The fact is that Stuart Copland is simply one of the most influential figures in drumming history of the last quarter of the twentieth century.
His playing is instantly recognizable, as are giants such as Buddy Rich, John Bonham, Keith Moon... and dare I say Tony Williams? Of course! You listen to him and you recognize him.
Today's drummers worship the Copland altar. Most of the top drummers of the past decade consistently cite Copland as their biggest influence. Carter Beauford, Taylor Hawkins, Adrian Young, Matt Cameron… these guys even play like Copland, and each of them is a monster in their style of music.
After playing in his last band, Animal Logic, Stewart stopped playing drums and became a television and film composer. I spoke to Trey Anastasio from Phish while preparing for this interview, and he said that before he started playing drums again last year, he didn't even know where his instruments were. In the end, he dug them up somewhere in the closet. I wonder how true this is?
So good news - Stewart is back, playing and of course inspiring everyone again. His new project Oysterhead is busy with Anastasio and Primus bassist Les Claypool. The new record of this three-piece band, whose music is based on an almost "jam" basis, The Grand Pecking Order is due out on October 2nd. Stewart also took part in the NAMM show, where he played drums with Orchestrelli, his orchestral project, playing music of his own composition.
MD: Your resurrection as a drummer is very interesting to a lot of people. Tell us about how you met Trey and Les.
Stewart: Les called me and said, "I have a guitarist and I want to make a band." To be honest, I've been waiting for this call for years. After Animal Logic, I didn't have the strength, the energy to start a new project. I hung out with Sting again for a while, he was such a bastard (laughs), he hired me, and then I said: "Okay, but probably not in this life." This will never happen again. Maybe someday we'll play some charity show or something... Actually, my interest in it vanished 100% after I discovered Les and Trey.
MD: It's interesting because in recent interviews you've been very enthusiastic about upcoming projects with Sting and Andy Summers.
Stewart: Yes, I have quite a lot of experience playing with different musicians, but the only time I got the same buzz was with Sting and Andy. It is no accident that we have conquered the world. The reason is that between us there was "it" inexplicable. And I didn't feel anything like that for the last fifteen years (after the Police) until I met Les and Tray in Vermont.
MD: How do you feel about drumming after such a long break?
Stuart: One day I got a call from Les Claypool, whom I had barely heard of before. I heard the name Primus. They asked me to be the producer. I went to their rehearsal and they asked me to bring drums to jam. I'm just getting started again. You know, I still have concerts with Orchestrelli, which also keep me in shape.
Another thing I've known since childhood, and kind of forgot about as a professional, is that it all comes from listening. Playing any instrument is, first of all, the ability to listen. I may be deviating from the topic, but this is my "big lecture". All this comes from the ability to listen.
All cool things come from listening. That's why Mick Fleetwood is better than most drummers. Because he listens and the pulse of his playing is really effective. And that's what Charlie Watts does. And this ability to listen magically turns all your technical abilities into gold. When you think about your "chips" and wait in trepidation for the moment to play what you've been working so hard on, it's complete crap. It just doesn't work! This is not music. But when you listen, focusing on what your partners are playing, and not on yourself - that's when you get something real.
MD: Back to Oysterhead. Both Les and Tray talked about how passionate and unyielding you were when choosing takes - but only the first or the second.
Stewart: Intellectually, I understand that other musicians would have recorded both the third and fourth takes. But I just don't have the patience. And yet, I am sure that there is some magic in the first attempts at performance. There's a difference between the way Charlie Watts plays a regular rhythm and some other guys, some kind of X factor. And this can be achieved only when everything is fresh and new for you, when there is some doubt, when you have the feeling of a researcher. I think it gets lost on the third, fourth, fifth…takes. You become more correct, predictable. And, well, you already get this "trick" before the second part, but it's dead.
MD: Do you plan to go commercial with the Orchestralli project?
Stuart: No. This is actually quite a strange thing. It was a way to play drums as a hobby before Oysterhead was born.
I intend to continue with Orchestralli. It's not going anywhere. It's out of time. I write parts, put together a couple of rehearsals and that's it. It is completely out of tradition and style. Everything is very calm.
MD: At the Orchestralli concert at the NAMM show, you nevertheless actively "put" the second and fourth beats.
Stuart: I wasn't completely sure about my project at the time. Probably half the volume with which I played would have been enough. In the end, I achieved this, which required a certain subtlety. But then this subtlety was inaccessible to me. I should have worked more on this. But to make it smooth and calm… it requires all your technical arsenal from you. It's much easier to just "yell".
But, what's good, I composed this music, and I know it very well, every note. And here we return to the ability to listen again. I'm so into the music that I no longer think about what the drums should play. I'm already inside the music with them.
MD: Speaking of listening, Trey considers you a better "listener" than any jazz drummer he's ever played with.
Stuart: Ha! Okay, there's one problem with jazz musicians: they're all bullshit.
MD: Really? Can we now quote you with this statement?
Stuart: Oh yes! This is my old favorite saying. And of course I don't mean it. I just like to say that. But, most jazz musicians are bullshit.
MD: Trey said that for a guy who doesn't listen to jazz...
Stuart: ...and the reason I don't listen to jazz is not because the jazz guys are bad, or because I'm a jazz player myself, or whatever, but because I grew up playing jazz. I was born to be a jazz drummer. My father played the trumpet. But for me, jazz was the reliable music of Sunday family lunches. It was the exact opposite of rebellion. And my whole musical outlook comes from a rebellion against jazz. Sometimes I come into contact with some of those who call themselves jazz musicians - Stanley Clarke, Tony Williams, Branford Marsalis (Branford Marsalis) ... But, apart from those about ten guys who are my friends, the rest are complete crap. Their approach to music sucks. They play mind music. Music is not the mind, music is from the heart.
MD: And the classical music you write for Orchestralli, is it from the mind or from the heart?
Stuart: Ahhh... you got me. This is an exercise of the mind, and my heart rejoices in the absence of moments that appeal to the human libido. I was flying in the sky and you shot me (laughs). Good. Give me a second to regroup.
What I'm trying to say is that the philosophy of Stuart as a composer is completely different from that of Stuart as a drummer. The main credo is different. A dude who composes music is, in fact, an artistically farting intellectual creature. It's a jazz musician! (terrible laugh). Wow. What a strange implementation.
MD: I hope I didn't ruin your day.
Stuart: No! It was entertaining.
Based on materials from Modern Drummer magazine.
Translation - Yevgeny Ryaboy.