Craig Blundell, the busiest drummer around, talks to The Rhythm Studio about drum clinics, DVD projects, live drum n bass with his band External Unit, and his childhood heroes.
You're involved in so many different projects: drum clinics, sessions, your own drum 'n bass project and dvds… which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I get the kick out of drum clinics, imparting knowledge and making better drummers out there. It's nice doing sessions, it's great to put a CD on and listen back to yourself, but I get my main kick out of doing drum clinics because I love inspiring people.
How did External Unit, your live drum 'n bass project, come about?
I was doing some online drum tutorials called Lick Library and I met the guys from the band, one of whom was a film editor and the other a sound engineer. They'd auditioned over 20 drummers and they couldn't find anybody at all. I was in there recording with them, I played with them and I took a minidisk home and had a listen - it really was a question of being in the right place at the right time, and it's my dream project, it's what I love playing now.
Have you had to adapt your equipment in any way to get that drum 'n bass sound?
Definitely - a smaller bass drum tuned high, more snares, lots of "white-noise" cymbals. I've started stacking cymbals to get that really clear edge. I use smaller hi hats as well, only 8" or 10".
What was the inspiration behind the Two World Collide DVD you have been working on?
I got bored of watching basic drumming DVDs because so many of them have gone too ses up and down marching parade grounds and I'm rehearsing with Swedish metal bands. It shows all the rehearsals, we see Adrian's first rehearsal with External Unit and then the last rehearsal before a gig six months later. We also go on the road to two big drum festivals where we film both live clinics - Adrian doing two of my tracks and me doing two of Adrian's tracks. It looks at how wetraight-forward and pre-produced. I think it's really important to see the starting point, and then to show how that player got to that place. What we're trying to do is a documentary. I met up with Adrian Erlandsson about two years ago and I was blown away with his playing and I told him that I had always wanted to play metal. I was really into Slayer as a kid but never went down that road. He replied that he wanted to learn jazz, funk and drum 'n bass - he's not a choppy player, he never had lessons about rudiments. So we thought why don't we swap over for six months, taking over each other's roles and try and come out at the end of it playing each other's jobs. In the documentary we go back to each other's roots: he goes to the Royal Marines and learns all the chops and go approached each genre of music over the six month period, and shows that even the pros have off days, play badly, struggle, and have to get across hurdles. You see Adrian onstage in front of 20,000 people but you also learn what it's taken him to get there.
Have you worked on any particularly memorable gigs?
Bruce Dickinson was amazing, he was my hero cause I was a real Iron Maidon fan as a kid. Also, Working with Mike Rutherford (Genesis) who is another hero of mine was just mad. I do a lot of clinic these days as well and playing alongside people like John Blackwell, Billy Cobham and Dave Garibaldi is a mini-dream for me.
Did you always know you wanted to go down the session and clinic route?
Yes. When I came out of the Royal Marines I struggled work-wise for a long time and then basically I thought, I love to talk about drums so why not do it onstage, chatting to people openly and honestly about how I approach my playing. I've worked really hard, practising so much to get to a stage where I feel like I can impart knowledge and people can listen get something out of it.
Which drummers inspired you when you were growing up?
I was a massive Buddy Rich fan, also I was into prog stuff, Neil Peart of Rush and that sort of thing. Billy Cobham, Gene Krupa and a lot of the big band stuff really. I was kind of brought up on that and sixties swing. The Beatles too, less is more, lay it down, bread-and-butter gigs really inspired me.
Are there any drummers or bands that you are really into at the moment?
Marco Minnemann, he's a great guy and a close friend and his playing is brilliant and the other one is another friend, Stanton Moore, who plays back to basics New Orleans swing. Marco is pushing boundaries and really out there in terms of technical expertise. Stanton can play a drum solo for an hour and have you tapping your feet right the way through which is incredible.
We've already talked about the DVD, is there anything else exciting coming up?
The next thing is getting the External Unit album out and then we'll go out and play it live. It only started off as a fun project but now it's got quite serious and there are a lot of people who want to hear it and see it live too. I am really proud of what we're doing live cause I don't think anyone is putting together that sort of dark, hooky riff drum 'n bass together on the stage at the moment.