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Web exclusive interview
Blind Melon's Glen Graham

By Billy Amendola for ModernDrummer.com (July 2008)

 

 

Blind Melon’s Glen Graham talks to MD Online about the band’s dramatic resurrection, and the release of their first album in thirteen years, For My Friends.
    
Blind Melon signed to Capitol records in 1991, and in two short years they’d gone platinum with the help of the MTV video for their smash single “No Rain.” Original lead singer Shannon Hoon passed away in 1995, at the height of the group’s rise to fame. Drummer Glen Graham says he had to stop playing at that point—and subsequently didn’t play music for almost the next ten years. “It sounds kind of pathetic, I suppose, but I just lost interest,” admits Glen today. “But to go from that level…to realize you were doing exactly what you wanted to do, and that things were going well, and then to you lose your friend and everything else…it was very difficult.”


Glen eventually did start playing again, after friends persuaded him to get on with his life. Recently, the band’s original lineup—plus new singer Travis Warren—has been playing dates in the US to promote For My Friends, and so far fan response has been positive. “I would say ninety percent of the shows are sold out,” says Graham, “and people are singing the words to at least half the songs. Some people are even singing the words to our new songs, which is kind of amazing to me.” We spoke with Glen while he was at home taking a short break from the road.

I’m digging the new record; were the tracks recorded live?
Thank you! Yes, there are a few overdubs, but it was mostly live.

What kit did you use? 
I used a Zickos clear acrylic kit on everything except “For My Friends,” “Make A Difference,” and “Harmful Belly.” We did those first, and I used a cobbled together kit of old Ludwigs and Slingerlands. 

The new album sounds more melodic than your previous records.
We have a different singer now and Travis is coming from a completely different place. He was a huge fan of the band growing up, and he’s ten years younger than us, so I guess we heavily influenced him and his style. 

It also sounds more “commercial.”
Well, let me ask you, does it sound like it was played to a click or not?

To me it sounds like it was played to a click.
Your right! It definitely was. And I never used a metronome in my life—to practice with or to record to.

Maybe that’s why some people might think it sounds a little slick.
I can understand that point of view, certainly. On our first record I never really realized the importance, or the value, of a metronome. The second record was better as far as the time went, and the third was just overdubs on existing tracks. So this time I just thought, What the hell, if I use a click this time at least there will be no way to go back and go, Oh why did I do that? I felt like I kept it pretty fluid considering it was my first time with a click.

Definitely. How old were you when the first record came out?
Early twenties. We were very lucky.


Speaking of, what advice would you offer upcoming drummers that want to get into the music business?
Well, as far as trying to do it professionally, I would say this is the greatest time in the history of the world to do it all yourself. With MySpace, the Internet, etc., you can get just as much exposure as a lot of the bands that are or were on major labels. As far as a kid trying to figure out how to get in a band or whatever, listen to good people. I would say to every kid, listen to jazz and go back and listen to Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon. Learn how to play to good songs. Anybody can do it. Everybody’s got Pro Tools or some similar thing, and you can do it at your house. 

Do you have a home studio?
Yes. It’s nothing fantastic, but it’s adequate. I have like the most ancient technique imaginable when it comes to miking drums. I used to have a bunch of real cool vintage gear, including a Neve board, but I got rid of all of that a long time ago. Now I just use a stereo mic over the kit, a kick mic, and a snare mic, and that’s it. I’m using the most basic gear—a Mackie board run directly into the computer through an interface, and it sounds fine. I’m not trying to make records in my basement; I’m just trying to get ideas down. These days all you need is a laptop, an inbox, and a couple mics, and that’s about it. It’s about mic’ placement and tuning the drums properly. 


Let’s go back to when you first started playing. Who were some of your influences?
I started playing when I was about twelve. I grew up in a town in Mississippi that didn’t have an FM station, so I just heard AM pop radio. So it was Hal Blaine and all that great ’70s music that had fantastic drumming on it. One of the first songs to hit me was The Commodores’ “Brick House.” It was like, “Okay, I’ve got to learn how to play that beat.” But I didn’t have any exposure to concerts or anything live until much later on.

Did you take lessons, or are you self-taught?
I’m very much self-taught.

Do you think growing with AM pop records helped you become more of a song drummer?
Yes, totally. The pop music of that time was so good—especially from the drumming standpoint. Like I said, you had Hal, Russ Kunkel, Jim Gordon…. When I got to be a little older, I started getting into heavier stuff like Bonham, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and Mitch Mitchell. That totally opened me up to the whole world of what was possible—especially Keith Moon. Not that I’m a Keith Moon–type drummer by any stretch of the imagination, but I do like the whole attitude of, “Do whatever the hell you want to do, its just rock music.” He played crazily, but he played for the song.

What would your practice routine be like? Would you play along to records?
Oh yeah, absolutely—headphones on and playing along to records every day before and after school. I would practice like crazy when I was growing up, all the way through college.

Do you still practice?
Oh yeah. Every time we’re off, I do the same thing I did when I was a kid—playing along with records I like and trying to cop off of people I respect. Basically it’s just thievery, it’s a lifelong process of stealing things from other people and getting it really wrong, and then these things accumulate and your style emerges from that. Learn everything you can on the drums, and then decide what you want to do with it. For me, it all started to fall away in the very late ’70s, and by the mid ’80s it was all gone. Rock drumming actually wasn’t a legitimate thing for a while there. The ’80s killed it. And it’s really never come back. There are people like Matt Cameron and Jimmy Chamberlain, who I thought were great—those two guys were really interesting and were doing something that had a little bit of a throwback to that earlier time. That’s what I do. We all like old music, music from the golden age of rock. That’s what we are influenced by.

Do you think Blind Melon were instrumental in starting the jam band scene?
I think most people think of us as a one-hit-wonder pop band that either they can’t stand or that they see as greatly underappreciated. We did have a couple songs that we jammed on, so I can see how some people would think that. But to me, the jam band thing started in the ’60s with one of my favorite bands, Cream. The sort of resurgence of the Grateful Dead in the mid-’80s coincided with the emergence of Phish and all of the Grateful Dead kind of cover bands, or bands that were very much like Grateful Dead—your Widespread Panics and that kind of stuff. Then Jerry Garcia died, and they basically went away for a while, until Phish emerged and became the kings of the jam world. Then a whole group of bands sprang up around them. Now you have people like Phil Lesh & Friends, who are back and doing passable versions of The Grateful Dead. I saw them in Florida a few weeks ago, and it was kind of astonishing.

Do you warm up before you go on stage?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I stretch like crazy for about a half hour—I have to. And I start with bigger sticks and work my way down, and maybe do twenty, thirty minutes, depending on how much time we have. I like to go up there feeling completely free mentally and physically. It doesn’t always happen, but it certainly helps the flow if you’re not leaning on one leg or worried about something that has nothing to do with playing music—and you don’t want your wrists stiff.

After Shannon passed away, you stopped playing.
Yeah. I just lost interest, and I didn’t play music for almost ten years. I suppose it sounds kind of pathetic, but to go from that level…. It’s one thing to lose your friend, but then to realize that, okay, you were doing exactly what you wanted to do and things were going well, and now all of a sudden it’s all gone. And your prospects for getting back to that level with this band, or any other band, are slim to none…. It was quite overwhelming. So basically I did a couple of records and said it’s not worth it. Once you’ve done a project like Blind Melon, with people who are really into it and serious about it and constantly coming to the table with new ideas and material, to then be out there basically in the world of the weekend warrior guys who aren’t really very ambitious, it’s a little depressing. So I just stopped. Then one day about three and a half, maybe four years ago, my next-door neighbor came over and said, “What are you doing? You’re doing nothing, so let’s do something.” And that’s when we did the Meek project.

Tell us a little about that project.
That’s our “three guys in a basement” project and us going to 1/2" tape and single takes, maybe a few overdubs, no patches, no punch-ins, no nothing. It’s just us in the basement, looking at each other and going, “What do you want to do?” then playing something and calling it a song.

It’s nice to have Blind Melon back, despite the original reason for the breakup.Sometimes when you step away from a situation like that, though, you appreciate it more when you come back. Do you feel that way?
Oh yeah. When Shannon died I was very complacent about playing and listening back to recordings. I got away from it for much longer than I should have, but being away from it definitely helped me get some perspective on what I needed to work on. As soon as I started doing it again, I started working on timekeeping. Like I said, the first record is a train wreck. It’s fun and it sounds good, if you like that sort of thing, but quite frankly it’s an embarrassment from a timekeeping point of view. I try to listen to bands that I really like—Cream, Led Zeppelin—and try to see if I can detect any time alterations or inconsistencies, and they are there, but they’re not as glaring as they are on our first record. 

How was it playing Woodstock in ’94?
Woodstock was great, but it was an overwhelming experience. I never played in front of that many people, and probably never will again. I think we played okay, but what I remember most from that whole day was that we’d lost our monitor engineer a few days before—I think he was getting married or something. I remember that I was using in-ears but no one else was. Our management didn’t seem to understand the importance of some sort of production rehearsal. With in-ears you can’t just get up there and wing it. So we got this new guy who supposedly was a master of in-ears and, long story short, for the first two songs I had nothing in my monitors whatsoever—and you could see it on my face if you watch it back. It was a horror. All I could hear was the PA. Plus, you have the earplugs in, which are like 33 db–canceling earplugs. It worked out, but it took me the rest of the set to kind of recover.

How was it opening for The Stones on tour?
That was an amazing experience! I remember watching them when I was growing up, and to sit there and have that view, ten years later…. Of course, opening up at these stadiums, they aren’t full with people yet. But it’s dark, and who cares, it was fantastic. And they were really nice to us.

Did you have a chance to hang with Charlie a bit?
Yeah, just a little bit. He asked me, “How can you play those drums when they’re set up so low?” He was concerned about my back, which of course I now realize was very good advice. We did eight shows on their schedule, which was basically a show, two to three days off, then another show. It was really amazing. The sound was fantastic, and we had a great time.

In your younger days, did being left-handed ever stop you from sitting in, with the majority of drummers playing right-handed kits?
I never sat in with anyone. [laughs] I played right-handed for about three days and then I realized, Hey, I’m left-handed. I’d never seen anybody set up a drumset left-handed before, so I assumed that was just the way you did it. I immediately realized, This is not going to work. So I flipped them and it worked. I play totally left handed, completely mirror image, and immediately I could play comfortably.

How would you describe your style of playing?
A dying art…archaic. [laughs] I would say…organic, I guess. I just don’t hear anyone making records playing like this anymore. I’m sure there are bands who do, but I don’t know anything about them…. And I know there are a lot of great drummers out there who can play wonderfully, but I don’t own those records. My whole thing is, I was born too late. I would have loved to play in either one of Janis Joplin’s bands. That would have been fantastic. Or Derek And The Dominos. What I do naturally, and what I do in Blind Melon, is not the same thing. The kind of music I play along with, and know how to play, I just sort of have to adapt to the kind of things that Blind Melon does, and it just sort of comes out this way.

You’re playing for the song, and you do exactly what’s needed—and maybe a bit more—without it getting in the way.
Well, that’s what I try to do. I do feel like I overplay, and I want to. But if it’s perceived as playing just enough and maybe a little more, then that’s perfect, thank you 

 

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