From Mint Con­di­tion and Maxwell to Adele and Jimmy Jam, Chris Dave has worked with the best

Rhythm - - CONTENTS - Words: David West pho­tos: Olly Cur­tis

For some mu­si­cians, it is writ­ten in the stars. But, there’s al­ways some learn­ing to be done, too. “I was al­ways ex­tremely drawn to mu­sic and the arts,” says Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave. “I guess I was a right-brain cre­ative mind when I was younger, so the mu­sic helped ex­press things you couldn’t re­ally ex­plain how they felt, but through mu­sic it was eas­ier.” Grow­ing up play­ing drums in church, Dave at­tended Hous­ton, Texas’ fa­mous High School for the Per­form­ing and Visual Arts, the same school at­tended by con­tem­po­rary jazz stars Robert Glasper, Wal­ter Smith II, Ja­son Mo­ran and Eric Har­land.

Dave then went on to the Jazz Stud­ies pro­gramme at Howard Univer­sity, where his tu­tors in­cluded Geri Allen and Grady Tate, but his play­ing caught the at­ten­tion of pro­duc­ers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and, faced with the choice of fin­ish­ing his stud­ies or tour­ing with R&B band Mint Con­di­tion, Dave hit the road. Now he’s one of the in­dus­try’s most soughtafter play­ers. His dis­tinc­tive beats can be heard on Justin Bieber’s Pur­pose, D’An­gelo’s Black Mes­siah, the Grammy-win­ning Black Ra­dio by the Robert Glasper Ex­per­i­ment and Adele’s record-break­ing 21.

When he’s not busy as a ses­sion mu­si­cian and side­man, he leads Chris Dave And The Drumhedz, fea­tur­ing a ro­tat­ing cast with him­self at the core. Play­ers in­clude bassist Pino Pal­ladino, gui­tarist Isa­iah Sharkey and Cleo Sam­ple on keys, all play­ing an un­pre­dictable blend of jazz, hip-hop and what­ever takes their fancy. Rhythm spoke to Dave to learn more about his rise to drum­ming star­dom.

“It’s like a chess game be­cause you’re try­ing to let peo­ple know you can play but the most im­por­tant thing is mak­ing sure the mu­sic sounds amaz­ing, mak­ing sure the au­di­ence is happy”

“At one point it was kind of crazy be­cause peo­ple would show up with snare drums just to see if I would play them”

How did you meet Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis?

“This was prior to YouTube and the in­ter­net be­ing stupid crazy. There was an al­bum float­ing around that I played on, Kim Bur­rell, which was my first pro­fes­sional gospel record­ing – that al­bum did a lot in the whole gospel field and there were a lot of jazz things on the al­bum. The things I was crit­i­cised for were you can’t have jazz in­ter­ludes on a gospel al­bum, or you can’t have the odd-times we put on the al­bum. So, by the time I got to Howard, that was al­ready known and then I was hang­ing with Greg Hutchin­son and Clarence Penn and they would come into town be­cause they were play­ing with Betty Carter or Roy Har­groves. We were all friends, I was just the one in school and ev­ery­one else was work­ing with fa­mous artists. I was try­ing to fin­ish school, that was the goal, that’s when the Mint Con­di­tion stuff hap­pened in my sopho­more year. I was sup­posed to go to class andI didn’t go be­cause it was con­cert band, which I hated. I skipped and went to see Mint Con­di­tion do a show at Howard with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. My broth­ers loved Prince, so I just wanted to say I met Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. We started talk­ing, they were like, ‘What do you guys do?’ ‘I play drums. My friend plays gui­tar, he plays key­boards, blah blah blah.’ ‘Do you have a band?’ I was like, ‘Yeah sure,’ be­cause in my mind they’re not ever go­ing to hear us play any­way. Then they were like, ‘We want to come check out some mu­si­cians,’ be­cause this was when Jimmy and Terry were start­ing their Per­spec­tive la­bel. This is right af­ter all the Hu­man League stuff, all these hits they had, Janet Jack­son. They came to the prac­tice room, we were play­ing, Jimmy and Terry were like, ‘Hey, we need to get your num­ber.’ I gave them the num­ber of the girl I was stay­ing with. Af­ter that I went back home for the sum­mer, they were call­ing me and I didn’t know. By the time I got back to col­lege, it was like a real search, like, ‘Yo, you have to call this num­ber to­day, it’s Jimmy Jam.’ So that’s when they called me for the au­di­tion and I left the next day – it was try­ing to fig­ure out how to stay in school and be on tour. I was like, al­right, I’m just go­ing to go on tour.”

What did Mint Con­di­tion want from a drum­mer?

“At that point, they just wanted a drum­mer for Mint Con­di­tion be­cause Stoke [Stokely Wil­liams] was such a good drum­mer him­self, but he was the lead singer, so he was hard on all the drum­mers they had. Their first drum­mer was Michael Bland who played on all the Prince stuff and Prince took him from Mint, so they had no drum­mers in the in­terim and I just hap­pened to meet them at that point. That’s how I was in­tro­duced to Stoke and ev­ery­one and then we all jammed. We had a cool broth­erly vibe, so I joined the band and started play­ing with them and tour­ing, re­ally sit­ting back, learn­ing and be­ing kind of quiet, mak­ing mis­takes here and there but learn­ing from them.”

Did you want to be a full-time band mem­ber?

“I wanted to be in Mint Con­di­tion, but at the same time there were al­ready six mem­bers in the band, soS­toke was kind enough to ex­plain it. ‘Man, you pro­duce, you write, you play other in­stru­ments, you don’t have to just play drums.’ I would write the jazz in­ter­ludes on their records, but I was still in a learn­ing phase, I wasn’t try­ing to be a leader at that point. I was still try­ing to learn and be a fol­lower.”

Who would you say has most shaped your ap­proach as a band­leader?

“I would say Mint Con­di­tion, be­cause I met so many peo­ple from Prince, Kenny Gar­rett and Meshell Nde­geo­cello, through Mint Con­di­tion. We might be on tour with the Is­ley Broth­ers, who are heroes to my broth­ers, so I’m sit­ting there watch­ing and learn­ing and talk­ing to them, that was the real col­lege for me. Watch­ing what made their band tight, what made their show tight. Why do peo­ple re­ally like these drum­mers? Why do peo­ple never hire these drum­mers? Just learn­ing the whole dos and don’ts of styles. It’s like a chess game be­cause you’re try­ing to let peo­ple know you can play but the most im­por­tant thing is mak­ing sure the mu­sic sounds amaz­ing, mak­ing sure the au­di­ence is happy.”

When record­ing with stars such as Justin Bieber and Adele, do you work with the artists di­rectly or mainly with the pro­ducer?

“Both at the same time. We have fun in the stu­dio, so with Adele we prob­a­bly ate and kicked it a few times that day, and then Rick [Ru­bin, pro­ducer] shows up, we crack a few jokes and then we start lis­ten­ing to what we’re try­ing to ac­com­plish for that day. Adele sings live, so every­thing is all live takes, it’s not like we’re lay­ing the mu­sic to­day and then they come in two weeks later and we never meet. Es­pe­cially when I work with Rick, the artist is there, most of the time – they’re ac­tu­ally singing with us while we’re play­ing even if it’s a scratch track or a demo. That’s the same with Justin Bieber. He gets on my drums and plays. He’s like, ‘What are these cymbals, what is this?’ It’s a cool vibe. It’s not a work vibe for my ses­sions, not say­ing I haven’t been in those types of ses­sions ear­lier, but that’s not my choice now to do those types of ses­sions. Peo­ple hire me for what they know I can do, for what­ever my sound is or what­ever I nat­u­rally do, so it makes it a lit­tle eas­ier.”

Do you plan what equip­ment you’ll need for each ses­sion?

“No, I’ve got a gang of sh*t that I’ll just have set up be­cause I don’t know what I’m go­ing to think of – that’s the prob­lem! I might be hear­ing the song and once we get in the stu­dio they might have added a new part, a new bridge, a new in­tro. I would be mad if I’m like, ‘Damn, I didn’t bring that other per­cus­sion box.’ I have drums stashed in a lot of stu­dios, soI can get a lot of dif­fer­ent sounds.”

Does that ap­ply to your live per­for­mances? You of­ten have mul­ti­ple snare drums on stage.

“That started be­cause I used to hate trig­gers and the trig­gers that were out sucked, but now tech­nol­ogy has damp­ened that if you’re down on trig­gers! There are a lot of cool things go­ing on, but yeah, I would use dif­fer­ent snares back then be­cause I would want to get to them re­ally quick. The artist might switch the or­der up and, back then, the artists I was play­ing for wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily go by the script ev­ery night, so it would be hard to pro­gram stuff around them.”

Do you use trig­gers now?

“Yeah, I have a new line of things com­ing out, laser trig­gers, in a cou­ple of months. I’ll be pre­mier­ing it this year. That’s with Sun­house, it’s a small, geeky tech com­pany. They’re do­ing some crazy sh*t.”

When you’re play­ing far from home, like at Ron­nie Scott’s, do you send them a rider of what you need?

“Yeah, ex­actly. Ron­nie Scott’s and Paris, we’ve been to these places quite a few times, so I have friends there that play drums. I might be at their house, like, ‘Yo, that snare, I’m play­ing that tonight.’ Some­times I might bor­row some friends’ snares from that day and then, at one point, it was kind of crazy be­cause peo­ple would show up with snare drums just to see ifI would play them. I’m think­ing ahead like a DJ, when I hear the sounds, I’m al­ready pro­gram­ming like, ‘Oh, that would go ex­cel­lent with this for the show tonight.’ ”

With the Drumhedz al­bum, did you ap­proach Blue Note or did they come to you?

“Don Was [la­bel pres­i­dent] was in­stru­men­tal with that go­ing to Blue Note. He knew I had a lot of stuff in the vault, but I was try­ing to fig­ure out a proper way to chan­nel the mu­sic where it could not be dis­turbed and be heard in its en­tirety. He came to a cou­ple of Drumhedz shows a few years back and we started to talk. It’s kind of weird, be­cause we didn’t have any al­bums out, but we still had shows and we were sell­ing out es­pe­cially in Europe, Ja­pan, China and Rus­sia and all these other places. They’re like, ‘Why are you in Aus­tralia and you don’t have a record out?’ And we were try­ing to fig­ure that out! That helped us out

“We wanted to shock peo­ple,” says Yoshiki of X Ja­pan’s early years in so­cially con­ser­va­tive Ja­pan

lever­age-wise. Don was like, ‘I think what y’all are do­ing and me be­ing pres­i­dent is very hand-in-hand with what I’m try­ing to do and the move­ment y’all are try­ing to cre­ate.’ He un­der­stood we were com­ing from the side of all the mu­si­cians and writ­ers and artists – some may get mon­e­tary value but ev­ery­body just wants cred­its and for peo­ple to know what they do, what they con­trib­ute to any­thing, es­pe­cially if it’s great. We rep­re­sent a small por­tion of that. Ev­ery­one on the al­bum, from the mix­ing down, is a Drumhed and fam­ily. Drumhedz is out­side of just the peo­ple on the al­bum. There are artists, co­me­di­ans, painters, il­lus­tra­tors, tech guys, peo­ple that make fur­ni­ture, con­struc­tion com­pa­nies, it’s a big thing. Then it went in­side with Blue Note be­ing a small la­bel try­ing to fight just to be heard. It was bet­ter to work with some­body small who can get the vi­sion.This is our core au­di­ence for now be­cause do­ing any­thing big­ger we would just get lost.”

Do you see your­self as part of a wider move­ment with other sim­i­lar genre-blend­ing artists such Robert Glasper?

“No, I think this is a de­par­ture. When we were do­ing the Robert Glasper Ex­per­i­ment, that’s more me, Rob, Der­rick and Casey sit­ting around play­ing. With Black

Ra­dio, we didn’t even know what we were go­ing to play un­til we lit­er­ally walked in the stu­dio. ‘Oh, let’s play this, let’s play this, we should call Lalah [Hath­away], see if she’s in town.’ That sparked a lot of things, but that’s just nor­mally how we play in­di­vid­u­ally. This is more like the new move­ment of show­ing drum­mers as lead­ers with no ego or pride. It’s about the mu­sic, and the mu­sic is messages, sonic sounds and things of that na­ture. The drums are re­ally mixed well and dif­fer­ent than say any­thing Blue Note ever had. Drumhedz is not another Robert Glasper al­bum. It’s not ‘this sounds likeAdele or this sounds like a Justin Bieber song’.

This is Drumhedz, so that’s why the al­bum takes place in outer space be­cause we’re not even on the Earth when we’re do­ing the al­bum. The al­bum starts with you go­ing through a por­tal, just so you know you’re get­ting away from all of the other stuff. This is real mu­si­cians, artists, blah blah blah, com­ing to­gether so once you get into the por­tal, now you’re in the Drumhedz world and the al­bum is like a playlist of all of us to­gether. That would be the playlist of you in the Drumhedz world, in­tro­duc­ing peo­ple like Bi­lal and Tweet, they’re real spe­cial to us. Peo­ple know they’re great artists, but is Bi­lal big­ger than Justin Bieber? Of course not. So that’s why this whole project is put to­gether. At the time we did this al­bum, An­der­son Paak and Sir, only the peo­ple who were their core au­di­ence knew about them, be­cause An­der­son wasn’t signed with Dr Dre at the time. They’re just peo­ple I re­ally be­lieve in be­cause all of us were so in­stru­men­tal in so many other things that we’re just go­ing with our in­stincts now.”

You men­tioned the Drumhedz’ pop­u­lar­ity in Europe, are you at­tract­ing au­di­ences in the US now?

“Oh yeah. We played New York maybe twice, we played it last year for the Win­ter Fest fes­ti­val, it was sold out at the Bow­ery and that was cool. The sched­ul­ing for the past cou­ple of years was kind of crazy be­cause I was out with all these other peo­ple, Pino and Sharkey were out with John Mayer. These cats are out with this per­son, this cat is out with­Ste­vie Won­der, so it was hard do­ing States stuff in the midst of all the ses­sion work we were do­ing. We’ve been dy­ing to play for at least a cou­ple of years and now we get to play it where ev­ery­body can see the move­ment live. We played it live on the record but it’s more of an art­form to see that live.”

How much do you tend to im­pro­vise when you play live?

“You’ll just have to come see, you never know! It could be a film open­ing it up, or it could be Ge­orge Clin­ton and the Drumhedz, so we might have the Mother­ship land­ing and we all come out of it. You never know what could hap­pen.”

“This is Drumhedz, so that’s why the al­bum takes place in outer space be­cause we’re not even on the Earth when we’re do­ing the al­bum”

Chris Dave dropped school in his sopho­more year to go on tour and has never looked back

“Peo­ple hire me for what they know I can do – it makes it a lit­tle eas­ier”

Dave: “This is more like the new move­ment of show­ing drum­mers as lead­ers with no ego and pride”

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