Rhythm (September '85)
BUDGIE- interviewed by Nigel Lord
His recent years spent generating some of the most compelling rhythm to be heard in contemporary music, both for Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Creatures, has established Budgie as one of the more refreshing new drummers. A man of greatcharm, we met up with him during rehearsals for a new Banshees album...
How did you come to join the Banshees?- I know there were a few problems in the band before you joined, how did you get involved?
Well the group had split down the middle, the drummer and the guitarist had left, and I'd just finished drumming with the Slits on their album, so I was doing virtually nothing. Then I got a call from a friend who told me that the guy who was managing Siouxsie at that time, wanted to talk to me, and the next thing I knew he'd asked me to comedown the following evening to talk to Siouxsie and Steve, because they were looking for a drummer.
But you'd been an admirer of the Banshees before this?
Yeah, I remember going to their early gigs at Eric's club in Liverpool, so I'd always known them, and been a distant admirer from the first time I saw them really.
How did they hear about you?
It was through Paul Cook I suppose, he was in the studio with them, and he'd heard the Slits album, so apparently he said why not ring this guy up. But I didn't really know them before, so it was just chance really.
Does the whole punk heritage still lead people to question your ability as a musician - do you find you still have a lot to overcome in terms of credibility?
It's not something I've ever really been aware of. I mean I used to listen to a lot of music from the sixties and seventies because I had an older brother and sister, so I had a good grounding in that. But I think it was just a case of us not playing the obvious, probably because we just didn't think it was exciting enough at that time.
How did you feel about the speed aspect of most punk music, the characteristic 'thrash' that everybody got into?
You mean the 16s on the hi-hat with one hand! I don't think it was a case of a punk thrash really, they were just short, fast songs that had one line messages, and we were never into the speed thing anyway, though I can play faster now than I could then!
One of the things I've always liked about your playing is the sheer wealth of ideas you manage to put into each song. Is this something you're conscious of?
Well it's probably because I can't make my mind up! No actually, I suppose I just wouldn't feel worthy of everyone else if I didn't. I mean we're just a simple three-piece combo, and everybody's got to put what they can into it. Steven never plays just a bass line for example, a lot of the time he's playing half the melody as well - the roles interchange...
But it seems to be that if more was needed, a lot of drummers would tend to go for rolls around the toms, and all sorts of heavy fills, whereas you put more in by adding some really interesting little drum patterns and rhythms...
It's just what I feel I should do, maybe it's quirky, perhaps because I don't see anyone else doing it. But it varies, some of the songs we play, I just sit there quietly and mark time with brushes maybe, but on other songs, where the structure or the lyric arrives, I probably use the drums to punctuate it more. Usually when the mood comes through, or a certain lyric, that's something I like to pick up on - just punching out a certain line on the drums.
There's also some interesting percussion parts, outside the main drum tracks, which colour a lot of the songs - who thinks those up?
Well me usually, but everybody contributes towards them, I mean Siouxsie's a bit of a frustrated drummer really (laughs)...yeah she cracks a mean beat, but we often play percussive parts on other instruments, like the guitar, where we might have a sort of percussive stab in between snare drum beats, because it would have sounded flat if it had all been on percussion.
Talking of other instruments, does the idea of the rhythm section - the bass and drums, hold any meaning for you?
I don't think it's holy ground that can't be shaken, though I know there are people that do. When I'm playing with Steve, I don't have to punctuate every other bass note with a drum beat, I just play around it, and there are songs where I'll play right across what he's doing, in such a way that it actually strengthens his part.
Well at this stage, I was going to ask you what kit you play, but was told you'd just say "a brown one", so I don't know if there's much point!
Well...actually it has standard Gretsch shells, which I put the fittings on myself, there are 14", 15" and 18" toms and a 22" bass drum. The snare is a custom Eddie Ryan drum with an all-wood maple shell. The timbales are just 13" and 14" standard Pearl timbales, but I use another drum at the back, which is just a snare drum with the snares taken off and tuned to a very high pitch. That came about at a time when I was going through snare skins quite regularly, and it occurred to me that if I had another drum already set up, I'd be able to just carry on playing if a head went through. But then it seemed to get a bit superfluous, so I took the snares off and tuned it right up, and now I use it to get a sort of 'pang' sound, which I alternate sometimes with the snare.
Well actually, the Zildjian endorsement has really helped me here, because I was able to go down there, and go through the entire range of cymbals. And I found that even if you pick say six Impulse rides out, they're all going to sound slightly different, and being able to go through them all and find one I liked, and which fitted in with the rest of the cymbals, was a real privilege. It's very hard to match up cymbals in a shop, so it made things much easier for me. The trouble was, it was a hot summer's day, and we were shut inside the small studio they have down there, trying all these cymbals, and in the end I just said "these will do!" But really, I've been very happy with them. There's a pair of 15" Quick Beat hi- hats, an 18" China Boy High, 22" swish, 20" Impulse ride, a 12" splash and 16",18" & 20" Medium thin crashes.
Is the Creatures departure with you andSiouxsie liable to surface again?
Not at the moment, the Banshees next album is the most important thing right now, but there's no pressure on us to do it again, so there could well be another venture. It came about at the time we were recording Ju-Ju, we had too much material for the album, and there was one song 'But Not Them', which wasn't really in the same vein as the rest of the songs. So shortly after we'd finished the album, Siouxsie and I went off and did it on a five-track EP in about three days, and we thought "this is good", so the next year we recorded a full album in Hawaii. We wanted to get miles away, so it was literally a case of putting a blindfold on and sticking a pin in a map of the world. It turned out that Hawaii only had one recording studio, so we went there, and got on really well with the people that own it, in fact we became very good friends. They thought it was a bit strange when we turned up without any equipment though, I mean I arrived with just a suitcase, a pair of drumsticks and a tin of Heinz baked beans...
What, to eat or to play?
Oh to eat, there's no Heinz baked beans in Hawaii you know. Anyway we had to hire everything, the microphone, the drum-kit- it turned out there was only one kit on the island anyway near the size of mine, it had toms that kept going out of tune, and the marimba we hired had moss growing on it. It was a case of finding whatever we could for percussion instruments, but eventually we got it all together, and things turned out really well. I like using anything that's lying around, fire extinguishers, wine bottles, even treading on broken glass-that makes a great percussive sound. We just mic them up, and perhaps put an effect on them and amplify them, I've always liked doing that.
You seem to make great use of reverb on a lot of your drum tracks...
Yeah, that's really a lot to do with miking techniques actually. Sometimes when we've worked in big studios we've had PZMs stuck on the back wall to get a delay, but it's a natural delay, a natural ambience. I like the kit to do a lot of the work, so that you hit a beat and it lasts almost for four beats - that kind of thing.
When you were writing the Creatures album, were the drum and vocal parts conceived together?
Well the whole record was very spontaneous, as all the Creatures' things have been, which was probably the main reason for doing them. Sometimes a song would come from us setting an effect up on the desk - a repeat echo or something, and I'd just play along to it, listening through the cans. I'd just develop an idea for a rhythm, which sometimes I kept on playing 'til I almost collapsed from exhaustion, because it was so hot in Hawaii. But then we'd work a melody round it, and maybe edit it together like that...
So in general the rhythm would come first?
No not always, we did it the other way round too. Some songs were really just a vocal line, punctuated with a little rhythm. The last track for example was just like a monologue, and when the vocal line stopped, I played little phrases on the kit, using a huge repeat echo, so that the decaying drums punctuated the next spoken line of the lyrics. But a lot of the time I was just trying to find tunes to play on the drums. I mean I hear tunes in my head...I can hear drum tunes as well as drum beats, so I kept trying to find them and get them down, but sometimes it's not easy, you have it in your head, but you have to find a way to do it.
Doesn't having multi-track facilities make that easier?
Well no, because I like to keep everything so that it's actually playable, so you can do it live. But you can sometimes end up with a lot of overdubs, so if you have to play it live, it needs to be condensed to play on a kit, and that can be interesting too.
Do you ever find yourself going through a sort of pain barrier when you're playing live, and getting to a point where you think to yourself "I can 't go on" ...
Yeah, very much, I sometimes feel I'll just stop whether I want to or not, in fact I've always wondered it anyone else ever felt that, I thought it was just me!
No I used to feel it quite often, and sometimes I'd feel my sticks beginning to slip through my hands...
That's right, it's not because of the sweat or anything, you just feel your grip starting to go. Actually I lengthened my sticks by an inch to compensate for that at one point. Another thing that happens is that you suddenly start to think about what you're doing, you almost take a step back, and look at yourself playing this complex beat and you think "I can't do that", then it does become something that you actually can't play anymore. It seems like it lasts for an hour or so, but actually it's probably only a few seconds, and you think that everyone's noticed but usually they haven't. Some days though it just doesn't seem to work at all, especially when you're touring. Then there's the gigs which nobody else enjoys but you do. Everybody thinks it's gone really badly, but for you it was just right. I suppose that's why the best gigs are when everybody agrees, and nothing has to be said.
How far advanced do you have things worked out before you come into the studio?
Well this time we've booked into the rehearsal studio first, so we're doing things in a much different way than usual, because we're actually arranging things quite carefully. We have a blackboard which we use for structuring the songs, chopping things around, trying the chorus in different places and that kind of thing, so that when we start recording, we'll have things pretty concrete, because we want to do the album fairly quickly.
And you didn't do that before?
No not really, I mean Hyena and A Kiss in the Dream House were written in the studio...
Doesn't that get a little expensive?
Well yeah it does rather. But with Hyena it was because of Robert's commitments outside the band, so we didn't have much choice. Dream House though, worked well being recorded that way, so sometimes you can turn it to an advantage.
You seem to attach great importance on tuning, in an age where a lot of drummers just don't bother. Rather than try to do anything about the kit, they're happier to leave things alone...
Well I just got bored with that heavy- headed thud, thud, thud - it was just like different tones of thud as you went round the kit. So I started using lighter skins, and putting the bottom heads back, which was just for volume initially, but then I started getting almost religious about the idea of the 'the drum', and I wouldn't have anything protruding inside the shell. It just seemed that bits of hardware sticking through the shell would break up the natural resonance of the drum. The other thing was the tone that's created between the two heads. I started to get this idea of a sequence in there somewhere, across the drums. Not tuning them to specific notes, like Rototoms or Octobans, just to a sequence I have in my head, it's kind of grown with the music we write now. Occasionally it can jar with the chords in a certain song, but it makes the kit more of an instrument, rather than just something to keep time with, I still damp the bass drum, but the rest of the kit isn't damped at all.
You're obviously in love with the whole concept of drums...
Yeah, there are certainly problems with that big lump of rubbish over there, but it's the idea of trying to master it, that somehow attracts me. It's always fighting back, every gig you go to, the skin has changed, so it's an achievement each time you get the best sound out of the environment you're in. When you're touring, you find the humidity changes, you go to countries where the temperatures are totally different, so its always in a state of change. But I love drums because of that, because they are physical, and because of the physical act of playing them and fighting to get the best out of them. It's the idea that something can go wrong I suppose, that element of risk -I find it very exciting.
Contributed by Bonnie Bryant.