HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: February 2012. We talked to Gavin Harrison, drummer of Porcupine Tree, King Crimson and O.S.I, about his new album with 05Ric called “The Man Who Sold Himself”. Gavin is probably the best drummer in the world, right now and he‘s always busy working on different things. He just released a album with 05Ric called “The Man Who Sold Himself”. Read below the very important things he told us about his new album, Porcupine Tree, Strom Corrosion and many other subjects:
Was it a difficult process to write and record “The Man Who Sold Himself”?
The only difficult thing was that we didn’t want to repeat ourselves. When we started to write “The Man Who Sold Himself”, the songs sounded too much like “Circles” or “Drop”, the first two records and we said “ok, we could make another record like “Circles or Drop” but really we want to make something different”. At least, in our impression different. So, we stopped and started a few times and eventually we found what we thought was a new direction for us.
In which way the songs of “The Man Who Sold Himself” were written? You worked your compositions alone or they came out through jamming?
No, our compositions usually work like this: I compose something on the drums, a rhythmical concept and then I write bass and guitar lines to work with that. It’s only a sketch, just a skeleton, not a finished song. I give to Ric some ideas about the rhythmic concept and the way the bass and guitar work with the drums. I say to him “Look, if you want to change the notes, that’s fine, but try not to change the rhythm of the bass and the rhythm of the guitar, because they’re important with this drum rhythm. So, I give Ric a lot of skeleton ideas and then he changes something and sends it back to me, I’ll change something and I’ll send it back to him and we go on like this.
Will you tour for “The Man Who Sold Himself”?
Yes. We are rehearsing at the moment and to begin with, there will be probably one week in June in the U.K, it has not been confirmed yet, but after that we probably come across to mainland Europe.
Hope to see you!
Yeah, I hope to come back to Greece.
Is the title of “The Man Who Sold Himself” a kind of tribute to David Bowie?
No (laughs). No, it’s not – but I can see the connection. When we started writing the record, Ric started to think about which direction to take the lyrics. You know, at the moment it’s a very strange time with the financial credit crisis and the way the human beings behave to each other. The lyrics are all about a guy, like a Wall Street kind of guy, who works in the city, in finance, in investments and his obsessive greed. He, literally, wants to sell himself.
“The Man Who Sold Himself” is a very-very demanding album for the listener. Would you agree with Frank Zappa that listening to an album is a form of art too?
Yes, I do. I mean, it’s quite challenging, but if you are listening to Kylie Minogue and then you listen to “The Man Who Sold Himself”, you ‘d think it’s very challenging. If you are listening to Frank Zappa and King Crimson and Allan Holdsworth, then you probably wouldn’t think it’s so. It depends on your perspective of challenging. I’m not challenged when I’m listening to let’s say, regular pop music, X-Factor pop music. I’m just annoyed. I think music is an incredible gift to mankind and not to explore it further is really a crime.
Yes! I knew we are never going to become the biggest band in the world or even very popular. We didn’t make a record to try to become popular. We made a record that we liked and if other people liked it that’s great. If they didn’t like it, that’s fine too. It doesn’t matter, the only important thing is that we liked what we did and that it represents the way we feel about music.
You played drums in the new O.S.I album “Fire Make Thunder”. How is working with Jim Matheos (Fates Warning)?
Something very strange is that I have never met Jim Matheos or Kevin Moore (keyboards, ex-Dream Theater). I have never spoken to them either, not even on the telephone.
We have spoken to him. He’s a Greek.
Oh, (Matheos) of course, right. I like the music very much and they would send me the tracks and I would play the drums. I would send then an mp3 mix of what I did and they would give me comments along with suggestions on what they would like to hear adjusted. It’s a long distance email relationship, but I really liked what they do and the new album is very good.
Steven Wilson revealed to me for the first time that you play the drums in Storm Corrosion album and that there are drums in only 15%-20% of the album. Was it enjoyable to play so few parts in an album?
Yes. I don’t know how many songs I played, because sometimes I play on only the last two minutes of one song or I play 30 seconds in the middle of another song. Most of it, is just atmospheric drumming. It’s not really like a traditional drumming role there. There’s not so much rhythm playing (like double-bass drums or anything that you might expect from a collaboration between Steven and Michael Akerfeldt (Opeth). It was challenging, and it was an interesting thing to do. It only took me about one day and a half. When you hear the record, it will make sense what I’m saying.
Yes. I’m interested in Scott Walker works and I know the concept is quite similar.
Yeah, it’s coming from an atmospheric point of view.
How much artistic freedom do you have as a drummer in albums like “A Scarcity of Miracles” by Jackszyk, Fripp & Collins?
Well, as much as I want, really. I played what I thought was right for the music. It’s not the most complicated music I have ever played, especially with King Crimson. It was more based on atmospherics, and songs. I see that kind of drumming as based on groove ideas and I’m trying to find interesting rhythms to go with the music.
Do you have any involvement in Robert Fripp’s collaboration with Adam Jones of Tool?
Can you describe us your feelings the first time you met one of your heroes, Steve Gadd? I’m the only Greek who has done a published interview with him.
He’s a great guy. I met Steve Gadd for the first time in 1981. I’m sure he wouldn’t remember it (laughs). The first time he came to England was with Paul Simon with “One Trick Pony” album and he played in London. I went to the concert, it was one of the most amazing music experiences of my life. After the concert I went to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London because Louie Bellson was playing there in the same night. When I got to Ronnie Scott’s I could see Steve Gadd was sitting in the audience (laughs). I saw a free table next to him, so me and my friends went and sat there. It was a too big opportunity to miss. After Louie Bellson finished, we introduced ourselves and we talked to Steve for maybe an hour. It was probably the most exciting moment of my drumming life at that point. At that moment, Steve Gadd was so influential in the late ‘70s and in the early 80’s.
He still remains.
I know! I think so, too. In my development, I was the biggest Steve Gadd fan back when I was 18 years old. It was a miracle for me. I met him again in 2010 in London, when he made the “Mission From Gadd” drum clinic tour. I went backstage and talked to him after his clinic. He’s such a nice warm and generous person.
You also met Nick Mason (Pink Floyd drummer). I’ve talked to him too.
Yes, I met Nick Mason at a drum show in London.
He doesn’t play drums a lot, at this moment.
No, but we had a good conversation about his car collection.
(Mad laughs) Are you interested in doing the same?
Yes. If I had his money, I would do the same thing (laughs).
You played in Kevin Ayers’ “Still Life With Guitar”. What do you remember the most from the period you worked with such a legendary musician?
That was a very interesting time. Danny Thompson (ed: double bass, Nick Drake, Donovan) recommended me for that session. It was amazing. The thing I remember from that session, is that after we recorded one song Kevin said “Ok, I’m going to listening to that take”. And instead of going to the door to the control room, he went to a cupboard. (laughs).
In a cupboard?
He opened a door, he thought it was the door to the control room, but it was a door to just a storage cupboard. When he went through, the door closed behind him (laughs). We had to go and rescue him.
So, he disappeared.
He completely vanished (laughs). I remember he wrote a song about a gun (M16) and the three of us sat in a very close proximity: I played snare drum with brushes, Danny played double bass and Kevin played acoustic guitar and so we recorded it live with the three of us playing together.
Is there anyone you ‘d like to play with and hasn’t happened yet?
Oh yeah, lots of people.
Tell us someone.
(Laughs) I would like to play with Earth, Wind & Fire. I would like to play with Joni Mitchell. I would really like to play with Frank Zappa, of course that’s not possible. The same with Joe Zawinul (ed:keyboards, Bill Bruford of Yes, King Crimson told us he same) of Weather Report!
Maybe with Jeff Beck.
Jeff Beck! I would love to play with Jeff Beck.
Well, I realise that is a popularity contest. I don’t think anyone is the best drummer of any category. I mean, it’s a ridiculous idea. I’m very happy that people vote for me and I’m very happy to receive the awards. I don’t think “Well, I’m the best prog drummer in the world”. I don’t think that at all. It just means I was the most popular drummer in that category at the time they made the poll. But now you see with a lot of polls, it’s all destroyed because people use the social networking to ask their fans to vote for them. I don’t do this, I don’t like this. It would be ridiculous to win an award if I ask everybody in Porcupine Tree facebook to vote for me. What that would mean? That would mean nothing. Some bands, they have millions of followers and they ask “please, go vote for our drummer. Go vote for our guitarist. Go vote for our singer”. The use a link to a website, they just press this button and vote. In the old days, it would be the real readers of a magazine. They had to buy the magazine, tear out the page and fill it in with a pen and post it to the magazine. Now, with the Internet you’ll have lots of people voting who don’t read the magazine and are not even drummers.
How do you see that many drummers are more interested in getting endorsements than playing drums? In metal, that’s the rule.
Of course, that’s a ridiculous idea. Maybe, you feel validated by the idea that a company wants to endorse you.
But as Tom Waits has said “If Michael Jackson wants to work for Pepsi, why doesn’t he just get himself a suit and an office in their headquarters and be done with it?’. You are becoming an employee if you are focused in that.
Yes, of course. I was interested in having endorsement equipment that I was already buying (laughs). I had already bought many Zildjian cymbals before I was a Zildjian endorser. I was buying Vic Firth drumsticks before I was endorsed by Vic Firth. It was equipment I was buying anyway and I wanted. I don’t want to endorse something I don’t like. Because I can afford to buy any drum kit or any cymbal. I endorse equipment I would buy anyway.
What kind of music are you listening to right now?
I’ve been listening to an English band called Everything, Everything. It’s a very interesting band. They released an album I think two years ago. Their first album is amazing.
Would we have to wait until the next Porcupine Tree tour to get the chance to see you in Greece?
I don’t know. I think we came to Greece last time (ed: pause, he’s thinking).
In September 2010, in an open air concert with Anathema.
That is right. It was very close to the last shows we did. I think we finished October 14th 2010. Yes, we always like to come to Greece and we always get a good reaction from the Greek audience. It’s great.
Do you think a new Porcupine Tree album will happen soon?
I don’t think it will happen soon. I think it would happen..
(I interrupted him) After Steven’s third solo album.
Quite possibly. I think we’ re going to start writing this year. We can’t write an album in like, two weeks. It would be stupid because we are going to promote the album for the best part of two years. We want to make an album that is really good, with really good songs. It might take 3 months, it might take 6 months, it might take 9 months. I don’t really know. I imagine it probably will be released next year.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Gavin Harrison.
Also, I would like to thank Linn Hutchinson for her valuable help.