Ask Oli what the best position is to be in a band and he will give you an unequivocal answer: "Drummer of course!" While the three or four other members of the band who stand in from of drummer lapup the brunt of fan adoration, the drummer sits elevated at the back, on a pedestal of rhythm, attached to the band with something akin to the puppeteer's strings, driving the music forward with invisible timing and precision. The drummer's world can be the steady metronomic caress of the ride cymbal one second, and the percussive violence of the base drum the next, which is what makes watching the drummer so captivating. So in honour of these poets of the beat, we've developed a new interview series called "Four On The Floor", where we pick the brains of four percussionists at the top of their game. First up, the inimitable Gary Powell...
OS: So why don’t you introduce yourself Gary…
Gary Powell: How you doing? My name's Gary Powell. I am a drummer with the band, The Libertines. I've also just recently started playing with Don Letts. I’ve previously played with The Specials, New York Dolls. A bunch of other stuff that I can't remember, too.
OS: Well, that's a bloody good roster. So Gary, tell us what or who inspired you to take up the drums.
GP: My main inspiration would be Dave Weckl. There was an album that came out in the 80s by Chick Corea Elektric Band called Eye of the Beholder. Now, prior to that I always kind of loved drums, grooves, George Benson, Earth Wind and and Fire, New York Dolls, anything that my dad listened to, and everything else from every kind of musical genre. I just love music in general, and that's the kind of the household that we grew up in. My dad was a huge Springsteen fan, but he loved everything from Springsteen to Third World, to the Abyssinians, to Miles Davis, to whatever. So I listened to absolutely everything and air-drummed to everything as well. So stylistically me as a player, the core of it comes from what my dad listened to. I ended up listening to all of that stuff as well. But when I purchased this album, by the Chick Corea Elektric Band, and I heard Dave Weckl’s approach to playing drums on it, it was so musical and so colorful. It wasn't just laying down grooves and nice fat fills and stuff. It was really tasteful, with colourful touches, but then with a rudimental orientation as well. They had all these facets in there that I had never really explored beforehand. And I was like, I want a little bit of that. That's what I want to do. So yeah, Dave Weckl.
OS: Are there any other drummers that have inspired you?
GP: I’d say Danny Goffey of Supergrass, because I never really played rock before joining the Libertines and prior to that everything I did was always jazz or funk and grooves orientated. But then when I heard Danny playing on tracks like Caught By The Fuzz, that really gave me the fervour I needed to actually start experimenting with that type of thing. I eventually became mates with Danny and that's just kind of amazing.
OS: What does your drum kit look like on stage?
GP: I don’t know if you've ever seen a Libs show, but my kit, it's not a stereotypical drum kit that you would see for an indie band, per se (by the way I hate the term ‘indie’ band, there aren't really any indie bands anymore. Everybody's signed to a major label, no one's of independent origin anymore. They've all got deals and all types of nonsense). So my kit is big because every so often I need to create a different colour for a particular track. Much like a photographer or a fashion designer, you need different textures, you need different colour palettes, you need different things in order to create whatever it is that you're actually trying to communicate, so my drum kit is big because I’ve got a lot I need to say!
OS: What is your setup of choice?
GP: Kit wise, I've got two rack toms, 10 and 12, two floor toms, 14 and 16. I've got a 13-inch snare drum next to my 12-inch wrap tom. I have two 12- and 13-inch timbales. I have double pedals. I have a Gajate block next to my double pedal. I've also got a cowbell next to my pedals as well. So I've got five different pedals altogether. I've got an array of cymbals, Zildjian, including splash cymbals just because of the different colours and different textures they can add. I've got a stack, a bunch of broken cymbals, and two ride cymbals. I've got an electronic pad set up as well to set up samples. So there's just loads and loads of different things going on in there. And basically it's just to kind of stop me from getting into trouble doing other things. The more and more they can have me hit things and the less I can cause trouble.
OS: And sartorially, what is your go-to?
GP: I just wear Adidas tracksuits because Adidas kindly gave me a few. There's a lime green tracksuit, kind of like a yellow stroke, very bright. And I had a black tracksuit, but it either got stolen or lost on tour. Either way, the people who should have been looking after all that stuff weren't paying attention at the time because we started drinking!
OS: So when you are on the road, what are you packing in your bag?
GP: I am a vehement believer in it’s better to have too much than too little! This coming weekend, we're playing Soulfest with the Libertines in Cumbria and I'll have all good intentions of just carrying an overnight bag, but that never goes to plan.We're flying because apparently there's a train strike or some nonsense happening. So I'll need something to wear to the airport. Then, if we go out to dinner, I'm going to want to change. And then I'll need a change of clothes for the day and then I'll need clothes for the show and then I'll need a change of clothes for the following day as well. It's all very comfort oriented, too. But I think I'm somewhat cinematographic with regards to my sartorial style. At the moment I'd go so far as to say that it's a blend of 1920s, 40s and 50s influences, stuff like Oxford bags, baggy work denim jeans, big turn-ups, scarves, caps by Art Comes First. Sam and Shaka, I love those guys. Yeah, that's my bag, baby.
OS: That's a good bag. And for when you're drumming, do you have a specific shoe that you wear?
GP: I do. But funnily enough, I don't even know what it is! It's a cheap Chinese brand I discovered, but I can't remember the name. All I know is they're kind of black and red and they say RAGE on them. They look really, really weird, and kind of sci-fi-esque. I bought them for the gym since they're really, really light and they've got a lot of spring in them. They’re perfect for playing in, and let my feet work on the pedals.
OS: Who do you think is the most stylish drummer?
GP: The most stylish drummer outside of Charlie Watts you mean?! I don't know. I don't really pay that much attention, which is very, very odd because I do consider myself to be somewhat sartorial to a degree.
OS: Is there a style of drumming that you prefer or really speaks to you?
GP: The one that would attract me the most would be jazz. I just think it's really colourful. For me, in its entirety, jazz is just a form of communication. It's just an ideology of communicating thoughts and processes from musicians regarding where they were at this particular moment in time, and then relaying that to the general public via guys performing music. In my mind, the best type of music that isn't orally orientated is jazz because it is so dynamic, and so much of a conversational piece. It’s down to I remember seeing an article once where someone was in the studio recording with Coltrane. They’d gone to the bathroom when Coltrane was laying down the track. But then Coltrane walked out of the recording room while still playing his saxophone, and when he walked into the bathroom he was still playing it! The whole time he was mic’d up. He just would not stop. He was completely in the zone, and couldn't care less who was around him. He was in the midst of his conversation and he needed to complete whatever it was that he was saying at that particular point in time via his saxophone.
OS: That's a thing of beauty. What have you got coming up, Gary?
GP: Well, Soulfest, this Reading weekend. The Libertines, we've just recorded our latest album. I think we do one every 10 years or so. Yes. So expect the next one to come from the grave! The album comes out in January. Outside of that I've got my own record label as well. So I'm now currently in the midst of working with a band called Dead Freights from Southampton. They've got their album coming out in the new year as well, but they've got three singles coming out between September and the end of the year. One is a really weird cover version. I'm not going to say anything about that. I'll just hope you'll get a chance to hear it at some stage in the future. I had an epiphany and said you guys should actually try and do this thing. And they did it and it worked. So that'll be the first thing that's coming out in the next month.
OS: Awesome. Thanks for your time Gary.
GP: Cool and the gang.
Fresh from our Four On The Floor Series, drummer Gary Powell of The Libertines has put together a playlist for the ages, featuring a percussive assortment of tracks that have inspired him, and ones that he’s actually playing on.