In a time where most music just seems a tiny bit too polished to make it radio friendly, one Brighton based band delivers an answer. Since their debut album ‘Statues’ hit the market in 2016, prog-rockers Black Peaks success has been on a straight incline taking them from playing Brighton’s little bars straight to Wembley Arena.
I caught up with drummer Liam Kearley to talk about his way into drumming, his influences and the story behind the band.
How did it all start off?
I remember quite clearly that when I was about 11 years old, I sat on the edge of my old primary school with some friends. I just started tapping on my legs and I was like: I guess I wanna play drums. That was honestly the start of how I wanted to be a drummer. It took me a few years into wanting to be a full-time drummer but I’d say of the 16 years I’ve played drums, it’s been ten since I decided I wanna do it professionally.
My mum agreed to me having lessons at school where I had some lessons with some pretty good teachers and they got me the enthusiasm for it.
I got an electronic drum kit and played on that for a couple of years, but I was never really able to play proper drums at my house because of the living space and noise.
So you started off with lessons straight away? Are you glad you did it this way?
Yes, I mean it always depends what the teachers are like to be honest. At school I had two teachers that really stood out and were really useful, but there were also a couple that weren’t as enthusiastic or maybe not as specific on what they wanted to teach. It was more a ‘I show you this but not really gonna teach you’. That’s obviously not a good way of learning. It was important, I’d say, for me to learn the basics from somebody else, because I had no idea and no musical background at all.
Where did it go from there?
I played in a band with my friends from school just to have a jam and have some fun, playing school rock concerts etc, but later we started playing shows elsewhere around the area. Up till then I was mainly playing funk and stuff like that. The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chad Smith were my biggest influence when I first started.
When I started college I met some people to play some heavier stuff with. We started playing Queens Of The Stone Age songs, Deftones and all these other bands that have now become my main influences. It was a very cool time: I was about 16 years old back then and we started playing gigs outside of Brighton and Eastbourne (which is where we were studying) getting to see some places I had never been before, it was pretty fun.
At this point you had already decided that you wanted drumming to become your career?
Yeah. I was studying music production and performance so it was the direction I wanted to take. I had a phase for a couple of years where I wasn’t too sure if I actually wanted to make it my job but then something clicked and I just decided I really wanted to go for it.
Starting Uni was when it all got more serious. I studied at the London Centre of Contemporary Music which was quite a new college back then so it was very small. I had three drum teachers there who for me at that point were just absolutely perfect. A guy called Pete Zeldman, he specialises in independence and crazy time signatures, he absolutely blew my mind. Another guy called Bryan McLellan. And the third guy named Richard Brook who is a big session player in the UK. Really, really influential guys and they were amazing teachers. LCCM also meant that I was up in London all the time an hour away from home and I could just play drums as much as I wanted.
Seeing as you studied music, was there ever a conscious decision between being a band drummer or a session player?
Yeah. I went from college which was all about being a band drummer to LCCM which was focused on London, the session scene and playing all kinds of different genres. I always loved heavy music but funk and soul seemed to be the session kind of thing to do. I just thought I’m not good enough to do the session stuff because they are crazy good. Also I didn’t know anything about reading or writing music, so I just felt that it wouldn’t be the right thing for me to do, and I concentrated on myself as a drummer and what I wanted to achieve. I don’t regret that choice one bit.
How did Black Peaks come about?
About four years ago me and the now bass player were playing in a band together with a very good friend of mine. I met Joe the guitarist and the three of us started jamming making some weird Mars-Volta-y music that didn’t really make any sense. We did that for about a year but decided we needed a singer. One day we heard that our now singer Will left his old band, which we knew through the Brighton scene. We emailed him literally the day after and asked him to come for a jam. We sent him a track, he liked it and decided to come down and that was it, the rest is history. In the last two years more has happened than we could have ever asked for. It’s been really overwhelming.
You went from playing the small Brighton bars to playing Wembley Arena within two years.
We knew pretty early on that we didn’t just wanna play Brighton. If you keep playing at the same place all the time not many people will keep turning up. You’ll just be playing to your friends all the time. So we decided to go out and do DIY tours. We drove up to Glasgow and Wales in the singer’s girlfriend’s Audi A4 packed up to the roof, the drums ‘Russian-dolled’ together to fit it all in. It was pretty good times! We just wanted to play music, see all these different places and really earn our stripes in the industry. We then got management who have been really crucial for our progression. They got us an agent which has been paramount to our success, because it has taken us to so many wonderful countries in the last couple of years to play to all sorts of people! Getting great management and an agent I’d say is the most important thing for a band early on.
What was the biggest challenge for you as a drummer as the gigs got bigger?
I’d say the biggest jump was when we played Sonisphere 2014. That was our first ever festival and we opened the whole thing playing on the Jägermeister tent. There were about 1500-2000 people in there. That was the biggest show we’d ever played at that point. For me the challenge was just the excitement – I’m a very excitable person anyway and this situation was just too much. For me it’s just about honing in that excitement and using it as fuel for the show. That was probably the biggest thing. But it all happened so quickly I didn’t really have time to think about it. It was just more a ‘OK, this is happening now, let’s do this’.
Wembley was very strange to play though, it was just so massive. Sound wise playing an arena compared to playing a 2000 capacity venue is just really weird.
You supported Deftones there, right?
Yes, that was huge! They are my absolute favourite band in the world, meeting them as well they were the nicest guys I think I’ve ever met in the music industry. Abe introduced himself as if he was a nobody…my biggest influence by far. It was just so humbling to witness a huge band treat us with so much respect. That was an amazing experience i will never forget.
Where do you take your drumming influences from for the band?
Chad Smith probably was the main guy in the beginning, but from listening to ‘Songs for the Deaf’ by Queens of the Stone Age I really got into Dave Grohl. Later on I got more into Mastodon, Deftones and Tool, so Brann Dailor, Abe Cunningham and Danny Carey – also Thomas Pridgen from Mars Volta as well. Thomas Pridgen just blows my mind. With him it’s more a “Wow, I’d like to do what you do”. They are probably my four main influences I take from now. It’s ever changing though really as i’m constantly trying to learn from others.
I didn’t even reali
se I had my own style untilI I did a drum play through recently, my first one, and it made me realise I do have my own style and people like that.
While we’re talking about set up, dare I say that for a prog rock band you’re playing quite a humble set up. Was that a conscious decision or has
it just always been your kit?
So far I’ve just always played my Gretsch 3-piece kit (13×9, 16×16, 24×16). I never had a choice in that kit, we just needed a drum kit to play shows. We started to headline shows and I was like: I don’t have a drum kit! My girlfriend and Joe the guitar player collaborated and found me this white Gretsch. It was more a ‘I had to have
a drum kit’ but it ended up being the best I could have ever asked for at that point! I was working so hard to get nice cymbals and a snare, I neglected the rest.
I’m now proudly endorsed by Zildjian, Evans, Promark, Protection Racket cases and a custom drum company called Serenity Custom Drums. Jon Hammond the master craftsmen made me this overwhelming 13×7 segmented sculpted snare recently and I’m now talking to them about making me a slightly bigger kit. Only one more tom. I’ll be using an 8” as a little kind of like embellishment tom, alongside a 12” tom, 16” floor tom and a 24” kick again.
I actually recorded the album with two rack toms and a floor tom. It’s good fun! It’s a bit tricky though when you have a 24” kick drum because it pushes the deeper rack toms over to the side and results in quite a wide set up. I’m only a small guy so a big kick is always gonna be difficult.
But yeah, it’s quite a simple rock set up. I played on a kit with six toms once when we supported a band in Spain and I just did too much. I’m quite a busy drummer as it is and I’m trying to hone that in. Lots of toms just result in too many fills.
You just mentioned the album recording. That was about two years ago now. Can we expect a new album soon?
We had a pretty busy summer and burned ourselves out a little bit. We’ve been writing since the beginning of last year though trying to piece some things together. But it’s on it’s way for sure.
The music industry is all very pop-punk heavy at the moment and I just don’t get it but slowly there are more and more heavy bands coming through and I hope it lasts. People forget about bands in an instance because nowadays our attention span is so short! So yeah, for now we just want to keep the momentum up, write what we can and see what happens.
Do you have time for other projects outside the band?
I’ve been thinking about it recently. We did this one month tour which means every day just doing music and then you come back to just nothing. It’s good to take a break from the band and hanging out with the guys but I was just not doing anything. I was just like: Ok, I really wanna play some drums. So yeah, it’s a thought. I wanna do some more play-throughs and maybe look into teaching but I need to work on my technique first. Generally I just wanna play as much as possible.
I’m back home in Brighton at the moment and we’re gonna do some writing with the band. We’ve got a big Brighton show on the 10th of December. It’s our biggest ever headline show at Concorde 2, 600 capacity venue. It’s sold really well already so we’re really excited. We’re also doing a January/February 2017 tour around the UK and Ireland which has been announced now, so we’re just really excited to get back out on the road and play the album and maybe some new stuff too.
Thanks a lot for your time!
Interview by Tobias Miorin