As a professional drummer, Stereophonics sticksman Jamie Morrison has played stages big and small all over the globe, which is perfect as he has never wanted to do anything else!
Drummers Review’s Andy Hughes caught up with Jamie at his home in South London to discuss everything from his start as a musician, his attitude to production and his practice routines.
What are you doing right now Jamie?
The Stereophonics have just got back from Paris where we’ve been doing promotion for the new album. France loves the band, especially some of the older material, so it’s been great to be out of the country for a few days after being at home for so long. It’s done us good to be back together again.
How did you start as a drummer?
I was like a lot of children, tapping on tables and so on, and I remember asking at school if there was a drum teacher and being told that there wasn’t. At secondary school, I remember walking past the music room and the drum teacher was teaching student. The teacher was demonstrating something, absolutely whaling away. I was absolutely transfixed: I was mesmerised, and that was it.
The teacher was a guy called Tom Revie and I recently got in touch with him and told him what a huge influence he had been on me as a musician. That was when I got that focus, it was something to put my energy into – it was all about music.
Did you feel it was something you had to do and that you wouldn’t be happy doing anything else?
I did, but I think that a lot of people feel like that about whatever it is that moves them. I think to be able to do it as a living as I can, is something else entirely, and I know that there is a huge amount of luck involved in that.
But when I say I was obsessed, I absolutely was, I practised for as many hours as I could growing up.
You have had masses of experience playing with different bands and artists, do you think that has informed your technique as a player?
That’s the key, absolutely. You can learn everything you are ever going to need, but there is absolutely no substitute for the experience of putting what you have learned into practice playing with other musicians.
When I was with my first band, I would take a gig anywhere, with anyone, literally anyone at all. I didn’t want to be paid; I just wanted the experience of playing in different settings. I knew the value of experience from very early on, and I put myself out there to get the chances to play.
My ambition, and my intention was to get another gig from every gig I ever played. I wanted a chance to play every day, that was what really mattered.
Who were your influences growing up?
I loved all the rock drummers. The Seventies were a time when drummers were celebrated, so I always enjoyed drummers from that period of music.
First of all, I got really into the technical aspects of playing drums, but then going around and watching other drummers, I got into players who were not necessarily technically gifted, or even correct in what they played, but they played it with such feel and emotion that I realised how important that aspect of playing drums is.
Then I got really heavily into songwriters, and I experienced the epiphany that loads of drummers know, and will tell you – it’s all about the song. The best songs to drum to are great stories, and I have always loved playing drums with great writers, that’s what excites me the most as a musician.
Do you have a favourite drumming style?
I love playing with my hands. When I first started playing drums, I used to play with my hands all the time, getting the feel of the drums and interacting with them physically. Then I went to brushes, and got the feel of the drum once removed, and it was a while before I actually started using sticks.
Individuality matters a lot, possibly more than anything else. Get your own style, your own feel, and you will always love paying your drums.
What are your practice routines?
I am someone who has to practice every day, but that doesn’t always mean sitting at my kit and playing. You should always be spending time thinking about how to push your techniques and skills and looking for new ways to do things.
I remember a teacher telling me that listening to an album is a much a vital aspect of practice as working out routines on your kit. If you develop your technique, the rest will fall into place, but as I said earlier, you should never pursue technical skill at the expense of feel and expression in your playing. I don’t like drummers who are all technical skill and no soul. I don’t mind drummers who have soul, but limited technique, but I always think to myself, think what you could do if you had the technical skills to match the feel of your playing. You need both, equally.
What’s your kit of choice?
I play Natal Drums and they are amazing because wherever I am in the world, they sort out drums for me. I saw George Frederick at a drum show in London, and he had a stand advertising his new drum camp The Freddie Gee Drum Academy. I went to the camp, and I followed George when he went to Ludwig, then to Premier, and then to Natal. I am a people person and I am very loyal to people who are loyal to me, and Natal have always been fabulous with their support. I have loads of kits from them I can’t possibly play all of them so every couple of years I donate a kit to a local school so that it can be played and give some pleasure to people.
Do you take lots of kit to sessions?
I usually take a selection of snares and bass drums with me to sessions. After a few bars of something, I can work out what I think the sound should be. To me, the drums always have a natural place to sit, you just need to work out where that place is.
Drums all have a natural sound, and for me, if the sound is not right, I’d rather change the drums than change the tunings. Guitarists always rock up with about ten guitars and a load of pedals, and everyone accept that as the way it naturally is. I think drummers should approach their instrument in the same way, for the same reason, let your instrument fit the sound you want.
On the song Running Round My Brain, you get a really full fat drum sound, is that down to tuning?
It’s partly tuning, but it’s also down to mic placing, I think drummers should think of it as part of their job to understand how microphones enhance their sound, including the right mic’s to use, and the right placings for them in the studio.
We used some overhead mic’s and I used dark cymbals, and I tuned the snare a little loose to give it that Levon Helm sound, that satisfying thud.
The song Right Place Right Time on the new album has a very ‘live’ feel to it, it’s very immediate. I told they guys when I recorded that drum track that it would be sampled for ever! That two-bar loop is going to be appearing everywhere.
I do remember that the studio we were in was a really big room, and I didn’t like the sound I was getting for that song, so I took my kick, snare and hi-hat on their own and set them up in a small vocal booth, and that got me the sound I wanted.
On the track You’re My Soul, the time signature is tricky, did it take you long to pick it up well enough to record it?
You say it’s tricky, but to me it feels very natural, so I didn’t have to work to get it down for the track. Kelly and I have an understanding of the way his rhythmic palette works. I listen to his words, and I can work out the rhythms that are going to work with the song he is developing.
My advice to drummers who are working out what to play for a track is, don’t overthink it, don’t break it down too much: go with the overall feel. And above all, don’t be afraid to ask to stop the session while you quickly try a couple of options to see what works best. You get better results by taking that bit of time, and it’s not unprofessional to take a few minutes to try something out.
As a producer yourself, how do you respond to producers in the studio?
Drumming is about collaboration. We are only really able to do what we do properly if we are in a room with other musicians. That means you have to be open to ideas, and to criticism, and that applies to me both as a producer and as a drummer. Whatever situation I am in, I am looking for the best idea, because at the end of the day the best idea is the one that works. On the way to the best idea, you are going to go through some other ideas that don’t work, and you discard them. Those can be my ideas, or other peoples’, but it doesn’t matter: it’s that end result that counts.
Watch Ringo in the Get Back documentary. He is always there, ready. He absolutely knows his place in the band, and his job is to be ready when an idea starts to form. The guys are tying things out to see what fits, what to move on with, what to leave out, and he is the always there, and ready to join in, and that’s the role of the drummer in a band. Ringo is there, he’s excited, and listening, with his antenna up, for something to happen.
If you are working with a band, don’t be on your phone, or chatting, or making tea, you should be tuned in and ready to pick up what’s going on and add your ideas, and contribute.
Stereophonics new album Oochya is out now – for more info visit: www.stereophonics.com