Home Drummer’s Review Xtra Cherisse Osei – Interview

Cherisse Osei – Interview

Photo Credit: Paula Smith Simple Minds O2 London

Cherisse Osei has been busy carving out a stellar career as a session drummer, film soundtrack player, drum teacher, and for the last eight years, sitting on the drum stool with stadium rock legends Simple Minds. From her start with chart pop three-piece The Faders, Cherisse’s career and reputation has grown steadily. From eight years touring the world with Mika, to stints with Byan Ferry and Paloma Faith, Cherisse joined Simple Minds to record their Acoustic album. That was followed by a successful tour, and an invitation to join the band as their full-time drummer. Just back from a world stadium tour, and gearing up for a series of summer festival shows with the band, Cherisse took some time to chat with Andy Hughes about her career, her ambitions, and the pain of ice baths!

You first joined up with Simple Minds in 2016, when you played percussion on their Acoustic album. Was playing percussion something you already had in your list of skills, or did you have to learn for the purposes of that project?

I have always played some percussion as an additional skill. When I was with Mika I played some percussion as well as drums, and when he did an acoustic tour, I played percussion on that, so it’s been there for a while. When I joined Bryan Ferry, I started on percussion there, but ‘percussion’ is a very loose term, I had a snare, and some toms, and I made a hybrid percussion setup to go with those. I had timbales, congas, bongos, tambourine, and shakers. And the same with Simple Minds, I created a hybrid set-up again, that had a bass drum, a snare, toms, a similar sort of thing. Not a full percussion set-up that a percussionist would have, but it did the job at the time. I also had some electronic samples as well. So, they called and said they were taking the Acoustic album out on tour for three months, and did I want to come out on the road with them? So, I just paused while I “checked my diary”, and of course I was free, absolutely!

Photo credit: Hans-Peter Van Velthoven

Do you think percussion is a valuable asset to have for a working drummer?

I do, because increasingly artists are taking out albums to perform as acoustic sets, and if you can jump in and play percussion, it’s an extra chance for a gig or even a tour. I learned to play a cajon, the box drum, and I practised with sticks and hot rods, and if you can go out with something like that, a tambourine on your foot, you can really add something to an acoustic set, as a session player. So, with Simple Minds, I did start out with percussion, and then graduated into being their full band drummer, so things can lead on from percussion.

You played a Tama for a long time, and now you’ve made a change.

That’s right, I was with Tama for around twenty years, and I’ve just changed to The British Drum Company. I really wanted a change, more than anything. I’ve been to a few gigs where their kits have been played. Mark Richardson from Skunk Anansie plays their kits, and Vicky O’Neon who plays with Anastacia, I saw them play at separate gigs, and I really liked the sound of their kits, especially the kick drum sound. So, I thought I’d be up for trying out a kit. The company made a kit for me, and I tried it during the production rehearsals for the Simple Minds tour we’ve just been on, and it sounded fantastic. The production levels are amazing, the kit sounds fantastic, and it just fitted for me, and I was ready for a change.

Photo credit: Paula Smith

As your profile has increased, you must have been approached by different companies offering you a chance to play their kits, but you’ve resisted until now.

I have yes, but it was time for a change. Tama are wonderful drums, but I was ready for something different. There were various changes in my life, I’ve not long moved house, I’ve just got engaged, there were different things happening personally, and I just wanted to change up my drum sound, so that prompted me to try something else. For the Simple Minds arena tour, the crew loved the kit, and the front-of-house engineer was very pleased with the sound we got. Tina Clarke is The British Drum Company Artist Relations person, and I’ve worked with Tina for over twenty years when she was with Zildjian. Tina is a very good friend of mine, so it’s great to be working with her again here, and it’s just nice to have a woman to talk drums with for a change! So, everything has come together, and I am really pleased with my new drum home.

You have a range of electronics in addition to your acoustic kit and percussion – has it been a steady transition to absorb them into your setup, because not all kit players get on with electronics.

I first got electronics when I played with Mika. I was with Roland then, and I had a TMC-6 Trigger MIDI Converter, and some pads. Then I got a Receptor, made by Muse. Then, with Bryan Ferry, and with Paloma Faith, I had a Yamaha DTX-Multi 12. And now I’m with Simple Minds, and they have such a massive back-catalogue, twenty-one albums, and I need to be able to re-create a wide range of different drum sounds on stage. So, when I built my kit for Simple Minds, I needed to build the electronics in as well. I have six external pads, a separate kick trigger, three acoustic triggers, and I’m also running Ableton software because some of the tracks have drum loops in them, and I start and stop some of the drum loops on stage as well. There’s a lot going on!

Photo credit: Hans-Peter Van Velthoven

It must take a lot of concentration to keep everything under control.

Yes, it does! When I change a patch with the Ableton, it feeds to the rest of the band, their delays are all linked into it. It’s only on some songs, a lot of the time we are playing live as you can hear us, but with the electronics, the delays for guitars, bass, and keyboards, are all fed from the Ableton which I control, so I have to be sure that the correct drum sounds are going out, and that the Ableton is under control because that directly affects everyone else on stage with me. I have to be so careful, because Simple Minds’ sound is so heavily drum-based, they have that huge booming drum sound that is so absolutely theirs. So, if I even drop a snare beat, it’s really noticeable, and the worst scenario is that it throws the band off their timing as well. There is a lot of concentration needed. Most of the set is now muscle memory, I’ve been with the band eight years now, so my hands pretty much automatically go to where they are needed. But if we put a new song in the set, it takes me a while to get really comfortable with the changes, and the electronics I have to control while I play.

You’ve inherited drum parts from previous players, and I’m thinking particularly about Mel Gaynor. He’s a big guy, and a really heavy hitter, how easy is it for you to replicate those big drum sounds he created?

Well, there is a contrast, that’s for sure! Mel is a big guy, he’s over six foot tall and he’s a powerful figure, I’m about five foot two, so clearly, I don’t have the same level of upper body strength that he has, but I overcome that with technique. I have learned to get a really ‘big’ drum sound, but that’s through playing technique, I’m not actually using masses of physical strength to hit the drums to get those sounds. When I first joined the band, I spent months working with my teacher Mike Dolbear, figuring out how to hit the drums correctly to get that big loud sound that I needed to reproduce on stage. For songs like Waterfront, which has that massive heavy-metal-style snare drum on it, I have got some of the snare sounds from the original albums as samples which I can programme to bring in on my snare on stage. I have two snares, and they are accessed by our wonderful Front-Of-House engineer Olivier Gerard, and he mixes my acoustic drums with electronic samples, and creates a unique sound. I have one of my snares tuned quite high and tight, and the other one is quite low and baggy, because the snare sound is different on some of the songs.

When you came to work out your drum parts for the albums you play on, did you come up with your own ideas, or are Charlie and Jim pretty hands on, and know what they want?

They gave me rough mixes of the songs with programmed drums on, with a rough idea of what they wanted. I took them away to my studio, played along with the programmed drums to get a feel for the songs, and then worked out what I thought would sound best, and would be comfortable for me to work with, and I wrote my own parts. Then we’d go to the studio, and I’d play them the parts I’d written, and then we’d all develop the song from there. Charlie and Jim are keen for me to be creative; they want me to come up with ideas, and play in my style, they’re not at all restrictive in that sense. They want new ideas and a fresh approach. I think that’s why any drummer is hired to play a session, or when they join a band, they are going to bring new ideas to the table and make things sound a little different than they did previously, so I am very lucky, I have a lot of freedom over what I play. We fine-tune things, they will suggest a fill here, or a different fill there, or maybe a ride cymbal going into the chorus, and we work out what fits best for the song. I want to add to their vision and make it what they want, and they are open to ideas and input, they are very open to ideas. It is a band set-up, and everyone has something to contribute.

Photo credit: Hans-Peter Van Velthoven

Is this tour the biggest you have ever been on, and what lessons have you learned from it?

It’s certainly my biggest tour with Simple Minds, we have been all around the world playing massive stadiums. The band want to give people a really good time, and they love playing huge spaces. I have to say that the schedule for the arena tour has been brutal. Not many days off, and on show days, we have a crew sound check, and then we do a VIP sound check for special ticket holders, they are an hour each, and we do a Q & A after the VIP one, everyone on stage answers questions, and then a two-hour show. So that’s four hours of really intensive drumming at a really high level. What I’ve learned is to sleep as much as possible. Sleep is key to making it through a tour like that. On a day off I would stay in bed all day, sleeping, and just completely relaxing as much as possible. You have to pace yourself, so no going out drinking all night! We all eat well, we have excellent catering, and it’s just about looking after yourself properly. Myself and the bass player have intense sports massages every two or three shows, it’s about maintenance. Repetitive movements as a drummer, it’s not a natural thing to do with your body, so you have to ensure that you sit correctly, and you use the correct technique, but you still get repetitive strain going on, you can’t avoid it. When I come off stage, I have a big bucket with ice in it, and I put each arm into it, for about six or seven minutes. I’ve worked up to that time, I didn’t start with it! I started at thirty seconds, and you have to work through the pain. Then I do stretches back at the hotel, and a nice warm bath. I am an athlete, effectively. I warm up hitting towels in the dressing room for ten minutes, and ice and stretch afterwards.

How important is it to be able to fit in personally with a band when you are on the long international tours that bands like Simple Minds undertake?

I think being able to fit in is absolutely as important as being able to play the material. You can find any number of drummers from the session world who can play well, and certainly manage to learn and perform the songs, there is a good level of playing around. So, the vital ingredient to bring along, is the ability to fit in with everyone on a personal level, that counts for so much when you are together for such a long period of time in an intense environment that arena touring can be.

You are teaching as well. How did you get into it?

I am yes, I had a lesson today, before speaking with you. I haven’t had too many lessons while the tour was on, obviously, there isn’t time. I sell gift vouchers on my website, and you can have an intensive session, or a standard lesson, I did an intensive session today, I do Master Classes when I can at universities and colleges, I love teaching. It’s not something everyone can do, just because you can do something doesn’t automatically mean you can teach someone else to do it, but I do enjoy teaching a lot. I started after I finished my gig with Bryan Ferry, I wasn’t working that much, and I was looking for something to do with my time, and I thought I’d try teaching. I knew that it may not be for me, you don’t know until you try, but I thought I’d see how it went. I’ve learned lots of tips and tricks over the years, that have made me the drummer I am, so I thought it would be nice to pass things on. So, I tried it, and I found I really enjoyed it. I got good feedback, and it was a good experience for people. I have always had lessons with Mike Dolbear and I still have lessons with him now. Mike is an amazing drum teacher, so I know what a really good teacher does, because I’ve experienced it myself. When I come back from a lesson with Mike, I always feel really good and really motivated, so I wanted to see if I could pass on some of that to my students, and I do really enjoy doing it. I like the psychology of it, working out the best way to approach each person to get the best out of them and get them moving from A to B. Being a session drummer is a lot about psychology because you have to work out ways to interact with the artist you are working with. The best way to talk to them is to discuss ideas, to find out exactly what they want, and help them to get it. It is a lot about people skills, and I really like that side of it. I’ve been teaching for about eight years now, and I really like seeing the progress that my students make, it’s very satisfying.

Are you still practising? Obviously not when you are on tour, but when you are back at home, do you have regular practise routines?

I do practise, but I find it really dull and boring! I always have, but I have always pushed myself to do it, because it is important. If I am having a lesson with Mike, I make sure I have practised what we are working on, there is no point in having lessons if you are not going to put the practise in. And with Simple Minds, for the summer festival shows we are doing, I have got a couple of new songs to learn, so I will practise for maybe five or six hours in my studio going over the new songs. Apart from that I do maybe a couple of hours a day, not every day, maybe a couple of times a week. That’s when I am off tour, and I have completely recovered.

Love and Light Image – Sophie Jones

Do you have a career plan, are you looking into the future and what else is out there?

My career plan as always been the same, as long as I have been a drummer. It’s not to actually have a ‘plan’, but just to make sure I can make a living doing what I love to do, which is playing drums. If I can continue to do that, I will feel really lucky. I plan to keep on touring and recording, and teaching, and doing my master classes, and sessions, and if I can make my living doing all those things, then I am really happy with that. I hope I continue to be able to do that. I am looking into doing more recording work as well. I have been working with a guy called Lorne Balfe, he’s a Hollywood film composer, I did the drums for the soundtrack to the Avengers Black Widow film. I have done drums on the first Season of The Wheel Of Time which is an Amazon Prime TV series, again with Lorne. And I’ve done some other TV recording, so I’d like to develop that side of my career further. I am also writing some music, I play guitar, so I am working on material there as well. I like working in a band setting, I’m not going to be releasing solo album any time soon!

What would be your dream gig as a drummer?

Well, it would have been Prince, for obvious reasons, I am a huge Prince fan. But other than that, I am loving being in Simple Minds, I just love working in a band setup and I would always want to be working in that musical environment, having some input into what we are playing. But right now, everything I am doing is my dream gig, I love all of it.