Interview Beard and Bearder: Jasen Samford Interviews Chris Wilson
posted by April 17 at 11:50 AMon
(Left: Jasen Samford, drummer for local band Speaker Speaker. Right: Chris Wilson, drummer for Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. They both have beards, they both played in math rock bands before finding the light of pop music, and last week Jasen got Chris on the phone to talk about the new record and geek out about drums like drummers often do.)
A note from Jasen:
As a drummer, I have taken inspiration from older players like Ringo Starr and Mitch Mitchell, to the younger set like Dave Grohl, Tre Cool, and Adam Pfahler. Chris Wilson, however, tops my list. Prior to joining Speaker Speaker, I had spent years playing in numerous math rock bands. I wanted out. When I heard Ted Leo’s Shake The Sheets, I found what I had been looking for. Chris plays with great pop sensibilities, with obvious nods to punk, ska, and reggae influences. His history of playing with math bands like Shake Ray Turbine also shines through in his style. In addition to being my favorite drummer to listen to, he is also my favorite drummer to watch live; the man is a powerhouse, and yet his intricate syncopated hi-hat accents and breakneck fills seem effortless.
It was a great honor and a privilege to talk with Chris about everything from his own influences, to gear, to working with Ted Leo, and to recording with Fugazi’s Brendan Canty.
First and foremost, Iím not really a journalist by any means, I just kind of wanted to have a conversation. See how itís goiní. But I do have some specific questions for you.
(laughs) Nice. Okay.
For starters, Iíd like to just say that Iím a big fan and youíve been a big influence. Iím a drummer in a band in Seattle and I always played in sorta mathy and instrumental prog bands and eventually got out of that, and some friends of mine came to me asking to start a band. I had just ended a long string of doing that and knew that they came from the same background and they said ďNo no, weíre gonna do something differentĒ and played Shake the Sheets for me and I was like ďYes, this is it. This is what I wanna do.Ē So Iím interested in your influence.
I came from the exact same background that you did. It went from that to this, which is kind of what I always wanted to do because itís a pop band but thereís a lot of room to make it interesting.
Right, with Shake Ray Turbine (Wilsonís former band), thereís sorta more prog, I guess, aspects of punk as opposed to your stuff with the Pharmacists with is more poppy with obvious nods to ska and dub stuff as well.
Has that always been something that youíve always been into? The more pop side of punk and into the ska aspects? I know Ted has a big dub and ska background.
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I grew up on old punk rock stuff, I still listen to it constantly.
Any favorite bands come to mind?
Dead Kennedys, MinutemenÖ George Hurley is a big influence. I always loved D.H. Peligro too, I think those are two of the best drummers from that era of punk.
Thatís one of my questionsÖ are there any drummers youíd list as your favorite drummers as far as influence and inspiration goes, as well as drummers just to listen to or drummers that youíve seen play?
Yeah, nowadays, Cale Parks from Aloha. Weíve done a lot of touring with them, which has been great for me, just gettiní to watch him every night. I definitely ripped a couple of things from him. And this guy Chris Farral from D.C.. He was in Hoover and he has a new band now, I canít remember their name, but heís a big influence. And I love Ryan Rapsys but I canít do 90% of the stuff that he does. He was in Euphone and now heís in that band Ambulette. And I love Dale Crover of the Melvins.
Yeah, no joke.
(laughs) Actually I just saw them do the thing with Big Business, and that was one of the best shows Iíve seen in my life.
Awesome. So with Living with the Living you worked with Brendan Canty (of Fugazi), how was that?
It was great, of course, Iíve always been a huge fan of his. Heís a big influence as well. I got to record on that Gretsch set that he played all through Fugazi, which was amazing, a huge honor for me.
Does it make it easier when youíre going in with someone youíve known for a while and have built a friendship with? Did he take direction well, did you take direction well from him?
I did, definitely. It was weird, on Shake the Sheets we recorded with a real deal producer guy, Chris Shaw, and he kind of just let me go and do whatever I wanted to. Just so long as the takes were solid, he just let me do whatever I wanted, which was kind of shocking. But Brendan, he definitely knew what he wanted to get out of me, and I did more takes on this record than I did with any other record. But Iím glad because every other record that Iíve ever done, thereís always been a couple things Iíd take back if I could (laughs). But yeah, Iím pretty satisfied with this entire record.
So are you entirely self taught?
I was in junior high band for a couple years, but I donít think I really took anything from that. (laughs) So yeah, Iím completely self-taught. Iíve always thought of taking jazz lessons at some point, but Iíve just never done it.
Iím the same way. Self-taught and tried to get involved in lessons a couple years ago and the problem with it is they wanted to start from square one. Iíve already got all of this behind me that itís kind of hard to go back and relearn everything soÖ
Yeah, totally, thatís what Iíve always thought. Exactly. I donít know how well I would take being taught and how, yeahÖ I think they would try to re-teach from square one, like you said. I just remind myself that this is what I do and I should just do it as best I can. And other people do the stuff that I think is incredible and Iíll probably never be able to do it, but thatís fine. You know, I do what I do the best I can.
My only last real bit of questioning, I saw that you are now playing Silverfox sticks, or are at least endorsed by them now? Congratulations on that. Whatís your other gear?
I have an Evans endorsement also. I like playing the Vistalites now, I used to always play coated remos and I kind of couldnít bring myself to play coated heads on the Vistalites cause it just looked so good, but I got used to that clear head sound and itís kind of hard to go back, actually. You wanna know about the specific drums and stuff?
Yeah, anything you have to throw out.
I have, I donít know the exact gear, but I think itís early í70s clear Vistalite, 22, 12, 16, and I just bought a 14 inch black Peavey, which I love because Iíve been playing the same snare drum for 20 years now, which was like an Ludwig that my grandmother bought me for junior high band. I thought it was time to retire that thing because itís has the shit pounded out of it for 20 yearsÖ. 14-inch Zildjin new beat high hats, 20 inch VH dry light ride, thatís a K, and then a 21 inch sweet ride, soÖ
I also play the 21-inch sweet ride and Iím on my third one in like 10 months.
Iíve got a stack of them in my basement that I just never sent back, I think Iíve got like eight of them. Iíve had some last a year and Iíve had some last 15 shows, but they sound so good I canít play anything else!
Well itís a good sound, I think youíve found something that works.
Awesome, thanks man!
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists play the Showbox tonight, 8 pm, all ages, $15.