’s check in.

MD: What’s the band’s rehearsal process like leading up to a tour?

Jola: We don’t over-rehearse. This lends a spontaneity and rawness to the live shows as well as a thrill that something unscripted will happen. For the Friend or Foe tour, we’re rehearsing songs we’ve never played together before, so there’s the added excitement of hearing how all the parts we’ve worked on individually will sound as a whole.

Andy: It all starts very relaxed while we knock through the songs. Then we work them into a set and go over it to learn the flow. We openly discuss certain parts or issues, which is helpful. It’s nice that each person is listening so intently to what each other is playing. The last few run-throughs are where we get the timings and transitions right.

MD: How do you prepare for a tour?

Andy: I’m very lucky to earn my living playing drums and bass, so I’m always kept warm, so to speak. Most weeks I perform three or four times for around two hours, and then I practice in between teaching.

Jola: Physically, you certainly have to maintain a reasonable level of fitness and strength for the rigors of touring. Even when not touring, I like to keep playing whenever I can. There’s been quite a long gap between the last tour and the Friend or Foe run, but luckily I’ve had some projects to focus on.

MD: How do you decide to split the parts live?

Andy: There’s some doubling to add power, particularly on songs with only one drum part on the record. But usually I take the meat-and-potato parts—the main kick and snare patterns—and Jola does all the interesting work on the toms and percussion. Sometimes we double the tom parts, as that’s the trademark Ant sound.

Jola: “Vive Le Rock” is perhaps the closest to being doubled, as there are sections where we keep time together. But by and large, there are two distinct drum parts in almost all the songs. Playing the same parts together wouldn’t be what Adam’s music is about.

When working out my drum parts for Friend or Foe, I heard the snare keeping time and the bass drum patterns, but I focused on the percussive elements—the fills and different voicings that are built around the basic rhythm. We work on our parts remotely, but it’s crucial that our individual parts complement each other and that any added percussion will reinforce the arrangement. This only becomes clear once we get to the rehearsal stage and hear both drum parts together for the first time.

MD: How did you each approach taking the parts on Friend or Foe to a live stage?

Jola: It’s important to stay faithful to the original arrangements and the feel of the songs. Adam’s songs have very distinctive phrasing, fills, and unexpected twists—the song “Friend or Foe” being a textbook example. Because of this unpredictability, there’s always [room] for some touches of self-expression. When I first began working on the drum parts to “Stand and Deliver”—because there’s so much going on rhythmically—there were countless variations on interpretation and discreet permutations to work with.

Andy: We do strive to honor the parts on the records, but it’s inevitable that a bit of personality comes through, particularly on fills or with dynamics. If there are loads of overdubs on the record, we do our best to play the most important parts.

MD: Are the two of you able to feed off each other in terms of energy?

Jola: Even in the rehearsal room there’s energy. By show time, energy levels have hit the danger zone. The moment that creates the most impact for me is when the whole band is playing drums on “Stand and Deliver.” That excites me every time. It’s very primal and stirring.

MD: What type of feedback does Adam have on your parts?

Jola: Because I play a more percussive role on many of the songs, this allows me to add to the original arrangements. If I feel I can embellish a song with my own input, I will. Sometimes I’m subtle, other times less so. But Adam is an adventurous and experimental artist who can absorb different interpretations of his songs with ease.

Andy: Adam might mention particular things softly in the downtime of rehearsals, but generally he lets us make the decisions. I guess by omission we must be paying enough respect to the original parts.

Andy Woodard plays Natal drums and Paiste cymbals and uses Remo drumheads, Roland electronics, and Audix microphones. Jola plays Gretsch drums and uses Vic Firth sticks.


Also on the Road

Jeff Plate and Blas Elias with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra /// Pete Parada with the Off spring /// Edward Larsen with Reel Big Fish /// Mona Tavakoli with Jason Mraz /// Mark O’Connell with Taking Back Sunday /// Alex Shelnutt with A Day to Remember