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Carlos Hercules

Interview by Rich "Doc Spoons" Spooner // January 02 2011
Carlos Hercules

I taught myself listening to records, and I think that teaches you a massive amount of the sort of things that are really hard to teach, like groove, listening to the part in detail, and internal dynamics.

Every drummer has a story about the local guys they used to watch when they were starting out. For a few of my peer group and I growing up in Luton (UK) it was a player named Carlos Hercules. We would always be checking out his rig to see what he was using, listening at the door of his rehearsal room to the latest chops he was working on, or catching a few tips from him when we could. I also got to know Carlos pretty well by selling him sticks, heads and spares at the local music store.

He was always generous with his time, and I have watched his career over the years with great interest. I was also thrilled to see he remembered me when our paths crossed a number of years later, as they tend to do in this small drumming world. Carlos has been the rhythmic driving force behind some of the music world’s biggest stars over the years, and despite being a monster player, touring the world, and performing huge shows to hundreds of thousands of people, one thing still remains the same: Carlos is an absolute gentleman. I am very pleased he was able to take some time out of his schedule to have a chat with me. 

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Carlos, in your career to date you have worked for a wide variety of artists from The Eurythmics and Lulu to Beverley Knight and George Michael. Obviously to sustain a successful career at such a level you need a great many skills and not just musical ones. To what do you attribute your ability to work like this? 

Yeah, you’re so right. So much of it is actually not about the playing, so I’d have to say it’s coming from a large family. Being on the road is a lot like being in a large family. You need good people and social skills! 

How old were you when you started playing, and what sparked your interest in drums? 

I remember asking my folks to buy me a kit at age seven. But I was sixteen when I started playing. A neighbor moved in next to us that ran a band. He was playing Caribbean music, and I think that clenched it for my parents. I started playing percussion with him but couldn’t wait for the drum stool to come up. I didn’t have to wait long. 

Did you take lessons or follow your own path? 

I taught myself for maybe four years or so then went to the States to study there. Lessons make great sense because you try to reinvent the wheel on your own. But I taught myself listening to records, and I think that teaches you a massive amount of the sort of things that are really hard to teach, like groove, listening to the part in detail, and internal dynamics. I was listening to great guys like Gadd, Chambers, Purdy and JR Robinson without knowing it. 

Do you read drum notation? 

Yeah, I initially taught myself then further studied notation in New York. I read piano music also, though I don’t play piano very well anymore. Notation is such a convenience and a valuable tool in certain situations. When I first got the Beverley Knight gig we had two-day rehearsals before the first show. The set was intense and complicated. I wrote it all out, read through it in the rehearsal/audition, did the first show and the rest is history, as they say. I wouldn’t have got through it on memory alone. 

You have done some huge and lengthy tours in recent years. How do you cope with being away from your family? 

Being away from your family is always hard, but they realize this is your life and you’re doing what you love. It’s a fantastic life in many ways and everyone should be in a job they love. Being self-employed allowed me to take my kids to school and be at school plays etc. Like all things in life, there are positives and negatives. 

I used to see your kit set up in the attic at the Arts Centre in Luton when I rehearsed as a teenager. Myself and several other local drummers would always check out what you were using. Fast forward a number of years, does what you play stay consistent or do you change your kit/sounds to suit the artist you are working with? 

Ah! That’s nice to hear. DW have been wonderful to me. I have enough gear to be able to adapt my kit to whatever situation I find myself in. I do like to tailor my kit to each artist. Certain sizes make sense for rock versus, pop, reggae or RnB, and Zildjian also have supplied me with what I need to be my best in all situations. 

How do you cope with integrating electronic sounds into your acoustic rig? 

I really like the challenges that electronic music has created for drummers. George’s (Michael) show required a full electronic kit, Beverley’s (Knight) just a couple of pads and triggers and Leona’s (Lewis) pretty much the same. I use Roland gear on all, and I’m always looking for new ways of using the electronics to make it as accurate and easy for myself as possible. You need to be confident in that department to convince the musical director and artist that it can work consistently. 

When you are working for an artist like George Michael, how do you approach learning and playing the parts from the latest album? Do you comp what is there already and build sounds and parts to suit, or are you working to a strict set of rules from a musical director? 

As far as learning the parts, I scored the songs, as we had so much to learn. That would then be trimmed into the set list. Also George likes to soundcheck songs that are not necessarily part of the show. The part I play is really determined by how large or essential the loop is to the track. If it’s integral, then you’re comping, if not and you can take the lead role, then, great, but both are very interesting because they’re opposites. George and the musical director are both very particular, but I will always put my stamp on things and see what I can get away with, obviously using the song as your guide. It’s always about the song. Simple it is if simple is what’s required! 

Too right. That’s a solid gold bit of advice right there. So when you are starting a new project how much preparation do you put in before attending rehearsals? 

I like to know the songs. I will spend a week at least playing through and learning them, examining the different ways to possibly enhance a track for a live situation. I think to be a good musician you should also be a good producer. The industry is giving bands less and less time to rehearse now, so preparation is even more essential. 

Agreed. You need to think about the bigger picture. So, what do you consider to be the best part of your job? 

I think the creativity involved in taking a recorded album into a live situation is very exciting, and knowing that it’s grown because of your contribution is very satisfying. 

Of all your travels over the world, what has been your favorite country to play and why? 

That’s a really hard question to answer. I’ve been so blessed to have traveled most of the world. Every place has been an experience. Different countries respond uniquely to different shows. I found Europe interesting because we’re so close in terms of location, yet we’re very different culturally. Japan has a culture of excellence that I have never experienced anywhere else and touring America in the summer too was just a pleasure, a beautiful country in lots of ways.

For you, what are the worst parts of touring? 

Traveling can be really hard. Getting there’s great but 16 hours on a bus can be difficult. But seeing different countries and cultures and then playing shows in those cities is simply amazing. I will never get bored of that. 

When you are not touring and playing drums, which must happen occasionally, what do you do to keep yourself amused? 

Family and friends, really, drinks, dinner parties etc., but there’s always drums! 

Thinking now about all of the things you’ve done and experienced, what would you say has been the highlight of your career to date? 

I did the American Music Awards and the British Hall of Fame with the Eurythmics. Both events were star studded. I’m not usually starstruck but it was amazing being part of something as honorable as that and hearing people enquire as to who I was. Just fantastic. 

To keep yourself on point, how much time do you devote to personal practice behind the kit? 

I try and sit down for five hours a day, if I’m not touring, of course. I had my kids really young. That stopped me from practicing as much as I would have liked. But now they’re grown, I really have new energy for learning right now. 

What would be the best bit of advice you could give to a young drummer who wanted to follow in your footsteps? 

Practice hard, be a decent person, and try to be the most rounded person you can be. Develop personal as well as musical skills. 

Aside from practice, what is happening next for you? 

I’m writing a drum book right now, a trilogy for beginners, intermediate  and advanced. I’m excited about it and I think I can really contribute to the teaching world, especially as far as switching on beginners to the instrument both individually and in schools. 

That sounds very interesting. Please keep us posted! Carlos, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to me, and I wish you well on your next project. Before we go, where can people catch up with you and what you are doing? 

CarlosHercules.com has my tours, past and future, on there, and people can watch videos and say hello. Lastly I would like to say thanks to Zildjian cymbals who have been a part of my life for all my drumming career. Love them! And my new drum family Drum Workshop and PDP for all their support and a second to none product.

Visit Carlos online: http://www.carloshercules.com/

Photo by David Phillips: www.music-images.co.uk




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About the Author
Rich "Doc Spoons" Spooner

Richard “Doc Spoons” Spooner is a British professional drummer and educator, based out of Switzerland. Doc is touring & recording with multi-platinum selling artist Philipp Fankhauser. Doc proudly endorses C&C drums, Paiste cymbals, Agner drumsticks, Baskey Drumruggs & Luggs, Hardcase Cases,Protection Racket Bags & Tour Luggage,Porter & Davies Monitoring, Big Fat Snare Drum, Kelly SHU, Tuner-Fish. Visit Doc online at www.docspoons.com  or follow him on Twitter@DocSpoons



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