Interview:Andie Rathbone Rhythm Magazine January 1998
|Interview With Andie Rathbone from Mansun|
|Interview with Andie Rathbone|
|Source:||Rhythm Magazine (UK)|
Rhythm Magazine: People Section
Once upon a time Andie Rathbone was a car dealer, flogging Audis for top dollar. When he gave it up to try his luck in music, everyone said he was mad. But then he fell in with a band called Mansun... Interview: Pat Reid
Liverpool Parr Street studios. Mansun drummer Andie Rathbone glances up from his kit, ruefully flexing a muscle or two. "I tore a tendon in my arm," he says. "Playing cross-handed .. so I have my hi-hat on the right. But I find it better 'cos it's more open. don't usually play lots of sixteens on the hi-hat anyway. It doesn't really suit this music." Returning to his work-out, Andie gets going with his double bass drums, simultaneously cooking up some manic snare work, and liberally dishing out grief on the cymbals. His drums are tuned pretty high, but the overall sound is full and expressive. Of his two snares, he mainly sticks with the small one, but the larger, when resorted to, is bastard loud. The Mansun man sets up a basic rock groove straight off his band's first LP, but subverts it with double-whammy kick drum and inventive lashings-out on the metals. As he sound is achieved by keeping the drums quite explains later, the bass slack and using heavy beaters. He admits "I can never match the sound of the actual bass drums."
Not that you'd know it
Mansun, by current calculations, play 200 gigs a year and release three or four singles. They've only had the one album so far (the chart-topping Attack Of The Grey Lantern), but there's another one on the way. When Rhythm encounters the band at Parr Street, they seem utterly drained, like veterans of some obscure but savage war. "We actually love it," says Andie dismissively. "It's not a thing you can only put half your heart into. You've got to put everything into it and do as much as you possibly can. All right, it's tiring and you miss out on home lives and family, but you just have to put that effort in. Otherwise you end up getting stale - the songs don't sell and the albums go in at number 39. If you've got the passion then anything's possible. If there's any doubt or you, start getting pissed off that you're doing too many gigs, that's what fucks a band up." Sounds a bit like the dreaded Spice Girls syndrome: your manager makes you the most successful act in the world, so you complain about overwork and sack him. Not that Mansun are in any way comparable to Ginger, Posh and co (if they were then Andie would be Burly Kickboxer Spice), but they too have their fair share of on-the-road tension.
"Yeah, we're not the perfect band by any means," agrees Andie. "It's mostly after gigs, one of us'll say, 'Oh you did something wrong there, don't do that again', and,it all kicks off. There isn't any violence but there's a few harsh words. But it's good to get it off your chest, and two minutes later it's done." Andie vaguely attributes this quality of openness and straight-talking to the band's home town, a pleasing spot in the north-west made famous by (in no particular order) Holly-oaks, the Roman Empire, a rather nice zoo and Mansun themselves. Got it yet? That's right, we're talking Chester.
"It's a really quiet town," he says simply "We don't really get noticed there or bothered. When we're back for a day or two we'll just go out for a drink." Nice enough, but Paul, Chad, Stove and Andie are Mansun, the most mercurially brilliant new band for years. Don't forget that, because they won't. "We never seem to drift out of the vibe of the band," observes Andie, "and start being just four lads going to the pub." Far be it from Rhythm to provide subliminal advertising for a certain Leicestershire-situated drum manufacturer, but Andie Rathbone plays
"When you're outside the music industry looking in, you just see the gloss of it, the Top Of The Pops... You can't really start to imagine the work that goes on behind the scenes to do the album, to do the tour ... "
"Premier I've always played Premier. The first kit I had was' an old Premier Olympic Jazz Combo setup with bongos. I actually got rid of it. When I was twelve I saved up and got a Pearl Export! Thinking back, that kit was brilliant. All die-cast rings on it, the bearing edges were perfect..." After his self-confessed "Pearl Export stage", Andie became interested in the 'Yamaha sound' of certain top studio players. He eventually went back to Premier, though, and started playing an old Resonator kit. When Premier offered him a deal, he made out like the proverbial bandit. "I said, 'I'll try out a Signia, two 24"x18" bass drums, five toms, all this hardware... '" The friendly Premier person was purportedly taken aback, but nevertheless made the necessary arrangements. When Mansun flew to Glasgow to play at T In The Park, Andies Signia kit was in storage in London, so he hired a Genista for the occasion.
"A much, much better kit soundwise," he enthuses. "Build quality wise, the Signia pisses all over it, but soundwise it was amazing." A move over to the Genista would appear to be on the cards. Back to that torn tendon. When we meet, Andie is feeling the effects of having to play sixteenths on the hi-hat for an "'80s drum machine" effect evident on the Closed For Business EP. "It goes after a couple of days," he explains, unruffled. "I do all these exercises, but it's got scar tissue on it now. I never go to doctor, but it got that bad, especially at the end of the last tour .. ' What the doctor told Andie is that if he plays in a certain way, he tears the scar tissue. The injury seems to be fine now, but, as today's twinges indicate, he still has to be careful. "It's 'cos I play hard," he avers. "Even when I was young, doing gigs with little or no monitoring, I played the drums hard enough to get a decent mix to my ears. Most of the time we're playing, the guitars are so loud I have to play hard just to hear it. That's just a natural thing I do now - I whack the fuck out of the kit."
Ah, so we're dealing with an exponent of the 'I just effing hit 'em' school of drumming? Well, no, actually, because Andie has recently taken steps to push back the boundaries of his playing. "I just went for my first, er, drum lesson," he confesses shyly "At Drumtech in London. I said, 'tell me what I'm doing wrong, do i need to hit the drums like this?" Andies visit to the 'Tech was in part prompted by a nagging problem with synching the groove between his left hand and right leg The instructor put this down to the fact that his left leg was constantly playing eighths "So he got me concentrating on doing four, so all four limbs were doing something at once. So I've done that and it's back to normal now." Andie admits that in the past he's found it hard to criticise his own playing from a technical standpoint Having an outside observer check him out and lob in a few suggestions proved beneficial in ways he would never have expected. "He got me sight-reading," he says gratefully, "which I'd never done before " Careful, pal. They'll have you back doing a masterclass before you know it.
At school, Andie distinguished himself by playing drums in the school band and the Christmas panto. His first 'real' gig came when he was about fourteen, playing covers of The Jam and The Small Faces in a schoolboy mod band.
"My drums all had calfskin heads on them," he smiles. "I just remember walking on stage and there's 30 school kids there going 'wahey!' But after feeling that buzz of being in front of people, doing what you want to do, I think that's what I've always aimed towards - being in a signed band. It was just fate really that I met up with Mansun."
The other members of Mansun - bassist Stove, guitarist Chad and frontman Paul Draper - knew Andie from around Chester, but they didn't know he was a decent drummer until Chad saw him play a gig. Realising they'd found the full-on drummer of their dreams right on their doorstep, they asked him to join. Andie, however, had other ideas. Dismissing Mansun as just another Britpop band, he turned them down. As luck would have it, Stove gave him some monitor mixes of the album to listen to. A rapid change of attitude was effected; Andie was in ..
In many ways, Andie is typical of the new breed of British player breaking through today. Having grown up in the '80s, he remembers enough about punk and various Weller-related projects to play with fire and vigour On the other hand, he's also attuned to the stadium drummers of U2 and Simple Minds, and clued up on the West Coast studio and session greats via his friendly neighbourhood Rhythm Rather modestly, he describes his playing as "a bit erratic", but, like his band, his attitude is characterised by restlessness and ambition.
"I think a lot of pop drummers are afraid to. actually do something," he complains. "Back in the '70s it was different. People just play safe now. I can remember the ghost notes coming in, the shuffles, about 1989. The drummers 'started doing that, and I thought, 'Yeah, this is what it stays like for the next ten years'. And it has. I'm just trying to do something I've had to calm it down to a certain extent because, even though we are a rock band live, on the records I'd still classify us as a pop band." Rock, pop - yeah, it figures. Don't make the mistake of calling Mansun an 'indie band when Andie's around, though "We're on a major label," he asserts, "but people think because you've got two guitars, a bass and drums, you must be indie music."
It's an especially unfair pigeonhole when you consider that indie music tends to be characterised by a low-fi sound and approach. Mansun, on the other hand, have always gone for that epic quality, the big music. "It's all about a vibe; it pulls stuff out of you," Andie argues. "There are a lot of bands around now with supposedly great songwriters - guys who can write a good song - but Paul's the only person I've met who knows how to write everything."
"l just want to do something different to what everybody else is doing. And not just slightly different. I want to be totally away 'I'm it all. I'm never' going to be a drummer's drummer' but I think I can be a band drummer"
Apart from that recent excursion to Drumtech, Andie Rathbone is an entirely self-taught player, so it's good to see that professional status has, if anything, increased his enthusiasm for drumming. And, although the Drumtech tutor's effortlessly top-notch skills were a tad intimidating, Andie found the experience got him thinking in new and positive ways about his playing.
"I had to play all these representations of different genres of music," he recalls. "Which I found really hard, because my style is a mix of
everything and I've never really thought about it. I've never listened to drummers to pinch stuff off them; I've always listened to vibes and grooves and hooks."
Andies self-professed goal as a drummer is expressed in typically frank terms:
"I just want to do something different to what everybody else is doing," he says, quietly yet firmly "And not just slightly different. I want to be totally away from it all. Which is what Mansun are - totally outside. I'm never going to be a drummer's drummer but I think I can be a band drummer"
Andie is very firm on the band ethos, bemoaning the fact that Britain's richest Mansun fan, David Bowie, tours with a backing combo of session musicians. "The vibe just isn't there," he reckons. "The band should act like a band and then the music will come out as it should from the members of the band. You should be friends anyway, you go through the pain together, the blood, sweat and tears."
It's an ethos which is always present in Mansun. Before he joined, Andie heard them play a couple of times and felt that they lacked that all important unity.
"It was like a three-man wall with a drummer at the back," he remembers. "That's changed, I think. It's more of a band now."
Andie joined Mansun in September 1996. After a single rehearsal, he played his first gig performing 'Stripper Vicar' on TFI Friday Although he joined late in the proceedings, he consequently played on much of the album. As the band notched up hits with 'Wide Open Space' and Taxloss'. and Grey Lantern achieved critical and commercial success, the band took to the stage at Glastonbury for what should have been their year's crowning glory.
Instead, repeated generator failure turned the event into a debacle. September's Closed For Business EP continued with their run of quality releases, but was too subtle and off-kilter for more than a brief chart stay. They're a strange band, Mansun. If they weren't so nakedly careerist they'd be The Teardrop Explodes. Now there's a scary thought.
Andie started playing at four. At eight, he thought he'd invented triplets, and only later found that someone else had got there first. Later, he built a drum kit in metalwork class, even soldering his own hi-hat pedal. As a player, he was quickly overtaking his peers, so the music teacher, Mr Parfitt, singled him out and got him playing in •.
"Every show or public performance, he let me do it, just so I could play in front of people. So it's really down to him rather than my parents. Up till where I joined Mansun, my family and parents never really believed I could do it. I was a very successful car salesman [Audis and Volkswagens] and I gave it up. I thought, 'I'll give it a year if i don't make it, I'll give up and just have music as a hobby'. I went on the dole in total poverty and tried to make it. And it took me twelve months almost to the day, and then I got in Mansun."
If Mansun had flopped, that would have been it. Still, Andie believes that folk in Chester didn't really grasp what he was trying to do.
"People don't want you to excel at anything. In Britain there's a very competitive edge to it, a lot of backstabbing. In America it's more open and people can just do what they want to do. But I got loads of flak off my family, and then I did it and it was like, 'Can I have your autograph?"
So, predictably, inevitably, does Andie harbour regrets about leaving his former lifestyle behind him?
"When you're outside the music industry looking in, you just see the gloss of it, the Top Of The Pops .. You can't really start to imagine the work that goes on behind the scenes to do the album, to do the tour.. To make a video, you have to be on set for eighteen hours, just to do a three-minute promo. If I'd known all that I might have said, 'Sod it, I'll stick to selling cars .. '" Does that mean he wants out, then? "Nobody in music can go back to nine-to-five," says Andie Rathbone sternly.