Interview with Liz Is Evil’s Jay Bagnall

Jay Bagnall is fast becoming one of the most respected drummers in Ireland.  Best known for his part in Punk rockers Liz Is Evil, and for reclaiming the drum solo. Liz Is Evil’s debut album ‘Failed Philosophy’ appeared in Dan Hegarty’s list of Top Irish Albums of 2010. While more recently they have opened for  The Beat.  We caught up with him to talk about all things Evil, and all things drum.

TT: What attracted you to the drums in the first place?

JB: “When I was younger, I was just attracted to the idea of hitting things, didn’t matter what it was. Chairs, tables, trees….I just hit them. When I saw a drum kit for the first time, I was just astounded at how big they were, I didn’t even know what each drum was called……I was just allowed to hit them. From then on, I knew I wanted to play drums.”

TT: How old where you when you first picked up the sticks?

JB: “I was probably 6, or 7 when I got my first drum kit for Christmas. I remember before I had my first kit, being allowed into a friends’ house to play drums after school every so often. It was great, I couldn’t even reach the kick pedal at the time! I’m glad I got to start young, it helped immensely.”

TT: Did it come naturally to you?

JB: “I remember being able to play the intro to “Paradise City” fairly good when I picked up sticks for the first time. As I said, I used to hit and tap things all the time, so rhythm came naturally to me. I used to dance alot when I was a kid too, so that probably helped my overall sense of timing, and rhythm in general. My Mam and Dad got me a bigger kit two weeks after they got me my first one, so I must have been doing something right!”

TT: Who were your original influences?

JB: “When I was younger, my Mam and Dad used to play all sorts of music in the house. From pop, to rock, to punk, to dance music. So musically, I had a mixed bag of influences to start off with. The first drummer I remember being truly inspired by was Animal from The Muppets. I remember watching an episode, and just being awestruck that a puppet could play drums! Seriously though, the first drummer that inspired me would probably have been Steven Adler from G’n’R. I loved the sound of the drums on Appetite, even as a kid who hadn’t a clue about sound, or drumming in general. I remember just drumming along to anything I could when I was younger. I used to do a lot of air drumming too, which helped. Later influences when I got a little older would have been John Otto, Chad Smith, Dave Silveria and most of the rock and metal drummers of the 90’s. Now that I’m a little older, I listen to all sorts of music, so drummers like Buddy Rich, Steve Smith, Tony Williams, and Neil Peart have really opened my eyes to a lot of things.”

TT: What was the first album/song you bought was it purely for the drumming?

JB: “I remember buying Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish album when I started getting pocket money….I was blown away by their drummer John Otto and what he could do. That was the first album I’d bought, and owned, when I was around 13 or 14. I didn’t really need to buy a lot of music when I was younger, my folks had tonnes of music in the house for me to listen to. I’d just go through what they had, pop it on, and drum all day.”

TT: What was the first gig you attended?

JB: “My Mam used to sing in a band when she was younger. I used to get to go to her gigs, which was great, because I was allowed to mess around on the drums when they weren’t playing. But the first gig I attended, on my own, was Ozzfest back in ’02. It was such an amazing experience, to see all of my favourite bands and drummers in one huge, big festival. That gig showed me how loud, and proud you could play drums.”

TT: What was the name of your first band and were you any good?

JB: “Wow….The first band I formed was a band called Alloy’d when I was around 12. It was a metal band. It was me, and my friend Chris on guitar. We thought we were amazing, I remember having decent chops back then, but not enough to play really heavy metal, which is what I was beginning to get into at that age. We eventually let my brother Lee in to play. We got progressively better once we started jamming more frequently. I still play in that band to this day. We’ve come a long way since rehearsing in my bedroom all those years ago.”

TT: When and where did you play your first gig?

JB: “I was asked by a friend of mine’s older brother to join a band with him. They used to do cover songs, and a few originals. My first gig with them was when I was maybe…..13 or 14, in Eamonn Dorans. That was around 11 years ago now. I started gigging when I was younger, I was lucky to be asked to join bands that had musicians that were older than me. I remember doing a drum solo at one of my Mams gigs’ when I was really young too. Can’t remember how old I was though.”

TT: Was there a eureka moment when you said this is what I want to do for a living?

JB: “When I used to rehearse in my bedroom as a kid, I used to play as loud as I could so everyone on the road could hear me. I used to hope that someone would hear me and think I was good enough to join a band, so there was never really a eureka moment. The desire has always been there, ever since I had my first kit. I wanted to be a drummer, making a living from it or not, I knew I just wanted to do it.”

TT: How many bands have you been in before and how many are you currently in?

JB: “I honestly can’t put a number on how many bands I’ve been in. I’ve been very lucky in that so many people have asked me to play in bands with them. I’ve always been juggling bands since I started gigging, I prefer it that way. If you’re not busy, you’re bored, as far as I’m concerned. Currently, I’m playing in 5 bands, Liz Is Evil, IAmACarCrash, Alloy’d, The Nom Nom Noms, and one unnamed covers band. Some rehearse and gig more than others, so it’s not too bad juggling between them. I enjoy drumming, so any chance I get to play, I’m all over it.”

TT: Are you a drum whore then?

JB: “That’s something I’ve been called many, many times, among other things……”

TT: What did you learn from each of the experiences?

JB: “In each band I’ve been in, I’ve taken something from it. Whether it’s how to play odd time signatures, how to hit harder (or softer….), or even the business side of the music industry, I’ve taken something away from each and every gig, rehearsal, and experience with a band. I’m like a sponge, I just soak up as much information as I possibly can when I’m drumming, or watching another drummer, or musician, play.”

TT: Do you drum in your sleep or have drumming dreams?

JB: “People always tell me to stop drumming, or tapping when I’m not behind a kit….it’s infectious. It’s a serious problem that I have, I can’t help it. I have had some weird drumming dreams, and woken up saying ‘Damn……I need help!’. Drumming is such a huge part of my life, that I’d be a little worried if I didn’t have dreams about it now and then.”

TT: What is your favourite drum beat and why?

JB: “I absolutely love the simplicity of Come Together by The Beatles, but then again love the ferociousness and complexity of Danny Carey’s drum solo in Forty Six and Two, by Tool. My favourite though, would have to be John Otto’s drumming on Re-Arranged by Limp Bizkit. His feel, and pocket on that song are unparallelled in my opinion. He throws ghost notes all over the place, displaces the beat here and there. To this day I’m still awestruck by it. There are plenty of other beats that I love, but I would honestly be all day talking about them.”

TT: Who is your favourite drummer and why?

JB: “John Otto, without a doubt. He’s been a huge inspiration on me. I love other drummers like Gavin Harrison, Joey Jordison, Stewart Copeland……I listen to any drummer who can play well, and knows what they’re doing, even if I don’t particularly like the song.”

TT: Do you play and other instruments?

JB: “I’m learning how to play guitar, and bass at the moment. I can play a tiny bit of keyboard too. I have a good understanding of chords, and scales, I just haven’t been able to put them into practice yet. I do a little singing too.”

TT: Are you a frustrated songwriter?

JB: “Absolutely. I have so many ideas in my head, but can’t quite communicate them just yet. Someday, I’ll be able to write, and perform my own song.”

TT: Will we ever see you do a Dave Grohl and front a band or solo project?

JB: “That is something I’d be very interested in doing. I love Dave Grohl, and his approach to music, and drumming. He’s fantastic. One of my biggest inspirations, also.”

TT: Why is drumming dismissed by the mass media when it is one of most important components in popular music?

JB: “I think drummers get a bad wrap because in some regards we’re still considered ‘just the drummer’. I’m very lucky, in that I rarely get treated that way. If you think about it, songs like Sunday, Bloody Sunday, or Give It Away Now wouldn’t be the songs they are without those memorable drum intro’s. I think the drums in a song are just as important as the melody. You dance, and tap along to a song just as much as you would hum, or sing it. I hate the idea that good drumming doesn’t get as much respect as a really catchy hook. I love catchy lyrics, and great melodies, but when people tell me that the drums in a song aren’t nearly as important as everything else, it gets on my nerves. Drummers don’t get treated as bad now though, I guess. There’s plenty of drummers out there fronting bands now, I love knowing that the front man of a band is a drummer, or that the drummer is the focus of a band. That being said, I don’t think drumming is the only part of music I love, I just don’t like when people disregard it as something that can be done by a machine, or that anyone can play drums.”

TT: Have you done much session work and are you available for session work?

JB: “I’ve done a few sessions here and there, and I most certainly am available for work. I get called on to do live gigs, or reherse with bands, and help with arrangements of songs. I’d love to do more recording work though.”

TT: Who would you like to work with then?

JB: “Anyone who’ll have me. That’s the honest to God’s truth.”

TT: What advice would you give any budding drummers?

JB: “Stay fit is one priority I can’t stress enough, especially if you’re a rock drummer. If you don’t have the stamina to play then you’re leaving yourself short, because you can’t devote your full energy into the music. Practice, practice, practice! The great thing about drumming is that you can literally practice anywhere, anytime. Don’t listen when people tell you to stop tapping. Build your drumming repertoire by listening to as much music as you can, and bring it into your style. Just be yourself when you play, don’t try and play like anyone else, because you aren’t them, you’re you. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t play a particular song, or beat, always know that you will eventually be able to do it, it just takes time. I could go on all day talking about this, but one thing that I’d say to anyone who wants to play drums – LISTEN to the musicians around you, and don’t let your ego get in the way of the music. Oh, and look after your ears, believe me……”

TT: Whats happening next with Liz is Evil?

JB: “At the moment, we’re promoting our album ‘Failed Philosophy’ which is available in stores, and on iTunes now. We have a few gigs lined up for March, and April. Check out our Facebook page for dates, and venues. Hope to see you there!”

http://breakingtunes.com/lizisevil for further details

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