Interview with James Hester
James Hester interview
James Hester was one of the clinicians who played at the Jordan Terris Memorial Drum Festival at the end of February and he treated the crowd to some excerpts from his new book, ĎMind Over Meterí. As well as being a great technical player and educator (James is Head Of Drums at Bristolís BIMM), he is the Technical Editor of Drummer magazine and has an impressive amount of band work under his belt, including Malakai (now renamed Malachai) and current project, Cars On Fire.
Tell us about your background as a drummer
When I was a kid, my brother was in bands playing keyboards and I started playing the trumpet. My mum was in the Royal Ballet and my dad was in the Royal Marines so I was always around music but my brother told me once that I didnít have any sense of rhythm so I decided that that was probably a good reason to get into playing a bit. Also, when I was playing trumpet, it always seemed to me that the percussionists behind me were having much more fun so that was the starting point. There was a band in my home town who didnít have a drummer and they had a gig coming up so I got a kit, learned what I could and did my first gig in three weeks flat. Then I had some lessons with a local teacher and in about í93 I went on a drum course with Neal Wilkinson, Gregg Bissonette and Steve White. I then hooked up with Steve as a teacher and thatís when it got serious. Steve really is my mentor and ĎSensaií! Iíve also been lucky enough to spend time picking the awesome minds of Pete Riley and Stanton Moore over the last 10 years.
What are you up to at the moment?
Right after I finished up working with Malakai I joined a band called Cars On Fire nearly a year ago, which is a Bristol based post-hard coreÖI donít really know what the genre is but I guess that doesnít matter. I had so many great experiences with Malakai Ė major tours and festivals, radio, TV, working with major record labels Ė you name it but you couldnít get anything more musically polar opposite with COF! I joined them and weíve just finished recording the best album Iíve ever been part of and itís been the most amazing experience working with Jason Wilcox, the producer. He was initially the drummer in Reuben so he knows how to push drummers. The stuff heís done with Reuben, Blakfish and Fightstar is awesome. I worked on some exercises from him talking about left and right side playing from stereo recording perspective, which really pushed me to think about getting better co-ordination and Iíve ended up writing a book about it. I passed my PG Cert Ed at BIMM; they put me through that, so with that, the album starting and finishing my book - itís been a busy January!
Tell me a bit more about the book, ĎMind Over Meterí
My friend Tim Brown who is an awesome drummer and plays with Aynsley Lister, showed me some sticking ideas. He gave me a few brief ways of using them and because Iím out and about a lot itís hard to carry lotís of material around so I memorise a lot of things, which helps me think about the different ways of using one idea. I ended up using the stickings to play different subdivisions, as they fit perfectly into those, and then I started looking at the scope of what you can do. What you can do with these 7 stickings, the 7 subdivisions and the 7 options that you have in the bookÖ you can play odd time signatures, you can play cross rhythms, you can create any polyrhythms. If someone asked you to play 7 over 5 it would probably take you a little while to work that out but with these stickings you donít need to think about it. You have to play it; itís difficult but the actual workings out of it is easy. At the very back of the book the last 3 chapters are just breaking down the co-ordinations of 2 limbs over 2 limbs, hands over feet, left side over right side or the diagonals that we use to play grooves.
I reckon itís a lifetimeís work; Iíve had some great comments from Craig Blundell, Stanton Moore, Steve White, Pete Riley and Jason Bowld; theyíve all given me great testimonials for the book. Iím really proud of it; I did it in a month. The ideas have probably been in my head for years but teaching at BIMMís helped me with that because Iíve managed to actually try them out and work on them in the college. They do my head in but theyíve changed everything and the many ways you can use them means there are always practical applications.
Are you going to write more books?
Iíve already started thinking about the next step of it all and I think it might be two books. Iíve got to do some video and audio and learn to play the new ideas yet!
Tell me more about what you do at BIMM
I teach them to play drums in music. The ethic is that itís a music college; youíre there to learn to play your instrument in a band setting. Itís not a technical, come and be a chops fest thing. We cover as much different stuff as we can in terms of styles and techniques but the emphasis is always in playing in a band setting. There are several courses but I did the maths of the one year course and I reckon if you had a one hour private lesson a week it would take you 10 years to cover the material we do in a year. The faculty is insane. Weíve got Jon Harper who was with Cooper Temple Clause and CSS, Jason Bowld with Pitchshifter and This Is Menace, me, Mark Whitlam who is an incredible jazz drummer, theory player and orchestral player plus Dom Greensmith from Reef. I love it, Iím really passionate about teaching there and everyone is; thatís the cool thing about it.
Whatís the year course that you do?
Itís changed, it was a professional diploma, itís now the Cert HE so all of our courses are now higher education and we do a two and a three year course so you can come and do anything you want really. Some people come and do one year because there are some gaps in their playing, some just want to do some networking and get their stuff up together, other people want to do the whole degree. It completely depends on what you want to do and weíre really hot on trying to make sure everyone gets what they want out of it. Obviously itís up to them to get what they want from it but we have a tutorial system where they can come and see you and try and get on the right career path. Tom, who is teching for me today, heís doing his work experience. Itís brilliant for me cos Iíve got a ready made tech but heís been to the studio with me, heís coming to a video shoot, heís been here with me today and of course he gets to meet all of these guys who heís a big fan of as well. Iím lucky to do what I do and they wouldnít be at the college if they didnít have the right attitude to do it.
Weíre really keen to make sure everyone comes out sounding like themselves; thatís our main ethic. The tutors all sound different so itís really important to us, otherwise youíre going to have a load of drummers competing for the same work and sounding the same, which is pointless. Itís the same thing with the book; the options and how you use them are yours for the making.
And youíre the technical editor for DrummerÖ
Yes. Thatís fun! I get to see everyoneís work Ė Craig Blundell, Pete Lockett, Jungle, Steve TimmsÖ
Do you get to mark it with a red pen, teacher style?
I really donít have to! It comes in, I check it out and I quite often have to put it in Sibelius. Pete Lockettís the hilarious one because usually he writes them on a plane to India when itís the most turbulent time and Iíve got something that basically looks like someoneís flicked a fountain pen at a piece of paper! So Peteís a good one to get your head around. I send it back to him to check quite often because his stuff is insane. I write my own column and then I get to write the leader for the tuition section, which involves me writing whatever crosses my mind every month and Iíve covered everything from attitude, being on tour to more practical things like practice. Itís a good team at Drummer and we work really hard.
What have you got coming up?
Iím going to go home and go to sleep.
The same! There is some interest in the album from different labels. Weíve just had Charlie Simpson from Fightstar sing on it and he loves it so heís pushing it to some of the bigger labels and that will then be toured at festivals. Promoting the album, writing my next book, seeing my son and wife at some point, teaching, recording, just the same but another cycle of it. Today, here, feels like a bit of a line is drawn under it so more of the same, more fun to be had and more sleeping! I have started some intense weekend courses with the aforementioned Tim Brown called ĎDrum Breaksí Ė you can check it out on my website. Iím writing some stuff with Damon Minchella (Paul Weller, Ocean Colour Scene, The Who) and Sean Snook (Malakai, Kevin Montgomery) and Pete Lockett will be adding some genius to that. The IDF Rhythm Fest in the SummerÖ
Iíve been doing a lot of growing up over the last few years. I used to think it was all about getting a profile, gear, recognition, making sure everyone knows youíre busy but more recently Iíve been in doing everything for the experience. Whether itís research for my MA or gigs, sessions, writing or whatever. I have been concentrating on making sure I really experience it. Everyoneís busy these days, no one cares about how busy you are. The best thing that have come from the deals I am lucky to have are my friends who work for the companies Ė Dean and his family at Protection Racket and Martin Potts at Mapex, Paiste and Vic Firth are two of my best mates. Luckily they happen to work for the best drum products on the market of course but I value them as my friends a great deal. What is life about if you donít experience it? Maybe a bit Zen for a Sunday evening, sorryÖ!
Anything else youíd like to mention?
I say this in every interview but I donít think thereís anything wrong in saying it. There is so much from people saying that the industry is difficult. It is difficult and it is a music business and you should learn about both things (music and business) but the bottom line is this; if you want to work in the industry and you work hard enough there is loads of work. Youíve just got to be the right person with the right ethic and enjoy everything, whether itís teaching at a school one morning or teaching some private students, drum teching, company rep, music shop Saturday boy or girl (just look at what Karl Brazil has achieved) or any part of the industry. You should enjoy it and savour it - it is working in the industry and you should be proud of yourself for getting in there. There is work out there, I wouldnít say to anyone not to do it. I also say this in a lot of interviews Ė if itís hard to find work you need to work harder. You have to keep working hard as well but itís cool, what a great job to have!
Interview by Gemma Hill
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