Andy Gangadeen is without doubt one of the most innovative and exciting drummers on the scene today. As a noted session musician he has worked with a huge variety of diverse bands, from ZZ Top to The Spice Girls as well as Jeff Beck and Duran Duran.
Andy has been a member of improvisation trio The Bays for over ten years. The band play entirely improvised live sets based on the mood and atmosphere of the venue and audience, pushing the boundaries of improvisation using the very latest in electronics and computer technology to create unique and never-repeated live experiences.
Andy is known for his ground-breaking work in the studio, pioneering the interaction of live drums with computer-based sound interfaces, which has led to him becoming the primary beats source for electronic dance czars Chase And Status.
Following an amazing set at The UK Drum Show, Andy discussed his career and influences with DR’s Andy Hughes.
Have you recovered from The UK Drum Show Andy?
I have, but it takes it out of you more than you realise at the time. I am going to be fifty-eight next birthday, and I wonder if maybe I am too old to be doing this sort of thing! But having said that, I talked to Terry Bozio about it, and he said that drumming keeps you young. You need to be a certain sort of character to play drums, and you have to keep yourself healthy, that is really important. Still, if Ringo can do it, there is hope for everyone.
What was your start with drums?
I knew from about the age of seven that I wanted to be a drummer, but my dad wasn’t having any of it. He wanted me to go to college and study electronics which I did, and which has been really useful to me in my career. Halfway through my course, I went to see a gig with a big band, and when I watched the drummer, I knew that it was absolutely what I wanted to do. I went for my first drum lesson to Bob Armstrong, it was the fifth of November 1982, and he charged me six pounds for an hour’s lesson. When I think about the amount of money that the average university degree costs, and I learned a huge amount from Bob for the six pounds I paid him. I would go home and learn everything he taught me, and the go back the next week for another lesson and do the same thing again, so it was a really good return on my investment.
Initially, weren’t a lot of kit drummers were hugely suspicious of electronic systems?
They were, and it is getting better now. My biggest inspiration was going to see Chick Corea, when he had John Patitucci on bass, and Dave Weckl on drums. Dave Weckl was starting to incorporate all sorts of electronics into his kit, and I just couldn’t believe the sounds he was creating, and that was what made me decide to explore that aspect of percussion. Dave Weckl was using a Roland MX-1 and a Linn Drum LM-1 which had analogue triggers. It was all really basic back then, but I decided to see if I could use my knowledge of electronics and my love of drums and combine the two and see where it would take me.
Electronic percussion has developed at a phenomenal rate, in terms of the speed and complexity of the devices that are out there.
It’s true, the development has been as rapid as it has been complex and diverse. When I first started using electronics with my kit, it was when I went out on tour with Lisa Stansfield in 1990. I was using two Akai 950’s, and they ran on floppy discs in those days. The sampling time was really small as well, so I had to run one machine while the sound engineer was loading the second one, and then we’d swap them over. It was pretty intense doing that during a live show! I used to carry a Yamaha DMP7 sub-mixer with me, it was a massive piece of kit and it used to give me about twenty seconds of sampling time. Now I can get all that and far more on my mobile phone.
Do you think there may be just too much technology out there and available now?
That’s a very valid point. Of course, when I started, YouTube was not available. I used to borrow an album from Walthamstow library and take it home and play it over and over during the week, and try to learn all the drum parts on it, and then I’d return it and borrow another one and do the same again. These days, you can download the entire catalogue of any artist you like, and have it sitting there on your phone or on your computer. But I wonder, do people take the time to really get into an album and digest it and figure it out the way that I used to do? In may ways too much choice is not a good thing, because there is so much stuff it is bewildering and hard to get to grips with things individually. My advice with any new piece of electronic kit that you add to your set-up is to explore everything really thoroughly and max everything out to find out the limitations of your equipment. That’s the way to really get the best out of something.
You have worked with a very varied selection of major artists in your career. Clearly, they contact you for your own individual skill-set…do you have a handle on exactly what it is that they are looking for, that you can provide?
I think I started building my name for the sort of beats that I provide when I worked with Jeff Beck on his album You Had It Coming which was released in 2000. Jeff was getting deeper into fusion playing, and he wanted to take the album out on tour, so he was looking at finding a drummer who could accurately replicate the album’s drum tracks with the electronics and also add something into the live performance. Steve Alexander played on the album, so I had big shoes to fill there. And when we were rehearsing, Jeff started adding tracks like Lead Boots into the set, and that meant playing tracks that Narada Michael Walden had done, and that’s not my thing at all!
Jeff had seen me playing some sets with The Bays, and he was interested in my methods of working out improvisations using electronic and acoustic percussion and he thought it would be a perfect fit for his project.
What I found so exciting was the chance to work out ways to reproduce live on stage a series of sounds and patterns that had been created in the studio by musicians and producers, with no real thought about their potential to be reproduced in a concert setting. It’s wonderful to hear sounds that have been made in an atmosphere of freedom like that, and finding ways to make them work out in front of an audience. The simple fact is, if you put a drummer and a bass player together, they would never come up with a genre like Drum And Bass because it involves thinking outside the box in a completely different way.
Electronics can go wrong, does that happen to you often?
It does happen, it’s the nature of the beast. You can get simple mechanical failures as well, sometimes trigger attachments to drums and cymbals come loose. Fortunately, modern manufacturing means that far less things are likely to go wrong these days than they did years ago. Any big manufacturer – Roland, Yamaha, any of the big companies – their technology is pretty much rock solid.
Unless there is a power outage, you can pretty safely assume that ninety-per-cent of crashes are down to human error, rather than the equipment. My approach immediately, when something goes down, is that it is something I have done, or not done. I would advise anyone working with electronics with their drum kit, if anything goes wrong, have a look at everything you have done to connect it up first, and check all those areas. Of course, you can just be unlucky, and find that you have got a piece of kit with a gremlin in it, but always look for the human error aspect first, because more often than not, that’s where the problem is.
Because there is so much technology out there, how do you go about finding new hardware and software to work with?
It’s an interesting question. Electronic music is a broad church and there are very many different areas, and lots of people have different approaches to their own speciality. When I am thinking about new hardware and software, I usually have a project in mind, or something particular that I want to explore and learn more about.
When I pick a new project, or consider an offer from a producer or a band to work with them, I am never motivated by the profile of the artist, that is not what makes me pick something to pursue. I am looking for something where I can add something to what is happening, I can bring something new and develop what’s being worked on in the early stages. I have been fortunate, some of the artists I have worked with have gone on to success, and that gets my name around, and that leads to more offers of work.
It feels as though you are looking to put human input into something which could otherwise be soulless.
That’s the thing, playing electronic in a human way, not like a machine. If I play beats, they are not quite perfect, that has a rough edge to it, a feeling of inspiration and spirit being put int the music. That’s what I am always aiming for with everything I do.
Are you constantly looking to develop new sounds?
Constantly. There are always loads of exciting new hardware and software out there to be explored, and I have never really had enough time because I am working so much. The downtime from Covid was a real bonus for me from that point of view. I didn’t make any money, but I had the time to look into things that I had been putting on one side for far too long. I always thought that because I was working full time, I would never have the time to actually stop and look at new stuff, but I did.
We always like advice from our experts for subscribers who are looking for ways to either start, or improve their playing in various areas, so what advice would you offer to people who are looking either to make a start with electronics, or with developing a hybrid kit?
Before you do anything, you need to work out what it is you want to achieve, and where you want to go with your music and your playing. There is more or less everything you might need out there, probably too much, which makes it a bit of a minefield.
The trick is to break it down into manageable sections. Check out an artist that you like, find out something that they did that impresses you, and start to work out how they got those sounds and see if it can work for you with what you want to do. If you try and take on everything at once, you will get lost, so look at one small section at a time and work through things that way, and add on to your kit as you gain more knowledge and experience about what is going to work for you.
You talked about Dave Weckl as an influence, are there any other heroes out there for you?
I have always ben a huge fan of Vinnie Colaiuta. He’s one of the few drummers in the world who I genuinely believe has got everything. He has such incredible feel for what he plays, and such incredible technical ability as a player as well, he really is the great all-round drummer.
I think that British drummers are under-noticed as the major influences that they are on players elsewhere in the world. Taylor Hawkins who was such a fabulous player was hugely influenced by Roger Taylor from Queen, for example. I think the British drummers were never as textbook as the Americans, because the American education system gives their players far more access to lessons and so on, whereas the British players usually learned by instinct and picked up their skills as they worked in bands, or in studios. I think that was even more so as the sixties moved into the seventies and there was such a massive explosion of great British bands with wonderful British drummers making their beats heard all over the world.
Do you have a particularly favourite part of the kit?
For me, it’s my hi-hats and ride cymbals. I like the clean and disciplined sounds you get from cymbals. I like a nice punchy sound, lots of accents, not too washy. My inspiration from programmed beats is all about the sixteenths and the top-end sounds. If I am getting the right swing and the right accents in my cymbals, then I am very happy.
Are you doing some more work with Chase And Status?
I am working with them at the moment yes, we have some live shows and they are pretty much always working on new material. I can do my own stuff obviously, but I do have to make sure my schedule is clear for them when they need me. I am looking at doing some more work with The Bays as well, playing some club shows and some festivals. It’s so wonderful that live music is back again, I have really missed being out there. There is nothing like playing live drums, it’s the best thing in the world.