Tonight I'll be playing my very last gig with Mimosa, the funksters. It feels quite sad, but in a positive way. I'm excited about and looking forward to the gig in its own right but can't help pondering and wondering about things.
Since I started drumming I've lost count of the number of bands I've been in let alone the amount I've auditioned for, but the Mimosa experience has been almost totally pleasurable and certainly a learning experience that will stay with me forever. The biggest reason for this is that it's the first and only originals band I've been involved with.
Playing in covers bands is fun, of that there's no doubt. To play a couple of sets and be Dave Grohl in one song, Chad Smith in the next and Stevie Wonder next is challenging and stimulating. I've seen many a drummer play a covers set and play each and every song, no matter how varied they may be in their original form, as if there's only one style of music in the world. Bashing their way through Superstition as if it was a punk song, tearing into Creep as if it had been written by the Sex Pistols and making Hotel California (which I hate anyway) sound as if it was the song that heralded the birth of grunge.
Style is everything for me and the art of drumming in a covers band (IMHO) is to replicate the style of each song accurately. That doesn't mean that we have to copy the part note for note but that the feel of the original song has to be retained.
It's all well and good and an art in itself. Listen and learn the original, make sure you're technically capable of playing it, which isn't always the case, practice your part, then put it together with the rest of the band and perhaps add your own touches and flourishes.
And then we come to Mimosa, or the originals situation. Rather, and then I came to Mimosa, the originals band. I auditioned with them but it wasn't slotting into an existing band as it was more of a start up thing. The name hadn't even been chosen at that stage and there was one song that was about three quarters written. I got the job, as you know, and fuck me it was a new and different scene for me.
I knew that it was a funk project and therefore that it I was expected to be funky. The rest was a whole new world for me. One of listening to a guitar riff and trying to come up with a drum groove to go with it, then remembering the part until the next rehearsal, which was one of the big challenges. I was used to having a CD or the original song to listen to but in an orginals band, unless each band practice is recorded, there are no points of reference other than memory. Remembering a drum part is tough. A guitar line can be sung in the head, vocals involve words, drums are very different.
It was my first time being in a band with a brass section and a percussionist too. I've always considered my drumming to be groove oriented but I realised that I had to focus on that even more than before. The sound is so big and busy, particularly with a busy and funky bassist, that sheer groove and being solid matters more than ever. So much of the filling out of the sound is achieved by the other instruments that there is little space for the drummer to demonstrate his ability to play like Billy Cobham falling down a flight of stairs.
Over the three and a half years the songs have been written, nurtured and developed. My playing has improved endlessly and I'm sure my overall musical knowledge has matured considerably. I feel pride in each song and for my own little contribution of a drum part to them, as if each is a little baby that I've given birth to, perhaps without the pain. Learning to play in an originals band has definitely helped my ability to play covers, my competence in flying by the seat of my pants has gone up several notches.
As I prepare for the final gig I realise that I now understand the difference between copying and creating. Both are valid ways to do something, both are hard to do, but they're very different.
Whenever I've heard those stories about chaps who are brilliant forgers of art, who can copy a Da Vinci or a Rembrandt so perfectly that that even Mrs Da Vinci or a random art expert couldn't tell the difference, they always say that the forger was a brilliant artist himself. That may be the case but he's not the one who thought of what to do in the first place. Copying the Mona Lisa is one thing, having the idea in the first place is another.
That's the difference. Some people can look or listen to something and critique it, judge it and often improve it. They're the forgers, the people in covers bands. Some can come up with the brilliant idea in the first place and may be weaker at improving it. They're the Da Vincis and the Rembrandts, though the theme tune to Friends was about the only thing they did. Others can do both.
I strive to be in the second group, I often find myself in the first group and I would love to have a foot in each of them.
Thanks Mimosa. I've learned, I've enjoyed and it's been an honour.
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