Matty Brown is a UK drummer who has an impressive artist roster to his name, ranging from Ellie Goulding, Little Simz, Dave, Plan B, Wretch 32, Liam Payne and many others, right up to Glastonbury’s 2019 Pyramid Stage headliner Stormzy, who he’s prepping for a tour with as we caught up with him. And not only that, he’s also going to be playing on the main stage of the UK Drum Show in Liverpool at the start of April.
Matty’s family is well-known in the music industry; his dad, Nicky Brown, and uncle, Jerry Brown, have had an important effect on his musical development, as has the place where he started playing music…
What are you rehearsing for at the moment?
I start rehearsals for Stormzy’s arena tour next week. I’ve been mentally prepping myself and thinking about all the cool little drum set ups I could do. We did Reading and Leeds in September so I want to keep the set up kind of the same but I might take away some things cos the kit was a bit massive.
What’s the set up that you’re going for?
I’m using my new DW Collector’s Series kit. I had it made for me in a beautiful broken glass finish with a black race stripe. It’s in 8, 10, 12, 16, 15 and I have another kick drum to the side. I might use my 20“ bass drum that turns into a floor tom instead of the 15”. And maybe some electronics to the left so it’s more of a cocktail kit. But we’ll see…it may all change.
How are you feeling about doing arenas after the pandemic?
I can’t wait to do it because the band and crew are amazing to work with. I can’t wait to do an arena! I did the O2 Arena at the Brits 2020, which was exactly two years ago. This time around, we’re doing 3 nights at the O2!
You did the Pyramid Stage with Stormzy in 2019. It was a major performance where the press talked about him a lot afterwards. Had you done Glastonbury before?
One of my first professional gigs was at Glastonbury in 2013, just after Young Drummer Of The Year (Matty won the competition in 2013). It was with Shakka, and he was doing the BBC Introducing stage and it was with me and a guitarist called Mafro. I was controlling the live programming. I was supposed to do Glastonbury every single year up until headlining it but I never got the chance; either the artist pulled out or there wasn’t a band anymore, or my dates clashed. When I think about it, something always happened when the time came to do that headline gig! And there hasn’t been a Glastonbury since.
When I look back on the day, it was incredible. I can’t even fathom what that day was about. I didn’t even realise what was happening in the moment, until after the moment.
No one knew that I was doing it but people saw me online and on TV. None of my bandmates said a word because we all had to sign NDA forms to not speak about it. I didn’t post anything on social media. I didn’t even say a word to friends or family.
Stormzy makes a lot of important political statements and raises topics that need to be talked about. As you’re playing for him, do you feel that he is an artist who is making changes to music history?
He stands for some great stuff. He stands for justice, he talks about stuff that we know is wrong with the community today. Luckily, he has an influence and a power over young people and he uses his platform in a massive, positive way. It’s hard to unhear what he’s talking about. He speaks a lot about the negative stuff right now in the government and he speaks about God, what he believes in and how God has changed his life. One of his biggest songs with the band is about Christ and saying that he’s not worthy and that God fixed him. I play those ones with a bit more passion because it’s what I believe in. It’s a dream.
What’s the process that you’re going through with the tour? Do you have much input or are you trying to replicate sounds?
The amazing Kojo Samuels is the MD. He lets me do my thing and scales it back or tells me to do more in different sections. We like to hit Stormzy’s music straight down the middle with precision and accuracy, just because he’s a very particular artist and he’s never really apt to say something drum-wise so when he does, we get it done. He’s a very hard worker and he shouldn’t have to say things twice.
In terms of musical arrangements, the MD is an amazing one and he uses everyone in the room. We definitely have musical input in the show but Kojo and Stormzy have the overall say in if it happens or not. It’s a great team effort.
The YDOTY final has just taken place. How were you feeling in the week leading up to the final in your year?
It was a long time ago now but I remember it well…I’m a Christian so I was really prayerful. I was really dreading it but I remember preparing for my solo and the song. I spent a lot of time on it and I knew how everyone else was going to approach it and I wanted to do it differently. That’s what I did. I stayed really calm, I went to bed on time. I had a strict routine like an athlete preparing for a fight or a race. I stayed really disciplined, practiced a lot and stayed hopeful with a lot of faith.
Do you think that final affected your career or would you have followed this path anyway?
I definitely would have followed this path and I would definitely be doing all of the stuff I’m doing now, regardless. It 100 percent gave me a push and a confidence that I’d never had before though. It put me on a map and my life changed from that day. I never felt more important than after that. I make this joke with my friends that that is when I started having problems with my phone. From that day, my phone keeps going off. Whether it’s someone liking something on my Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, a DM…from that day it has not stopped. Before that, I didn’t have people calling me or messaging me. It definitely sparked an interest in people wanting to talk to me and hire me. Without that, it wouldn’t have kick started when it did.
What did you do during the pandemic and lockdowns to keep yourself busy?
I got myself a studio and I started on production, which really opened me up musically. Getting the studio allowed me to work when no one else was really working. I was doing a lot of programming for artists, playing for livestream shows…I did five or six livestream shows for Liam Payne from One Direction; I was recording live drums for all of his live shows for his musicians to mime with it. Sometimes I was able to mime too and sometimes I had other things scheduled. So all of those livestream secret shows that you have to buy tickets for were my live drums. He did something for One Direction where he performed all the One Direction songs for a secret live event and I did the live drums for that too.
It was a great experience for recording, getting mics, dialing in tones into the computer, making sure that my drums sounded great. I’ve got an endorsement with sE Electronics and I was using those drum mics heavily for that. It definitely did bring some hardships because the amount of money I was used to earning was very different. It was a heavy adjustment but it personally built me up as a man and right now, looking at it, I’m sitting in one of the studios of my friend and mine’s and we wouldn’t have these studios if it wasn’t for the pandemic. The pandemic definitely pushed us and the pressure produced something greater. I’m currently refurbishing the studio that I’m in and that will be a rehearsal studio and I will have my own business where I open up rehearsal studios all around the country. This will be the first one.
Well, you’re definitely someone who’s pro-active! Going on from there, do you have any other plans for your career?
I’m just about to announce my Northern Drum Clinics. I’ve got six dates and they’ll be for universities so I can share a masterclass on what I do and help anyone who wants to get into being a professional musician. I also run an event called Industry Drum Day and Industry Musicians’ Day and right now I’m planning the next Drum Day for this year. I’m about to put on an event and straight after the university tour I’ll be playing with Crystal Fighters. I haven’t played a show with them in about three years; they’re one of my favourite groups that I play with. It’s going to be a busy year with music and all of my other business stuff and MDing as well. I’m an entrepeneur so I’ve always got something going on.
How have you comfortably got to the level where you say you can MD a band? What’s been your route?
In my previous interviews, I’ve never shed any light on this place specifically but, my church – Northumberland Park – Church of God in Christ, N17 0TB… that is the postcode of my church, and it is the most important location to me in life so far because it has taught me everything that I know musically.
There wasn’t anyone specifically to teach me but because of the people that were there ahead of me and before me, they allowed my growth to be so much more fluent than the average musician. Being in a church like that, they sing 25 to 40 songs per month, and they can pull out songs that they haven’t sung in years. I play keys in my church, and I need to know what the songs are; if not, I need to go away and learn it so that next time I know what’s going on.
That place has been such a great training ground. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to musically direct. That was the first place where I heard music and thought, ‘When I play this song, I would like to do this’ or ‘I would like to add this’. I got to the stage where I was thinking and obsessing over the day when I could play that song and add those things. Then I got to be in charge of it one day, I made those changes and it worked!
I’d like to thank my church, my church leaders, my church deacons… the founder of my church was my dad’s godfather and my dad and my uncle grew up in that church with my godfather. Uncle Freddy is one of the MD’s for Westlife and has been for many, many years…my godfather and cousin, Superintendant Folkes, is now my pastor and he’s allowed me to express myself musically every week for the past 10 years, which allows me to be the musician I am today. Without these 3 people, Bishop Bell, Superintendent Reynolds and Superintendent Folkes, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
It sounds like the perfect place to perform because it’s a safe place to play in and you aren’t criticized. Looking at your family, it’s definitely creating a legacy of top musicians. So how does it work? If there are lots of musicians there, do you take turns or are there different bands that rotate?
One of my best friends, who I’ve known for as long as I can remember, Callum Luckhoo, he drum techs for me on everything except Stormzy. We both grew up playing drums in church and we would literally fight over the drum stool. I was bigger than him back then and I would use that against him and my grandma would be like, “No, he’s playing this week and you need to take turns”. I got really frustrated and wanted to play the whole thing so I started playing keys. I didn’t know how to play but I figured it out and now I can play a church service on keys. At the moment, there are only about three of us; me, Callum and Earl, who is a great bass player. There’s no one to swap with so we’re playing every week as a unit. It’s really getting there.
I wanted to touch on your family next, which is a very musical one, as you’ve mentioned. Have your father and uncle given you industry advice on how to handle yourself and go into the business?
Most of that was passive because I’ve watched what they’ve done, seen what worked and what didn’t work for them. What my dad did was give me good gear to work with really early on. From the age of five I had professional gear; a Pearl Masters kit with good hardware, headphones with a laptop, a playlist…I was playing to Mariah Carey, Boys II Men, New Kids On The Block, Janet Jackson…I was playing that at six years old and then after a day of practice, I would go and see my uncle play with Girls Aloud, or my godfather playing with Westlife, or go and see my dad in the studio when he was arranging vocals for Madonna… When I look back on it now, they were in their prime at that time. My dad has gone full circle and is back in the industry. He’s about to go on tour with JP Cooper. His last tour was Emeli Sandé and it’s all as an MD. I just did a tour with Ellie Goulding in November and he arranged and conducted some of the vocals. So he’s gone from leaving the industry for about 15 or 17 years to jumping straight back in.
Deep down, I did want my dad to leave the church scene, musically, as during this time, he wasn’t doing any secular or industry things. Thankfully, my dad left the church he was working at, which wasn’t the best place for him to be. The moment he left, literally straight away, so many great things came to him. He’s endorsed by Roland and Yamaha, he’s arranging orchestras and strings for albums and tours…even though I learnt a lot from him when I was younger, I’m learning stuff from my dad every day and he’s my biggest musical inspiration. Him and my uncle and my godfather…I’m a product of the people in my life and my family.
How do you think the industry has changed in the pandemic years?
I feel like the bands are smaller and rehearsals are not as long as before. Some people run at it; some people skip around the edges. It’s a bit difficult because people don’t want to commit to things too early because so many things come and go, as the pandemic created so much uncertainty. I understand why people don’t want to attack things head on because there have been so many disappointing cancellations.
In terms of musical changes, the scope of music has changed completely. If you look at the charts now, Arr Dee and Aitch are top 3 today, which is drill rap. Tion Wayne and Russ Millions were number 1 for weeks; that’s from a drill track. Normally it would be pop. And something that I’m not necessarily proud of, you wouldn’t see two black rappers over a drill beat at number one. That’s not normally what happens for us, even though it should be equal. It’s changed. These people are going out and doing arenas. Dave is about to go out on a sold-out arena tour. He’s doing the Brits today; Dave, Little Simz…that was one of my first gigs at aged 17. She’s just sold out three nights at Brixton O2 and she’s the first black lady to ever do that. Music is changing and I like it because it’s giving everyone an equal chance. Boys like me are able to play for artists that look like me and play in sold-out, major venues, not just working in the underground scene. It’s a great time to be alive.
Is there any other topic that’s important to you and you’d like to mention?
I have three, incredible, beautiful sisters: Monique is the oldest, then Hannah and Ellie. I’m the only boy. Monique used to take me to football every week and she had two young kids of her own but she still made time for me. She let me stay after to have a chat with my boys and I told them, “I’m going to make it because I want my sister to be proud of me”. I’m not a footballer but now I invite her to shows or hook her up with shows she wants to see. She invested so much time into me and she’s basically like my second mum. We’re ten years apart. I’m really happy that she’s able to see what I’m doing. My little sister Hannah is close to me musically. We’d do music together where I’d play drums and she’d sing. We’d put on shows for my mum and dad in the front room where we played Alicia Keys ‘No One’. She smashed that. My little sister Ellie is getting into production at just 10 years old and singing. She inspires me. She’s fascinated by stuff I do. I give her my backstage passes so she can take them into school.
I’m not the best with my schedule and in the past I’ve been absent but I’m trying to be around them more. My middle sister just had a baby and she’s so beautiful. I’m trying to be around my family a lot more with the schedule that I have. I’m happy, I’m stable…it’s a really good time for me.
It’s lovely that you’re all there for each other and so supportive.
I’d also like to thank my endorsers. Shout out to DW and Dave Phillips, who’s always checking if I’m cool. Zildjian and Vic Firth’s Joe Testa…I left Zildjian for a while and he made it his priority to contact me and get me back. Joe, Eric and Bob at Zildjian. Gary Mann has retired but he gave me the best deal with Remo. I’ve never wanted for anything.. The team at Roland UK too; they’re always there whenever I need anything and are amazing.
You can catch Matty Brown on the Main Stage of the UK Drum Show on Sunday 3rd April 2022 at the ACC in Liverpool and find him using these handles on Instagram: @mattybrowndrums & @brownmusiclive
Interview: Gemma Hill