Doane Perry Interview
A Few Words With...Doane Perry
Since 1984, with the exception of 1 tour, Doane Perry has been Jethro Tullís man on the throne. A melodically percussive drummer, and a soft spoken, thoughtful man, Perry sat down with ProgSheet to talk about Tull, the world, and many points between!
PS: Having worked before and during Tull with a wide scope of artists from Bette Midler to Peter Allen to Liza Minnelli, what did you bring from that into working in a situation like Tull?
DP: Well also you have to remember there was that kind of stuff that I did, I also played a lot of jazz, a lot of big band, orchestral music. Growing up, I started with piano and playing classical music and that was all I really heard around the house is classical and jazz. I didnít know anything about pop music or rock music until the Beatles came along. That was my early musical education. Growing up I played in orchestras, played rock, jazz, big bands, small bands, combos, there was a lot of fusion music going on, I played lots of ethnic music, blues, R&B. All the ethnic music that was in New York at the time, so I got a really good background in playing, and I liked all of it. So in a way I felt that all the preparation which was really quite an eclectic blend of influences that I have, all of that really prepared me for Jethro Tull. In a way it draws on all of those things. Within an evening of Jethro Tull music, obviously to greater or lesser degrees, depending on what kind of music weíre playing. If weíre playing more the Divinities music, it might be more orchestral in nature, some of the more recent things have a more Middle Eastern feel to them. I love that sort of music too. Iím glad that I actually have this wonderful platform in a way, to be able to utilize all of my musical interests and training. Thatís very rare in groups that you have all of these things kind of living side by side. Somehow it works, I donít know how or why exactly it works but it does in our music. For me that was a great training ground unbeknownst to me at the time for joining Jethro Tull. If I did not have that diversity in my background, I think I would find it much more difficult to do some of these things.
PS: With the exception of a few dates with Matthew Pegg you have worked with two bass players in Jethro Tull - Dave Pegg and Jonathan Noyce. What have they each brought into the band and brought out of you dynamically?
DP: Well, theyíre both great bass players but theyíre both very different. Dave Pegg is an incredible bass player who also plays mandolin and has a very linear way of playing and he also played with a pick. He could bring this very kind of articulated linear way of playing, he wasnít just a root fifth bass player - not that John is - but his playing would be came from a very folk and Celtic background and Fairport and all that. So it naturally lent itself to a lot of the Jethro Tull music. And I donít know that I would play necessarily that much different, but the way I interact with all the members of the band, itís not like the basic drums in Jethro Tull provide a certain function within the engine room of Tull. Iím interacting as much with flute lines, vocal lines, melody lines, guitar lines, keyboard lines, as I am with the bass. Itís not just the bass and drums and then everything else laid on top. Itís kind of a richly textured interwoven tapestry and we all play off each other. Sometimes Dave and I would be playing together other times we would be playing counter to each other. And itís really the same with John in the way I play with him, because our roles in Jethro Tull are sort of all relating to different things within the music at the same time. Johnís playing probably comes more from a R&B and a jazz background and so he brings a different sound sonically to the low end. Because Iíve played a lot of that music as well, when we play that kind of stuff weíll really dig in together on those kind of tunes; but thereís other places where weíre definitely playing the counterpoint. They both are wonderful bass players to play with. Iíve always loved playing with Dave, he has great feel and tone, great sense of melody. John has this kind of jazz sense he brings and a kind of groove conscious R&B feel at the same time. Theyíre very different players.
I think it wouldíve been a mistake to try to find someone who played like Dave Pegg to replace Dave, because really you want all the individuals to bring what they naturally bring in their role and their function within the band to it. Their identity. John has his own identity and it fits in just as well in a different way. But they both have a great kind of relaxed way of playing, which is really important. Particularly when youíre playing complex music I think that you have to have a sense of being quite relaxed with it. Especially things where thereís a lot of odd meters and tempo changes and feel changes, itís got to really have a flow and a groove to it. I think there is an element of trying to combine that natural feel with playing music that has all these unusual elements that are encompassed within the music of Jethro Tull. Itís not easy finding people who can do that. And you donít want to find yourself counting and doing that kind of thing. When weíre learning music thatís older music I always try to learn the melody of the whole thing, the frame work and that way I can also play in a more linear way as opposed to just blocks and patterns. That really helps me keep my place when I can sing wherever I am. Thatís the key I think in a way to dealing with a lot of odd time signatures.
PS: I remember seeing in your role as the ďnew guyĒ on the Under Wraps tour. Now you have the 3rd longest tenure in the bandÖ
DP: Yeah, I think thatís right. Ian, Martin and then I guess myself. Yeah it doesnít seem like that long, and it seems like itís gone by fairly quickly and when I think of some of the other members of the band who made substantial contributions and they were in a short time, I think ďMy goodness that all was in such a compressed time period.Ē And yet when I look at it in one way I think yes thereís a lot of events, a lot of concerts, a lot of things have happened. And in another way, itís gone by incredibly quickly, I donít know where itís gone. I think a lot of people feel that way just about things in their life and suddenly you know 20, 25, 30 years have passed.
PS: On several occasions, Tull has been accompanied live by an orchestra. In that situation, is it a case of playing along with the orchestra or are you just playing as you normally would and they fit in around the band?
DP: Well they really have to play along with us in this sense. In the sense that Iím kind of the conduit between the band and the orchestra because I have to communicate with the conductor. The conductor communicates with the orchestra and Iím communicating with him and the band. So the link between the conductor and myself is very important to be able to make sure he understands the time feel and the tempo that we are establishing. Which they have to follow, they donít set it, we set it and they follow it. But there are obviously things that are going to be very different in terms of the way weíve arranged things. Itís just, there are some things when we are playing, more or less our band arrangements with just the orchestra around us, thereís other pieces that are gonna be very very different.
PS: In recent years it seems Tull is becoming more of a live band that sometimes does recordings rather than a band that does recordings and supports that with live work.
DP: Uh huh. I think maybe it was a little more equal in years past and I think in the last 15 or 20 years thereís obviously been longer periods of time that go by between records. I think most bands and artists experience this. In the 60ís and 70ís you were obliged to have a record and tour and have another record and tour. Often weíve done several tours on the back of one record, theyíll be in different territories, but there can be much more of a substantial period of time that goes between. You also have to remember there is a huge catalog of music to draw upon. I think something now like over 300+ recorded pieces of music. In order to try to have a look into every era, itís difficult. And not to say, thatís not really the reason the band doesnít have more of a recorded output recently, but weíre always working, weíre always playing and I think thatís just the nature of the way the music business is. Itís not necessarily every 6 months or a year that albums are coming out. People would be surprised if you did.
PS: Well is it a case of also is there less desire in the band to record as frequently, or is it just ďWeíre doing this stuff and weíre having fun doing this so this is what weíre focusing on?Ē
DP: No I think as long as Ian is writing, and feels he has a meaningful contribution to make in terms of making an album, we will always record. But how often or not that is will really be down to that. No, thereís not a feeling, thereís never been a feeling of we donít want to record. But also tours are much longer than they used to be, it used to be tours were much shorter in length. I think on the 25th anniversary tour, we toured the world over a period of 18 months, then we needed a few months off. Suddenly thatís 2 years that have passed. This is the nature of touring. Touring has opened up all over the world, into new territories. In the past that English and American bands primarily toured in America and Europe and that was it.
PS: Nowadays, it seems that Tull explores ever more obscure parts of the world to bring music to. It must be a rewarding experience as a musician to bring something to a place where most people would seldom even consider being able to visit in their lifetime.
DP: It is, without a doubt very gratifying to go to a place weíve never played and actually have a lot of people to turn up. Thatís quite amazing, quite a luxury in a way, that weíre able to do that. I think the band has been afforded that luxury through very hard work over the years, and probably word of mouth about concerts and things like that. One of the few places we have not played is in China, weíve played in Hong Kong but thatís as close as weíve got. We just played recently in Russia, really live for the first time. So I imagine weíre gonna go back there, thatís a huge country thatís opening up. I think people are just so pleased, a lot of times when we would go to these places, just the fact that we were turning up they couldnít believe, so weíd already won half the battle just by showing up. People rarely if ever went there so they were just pleased that we were there in person. Then I suppose after the initial novelty wears off and more and more people go to these places there will be less of that feeling on their part. In China, if people really know about us, what they know about us is through the black market there and maybe people are buying our records and we have no idea. It was a bit like that the first time we went to India. You really donít know what you sell, we know that through the black market over the years we have sold a lot of records in these territories, where the option of being able to buy a record at full price versus $1.50 or $2 for the black market item, in these peoples minds is no contest - they donít have a lot of money.
PS: When you go around the world and youíre going from the hotel to the arena or what have you, do you get a chance to absorb the area? Are you too busy or do you get to absorb the culture and whatís going on?
DP: I have to say, not that much, not as much perhaps as when I was younger. But that all is down to if we get there early enough or have a day off. Working days start kind of early for us, if weíre traveling on the gig day, we might leave in the morning and we might get there by mid day or a little after, have some time for some lunch, maybe make a couple phone calls or do some interviews or whatever it is or just rest for Ĺ hour or hour and then we have sound check. Then all the ramping up time to the gig. That doesnít leave very much time unless you have a day off somewhere. So, though Iíve been around the world quite a number of times, there are a lot of places that I mark for later that Iíd like to come back to that I didnít get to see very much. I was there, but I didnít get to see all that much because sometimes weíre in and out of there very quickly and I think youíll find that to be a common experience with a lot of musicians. They go to all these exotic places, but touring schedules rarely permit lots of down time and leisure time to go off and sight see. Occasionally, if you go half way around the world to India for the first time or Africa or wherever, it might be kind of an exotic place youíve never been, you try to make the time, you just carve out a little bit every day to see something special.
PS: If I were to pop into any of those countries what would you say is the one that is the least like what someone in America would be used to, would find totally alien?
DP: Well to the extent that, most countries weíve played in have been westernized to a degree, I would say no, nothing that is diametrically opposed. But, we havenít played in Somalia - now that would probably be diametrically opposed. Iím sure many places on that continent, there are probably places in India that would be diametrically opposed but we played in places that were kind of capitol cities, and we stayed in fairly western type hotels. I mean even India was very different, just wonderful, but I wouldnít say that it was diametrically opposed, because obviously the West has made itís influence felt there. But conversely, I must say that I really enjoy the first time that we were playing for Perestroika in the former Eastern Bloc countries, because they were really untarnished by the West for better or worse. They would probably say for worse, because they probably prefer it now. In a lot of ways they were culturally, it was more fascinating and so different even if the food was lousy. It was completely different to the way it is now, where thereís neon signs everywhere and Gap stores and McDonalds.
PS: It happens quickly.
DP: It happens very quickly. Iím sure for them itís a better quality of life, but Iím glad we got to see some of these places before the big changes took place.
PS: You mentioned before that the band has over 300 songs at this point. When a tour is put together, who decides and how is it decided what youíre playing on that tour?
DP: Well, obviously the first thing is that itís got to be something that Ian feels he can comfortably sing. We always rehearse more material than we play. We always have a number of things in our back pocket that we can pull out a moments notice. A lot of times suggestions were thrown into the hat, ďOh Iíd like to, hereís sort of a wish list of songs,Ē itíll get pared down. But inevitably, unless itís instrumental stuff, it will be things that Ian feels he can comfortably sing and that he feels he can make a connection with these days. Certain things work really well on record but never work live for some reason. Even recent material weíve recorded works well in the studio, but for whatever reason just doesnít quite make it live. Also, weíll rehearse things and weíll all think this will be a great one to play and then we play it and think this doesnít sound so good.
PS: Is there been anything that been on the definite no no list, weíre never ever going to hear that?
DP: No, we never put it that way. I donít think weíve ever said weíll never play this. Thereís things that it would be unlikely, I mean we havenít done much from Passion Play , because itís hard to kind of pull excerpts from that, itís easier to pull things from Thick As A Brick than it is from Passion Play. Iím sure there are many fans who would love to hear us play all of Passion Play and all of Thick As A Brick . That only represents a few years in the life of Jethro Tull. Itís kind of important that we represent the spectrum of music from the beginning to the most recent incarnation of Jethro Tull. In that sense we try to be reasonably democratic about every era getting a look in.
PS: Weíll wrap up with the question I ask everyone. What are 6 albums you never get tired of listening to?
DP: You mean just any record?
PS: Yeah, anything!
DP: Ok, ummÖ.the first one would have to be Ralph Vaughan Williams , it would have to be Variations On A Theme by Thomas Tallis. That would be one. Let me see, thereís a Joe Zawinal Syndicate album, I was a big Weather Report fan, and this is called World Tour - I loved that album. I love Joe Zawinal and really almost anything by Weather Report . The same could be said about the Mahavishnu Orchestra , certainly all the Beatles records. I couldnít say, Iíd have to say the Beatles - that would be hard to pick one. Probably a lot of Miles Davis from mid 60ís to mid 70ís, I love that period. Willy Porter , whoís opened for us, heís got one of my favorite albums ever called Falling Forward . I listen to that quite a lot. Thatís a beautiful record. Thereís so many, I mean thatís a really unfair question because I listen to this crazy eclectic kind of music and like so manyÖJames Taylor - Never Die Young , thatís one of my favorites. I was a closet Olivia Newton John fan which is gonna horrify a lot of Jethro Tull fans, but I loved her production and I loved her songs. Very good craftsmanship, I mean for pop music, really really dug that stuff. Nik Kershaw was another. I love Sting , I love the Police .
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