Hailing from Glasgow, Metalcore band ‘Bleed From Within’ have been making waves on the UK Metal scene for almost 15 years – and while there are many incredible Metal drummers out there, few manage to approach the genre with the musicality of Ali Richardson.
Growing up listening to his brother’s rock records, Ali soon swapped his clarinet for a drum kit and switched from playing in the school orchestra to jamming Pantera songs with his mates. Pursuing his passion, Richardson soon not only started his own metal band but also started depping for other bands in the same genre.
Today he is still busy touring with ‘Bleed from Within’ and took over the drum chair for Reading based thrash metal outfit ‘Sylosis’.
I caught up with Ali at the UK Drum Show in Manchester to chat about his upbringing, his approach to metal drumming and his work off the drum chair.
I found a great quote of yours: ‘Hearing Pantera got me from playing the clarinet to playing the drums’.
I don’t even know where you found that but it’s very true! I also did a little bit of guitar but I played clarinet in the orchestra in my school. There was a drummer in the band who I always watched, it just looked so much more fun.
When I heard Pantera it changed the game for me and I made the move over to the drumkit. I’ve actually recently thought to myself that I’d like to buy a clarinet again and see if I’ve still got it. Prepare for the drum and clarinet solo album!
You grew up in Scotland. What music did you grow up to?
Mainly Queen. My brother is the biggest Queen fan ever. In my family house we had Queen playing, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and loads of classical music from my Dad. I think I had a good musical upbringing in that sense, it was pretty varied. My brother played a big part in all of this, I think he saw me as his protege by saying stuff like: “you’re gonna listen to Queen; you’re gonna love this; this is Roger Taylor, he’s the best drummer ever!”
Outside of that it was just me trying to find my own style of music. I only found heavier music when I got to about 12 years old; before that it was all just chart stuff: Ricky Martin, Britney Spears and I loved the boyband Five – maybe I shouldn’t be telling people that actually … *laughs*
So drumming started in school then?
Well, I played drums in school but I didn’t have lessons there. That was something I did in my spare time just as I started secondary school. Like I said I got into drums through Pantera and Vinnie Paul. The song was ‘F**king Hostile’ which starts: “1,2,3,4… *sings metal drum part*. I was like: I want to do that! From then I just taught myself, I never had any lessons.
You’re a founding member of ‘Bleed From Within’. How did the band start?
We all grew up together and had a really strong friendship going. Back in 2005, we used to go to this youth club where me and the guitar player just jammed Pantera and Lamb of God tunes for hours. Eventually we put the band together. I was reluctant at first as I was in another band that were doing quite well. I did end up joining though, obviously, and it all kicked off.
Metal drumming is a league of itself. I’ve spoken to some metal drummers who see it as a sport, others “just” play. How do you approach it?
I definitely fall into the category of ‘just playing’. Today for example: I was out last night having some beers, I haven’t warmed up yet, I’ll just get on stage and treat it like a gig as best I can. I have put my work in over the years obviously, but I don’t treat it like a sport: I don’t have a disciplined practise routine, I don’t have the insane pre-gig ritual of an hour and a half warm up… I don’t go in for that stuff. It’s very much a natural thing that just always felt like it was right to do. My preparation and approach to metal is a lot more mental than it is physical. Before shows I just make sure that I’m focused and as soon as I go on stage and start playing it all falls into place.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work for me. I hit hard and I sweat a lot. I struggle with the music that I play but in a good way. In the same way that when you go to the gym to work out you can lift the weights and it’s hard work, but afterwards you feel great. I always try to push myself when I’m writing new parts and play a little harder on gigs. Those kind of things keep you on your toes and keep it exciting and fresh.
Some metal bands can sometimes sound a bit busy for the sake of it. Your drumming to me is more musical. How do you approach it?
Thank you very much! Musicality, power and groove are the three main focuses for me. Trying not to overplay – which sounds ridiculous because I overplay all the time *laughs* – I’m a metal drummer, I’ve got a million cymbals! I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the overplaying! Also, I wouldn’t really consider myself to be a ‘fast’ drummer. I can think of some guys: Krimh, Dan Presland or Alex Rudinger – these are fast drummers. Those guys are insane. Me, not so much. My building blocks are power, consistency and groove. As long as it’s consistent and it cuts through the music, I’m happy.
Metal drumming is a very physical. How do you keep fit?
I go to the gym in my free time and have a good diet. I just generally like to stay fit. It’s hard to stay fit on tour though when you’re drinking beer every night and basically live off fast food and after-show pizza. Before we play I run on the spot for 5 minutes and jump around a little just to get the blood going and get a sweat on. As long as I’ve got the circulation going I find that I can tackle what I need to play. If I go into it cold it’s ten times harder.
As mentioned before you’ve been with the band from the beginning. Has your approach changed as the gig got bigger and bigger?
I tell you what has changed my approach: the fact that I’m getting older. I don’t want to play as fast anymore *laughs*
We all write the music together and have a big say in that and I think as the shows got bigger we’ve been thinking more about crowd participation. We wrote songs thinking: “imagine this venue, or that stage” or “this would be a great opener for a festival set”. So I guess musically and in a songwriting sense it has changed slightly as things have progressed. Not much else though.
You’ve also played for ‘Sylosis’ since 2015. Is that more of a session thing?
No, I’m a member of the band. I was good friends with the guys and filled in for the drummer a couple of times when they were on tour. He left the band not long afterwards and they asked me to join.
How do the two gigs compare?
Sylosis is harder for me. I play more technical stuff with Bleed from Within but in Sylosis I have to be a lot more consistent. There are lots of solid double bass drum parts for a lot longer, and I can’t break them up with fills. It’s all about holding them down.
Hot topic amongst metal drummers: using triggers?
Triggering? Bullsh*t. Never done it, never will. Hit hard, tune your drums right, put on the right beaters, get a good sound guy and do your thing. What I will say to people who say triggering is cheating, that’s nonsense. It’s not cheating – if anything you’re highlighting your mistakes. If you see somebody playing live with triggers and they’re really tight – that’s impressive! It’s just that the sound and the feel isn’t for me. I like the dynamic kick sound. I like to be able to lay into it so I can hear and feel the response from the drum.
Yes, I play to a click. Sylosis have never done it, but Bleed from Within play to a click as of April 2018; which has been a game changer for me. I never used to want to do it; I always preferred to play naturally but as soon as we started using it, I was hooked. It actually takes a lot of the weight off my shoulders. There is no question anymore if you have sped up or slowed down during the performance.
It helps a lot with events like this as well because every time you do a drum clinic you play to a click. Now I spend the majority of my time playing to a metronome so I find myself a lot more relaxed in these situations. My first drum clinic was in May last year and Bleed From Within had only started using a click a month before that, so I found myself concentrating on the click a lot when playing the clinic. Now it’s second nature.
We’re backstage at the UK Drum Show here ahead of your masterclass. Are the educational performances like that something you’d like to pursue more?
I would love to pursue it more, yeah! I’m trying to push it by talking with my drum companies, as it was Yamaha who put me forward for this. I’m very grateful for the opportunity. These things aren’t wasted on me and I’m very humbled to be on the poster with names like Aaron Spears, Ray Luzier and Chris Coleman. That blows my mind. I want to do more because I think Metal is very under-represented at these kind of events.
I actually had someone asking me yesterday what songs I’m gonna play and I told him I’m gonna keep it all metal. When you come to a drum show you see enough funk, jazz and fusion, so my sets will always be metal orientated. That’s what I want to shout about. I think it’s a great genre, the drummers who play it are great and I just want more people to be aware of what goes in. It’s hard work, people need to take note!
Do you have time to teach at the moment?
Not as much anymore. I used to teach when I was living in Glasgow but now I moved to Reading and just have too much going on with my bands, so there is no time for teaching. I do enjoy it though and it’s something I hopefully get back into at some point.
Could you fit in some lessons and clinics during the day while you’re on tour?
I don’t really have time on tour unfortunately. I tour manage, I drive the van and I have a big drum kit to set up and break down.
Oh wow. You’re tour managing? Is that something you’ve always been into or did you do it out of necessity?
No-one else was doing it and it just came down to saving money. It can be upwards of £200 a day to have a decent tour manager and I thought I know exactly what he’s doing, 90% of it is common sense, so I took it on.
I didn’t like having to go to somebody else to ask what’s going on. Now it’s just me and because we’ve been friends for so long the guys really trust me. I really enjoy it. I do the majority of the driving, I tour manage, I do all the advance, route the tour and book the hotels and then do the drumming as well. It’s a lot of work but it’s a labour of love, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. I love the guys in my band, I love the music that we play and I love being on tour. Getting to play a show every night is a dream.
Talking about home, what made you move from Glasgow to Reading?
I moved to London for the music and because there were a lot of career opportunities. I now just moved out to Reading because I work for a merchandise production company. I have that as a main job alongside the music.
Finally, what’s next?
Bleed From Within are continuing work on the new album right now. It’s taking over our lives! We have that to finish, then need to prepare for the release which will be some time in early 2020. We also have a tour in December for three weeks across Europe. Other than BFW, I am working on content for my YouTube channel and trying to push myself on the drumming front. There is a lot I still need to learn.
Thanks a lot for your time Ali!
Interview by Tobias Miorin
Ali would like to thank Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Evans drumheads and ProMark drumsticks – and Mike, Tobias and the whole team.