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Richard "Doc" Spooner

Interview by Sean Mitchell // November 12 2014
Richard "Doc" Spooner

You should never give up. You never know what’s around the corner or who is watching what you do.

 

Doc, it has been a few years since we spoke and you have had some big changes in your life. First let's start with your latest appointment to the chair of Sony Music's multi-platinum artist Philipp Fankhauser. How did this transpire? 

Well yes, it’s been quite a journey! It was a series of happy coincidences that led me to this gig really, a mix of meeting the right people and being prepared. Since my last chat with you I spent time doing lots of bits and bobs, trying to get into the Swiss scene. It’s very different to London I can tell you! I was juggling some sessions, gigs for various bands, some teaching and some songwriting, even working as a gardener and teaching English. I met a lot of great people and also a lot of assholes along the way, but there was never really enough to forge a living from. Basically I was starting again from zero. Luckily I had two tiny kids to look after and a wife who built a very successful business to allow us to keep a roof over our heads. 

There were many times that I considered chucking it all in and retraining in something else. Despite all of this, moving back to England was never really an option. It was during these down times that I kept practicing and got into the habit of charting new albums then taking my charts and just playing along in the rehearsal room. I did it for loads of things, as I really don’t care for practicing rudiments or chops or anything like that to be honest. I always wanted to play the drums, to be in a band. Playing for the song was always the kicker for me. 

Anyway, I had been doing some really nice (but not too regular) gigs with a blues band from here in Bern, and the guitar player with Philipp (Marco Jencarelli) came along as a guest one night. We got along well and exchanged numbers and saw each other in the same capacity a few more times. Then last year he phones me in the afternoon of July 31st and says, “Hey mate, it's Marco here. What are you doing tomorrow?” August 1st is a Swiss national holiday and everyone gigs or is at festivals etc., but I had just planned a BBQ on the terrace with my family. Turns out that Philipp's drummer of 24 years, Tosho, was away and they hadn’t realized. Marco as band leader was charged with finding a dep quick time and called me. I agreed to give it a shot as Philipp's latest album happened to be one that I had been doing a bit of charting practice with. I think I had 16 of the 24 odd songs in the set charted, so I set to work overnight and listened again and again to the tracks and charted the new ones, then spent the ride down to Ascona in the car with Marco going over details of what to expect. 

Turns out it went very well, as I was asked to headline another festival with them two days later as Tosho was still away. Fast forward a few months and Philipp and Tosho go their separate ways after 24-something years of working together and I get the call to ask if I might like to play with Philipp's band. 

As you can guess it was a great moment for me and my family and proof that you should never give up. You never know what’s around the corner or who is watching what you do. On the flip side it was also a terribly nerve-wracking situation to enter. Stepping into a chair that someone has had for 24 years, into a band lineup that has toured for at least a decade and playing someone else's drum parts with your interpretations for legions of fans who know every detail of the music was pretty scary. That's where you just have to rely on your past experiences and trust you’ve been asked to do the job for a reason. Thinking too much about the situation can easily piss on your parade and ruin your gig! 

On the new album you also had a hand in co-producing and some of the track writing. What is the process like for you as a co-producer? 

Yes, it was a new experience for everyone involved in the project. This was the first album Philipp had done without a producer, specifically Dennis Walker (Robert Cray/BB King) who had produced his last four albums. There was a lot of responsibility on all the musicians to make proper creative decisions and think critically and constructively about their own playing and that of others throughout the sessions. Our guitarist, Marco Jencarelli, had been building up his own Soundfarm studios in Luzern over the last 10 years and literally, the day before we arrived to load-in, he and his team had just finished a huge extension to the complex and fitted a huge window between the drum room and room 2, where the other guys would be. The studio had such a great vibe, and being set up with direct line of sight for all of us was a treat. 

Some of the tracks appeared easy to get down and some were a little more work finding the right tempo or the right approach or an arrangement that was creative or instrumentation/guitar sounds that made the song work, etc. Ninety-percent of what you hear on Home is what we played live. I didn’t use a click, apart from as a visual reference to start songs for each take (aside from one song where I really wanted a stable feel that didn’t move at all), but the rest has an ebb and flow to the tempi which is really nice and natural, kind of goes against the grain of perfection and having everything on the grid and polished to soulless perfection. There was some overdubbing of horns, extra guitars, backing vocals, etc., and the great Luis Conté did a beautiful job with some really subtle percussion parts. 

The two weeks we spent there was intense but actually great fun, and I enjoyed every step tremendously. Nobody made any trouser-wobbling musical choices and there was no tension in the studio at all. It was one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever been involved in. As the new boy, it was very nice to be taken seriously when bringing ideas to the table, suggesting lyrical options or musical ideas. And to have one of the songs I had written go the whole way from preproduction to make it to the final cut was fantastic! Not something that I expected at all. After sitting down with Marco to knock the ideas into shape, it was great to hear Philipp and the guys run with something that started as an idea in my head. 

You have recently made the move to C&C Custom drums. Why the change and has there been an upside to being with a custom company? 

Well, getting the new gig was a fresh start for me and I felt that I needed a fresh start with my drums too. I had already spent a few months looking at the usual manufacturers products and felt pretty uninspired by the look and sound of what was on the market at that time. I knew I wanted an old-style sound with plenty of warmth and tone and also wanted the reliability and durability of a modern kit, so when my buddy Mark at Rusty Drums in the UK became a stockist for C&C, I had a proper look. I had already played some of their drums a year or so before and loved them but, with no real access to them in Switzerland at the time-- and being a little bewildered by the customization options-- I left it at that. 

When I chat with Mark about the drums again, what interested me most was seeing the guys at C&C had produced a range of production drum sets (The Player Date 1 & 2 and LPL series) with some customization options. This appealed to my vision of what I wanted: a “custom/production” drum set without all of the craziness that can be associated with some custom manufacturers. 

When Mark got his first shipment in from C&C, he called me up and said, “You have to check these out. They have your name all over them.” So I did, and he was right; they did! I was going to jump in and put my money on the table right there but through Mark's goodwill and putting a good word in for me, Bill and Jake at C&C offered me a great artist deal and arranged for me to have the exact kit I needed and wanted from Mark. The drums arrived in Switzerland three weeks before the start of rehearsals for the tour with Philipp. 

The C&C crew are a great bunch of very busy craftsmen producing instruments to the highest standards. The workmanship is truly beautiful and all of the instruments they produce have that old school vibe but retain modern sensibilities and ultimate usability. 

What C&C gear are you using? 

Right now I’m using an amazing Player Date II “Bomber” in Vintage WMP with Wooden WMP Inlayed Hoops 24x14 -13x8-16x15-18x15 and a matching 14x6.5 snare, all 7ply/7mm Maple with round over bearing edges. It sounds as good as it looks, such depth and tone. Live it’s amazing, but on the recent album sessions it really came into its own. 

I’ll be adding to the collection soon with maybe a smaller three-piece Player Date 1 (Luan Mahogany shells) in maybe the Red Oak veneer, which looks amazing. The guys are also cooking me up a wonderful COB 14x6.5 snare to give me a bit more cut for the larger stages we play. 

Tell me a bit about the sticks you use. Agners are not very common here in North America. How did you come to be with them? 

Agner are a small Swiss company started by Paul ”The Stick” Agner in 1985, producings some lovely sticks/brushes with typical Swiss quality. I had tried a few of their models over the years and always liked them but never really pursued my interest any further. 

As with the drums, when I got the new gig there were a few things I wanted to change and sticks were one of them. I spent so many years almost having the perfect stick and wanted to chase my ultimate stick. A couple of friends of mine, also Agner endorsers, suggested that I just go for it, so I just phoned up the company. I spoke to the main man Paul in my shitty German and was relieved he spoke English. We struck a deal there and then. I told him pretty much what I wanted from a stick in terms of weight, tip shape, shoulder taper, etc., and he told me what he could do. Then a few weeks later a box full of sticks with my signature printed on them arrived and they are just superb-- very, very happy Spoons! 

Let's talk about your Aquarian set up, what are you using on your kit and how did you come to these choices? 

They are great heads. I’ve been using them for 15 years now and I’m lucky to have the support of the distributor here in Switzerland. Lionel from Sticks Musique and his team have been great at getting hold of what I needed, so I'm using the Coated Super 2s and Classic Clear Resos on the Toms, Super Kick II and white Reso with a Kick Port on the Kick, and for the snare I’m using either the New Orleans Special or Texture Coated with reverse power dot. These have been my go-to heads for a long time now, and I know the tuning range and enjoy the durability of the heads. 

Having said that, I’m very keen to check out the Deep Vintage heads, which have recently arrived over here. I think they’ll suit the drums and the music beautifully, so that will be my next experiment. 

What are the differences between your recording kit for this album and the live tour kit? 

Very little, aside from a change of cymbals as required by the song and the switching or tuning of snare drums or swapping bass drum beaters. Just before the album sessions I picked up the new Masters Dark series from the Paiste factory and used them throughout the album and now use them on the tour. They recorded beautifully and I absolutely love them. The hi-hats in particular are just awesome! I switched to a lighter 602 Flat ride for one song and changed to a couple of traditional crashes for some brush-based stuff just to give a different palette of sounds. For the snares I used my C&C, a 1970s Ludwig 402, a 1970s 400 and a 1950s Pioneer for the brush stuff and I also employed Kris Mazzarisi brilliant “BIG FAT SNARE” to take the tuning down to Steve Jordan-esque depth on the 402 for a couple of numbers. 

Can you explain to our readers about the Porter and Davies rig you use. How does it work? 

Ah yes, the mean green machine! Well it's basically like a Butt Kicker, just a very sophisticated version and extremely responsive to the tuning and playing of the kick drum. When I play the kick and I feel it through the specially built stool top, it just makes you feel utterly connected to the kit. And it is a massive boost on bigger stages; it makes each strike feel more confident and securely placed, as you not only hear it but feel it. 

I also have Angus’ Bass rig running into the separate line input of mine, that way even in the worst of situations I know exactly where the drums and bass are sitting. You know, if the rhythm section are rocking then everybody will be feeling OK, right! It's one of those bits of kit that you don’t realize how important it is until you play without it!

What is the current state of the music industry in Switzerland and the rest of the EU for drummers? 

It’s tough for sure, album sales are down for everyone and good paying gigs are hard to come by. The likes of Spotify and the other legal and illegal streaming outfits has had a big effect on every artist. For new or less established artists to put together a string of dates is extremely hard as a lot of clubs or promoters will only give you a chance if you can guarantee a crowd. Unless you have a bit of money behind you or an established following, things can look pretty bleak in terms of earning a living. There are a lot of great venues disappearing too. The way people consume music has changed a lot; it’s sad to see.  

However, Switzerland has a relatively healthy live scene and there are some really great venues of all sizes. In the summer it seems almost every village has an open air festival. There are not many musicians who make a living here from purely playing live, but in working with Philipp we are in an extremely unique situation. He has a very loyal and diverse fan base, great support from the radio stations and media here, and with the help of his starring as a mentor in national TV show The Voice of Switzerland is still able to enjoy a busy and successful touring schedule. 

It’s not everywhere that a blues band hit the top of the album charts and outsell the likes of U2 and Lenny Kravitz. We are very lucky to be able to be on the road as much as we are. It’s a privileged position to hold in this day and age and so warrants a big shout out to all the fans who actually buy the records and come to the shows which allow us to do that! 

What is coming up for you? 

Well the album Home is now out in Switzerland and we’re enjoying our fourth week in the Top 10 of the Swiss album charts! We did the first dates of the tour in Germany and Switzerland during October/November, and we have a busy run up to Christmas with some very large shows here, very much looking forward to those! We break for Christmas on the 24th and the tour continues on January1st, 2015, and will run throughout next year. 

We are also working on the test pressing of a Limited Edition 180g Audiophile Vinyl version of Home and will be releasing the album across Europe/US on CD, iTunes, etc., in February 2015, I believe. There is some talk of getting to the UK and maybe Australia next year and the diary is already looking extremely healthy into the festival season and beyond for 2015. 

I have also been asked to do some rhythm section clinics/master classes along with bassist Angus “Bangus” Thomas in Switzerland, so we’ll be working on material for those, and I will also be working with songwriter Toby May from Geneva on completing his album project-- and continuing my ever-growing expertise of Lego construction, BMX/skateboard/ski coaching and soapbox racer building for my boys. I might even get the chance to spend some time with Mrs. Spoons, if I’m lucky!

CHECK OUT DOC'S FIRST INTERVIEW WITH US:

http://www.theblackpage.net/interviews/rich-doc-spoons-spooner




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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.



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