Since my friend, jawnentwistle, is starting drumming, and you’re one of our favorite musicians, we want to know about the drums you used on the Old Gray Whistle Test with Japan when you performed Ghosts and Cantonese Boy because it is one of our favorite performances. We aren’t sure what to ask, so do you have any advice or tips for beginning drummers?

Rule No.1: Be steady. Doesn’t matter how simple it has to be, just make sure you’re solid. Once you’ve got that metronome in your blood you’ll never allow the bottom to fall out of the band. That’s your priority and what your fellow band members rely on you for, otherwise you’ll soon be the ex-drummer. Master that discipline and you’re set to explore the artistry of rhythm.

hi steve! do you ever get stage freight? also, do you have any weird things you do before shows to get ready? thanks a million, caroline.

Hi Caroline. Do you mean stage fright? I’ve not experienced that. First night nerves can sometimes be fairly acute but that’s about it. There are usually too many other things to concentrate on – I’d probably be mortified if there wasn’t. There’s plenty of stage freight on tour though.

Disappointingly non-weird before a show, but I know what you mean, nerves can make people do some bizarre things. I’m no stranger to anxiety.

(is ‘tennantbutt’ a trepidatious condition?)

Steve, Great bands were known for their drummers. Keith Moon, Mick Fleetwood, Steve Jansen etc ;) Do you think the importance of a really tight and expressive drummer has diminished now that a machine can probably play as fast, as complicated and won’t miss a beat?

Absolutely not, drumming isn’t just about speed and complexity, unless the aim is to make records for the Guinness book. Drumming is about feel, style and design. I wouldn’t drive a hideous car just because it went fast and had lots of buttons.

Hi Steve , The percussion sounds/samples from Words with the Shaman are to this day extremely, well amazing. When I saw you perform it live I was far away from the stage , an Octapad with drum kit I think? Can you tell me about creating this polyrhythmic masterpiece? As a percussionist this was an influential album to me, and still is. Much thanks, -mb

A sampler contained a collection of sampled percussion sounds from the studio recordings. In the case of ‘Shaman’ the hand drum phrases were broken into smaller sample fragments which were then triggered by playing the Octopad in a sequence of specific beats to replay as the original phrase. This was deemed safer than triggering a sample of the entire bar because that could potentially sound very irregular if not struck with absolute precision every time …  the shorter the phrase the greater the flexibility, and it was also then more ‘played’ rather than merely triggered (I could incorporate a slightly wider variety of sounds too). A similar approach was taken with the ‘Weathered Wall’ hand percussion, the reason being that the tonality and phrasing of these rhythm parts were important to driving the track and it wasn’t possible to replicate it sonically in a live situation, therefore using samples of the studio recordings was more reliable. Because some of the samples were still long enough to require a strict BPM it was necessary for me to wear an earpiece with the precise BPM metronome ticking away in my head the entire time.

Steve, Which tracks you have been involved in had “AHA!” moments when you knew you were doing something special? Any Japan tracks in particular stand out?

Probably around the commencement of recording Tin Drum with John Punter where we went into Basing Street studios to record a potential single which turned out to be ‘The Art Of Parties’ and ‘Life Without Buildings’. With the latter of the two tracks I felt there was an exciting shift into an area of experimentation in the studio which allowed a track to be incrementally constructed through playback. Up to that point everything was fine tuned and completed in rehearsals (perhaps with the exception of ‘My New Career’ which was a late addition to the ‘Polaroids’ album and therefore took shape at Air Studios, and which I feel is the most honest composition on that album). It was essentially the moment where I believe we as a band no longer felt that recording was merely a process by which something already composed and arranged was to be faithfully captured in a recording, and instead were able to use that environment more to our advantage by pushing our boundaries a little and experimenting with sonics instead of merely performance. It was the beginning of creative studio production which up to that point was mostly the input of the hired producer.