Karl Brazil Interview – by Travis Marc – 2010.
Session great Karl Brazil recently toured South Africa as part of the backing band with singer/songwriter James Blunt. ukdrummer.com were fortunate enough to sit down and chat with the busy drummer before the Johannesburg show. Karl, a true gentleman and monster drummer who has worked with artists such as Jason Mraz, Take That, LuLu, the Body Rockers, among others had this to say…
You are currently regarded as one of the busiest drummers from the UK, could you tell us how you got started, and why the drums, were your instrument of choice?
Well, it’s extremely flattering to be regarded as one of the busiest drummers from the UK, at the moment, and I guess I would have to say that it , comes from a lot of hard work, and the variety of things that I do. I love playing drums, and have done all my life. I started playing drums when I was just two and a half years old, when my dad, who is also a musician, came home one day, and had bought me this toy, smurf, drum kit. I don’t think he really thought anything of it at the time, but, shortly after getting that kit, I had started playing along to various records etc. When I was five, Dad went to the local second hand store and bought me a real kit, which I kept until I was ten, then I sold it and bought my first brand new drum kit. I also did, my first proper paying gig when I was ten, and then really just started playing with anyone I could, to try and find my feet, which was great. I’ve met a lot of really great people along the way.
You’ve performed with a range of popular acts from Dani Minogue to James Blunt. What did you do to get so busy, and what advice could you give our drummers aspiring to work more?
I think that, there’s no real strategy on how you can really get yourself out there as a professional , because there are no real guarantees in this business. I’ve played a lot of different styles, with a lot of different people, and basically just tried my best, to work as much as I can. I do think it helps if you have a good, documented musical knowledge under your belt, so that you have a lot of different musical ideas, when you’re playing with various acts. To me, the best thing about being a musician, is playing with lots of different musicians or artists, and having them like what you do. It really serves as a nice pat on the back, and makes you feel more accomplished about what you’re doing. But, it’s not all about drumming, you’ve got to be able to get along with people, so basically, I would say it’s 50% drumming, and 50% personality. Geoff Dugmore, another great session drummer and friend once said that to me and he is so right!
Did you have any drum tuition or did you teach yourself?
I like to classify myself as more of a self taught drummer, because, I think from about the age of 5, when I had started drumming along to records, was when I taught myself how to listen to something I really liked and try my best to copy whatever it was. I would hit my kit for hours, until it sounded like, what I was listening to. Also, because I am left handed, and footed, I often think that if someone had been teaching me that they would have possibly tried to convince me to play the other way. I did however have a few private lessons, but I basically looked at it, as a crash course on technique, and used them mainly to rectify a bad habbits. That’s what Steve Palmer did for me, he didn’t try teach me to play right handed or anything, he just really helped me to start perfecting certain things, and really got me working more on my rudimental stuff. So yeah, I would say I was mainly self taught, but had some tuition, in order to balance things out.
You’re both left handed, and footed, yet you play on a right handed set up, what made you decide to do this ? And, how would you say it effects your playing?
I’m ambidextrous when I drum, or do sport etc. I mean, I play tennis leading with my Right hand, I’ left footed at football, all that sort of thing. While, growing up, leading with the left hand while drumming just felt really natural, so I stuck with it. In Asia, being left handed is regarded as a sign of intelligence, but I’m not sure about that ha ha.
Next month you’re going to be performing at the “Drummers Night” event, in London, can you tell us a little bit more about the event, as well as its initial concept?
The drummers night gig, is a charity event, for the “Teenage Cancer Trust”, which Remo asked me to do after an event that I had done last year. The event is put together, to raise money, and awareness for the Cancer Trust. Basically, it’s a drumming event that focuses purely on groove, for the night. No solos. There are some really great drummers on the bill, including Chad Smith, Steve White and others. It’s going to be a really cool night. I won’t be up too late either as I fly to Bosnia early next morning.
Many drummers say that they approach drum clinics very differently from how they approach most musical situations, how do you approach clinics?
I’d have to relate this question back, to being self taught. I play by ear, so I mean, I could rehearse for weeks for clinics, and sometimes I do, but depending on how I feel on the day, will influence what I decide to play. Sometimes I decide to be spontaneous, over what ever I’m playing, and sometimes there’s more of a plan. No matter what I’m playing though, I always give 110% and really try and make it feel good. Like all drummers, I have certain chops and tricks, that I really like to play, but it’s important to try and show people that being simplistic and disciplined can be just as important as being fancy and technical. I usually, like to start the clinic being quite busy and experimental, but towards the end, like to play one of James tracks to show people, what it is that I do for a living, and why I get hired, instead of just trying to blow them away with all fancy drumming tricks.
What would you say was the big break that helped you jump from bedroom drummer to professional musician/gigging drummer?
Well, like I said, I started gigging when I was really young and was basically just trying my best to learn all that I possibly could in regards to being on the road. But, I would say that my first real proper gig would have to have been at Ronnie Scotts as the House drummer which I did for a year, this really helped to give me confidence, and it also started to get me a little reputation around my home town. Then, with Bitty Mclean (UB40) I did my first real TV/Radio and Arena tour, so that also taught me a lot as most of the gig was on electronic pads using samplers. But then, an audition for ex Pop Idol Finalist, “Darius”, came along , I didn’t dream of getting the gig but somehow I did. I think it’s really fair to say that “Darius” put me on the map. After touring with Darius one thing led to another.
Who or what inspires you?
Jeff Porcaro, he has such unique taste and discipline, also Phil Gould from Level 42 is simply fantastic. My dad really has a lot to be responsible for, he introduced me to so many great bands, and always makes me want to be, the best that I can possibly be. Both him, and my mom have been great role models. Besides that, peoples energy and talent really excite me.
With such a gruelling tour schedule, how do you find time to practice ? Also, what does your general practice routine consist of?
My practice routine is quite random nowadays, I do try and practice if I get some time, but while we’re on tour, most of my practice is really in the form of jamming during, and after our sound checks. I also usually run through some basic rudiments (singles, doubles, paradiddles) on a practice pad for about twenty minutes before the show. I find that recording tends to be really great practice and creative, because I always try and think up unique parts in my head , and play them for the producer before we actually run takes.
If you weren’t a professional drummer, what do you think you would be doing career wise?
It sounds a little ambitious, but I’d really love to have been a professional footballer. I had been playing in various clubs in Birmingham when I left school at a semi pro level , But occasionally I’d get a slight injury, or some of the matches would almost clash with some of the gigs I was getting, so I had to make more of a committed choice between Football or drumming. I really enjoyed it though, and would have loved to have tried it. Otherwise I’d be a drumtech.
What is the most important thing that you’ve learnt while being on tour, with either James or another artist? What advice could you give up and coming drummers about preparing for such booked tours, such as the one that you’re currently on?
When on tour try and stay active, maybe do some sports or see the place you are visiting. The days normally fly by so try to enjoy the whole experience as much as possible.
Off Stage – Learn how to travel lightly, don’t pack things that you’re not going to use etc . It’s also important to get as much sleep as you can, and eat as many healthy meals as possible. Besides that, have as much fun as possible with the crew, and the band. It makes the bubble as we call it hard to leave.
On Stage – Be focused and give yourself some space before stage time . Most of all enjoy every show where ever you are to the max, I do.