Steve Grantley Interview – by Travis Marc – 2012.
Did you teach yourself or were you fortunate enough to have tuition?
I taught myself in the beginning. I got my first kit when I was 11 and I bashed around on that for a few years. I played along to my Dads Jazz records and eventually I could keep time. Like every other drummer I drove my parents nuts playing all the time but I was lucky as they were very supportive right from the start. I think they were patient because they could hear that I was starting to ‘get it’.
At the age of 13 I had a few drum lessons at school with a visiting teacher called Mr Connor, he taught snare drum stuff and a bit of reading but I didn’t really concentrate. I spent all my time playing Cozy Powell’s ‘Dance With The Devil’, and ‘Radar Love’ by Golden Earring – and not paying attention to grip, crotchets and quavers.
I was constantly playing at home, recording myself, grooving along to all sorts of records, copying stuff and really loving it, but all the time I was having fun I was also learning. I soaked up everything I could: it was all about the drums. I didn’t want to do anything else but play; there was no doubt in my mind where I was headed.
I joined a little local band when I was about 14ish and we did a few pub gigs and some hotel things, I was young, really enjoying playing drums and earning a bit of cash too. Mum and Dad offered to pay for drums lessons so that I could take my playing to the next level so when I was 16 I went to David Hodge, (Latin American band leader Edmundo Ross’ drummer) and had a years worth of lessons. At the time I didn’t think I needed them – the arrogance of youth – but they were invaluable and set me on the right path. I had, of course, developed a couple of bad habits that he immediately ironed out. I focused even more on my playing, my time keeping and I also got a basic understanding of the dots, which has helped me enormously. David’s mentoring sent my learning into overdrive and I recommend that all young players take at least a few lessons; they really do help.
I was lucky as I started playing in The Thames Television Big Band through David, so I pretty soon started using the information I learned at my lessons in a practical, professional situation. This helped because it wasn’t just rudiments and beats; it was feel and practical application. Plus, the older musicians I was suddenly working with instilled in me a strong professional attitude – bastards! (laughs) It was all big band tunes, Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington classics plus a good share of traditional dance rhythms; Bosa Nova’s, Samba’s and Waltzes.
What is your general opinion on drum tuition now days?
I think it’s better than ever – there’s lots of info out there, one to one teachers plus all the instructional DVD’s and free lessons available online. But I must say I believe in the old saying ‘you can’t learn art in an institution’; ya know what I’m saying? Master your rudiments, learn how to read and how to hold your sticks correctly – but don’t become a clone. Keep your individuality; you can do this by simply being aware of it.
There is sometimes a tendency to treat drumming as a science; well it’s not, it’s an art. There is a scientific, mathematical element to what we do of course but groove and feel in my opinion, are what counts. I like to hear heart and soul not mind and brain – technique for techniques sake is boring to me, be imaginative, do something different, mix it up. FEEL it, don’t ‘think’ it, express yourself! Learn the rules and then throw the rulebook out the window and be yourself. ART not science! Here endeth the sermon! (Laughs)
Let’s talk a little bit about your gear, tell us why you choose to use the products that you do?
I use Natal drums because they’re the best. They’re a British manufacturer owned by the legendary Marshall Company so they’re steeped in rock n roll history. They’re more known for their percussion instruments but they now make drum kits and they are, in my opinion, the best drums available on the market today bar none! They’re big, loud, tough drums that even my crew can’t break. They don’t make a budget kit so they are definitely the drum kit to aspire to.
I use Paiste cymbals because to my ears they sound the best – they’re what John Bonham used so if they’re good enough for him, they’re good enough for the likes of me, simple as that really.
I use Vater 7a sticks, which are light. I used to use much bigger sticks but I came across lighter sticks and gave them a try and I found I preferred them. The response is fast and even though they’re lighter I can still power through sets and they stand up to the abuse.
The skins I use are Aquarian, the ‘Hi Energy’ snare heads they manufacture are amazing. They’re indestructible and sound amazing.
You’re most famously known as the drummer for ‘Stiff Little Fingers’ – how’d your gig with this legendary punk band come about?
I already knew Jake (Jake Burns SLF singer/songwriter/guitar) from when I was in his band Jake Burns And The Big Wheel in 1983. When Dolphin Taylor left SLF for pastures new in late 96 Jake phoned me. We were old mates, he knew I could play so that was it; I was in. I didn’t audition, just met up, had a beer and off we went.
You’ve also worked with artists such as The Alarm, Julian Lennon, Eighth Wonder (Patsy Kensit) and Alicia Keys.
Actually, I didn’t play with Alicia Keys it was Oleta Adams I worked with, she had hits with Tears For Fears, a track called ‘Woman In Chains’ and her big solo hit, ‘Get Here’.
Julian Lennon was lots fun, we did endless TV and promotion plus some gigging around his ‘Saltwater’ period – I liked him a lot, he was a good bloke.
The Alarm were close to my heart. I’d known the band for years before I joined, Jake Burns And The Big Wheel had supported them back in 84, so I knew all the music. We built a great band with Mike, James, Craig and myself. We did lots of touring and recording – it was all as it should be, second nature. Mike’s pretty unpredictable on stage, I would constantly watch him as he could just stop in the middle of a song and start playing ‘Rockin In The Free World’ or jump in the crowd and be off the stage for 10 minutes – it was exciting and you had to be on it. We recorded five maybe six albums together but my personal favourite is ‘Under Attack’ (EMI Records) that’s when I felt we were truly working best as a band.
Eighth Wonder was great fun. It was real pop stuff – back in the eighties the band had number one records in Italy and Japan plus major hits across Europe. We had a ball and I look back on those days with much affection. It was pure pop music but on stage for the live shows we had a wicked band. We all loved Prince so we were doing funk workouts as well as the pop hits and dropping in rock tunes too – we used to do Blondie’s ‘Dreaming’ as encore, loved it! I liked Patsy she was good fun to be around.
Do you actually have any specific favourite genres to play?
First and foremost I’m a rock drummer – but I like playing funk, big fat groove stuff that’s locked in tight but at heart – I’m a rock drummer, pure and simple. I can play jazz if need be and enjoy it, I use a few jazzy inflections in my playing sometimes, not that it’s needed much in SLF but it’s in my amoury. (Laughs)
It’s almost a cliché now to sight Bonham as an influence but his flair and swing really affected my approach. Through listening to him I learned pretty much everything I needed to know, I realised it’s not all about bashing! I mean I can bish, bash, bosh along quite happily but I do like a bit of light and shade, dynamics and swing; Bonham was the master at that – he had a great funk feel too – I learned so much from listening to him.
What about practice, do you still do much practice now days, and if so what does your practice routine consist of?
I practice all the time, I strive to constantly keep on improving. I work to improve my time keeping and I push the envelope to make my time solid no matter what I’m playing. I keep making it harder and harder for myself – I work on all the rudiments, I put them over the kit so they’re more interesting plus I play lots of slow stuff as I have a tendency to push ahead and the slower tempos really show up my faults. I fault find and then repair and put right what I feel is lacking in my playing. I’m ruthless, really hard on myself, but I enjoy it – there’s always room for improvement no matter who you are. If you stop improving and rest on your laurels you stagnate and then go backwards – not good, got to keep pushing ahead, learning new things, creating new beats, it’s a lifetimes work.
Being disciplined is fun to me, there’s no point in messing around, I like getting down to business. Don’t get me wrong; I do have fun, if I get bored I just put on a track and groove along, Sly and Robbie, James Brown, Funkadelic. I play along to all sorts of records for fun, old Ginger Baker stuff, AC/DC, Prince, Goldfrapp, Kelis, Leftfield, Level 42, Nine Inch Nails, ABBA, P.I.L, Rob Zombie, Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Wendy And Lisa lots of different stuff.
I find if I work hard but keep it varied I don’t get stale. If I’m trying to nail a beat I’ll just play it over and over, the same beat, endlessly until burns it into my brain and muscles. I’ll do this for weeks, 20 minutes at a time in amongst all the other stuff I practice; in the end it just becomes part of my playing and no matter how difficult it originally was I can play it with ease. I also change the tempo and play everything I’m learning at all different speeds but especially slow – real slow, so I know the groove inside out with no cheating or fluffing.
Over your years in the music business what do you think has been the most important thing you have learnt?
The most important thing I’ve learned is: master your instrument. Strive to constantly improve as a player plus, be reliable, flexible and reasonable with your band mates. You know? Play nice. If you’re too ‘temperamental’ or ‘difficult’ people will get tired of you no matter how good you are.
What (if any) advice would you like to pass onto young drummers who are setting off onto the road for the first time?
Living on the road can be tough. You don’t get proper sleep and you can be jet-lagged or ill so just go easy. We all take advantage of the rock n roll lifestyle from time to time and all I can say is, get rest and eat as well as you can. You can only learn about the road, on the road. Everybody deals with touring in their own way.
Who or what would you list as your influences – both in drumming and everyday life?
Drummers, well, usual suspects first. Bonham, Moon, Rich plus Ginger Baker, Cozy Powell, Stuart Copeland and Topper Headon. Then the afore mentioned Jazz drummer Ronnie Verrell, Reggae drummer Sly Dunbar, Phil Gould ex of Level 42, groove-master Bernard Purdie, Charles Charles of The Blockheads, Roger Taylor of Queen and Jazz fusion star Alphonse Mouzon, they’ll do for a start. All these players have entertained and taught me all my life.
Record producers have influenced me too; Jimmy Page of course, Zeppelin records sound incredible, he was so far ahead of his time with his drum sounds and overall approach to recording a band. Rick Rubin, his Beastie Boys stuff was great and ‘The Electric’ album he did with The Cult was a bare-bones, back to basics classic. Glyn Johns, his work with The Who was amazing, ‘Who’s Next’ – wonderful. Pete Townshend too is a monster producer, he was responsible for the production (plus engineer Ron Nevison) on ‘Quadrophenia’ my personal favourite Who album. Also Bill Price who worked with The Clash and The Sex Pistols, Chris Thomas who also worked with The Pistols and The Pretenders and Guy Stevens who produced the magnificent ‘London Calling’ album for The Clash – they all produced great sounding records.
I also love listening to Trevor Horn production, his stuff is so rich and deep – his work on Grace Jones’ ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ album is superb.
Non drummers that have influenced me, well there’s the writer George Orwell, the actor Steven Berkof, scientist Nikola Tesla, martial artist Bruce Lee, boxer Henry Cooper, comedian Bill Hicks, Egyptian scholar, historian Zacharia Sitchin and my parents. These people have all had an impact on the way I think, what I believe and how I live my life.
You mention The Cult, am I right in saying you were in a band with The Cults guitar player Billy Duffy?
Yeah, the band was called Coloursound – It was the very late 90’s. There was myself, Craig Adams from The Mission on bass, Mike Peters from The Alarm on vocals and guitar plus Billy on guitar. It was a great band. Like a cross between The Pistols and Zeppelin – right up my street. I did all the gigs leading up to the record deal, including the show that clinched it in New York. It was sounding massive on stage but the band didn’t use me on the record, which was very disappointing; they used Scott Garret ex-Cult drummer instead. The band split up soon after the albums release and Billy reformed The Cult which. I liked Billy’s playing a lot: I had a blast in that band. I then worked with Mike Peters in The Alarm for 11 years where I did play on the bloody records. (Laughs)
If you could do any of ‘it’ again would you change anything, and if so what?
I wouldn’t change a thing and I’m still very much doing ‘it’ now with no signs of slowing down, in fact I’m just getting going. There’s so much that I want to do: I’m just – full steam ahead. There’s lots more to come.
I have production things being offered but I’m turning them down at the moment. SLF is my absolute main priority but my own band RT ZED is very close to my heart too and that is taking up my time when I’m not focused on Fingers.
This is not something we’re aware of. Could you tell us a little about RT ZED?
It’s my own band, Industrial, modern rock n roll stuff – a side project I’ve had for the last ten years or so. I’ve not had enough time to really do RT ZED justice because I was in both SLF and The Alarm at the same time for 11, 12 years, so RT ZED was always on the backburner. We did manage to make two albums and do a handful of gigs but nowhere near the amount that I would’ve liked. Now I have parted company with The Alarm I have more time for RT ZED. In between my SLF touring commitments I have been recording a new album. I mixed through late 2011 into 2012. It’s a big project and I’m really pleased with it! The album is called ‘Relentless’ and will be out mid 2012 with gigs to follow.
You mentioned ‘parting company’ with The Alarm, what happened?
(Laughs) It was a couple of years ago now and feels like ancient history. I worked very hard to make both band schedules work and would sometimes tour back to back. It all came to a head when I needed a bit of space after an SLF tour and The Alarm needed me to go onto their tour immediately, which I couldn’t do. My father had recently died and I needed just a few days with my family. Mike got another drummer to do the tour and that was the end of that. It was bound to happen, I’m surprised we got away with it as long as we did. I have many fond memories of my time with the band and I wish the boys well. In fact some of the people who came to see the band on a regular basis are now personal friends – so all’s well.
What does the future hold for SLF?
2012 is the bands 35th Anniversary so we are embarking on our ‘Assume Nothing, Question Everything’ tour in March to commemorate that plus more touring in The States and Europe. There’s a retrospective album being released on Demon Records also. Later in the year we will be recording a new album, we’ll probably record in America as I’m the only one of the band who lives on this side of the pond, so that’ll be interesting. There’s also talk of a big open-air festival summer party in Belfast with SLF as headliners, which should be great. It’s not finalized yet but that’s the plan.
Also, Vive Le Rock magazine are organizing a Tribute album to SLF including artists such as The Dropkick Murphy’s, Therapy, Spear Of Destiny and Buckcherry so it’s all looking good.
What do you feel is the most important piece of drumming advice you could offer other drummers out there?
Practice – and don’t cheat, fluff or bluff anything. Work hard, it aint Guitar Hero or some dumb video game, you’re trying to master an art and it don’t come quick or easy. So dig deep, get ya head down and have fun mastering something worthwhile.
Any last words of advice?
Advice? Well, have fun. Enjoy yourself, if you find that your drumming ain’t fun, do something else. It should never feel like a chore. I would also advise getting yourself a teacher also play with as many musicians as you can. Listen to all kinds of music without bias and work out who you are and what you would like to achieve. Just listen to your heart – then, once you’ve decided what you want to do get your head down and work hard till ya get it. Good luck to all your readers.