William Bowerman is a Musical Director and Drummer whose current gig is with Dua Lipa, the up and coming pop sensation from London. His major past project was with electronic pop star La Roux, where he stayed for 7 years. Other projects include Klangkarussell and Mikky Ekko. William has played almost every major television show, festival and stadium throughout his career which include, but isn’t limited to, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel, Top Of The Pops, Glastonbury Sessions, The Brit awards, The O2 Arena, London, The Greek, Los Angeles and Times Square, New York. William is endorsed by Yamaha Drums, Paiste Cymbals, Vic Firth Drum Sticks and is an Ableton Live artist. I caught up with William from Moscow where he is on a current short press tour with Dua Lipa.
So, how are you?
I’m not bad, I’m in Moscow. I’m quite impressed as we’re in the same hotel that Donald Trump got pissed on, which is quite exciting…that whole shower gate…that was in room 1110 which is just up there [Laughs].
How is the Dua Lipa gig going?
Dua Lipa gig is going very well. Her debut record just came out and it’s been received really well around the world. Yeah…it’s a great record and we're in the position at the moment where she’s really in demand, so we’re kind of playing catch up and trying to jet around and get wherever we can…but going really, really well, and she’s just an absolute pleasure and her music is amazing, so it hardly feels like work.
Yeah! She seems like a cool person.
She’s great! She’s really great. You know, one of my closest friends now, she’s amazing.
So, is that who you’re with now?
Yep! I’m out here with Dua Lipa, yeah, we’ve got a label showcase tomorrow and a festival the day after for some radio station.
That’s great! So, you’re about to embark on tour as the supporting act for Bruno Mars in September, how is the prep going for that?
Yeah! It’s good, we were just having a meeting getting everything together for rehearsals and everything. So, I’m Dua Lipa’s Musical Director as well so just trying to get everything prepared for that. Yeah, it’s a big tour! There’s a couple nights in Maddison Square Gardens in there…and it’s my 30th birthday on the tour so, really important tour [Laughs]. Yeah, prep is going good, basically we’ll just be doing a 30/40 minute singles set, bosh the singles out and they’re always really fun to do, no filler, just pop songs. So yeah, getting there.
So, have you met Bruno before?
Not yet no! So, we’ve got September with Bruno in America, then next march we’ve got a month in Australia with him too, so I think we’ll be seeing a lot of him in those gigs!
And in between you’ve got a UK tour with Dua too right?
Yeah! We go Bruno Mars in America and then we start our UK and European run a few days after that and then we go straight to South America, we’ve just announced the Coldplay support in South America, and then that goes straight into the US tour, and that goes straight into the radio dates, and then it’s Christmas! Busy end to the year. So yeah really, really busy.
So how did you go about getting the Dua Lipa gig?
Dua Lipa gig came about…I worked with another band on her management, a band called Klangkarrussel as their Music Director, and basically I went to the management offices to pick up the show laptops for Klang and Dua’s manager went ‘oh actually I need an MD give me a call tomorrow’, so I was like ‘cool alright’ [Laughs] and then I met with Dua the week after and we got on really well and just kind of from there really, it was through the manager being a friend of mine. That was about two years ago.
She’s blown up now too!
Yeah! This year especially in the UK, like, last year she started doing really well in Europe, she’s very big in Europe, and the UK took a very long time to catch up and then the start of this year, 3 songs were in the top 15 at the same time and it just really kicked off this year and she’s taken it in her stride and being a pro, and yeah, it’s been a real adventure just kind of trying to see if we can knock it up for her each time you know.
Yeah! So, before that, you mentioned you’ve played with another band and I read you’ve played with a host of other artists for shows including with La Roux at Glastonbury. Up to this point in your career what major steps lead you to get here?
Well I mean…I started with La Roux when I was 20 I think. I was with her for 7 years, you know, most of my professional career has been with Ellie. And then basically in the gaps between records kind of playing for a few different people, but yeah, La Roux’s always been my main project. It came about really, I was in a band when I was 18 and we got a record deal, we got signed and we started touring…I hate the word, but ‘professionally’ when I was about 18. That was what it was and we had very moderate success, but I met a few people who ended up pointing me in the right direction and you know, again, a friend of mine worked with La Roux’s manager, and when they were looking for a drummer they were like ‘oh’… I got him to put in a good word and I got someone else I knew to put in a good word so the manager was getting attacked at all sides, and in the end, went for me which is good. So, it was yeah, it all kind of leads back to my old teenage band, strangely. We were kind of like electronic pop emo with kind of hardcore drumming, because I liked hardcore and didn’t know what to do in a pop gig firstly. Yeah it all leads back to being 18 and angry. [Laughs]
So, is that career path what you saw for yourself? Did you train anywhere in music?
No…I tried. I did a week at BIMM in Brighton…but we…I got my place in February, I started my band in March and we got signed in August. So, by the time I started BIMM we kind of got a record deal already and it was a matter of…I sat down with my parents and I was like ‘look I can either learn about how to do it, or I can just give it a go and see how that works out’, and my dad had a similar thing, he’s an actor, and he had a similar thing where he dropped out of university to become an actor to pursue his career and he’s been professional for 50 years. So, it would have been a bit rich for him to go ‘no stay in school’ [Laughs]. So, I had lessons when I was a kid, and my technique is terrible, and I can’t do any chops and I can’t do any of that. I come from punk and I come from hardcore where it was just all about passion and it was about hitting it hard, hitting it fast and all this kind of stuff. And, as frustrating as it can be sometimes when it just needs a very simple groove, I’ve tried to make my awful playing into my USP.
Yeah, no training, and just…I think I have, you know, a relatively tasteful ear to music and I think, kind of knowing when to play, when to be busy, that’s helped me well and I’ve managed to get on with people enough for them to not realize I’m not very good at the drums, so it’s all good. [Laughs]
I mean, you’ve done incredibly well from being authentic and being true to yourself though! That’s a really cool message, and it’s something that’s been said to me before. It simply comes down to being brave enough to play what you want to play and be authentic in that way…
Yeah, I think there’s been a few points in my career where it’s been, you know, certain people have said stuff which for them would have been throwaway comments but for me it’s really stuck. La Roux I learned so much from and the way she wrote her music…she’d effectively get a drum loop, loop it and write a song over it, and the drum loop in the end would just be the song, that’s what they do. So, you know, I spent the first 4 years with La Roux on an electronic drum kit and then we moved across to a kind of hybrid electronic/acoustic type thing, and I came in doing some fills, hitting cymbals and whatever and she was like ‘no, just play the groove’ and it took me a minute and then I actually just realized her songs…every time I hit a cymbal it sounded out of place, so there would be songs where I didn’t hit a cymbal and I just kind of…Kick Snare Hats, hold it for three minutes and that’s all it needed. And I kind of made a rule for myself of if her mouth is open and something is coming out, don’t hit a cymbal, but if she stops and a cymbal is needed, hit it then, or the same with fills as well, if she’s singing, never do a fill, but if she stops and it needs a gap filling, do a little fill and only if it’s on the record.
I kind of started working in this very regimented, very programmed way of playing, which has stuck with me massively. And now, I pride myself in trying to play exactly what’s on the album and play the same thing every night.
Which must be very difficult in live situations right?
It’s difficult! And I actually think it’s more exciting than playing everything all the time, you know. There’s a lot of amazing drummers I know who can just fall over a drum kit and make it sound wonderful. But for me, I go into rehearsals like that, the same way I speak to the musicians and we work out the parts and that’s the same thing they’ll do every night. I do it to myself too, and it’s like ‘this is the fill I will play for the next two years and I will do it at the same point every night’ because then, you know, take Dua for example, she won’t ever notice it because it’s the same every night and she will never get distracted and she will always be able to sing. We’re just a blanket underneath and nothing should ever stick out. She should never notice me anymore than she needs to, to do her thing. We joke about it saying ‘strictly business’, is what we call it, and some people would find that very boring, but I find it really quite thrilling.
I think there’s a definite art to it, at the end of the day you’re there to support whoever you’re playing for...
Yeah! She pays our bills, no one is there to see us. I think once you get that in your head…and I’m sure at 21 I didn’t have it in my head, I don’t think anyone does at that point, but coming up to 30 it’s actually quite a thrilling thing of, you do your job, you do your bit professionally and you do it well, and you watch the crowd clap the singer and she is loving it, and they’re loving it and it’s like I did my little bit to support her to perform and do that, and it’s a very selfless way of doing it, and much more thrilling than getting applause for yourself I strangely find.
And I think as far as MD’ing shows, if I go in to rehearsals and the drummer has been sent a part and they come and they change it, you go ‘what are you doing? Why aren’t you just playing what you were asked to play?’. Because it might seem to them when they’re practicing, it might seem really boring, so they put loads if stuff in, but actually once you put them as a piece of the puzzle together, and they’re doing all that, it’s not going to fit. So, I think it’s a very important thing, not just for drummers, but I think for any musician to kind of play less. Do exactly what you’re supposed to, and not in a strict harsh way, but you do what you’re supposed to and you play less and you’ll fit into the puzzle better and ultimately, you’ll sound better, because everyone will be together. It’s working as a team and not as an individual, that’s the thing I hate most about a lot of pop musicians…is they don’t think about…they think as an individual and not as a team.
Yeah! So, in your role as an MD, obviously, you were MD for La Roux for all those years, and now Dua Lipa, that involves a lot more than just a drumming position I assume? And what other things would be involved with MD’ing?
Yeah. So, the role with La Roux was very different. It was Ellie who called the shots. She did everything. She told us what she wanted and we made it happen, and that was fun. Dua is different, she’s so busy constantly that there just has to be someone full time to make the live show happen basically, and that’s my role. With Dua I will be sent…to take a new song for example, I’ll be sent the individual parts to a song by the producer or the mixer or engineer, I’ll go through the parts, learn the song, listen to the song a few times, mix it, so that if I have the MP3 of the song and have all the individual parts I will solo the MP3 and then unmute it and balance it to as close as I can get it. Then, I’ll listen to the most prominent thing and see what you can hear. Usually, rule of thumb for me is that, if there is a piano part playing all the way through it then the keyboard player gets the piano part. If there’s a full bass line through it, give it to the bass player, and it’s different for different bands, but you’ll kind of go through all the parts individually and work out what you think you would want to see…or how I do it, is what you would want to see live. Who would you want to see playing that? Often there’s decisions to be made. The lead part of the song may be such a particular sound or a sample or something that you know it could never be recreated properly and do it justice live, so that’s where for example, you go, ‘right that will be your backing track and maybe the keyboard player will play the supporting role’, and song to song that changes.
I’ll then work out who plays what, send the musicians their parts with some notes about how I want it played, this kind of thing, obviously bounce my own drum part out…I play drums in Dua as well, so I do the drum role, make sure every one’s okay then get into rehearsals and we usually…for Dua for example, I’ll do one musician at a time, start with Matty the bass player and we’ll go through and be like, ‘right are you happy?’, and he usually…he’s such professional that he’ll have gone ‘right, I’ve learned this on bass like you asked, or keys like you asked, but I’ve also learned it on the opposites’. So, it’s like cool we’ve got A and B and see what sounds best. Because often, you know, things change in rehearsal. So, we’ll go through that, then I’ll work with Ed, and Ed has a very particular sound, and it’s fantastic so I’ll often say to Ed, ‘right, this is the part you’ve got, this is the part I’ve sent you, what do you have that you can add on to that?’ and he’ll go, ‘well actually I’ve got this, or I could do that’ and he’s a much more competent guitar player than me…well I mean that he’s a guitar player. Sometimes he’ll come up with something and it’s like ‘that’s amazing do that!’, and then I’ll do the drums and we’ll play along together and we’ll work…you know, often it needs 5/10 goes through to really sit into it.
And then once we’re playing well we’ll work with our front of house engineer who might say ‘that’s working/that’s not working, I need more level from the backing vocals off the backing track’ or whatever, and then I’ll work with our programmer on making sure we’re all balanced and it all sits together nicely. Then, when that’s done it will be a matter of…I’ll usually send a live recording to Dua if she’s not able to make rehearsals, and if she is in rehearsals we’ll quickly go through the backing vocals…we’ll work out a good lead vocal part for her to sing, sometimes it will be part of the backing vocals, sometimes it will be some sort of call and response thing where she’ll back off and the backing vocals will take care of it to give her more room to breathe. We’ll go through that just me and her, give the band a bit of time off, and then we’ll all come back in together and hopefully on a good day it just fits together and it works. On a bad day, it takes a bit of time, but…it’s kind of just overseeing…overseeing everything. I’m a big believer in delegating and using every one’s strengths. Like our bass player is…I personally think on this gig is our hidden weapon. He has such a particular sound and he’s so solid that I just know exactly what that’s going to sound like on a song, and I can go ‘Matty, you can take care of that, you know exactly what to do’, and it’s just kind of overseeing and making sure everything is sitting in place.
And going back in time was picking the band and the suitable musicians for Dua…
…I was literally just about to ask that [Laughs]
Yeah! Picking a band. And I picked two of the La Roux band, who I really get on with, and I knew Dua would get on with too, who also share a similar view on playing less. We all learned that together with La Roux I think, so they kind of came in knowing that it wasn’t a gospel type thing and it wasn’t a chops show. And yeah just overseeing, but trusting I think is a very important thing, trusting that everyone is on the same page.
So obviously, you chose Matty and Ed based on similar musical beliefs and experience as yourself, is that something you would also look for if you had to select musicians for a new band?
Yeah it would. I’m very…my taste is not…like I can’t stand chops, and I can’t stand gospel stuff and I can’t stand showing off, it’s just not my cup of tea. I’m sure it’s useful for some people. But obviously, it matters what style of music, I’m picking musicians around what style of music…I just got an email about a new project and as soon as I heard I was like ‘I know the drummer for that, so you can kind of hear people’s playing sometimes. And most importantly is personality’. Yeah, It’s the most important thing if you know someone’s going to get on with someone. It’s 10% playing music together and its 90% hanging out in a splitter van driving from the airport to the hotel, that kind of thing. So, that’s the most important thing I think. And if possible…people with a bit of experience is good, often sometimes it’s getting younger people in with less experience which also has its benefits, but also I like getting people…you know, on this tour I deliberately picked a team who are a little older, you know, our band are all nearly 30, or just over 30, Dua is 21, but all the crew are in their 30’s, and it’s people who have done it before, so she got thrown into this position of being quite successful quite early on in her career, but we could all be like ‘do you know what, don’t worry, we’ve done this festival before and this is how it was for us’, and she goes ‘okay’ and she relaxes and it was a very deliberate choice and I think personality is such an important thing on the road definitely.
It probably takes a weight off her shoulders knowing that she’s got those types of people with her…
Hugely, yeah! She’s even said that it absolutely does.
That’s great. So, what would be your advice to people wanting to break that line between not professional yet and then obviously being picked for tours and things like that?
I think that it’s important to not be too snobby about what you take in the beginning. It is the dream and you know, only working for people you love, but it’s very rare, I feel very, very lucky that I’ve accidentally found myself in at times. But at the beginning you do have to do stuff that maybe is not what you’d listen to, maybe it’s not what you want to do, but you will always meet someone which will lead to another gig, which will lead to another gig, which will lead to the gig you want, you know, it works like that. So, I think take everything, take everything you can, don’t have a social life, just work, work, work, work, work and take everything, get on with people…is very important. And…you know, do as you’re told as well, if you are told to do certain things…if a management say’s ‘I need you to wear all pink for a show’ don’t fight back, because they’ll just find someone else, you just buy a pink shirt and get on with it. It is ultimately a job, you will ultimately do things you don’t want to do, but just take all the gigs you can. Make sure your stuff works, make sure it’s suitable for what you need…like don’t turn up with a double kick, 26inch metal bass drum or whatever, if you’re going for a folk job, you know, just get something really suitable and stable and that you know is going to work. Do what you’re told, be friendly, be professional, be there early. And if you do it alright you will…I genuinely think that if you want it enough and you do it right you will fall into it. I really feel strongly about that. I think, you will be found if you’re good enough and you’re the right person to do things. And just have fun as well, yes, it’s work, but it’s brilliant. It’s good work. So, have fun, and be professional.
That’s great advice! As you mentioned, a lot of the music you play and have played, is based on electronic music, and has pushed you to learn how to program and get very used to programs and equipment like Ableton and the use of electronic drum pads. How much would you say this has helped in getting you to where you are now and how has it helped?
I would say…if I couldn’t use Ableton, I wouldn’t have had any work for the past 5 years. Genuinely. Like, I think, I get all my work as a drummer through being an MD now. It’ll be like ‘oh you’re an MD, fantastic, come and do this, oh you also play the drums too, you can do that’, it’s just kind of like an added afterthought. I very much realized…my first band was electronic, then I started with La Roux and she’s completely electronic, it brought me into a world I didn’t know, after growing up in hardcore and in punk and things, it wasn’t really anything I knew about, I enjoyed the Postal Service and some electronic bands like that, but I didn’t know much about it. I then realized very early on that just as an acoustic drummer I wouldn’t find any work, because that’s just not what people were looking for and all records are just completely electronic drums. So, I got myself a copy of Ableton live when I was about 22/23, and I had a bit of time off with La Roux, and I locked myself in my house for 2 or 3 months and I made some shit songs, I just made some crap songs but in the process worked out how to do that and learn the software.
Then, when we started back with La Roux for the second album we brought in a programmer called Ali Staton who was Madonna’s old programmer and a very good producer and he showed me how the software could be used in a way for live music. And then I worked out a way that you could use it in backing tracks and also for keys sounds and now I use my drum triggers through it and just through playing and experimenting and whatever I realized that for me personally, Ableton is the software I use. You could make whole shows and get quite creative stuff out of the technical side of things, and I’m a drummer….my theory isn’t what it should be, but I’ve worked this software out enough that you can still be very creative…in almost like a DJ producer sense and turn it into a musical show. It’s probably the most important part of what I do, being able to do electronics now…and also the most fun, in the sense of, ‘right this sounds like this on record, it’s 808 and it’s claps and it’s clicks, but if I do that live it’s going to sound flat, how can I tie this with this, and how can we make that work together?’ and it’s the bane of my life and also the most fun part of my job, you know, it’s really, really fun to do.
Like with Dua I play…there’s only three of us in the band, so sometimes I play melodies on my pads, and then I have a kit in one of the songs where every time I hit the snare it triggers a little guitar loop that’s on the record, so it’s not just on backing track, and it will always be completely in time, so I play the melody with one hand and snare trigger will play the little loop with the other, and I send them a little stereo channel out front, which is effectively my keyboard line. And it’s fun! It doesn’t need to be like that, it could just be on track, but it’s a bit of fun, you know, in all this.
Like you’ve mentioned, you use a lot of trigger pads to emulate studio sounds in a live context…so, what would be your process for thinking ‘how can I make that sound like it does in the studio, on stage?’
I think for me…I’m a very, very big fan of electronic music and live, I prefer hearing electronic sounds than I do to acoustic sounds. So, me and will our front of house on Dua, we mix our triggers much louder than the drums and we work out a blend that we like for everything else. Like my kick, I always have a kick trigger on…so I have the acoustic kick, I have one electronic kick, which is on every single song, so you’ve got consistent acoustic, consistent electric and then a blend of that songs sample. So, say I have electronic kick 101 who’s playing through the whole set, and then…take a song, ‘Be The One’ for example, the ‘Be The One’ kick sound would be blended in there, so you get a bit of the characteristics, but you still get the consistency of the same sound, but you get an electronic smack in the face, like a dance kick. Same with the snares, you know. I just have my snare and then I layer my claps and snaps or whatever on top of that. I’ll always try and make it sound as close to that as possible and just by having a live kit underneath it will make it sound a bit different, and it will make it sound a bit more live, having overheads and live hats and stuff…if it’s a super electronic song I will back off the acoustic kit a lot.
I’m a huge fan of doing…like the verse is electronic and then kicking in the chorus acoustic, that triggers worked a lot with Dua as well. That seems to work, and it always kicks in enough. It’s working out tricks that work, you know, I know a lot of MD’s who that doesn’t work for, but for me I’ve found it does. So, it’s working out little tricks that, you know, ‘Ahh that works, that’ll work with this etc., but not forgetting the consistency, that’s something we’ve learned on this gig of…people still want the drums to sound like drums every song. They don’t want it to suddenly be whatever and suddenly whatever, there needs to be some form of consistency. Just layering…layering things up with triggers. If it’s super electronic just using the pads, but maybe I do for example…she has a song called ‘Scared To Be Lonely’ with Martin Garrix she did, and its 808 hats and claps in the verse, so I do that, chorus I go live, second verse I do the same but instead of hitting the snare pad, I hit the snare with a trigger on, because you’ve already had the snare in the chorus, then the next chorus I do it completely live, so it’s building in its own way…because electronic songs often are this like no dynamic, so it’s building it with dynamics like that live.
And that just comes from experience of playing a host of shows and in different situations?
Yeah, I would say so…watching a lot of other bands…‘How do you do that? How did they do that’ this kind of thing…that’s very helpful. And…YouTube, that kind of thing, seeing what people do. There was a guy, my first experience in to triggering was this guy called ‘Duracell’, he was this French, super pretentious French drummer, who played video game soundtracks on his drum kit, and it was like, you know, I played a gig with him when I was 17 and I watched it and I was like ‘how are you doing this? And how are your drums going through a computer? What’s going on?’ And taking a bit of that, like I said with the melody for this new stuff, I thought about this super pretentious French drummer and tied it in with what we learned with La Roux about making things super electronic, and then where’s the middle ground for that? And just bits of experience and playing and mistakes! I’ve done it before where it’s just not worked and you learn from that and you don’t do it next time, so.
Absolutely! So, you’ve now played numerous big shows with Dua and obviously with La Roux for 7 years, but with the current Dua Lipa gig, did any of you in the band including Dua see this level of success coming?
…I personally did, yeah! I got played ‘Hotter Than Hell’ when I went in for that first meeting and I was like ‘this is a smash! It’s amazing!’. The first rehearsals we did with her, like she came in and I was like ‘look, give it a go, see how it goes’…she came in and pranced around like the biggest pop star you’d ever seen…she just has it, she has something. So, I would’ve been…the position we’ve been in… like this next tour we’re doing academies, we’re doing Brixton Academy and we’re doing some arenas in Europe and it’s genuinely felt for all of the crew and for us and for Dua and everything, it’s like ‘right, finally, this is where we’re supposed to be, right, let’s go!’. And it’s almost just been waiting to get to the point she is now…it’s very strange. Buy yeah! Absolutely, I completely 100% knew that it was going to be as big as it is.
Did she see it? You mentioned she’s 21, right?
Yeah…she’s very modest. She’s very modest. I think she knew the songs were strong, and she’s very switched on professionally. Like, she knows exactly what she’s doing, she’s got the whole of her career in her hands, you know, she’s in charge of all of it, it’s wonderful! She’s modest and I don’t think she’ll have assumed…because it’s not been easy, she’s worked so hard, so she probably sees a natural progression for her work to how big she’s getting. But I saw it yeah. [Laughs]
[Laughs] So, on topic of the upcoming tours. With the tour prep you can completely control. You can rehearse and get ready in that way, but how do you mentally prepare for tours opening for Bruno Mars and Coldplay, and other shows of that magnitude?
Umm…you rehearse, and you do…it’s really strange…genuinely, the big shows like that don’t feel much different to the little shows. Once you’re on stage, there’s the three of us across the back and Dua in front, wherever we are, whatever size room changes, we’re always the same formation, whether we are playing Weatherspoon’s tomorrow, we’ll still be three across the back and one at the front. For Maddison Square Gardens it will be the same thing, the same show, the same people, the same…monitors will be there, front of house will be there…it actually doesn’t make much difference.
Do you find comfort in that kind of set up? Is that why you do it the way it is?
Yeah! And we have amazing crew around us who are just…. the show feels so safe and for Bruno and Coldplay we’re goanna be just changing a bit of the set that we’ve done before…some of it we’ve been playing for two years now and that just feels very comforting and very second nature. I think we’re confident in the live shows, so we’re not going over there going ‘oh god I hope we can do it’, we’re like ‘right! Let’s show them what we’ve got’, which is a nice feeling! A lot of singers don’t have that, and Dua has that. Just before she goes on she gets super pumped and she’s confident, it’s amazing!
Yeah! I’ve seen a few of your live videos online and she owns it!
She does! She really does. And its, you know, I think because of how strong she is live, her shows are getting bigger and bigger because people want to keep going back and seeing her. But yeah, mentally preparing, we always hang out, we listen to Katy Perry, we put pop music on before we go on for like half an hour, we get in a really good place and whatever happens, an hour before, me and her go off and do our warm ups together, half an hour before we all hang out, listen to pop music, have a laugh. Then we hang out on the side of the stage, we do our huddle that we do at every gig and then we go on. So, the whole routine before stays exactly the same, so it feels like, in the best way possible, going to the office, delivering, and then leaving.
Again, there’s probably a lot of comfort from that routine before each show?
A lot yeah. There really is.
So, what is your individual warm up before you go on?
It’s terrible…it’s terrible [Laughs]. I mean, I’ve never been taught how to warm up, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do, and there’s probably people who spend hours doing it, I’m just so bad at it [Laughs]. I have a very bad back from my years of BMXing and hunching over a bike, so I have to do my back stretches that my physio gives me. I used to have wrist problems when my first record with La Roux…it was electronic pads, so the vibrations were just going straight into my forearms and I was getting really bad RSI, so I do my stretches there and my arms and all this. And then…embarrassingly, my warm up really…I do a bit of singles and doubles and paradiddles because that’s what I learned when I was 7 [Laughs]. There’s an album by a hardcore band called The Bled called ‘Pass The Flask’, which I’ve listened to on my headphones for years, and I just air drum for about half an hour and I pretend I’m in a hardcore band…and then by the time it gets to playing pop music, it’s like ‘oh this is easy’. I use heavier sticks when I’m warming up too, so when I get onto my kit it feels a little lighter.
Stretches is mainly my thing, and me and Dua do it together when we can, just kind of, neither of us like warming up, but we’ve both got to do it, so it’s like ‘right come on let’s do it’ [Laughs]. So, just some stretches, some paradiddles and some air drumming pretending I’m in a hardcore band…that’s my warm up technique. It’s embarrassing to hear this [Laughs] I’m a professional right I should be doing this properly…
I think it’s great! I think your relationships with the people you work with is amazing.
Yeah. There are some gigs that are very…the singer turns up two minutes before stage time, leaves, doesn’t even know the band’s name. That exists. That for me isn’t personally why I’m in the job. Like, for me it’s all about personal relationships and genuinely meeting people who have a goal in life. Like, Dua’s goal was to become very successful, be a pop star, be a songwriter, do this, and I wanted to help her. It’s a personal relationship. My mums a psychotherapist and has probably drilled it into me [Laughs]. But it’s like, that for me is the most rewarding thing, and in my role as an MD as well of…just making sure she’s alright, making sure she’s happy, and making sure that this what she sees in front of her is what she’s got in her mind…a bit of mothering in that way, and that’s actually really enjoyable.
Well I think it’s amazing that your job is to help facilitate that!
And I also think that it was great how you spoke about your decision making for picking her band for this gig, and how you took how she would get on with them into huge consideration…
There is a thing about...the older you get as a musician, you see a lot less of the idiots. They kind of get weened out I think. There’s a lot of people, especially the egos, the egos start disappearing a bit, and you start seeing people who have managed to maintain relationships with people on the road, and ultimately, MD’s are always going to hire their friends, because they want to work with people they like. Like any job, I think it’s the same with any job in the creative field. I can’t remember where I was going with that [Laughs]...
[Laughs] So, obviously, you’ve already done a lot up to this point in your career, you’ve played a lot of big shows and are about to embark on more, do you have a goal for further down the line? what’s next for you?
Yeah, I do. I’ve still not done Jools Holland…all my friends have done Jools Holland [Laughs]. It nearly happened with La Roux and didn’t happen last minute, it nearly happened with Dua a while ago but it didn’t last minute, I know it’ll happen, but all my friends have done it and that’s kind of when my dad will go ‘yeah he’s on Jools Holland, cool’ [Laughs]. I think ultimately, I’m going to be MD’ing more, I’m going to be drumming a bit less, and you know, I got married last year and I want to be a dad, and I want to be at home a bit more. So, I think it will be a natural progression of taking more MD work and less drumming work, but that reflects on my personal life not as a professional thing, that’s just to make that more enjoyable. Because, ultimately, there is a hard point of being a musician that goes on a world tour from September to Christmas, you know, it is what it is. There’s that. I want to take Dua up to Arenas. I know she could do that on her own…well we’ve got some this year on this next tour, there’s a few arenas, but I want to do the o2 with Dua, you know, we’ve done it as far as like a radio show, but not a headline show.
I just want her to just be as happy at a live show as possible and then ultimately when she takes some time off, which I’m sure she will do at some point, do the same again for someone else. I want to keep helping in that way. And…just still not having to get a job [Laughs]. I’m still a musician, I’ve been doing this for 10 years now and I reckon I’ve got another 10 in me to do that, so, continue to have fun, still find challenges…because I don’t find my job easy, I find it hard, and I want to still be challenged in that way, I never want to just get back on autopilot. But just keep working hard, keep being happy, keep making music, keep progressing in whatever that may be.
And then lastly, I know we touched upon this earlier, but what advice do you have for musicians wanting to go into similar or the same style profession you have and achieve what you have and continue to?
Taking whatever they can, you know, online is very important now I think, you know, finding something…actually, you know what, let’s take that back…let’s start with, do what you do stylistically and obviously, you get the job done and you learn the parts, but don’t be afraid of what you do. I did a good few auditions in my early 20’s after the first La Roux record, where I tried to be a pop drummer, I didn’t get any of them, and I was like ‘you know what, screw this, I can’t do that, I’m not very good at that, I’m going to do what I do, which is a slightly heavier way of playing pop music and if someone likes it then I’m the right guy for the job’. Do what you do. Work hard. Don’t be afraid to get knocked down because it will happen, and you will make some ridiculous mistakes, and you will laugh at them one day, but it’s okay. Work hard. Keep going. Listen to your MD. And just enjoy yourself! Because if you’re not enjoying yourself, there’s literally no point. This job can be quite mentally challenging, and if you’re not getting enough enjoyment out of it as you should be, then it’s not worth going through the turmoil to be there. Have fun. Work hard and be yourself. Be nice to people and you’ll be just fine.
I think that’s incredibly sound advice! Thank you so much for doing this and giving me your time, I know you’re obviously here there and everywhere!
No, not at all! Like, I emailed so many drummers when I was, you know, before I got my La Roux job, being like ‘can you offer advice?’, exactly what you were just saying, a few of them replied and it was lovely, not even big people, but some people just replied and was like ‘yeah this will help, this will help’, and it does, it really helps. I think there was a quote I saw earlier and it said, ‘Be who you needed when you were younger’ and I think if just one person takes anything from this, even though it’s just me, and who am I to offer advice, then it’s worth a chat. Absolutely.
Thank you again to William for an incredible interview and for being so humble and for the great advice!
You can find his website Here.
Thank you for reading!
© Dan Lewis 2017