Digging Dagny is becoming a thing at last

Dagny | Richard Saker | The Guardian

Dagny out shopping in London | Richard Saker / The Guardian

I’ve been following Dagny’s fledgling career for a little more than year now, and I’m so thrilled she’s finally getting some solid recognition in her native Norway as we settle into a new year.

 

Last year saw the release of a debut EP, Ultrviolet, which featured five absolutely cracking pop tunes, each with their own aesthetic but perfectly poised as a collection. It appears, though, we’re lucky to hear them at all, given she almost gave up her music dream the previous year.

Thankfully her parents — both musicians, which isn’t unusual in her hometown of Trømso — talked her into persevering, and now here we are in 2017 with many musical columnists and bloggers listing Dagny their “ones to watch” lists.

The song many of you may have heard is Backbeat, which essentially gave her a boost after Zane Lowe premiered it on Beats 1 — Apple Music’s radio station — before it had even been mastered. From there it was soon in demand, and racking up the plays on Spotify. It’s closing in on 25 million plays at the time of writing, and sounds pretty magnificent in this live discvr session for Vevo.

In a sense, this is a pop tune from the old school, devoid of overly produced synthetic elements and comprised of real instruments played by real musicians and produced faithfully. But the EP does contain more traditional pop tunes, Too Young the most obvious of these with a pulsing chorus that hints at early Katy Perry in parts, only 10 million times better. Even beneath the heavy synth pads, though, there remains those subtle guitar parts and bombastic rhythms that truly characterise Dagny’s sound, and paint a classy indie varnish on her already sparkling songs.

As a drummer, I’m obsessed with some of the parts on the EP, not least the track Fool’s Gold, my personal favourite. Here’s a live cut of it from NRK’s P3 Gull music show, featuring a nice little cameo from Kristian Kristensen — BØRNS does the recorded version — and drummer Harry Mead doing the business on the skins.

Man, I wish we had shows like this in Australia, but I digress.

Dagny has been through a lot for her young years. She’ll turn 27 this year, but has already had to deal with her older brother being diagnosed with cancer when he was 15 and she was just nine. It’s tough life experiences like this that are often the inspiration for many of the best artists, and I hope Dagny is on her way to being one.

Vocally she’s certainly got something unique. She speaks in somewhat crackled, husky tones, and that comes through in her singing, but she holds exceptional clarity in the higher registers, and finds some seriously catchy melodies to carry her often melancholic storylines.

With flawless Norwegian good looks to boot, you could call Dagny the perfect package. It remains to be seen if the often narrow-minded talent spotters outside Norway realise it and give her the big break she truly deserves.

Foo Fighters deliver on Cesena promise

Mohawk Guy, Cesena, Foo Fighters

Mohawk Guy kicks off the Rockin’ 1000 clip.

You all remember Cesena, right — that little Italian town you’d never heard of until one resident organised 1000 people to play a Foo Fighters cover in an attempt to entice the band to play a show there? Well, Foo Fighters this week made good on frontman Dave Grohl’s promise to play there, and it looks like it was an absolute riot from the few fan videos of the night that have surfaced online.

Among the many highlights, this was perhaps the funniest I’ve seen. ‘Mohawk Guy’, who is seen at the start of the Rockin’ 1000 clip smashing the first beat of the Learn To Fly cover, fulfilled every drummer’s dream by blagging his way on stage to dethrone Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins and play drums through the band’s cover of Under Pressure.

Grohl’s reactions are priceless, and as for Hawkins — well, who knew he had a voice?

Earlier in the night, Grohl also gave a cool speech in recognition of what the town had achieved in getting the band to their little town to play.

And play Foo Fighters most certainly did. The set consisted of a massive 27 songs, including a couple of covers. No doubt Hawkins was glad to take a break for one of them, because that is one hell of a workout for a drummer of his energy.

Here’s a reminder of what Rockin’ 1000 originally shot and posted back in July, a clip that has now received close to 25 million views on YouTube. What a great final chapter to a truly great story.

Anika Nilles releases Synergy vid

One of my favourite drummers at the moment, Anika Nilles, this week released the video for her new track Synergy. Her talent is more and more ridiculous. She’s got tremendous feel, chops, time, and her song-writing aint bad either, for her genre at least, which is a sort of instrumental jazz rock, I guess.

Anyway, you can check out the track, and her insane skills behind the kit, right below.

Back behind the kit

Drumming

Drumming

I’m off to see some guys about a band tomorrow, so I thought it would be an idea to get back behind the drum kit, since it’s been a few months since I last played. Work, holidays, plenty of other stuff has got in the way of it lately, so it was nice to have a bit of fun.

I also decided to make use of the GoPro my lady bought me for my birthday last year. I’ve barely used it, so it seemed like a good opportunity to give it a workout. I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. I tried as hard as I could not to move my head too much, to give a sense of how it feels. But I failed a little on that front, although I think the movement actually helps bring across some of the excitement I feel when playing.

Hope you like it. If you want the full Ra Ra Riot track I’m playing here, Too Dramatic, check out their iTunes page.

And if you’re interested in what I play, this is a Gretsch Renown, with selected Sabian cymbals. I use Gibraltar hardware and Vic Firth sticks. All the drum heads are Evans.

Why I was not jazzed about Whiplash

Whiplash

J.K. Simmons during a scene in Whiplash, with Miles Teller.

When I first saw the trailer for Whiplash last year, I’ll admit I was a little excited. Drums are my musical passion – I’ve played and annoyed the neighbours for more than 20 years – and jazz is a pleasure I indulge in from time to time. It looked interesting and it was original; not a true story or a remake, which is all too rare in the movie business these days. The ticks were plentiful.

Having seen the movie in full this week, I’ve got to say I was left a little flat. It didn’t leave me saying any of the things that scream out from its promotional poster: “Exhilarating, an extraordinary film, astounding, electrifying”. All I got in my bones was “disappointing”.

The film in itself is not terrible. It’s well acted in the lead roles, with Miles Teller in a breakout performance as student drummer Andrew Neimann. J.K. Simmons is evil, sadistic, and quite brilliant as his authoritarian band master, Terence Fletcher, but of the other characters, none stand out at all. It’s shot well enough, the editing is arguably the main highlight, but overall, the story is thin and, ultimately, unfulfilling.

From hereon in, I should warn you, there are spoilers coming up.

The basic story is simple – Neimann is a 19-year-old music student striving to be the next great, a-la his idol, Buddy Rich. He’s studying at the fictional Shaffer College, “the best in the country”, and is picked up along the way by brutal mentor Fletcher, who will stop at nothing to realise a student’s potential. Simple enough and in its original form as a short, I can see this concept working.

As a feature, though, it lacked a lot. There was little, if any, exploration of the characters, particularly the peripherals. Neimann’s family background was tickled, but not delved into. An incident involving another student’s mental abuse under Fletcher and eventual suicide popped up out of nowhere and was never really explained, and the ending is somewhat hollow. You’re not sure if Neimann is crazy, sick in the head, or finally finding happiness in being mentally and physically assaulted in the pursuit of musical perfection.

The music, it should be said, is magnificent. It makes for a great soundtrack. But I ended up with no empathy or sympathy for anyone, which is never a good payoff from a movie.

Director Damien Chazelle wrote the story from his own experiences as a student drummer. While he says the charactersation, particularly of Fletcher, is way beyond what he experienced, he claims to have been subjected to intense tuition of the kind that might put most of us off listening to, let alone playing, our favourite music.

And therein was my biggest problem with this picture. At no time did I ever feel like Neimann truly loved music. He never really talks about it with passion, except for one lighter scene when he’s on a first date with a female character whose name I forget and is essentially a pointless addition to the story. OK, OK, her name is Nicole, played by Melissa Benoist. She didn’t play the part badly, it was just an ordinary part to play.

His family have no interest in music, which also doesn’t help things, because you’re never quite sure why Neimann ever became so obsessed with it. Who was he bouncing things off? Nobody? I just found that hard to believe. He’s portrayed as a loner with no friends, and even his college mates have no time for him. Not one jam with buddies after hours is depicted, not one rehearsal with a side project. Most musicians find joy in collaboration, and as a drummer, it’s way more fun playing with a group than it is bashing away on your own, trust me.

The final scene sees Neimann defy Fletcher by hijacking his music contest performanc having been embarrassed moments earlier when the teacher springs a song on the band that Neimann doesn’t know. Fletcher, by this point, has been expelled from the school for his multitude of abuses – which surely wouldn’t have been tolerated anyway – and is running his own things with a group of musicians who are seemingly oblivious to his violent and feral charms.

I can’t even summarise the thrux of Whiplash because for me, it didn’t have one. It just told the story of a young kid, taken in by a nasty teacher and forever brought under his control. That’s it, in a nutshell. It’s a dark tale, which is fine, but it’s one that could perhaps have been told so much better. It felt like there was a lot of assumed knowledge, and Chazelle expected us to know the detail in his own head, without giving it up. Come on, man. We’re not telepathic.

I’m struggling to find the brilliance many critics appear to have discovered in this movie. It’s nomination for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay is a bit of a mystery to me, too. As a music and movie lover, I felt the promise the trailer offered was cruelly broken. It was like being offered to join the band of your dreams, only to find out you’ll be giving out flyers. Five out of 10, I’m afraid.

Anika Nilles hits the high notes

Anika Nilles

Anika Nilles … always lost in the music.

While surfing through some drumming videos the other night, I stumbled across Anika Nilles, a German drummer I’d not heard of before. I was pretty blown away with her playing. She’s got it all – chops, groove, impeccable timing and feel, and the ability to pen some pretty decent tunes. Here are a few for you to enjoy. Makes me want to get behind the kit pronto watching these!!

What i love about Anika’s playing, apart from the sheer and brilliant skill she displays, is that she does it with a smile on her face. Even in her more intense moments, you can see how in the music she is, and I love it when I see that in musicians. You honestly only see it in the best of them, and it’s a beautiful sight. I’ll be keeping an eye on Anika as she continues to drop more of her own material online. I’m really digging what I hear so far.

Song of the day – Mantra

Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and Trent Reznor doing it.

Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and Trent Reznor doing it.

There are too few words to explain how magnificent this is. Thanks to my good buddy Marcus for the tip-off. I could end up listening to this for months. It’s not often you get to see Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and Trent Reznor together, so relish this while you can. I know I will. It’s from the Sound City soundtrack, a film I’m dying to see.

And incidentally, you can stream the full soundtrack via NPR’s First Listen page, too. Happy days.

Song of the day – Shuffle

Bombay Bicycle Club is a band that has given me a lot of joy over the past few years. It started with the 2007 EP The Boy I Used To Be, which included the pounding raw wonder of Cancel On Me, a track I was obsessed with for months. That was followed by a couple of other EPs before the magic debut album I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose, which included the aforementioned track as well as another cracker in What If, which cemented drummer Suren de Saram in my mind as one to watch.

Since then things have moved on. They’ve matured into a staple Brit pop/rock band and the most recent record, A Different Kind Of Fix, is collection quite different to its predecessors. It’s perhaps less angry, more polished, but still carries the raw breed of sound I used to get from early Death Cab For Cutie with a little of the lush rock that characterised the Smashing Pumpkins’ earlier work – you remember, when they were good.

Anyway, I’m rambling. I saw Bombay Bicycle Club recently on their first trip to Australia, where they were touring with the mighty and magnificent Elbow. They held their own, and then some, and cracked me wide open when they blew the first single from A Different Kind Of Fix, Shuffle, from the house PA at the Hordern Pavilion. So here it is, live if a little less energy fuelled, from the BBC Studios, an apt place given the broadcaster’s matching acronym. It’s got a ripping bassline, and Suren de Saram excels as always. Enjoy it.

Ten drummers who inspire me

Since my accident, I haven’t been able to play drums. It’s kind of hard with a broken left hand, especially when you play left-handed, as I do. But I’m slowly getting better, air drumming to my favourite tunes at home and starting to realise I will play again soon.

So to inspire me, I took a trip through my YouTube “Drummers” folder and picked out 10 tub-thumpers that I love and that get me totally excited about playing again. I can’t wait, but I have to be patient. In the meantime, I’m figuring out parts in my head and letting them tick over, workshopping set-up and technique changes in my head, all before putting it into practice when I get back behind the kit and go nuts once again.

1. Josh Freese
Josh Freese is one of rock’s best. He’s been with Nine Inch Nails for a while now, which is where this clip is from. But he was better known for his work with A Perfect Circle before that. Anyway, here’s the 1993 single Wish, played live with NIN sometime during their last days of touring. Let’s hope they come back, preferably with Freese in the driving seat.

2. Jason McGerr
This guys is incredible. With a lot of jazz licks and grooves, he’s made Death Cab For Cutie a lot more eclectic since replacing Nathan Good in 2003, and big shoes to fill they were, too. Grapevine Fires, the track here, is one of my favourite parts. It’s not as simple as it sounds, with hi-hats and snare work that at first is beyond comprehension. His parts are truly unique, and he’s also a great mentor to many young drummers in the States at the Seattle Drum School, where I’d love to spend some time.

3. Jeff Porcaro (RIP)
One of the most famous shuffles in music was created by Porcaro for Toto’s classic hit Rosanna. It’s a masterpiece of a part. But he’s more versatile than that. He also put the pop grooves into Madonna’s Like A Prayer, and some of those parts are just brilliant. If you have it listen to Cherish, Till Death Do Us Part and Express Yourself (not the dance version) for the evidence. Porcaro died in 1997 after the insecticide he sprayed his garden with made him terminally sick. He was just 38. A bigger loss to music is hard to find. Here’s Rosanna for old time’s sake. What a part.

http://soundcloud.com/paulasecas/toto-rosanna

4. Jimmy Chamberlin
This guy is one of the first drummers I really listened to. He’s best known for his time in The Smashing Pumpkins, driving their best work through the 1990s. He’s since been doing a lot of other things, and has created a couple of sweet side projects. The Jimmy Chamberlin Complex has been my favourite of those. Here’s Life Begins Again from that outfit’s first record. What I love most about Jimmy’s playing is his relaxed style. He plays some of the most complex parts effortlessly, something I’ve always admired. The part in this track is out there awesome, especially in the breakdown. Listen carefully. His hands and feet are simply going crazy, but I guarantee he looked as chilled as anything when it was recorded.

5. Dave Grohl
Everybody knows Dave Grohl. Today’s he the frontman for Foo Fighters with a guitar, but he’s a far better drummer in my opinion. While his work with Nirvana was outstanding, I think his best work was on Nine Inch Nails’ With Teeth record, which blew me away. A classic drum track from this record is The Collector. It’s not a simple time to play, but the part is so structured it appears like it is. Just brilliant playing.

6. Carter Beauford
Dave Matthews Band would be nothing without Carter. I’ve seen him play live a few time, the first being in Salt Lake City at a free concert when I was working at the Olympic Winter Games in 2002. That night they played Tripping Billies from the Crash record of 1996, which was about when I started listening to them. Here he is playing it in the studio. Like Jimmy Chamberlin, he effortlessly plays the most intricate parts. Carter is what I’d call a musical drummer, in that you can just listen to him without any other instrumentation and enjoy every moment. That’s something I’ve definitely tried to pinch from him. His use of splashes and crazy fills helps that, but his hi-hat work is the key to it all. He plays open-handed, which is unusual but allows him to create some of the most crisp grooves I’ve ever heard.

7. Stewart Copeland
The Police was pretty much created by Stewart Copeland. Forget about Sting, this guy was the heart and soul of the band from the rhythms to the song-writing. He’s very loose live, but that’s part of his charm. Another great user of splash cymbals, Copeland was a massive influence on my playing when I first started taking drumming seriously in my early to mid-teens. Here’s a clip of him playing Wrapped Around Your Finger live which really gives you an appreciation of his percussive talents.

8. John Bonham (RIP)
There is no other word to describe John Bonham as than legend. The driving force behind Led Zeppelin, he inspired pretty much every modern-day rock drummer. Bonham was so cool, and his parts reflected that. He put the sexy into the band, never more so when he came up with the part for Black Dog, which just makes you want to grind your hips. Bonham died in 1980 aged just 32 in true rock star fashion – after a day of drinking copious amounts of booze at rehearsal, including a stack of vodka for breakfast.

9. Keith Moon (RIP)
He put the wildman into drumming and is perhaps the one reason why drummers are universally known as crazy men. Moon,like Bonham, also died aged 32 after overdosing on sedatives. His last words were to his girlfriend, but they weren’t “I love you”. In fact quite the opposite. He’d asked her to make him breakfast, she said no, so he said: “Well if you don’t like it, you can just fuck off.” Charming. But before that he laid down some spectacular drum parts for The Who, which never really recovered from his loss. Here’s one of my favourites, Who Are You, and it’s a great clip, taken from the studio with the drum part isolated. He was truly bonkers, but truly brilliant.

10. Sheila E
I had to put a woman in here, because they’re often forgotten in the drumming world. Sheila E is sexy, a wonderful drummer and one of the best musicians ever to play on a Prince record. That record was Purple Rain, arguably the one he is most famous for, which was released in 1984. Sheila still plays her own stuff, and sings too. She’s 53 now, but still looks amazing and plays better than ever, as this performance on Letterman this year proves. And for the record, I don’t know anyone else that can play in stilettos.

And to close, here’s a bonus – me playing live at The Basement in Sydney with my good friend Kristian Jackson. The is the title track off his debut album, Blood Eyes Sunrise. I also played on the record, and this launch was so fun. I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing this, but I couldn’t put all this down without including a clip of how all the above has made me the drummer I am today. I look forward to playing again, and to seeing all your happy faces when I do.