Mat Ni­choll s

Bring Me The Hori­zon’s self­taught sticks­man on his jour­ney to play­ing are­nas

Rhythm - - CONTENTS - Words: Richard Cham­ber­lain

When Rhythm sits down with Bring Me The Hori­zon drum­mer Mat Ni­cholls, the mod­ern rock be­he­moth is awak­ing af­ter a slum­ber away from the spot­light.

Af­ter wrap­ping up work pro­mot­ing their 2015 mega smash That’sTheSpirit al­bum, the band took eight months off to en­gage in a much-needed recharge of the bat­ter­ies. But, be­hind-the-scenes, at the turn of 2018, work was al­ready un­der­way on new ma­te­rial for their sixth al­bum, amo.

Given that That’sTheSpirit matched the froth-mouthed crit­i­cal ac­claim of ear­lier work, such as the su­perb Sem­piter­nal while also scor­ing ma­jor com­mer­cial suc­cess all over the world, the new ma­te­rial has plenty to live up to.

Some bands might crack un­der such pres­sure, but af­ter spend­ing an hour chat­ting with the uber laid-back Ni­cholls, we don’t think Sh­effield’s finest are about to lose any sleep over what

“We want to be as ac­ces­si­ble as pos­si­ble and be a band that ev­ery­one likes. We’re not scared of be­ing a main­stream band”

could be the record that firmly ce­ments them as arena fillers and fes­ti­val head­lin­ers. It’s a suc­cess story that be­lies the band, and Ni­cholls’, hum­ble be­gin­nings. A self-taught drum­mer who found him­self be­hind the kit for the band that would be­come per­haps the bright­est young hope for 21st Cen­tury rock and metal, Ni­cholls ad­mits that his early days as a pro drum­mer were char­ac­terised by play­ing with speed rather than groove.

De but al­bum ,2006’ s Count Your Bless­ings, dis­plays as much. It’s a real rocket of a record pro­pelled at break-neck speed by Ni­cholls’ rapid-fire kick and snare work. Fast-for­ward nine years, to That’s The Spirit, and a very dif­fer­ent an­i­mal had emerged, with big rock grooves packed with feel now more the or­der of the day. It’s an evo­lu­tion that has brought the band con­sis­tent praise for their live and stu­dio work, and now they stand on the cusp of join­ing the very top ta­ble of rock and metal roy­alty.

Their flour­ish­ing rep­u­ta­tion and sky-rock­et­ing com­mer­cial per­for­mance is re­flected in our sur­round­ings for to­day’s in­ter­view. We ar­rive in Sh­effield at the HQ of Drop Dead, the fash­ion line owned by the band’s singer Oli Sykes, to find that the build­ing also houses a stag­ger­ing amount of gear, a re­hearsal space and a makeshift stu­dio. Oh, and next door is the newly-opened bar-ar­cade (also owned by Sykes), Church, dubbed ‘Tem­ple of Fun’ and where we sit for our chat with the soft­lyspo­ken drum­mer.

There’s also the lit­tle mat­ter of the brand new Tama Star clas­sic kit that Mat has just taken de­liv­ery of. So, no prizes for guess­ing where we start our chat…

You’ve just joined the Tama ros­ter, but you’ve had a long as­so­ci­a­tion with the com­pany al­ready, haven’t you?

“I bought a Tama kit in maybe 2007 from my lo­cal drum shop in Rother­ham. I just needed a good kit to record on. All I had be­fore that was an old Pearl Ex­port that was good for tour­ing but it didn’t sound the best. The band had a bit of money, not much, and we thought we’d buy a sick drum kit to record on. We bought a maple Star clas­sic kit and have recorded ev­ery al­bum on it since apart from the one we have just fin­ished be­cause we didn’t fly it out to the stu­dio. It’s the kit that I have at home. I love it.”

What is it about that kit that works so well in the stu­dio?

“It just sounds so good. It sounds beter than any­thing else we had ever used be­fore. It’s my ‘nice’ kit – it’s kept in its cases and only comes out for record­ing, so it’s pris­tine. I played SJC Drums from 2008 and they were great for tour­ing kits. They make kits that vis­ually look amaz­ing. But for record­ing I al­ways used Tama.”

Is there some­thing about Tama kits that record par­tic­u­larly well?

“They just sound bet­ter than any­thing else! I

played a bunch of kits when I went to pick my old Star clas­sic kit and when you find the right kit you just know. It was like when I went to [Tama dis­trib­u­tor] Head­stock to pick my new kit and they were maybe sway­ing me to­wards wal­nut rather than bub­inga be­cause bub­inga is an en­dan­gered wood so they’re not mak­ing them. But as soon as I sat be­hind the kit and hit the kick drum I said, ‘Im’ hav­ing this.’ You just know when you get be­hind a kit that feels and sounds right for you.”

Had you played bub­inga be­fore at all?

“I hadn’t. I had heard peo­ple play­ing bub­inga kits and it al­ways sounded fat. That’s the drum sound I like. I like big toms, al­most like an 80s vibe.”

Have you changed any­thing with your kit sizes with this new set-up?

“I’ve got 16" and 18" floor toms. I have had an 18" floor be­fore but not for a few years.”

Will that in­flu­ence your play­ing, or will the sec­ond floor end up as a place to keep your towel and setlist?!

“It’s just go­ing to be for big, boomy tom bits. I’ll get an 18" EMAD head on it for the big, loud toms.”

What about the depth of the drums, have they changed?

“The kick is big­ger. It’s now 22"x16". I’ve had 20"x20" be­fore and even a 20"x22". That was su­per punchy and it came through re­ally well for the faster metal stuff that we were do­ing. This time we’ve gone for the stan­dard rocky sound and size.”

You’ve got a dou­ble pedal on the kit, is that your pref­er­ence rather than hav­ing two bass drums with a pedal each?

“I have tried that be­fore. The first bonus we got as a band, we all got £1,000 each. I went straight to a shop and bought a Joey Jordi­son Sig­na­ture Ex­port kit. It was ridicu­lous. I was used to hav­ing one kick, rack and a floor. This kit came with two kicks, three rack toms, two floor toms and also a 13" alu­minum snare which sounded wicked.

As time went on I got lazier and took one of the bass drums away and took the toms away. So yeah, I use a dou­ble pedal. I’ve started us­ing the Speed Co­bra. I’ve used all kinds of ped­als over the years and the Speed Co­bra is just so smooth. It’s a long­board as well which I like and it feels eas­ier to play than the other ped­als.”

Are you most com­fort­able on a more stripped­back kit?

“Yeah, I think it’s out of lazi­ness. When I got that Jordi­son kit I thought I’d use all of the drums and I never did. One by one they came away and I went back to the set-up that I played orig­i­nally. To me, it just works, less is more. You can have as many drums as you want, but for me it works. I’m not op­posed to ex­per­i­ment­ing… I just can’t be ar­sed [laughs].”

Is that a Sound Lab snare as well?

“It is. It’s the Black Brass, a 14" and I’ve also got the 13" G Maple. That Black Brass snare is in­sane, it’s so loud. Pre­vi­ously I had a Vin­nie Paul Pearl snare, the 8” deep one that was like snake­skin. I loved it. I put a heavy­weight head on it and it sounded so fat. SJC tried repli­cat­ing it for me but we couldn’t ever get that sound. I went to Head­stock and they gave me the Black Brass, we put a heavy head on it and it sounded great. We put a lit­tle Moon Gel on it and this thing that’s like an O ring, called a Big Fat Snare Drum, it sounds wicked. It gives it this big, dead sound. I don’t want my drums to ring or sound tinny.”

Have you re­freshed your cym­bal set-up at all?

“A lit­tle bit. I’ve al­ways used two sets of hats be­cause there’s parts in our songs where I’ve had to play closed hats but dou­ble pedal parts, but then later in the song I’ve had to play open hats. I’ve al­ways had one pair of closed hats set up in the kit. I’ve

“I’ve just ab­so­lutely winged it, I’ve winged ev­ery­thing I’ve done when it comes to drums. It’s weird that I’ve got to this point”

moved those over to my right, be­fore I had them way over to the left. I’ve ditched the China com­pletely and I’ve gone for the 18" EFX and the 21" Spe­cial Dry Trash Crash. I like dark sound­ing cym­bals, noth­ing too bright. When I first started I used a lot of bright, metal-y sound­ing cym­bals but now I pre­fer the Ks.”

Is that big drum sound more suited to the style that Bring Me has evolved into in re­cent years?

“Back in the day I used to trig­ger my kick drum so I didn’t re­ally care what the kick drum sounded like. I used to just deaden it and put a trig­ger on it. We just wanted that clicky metal sound be­cause we were play­ing fast stuff, we just wanted it to cut through. As the band has evolved, so has the drum sound. It has re­verted back to the clas­sic drum sound – noth­ing fancy, just big and loud.”

Do you use trig­gers and elec­tron­ics live?

“I use a cou­ple of Roland pads just for lit­tle bits. Our key­board player [Jor­dan Fish] is us­ing them as well, he has an SPD-SX. On this new record we will in­cor­po­rate a lot more and I play some of Jor­dan’s stuff. We’re yet to fig­ure all of that out.”

Is that a process of work­ing out who will play what and what can be played live?

“Yeah, I like to play as much of it live as pos­si­ble. I’m sure we’ll work it out. I like to play the big beat, hats and snare stuff. If Jor­dan wasn’t there then we’d prob­a­bly have to use tracks. On our third al­bum, be­fore he was in the band, we started us­ing tracks just from an iPod split two-ways. That was when we started play­ing to a click, you have to when you’re us­ing tracks. We still play to a click now even though we have Jor­dan in the band. It’s just tighter when you use a click.”

Did us­ing a click come nat­u­rally to you?

“The first time I ever used a click, I cried. I just couldn’t do it. I started play­ing drums when we started the band. I had a kit but I could hardly hold a beat to­gether. When we went to record the first al­bum I was 19 years old and they said we were go­ing to use a click and I was like, ‘What the f***’s a click?’ I had been play­ing drums for a year and didn’t know what I was do­ing. I had a day where I didn’t put any­thing down be­cause I couldn’t get my head around the click. I was so frus­trated that I cried. But then I just got it. Now, I pre­fer to play to a click, it keeps you locked in.”

Do you prac­tice to a click?

“Yeah, I do. If I’m prac­tic­ing at home I’ll put Spo­tify on and play along to stuff. But if I’m prac­tis­ing our songs I’ll play to the click.”

Do you get much time for prac­tise? Or in your down­time do you pre­fer to have a break?

“I’m not one of these re­li­gious prac­tise guys. I like my down­time. I’m pretty lazy, to be hon­est with you. When I come off tour I like to put my feet up a lit­tle bit. But I have a kit down­stairs next to my liv­ing room and ev­ery night I’ll just jump on it for an hour. I’m not mil­i­tant, I’ll just jump on when I feel like it. Some­times I might be on there for three hours, some­times maybe I’ll just mess about for ten min­utes. When we have shows com­ing up I’ll spend a lot of time play­ing through our own songs. But oth­er­wise I will just mess about groov­ing along to pop mu­sic.”

You’ve been hard at work on a new Bring Me al­bum, when did that process start?

“It started in De­cem­ber. We had a long time off. We had fin­ished tour­ing in March. When we fin­ished the cy­cle for the record be­fore the last one, we just had a month off and jumped straight back into writ­ing. With this one, we wanted to give our­selves enough time to re­lax. We had a good eight months to chill. We started putting lit­tle ideas out there and get­ting a

feel for it. When the new year came around that is when we be­came fully into it and fully im­mersed in writ­ing. We recorded through May and June and had a good solid four or five months of writ­ing.”

Were you jam­ming it out when writ­ing?

“We wrote up­stairs. Our singer owns this build­ing, he’s just opened this bar that we’re sat in and our band room is up­stairs. We put some walls up there, we have beds in there in­case you want to pull an all nighter. There’s a ta­ble to eat your din­ner from. But we write around the com­puter. We’re not a band that jams bits out. We did that and we ended up pulling our hair out. We’ll pro­gram ev­ery­thing. Jor­dan is a ge­nius when it comes to Pro Tools. It is eas­ier for us to do it like that, it’s less stress­ful, we can record gui­tar straight into the com­puter and we’ve got a vo­cal booth up there. It’s eas­ier to lis­ten to some­thing like that in­stead of jam­ming stuff out and writ­ing parts. We will pro­gram the drums, record the gui­tar and if it sounds s*** then we just take it away. That just works for us. It won’t work for ev­ery band, but for us, it’s not stress-free but it is less of a stress­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.”

How does that work with your beats? Do you then go away and trans­late the pro­grammed parts into drum beats?

“We just sit there and do it. We will put a skele­ton beat in, some­thing that sounds like what the song needs and then we’ll add some fills in, kick drums, take kick drums away, it just works like that. It’s just me and Jor­dan bounc­ing ideas off each other.”

Has the part­ner­ship that you have with Jor­dan given the band an ex­tra di­men­sion cre­atively?

“Oh yeah, he’s been great for song­writ­ing, cre­ativ­ity and ideas. He’s a very full-on guy, and that’s not a bad thing. He’s from Read­ing and we’re north­ern so we’re a lit­tle bit more laid back nat­u­rally. He brings a lot of ideas to the ta­ble. I hate blow­ing smoke up his arse, but he is a bit of a ge­nius. He brought some­thing new to the band. Be­fore he joined the band we didn’t know what was hap­pen­ing, we didn’t even know if we were go­ing to still have a band. We were hav­ing time off and peo­ple were go­ing through a lot of s*** and then Jor­dan came in and it was just nat­u­ral. He brought some­thing fresh to us and it re­ju­ve­nated the band a lit­tle bit. He brought new life into the band.”

You’ve built your­selves a rep­u­ta­tion as be­ing the big­gest Bri­tish rock band out there and fu­ture fes­ti­val head­lin­ers. Does that bring added pres­sure when you’re work­ing on new ma­te­rial?

“With our band, we don’t see break­ing into the main­stream as sell­ing out. We just want to be a band that ev­ery­one likes, whether you’re a rock fan or a pop fan. It’s not about sell­ing out, to us it is just about be­ing the best that we can be. We’re not scared of stuff like that and if we ever get of­fered the head­line slot for the right fes­ti­val then we would take it. That’s where you want to be as a band. You want to be suc­cess­ful. You don’t have to be, if you’re happy play­ing the pub cir­cuit then that’s great, crack on. For us, we just want to see how far we can take it. We want to be as ac­ces­si­ble as pos­si­ble and be a band that ev­ery­one likes. We’re not scared of be­ing a main­stream band.”

The band has evolved from the early metal days, has that evo­lu­tion con­tin­ued on this new ma­te­rial?

“The new ma­te­rial is bet­ter than any­thing we’ve done. I think peo­ple are ex­pect­ing a pop record. There are el­e­ments of pop on there and there are some pop el­e­ments but there are some weird songs on there as well. There are some songs where when you’re writ­ing them you think they’re go­ing in one di­rec­tion and then they go in an­other. You’re play­ing it think­ing, ‘I didn’t ex­pect this!’ Some peo­ple will be sur­prised by this al­bum. Some peo­ple are ex­pect­ing a pop record, but it’s not a pop record.”

Do you demo here and then move into the stu­dio?

“We work them up here and demo them but they’re not fin­ished and then we fin­ish them up in the stu­dio. This time was a bit more all over the place with that. Usu­ally when we go into the stu­dio we know what we’re do­ing with the songs and we’ll chop and change a lit­tle bit. This time we didn’t re­ally know where a lot of songs were go­ing. We got into the stu­dio and we kept on writ­ing and writ­ing. There was a lot more writ­ing be­ing done as we were record­ing. That was weird but it was cool to be writ­ing in a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment. We recorded in Cal­i­for­nia so go­ing from win­ter in Sh­effield to Cal­i­for­nia sun­shine was great. You’re in­flu­enced by your sur­round­ings and I think hav­ing that change of scenery helped. It turned some of the songs in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. That’s a good thing though, it meant some things came out a lit­tle un­ex­pect­edly.”

Were you self-pro­duc­ing?

“We had an en­gi­neer. We took some­one over, some­one we had worked with be­fore. But then it was pretty much just us. We worked pre­vi­ously with [pro­ducer] Terry Date [on 2013’s Sem­piter­nal]. Terry is a great bloke but he is very old school. He wanted us to record ev­ery­thing live; we’re not a band like that. We want to do parts sep­a­rately and get them sound­ing as amaz­ing as pos­si­ble. Whereas Terry would say he worked with Deftones and they would all play live to­gether and take that for the record­ing. We had never done that, we had al­ways done our parts sep­a­rately. Work­ing with him was good, but he didn’t re­ally get what we wanted to do. When it came to the end of that al­bum we kind of said, ‘Let’s never do that again.’ Jor­dan and our­selves are good enough to do it and we know what we want to do, so we do it our­selves.”

Is there any­thing play­ing-wise on the new record that might sur­prise peo­ple?

“There’s some lin­ear stuff on there. I’ve al­ways lis­tened to lin­ear drum­mers and thought I would love

“It’s not about sell­ing out, to us it is just about be­ing the best that we can be. If we get of­fered the head­line slot for the right fes­ti­val, then we’d take it”

to do some of those fills. I like the gospel chops, I know that is all kind of cool now but it sounds wicked. There’s not lots of it on the al­bum but there’s hints of it. It felt so good to do it be­cause I’ve not done any­thing like that be­fore. My drum­ming has got bet­ter and bet­ter on each record and I have been able to try more things out as I’ve im­proved. I’m proud of this new al­bum. It’s solid drum­ming, noth­ing fancy. I’m one for do­ing what sounds best for the song. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Fair enough, some peo­ple want to do some mad s*** and put as many fills in as pos­si­ble but I like to do what­ever is best for the song. This al­bum has more grooves and more hi-hat work. I’ve got a Crash Ride and I usu­ally pump the f*** out of that, where as on this al­bum there’s more hi-hat grooves.”

We’ve men­tioned that the band’s sound has evolved, and so has your play­ing. In the early, Count Your Bless­ings days there was a lot of fast kick work…

“I just learned to go ei­ther fast or slow. That was it. I never re­ally learned grooves. Look­ing back I wish I did. I never re­ally had any drum lessons. I got my first drum kit when my mum and dad sep­a­rated and sold the house. With some of the money my dad said I could have one thing and I said I wanted a drum kit. I don’t know why I wanted one, I just did. He took me to Rother­ham mar­ket and we got this tiny £300 kit. My dad said he would buy me this kit as long as it went to my mum’s house. I took it to my mum’s house and it didn’t even last a day be­fore it was back in the car and taken to my dad’s house. I lived with my mum so I never re­ally got to play that kit and it kind of be­came one of those things that I didn’t take se­ri­ously. Then I got to col­lege and had mates who played gui­tar and I men­tioned that I played drums. I didn’t tell them that I was ab­so­lutely dog s***, I just told them that I had some drums. So, I got roped into that and I didn’t know what I was do­ing. We played a cou­ple of gigs but it was just play­ing in front of mates. When it came to Hori­zon, I met Lee our gui­tar player and I was asked if I wanted to start a band and I said I knew a singer, Oli, and it just hap­pened re­ally quick. It just clicked and we knew what we wanted to do. I never had a drum les­son, I just got thrown into play­ing our own songs. I couldn’t play other peo­ple’s songs, the only thing I knew how to play was our own songs, if that makes sense?! Look­ing back, I wish I had a lit­tle help and learned more tech­nique. Still to­day, my tech­nique is not the best but it just works for me. I learned early on how to go fast or slow. I worked wash­ing pots in a ho­tel and with my first pay cheque I bought a dou­ble kick pedal. I would sit at home with my feet on the dou­ble pedal all the time and I’d learn to con­trol my fin­gers so that I could blast and keep steady time. I didn’t learn grooves, I just learned fast and slow. That’s why the first record is like that. But that was what we were go­ing for, this fast metal-y stuff.”

Was it just a case of learn­ing as you went?

“Back then I didn’t even know how to play dou­bles. We went on tour with The Haunted and their drum­mer was play­ing dou­bles and I asked him what that was and he looked at me as if to say, ‘That is so ba­sic, how do you not know that?’ But he showed me and that was re­ally cool and that was a new

thing for me! I’ve just ab­so­lutely winged it, I’ve winged ev­ery­thing I’ve done when it comes to drums. It’s weird that I’ve got to this point. Peo­ple al­ways ask me which drum­mers in­flu­ence me, I’ve never been in­flu­enced by drum­mers. I’ve al­ways been in­flu­enced by bands that we’ve been on tour with. I’ve learned to play drums by play­ing live. We played with Kill­switch En­gage at the same time as we played with The Haunted and I just picked up all of these tips from solid metal drum­mers.”

In those early days speed was a ma­jor chal­lenge, but what is the big­gest chal­lenge of be­ing the drum­mer in Bring Me The Hori­zon now, in 2018?

“Just keep­ing it solid. I’m a ner­vous drum­mer. I can’t re­lax. I find it very hard to re­lax while I play drums. I just don’t want to f*** up. My fear of f***ing up is mas­sive. One, be­cause I don’t want to look s*** and ruin the show and the other thing is that I don’t want to let the rest of my band down. When I play live I just want to be solid. I don’t care about flash, I hate stick tricks. When I see drum­mers do­ing stick tricks I just think, ‘Just play the f***ing drums.’ I think drum­mers should just be solid. Don’t worry about be­ing the cen­tre of at­ten­tion. I think a lot of drum­mers want to be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion. I’m not like that, I’d rather just get my head down, play solid, make sure I play well. Play­ing the best that I can is para­mount.”

Were you not tempted to throw some stick tricks in when you moved up to the arena shows?!

“Nah, a gig is a gig to me. It doesn’t mat­ter if it’s the O2 or wher­ever, just play well. Don’t worry about throw­ing your sticks in the air. I don’t do that, I find it cheesy. I just want to play solid whether it’s to ten peo­ple or to 10,000 peo­ple. I just want to do my job well but maybe that just comes from a ner­vous­ness.”

What are you like in the 30 min­utes be­fore you go on stage at a show?

“Peo­ple who say that they don’t get ner­vous are telling lies a lit­tle bit, I think. I think you have to get ner­vous, I think get­ting ner­vous shows that you care. I’ll get changed about an hour be­fore a show, I’ll stretch and I have a lit­tle warm-up kit with mesh pads and I’ll put Spo­tify on and jam. I think dance mu­sic is re­ally good to jam to, the tem­pos are good for play­ing solidly and some chops. I loosen up. I hate go­ing on stage stiff. I think you know when you’re warm­ing up when you’re ready and pre­pared. I like know­ing that I’m ready and I’m feel­ing good.”

What about af­ter a show; do you scru­ti­nise your own play­ing and per­for­mance af­ter you’ve been on stage?

“We come off stage, ev­ery­one sits down and we sit in si­lence and then some­one will go, ‘Good that.’ That’s when you know that you can have a shower and get changed be­cause if any­one has a prob­lem then they will bring it up at that point. Then you crack on and onto the next one. We’re not one of these bands that are su­per anal about ev­ery­thing. But we’ve done well, I’ve done ok for some­one who is just wing­ing it. That’s the thing about our band, we never set our­selves tar­gets. A lot of bands do that and say in five years time they want to head­line Wem­b­ley. Our am­bi­tion has al­ways been to play some gigs and we don’t care where. Some peo­ple set tar­gets and get bit­ter if they don’t reach them, we just take it all as it comes.”

“When I play live I just want to be solid. I don’t care about flash, I hate stick tricks”

pho­tos: james shar­rock

Ni­cholls glee­fully giv­ing his brand spank­ing new Tama Star­clas­sic “fat sound­ing” bub­inga kit a whirl

Top left: Mat’s new Tama Star­clas­sic Bub­inga in Pink Cham­pagne Sparkle fin­ish

Right: The Tama Speed Co­bras are Mat’s ped­als of choice for bass drum and dual-hi-hats

Be­low: Mat’s only non-K cym­bal is the 9" Zild­jian Ori­en­tal Trash Splash

Above: “I like dark sound­ing cym­bals” Zild­jian Ks fea­ture heav­ily in Mat’s setup

Newly-en­dorsed Ni­cholls has been a longterm Tama user in the stu­dio

“I had heard peo­ple play­ing bub­inga kits and it al­ways sounded fat. I like big toms, al­most like an 80s vibe”

Singer Oli Sykes’ Drop Dead HQ serves as a creative hub for the band to write songs and even record

Ni­cholls’ new set up fea­tures 16" and 18" floor toms for the “big, boomy tom bits”

“I’m a ner­vous drum­mer. I can’t re­lax. I just don’t want to f*** up”

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