Interview with Andy Edwards in August 2008 - The Drummer With (The Highest) IQ (Ever)

May I introduce the joking philosopher among the drummers to you? His name is Andy Edwards and he is playing progressive rock as well as jazz. He has played with Robert Plant and his current bands include IQ, Frost or the Tom Hill Quartet. Apart from that he is a gifted drum teacher who has released an instructional DVD called "The Mighty Bash" with a very interesting concept. Reason enough to have a little sophisticated conversation with this descendant of Zhuangzi.

ragazzi: "Your DVD has a very special concept; please tell us a little about that concept and how you came up with the idea for it?"

Andy: "Most tuition DVDs deal with technique of course. But techniques are merely methods to achieve certain results. In music, techniques are the methods we use to achieve aesthetic results. But aethetics are never discussed on these types of video even though it is in the end the result we are trying to achieve. So I decided to make a DVD in two parts, one which discussed technique, the other aethetics. Another thing I noticed about drum DVDs is that when they discuss technique they usually describe what you do, where as I decided to explain how you go about gaining technique and the pitfalls that may stop you from aquiring technique. The second half discusses aethetics and is a lot more difficult as it tries to discuss the attributes in drumming that make it good, based upon what science and philosophy can tell us about human nature."

ragazzi: "Who composed the fantastic opening song of the DVD called "Bollywood Drum Mania"?

Andy: "It's actually an edit from the soundtrack of the film ‚Devdas'. I saw that film and thought the rhythms were really interesting so I tried to learn them. Because there is no drum kit on the track it made an ideal backing track. Mark Schulman (drummer with Pink and Cher etc) saw me play it and loved it so much that he asked if he could play it on his drum clinics. It's interesting how a track that was never written to have a drum kit on it is loved by so many drummers. I get so many messages about that track, it's weird how it has captured people's imagination."

ragazzi: "I think the progressive rock scene would be much more exciting if there were more songs like "Bollywood Drum Mania" - how about composing such fresh songs together with the other IQ members for example?"

Andy: "Well, we are! But I must say I find the progressive genre to be so unprogressive! It is a very safe genre, musicicians do what they do because it has been done before. But this is a symptom of most music today I think. Nobody wants to rock the boat or step out of line. We have been recording the new IQ album and I've been involved with the writing from day one. We have all discussed how we want to change the sound of prog rock but of course our audience expects a certain sound. This is the problem with any genre. But I think listeners will hear the difference on this CD. There is a lot of my drumming on there, thats for sure!"

ragazzi: "Under which circumstances did you become the new drummer of IQ?"

Andy: "I was out on tour, doing a clinics for Tama. A friend of mine said that they knew someone who's band was looking for a drummer. I asked the name and she said IQ. I said something like "Oh, they have the same name as the prog rock band", I never thought it would be IQ. When I got on the net and checked out their site I saw they were looking for a drummer so I rang John Jowitt. They put me through two lots of auditions! On the second audition they started talking like I was in the band so I said "Am I in then" and they were like "Oh yes". I really wanted to join because the music is a real challenge to play."

ragazzi: "Was the drum chair of IQ your dream chair to sit upon?"

Andy: "The Mahavishnu Orchestra would be my dream chair but IQ is a dream gig for a drummer. They cover all sort of ground, lots of odd times and wierdness and you get a lot of input too. And I can't wait to get out and play some of the new material I have been involved with. I thought it would be easier to play the stuff I had written the drum parts for but I think it will even more difficult!"

ragazzi: "How do you interpret the songs Paul Cook played on - close to the original rhythms or do you create your own grooves?"

Andy: "I think when they auditioned for a new drummer they wanted someone with a significantly different style to Paul. Paul's style is very neat and calm, his drum parts are beautifully structured. I'm a bit more wilder and frenetic. When we got in the rehearsal room everyone wanted me to do my thing. But of course there are parts that have to be played or it won't sound like the song so it was a negotiation. Sometimes what I'm playing has nothing to do with the old part, sometimes I play the part very closely. Sometimes when we are working on a song I won't have learnt a fill, one of the guys will stop the rehearsal and decide if the fill should be there or not, sometimes the fill might be acting as a cue or it might be something the audience is expecting."

ragazzi: "IQ is very famous for the snail pace concerning to the recording process of their CDs - so when will the next CD probably be released?"

Andy: "Well, yes ...We started on this new CD two and a half years ago! But I think it will be out by the end of this year. What really held things up was Martin Orford leaving. He had recorded and written so much stuff for this CD everything had to stop whilst we decided if we wanted to carry on or not, if we did who was going to replace Martin who had been in the band from the beginning. Would the new guy play on this album? Or would Martin's parts still go on the album etc etc. There were a lot of difficult decisions. I think all this has delayed everything by a year. But I think this album will be the better in the end for all of this; it will be the first with me and Mark Westworth on so we have worked to make sure it's a great one."

ragazzi: "Is Frost a band or just a project?"

Andy: "Neither, Frost* is all sorts of things. It's the music of course, but it's also Jem's little messages on his blogs or the videos on the website. It's also the little community that has grown up around it. Most bands today have these things but Frost actively uses all of this as part of the Frost* experience. Jem calls it the "Frostiverse" in which anything that could be Frosty may well be Frosty. And it's continually changing. "Milliontown" is a great prog album but I think the new album is going to push the genre a bit. I think it really does sum up the state of affairs at this time in the world. I think we are going through a cultural shift at the moment and this will be a suitable soundtrack to that shift."

ragazzi: "Are there other bands you are playing in at the moment?"

Andy: "I'm always writing with various people, I also work on a lot of drum educational stuff too so that takes up time. But I've always thought talking about projects can stop them from happening so I'm not going to say much more on this one."

ragazzi: "In the Tom Hill Quartet you play jazz; do you think jazz is even more sophisticated than progressive rock?"

Andy: "I try to play jazz as much as I can. Tom's just one of the guys I play with but he is a superb player. Jazz and blues is where everything comes from. Any player, whether they are metal, rap, prog, reggae etc. owes most of what they do to jazz. Prog is just a small dead end in the history of rock n roll so for me you can't even compare the two. In terms of playing I think it's much more demanding playing jazz. In prog you just learn parts. Jazz musicians have to do this and groove and improvise. In the seventies Return to Forever recorded an album called "Romantic Warrior" which is very proggy. That is what jazz musicians sound like playing prog, and they basically blow an prog band out of the water! Of course many of the prog pioneers like Soft Machine or King Crimson had really great jazz players in their bands and there was a lot of improvisation there. I think that this has died away a bit in modern prog which may be one of the reasons why modern prog sounds so over prescribed."

ragazzi: "Many teenagers like modern musical styles like hip hop or techno in these days but in later years they tend to jazz and/or classical music; what is the reason for that process in your opinion ?"

Andy: "Kids love rock n roll, they love excitement and rebellion. Hip Hop and Techno are modern rock n roll. New musicians need to question what went before and these forms do that. A lot of older musicians don't get rap or dance music but that is because these forms have changed the values in music. Without this approach music would become static. But as you get older your interests change and this is a good thing too. As much as it is great to embrace the music of youth - in fact the cultural change that saw the acceptance of the art of youth created rock music - I think we are guilty in music nowadays of not valueing the work of older musicians, This doesn't happen in jazz or classical or for that matter in writing or film. This is a shame as we can lose out on a lot of good music."

ragazzi: "In former times there were many jokes about drummers being brainless cavemen that could not understand musical structures at all but today it is common sense that playing the drum set is one of the most difficult instruments, so what makes drummers so special among musicians?"

Andy: "In harmony you have 12 notes and these get arranged into different shapes to form chords and scales. Harmony is pretty simple in that way. Rhythm is much more complex in my opinion. As soon as you apply rhythm to a harmonic structure you get melody so it's a very important aspect of music. But you can describe harmonic structures exactly, but with rhythm you can only get close. C major is the same the world over but the Purdie shuffle is still a mystery, no one can notate it exactly. It is rhythm and dynamics that create the feel in the music - as well as the "blue note", another mystery! This is what a drummer does. But in a literate society these things aren't valued as highly as things that can be written down. For example, imaging a saxophonist making random noises. Most people would say it's rubbish music. But tell them that every squeak and honk was written down and that the saxophonist was reading it and most people would then have some respect for this. But in reality the music is still the same. This illustrates why we don't value these things. As the drummer solely deals in the black art of rhythm and dynamics it is natural to think of what he does as being ‚brainless' even though they are playing in effect four instruments at least at the same time!"

ragazzi: "Drummers must not only master independence between hands and feet but also between the left and right side of their body; please tell us the advantages of understending the anatomy and the functions of the brain for drummers."

Andy: "Drumming is fundamentally about coordination. When someone sits down to learn something on a kit that is what hits them first and foremost. Coordination is going on in the brain as well as the limbs so if you want to understand this you need to understand how the brain works, how the motor regions work and how fine motor skill is developed. This of course is missing from drum (and music) education. This is partly because drum teachers don't study it and because most psychology is out of date. It is only recently with the development of more and more sophisticated brain scanners have scientists really been able to study how the brain works. It is these studies that are shedding light on how a person learns to play an instrument. I'm not an expert on cognitive science at all but I have worked with those that are to get answers on how we learn to drum. It is interesting when you start looking at this because it shows how some drum eduation is against how we naturally develop motor skill, you can see why some of it doesn't work. This is why most books and DVDs feel like they have something missing. They tell you what to do but not how to go about doing it! If we think of everyday life we can all walk, eat a sandwich and use a telephone at the same time. In terms of coordination this is much harder than anything Thomas Lang does. If you start to think how we developed these skills it also explains how we can develop similar skills on the drums. These skills of course are developed when we are very young because we all inherit a very strong motivation to develop these skills. There is no inherited motivation to learn the drums. You have to create a motivation. Modern drum teaching should be be about creating this motivation and combining it with exercises that work with the way we aquire motor skills. I could go on about this for hours! In terms of coordination there are two types, Linear and Non Linear. If you practice correctly, the inherent problems in these two types can be overcome and coordination becomes a lot easier. But this is a big subject ..."

ragazzi: "What do you think about using the "Split Brain Technique" in that context like Mike Mangini propagates it?"

Andy: "I'd have to ask what he means by ‚split brain' Is he commenting on how the brain is actually structured or how it works? I think it is just a clever way to describe what he does because it seems like he has ‚split' his brain in two. But in reality this is not what he is doing. In reality, as I said above, it is like driving and talking at the same time. It can be learnt and if you do the right practice in the right way anyone will develop these skills. But some drummers do like to create a mystery around what they do ..."

ragazzi: "What are the most important contents to teach in your clincs?"

Andy: "Learning drumming can be broken into two areas. Firstly the things you need to practice to get better and the reason for practicing; the motivation. I try to illustrate these things on my clinics. But of course these things will differ in their content from person to person. If someone comes in for a lesson I watch them play and I try and work out all the areas they are lacking and then I try to see the fundamental technical weakness that may be causing all their problems. Once I have worked out what it is I give them simple exercises to fix this weakness and then suddenly they find they can do lots of things they couldn't do before. If on a clinic I can get this approach across them I've done my job. It's trying to get someone to not be afraid to hold a mirror up to their playing, and to realize that music and skill are two seperate entities."

ragazzi: "Do you have a special trick to make odd time grooves sound "even" for the people of the western hemisphere?"

Andy: "Yes, if you think about it, every pattern or rudiment we learn is relative to the quarter note. You need to feel the quarter note to feel how a rock beat or a paradiddle works. So to play odd times you must be able to feel them in terms of quarter notes. So 15/16 is actually ¾ +3/16. This is what I call an additive approach to rhythm which is similar to the Indian appraoch to music. In the west we use a divisive approach where we divide up the bar. If you think of this time signature in this way the ¾ part is easy to play and so is the little 3/16 part. If you just count it out loud you get a feel for this complex time signature. This is because you are naturally feeling the quarter notes of the ¾ part."

ragazzi: "Is there also a trick for playing odd time grooves without counting?"

Andy: "Yes, once you have mastered what I have described above, think of a tune that fits that time and sing it while you play. If you can think of four different tunes this will help to change what you are playing within the time signature."

ragazzi: "Doesn´t thinking (= counting) while playing the drums kill the emotions and make the rhythms "stiff" a little?"

Andy: "No, I don't think so. It's like driving a car, You should be thinking where you are going, but not on changing gear or pressing the brake. If counting is difficult then perhaps certain skills have not been learnt properly. If you can count when you run or drive then you should be able to count when you drum without any difficulty. Stiffness or lack of feel comes from tension. If drummers practice with the goal of decreasing tension - rather than just rying to play fast - then they would find these problems wouldn't arise, and they could count, or even chat with their friends whilst drumming."

ragazzi: "Sometimes you play double bass drums and sometimes a double pedal; which mode do you prefer and why?"

Andy: "I think they are both different. Double pedal sounds more consistent but double bass creates interesting sounds, especially if the drums are tuned slighly different. Obviously the twin bass drum is also easier because the response on the two pedals is the same. If I had to choose I'd choose the double pedal as I'm a bit more used to that."

ragazzi: "You play some really interesting sounding cymbals - do you plan to expand your cymbal set-up with bells or stacks in the future ?"

Andy: "No, I'm thinking of reducing my set up drastically. I'm interested in trying to find ways of doing what I do on a four piece with just a few cymbals. When you reduce the possibilities it usually boosts the creative process. At some point I'd like to involve electronics into my set-up but this requires a lot of work. I think the future of drumming partly lies in developing a way of using electronics but it seems that the companies are only interested in producing stuff that looks, sounds and feels like acoustic drums. This seems mad to me. If a buy a cowbell I don't moan that it doesn't look or sound or feel like a snare drum. There really is a world of opportunity out there but it requires drummers to open their minds."

ragazzi: "What are your plans for the future besides finishing the new IQ CD?"

Andy: "The new Frost* album will be out soon as well as the new IQ CD so I guess the next thing is to get out and gig that material. I would like to get out and do more clinics to promote my DVD but I think the clinic format is a bit tired so I'd like to give that some thought. I´m working on material at the moment that it would be nice to get out and gig. The music industry is really changing at the moment. We are about to hit the biggest shift since the invention of recording. Many practices we take for granted will disappear and many new ones will emerge. It's a scary time but also an exciting time. I for one am looking forward to sitting back and seeing what happens and hopefully playing a tiny part in the change."

Frank Bender