Kasabian's Ian Matthews on playing live: jazz gigs, arena shows and festivals
Ian Matthews has played just about every gig going. As drummer for Kasabian he's played sweaty club shows, toured arenas and even headlined the world's biggest festivals. He also loves a jazz gig and has been known to play a little ten to ten on his Kasabian downtime.
So when we spoke to Ian in the Summer issue of Rhythm we asked all about these varied gigs, and how he approaches each. Here's what he had to say.
The first time I was told by the manager that we were going to play that main stage [in 2007 at Glastonbury] with the Arctic Monkeys, I can’t describe how excited I was. As time passed leading up to it I put it to the back of my mind and then on the coach journey to the site I became so nervous.
I don’t really get nervous, I think it’s a bit negative to get nervous, but I got the nerves and I came out in hives on my face in the afternoon, red blotches. When we went on stage I might as well have been walking off a cliff. Usually, if you are feeling nervous it dissipates in the first tune, it’s gone. We were halfway through ‘Empire’, this forceful tune, and I was on the drum kit thinking, ‘What happens if my arms stop?’ and it ruined the experience for me. If anything that gig taught me about nerve management. I remind myself I’m only there because Kasabian want me there because of the way I play; Kasabian are only there because of the way Kasabian play and the people want them there, and not to be frightened, to beyourself.
One of the biggest learning curves was that first Glasto moment because I’d built it up in my head. When we came back and did the Bruce Springsteen support, it was like, ‘I'm having you! I’m going to go on stage and rip the s**t out of it.’
We’ve just done Ireland and Scotland as a warm up leg as part of our rehearsals to set us up for these big gigs, and we played in Derry to 600 people and it was amazing. It was like wow, they were right there, it was like being in a bear pit and it was hot, it was 33 degrees when we came off, and the humidity! You could see the water running down the walls. It was incredible. So i guess there is going to be some deep psychological change in mindset on a massive stage to playing a place like that but I can personally say I push just as much there as I would at a festival or a big arena or stadium. We all do. It’s exciting music to play.
Kasabian’s music is intricate but it’s also got big beats, big anthems. Tom [Meighan, singer] does not mess around when he’s on stage; he’s one tour de force of a frontman, so whether we’re playing a small club or a giant stage there is a presence in the music and in the personnel on stage.
I’m proud of that and I think we’re a powerful band. We’ve always had this idea that if you’re going to play a stage, you fill that stage, and if people are going to come and see a show, you give them a show.Wwe’ve never ever cut corners on the show. If it means not making any money, we won’t make any money. Ever since our first arena tour, we’ve always thought, how about the guy at the back? You’ve got to think of the best way to convey the songs and move the entire audience, so we’ve always enjoyed putting on a big show.
We could have gone on with a few lights, bang it out, make a few quid, great. in this case with Glastonbury and our Leicester show the week before, the people have given us the opportunity to play these shows and we’re going to do something special as far as we can.
I’ve been doing some jazzy stuff, I’ve been playing with a very good friend of mine in Bristol called John Pearce who is a classical violinist who has turned to the dark side to play jazz and he’s really good at it, and Dave Newton, the pianist. He’s amazing.
I’ve got another friend of mine called James Morton i’ve been playing with for years and he plays a lot with Pee Wee Ellis. This is proper jazz stuff, getting out the little jazz kit, a couple of ride cymbals, a sizzle cymbal. It’s not terribly modern, it’s bebop-y.
It’s interesting because the lessons learned from playing with Kasabian, the focus, I take a very similar mindset back to the jazz gigs. Where with Kasabian i’m smacking the s**t out of it proverbially with a baseball bat, with jazz it’s the same anger but suppressed. it’s killing someone with a baseball bat versus putting a pillow over their mouth so they can’t breathe. It’s the same intent, the same fierceness. it’s angry jazz underneath Dave Newton’s beautiful cascading piano and John’s violin work, playing with hands sometimes, taking the snare off, playing tunes like ‘Caravan’ almost like conga, rumba rhythms. you get to play with tones and textures and zinging around the cymbals, it is different in that respect but I love snake-charming the audience with rhythm, that’s my zone. I try not to bamboozle them. I love charming them. I did a gig at the Bristol Fringe, it’s only a small room, 50 people, when you feel you’ve got the room it’s amazing. If you get passed off into a drum solo and really mess with them – but just keep it moving whatever that tempo is, start boxing around with them rhythmically, using textures, sudden surges in dynamics and then back down – I love that.
For more from Ian pick up the Summer issue of Rhythm.