Ben Thomas (Rag 'N' Bone Man) - Interview

Ben, you are the backbone behind Rag`n’ Bone Man. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Could you tell us a little bit about how you started playing Drums?

I got introduced to the kit in a school music lesson, I remember being fascinated by them so started hitting stuff like tables and chairs with spoons at home and thought: ”I might be ok at this" so tried it on the drums and it worked. Together with listening to Nevermind and paticulary 'In Bloom' I was hooked!

Can you tell us who you are currently working with and who you have worked with in the past?

So currently I’m working with Rag N Bone Man, which when were out touring takes up most of my time which is great and I love the project and importantly I love the music. I did a show for Dua Lipa last year which was great and I session on albums and play live for different artists from time to time.

How did the Rag `n’ Bone Man gig come about? You have been there from the start, you must have some great stories?

So I actually got that gig from a contact I had from back in School, a now successful producer; Mark Crew. We used to record and make music together way back, we then went separate ways around the age of 19 - 20 , we still kept in touch as he’s a good friend and then out of the blue he rang me in 2013 asking if I wanted to do a tour with Rag N Bone Man. Things were in the very early stages then, but just from hearing the first demo of a song called 'Wolves' I was blown away and so into it. It was a perfect fit for what I wanted to play and still is so it was definitely a good phone call to get! On the stories side it’s a definite yes haha, and fortunately so many good ones that it’s hard to pick specific ones out. I've been involved since 2013 so have seen the line up and the whole thing take shape over time which has been a really incredible transformation, which all started for me at least driving Rory around the country in my crappy red Astra back then.

What Drums are you using at the moment and what other gear completes your set up? What sizes are your Kit?

So I proudly play Gretsch drums, Zildjian Cymbals, Remo Drumheads, Roland Electronics, Vic Firth Sticks, Protection Racket Cases, Porter & Davies and Ultimate Ears. All amazing companies and they make top stuff which I love to play and use. My current Kit I use with Rory Is either Gretsch Brooklyn or a Gretsch Broadkaster, the Brooklyn we tend to use for live shows mainly and the Broadkaster in the studio. I like to use a range of sizes from 18" to 22" kicks 14" snare 12" tom and either a 14" or 16" floor.

I’ve noticed you have some interesting cymbals in your set up? Do you have a stack on the right? You also have them facing away from you slightly, is there a specific reason for this?

Yeah Zildjian have been so good to me and I love their cymbals. I use a special dry K FX hat which is great for little accents and quick phrases every now and then. I tend to sit quite high on my kit, I don’t know why I just like how it feels and I like my cymbals fairly flat so from the front my cymbals can look a bit all over the place but from behind the kit is all makes sense, so it’s practical and not just for show haha.

On the subject of equipment, in your set up you replace your Rack Tom for an SPD-SX. Does that run tracks or is it purely for samples?

Yeah we took this decision as Rory wanted a stripped back more Hip Hop based sound from the kit for those tours, a lot of groove and fat low end from the fills so we got rid of the hi tom. This made things really interesting for me as it makes you think about what you play far more with less stuff to hit, it makes you think musically and you gotta dig deep creatively to make things work. We don’t actually run any track anymore so it's all live, even when we did a few years back it was pretty minimal so i don’t fire off any track from the SPD, all I use it for are a couple of intro samples, snare and kick triggers for a few songs and a couple of one shots. Very useful bit of kit though.

With Rag ’n’ Bone man, you have been fortunate enough to play some of the most prestigious stages in the World, not forgetting some incredible TV shows. Do you find a TV show different to playing a gig or a festival? Do nerves affect you at all?

Very much so, it's totally different for me, the vibe and acoustics for one change the energy of a TV gig compared to a festival show for example. I love both though as it challenges you to adapt and keep the standard up. Nerves are a thing of course and they always will be, but thats part of it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think for me it’s a fine balance between nerves and excitement, distinguishing between the two can be tricky at times but both get you up for a gig and nothing beats the feeling of walking out onto a stage and playing, nothing.

Last year you played the UK Drum Show, how did you find that experience? I saw your performance and it was great; to me, the idea of playing in a room full of drummers sounds terrifying though! How was it for you?

Haha in truth probably the most nervous I’ve ever been! It’s a totally different vibe, with a drum show it's just you, you’re playing and your chat. Both have to be on point or you risk looking a bit of a prat haha. Fortunately I was able to fall back on my teaching experience a lot which over the years has got me comfortable speaking and getting a message across, but yeah playing in front of a room of drummers is never gonna be easy, fortunately thanks to a lot of hard work, it all went to plan. It was such a good event as well.

The majority of your work is in a live environment and you spend a lot of time on the road. How do you keep yourself in touch with the ‘normal world’ going on around you and keep yourself healthy both physically and mentally?

Well for a start Rory is extremely grounded and laid back, he's still the same dude as when we started out which keeps things real nice. Working for an artist like that who's so humble means there's a very real and kinda normal vibe on the tours. Obviously the gigs feel amazing and the lifestyle can seem crazy but everyone’s feet are firmly on the ground in the band and the whole project so it keeps things really chilled.

What’s your favourite piece of gear you own? Are you a vintage Drum lover?

To be be honest I’m fairly new to the vintage drum thing, but have played a few now and definitely see the appeal so gonna be getting my hands on one soon! For a piece of gear I dunno Its so tough it changes all the time, last month is was a new Gretsch Aluminium Snare, today I put on a set of Kerope 15" hats and they sounded so good, few weeks ago I was really into new pair of sticks haha so yeah it changes.

How are you keeping yourself busy during these strange times?

Very good question, so between touring I teach at BIMM institute Brighton, into my third year there now and I love it, teaching is always on my radar and I’m fascinated by education so I’m very grateful to be teaching there. Aside from that I’m expanding my private teaching down here in Brighton to an online audience. I've also been working on a couple of album projects for some artists. So its been fun, but looking forward to that first gig like mad!

If you had any advice for your younger self what would it be?

If my younger self was 5 i'd say start learning the bloody drums now, don’t wait till you're 12!

What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Well as soon as we're able to Im looking forward to some more live gigs and tours and keep along the same path as now really as I kinda like it haha. Long term I'm not sure, I’ve picked up the Piano again so thinking about going into musical directing, production along side the other stuff as that's always been an areas of interest.

Finally, can you share a quick tip or give us a small exercise you always use?

For every hour of practice you do, do at least a quarter of it left hand (or weaker hand) lead.

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