Gavin Harrison – Exclusive OnlineDrummer.com InterviewMartin Osborne
First off, thank you Gavin for agreeing to be interviewed on behalf of members and frequent visitors from around the world to onlinedrummer.com.
How long did it take for you to find the perfect setup for your drumset? Is it always regenerating or have you cracked it now?
I’ve been playing that kind of 5 tom setup now since 1984. It just suits me and I have a wide range of pitch options without having a ‘massive’ setup. The cymbal combination has changed a bit over the years – but the placement has pretty much been the same. When you play the same configuration for so long – a lot of things just happen naturally – and I can concentrate on expressing what I want to play and not thinking about where my sounds are.
On your solo album, Sanity and Gravity, you explain the process of how you recorded the album by playing freehand with no defined song in your head. How easy was it to play with total abandonment in the “liquid” state?
Hard to start with – in fact I did about 20 pieces and then just picked 3 that I thought had some good shape to them. I was singing along in my head with what I thought were compatible melodies.
How did the collaboration with 05Ric come about? The album, DROP, you both created is a work of art. How did the writing process pan out? Was it plain and simple that 05Ric wrote the melody and you wrote the rhythm? Or is there more strings to your bow outside of drumming?
I met Ric on MySpace – he requested to be my friend, and I went and listened to his music. I really liked what he was doing – and we struck up a rapport. Most of the songs began with a rhythmic idea that I had – usually I wrote some bass lines and guitar lines – just to show him the kind of thing I imagined to compliment the rhythm. Sometimes we kept those bass/guitar ideas and Ric developed them further – sometimes he just completely rewrote those lines – but kept the rhythm of those instruments from my original demos.
You have a couple of tuition DVD’s out at the moment. When you wrote and recorded these, what kind of teaching did you want to achieve and pass on to the people who purchased them?
I wanted to share the ideas that I had collected over the previous few years. I wanted people to understand the concepts so that they could apply them to their own playing and in their own music. My examples were just ways of demonstrating the concepts.
Along with the DVD’s, you wrote a couple of comprehensive books, Rhythmic Illusions and Rhythmic Perspectives. Were they easy to write?
Yes pretty easy – although they took several years each. Back in the 80’s I started having creative rhythmic ideas and so I started writing them down and filing them. I was particularly interested in the manipulation of rhythm – which seemed to me at the time – most people were ignoring and just focusing on technique and speed. I made an interview for Rhythm Magazine UK in 1988 and I told the editor about these ideas. He suggested that I could write a column for the magazine. So for 3 and a half years I did exactly that. The first few months were easy because I already had a lot of stuff collected – but as the months went by – it gave me time to really consider what I was writing and the direction it was taking. A few years after I finished writing the columns – I realised that I had the start of a book -“Rhythmic Illusions”. I followed the path that the columns had taken and wrote a whole load of other chapters – and that’s how the first book came about. In the following few years – more ideas kept coming to me – and then I released a second book “Rhythmic Perspectives” – which kind of followed on in the same path of rhythmic manipulation – rather than anything to do with chops.
When you go on tour with Porcupine Tree, what do you do to warm up and get prepared for the gig?
I like to play on a pad for about 20-30 minutes before we go on stage. I don’t really have a routine as such – but different ideas come to me on how to basically warm up my muscles.
With regard to rudiments, do you have a comfort zone of favourite rudiments? And do you have any tips on how to keep learning and practising rudiments refreshing and not mundane?
I suppose the one I use the most is the Swiss Triplet. Being able to play the rudiments is one thing – finding nice ways to apply them in your playing and on the drumset is a completely different matter. I know guys who can rip through all the rudiments on a pad – but when it comes to playing the drums – they have no cool ideas.
Some questions from the members of Onlinedrummer.com
From one of onlinedrummer.com’s members, Semicircle Tiger – I love your band Porcupine Tree’s music! What kind of creative process does a band like yours have to go through to develop such artwork?
It’s constantly changing. In the past there have been times where one member will write a song – and the others play on it – then sometimes two members write together and then we have band writing sessions where we all contribute. In the band writing sessions we try to avoid having long pointless jams over one chord. It’s the easiest thing to do – but it gets really boring and wears you out quickly. Once we stumble across something we like – we record it and move on to the next section.
From Drew – I love your music and also how you use your kit in so many different ways. What gives you the inspiration and the creativity on the drum set?
Usually not the drums themselves. Music inspires me – as does life, art. architecture. design and many other things too. Sometimes I’m standing in a jewelery shop and I look at all the amazing designs of watches. How do these people keep coming up with such cool ideas for something that basically does one thing? You have to look deep within yourself to touch the nerve of creativity. You have to be able to see beauty in things – not just music or drums – but everything around you. Sometimes I stare at buildings as I’m walking around a town and I see inspiration in the design. You need to become aware of style and taste as you see it. The things I might think are great – the next person might not – that’s just a question of taste and it’s kind of at the root of your personality too.
From Schuisadrummist – Hey, Gavin! I’m curious about your musical roots. Where’d you start with drumming and what helped you along your way to where you are now?
My Dad was a jazz trumpet player. He liked small group jazz and minimalist expression. I listened to (and played along to) his record collection when I was a young kid. I really enjoyed the experience. I absorbed what I was hearing – and I think it has been deep down inside my personality ever since. I had formal lessons when I was about 11 until 16 to learn to read and work on basic technique. The most progress I think I ever made was following my own nose – but armed with the knowledge I had got from the lessons and with a backdrop of my early listening experiences with my Dad.
And one from Relbac3 – Mr. Harrison What an inspiration you have been and continue to be. Some of your fill techniques in their simplicity have a sound of complexity. While coming up with drum parts, how much comes from other drummers and how much comes from your own heart beats? Also which drummers are the biggest influences for your style and techniques as far as the Feel or Fills are concerned in your drumming?
I can’t turn off my influences – they are there all the time (they’ve become part of my musical DNA)- so I can’t honestly say what I’ve played that would be 100% originally mine. I think if I looked deep enough into it all, my ideas are based on something I’ve heard someone else play at some point in my life. Maybe some of them have mutated so far – the original source would be something that only I could trace.
And Yellow Toad asks – Who was your favourite drum teacher and why?
I have had three main teachers. Paul Brodie – who was the drummer with BBC big band where my Dad worked. I would go along to the broadcasts and sit next to Paul in the middle of the big band and just LOVE IT. I was so inspired by him – he played with so much passion and energy. He would show me things in his break times. Joe Hodson the guy I mentioned before – and although I pretty much dreaded the lessons at the time – the knowledge he imparted to me has been ABSOLUTELY invaluable. I really wouldn’t have got where I am today without those lessons. I had a fantasy about going to Boston and studying at the Berklee collage of Music. I never actually got there – but another teacher of mine was a 3 year ex Berklee graduate Dave Cutler. He really opened my mind to somethings I’d never even thought existed. I was 18 years old at the time and thought I was pretty damn good. When I got to the first lesson with Dave I quickly realised (in the first 30 seconds) that I sucked. He showed me some very musical co-ordination things (that I couldn’t play at all) and told me that there was no point in me coming every week – and that I should just come back when I could play it. It took me 3 months before I dare show my face at his door again – but I worked extremely hard and imagined that his other students were going back much sooner than me. I asked him how long it took other guys before they came back for the 2nd lesson. He said “you’re the only one who ever came back!!!!”
And Hades asks – What sticks do you use?
The sticks I use are Vic Firth Rock model.
And lastly from Venimal – First let me say, you are a huge influence on the kind of drummer I want to become. Secondly, what are the best kind of people to work with when writing new music in your opinion?
People with open minds.
What is the most played album on your iPod?
Art Farmer/ Jim Hall “Big Blues”
What is your most proud achievement in music?
When I get to come up with a great drum part on a song. I’m quite pleased with the drum designs on my record with 05Ric “Drop”
Have you ever had a fan at a gig ask a strange request from you?
Someone in Italy asked me for a pair of sticks and I told him that I didn’t have so many at the moment that I could give (unbroken) ones away. Then he said “Well how about a cymbal then?”
Gavin’s DVD’s Rhythmic Visions and Rhythmic Horizons are out now
And pretty damn good they are too.
Gavin also has a couple of books out now titled Rhythmic Illusions and Rhythm Perspectives
And they’re pretty good too.
Gavin’s website is www.drumset.demon.co.uk