Feb 23rd, 2015: Ben Thompson has toured the world as live drummer for indie rock band Two Door Cinema Club and producer Hudson Mohawke. David asked him about the difficulties of playing large venues and how he gets comfortable playing live to a click track.
David: I’ve always said that a good musician plays music well. It seems obvious but sometimes aspiring musicians can get caught up too much in the specifics of their instrument. With this in mind, what would you say makes a good drummer?
Ben: A good drummer in my eyes is a player who is aware of who they are playing with. Feel, dynamics, musicality and communication are skills I feel are important as a drummer. Playing for the music. You’ll find people aren’t interested in how fast you can fire around the drums. Whether it be a singer songwriter, an artist or playing for a band they are all looking for a player they can get on with and that understands what kind of music they are playing. I also can’t emphasise enough how important it is to be able to tune your drums, both live and in a studio situation.
David: Can you tell me a bit of how you practice? What sort of things are you listening for? How do you develop your sense of time and sound?
Ben: Ive never been a drummer that sits at home practicing technical things from books and DVDs. Since I picked up the sticks Ive wanted to get out and actually play with musicians. I always try and surround myself with musicians I feel are better than me at their instrument. I feel it pushes me as player to constantly be better and on my game. You will learn so much more actually playing with musicians than you will on your own. Musicianship, communication, dynamics and so much more.
David: I’m aware that the Two Door Cinema Club gig is to a click. Can you talk about developing comfortability with the click if it’s something you’ve needed to work on in the past?
Ben: Its an absolute necessity today to be able to comfortably play with a click. Ive always had a vast music taste. My favourite thing to do as a drummer in terms of rehearsing is actually putting my iPod on shuffle in a studio and just play along. You never know whats coming, and you have to just play along. Most tracks in the studio are recorded to a click, so if your in time with the track, you’ll be in time with a click. Playing along with pop songs is a great way to get comfortable with it. Also try treating it as your friend rather than your enemy. Feel it as a percussion instrument and jam with, don’t be afraid of it!
David: You’ve played many large venues. Have you any techniques for dealing with large stages, difficult sound etc?
Ben: Playing the larger venues was something that took me a while to get my sound right with. Its very easy to feel very isolated on the stages as people don’t appreciate how big they really are. I worked a lot with our monitor engineer Stuart to get that live front of house vibe in my in ear monitors. We added ambient mics at the front of the stage and found it really helped. I also added a Porter and Davies thumper seat system, which is basically a sub in my drum stool, that I have full control of. I found it really added that bottom end I was really craving—no innuendo intended. Finally I panned the click in my ears to my left side to make it less invasive and more like an instrument. Sometimes playing to a click live can take away the vibe and it can become a bit robotic and I found getting it over to my left ear really helped me.