Wayne ProctorInterview by Rich "Doc Spoons" Spooner // August 26 2012
Sometimes you just network to break into new areas, but just recognising that some effort made will make a difference is cool.
The subject of my interview this month is a guy whom I spent a lot of time with touring Europe in night-liners and splitter vans during 2006 and 2007—as the artists we were working with were signed to the same label and part of a package tour. We spent a lot of down time sharing music, beers and stories, and he proved to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the blues/rock genre we were working in, Wayne Proctor is not only a great drummer, he is now flexing his considerable production muscles with a number of artists including his current regular gig UK blues/rock star Oli Brown. So, ladies and gents, sit back and enjoy. Welcome to Wayne's world.
Wayne, how did you get started on drums?
I had quite a weird start to playing the drums. I had been playing the guitar very seriously for around seven years, and my guitar teacher had recommended that I buy a drum machine to practice with. I think it was a Roland TR505. So I had this drum machine sitting around that I would practice along with, and eventually I figured rather than play along to the presets, why not not program in the drum parts to the song I was practicing? Bit by bit I figured out hi-hat, kick and snare parts, ghost notes, drum fills etc., and I got the songs broken down arrangement-wise too. It really helped develop a sense of what part drums play in different kinds of music, how the drums can enhance the sections, and how the drums would develop during the song. Becoming familiar with different kinds of arrangements really helped with developing a wider musical understanding.
The step up to full kit came when my guitar teacher was putting a band together and he needed a drummer. I remember he said, "You can program a drum machine, so you can play a set of drums!" I wasn't so sure but I agreed, bought a kit and that was that: I was a drummer. The band was busy with good paid work (I was 14 at the time). It was just playing covers, but it was a great education to be playing lots of different music and learning to be versatile musically. I would always do my best to mimic the parts off the records and try to understand why the drummer made the choices he made.
So who influenced you when you started, and how has that developed to your current influences?
One of the first concerts I was influenced by was Eric Clapton and Friends at the NEC—Phil Collins was on drums. At this point I was still a fully fledged guitarist. I was 11 years old, all my friends had this video, and we all just tried to copy what Eric, Phil, and Nathan East were doing. When I made the leap to full time drummer Phil's style just stuck in my head as something very musical, very song-orientated and tremendously exciting. Phil played for the songs, had a cool drum sound and had some epic signature fills! Seeing and hearing Phil play definitely took me down the route of learning how to play for the song. I went all the way to the beginning of Phil's career and just loved how versatile he was with Genesis, Brand X and Clapton. What's more, seeing Phil in his production capacity definitely inspired my into a production capacity later on in career. It just showed me you can be more than just a drummer if you want to be.
After Phil Collins, Jeff Porcaro was my next major influence. As everyone knows, Jeff was just the man for playing the song. Jeff had feel, touch, and a great sense of chops that always served the song. I always loved his drum sound. You could always hear him; he had a real identity on the drums, but it was never overbearing. Around this time I started taking lessons with Toni Cannelli who brought my attention to a lot of very cool drummers: John Bonham, Chad Smith, Steve Jordan, Matt Chamberlain, Manu Katche, and Vinnie Colaiuta. These guys have a common thread, drummers who have a strong identity but whose playing serves the song. It doesn't mean playing simple as such; it means reacting to the song with the appropriate response, then give it the right energy. That took a while to get right. For a long time I just thought playing simple and staying out the way was playing the song. I later realised I wasn't serving the songs individually. Some tracks did want a really simple groove, others needed more movement and interaction with the other instruments. I was working with a producer who helped me to see that.
More recently I have loved listening to guys like Stanton Moore and Keith Carlock. They just sound like they have fun when they play the drums, and that is really important. That joy you feel should come through. It is infectious to an audience, be it when they watch you or when they listen to you on record. That energy does translate and makes a difference.
How did you make the break from semi-pro to pro, and how much do you think networking played a part?
Well, I played in the band I previously mentioned for nearly five years. We did a lot of shows, but I still had a day job running a drum department in a music store. I met a lot of musicians in the store, good players who were always up to something. Looking back now it feels like I was just in the right place at the right time to make the leap to being professional. I was practicing a lot and had changed my studies to London and was having lessons with Francis Seriau at Drumtech.
I got a phone call one afternoon to fill in for a friend with British blues guitarist Aynsley Lister. I did the gig, it went well, and he asked me to join the band fulltime. Aynsley was on the verge of signing his first record deal; I was in the band and got to play on the debut record. Within months we were on the road touring Europe doing nearly 200 shows a year. The music store helped me meet people without the traditional networking approach. It was just more natural and less about self promotion. Since playing with Aynsley, however, I had to be a lot more aware of networking to keep myself busy. Every new band we played alongside I would introduce myself and swap numbers—just network like people do. The next few artists I worked with on a longterm basis, came from just meeting them at gigs, festivals, and just staying in touch. The right moment would then come up when they would be looking to do a new project, or their drummer had left and I was available to work with them. Of course, if things are going well eventually you build up a reputation for delivering the goods and being cool to work with. At that point you maybe don't need to push so hard when you are looking to work with someone new. Sometimes you just network to break into new areas, but just recognising that some effort made will make a difference is cool.
Do you worry about being pigeonholed as a player who played with many great young blues/rock artists, or are you happy where you are as a player?
Good question! Funny thing is I never really felt like I was pigeonholed, as I was always working with lots of different musicians and playing different styles of music. So from my perception of things I get to play my drums for a living, and the music has always felt diverse enough to not feel like I am stuck in one genre. Playing with more blues/rock artists is more a part of my day job, but it’s never been everything I've done so it never lead me to worry about it. Maybe I should start worrying! (laughs) Also I guess the blues/rock stuff has a quicker access to an audience. You record an album and it definitely sees the light of day, then you tour with it. So outward perceptions are that people see you doing that thing a lot and maybe they put you in a box and think thats all you do. I can't control what they think; I just know what I do. All it takes is one record to be released where people see you doing something different for their perception to change. Weird thing is, I have played on more albums and sessions not blues/rock related, just not everything sees the light of day. Some stuff doesn't have the budgets to get it out to a bigger audience. Some stuff gets wrapped up in industry politics. Right now, I am happy, it's all music, and it feels too great to be playing drums with some fantastic musicians. I have things I would like to achieve and people I would love to work with, but it's so important to live in the moment and enjoy what's happening as it’s happening.
You have always dabbled with production and recording: two elements of your work that you painstakingly research and study. What drives you to explore this creative area, and do you think being a drummer makes you a better producer?
Creatively, with production I don't want to feel I am limited by any lack of knowledge. I want to be able to react more instinctively with the music, be it when I am with the artist working on the arrangements or be it in the mixing—any stage of the production of song, really. Some things are more technical: mic placement, what pre amps/mics to use, what plug ins/effects/processing to use to create a certain effect. Some are more about the songwriting, so being a producer really requires you to have a good knowledge to offer up suggestions that can lead you to place where you can get results. Some things take longer than others to achieve, but it is just a case for me to strive to improve my knowledge. I really want to help the artist make the album that they have poured so much effort into a reality.
Producer- and drummer-wise, there have been lot of drummers who have gone on to become fine producers. Maybe there is something in the way a drummer breaks down the components of a kit and maybe applies that to a band and arrangement. As drummers I believe we hear the whole picture. I know for me it has definitely helped, also playing guitar has been invaluable. It means you don't just hear things rhythmically, you hear things in a harmonic and melodic sense too. In the end, there are no rules—look at Rick Rubin; he produces based on his gut feeling and his reaction to what he is hearing. It's about amalgamating all your musical history, listening and playing-wise, all your technical knowledge and then letting your heart tell you what feels and sounds right. If it doesn't feel or sound right you keep working till you get there. It always comes; you just have to commit yourself to the course.
How do you go about getting a great drum sound? Is it the room, the mics, the drums? What tips can you offer?
It's all those things combined. I think a good starting point for recording a more general drum sound is to get the drums sounding good in the room you're in. If you get it as close as you want it to sound then cool. Inevitably you will tweak it, but it’s a start. If it sounds crappy then it’s pretty likely to sound like that in the control room. If it’s good in the room then putting the mics up becomes an exercise in reproducing what you hear in the live room in a set of speakers in the control room. You hear it back and maybe think, Maybe the snare should be tuned down or I want the whole kit to feel a little more dead sounding, and so you revisit things and tweak things here and there and get to what you want to hear. Knowing what mics work and the placement on the kit is of course really helpful. Knowing what a Ribbon mic will do to the sound compared to a large valve condenser really helps. Knowing what a compressor will do to a drum sound, positively and negatively, helps. But you know what, you are back to what does the song tell you. What does the song make your instinct tell you the drums should do sonically. Try to react to the music first. It may want something completely traditional or something wacky. Don't be afraid to experiment, even when it doesn't fit in to what you think is "your" sound.
You have been touring all over the world with UK artist Oli Brown and also produced his critically acclaimed new album Here I Am. What was your approach to producing an artist you already work closely with?
With Oli, I just started with the songs; it defines everything that follows. The more work you put in on the content of the song, the more rewards you reap when you start putting all the other instruments together. Oli would record all of his ideas—be it little riffs or maybe a verse , bridge section—and we would just listen through and see what got us excited. Some ideas would linger more than others, a lot fell by the way side. In the end we just picked the songs that still got us both excited a month or so down the line. These we would spend time on and develop them. Once we had a rough map of the album we looked to see if there was any other kinda of song we felt we were missing. Oli would go work on several ideas in that style, and once we picked one, we would work on developing that idea. From the moment I started working with Oli as a drummer we agreed we had to have absolute openness with our communication—that we could talk without egos getting in the way. Working with him as his producer was no different. If one of us had an idea we would try it out even if the other wasn't sure. Most of the time this would lead on to something that both us were excited about, but we always entertained the ideas each other had. It made for a very creative environment, in the songwriting and recording process. It also makes it a lot easier when you have artist like Oli who is very keen to improve and be better than he was six months ago. That kind of enthusiasm and openness is pretty rare. It's always very easy to be precious and closed minded. With that openness you develop a trust. Once you trust that you're not trying to outdo each other, you realise the only goal is to make the best album you can.
What are the best and worst parts of touring for you?
Well, of course the playing every night is amazing. I love playing the drums. Playing with the musicians I work with makes for an amazing time on stage. Like with Oli, we really strive to improve the show every night. We record every night, listen to the show the next day, and work out what we would like to improve and work on. It can be set order, an arrangement, a feel thing, or tempo. Having that environment to work in is so inspiring, to have that mindedness to improve as a band and individually is just brilliant. On the down side, leaving your loved ones behind is never nice. I can cope with different hotels, the hanging around and travelling. I have always kept myself occupied on the road—I read a lot, listen to as much new music as I can, listen to the recordings I mentioned—but leaving your loved ones is tough. You are kind of helpless to everything that happens at home once you are away. It's easier than ever now to be in touch with everyone, with Skype, What'sApp and WiFi a lot more available. These things just help take the edge off so you can be in contact more and make the distance not feel so huge. When I first started touring 15 years ago, those things didn't really exist in a cost effective way, and I used to come home to many a huge phone bill.
What is your favorite country to play in?
For a long time, travelling across to mainland Europe was just amazing—the venues, the audiences and the hospitality. Germany has always been a favourite place to tour. You just know you can expect a bottom line of professionalism at the venue that helps you put on a good show. Just recently though I toured with Oli Brown in the UK and had one of the most enjoyable tours in my whole career, and I think for the first time I enjoyed the UK more than anywhere else. It really took me by surprise. We had a really good sized audiences in fantastic venues, a new album to promote; everything lined up in the right way to feel like we were really achieving something. The other country that has consistently been impressive, is Canada. I'm not sure what it is over there, but they just seem to love music. Every club show and festival I have played there the crowd have showed an appreciation to what the band is playing that I haven't experienced anywhere else. They react to all the dynamic changes, really sing along with the songs, and make an effort to be part of the show.
Spending so much time on the road every month must put a strain on your home life. How do you deal with living out of a suitcase for weeks and then coming home to a regular life?
I think you just have to be aware of yourself and the pitfalls of what the opposite ways of living entail. When you are on the road you live a very organised life style: you travel, sound check, have dinner, play the show, back to the hotel, and repeat the next day. The day is focused on the show; nothing is quite like it. The emotions, up and down, that you can feel on a show can be quite extreme. So when you get home it's sometimes hard to adjust to things balancing out a bit more evenly. You crave the adrenaline rush, the buzz of playing music with your band. I'm very lucky that my partner is very understanding of me and what I do. I guess it helps that she is a pyschology graduate and has a good understanding of emotions. (laughs) When I am on the road I do try to immerse myself as much as possible in the playing. I try to not take any of it for granted. I just want to feel when I come home that I have done the best I can do. When I am home I try to live by the same rule. Enjoy the moment and do the best at what you are doing. I do experience a transitional period when I get back off tour; it’s natural. I just have to remind myself to live in the moment—that jerks you back to reality quite nicely.
What does your drum practice schedule involve?
I don't get the chance to practice anywhere near as much as I would like too these days as projects I am involved tend to go back to back. I do enjoy practicing. I like getting in my room and working on new ideas and feels. I have always been a fan of just sitting on a groove at a tempo and playing that groove for half an hour to a click—no fills, just the groove. You really start to feel the subtleties inside the groove. So when I have new songs to learn and want to nail the feel the first time we play it together I will work like that, just lock myself into the feel and get to know it inside out. I also like to hark back to the drum machine days and break down my different players approaches, styles and sounds. As new drummers come into view it's always nice to pick up a bit of what they do and assimilate it into what I do. I remember getting Fiona Apple’s When The Pawn... came out, that album just blew my mind. Matt Chamberlain was the drummer, the album is a master class in ideas, feels, and sounds. Let's just say I am still working on nailing the stuff on that album! (laughs) It just helps break the mold you put yourself in. The way another drummer plays will just open you eyes and ears when you start to study them.
You have recently switched to using a lovely collection of classic Ludwig drums. What is it about these instruments that works for you?
For a long time I've favoured the more vintage type drums and cymbals. I had just hit a point where I wanted to investigate some other vintage options more closely. On Oli Brown’s American tour last year I had played a lovely old Ludwig that was just so easy to play. It felt very expressive and very inspiring. That started the ball rolling, so I just waited till the right kits came up. I now have a 1969 Ludwig Super Classic in Blue Oyster Pearl, Maple/Poplar/Maple 3-ply shells and a 1967 Ludwig Super Classic in Red Sparkle, Mahogany/Poplar/Mahogany 3-ply shells. There is just a punchiness to the drums I was missing before, something more musical to me. I found that I was no longer fighting the drums; everything just flowed that bit easier. I think it's great that Ludwig have reissued this great shell design recently with the Ludwig Legacy line. For me, it's what drums should sound like.
What's next for Wayne Proctor?
Well, with having Oli's new album out to promote we have a pretty intense touring schedule till the end of the year. We are gonna be touring America, Canada, a second leg European tour in Germany, Switzerland and Austria and finishing off with some UK shows in December. In the touring gaps I am back in the studio with Oli working on a little project for an LA based label called Cleopatra records. We recently did a cover of the Black Keys track “Next Girl” for them on a Black Keys tribute album which comes out in July. This latest venture is for another of their artists, Dave Davies of The Kinks. I am really proud to say I will be co-producing the next Aynsley Lister album, which I am really looking forward to getting stuck into. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. The pre-production we have done so far is sounding really exciting. Aynsley is a fantastic song writer and guitarist who really seems to grow more as an artist with every record. It is really lovely to be back working with him on what feels like is gonna be one of his strongest albums to date. I will also be producing a young guitarist called Liam Tarpey. Liam is doing something a little different with the blues world for a younger artist. He is coming more from the Nine Below Zero, Dr. Feelgood style of things, where it is a little more punk and attitude based. And inbetween all this I have sessions pencilled in for King King featuring Alan Nimmo's second album. Plenty to keep me busy. I feel very blessed to get to work with all these great people and musicians and get the opportunities I have.
Thanks for your time, Wayne. Great to catch up with you. Before we wrap it up, is there anyone you want to give a shout out to?
Yeah, firstly a huge thank you to my good lady Hannah, who is just the right person to be around at all times, Managing to deal with all the extremes that dating a musician entails.
A big thanks to all the great musicans I get to work with and have worked with in the past: The Oli Brown Band, King King featuring Alan Nimmo, Aynsley Lister, Ian Parker, Jon Amor, Wilson T. King, The Nimmo Brothers, Scott Mckeon, and The Davey Brothers. And a big thanks to the awesome bass players I get to work with who make my job so much easier: Scott Barnes, Steve Amadeo, Mat Beable and Lindsay Coulson...fantastic people and players.
Also, I would love to say thanks to all the companies that endorse and support me in my career. I am a big believer in playing products you believe in and all the companies I work with really do a great job producing fantastic instruments. So a very big thanks to Christian Wenzel at Paiste, Joe Testa at Vic Firth, Martin Potts at Korg, Dave Eyre at Hardcase, Chris Brady at Brady drums, Ronn Dunnett and Ian Baskerville and Mike Ellis at Baskey. A big thanks to Ludwig for making such great drums, new and old. Mark Jeffs at Rusty Drums for doing such a great job sourcing all this vintage gear.
And finally a big thanks to Andy Banfield at Superfly Studios for having created such a great environment to record in.
Catch Wayne online here: WWW.WAYNEPROCTORMUSIC.CO.UK
About the Author
Richard “Doc Spoons” Spooner is a British professional drummer and educator, based out of Switzerland. Currently touring and recording with acclaimed Swiss Blues/Roots singer Yvonne Moore, Pop/Rock Artist Toby May and indie rockers The Jamborines. Doc proudly endorses Ludwig drums, Paiste cymbals, Vater drumsticks, Baskey Drumruggs & Luggs, Hardcase Cases,Protection Racket Bags & Tour Luggage,Porter & Davies Monitoring. Visit Doc online at www.docspoons.com or follow him on Twitter@DocSpoons
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