Andrew Spence Interview – by Travis Marc 2010.
Animal Andy is a good friend of mine and you have to see him live sometime, we sat down for a few minutes to talk music, drums and more, check it out.
Hi Andrew, thank you for your time. The beginning is often the best place to start so please, tell us about what initially attracted you to the drums and why you began to play the instrument?
Hi Travis, many thanks for the interview. When I was 12 years old, my musical background at this time of my life was pretty bland and I wasn’t really a fan of music as such, would listen to what ever played on the radio and just went with the flow. But one day it all changed, my Father bought the Remasters collection from Led Zepplin and I got hooked on this one song “Achilles Last Stand”, 10 minutes and 25 secs of pure heaven for me. I would get home from school, put the CD in and listen to this song over and over again and my arms would be flying around the air and something just popped in my head one day after weeks of listening to this song and I said “I wanna play the drums”. It all kinda spiralled from there, my father then introduced me to a member of my local church in Edenvale, Lew who then showed me the ropes. It took me a few months to learn the basics and from there on I was in LOVE… I knew I’d be doing this for the rest of my life.
What originally made Starseed relocate to the UK and what advice would you offer on the matter for bands wanting to do the same?
In 2000 / 2001 after having watched countless bands and influences in our lives hit the so called “glass ceiling” of South Africa and then more than likely splitting up, it was just so disheartening to see. We felt the opportunities for the band were quite slim in SA for a band like us and felt a move was essential if we wanted to further ourselves as musicians and achieve more for the band on an international platform.
I would highly recommend the move for any serious band. It’s a grand learning experience and definitely teaches you a lesson on how industry works. The standard here is set very high and as a musician you have to step your game up very high if you want to have any chance over here. But any dreams of moving here and getting signed with in a year or two and touring the stages of the world with money, girls, cars and all that nonsense at your beckoned call, you’ll be gravely disappointed. It doesn’t work like that, not anymore. If you’re coming to the UK, you’ve gotta be prepared to start all over again.
Starseed turned 10 years old on Jan 2nd 2010… that’s how long we’ve been doing this and our focus and drive remains the same if not more so than the day we started.
The new Starseed album “Peace Machine” seems to be doing very well in the UK, and has had reviews in various publications, including the Kerrang magazine. What do you think makes this album different to any of your previous albums, or alternatively, why do you think people seem so interested with this one ?
The biggest thing on Peace Machine is that this is the first album where we’ve written the album as a full unit. All 5 members writing and focussing on the same goal. Our musical styles all just clicked and every song carefully thought out and put together. Our past albums / EP’s were all kind of written on the fly with myself, Russell (vocals) and Gerald (guitar) with part time members helping out. So, while we’re still very proud of that work, I think this new album is truely a depiction of the 5 of us – hearts, souls, the works! Hopefully that’s what’s shining through on the album and why people are interested. In terms of style this album is slightly darker in tone with slight timing and technical differences from our last releases. Also the inclusion of Peter Wicker (lead guitarist) has given us a much more defined edge in our sound and not trying to blow our own horns here, but the guy’s guitar work is really phenomenal.
Tell us a little bit about the recording process in regards to “Peace Machine “, where did you guys record, who did you work with, and how long did it take?
We recorded at Stakeout Studios in Sunbury, Surrey. It’s a really cool little spot set on an island in the middle of the Thames – South West of London. Jason Wilcock (Fightstar, Reuben, Ghost Of A Thousand) produced this album for us. We’ve worked with Jason for the last 5 years or so now and built up a great relationship with him and he understands our sound. He also knows how to get a great drum sound, which is key. We recorded from April – May 2009 and completed final mixes and mastering by July 09. We have some video diaries from the process up on our youtube site if you would like to check it out. http://www.youtube.com/starseedrock
What drum gear did you use for the recording, and why did you choose to use the gear you did?
I used the studio in house kit which is a Tama Starclassic. I felt it was best to use this as Jason works with this kit day in / day out and knows the sound intimately, so it just makes things easier for getting a good sound. I have a very simplistic kit set up too, so it made thing move pretty quickly. We had a lot of fun on the cymbal side of things though, we chopped and changed between ride cymbals from a Zildjian Custom A 20” as the bell sound worked better for songs like “Falling”, “Return” and “Shine” but for other more flowing songs where you just needed the ride to wash over the general sound of the song, we switched up with a 24” K Lite Ride – we used this on “No Way Out” and “The Untimely Death Of Sobriety”. I also got to use my Sabian AAX splash on a few key parts which really worked nicely.
Do you have a practice routine away from the band, and if so could you please tell us about it? Also, do you have any sort of warm up routine before shows etc?
My biggest disadvantage living in London is the semi-detached houses, limited space and rehearsal space is very hard to find, so I have practice pads I use just to keep my technique up. I try and get a single drum rehearsal at a local rehearsal rooms and then we have band practice once a week, so I get a lot of practice in, but nowhere as near as much as I would like. In terms of routine, it’s the usual 30 mins hand exercises and 30 mins foot exercises for double kicks and then about an hour of improv.
Before shows depending on if we get a backstage area or not, I usually do a 30 min warm up on whatever the hell I can tap, just doing warm exercise. I’ll set up a space and warm up my limbs and vocals.
What have been your personal highlights in regards to Starseed relocating to the UK?
This year has been a truely magnificient one for the band and it feels like things are really going from strength to strength. While we were recording “Peace Machine” we were asked by a band called Run Through The Desert to support them at a secret show. These guys were all the members of Chris Cornell’s touring band and they were doing a one off promo show with their personal band. So it was magic to be involved with that. Our feature article in Kerrang magazine was also a major highlight, our recent UK tour was fantastic and Bruce Dickinson himself giving Peace Machine his stamp of approval was surreal. This year we’ve been invited to do a live session of 4 songs on XFM London and have another tour set up for Feb/Mar, so things are definitely moving in the right direction. More highlights to come I hope!
Who are your drumming influences? And if you could have a master class from any of them, who would it be and why?
I have loads of favourites, my biggest influences growing up were engulfed in the Grunge Scene – so Dave Grohl, Matt Cameron and Chad Smith were kings to me at the time. But then as time goes on and music horizons broaden I’ve found myself really into some of the technical punk and metal stuff as well as prog rock. So lately drummers who are really have a serious affect on my drumming are Gavin Harrison, Chris Adler and Jord Samolesky. Also a big fan of Dirk Verbeuren from Soilwork, his speed and seamless approach to drumming is something to be marvelled at.
Masterclass… it would have to be Gavin Harrison, I would just love to have a brain transplant with that guy. Anything he does is just mind boggling. What I love most about him is he’s not so flashy, just very down to earth and passionate about his drumming. Everything is well thought out and out together and he makes the impossible seem possible.
What do you feel has been the most important advice you have ever received in regards to your musical career?
Take it slow… everything you hear, take it down into its slowest form, understand the beat you’re playing from its grass roots. You can’t expect to play something fast and fluent if you don’t understand the mechanics of it’s make up. My drum teacher Lew taught me that and I’d be nowhere without it.
If you could change one thing about the SA, UK or World music scene, what would you change and why?
Politics…the “ it’s not what you know, it’s who you know mentality”. It’s the way the world works and its sad. So many bands who deserve to do well on merit don’t seem to get there and some other guy who probably doesn’t deserve it knew someone and had a favour done for them. But it’s something that can’t be changed… so number 1 lesson… be nice and don’t be a dick, you never know who might be pulling the strings one day.
Where do you see yourself personally, and within Starseed within the next five years?
Touring the world with this band I love and hopefully making enough to live off of it.
Any plans on going back to South Africa for a tour or visit anytime soon?
We would absolutely love to, but it all comes down to money sadly. We’re making plans to hopefully get Peace Machine on the shelves back home and if folks would like to see us back home and we can build up a demand we would love to come and play home. Sadly being poor rock musicians trips back home are something of a rarity, even just for visits back to see the family.
Do you feel that the UK drumming scene is more or less as competitive as that of say the United States?
Its hard to say, the US is a much bigger place with a much bigger population, so you’ve got a vested interest in music from a young age over there. So demographically it would make more sense that the drumming scene be better in the US. However, I lived there for a while and finding good drummers over there was harder than you might think. But at the end of the day a good drummer is a good drummer, no matter what country you’re in and the vast array of talent spanning the UK is quite breathtaking. The kids here are so good, they’re all tight, know their chops and are very in tune with drumming scenes all over the world. It’s all very competitive and keeps old timers like me on my toes. Yeah an old timer at 26 years old… the kids are taking over!
What drumming advice could you offer our readers that you feel might make their practice routines or musical journey’s easier?
Never ever believe you’re too good for drum lessons, there is always something to learn, bad habits to break and information to soak in, this grows ever more so the older you get. There’s no time for ego’s in this business, get on with learning your drums to the best of your ability and stay focused and passionate.
Try to broaden your horizons from standard 4/4 style practing, dabble in new time signatures and always try something that seems impossible to you. Keep fit, keep your limbs, wrists, fingers and ankles active.
I would also recommend getting your hands on the Rhythmic Horizons DVD by Gavin Harrison. I also recommend getting your hands on Joe Morello Master Studies book, a good cookbook of hand / foot techniques, tempo exercises and other cool stuff.