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Matt Ingram ....and we don't care

Hello everybody. It’s me and as promised I’m back again this month for another dollop of what I hope will be vaguely useful musical musings. I’m currently on tour in the U.S. with Laura Marling, on a bus somewhere between Chicago and Pittsburg to be precise.

I really like being in America; the diversity of it’s geography, the positive nature of it’s people and the fact I can order breakfast at any time of the day or night are reasons enough. I’m not so enamoured with it’s air-condition policy which constantly aims to simulate winter in the Arctic tundra. It doesn’t seem right that I have to carry a heavy jacket around to face what I now refer to here as The Great Indoors. But you have to take the rough with the smooth, or the warm with freezing in this case.

Before I set off on this jaunt I had a busy few weeks in the studio, during which time I had a fairly large Eureka! moment that I’d like to share with you. I’ve been playing the drums for a long time now and, like any musician I have worked hard to achieve a certain level of proficiency on my instrument and take a lot of pride in my craft. In short I really care about what I do but I realised that really caring can actually work against you. It might sound strange to say but it is actually possible to care too much, particularly in a studio environment.

Let me explain:

As drummers we have to tendency to want to go into the studio and nail it. Accuracy is an important part of our jobs but, as I’ve have conveyed in previous articles it is not the sole aim. Sure we have to play in time but as human performers we also have an expressive duty to the music. If you focus your attention too much on just being accurate your studio performance can be reduced to a single overriding factor of DON’T-MESS-UP.

If you think about the endless artistic possibilities that music gives, to wholly focus on precision is the thinnest sliver of an infinite universe. Imagine music was judged only on the ability of the performer to not deviate from a preordained path? How very boring. We do not appraise the music we enjoy in such terms therefore we should extend the same courtesy to our own music making. Remember that the notion of a “mistake” is entirely subjective. What was a bodged fill to you the performer could have been a moment of intense musical fulfilment to an audience member.

Accepting that we make mistakes is like getting past First Base in our development. Beyond that we have the entire spectrum of musical emotion to explore, some of which (maybe most of which) is only accessed when we allow ourselves the freedom to explore, to mess up, or to ultimately not care too much about the outcome.

Just to clarify, I’m not advocating sloppiness. Of course we should aim to play with a commitment to efficiency and good time. However, one of the artistic contradictions we have to deal with as musicians is that the pursuit of what we deem “perfect" can sometimes be at odds with what the music requires of us. More often than not the music we play has it’s own ideas of what will and will not work.

Now this brings me back nicely to my Eureka! moment. Before I left for tour I spent the week in the service of an excellent singer/songwriter, supplying drums for her upcoming album. The recording was going well, I was applying my considered (you could say careful) studio approach and that seemed to be making everyone involved happy. About halfway through the process we hit on a song that was a bit more unusual in its conception and I thought I would match this with a suitably left field drum angle. It’s hard to say exactly what I did, but I feel in essence I took a big risk and just reacted to the music without a care as to where this could go. This is the first time I’ve ever gone “fully rogue” in a professional recording situation, without really any consideration to any of the finer details. And To my utter delight, it totally worked!

I feel I should say the overall atmosphere in the making of this record was one of honest spontaneity so this experiment in abandon felt wholly appropriate. Also, I went down this particular rabbit hole on the fourth track in, so with a few others in the bag I felt I had the producer and artist’s trust to try something out. I don’t think it would have been overly wise to have done this at the start of the session.

So happy was I with this result, there was a part of me that thought I’d accessed some kind of untapped reservoir of divine inspiration. Of course I hadn’t, as I found out when I tried exactly the same approach on the next song with horrific results. This time it sounded like I’d momentarily lost the ability to play my instrument. In the grand scheme of the recording process this was no big deal as I just reverted to my more contemplated approach and I was gratefully back on track. Phew!

Looking back I’m really glad I took the risk. Since then I’ve been thinking that perhaps inspiration in music doesn’t happen without there being some kind of risk involved. When I recall my favourite drum performances, although different in tone or genre they all do share a sense of unrestrained freedom. Going back to my first comment about caring too much, a great performances shouldn’t be too aware of itself, and to throw it all out there like that is in itself a risk.

So go on, next time you sit behind the drum kit, risk it all. You maybe surprised with the results.

Matt Ingram

August 2015

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