After the show at L.A's Orpheum Theatre, Setptember 30, 2014. Photo by Tony Levin
After the show at L.A’s Orpheum Theatre, Setptember 30, 2014. Photo by Tony Levin

On The Cover

King Crimson’s Gavin Harrison, Bill Rieflin, and Pat Mastelotto

MD goes deep inside the reinvention of a prog-rock institution, which stormed stages around the country last fall with a raging new three-drummer lineup. Retrofitting four decades of genre-defining music for the seven-piece band took a lot of careful planning, but once the parts were in place, vroom!

by Michael Parillo

It’s almost as if the MD editors dreamed this one up: Let’s take the progressive-rock icon King Crimson, guitarist Robert Fripp’s giant roaring beast of musical mischief, and call it back into action from one of its periodic slumbers…only this time let’s arm it with one, two, three drummers, men of great power and mystery…and let’s arrange those drummers, with all their strength and dizzying sleight of hand, as the front line on stage, with the rest of the group on a riser behind them. Now there’s a great idea!

And then, it stands before you, this version of King Crimson—the band’s eighth lineup since its 1969 inception—and it’s nothing short of revolutionary. Just walking into the venue, in this case the Best Buy Theater in New York City’s Times Square, you get a little thrill seeing three blue-finish drumsets taking up all the real estate down front. To your left you see Pat Mastelotto’s mad-scientist laboratory, a thicket of drums, trash metals, and electronics. In the middle is Bill Rieflin’s classy-looking, streamlined set, with everything more or less in its traditional position; what you might not notice is the keyboard that the multi-instrumentalist will employ during the show. And to the right is Gavin Harrison’s finely honed precision machine, featuring three rack toms, lots of cymbals, and sets of chimes and tube toms.

As the lights dim, a public service announcement of sorts welcomes you to the show, part of a sold-out four-night run on the month-long Elements of King Crimson U.S. tour, and dares you to enjoy the music without capturing any of it with your digital device. The voice of Fripp, who’s notoriously unbending in his refusal to allow photos or recording, leads the spoken-word bit, but all of the other band members chime in: the drummers, guitarist/singer Jakko Jakszyk, sax/flute player Mel Collins, and bassist Tony Levin. The put-the-phone-away request is rendered with good humor, and the men in the audience heed the call. (Yes, this crowd is overwhelmingly male, with the T-shirt sizes at the merch table listed as men’s small through quadruple extra-large…plus women’s medium.) You haven’t seen so few lit-up screens in an audience in fifteen years.

“Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 1” makes a riveting opener, as the drummers flirt with some quiet bell tones before everyone explodes into the crushing riff. As the set unfolds over the next two hours, the band plays an immersive, highly dynamic mixture of material drawn from its long history, including perennial favorites like “Red,” here overhauled completely by the drummers to become even more ferocious than before, and “Larks’ Tongues, Part 2,” plus rarities like “One More Red Nightmare” (a late-breaking addition to the tour repertoire, Mastelotto says) and “Starless.” Two drum-based features add to the fun. The only Crimson period not represented is the ’80s, presumably since singer/guitarist Adrian Belew is not involved. But what might have been a disappointment to some results in an especially fresh and surprising—and mind-bendingly proggy—set of material.

The encore tonight, played after Rieflin leads the group through a short, strange, note-based improv, is “21st Century Schizoid Man,” from the band’s first album, In the Court of the Crimson King. The song whips the crowd into a frenzy, with Jakszyk howling the distorted vocal, Collins taking a soaring sax solo, and Harrison blasting off kit pyrotechnics in a brief showcase. At both ends of the tune the drummers trade fills, passing the baton among them in a display of the most thoughtfully arranged rhythmic assault imaginable.

Mastelotto joined Crimson as part of its ’90s “double trio,” playing alongside Bill Bruford, and has been in all lineups since then, while it’s Rieflin’s first stint. (Harrison and Mastelotto anchored the short-lived 2008 version of the band.) But the three sit on equal ground. Although, roughly speaking, Mastelotto plays lots of dramatic effects, Rieflin has a big backbeat and enjoys toying slyly with its placement, and Harrison specializes in power and control, no one’s role is fixed, and each does a bit of everything, including supplying a sense of melody. Meanwhile, Levin commands attention sonically and visually, holding down the bottom brilliantly under all this drumming while looking incredibly cool, with his wiry frame, wide stance, and fleet fingers. Throughout the evening, during pauses in the music, giddy audience members cry out to the band, “Thank you!”

The next morning, MD meets up with the drummers in Harrison’s hotel room. The trio sits down to chat, with Mastelotto to our left, Rieflin in the middle, and Harrison on the right. They listen to each other carefully, and each chooses his spots to talk. The rapport among them is easy and comfortable, and the combination of these three very different guys makes a lot of sense. In many ways it’s almost as though they’re back on stage.

Photo by Tony Levin
Photo by Tony Levin

MD: So how’s the tour going, now that you’re a couple weeks in?
Gavin: It’s getting better as the nights go by. We make different mistakes every night, and I think that’s part of the show. We’re getting very good at the sort of liquid arrangement areas, where things can happen and you just have to recover and move on. The songs are very symbiotic, so if someone goes to a certain section, we might all follow. A lot of surprising things happen like that, but we’re getting very good at recovering.
Bill: Initially we developed parts that we then had to learn to play, and we’ve spent a lot of time learning to play together and making sure it’s working. But we’re at the stage where now that we got tight it’s beginning to loosen up a bit and there’s more interaction and give and take. For instance, last night I can’t remember which of you did something, and all of a sudden there was this big call-and-response thing in the middle of a song that had never happened before. It’s just responding in the moment to what’s going on around you.
Gavin: I think we’re getting to third or fourth base, for the first time. First base is where you can just play the part. You don’t play it well, but you can play it. Second base is when you can play it in time and things are starting to come together. Third base is when you’re now free enough to not worry about the articulation of what you have to play. You can start listening to the other guys and how they’re playing. And fourth base is where you can play the song inside out, backwards, forwards, without even thinking. You can listen to the other guys, watch the other guys, even start thinking about abstract things.
Bill: Like laundry.
Gavin: You can think, I’m going to play the next fill like I’m a saxophone player. You’re not worried that you’re playing in 11/8, you’re not worried about the timing, you’re not worried about the arrangement. This only comes together through lots of repetition and rehearsal and feeling comfortable with the song and the parts. You’re not down in the engine room—What do I have to play next?—you’re up on the ship, steering the boat. And you start to understand not only the other two drummers, but I can listen to Mel’s solo.
The first time we play some of these songs, I can’t listen to Mel’s solo, because I’m trying to play alternate bars of 11/8 and 17/16, or something. MD: Seeing only one show, I’m wondering how much is precisely worked out in terms of where everybody’s playing or not playing. But I guess some of that shifts
in the moment.
Pat: It’s both. A song like “Sailor’s Tale,” Bill gets the front section and Gavin gets the last section, but I join in to play the five riff while Gavin’s carrying on with the six thing, so there are some things that are chunked like that specifically.

Photo by Rahav Segev
Photo by Rahav Segev

Gavin: “Starless” is like that.
Bill: Conveniently, a number of the songs are in chunks of threes, so as one strategy we just divide it up and assign different roles for different sections. Bingo—that’s the easy part.
Gavin: Sometimes there’s bits, like in “21st Century Schizoid Man,” where three fills happen around a riff. That’s ideal—Pat plays the first fill, I play the second one, Bill plays the third one. And then that whole section comes round again. When there’s a four, we do a unison one, which is worked out.
Pat: Like “One More Red Nightmare.” We do a unison one at the beginning one time, and at the end another time.
Gavin: In “Vroom” we worked out some of the fills.
Pat: Displacement, echo-type things. But then, within “Vroom,” there’s freedom for this hi-hat exchange, where I get to be the leader. But sometimes my first one goes by and you reply and then it goes the other way, because my original statement didn’t get caught.
Gavin: Even though it’s a very structured drum arrangement, nice improvisations happen, as well as the bits we’ve worked out: I’ll go three 16ths this way, Bill goes one 8th this way, and Pat’s gonna stay in the middle…. It’s good fun.

Photo by Rahav Segev
Photo by Rahav Segev

MD: Did you work out the music at the same time, among the three of you and also with the whole band?
Gavin: The three drummers got together first. But there was a lot of listening and thinking before we even met.
Pat: Skyping and emailing.
Gavin: We were all thinking, I wonder how we could do this. One guy can play, none of us can play, two guys can play; Pat’s got a lot of electronic sounds, and Bill’s got some keyboard parts. We’ve got lots and lots of options, so it’s more than just kind of a large drummer. [laughs] We got together last February in a studio and started to work on a couple of the hardest pieces, trying to really get down to the atoms of, well, who’s gonna play that bass drum? Who’s gonna hit the first snare drum? [all laugh] Knuckle it down to that.
Luckily, we could record it. We could listen and say, “Oh, you’re playing that downbeat. Okay, I won’t play the bass drum.” We don’t want two bass drums arriving at the same time. We did do some really careful arranging in the first week. And then the second time we got together, we still didn’t feel like we were ready to go with the band, so the three of us went into another studio and spent a week.
MD: Where was that?
Gavin: It was in Cambridge, England. And that was really good, valuable time.
Bill: This band couldn’t exist in this form without us having laid that groundwork.
Pat: And the other guys did the same thing. They were off together, either just the guitar players or all four of them, sorting things out.
Bill: The interesting thing regarding what Gavin just described is that in principle it’s pretty straightforward: You take this part, you do this part, you don’t do that…. But the thing is, drummers aren’t used to working with other drummers. And they see the whole picture. So when something comes, you’re automatically on that downbeat—you’re in mid-swing and it’s like, Oh, I can’t…no!
So not only are we looking to organize what we are playing, but we also have to very carefully organize what we don’t play. And the things that we don’t play are, in a way, automatic. Without thinking, your arm goes here, your foot goes there.

Photo by Rahav Segev
Photo by Rahav Segev

Pat: And it goes the other way too. It’s not just the end of the fill or part you’re playing—it’s going into it. We all did enough recording, especially in the ’80s, where we did records in pieces. So we’re familiar with the idea that you’re only going to play one part of the drumkit at a time. But, especially with fills, that’s a weird thing when you’re not playing time—it’s just, there’s your fill.
Like in “Schizoid,” I play the first two bars of time, but Gavin takes a fill. And Bill has the next two bars of time, but I have the fill. So I’m not launching from anything; it’s a cold start.
Bill: In the studio you can warm up, and then you punch in and you’re already there. But here it’s like you have to go from zero to sixty instantly. And that in itself is a skill—sitting, and then going, and then stopping—and if it’s something you’re not used to, you have to practice. So it’s doing everything that drummers normally do, but in an entirely different way.
MD: Pat would play a big fill and then he wouldn’t be playing anymore, but suddenly Bill and Gavin would be playing. The spatial relationships between you are a powerful aspect of what you’re doing together. I wish you could feel that from the audience.
Pat: I heard one guy say, “I love it when you do the Wimbledon.” You hit the ball cross-court and back.
MD: Exactly. It’s a physical transference of music from one place to another. And it’s surprising.
Bill: On stage it’s weird when you’re playing it, depending on your monitoring. I’ll be playing and it’s loud, loud, loud, and then I stop and it’s not loud anymore, and it feels empty.
Pat: It feels gutless sometimes.
Bill: And I think, I just hope this is working. Because I honestly have no idea. The urge is to just fill that space, because it shouldn’t be so empty.
MD: I guess there’s trust and faith involved that the sound remains full.
Pat: Yeah, we trust Ian Bond; we’ve got a good sound guy.
Gavin: Plus there’s an awareness of the sound of our kits—three very different- sounding drumkits.
Pat: Gavin’s got the higher toms, which appear in the stereo field over there [to the crowd’s right]. So it made sense for me to try to get the lowest sound over here [to the crowd’s left].

Photo by Rahav Segev
Photo by Rahav Segev

Taking Shape
MD: How did this lineup come to be? Was it Robert Fripp’s idea?
Gavin: He just called us all up. Pretty simple.
Bill: He had a very specific vision, a seven-piece group, the drummers in front. It was these seven people, in this configuration. And if any one of them didn’t want to do it, that would be enough to call it off.
MD: It strikes me that he chose the right people.
Pat: I didn’t know who he chose. I just said, “Yeah!” And I found out later. And Bill, you told me you were the last guy he called, so you could have pulled the plug on the whole thing.
Bill: Robert says, “Yes, if any one person doesn’t want to do it, then the whole thing’s off. By the way, everyone’s agreed to it.” [all laugh]
Gavin: That’s surely one of Robert’s greatest skills, through the history of King Crimson—picking people. You’ve got to be a good casting agent, shall we say, and know what the personalities can bring to the band and what personalities to mix up. You could easily get it wrong.
Bill: Almost like a Calder mobile—it’s hanging in balance as it moves, and everything’s in relationship and everything’s in motion. It’s dynamic, and we all influence each other.
Gavin: It needs a balance.
Bill: Yeah, certain people balance certain other people, yet it creates a whole.
MD: Was the repertoire chosen by Robert?
Gavin: Robert suggested the repertoire. And, of course, quite a lot of the original versions have just one drummer. So you could choose to work out exactly what that part was or treat all of it with fresh ears and think of it as a new song, which is encouraged.
Pat: One of Robert’s principles of the band is that the music is always new.

Photo by Rahav Segev
Photo by Rahav Segev

Bill: Regardless of when it was written.
Gavin: Which is great! You just think of it as a song. Momentarily forgetting what the original drum part was, how could we reinterpret this? A song like “Red,” for instance, we completely changed the rhythmic aspect of it. The song is still the song; it’s still the same arrangement. But we decided: Let’s try something new. We worked a couple of days on that one. We were really scratching our head.
Bill: Gave us the biggest headache, I think. We wanted to give it a new feeling, a different kind of energy—sort of amp up the lurking menace in the piece.
Pat: Did you notice that in the verse sections there’s no kick drum?
MD: I noticed what felt almost like a half-time take on it, or something that felt bigger and slower, tom heavy and more airy.
Pat: We slowed the tempo down as well.
Gavin: Little bit heavier.
Pat: Less cymbals.
Gavin: Yeah, it’s tribal, isn’t it?
MD: With three guys playing together, like Gavin said a minute ago, the bass drum can really clutter things up.
Pat: That’s where the flams are most apparent. A flam in the snare is a little more forgiving, and it can sound like a nice Elvis slapback, something like that. But the kick drum is not pleasant to hear a flam on.
MD: Was achieving the discipline not to hit your bass drum at certain times one of the more challenging aspects of this?
Pat: Yeah. And finding the beats in between each other’s patterns.
Gavin: Sometimes there’s a little bit of a visual thing going on. In “The ConstruKction of Light,” there’s a part where there’s four notes, and I play the first two and Pat plays the following two, because we’re on the outside edges [of the stage]. There’s a couple of things where all three of us suddenly play in unison—we all play this part in eleven—and then we break off.
Pat: A linear part in the eleven section.
Gavin: The first time we do it we play it on the hi-hat. And then the second time, we all reach out for a bell. Musically it sounds nice, but I know that visually it looks good—suddenly you can see all the arms and the sticks going together.
Pat: In unison, for just a brief moment.
Bill: The fun thing is when we can combine musical value and performance value. And it’s super-fun to play.

Photo by Rahav Segev
Photo by Rahav Segev

Gavin: That was one of the songs that we started with. That song and “Level Five” are probably the two hardest technical songs to play. Our first week, that’s pretty much all we got done.
Bill: I kept notes, and I know that the first two days we worked on “ConstruKction.” The third and fourth day was probably “Level Five.” Four days on two songs…
Pat: …when we only had six or seven days together to look at about fifteen songs.
Gavin: And meanwhile I was getting Jakko to make demos, because we needed to play to something. In the case of “ConstruKction of Light” and “Level Five,” DGM sent me all the multitrack files from the original sessions, so we had something to play to. Some other songs, we had Jakko play the guitar parts and Tony put some bass parts down, so when we came back for the second rehearsals, we had maybe ten pieces that we could play to. Otherwise, three drummers in a room—we were kind of singing the songs to ourselves.
Bill: “Does the chorus go longer…”?
Pat: In the rehearsals it was great that Bill plays other instruments, because we didn’t have a guide track for “Starless.” We started to talk about, “Okay, I’ll take the ballad, Bill will take the middle, Gavin will take the back part…but what are we gonna rehearse it to, to start to feel it out”? So Bill picked up the bass. Tony was there, but Tony didn’t actually know the song yet, and Bill knew it.
Gavin: He did a whole bass track.
Bill: To a click track. [laughs]
Pat: It was awesome! He played the whole bass part with like one punch-in.
Bill: There was more than one punch-in.
Pat: It was great.
Gavin: Plus, of course, in this band famously there’s some Mellotron parts, which Bill plays. Otherwise we’d need a keyboard player.
MD: Do any of you have a click track running during the show?
Pat: Sometimes. You didn’t hear any count-offs, did you?
MD: I didn’t. That touch was really effective.
Gavin: Yeah, it’s exciting, isn’t it? Suddenly…bang!
Pat: You wouldn’t notice, but we don’t have a monitor guy; we have little self-monitors. The house mixer, Ian, sends premixed drumkits. So even when there is a click, any of us has the choice to knock it down or turn it up.
Gavin: It’s a modern miracle of monitoring. Ian uses a Midas digital desk, and we’ve got these Roland boxes, seven of them on stage—well, eight; Pat’s using two.
Pat: One for the speaker behind me, so I can put my own electronics in the speakers, so when I’m working I don’t have to do everything with headphones.
Gavin: So a knob says “Gavin,” and that’s my entire drumkit, premixed by Ian to my taste; in fact, he even puts some reverb on for me. Then the next one along is Bill, then Pat, and then Robert, Jakko, Tony, and Mel—in the order that we’re on stage. At any point, you can just reach over and turn them up or down.
There are some bits where Robert plays whisper quiet, and you need to hear the time, so you turn him up. Other parts you might want to turn down, because it’s going to blow your head off when it gets to a solo. It would be impossible to have a monitor man do that for us. It’s really convenient to just kind of mess around with the mix.

Photo by Rahav Segev
Photo by Rahav Segev

Talking Drums
MD: Let’s discuss the drum pieces you put together for this band.
Gavin: One of them’s all electronic, which we came up with recently. It’s based on a pattern of twenty-seven notes. So Pat plays 7-7-7-6 [sings].
Pat: There’s a bit of a melody, because it’s on gamelan bells.
Gavin: “The Bells of Hell,” that’s what we’re calling it at the moment. And meanwhile, Bill’s playing a pattern of nine [sings three nines], which is also twenty-seven. So they’re cycling at different rates. And I’m playing these sort of weird, funny electronic drums on the Nord 2 pad, and I play some of them with Pat and some of them with Bill. It’s got this kind of floating thing. It’s more of a link piece than a feature, so we put it in between certain songs, and it’s a nice atmospheric kind of bridge.
Bill: It gives a break to the audience from all the intensity.
Pat: We kind of built it going into “Sailor’s Tale.” We didn’t use that last night with that song, but we pitched it to overlap into “Sailor’s.”
Gavin: The other drum piece, the feature, “Hell Hounds of Krim”…
MD: The one where you started with four sticks each?
Gavin: Yeah. We had ideas to make a proper drum piece, rather than take, say, “B’Boom,” which was already written, but for two guys. The seeds of “Hell Hounds” were done a long time ago, and we practiced it a lot when were in Cambridge, on our second rehearsals.
Pat: Gavin had presented the idea of the first section. There’s kind of four movements to it.
Gavin: Yeah, I sent the guys a little film of me playing some ideas. Rather than send out notation or audio, it’s actually easier to watch someone play. Working on ideas at home, I used to write them down. But when I go back to them six, seven years later, although I can play it, I can’t remember the attitude. So now I just film myself on a little Zoom, because quite often it’s to do with a movement or a tempo or a vibe, more than the actual sticking—and sometimes I write that down as well, with all the ghost notes.
It’s actually much easier to learn something by watching it, I think, because it’s a very physical instrument. You can see that sometimes the guy’s playing left hand on the hi-hat, and if you just heard it and you were thinking it was right hand on the hi-hat…
Bill: …you couldn’t figure out how to make it work.
MD: I think of “Cissy Strut” by the Meters when you describe that.
Gavin: There you go. When you see him play it, it all seems a lot easier.
Bill: It’s funny you bring up “Cissy Strut,” because when Robert asked me to do this thing I was thinking about my place within the group, with these two great players. What am I gonna bring to the table? And all I could think of was James Brown and the Meters. So I actually learned “Cissy Strut” as part of my preparation for this. It’s a hell of a thing.
MD: Do you use two hands on the hi-hat?
Bill: Oh, yeah. It’s such an awesome thing, but, again, it’s like what Gavin’s describing: I wrote it all out and I can read it, but you give that to anyone to play—you need to know what the feel of it is, that sort of lumpy kind of thing.
Gavin: It’d be interesting to ask someone to try to play that part if they’ve never heard it. If they just saw it written down, it would sound pretty stiff. It’s what Frank Zappa used to call “putting the eyebrows on it”—the attitude you play it with is sometimes more important than what you’re actually playing.

MD: As three drummers playing together…
Bill: …when we do…
Pat: …there are bits of unison…
MD: …I was wondering whether there are any concessions that you have to make. One might be not playing the whole time.
Gavin: That’s a difficult one. It’s really hard to not play, because you’re a drummer—there’s a natural urge to play. It’s harder than it sounds, just to sit there. You’re used to playing from the beginning of the show to the end. I sit and listen for about seven, eight minutes of “Starless” before I even really start playing. But I like it! I’m a spectator.
Pat: I don’t view it as a concession. It seemed weird when you said it like that. I enjoy watching. I like to play, but it’s great to watch. Somebody said, because Robert’s got the band dressed up a little bit, “How can you play the show in a jacket”? I don’t sweat that much in this band, really. [Points to Gavin] He’s got the heaviest lifting, so I’m not that sweaty at the end of the night.
Bill: Well, again, yes, it isn’t a concession. The aim is to make the music work. When you have three drummers, you simply cannot play all the time. Even though you want to, you can’t, for the music’s sake. You put the reins on your natural enthusiasm.
MD: It did seem that when each of you wasn’t playing, you were enjoying the music.
Bill: Hell, yeah. You just get to sit and listen to this great stuff.
Gavin: You get to go and see King Crimson every night. [laughs]
Bill: I actually forgot to play the other night. I was doing one of the keyboard songs, and I found myself just listening. I thought, Oh, I should be doing something.
MD: There are a lot of drums flying around during the show, a lot of freedom and a lot of discipline. You explore the territory between the center of the beat and the front and the back, and there’s a range of feels.
Bill: Well, the biggest danger, of course, is that it’s just too much. Obviously we’re drummers and we like to play, but ultimately it has to serve the needs of the music. In the moment you get carried away and you want to do things. We all have our parts, we have areas where we can improvise and have fun, but we also need to keep the global view, ears open and listening: Is this musical? Does it work? And that’s a constant evaluation, for me, anyway. So yes, three drums—the danger is that it’s just an onslaught. As Gav would say, a fire in a pet shop.
MD: But we do look to King Crimson for excess. Too much is relative.
Pat: What’s the use of having a top if you can’t go over?
MD: Exactly. It’s a place where we’re happy to get assaulted.
Bill: The currency of King Crimson is intensity, largely.
Pat: That’s a good one. I like that. That’s a pull quote right there.

Crimson Kits

Photo by Rahav Segev.
Photo by Rahav Segev.


Drums: DW Maple Standard in twisted blue finish, including 8×12 tom, 14×16 floor tom, and 14×20 bass drum, with 6×14 snare in silver broken glass, plus 18″ Camco floor tom cut down by Pork Pie’s Bill Detamore
Cymbals: Paiste, including 15″ Signature Sound Edge hi-hats, 20″ Signature Full crash, 20″ Master series Dark Crisp ride, 18″ 2002 Novo China, 7.5″ 2002 Cup Chime, and 15″ Traditionals stacked with 14″ Twenty series China. By Matt Nolan: bell, Batwing gong, glass chimes, and Spinning Moon. By Hammerax: Screech/Hazard stacker, Dustbowl, Vine Chime, Bwii, and Culebra. (“On the floor,” Pat says, “is a Paiste Twenty series 12″ China, a 16″ Hammerax Hazard, and a new prototype Paiste 12″ heavy splash that I play in the air or lay across drums for certain sections; same with the Culebra.”)
Electronics: Roland HPD-15 HandSonic, PD-7 satellite pad (connected to HandSonic), SPD-SX, V-Cymbal pads (connected to SPD-SX), and Expression pedal; Korg Global Wavedrum; Apple iPad (with various apps, including Flux, Beat Bots, SampleWiz, and BeatMaker 2); Mackie 1202-VLZ3 mixer; Porter & Davies BC2 tactile drum stool monitor
Heads: Evans, including G14 snare batter, G2 Clear tom and floor tom batters (Onyx on Camco floor tom), and EMAD bass drum batter
Hardware: DW hi-hat stand, 9000 double pedal, and rack hardware; Gibraltar V-Rack; Black Swamp MultiPlates
Sticks: Vic Firth extended rock Extreme stick with King Crimson Elements logo, Vic Firth mallets, Cymbow

Photo by Rahav Segev.
Photo by Rahav Segev.


Drums: Gretsch USA Custom in blue sparkle finish, including 9×13 tom, 16×16 floor tom, and 14×22 bass drum, plus 16×16 Renown series silver sparkle floor tom and 5×15 Ludwig chrome-over-brass snare
Cymbals: Paiste, including 16″ Twenty series (original formula) Medium Light hi-hats, 19″ Dark Energy Mark I crash, 20″ Signature series Medium ride, and
20″ Formula 602 Thin crash (old riveted Zildjian China, shown on floor, is stacked on 602 crash for certain songs)
Heads: Remo, including Coated Emperor snare and tom batters, Clear Ambassador snare and tom bottoms, and Coated Powerstroke 3 bass drum batter
Sticks: Regal Tip E series 5B, weighted from 50 to 54 grams per stick
Hardware: Gibraltar
Electronics: Roland HPD-15 HandSonic, Nord Lead 2 synth, Memotron rack unit (for Mellotron sounds), older Korg Kaoss KP2 pad (for processing electronics)

Photo by Rahav Segev.
Photo by Rahav Segev.


Drums: Sonor SQ2 in blue tribal finish, including 7×8, 8×10, and 9×12 toms; 13×15 and 15×18 floor toms; and 15×22 bass drum, with 5×12 Protean GH Signature birch snare. Harrison also designed his 9×8, 11×8, 13×8, and 15×8 Sonor prototype tube toms.
Cymbals: Zildjian, including 14″ K Constantinople hi-hats, 19″ K Custom Dark crash, 17″ and 19″ A Thin crashes, 18″ Z Custom China, 12″ and 16″ Oriental China Trashes, 20″ K ride, 7″ custom crash bell, and custom-made chimes
Heads: Remo, including Coated CS snare batter and Ambassador Snare Side, Coated Vintage Emperor tom batters and Clear Ambassador bottoms, black-dot tube-tom batters and Clear Ambassador bottoms, and Clear Powerstroke 3 bass drum batterSticks: Vic Firth Gavin Harrison signature model
Hardware: Sonor stands, Gibraltar rack, Tama Speed Cobra double bass pedal and Cobra Clutch
Electronics: Nord Drum 2 and pad, Porter & Davies BC2 tactile drum stool monitor

Tony Levin Talks Drums to the Third Power

Photo by Bill Rieflin
Photo by Bill Rieflin

As a member of King Crimson on and off since the early ’80s, Levin has been handed some tricky assignments. Presiding over the low end beneath a trio of drummers is one of his greatest tests yet.

MD: Are there any particular challenges in playing with three kits?
Tony: Sure, it’s a challenge. But the surprise has been that it’s not as hard as I’d imagined it would be. The drummers worked out their approaches in such clever ways that there really isn’t a clutter I need to avoid or compete with. Especially in the bass drum area, it’s surprisingly clean and easy to groove with. I’m not only grateful to them for that, but I admire how they did it—took a lot of planning, and requires a lot of restraint from each of them, yet the drumming aspect of the show still shines through as maybe the most innovative part.
MD: Could you describe what you’re focusing on in terms of listening on stage?
Tony: I’m listening to the whole piece, but, like any bassist, I’m hard-wired to focus on the bass drum to be sure I’m not flamming with it.
MD: For the material from the Thrak album, which you played on, did you rethink your original parts to fit the new group?
Tony: I’ve tried to rethink all the material I’d done before, especially the pieces I’ve played a lot, like “Red” and “Larks’ Tongues, Part 2.” Trey Gunn’s [touch guitar] parts, from the era I didn’t play in, are “ConstruKction of Light” and “Level Five.” On “ConstruKction” I try to stay very close to what he played. The reason I don’t try to give it my own flavor is because that part is the core of the piece, and it’s also an amazing musical adventure, maybe the best bass line ever written for our touch-style instruments.
MD: Along those lines, how have you generally crafted your parts for the tour?
Tony: I studied the songs and tried to keep what was special about the original bass parts, and there’s a great deal of that! But I also tried to let myself express what I could. Fortunately we booked a lot of rehearsal periods, so sometimes I changed the instrument I’d been working on for a piece, maybe even twice.
For instance, I’ve been playing “Larks’ Tongues 2” on the Chapman Stick for years now, and I wanted to do it on my Music Man five-string bass to get myself thinking differently. But the sound and power of the drumming gradually got me shifting away from the big, fat sound of that bass, and I dug out a vintage four-string Music Man that I’d last played on the 1980s tours and started digging into it really hard, which increases the midrange and amp crunch—actually gives less low end. And that approach ended up being the one I use on most of the set. It’s a way I haven’t played in a long time, so it’s been fun returning to it.
MD: Could you talk a bit about what you’re hearing from each guy specifically?
Tony: I’m afraid that’s hard for me to do…I’ve got a lot to listen to. I will say this: Whatever you figure out one of the drummers is doing, just wait a minute and you’ll hear that his function has completely changed. It’s a revolving story that’s
full of surprises.

Growing Up Crimson?

Our three drummers, two from the States and one from England, go back to their roots for a moment.

MD: Were you King Crimson fans growing up?
Pat: Yes. Big fan. “Cat Food” was the first thing I heard. I’d never heard anything like that. I was hooked. And then, out of sequence, I got the Court of the Crimson King record. I was maybe thirteen, and my folks had a car with an 8-track. I got to buy four 8-tracks that year; I got Zeppelin I, Court of the Crimson King, Simon & Garfunkel, and something else.
Bill: For me, Crimson loomed large as a young teenage listener. I probably first heard “Schizoid Man.” Dan Rabinowitz played it for me when I was fifteen or sixteen, and it went on from there.
Gavin: I never liked ’em! [Pat and Bill laugh]
MD: I knew you guys weren’t going to like this question.
Gavin: Three of a Perfect Pair was the first record I heard. I didn’t know any of the previous stuff. Three of a Perfect Pair, Beat, and Discipline. They were the moment that I heard King Crimson.
Pat: Great records.
MD: Did those make you go back and check out the earlier stuff?
Gavin: No. [all laugh] I really didn’t grow up with progressive music. I was a jazzhead.
Bill: Gavin, I wanted to ask you, to see if my theory is correct. We have two American drummers and an English drummer. The English drummer, if I understand, basically grew up listening to American music.
Gavin: Yeah.
Bill: Whereas the American drummers grew up listening to English music.
Pat: The Beatles, Dave Clark, the Who, Led Zeppelin…
Gavin: The grass is always greener. I wasn’t listening to the Beatles or Led Zeppelin or any of that stuff. Not until much later. It just wasn’t attractive when I was young.
MD: Were you listening to American rock, or just jazz pretty much?
Gavin: Jazz, jazz-funk.
Pat: You listened to a lot of West Coast [jazz], the stuff I hear you talk about.
Gavin: Yeah. My dad was a jazz musician, and he loved American jazz. All these favorite stars—Clifford Brown, Art Farmer, Miles Davis. So I was hearing that kind of thing. My eldest brother listened to English rock music, but it just sounded like a great big noise coming out of his bedroom.
Bill: Did you see yourself growing up to be a jazz player?
Gavin: Yeah…I mean, it’s very much part of my influence.
MD: How did you get into more progressive and heavier things?
Gavin: Well, when I started to work as a professional drummer, you don’t really get a choice. You don’t just ring up Joe Zawinul and say, “Hey, I’ve just left school…how ’bout me joining Weather Report”?
Bill: “Let’s kick out Omar Hakim….”
Gavin: “Why don’t I ring up Earth, Wind & Fire and see if I can get the job”? You just start working. When I was leaving school, punk was happening. And I did a tour with Iggy Pop. So that beat the jazz out of me, I think. [Pat laughs] “Iggy Pop beat the jazz out of me,” says Gavin Harrison. I wasn’t an Iggy Pop fan at all, but when I saw him perform—man, he’s got so much energy—I became a fan, watching him from the drums. Wow, this is fantastic. I didn’t get it from the records, but it’s that thing of seeing the attitude. By the end of the tour I was loving the songs. But it couldn’t have been farther away from my upbringing. You just try to get jobs, and you end up playing in all sorts of situations.