BEN GOR­DON

The Parkway Drive drum­mer on play­ing to the crowds and the se­crets be­hind the Cage Of Death…

Rhythm - - CONTENTS - Words: David West pho­tos: will ire­land

When Rhythm meets Ben Gor­don, it’s the af­ter­noon be­fore Aus­tralian met­al­core kings Parkway Drive play a spe­cial one-off show in Cam­den’s The Un­der­world, ahead of the re­lease of their new al­bum Rev­er­ence. Al­though they’ve long out­grown the subter­ranean venue, it was their reg­u­lar Lon­don haunt when they were first break­ing out of Aus­tralia a decade ear­lier and so it still holds a spe­cial place in their hearts. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the show sold out in 20 min­utes.

Both the drum­mer and the band hail from By­ron Bay, New South Wales, not ex­actly a bustling me­trop­o­lis of mu­sic. “Our town has so few peo­ple and our scene was so small, from the age of 13 I was the only drum­mer in town so I was in ev­ery band,” says Gor­don, who tried drum lessons but couldn’t wait to get stuck in. “I just wanted to learn punk beats and play fast.”

Parkway Drive got to­gether when Gor­don was 16, he’s now 32, so he’s spent half his life play­ing and tour­ing de­spite their ini­tially mod­est goals. “We started the band so we could have our friends mosh to it. That was as far as our am­bi­tions went,” he says. “We weren’t so much de­ter­mined to make it, we just re­ally liked tour­ing, we liked driv­ing around with our friends and see­ing the world, we just wanted to keep do­ing it.” Their per­sis­tence has paid off with five Aus­tralian gold al­bums to their name, and 2015’s Ire reach­ing Num­ber 23 in the UK charts.

From your early days play­ing venues like The Un­der­world, you’re now fes­ti­val head­lin­ers. Have the big­ger venues changed your play­ing?

“Fun­nily enough, one of the things we’ve done as our venues have got big­ger, is tai­lored our song­writ­ing to that. Some of our older songs that are more thrashy work well in small clubs, but then when you play them to a fes­ti­val or a large au­di­ence, they don’t go down as well. That’s why a lot of our newer songs are tai­lored for big­ger shows, big­ger fes­ti­vals. The small sin­ga­longs and crowd par­tic­i­pa­tion parts that we’ve in­cor­po­rated into newer songs re­ally work live, so our singer can more or less con­trol the crowd and peo­ple can have fun watch­ing it.

“Ul­ti­mately, we’re a live band and that’s what we like do­ing. There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween a good song and a good live song. It’s not rocket sci­ence, a lot of it in rock and metal re­ally comes down to the beat and the tempo of the song. If it’s a tempo

“In a world where ev­ery­one is fak­ing it and re­plac­ing sounds, we want to try to have some­thing sound real and unique”

where you can com­fort­ably bang your head or jump, then it’s a good song live.”

Would you say this has all fed into how you de­velop new drum parts?

“For sure. One of the big­gest fun­da­men­tal things we’ve learned is less is more. When we first started it would be full in­ten­sity on the drums, full in­ten­sity on the gui­tars all the time, which means Win­ston [McCall] had to be full in­ten­sity on the vo­cals all the time to get above us. It was just non-stop whereas we learned, hang on, if there’s a verse where there is singing, we’d bet­ter give some space. It’s about giv­ing each other space at the right time. I have to sim­plify the drums, so it’s funny that peo­ple of­ten com­ment that our older stuff was more tech­ni­cal, which it was, but it’s not be­cause of a lack of skill, it’s more about the song now. Some­times the song dic­tates sim­pler play­ing rather than, ‘Look how good I am, look what I can do.’ A drum­mer can ruin a song by try­ing to show off too much, so that’s what you learn when you grow up, ba­si­cally.”

Where did you record drums for Rev­er­ence?

“Vancouver, Canada, in a stu­dio called The Ware­house. It’s ac­tu­ally Bryan Adams’ stu­dio. It’s a pretty in­cred­i­ble drum room, amaz­ing records have come out of there and we’re pretty happy with the sound. Our pro­ducer re­ally wanted to record there.”

Who was pro­ducer?

“It’s our sound guy, Ge­orge Hadji-Chris­tou. We’ve had this sound guy for the last 10 years on the road and for seven years he was say­ing, ‘I could do a bet­ter record than you’ve done.’ We didn’t be­lieve him and then one day we gave him a shot, recorded a demo, and ended up do­ing Ire. We were re­ally happy with it, so we did it again with him for the new one. We’re def­i­nitely a live band and no one knows our live sound bet­ter than our live sound en­gi­neer, so it’s good be­cause he can make our live sound as close to the record as any­one could.”

How do you track your drums?

“The rest of the band hate sit­ting in the stu­dio lis­ten­ing to drums, so when we record drums I’m just by my­self, which is great for me be­cause I don’t have four other opin­ions speak­ing. I just do what I want. We do ex­ten­sive pre-pro­duc­tion be­fore­hand in Aus­tralia, so all the songs were mapped out to tempo, all the scratch tracks were recorded. Then when I get over there it’s just me, the pro­ducer, en­gi­neer and the scratch track — it’s a good en­vi­ron­ment. No one else in the band knows any­thing about drums so it’s an­noy­ing when I do a fill or some­thing and they’re like, ‘Do one that’s like, do-do-dat-dat-do, like this.’ I don’t know what they’re talk­ing about.”

Do you try to go for full takes?

“Def­i­nitely try to go for full takes. It’s pretty rare to get a full take flaw­lessly in the stu­dio be­cause you can play some­thing live as good as you can play it and ev­ery night it’s fine, but the stu­dio is that ex­tra 10 per­cent. It needs to be per­fect, so it’s re­ally hard to get that stu­dio-level take in one go. There are al­ways punch-ins, but I try to be pre­pared and I’m good with the click these days so that’s never an

is­sue. It’s hard though be­cause you’re fo­cus­ing on the spac­ing of a fill but then there’s also the ve­loc­ity and hit­ting the cen­tre of the drum, all those lit­tle tech­ni­cal as­pects to nail in one go. We try to do it as real as pos­si­ble be­cause in a world where ev­ery­one is fak­ing it and re­plac­ing sounds, we want to have some­thing that sounds real and unique.”

How do you main­tain your en­ergy do­ing mul­ti­ple takes in the stu­dio?

“Our pro­duc­ers al­ways push me to play hard in or­der to get the drums to trans­late, but a lot of it just comes down to phys­i­cal fit­ness. I have to be fit and when we’re not tour­ing I run and ride and ex­er­cise and train for that pur­pose. I’ve had ex­pe­ri­ences when we’re tour­ing and af­ter 10 shows in a row, I start to get fa­tigued, my legs aren’t work­ing as well, and I’m play­ing sloppy. It’s not a good feel­ing go­ing on stage be­ing fa­tigued and not know­ing if you’re go­ing to play well. I’ve learned you’ve got to con­di­tion your body. I have an ath­letic ap­proach more or less, eat well, sleep well, be fit, and that seems to work. We play an hour and 20 min­utes and it’s sim­i­lar to a marathon. You need to be fit to pull it off other­wise it’s not go­ing to be good. Maybe they just didn’t play that well back then. My sis­ter put a pe­dome­ter on my right leg once for a show. In an hour-long show, I did 9,500 kicks on my right leg, so prob­a­bly about 15,000 for both legs, which, in an hour, is crazy. It goes to show how much en­ergy it takes.”

Then you make life harder for your­self by hang­ing up­side down in the Cage Of Death!

“We cre­ated this cage for a mu­sic video we did for the song ‘Crushed’ be­cause we wanted to cre­ate an ef­fect of zero grav­ity. We mounted the cam­era on the cage while it spun and we had the idea, hang on, we could use this live. It has been done be­fore, the king of that kind of thing is Tommy Lee, he’s been do­ing that since the 80s and he’s got the drum roller­coaster, and Slip­knot has done it. The one we’ve got has never been done that ex­act way.

Joey Jordi­son in Slip­knot never went com­pletely up­side down – it tilted for­ward and ro­tated, but ours does a full bar­rel roll, 360 de­grees. It’s funny though, prob­a­bly three or four guys in the world have done it but still when we did it, half the com­ments were peo­ple say­ing, ‘Oh, they’re copy­ing other peo­ple.’ Four peo­ple on earth have done it. What about the mil­lions of peo­ple that have done LED screens or py­ros? You al­ways have those com­ments. That was a big chal­lenge for me. I couldn’t ac­tu­ally prac­tise be­fore I left be­cause it was in Europe, so I was just hang­ing up­side down for five min­utes at a time get­ting used to the blood rush­ing to my brain. It was dif­fi­cult play­ing up­side down but it was fun as well.”

It must af­fect every­thing, even how the beat­ers hit the bass drum?

“Yeah, the kicks are the hard­est thing be­cause up­side down your arms can fight grav­ity, but your legs are a lot big­ger and they hang down so you have to kick up. I wrote a drum solo, but when I got there I had to

“My sis­ter put a pe­dome­ter on my right leg once for a show. In an hour-long show, I did 9,500 kicks on my right leg”

sim­plify it be­cause I just couldn’t play it as well up­side down. The hard­est part was for our crew ac­tu­ally, be­cause ev­ery sin­gle part of the drum kit had to be dou­ble-bolted down. The cymbals all had lock nuts, I was strapped in with two dif­fer­ent safety de­vices and the crew had so much work to do and they pulled it off, to their credit.”

What did you learn over the first five al­bums that in­formed your ap­proach to Rev­er­ence?

“I think our sound has changed a bit on the last few records. Now we’ve got more of a big­ger sound so we’re tun­ing down a bit and ba­si­cally want a big­ger, rock­ier sound to suit the more open spa­ces in our mu­sic now. Whereas, with our older songs with lots of blast beats, we wanted more of a high-tuned sound that would cut through. Every­thing we’ve done in our ca­reer, you’re learn­ing. We’ve been to­gether for 15 years now, we’re not a new band, 15 years no mat­ter what pro­fes­sion you do is a pretty long time, so ba­si­cally, I’ve learned a lot. As far as record­ing, it’s just a mat­ter of be­ing com­fort­able. If you’re good live, then you should be good in the stu­dio. It’s re­ally im­por­tant to be good with a click. When we first started I didn’t play with a click, I was pretty ter­ri­ble, I used to speed up and slow down. About seven or eight years into the band I had this re­al­i­sa­tion, this is my ca­reer now, we’re only grow­ing, so I prob­a­bly should learn the fun­da­men­tals. I had to go back and learn how to play with a click, learn how to do rudi­ments and fill in all the holes in my play­ing. It was pretty funny.”

Do you use a click live?

“Yeah. We’re start­ing to get pretty tight with Able­ton Live. If you use any sam­ples at all, which we do in some of our songs, you have to have a click. We don’t play our old songs to click but I pre­fer play­ing songs to a click now be­cause you just don’t have to worry about it. We used to have a prob­lem, like many, many metal and rock bands, of play­ing too fast. You know the tempo but when you get in front of thou­sands of peo­ple and your adren­a­line is so high, your per­cep­tion says, ‘This is the tempo,’ but you watch it back and you’re 10, 15 bpm faster and it doesn’t sound good.”

Do you have a par­tic­u­lar vi­sion of how you want to de­velop in the fu­ture?

“To be hon­est, my main fo­cus is on Parkway at this stage. For a few years there, I was re­ally fo­cused on my drum­ming as a whole and I wanted to start do­ing clin­ics and things like that, but we’re just too busy now and the band takes up so much of my time. Re­ally, I just want to get tighter live and con­di­tion my­self more so I can play our set seam­lessly. Then for fu­ture stuff, a lot of it is play­ing more classy rather than more tech­ni­cal. I find my­self watch­ing lots of YouTube videos of dif­fer­ent jazz fills, dif­fer­ent styles of mu­sic, and ac­cents and dy­nam­ics. I feel like in my younger years I got as tech­ni­cal and as fast as I could re­ally go. For metal, any­thing over about 220bpm just doesn’t sound good to me. It’s doesn’t sound mu­si­cal, it just sounds like a show-off. I’m find­ing my­self less and less into the con­stant dou­ble kick, which used to be all I was into. Now even for the old songs we play, I pre­fer to do bet­ter pat­terns and groovier pat­terns. Any­one can do con­stant dou­ble

kick if you’re fit enough and have the mus­cle mem­ory, but it takes ac­tual skill to do syn­co­pated rhythms and it takes cre­ativ­ity to come up with dif­fer­ent pat­terns that sound good. That’s where I see my play­ing go­ing.”

Some bands re­gard tour­ing as a chore to be en­dured, but not you guys?

“Our way of tour­ing for most of our ca­reer, we’d bring our surf­boards and go jump off bridges, find wa­ter­falls, and ex­plore – can’t do too much of that in Eng­land, but you can in Amer­ica and Europe. We’ve been do­ing this for so long now it’s kind of worn off and now the gig re­ally is the best part. It does get mo­not­o­nous some­times, it turns into a job some­times, but the best thing to do is think, what’s the al­ter­na­tive? When I think of what all my friends are do­ing and what I could be do­ing, lift­ing bricks or paint­ing all day, sit­ting in an of­fice all day, this is not bad. It’s all about per­spec­tive.”

What im­pact has play­ing drums and be­ing in a band had on you per­son­ally?

“It has trans­formed my life big-time. From the age of 16 I’ve been do­ing this, so it has lit­er­ally shaped who I am as a per­son, and the ex­pe­ri­ences of see­ing the world has re­ally opened my eyes. In that sense it’s been every­thing and now for­tu­nately, it’s just re­ally ful­fill­ing. Some­times I sit on the beach in front of my house, look out, and think, ‘How the hell did this hap­pen?’ Five guys from a lit­tle town in Aus­tralia and we’ve made a 15-year ca­reer out of a band that’s still grow­ing and we’re still en­joy­ing it. It’s just re­ally ful­fill­ing to be able to make mu­sic and tour around the world and be ap­pre­ci­ated by peo­ple and live this life­style. I’m just grate­ful to be hon­est.”

Gor­don aims for full takes in the stu­dio, but feels the pres­sure of per­fec­tion

Gor­don: “When I think of what I could be do­ing, lift­ing bricks or sit­ting in an of­fice all day, this is not bad”

Gor­don: “When we record drums I’m just by my­self, which is great for me. I just do what I want”

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