Ben Johnston's Biffy Clyro drum setup in pictures
On 9 November, 2009 drummer Ben Johnston’s life changed dramatically. Along with guitarist/frontman Simon Neil and Ben’s bassist brother James Johnston, their band Biffy Clyro released fifth album Only Revolutions, and within seven months it was a platinum smash (more than 300,000 sales in the UK alone).
The album was a finely-crafted masterpiece, showcasing the band’s ability to pen anthemic tunes whilst staying true to their roots in heavy rock, angular riffs and tricky time signatures courtesy of Ben’s twisted beats.
Live, the power trio are an even mightier force, recalling the likes of Nirvana or Rush, a skill they honed by tirelessly ploughing the toilet circuit since their 1995 inception.
With never-ending tours, including a December 2010 stop-off at Wembley Arena - documented for a recent live album and DVD - and Foo Fighters supports under their belts, the band wound up the album cycle with a headline slot at the Sonisphere Festival, Knebworth - hallowed ground that has played host to the likes of Led Zeppelin, Queen, Oasis and, er… Chas & Dave.
Mere hours before the show, Rhythm Magazine was ushered into the bands’ ‘village’ backstage for some alone-time with Scotland’s newest drum sensation and heir to Grohl’s ‘Nicest Guy In rock™’ throne, Ben Johnston.
Here we bring you shots of Ben’s tour kit, along with snippets from that interview, which you can read in full in Rhythm 194. Or you can subscribe to Rhythm Magazine to read interviews with the world’s top drummers each month.
Next: The kit
Pearl Reference Series (maple/mahogany shells): 22-inch bass drum, 13-inch rack tom, 16 and 18-inch floor toms, 14x5-inch Sensitone Elite snare drum.
How conscious is your choice of gear in trying to fill out the band’s sound?
“Everything regarding my drums is getting bigger and bigger and my cymbals have been getting louder as well. Back in the day my biggest crash was a 16-inch and then it got smaller and smaller, and 10, 12 and 14-inch on my toms.
“It’s mostly from playing with other bands and hearing what big drums sound like that I’ve changed. I’ve just progressively gone from big to bigger drums, and I’m now rocking the 13, 16 and 18-inch toms.
“I started with piccolo snares and I couldn’t play them. They were always getting lost amongst the sound and frequency of the guitars. I’ve gone for a deeper snare now, but I like that deeper sound.
“I love the pearl drums. They’re loud and they’re good rock drums. They’ve been really good to me; they let me design the shells I want. I just got a brand new reference kit off of them, but I got to dictate what I wanted. I got a mix of maple and mahogany which is a bit bizarre but it sounds good.”
Sabian: Paragon 13-inch hihats, 17, 18 and 19-inch AAX X-Plosion crashes, 21-inch HHX Raw Bell Dry ride, 19-inch Paragon Chinese.
Your younger brother Adam is your tech. Do you talk to him a lot about sounds?
“Absolutely. He plays the kit almost as much as I do in the soundcheck and line-checking it. I also spend a lot of time talking to the front-of-house guys.
“We’re not recording an album here, it’s live. It has to sound good for a gig, that’s the most important thing. Even if it doesn’t sound that good on stage it’s all about how it sounds out front. Adam’s always looking for a lot of musicality from the drums, not everything has to sound like a kick drum with snares on it!”
Pro-Mark Neil Peart Signature 747 drum sticks, Pearl hardware and pedals, Aquarian coated Super Kick 2 heads on bass drum, Aquarian Hi-Impact on snare and Remo Pinstripes on toms and a Latin Percussion Jam Block.
Ben’s writing tips…
“When writing for a new album I do listen to our demos a lot, but I don’t listen to other music because I’d be wary of picking something up and nicking it by mistake without even realising that I’ve done it.
“We’re never short of inspiration. We never go, ‘Oh f**k, we better listen to more music to find something out,’ it just doesn’t happen to us. We haven’t dried up that much yet, thank god.”
Touring vs. the studio
Do you always miss the studio when you are on tour, and vice versa?
“It’s a little bit like that. I think everyone’s guilty of that, regardless of what you’re doing, when you’re on the road for too long and you want to go home. And then you’re home for too long and you want to go on the road.
But the thing that I’m excited about is getting back in the practice room and creating again. When you’re going around all day long, humming songs that nobody else has ever heard before, that you know are going to be cool, when there’s an anticipation inside of you and you’re dying to let everyone hear it.
“It’s one of the most exciting parts of being in a band, I think. It’s what’s about to happen to us.”
Learn you rudiments
If you could go back in time and give your younger self any advice, what would you say?
“As a drummer it would be learn your rudiments because I’m still shocking at them, and I mean you wouldn’t believe it’s the same guy that plays in Biffy Clyro if you heard me practising, it’s just embarrassing.
“I would say learn the basics, get a couple of lessons, learn how to hold a stick, learn how to use your wrists and just get the basics right. that’s the advice I would give myself, but then, I wouldn’t be the drummer I am now if I had done that, so I don’t know if that’s wanted or not. I would certainly have less back problems by now!”
Now check out Rhythm’s new look in the current issue 195, featuring an exclusive interview with Chad Smith. Or subscribe to Rhythm here for a monthly dose of new gear reviews, kit buying guides, pro drum lessons and all-star interviews.
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