Apr. 04 2006

The The / Seal

TAMA :I understand that you were studying orchestral percussion at the age of nine. What first drew you to music? When did you start playing the drums?

: I started playing in grade school and I was kind of lucky in that. But really, I wanted to play the trumpet [laughs]. Basically, you had to rent the trumpet for the year for one amount or you could go play the drums, and the school always had the drums. So, my parents were like "well you are doing that!" [laughs] Because they weren't going to shell out [money] however much it was.

So I ended up playing drums, which I really dug once I started doing it. Then where I was really fortunate, was that my elementary school band director was actually a percussionist. He made sure that the kids playing drums knew how to read, unlike most of the time where it's the horn players or whatever. As you know, the drum players usually get left behind in the school system a little bit. A trombone player that is teaching the class knows only the rudimentary stuff about playing the drums. So I got the benefit of having this really great percussionist at Logue who happened to be teaching at the school. So I got really into it. I started playing whatever, like kid's style orchestra and symphony.

TAMA : So that was your introduction to drumming, starting in school band and ending up in percussion.

: Yeah, and it just immediately clicked with me. And that's basically how it came from there.

TAMA : Did you have any other lessons or formal training during those years, aside from school band?

: Not until high school. Then I took private lessons from a local teacher, Ron Whitney. He was really great and I took lessons with him throughout most of high school.

TAMA : What else did you work on, on your own?

: On my own, listening to a lot of albums and whatever was on the radio at the time, in the 70's. My family is really wide apart in age and no one was a musician. But because of the age gaps in my family, I heard a lot of different kinds of music. My father was into some jazz and a lot of 50's and 60's soul and Motown. Then I have an older sister who finished listening to her 60's rock records and had moved onto 70's records. So, I sort of inherited the 60's rock n' roll collection of Zeppelin, Neil Young, The Doors and The Beatles. So I heard different kinds of music, a lot of that can be attributed to my family because each one of us had a generation of music that we listened to.

I never really focused on one style of music. I always listened to a bit of everything and I would just play along with records, old school with the big headphones [laughs]. A Zeppelin record one minute and a Jimmy McGriff record the next minute. That combined with the lessons, and then I went to Northwestern State, now University of North Texas.

TAMA : So after high school, you went on to study jazz at the University of North Texas. What was that experience like and what did you gain from that?

: That was really great. I didn't graduate from school there, I stopped going and started playing gigs and whatever. But the time that I was there, which was about two and half years, was great. The faculty was amazing and the school thing was really great. Well, I wasn't the best student per say, as far as academics. But as far as experiences, there was everything from all these things that I never experienced before, like playing in a West African ensemble. I got really into that and enjoyed that, large percussion ensembles, having to play mallet instruments quiet a bit, and having to take theory, harmony, and piano as well. So, the school experience on that end was great. The one o'clock was really cool, because there was a very strictly enforced reading policy, which to be honest, you don't get to use much anymore. But it was a really good, solid thing to have. I'm not intimidated anymore if I am in the situation where I have to read a chart or something like that because that was what it was all about. So that was really cool. Outside of the actual school aspect were all the other musicians. Some of who are people that I play with or are still really close with to this day, drummers and non-drummers. I was there at the same time with people like Matt Chamberlain who's still a great friend of mine and Mike Dillon, who is an amazing percussionist, and another great friend of mine. And there are a lot of other people that I play with now, that went there. So the community of musicians was really great. People would get together and make up a lot of weird bands, so that was great. Away from the technical training, the musical community, exchanging ideas with the other musicians was really invaluable.

TAMA : You ended up settling in Texas for many years. What prompted you to make Texas your home?

: Well, there are two reasons for that. One is that I have a son who lives in Texas who is now 18. He was born when I was 21, so that was my main motivation for staying in Texas. On a musical level, at that time, there was a really rich musical community there of several generations. I got to play with not only, I guess, my contemporaries (people I was in school with), but also with some local artists that were really great. Artists like James Clay who has past away now, but he was a great tenor saxophone player. Also, Marshall Ivory, another great tenor saxophone player, who played with Blakey back in the day and other people like that. These are world class players who were living in Dallas. So invariably through being in the jazz program, you kind of hear about these guys and I was fortunate enough for them not to look at me entirely as a snot-nose kid and let me play (laughs). That was a great thing.

Part of the reason I left school was because I joined a band called Ten Hands. Matt Chamberlain was actually in that band and left to join the New Bohemians, so those guys asked me to join and replace Matt. That really put me in the middle of the world of the underground rock that was there. That was a big deal because all of the sudden, I was not only going to jazz school, but I was interacting with that side of musicians and also interacting an alternative rock theme. I mean, we are talking about 1988, when stuff was just brewing up. With bands like Jane's Addiction, Chili Peppers, Fishbone or Bad Brains, were in town we were all in the same circuit. So, I was introduced to that whole scene in the mid-80s. Dallas was a happening place for that. There were a lot of great bands that were around like, Reverend Horton Heat, New Bohemians, The Toadies, and MC 900 ft. Jesus, who I later worked with. These were all underground bands that were around town, and just kind of hanging out and playing.

TAMA : How did you end up playing drums with Seal?

: With Seal, it was a little bit of a round about way... Basically I was working with a really amazing artist named Mark Griffin, who had the group that I just mentioned, MC900 ft. Jesus. This group was this very weird industrial, with some elements of hip hop, meets spoken word, meets jazz. It was a very strange group that actually had a pretty decent cult following. It was really interesting music. We toured a lot in the States and Europe, which was one of my first gigs where I was touring all around the world. I was also in another band at the same time called Billy Goat and we were touring solid in a van all over the country. That was a great experience as well.

Jamie Mohoborak was the musical director for Seal at the time. Jamie is a really amazing keyboard player and a total album connoisseur, I mean above and beyond most musicians, especially when it comes to underground kind of electronic music. So he had all these records by this band that I was working with. One night we were playing a show and Seal's band was playing down the street. They had come down to the show to check out the music because Jaime was really into it. Well, it just so happened that Abe Laborial Jr., who was touring with Seal at the time, was about to leave. Jaime basically brought it to the attention of Seal and his management that he'd heard me playing and maybe they should look into it. Jamie thought I would be right musically for the gig. So that's how it came about. Actually, there is another weird connection, which is that Seal's manager at the time had signed a punk rock band that I was in a couple years earlier to a small failed record deal. So, he actually knew who I was (laughs). So it's a weird thing how it all came together.

TAMA : What projects have you done with Seal?

: I basically came out to LA cold, I had been living in Dallas, but everything clicked, and I ended up working with Seal for about 10 years. Actually, the last two or three years are the first that I have not worked with him since the mid-90s. I did two albums with him, the third record, Human Being and MTV Unplugged and then we did the fourth record, 4. Then we did a bunch of singles and stuff in between.

TAMA : What do you think is the required for playing this type of music?

: I guess Jaime thought I would be right for that gig because Seal's music is unique and doesn't belong to a certain category. It's not straight up Pop music, its not R&B, or Soul or Rock... it has all these different elements in it. It also has a heavy electronic element. That particularly is something that I’ve always related to because I have always dug electronic music and enjoyed programming. I’ve always liked drum machines and emulating things sonically that are programmed. I think Seal’s music and the drum role in that music, especially in the records, are probably 60% played and 40% programmed. It’s very sonic music... you can’t get by on playing technically well alone. You have to play well to execute the music, but you also have to understand how to approach things on a sonic level. You have to come from an electronic music angle, as opposed to doing all this tricky stuff. It’s more about having an angle of what you are playing. That’s something that I already had related to, having worked with Trevor Horne, who was the producer of this record. I still work with him a lot, outside of Seal, over the last 10 years. He is one of those people that are part of what you associate with the sound of modern play. You have to understand that sort of playing and it can’t just be chops and playing a groove. It’s not really about that. It’s about the sound... The sound is really important.

And that’s what the stuff from MC 900 was all about, because that stuff was mostly programmed in the studio. I think when Jaime heard me approaching that music live, he thought that I would be good for Seal because he saw me as a person that understood when to sound acoustic and when to sound electronic.

TAMA : You have a vast and diverse body of recorded work. What are some albums that best represent your playing or that you are particularly proud of?

: I am particularly proud of the third Seal record, Human Being. I think that ended up being a really great record. Everyone involved in that was allowed a very large voice. On that record I also played a little bit of guitar, bass, and programming. I was not only brought in as the acoustic drummer, I had the opportunity to use other sides of my musical self. Overall I think it’s a great record. That album and the The The album, Naked Self, which was the last The The record. Hopefully one day there will be another one. I play on most of that record and I feel really proud of it. Those two are definitely landmarks for me as far as over the years. Fortunately, most of the records that I’ve done I’m not embarrassed about (laughs).

TAMA : What is your typical drum set up?

: It varies from gig to gig, but generally it’s some version of the 4-piece, which is pretty much what I’ve been playing for the past 15 years. Sometimes I’ll put a snare on the side and every now and then I’ll change up my cymbals, but it really depends. I keep things pretty minimal with having a philosophy of having as little as possible and using each thing to its fullest extent. As opposed to having a billion different things that all sound different with different colors; I’m more into the idea of having very little and trying to pull as many colors out of each thing as possible. I am a fan of doing stuff like, throwing a towel over the snare and the toms to change things up, depending on the song.

TAMA : And you play the Starclassic Maples?

: Yeah, I have the Starclassic maples, some Birch snares and one of the older brass 5½” x 14’s that I love. The Starclassics that I’m playing, the green sparkle, is the kit that I record and tour with the most. I had them cut short and I actually have a duplicate of that kit because I love it so much.

TAMA : I understand that you are playing a 12x20 bass drum?

: Yeah, that is the duplicate, but the original kick drum, which I like even better is 10” x 20”.

   

TAMA : Why did you decide to go with such a shallow depth?

: To be honest, one reason is because it fits in a small car much easier (laughs). The second reason is I really like the sound of really old marching bass drums, which are all quite shallow. I have few old funky marching bass drums and I love the sound of them, they are definitely not lacking in any low end, for sure. Most of my rationale for getting this kit like that was really for practical reasons; something small and compact to throw in the back of the car if I’m gonna go play a show in town. What I discovered was that it responds really quickly, opposite of the way the super deep kick drums are, where there is an attack and then a minute later there is the resonance sound. If I’m recording I change things up, but usually live I use two heads on the drum and if I can get away with it, no hole. So, that small drum, I find if I tune it quite low with as little muffling as possible and with no hole in it, there is a very deep warm sound. And it responds very quickly, because the air has less distance to travel... I don’t know, maybe, it seems like it anyway (laughs).

TAMA : You have a 6"x12" rack tom. Is that for the same reason?

: Yes, there is something about it that sounds more old-fashioned. I don’t know why that would be because traditional older drums are not that shallow. I think modern drums tend to resonate more then drums used to because they don’t make the shells' bearing edges as clean, you know what I mean? There is something about the sound of drums that don’t ring forever that I actually really like and am accustomed to. I grew up hearing that kind of sound. For some reason the shallow drums sound more like that, again I think it’s because they respond quicker and it’s not that pitch bending sound that the deep toms give you. Old drums don’t sound like that, you can’t get them to do that. There is something about that that I really like. It’s this immediate tone that sort of barks, it’s not dead, but it goes away a lot quicker. I really like that because it reminds me more of like a 60’s, early 70’s sound.

By the way, I actually played some shows with some guys who were the horn section with the Rolling Stones. It’s cool because Charlie came out to some of the gigs, which was amazing for me. I mean this is one of my childhood heroes, Charlie Watts, and he freaked out on that kit! He actually called me on the phone and wanted to know the sizes of the drums. So I think he is going to have some drums made.

TAMA : Tell him to come to Tama.

: Yeah I told him. I guess the reality of it is that it’s something he can use at home. He uses round badge Gretsch’s and that’s all he ever uses for the last 40 years. I think that would be awesome though, so I will mention to him that it’d be cool if he talked to you guys. I’ll probably see him again because I have more of these gigs.

TAMA : Yeah, the door is open.

: Hey man, if you want the Earl Harvin custom model, you are going to have to go to my people (laughs)!

TAMA : Let’s talk about your own project, the Earl Harvin Trio. What’s going on with that group?

: Well, at the moment it’s a little dormant because we all have other projects that we do. Actually Dave, the piano player from the Trio, and I were on the road together with Air and Dave has been out playing with Fiona Apple. Basically, when we were all living in Texas at the same time, that’s where that band started. Fred, the bass player, is one of the faculties down there in North Texas and is the head of the jazz guitar department. He got there after Dave and I left the school, but were both still around. So, we started playing with Fred and that’s how the trio started. That was around 1992, so the bands been around for a while. It’s been kind of tough for the last few years, because Dave has moved around a bunch and I have moved and Fred still lives in Stanton teaching at the school. It’s basically something we do twice a year, we’ll block out a week and do some gigs. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to make a recording happen over the past little bit, but I am sure we’re going to start doing stuff again.

TAMA : What other projects are you currently involved with?

: I was on tour with Air for a bit. I haven’t worked with them in the studio on an Air project, but there are a few side projects that they have done that I have worked on. Air is basically two people: Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel and they are from Paris. Jean-Benoît is making a solo record called Darkel and I played a bit on that record. They also co-wrote a record with Serge Gainsbourg’s daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg and I played a little bit on that record. I think they are getting ready to make a new record I am not sure whether I’ll be part of it or not because they tend to make things themselves just the two of them. But we probably will tour next year and hopefully end up on the record a little bit. I’ve been working on a solo project that is more of a rock, sonic rock thing that I am calling “Oracles”. It’s not released yet. It’s a total solo project. Its one of those things where I am playing everything, and singing.

TAMA : Oh wow, what instruments are you playing?

: Its very guitar based most of its very sonic guitars. I am doing all the guitars, bass, drums, a smattering of keyboard more sound tip, and vocals. Paul Barker, a great friend of mine, who was half of the band Ministry, he mixed the record. That’s really awesome because he mixed all of their records. So I was lucky to have that.

TAMA : Is that something you want to turn into a live performance as well?

: I am not sure. Right now it’s an album project and I’ll see what happens in the future. (laughs) As far as being on stage, I am more comfortable sitting behind a kit then with a guitar and then a mic. But we’ll see what happens. If people are interested enough then I guess I’ll have to try to do something. But at the moment it’s just an album project.

Outside of that, just doing a lot of session stuff. Like I said before, I’ve worked with Trevor Horn quite a bit; we just did a few albums. We did Pet Shop Boy’s record and a lot of stuff like that. I work a lot in London. That’s kind of it. The solo project is what I am working on right now, and once its done I hope to start something up with the Trio again, so maybe I’ll be bugging those guys to make a record.