Living in 3-D
by Ken Sharp
LET THERE BE DRUMS…
Legendary drummer Woody Woodmansey of David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars band has just finished a project with his new band 3-D, helmed by Woody and his two sons, Nick and Dan. An all drum album, the group’s new CD, Future Primitive, offers a lesson in the fine art of the “big beat,” its sound a winning cross-pollination of a diverse selection of genres and styles numbering jazz, funk, hip-hop, Latin, drum & bass and tribal. Ranging from the non-stop sonic assault of “Pharaoh’s Groove” to the mystical, atmospheric soundscapes of “Shady” to the silky, jazzy stylings underpinning “Concrete Jungle”, Future Primitive rides on deep percussive grooves, an infectious rhythmic pulse and innovative production that rewards with repeated listens.
Ken Sharp recently spoke with Woody Woodmansey who gave us the lowdown on 3-D’s exciting new project.
Explain what led to your 3-D project, an all drum record featuring you and your two sons.
I’ve always wanted to do a big band thing where the drums were the feature instruments. It was players like Gene Krupa, Louie Bellson and Sandy Nelson, who played the classic “Let There Be Drums; he also did the drumming for the TV show “Hawaii 5-0”. The drum project with my sons started about three years ago. I was asked to put something together for a Chinese New Year show in Brighton, which has the biggest Chinese community in this country. It must have been the year of the dragon. I was asked to put a band together and play to this Chinese audience. I told them I hadn’t any musicians on hand at the moment but I could come along and play some drum things for them with my songs, Danny and Nicky. So we took three drum kits to Brighton. Luckily one of my sons bought the cymbals off of Brad Pitt’s film, Tibet. There were some Chinese cymbals in that film. I said, “We’ll play what we play and just keeping hitting these Chinese cymbals and hopefully they’ll like it.” (laughs) We went down really good. The response was quite unbelievable for just drums and percussion.
Being a percussive instrument, how do you make it musical?
It’s really the tuning of the drums. It creates a melody with the rhythm and the tune of the drums and that particular note. We concentrate a lot on that. We’re kind of using the drums as other instruments so when somebody’s listening they’re not just getting a flat rhythmic sound, there’s other things happening. Its like trying to create the hook of a melody with drums. So we approach it from that viewpoint. So we ended up playing with these six DJ’s who had their own spot in this club on Regent Street in London. We had a little residency there for a bit. We played along with them even though we hadn’t really listened to house music but we liked the rhythms. Then they said, “We’ll go off so do your own spot.” So our performance got longer and longer and the only complaint we got was we didn’t play long enough. We were caught up in the idea of it being only drums and percussion, which must be boring after a bit. But people just asked us to play longer so we figured we must be doing something right. (laughs)
Share the experience of playing music with your two sons on a real musical project.
I’ve always been more known for my work in the rock field through Bowie and playing with guys like Joe Elliot and Phil Collen of Def Leppard. Also, I worked a little in the folk field with Art Garfunkel. Over the years, while my songs have been growing up, they’ve gotten into their generation of music. Danny was into the drums and bass music and he was deejaying in clubs as well and Nicky went through an indie American grunge phase and then he got into the funky soul stuff. So in the house it was noisy (laughs) with three drummers. As a father it’s been emotional for me too. It’s been fantastic that they both took to it. I can’t really take much credit for it except they’ve always been around music. But they’ve both turned out to be really good drummers. I never really showed them anything but answered their questions. They picked it up totally on their own and that was very pleasing to me. They could say it was their own thing; they did as themselves as opposed to their father teaching them the tricks of the trade.
What led to the new CD, Future Primitive?
A friend of mine said, “You need to develop your performance pieces and record that.” We put a little studio together in my son’s bedroom using the modern approach and sampling and cut and pasting. The idea was we’d record live drums and bring it in and mess about from there. Then somebody heard it and said, “You need to do that in a proper studio” so we came out to L. A. and recorded the album in his studio.
You also recently worked on drum sampling project.
Yeah, that was really through Ken (Scott – noted producer/engineer of David Bowie, Supertramp and The Beatles). He rang up and said, “I’ve been asked by a sound production company who do samples for studio and home recordings to do one of all the drummers I’ve worked with.” Billy Cobham did his album, Terry Bozzio did his album, and Nigel Olsson, Elton John’s drummer did his drummer along with the drummer for Supertramp. He asked me if I’d do the Bowie albums, Hunky Dory, Ziggy and Alladin Sane. So I went over to L.A. in May and did it. Ken found the same recording desk we’d used in Trident Studio and he set up the drum booth exactly like Trident. He found a kit that was the nearest one like my old kit, put the same skins on it, miked it up with the same mikes and recorded me playing along with the albums. I played along and went, “Did I really play this?”
Were there any songs you had to relearn again?
The track, “Ziggy Stardust” itself was a real bitch (laughs). It was just really hard to get that exact feel and sound. Those albums were done before I got into correct tuning for drums. It’s only since then – and not because of that – that I’ve gotten into tuning up my drums properly. In those days it was, “Okay that sounds good.” There was no thought of it being in tune.
What was it like to revisit those Bowie albums?
It was very weird but it was fun pulling it off. It was 93 degrees and they couldn’t have the air conditioning on in the studio because of the sound. So I had to do three albums worth of material in two days and no air conditioning. It was like, do a track and come out and it looked like you’d just walked out of the shower.
Just released is David Bowie Santa Monica ’72, a live recording of a Ziggy gig, can you share your memories of that particular show?
It was a fantastic gig. We hadn’t played anywhere like that so that really stuck in my mind. Some nights it really clicked and I remember it as one of those nights where we really clicked. We did nearly a year on the road behind Ziggy. That stands as one of the really good nights. We didn’t know it was being recorded. When I heard it back I was impressed. It really captured the atmosphere of what it was all about. LA picked up on us pretty quick. Also, Rodney Bingenheimer certainly helped break us in America.
Lastly, pick a few of your key drum performances that best represent your finest work.
That’s a difficult question. Thank you very much for that one. (laughs) I’d probably pick “Life On Mars?’ and “Moonage Daydream”, those two. I’d pick those today but it would probably change tomorrow.
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 16, 2008.
Photo Credits:#1 Courtesy of 3-D. All rights reserved.#2 Courtesy of 3-D. All rights reserved.#3 Courtesy of 3-D. All rights reserved.