A couple of weeks ago when I went to the studio and recorded on a grand piano. What an experience I love this instrument! We had an awesome time, me my Nirvana t-shirt and the piano! Anyways, I recorded pianos on three tracks, and I have been working on another eight-nine songs but over the coming period I will be releasing singles one song after the other.
Grand piano recording day
The first song that will be out very soon is called Miracle and it is actually the first piece of music that I started writing totally on my own, I adore this tune and it means a lot to me. This is why I decided to wear my Nirvana tee for the session. Nirvana was a band that I grew up with, and my first ever attempt to drum was to their tune Smells Like Teen Spirit. I was obsessed with Nirvana, and since it is one of the bands that I truly fell in love with, I decided to ”dress” for the occassion of finally recording the first song that I managed to write, while wearing an awesome t-shirt of a band that inspired me to become what I am now.
I came up with the main piano arpeggio and melody during a very intense period of my life. My dad was in the hospital literally counting his last days and my band had just split up. I have never again felt like that in my whole life. I was experiencing a great level of sadness and sorrow while discovering a state of existence and a side of myself that until that point; I did not know it was there. I’m overall a very positive personality but back then I was just overwhelmed by my emotions.
I was just living the moment and was not concerned about the future or the past. ”Miracle” was a product of those times. The lyrics and melody of the song reflect it. Here are the lyrics:
“Life is just a miracle No matter what we’re living, so? Oh no What are we living no Unfortunate circumstance Its driving us to nowhere land Open your eyes to see again What you’ve become, my God In what a state we are Living in times of violence Of fear and absolution Its time to face your lonely self Its time to investigate ourselves
And I, looking straight up to the sky Facing fears I can’t deny; All I want to see is you But I don’t remember you
Life is just a vehicle No matter what we’re living no Oh no What we were thinking no A common known avoidance Its driving us to no where land Sharing the same experience, While looking for solution, Its time to stand up for yourself Its time to face your lonely self
And I, looking straight up to the sky, Facing fears I can’t deny, All I want to see is a clue cause I don’t remember I, looking straight up to the sky, facing fears YOU can’t deny, All I want to see is a clue cause I don’t remember you.”
I was very angry and outraged so this was a conversation I was attempting to have with God himself (or whatever is out there). It ended up being as always a monologue, never got a reply back but hey… its a very good and unique tune. I absolutely love it. No Miley Cyrus shit (GO Sinead LOL) it is real music coming straight from my soul and thanks to that I managed to get a lot of the darkness that was in me during that period out.
A few things that I love using when I write lyrics is metaphors, oxymorons and antithesis. Did you notice that the last chorus twists the whole meaning of the song? That ‘YOU’ in capital letters has replaced ‘I’. For me God, the world, the Universe is what we make out of it. We are the Universe’s consciousness. Let’s all try to improve ourselves first and then seek for redemption.
Here is a little preview of the song. A ruff mix with no vocals. Just the music:
The following article is a chapter from my MA dissertation “Devising Music-An Investigation Into The Process of Group Music Composition that I just re-edited to make it a bit less formal. It’s an analysis of the way I’m thinking when creating drum parts for songs.
The Process of Creating Drum Parts:
For starters here is a brief history of the drum kit so that we know what we’re talking about:
The drum kit was invented in the 19th century. The various percussion instruments that assembled it have a long history and originate from different cultures across the globe. Drums developed into a unified set in the American history through the import of African slaves who were creating variations of their traditional instruments and the various orchestral western percussion instruments. Around the 20th century African rhythms and primitive, though ingeniously designed drumsets made their appearance into the mainstream, leading to the development of the modern drum set. The drum kit is a polyphonic percussion instrument and its one of the most modern members of the membraphone family. All the contemporary styles of drumming are developments of those fundamental African rhythms combined with the western musical tradition.
Philosophy of Drumming:
A common idea about drumming it is that the drum set is an extension of your body. Your right arm has one function, your left foot has another function, your ears have a function, and so on. But you express ideas and physical activity as one person. A good drummer knows how to use the instruments of a drum kit all together to present one idea. One of the most inspiring concepts that I was taught by my previous and most influential teacher Pete Zeldman is that a drummer is an arranger. As the drum set is a polyphonic instrument, it presents many solutions on how to approach a musical piece, through electing different drums and cymbals that seem to be the appropriate to each musical circumstance.
There are two main ways (grips) to hold the drumstick, the “traditional” and the “match” grip. Both techniques originate from the art of classical percussion. The “traditional” is a technique that was developed in side drumming.
‘…side drumming has developed on a drum carried by the player on a sling over his right shoulder. This means that the instrument is very close to the body and hangs at an angle because it is impossible to march with a horizontal drum-or at any rate very painful. The type of grip which has been evolved for the left hand is the only one allowing the stick to be brought comfortably into the playing position.’
(Andrew A. Shivas, The Art of Tympanist and Drummer)
This grip was the first used in drum set drumming as the first players had a strictly classical background but gradually drummers started playing in the modern way of the match grip. The “traditional” grip is used mainly from jazz drummers as it can help to achieve a very low dynamic on the snare, useful for swing combing.
It’s just me smashing a drumkit—->
I predominantly use the match grip as it helps achieving a strong backbeat (snare accents on 2 and 4 of the beat) which is widely used in the genres I prefer playing (Rock, Funk, Fusion).
My usual set up is made out of of 4 pieces (snare drum, tom, floor tom, bass drum), and 4 cymbals (hi-hat, 2 Crash cymbals 18″, 15″ and 22” ride.) I also have an electronic kit.
Drumming requires a tremendous amount of coordination and independence of the four limbs that can be developed to an extreme level. The main focus should always be to develop a mix of sound where everything works together in a smooth manner and a high consideration should be given to aesthetics. The idea of independence is initially the notion of being in control. With the practise of coordination a drummer acquires the capability to deliver the ideas conceived in his/her imagination without being limited by one of the hands or feet that decree where or when everything should go. In effect, independence is a “multi-dimensional” task as there are more aspects to be measured. As soon as a drummer solves the quandary of the “limb management”, he or she has to deal with another level of coordination, that of dynamics. In fact, at this point I am talking about a very specific aspect of dynamics, that of the relative dynamics, ‘the relative dynamics of the snare drum to the ride cymbal to the bass drum to the hi-hat, etc.’ (Peter Eskine, Drum Concepts and Techniques, 1987), which provide a drastic renovation of someone’s drumming when practised. Drummer David Garibaldi refers to it as sound levels.
There are three instruments that the application of sound levels is crucial:
The Snare drum (accents and non-accents)
Accents can be achieved by playing rim shots (produced when striking concurrently the centre of the drum head and the rim)
Non-accents produced when played particularly soft (tap) near the centre of the snare drum
On the Hi-hat or Ride cymbal (accents and non-accents)
Accents on the hi-hat can be performed by using the shoulder of the stick
Non-accents can be attained by playing on the middle of the hi-hat with the tip of the stick
On the Bass drum (accents and non-accents)
There are two basic techniques for the bass drum, the “down heel” and “up heel”.
The “down heel” (feet flat on the pedal) helps having a better control of the pedal but it is not as loud as the “up heel” which is produced when lifting the whole leg to strike the pedal (taking advantage of the weight of the leg).
In order to achieve two sound levels I use both techniques, “up heel” for accents and “down heel” for non-accents.
The use of different sound levels can completely transform a drum pattern. The ways that these sounds blend together provide a groove with an unmatched musical quality.
Straight technique: There are four different strokes with specific motions that facilitate the articulation of playing. This entails easier movements, great control, less effort, and a better access to the dynamic range.
The “full” stroke. Full stroke is used for accents and generally loud playing. It starts from a high dynamic hand position (75-90 degrees from the surface of the drum) and returns to the starting point. The movement should come from the wrist.
The “bounce” stroke. It starts from an angle of 30-45 degrees and returns to the starting point.
The “tap” stroke. Starts at a low dynamic range and returns to the starting point.
The “up” stroke. This stroke is a preparation stroke. It starts at the same dynamic point as the “tap” stroke but finishes at the “full” stroke’s height. The “up” stroke is followed by a “full” stroke.
These motions are incredibly useful for groove playing and phrasing. For example:
If we want to play a set of four sixteenth notes with the first two accented then we would use the strokes with the following order: “Full”, “bounce” (or “full” again) “tap”, “up”. Separated hands on snare and hi-hat will give the foundation for a very organic groove.
Moeller technique. The “Moeller” is a technique that provides economy of motion. The basic principal is that one stroke produces more. That is achieved with the help of the force of gravity. The motion consists of an action similar to that of a whip. Once a loud stroke is played, the hand remains on a medium dynamic point and as the wrist and forearm goes up the stick hangs behind playing strokes of a low dynamic range. Depending on how many strokes one wants to produce the “drops” of the stick have to be equally subdivided while the hand is going up to play the next stroke. (Eighth notes: one loud note one following, triplets: one loud two following etc.) Moeller is very useful for elongated rapid playing.
Finger technique: This technique is helpful for very fast short passages of consistent sixteenth notes for example. The strokes are produced by using only fingers. The thumb and index finger are holding the stick and the middle, ring and little finger produce the strokes. Very fast speed can be achieved but for a short period of time.
Drumming is a “mosaic” of the above techniques which have been evolved through centuries, but only on drum kit playing are used in such a complex way. When mastered they can be used simultaneously producing a very competent accurate and effortless energetic playing.
‘What makes a jazz drummer is his ability to take any group, whether is a small group or a big band, and hold those cats together and get something swinging, whatever tempo: up, down, medium. The function of a jazz drummer is to instil in the other players a force which, in turn, makes the jazz players play better’ (Buddy Rich, interview in “Down Beat” magazine, no date)
This quote can be easily fit any musical style that requires a great level of musicianship. This ability can be developed through the practice of technique, experience in performance, restless spirit, a wide range of listening and a good knowledge of styles.
A few years ago, I think it was during 2006, I was living with my friend John. John is awesome bassist. We were studying music together at the London College of Music, Drumtech. Drumtech was a private college accredited by the London College of Music. Anyway. I was literally eating drums back then. I was renting a small room in the flat, having only a bed, a library, a closet, a drum kit, a keyboard, my PC, and some super hi-tech studio monitors. I had found the super set up that was allowing me to practise all day long. One day I opened my drums, and stuffed the drum shells with lots of cloth and old newspapers put the drum heads back on, and I stuck shocks with gaffer tape on my cymbals. I had managed to make the ultimate silent drum kit and I was on it for hours and hours everyday. The pattern was: practice, coffee and cigarette break, practice, coffee, cigarette break and so on.
One day John comes back to the flat and tells me that he found this ad on a music website about a guy, a songwriter, who was creating some amazing music and was looking for other musicians. I didn’t pay a lot of attention then (I was too annoyed with myself not being able to nail some polyrhythms that I was practising on my drum set). John said that he would arrange a meeting with the guy to have a chat. A week or so later, John met with the guitarist, and came back telling me that the guy was actually Scott James who had recently stopped playing with the Stereophonics and wanted to put a band together. He also said that he was already trying a few drummers. My brain cells then hit red alert and decided to give it a go. Next thing, Scott arranged to come to our flat to meet me in person. He wanted to have a chat first, see how it goes and then book a rehearsal room for a jam. (He already knew that I was an excellent drummer, he had been talking to John and had played with John a few times by then). So he arrived in our house and we started talking. Scott is a very impressive guy. Very sharp, knowledgeable, and very determined. We got along really well and arranged to book a rehearsal room to have a little play. All went well, in fact we really, really had some chemistry going. Both as personalities and as musicians.
He already had on the wait for the band to get started Rob, who was a singer (they were playing together in a group that got signed and quickly dropped by the label, before Scott had joined the Stereophonics), and also an apparently awesome pianist, called Manny.
Me, Scott and John had a few rehearsals and at some point Scott called me to say that he wasn’t so sure about John. It wasn’t about John’s playing, it was about his mentality. John had a few depression issues at that point of his life, and I told Scott to give him some time credit because I knew John really well and knew that he was an amazing guy. Scott accepted but John had to put his shit toghether very quickly. So there I was in a very difficult position having to make John realise what he needs to do without telling him that Scott wanted to stop working with him. I had a chat with our third flatmate Mark who was our common friend, and Mark also adviced not to say anything to John but just try to make him understand what was expected from him. The plan failed.
John had a chat with Scott only to find out that he did not want to work with him, and of course John blamed me for the whole situation. No matter what I was telling him, and having our common friend and flatmate Mark supporting me, John was furious. So I left the flat. Moved out. The atmosphere was absolutely horrible and my relationship with John was totally ruined. Thank God a couple of years later John apologised, realised and recognised that I was just trying to cover his ass. He is to this day, one of my best friends.
Back to the story, that was it. The Mill Hill road days where I was living with Mark and John in West London were over. Moved in a stunning North London flat in Islington with some other friends of mine and my room there was fantastic. It was a massive double bedroom, with great windows and an attic style siling. I absolutely loved that place.
Finally met Rob, Manny and introduced another bassist to Scott, Charlie. The band was very but very promising. Rob was good-looking and a great singer, Scott an awesome guitarist, Charlie an amazing bass player and overall musician, Manny a super pianist, and people say that I am a great drummer and haha we were all above 6.2″. Tallest band ever. The songs that Scott had written until then were great so the future was looking bright.
Listen to one of our recordings here:
Me and Scott became best friends. We were spending hours together, talking about our favourite subjects, music, philosophy and our project, and very soon started songwriting together. He was very talented as a songwriter and had this amazing ability of coming up with very interesting chord progressions and inventing superb melodies out of nowhere. Back then, I could generate a ton of ideas but did not have the knowledge and experience of putting everything together to create something that sounded like a proper, finished song. Working with Scott was the best songwriting course I have ever attended.
A few months after the band had started, I left my beautiful flat in Islington and moved in to Charlie’s house.
Charlie’s flat was an old, dirty council flat. At the time it seemed like a good idea; we could all be closer to each other and it would just making working together much easier but I was not happy there. Did not enjoy my room and the house so not many months after I moved there we decided with Scott to move together. We rented a flat very close to Charlie’s. It was a very nice flat and living with Scott was good fun and very productive. Soon, the whole band was there spending lots and lots of hours together. The downside? Me and Scott had no free time. Living there was always all about the band. Lol.
During my years with the group, ruffly between 2006-2008, the internet was clearly changing the record and music industry. MySpace was thriving, music piracy was at its glory and things were rapidly changing. It was as confusing then as it is now for musicians, I mean to get an understanding of how things work and what needs to be done in order to move a music project forward. We had no idea.
The band lasted for two or around two and a half years. We then split up in the worst possible way. Massive arguments that led, even to this day, not really talking to each other. The problem was the same kind of problem that hits all bands. Every member had different priorities and a different mentality.
Rob, from almost the very beginning seemed to be indecisive. He had a girlfriend that he adored and I think that he always felt like having to chose between his wife (yup they got married!) and the band, Manny was very young, extremely good as a pianist but he did not know why he wanted to be in a band and back then had no discipline, Scott gradually became very pushy towards everyone else and was such a perfectionist that was only managing to annoy and alienate people, perfectionism can be a very positive character trait as well as a negative one. Charlie was just Charlie, a very unique individual with his good sides and bad sides, and myself, I am a verified workaholic, which is again a character trait with both negative and positive sides, I managed to overwork myself to such an extent that I was like a walking zombie. During my time with the band which was on its own a great commitment I was also teaching music, working for marketing agencies, modeling, working on my MA studies and writing my dissertation.
Towards the end of Elixir (our band name) things were actually going really well but we could not see it; We had a booking agent giving us support slots for bigger bands, so we were always playing at packed venues and we had just recorded a few songs at the famous Metropolis studios in London that were sounding great. At that point we were rehearsing 3 times per week and gigging very often. I still remember the night that all fell apart. It was after a very cool gig at the Barfly in Camden, we were opening for an Italian band (don’t remember the name of the band) that had its own fan club. We went on stage, played an amazing set, people loved it but between us the atmosphere was inreversibly very bad. After the gig we just had massive arguments, the day after we had a meeting, because of all the pressure, Rob left the band, I left about a week after because I had a massive disagreement with Scott and the whole thing fell apart shortly after.
It is very difficult to explain to someone who has never been in a band how it feels to be in one. One thing is for sure. The experience is one of its kind and far away from being glamorous. A simple way to discribe it is like having 4-5 boyfriends, girlfriends call it however you want at the same time, making… music, not love! LOL. But making music is like making love and the relationships built around a band are so intense and very but very fragile. It takes an incredible amount of energy to be in it. Think about it. It takes a lot of effort to maintain a healthy relationship with one person imagine having a relationship with four, five or six people!
The emotions I felt during my time with the group varied from extreme happiness when things were going well to extreme darkness. Looking back at it now with clear head and a few years of experience I have to say that it was great education and it laid the foundations of E-MUTE.
Right after the band split up, for a small period I was feeling totally lost and did not want to be near any of my instruments. I had no idea of what was I doing, where was I heading or what I wanted to do with my life. My whole world had collapsed. Topping it up with my dad being at the hospital dying, I was experiencing the darkest period of my life as far. Right out of nowhere life gave to me a great gift. I was suddently working as a full time drummer until almost two years ago when I decided close that chapter and start a new one, my project E-MUTE.