Interview with Bill Bruford and Pat Mastelotto in Modern Drummer
Date Submitted: 11-Nov-1996
Submitted By: Richard Begley (rbegley at yesic dot com)
KING CRIMSON'S BILL BRUFORD & PAT MASTELOTTO
A PERFECT PAIR
The concept of double drumming has a long and distinct history. One of the earliest examples of it can be found in taiko, the folk drumming of ancient Japan, where legend has it that two drummers playing together were actually responsible for settling a major dispute. As the story goes, during a severe drought two villages struggled for control of a river, the only source of water for miles around. The fate of the villages was put in the hands of two drummers - one from each village - who were to battle for the rights to the river.
The "musical direction" for the duet was simple: the man who drummed the longest would win.
A new chapter in the story of double drumming - and thankfully a far less deadly one - is being written today by two players who, on the surface, appear to be from totally different musical "villages". In fact, the idea of Bill Bruford, one of our most visionary and adventurous players, teaming with Pat Mastelotto, a former L.A. studio vet whose drumming existence seems solely based on "the groove", couldn't be more odd.
But sometimes odd is good. Bruford and Mastelotto are two extremes meeting in the middle, an Elvin-meets-Ringo equivalent, coming together to provide the heartbeat for a band that has thrived on musical palpitations, King Crimson.
In his more than twenty-five years of leading the band, Robert Fripp has continuously challenged Crimson members to stretch their boundaries, to come up with something different from the musical norm - and he's especially targeted drumming tradition: "Why must you use a hi-hat? Why do you need a ride cymbal?" He's been a thorn in the side of every drummer who's played in the band - especially Bill Bruford, who in his long tenure with Crimson has more than met Fripp's challenges, coming up with some of the most thought-provoking parts ever to be beaten out of a drum, cymbal, or electronic pad. Classic recordings with the band from the '70s, '80s and today bear that out. (And he's done it time and time again in his solo career.)
While Pat Mastelotto seems like the odd man out in the new King Crimson, he's actually getting back to what he feels are his musical roots. It's no exaggeration to say that he's been a huge fan of the band from early on. (In fact, on his first date with his wife, Connie, she had Crimson's Islands on her turntable - he knew they were right for each other.)
Best known for his inventive pop grooves with '80s hit-makers Mr. Mister, Pat has carved out an impressive career combining his love of in-the-pocket playing with modern technology. He has applied both of these tools to recording projects with a number of artists, including XTC, Michael Penn, Jude Cole, Cock Robin, the Sugarcubes, and the Rembrandts. But his growing studio rep didn't bring him to Robert Fripp's attention; sheer tenacity did.
Oh, that nasty Fripp must have had a devilish smile on his face, though, the moment he thought of bringing together these two stylistically opposite drummers. "This will certainly shake things up," he almost certainly mused.
Fripp's musical direction was simple; he introduced Pat and Bill to each other...and left them to their own devices.
An uneasy beginning (Bill not knowing Pat and at first thinking he was too loud - Pat feeling awkward about even being there) has grown into a strong union, the sum of their playing being much greater than their individual parts. It's proven all over Crimson's newest release, Thrak, where these two individuals have taken double drumming to some unexplored territories. (Even Fripp has recognized this, as he included "B'Boom", a double-drum feature piece, on the disc.
The most impressive aspect of the pairing is that Bill and Pat haven't fallen into set roles for approaching the music. You might expect that Pat is laying down the groove while Bill [pokes] and prods it. That is one facet of what they do, but there are a myriad of other combinations that these gentlemen have experimented with. In fact, there are moments when the roles are completely reversed, with Bill playing the beat and Pat being the colorist. They seem willing - no, determined - to exploit their double drumming to the full.
Yes, the concept of two drummers has come a long way from its early roots. The Bruford/Mastelotto duo may not be as life-threatening as its aforementioned Japanese forefather, but it's certainly just as urgent.
WFM: In your 1983 MD interview you said, in essence, "Whenever I go into King Crimson I'm prepared to change. It's not frustrating but it does point out one's limitations." What are some of the challenges with this new version of Crimson, and have you found any personal limitations this time out?
BB: Well, Bill, that's a loaded question. Working with another drummer is both a challenge and a limitation. We are part-playing, so when you've agreed to do something you kind of have to do it. Just "let it be". Whereas with one drummer, if you arrive at "let it be" and you decide you want to do it completely differently, I think you probably can.
The challenge and the excitement of two drummers is that you can do things that you just couldn't do with one drummer. You can go much further out with the beat, with the grooves. I can do polymetric stuff against Pat, I'm free to explore the uglier side of sonic choice - anything for the extreme. Had I done these types of things on my own in the past, the entire house of cards would have collapsed. So Pat is both a limitation and a liberation, which is really nice.
WFM: I got the impression that initially the idea of two drummers didn't thrill you. How did you become involved?
BB: I was the last one on board. Robert had tried another drummer, Jerry Marotta. For some reason that didn't work out. And then Robert had a blinding vision - which he is occasionally prone to do - that two drummers was the answer.
To him, Pat, on his own, wouldn't provide everything that was necessary, and Bill, on his own, wouldn't either. But a combination would have everything that was needed and more. So Robert and I corresponded on the subject - being British, of course, we never use the telephone. And then Robert brought us together, "Bill meet Pat. Pat meet Bill. It's a double trio. Good luck and goodbye." And he left us alone.
WFM: He didn't have any specific direction for you?
BB: For the drummers? No plans at all. Robert's function is in creating an environment in which something might happen. He didn't know what would happen with two drummers, but he felt that something might, and that it might be exciting. He creates the environment, and then steps out of the way. I think that's the nature of bandleading sometimes. So it was up to Pat and me, and that was particularly interesting because I didn't know Pat from Adam.
WFM: Some people might forget that the two-drummer concept isn't new to Crimson. In a way it's a return to the band's earlier days.
BB: There is a slightly ironic turn in that I'm in this band again with another drummer and that my role now is almost opposite what it was. Back then I was the "golden trooper", prepared to play something resembling a beat, while Jamie Muir - using his blood capsules so he'd have blood pouring out of his mouth - would assail his strange drumkits. He had his "prepared" drumkit, with the baking tray in the bass drum and chains over the tom-toms.
I think that I was employed there, if you like, to keep the thing roughly in the ballpark, of rock music. Now, perhaps, the functions have turned somewhat. My function is more "Muir-ish", and to be a disruptive force against the indestructible Pat, who won't shift an inch no matter what happens. [laughs]
WFM: But did you have any reservations going into this situation? I mean, in the last version of the band the drumseat was yours alone.
BB: No reservations at all. No, I'm thrilled to be in King Crimson. It's my spiritual home. If the band consisted of three Mongolian flutists, I think I'd still be happy. That's what this entity King Crimson is all about.
I don't have any reservations about this setup at all, because I enjoy creating something new. I quite like trying to make things work, no matter what the direction. If someone says "Pat Mastelotto and Bill Bruford playing together - very strange," to me that's great. That gets me salivating. Let's explore the very strange.
WFM: When working with another drummer, his feel must be something you have to consider. Were the differences between the way you and Pat conceptualize the time something you discussed, he being an American?
BB: I'm not prejudiced. We are a multi-ethnic organization. [laughs]
WFM: Yes, but was it a factor?
BB: I know what you are getting at. Is he going to be playing the same time - ahead or behind the beat? To be frank, none of that matters very much to me, I'm sorry to have to say. I feel I should care a bit more about these things, but I don't. What I care about is the broad picture. What is this character doing to the overall musical picture? What total effect is he having on the music?
I think that drummers haven't managed to develop their individuality quite as well as, let's say, guitarists have. For example, if you think about the last few guitarists I've played with - Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, Steve Howe, Allan Holdsworth, and David Torn, to name but five - these people don't sound anything like one another. They have unique voices on their instruments. And isn't that great? We drummers can be so focused on the nuts and bolts that we overlook the importance of individuality - the broader picture, if you will.
WFM: Point taken, but when two drummers are working together to create a feel - a pulse - shouldn't the concept of feel be considered?
BB: Why, for the sake of precision? I don't think there's anything precise about, say, the Drummers of Burundi. It's the sound of lots of hands hitting drums at roughly the same time. Indeed, the definition of Thrak, as I read in one magazine, is the sound of one hundred and seventeen guitar players all hitting the same chord at approximately the same time.
What I'm trying to get across is that these guitar players have their "character" quite well identified - they are a product of all the choices they have made. I would like Pat and me, within King Crimson, to be as "character-full" as Adrian and Robert. The character, the gesture, the style of the drummer - I'm much more interested in that.
How about this: King Crimson is a multi-beat band. If you're the bass player you can pick whichever one you want to play with. [laughs] It doesn't bother me.
WFM: Okay, synching up feel-wise isn't a problem - or a concern - but there must be some trouble spots to be aware of when playing with another drummer.
BB: The most difficult part, I think, is playing less. That's hard. One has to learn to lay out. For instance, the kick drum: how many kick drum notes do we need per measure? With two drummers playing, that has to be a consideration, because the bottom end can get cluttered. Not easy. On top of that, Pat has a double pedal, so things can become a bit busy if we're not careful. That's much harder.
WFM: People may forget that you've "dueted" with a few drummers - Jamie Muir with Crimson in the early '70's, Phil Collins with Genesis in '75, Alan White with Yes just a few years ago, and now Pat. Could you compare and contrast playing with these drummers?
BB: Well, the most creative and colourful guy was Jamie Muir, who did a lot with percussion. He also had a strange momentum to his drumkit playing. It was like listening to a kind of jazz drummer attempting to play burning rock - that type of approach. When you heard him play 4/4, the feel had the most extraordinary forward motion. Jamie had tons of character, and working with him taught me lots about music and what it means to be a musician. He's a deeply philosophical guy - really interesting.
I worked briefly with Phil Collins, who is a very good drummer - good sound, steady tempo. For a time there we were a little alike, I think, in terms of sound. I think he was happy to have me in Genesis for a bit because he thought I would do something roughly similar to what he'd done. And actually we are very alike. If you were a Martian coming from Mars to hear drumming, you would say that Phil and I were similar - British, similar age, similar background. So at that point we worked together pretty well drumming-wise, although I didn't play a lot with him because he used to sing so much. We did have a couple of things we did together, though, that were quite fun.
Alan White is also a good drummer, but Yes was a nightmare for me to play double drums in because Alan and Chris [Squire, bass] breathe together time-wise, kind of like a symphony orchestra. When Chris decides to slow the tempo, he slows it up. If he decides it should go faster, it goes faster. That's fine, and Alan does that very well with him. The only trouble is, if you're trying to play percussion with that, it's like, "Where did the time go?" It would take three or four bars for anything to settle. So that was very difficult.
My function on that tour was to have a good time and to fulfill a cast of characters - the reunion of Yes - and that was fine. I had no trouble with that at all, but it's not the sort of thing I'd give up my day job for. I had to get back to work after a tour that was really just a very nice summer vacation with old friends.
WFM: And how would Pat compare with these other players?
BB: Pat is the loudest drummer I've ever heard in my life; it's that big stadium-drumming mentality.
WFM: He mentioned that that was something you were concerned about.
BB: It was difficult at first. We have to carefully arrange plexiglass sheeting to deflect the sound. [laughs]
I think the lure of the stadium can cause bad habits. I'm not sure monitoring your own drums live is such a terribly wise move either. But stadium rock is stadium rock. It's an obsessive, narcissistic kind of endeavour. All those who want to do it, fine, but I don't think you're going to hear a lot of creative music happening at the stadium level. Usually you hear a prepared, straightforward rock thing, and that's fine. However, it's not a place you're likely to discover something new.
WFM: While I've heard you be loud and aggressive, overall you're one of the softest drummers I've ever heard.
BB: Well, I've never been one for sweating too hard at the beat. I think I have a British character on the drums, there's no doubt about it. I'm a British, upper-middle-class guy. It inevitably comes out of my lifestyle. Elegance is something that I would look for on a drumkit, or a drummer. Effortlessness is another. I'm dating myself by saying this, because these are qualities that go way back to jazz drumming.
Today you're paid to make an effort - or at least look like you're making an effort. We all want to see that drumstick get up high, don't we? The ticket buyer wants his money back if he doesn't see the stick going up in the air - with lots of drama. I've played for American crowds where someone yelled out, "Do something!" - and this is happening while I'm wailing at my loudest. The problem - not for me - is that most of my movement is quite small and not full of gesture. People don't think I'm doing anything up there. [laughs]
WFM: And yet, I thought you got the biggest ovation the other night when you were doing that metric modulation stuff against what Tony was playing. [Bill played a brief duet with Levin where he altered the perception of the time signature - several times and not too loudly - against a constant, repeating bass pattern]
BB: You are toying with the audience there, you see, especially if you give them time to applaud. If you offer people complex things in smaller packages, they can see that you are toying with them. They can appreciate the complexity because they have a moment to digest what has happened. I don't want to leave people in a blaze of notes that they don't get.
WFM: You had your busier moments.
BB: Yeah, and I can get noisy too! But you see what I mean? I like to try to let the audience know that I am aware of them being there and that I'm glad they came. I'm a friendly drummer. I'm user friendly. [laughs]
I do feel a strong obligation to the Doreens, the Debbies I guess you'd call them in the States - the metaphorical checkout girls - in the audience. I swear to God that if I sit behind a drumkit I can amuse and entertain her while still being able to keep things interesting to an Elvin or a Max. Sometimes I might be running a little high for a check-out girl - or a little low for a Max - but in general I think I can move both parties.
By the way, this has been a terrifying tour in that several of my peers have been coming to our gigs: Max Roach in New York, Bill Cobham in Zurich, Trilok Gurtu in London...it seems we've been playing for every drummer in the world.
WFM: Another challenging aspect for two drummers must be in deciding what sounds good to play.
BB: First of all, I don't think there are any rules when it comes to sounds. Sometimes Pat and I both play tom-toms together, sometimes he plays the metals, I play the drums - that's nice.
A lot of what I do, actually, is very improvised. A lot of that "Vrooom", "Thrak", and "Vrooom, Vrooom" material is improvised on my part, because the beat is very simple. It's just ticking along at a hundred and twenty or a hundred and seventeen b.p.m., and it's in 4/4. A lot of what I'm doing involves looking for a snaky little figure in between something Pat is doing, or just trying to stay out of his way. I can embellish around him.
I tend to find myself snipping in and out of him quite a bit because he's a big guy in terms of sound - and physically. He doesn't move in a hurry. When he walks to sound check he doesn't go quickly, which is all part of his disposition and his character. Me, I snake around pretty fast. And anyway, I'm always thinking of something else to play or a different sound to make. If I've devised Plan B, it will be Plan C by the time we get to the sound check, and it will be Plan D at the gig.
WFM: I don't think of your playing as being so improvisational, in that you have a reputation as someone who really thinks about and plans what you're playing. Have a few of those "out" parts people think you've composed actually been things you've improvised?
BB: I would suppose. I'll say this: sometimes it's really important to stop thinking. I do think a lot about drums, surely. Doesn't everybody think about what they're going to play on their instrument? I think about it a lot. I'm aware of what sound Pat's playing and what sound I could play, and what might not be a good move. But I don't pre-plan everything.
So as I said, a lot of this new album is really quite open for me. Pat takes care of the business of rock'n'roll. My business is to sneak around his heels.
WFM: By everything I've read about Robert Fripp, it seems that he's not all that fond of drummers.
BB: I get that impression too. [laughs] Now he's got two of them. Don't ask me for an explanation; I just work here.
WFM: The question is, in the past he has made several demands of you, asking you to play without a hi-hat, or to not play fills - that sort of thing.
BB: I'm not sure that they are "demands", as you call them, and I'm not sure they're only for the drums. Robert's made requests of all of us. They are suggestions on how the group should go about its work. He is the leader. Some suggestions have been: "Gosh, Bill, I like the look of those funny hexagonal things. What do they sound like?" "Gosh, Bill, let's not use a hi-hat. Let's be brave." He's trying to make an interesting-sounding group, one that sounds a little different from the next, which I totally subscribe to. And occasionally he says weird things like "Let's have two drummers." [laughs]
In general, I'm quite happy to work with these structures and constrictions, because it's often through working with limitations that you find out how to get around those limitations. And when you do that you develop as a musician. If you ask a lighting guy to only work in blues and greens you are going to get some really special blue and green effects. If you tell Picasso to have a blue period, he's going to go especially big time into blue. Tell me to work without a hi-hat, and I'll find something else. And I might not have bothered to find it if I hadn't been given the limitation.
A lot of performing artists like limitations of some sort. In fact, freedom is a terrifying concept and often leads to very bad music and very bad improvisation. It's often better to put on some type of limitations to get the people to work around or work with them.
WFM: Were there limitations placed on you this time in terms of instruments?
BB: No, except that I did come to the first rehearsal with all the wrong instruments. I came with a lot of boobams, roto-toms, and stuff similar to what we were using in the '80s, thinking that, silly me, we might have continued on down the path where we left off - that sort of lightish, "airy" music.
For reasons that are now very logical and clear, we've accessed more of the sound of the '70s-era Crimson. Now we are post-Nirvana. Now we are post-Nine Inch Nails. King Crimson is in danger of becoming as fashionable as it's ever been. We've bypassed the '80s material that had influence - Peter Gabriel, David Byrne/Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, world music, minimalism, and Steve Reich.
King Crimson is nothing if not a relevant band. We speak in the language of the day. The language of the day now is "balls to the wall" guitar. Great! Count me in. We are a harder-edged group now, capable of being louder and much nastier.
WFM: And how was it trying to record with this nastier animal?
BB: It's much more straightforward than people might think. You put six people in a room and turn on lots of microphones. You play a take and if you don't like it you do another. Very jazz style.
WFM: That must be satisfying on a certain level.
BB: Very performance satisfying. However, we came badly un-stuck with headphone mixes when we were recording Thrak. That was a major problem with the process. I mean, we can get to the moon and back in 1995, but you cannot get a decent headphone mix at Real World [where Thrak was recorded].
In the dense roar of sound coming through the headphones, I'd find whoever I could and play with them. We would walk back in to the control booth and say, "Pat, you played that? That's interesting, because I played this." "Oh wow, what's that part - that's interesting." We were just holding on for grim death. And it's a testament to six quite good studio guys who didn't panic and were able to complete the process.
WFM: Were most of the sounds you recorded produced on acoustic instruments?
BB: Exactly as you hear them on the album is how one would hear them at a concert. I used my Simmons SDX with some pads, and then blended them in with some of the acoustic stuff.
I know that people would assume that a King Crimson recording is a multi-million dollar project and that we went round and round, manicuring it to death, but that's not the case. No one has the patience for that at all. Either the thing has a broad flavour of a roar to it that you like, or you do another take.
Nobody gives a damn whether that little hi-hat thingy you wanted to do in bar four got played or was even audible. There are six guys in a room and they've got their own problems! Who cares? If Pat Mastelotto can't hear anything I'm doing on the electronic drums, that's his problem, you know. It's like, "Too late, we recorded it." So it was brutally fast. You can't get precious about it and say, "Oh, but you know, I think the bass drum is a bit funny in bar four." Sorry. It's funny in bar four.
We're an organic recording band. However, things might have been a bit easier if we hadn't had the problem with the headphone mixes. I'll trade the duck pond at Real World for a good headset. How's that? [laughs]
WFM: There's a quote. [laughs] How did "B'Boom", the drum duet on Thrak, come about?
BB: Pat and I were kind of fooling around with this rhythm one day. And I started improvising with this metric-modulation business. Pat was holding the steady six groove and I was saying, "We'll let the meters go against it," and it evolved into a sort of duet, which is the first half of "B'Boom".
Then we needed to change gear and to go up a tempo - you know, the way a master drummer changes things. He swings with it for a while, and then he plays a figure, which will introduce a new tempo. On "B'Boom" I do that on the snare drum. I love all that. It's very traditional. One guy soloing for a bit and then the whole tribe joining in. Robert loved all of this. He's very encouraging and very supportive of the two drummer idea, particularly any unison things where it looks like we know what we're doing.
WFM: Pat mentioned to me how focused you are in your work and practice habits. How is it that after so many years you're still inspired to get up every day and push yourself into new areas?
BB: I guess I'm fortunate in that I'm never short of ideas; there are a zillion things that you can do with drums. Maybe it's because I try to have a broader scope in which to insert ideas.
WFM: Do you have any "ideas" to help others stay inspired?
BB: First is to get yourself into a musical vehicle that can accommodate rhythmic ideas. If you are slotted into something like a Top-40 or funk band, there are such expectations and parameters about what is and what is not considered "correct". Any idea is pretty much stifled at birth.
With King Crimson it comes with almost none of that. There is no idea of wrong or right. We don't even know how many bass players we've got in the band! Do you see what I mean? We talked about limitations before, but being in this band allows an infinitely broader palette. We draw from so many different sources: "Let's have a Nine Inch Nails influence here, followed by a little Max Roach there, followed by a Drummers of Burundi thing here, followed by Steve Reich there..." The thing is broad - it's open.
WFM: You sound very positive about drumming.
BB: I am. I'm thrilled at the idea of where drumming is headed. I want to know what drumming will be like in the year 2010. I think it's going to be fantastic, because, for instance, you know that in ten years time kids will have nailed this metric modulation business that we're experimenting with. It's all very exciting. I want to be around to hopefully contribute. I just want to be a part of it, and I want it to be a part of me.
WFM: I'm sure that there are a few people who are surprised you're in the newest version of King Crimson.
PM: I'm surprised about it too - it's a bit of a dream come true for me. That sounds corny, but I've been a fan of the band for so long. I actually saw Crimson perform in '73, and I made the decision to move to L.A. from San Francisco partly because they were headlining in L.A. I was seventeen years old, and I was just totally inspired by them.
WFM: So how did it work out that you're now in Crimson's driver's seat - I should say one of the driver's seats?
PM: Well, it came about, in a way, through the local L.A. music paper The Recycler. I saw that somebody wanted to trade gear for a Leslie cabinet. I had used one a few times on sessions with Mr. Mister to pump my drums through, so I thought it might be nice to own one. I called the guy up, went over to his place and traded a compressor for the cabinet. He recognized me, because he's a guitarist who is associated with some of Robert Fripp's Crafties [League of Crafty Guitar Players], and I've worked with some of them. In fact, I tried to bring some of those guys into the Misters when we lost our guitar player. I actually tried to get Adrian Belew too, but at that point he was with Bowie.
Anyway, the guy I was getting the Leslie from said to me, "Oh, you might be interested to know that my friend Trey Gunn is working with Robert Fripp and Jerry Marotta in a project with David Sylvian. But there seems to be some sort of problem, so Jerry's not doing it." I said, "Where is Trey's number?"
I called Trey on a Friday and said "I'm this drummer who you don't know, but I'd like to find out how to get an audition." He basically said "Don't bother. You're wasting your time." I persisted and pleaded for the manager's number. He finally said "They're over in England - you can call if you want."
I called up the manager and said "I'd like to come over and play." He didn't have any idea who I was and he wanted to know what I had done. I told him that it really didn't matter, because anything I'd done in the past had no bearing on this. He said, "Well, you've got two problems. First, you're not going to have a tape. You won't know the material." But since I knew some people at Virgin, I said I could get one. Then he said, "Your next problem is that the auditions are here on Tuesday." I said, "I'll take care of that too. I'll use my frequent-flyer miles. Just give me half an hour to play." He said okay.
So I flew over to England, slept on a friend's floor, and lugged my trap case through the tube [subway]. It was definitely a low-budget thing. And at that point I honestly didn't think I'd get the gig. I just wanted to have the chance to play with someone I had admired for a long time, Robert Fripp.
WFM: By what the manager was saying, it sounds as if they already had someone in mind for the gig.
PM: I was told that [original King Crimson drummer] Michael Giles was going to be the guy, which I was pretty excited about because he was a big influence on me years ago - and I'd wondered what ever happened to him. It was his gig, and I was told that was pretty much written in stone.
I finally did get to audition, and when we played, it seemed to me as if there was an instant connection between Robert and me. Obviously I was pretty excited. We played only a few minutes, but while we were playing, Robert got up and walked past me. The door out of the room was behind me, so I thought he was on his way out. I thought, well, I guess he's not digging it. I kept playing with the others, but I sensed a presence behind me. I looked over my shoulder and there was Robert standing at my shoulder just watching me play - and smiling.
So we continued, playing a few more songs. Then the manager came in and said we had to stop, that the next drummer was ready. At that point Robert came over to me and said "I want to talk to you outside." And I figured a guy with Robert's experience was going to tell me some heavy shit about what I'm doing wrong. I still didn't expect it to be a positive thing.
When I stepped out the door he was writing something on a piece of paper. He handed it to me and said "That's my number. If you ever need a recommendation, have them call Robert Fripp. I'll give you the highest recommendation I can. I don't know what will happen with this gig; that's between David and me. After you leave, there are other drummers. I don't know." Needless to say, I was thrilled with what he had said. That kind of praise from such a great musician and from somebody who has worked with so many great drummers really stunned me.
I had heard that Michael Giles was going to be auditioning a little later that day, so I thought I'd hang out and try to meet him. I stuck around outside for a while. Eventually I saw this little Rover drive up with all these bent cymbal stands in the back. The cymbals were still mounted on the stands! It was Giles. I talked to him for two or three minutes out in the parking lot, and then I split because I didn't want to hover around. It was great to meet him, and I left there thinking that I'd had a great experience, but that Giles was going to be doing it. Well, three days later, when I got home, my wife was in tears. She yelled, "They called. You got the gig!" I couldn't believe it.
WFM: How did that gig lead to Crimson?
PM: Well, I did the tour with Robert and David Sylvian, and it was a terrific experience. While this tour was happening, Robert was talking about re-forming King Crimson with Jerry Marotta on drums. At this point there was no discussion of the double trio - it was going to be a five-man group with Robert, Tony [Levin], Trey [Gunn], Adrian [Belew], and Jerry. I felt that Bill was the rightful drummer for King Crimson, and I said that to Robert. To a lot of people, Bill's been the only drummer in the band. But I think Robert wanted a different direction from the drums, so he was planning to use Jerry.
When the Fripp/Sylvian tour ended, I was booked to go right out with another band. The day before I left for that tour - which, by the way, was the day before the earthquake in L.A. - Robert left a message on my answering machine telling me to call him in Woodstock. He said "I have an idea - a proposal - for you." I had no idea what he was thinking.
I called him back and he laid out this plan. He said, "Things didn't work out with Jerry, and I have an idea for a double trio. I've seen a vision - I want it to include you and Bill." I was shocked. He then warned me, "You might want to start studying your rudiments, because I know you don't deal with that stuff. I don't doubt that you can play what's necessary, but you might want to start getting your fundamentals in order."
Robert laid out a three-year plan, a calendar of work. But I was a little intimidated by the whole idea, and I wasn't as sure as he was that I was right for the project. I said, "Maybe we should test the waters. I'm doing this short tour that is going to leave me off in Europe. Maybe while I'm over there I could meet Bill." He said, "Great. I'll organize it. We'll meet up at Bill's house."
So I went to Bill's, which was the first time I had met him. We played a bit together in the studio part of his house. He was a bit quiet, and he always seemed to be looking at me like, "You're too loud." Compared to Bill, I am.
Bill had borrowed a set of drums from Kenney Jones, from a tour Kenney had done with the Who - those big single-headed drums with a 26" bass drum. I tried to dampen down the drums with towels, just trying to make the drums sound more in balance with Bill's. At that point I don't think he liked the idea of me - or any other drummer - in the band.
WFM: I'd like to go back a moment and ask about Robert Fripp. What was it about your playing that so impressed him at that first audition?
PM: I think it might have been a couple of things. First off, I grew up on his music. For people who have heard my work they might not think so, but King Crimson's music is deep in my blood. I must have shown a certain connection with it.
But I think the main reason Robert liked me was my sense of time. Robert always practices with a metronome. In fact, he practices all day long, like nobody I've ever seen. He practices for hours before, during, and after sound checks, straight through to the gig. He has developed such a keen sense of time that it was annoying for him to play with drummers whose time shifted.
My time isn't incredible, but it's decent, because I've had a lot of experience working in the studio with machines. I did a lot of work with machines with the Misters, and it can't help but eventually improve your time. I don't feel that I have a gift when it comes to time, because years ago my time was dreadful. I've been able to develop it. So when I played with Robert perhaps he felt he finally had a drummer who could be accurate with the time and still make it feel good.
WFM: Speaking of time feel, I've always thought that Bill has a unique feel. And there is that old perception about European musicians having a different concept - or feel - of time. I was wondering how that concept was marrying up with yours.
PM: I know what you're talking about. Bill's got amazingly great time, but it is a slightly different feel. It's a British feel, but that feel is not a totally new thing to me. I grew up listening to Motown records, but I was also listening to a lot of British bands. I'm sure they influenced me. That feel is part of my subconscious.
WFM: By what you were alluding to a moment ago, it sounds as if your relationship with Bill got off to a tentative start. Has any kind of chemistry built up between the two of you?
PM: Yes, it has, and I think a trust has developed. I think that Bill knows I'm going to try my best to work with him, to make my parts work with his. For instance, I try not to jump in right away when we're working on music. I hold back and let Bill suggest a direction. Then I try to work around what he's doing, or I try to lay down a sparse foundation.
Thinking back, not all of the songs happened with Bill playing first. On "Sex, Sleep, Eat..." Bill wasn't in the room, so I jumped in. It just happened that way. Bill didn't know anything about me before this band. He didn't know where I was coming from. To this day he's never heard the Misters. He hears people come up to me after gigs and complimenting me on my previous work, and he'll say, "I've got to hear this song. What is this "Broken Wings" they're talking about?"
On the other hand, I knew Bill's playing really well. You can't totally predict what he will do, but I know the types of things he likes to do, like playing over the bar line, or playing polyrhythms, or playing in meters other than the one the song is in. I anticipated some of those things, so I possibly had a better chance of fitting in with him, rather than him fitting in with me.
WFM: And now he understands where you're coming from?
PM: I hope. The way I look at it is, it's just like any relationship. When you're with your wife for a while you can start a conversation and she'll know you well enough to finish your thought - that type of thing. Our relationship has developed now to a point where I think we know in general where we're trying to take a song - although Bill is always surprising; he doesn't like to play the same thing twice. Very "Crim", God bless him.
WFM: Did the two of you set up any formulas for working together, or roles that each of you would perform within the band?
PM: We have definitely created strategies - ways of working on music as a duo. But that's not to say that every part we play is written out or totally planned. This is what's a gas about this situation - it's such an improvisational thing. It's like an arcade game between Bill and me, with ideas bouncing back and forth between us. Every piece - especially in a drum sense - is an improvisational piece. I know it is for Bill. I can see where he thinks we improvise a lot, because he does.
WFM: Was a lot of this musical "strategy" verbalized before you sat down to play, or has it developed from just playing together?
PM: In this situation, it's definitely both. It's funny; English musicians talk about musical concept more than Americans. It's definitely the case in this band. They talk and talk and talk. British guys stop every fifteen minutes, have tea, and then talk about the concept and the feelings of this and that. It's very different. Americans just play. So we do talk about it.
WFM: From a drumming standpoint you and Bill might be considered polar opposites, or I should say that both of your individual strong points are very different. What is it that you feel you're counted on to bring to Crimson?
PM: Well, the most obvious thing, stemming back to Robert's opinions, is that maybe Bill unjustifiably has a reputation for not keeping a groove or that he can't play a ballad. Those are my strong points. But you're right; Robert did a nice casting call here as far as pulling from opposite areas.
It was obvious the first time Bill and I played together that I was never going to play the fast, jazzy stuff, and he's never going to play a big, bombastic backbeat. I play the slower, more open beat, which leaves space for Bill to play with it.
WFM: How did the group, with two drummers, go about recording both Vrooom and Thrak? Did you play at the same time?
PM: Absolutely. Everybody played at the same time. When we were at Woodstock doing Vrooom, that was actually recorded in a rehearsal room. I think it used to be Jerry Marotta's barn. Crimson management had pre-paid for the place when Jerry was still doing the gig, so that's why we went up there. Incidentally, that room is where the B-52's shot the "Love Shack" video.
It was a great set-up in there, because Bill and I were facing each other from both ends of the room. The whole band was in there, and we could all see and hear each other right off the floor. Each guy had a little mixer with ten channels so we could control exactly what we were hearing individually - a great environment! The setup really helped us be creative.
As for recording Vrooom, we started on a Tuesday just trying to get sounds. There was a crackle in the desk, so we did one song just to get some levels. We said, "God, this sounds like shit. We'll track this tomorrow." Then we came in the next day and instead of working on that piece, we went to some other piece of music to try and straighten out some of the problems in the control room. We worked on that for a few hours and then moved on to some other pieces, just so we wouldn't be bored while they were working out the bugs and getting sounds.
I came in the next day, on the day I thought we were going to begin recording. I wanted to change my drumheads for the recording, and I was waiting until then because I only had one extra set of heads with me. I changed the heads and got everything tweaked up. I went into the control room and found some of the other guys overdubbing a few parts on what I thought were the scratch tracks we had done the previous days! I said "I thought we weren't going to use those tracks." I had no idea that those were takes. I didn't even change my heads until the session was over - I didn't know! And by that Friday we were done. [laughs] But Bill had warned me. He said Crimson records are like that. You don't know when they're recording something that may make it onto an album. We recorded Thrak at Real World - the big professional studio - and we had problems. The headphone mixes sounded absolutely horrible. Their setup couldn't handle a six-piece band where each member wanted a separate headphone mix.
The way the band had to set up was also pretty bad. I was in a stone room that had a little window. I could just barely see Bill through this small opening. Adrian was in a little vocal booth, and I could just see his nose. I could barely see Robert and Tony, and I couldn't see Trey at all. So not only could we not hear what needed to, we couldn't see each other either. That was a challenging situation.
Much of Thrak was made, in terms of Bill and I, by eye contact. In fact, not even eye contact, but by watching each other's sticks, because that's all we could see of each other. We'd be recording and thinking that nothing good was being done, and then we'd hear the stuff in the control room and couldn't believe how good things were sounding. But it was a very difficult way to make a record.
Luckily, the band had done a tour of South America just before going in to record Thrak. If we hadn't done those shows, we would have been really screwed. I played a lot from memory.
WFM: How did things progress under those circumstances?
PM: The Real World stuff was done really fast - not as fast as Vrooom - but on a pace of about a song per day. We'd start in the morning, work over the arrangement for an hour or two, have lunch, and then go back in and usually get our take right away. That left us time to record other things. A lot of nice pieces were recorded that didn't make it onto the record.
WFM: When it came time to mix, how were the two separate drum parts mixed and panned?
PM: For Vrooom Robert mixed Bill fairly hard-left and me hard-right. When we did Thrak we moved in slightly, so as opposed to being separate entities we kind of became "Bill/Pat". My kick drum was placed at about eleven o'clock and Bill's was at one o'clock. Also, we were much more specific by that point in terms of sound. Bill had a boomier, jazzier kick drum with a clickier top end to it. I tried to have a duller, thumpier sound so that it had a little contrast. It still sounds like they are coming from the center, but there is a little different voice to each one. Also, I tried to tune my snare either much higher or much lower than Bill's.
WFM: Are you saying that most of the sounds on Thrak were produced acoustically? For some reason I just assumed that the two of you, both with so much experience with electronics, would have used them a lot
PM: For the most part it was acoustic instruments. There are moments where we did use electronics, like when Bill is making a ton of racket on the opening section of "Vrooom".
Some of the sounds that you're hearing may sound electronic, but they aren't. I have this thing I've done for years where I put cymbals on top of my drums - just right on top of the tom-toms. You can get all sorts of sounds by playing the cymbals that way. I did a lot of that. Another one of my favourites - and Paiste please forgive me - is the sound you get by throwing two cymbals on the floor. It sounds great!
On "B'Boom" I did a thing on the front half of the piece where I placed towels over the drums and played them with shakers instead of sticks, a la Jim Keltner. Bill really liked the sound of that.
WFM: Since you say a lot of the sounds were produced on acoustic instruments, did you have to alter your own acoustic sound to better suit the situation?
PM: I've changed marginally through the whole process. My kit has honed itself to be right for this gig: it's very specific to this band's needs.
Robert is not crazy about cymbals or hi-hats, so for Vrooom I didn't use a hi-hat. I had a piece of wood stuck over where one would normally be placed. Robert had a conversation with Bill and me about not using a hi-hat. But Bill told him, "I went without my hi-hat for four years. I'm not doing it again." [laughs] So I said, "Well, I guess it will be me." I tried to coerce Robert out of this concept, but he asked, "Why do you need a hi-hat?" I said, "It's a traditional thing for drummers." "Well, Crimson doesn't need tradition."
I got rid of the hi-hat, but eventually I brought it back in, or at least something resembling a hi-hat. I started using little 8" splashes on a hi-hat stand, although they didn't have a decent chick sound. Now, Paiste is making mini-hats. They actually have a wonderful chick sound. I also don't have a ride cymbal, and I miss it.
I've tried to work around Bill's cymbal setup in terms of size and sound. Bill uses middle sizes, mostly 16s and 18s. I'm using larger crashes and Chinas, and I'm using a few small cymbals - 8s, 10s, and 12s. I've tried to find the spaces that he's not occupying.
WFM: And what about the drums?
PM: I played Yamaha for years, but I wanted to work with an American company. I've known Joe Montineri, the custom drum builder from Connecticut, for a long time. He's a very innovative guy. You can be very specific with Joe about drums, and I was. I wanted my drums for Crimson to have a lower, creamier kind of sound. I didn't want to get into the drum sounds that Bill was using, which are the jazzier, ringier tunings. So Joe designed some drums for me that sound great.
I've also switched to coated heads. I'm really a clear head kind of guy, but I wanted to contrast Bill's sound. I'm tuning my toms in a lower range than Bill's, and my bass drum is much more padded than his. I'm doing everything I can to cover the rest of the sonic spectrum that Bill doesn't.
WFM: You mentioned "B'Boom" earlier. How did that come together?
PM: As I recall, when I came to Woodstock - which was the second time I met Bill - he handed me a little piece of paper that had a sticking pattern written on it, with some of the notes accented. He said, "Play this." It was reasonably simple. I went bink, bink, bink, bink, bink [sings pattern without stressing the accents]. Bill then played it for me, and the accented notes really jumped out. And his technique was so beautiful.
Bill gets his loudest strokes by the way he pulls off a drum, from about a quarter of an inch off the head. It's amazing. I get my loudest strokes by forcing down into the head - bad habit. Anyway, that basic rhythm ended up being the pattern I play for the tune. I could be wrong, but I think Bill mentioned that the pattern come out of Modern Drummer, and it became the rhythm for the second half of "B'Boom".
The first half of the piece, as I mentioned before, was this thing where I walked in one day and was playing with mallets and shakers. Bill jumped on that. He liked it and he wanted to improvise over it. So that's basically the front section. I repeat that theme while Bill goes through these metric modulations, which is really difficult to count. I think he's going 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. He gets the bars shorter and shorter and then he gets them longer and longer. It's amazing.
On the second half Bill plays right on top of me, and then he's got the ability to play the triplet and rolled versions of that same rhythm - unbelievably scary. Bill wrote it out and I've struggled to play it in slow motion. He does that and then improvises over it, while I hold down the basic pattern.
WFM: There's a lot of admiration in your voice when you're talking about Bill. What types of things have you picked up from working with him?
PM: So many things - probably even more than I realize. Sometimes you don't take stock until some time later, when you play something that you couldn't play before.
There are definitely some things that I've subconsciously nicked from Bill. I found that when I went home during Crimson's last break and did some sessions. I was playing some very Bruford-influenced things. You know how when you first sit down at a set, you have a thing that you immediately play? It seems most drummers do it - they sit down to hear how their drums sound when they play their "thing". Well, I sat down at that session and played this thing that I had never played - something I heard Bill do that I didn't even understand when I heard him do it. It was a sort of shuffle pattern in 5. Somehow, after being around him for eight months, I was able - without ever thinking about it - to just sit down and play it. I never practiced it.
WFM: It must have been by osmosis.
PM: It must have. But Bill has inspired me in a number of ways. While on tour Bill will hand me slips of paper of things to work on - things he's come up with that he's working on. Sometimes he slides them under my hotel room door!
Bill has a set routine for practicing that he sticks to. He practices for about an hour or an hour and a half every morning at around 10:00. That's his routine. It doesn't matter if we're on the bus or wherever. He's always searching and improving. How can I not be inspired by that?
BILL AND PAT'S LISTENERS' GUIDE
Here are the albums Bill lists as the ones most representative of his drumming...
Artist Album title King Crimson Thrak Earthworks Stamping Ground, Live King Crimson Red Bruford One of a Kind King Crimson Discipline Earthworks Earthworks David Torn Cloud About Mercury Yes Close to the Edge
...and here are the ones he listens to most for inspiration.
Artist Album Title Drummer Keith Jarrett My Song Jon Christensen Dave Brubeck Time Further Out Joe Morello Pierre Favre/Paul Motian/ Singing Drums same Fredy Studer/Nana Vasconcelos John Scofield/Pat Metheny I Can See Your House From Here Bill Stewart Max Roach To the Max Max Roach Fritz Hauser 22132434141 Fritz Hauser Arturo Sandoval I Remember Clifford Kenny Washington plus anything with Jack DeJohnnette
Here are the albums Pat lists as the ones most representative of his drumming...
Artist Album title King Crimson Thrak Sylvian/Fripp Damage XTC Oranges and Lemons Jude Cole A View From 3rd Street Ted Hawkins 100 Years The Rembrandts any Mr. Mister any Peter Kingsbery any
...and these are the albums he says he listens to for inspiration.
Artist Album Title Drummer Talk Talk Colour of Spring Lee Harris Public Image Ltd. album Ginger Baker/Tony Williams Wendy & Lisa Eroica Carla Azar Suzanne Vega 99.9 deg. F Jerry Marotta Jellyfish Bellybutton Andy Sturmer XTC Skylarking Prairie Prince World Party Bang! Chris Sharrock Rain Tree Crow Rain Tree Crow Steve Jansen various Gnawa Music of Marrakesh various Neville Brothers Yellow Moon Willie Green
plus anything by the Beatles, King Crimson, XTC, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Todd Rundgren, 10CC, Weather Report, the Who, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Prince, James Brown, Gentle Giant, Steely Dan, Free, old Elton John, Yes, Genesis, the Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, and Led Zeppelin, and anything with Levon Helm, Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, or Steve Gadd.