Jimmy Chamberlin was 24 years old when the Smashing Pumpkins put out their debut album, Gish. Chamberlin is one of the giants of drumming that I look up to most and is the one I’m most often trying to emulate. I’m hurting the most when I’m trying to match his single-stroke rolls stroke for stroke at those awesome speeds, when I’m trying to match those insane combos across the kit. I think most drummers know it, the feeling of having past greats hovering behind them like a poltergeist when they’re punishing their drumheads, trying to improve, urging on the sinews in their forearms. The standards they set are something to work towards or, sometimes, even surpass. They’re also a reminder, not of how great they were, but of how hard you have to work and that it’s just not possible without moving as fast as you can. When I think of this salient point I am always reminded of the words spoken by an unlikely figure in this context, Paul Keating. He once paraphrased the advice his own hero gave him when he was a young man, at a time when he was unsure of what to do first: people say you’re young, that you have time. But the truth is, you haven’t got a moment to lose.
My own band, Seattle Fix, is on the verge of releasing our debut EP. Four tracks, one intro. It’s a kind of mix of synth pop and alternative rock—that’s if you ask me the question that I hate answering: what do you sound like? I don’t really know. You will soon be able to decide for yourself.
It took a few days to record and around six months to produce. Listening to the final mastered tracks is exciting. We have a long way to go as a band, so much to improve upon, but it sounds pretty good. Not bad. But it is a frustrating experience in some ways. It takes time to make and in that time we’ve been writing newer and, in our opinion, much better songs. I listen to the drumming on those tracks and six months feels like an eternity of difference—I play those songs so much better (much more so when I’m on my own, too. This is agonising: I need to play that well in front of others). I shouldn’t complain about the lag between the finished product and the works in progress, it just means I’m always thinking: ‘you need to hear the new stuff.’ I remember listening to Martin Amis talking about this problem, expressing his disinterest at best when talking about a recently-released book, for all he can think about is what he’s currently writing. We love the tracks on the EP, but we’re continuously finding something better. At least we finally have a product we can push and the newer songs will be the hints of greater things when we finally start playing live again.
Of course, the road is never as smooth as you’d like. The first time a member quit, I was at the gym. I go every now and again, especially to keep the back in check. Drumming can create all sorts of problems (sitting down for long periods of time does this anyway), pulling the back and shoulder muscles forward, creating a bio-mechanical problem. I was also at the gym when I received the latest letter of departure. Nicholas’s time in the band was going to come to an end, but we didn’t expect it so soon, nor did he, I suspect, until very recently. It’s not as you might think: no one is angry, no one is bitter. There is a general understanding between musicians about these things. Getting upset about creative differences is like crying over the weather—no point. And besides, Nicholas is a friend of mine. It’s just the nature of the business, especially for a young band going through its long and gruelling teething process. A band’s childhood is often exciting but its adolescence is a bitch and the adulthood that follows isn’t as certain as you might think. At a time when we finally have in our hands a brand new EP, our first well-recorded and well-produced product, music that people might genuinely enjoy, there are suddenly only two of us left. We can play as two, we have thought of this, and we are more or less ready for it. To have three, however, delivers a greater presence on stage and offers more balance in the creative sphere.
There’s still so much to do. Promotion, shoot a music video, invest in merchandise, organise shows, play shows, not to mention writing and more writing, practice and more practice. Now the band has to set about rebuilding itself. This means, we hope, eventually welcoming a new member. This will take time. But that’s just the way it is. I can view it only as an inconvenience or I can see it as just another part of the band’s evolution, that the band can only remain the same or improve. I can also see it as part of my own evolution as a drummer, something I can’t imagine ever stopping. Difficulties are, as I’ve suggested before, just a sign of progress. None of it is meant to be a breeze and nothing worth doing is meant to be easy. Something better might lie around the corner, or not.
Speaking of his drumming at the time of Gish‘s recording, Chamberlin said in 2000, ‘I made Gish when I was twenty-four—eleven years ago—I was just out of control then.’ His drumming, in the time that followed, matured, becoming more refined, a process all drummers and musicians go through, undoubtedly. At the time of Gish Chamberlin was going full throttle on the drums (though it’s hard to believe it was his hardest or most complex, listening to some of the drumming tracks on Melon Colie and Machina). He looked back and saw a young man holding nothing in reserve. It’s also the album that arguably gave them the base to launch their break-out album, Siamese Dream. I’m around the same age and don’t at all mind the thought of holding nothing back. I’m worlds away from being anything like Chamberlin—hero of rhythm to me—but I want to leave my mark on the kit, on the band, on the music that I hope will mean something to someone. I want to build something. I’m 23 and though we finally have an EP ready to go, we just lost a member and though we’re feeling more and more confident in our sound, the future isn’t set. Who knows what will happen. There is no album, no Gish up our sleeves. Not yet. At times it makes me think, makes me worry, that as hard as I might be trying it might not be enough, that though I’m ‘young’ I am fast running out of time.
Maybe the standard I’m setting is too high, maybe I want too much too soon. All I know is that I want it.
Seattle Fix‘s First EP comes out 27 September