Martin Osborne gets the lowdown from one of the UK’s finest session drummers, drum tutors and all-round decent bloke, James Hester.
First off, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed on behalf of the members and frequent visitors from around the world to onlinedrummer.com
That’s my pleasure, thanks for asking me!
You tutor at the Bristol Institute of Modern Music and at the Bath Rhythm course, and you teach privately too. What drives you to do so much tutoring?
It’s funny, it doesn’t feel like I do that much. BIMM doesn’t open until September this year, but I have always enjoyed teaching and it’s a great thing to ground you when you get back from being on the road or in the studio.
I’ve always had great teachers and I guess Pete Riley and Steve White have inspired me not only to play the way I do but to pass on knowledge too.
You had a good tutor, and to this day you’re good mates. How much of an influence has Steve White been to you?
Oh man, Steve’s great. I remember my very first lesson in 1995 when he sat me at the kit and told me to play. I played for a few minutes and then he said….. ‘right…. shall we have a coffee…?’ so we had a coffee and he asked how serious I was about playing because I would pretty much have to start from scratch. I don;t think I finished my coffee, there was no time to lose!
He really focused on getting the sticks to work for you, so what’s in your head comes out. It’s not about copying licks etc. Put it this way, some teachers teach like a language phrase book, so you have these stock licks etc, Steve and Pete Riley taught me the Grammar and vocabulary so I could say what I want. Not that it’s a journey with an end, of course!!
What are the primary essentials to learning to play the drums? Where do you recommend an aspiring James Hester or Steve White to start off from?
Get a good teacher who will do what I said earlier. They won’t turn you into a clone. Learn to play music, not just drums. The hardest thing is to play without an ego. Play the song and listen to what you’re playing. Does it sound any good. It might be complicated or clever, but is it any good??!?!
You’ve just done a charity gig at Drummer Live in London. Were you nervous getting on stage with other top musicians? You looked like you were having fun or was that fear?
Ha, no, it was fun!! I always have a little bit of nerves whether it’s 7 people or 7,000. Man, at these events I love talking and looking at drums and talking to other drummers, but I really wanted to play some music that night. It was good fun.
I got very nervous at the start of the first tour I did in front of 5 – 7,000 people, but that was more the worry of whether I would get stage fright. I kept thinking ‘what happens if I freeze!!!’. A few nights in and it was loving it!!
You’re currently playing with Malakai. How did you get that gig?
Ha ha! Wrong place at the wrong time! I was teaching at a music college and I turned up on a day I’d booked off, god knows why! They were auditioning my mate Sean for the guitar job at the rehearsal rooms and decided he was in, but their drummer couldn’t get there for a few days, so he suggested I help out….. Goes to show, you can plan all you like, but in the end, it’s luck!!
You seem to be a good organizer of events, the Rhythm Course in Bath and various drum and bass events to name a few. Have you ever had a time when you just would like to turn up, play and go home? Or does it give you that sense of achievement that is so evident in your playing?
I get my fair share of ‘turn up and plays’. I tend to stay out of the Malakai machine so I can focus on being the drummer, but I enjoy organising these things I do too. It gives me a sense of achievement. I’m actually pretty disorganised so I guess I also get the sense of surprise when it works too!!
People don’t realise how much it takes to get these things running or how few people are involved. Drummer Live has a core organsing team of about 8 people with lots of others below them and the Rhythm Course is just me with a few people helping out. I’ve no idea how they happen, to be honest!!!
Your kit setup – please tell the onlinedrummer community what you use, and do you have to vary it for the different types of music you play?
Right, well I use a Mapex Saturn in Black Cherry Sparkle 12, 14 + 16 with a 22 bass drum. Martin at Mapex has been awesome. The kit is so good, it has a warmth about it and I didn’t realise it wasn’t a so called top end kit. In my opinion the Saturn and the Orion are both stunning, but the Saturn edged it for me because of the warmth.. Especially with the Remo Vintage ambassadors that they sent me on it, it’s a killer combo!!
I use Paiste Dark Energy cymbals and Vic Firth sticks. I have also been using Baskey rug lugs. Ian Baskerville is a genius!! Mark at Beyer Dynamic microphones has always been 100% supportive of me too.
As for changing my set up…. I’ll do anything from change the snares and cymbals to adding or removing drums, heads, stick weights, whatever it takes really. It should be pretty clear from listening to a track what’s needed. I try not to just use something because it’s on the kit!!
On your myspace, your tagline is “It’s all about the groove………..” Is this a motto you live by in all aspects of life?
Well, ok…. Maybe it should read ‘I don’t have any chops!!!!’ When I see all these amazing drummers blazing all over a track, putting in these phenomenal fills I think…. I should be able to do that… then I realise that I don’t want to. I have always tried to play groove. At the end of the day, that’s what most producers want and what most music listeners want. At the end of the day, I need to make a song sound good, not impress another drummer.
What does the future hold for James Hester over the next year? Are our American members going to have the chance to see you play? Gigs? Clinics?
America? Who knows. I know when the Malakai album comes out, the label are keen to push it in the rest of Europe first, but I love America, especially New Orleans, so yeah, it’s be great!! Clinics? Gigs? Yeah, all of that. My work seems to mainly come in in 3 month blocks and right now it’s festival after festival. In fact I’m off later today to rehearse with the guys for this weekend which is at the Feistival Hall with Massive Attack and Parliament Funkadelic, then next weekend it’s Glastonbury, then I think Hyde Park o2 festival which will be great because my friend Stanton Moore is playing with Galactic on that…. then er…. hmmmm….. diary!!!!
How do you prepare for a tour?
I make sure I have my heads and sticks ordered and that I have plenty of work to do like writing for Drummer mag, sorting out Rhythm Course stuff….. you know. I also try ensure there’s space for a small practice kit too. I get restless easily so I like to be able to practice. I also make sue I have enough money in my account to buy records. I’m not as bad as the rest of the guys in the band, but I’m getting there!! Clean clothes and a good book – essential!! The bass player in the band Billy Fuller also plays with Robert Plant so he;’s a seasoned hardened road guy. I take my lead from him!!
Now some very straight forward quick questions…..
1. What is the most played album on your iPod?
Led Zepp IV
2. What is your proudest achievement in music?
Impossible. Playing Maide Vale? Remo Drummer Night? I don’t know man!! Probably the last gig I played!!
3. Who would you most like to have a one on one drum-off with?
4. Which other drummers do you chill out with?
If I go out with other drummers it’s the Bristol Drum Mafia!! Eddie John, Martyn James, Mark Whitlam, Richie Paradise… Ian Matthews lives about 3 miles away, but I’ve just started to get to know him, despite playing in the same bands and doing the same sessions for years!
5. If you’re stuck in a lift for one hour with the person of your choice, alive or dead, who would that person be?
I guess Elisha Otis - Googled and good one James ;o)
6. You’re pretty much an artist who has the deepest respect for your fans, and they are truly dedicated to you, too. Have you ever had a fan that’s freaked you out by asking you to sign something “different?” If so, where did you sign?
I signed a signature snare drum once. It wasn’t Mapex and it wasn’t my signature snare…..It was bemusing, but, what can you do!!
7. What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
Cup of tea, man!!
8. What type of car do you drive?
Ah no……!! A Peugeot Partner. My street cred is gone!!!!
9. When not drumming or teaching, what else do you get up to?
It might not look like it, but Ilove running and cycling. I need to get back into snowboarding again, but that’s about a stone away!!
10. What would you best like to be remembered for?
Being a good musician and being nice to people. I’m worried about my Karmic Footprint!!
James, many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Have you any final words of wisdom to say to the OnlineDrummer.com community?
There’s always work out there – this sounds harsh, but if you’re finding it hard to get work, you’re not working hard enough. It may not be the gig you want, but work is work. I had my first gig booked 3 weeks before I got a drum kit and I’ve not been without one since. Play whenever, wherever and with whoever you can. And enjoy it. I have never lost the love for playing I had on the first day I picked up my sticks!!
Visit James’s website for details and info on the great bloke himself.