BEN CALVERT INTERVIEW
One of the hardest-working and best drummers in the land, Ben Calvert has bashed the fibre out of skins galore for a number of bands including Kill II This, Vex Red, Killing Joke and Sacktrick over the heady course of the past fifteen years.
As versatile a drummer as any band could wish for, Ben has also been known to rip up a riot of mean beats for chart sensation Calvin Harris. Capable of adapting his drumming style at the drop of a cymbal, Ben’s drumming has to be heard to be believed. What’s more, when Ben is playing in a live situation, the focus of any given crowd’s attention is more often than not on him instead of the band’s frontman. Akin to Robin Guy, Ben’s passion for drumming is evident every time he slides behind his kit with drum-sticks poised.
Steve first met Ben in Driffield when organising and promoting gigs at Hooters. It just so happened that Ben was keeping time for Alternative-Rock heroes Sacktrick who came to play with Phluid.
Here, in a rare interview, Ben chats to Steve about his formative years, his drumming heroes, the learning curve that he’s taken with various groups, and how he managed to hook up with Calvin…
HI BEN, HOW YOU DOING?
Hello! I’m sitting… which feels good.
HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED DRUMMING, AND WHAT DID YOU INITIALLY FIND SO ATTRACTIVE ABOUT UNLEASHING YOUR FURY UPON A SET OF SKINS?
I just remember being interested in music from a very early age. It came very naturally, so I explored it. Then I began ‘clicking and clucking’ beats with my mouth and drumming on school tables. I annoyed many people… but I was fascinated. I still am.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST DRUM-KIT THAT YOU OWNED, AND DO YOU HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR DRUM-KITS WHEN YOU PLAY WITH DIFFERENT BANDS, OR ARE YOU ABLE TO ADAPT YOUR MAIN KIT?
My first drum kit came from our next door neighbour in Beverley. It was an old Beverley Premier kit. Real skins and a cymbal arm in the bass drum. Proper. He was quite a cool neighbour to have, thinking about it. Norman. Obviously since then I’ve been through a few kits. I’ve been playing Yamaha since 1998. I try to just have one main kit at any one time and then adapt things like snares and cymbals to match the required sound.
YOU WERE BORN IN NORTHUMBERLAND AND RAISED IN EAST YORKSHIRE. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE MUSIC SCENE IN EAST YORKSHIRE WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
Yeah, I was born in Berwick-upon-Tweed and raised in Beverley. I eventually managed to find a few similar minds, but not really until I was around fourteen or fifteen years old. Then we started bands, covering our favourite songs. I guess it would have been a bit different growing up in the centre of New York, or even in the Amazon, or the Middle East, but it is what it is! The UK has some of the best music in the world… plus, with the Internet, we can access almost anything.
WHICH GENRES OF MUSIC HAD THE MOST IMPACT ON YOU IN YOUR FORMATIVE YEARS?
I’m not very good at naming styles of music. I don’t really believe in sanity. Led Zeppelin had a massive impact on me, as did Nirvana. This is the part where I want to list as many bands as I can, but I won’t. I love Sigur Ros. I love Frank Zappa. I love Meshuggah. I love ‘good music’ as Nigel Kennedy would say!
WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED TAKING YOUR DRUMMING SERIOUSLY, DID YOU EVER IN YOUR WILDEST DREAMS THINK THAT YOU MIGHT ONE DAY BE ABLE TO MAKE A LIVING OUT OF YOUR MUSICAL PASSION?
I didn’t really think about it. I just kept choosing drums every time I came to those ‘crossroads in life’, y’know? The classic “upset your family, sign on for a while, and play to nobody”. Then, after you’ve gone to the bottom to make a start, you can slowly begin putting the pieces together and making sense of how life works for you. We didn’t get taught about the Inland Revenue at school. We’re just expected to ‘get on’ with it. It took me a few years after leaving the schooling system to rebuild myself. That’s just my personal experience. Music enabled me to express myself and ‘rebel’ in a sense. I’ll never forget singing or air-drumming to amazing music every time I got home from school. Just to ‘let it all out’!
YOU HAVE PLAYED WITH A MULTITUDE OF SUPERB BANDS OVER THE YEARS. WHICH BANDS HAVE YOU ENJOYED PLAYING WITH THE MOST, AND WHY?
They’re important links in my chain! Kill II This took me on tour for the first time. Sacktrick taught me about comedy in music with many musicians involved. Vex Red showed me the world of major labels. Killing Joke have taught me what it’s like to exist in this industry for thirty years. I did all those projects as a ‘band member’. I could have been drunk or late if I chose to. With Calvin Harris, I’ve been expected to be ship-shape and professional. Work hard and play hard. Calvin has a good balance between the two, and that’s why I’ve enjoyed it so much. I think a lot of musicians try to make it too much fun, and play, but then wonder why they don’t get professional attention. I, for one, have a reputation as a bit of a party animal… but obviously I have to choose my timing, otherwise I would never get a gig.
DO YOU EVER FIND IT DIFFICULT TO JOIN AN ESTABLISHED BAND IF ALL THE OTHER BAND MEMBERS HAVE KNOWN AND WORKED WITH EACH OTHER FOR A LONG TIME BEFORE YOU HOOK UP WITH THEM?
No. I only care about the music at first. When Killing Joke called me, I was sent ten of their albums to learn so we could rehearse in Prague for their twenty-fifth anniversary shows. I learnt it all and went in hard. At the same time, it turned out they didn’t mind a smoke and drink themselves… so I was able to unleash the beast! Those days were special; they don’t drink anymore.
SO HOW DID YOU HOOK UP WITH CALVIN HARRIS, AND WHAT’S HE LIKE TO WORK WITH?
A drummer mate I met in Vex Red passed the Calvin gig to me; I was looking, and he already had a gig. Calvin is great. When we’re learning new tunes, he and I go into a room first. He sits facing me and shows me exactly what to play. Once my beats and his samples are locked together, the rest of the band come in and play on top. He’s a funny, bright guy.
ARE YOU NEVER TEMPTED TO LET LOOSE WHEN YOU’RE DRUMMING FOR CALVIN TO REALLY ROCK-UP HIS SOUND?
I play damn hard with Calvin, too. Only I play what he wants. He has a good idea of what he wants to hear, so I’m happy with that. Sometimes, on bigger stages, I’ll literally play as hard as I can, but if I started filling around the kit too much, it wouldn’t work as well as it does now. It’s Dance music.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE DRUMMERS?
There are so many. Some I don’t even know the name of. But, for the sake of this interview… John Bonham, Dave Grohl, Morgan Agren, Benny Greb, Thomas Haake… and that guy from The Mars Volta, Thomas Pridgen! He’s insane.
FINALLY, IF ANYBODY WOULD LIKE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR DRUMMING, DO YOU HAVE A WEBSITE OR A ‘MYSPACE’ PAGE WHERE PEOPLE CAN SATISFY THEIR INTRIGUE?
No. I’m on Facebook, but strictly for my close friends. I use Twitter to track a couple of mates, too. If somebody really needs me, they can contact a friend of a friend, or someone’s management. Maybe I should do a bit more drum press, though. I’ve always snubbed it in the past. Who do I think I am?
(Questions by Steve Rudd; Answers by Ben Calvert)