Great Zak Starkey interview!
Zak Starkey is on the cover on Modern Drummer with a great interview about him and Keith Moon.
When I clicked on the link just now, it showed Kim Thompson and Nikki Glaspie on the cover, so I guess I'm seeing this post too late for see the cover with Zak. I'll see if I can find that Zak issue later on when I'm out shopping. Hopefully it's still available, it sounds good!
Here is the whole interview (be warned it is really long, so I am posting it in a few parts):
After a decade of performing with the legendary rock band, the universal opinion is that Zak Starkey is the perfect drummer for the Who.
“I am not a rock ‘n’ roll star,” insists Zak Starkey. “I’m not famous, I suppose. But I am a very successful musician.” Deadpan, funny, and self deprecating, as this quote shows, Zak Starkey is famous by both association and skill set. But his famous name is trumped by his superb drumming.
As the forty-year-old son of Ringo Starr, most would think that Zak Starkey had been handed stardom on a silver platter. He plays drums with two of the most popular bands in the world, names the late, great Keith Moon as one of his best childhood friends, and is so busy he can be impossible to reach, as when Modern Drummer tried in vain to contact the globetrotting musician after he’d left his cell phone on someone else’s private jet.
But before he landed gigs with the Who and Oasis, Zak Starkey played with ten years’ worth of unknowns and also-rans, dragging his kit all over England like any other ambitious drummer. Slogging away in the studio and on the road, Starkey honored his small-time obligations like anyone else, until just over ten years ago, when late, legendary Who bassist John Entwistle heard him at a local pub and immediately invited him to join his band.
Not surprisingly, Zak’s drumming is the best fit in the Who since Keith Moon pillaged and pounded the skins during the band’s ‘60s/’70s glory days. On The Who Live: The Blues to the Bush CD and The Who Live at the Royal Albert Hall DVD, Starkey integrates within the Who as no one has done sing the mad “Moon the loon” himself.
The other drummers who followed Moon in that exalted drum chair- great players indeed- displayed a keen knowledge of Keith’s kinetic drum fills and expansive time feel. But Zak’s combination of organic cohesion and natural fluidity is closer to Moon’s than anyone. Indeed, Pete Townshend himself has called Zak “the karmic Keith Moon.”
More than chops or technique, Zak brings a dynamic sense of grand flash and fortitude balanced with a massive groove and an absolutely swinging fill conception. His seemingly innate ability to improvise with Townshend and Enwistle (now replaced by Pino Palladino) recalls Moon on such Who classics as “The Real Me”. And his roaring full-set fills on “Pinball Wizard”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Baba O’Reilly”, and the whole Quadrophenia are nearly perfect and always inspiring.
Is this Starkey simply a basher? On Oasis’s most recent album, Don’t Believe the Truth, he’s consummately tasteful, playing big-beat, tribal-folk rhythms rather than simply 2 and 4, complementing the band’s Beatle-ish melodies with thinking man’s grooves. Starkey matches this feat with alternate patterns of thought on such albums as John Entwistle’s The Rock, Johnny Marr & The Healers’ Boomslang, and Steve Marriott’s One More Time for the Old Tosser, as well as his touring work with Ringo’s All-Starr Bands. Like his dad, Zak can adjust to fit every gig, always playing with the right feel and a touch of his dad’s creative wit.
Currently on tour with the Who in support of their new album, The Endless Wire, Starkey continues to listen to his favorite old blues and rock ‘n’ roll records, play guitar, and practice the rudiments while writing music for his own glam band, Penguins. Bridging the past with the present, Zak Starkey is a drummer, an artist, a wizard- and a true star.
MD: Do you ever get tired of being referred to as “Ringo Starr’s son”?
Zak: It doesn’t get tiring. I kind of rebelled against it when I was a teenager; I said some pretty stupid things. But I’ll be honest, it’s great being Ringo’s son. He’s the greatest living drummer as far as I’m concerned.
MD: I read that he gave you your first drum kit.
Zak: Yes, a 1962 Ludwig four-piece champagne sparkle kit that he gave me for my eleventh birthday. I still have it; it’s set up in the next room, actually.
MD: He also gave you one single drum lesson. What did he teach you?
Zak: It was comprised of 8ths on the hihat, kick on 1 and 3, and snare drum on 2 and 4. That was it. We were hanging out in the studio one day and he said, “So, should I show you how to play drums?” I said, “Yeah of course”. So he showed me that pattern. The next day he showed me how to add an additional 8th note on bass drum: dunk-kat, dunk-dunk kat. I said, “Well, I can do that already, Dad.” And he said, “So you’re on your own.”
Classic Rock Begets Classic Rocker
MD: Did most of your early drumming chops come from playing along to Who records?
Zak: Keith Moon was my first big influence, definitely. I wanted to play the drums because of Keith. When I was very young there was music all around me in my parents’ house. You would go into the living room and find stacks and stacks of LPs. I would spend my days listening to records. My dad took me to see T. Rex when I was six. That was it for me; I wanted to be Marc Bolan. Then I got into David Bowie. I loved all of those ‘70s glam bands from England, like Slade and Sweet. Then when I was eight, I discovered the Who’s Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy. That turned everything on its head. It was so different and it sounded so alive. It was bouncy.
MD: So did you start playing along with that record?
Zak: I wasn’t playing drums yet. I had just gotten into the Who at that point. Then a year later I started playing with a lot of records. The Who, The Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, Harry Nilsson records with Jim Gordon on drums he’s a big influence on me. Gordon is a funky monster. He was so on it. I love that double snare hit thing he does with his left hand going back into the 1 of the bar.
“Jump into the Fire” by Harry Nilsson is a great Gordon track. I played a lot to Nilsson Schmilsson and Son of Schmilsson. And I know my dad is on a lot of Son of Schmilsson. I played along to T. Rex’s Electric Warrior and The Slider, all of the Bowie albums, Abbey Road, and Derek & the Dominos’ Layla. I wasn’t really copying the drums, if you know what I mean. I was playing along but it was more about getting the vibe of the album.
MD: What did you learn from doing that rather than copying the drum beats verbatim?
Zak: I learned how to play music and develop a musical empathy. I’m a real melting pot of styles. Right around that same time punk started up and I just got completely into it. I loved the first Damned album, Damned Damned Damned, as well as the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bullocks. That was the most amazing thing I’d ever heard. Give ‘Em Enough Rope by the Clash, too. And Ian Dury’s New Boots and Panties! I was also into a British band called The Ruts with a fantastic drummer, Dave Ruffy. I really liked their album, The Crack.
Rudiments Make the Man
MD: Did you ever practice purely drums?
Zak: To be honest, I only played to records. I didn’t just play drums. But from the time I was twelve I was always in a band. We used to play almost every night in my mum’s dining room- drove her out of her mind!
MD: You never felt the need to find a teacher and learn the rudiments?
Zak: I didn’t know any rudiments until I met the drummer with Kasabian, Ian Matthews. He’s the best drummer I’ve ever seen. Live, you know that he has chops, but he’s like Bonham in that he doesn’t display everything on every song. Then you hear him at sound check and he plays like Buddy Rich. Stunning. Their album, Empire, is number 1 in the UK. I was hanging out with him this weekend, and he showed me a few things, and I swear it improve my playing at least twenty percent. I don’t know what they’re called: I think they’re different paradiddle variations and some other rudiments. I began practicing them and it’s turning my playing around.
MD: On The Who Live at the Royal Albert Hall DVD you sound great, though, your grip is unusual. But you are incredibly loose. And your singles are burning.
Zak: At that point, I could only do singles. Now I’m working on doubles, and that helps everything else. As far as practice routine, I use the rudiments that Ian showed me as a warm-up exercise, and when a gig is coming up, I work on the music. Ian really helped me with my left-hand grip.
MD: How did you develop your singles without being a rudimental drummer?
Zak: I just used to play a lot. As I said, I always played in bands. There wasnever a time I wasn’t in one. And I would play along with records. So I guess everybody else had a head start on me.
MD: But having Ringo Starr as a dad and Keith Moon as a friend gave you a certain advantage.
Zak: Oh, definitely. My dad was a big influence at first, and that was soon eclipsed by Keith, Rat Scabies, Paul Cook, and Topper Headon.
Zak’s Uncle Ernie
MD: Speaking of Keith Moon, as a child, you were good friends with him. Did you and Keith talk drums?
Zak: Keith was like an uncle, really. He was one of my dad’s best friends. When my brother, sister, and I used to stay with my dad there, we would occasionally spend a few days at Keith’s house. Keith was the babysitter. We would just hang out and talk about anything, really- girls, surfing, bands, drums. He was really a fantastic guy to hang out with. He wasn’t crazy in any way, except for that look in his eye. I was hanging out with my hero.
MD: Once you started playing drums, did he give you advice?
Zak: I never actually sat at a set of drums with Keith. We used to talk about the drums. I asked him how he played the ride cymbal part in “Glow Girl” from Odds & Sods. It was an incredibly fast ride cymbal. He said what he did was put up one cymbal and a piece of cork where the wing nut would go, then another cymbal on top of that, but upside down. And he played between the two. That’s the only advice he gave me, and I think he may have lied. The recording sounds like an overdub to me.
MD: Did he tell you anything that you were able to use later when you played with the Who?
Zak: I don’t think so. When I first played with the Who we did Quadrophenia. There were certain things that had to be in there, certain fills that had to be exactly the same because they are so Quadrophenia, if you know what I mean. They are memorable fills. There aren’t memorable parts, though, because everything Keith played kept changing. If you listen to “The Real Me”, you’re not quite playing the same thing every time ever. Every bar comes around again, but what he played was never the exact same thing.
It was such a big band for the tour we did for Quadrophenia. There was Pete Townshend, two other guitar players, Roger Daltrey, two keyboard players, a brass section, backup singers- a huge thing. I tried to condense the drumming into something that everyone could get their heads around. I tried to make it a little bit straighter and more direct and powerful. It’s nowhere as good as the original. But I wanted to do something cohesive for everybody in the band so they’d be able to hold on and know what was happening.
MD: I heard that Keith Moon gave you a drum set when you were twelve.
Zak: Yes, the famous white and gold Premier kit. That set was sold by Sotheby’s [for 12,000 English pounds]
MD: Can you describe that set?
Zak: It was a double bass drum kit with eleven toms. I was twelve then and we lived in a village called Winkfield, Berkshire. The big Premier set was very safe. It was like having a wall all around you. No one can see me, but everyone could hear me- including our neighbors, who were trying to stop me from playing drums. I could reach all the drums, and within a year I was playing gigs with that kit. Our band was called The Next, and we did original material-a rock ‘n’ roll band with a punk influence.
MD: How did you lug that kit around?
Zak: I would just throw them in the back of the truck with no cases. The kit was pretty messed up when I got it.
MD: How do you absorb all the information in a Keith Moon drum part yet still express something of yourself?
Zak: I really knew the songs from playing along to the records over and over when I was a kid. I understood the shape of the songs. But when I started playing with the Who, I listened to the parts again and tried to simplify and make them more direct and easier for a fifteen-piece band to follow.
MD: You grew up playing with the records, and you knew Keith Moon, but what did you learn by playing the songs with the Who live that wasn’t apparent from playing along with the records?
Zak: It’s never the same two night running- ever. Not so much with the Quadrophenia tour, because that was such a big band and we had narration, actors, and film accompaniment. That was like rock ‘n’ roll theater taken on the road. It worked well. But when we went back to a five-piece- Pete, John, Roger, Rabbit [keyboard player John Bundrick], and me- I suddenly found out it’s different every night.
MD: How so?
Zak: As soon as you get to the solo, we’re off. Wherever Pete goes, we have to go. It’s very free. Pete’s approach is about playing music, and you have to feel wherever it wants to go. If we did it the same way every night, it would be boring. For example, in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, Pete plays the guitar in the verses differently every night. You have to jump on that. Even in the verses he’ll change the rhythm part every single night to whatever he feels like playing. He does that in “Can’t Explain”, “Substitute”, and everything. I can’t take my eyes off him. If you mess up, he’ll think he won.
MD: It seems like crash-riding is one essential of drumming with the Who.
Zak: Yes, and you have to be able to go [sings a one-bar 16th-note phrase with an upward tilt at the end]. Everyone in the Who does it. Pete does it on guitar, John used to do it on bass, and I do it on the snare and kick, which is why I have two kicks. I don’t play the kicks in the traditional heavy rock manner. I like groupings, like repeated 16ths played right foot, snare drum, left foot. I’ll used that in a four-bar phrase or beat.
MD: It’s funny that with all the classic fills and instrumental parts of the Who, a simple rhythmic phrase would be so important.
Zak: Keith did that as well, and I stole it from him. I stole the crash-ridthing from Keith too. But Kenney Jones was also doing that in the ‘60s, and if they weren’t doing it when the compression made it sound like they were. The limiting affected the cymbals that way.
MD: You just mentioned Kenney Jones, another of your predecessors in the Who. What about Simon Phillips? Would you say your groove is more laid back than his?
Zak: I would think so. Nobody is as on the money as Simon is. But he has a very different background from mine. I never really got into fusion and that kind of Billy Cobham era. I was into punk. Toward the end of punk, my friends got into Billy Cobham’s Spectrum, but I just didn’t dig it. I was into Jimi Hendrix.
MD: How did you develop your laid-back groove?
Zak: I never thought about it. My dad was laid-back, but his things kind of popped out. He was very awake in the way that he played. You listen to the Beatles records and he’s on top of it much of the time. He’s really grooving, but it’s also alive. I never really asked him about specific Beatles parts, though.
Bonding with Boris the Spider
MD: How did playing with John Entwistle first prepare you for the Who?
Zak: It was great to have an ally in the band. John was a really good friend. We first played together when I was sixteen and it just worked and sounded good. Then I played in his band when I was nineteen to twenty-one. Over the years, we occasionally played together, and we did a big charity AIDs show at Wembley Stadium in ’87. And we played on Roger Daltrey’s solo tour. John and I hung out a lot. As for the music, it was great playing with John, really easy. But he always said I should start my fills earlier.
MD: Earlier in the bar?
Zak: Earlier in an earlier bar!
MD: Me was such a monstrous technician and so melodic. Becoming comfortable with him must have made for an easier fit when you joined Peter and Roger.
Zak: It sure did. It made it much easier.
MD: Can you contrast the difference in pockets between Pino Palladino and John Entwistle?
Zak: I don’t think Pino would mind my saying that he has spent his whole life trying to play the least common denominator, and now in the Who he has to play as much as he can. But he loves it. I couldn’t think of another gig where it’s so free.
When the Who rehearse, we might play only two tunes. We play them and go home. We’ll be there for an afternoon, but we might only play for thirty minutes. The Who really don’t like to rehearse, and John hated it. John loved to play. He would get up in any club or bar and sit in.
When I did The Rock with John in ’86, we were living at his house. It took a year to make that record, because there were lineup changes. But every night we would have dinner at 6:30. Then John would go up to his room and practice the bass for an hour. He did that every day.
MD: As someone with extensive experience playing with him, what made John Entwistle great?
Zak: He had an amazing, deep pocket, and then he’d play fills that would blow your mind. And he could jump on anything you played. He could read everyone like a book.
MD: Everyone says that when you play with better musicians, they lift you up. Did playing with Entwistle improve your sense of time?
Zak: That’s happened to me my entire life. I’ve been lucky to play with some really great musicians. I played with Joe Walsh for a while in ’92. I double drummed on that tour with Joe Vitale. We would do a lot of the drumming together. On some tunes I would play drums while Vitale would play keyboards and flute. On others I would play guitar and Vitale would play drums. I learned a lot from those guys.
MD: You also played and recorded with bands that are virtually unknown. You have certainly paid your dues.
Zak: I never turned down anything. As a working musician, you can’t.
Whose Gear Are You?
MD: With the Who, you play what I think of as large crashes. Why do you prefer those?
Zak: They just feel and sound better to me. You have to hit them differently each time to get what you want out of them- softer or harder. But for the music that I play and the way I play, large crashes work better than sharp, fast crashes.
MD: Do you use the same complement with Oasis?
Zak: Yeah. Those cymbals make a lot of noise, man. They just fit. But you have to pick your moments with them, too, because they do make such a big sound. It’s not just crash-crash-crash all night. And the brilliant finish gives them a bit more life.
MD: I understand you really like Zildjiian’s Mastersound hi-hats.
Zak: They have a wavy bottom cymbal that lets the air out. They sound great to me- more of a shoooosh. I never play them really tightly shut. I keep them loose. In fact, the nut isn’t very tight. I like a lot of movement with hi hats. They play better that way.
MD: Do you play a lot of 2 and 4 or 8th notes on the hi-hat with your left food when riding the cymbal?
Zak: Sometimes. Sometimes I play fours. But the Mastersounds give me a stronger chick sound that really cuts through.
The Who vs. Oasis vs. Penguins
MD: Was there an audition when you joined the Who in 1996?
Zak: No. And Pete has never said anything to me about my drumming in ten years.
MD: You played on the forthcoming Who album, The Endless Wire. Can you describe recording with the Who?
Zak: Pete played everything- including drums- on the demos. He’s a very good drummer. He had some pretty set ideas about what he wanted. I got the tracks while I was on tour with Oasis. I was due to come back and begin recording the album, and then extra shows were added in Brazil. So I couldn’t make all of the sessions for The Endless Wire.
I eventually worked on five tunes, but only one of them made the record. I’m on “Black Widow Eyes”. I’m not on the mini-opera, which is a part of the album. We were playing the mini-opera live for the first three shows on the last tour. It’s basically a story told in seven songs, but it’s not like Tommy, where all of the songs are four minutes long. Some of the songs are under two minutes.
MD: Is this like classic Who: power chords, dramatic flourishes, and teen angst?
Zak: Some of it is pretty aggressive, but then some of it is more in the vein of The Who By Numbers.
MD: How does recording with the Who differ from recording with Oasis?
Zak: When recording with Oasis, generally we play like a band: together. Recording with the Who, it’s literally me and Pete. I was cutting to his demos.
MD: How does your setup change for Oasis?
Zak: With Oasis I use a small kit, with a single 24” bass drum, 10x14 and 16x18 toms, and the same cymbals.
MD: Do you tune differently?
Zak: The same. The thing with Oasis is that every member of the group is a singer, guitarist, producer, and drummer, so they have a pretty good idea of how they want to hear their song. But they can’t quite play it. So Liam will mime the part he wants as we’re playing. They know what they want, but I do have the freedom to stretch it out a little. Whoever’s song it is, he’s in charge of it, along with the record producer.
MD: That must be a headache, four guys telling you want to play.
Zak: Oh man, it’s such a weight off my shoulders. I’m not scratching around so much with them, looking for a part. They’ll say, “Try some Motown fours”, or “Play it like an Elvis record from the ‘50s”. Those guys are the most dedicated musicians I’ve ever met. Oasis are everything you think they’re going to be, everything you think they’re not going to be, and more. MD: You play that sound like folk or tribal rhythms on Oasis’s latest record, Don’t Believe the Truth. The rhythms are more circular than 2 and 4.
Zak: There are a lot of fours on the snare drum. They’d been listening to a lot of Bob Dylan, like when Bob went electric on Highway 61 Revisited. They were also listening to a lot of Kinks and Who. They were trying to simplify and make it more direct. It really worked.
MD: How does Oasis bring out a different side of your personality than the Who?
Zak: I would say it’s not any easier playing with Oasis. It’s not as flashy, you might say, but it does require more discipline. If I play something too fast with Oasis, every guy on that stage knows it. In the Who, Pete doesn’t even count in “My Generation”. He just starts and we all jump in. The Who want it different every night. So the two bands seem like extreme opposites, but there’s a lot of control required for both.
MD: How has working with Oasis influenced the music of your own band, Penguins? They’re both pop-oriented.
Zak: We’re more glam than Oasis, but we’re not too keen on being influenced by anything. That said, I listen to a lot of blues, like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Lightin’ Hopkins, plus a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, Little Richard…I don’t listen to much new music, though. I like Aphex Twin quite a bit. But the Penguins, we’re just playing what we feel. The band’s lineup is just me and a female singer called Sshh. She’s from Sydney. We’re just making music at the moment and posting it on MySpace (myspace.com/88761904). We’re not looking for a record deal yet. It’s just great to be able to record our own stuff on my Pro Tools setup at home.
MD: It’s interesting that you’re a blues lover.
Zak: I find the music to be really honest. It’s the same with a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, like Jerry Lee Lewis. That honestly, to me, is so inspiring. I listen to it and walk away buzzing. It’s alive.
MD: You really cue off the vibe of the music, in the same way you learn those early Who drum parts.
Zak: Exactly. And those blues players are really sharp as well.
MD: Is there a place you want to get to as a drummer?
Zak: I don’t know, man. I’m just rolling along. But meeting Ian Matthews has made me realize that you never stop learning. You can always improve. You’re never as good as you think you are. And you absolutely can’t rest on your laurels.
Drums: DW in Broken-Glass finish with chrome hardware
6 ˝ x14 Edge snare
8x12 rack tom
9x13 rack tom
10x14 rack tom
16x16 floor tom
16x18 floor tom
18x24 bass drum
14” A Mastersound hi-hats
21” K brilliant crash prototype
21” K brilliant crash prototype
22” K medium brilliant crash/ride
Hardware: all DW, including two 5000AD3 kick pedals
Heads: Remo coasted Ambassadors on snare, C.S. on toms and bass drums
Sticks: Zildjiian 5A Natural wood model
Electronics: Tama Rhythm Watch, Ultimate Ears in-ear monitors, AuraSound bass
shaker (attached to throne to feel low end)
Johnny Marr & the Healers Boomslang
Oasis Don’t Believe in Truth
The Who Live at the Royal Albert Hall (DVD)
The Who Tommy and Quadrophenia: Live (DVD)
John Entwistle The Rock
Lightning Seeds Tilt
The Who The Who Live: The Blues to the Bush 1999
The Who The Endless Wire
Classic Rocker Files
Artist Album Drummer
The Who Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy Keith Moon
The Who Odds & Sods Keith Moon
The Who Who’s Next Keith Moon
The Who Tommy Keith Moon
The Small Faces Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake Kenney Jones
Harry Nilsson Nilsson Schmilsson Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, Roger Pope
Harry Nilsson Son of Schmilsson Jim Gordon, Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner, Roger Pope
T. Rex Electric Warrior Bill Legend
T. Rex The Slider Bill Legend
The Beatles Abbey Road Ringo Starr
Derek & the Dominos Layla Jim Gordon
The Damned Damned Damned Damned Rat Scabies (Chris Millar)
The Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bullock Paul Cook
The Clash Give ‘Em Enough Rope Topper Headon
Ian Dury New Boots and Panties! Charlie Charles
The Ruts The Crack Dave Ruffy
Al Green Gets Next to You Al Jackson
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