Interview with Drummer Ian Browne

I will set the scene … the place is Uncle Abe’s on Main Street, the people are Vancouver based drummer Ian Browne (Matthew Good Band, No Sinner, The Prettys) and myself,  the drink of choice is beer (the amount was substantial) and over the next couple hours we talk music. We cover such things as to what led Ian to playing the drums, jazz musicians, when MGB opened up for The Who and what he likes most about playing in The Prettys…

CG: What led you to playing your instrument? Have you always played drums or did you start with a different instrument?

IB: The first thing I ever did was sing, I sang in choirs before picking up any instrument. When I was in grade 8 I auditioned for school band hoping to play the drums but there were a lot of people that wanted to play drums. I ended up playing trombone, I played that for 5 years throughout High School.  At the same time I was learning how to play drums, basically teaching myself. I learned how to read music through playing the trombone.

CG: Have there been any drummers that you have studied intensively? Or even emulated when you first started?

IB: Absolutely. Right now I’m listening to Art Blakey, I’m currently playing in some big bands and doing sight reading and going back to my nerdy roots. Art just has a way of playing, I actually just wrote out some of his patterns with some of his Latin Mambo and Samba stuff that he did. I actually try and learn the patterns as they are really hip and jungle-ish. But when I was a teenager I was really into the Police, I was in a few bands where I tried to play like Stu Copeland. Mitch Mitchell is great. I went to school for music in college where I studied jazz, my record collection is probably a third of it is jazz. Jazz drummers are the ones I really like.

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Matthew Good Band

CG: Do you like Buddy Rich?

IB: I prefer Gene Krupa to Buddy Rich as far as drummers that come from that era.

CG: Did you ever get into Keith Moon?

IB: Yes, I like any drummer that has a personality. I’m a drummer but I’m really into sax players, singers, guitar players and bass players. Instead of emulating another drummer I would just try and be the right drummer for whatever it is I’m doing. My favourite drummers just adapted to whatever. Keith Moon was wild but then you had the bass player John Enwhistle who was so solid, inventive and amazing. From a playing perspective he was very flashy, incredibly precise, creative and busy. He rhythmically fills out the space perfectly.

CG: The Who are one of the greats.

IB: We (Matthew Good Band) actually opened up for the Who for two nights on the Quadrophenia tour.

CG: Nice! Did you get to hang out with them?

IB: Yes, we did.

CG: What was that like?

IB: Well Keith was already dead by then of course but John was still around and the drummer was Ringo Starr’s son. It was at Rogers arena and I believe it was 96’. I had never played an arena show at that point. We basically got thrown on stage opening for this huge audience, it was pretty insane.

CG: Playing a massive arena is one thing but then your also opening for The Who!

IB: I saw Pete Townsend briefly but Roger Daltry was very approachable.

CG: Any songs that you find difficult to play? Like say a Zeppelin song?

IB: Ya sure..Zeppelin..nobody can play anything by Zeppelin and make it sound right. I’ve never really heard anybody do it justice, not even John Bonham’s son. I feel like Samba is the hard stuff, these clave rhythms, up tempo Latin music. I find that stuff challenging. I listen to jazz, bebop, Mingus records and music that was recorded in the late 50s that blow my mind from a technical stand point.

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No Sinner

CG: Those old recordings are so raw.

IB: The musicianship is insane.

CG: There was no place to hide. What you heard is what you got right?

IB: Exactly. If you wanted to play with Miles Davis or John Coltrane …

CG: Or James Brown! If you messed up he would fine you!

IB: Like $50 or something…hahaha!

CG: Yes..lol! Don’t even bother showing up if you question your abilities whatsoever.

IB: Those guys are top level, especially Miles Davis’ band. If you were in his band it’s because he thought you were the best. Miles’ drummer Tony Williams is my absolute favourite drummer, he is just totally gifted, he can play a ride symbol and know that it’s him. He had an incredible swing and was very inventive. He could solo and it would be really interesting. An unbelievable exquisite player. That music is so cerebral and the highest level of music. They would record an album and they hadn’t even rehearsed!

CG: And it’s a masterpiece.

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IB: It’s like Kind of Blue, they never rehearsed any of the songs. It’s a perfect album and there are a lot of Miles Davis records that are just so good.

CG: Have you ever had any weird fan moments? Or groupie encounters?

IB: Sure. How much do you want to know? Hahaha..it wasn’t something I was really into. I was into the music. But when those moments happened sometimes it was fun because who doesn’t like to have that kind of attention. But I’ve always hated strip clubs and that rock star mentality.

CG: Ok, fair enough. Artists that you would love to work with.

IB: Prince. I’m super chocked that he passed. I thought he was going to be around still for a while. He was on the top of his game. As for living artist, that’s hard because so many people have died recently. That’s tough, I can’t think of anyone at the moment.

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The Prettys

CG: What do you like most about playing in The Prettys?

I like that the three core guys in the group are all songwriters and sing on each others songs. They like to rehearse, we work a lot on harmonies and arrangements. They are funny, talented and easy to be around which makes a huge difference. I’ve been in bands where it hasn’t been that fun and wasn’t that easy. We have a good time but we are also serious about rehearsing and making good music.  We are trying to make the weirdest stuff at the highest level that we possibly can. It’s quite experimental in a lot of ways. They are willing to experiment in ways that a lot of people that I have played with haven’t been.

CG: I do get a sense of a lot of fun.

IB: When I’m playing with The Prettys people are having a good time and their smiling, no one is trying to impose their artistic vision. The music we make is more like party music but some of the lyrics can be quite dark.

CG: What’s happening in the near future for you? What do you have planned?

IB: I’m planning on pushing the envelope with what I can do. The drums are kind of a bit boring for me. It’s the instrument that I can play the best so it makes things easy.

CG: So you want to challenge yourself.

IB: Yes, I can read music really well and I’ve been composing music for a number of years. I always had more potential to be a singer and a contributor in all aspects of songwriting. What’s calling me right now is writing, singing, playing guitar and piano, learning more about chord progressions and arranging.  I’m trying to realize my true potential because I feel like I took an easy road. I ended up being a good drummer in other peoples bands but it may not have been the best thing for me artistically. I could have developed my own voice a little more.

CG: Well you’re doing it now. Better late than never right?

IB: When you want to have a voice in a room full of people who write songs you want to show them not only that you are able to do it but that you can do it at a high level. And that’s what I’m doing.

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