In England, it’s not easy to join a top-40 band and make a good living at playing music. It’s also not easy to become a virtuoso on your instrument and then spend five nights a week for years headlining the Airport Plaza Inn. Adam Woods is plenty glad of that, I suppose. It’s caused him, his band mates, and hordes of other musicians in the UK to endure hardships, test the British welfare system, and pursue something original. Woods, as a drummer of the successful British band The Fixx, has taken a very original approach to drumming and ridden it right up the charts.
Woods strikes a pose sort of like a young Benny Hill as The Fixx launches into “Sunshine In The Shade” off their latest LP, Phantoms. He grins through his maze of acoustic drums, Simmons pads, Pearl Syncussion shells, crash cymbals, woodblocks, cowbells, and tambourines at vocalist Cy Curnin, whose hands wave like birds, propelling him about the stage while new-wave-looking teenage girls scream and wave their hands back at him.
The Fixx draws a young crowd to this San Francisco arena. It is a crowd that may not understand the subtleties of Adam Woods’ drumming, the intelligent approach he has to recording, using electronics and processed sounds, as much as they like to feel the beat and throw their bodies around in time to the music. In this way, The Fixx should not disappoint its following as it grows up. Fans will just learn that their music is not only fresh and exciting, but finely conceived and executed.
The Fixx first came to America to open a series of shows for A Flock Of Seagulls in 1983, and they were pretty much an unknown import then. But they suddenly became the darlings of the then-new MTV on the strength of their “Red Skies” and “Stand Or Fall” videos, and found themselves supporting The Police on a string of mega-stadium shows. Their second album, Reach The Beach, achieved platinum status later that year, and yielded two top-five singles, “Saved By Zero”and “One Thing Leads To Another.” Their 1984 release, Phantoms, is another top-ten album that featured “Are We Ourselves,” “Less Cities, More Moving People,” and once again, the innovative and high-gloss production work of Rupert Hine. The band has proven to be much more than a one-song wonder.
Adam Woods began playing drums in his grade-school band, but soon tired of that situation. “I wasn’t interested in playing other people’s music,” he says. “I never have been that concerned about it.” Woods lived in Manchester, England for a long time after that, where he wrote songs. Then he moved to London to attend drama college. It was there that he met Fixx vocalist Curnin, another actor who wanted to be a musician. “I said to Cy, ‘You’re a good songwriter.’ He said, ‘I’m what?’ It was that sort of thing. Nobody had ever encouraged him before. And I think his parents have never forgiven me.” The two began writing plays together in school, then began writing songs, and started a patient journey to find the rest of their band. “We were just determined to get the right people around us,” he says. They spent the better part of five years running through different lineups (originally call- ing the band The Portraits) before finding guitarist Jamie West-Oram and keyboardist Rupert Greenall prior to their 1982 debut album, Shuttered Room. They struggled with a bass player problem through the Reach The Beach record, but now, according to Woods, are quite happy with Danny Brown at bass.
Don’t let the scowl that Woods likes to wear in promotional photos fool you. He is boyishly enthusiastic and quick to crack a wide grin, which causes his eyes to crinkle up and almost close. Woods is also an outspoken gentleman, and as the following interview shows, is quite articulate about the job he is trying to do on drums.
RT: I heard somebody joking that Simmons drums were already passe in England.
AW: Well, the new ones are happening. Have you heard the SDS7? It’s a digital version, so it has the classic analog Simmons sound with the noise gates and the filters that give you the huge sound. It’s got that, but in tandem, on every drum it has a digital sample, so there is an actual drum in there. And you can fiddle with both parameters and mix them, so it actually sounds pretty organic, and not at all electric. As a result, I use one on stage. I find that they’re really useful. What they just brought out is the E-Prom Blower, which enables you to sample a sound into a chip, and put that chip onto a card in the machine, so you can have your own whatever. I’m waiting for that to arrive from England. I want to have a set of breaking bottles sampled into it. It’s the most devastatingly good machine, and an improvement over the SDS5 beyond belief. But it’s no substitute for the real thing. It’s just a convenient way of getting your record sounds across on stage. I’ve got an acoustic bass drum, two snare drums, cymbals, and an acoustic tom-tom. Among all that, I have these six Simmons pads that trigger off different sounds. It’s my way of cheating.
The biggest area I’ve gotten into is live percussion. I now have a lot of percussion mixed in with the kit, which you can never get with Simmons or anything like that. You could sample tambourines, woodblocks, or cowbells into a Simmons, but you’d never get the feel. There’s a special feel you need to play a tambourine. I used to have the original Simmons SDS5, but I never used the snare drum and bass drum. It never appealed to me. I saw Flock Of Seagulls last week, and their drummer used a whole kit. It sounds boring. It has no dynamics. The touch sensitivity is very limited. It’s either flat out or it’s not flat out, and there’s no in between.
RT: Is there more sensitivity in the SDS7?
AW: Not really. However, there are so many programs that you can use different sounds on every song, and it might not be as boring to the listener, but it’s just as boring to play. You’re just hitting little pieces of plastic, really. I like to feel that, if you’re producing a big sound, you’re hit- ting something really big. That element of drumming is disappearing fast with drum machines and everything. Rupert Hine was telling me that he got Phil Collins in to do one of his tracks, and Phil brought along the biggest drum he had. He had to wallop it really hard to get this “boooooooom” sound—real noise.
Have you ever seen the Pearl Syncussioril It’s just two tiny drums—8″ and 6″—with a speaker inside. You hit the head, the speaker moves, and that triggers the Syncussion. Well, I’m using those to trigger the Simmons, so it’s just like hitting a normal drum. But it’s a bit weird when I hit a 6″ drum and get a 50-mile diameter tom-tom sound out of it.
RT: When I saw Sheila E’s band, the drummer was triggering Simmons with a set of bongos.
AW: I like Sheila E’s record. There is good percussion in there. They also do cymbals, you know. Have you heard the Simmons cymbals?
RT: I’ve heard they’re getting better.
AW: Yeah, they’re good if you don’t want cymbal sounds. I use them for crashes, sound effects, and stuff like that. But I just can’t see why people try to simulate acoustic drums with electric drums. To me, it’s like the whole thing with electric guitars. The moment you get hold of a Simmons kit, you’re in a new area really. It’s different altogether, and it needs an intelligent approach. When I first got mine, I tried to do the same patterns that I normally did on an acoustic kit, and it wasn’t the same. It’s very technical sounding. Everyone’s hooked on the drum machine feel and sound. With the Simmons you can emulate the drum machines, but it’s silly to do it that way. It should be the other way around.
RT: I was listening to “Less Cities, More Moving People,” and that part you play on the snare is really nice. It creates a moving kind of feeling. Is that what you had in mind?
AW: Yeah. The song took quite a while to develop. We had it together except for a satisfactory feel. The bass player, Danny, and I were originally playing around with reggae. We also had this vague idea about camels stomping, in order to add an Arabian touch to it. And the shuffle just happened. We just started doing the shuffle and then playing “Less Cities.” It seemed to fit. It’s a good shuffle, though. It doesn’t have a lot of bends in it; it’s square shaped.
RT: It’s a square shuffle?
AW: Yeah. It’s done on two snare drums, so the riding snare drum that’s doing the shuffle is very square. Instead of shuffling behind the beat, it’s coming straight down with it. It took quite a bit of doing. In fact, on the record we eventually looped the better bit of the tape, because we really wanted that invisible feel to it. It’s nice.
RT: How do you have your two snare drums set up?
AW: One in the normal place, and the other where the floor tom would normally be. I have a light snare drum with loose snares on it. I don’t have a ride cymbal, you see, although I am thinking of buying one. The main reason I haven’t got one is that I don’t really have the money to buy a really good one. [laughs] Their sound used to bore me a bit, really.
RT: I’ve noticed that you make pretty judicious use of your cymbals in general.
AW: I try to make judicious use of everything. You know, everybody in the band tries to get away with the minimum, just to give it a lot of room for everything else. It’s the gaps between the notes, really, that make the music. That’s what we feel.
RT: So what kind of ride cymbal are you thinking of picking up?
AW: I don’t really know. It’s a case of going around and searching for one, really. It has to be something that has minimum decay. But it’s where you put it as well. You have all these problems when you play the drumset. “Where am I going to put that?” On the other snare drum, I use brushes as well, which is nice. I find that using brushes on a snare drum is a good alternative to riding away on the cymbals. It’s difficult though. It takes a lot of wrist. I can’t keep it up forever. I’ve noticed that I get a nice bounce on a ride cymbal. But if I start to play a floor tom-tom, after two or three numbers I’m basically wacked.
RT: Yeah, a brush on the snare drum is a nice idea.
AW: It’s nice with a stick on the other one, because what I rely a lot on is what people do with the sound—what happens when it comes off the drum itself—both in the stu- dio and playing live. I’m very conscious that, if you separate the sounds enough acoustically, they can do things with them by placing them in different ways. So by separating the brush and the stick on the two different snare drums, you can get two vastly different sounds. You could never do that if the two were on the same drum. That was the thinking behind two snare drums, originally. The first song we did with it was “Running,” from Reach The Beach. We also used two snare drums on “Changing” on that album.
RT: How did The Fixx hook up with producer Rupert Hine?
AW: [Laughs] The man who’s responsible for all this. We sent him a demo of this track “Lost Planes.” He came up the next day and said, “Okay, I’ll come up to see you at rehearsals,” which he did. Then he said, “Okay. Be in my studio this weekend. We’re recording.” We .were staggered. We didn’t have a record deal or anything. And it was great. There was some real innovation. His approach to making a record is really intelligent. He sets out to make the best possible version of the song. He has no rules of what should or shouldn’t happen first. It’s luxurious. You sit back, and try this and that. He’s very much an editor. You throw lots of ideas out to him, and he’ll say, “Oh, that one’s the strongest, really. Work on that one.” It’s sort of comforting, because when you’re working on something in the studio, it’s always somebody telling you what’s good that gives you the confidence to try something else. So he’s excellent about that. I think we did the first album with him in about two-and-a-half or three weeks. We just went in and recorded all these songs that we’d been playing for two years. We were really pleased about that. Then we had a lot of trouble with the second one. We had two different bass players, and problems within the lineup, which is not good. We couldn’t find somebody who had the same sort of approach. So that was a more difficult album. On some of the tracks, I was playing without any bass. It was good fun, you know, just to get this huge drum sound. The bass drum would sound huge without any bass in there. And then we’d add stuff later. Rupert would do something on keyboard, or Jamie would do stuff on bass. So we sort of assembled the album in different ways.
RT: How was your playing affected by not having a steady bass player in the band at that time?
AW: Actually, the bass player we had did affect my playing in a way I didn’t like, in that everything became very groove oriented, which I’m not. I think groove is a great thing, but when people become obsessed with it, it’s one of the worst things for drummers. And it’s largely due to the drum machine phenomenon that drummers have become so obsessed with a groove rather than expression. I believe that drummers also are expressing things, and that seems to have gone out the window. Everybody plays to be in the background now. It’s rare these days when people say, “Did you hear that drumming?” I think that’s happened in other areas as well, like with guitar. People hardly play guitars these days. They’re made to be invisible. So in that area, I was straining at the leash, saying that I didn’t just want to do this groove. I wanted to be able to move in other ways. So perhaps it was a good thing, because it forced me to make a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to go that way with drumming. I just move in my own sweet way, and ignore whatever the current trends and fads are.
RT: So you don’t look for a bass player who’s going to play traditional or standard bass parts?
AW: No. And now we have a new bass player, Danny Brown. He is the fifth member of the band, but he’s no fool. He doesn’t want to do stuff like pose for pictures or interviews, [laughs] He’s a really good guy. He was playing for a jazz band called the Stinky Winkles. The moment he came in, we thought, “This guy is going to fit in really well,” and he has. He comes from a jazz background, and he’s obviously bored with the idea of rules in music. He doesn’t have any rules. If it happens, it’s music, and that’s it. He has that approach, and it’s really refreshing. One of the big hang-ups is that people have invented rules. That’s not what it’s sup- posed to be about.
RT: How did you get into drums? Was it your first instrument?
AW: No, viola was. As a kid I was taught viola at school, and a bit of piano. I went to school in the north of England. They have brass bands there, that are usually attached to places of work like mines. The instrumentation is percussion and brass. They generally play marching tunes. You start on the cymbals, and you get to hit them twice in the whole tune, so it teaches you how to count bars, basically. Then you do triangle. I don’t know if you hit bass drum before you go to side drum, or if it is the other way around, but eventually you end up on either side drum or bass drum. I got onto a drumkit by getting all these bits together, hanging them from coat hangers from the ceiling, and playing them as a drumkit.
RT: Hanging the stuff from coat hangers, huh?
AW: Yeah, because there was no hardware for it. On this gig, we had one instrument each. If you played cymbals, you played cymbals. If you played bass drum, you played bass drum. So after school you’d have to get all these elements, and hang them on bits of wire or something.
RT: That’s a great idea for a stage setup.
AW: Have you seen the Pretenders’ drummer? On this tour, he has this kit where everything hangs off these giant arms that come up around the drum. It looks great. He’s doing his bit for drumming. You know, you can hear him. To me, that’s the crucial thing. I think drummers have lost a lot of confidence, and they don’t want to be heard anymore. To me, the quirks, the tempo changes, and all that are part of the feeling. I’m not saying it’s the desirable thing all the time. But on the other hand, it’s not always undesirable. There is a place for feeling drumming. I’m listening a lot to King Sunny Ade’s Ju Ju music at the moment. The great thing about that music is that you can feel the drummers locking, and then not locking. It’s great stuff, except for his latest album, which has been edited around, and a lot of it has been played to the machine.
RT: It’s pretty groove oriented, isn’t it?
AW: The latest stuff, yeah. African music is very much groove oriented, but at the same time, it all moves. It snakes. I really love it. Linn can’t do that. It’s coming close to copying it, but it’ll never come up with it. And you can tell sometimes that whoever put down the Linn part has never been near a drumkit. It’s just not the way you would feel it. That’s the sort of thing that drummers should remember is in their favor. They know what it actually feels like.
RT: I have heard some non-drummers do things on drum machines that were interesting.
AW: Oh, yeah. I think Rupert Hine is a classic example of that. Have you heard his album Music? He’s got some great drum parts on his records, but most of them are made up from Linn. He also does a lot of things where he puts a time code on the tape, and with a time code and an AMS delay machine, you can just drop your own sounds in whenever you want. Every 60th bit of time code a bass drum will appear, or something like that. He also samples his parts on tape, not necessarily with a machine. That’s an area that Rupert Hine really opened up to me from the beginning. He showed me that there were other ways of getting stuff onto tape than just having to play drumkits. We did things where we sampled door locks or chains falling down, and processed them through. On “Lose Face” on Phantoms, we have a tabla and other things that we sampled and stuck in there. In addition to the tabla, there are Indian things that are like brass hubcaps. You play them on the lid. They’re really interesting. I’ve copied the sound into my Simmons, and I can sort of slam it out at moments while playing the song live as well.
RT: Who makes those hubcaps?
AW: I don’t know. I bought them at an Indian shop in London. Before we went in to do the album, I went around just grabbing lots of stuff—anything that sounded like it could never be on a record.
RT: Was this before the Phantoms album?
AW: Yeah, and every record we’ve ever done. “Lost Planes” from Shuttered Room was supposed to have a cowbell in it, and I had forgotten my cowbell, or we’d lost it at the gig the night before we went in to record it. There was no cowbell at the studio. So I used a giant propane cylinder. I had it on a chair next to the drumkit, and I walloped it for this cowbell part. Of course, Rupert Hine is very impressed by this sort of thing. So on every record we’ve ever done, we’ve had a propane cylinder in it somewhere. On the Phantoms album, it’s on “Lost In Battle.”
RT: A lot of the keyboard sounds on Phantoms are very percussive. Do you confer with Rupert on those sounds, or are any of those yours?
AW: Well, we do confer about it. Whenever we have things like that, we rehearse it. And virtually all the songs we’ve ever done are rehearsed songs. There are, however, a couple on Reach The Beach that we did in different ways. So before we go in to do the album, virtually every sound that appears on the album has, at some stage, been played at rehearsal. We really go through it like that. And any percussive sounds that we lock into are rehearsed for about two weeks. At night, we go home with a tape of stuff we’ve rehearsed. And we say, “Oh yeah, I can hear you doing this. I can hear you doing that.” We build to something that way. And Rupert Greenall’s keyboard playing is very much nonclassical, very organic, and, as you say, percussive. Also, we do things like put a pickup on the hi-hat that goes to the keyboard, and that is sent through the monitors, along with the bass drum and the snare drum. He also feeds it through a vocoder. There are all sorts of links between keyboard and drum sounds. In the studio, we make decisions to take a different route if we want to trigger stuff. We tend to go for either putting something to a clock rate or playing to a machine, or we use a machine initially and replace the sound. But if you’re going to do things that use the delay and repeats, they have to be very, very strict, machine-like, and groove oriented. “Woman On A Train” [Phantoms] is a good example. The studio version of it just floats along on the triplet feel, but it’s all locked in. In fact, the initial pattern was taken off a Linn, I think. It’s a good pattern. I don’t think a non-drummer would have come up with that. I’m really pleased with it. It’s one of the better tracks for me. It almost hits the old, heavy rock feel in the chorus, [laughs] But that was initial Linn stuff. We realized when we did it in rehearsal that, in order to get that real effect, we’d have to have it totally strict.
RT: You were playing along with the Linn on that one?
AW: No, I didn’t play along with the Linn. It’s a totally Linn track. I replaced different sounds, and played a hi-hat through it, because that always gives it a more human feel. But at the end, we always get rid of any Linn sounds. I remember one song we used it on, and we kept the bass drum. I always hated it for that.
RT: During your live show, do you ever use a metronome to get a tempo in your ears before a song?
AW: When we started out on this tour, we went to Australia after we finished the album. For the whole Australian tour, I was using a metronome just to get my own feelings right for each different tempo in each different song. But as soon as we felt confident enough, I dumped all of that, because the true experience is breaking those rules. You know, we’ve gotten it virtually in our bodies now, so . . . But sometimes we’ll have horrendous nights. We always tape every show. I can listen to the tapes and say, “Oh, no!” Then other nights I say, “I wish we had played it this way on the record.” I also put the sets together for the band, which I think is a great job for a drummer. The drummer feels the pace of the music more than anybody else. I find it vital, if I’m doing both jobs, to adhere to what the tempos should be in order to make sure the number is in the right place. It’s very easy to say, “Well, I want this to be a climax of the set,” and to push a number beyond its real tempo. So that’s why I was doing it.
RT: Yeah, it sure is easy to play a slow song too fast.
AW: It’s easy to play it too slow as well. These are areas that only drummers really know about, and singers, when they can’t keep up with it. But once you start it, you have to finish it. [laughs] We definitely have the healthy attitude that, whatever happens, that’s the way it is. It’s only life. And we feel confident enough that there’s always another gig.
RT: Getting back to your schooling, if you started in a brass band, you must have a background in rudimental drumming.
AW: Yeah, I did go through the rudiments. In England, there are less rudiments. When I was at school I did 16, I think. It may be that rudiments were less developed then. I don’t know. That was 1970. I’ve gotten back into rudiments over the last couple of years. When I have my Simmons kit at home, I play rudiments on it and plug the modules into different sounds. You can get the most extraordinary sounds in your headphones just doing rudiments over four or five pads.
RT: How do you incorporate the rudiments into your live playing?
AW: I don’t, really. I think they just help me if I have an idea in my brain that I can’t actually play, which often happens. I often have something that I can envisage, but I can’t play. Rudiments often give me a clue as to how to do it. The “In Suspense” pattern on Phantoms is one of those. I used a tambourine, hi-hat, woodblock, a clap track, and a snare drum. It’s quite an involved rhythm, and I suppose rudiments showed me how to do it. But in a way, the rudiments can also limit what somebody would play. A lot of drummers tend to play a lot of rudiments, which is not . . . Keith Moon didn’t play rudiments. He’s a drummer that, I think, had a huge effect on drumming. There were definitely no rules with that guy. He just played as he felt, and he probably felt pretty loony much of the time. He never did things like session work. I never do session work either, basically because I can’t be bothered playing what somebody else’s idea of drumming is. I don’t feel that my style is anything like Keith Moon’s, but I feel that I have a lot in common with the guy in his approach to the way it’s done. Keith Moon was definitely one of the drummers from that period who made me think, “God, yeah. That’s how people should be playing the drums. You notice them.” He wasn’t invisible. You see, if drummers are going to insist on being invisible, one might as well use a machine. The difference between a drummer and a drum machine is that the drummer is not invisible. The drummer is somebody hitting things with some sort of feel. I think one of the good things about rock music is that people can feel the elements. They can almost think, “I can do that.”
RT: Does your theater background affect the way you act while you’re playing?
AW: It’s affected the way we approach the show very much. We know we’re going to do something other than just play songs. We’re going to put on a show. And we feel like actors in a way—part musician, part actor. We’re just using all this technology that’s available to produce a really good effect and trying to get as much atmosphere into the songs as possible. We’re big believers in atmosphere, you know. That’s why, to me, the actual sounds that the drums make are equally important to the way they’re played and to what’s played on them. I pay lots of attention to the sounds of the drums. And every song we do has different elements. I’ve never played the same pattern on two songs, which is pretty good.
RT: Do you practice a lot? Do you see yourself getting better?
AW: I do practice, but only when we’re off tour. I suppose I must be getting better, although there are some things that I can’t play in the same way that I used to. If we do some tracks from the first album, I play them totally different now. And when I hear the album playing somewhere I’ll say, “Jesus, did I really play that? It’s really good. I wish I could play it now.” But that shows how you really do change. My approach to it is different now, which is good, because we’re still playing some of those songs, and it’s nice to know that I didn’t stop at that point. Most people in an audience wouldn’t know. We hear people saying, “It sounded just like the record,” but I know I am playing something completely different now. I think that is just the general sound of the band, because I know everybody in the band plays things differently. We all feel that we’ve moved on.
The songs that come up in the band are the biggest things to trigger me off to play drums. Whenever I have a place to live for a few months, I get my Simmons stuff, the shakers, and rattles in there, and every day I put in a few hours just to make sure I can still do it. Last year, after touring for seven months it was really bad. We stopped touring and I got a kit in at home. All I could think about was the stuff we had been playing on tour. It was impossible to think of anything new. So I had to stop playing completely for two or three weeks, and then the urge to play something different came back to me.
RT: Did you enjoy watching Stewart Copeland play when you guys opened for The Police?
AW: Yeah. I can sort of relate to him, to use a California-ism. He’s a drummer who has a touch of the Keith Moon about him, in that you know he’s there when he’s playing. He’s not invisible. Also, he’s pushed himself into areas. He’s a great traveler, I believe, and he’s playing sounds and instruments that nobody has ever bothered to play in a rock band before. It’s great. He’s the biggest asset The Police have. He is a far bigger asset than Sting or Andy. It takes a drummer to say that, but if they had any other drummer, they wouldn’t be what they are, and they would never have done it. I think it was his idea as well. Sting would still be in Newcastle hauling the coals if not for Stewart getting on the phone to him. He’s an American drummer, as well, isn’t he? I think he spent a long time in England, but he’s got the benefit of having gone into drumming the American way. He learned it in the rudimentary way, and then he was influenced by the other side. You know, the punk thing made him start hitting the drums rather than playing them. There are great sounds in “Wrapped Around Your Finger.”
RT: You have a real nice tambourine part on the chorus to “Saved By Zero.”
AW: Tambourine, woodblock, cowbell, and hi-hat. Instead of being played on a hi- hat, that song was played on a woodblock.
RT: How did you come up with that?
AW: I had the basic part, and I was playing around with the Linn. The Linn has the percussion, so I was fiddling around with it. And I said, “Oh, that’s a good one.” I remember Rupert came along and said, “Okay, don’t touch anything else!” That was the stage where we were having bass player problems as well, so it was essential to get something that was a great groove in its own right. It’s very much a groove approach. It’s a great track though. I play it to this day with relish.
RT: I noticed on the chorus part to “One Thing Leads To Another” that your snare sound totally changes. Are you using a different snare there?
AW: Yeah, a different snare sound. But “One Thing Leads To Another” is a Linn-substituted track. That was one of those where we hardly had the tune. All we had was the guitar riff, and we had a couple ways of playing it. We took the part I had and put it on Linn, or it might have been a TR808 at that time. Then, we replaced the bits with different snare drums. But Rupert Hine is such a wizard. He can make a snare drum change massively through sound processing. You can make the decay of a snare drum extraordinarily different—the wonders of modern electronics.
RT: Are you working closely with him when he does this stuff?
AW: Yeah, well, I don’t think I trust anybody to know what I have to put down, because that’s what it’s all about. It has to be me. Otherwise, it’s not my input, and so it’s not the band as we know it. I have to feel that things are leading somewhere, and that there’s a point to doing it like this, with whatever approach we choose. So I definitely have to be there. That’s one of the advantages of working with the idea of adding sounds to time codes or playing afterwards. Often in drumming, the drum- mer’s stuff goes down first. You can sort of get halfway through the project, listen to what the guitarist is doing, and say, “Oh no, I wish I hadn’t done this.” That’s sometimes why we’ll take the Linn approach. If I’m not that certain that it’s such a brilliant part, or if somebody else says, “I haven’t got my part together yet,” it’s often a really good thing to put a Linn down. Then you can move this or that.
RT: Did you just go back and drop sounds in on “One Thing Leads To Another,” or did you play over it?
AW: I think I played back over the top. It’s such an easy groove. I love that.
RT: So your grasp of the studio has changed a lot since Shuttered Room.
AW: Definitely. Shuttered Room was like “go in and thrash it out.” Now I’m look- ing much more at the end result. I think all of us feel more in control of what comes out the other end. With Shuttered Room, it was quite weird. It was like looking in a mirror for the first time. You get the master tapes of your album, but it’s not until you get out of the studio and put it on your hi-fi at home that you realize what it actually sounds like, because then it’s in relation to all the rest of the things you’re used to hearing. It’s frightening in some ways and great in others. After that, you know that there are certain effects that you want to happen, and certain effects that you don’t. We do all that now.
The whole concept of making records has changed so dramatically. I’m not sure if it’s been for the better or the worse, but it has. It’s probably just a journey that everyone’s going through, because ultimately, the way to make records is just to have one mic’ in front of a band, really. I’m sure that, when the technology gets really good enough, that’s what it will come down to. Just put the band in a plastic bubble with one mic’ on the top. Those digital recordings of orchestras where they’re just using two mic’s are brilliant. You can hear everything there—chairs creaking, guys sneezing. It’s brilliant sound—really vibrant. Maybe some rock band will take the plunge and do that.
We’d like to do a live album, but whenever we think of the idea, people say, “Alright then, we’ll book the 48-track, and record at seven different shows. Then we’ll book this studio for overdubs.” We don’t want that. You could just go straight onto a digital two-track—brilliant quality. That’s what we would like to do. Then people would have the benefit of going, because it is vastly different from the actual records, really. The attitude is the same and the atmosphere’s the same, but the details are very different at a live performance. It would be very boring playing “Red Skies” 300 times if we didn’t do some things differently.
RT: “Red Skies” is a good example of the political content of your music. Is this something that the band talks over?
AW: Yeah, we don’t know if we spend more time than most people worrying about who’s in control. It doesn’t matter where you seem to be in life. You’ve no control over what’s happening. There are power figures that have such a huge say in your life and destiny, and you never get a chance to even meet them, never mind influence them in any way. It’s quite frightening at times. I suppose it’s only natural to write about it if it occupies your mind a lot, which it does with us. It’s not really politics. I mean, I don’t agree with the right or the left or any of them. The people that are politicians shouldn’t be politicians. They should be just housekeepers who do the sensible thing with the money.
RT: Do you think the fact that you dare say something in your music has affected your popularity?
AW: It must have. I presume that’s why we have been accepted. That’s what we assume. Of course, we assume the positive thing. I don’t buy music that has lousy lyrics, basically. I can’t be bothered. I think that, if you’re going to write a song, you might as well write a good lyric with it. That’s why I can’t watch MTV. I see all these people lip syncing crass lyrics, and it does my brain in. It has nothing to do with MTV. It’s the bands. People who criticize MTV should criticize the bands, because they’re the ones who make the videos and who write the songs that inspire the videos. Everybody blames everybody else—the record company or the video makers or whatever—but the people who write the songs and make the records are the bands, and it comes down to them. They’re the only ones who can change it. They’re the source.
RT: Could you describe the drumset you’re using on this tour?
AW: I have a Ludwig 6 1/2 x l4 chrome snare drum, and I’m really proud of my snare drum sound, as probably all drummers are. If they’re not, they should be, because there are millions of different sounds in every drum. I use Duraline Concert heads, which I find are brilliant for recording or live work. They are woven, and you have to be careful how you put them on. They insist that you follow the instructions, and they actually mean it. They can look and feel awful. They can have lumps in them, but the sound of them is ace. I have a Ludwig 22″ bass drum—the deep 22. I think it’s 17 x 22. I also have a Tama snare drum. It’s a 5″ with a lighter head on it—a brush head. It’s tuned with very rattly snares, so that when you hit it, it has a sort of slap on it. I also have one 14″ power tom that I’ve found is a good all- around tom. It’s a good sort of power tom to have. It’s midway between a floor tom and a tenor tom, I suppose. That’s a Ludwig, too. And I have a Simmons SDS-7, which is the digital plus the analog unit. Sprinkled around the kit I have five trigger points, some of which are Pearl Syncussion drums triggering the Simmons. I have a bass drum pad down by the hi-hat, which is really handy for doing double bass drum patterns. I have a rack of percussion, which includes tambourine, a cowbell, a woodblock, and a tiny RotoTom. It’s the smallest one they ever made. And all of these are individually miked, so I can get different delays and effects with them. I have a Roland Boss clap trap, but it’s not called a clap trap. It’s like a foot pedal with a rubber pad on it. You hit it, and it makes this awful clap. It’s the same clap that’s in the Roland TR808 drum machine—with varying amounts of hall sound on it. But I use that because it’s a mobile piece. It’s just on a wire. I can put it on top of a drum and turn the sensitivity of it up, so that when I hit the drum, the clap comes out, or I can just touch the pad with the stick and I get the clap. So I use that, because it’s really a nice element to have in a kit.
For cymbals, I use Zildjian hi-hats—the Quick Beats. Those are the ones with the flat bottom cymbal with the four holes in it. I really like those. And I have two crash cymbals. One’s a 17″ and one’s a 16″.
RT: Those are Zildjians as well?
AW: No, one is Paiste, because they didn’t have a Zildjian when I last broke one. And the other thing I have is a China-type cymbal. It’s not a regular make like Zildjian or Paiste. It’s the original, hammered out in China or Turkey, wherever they come from. That has a really short decay. It’s great. And that’s the complete kit. I think total Items To Hit is [he counts out loud up to] 18 items—different sounds. That’s the live kit.
RT: That’s a lot.
AW: Well, it is quite a lot, yeah. And then you consider that the six Simmons pads have a hundred sounds on them. It’s a total of a possible 611 sounds, [laughs]
RT: How many of those will we hear tonight?
AW: Tonight you will hear a total of about 52 sounds, I think. That’s pretty good, especially when there isn’t a tom-tom fill in the whole thing. Well, there may be a couple.