John Humphrey Interview – by Travis Marc – 2010.
American based, South African Rockers, Seether recently returned to our shores, in order to tour their latest album, “Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces”. I was lucky enough to sit down and chat about all things drumming, with their hard hitting sticks man, John Humphey. Here are some of the things we spoke about…
According to your myspace profile you began drumming at a really early age. What would you say attracted you to rhythm and drumming in the first place?
It was definitely music in general. I guess you could say that I was a weird little four year old, who, because, I was quite sickly couldn’t really play much sport. And so, it became music for me. My Mom had given me some great records, that I would play everywhere, on this little record player, that I would always toe around. And that really got me interested in certain styles of music. The first live concert I went to go and see, was a KISS Concert, and besides the energy, lights and pyro, I just remember really being taken away by the visual of the Drum kit, it was huge, and the drummer just seemed larger that life. After that I was hooked, it was the drums for me.
How would you categorise your drumming style and who would you say are some of your biggest influences?
I like to be as solid as possible. I’m really quite a heavy hitter, I guess you could say I’m a meat and potatoes, basher type of drummer, with a bit of flash, heh, heh. As for the drummers that have always influenced me, I’d have to say that they’re the real, straight ahead, solid kind of guys. Obviously, I like drummers that are technically profound, but not if they are too flashy, or over the top. I think John Bohnam was a really great blue print for Rock drumming. But, more in the era that I grew up in, I’d have to say that guys like Tommy Lee, Dave Grohl, and Alex Van Halen are among my favourites. I also really like some of the stuff that Steve Smith did with Journey. Ringo Starr, was also one of my favourites, he always manages to orchestrate his parts, in a way that makes his drumming become a signature part of the song, he has some great ideas.
Being as busy as you guys constantly are, do you get any time to practice and if so, do you have any sort of practice routine?
I’m really quite bad about that, especially on tour, because there’s so little time in which to practice. Interestingly enough though, towards the end of 2006, I had to have some really serious surgery on my back, and during my four month recovery, with my back brace on, and my physical therapy, I started messing around on this little Roland V electronic kit that I have at home. In many ways, it was as if I had been working on my own mental therapy, because during that time, I really fell in love with drumming again. It turned out to be the most practice that I had done in about ten years. I would just play to songs on my iPod, and work on the Seether music in between, in order to get myself back into fighting shape, before we started recording the new album. I started feeling better, and healthier, and even the guys said to me that I was playing better than ever. I’ve been playing professionally since I was a teenager, so most of my hard practice, wood shedding years were already done, so it was nice to just take some time to practice and enjoy the drums again. It was a great period for me. As far as warm ups before performances, I just do some basic stretches to get the blood flowing.
In the 90′s I was in a band called the Nixons, I had been touring and recording with the Nixons, for about eight years, so when things came to a halt, I just decided to spend some time at home with my first son. Besides that, I kept playing some shows locally, and doing the occasional session. Anyway, a buddy of mine, named Howard, had started to work as the sound guy for Seether, and I ran into him one day, and he told me about the band, and how they were really having trouble finding/keeping a drummer, and how he thought I’d really get on with the guys, and fit into the band well etc. So during their tour with 3 Doors Down in Dallas, they had set up a small audition, which five guys showed up for. I was the last guy to go into the audition, by this time, it was already midnight and you could see that the guys looked tired and frustrated etc. Shaun then called a few songs from their Disclaimer album, and before I knew it, we had run through a set of about nine songs. He then asked, if I wanted to go out on the road with them. It was a very, on the spot kind of situation, but it was great.
Between Seether and your previous band The Nixons, you’ve pretty much been on the road for the last couple of years. What do you do to keep yourself entertained, and motivated, while you’re away from home for such long periods of time?
Along with being a musician, I’m also a really big music fan, and record collector. I love finding these “hole in the wall” type record stores, and finding old vinyl’s that I can buy, and collect. I’m a huge Elvis Presley and Beatles fan, and I simply love finding vintage vinyl, of these kind of artists. It’s kind of become a hobby of mine, in the respects of, on my days off, I’ll wonder off, and ask the locals of the town that we’re in, where I could possibly find some of these old record stores, and when I do finally find them, I’ll pretty much spend the whole day there. As a band, we try and catch the occasional movie together etc, but besides that I just try and catch up on some sleep. Rest is really important, and is sometimes a real commodity for me.
On the new “Seether” album, “Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces”, you guys worked with legendary producer, Howard Benson. What was it like working with Howard, and what was your approach, drum wise towards the Album as a whole?
Howard is a great guy. He’s extremely musical, and very song orientated. In arranging our music, he really “trimmed” the fat off a lot of our songs. He just got straight into it, arranging the songs, and in general just making them stronger and better. With that in mind, this wasn’t our first album, so we’re already used to working together, as a band, and it’s really something that I think we do really well together. The one thing that was really different on this album, compared to our others, was that we didn’t do that much pre production. Shaun and Howard had pretty much narrowed it down to about fifteen tracks, and after Shaun had shown Dale and I the basic outline of the songs, we pretty much went into studio, and did them. It was extremely spontaneous. I mean, I usually try and work on our songs as much as possible, and try and come up with some key fills etc, but in this case we’d pretty much do a take, and Howard would want to keep certain ideas, and change others. Listening back to the album though, we’re really happy with it, it sounds really musical and spontaneous, and isn’t in anyway contrived or over thought. Howard’s process worked really well with our band.
If you could drum for any band, except “Seether” who would it be?
Ha, ha. I would have to go with Motley Crue, they were just the true epitome of a Rock band. Their autobiography, “the Dirt”, is just such a fantastic story, and just proves that they really just lived it that whole Hollywood/Rock n Roll lifestyle ! Tommy, just hit as hard as he could, and although they get branded purely as a “hair metal” band, they were absolutely fantastic, and really inspired me.
You’ve come to perform in South Africa a few times now, how would you say the South African crowds differ from the American crowds that you’re used to performing in front of?
You know, not to take anything away from the American fans. I’d have to say that in, both, South Africa, and Europe, it seems like the fans are really dedicated. They usually seem to like the whole album, and really be into the whole, “deep album vibe”, and not just the singles. Here, they’re just really, “die hard” fans, because it seems like if you manage to win fans in South Africa, they’ll almost stay fans for life.
What do you do when you’re not drumming, or not our on the road touring?
I’m a family man, I have a wife, as well as two beautiful sons, and that’s what I do. I go home and be a Dad. My boys are my life !
Lastly, what advice could you give some young, up and coming drummers on how to stay in the music scene as long as you have? What would you say is the key to longevity as a drummer?
I’ve been very fortunate to have been doing this as long as I have. If I could give advice, I’d say that, I think you should really work on timing, and trying to play as solid as possible. All drummers want to be flashy, and throw fancy fills in all the time, but it’s way more important to be solid. I honesty believe that if you do that, you’ll always work. Try and practice and rehearse with a click, and if you can’t afford a click, try and play along to Cds, and albums that inspire you, it’s really a great way to get a good sense of timing etc. It’s a really great compliment, to be told that you’re a solid, tasteful drummer, instead of only being complimented on that one fancy fill you did, during one song…