Joe! Thanks so much for taking the time out to do this. Straight in with this question. How did you discover the drums?
My dad introduced me to the drums when he bought himself a Yamaha DD-11 electronic drum pad, sort of like a retro SPD-SX if you will, which he used for playing in the band at his church. When he wasn’t using it I would take it up to my bedroom and try to play along with the preset patterns. I must have been around 11 or 12 years old.
Recently, you released your own EP ‘Phoenix’. Can you tell us a little bit about the creative process behind that?
That was an unexpected journey to be honest, but it was a really enjoyable process. I was sharing a studio space with a friend for a while, and ended up having access to a collection of old synths. Whilst I was home from touring I would go in to the studio and mess around with each synth, hitting record and seeing what sounds I could find. I ended up with an hour of a DMX drum loop going into the audio input on a Korg MS10, filtering and manipulating the sound, amongst hours of other such experiments involving cassette tape machines and guitar pedals. During this time my wife and I were expecting our second child, which turned out to be an emotionally challenging time, and what came out of me musically was a direct response to it.
Let’s talk a bit about your projects. You have your own Company’s Artclub Live & Artclub Creative. You recently released the ‘You’re so Hybrid’ Series with an event at Metropolis Studios. For people reading, what’s the series about and where can they find it?
Yeah, I’ve got a lot going on! I set up a limited company over eight years ago, which initially enabled me to work as a creative director on an Ellie tour. I was hiring content creators for video screens and creating a short tour documentary, so needed the right mechanism to support it. Artclub Live became a natural progression, moving all of my work as a musical director under that umbrella. The Ableton series was an entirely self-initiated and self-funded project, which I’m really glad I did. It was a lot of work and cost a fair amount to make, but I felt passionately about creating a resource for other musicians that explained my specific application of Ableton onstage. Following that up with a one-day event at Metropolis was a lot of fun to do, but super stressful committing to putting it on without knowing if anyone would come! Thankfully the response to the video series was very positive and enough people signed on for the one-day event!
You are known for your work with Ellie Goulding, who else are you currently touring with? Who have you worked with in the past?
Well, you sent me these questions right before the lockdown came into effect, so the answer to this is a lot different now! The future of live music is hanging in the balance, with a sector desperate for a tailored package of support from the government. Personally speaking my entire year of work disappeared within a a fortnight of the national lockdown starting, which has been incredibly challenging. I’m hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m doing all that I can to push open new doors in the meantime. One of the saving graces for a community of creative people is that we’re never far away from a potentially good idea. It’s a challenging time for sure, but I’m choosing to look for the fresh ideas and perspective that will help me navigate a way through.
My professional journey really started with Ellie, but it has allowed me the opportunity to work with a bunch of incredible artists, musicians, crew and management. The first call I received to MD an artist outside of Ellie was for a freshly signed artist on Sony called A*M*E. It was a huge learning curve for sure. Following on from that I worked with Alunageorge, an insanely talented producer called Ben Khan, Years & Years and then Clean Bandit. It was the Bandit gig that really pushed me to pursue being an MD away from the drum kit, which led me to working with artists such as Tom Walker, Tom Chaplin, Sigrid, Aurora, DJ Fresh, Becky Hill, a one-off with Kesha and a world tour with Mumford & Sons. Working with the Mumford team was a career highlight.
You do a lot of work as a Musical Director, sometimes for a tour or sometimes for just a single show. How does your approach differ to a tour as MD rather than a tour where you’re playing?
I don’t think it differs that much to be honest, although the workload is even greater when you’re playing too. It feels totally normal to be sat at the kit in a rehearsal whilst being responsible for delivering a show, but from experience I have learned that there are a lot of benefits to operating as an MD without having to play too. When I was working with Ellie I would have been playing the drums, programming Ableton for playback and drum automation, arranging the music, editing and mixing stems into workable backing track elements, communicating with the band and artist AND running back and forth from the front of house position to listen to the mix. It’s full-on and can be mega stressful. On top of that there are factors such as managing the rehearsal schedule, making sure everyone knows what they need to be playing and navigating any different factors that management or label might add. Doing all of that and keeping a room motivated and working to ensure you meet the deadline is a lot of work! Oh, and more often than not there is never enough allocated time to get everything done!
How do you find balancing commitments between artists whether that’s touring for other artists or in an MD’s role? Is there any advice you would give on balancing work to some of our students who may have several projects on the go?
I have been fortunate to have always had projects line-up nicely in my diary, but there have been one or two times when I’ve had to manage multiple projects at the same time. There are a lot of factors involved in trying to manage multiple gigs, but ultimately unless you can be in two places at once, or hire a very capable person to cover you whilst you are unavailable, inevitably someone isn’t going to get your full attention. It happened when I started working with Mumford & Sons, which was a super intense set of pre-production and production rehearsals, and after pretty much hitting my physical limit I had to step back from the other gig. It’s tough to say no to work, whatever the project is, because as self-employed musicians we are conditioned to say yes to everything. My one piece of advice would be to not say yes to everything. Look after yourself, work hard, be professional, keep detailed notes/spreadsheets, prioritise the gigs that make you the happiest… it's not always about the money.
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?
Do you know what, I actually used to think I was totally fine, that I had a healthy balance between being a touring musician and living in the real-world. I’m so used to working 20hrs a day, being permanently stressed/elated/stressed and living out of a suitcase, that when lockdown happened it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a healthy and happy marriage, and two incredible children, so my ’normal’ outside of touring is pretty damn great. We moved back to Lancashire years ago and it was honestly the best move for my mental wellbeing. I love the adventure of touring the world and all the crazy experiences that come with it, but for me the fresh air and countryside living is the perfect antidote.
Can you tell us a little bit about your Gretsch/Roland rig? What sizes etc?
Ah the good stuff! With pleasure…
22x14, 12x8, 14x14, 16x16 Gretsch Broadkaster in Vintage White Marine Pearl
14x6.5 Ludwig Black Beauty snare (It’s from the 80’s and I have used it as my main snare for years, love it.)
14x6.5 Broadkaster snare (Snare 2, tuned low with a BFSD ring on it.)
All Zildjian cymbals.
Roland wise I have:
1 x SPD-SX - this is just used as a transport controller for Ableton, allowing me to start/stop/select tracks from stage.
1 x KT10 kick pedal
4 x PD8 pads
2 x Snare triggers
1 x Kick trigger
1 x TMC6 audio to midi convertor - this is the bit that connects all my pads, pedals and triggers to Ableton via midi.
Vic Firth stick, Remo heads and DW hardware.
What’s your favourite piece of gear you own? Are you a vintage Drum lover?
I’m a vintage drum fanatic! I’ve owned a load of great drums over the years, which has helped me figure out what sounds I really like. Around the time I made my EP I went on a spree of selling loads of my drums, mainly to fund buying mics and preamps to record myself. I’m now down to just the kits and snares that I actually use on tracks, rather than just having gear for the love it. It’s been a healthy process.
My favourite vintage drums that I own, in no particular order:
1940’s Leedy Dreadnought kit (picked this up in the US about ten years ago, it’s incredible!)
14x6.5 40’s Leedy Broadway solid mahogany snare
13x3 70’s Ludwig Ludalloy Snare
14x5 60’s Ludwig 400 Snare
My Neve 1073 preamps are actually my favourites pieces of gear that I own!
How are you keeping yourself busy during these strange times?
I had a month of feeling crap, then decided to get stuck in and make something new. I’ve played on over twenty projects remotely from my studio, remixed a couple of tracks, produced, filmed and edited online content for people, oh and started a new company! It’s been a really challenging time, and will continue to be I’m sure, but I’m committed to keep creating music and art for as long as I can.
If you had any advice for your younger self what would it be?
Don’t doubt yourself, take risks, pay attention in your harmony and counterpoint lessons, drink less caffeine and remember to sleep!
What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I actually have a project that I’m working on right now that would really change the way things look for me going forward, but I do look forward to the day when I’m back in a bunk on a tour bus. Ten years? Man, I’d like to be in a position where I can spend every hour of the day simply making music, art or anything creative, purely for the fun of it. To have navigated over twenty-five years in the music industry, with a global pandemic thrown in, and come out the other side still passionate about life.
Finally, can you share a quick tip or give us a small exercise you always use?
Drink coffee, go and play.
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