Joining the top of the ever-growing female drummer community, Daisy is not only running her own Record label (Babylegs Records) and working on multiple original projects, she has also become one of the most in-demand session drummers in London having worked with the likes of Goldfrapp, MIKA, Rae Morris, Hannah Peel, John Metcalfe, Vaults and many more.
For the past year Daisy has toured the globe with UK Pop/Soul Queen Paloma Faith combining her passion for drumming and electronics.
I caught up with Daisy at the U.K. Drum Show to chat about her journey to behind the drum kit, her break into the world of session work, and how starting her own label helped her get her original projects on the go.
Your Dad was a musician. Is that what got you into music?
Yeah totally – Dad is a prolific writer (he had a publishing deal with Chrysalis), a multi-instrumentalist and a great singer. He was an excellent cello player and chorister as a boy but then discovered the electric guitar got into the rock and pop. As a result, there was always a lot of music in the household. He’d play piano and we (my sisters and I) would play his guitars and sing together, which was probably the thing I loved most. We still do it at Christmas nowadays, it’s proper cheesy… [laughs].
Naturally he was super supportive when I showed a continued interest in music.
Drums wasn’t the first instrument you picked up then?
Well, I was always singing and my Dad taught me the basics on guitar so that I could accompany myself. The trumpet was then my first interest which I picked when I was around seven years old, but the drums soon became much more important.
I joined the Kingston Youth Concert band on trumpet age 11/12 but soon asked the conductor to move to the percussion section. It just looked loads more fun and I had the chance to play an array of different instruments. I started to play the Timpani, tuned and auxiliary percussion but soon I was moved to the drum set. We still use tuned percussion elements on recordings with my bands Mesadorm and Chairfight – the metallophone, vibes or glockenspiel timbres seem to always feature somewhere within our soundscapes – I’ll always love those textures.
From the moment I was moved onto that drum set seat, I really learnt drums on the go. The percussion tutor in the concert band, Chris Higgins, who was a great drummer, taught me the basics of jazz drumming and how to play time well. Performing the concert band music was straight forward because I could already read, it was interpreting the jazz charts that I found confusing at first but Chris really helped me out with it.
In addition to that, I was having some lessons with the drum teacher at my school and later went on to Drumtech where I had a weekly lesson for about six months. That was great because the teachers on a Saturday would have two pupils simultaneously meaning that they would leave you to work on your own for half of the lesson. Being let loose on an awesome drum kit in a soundproof room was a lot of fun! However, although I really enjoyed that experience, what they were actually teaching was quite clinical, less emotional. I found it useful for technique but I didn’t want to be in that environment as I felt strongly that I wanted to find ways to be a more creative and expressive musician.
So that took studying music out of the question as well?
No, not at all. I was just more interested in composition at the time when I was considering further education. I did GCSE and A-level music and managed to get into Bristol Uni to do an undergraduate classical degree, which was sort of like doing a history degree – there was a lot of theory, analysis and writing essays involved! They also had a great studio where one of the lecturers Neal Farwell was experimenting with triggers and midi. That was really interesting. But generally I was more into the avant-garde classical composition side of things there. I really enjoyed being in Bristol at that time as there was so much cool stuff going on: lots of different types of jazz, and what I would call ‘wonky rock’ or experimental punk which I became really interested in. I just got on the scene there so I didn’t really do much music with people from my music course – although I did meet my best friends at Uni who are now in my bands Mesadorm and Chairfight.
What was the plan? Did you want to become a classical composer or was being a pro drummer always the goal?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what my goal was! One thing I found that Ididn’treally want to become was a ‘jazz’ drummer. I fell into it and I was good at it but I didn’t want to study at a jazz college because I felt it was too specialized. I did however really want to go to University because I wanted to move away from London and experience another city, especially one with such a rich musical history. The best decision I ever made was to keep my options broad, be open minded and to play with anyone that asked me!
Although I was out and about gigging in pubs from the age of 13/14, I never really thought I wanted to become a prodrummer, that just happened. As a teenager, I was in a soul band, a jazz quartet, an Indie band, a Heavy Metal band and learned all of those styles by hanging with other musicians and listening to records. You really can say I learned most of it on the job from playing with musicians who were better than me.
So by the time I had done all of that I had fallen out of love with the free/more modern style of jazz preferring instead the old time New Orleans Jazz style that Louis Armstrong coined, that I got to play with Lillian Boutte. Bristol was then great for me going forward because it mixed up all the genres. There is a really great community of musicians who are all about just creating art rather than putting music into categories. That’s the reason you have bands like Portishead or Massive Attack and now Idles from Bristol who are so relevant and in the moment. They are hard to pigeonhole because they are so focused on doing their own amazing thing. This was how my band Chairfight came to be, it was a punk reaction to the restrictions of genre.
What was your first breakthrough in the industry then?
The pop gigs began when I got the call from Goldfrapp, but I was already doing a lot of professional work since finishing Uni. From gigging on the Bristol scene, I got the opportunity to work with famous jazz names such as Pee Wee Ellis, Andy Shepperd and Lillian Boutte. I left Uni in 2008 and went straight out on the road with a band called ‘Get The Blessing’, which is the band founded by the bass player and drummer of Portishead. I was depping for Clive Deamer, who was away with Radiohead. So I became his long term dep when I was 21 and toured Europe with the band doing many enjoyable gigs. They are an amazing group of super creative guys, I love them. I guess that was one of the first breaks. Through Get the Blessing I met the guys from Portishead and then Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley suggested me to Will Gregory and Alison from Goldfrapp. That was 2009/2010.
You then stayed with Goldfrapp quite a while.
Yeah, I toured the album ‘Head First’ with them which took about 2/3 years. I also recorded on the ‘greatest hits’ album and we made a live album too. That was fun. They’re lovely people and a great band to work for; and it really got me more interested analogue synths and drum machines.
That would have been my next question. Had electronic drums always been a bit of a passion or did you get forced into it by the gig?
By that time I was into pretty heavy techno and left-field electronica. The gig with Goldfrapp was great because it was one of the first gigs that I used a hybrid kit for. It was quite strange at first but I got used to it pretty quickly and enjoyed the scope it held for producing interesting grooves.
Did you have to do a lot of programming for it or did you have somebody to do it?
That was all done in pre-production. I had a few days in a room with Nick Batt to sort through the samples and then at rehearsals we had somebody to assign them. Since then however, I’ve always done my own programming.
Goldfrapp favoured those old school Akai samplers for all the sampled sounds which were midi mapped to the Roland Octopad I was using. There were always two behind me: one that was running and the other one as a back up. Apparently on the ‘Seventh Tree’ tour they tried to switch over to software playback but it all went horribly wrong so they decided to go back to hardware. I think that was in the short period where using computers to run tracks in shows was a still a little bit dodgy! Not anymore though, they are safe as houses!
You’ve been playing with Paloma Faith for about a year now. That’s quite a hybrid gig, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s a really nice hybrid actually. Me and the MD started to build the gig from scratch when I joined. On the last tour they used a simple Yamaha set up, but now both me and the MD are using Roland gear. I’m also using some external pads and I have acoustic triggers on the snares and the kick. I’ve found that’s a much nicer way to set it up than external pads only because you can dig in, leather it a bit to sound the samples and play more delicate strokes underneath as well as getting the benefits of the acoustic drums. This is how I set up most of my show files and rigs these days.
She has quite a back catalogue. Has that been a challenge?
She does indeed but we’re mainly playing the new album on this tour. There aren’t many old tunes in the current set. We did play a few during rehearsals: Stone Cold Sober, New York and tunes like that, but we don’t tend to play them. It’s a nice mix of styles though: we’ve got some heavy Wu-Tang-Clan beats, some very electronic pop tunes and some pretty heavy rock numbers too. This variety makes the gig super fun to play.
Do you have much more coming up with her towards the end of the year?
We’ve finished the summer dates now which were usually 2-4 gigs every weekend. That was proceeded by the arena tour in March. In between we had little bits of promo and corporate gigs. We are now moving into the re-pack of the album and there’s a new single coming out so there will be more TV promos. The band are kept on a retainer so we just work when we’re needed. Everybody in the band including Paloma is an amazing human so I feel very lucky to be a part of it.
You’ll also be working with Barry Adamson this autumn? Towards the end of the year?
Yeah, Barry was the bass player in Magazine in the 80s and a super amazing singer. We’re doing a week of rehearsals and two shows with his solo project which is a cool mix of dark big band vibes and breaks. He found me because he liked what I did with Goldfrapp. I looking forward to working with him very much.
Let’s chat about your band Mesadorm. You mentioned it earlier already: they’re all Uni mates of yours?
Yeah,Mesadormis a band of very old friends. We have known each other for around 12/13 years now since Uni days. Blythe Pepino (lead singer) used to be in Vaults until they broke up in 2016. She wanted to be more creative with her writing so the songs are hers, Aaron Zahl produces and we all work on arrangements and parts. It’s a really lovely project and the music is stylistically varied spanning from heavy electronica to piano-lead Carol King-esque songs. Adding to that, we’re all influenced by our favourite folk artists (Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Elliot Smith) so we’re always drawn to that sound and trying to fuse it with more modern Grizzly Bear / Radiohead guitar band type sonic elements. We’re also obsessed with Aphex Twin, Clarke and Four Tet so we try to draw these elements together and make something that we love.
The debut album ‘Heterogaster’ is the best work we could come up with during the past five years and we’re really proud of it. At the moment we’re just continuing to tour that, build the band and work on album two. It does takes a long time if you do it yourself but we’re getting there. We’ve had some great successes culminating in being Lauren Laverne’s Headphones Moments on BBC 6 Music on the week of the album release in May – that was ace.
You started your own record label, Babylegs Records, to help you with the band too?
Yes. The reason to start the label encircles a matter concerning the song ‘Bodies’ that Blythe had written which appeared on the debut Vaults album ‘Caught in Still Life’. That was released in 2016 but Blythe always heard it as a Mesadorm song. Because Vaults were tied into a huge American record deal, the song still belonged to Virgin Records when the band broke up in 2017. We asked Virgin if it was ok for us to include the song on ‘Heterogaster’ and they agreed as long as it wasn’t released on a major label, or a subsidiary of. We tried to find a smaller label to work with but they’re all owned by the Big Three now so founding Babylegs was the only way we could release the album and still be happy with the piece of work as a whole. The album just wouldn’t work without this song! I had always secretly wanted to start a label anyway so I went ahead and it’s been super rewarding. Also we’re now able to sign other bands and help them get published, buy licenses, sort out PRS etc. I have realized that it is possible to do most of the things that labels do yourself, and that you can achieve a lot in a small amount time whilst being satisfied musically, creatively and artistically. That was a big kick for us all because we have shared concerns about the idea of major corporations influencing art and holding artist’s rights to their own music.
As nice as it must be to be on a retainer with Paloma, it must be hard to plan and fit all your other projects in as well. After all they might call you in last minute…
Yes, and it has happened. It can be hard to book holidays in – you just have to make an educated guess and be on your toes. So far it’s worked out pretty well, it’s just about being organized, keeping track of where the gaps are in the diary, being brave and having faith! The album tour with Mesadorm earlier this year for example was booked around the time Paloma was on holiday. I am however thankful for the security of a retainer of course!
Coming back to the composing side of things: I know you’ve written a TV theme tune recently?
Me and the guitarist for one of my other projects Feverist wrote the soundtrack for the first series of ‘Peaky Blinders’. It was a Bluesy/Rock vibe (VERY White Stripes!) with a lot of smashy drums and loud guitars. After we wrote the music we got our singer Dan Mills in to write the top-lines and the lyrics. And that’s what you can hear on Netflix. We’re really proud of that soundtrack because we wrote, produced and engineered it ourselves. It was a lot of fun!
So the classical side of composing has been put to the side?
After Uni I didn’t do anymore, just a few bits of string and horn arranging. I would like to do more but I struggle to find the time. There’s been talk in our publisher’s office of doing an incidental score with Mesadorm at some point. That would be great if we can make it happen. The Chairfight sound would work well for some sort of incidental film/TV music too.
You’re just come off the stage after your performance at the UK Drum Show in Manchester, which I know you were a little nervous about.
Yes, I’ve just never done this before. It feels weird that there are not 3,4,5 people standing in front of you performing with you on stage. I didn’t really mind the ‘playing in a room full of drummers’ thing but I didn’t much like being on stage on my own. The audience were really nice though, that made it a lot easier. I felt much more comfortable when I actually started talking to them, answering questions and building that connection. That was easier than being stared at. I guess that must be what solo singer/songwriters feel like all the time. It’s not particularly nice… [laughs].
Is it something you could see yourself doing some more?
Yeah I think so. It would be good to try out some other fun things too, maybe do some Mesadorm and Hannah Peel tunes to mix it up a bit.
And finally, what’s next?
So this month October I’ll be working with Barry Adamson and finishing the Chairfight album. We do that in our downtime so it takes a little longer than usual. We started in February 2017! We are now writing the second Mesadorm album and there will be a release before Christmas (possibly a Christmas song!) from the acoustic album we have made last week at Eype Church in Bridport. There are also some TV appearances with Paloma. Then she’s doing an acoustic tour in Australia which I’m not needed for but there is talk of doing a full band tour of Australia in 2019…..So we’ll see!
Thanks a lot for your time Daisy!
Interview by Tobias Miorin