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Phil Collins & Chester Thompson: The Drums of Genesis

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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.

 

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