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RHYTHM

by Simon Braund

January '92

 

"Prime Mover"

In a drumming world so widely blighted by 'session disease' (or the pathological terror of expressing opinions for fear of precluding future gigs) Jonathan Mover is a straight-talking breath of fresh air. Simon Braund and the Rhythm libel lawyer listen in...

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    A part from it being an easy lead-in question to an interview, I've always had a perverse interest in the original motivation that persuades a person to consider playing drums a sensible way to lead their life. Even so, I am getting a little bit bored with the 'Ringo on the Ed Sullivan show' riposte, so it's nice to come across someone like Jonathan Mover, whose interest was fired by several intriguing, if not downright perplexing factors.

    Music became his thing as the result of seeing an animated film called The Point, which featured a profoundly affecting soundtrack by Mr. one-hit-wonder Harry Nilson. Following that he decided on drums as his preferred medium of expression after subjection to the drum solo in Iron Butterfly's monumentally awful 'Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida' - an experience more likely to provoke a morbid fear of all things percussive in most fourteen year-old boys. And surely fourteen is a bit late in the day to embark on a musical career, particularly by the standards of most American players?

    "Well, I went through my girl phase first."

    A poor excuse Jon; I think you'll find most people have the energy to pursue both.

    "Yeah, I don't know. The funny thing about it is my father is a professional musician - a brass player. I have two brothers and a sister and for some reason my parents always shoved music onto them. My older brother played drums, my sister played piano and my younger brother tried to play bass, but none of them really took to it. They never expected anything of me. I was certainly the black sheep of the family, a very odd child, so they obviously thought, 'well nothing's going to come out of this one so we won't even try it.' Oddly enough I was the one who took to it."

    This laissez faire attitude seemed to have a beneficial effect and, left to his own devices, Jonathan was able to work through his 'girl phase' and launch himself into the drums without the fettering of parental pressure to dampen his enthusiasm.

    "I guess it was very natural for me; it was something I wanted to do, and because it came from inside of me I went headlong into it. I began by playing to my favourite groups and a lot of the music when I was growing up was British progressive rock: ELP, Genesis, Yes, Roxy Music, (surely 'seminal art rock' - Ed) Jethro Tull, that type of band. Gentle Giant, King Crimson, that was what I was into."

    A little unpatriotic perhaps?

    "The only American bands I listened to were Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren's Utopia and The Tubes. My sister was heavily into ELP and Carl Palmer was one of my earliest drum heroes... though that didn't last long. I didn't know what it was at the time but I was always into the feel of odd time signatures and counter rhythms and things. Actually, I'm glad I didn't have a teacher in the very beginning who said, 'Okay, this is four four; this is even. This is seven four; this is odd, it's a little strange so we'll leave that for a while.' Growing up listening to the stuff I did - Tarkus, Brain Salad Surgery, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway - even though the tune might be called 'Apocalypse in Nine Eight', I didn't really know what nine eight was, I just played it. Afterwards, when I studied with Gary Chaffee he really taught me and explained to me what odd time was and I understood a lot more about what I was doing, even though I could play it by ear."

    This surely demonstrates an extraordinary natural aptitude for the drums and it'll come as no surprise that Jonathan was soon bound for Berklee, intent specifically on availing himself of Gary Chaffee's talents. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan.

    "Well, no. I went there for Gary because I'd heard that he'd taught Vinnie Colaiuta and Steve Smith. I got to Berklee and I found out that he wasn't there, which was my first disappointment. The second disappointment was when I got to my first drum set class to find there were five students and only me and one other guy were actually drummers. Two were horn players who wanted to play the drums and one didn't even have an instrument - he'd got in on academics and chose the drums when he got there. Before I could even sit down and play a rock beat we had to go through stuff like, 'This is how you hold a stick.'"

    Not an image of Berklee that's familiar to us.

    "Yeah, but I've got a better one for you. In my first private drum class I show up for my first lesson, sit down at my kit and my teacher shows up - who I was hoping to be Chaffee but wasn't - and the first thing he asks me is my shoe size. I thought I was going to discover some incredible new pedal technique, so I gave him my shoe size and he opened up this closet and showed me racks of used clothing and shoes. He said, 'I'm selling this stuff. Do you know anyone who wants to buy some?' I just turned around and said, 'See ya...'"

    Kind of blows the lid off the place don't you think?

    "Well it depends on what you're going there for. I went to Berklee thinking it was going to be a written ticket to a professional career, and it's not. I mean, ninety per cent of people who graduate after four years are teachers. Colaiuta, Smith almost anybody like that who goes there quits, or leaves after a certain time to go for it. Usually, if you last four years at Berklee you've got a problem."

    Deciding that he didn't want to become a teacher and therefore needed neither a degree in music nor a pair of used shoes, Jonathan walked out of Berklee and, following a period of personal tuition with Chaffee, moved to London.

    "I decided I had to move to either New York, Los Angeles or London. New York was too close to Boston where I grew up, I'd been to LA once and it really wasn't my scene and English music was my favourite. I love women with accents and Simon Phillips was blowing my mind at the time, so I decided to take a chance on London."

    After a brief stint of traditional starving, Jonathan landed the chair with Toyah, recently vacated by Simon Phillips. A gig that unfortunately came to nothing, owing to La Wilcox Accepting the plum(p) leading role in Trafford Tanzi shortly afterwards.

    Undeterred, our hero jumped at the chance to throw in his lot with Prog supremos Marillion, even though, at the time, he regarded them as "the worst Genesis rip-off I'd ever heard in my life". This perceived sacrilege failed to put him off completely and he stayed long enough to record a live album in Germany and to work extensively on Fugazi.

    Following his departure, his replacement was, as we all know, Ian Mosely who'd recently left the service of Steve Hackett. Putting two and two together, Jonathan realized that this arrangement rendered Hackett temporarily drummerless, a situation he kindly offered to rectify.

    "Hackett had been auditioning drummers for, like, three months and had finally settled on somebody about two days before I called his manager. I hung up the phone thinking, 'Oh well, I just missed it.' Then I thought 'F**k it'. I called him back and said, 'Listen, you've got to give me an audition. I'll make a deal with you; you give me ten minutes of your time and if I don't get the gig I'll pay for the rehearsal room and everything. If I do get the gig you guys pay for it and you've got a new drummer.' His manager called Hackett, who obviously thought I had big balls, and they gave me an audition. The next thing I knew I was playing with Steve Hackett. Two months after that he bumped into Steve Howe and the whole GTR thing came together.'

    As you may or may not know, GTR were one of those unwieldy 'Supergroups' who raised their grizzled heads in the early to mid-eighties, enjoyed a brief flirtation with stadium-status rock, pocketed the cash and slunk back to their grubby tax havens. And, although in this case both key players were previous heroes of his, Jonathan's initial response to the suggestion that his tenure with GTR was less than convivial is telling indeed.

    "Well, it was a great learning experience...

    Marjorie, hand me my dictionary of euphemisms immediately!

    "GTR did some very good things for me because they established me as a major drumming talent worldwide. They were a major international band and playing with Howe and Hackett was a treat because I was weaned on both of them, But it was cats and dogs from the beginning. Hackett and Genesis had one way of doing things and Howe and Yes had another way; they never saw eye to eye on anything and they'd argue about everything. We began as a very decent progressive rock band and slowly but surely turned into an abysmal pop project."

    What was the reason for that?

    "Oh, money. Arista Records wanted a five million selling album so they brought in Geoffrey Downes to produce - which was not the right combination at all - and it was really all doomed from the beginning. For me it was successful; it got my foot in the door and I toured the world with them, so I was high as a kite for a year and a half. For them it was a disgrace that they didn't have a platinum disc and they didn't sell out Wembley, and when things didn't really happen for them they just started to blame each other."

    I hate to say it, but isn't that always the way with these supergroups?

    "Yes it is, because they're just old guys looking for something to do. To me The Stones are a supergroup because they get back together as what they are. But you keep getting these guys who are out of their element and they're just looking to make some more money to finish off the lives, or to do something with their spare time. I don't think Steve Howe was meant to be a pop rhythm guitar player; he was meant to write and play the stuff he did so well with Yes. Some of that stuff stands up as well today as it did fifteen years ago."

    "The whole GTR thing for me was just a downer and I decided to quit just before Christmas '86 - just over the two year mark. We'd done a minimal amount of work, Hackett and Howe were fighting like crazy, so I went home for the holidays and really thought about it."

    The benefits of a learning experience aside, Jonathan, quite naturally, had had enough of the in-fighting and the egos and, perhaps more than anything else, the ridiculous ban on his doing any kind of work outside of the lumbering GTR project.

    "That was a real drag. We did drums and percussion first on the album and Phil Spalding (bass) and myself were done with everything within one week. We went in each day, knocked off a tune, I'd go in the night after, do all the percussion for the track, blah, blah, blah see you later. The record took nine months to make, so I had a lot of time to sit on my ass."

    Understandably hacked off with Blighty, Jonathan decided to move back to the States, where his next gig proved a far cry from the Hackett/Howe debacle.

    "The next thing I hooked up was with Satriani. The whole thing was just for fun in the beginning and it was a complete fluke, very unexpected what happened to the band. We got together to do some shows for Tama and Ibanez at the trade fairs, we played one show with Steve Vai and just had some fun."

    The trade fair shows were a great success - earning bookings as far afield as Japan - and, prompted further by Joe Satriani's Surfing With The Alien album hitting the Billboard top 200, the band embarked on a low key ten date tour of the East Coast. Meanwhile, Joe had landed the prestige gig with Mick Jagger and as the press surrounding him increased, so the album inched its way into the top 40, while the tour mushroomed to ever greater proportions.

    "We ended up touring through most of 1988. We went around the world with it.

    "We had different things happening around the beginning of '89. We'd quit touring and then Joe started working on his Flying In A Blue Dream record. He started out using drum machines, like he's always done before, slowly adding everything else to it."

    Or, in fact, not. Because while Satriani ran over time and over budget, it began to look, even after five months of waiting around, that Jonathan was not going to have any involvement with Flying In A Blue Dream. However, salvation was at hand...

    "At that point, through a very good friend of mine, the percussionist Jody Linscott, I was introduced to a guy named Blondie Chaplin. He's a south African guitarist and singer who used to play with The Beach Boys, and he had a band called Skollie, which is a pop/rock/funk/reggae mixture type of group. The had a tour booked for seven weeks in the Soviet Union. They were going to be the first band to break a lot of new territory over there. But they were going to cancel the whole tour because they couldn't find a drummer. Jody and Simon Phillips were in New York with The Who and I went to see them; I got introduced to Blondie and two days later I was on a flight to Moscow. The seven weeks turned into three months and it was the greatest experience of my life. Skollie's music is more than I could ever have asked from a group - musically, spiritually, emotionally, lyrically, culturally, and being in Russia for the first time really blew me away."

    For a player with Jonathan Mover's musical background it might seem odd that he should gain such personal satisfaction from a band with Skollie's ethnic credentials - no room for apocalyptic nine eights there surely?

    "It's funny, I played with Skollie on a four piece kit with four cymbals and that was it, and yet when I listen back to the tapes I think I did my most musical, my most creative and absolutely my best playing with that band. It was the only gig that I didn't approach technically. When I played with Satriani or with Alice Cooper or with GTR I always thought about it in technical ways: 'I'm going to play some linear stuff and some metric modulations.' Now playing with Skollie I learned the material on the flight to Moscow and the first rehearsal I had was the soundcheck for the show two days after we arrived. I basically listened to the music on the flight and started to play it. It was like, 'No man, that's all wrong.' I was saying ' What do you mean, it's wrong? I'm playing what I heard on the tape, I'm playing the song. It's three minutes long, it's A-A-B-A.' They were like, 'No, no that's not what it's all about. This song comes from South Africa, this song comes from this township, these lyrics mean this, this rhythm means this. You can't do a drum fill here because you have to be integral to the rhythm at this point.'"

    Did that fundamentally alter the way you though about playing drums?

    "Absolutely, It kind of depressed me for a little while..."

    Why? Thinking you'd been getting it wrong all these years?

    "Yeah! But it was amazing, I learned so much from those guys. You see, I'd only ever thought about it one way before and all of a sudden these guys were saying, 'Uh uh, you don't understand what's going on here.' Up to that point I was a drummer, Skollie helped me to become a musician."

    Back in New York after his Soviet sojourn Jonathan was approached by Alice Cooper: again, not so much of a style hop as a quantum leap.

    "It wasn't difficult to come back and play with Cooper physically, but it was a very difficult emotional adjustment. To begin with I was very upset because being on tour with Cooper meant disassociating myself completely from Joe. He was really upset with me by then and here I was flying to Europe with Alice Cooper. I was trying to talk myself into really digging it: 'Look, I'm a freelance drummer and this is what I've grown up dreaming about, so it's cool.' I'll tell you, when we flew into Helsinki, Finland, and I was that close to Leningrad, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was really, really depressed."

    Although short-lived, things did perk up, and the tour met with huge success in Europe and Canada. Unfortunately, when Alice and Co hit the States they discovered that they hugely overestimated their pulling power and, up against the likes of Motley Crue and Aerosmith, they found themselves relegated to smaller theaters and even clubs. The schedule was drastically curtailed and, to Jonathan's secret relief, the management withdrew their stipulation of a year's commitment from the musicians. Good news, since Joe Satriani, currently suffering drummer audition hell, was keen to bury the hatchet with Jonathan.

    "He'd hired and fired about a dozen drummers in a two-week period and basically called me up to say, 'I can't do this without you. Tell me what I've got to do to get you back.'I said, 'Well, first of all I'm really, really upset that you dicked me around for a year and I didn't get to play on your record. 'He promised to make it up to me, so I said, 'Okay, you can start by making it up to me financially.'"

    With that sorted out Jonathan embarked on an amicable, though extremely punishing, schedule with Satriani. Jetting between Satriani sessions in San Francisco and wherever the Cooper tour was holed up, he contracted a severe case of bronchitis due to overwork. An acceptable trade-off though, for a renewed friendship and a profitable working relationship with Joe, the latter of which being put on temporary hold just before Christmas last year.

    "In '91 I was determined to break the recording taboo about me. What I mean by that is, a lot of what I'm known for is the sillier side of drumming - the odd times, the linear patterns and not the rock 'n' roll - so I wanted to avoid the road this year. As far as recording goes in New York I've come up against a couple of brick walls where people have been afraid to use me because they thought I was going to overplay or throw a wrench into the four-four pocket and ruin everything. I've actually turned down quite a few things tour-wise this year."

    One thing he didn't turn down, though was a chance to go back to the soviet Union.

    "I was the first American drummer ever to record with a Soviet rock band. It was a very exciting experience because I was there when the coup happened. I was out there on the street with the tanks and the soldiers. I didn't throw any molotov cocktails, but I was there."

    And the band?

    "It was a band called Action, a hard rock group. Through the black market they'd heard of Jimmy Page and Keith Richards and Hendrix, but they weren't as influenced by the late eighties and nineties stuff as most Americans and English bands. So, although they were very modern in what they were trying to do, their roots were a lot cooler than most of the stuff that's played today. A lot of the rhythms and backbeats were definitely Bonham, which for me was a blast. It was fun, but the recording facilities were ridiculous - they must have been built in the 1940's. I played in a drum room that was smaller than my bathroom. I could only fit a four piece drum set in there, I couldn't use a 16" floor tom, I could only use a 10" and a 13" and whenever I rolled off the 13" I whacked my elbow on the wall. The kit that I used was handmade out of trees from the Siberian forest and the hardware was handtooled at a military manufacturing plant in the Ukraine. The cymbal stands were like rods bent at an angle; I couldn't adjust them. Luckily, I'd brought my own cymbals, but the heads had been played for years and I was terrified of breaking a head because they wouldn't have been able to get another one for five years or something."

    Thankfully no-one had to rush out and skin a reindeer before they could complete the session, but the spirit of Glasnost did become slightly strained at one point.

    "They had this huge Neumann mike on the star elastic clip directly over my snare. I was like, 'Look, you cannot use that there to record my snare drum.' They said, 'No, no it sounds fantastic.' I was going, 'I promise you this will not work.' 'No no no...' So they hung it there, and two minutes into the song I put that baby to sleep. I felt so bad about it, I didn't want to break a drum head as well."

    Next morning's Pravda described the Soviet professional recording microphone shortage as having mysteriously risen by 100 per cent overnight. Ten out of ten for effort Jon, but no Order of Lenin this time.

 

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