Why are drummers so hot
Interview Jost Nickel 2007: How it all began
Photo: Robert Hurasky
With Jost Nickel, after exactly 10 years, we meet a German top drummer again, who gave this magazine his first interview back in 1997 and at that time achieved so precisely and virtuoso in such different areas as "fusion music" and "Schlager accompaniment" that they wanted him to be widely recognized.
In 2007, his everyday professional life was both successful and varied: In addition to major live gigs with Jan Delay & Disko No. 1 and Mousse T. he is active in international studio productions, teaches as a lecturer at the Popakademie Mannheim, the Hamburg School Of Music and the "Popkurs" (contact course in popular music) at the Hamburg University of Music and Theater and has recently become a producer and co-owner of a Hamburger Recording studios active. In autumn 2007 Jost will also play an extensive workshop tour for Sonor.
... back then, in 1997, the “Matalex” live CD with trumpeter Randy Brecker was released and we were full of energy after having been on the road with very good energy and very successfully for a few years. For business reasons, vocals should be added, and that is often the end of any instrumental music band. Thomas D. from Fanta 4 sang a song on the next studio CD, but for me it wasn't really conclusive anymore.
I wanted to make music with vocals again, which was originally made for it. The colleagues soon saw it similarly, and the band fell asleep quietly. In Hamburg, where I live, I became a permanent member of a rock trio with German lyrics, and we received an advance payment from a large publisher to secure our livelihood for a year. Free in our time management, the daily rehearsal meeting became a classic: we agreed to meet at eleven o'clock, we were all there at twelve o'clock, but first with a bag of rolls for breakfast. I didn't like this role as a band musician that much, I also wanted to really work on music or go to practice for myself.
Ultimately, this project didn't turn out well, but I didn't want to play any more Schlager tours like I did before with Vicky Leandros or Tony Christie. Then I played for some time with Inga Rumpf, a great singer who is particularly well known in northern Germany, a gospel program that was played on a tour in many German churches. Working with people who want to put their own song material on stage has always interested me most.
When I had a showcase with a singer in Lübeck, I got to know someone who was very important to me: Mark Smith, producer and singer. He recommended me for a pop production in Paris, and there I was able to approach and party with great virtuosity, that is, deliver virtuoso fills and play interesting grooves - the perfect synthesis for me, which is very popular there. To this day I have recorded some very large productions, even had an apartment in Paris for a while and always worked regularly in the Paris studio scene! Artists, with whom I worked, such as Jenifer, Maxim Nucci or Linkup, are not known here in Germany, conversely, the French only know Rammstein and now Tokio Hotel.
What is the production like in France?
Jost Nickel: Up until 2003 everything was absolutely professional and “big”. In the morning, for example, we recorded bass and drums for a song, while the strings were recorded in London, the recordings of which were then sent by courier to Paris, where they were integrated into the ongoing production. I shared the work with Abe Laboriel Jr. for one album. In the meantime, because of the collapsed CD market, savings have to be made there too, which is why fewer productions are made and live musicians are used less often.
How did you get into the German pop scene?
Jost Nickel: In 2004 I got the offer to play live in Germany with Mousse T. and his great singers like Andrew Roachford or Omar. I had known Mousse T. for some time from Hanover and I also liked his work: honest pop music that doesn't pretend it's more than it actually is. Not demanding, but danceable - and above all authentic! Most of what is successful over a longer period of time, in my opinion, depends on the authenticity of the musician.
And now you're creating the right groove at Disko No.1, Jan Delay's band!
Jost Nickel: Ten years ago I wanted to make pop music that I really like. Now I'm playing with a singer whose music I've been listening to myself for a long time. And best of all, the way I play matches Jan's music perfectly. My focus is of course on the beats, but I also have my freedom and can unpack a little.
My impression is that you enrich the music with tasteful and sometimes virtuoso fill-ins. Do you prepare this for yourself?
Jost Nickel: First of all, thank you for the compliment. In general, I've been practicing lately in such a way that I never practice fills from the “1” to the next “1”. Instead, I imagine, for example, that the fill has to start on the "4" and on the next "3" there is a "stop", or that a fill should start on "1 and", and with a horn accent on the "4e" concludes. So I prepare musical things that can actually occur for myself, because not everything that I would like to play I can just shake out of my sleeve live. A kind of “fill repertoire” has developed in Jan Delay's program. If I have the feeling that it is getting boring here, that something else has to be found, then I try something new. Sometimes I do fills for a spot or two on the set that I haven't played live before. However, that should never be a priority. The most important thing is always the groove!
How did you come to Disko No.1?
Jost Nickel: Well, actually our trombonist Johnny Johnson doesn't like it that I tell the story so often, but when the band was rehearsing and wasn't really satisfied with their drummer, he approached me, played me music and gave me up Time the band suggested. Then I did a real audition. I received and prepared three titles at short notice on a Sunday and was in the rehearsal room at eight o'clock in the evening. We played the song “Klar” and two other songs twice each, then the band left the room and Jan sat down in front of me and said with his typical, nasal voice: “Yes, that's rough!”, Which was a good thing for him is a big compliment and means something like “This is very good.” Then he told me exactly what he would expect from me, what appointments are already due and what fees are being paid. I thought that was great because everything was immediately clear. He offered me time to think about it, but I accepted spontaneously. It was only after two days that I realized what a big thing I had gotten into and briefly doubted whether I would even want to commit myself so much to a project.
How did you go into the audition in terms of playing technique?
Jost Nickel: I played almost no or only rudimentary fills, and I concentrated on the tempo of the songs. When I play, I always concentrate most of all: playing the right tempo for the respective song!
By using a "click" the pace is already predetermined ...
Jost Nickel: At Jan Delay I play without a click. Jan wants it that way because he doesn't want to be “in chains”, as he says. I brought it up for TV appearances, to be honest, so as not to have to bear the responsibility alone: The classic, a show like "TV-Total" ... you arrive in the morning, then play 3 minutes in the evening and of course you want to be good deliver. But Jan thinks it is absolutely unnecessary, so I play without a click. I actually prefer it a lot because then I don't have to do so much while playing to keep the band on the go, and it's a very organic thing. Of course, my aim is to drum in such a way that you could think the band always plays with the metronome, even though they don't and I just get the song tempo from the metronome before counting down.
When I see bands playing live that play completely to the click, I sometimes wonder what kind of personal timing the drummer has. I care, but I won't know by the end of the show because the urge for absolute perfection prevents it. The tour in February / March this year played like in halls with a size of 1500 - 4000 spectators, so we almost always had a “full house”. This tour was a lot of fun, it was really amazing! I think it's a good mix of great music ... fat brass sections, great background vocals ... and a good stage show. In addition, Jan is a guy with a real attitude that he expresses in his texts. He wants to convey a certain attitude towards life and also has spontaneous and natural wit on stage, absolutely authentic!
In July we already rehearsed new songs for the next studio album. It is planned that the band will record the songs, but it is also possible that Jan Delay, as with the first album, takes the liberty of replacing what has been played with what has been programmed. However, we are very much involved as a band, so bass player Ali Busse and I listened to the three recorded concerts for the live CD and suggested the selection of tracks. Jan is a great boss because he lets the band decide democratically and accepts to be outvoted. Everyone in the band feels recognized and has the feeling that they can make a difference. So everyone is fully motivated and the atmosphere on the way to the gig is great.
How does the tour preparation work?
Jost Nickel: A few days in a good rehearsal room had to be enough. Since summer 2006 there have been constant single gigs or tour sections, so we only rehearse to practice new songs. I'm actually for longer rehearsals, much like Phil Collins, who rehearses up to three months before a tour. Or Christina Aquilera's drummer, whose support act we were, told me that her two weeks of rehearsals were only for one new guitarist! The man will be in top shape and absolutely prepared! With a lot of rehearsals you don't have to think anymore, all parts and accents are just right and making music is much less rational.
You played at many big festivals this summer ...
Jost Nickel:… yes, and we had the biggest ones right from the start, namely “Rock am Ring” and “Rock im Park”. Playing in front of 50,000 people who are all moving to the music is just a lot of fun, especially when you sound as good as I am often told. In smaller halls, however, the public contact is more direct, it's hot on the stage, you can look people in the eye and thus have more direct contact.
What do you need on stage to feel good?
Jost Nickel: The most important thing to me is that I have a good sound. I am well equipped with Sonor and Meinl equipment and work with people who absolutely identify with their products and who are fully committed to the musician. With Jan Delay, the rhythm section at the back plays completely with monitor boxes, while the singers and wind players at the front rely on in-ear monitoring. In other projects where click and loops are involved, I also play with in-ear. However, the monitor mixer then has to be a real checker. He has to give us applause via ambience mics, sometimes “drive” in terms of sound technology and always be active, because you are so isolated from the spatial sound on stage.
Otherwise I like to have headphones through which I can hear the click and wedges on the floor. Often I am the first point of contact for record companies or management companies for the live implementation of a CD and then always insist that a backliner is there. This is sometimes perceived as too expensive a luxury, but it is necessary. And you shouldn't even get involved in this “too expensive” discussion. After all, photographers, graphic artists and marketing people are also paid by the record companies, so the red pencil should not be applied to music, of all things. For smaller gigs, of course, I build my set myself ... it's always about music, and you just do what it takes! (Laughter)
Are you also the musical director of Mousse T.?
Jost Nickel: The former “MD” quit and I took over his job when the band chose me. Beyond the organizational issues, it is primarily about musical cornerstones. I always discuss with the band which musical passages have to be played during the soundcheck. And I clarify formal issues: Do we put an end to this track "on cue", or is there a certain number of refrains. If things like this are unclear, things often go wrong and that is totally superfluous. If there is no time on stage, you can go through something "dry" in the backstage room.
Drummers are often involved in organizational matters ...
Jost Nickel:… yes, right… does that have anything to do with the character? I think that as a drummer you should be “in control” at all times. As a drummer you should never guess! It must always be clear whether a “stop” or a calm passage is coming next. You have to feel whether the band needs a particularly clear fill at one point, and if so, then I'll do that and help the band through the song. So since I have musical responsibility as a drummer anyway, it might be obvious that I expand this to other areas as well. Even if it's work, I like to do it.
Do you also have a certain urge for perfection behind it?
Jost Nickel: Sure. Most recently I played for Ralf Gustke in the band Schiller. At such un-rehearsed gigs I have often observed with other musicians that they are already satisfied if they "only" lose themselves 5 times. But I wanted to go there and the band shouldn't notice that there was a sub playing now, but should feel completely safe with me. My personal aim is always to get an evening off the stage flawlessly. That I create a good mood and provide a good groove is a basic requirement anyway. As a musical director, I expect the same from my colleagues, namely good preparation so that we can draw on the full at the gig. At the Schiller gig mentioned, I also had the artistic claim, as always, that I wanted to play my own way, not copy Ralf Gustke, but play my personal style, because that is much more valuable and interesting for a band than a copy! Too much mental capacity is simply lost in copying. Then rather play grooves and accents "according to plan" and play the fills and some phrasing of the beats in their own way, because it is more authentic.
Did you have this attitude at Seeed too?
Jost Nickel: Yes, exactly. This band is really a bomb, also absolute world class in terms of shows. And their drummer-based, Sebastian Krajewski, is a beastly drummer! When I stood in for Sebastian for the first time, we went on stage after only two hours of rehearsal, which is actually outrageous. Since then they have probably thought that I don't actually have to rehearse, because last time we met for a rehearsal the day before in Munich, and a singer actually said “Hey, Jost, you don't have to rehearse” and I replied only "Yes! You're welcome!".
But you had a setlist and recordings?
Jost Nickel: Yes, and then I learned everything by heart! It actually takes way too long, but I like the style and the grooves so much that I like to deal with it. So I go to the rehearsal room, hear a track, try to memorize everything and then play along with it. I notice my mistakes, try to avoid them little by little and work on every song that way. The advantage is that I can then memorize them all, the disadvantage that after six months I don't know a lot. For the band Schiller, on the other hand, I wrote myself charts because I didn't have enough free time to memorize. Many important grooves carry their music, and for the two sold-out club concerts in Greece I just had to make detailed notes, which I was happy to do for this band, which I found very pleasant in terms of atmosphere.
How is it with the Nils Gessinger Band?
Jost Nickel: Well, Nils is really a crazy bird! (laughs) He has my greatest respect for the fact that on his now 4 CDs he clearly states under his own name how everything should be musical. We played together 10 years ago, then not for a long time. A few years ago I agreed again because I wanted to play this kind of instrumental music again, very virtuoso with tricky arrangements and different time signatures.With the attitude “I'll go there now, and play my way”, Nils was not always clear in the past. As already mentioned, you play and sound worse if you only play according to someone else's guidelines, if only because you are constantly against your own Instincts play. Nils noticed that I don't have a lot of specifications given to me in terms of drum technology, but rather make my own decisions on certain things.
He already indicates when he wants to switch to the ride cymbal, and if it fits, I'll do him a favor, then we'll grin at each other. We play regularly at the Hamburg Stage Club, and I'm there whenever I have time. They never rehearse, which is a shame, of course, but he writes good grades - one of the reasons for my participation, as it helps me stay fit in reading music.
When you watch you play, does one get the impression that you don't attach great importance to "show"?
Jost Nickel: No, my show is movement minimalism! Again, it's about authenticity ... if you like it, you're sure to make a good show with movement; if I did that, it would be totally artificial. I really like a good show, but personally only do what I want. But I like a couple of things and use them, like the crash cymbal strikes twice in quick succession from below and from above.
You have been passing on your skills and experience to the next generation for years.
Jost Nickel: I was teaching at the “Yamaha Musicstation” back in 1992 when I went to Hamburg. My wish has always been to teach little, but intensively, in addition to as much live and studio work as possible. Now I teach at the “Popkurs” in Hamburg for two weeks a year, alternating with Curt Cress. Now I have also taught a summer semester at the Popakademie in Mannheim, the time is manageable, but under good conditions, because the level of the students is high.
At the “Hamburg School of Music” I have just given a ten-hour course on “Groupings”, and a “Studio Drumming” course has been agreed for the coming year. What these facilities have in common is that the team of lecturers and the room and equipment are very good.
How do you see the job opportunities for young drummers?
Jost Nickel: Difficult to say. I think that people who have the absolute inner urge to become a musician and do everything necessary for the musician profession will always have opportunities. Of course, you also have to be ready to go where something can arise. I was living in Münster at the time when I was taking part in the “Popkurs” in Hamburg, and it was a very quick decision to move to Hamburg.
Quite a few drummer colleagues have also gone this way ...
Jost Nickel: Yes, Benny Greb is a very popular drummer, who also moved to Hamburg after the “pop course”: totally committed, with a very clear vision of what he wanted to do. When I landed in Hamburg at the time, there were musicians who wanted to keep me very small, and I made up my mind to do it differently later. When people come along, with whom I can discuss music on an equal footing and who inspire me, then I don't want to miss this moment when someone changes from student to colleague. I was a lecturer at the "Popkurs" when I met Benny, and now we meet every now and then to play drums, which is great fun.
What strikes me in principle is that very few students have a general interest in drums. When I suggest working on Latin grooves, I hear the answer “Oh, I never need them anyway!” Instead of “Hm, I almost never need them, but it could be interesting and fun.” Me I always wonder when there is no global interest and openness. I mean, at the time at the “Fabrik” in Hamburg I saw a lot of concerts in the field of fusion and jazz, with drummers like Dennis Chambers, Dave Weckl, the great Tom Brechtlein with the guitarist Robben Ford. You can recognize this whole music genre What drummers can do great on the instrument has fallen sharply, so the young drummers may lack the inspiration in this direction.
You know the phrase “You should pick up the student from where he is ...”?
Jost Nickel: Yes, or: “You leave the teacher where he is!” (Laughter) How do you deal with your students, how much do you deal with them? I only supervise the students that I have for a short time, so I respond strongly to them and ask what they want to study. And I believe that by “being a role model” you convey a lot without even saying these things. In addition, I always offer: "We could do the following ..."
Then I wish you continued success in all your activities and thank you for the nice and informative conversation! //
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