Dan Flint of You Me At Six on Bonham, Copeland, self-loathing and more
"Everything has been crazy from the start of this year," says You Me At Six drummer Dan Flint. "Getting the Number One album, touring Australia, it's been non-stop."
To say that 2014 so far has been a success for the Surrey-based rock troupe is a vast understatement. Cavalier Youth, their fourth album, shot to the top of the UK and US Heatseeker charts, they toured Australia with Paramore and are now out on an eagerly-anticipated run of UK dates.
For some, being drummer for the hottest Brit rock band on the planet would quickly lead to said sticksman spending more time falling out of nightclubs than sat behind the kit. Flint isn't one to be drawn away by the bright lights of fame, though.
"I've just brought my first house and the only reason this was the house I wanted was because there's a garage in the back garden and I thought, 'Right, this is going to be my drum cave where I can have my drums.' I'm barely going to live in the house, I'm going to set up my own studio and do what I love to do – play drums."
Back to Bonzo
Flint reveals that his love of drums can be traced right back to a true hero of British drumming. "The thing that got me into rock music right at the start was the fact that my dad used to play Led Zeppelin in the car. John Bonham was one of the first great rock drummers that I ever heard. I'm a massive Zeppelin fan to this day. I like to pay homage to them. If there's anyone to be first influenced by, then John Bonham is pretty awesome. There's still stuff that he did that people all over the world still wonder how he did it. I still try to pick apart some of his playing and it's absolutely incredible.
"The one thing I loved about him was that he used a single pedal but he was so fast with his feet. Some of the fills and grooves that he played, especially on songs like 'Good Times Bad Times'. The double kicks in that song are unbelievable and how he kept that foot going and kept it so powerful. I love that you can tell it wasn't recorded to a click track. It isn't pristine and perfect like you'd have today, it's not robotic. He would just go in there and lay down a track without a click, without any help, he just laid it down and it sounded absolutely amazing."
Hearing a drummer name-check Bonham is nothing new, but there is a definite poignancy to it in this case. As Flint names Bonham, Stewart Copeland and Travis Barker as key influences, the fact he's drawn to drummers with their own unmistakable style, drummers that carry a band on their shoulders, is not lost on us. Followers of You Me At Six will no doubt confirm that Flint is another that has been slowly but surely building his own signature style over the course of four albums. Check 'Loverboy', 'Win Some Lose Some' and 'Forgive And Forget' and you'll hear tracks with a single drummer's indelible mark stamped on them.
"I like to think that, especially more on our new album, I'm finding my own sound. Rather than when I was growing up and I wanted to sound like John Bonham or Travis Barker or whoever. That's okay for a while but you need to try and break away."
Flint acknowledges that finding your own voice on the kit doesn't come easy, it takes time and a whole heap of hard work.
"That is the hardest thing to do, to have your own sound. Sometimes you can't set out to be different and have your own sound, it's something that has to come naturally and for it to come you have to play lots of different styles of music. If you just listen to pop-punk music 24 hours a day then you're going to sound like that. You need to bring some other kinds of flair to the table. Travis does that a lot these days, he has his hip-hop thing and that comes into his playing. I've been playing a lot of Mike Johnston's linear triplet fills. In practice I try to sneak them into the songs and it throws the guys off a little bit but then when you come out and you're still on the '1' that's when everyone goes, 'Wow that was sick!'"
It seems that on one Cavalier Youth track in particular, Flint's own voice also had a hint of Copeland. "I love Stewart Copeland, he is another drummer that is very distinctive and has his own sound. Some of the stuff he plays is absolutely unbelievable, I struggled to figure out how he played it sometimes. I took his influence on a song like 'Cold Night', though I didn't go all the way and completely change the style of our band to reggae."
"I love Stewart Copeland, he is another drummer that is very distinctive and has his own sound. Some of the stuff he plays is absolutely unbelievable, I struggled to figure out how he played it sometimes"
The fact Flint channels Copeland on the new record shows he was ready, willing and able to shake off the band's pop rock tag by expanding his horizons and experimenting with a wider array of sounds than ever before. He explains that Neil Avron, whose credits include Linkin Park, New Found Glory and Weezer, even bucked the usual producer habit of reining drummers in by challenging Flint to add tastier drum work and bigger fills to his initially stripped-back beats.
"We've always liked our sound, but I sometimes felt that how the drums sounded on one song, that was how they sounded on the whole album. This time we took a lot more time on how the drums should sound. We didn't just get them sounding good on one song and then that was it. It helped that we had master producer Neil Avron in with us. It was the first time someone had torn apart our songs. There were times he'd turn to me and say, 'You need to play more fills!' Sometimes I'm conscious of just being the backbone for everyone else to play over, but he pushed me to add more flair. The main thing I learnt in the studio this time is to be patient. It's not going to be perfect every time."
The decision to push his own and the band's boundaries to their breaking points has certainly been vindicated, as shown by the white hot reception that Cavalier Youth was greeted with on release earlier this year.
"We never thought that we would have a Number One album. It's incredible. Also the fact that we sold 32,000 albums in the first week, that was almost even more impressive. I think the week after Bombay Bicycle Club did just over half of what we did, then Katy B, this big pop act with billboards all over London did 16,000 or something like that. We outsold these huge artists. That really is something to be proud of."
Something else that Flint and co should be proud of is the in-roads they have been making outside of the UK – 2014 is set to take them all over the world. The drummer is modest in assessing why the band is now spreading to all corners of the globe.
"People love the whole British thing in general, it really seems to be taking off. In the pop world you've got Ed Sheeran; Mumford And Sons went over to the States as well. It was all sparked from Adele. It goes in waves and there's always been huge British bands. It's going back around again now, it's a cool thing to be British right now, especially in the States. The quality of the bands coming out helps as well. Radio One is playing British rock bands, which is great, bands like Deaf Havana and Royal Blood."
He adds that the success enjoyed Stateside by the aforementioned pop acts and Brit metallers Bring Me The Horizon keeps fresh life in their hopes for full-blown world domination.
"We've always looked at it like, 'If they can do it, we can do it too,'" he says on the success of other Brit exports. "We've always been inspired to take our music all over the world. When a British band cracks America it's a huge deal and something to be proud of. Seeing British bands doing well inspires us to keep pushing."
Practice makes perfect
While a fascination with all things Blighty may help give UK bands a worldwide platform, we of course cannot suggest that draping a Union Flag over your shoulders is enough to score a worldwide hit record. No, You Me At Six's success has been the result of many years' painstaking effort. It's an old cliché, but practice really does make perfect.
"The key is practice. You need to have fun with it but you need to practise not just to be good at your songs but to be good at different styles of music and at drumming. If I go a few days without playing drums I get the itch and think, 'Oh god, next time I play I'm not going to be very good.' You need that drive and the want to be better."
If Flint is anything to go by, you also need an acute desire for perfection.
"I'm a self-loather. I despise a lot of the things I do. If I do even a tiny thing wrong then I think it's the end of the world. I want to be prepared rather than get up on stage and think, 'Oh god, I wish I'd practised more at home before this tour.' That would be my worst nightmare. I love practising. I change it up all the time to keep it fun."
When Flint says 'keeping it fun', he doesn't mean he just blasts through some of his favourite tunes. Technique remains at the forefront of his practice routine.
"I might get halfway through and take it back to just the snare drum and go through the Moeller technique and do different exercises with my hands and feet. You have to practise properly, that's the only way you'll get seriously good at an instrument. Technique is the main thing I think about for the 10 or 20 minutes before I go on stage. I drill it into my head to make sure I relax and don't get carried away by the reaction of the crowd. If I get to the second half of the set and feel tight and can't get around the kit it would ruin the entire show for me."
It is this commitment to practice, technique and improving himself as a drummer that has helped transform Dan into a fully-fledged role model for drummers and non-drummers alike.
"It's a crazy thing to be a role model. It's hard to envisage when I'm at home doing the DIY. I've noticed it more in the last year. It's pressure, knowing you're a role model. Some kids go through a hard time growing up so if they can look up to us that's great."
Part of his new-found role-model status sees young players sending an avalanche of questions his way via social media. It's something Flint takes seriously, at the very least just to keep his mum happy.
"I love that drummers turn around and ask me questions and I can talk to them on Twitter or at shows. I always make extra time if drummers are asking for advice. Often you don't know who to turn to when you want advice. If I'd had Twitter when I was growing up and been able to message my heroes I'd have loved that. Being a role model is crazy and you have to remind yourself about it because my mum would be horrified if I was a terrible role model. That's always lurking in the back of my head…"
And what next for this 21st Century Brit drumming role model? Well, when our conversation ends he's off to get back to the DIY on that new home studio of his. But he'll have to put the hammer, nails and paint brushes down pretty sharpish, as there's plenty more for him to be getting on with, and who knows, he could even venture into the world of the clinician when his non-stop schedule lets up.
"Drum clinics would be a great thing for me to do because they're so massively out of my comfort zone. I think if I were to do that I'd have to get out and go watch as many clinics as possible before giving it a go."
But, even if he does show off his chops on the clinic circuit, don't expect to hear You Me At Six tunes hijacked by drum solos the next time you catch them live.
"The best lesson I ever learned about playing live was one of the first things Iwas told by my teacher, which was to not overplay. I've seen some drummers out there where it's just a never-ending mess of fills. That isn't a song. You're not up there doing a masterclass, you're playing in a band. You have to play the song and if you put fills all over the place then it's not the song. And if you don't overplay, when you do throw out a crazy fill then people will be more impressed."