My bass player friend Mats, who I play with every now and then, once made a remark regarding my faiblesse for cymbals (I often tend to bring quite a few to any kind of gig). He asked, cheekily: ”How many cymbals does a drummer really need?” I answered: ”Exactly as many cymbals as the stage size allows.” After a moment’s pause he said: ”That’s really a perfect answer.” And I’d have to agree.
All kidding aside, I really do enjoy having a rather elaborate setup, not just with cymbals, but the overall drum kit. I never truly arrived at any definite setup that I felt was the ultimate one for me, I like to keep changing it around, moving pieces, and adding new ones.
With Billy Momo, I have taken this concept to a new level (for me), when I started my work-in-progress, The Purjocopter. In the early days of the band, there were quite a lot of Hiphop-influenced beats on the recordings, some played, some programmed, and the challenge for me was to try to recreate the feel of those beats live, not always by playing them exactly the same way, but to interpret the recorded version in a way that would translate well in the live situation.
I tried many different kinds of setups in the beginning, acoustic, electronic, and combinations thereof. But after a while, I decided that it would be a much more satisfying thing for me to have an acoustic kit (so that I wouldn’t have to rely on great monitors to hear myself), but to still try and have many different sounds, as if I had a sample library, and have many of those sound sources not being strictly a classic rock’n’roll-style drum set. I began by replacing pretty much all the regular crash cymbals with different effects such as chinas, EFXs, splashes, bells, and all kinds of ding-dongs and bang-booms. I also added some more snare type sounds with very different pitches (for instance, if you listen to the song ’Swim’, I played that on a 10” TAMA Mini Tymp snare, cranked way up, to get an almost drum machine kind of sound, which The Head beefed up a little more by triggering a sample on top).
And then there were various percussion instruments added, as well as roto-toms, an 18” hihat, and much more, in combination with the typical meat-and-potatoes kinds of drum sounds.
What this does is allow for me to keep some of the quirkier beats from the albums and do them justice live, even if they’re not truly identical. And also, I enjoy improvising a lot with all those different sound sources at my disposal. If you’ve ever seen us perform songs like ’All we were’ or ’Billy Slomo’ live, you know what I mean. It also allows me to be a bit orchestral when I solo.
Now, I don’t want to give you the idea that this was a concept that I came up with on my own in a vacuum, hell no! The Purjocopter was influenced by many of my drum heroes, probably starting with Neil Peart’s expansive kit with Rush, but also guys like Terry Bozzio, Michael Blair, David Van Tieghem, Tony Oxley, but more than anyone else, Bill Bruford. His different setups (and the ways in which he used them) with King Crimson were endlessly fascinating to me, and I can tell you that the Thrak album with Bill and Pat Mastellotto on double drums was life changing for me. If you can get hold of a copy of the November ’95 issue of Modern Drummer magazine, and you read the article on Bill and Pat, and you look at their setups from the Thrak tour, that’s pretty much where the main inspiration for The Purjocopter came from, I think.
So, the next time you see Billy Momo perform a full blown set with all of our own gear on a stage that allows for it, you will probably see quite a lot of drums up there. And now you know that it’s not just for show, although a big drum kit is probably among the most beautiful things you could see, next only to… well, it’s a pretty sight, let’s leave it at that.