home: interviews: 1998: rhythm feedback

Eds Chesters - Down To Earth

This interview was typed up by a friend of Drapes. She comments, "Things in square brackets like these are things I've added, in a vain and probably patronising attempt to make this accessible to the non- drummer."

Love 'em or hate 'em, the Bluetones are the most solid, dependable, and downright nicest band on the planet, and plain-speaking drummer Eds Chesters is no exception as Louise King discovers...

Eds Chester is taking Rhythm's arrival at the Cambridge Corn Exchange very calmly. Remarkably calmly in fact, considering that we're expecting to interview him in a matter of minutes. This could be tricky. Even when artists are expecting us it's not unusual for them to keep us waiting for up to three hours before they let us do our stuff.

"An interview and pictures?" he asks quietly. "Oh, right, OK shall we do the pictures first and then have a chat?"

And without further ado, despite the failure of modern technology to ensure the arrival of a certain fax forewarning the tour manager of our imminent arrival, Eds is behind his kit and the shoot is underway. What a top man...

After taking a break for the whole of 1997 to concentrate on the recording of their second album "Return to the Last Chance Saloon", The Bluetones are back on the road, proudly presenting their new release. Two years have passed since the band's chart-busting debut album "Expecting to Fly" and their latest offering has been eagerly awaited by the music press and fans alike.

"It's loads different," Eds explains enthusiastically, "We all felt a lot more comfortable second time round, and we were definitely wiser, stronger and more relaxed about everything."

"We really needed a break after the first album, and it's paid off. As far as the four of us were concerned though, there wasn't any pressure - in spite of what people were saying about difficult second albums. We knew the songs would come, we just needed some time, and once we'd written a couple of good ones, we knew the album was going to be great."

It was at the tender age of 11 that Eds was introduced to the delights of drumming by his older brother Michael who already owned a kit. "I'd always been into rhythms, from the age of five I used to dance like mad to every song I liked on the radio," Eds Chuckles, "And one of my mates had started playing as well, so I certainly didn't want him to be better than me when I already had a kit at home"

Unimpressed by the music on offer in the '80s, Eds fell in love with the sounds of the Sixties after his Uncle gave him a box of seven-inches he'd collected as a child. One of the first bands Eds feels that he discovered for himself, though was The Small Faces, and he admits trying to play like [their drummer] Kenney Jones for years.

"Later I got into Reni from the Stone Roses," he continues, "And I really like Ringo and Bonham [John Bonham, Led Zeppelin], even though that's more of an admiration thing. I suppose their influences do creep out as well. Oh, and Clyde Stubblefield - I listen to a lot of James Brown, and he is my favourite out of his drummers. My mum and dad were well into swing and big band stuff, so I got to listen to a lot of that too, and I can remember having the songs in my head while I was learning. "

Rather than dive into lessons, Eds took advice from his older brother, and as soon as he could hold down a beat, joined a band to develop his playing further.

"I always dreamt of being in a band you see, " he confesses, "and when it happened I was only 13 years old. Yes we were really bad, but it was great to be able to go to school the next day and say you'd been on stage the night before."

Today Eds is reminded of his own beginnings by a young drummer who lives next door to him in London. "He's 14, he's got a band, and he's really into his playing. I know how I felt at that age, so I've given him a couple of my old cymbals and some other bits and bobs."

"As far as I'm concerned, there are no rules in drumming - you just have to get a good sound that keeps rolling on. The rhythm is what it's all about, not just the beats, and even if you're just beginnning you can still make drums sound great."

After a couple of stints in other bands, such as Puppy Dogs from Hell, and Brando, Eds got a major break into the big time. By now his brother Michael had moved to London in search of a record deal with his band, and it was there that he introduced Ed's to the members of Soho. Originally, Soho had approached Michael to drum for them, but he suggested his younger brother and, at the age of 19, Eds was offered an American tour with Soho.

"They'd had a big hit over there called 'Hippy Chick', which did quite well over here too, you might remember it. Anyway, I was a year into studying chemistry at Newcastle university at the time, and I had to make the big descision, carry on with the course or go on the tour. I've always been quite an adventurous person so I made the move to London and spent the next 12 months touring with Soho." To say it was an eye-opening experience would be something of an understatement.

"It was mind-blowing," Eds laughs, "It was like being on holiday for a year. In some ways I don't think I aware of even half of what was going on. I just used to get on stage every night and do my best. I don't even think I was that good then..."

I was after that tour finished, as Soho started making plans to make a second album that Eds began to feel he didn't fit in any more. A big age gap between him and the other members of the band and a strong desire to expand his playing left him feeling restless.

"They were using a lot of technology - samplers and loops, and even though what I was learning about sampling and looping was invaluable, at the time it just wasn't for me. It's not that there's anything wrong with being a breakbeat player [playing beats without a sound grounding in "time" as a whole, using a metronome to provide this, like the folk in Appollo 440 and the like] but I was young and I wanted to learn to be a drummer first."

While he was back in London, Eds could often be found hanging around at the infamous Dodgy Club and it wasn't long before a certain Matthew Priest let Eds know that his housemates - Mark Morriss, his brother Scott, and Adam Devlin - were looking for a new drummer.

"I've always liked Dodgy and I was having a bit of a crack, handing out leaflets and stuff for them at the club" Eds remembers, "Mark, Scott and Adam used to come down the club every now and then, and Matthew introduced me to them. Me and Mark just clicked straight away - you know, same height, same muscial tastes..."

"So I said goodbye to Soho, which wasn't easy, you know, because they'd plucked me from obscurity and lavished me with an American tour. But I knew it was the right descision, and as soon as I met the others, I knew it was the right move."

A week after the four of them had moved into a house in Hounslow, Adam came up with a name for their new band and The Bluetones were born. "It was all just part of this beautifu little world we were creating for ourselves," Eds says fondly "None of us were working, we just used to jam in the garage, write songs and play video games"

One vivid memory Eds has of those early days is how impressed his fellow band members were with his drum kit. He'd been allowed to keep the rather nifty set of tubs that Soho had bought for him, you see... "All the drummers they'd had before owned old kits, so a decent kit alone improved their sound straight away."

As for Eds, jamming with the rest of the band was a revelation. Instead of playing breakbeats and worrying continuously about tempo and time, Eds found he could spread out and make some noise again.

"It was exactly what I'd been missing for the previous 2 years," he raves, "That really was a great time for us all"

18 months later the band flt they were ready to introduce The Bluetones to the outside world. After only a coupe of gigs, word spread quickly about the band, and it wasn't long before they were being pursued by a horde of record company chequebooks.

"We did have a lot of confidence in ourselves" Eds explains "But we were under no illuison that getting signed was the end of the road; for us it was just the beginning. Getting that deal was great though, and we felt like stars... Well, for the weekend anyway."

Much as he relishes the variety of challenges that ife in the Bluetones offers him, Eds will happily admit that his favourite part of the job is the creative processes involved in putting an album together. And for the band, songwriting is very much a four-way operation.

"It has to be, because at the end of the day, there are four of us making the music. Mark writes pretty much all the lyrics, and a lot of the songs do come from just jamming - Scott will have some great basslines, or Mark will have a tune that he's able to hum, or Adam will have some great chords. As drummer, I can meter songs, or just change the rhythm slightly, and that can spring loads of ideas from the musicians. Unlike most bands we don't have a bass and drums rhythm section - our rhythm section is bass, guitar, drums, and to a certain extent, Marks vocals, because his metering is so important. I find that when we're writing, I'm totally at ease,and I just drift off. For me, that's when a lot of creative stuff happens"

Eds also has an intriguing theory that albums would sound better if they were recorded after they were taken out on the road. "When you're outon the road, the songs keep evolving, don't they? And once you know a song inside out, and understand where all the crescendos and subtle little changes are, you can fuck about with it. I always do. I never play the same thing twice. I just think albums would sound better if we could record them after we'd played the tracks live for a while. Does that smake sense, or am I just talking shit now?"

So, how does Eds compare his playing on the bands two albums "Expecting to Fly" and Return to the Last Chance Saloon"?

"On the first album, I was really ambitious with my drumming style, and on the second, I think I've probably been more controlled. The songs that deserved something big got it, and the ones that should have been kept simple were kept simple. One big difference is that now I can pull off that really ambitious stuff a lot more frequently than I used to be able to."

Like so many players, Eds has adopted the philosophy that less can so often be a whole lot more.

"The idea of rhythm and keeping things simple is crucial. You've got to make it from the start of the song to the end of the song without having anyone trip up on the dancefloor. And you've got to keep a song's movement and fluidity going"

Eds is currently playing a small setup comprising Premier drums and Zildjian cymbals. He feels that to really understand and play their instrument well, drummers should be able to appreciate each indivdual drum and cymbal by itself, so the proper intensity is created when everything is put together. "I used to use my cymbals too much, so now I only have a crash and a ride. It's so easy for the cymbals to detract from what the guitars are doing."

After sharing a house together, the close-knit relationship between the 4 members of The Bluetones makes for an easy life on the tour bus. And with a hand-picked crew, the band are confident of everyone in the entourage pulling their weight.

"Everyone gets on, which is very important, and it helps things run smoothy when we're on tour. And of course the four of us know each other's idiosyncrasies inside out and can make allowances for them. It's Mark that's given the responsibility of providing the music on the tour bus. He, Adam and Scott all have massive CD and record colections because they used to work in record shops. I always remember when they moved in with them, they introduced me to loads of new stuff - being with them was a real musical education, and it's an education that's continuing to this day."

Cymbals: Zildjian Drums: Premier Genista
14" Hi-hats 'A' 12" Tom-tom
16" Crash 'A' 14" Snare
20" Ride 'A' 16" Floor tom
    20" Bass Drum

['A' being short for Avedis, a popular Zildjian line]
[Premier Genista is very pricey]

Submitted by Louisa Parker

Extracted from Rhythm magazine, July 1998.