Brit rock upstarts Young Guns have this week released their superb debut album All Our Kings Are Dead. Back when they were hard at work in the studio we checked in with drummer Ben Jolliffe to talk set-ups, gear and an unusual recording technique…
What kit and set up do you use in the studio?
"I use a Drum Workshop Collector's Series II in exotic wood finish. It's quite a weird one because the tree it's made of is rare and it's illegal for it to be cut down now."
Does your set up change from when you're on the road to going into the studio?
"Yeah, I tend to use A Custom cymbals live as they've always been the best. Luckily I've just got a Zildjian endorsement and I went to the office and got five cymbals of my choice. I thought as we're in the studio I'd go for something different and get some K and A Customs. I just fell in love with the Ks, they sound incredible. I've got three different rides, some hi hats and a great crash. I'd usually go for the K Customs for the studio and A Customs for the road, but the hi hats and the massive 24" ride are what I'll probably go for on the road. I'll mix and match."
Do you put new heads on before recording?
"Yeah, I've used five snare skins in this recording. I put fresh tom skins top and bottoms as I came into the studio and I've got a Powerstroke III on the bass drum."
Do you mix and match with gear in the studio?
"Yeah. I've just been lucky enough to get a Yamaha endorsement and they're sending me a kit in a couple of weeks, which unfortunately won't be here in time to use on this album. But they've sent me a bunch of different snares and an 18" floor tom. I'm using my snare for this recording but we're going to use the big 18" tom on some of the big boomy tracks."
On this album you've recorded the drums and cymbals separately, were you apprehensive about that?
"I was quite against it to start with. I've heard of it before and I always thought it was a vibe buster. But, our producer was quite confident that it would be great. We padded all the cymbals up with sleeping bags and played the kit. It was very weird. To start with you're hitting the cymbals as hard as you can and after a while you realise you really don't need to. I'm happy I did it, the overall sound is great and the vibe's there. Some drummers record the bottom and don't even have the cymbals there, but I can't because I tend to just hit as hard as I can and doing that in mid air just hurts!"
You mentioned hitting as hard as you can, do you get through many sticks?
"It's a joke. The day I get a stick endorsement is the day I'm a happy man! I break them pretty much every gig. I use Pro-Mark oak 5Bs and I still go through them. I usually have about six spare sticks around me."
Do you give yourself leeway with changing songs in the studio?
"We're one of those bands that think a song is never finished until it's done in the studio. There's one song we increased the speed of the chorus by 20bpm or something and a few we just changed the key. One thing I've found is with rock drumming, the simpler the better. There's a temptation to put too many kicks in. The last recording we did our producer said, 'There's too many kicks, just keep it simple', and I've completely learnt from that. Just putting one kick in gives it more air."
Do you play to a click when recording?
"Lately we've just got these in-ear monitors, which is a new thing to learn. There's some songs we have strings and I have to play to a click. I've always hated it but it makes me a much tighter drummer, so I'm learning not to hate it now."
Do you have any advice for Rhythm readers preparing to head into the studio?
"Less is more. It's very easy to want to put great rolls in that don't fit the rhythm. For a rock band you have to simplify. With kick drum, for anything dramatic you want to keep it simply, literally two kicks a bar. I think learning to play to a click before going into the studio is important as well. The first time I did it in the studio, all I could think about was the click. If you play to one for a few weeks before it will become subconscious and you'll be able to focus on the drums."