Log in

Phil Collins & Chester Thompson: The Drums of Genesis

Seconds later the singer is back behind the other trap set onstage to join Chester Thompson on a wild odd-time flight climaxed by a drum solo that combines the precision of a military group, the loose, swinging Gene Krupa bounce, the power of two steam engines, and some dynamics -- god forbid -- during actual improvised sections.

Genesis has been influencing the rock world wince 1969, when Peter Gabriel formed the band in England with schoolmates Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford. Two years later a talented drummer named Phil Collins was hired. When Gabriel left the group in 1975, Collins stepped forward to sing and the band continued to establish a standard for progressive rock, introducing finely tuned grand thematic phrases and darting from odd time signatures to odder ones.

Collins realized he needed help with the drum chores in the band when he started singing lead, and after experimenting with Bill Bruford, hired the exciting American drummer Chester Thompson. Thompson has been with Genesis for a decade now, and he complements Collins' style with the highest degree of taste, pushing his own personality through in the same forceful style as the group's other American import, guitarist Daryl Stuermer. Thompson's muscle helps make Genesis the formidable road band it is, and in recent years they've become masters of the recording studio as well. With Collins at the helm, using a combination of drum machine sounds, top engineers and effects, and revealing a truly sharp mind for placing instruments, Genesis' drum tracks have proved to be some of the hottest and classiest of the last several years, jumping all over the radio and pop charts.

Today's new breed of Genesis fan likes the group's new, more commercial, more accessible rhythmic approach. The new fan may never have been thrilled by Collins' melodic rot tom work on "Eleventh Earl of Mar," or his orchestration of shimmering bells on the smoking "Wot Gorilla" [both on _Wind and Wuthering_], cutting through the odd time signatures with a bit of soul. But the new fan might notice that a certain look comes over Collins' face when he walks back to his drum set to join Thomson in battery. The determination is etched on his mug likea bull terrier. It's time to slam some sticks into heads, and Collins has done that with some of the best of them, including Robert Fripp, Robert Plant, Tommy Bolin, Chaka Khan, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Philip Bailey, Howard Jones, and Eric Clapton, to name only a few.

"Phil has a special way of laying back, but has that fire and energy at the same time," says bassist Nathan East. "It's almost like magical things he does with the time. He can play anything from swing, bebop, fusion, to gold old rock drums." East worked with Collins on Eric Clapton's _August_ album, which Phil also produced. "He never labors over anything, and that's why his stuff always seems to sound so fresh," says the studio MVP bassist. "It's not hard work to get the tracks. And Phil's got a real working knowledge of all the machines, and programs the machines the same way he plays, with that bit of magic." Collins can compose and perform a classy funk riff on a Roland with the same authority as when he sits down behind his Premiers to bash out an alternating single- to double-paradiddle pattern with Chester Thompson.

Thompson, in his own right, gazes out calmly through his drum kit like some celestial warlord, dropping lightening bolts from either arm. The pride of Baltimore, Maryland, is confident when he's back on the percussion attack. Thompson's own recording credits include Flora Purim, Rodney Franklin, Freddie Hubbard, four or five Frank Zappa records, and soulful and happy bashing on Weather Report's _Black Market_ on which he and Alex Acuna sound like about five drummers. In spite of Genesis' heavy touring schedule last year, Thompson also found time to work on most of Santana's _Beyond Appearances_, and the Amy Grant / Peter Cetera duet, "Next Time I Fall" [_Solitude/Solitaire_].

Thompson lives in Los Angeles, when Genesis isn't on the road, with wife Rosalind and son Akil. He spends much of his time composing for a jazz group he plays with called Air Pocket, and credits Genesis with a great deal of the inspiration for the songs he writes.

Thompson was a member of one of Frank Zappa's two-drummer bands in the early '70s along with Ralph Humphrey. There have been some other notable drum duos in rock -- the Allman Brothers had two, and the Grateful Dead do -- but the consistency and dynamics that mark the work of Genesis' twosome in concert is unmatched. I'm very proud of the ten years we've had together," says the 36-year-old Collins.

At the time of the interview that follows, Genesis was on tour and it proved impossible to pin both Phil and Chester down in the same place at the same time. So we spoke to them individually, and discovered, while splicing the results, that their remarks fit together as naturally and effortlessly as do their drumming styles. Never before have the drummers of Genesis spoken in such depth about their playing.

We started by asking Phil---who is actually Genesis' *fourth* drummer---how he got the gig. He said he never met the first drummer for the band (Chris Stewart), but went to school with the second (John Silver). They had hired a new drummer to do out-of-town gigs (John Mayhew, who recorded the group's first album, Trespass). But when guitarist Anthony Phillips left in 1969, they decided to change drummers too. Auditions were advertised in Melody Maker, and held at Peter Gabriel's parents' farm in Surrey, England.

 


 

PHIL: It was a lovely day. The grand piano was pushed out onto the patio, and there was a big umbrella for the drum kit to set up underneath. I was a little early, as always, and they said, "Go have a swim while we've got a couple of guys in front of you." So while I was swimming I heard the other guys auditioning, and by the time I got to play I kind of knew everything. I didn't know the songs when I started swimming, but I did by the time I finished. I went in there and made it look a little hard, so it looked like I hadn't been cheating. Any fool ought to know the part after hearing six drummers playing in front of him.

RT: Some of Genesis' music would definitely take several swims to learn. Some of it is pretty complicated stuff.

PHIL: Well, it still goes through those changes now, but in those days the dynamics were greater. The dynamic and mood changes were much more apparent on those earlier albums that they are on some of the newer stuff, although songs like "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" and "The Last Domino" have the same sort of dynamic changes as the old songs. But the early songs like "Musical Box," "Return of the Giant Hogweed" and "The Fountain of Salmacis," had lots of dynamics and harmony.

RT: Dynamics is something young drummers might well pay attention to these days.

PHIL: Yeah. Things change. I don't play like I used to. I listen to some stuff I did with Brand X or early Genesis, and I actually can't do that anymore. I haven't just flung myself around a drum kit as fast as I can for a long time. Because my taste has changed. I just did a half a dozen dates with Eric Clapton as his drummer, and it wasn't until the fifth gig that I could actually play what I wanted to play. There are so many heavy metal bands around nowadays---that's probably most of the gigs for working drummers now. But it would be good to get players to realize that a command of dynamics is just as important as anything else.

RT: What did you bring to Genesis that was different from the earlier drummers?

PHIL: Genesis was a little unfunky when I joined the band. I tried to change that because of my love for R&B and jazz. In comparison to drummers like Bruford I'm not very well versed in that. I like big bands, and some Coltrane and Miles Davis stuff, but past that, there are a lot of names and music that I've never heard of. But I was listening to a lot of jazz at that time, and that was the kind of thing that came out on Foxtrot and Nursery Cryme and I guess on Selling England.

RT: Do you think the jazz background that you have has helped you in Genesis?

CHESTER: Possibly. You've got to be a lot more musical in Genesis than if you're only playing rock. And there is some basic musicianship that you stand a better chance of learning through jazz. At the same time, I think the idea is just to give it your best shot every time you hit the stage, whether you feel like it or not. If more people did that, a lot of guys wouldn't be as frustrated in their local situations.

RT: What are some of those basic musicianship things you learn in jazz?

CHESTER: The basic one is how to listen, how to feed off of other players, as opposed to sort of being wound up like a clock, like you go and I'll meet you at the end. Rock isn't like that all the time, but very often it feels that way. First one to the end wins or something. There's a lot of great rock players out there now, but I find more and more, guys that really impress me usually are pretty good jazz or fusion players as well.

RT: To be a good listener you have to play with dynamics as well.

CHESTER: Yeah, that's kind of a biggie with Genesis, although I don't know how much of it comes across onstage, because basically you're coming through a PA, and I'm not sure if that limits or exaggerates the dynamics.

RT: Do you think your approach to playing has changed much over the years, as opposed to your days with Zappa?

CHESTER: A lot of it depends on what I'm playing at the moment. I went from Zappa immediately into Weather Report, and the way I look at that period of time is that with Zappa it was like learning how to pretty much read and play anything. And with Weather Report it's like learning what to leave out. So hopefully somewhere along the line the balance continues to grow as far as knowing when to play and when not to.

RT: Did you get a lot of instructions with Weather Report?

CHESTER: With Weather Report you can't be instructed. You either fit or don't fit. It's not the kind of band you can sort of say, "Okay, it's got to be just like this."

 


 

RT: Like if you have to talk about it, it won't work?

CHESTER: Things are talked about when someone's written a new tune and they tell you sort of where they were coming from, basically relating the frame of mind they were in as the tune neared completion or as they thought of it, whatever. And you just go from there. New songs were always written, but there's an awful lot of space within the writing, and you have to make your own decisions.

RT: Has your approach to playing odd times changed as you've played with different bands?

CHESTER: Well, the stuff I do now doesn't call from as much odd time as with somebody like Frank. Not only the drum parts, but the music itself is not quite as complicated. Groove is incredibly important with the stuff we're doing with Genesis. It's odd-time, but it's very much about how it feels. With Zappa the feeling was kind of written in, basically. Once you played it right, the feel was basically established, because Frank was so specific about what had to be played.

RT: With Genesis, would you say you almost try to disguise the odd times to make them feel straight?

CHESTER: In some cases, yeah. Things tend to not feel like odd times. I know as I listen to old stuff, some of that disguise seems to go back for years. Gabriel still seems to do quite a bit of that---where it's an odd time but it has a consistent pulse to the point where it doesn't feel like an odd time.

PHIL: Something like "Turn It On Again," for instance, a lot of people don't realize that song is actually in 13/8. It's a rock song, and it doesn't really feel like it's in any complicated time signature. What I try to do is make the time signature as simple as possible so that they don't really know it's a complicated thing. And obviously I'm better at doing that now, because in the early days I wanted to tell everybody it was a complicated time signature, so that everyone would see how clever I was. Attitudes change.

RT: Phil, did you ever have any problems playing the odd-time stuff, like the end of "In The Cage," where it's in 7/8 [Robin must be thinking of the "Cinema Show" stuff which follows "In the Cage" on TSL. "In the Cage" is not in 7/8. -ed].

PHIL: Playing in 7 is very natural for me. "Cinema Show," for example, and things like that. But I've never been that versatile in terms of playing in and out of time signatures. Obviously 3/4 is pretty straight. 7 I can go in and out of and sort of fool around with, but 11s and 9s, I always need something to latch onto.

RT: Chester, you do some great playing on that 11/8 track on Alphonso Johnson's record, "Balls To The Wall" (on Yesterday's Dream).

CHESTER: It comes naturally, after you've done it for a while. You don't really think about it, you just feel it and play it. Maybe count in your head the first couple bars, and if it's real ridiculous, the first four or five bars. Then it tends to lock in. And if you get in trouble you count again.

PHIL: On something like "And So To F," which was a Brand X song we did on my tour, I still have to sing the bass line to keep myself in time. A lot of the time I hitch up with a bass on something like "Nuclear Burn," which is in 11 on the Brand X album Unorthodox Behavior. I usually just hitch up with that, and apart from the odd bits of dancing around in it, I end up staying with it.

RT: You sound a little like Cobham on some of the Brand X stuff.

PHIL: He was a huge influence. Inner Mounting Flame (by Mahavishnu Orchestra, Columbia) was the best example of rock/jazz drumming that I'd ever heard. I probably still haven't heard any better than that album. His playing on that album was phenomenal, and he only played one bass drum as well, which was fantastic. That was one of the reasons why I haven't really played two bass drums since my school days when Ginger Baker and Keith Moon were the fashion. I wasn't bad, but I always liked the hi hat. I found that the hi-hat was too important to just sort of have as a secondary thing. Keith Moon was a big influence on me. His drumming on some of the Who records was very individual and very unique. Completely original.

RT: There was also some Tony Williams that came out in your playing in Brand X.

PHIL: It's funny how it's come full circle. Now Tony and I are talking about doing an album together, and he's asked me to produce his next album, which we're trying to get together. He still is one of my drumming idols. When I first heard him do rock and roll on things like Believe It and Million Dollar Lets, that turned around some of my ideas. You know, sometimes you hear albums and suddenly you go into overdrive for a few months. I though his rock and roll playing on that stuff was amazing.

 


 

RT: I know. If I could ever learn to play "Fred" like he does on Believe It I'd be a happy man.

PHIL: "Snake Oil" was another one that I liked. That is a great album. He has a distinctive sound, Tony does, his hi-hat sort of flapping around in the wind. In 1974, when I was asked to fool around with Brand X, it was like a band completely free, without any inhibitions at all. Genesis played structured music and wrote structured music. Brand X was completely open. We used to sit in a rehearsal room for hours and hours, for days, and just play. I've got cassettes of all that stuff, and it's interesting to listen back on, because it was really four of five people thinking as one person. It was great. But it was like the wife and the mistress---the wife was Genesis and the mistress was Brand X. I listen to some of those tapes and think, "How could I play like that? I had some good chops in those days." There are some things that you don't remember doing.

RT: Chester, were there any songs you heard on the radio or records you had that really influenced you when you were young?

CHESTER: The first thing that got me was an old instrumental called "Last Night," because it had the first sort of blatant drum fill in the middle of it, which was kind of nice. I liked a lot of The Meters stuff, and was playing a very similar kind of thing already. The stuff that was happening on the early Meters' records like Cissy Strut. And James Brown. A lot of James Brown stuff. James Brown was usually the freshest thing out, rhythm section-wise. Curtis Mayfield would always get these incredible drummers on his records who were mainly jazz players; they would play with a whole different kind of aggressiveness on the rock stuff. That was kind of nice.

RT: Was there a lot of music around you when you were growing up?

CHESTER: Not particularly, no. But there was a point when I realized I could sort of hear what drums were doing, and I wanted to do that. I somehow knew I could do it.

RT: Who were the first drummers you heard that really knocked you out?

CHESTER: The first people I was actually impressed by were Max Roach, Elvin Jones, and Art Blakey.

RT: What was your first step out of Baltimore?

CHESTER: I did lots of traveling when I still lived in Baltimore. The first person I had an out of town gig with was Ben E. King, and then I played with Jack McDuff quite a long time. I went back to Baltimore and went to school for a couple years and then the Zappa audition came up. I heard about that because I knew Zappa's road manager at the time.

RT: Was playing with Ralph Humphrey the first two-drummer situation you had ever been it?

CHESTER: Yeah. It was kind of difficult. It's not something I was used to doing, and we had very different styles. We both had to constantly listen to each other and give each other space.

RT: Ralph being more of a precision player?

CHESTER: Exactly. My whole thing was probably a little looser, but I think we both sort of came towards the middle a bit on it.

RT: How would you compare working with Phil now and working with Ralph then?

CHESTER: It's easier now, for one thing because it's not the first time I've done it. Another reason is that Phil's style is somewhat looser, for lack of a better word, and groove-wise we probably tend to think a lot the same way, so it's never really been difficult at all.

RT: How did you learn your double bass technique?

CHESTER: When I was with Zappa, one day Ralph and I showed up and there were these two double kits onstage, these two Octopus kits. And it was either sit there and look dumb or learn how to use the stuff. I was kind of into it. It was a little overwhelming at first. It's not something I'm real crazy about. If I don't practice it very regularly there's no chops at all. It never gets strong enough to a point where I can not practice it regularly.

RT: Are there certain exercises you'd recommend for the feet?

CHESTER: Play rudiments. Just simple stuff like paradiddles, flams, triplet patterns and stuff. Double one, then alternate doubling one then the other.

RT: Phil, how did you know that Chester was going to work out so well?

PHIL: The thing that clinched me with Chester was a song called "More Trouble Every Day" (by Zappa, on Roxy & Elsewhere), which he and Ralph Humphrey play, and I heard that drum fill, which we actually do at the end of "Afterglow." They did that fill on the Zappa song and it floored me completely. I saw what two drummers could do. It could be like a machine. I play flams quite a lot, and with my flams and another drummer you get this huge, sort of solid, thick, backbeat. So one of the first things we did when I met Chester was get him to teach me that lick, and we always put it in the show somewhere. But that was really just listening to him. I had never met him. I rang him up and said, "Hi Chester, I've heard your stuff, would you like to play with Genesis?" He came over as a member. He didn't even audition. He just came over and set up his drums and was started rehearsing. So we never had any double that it would work. I almost enjoy playing with somebody else better than I do on my own in certain circumstances. And Chester is the easiest person for me to play with. He's been playing in Genesis for ten years now, and we read each other like a book. We can solo and stretch out a little bit and actually improvise, but at the same time keep out of each others' way, witch for two drummers is a rare thing. You've got to get rid of ego. Obviously on one's own you can play faster and more complicated stuff, and go out of time and just go free for a while. Whereas, if you've got a strong groove going with two drummers, you've got to listen to the other guy. In the early days of the drum solo that sort of prefaces "Los Endos," we would get a groove going, then I'd play a bit, he'd play a bit, I'd play, he'd play, almost like a duel. Be we decided a couple of years ago that the stronger thing is to actually get two guys to play the same thing. That's almost stronger that someone saying one guy's better that another guy. So we sat down in a hotel room in Dallas a couple of tours ago, put a tape recorder on the table and sat opposite each other, playing with sticks on a chair, and taped it all. We listened back to it and would point out what sounded good. We'd say, "Right, remember that," and then we'd listen to another bit. We'd piece this jigsaw together and we'd learn it. We had reference points---like Part A was something, and then we'd improvise for X amount of bars until someone gave his cue, and then to Part B. It's something that's developed, and for me it's one of the highlights of the show. I've played with different people. Bruford was a little busy, and probably because of my inexperience at playing with two drummers I was a little busy too in those days. So we never locked together as well as Chester and I do. Bill would always play as an individual, and it just wasn't as solid. Then I did two dates with Clapton in London when I played with Steve Ferrone. He's a very solid drummer, and was easy to play with. occasionally we'd get tangled up, but very rarely. And at Live Aid, me and Tony Thompson were a disaster. Some guys are easier to play with than others. Some guys are prepared to make sacrifices in their attitude and they listen. The best two drummers that I can think of that I've seen play together are Jim Gordon and Jim Keltner with Mad Dogs (Joe Cocker). Absolutely fantastic. Jim Keltner with any other drummer. He's such a fine listener, and that's really what you have to be.

RT: Chester, was it much of a compromise of your drumming style to fit into Genesis?

CHESTER: Quite a bit. An awful lot in the beginning. Genesis has become a lot more Americanized over the years. And obviously we've been together long enough to where I've gotten used to playing with them, so now it feels pretty natural. But in the beginning it was almost opposite everything that I was used to doing, just because in those days everything sounded real English.

 


 

RT: How would you explain "real English"?

CHESTER: Just without the sort of extra bits of swing. I mean if things are on the beat they are *on* the beat. The whole band tends to play a little on top of the beat, but very even, very understated in parts. Especially drum parts. Americans, on the other hand, tend to embellish things a little more, especially the simpler parts. It's very seldom you would play very many American beats where you're only playing like 1 and 2 on the bass drum and 3 and 4 on the snare, and that being the dominant feeling. But we're talking about eight or ten years ago. Most English groups don't play like that anymore. It's all actually reaching a point where there are less boundaries in music, as far as distinguishing one style from the other. It's all sort of melting together at this point. I did have to make some pretty dramatic changes in concepts as far as playing with Phil, but that's the whole point anyway. Diversity is what I love most about music. The main thing was just to learn to play with a different feel.

RT: How do you guys go about arranging the drum parts?

CHESTER: I get a tape long before the record is released, so by the time it comes out I pretty much know the part, other than maybe fine-tuning it. A lot of times with Phil though, with the kind of recording techniques they get into, I don't put too much time into trying to figure out what it is because the final result is never what the basic tracks sound like anyway. If there are any tricks to the trade of recording, they've got 'em down, believe me. You think you hear rolls, and find out that it's the reverbs feeding back. Plus, very often he tracks with a drum machine and goes back and puts in the drum part to replace it or add to it. Onstage I play along with drum machines quite a lot.

RT: Did that take an adjustment?

CHESTER: Yeah, especially in a live situation, because you tend to get more emotional, and you've gotta watch it.

RT: Do they have the machines blasting back at you in the monitors?

CHESTER: Yes, we've got a real sophisticated monitor system. Everybody's got complete control of what they hear onstage. You do your own mix, with your own mixer that's beside you onstage. Mine probably sounds better than most small group PA systems, actually.

RT: Phil, you like to use combinations of drum machines and live playing on a lot of your records.

PHIL: That's because the drum machine patterns that the songs are written to are to important to replace. Sometimes you get the real drums coming in halfway through a song, like a guitarist might switch on a fuzz box. It's the equivalent. On "Don't Lose My Number," we had a Linn bass drum and snare drum, and real tom toms. I just played some tom tom fills over the Linn bass and snare drum, and added some cymbals. To me there's no one Phil Collins sound, because each song is different from any other, let alone one album from another. You're setting up a sound, you don't want to repeat yourself, so you keep trying for something different.

RT: Ever since your first solo record you've built tracks around real simple drum machine patterns.

PHIL: Well the whole thing behind my first album was that I wasn't really making a record. I was just learning how to operate my eight-track equipment at home. when Tony and Mike and I were in Japan in 1978, we got the first three Roland CR78s off the production line, and I said, "I don't want a drum machine. Why do I want a drum machine?" So then my divorce thing happened, and I found myself with a lot of time, and I asked for my CR78 back, just so I could fool around and write some songs. And it opened up a whole lot of space. Suddenly you didn't have to supply the rhythm on the piano, because you had a rhythm machine. People might have been doing this for years, but I had never done anything like it. So on "In The Air," I just set up an interesting pattern, and got a nice sound out of my Prophet V synthesizer. I played a few chords and then overdubbed another synthesizer and sand a few words. All the "In The Air" words were improvised. They came out of the top of my head, and I kept them all. And because I didn't want to redo those demos in the studio, I took my eight-track tape into the studio at Townhouse and copied it to 24-track. I tidied it up and got rid of some hiss, then carried on overdubbing, like the real drums and the horns and strings and everything. It was a very makeshift way of doing it, but it worked so well for me that I did it on Hello I Must Be Going and No Jacket Required, and I'll do it on the next one. That's the way I work now. I just work from home, and then use my demos.

RT: You have that same kind of drum machine approach on "This Must Be Love" and "Man On The Corner" and some other things.

PHIL: The drum machine parts that I write tend to have character. they influence the way the song goes. It's as important to the song as the bass part or keyboard part. It's not just a rhythm machine pattern for some guy to come along and show off to. That's why when I do a live gig on my tour I still use the CR78 for "In The Air" and "This Must Be Love." I still use the 808 (Roland) for "One More Night," because they don't do each other's jobs. On the new Genesis tour we've sampled some of my sounds, and Chester triggers them through his drums. He plays drums and gets my snare sound along with his, which for things like "Mama," and some of the new album is quite important. With sampling, all these things have become possible---to actually take the sound you get in the studio and use it live. Because it's very hard to get any kind of compression, distortion or noise gate things happening in a live situation, because there's no room sound to work with, and there are too many other instruments happening at the same time.

RT: "Take me Home" has that same sort of, pardon the expression, cheesy drum machine sound. It doesn't have the sound of a super expensive machine.

PHIL: No, right. Well, to me the Linns, although they revolutionized drum machines, reproduce real drum sounds, and that is not particularly exciting to me. What I like are the more unusual percussion sounds that the Roland machines have, some of the effects they give you with the SP12, and of course you can sample your own. The Roland 909, which I used on "Take Me Home," actually has more character, because the sounds are all rubbery. The tom toms all have a rubbery, elastic band sort of sound. When I recorded the drum machine I'd take individual outs from the bass drum, snare and three toms, and we recorded that for the whole song. I recorded the keyboards and everything, and then we thought it would be neat for the whole song to start off being very electronic, and then by the end of the song it's become real, without the listeners really becoming aware of the transition. Se we listened to what the low tom was doing on the drum machine pattern, then I went in the studio and played a real tom along with the low tom pattern. I did the same thing for the middle tom, playing along with a real middle tom, and the same thing with the high tom, the snare drum and the bass drum. And as the song progresses the drum machine very gradually fades down, and the real drums fade up. If you put the record on at the beginning of the song and take it to the end, the drum sounds change dramatically. It starts off, as you say, with some cheesy sort of sounds, and it gets to a sort of traditional, epic PC sound.

CHESTER: Phil uses the older machines because they have a cheesy sound. Sometimes you don't want it to sound like real drums, or you'd do it yourself. He's very much aware of what things sound like, and how to use them.

 


 

RT: Do either of you think with all the new equipment available, that this is a confusing time for young drummers? They've got to be wondering what to invest their money in---electronic kits, drum machines, samplers, acoustic kits?

PHIL: Obviously in some bands you've gotta have that certain kind of look, but I think buying electronic kits just because of the fashion thing is very short-sighted. Kids should really be encouraged to buy real drums and learn how to play them.

CHESTER: Learn how to play first. That's number one. I don't think enough people are interested in mastering their instrument. It's like, "I want to be on MTV." It's good to learn about all the new equipment that's available. You've got to learn to operate it, but I don't think you need to spend a fortune. Use your ears as opposed to somebody's sales pitch. If you like the way it sounds and it's cheaper, then fine. You don't necessarily need the super deluxe model that does a million MIDI things although you should learn to understand that stuff.

RT: Do you recommend that young drummers take up a rudimental approach?

CHESTER: Sure, hell yeah! If they want chops they better. I started learning them when I was about 12, and played in the junior high and high school bands. There were a couple of local drum corps but I really didn't do very much of that. I started working steady at 13 so that stopped a lot of that kind of stuff that I probably would have done.

RT: Phil, what were your first experiences in drumming?

PHIL: I was given a sort of toy drum when I was three. And then when I was five, my uncle made me a kit on two bits of wood shaped in a cross. At the end of each pole was a triangle or a cymbal or a drum or a tambourine, and I used to sit there and play along with TV. I taught myself some things then, but I don't remember how good I was. When I was 12 I sold my train set and got my first proper looking drum kit. At that point I was deadly serious. I went to a drum teacher and he did teach me rudiments. I've always found it hard to read. I'm a play-by-ear man, although I would never recommend that method for any player starting. It's better to learn all that stuff, paradiddles, drags, and ratamacues. It's fundamental to all the drumming you hear on records. I use paradiddles all the time, just in terms of things with the feet and hands. What people would think is just playing rhythm, if you analyzed what you are doing, comes down to paradiddles. CHESTER: I also recommend that young drummers practice a lot. Listen to people that you're impressed with. Listen to the spaces, not just all the notes. Learn where *not* to play. That's very often the missing part that you can't quite seem to find. And when you play, listen to yourself *with* the band. Don't just concentrate on what you're doing.

RT: Watching the Mama Tour video, Chester, I saw you leading with your left hand during "Turn It On Again". But you are basically a right-handed player aren't you?

CHESTER: Yeah, but on some things I do play left-hand hi-hat. On "Turn It On Again" when we were learning the song, I found it kind of different and difficult for the right hand not to swing so much. Like it really needed to feel like rock and roll. It didn't need to be jazzy at all, so it had to be real even eight-notes. It couldn't be staggered rhythms and stuff. With the right hand, things naturally tend to swing. Playing it left-handed was just much easier for me to keep it fairly rigid as far as the hi-hat. And it's not really a problem coordination-wise. I tend to practice everything symmetrically. Sometimes things feel better just playing left-handed hi-hat, or if I've got an awful lot to do around the drums and need hi-hat as well, then I'll work on getting together with the left hand hi-hat so I don't get hung up having to cross sticks. Then I can cover quite a lot of fills and stuff with just the right hand.

RT: You play a lot of hand-and-foot coordination type fills. Do you work on those a lot?

CHESTER: I don't work on it so much as that's the way I hear it. I hear it as a whole drum kit, not just sort of the bass drum only does this, and the snare only does that. I like to think of the whole drum kit as a collection of sounds that you just sort of bring out as you want to use them. And so fills do tend to get done that way. At practice I will pay attention to each hand and each foot, to sort of see where weak spots are, but when it's time to play it's time to plat. I've been playing enough years now that I really don't have to think about how to play a part too much.

RT: Phil, you play like a normal left-handed player.

PHIL: Yeah. A lot of players like Simon Phillips and Billy Cobham are left-handed players that play right-handed kits, and that helps for ambidexterity. But I guess I was too vain in the early days. I guess when I started playing seriously in the early '60's, I wanted the kit to look like Ringo Starr's, Keith Moon's, or the guy with the Shadows, or Bobby Elliot with the Hollies. So I just set it up the mirror image rather than just get a right-handed kit and sit down and play it.

RT: Was it difficult for you to get out from behind the drums and sing?

PHIL: For me the easiest thing to do is be in front of an audience. I've been doing amateur stuff with my mom and dad and brother and sister since I was six or seven. I guess the strangest thing was not hearing the band from behind the kit. If you play drums you know what it's like. The perspective of the band is from behind the kit, and that's what you almost hear loudest, but it gives everything a punch. You stand in front of the drum kit and suddenly it's a whole different ballgame altogether. Also it was psychologically strange, because I've always thought that the drummer was the respectable thing in the band, the real gig, the working man's gig, and the singer was sort of the easiest gig. He just wiggles his bum about and gets chicks, you know. So psychologically it was very hard for me to do that. Obviously, I'm still learning, but it took one gig for me to know what to do, okay this is what we're dealing with. I remember it was in Canada, and the audience was very enthusiastic because they saw me doing this as helping to keep the group together, and they were very encouraging, and the rest of the group was very encouraging too.

RT: Listening to "Afterglow" on the live record, I noticed your vocal ad libs sometimes sound like drum fills, rhythmically speaking.

PHIL: I've noticed that, yeah. Even when I'm singing the old songs that Peter sang, like "In The Cage" or "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway," I sing the song very rhythmically. "In The Cage" is probably not even recognizable as the same song that was on the Lamb album, because it's all rhythm. I do sing like a drummer.

CHESTER: He's definitely drumming while he's singing. Instead of faking guitar likes he's sort of playing air drums while he's singing.

 


 

RT: Does he ever come back to you during rehearsals and say, "Let's do an accent here or there"?

CHESTER: Constantly. And he's very meticulous about things like cymbal crashes and hi-hat patterns and stuff.

RT: You are in Phil's video of "Sussudio" as part of the bar band, up there whacking away, but isn't that all drum machine that you're lip synching to?

CHESTER: Exactly. Three different drum machines, I believe, all synched up together. It's a pretty incredible sound, definitely not something you're going to get out of any one drum machine.

RT: "Land of Confusion" sounds like it has a sequenced bass drum line.

PHIL: Yeah. That's me playing the backbeat on a real snare drum, but it's a drum machine bass drum part. All the fills are me. Then in the middle of the song we go to Simmons and the sound changes completely and just goes to ambient Simmons in a live room.

RT: What are those drum sounds in the middle of "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight"?

PHIL: The first half of "Tonight" is just a Linn with an AMS, apart from obvious overdub drums like snare drum, bass drum, and tom tom fills. That's all real, but in the middle I start playing a Simmons. All the way through the middle and the end is Simmons, and they were just whatever was on the Simmons 7, like different tom toms. I was just switching from setting to setting quite a lot, but nothing was sampled. Drum machines are a very useful tool for songwriting and are also very useful for keeping time. I prefer to do record tracks with the drum machine. I know the things playing steady, and I can play around with that, weave in and out of the ting. I find it very easy to do that, and I think it's good experience to play along with machines at home, to get that sort of internal metronome going.

RT: How do you think your drum parts have changed since you became more of a songwriter?

PHIL: Well, they've simplified quite a lot. Songs like "Squonk" for instance, on Trick of the Tail, it's such a basic, simple part, a John-Bonham-esque part, and I suppose if it had been two years earlier than that, I'd have been doing these fast fills everywhere. A lot of it is just getting better at what you do, I think. It's a maturity. You hear a song and think, "What's best for the song?" With Brand X I was still throwing myself around the drum kit, because that was right for those songs, but when I started singing in Genesis that started to change. My albums certainly don't sound like drummer's albums. The drums sometimes play a very minor role, and sometimes there are no drums at all.

RT: Phil, I've heard that you like to record your drums in huge rooms.

PHIL: They don't have to be huge. I prefer *live* recording. Live as opposed to acoustically dead. To listen to the room at the Townhouse, you'd think it's huge, but it's amazing how small it is. It's just that the room is stone, and that obviously is a reflective surface. And it's quite tall, so you put mikes up in the ceiling and you've got a lot of noise. And in the Genesis studio that we built, I've got a room that's the same size as the Townhouse but it's all tile and stone. And by putting various carpets in strategic places and hanging stuff on the wall you can change the sound. Obviously if I'm doing a session and we're doing a song that doesn't suit, then I don't use it. But given a choice I prefer a sound like that.

RT: People associate you with that huge drum sound that you got on Peter Gabriel's "Intruder," and was also heard on "In The Air Tonight".

PHIL: I was sitting in the drum room and the Townhouse, just tuning the drums and trying to get them to sound good for Peter's record. While I was doing that, Hugh Padgham and Steve Lillywhite were starting to fool around with noise gates and compressors. And the sound was starting to happen in the headphones. As the sound started I started playing a pattern, a John Bonham pattern really like "When The Levee Breaks". Peter put his finger on the button and said, "That's great, do that for ten minutes. So I rigged out a little drum machine thing to keep me steady and played that pattern for ten minutes. At the end of the session I told Peter that if he didn't use it, I'd have it. He didn't really have a song. He was going to find one to fit the rhythm. So he had this song called "Intruder" which he adapted.

RT: How do you generally mike your drums for recording?

PHIL: We record drums with a bass drum mike, snare drum mike, three tracks of tom toms, two tracks of overhead, and two tracks of just ambience. That's on tape, and when you're there to say "More ambience, more ambience," it ends up sounding big. We weren't thinking of emulating "Intruder" on "In The Air Tonight," we were just trying to do something that was as good, and we found ourselves on another path, really. On my demo version of "In The Air," the drums just come in at the end and it's just a regular drum sound. But I was in the live room and the Townhouse, and we just worked on getting the lives sound, something really special. And I could have played anything, just to fill the downbeat. I just happened to play what I played. I had no idea like, "This is going to kill them," That's what I did, and that thing has become a noose around my neck, because I love the fill, but it's become me now. And it's so accidental. People think you sit down and calculate these things.

RT: Some people have been saying that Phil Collins doesn't play drums much anymore.

PHIL: Well, I play on every album, every Genesis album and obviously my own albums. I did a track on McCartney's album and a couple tracks on Tina Turner's album. Did a Chaka Khan track and Clapton's album. I'm more likely to surface as a drummer on anybody's album than anything else, because people tend to ring me up and say "Are you free for this?" And I can go down there and do something in three hours, and it's a great pleasure just to play for somebody else. I still get excited about doing that. I just did half a dozen dates with Clapton in Europe, and people actually said to me, "I didn't realize that you played the drums." Even Clapton's tour manager thought that I did it as a secondary instrument. He came up after two or three gigs and said, "I didn't realize you were that good. I thought you just sang and played the piano a bit, and played drums when you weren't singing." It amazes me. I forget that people think that.

RT: Chester, how's Phil's time.

CHESTER: He has great time. He can lay it down real steady and hold it there for a long time.

RT: In terms of playing with another drummer, what's the most important thing?

CHESTER: Listening.

RT: What would you hope people would think of you, Phil, as a drummer?

PHIL: Someone who plays with musicality, plays what's right for the music. My musical tastes go completely across the board, from Weather Report to R&B, to what would apparently be middle-of-the-road music from what people think of Steven Bishop's writing. I'd be quite happy playing any of that stuff, because I'd be quite happy to add something to the song that was being played. It's really being a musician/drummer rather than just a drummer.


PHIL COLLINS' EQUIPMENT Phil plays Gretsch drums, including a 20" bass drum, 18" and 16" floor toms, and 15", 12", 10", and 8" rack toms. He plays a 14"x8" Noble and Cooley snare drum. Cymbals by Sabian, including a 22" and 20" Chinese cymbals, 16", 18", and 20" crashes, and 14" AA hi-hats. He uses Simmons SDS5 and SDS7 electronics.

CHESTER THOMPSON'S EQUIPMENT Chester plays a Pearl kit that includes two 18"x22" bass drums, 6"x6", 8"x8", 10"x10", 12"x12", 14"x14", 16"x16", and 18"x18" toms. He uses a 6.5" Carbon Fiber snare. "This one is as loud and has a better crack to it than the 10"x14" maple snare that I normally play. I'm using clear Emperor heads on the big toms. I found that they hold tuning a lot better and the drums sound a lot fatter. On the smaller toms I'm using Clear Ambassadors. A coated Ambassador on the snare, and right now I'm using coated Ambassadors on the bass drums as well. Sometimes I use Pin Stripes, but because the bass drums are so deep, we needed more slap. They've got more than enough bottom end, what we needed was top, so we used a coated Ambassador." All of Chester's toms and cymbals are mounted on the Pearl rack, and his floating toms are suspended with the RIMS mounts. "Everything's floating on rubber bushings. There's no metal on the drum. It makes any drum sound better." Thompson endorses Paiste cymbals, and his set up includes a 22" 3000 Rude ride, a 20" 3000 crash, 18" 3000 crash, 18" Sound Creation short crash, a 16" rude crash, 24" 2002 China, and 14" 602 Heavy hi-hats. The Rude crash is loud, according to the drummer. "It's got a great ping to it, but the ping always cuts through. You don't have to hit the cymbal hard. This set was definitely designed for hockey rinks." Chester only owns a couple drum machines. "I use a Roland 707, and have a 505 on the road just for my own writing. I don't really have anything that sophisticated, because I'd rather do it myself, basically." Chester's drumstick is the Regal 1A. "It's a little bit longer than most 1As, which is an incredibly long stick. We had them put a slightly bigger bead on it than most 1As, which just makes for a bigger sound.

by Robin Tolleson
intro transcribed by Matthew McGlynn
main article transcribed by Eric J. Hall

Log in or Sign up