Gary Husband…driving talent to the max
What have John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth, Jack Bruce, Robin Trower, Mike Stern and drummers Billy Cobham and Danny Gottlieb got in common? They have all collaborated live or in the studio with Gary Husband.
Some may look enviously at the prospect of accomplishing one instrument, let alone two instruments. Gary Husband is another hidden gem in the crown of musicians and has gained international status as a rhythmic and melodic virtuoso both on drums and keyboards. He stands by his commitment as a musician to make best use of his talents and collaborations with some of the finest musicians in the world have given him the best foundation to allow his innovation and talent to develop. His improvisational skills and his quest to fuse many genres of music have allowed him to push the boundaries of his talent which has led him to his latest jazz project ‘Drive’.
You”re now renowned both as a drummer and a keyboard player. Which came first and how did you nurture both these skills?
Classical piano came first, and was an excellent grounding for me. I was guided by my mother and father into that because I was showing a strong attraction to playing piano pretty much as soon as I could reach the keys. To study and form the classical way was, and is, the only superior method. I was completely at odds with the classical world though, and with the conditions and demands being made on me, so I eventually put all my passion into another route – a simultaneous one, where the whole academic thing was left in the roots of my piano studies and where I could let go and be wild in a totally other relatively organic method. That”s what drums stood for, and what they still stand for.
Years later I started working with the piano again, with a renewed inspiration and very much a fresh set of aspirations. Since then, the two have been walking together hand in hand, and neither one of them is less important than the other. The two roads work so perfectly for me I don”t even regard them as being two roads. It”s a singular road.
As a drummer how much importance would you place on a drummer learning a melodic instrument?
Oh, a lot of importance. I think the advantage of knowledge in harmony, form and melodic invention can only constantly enhance and really magnificently broaden, widely, what we do as a drummer. The difference with me is that I specialise in the both instruments, and that”s another thing. That”s my way, and I guess it”s really quite rare too. I don”t ever particularly recommend or advise that it should be like that necessarily for anybody else, but I do think there”s a colossal advantage to pursuing really just the widest range of musical study and endeavour that you can. I can only be good, on all levels.
What are the qualities you look for in your drum equipment; drums, cymbals and even your sticks to bring out the best in your performance?
I look for drums that speak fully, in all ranges, and that help me produce and project my sound the way I want it and the way I would like others to experience it. It”s to do with how we play as drummers primarily, and for me it”s to do with the way I hit and what kind of sound I make, which comes by way of quite a clear and consistent hit in the middle of the drum head. No rocket science there. And the drums I have right now are perfect. They are shells I had to move heaven and earth to get made (together with Mark DeCloedt of Pearl).
Once we made headway, and the drums arrived I realised immediately I had really hit the mark with this idea. They”re perfect for me, and consist of 4 ply maple shells all the way down the kit, which are standard, but with no reinforcement rings, which is not standard. And, oh boy, did they not want to make those drums! Anyway, they”re magnificent and magnificent in all the kinds of music I play too – from gentle stuff to jazz right up to pounding rock n” roll. I change sizes and configurations as I change from project to project though, and with cymbals, I really change it all up. It”s just out of what I need, what serves the music best and what I want for the various situations. The one common mainstay is my stick, which is basically a hickory version of Neil Peart”s maple Promark 747. I use that for everything.
Please give us the insight behind your new project ”Drive” and the new CD ”Hotwired”?
It”s a great little group, conceptually a very forward-looking jazz direction with a retro vibe to it at the same time. There”re also elements that influence it from other kinds of music. We feature in the group one of the great voices anywhere in tenor and soprano saxophones, Julian Siegel, a new young dude on trumpet Richard Turner who I really wanted to get and a phenomenal bassist in Michael Janisch who is very, very strong. A drummer loves strong bassists, and I for sure got that with Mike. Somebody recently coined the phrase “Modern Retro” for the album, and I really quite like that. The music”s very rooted in the jazz bebop way, but with contemporary writing. It harks back to the jazz traditions and influences from yesterday, but the music and the way the group plays is very much about today.
On the record incidentally we used one of those fantastic old ribbon mics, the RCA 44, to record virtually the whole overhead top kit as you hear it. That”s the mic Sinatra and Billie Holiday used to sing through in their heyday, and it brought about a real retro-sounding nice kind of punch and warmth to the drum sound, which is already punchy and warm acoustically anyway. I”m very proud of the production, and I worked hard on it.
Live, the group”s a wild animal, but we had a nice balance on the record between the wildness alongside nice more introspective and other subtler elements for the compositions. There”s intelligence to the way everyone played on the recording, really good focus and great musicality. I”d really love as many people as possible who may be interested in me to hear this record, and from the sound point of view again it even sounds very good in the MP3 realm from iTunes. Really pleased about how it came out sounding, and about the music.
Having good working relationships with some of the world”s finest musicians and modern day legends must be inspiring. Apart from your musical associations what is the driving force behind Gary Husband?
Well, I have to say that the sheer diversity of all that I do these days is at once exceedingly challenging, demanding but above all very rewarding and ultimately fulfilling. I”m a part of a lot of different kinds of music all the time, and this can”t help but be inspiring. I”ll go from one of my own projects to a big band – which in the case of the one in question (Hamburg”s NDR Big Band) that is already in itself a pretty broad canvas, as that could mean anything from pure abstract to traditional Basie swinging style – to funk/pop, to acoustic song-based stuff, to bebop through to fusion of many kinds, to rock and blues with Jack Bruce and Robin Trower.
I”ll find myself in the creative route with Holdsworth and McLaughlin, getting the grooving thing on with Mike Stern, and working with singers the next minute – like Al Jarreau recently. That was nice. And I could be involved on either one of my two fundamental instruments. So yeah, I have a very fortunate and ideal career. For me at any rate. I mean, this isn”t for everybody, and to be brutally honest, you have to have done a lot of work, a great deal of research into many musical realms, study into the traditions and as many of the artists who”ve helped forge, lead and forward those traditions as possible. And then there”s the application, which is everything. All this you need to have done to succeed this way. I have, and there”s no replacement for that. No short cuts, no book you can buy that it all comes out of. It”s literally the accumulation of a lot of hard study, practise, experience and work.
You know, because for me to be successful in all of these endeavours means that I have to be utterly convincing, reliable and confident. I have to be qualified in other words, and from that point you have to instil inside every artist you play with, through your playing, that you are something they can trust and depend on. I”m speaking majorly as a drummer here, and these are the qualities I consider to be necessary. Once you have all this happening, there”s a lot more chance the phone will keep ringing and that you”ll get asked back.
And the artistic benefits to working this diversely, in my playing, are without doubt manifold. I”m broader and infinitely more accomplished in terms of expression and overall handling, generally, in music. Perhaps the one thing I get to hating about it is on the occasions I get musically or stylistically typecast, in a way that seems to fall under the fingers of a lot of music journalists or promoters for instance – like I”m Level 42. You know, and I”m not Level 42. The four artists who aspired together from being kids, grew together, formed and developed with each other and went on to write, play the way they did and produce the popular songs everyone knows – the very ones I play when I play concerts with the band – are Level 42. That”s Philip Gould”s credential. What I do in the band is endeavour to perform a strong and as authentic as possible stage show from the drums, and try and get it to feel as right and as good as I can. And I always do that. Of course it will always be evident it”s me up there, but that”s natural and I always welcome that.
Going back to my point though, that particular band is only one of the great many things I do, and if I get tagged with that it does kind of erk me because it”s really not appropriate or accurate, and of course, it”s just lazy research. It also annoys me for the reason it”s misleading, and people form a vision of you through the powerful written word. They think they have “the angle” on you, and in reality somebody”s going to have a very tough time getting any one angle on me! It”s quite funny really I guess.
Another particularly annoying element people like me face is this issue of divides in music, and the snobbishness that arises. And most of it is based is of course based in ignorance. You know, you get the jazz snobs who get totally elitist and silly – like you can”t possibly be the real thing or you”re selling out if you”re flouting your artistry in and out of pop or rock bands on regular occasions. They forget about a point such as with the album “Hotwired”, and how that could not have been made without the living I make from involving myself in different stuff. You know, there aren”t any jazz labels knocking at my door ready to finance projects like that, so it gets done out of my resources. You then get the pop fraternity harping on about jazz as being about a bunch of drunk, self-indulgent wizards who only play for themselves. And it goes on. All this kind of crap you have to fight, but you know, I always enjoyed playing different music, and to me music is all one anyway. It”s either real or it isn”t, and as long as my integrity is in tact in this respect, and as long as I do well at what I”m doing I really don”t care what any of them think once they enter that territory. I choose to work this way because it”s a very complete, rewarding and fulfilling of working to me. The more I do it and mix my output out like this, the better musician it makes me. That”s just a fact. Just the way it is.
Good rhythmic vocabulary and technique will give any drummer strong grounding to inject personality into their performance – could you give your advice to drummers developing their skills?
Well, I like the way you choose the word vocabulary – a nice way of putting it. You know, it”s my belief some people don”t need an expansive or sophisticated vocabulary, they can say a great deal with relatively little. I regard it like conversation. Someone with a limited command of language, providing there”s purpose, passion and humility for instance in what they”re saying, can transmit their message very clearly and articulately. If it”s meant, and you feel it, then it will get across because that”s I believe what reaches people, regardless of the musical realm or challenges within the music. People feel it in movie music that”s particularly well written and well timed for instance, in spite of the fact they may be completely unaware of the complexities inherent in that music. It takes them there, and I”ve never bought in to that notion one has to know about music to be able to digest it and be moved by it. That”s my conviction anyway.
As drummers we need to develop articulation, facility, clarity and projection. Without that it”s going to be a muddle, and what we”re doing isn”t going to be clear. Along with that we need conviction and confidence behind our facility. That”s what we all can take care of relatively easily. The bottom line though is the feeling, and the feeling of course is everything, and whatever the drummer”s going to do it”s got to feel right. To me that”s always been the hardest part of the necessary development, getting that right. Tony Williams was quoted as saying “Take care of the ride cymbal pattern – its consistency and regularity and feeling – and the phone will ring”.
Another tricky thing is sound, but to me people try too much to change their sound. We have a sound to begin with. It makes us identifiable, a bit like our speaking voice, where all the characteristics that make that voice recognisable in a split second are evident. I think we all have a sound quite naturally from the beginning, and from there I feel it”s a matter of making that as good as possible. That”s to do with hitting consistently and properly, and developing the technique so you do that quite naturally, at all velocities. I was reflecting the other day listening to an album I did recently – “Seven Moons”, with Jack Bruce and Robin Trower – at how it is really evident that it”s the same guy playing drums as on the album “I.O.U.” for Allan Holdsworth recorded back in 1979! I like that. I really like that. All these years later with so much I did in the between times.
If you had to name 5 albums that have influenced and shaped you – what would they be?
1. “Stan Kenton Today” – Stan Kenton Orchestra – Drummer: “Baron” John Von Ohlen
2. “Jack Johnson” – Miles Davis – Drummers: Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette
3. “Between Nothingness & Eternity” – Mahavishnu Orchestra – Drummer: Billy Cobham
4. “Emergency” – Tony Williams Lifetime – Drummer: Tony Williams
5. “Live In Europe” – Miles Davis – Drummer: Tony Williams
Plus… various Mitch Mitchell with Jimi Hendrix Experience, David Garibaldi with Tower Of Power, Keith Moon with The Who.
Rolling back to your learning years, are there any essential disciplines you could give to an upcoming drummer?
Yes. The things that have paid off are doing a lot of research – a lot of listening, a lot of analytical study of music, and particularly drummers. When I work with somebody I check out the drummers they”ve had, the nature of the way they play and what they respond to best in drummers they”ve played with in the past. I also want to know as much about that artist as possible, so I know a little about their likes, dislikes and preferences. All this stuff I think is very important. This means you come to the table more equipped and much more qualified. Mentioning Jack Bruce in the last question brings to mind a good case in point. I checked out a lot of his stuff back in the Cream days, and looked deeply into what was going on between him and Ginger. It”s a unique pairing, and both of them are unique as individuals. Their partnership in that particular band was particularly enlightening towards understanding their whole method together, and gathering an idea of how it works between them. The other guy that Jack had a great empathy with was Tony Williams, who had a similar type of “back”, sort of lazy feeling going on with Jack as Ginger. There were a lot of off beat double-time hi-hat offbeats against a half-time beat for instance. That creates a lot of what gives Jack nice breathing space in the way he plays, and as a drummer, I want to make him comfortable and give him that. Had I not looked into any of that I would have been coming to the table blissfully unaware of any of this. As a result, and the result of my working at it as I did, Jack makes no secret he”s very comfortable with me back there these days. That, to me, is the fuller, wider and more complete approach to working with somebody, and the one that pays off in dividends to me.
I would also encourage – not surprisingly – playing with people as early on as possible. That”s where the lessons start to me. Another biggie that”s always paid off – now and throughout my whole career – is to check out recordings of yourself. It”s the way you hear yourself as others hear you – in the music, part of the music – and it”s there you realise the many shortcomings. I”ll store my faults as I find them and experience them in that recording, and I”ll be on top of those very things once we play again. Through doing that on a regular, actually fairly constant basis, I”ve really progressed.
Another thing. Mean it. Every time you play. The drummer should be about being a musician, at all times. That”s the way a groove grooves, solos transpire with authority and freshness and creativity, driving playing is exhilarating and thrilling. That”s just the simple ingredient. If you don”t care and it”s just a job, get out. It”s not worth it, not stimulating to anyone around you and it”s certainly not serving the music.
All simple messages maybe. Simple as they are though, it”s my conviction they are really imperative.
Drums: Pearl MMP Masterworks GH custom shells.
Drum Heads: Remo clear or coated Ambassadors
Sticks: Promark GH 747 model
Drum Cases: Hardcase
For more information:
Interview: Jerome Marcus
Photography: courtesy of Gary Husband