A lot has been written about Big Country’s guitar sound, almost to the exclusion of everything else about them. While it’s undeniable that the band’s guitar sounds have captured a lot of people’s attention, their drummer is not exactly out to lunch. Behind that much touted bagpipe sound is some thunderously massive drumming, a whirlwind of crashing cymbals, throbbing tom-toms and rolling snare drums, all combined to propel Big Country out of the studio and over the airwaves.
Drummer Mark Brzezicki once remarked, “Do you want to know the secret of our guitar sound? I’ll tell you. It’s in my drumkit.” And in a way, he’s right because his aggressive, Afro-army-esque rolls perfectly highlight and complement what he calls the “stirring “sound of the band. Never was a band better named, because their sound really is big—big to the point of Mark’s drums sounding like a bulldozer plowing through your stereo speakers. And then he turns around and picks up a pair of brushes!
Though he defies categorization, one thing that can be said of big Mark Brzezicki (over 6′ tall) of Big Country is that he’s a man who loves what he’s doing. He loves drums and drumming—eats, sleeps, lives and breathes drumming and is not ashamed to admit it. It’s doubtful that an hour a day goes by when Mark is not either playing or thinking about drums. His invigorating combination of seasoned professionalism and pure enthusiasm comes out both in his playing and his daily life. And he can’t wait to tell you about it.
SH: What was your background before you joined Big Country?
MB: Tony Butler and I go back for about the last six years. When we left our previous group, we decided to stick together as a rhythm section, even though we didn’t have a band. During that time, we called ourselves Rhythm For Hire. We got a manager who put us out together as a rhythm section, rather than the odd drum- ming job here and the odd bass job there. This way we could still be considered as a unit, since we felt that we worked well together. Before that, all the rest of my career goes back to playing in the pubs and clubs around London, doing dinner dances, which taught me lots of styles of music.
SH: Did you have lessons then? I noticed that you play mostly traditional grip, which is unusual for someone in your genre, in a band like Big Country.
MB: I’m self-taught via a very old drum book that I have, which is the Royal Air Force School of Drumming book. It showed such things as the correct way to hold the stick, the mommy-daddy roll—two on the right, two on the left—and the paradiddle. I practiced as much technique as I could physically conjur out of the book. I found that, for me, the traditional way of playing, where it comes through the wrist rather than the arm, was best. But for rock music, I find that when there’s generally a main thrash or a constant repetitive beat that relies on a steady backbeat kind of thing, I play matched grip with the butt end of the left stick just for sheer power. That’s when there’s no need for double hits or anything.
SH: On the Big Country album, there’s a lot of what might be loosely termed a martial approach to things—a lot of long rolls and double-stroke rolls.
MB: Again, I base my drumming around mommy-daddies quite often, and I like the feel I get from just moving my hands around while doing the same thing. I get a lot of interesting things. Big Country’s music is quite stirring, and although everyone denies this bagpipe sound, I can often hear those bagpipes. It’s almost like I’m blending in rock drumming with a marching pipe band feel.
I always liked the way Steve Gadd would play rolls. I find that gentle tapping on the snare drum more inspirational than some heavy beat. Like if you hear “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover”—I love that sort of feel to the music. And I found Big Country was a great way to play rock ‘n’ roll with some of that involved, just by sticking to the way I like to play drums rather than trying to play the way I’m told to. I always try to play the way I feel a song should be played.
SH: What is your input then when songs are coming up or being written?
MB: Our songs come from jamming on stage or from a song that someone has written that we only like part of. Recently, we recorded some demos in Scotland and everyone went down to the pub. I said, “I’m not going down to the pub. I’ve got studio time here. I’m going to record some drum tracks.” I always find that I’m full of rhythms, and often if only they would play with me, we could have a different rhythm other than “bush, bang, bush, bang” all the time.
So we were asked to write the theme music to a film called Streets Of Fire, which is an American Hollywood production thing, and we’d been asked to write a track for Against All Odds, a film for which we released one of our very early recordings called “Balcony.” I’m not very pleased with i t . I didn’t like the production of it. But I thought film music can often be very different—very experimental. So I laid this big drum track down and I invented an intro, verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, chorus, verse, chorus and outro. They came back from the pub, heard it and played on top of me. So we write different ways and that’s turned out quite amazing, especially for drummers to listen to. There are lots of things happening. There are three rhythms all on top of each other.
SH: I noticed, too, that you play a lot. There are some bands out now who are very good, but the drumming in those bands seems to be on the dull side. In contrast, you do a lot of playing on your tunes.
MB: I find that drummers are going through a very bad patch at the moment. There’s a lot of technology like the LinnDrum machine and the Fairlight or whatever. Basically, the person in the street doesn’t know whether it’s a drummer anymore or whether it’s a machine. I think that’s a sad state of affairs, because the drums are more than just something to tap your foot to. They always come from the heart. So the playing should be as inspirational and as unpredictable as the human body is.
Also, the sounds that everyone uses via the silicon chip are the same. I mean, to me, a LinnDrum machine doesn’t even sound like a drum. And in a way, it has become a fashion to use a certain sound. I go into the studio and my drums do not sound like the LinnDrum machine. There’s no way. Because of this, people are getting the wrong perspective of where the main foundation of music lies. It goes from the drums to the bass to the music. I try to be more creative than just sitting back and playing “boom whack, boom whack” on a slack snare drum; they might just as well have a LinnDrum machine if that’s all they’re going to do.
People say, “That was a big hit. We have to have ‘boom whack, boom whack’ on ours, too.” That’s not true at all. Music doesn’t stand still. I throw that out the window and do something totally wrong—play Octobans instead of snare drum. I’m into letting the drummer be noticed again, because I always feel that the drummer will never go out of season. I think we’re one of the few bands that still keeps the drummer in fashion.
When I hear a real drumkit being played, I feel really, really excited. I can’t help it. That’s the reason I play drums. My heart beats faster. If I look at the drumkit, it looks really exciting. All the steel, the drums, the shiny shells, the cymbals—it takes my breath away. When you see somebody play it well and sound good and it comes from a human being, it’s something incredible. Groups that have tape recorders are fooling somebody somewhere along the line: You might as well replace them with a tape, too.
The backbone of any group is the bass and drums. That’s why Tony and 1 have a good rapport. We’ve always stuck together and that’s the foundation of a good group. It’s the drummers, I find, who come first, because the music comes from the heart. A marching drum says “boom, boom, boom” and your heart beats faster. Even the sound of a bass drum is derived from that. It hits you in the chest and it comes from the heart. I don’t think that can be taken away from something synthetic.
When I hear a rhythm box playing on the radio, it just goes in one ear and out the other. Rhythm boxes are okay to help people in situations where a drumkit is impractical, like using it in a demo situation to help write songs where it is impossible to set up the drumkit. Then it should be used to help, not to hinder, the drum- mer. Another thing to remember is that the rhythm box is only as good as the person who programs it anyway. So you find that, because people do without drummers and there’s not a drummer around to program it, you get what I call these “immature” rhythms. They are idiot-type rhythms, you know? They are unnatural and they have no feeling. That’s throwing the book of drum- ming out the window, as far as I’m concerned.
SH: What about the Phil Collins approach of using both of them in conjunction—using a Rhythm Ace to set up patterns?
MB: I think if you’re after a sound that is accessible to today’s ears—to the people in the street who don’t really understand music—it can be good to mix. Sometimes it’s good to have a robotic feel with all this computer dancing, so you may need a rhythm box. It may be good for the intro, but it’s great to hear the drummer come in and sit with it, which is what Phil Collins does.
SH: Have you ever considered doing anything like that?
MB: Well, when I record, I always use a click track because I’ve done session work for a long time. I’ve found that using a click was the easiest way to get the job done quicker, and I’m good at keeping time to a rhythm box. Often, depending on the studio, I’ll either use a click metronome, or if there’s a LinnDrum machine, I will program “boom whack, boom whack.”
Sometimes on our records, Steve Lillywhite will bring out the backing track that I’m listening to, as in “In A Big Country.” In the 12-inch version there’s a “whack, whack, whack” which is actually the click that I was hearing. I find that quite nice, because you hear the click’s time and you hear me slightly shifting against it. I like things to shift slightly. It makes it more human.
SH: One of Steve Lillywhite’s production trademarks is a huge drum sound—the kind of sound he gets on records with Joan Armatrading, Peter Gabriel and others, as well as Big Country.
MB: Steve Lillywhite is one of the most interesting producers for a drummer I’ve ever come across. If he wasn’t a producer, Steve Lillywhite would be a drummer. He can’t play a single beat on the drumkit, but in his mind he understands. He’s got a good ear for things a drummer would be excited about. He always listens to the drums for ideas, and often picks up on little mistakes and turns them into something interesting. I could be playing a song for the first time, and I might get lost, do a double snare and find I’m the wrong way round. He’ll say, “That’s it! Let’s come in on that!” He’s really in on the drums for experimenting. There are no rules for recording a drumkit.
When I record with Steve, we use microphones everywhere. We have them in the bathroom; we have them down the hall. I have about four ambient mic’s in the room—one above the snare, two behind, about eight feet up. I have a mic’ underneath the snare, a mic’ on top, a mic’ in the drums as on stage, on every drum, and often we use a lot of outside sounds. But we normally use the outside sounds on a separate track. He gets them to be an ambient sound so he can feed it in and out. He likes to change the feeling and ambience. And he never keeps a drum track sounding the same all the way through the song. He’s constantly slightly dubbing, bringing in the ambience, and taking out the ambience. But he’s definitely into having the drums be a huge wallop, as it were. Some- body once said that he records drums as if they were at the bottom of a drain. I like his approach to drums. He’s one of the most exciting producers I know to bring out drummers.
SH: You mentioned before that he has the mic’s set up essentially the same way that you have your kit set up on stage.
MB: It’s basically the same as I’ve got it on stage, with the ambient mic’s added and put on a separate track.
SH: And this is the kit that you record with, too? The same one you tour with?
MB: Yes, my Pearl kit out there is exactly what I used to record The Crossing. When I was a rhythm section with Tony, I played on two of Pete Townsend’s solo albums and I used my other Pearl kit, which is the same as this one except in black and double-headed, which didn’t seem to cut as much. Working with guitarists, 1 find that, because of the sheer “kerrang” and the staccatoness, it’s better to leave my bottom heads off of the toms. I think perhaps I would have been better off using this drumkit on the Townsend albums. I recorded a couple of tracks on Empty Glass and I did seven songs on Chinese Eyes.
Before we came to Japan, we did the second leg of our American tour, and just before that, I went into the studio and recorded Frida’s new album. She’s the one from Abba. Before that, I did Roger Daltry’s solo album last year.
SH: Are you still doing session work in between tours?
MB: When I can, yes, but only when the band stops, which is the reason why I haven’t done too much session work. The only time I had was two weeks between tours. I did Frida’s album, came straight from her album to America, and straight from America to Japan. During any time off, I play because I don’t like a day to go by where I don’t pick up my drumsticks. And I’d rather have the challenge of playing someone else’s music. I enjoy the variety of not being stylized as Big Country’s drummer all the time, you know. Obviously, it’s connections and connections, and I think I’ve started to get a good name. I hope so anyway! And they’re asking me to do different things. I’ve been recommended to work on Stevie Nicks’ new solo album, and I’ve been asked to play on Bob Seger’s solo record which will be very, very different for me. But I never say no; I like the challenge.
SH: When you did the Frida album, did you work from demo tapes or did you use charts?
MB: I don’t read at all. At one point, I did master it very simply, but since I’ve never been asked to do it, I’ve found that I’ve never had to do it. I have my own way of writing it down, like idiot language that I understand, either with a little drawing, diagrams, or my own association of thoughts. I write cues down. I normally can learn songs very quickly like that.
I basically rely on my ear and I find that people actually like that. They start playing the song and I just have to join in. It’s very spontaneous. I think my best ideas come like that. When I think too hard, I’m not very good. I think anyone who tries to think too hard about something fouls up. I can’t listen to my drumming when I play. If I start to listen, I stop. If you are walking and you begin to look at where your feet are going, you start to walk funny. It’s best just to do it, you know.
SH: You’re playing on Pearl drums. Could you describe your double-duty touring/recording kit?
MB: My touring kit is a maple wood Pearl kit. All the stands and fittings are also Pearl. The bass drum is 14 x 22.I use 8 x 8, 8 x 10, 10 x 12, 11 x 13 toms and two hanging floor toms—12 x 14 and a 14×15 which is an unusual size. I find it hard to get heads some- times.
SH: Is there any particular reason why you use that size?
MB: I don’t like drums to be too big. In fact, I’d like to experiment with an 18″ bass drum. I don’t really like a boomy sound. I think a boomy sound can come naturally via the hall and ambient mic’s that we use. So I like the initial thump to be a good, clean, tight hit, and then you can expand on that. When you haven’t really got a good, solid thump and then you add ambience, you’ve got no sub- stance. So I think for my height and for everything to be in perspective, there’s obviously a logical sequence. There’s an optimum size for the notes you use, too; you can’t use a huge drum and tune it high. I find that small drums give me a bigger sound than big drums. I didn’t really want to go to the 16″ floor tom and then to the 18″ model like a lot of rock drummers use. I have obtained just as big a sound using much smaller drums. Also, because they’re small, my reach is better for more drums. The bigger the diameter, the wider the kit ends up being. I have my drums very close together, almost touching, and I find it easier to get around. The less work I do, the better I play, because I’ve got more energy.
I use Pinstripes on all the drums except snare drum, because I think they sound the best and they last the longest. I find the Pin- stripe to be a cross between a Black Dot and an Evans head where you’ve got slight damping—a self-damping because it’s a double skin and they seem to last forever. I don’t think I’ve ever broken a Pinstripe head. After a while they just start to sound dull, so I keep my ears open for that. But on a vigorous tour, when I’m playing every night, the Pinstripes can last on my toms and bass drum for about two weeks, which is a long time.
SH: You slug them hard, too.
MB: I hit them hard, but they last. I find that when the skin’s totally new I don’t like it. They ring slightly and they always change. I like them when they start to wear.
On the snare drum, I always use a rough white head. It doesn’t last very long, but I find it has the best texture because the rough white surface dampens itself, and it comes closest to the sound I have in my head. They’re good for brushes as well. If I do a session and my snare is tuned the way I want it, there’s nothing worse than having a clear head when I want to use brushes. There’s no fric- tion. I like that friction also for when I stick. When I clout a snare drum, I don’t hit directly straight down, and with a clear head the stick can skid off and I can lose my impact. But these rough white heads are perfect for me on the snare drum.
SH: On your 8″, 10″, 12″ and 13″ toms, you’ve got the bottom heads cut out and you’ve got a mic’ inside each drum.
MB: I have it cut because I prefer the staccato sound of the toms. What I’ve learned by my mistakes is that the smaller drums should be single headed and more staccato, for me, at least. Smaller drums, tuned high, don’t need a bottom head. They’re staccato.
With bigger drums, I can put a bottom head on to give them more ambience and more bass tone—that drop in tone that most drummers like. I leave my four rack toms open headed because I like the continuity, and I play them the most. When I come off them, I like the floor toms to be very bassy and thunderous.
SH: It makes for a larger contrast. What’s the story on the cymbals?
MB: Well, I’m using Paiste. I’ve got an assortment of hi-hats at the moment. For sessions, I might put up my 2002s, but at the moment, I’m using a Rude Sound Edge on the bottom and a Rude standard bottom hi-hat cymbal on the top for a very metallic sound. It sounds like a triangle when you open it up if you use the tip of the stick. And I find it extremely clean sounding for the “tick” sound. The hi-hat should be very compatible with the ride. I think that they’re very similar things. I do have a Zildjian cymbal that I like because of its bell, but I find that the Paiste 20″ 2002 heavy ride has great continuity to the Rude hi-hats. They both have tight definition. It’s no good having a very tingy ride and mushy hi- hat sound.
In front of the hi-hats there’s a 16″ 2002, and then directly beside it is a 13″ 505 paper thin. I go through a lot of them for obvious reasons. Above that I have an 18″ China type Rude which is very aggressive-sounding. And to the right of that I use an 18″ 2002 crash, which is quite standard. There’s a good contrast between that and the 16″ crash. Below that is my ride, which normally varies from a Formula 602 to a 2002 20″ heavy ride. Then come the small bells. One is a Paiste 8″ bell. Above that is an icebell— UFIP—as Paiste doesn’t make anything like that. Above that is an incredible range of cymbals that I’m completely knocked out with for crashes—the 505 line. I think they’re better than the 2002s, frankly.
MB: I think crash cymbals should be hit and then they should disappear. I don’t like them to be too boomy. I have the China cymbals for the boominess. I like extreme contrast in my cymbals, so that’s why I’ve got a lot of different sizes and shapes. The 505s have a very fast cutout and actually do what a crash cymbal says— “crash”! Actually, the 505 is a cross between a splash and a crash.
SH: A smash.
MB: Exactly! The 505s are actually a cheaper range than the 2002, but I think buying expensive crash cymbals is silly. You wear them out, and I like cheap-sounding crashes—the trashy sort. To my right I’ve got two China cymbals. The bottom one is what’s called “a Ray Man genuine China-type cymbal.”
SH: Is that the one that sounds like a door slamming on “In A Big Country”?
MB: That’s the one. It’s very gravelly, very earthy and unpolished. It doesn’t look very nice. I even think it’s got a slight crack in it. It cost me about 60 pounds in London. It’s very cheap and lots and lots of drummers are using it. Simon Phillips, Stewart Copeland, Phil Collins and a lot of other people are using these “Ray Man” imported cymbals.
SH: All the drummers who can’t afford decent cymbals, eh?
MB: Yeah, right. It’s just that they have a certain sound that no other cymbal manufacturer has managed to achieve. And it’s basi- cally because they’re a no-nonsense bit of material beaten out by hand, bent and then slung in a shop with hundreds of others. It’s like the genuine Chinese percussion, as it were. And you have to drill a hole in it to put it on a stand. That’s how raw they are; they come almost unfinished. And then you have to “de-burr” the edges. Otherwise you cut your hand because it’s totally raw when you get it. They’re very, very cheap, but the sound of them is incredible. I’ve had that one for about five years, which is a pretty long time for a cymbal. It’s just starting to get a slight hairline crack that I might have welded up.
Above that is a Paiste Nova China, which is perhaps the loudest holocaust-type cymbal sound I’ve ever heard. I use it when tension on the stage is mounting and there’s a lot of “kerrang,” because it’s complete energy and explosion—a white-noise kind of thing. It’s the one with the inverted bell, and the supposed gimmick of being a China cymbal with a bell. But the way I have it placed, I don’t actually reach the bell. I don’t particularly like the sound of the bell, but the edge is brilliant, if used sparsely.
SH: And your snare drums?
MB: Ah, yes. Several, sometimes simultaneously. On my left, I’ve got a new Pearl 8″ with the new Super Gripper lug system. 1 was a little sceptical at first because of the wood shell. I found that there was always something dull about wood snares. They never really cracked enough. Hence I was using Ludwigs for a while—the Black Beauty and the 400 as well. But I found that this Pearl snare gave me as much crack as the metal Ludwigs. Since it has the depth, I could tune it quite high and still get a lot of depth in the tone. Being wood, it was a warm sound but it would still really crack. I was really, really impressed with it.
I’ve also been playing around with the free-floating snare drums which I’m completely amazed with. The brass one in particular has perhaps the loudest crack I’ve ever heard in a snare drum. I haven’t actually stripped it down to see how it all fits together, but the engineering looks impeccable, as usual, and it certainly sounds amazing as well.
With Big Country the attack—the crack of the snare drum—is my main concern. With this band, I would use the brass snare, whereas in a session with someone else, I might put the wood drum up. In the studio with different bands, the important thing is to have the facilities to adapt to the songs.
The other important thing is to project your character. I think it’s the way you hit the drum that always brings your character out—how you play it, more so than just the drum itself. So carry- ing different drums allows me to be flexible, yet I can maintain my character because it’s always me playing, no matter what drum I might be using. Different drums are used for different feels or effects.
SH: You’re dealing mostly with deep-shell snare drums. Do you ever go smaller than that?
MB: I have a very old Ludwig 5″ acrolyte snare drum, and that’s got a very thin, very sharp orchestral sound. I’ve used it for military-sounding or orchestral-like passages. It’s good for press rolls and lighter things. I carry it around in case I need it, but it’s not my general work-a-day drum. What I have been using up to this point is a Ludwig Black Beauty, but it looks as if my general work-a-day snare will now be this Pearl free-floating brass snare.
SH: Any particular reason why you started playing Pearl drums?
MB: Yes. I was an aircraft engineer for six years at the same time as I was playing the pubs and clubs. So the engineering is very important to me: good logical designs. Pearl seems to be into design, and that’s one of the things that attracted me to Pearl: They put a lot of thought into it and they do listen to drummers. The only way you can get firsthand information is from the people who actually play the instrument.
SH: True. To finish your snare drum setup . . .
MB: I was using an old Rogers, but now I’ve got the Pearl piccolo brass snare off to the left of the hi-hat. Sometimes when we recorded, I used two snare drums—one tuned very, very high and one tuned quite low, using the high one for a sort of Bill Bruford sound. It added another color. I did that on some of the B-sides of our records. Also, if you look at the way the hi-hat is, I always have to cross my hands, which is a pain. I’d like to be able to play left- handed like Phillips or Cobham. By having another snare on the left, I’m not crossing my hands and I can get a completely different attitude playing that way. I can be moving my hands around in a circular pattern with the hi-hats between two snares, and it puts the snare beats in funny places. I get an interesting combination.
SH: When you do that, are you playing traditional grip or matched?
MB: Again it depends on what I’m doing. If I get around the hi-hat region, I tend to play traditional because that’s my softer playing. When it starts to drive and my right hand goes to the ride or the China cymbals, I’ll switch to butt end in the left hand. I’ve also gotten a lot of ideas from using the Octobans as well. Most of it comes from playing on my own.
I rehearse a lot on my own. I hire a hall and practice. I do this because when I get the facilities to play with a group, I’m accompanying the band and it doesn’t give me much time for experimenting. So I like to come to soundchecks early or hire halls on my own. And I don’t think enough is being experimented with on Octobans, because I find them to be very exciting drums. They’re very fast and they’ve got very unusual sounds. Since they’re small in diameter and tuned high, I can do very fast double-stick work on them. And they’ve got almost a timbale-type effect because they’re so staccato. But I’ve found that, when I play rhythms across them and go on to the snare, and then on to the second snare set up as a timbale with the snares off, they produce a sound similar to African or reggae rhythms. Instead of thrashing across the toms as I often do, or playing the ride, I substitute the hi-hat for the ride and the pop on the Octobans. I find that exciting.
SH: So you see yourself doing a lot more of that kind of thing?
MB: Yeah. Just by playing a regular beat and then putting your hand on a different thing, you can get a lot of interesting rhythms. It changes the tone and color completely. That’s the kind of thing I like to work on.
SH: You don’t practice at home at all?
MB: No. I can’t. I still live at home with my parents in Slough, which is about two miles from Windsor; I’d bother the queen!
SH: When you were coming up, where did you practice?
MB: I had my practice from actually playing all the time. When I first started, I was suddenly thrown in the deep end, always playing with better musicians than myself at pubs and workingmen’s clubs. I was always involved in playing cover versions, which meant that I had to learn other people’s songs on which the drumming was already good.
It was like that all the time. Practice came from playing every night of the week: aircraft engineer in the day, and at night put on the bow tie and play bossa nova, brushes, “Girl From Ipanema,” fox-trot. I’d play all the traditional rhythms which came from all those people dancing. And I found that there was complete ignorance in the rock business. All the drummers could do was open the hi-hat and thrash in 4/4. But for my pub playing, I had to listen to people like Steve Gadd, Harvey Mason, Phil Collins, Simon Phillips, Jeff Porcaro, Stewart Copeland, Mark Craney and Bernard Purdie.
I still like to play in different situations. When I have the time, I like to set my kit up in a pub somewhere, get a keyboard player and some other people, and just play fusion—9/8, 5/4 and that kind of thing. I’ve got hosts of musicians I can work with just for fun to keep my own playing together and keep my technique up. These are scratch bands in which you have different musicians every week. You get five of them together, and just have a good time playing and talking about music and albums. It’s a nice environment.
SH: It’s obvious from watching you play that you have a real love for what you’re doing. It’s become just a job to so many people.
MB: I live, drink and sleep drums. To me, this is the easiest thing I’ve ever done for a living. I don’t find any pressures at all. If I find that a day goes by and I haven’t looked at my drums or played them, I’m itching to play. For the last ten years, I’ve always had that strong feeling inside of wanting the drumkit.
SH: And you also carry your own drumkit on tour with you, rather than just carrying cymbals like a lot of other people do.
MB: I think my ear gets used to my own drumkit, and how I hear them affects the way I play. If I have a bad monitor sound, I play badly because I don’t like what I’m hearing. So I carry my own drums because they help in that respect. I’m used to them and maybe, psychologically, I feel like I’m at home. I see the same drums in England and Japan. To me, I’m at home, so that keeps up my confidence and gives me that desire to play. I find that difficult to do with a strange kit.
Once I had to rent a drumkit, and it felt strange. There was always something slightly wrong. Drummers are so fussy; it could be a millimeter out and I would know it. It would bother me all night.
My Pearl drums all have memory locks, so when the roadie sets them up, they’re always the same. If I rent a kit, I spend an hour setting it up. “Is that right? No, over a little to the left. Is that alright? No, down a little—no, too far. Bring it up and over a little. Is that right? Well, I’m not sure.” So I go on stage with a hope that all will go well, but I’m not that confident, although I should be. I shouldn’t really care, but it’s that personal to me—very personal.
I think maintenance of the drumkit is incredibly important. If anything moves, it has to be oiled. Once it’s oiled, I have to have it wiped clean so it doesn’t attract dust. This comes from my aircraft days. I like spring washers on things so there’s no vibration. I don’t like things touching because they wear. If they do, I’ll put on tape. I have to have a clean drumkit always.
Some gig situations have been humorous. My drums have been subjected to all kinds of things. We played this small club where beer was spilt on them and everybody’s sweat dripped on them. When that happens, they get stripped down, wiped, repolished, reoiled, rebuilt and a new head is put on. I hate to see a kit in neglect. Immediately after the gig, it’s “flight cased” up and goes to the next place. My drum roadie is very in tune to what I need and do, and he does exactly what I say. But normally when I come to a soundcheck, I still go around the kit like it was an airplane and check it thoroughly.
I can honestly say that I’ve done two American tours, seven British tours and now a Japanese tour, and my drumkit has not failed once. Nothing has ever broken, fallen off or snapped. I think it’s because I’ve given it a lot of preventive maintenance. If I see something that has been bashed through negligence, I have it replaced immediately, find who bashed it, and it doesn’t get bashed again. You’ve got flight cases and common sense, so there’s no excuse for a drumkit to be in a deteriorated state. If you don’t have respect for an instrument, you can’t expect to get results back. That’s one of the two things drummers should remember.
SH: What’s the other one?
MB: Never tune your snare drum like a wet fish.