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Interview with Derrick McKenzie

Itís all change for the man who has provided the grooves for Jamiroquai for the past 15 years. The band have notched up over 16 million album sales and with the new album ďDynamiteĒ a change of kit manufacturer, a new producer, a new bass player and even a new son, we find out what makes Derrick tick.  Even after 20 years in the business he is always checking out new drummers listening to new music and he is the first in the queue to support any mikedolbear.com events.

I caught up with Derrick after the band had performed in front of 25,000 fans in London for the first gig back in London for 2 years.

Mike .D: the new album is out, what was the process you went through to get it done?
D.M: We started the new album two years ago up in Scotland, Jayís got a house up there and myself, Rob, Jay and Nick, at the time, went up to Scotland and started just bashing out ideas, you know, to get a different vibe.  We continued that down here in Jayís house spending the first three months working between Scotland and Buckinghamshire.  Then we went off on tour for a few months and when we came back from that we went to Costa Rica for a month and did more tunes out there.  Jay went out with Mat to Spain to do some more writing after which we did some more touring, got back from that and started recording.  All in all I think the process of writing took about a year.

When you met up in Scotland at the beginning, was it a completely empty sheet and you started from there?
Yeah, brand new songs. 

So can you give us an example of how you guys get it together?  As a band do you just jam and see what happens?
This time around it was just ideas that weíve had from before.  Thatís what we started with; youíve got to start somewhere.  So we had ideas from the last album, which we kind of brought out and we did little ideas on our laptops.  Each person brought something to the table but a lot of ideas are Jayís that heís had going around in his head for ages.  We just expanded on them.

Youíve been with the band for quite a long time now, and although Jayís the main man itís very much a band effort isnít it?
Yeah, everybody puts in their two pence worth whether it is chords, beats, lines, hook lines, whatever and itís all got to be taken on board.  Sola (Akingbola percussion) was pretty open minded and pretty outspoken when it came to ideas.  If something didnít sound right, he would say so.  Jay might go away and listen to it for a couple of weeks and come back agreeing with Sola.  We would then get about working on ideas for changing it. 

Why Costa Rica?  Was it a holiday? 
A bit of both really. When we were setting off  my son, Luca was born, so I wasnít there for the first two weeks.  Rob and Mat went for the first two weeks, then Sola joined them for the second and third week, then Rob came back home, and then I joined for the last couple of weeks.  So a couple of weeks at home with the new baby and then I left and went to Costa Rica and did some writing.

Is there anything in particular that youíve done different on this album, A from a production side and B from the drumming side?
From my side I changed drums to start with, I also changed cymbals and used different heads -that type of thing.  I also used pro-tools. We had an outside producer in, Mike Spencer, whoís really good guy; he actually got the best performances out of all off us. All my tracks on the album are first takes.  I do three takes for any given track, then he took the best one.  If he felt that the timing and groove was good, he simply didnít touch it.  Thatís what heís done with everything Iíve played on the album.

Whatís your favourite tracks on the album and why?
Theyíre all good I have to say.  Seven days is a really good one for me.  I think thatís going to be the biggest hit from the album.  I thought that from the first time I heard it because itís got that summery feel and a good melody to it as well.  I love the chords and itís just my kind of thing.

You talked about your change of drums.  Obviously youíve been with Sonor for a long time and youíve now changed to Yamaha, any particular reason?
Just a change, we were starting a new album and I just said Iím going to change drums this time around before we get into recording.  Initially I was going to go with Premier, so I had a set of Premier drums loaned to me and I recorded one track; Starchild I think.  The rest of the tracks were done on the Yamaha.  I went with Yamaha because when Iím in Japan Yamaha come and see me and always say hello and I just thought this time Iím going to go with Yamaha. I have always loved their drums.

Weíre about the same age and when we started out the standard of the kits was not as it is now. So what makes an artist like you go for one particular company?
Efficiency.  Sound - Iíve always like the Yamaha sound, always, nice warm, deep.  Easy to tune, of course that also depends on your heads you use; oh and hardware.

Obviously Jamiroquai is a worldwide band and youíre playing everywhere. Do you get that kind of support everywhere you go or do you take your gear with you all the time?
We take our gear with us.  My gearís shipped around the world and Iíve got a great drumtech Simon Gifford, heís brilliant, we sat down and I spoke with him about what kit I should use whatís good, whatís not, and we came to the agreement that Yamahaís the one.   We spoke about drum sizes and what we wanted out of the kit and so I ended up with a  Yamaha Maple Absolute 8Ē, 12Ē and 14Ē, 20Ē x 17.5Ē with Ludwig 402 snare.

Why the 8 and 12?
I just like the sound.  Itís down to your tuning as well.  I like the high sound.  Itís for dynamics as well as anything else.  8Ē and the high end stuff, when youíre doing certain tunes you just want to get the high notes, just like a guitar, when you hit the high notes, because itís a dynamic thing and then with the low toms you just hit them because itís for that part, purely the dynamics.

Youíve been with the band for 12 years, how did the gig originally come about?
I was at home in Edmonton, I was walking out of the door and the phone rang.  It always happens you walk out of the door and the phone rings, normally I leave it.  On this occasion I thought ďIím going to answer itĒ, and it was a friend of mine Simon who used to produce for Soul to Soul.  He said ďthereís a band called Jamiroquai and theyíre having an audition for drummers, do you fancy going along?Ē so I said yeah OK give them my number and Iíll go along.  

At the time I was actually with Urban Species. Before that I had played with a band called Candyland who split up after we lost the record deal.  After the Candyland thing I ended up just practising at home for a couple of years, when I got a call from another friend of mine who works at EMI Publishing and offering me a little bit of TV work, stuff like that, so I did that and from there I moved onto Urban Species, and I was with them for about a year and a half before getting the Jamiroquai gig.

And Jamiroquai at that stage were a brand new band?
Theyíd just finished their World Tour, following their first album, but I had never actually heard of them.  It was my friend who gave me the album and said ďlisten to this, itís really good, this guy sounds like Stevie WonderĒ.

In those 12 years that youíve been with Jamiroquai, have you found the industry has changed?
Yeah, the industry has changed in that they donít want to spend as much money as they used to, marketing and developing artists.  Of course with technology like Logic and Pro Tools the artists are basically doing all their own development at home, in their own studios, so they donít have to spend money on demos, they expect you to do all your stuff at home and then theyíve got the finished product.  They donít want to spend that much money anymore.

In the last few years, youíve got into producing a lot more.  Tell us what youíve been doing?
In downtime with the band, Iíve been working over in France a lot with an artist called Francis Lalanne and heís like a poet.  Heís done quite a few albums over in France.  Heís very well known, - bit insane! But Iíd never heard any of his stuff before.  Heís basically known as the crooner of France.  The reason why I wanted to work with him was because I just wanted to do something new, explore new territories and this was my chance to do it.  Heís a really nice guy, very genuine; he gave me the chance to express myself as a producer.  I also worked with another guy called Eric Barr whoís a Pro Tools engineer and producer and we sat down and fine tuned the album together.
 
Do you find it strange sitting at the other side of the desk?
No I really enjoyed it!  The hours are long, but itís like what I do at home.  When I write at home I take my time and sort things out.  I wrote three tracks on this album which originally were just ideas to give to Jamiroquai but what I did was just re-adapted them and re-wrote them and gave them to Francis and he really liked them. 

Are you playing kit on it?
Yeah, thereís one track I did which I programmed, kind of like a jazz/hip hop thing, itís very varied, and the whole album is from jazz/hip hop to out and out rock.

When you are at home behind your kit, what kind of stuff are you practising and playing?  
Rudiments.  Itís all about rudiments for me.  I listen to people like Billy Cobham and I try and work it out, and itís all based around rudiments and grooves. 

What about when youíre out on the road?  Do you get a chance to practice?
Iíve got a practice kit on the road.  I practice in the changing room for about 90 minutes a day, like a warm up before I go on.

Do you to do that to warm up or to mentally prepare yourself?
Mentally Ė and get the muscles working.  When youíre doing a two hour gig, itís no joke, its really intense, all the time youíve got to be trying to push the boundaries, without going over the top of course.  Because what you want to do is make people dance and smile, because thatís what it is, its about entertainment, but you also want to enjoy yourself.  Itís a very intense gig.  A lot of the tunes go from 91 bpm to 130 bpm, two hours worth of work, itís a long time.  You need to be focused and ready to do the gigs.

You always supported the Young Drummer of the Year competition.  What do you look for when youíve judges the competition in the past?
For me itís about attitude, not arrogance, arrogance is nonsense.   I prefer someone to be humble and just do the job.  Youíve got to have a good attitude.  At the end of the day youíre going to be working with a lot of people and if youíre in a band working with maybe 5 or 6 personalities, youíve got to be able to fit in with all those personalities and also be able to voice your opinion.  Ultimately, with the Young Drummer itís more to do with discipline and attitude.

Any advice for young drummers coming through?
Donít get underpaid.  Just have the right attitude, be humble, donít let people step all over you especially from the business side.  Even though weíre at the bottom of the band chain, so to speak, as drummers, donít let the singers, keyboardists or the guitarists step all over you.  If they donít like it, voice it, donít be rude about it just tell them what you think.  Also be able to accept criticism and take it, itís a learning process.  If someone says youíre playing badly there must be a reason for it, but then again that person might be so arrogant he might be up his own arse.  Be able to give constructive criticism and always voice your opinion.

Finally what are you up to now?
Touring.  We did a gig at Clapham Common, first one in London and that went down really well, 25,000 people.  Then touring Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and then the UK then its back into Europe again, Germany and all the rest of it. Then Australia in November, Japan in October (weíre doing American and Japan), then itís Christmas and then weíre off again in January! 

Photos courtesy of David Rowe - funkin.com

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