It’s an amazing thought that so many people go to gigs but never give any consideration to the equipment involved and the time that’s gone in to learning how to play. In this new series of features Devolution will be talking to various musicians and other artists about the hardware they use and their personal journey doing what they do. ‘The Gearbox’ aims to tame the techno-talk in favour of opening a window for the curious non-musicians among us. We needed a volunteer or should that be guinea pig to be our very special first person to be subjected to a Gearbox inquisition. Step up the absolute drumming diamond that is Vicky Reader from the band Pulverise. Possibly the most excitable tub thumper around answers Gary Trueman’s questions about her drum kit, her influences and why it is that she stands out so well while sat at the back of the band.
Let’s start at the beginning with why and how did you become a drummer?
“I started when I was ten years old, and the rest is history really. My dad’s musical, he’s a bass player and is into rock like Queen, which has rubbed off on me a bit. I actually started when a rock band were selling lessons for each instrument they played did a demo at school. I sat there in awe of them. I just looked at the drummer and knew that was for me. I got lessons and joined some bands at school with my friends. It was around when Nu-metal was kicking off.”
You were into metal so were you always going to be in a metal band?
“I got into metal when I was about 13 or 14. Growing up I was into Queen and – err – Bananarama. So I wasn’t a cool metal kid or anything. My best friend at school was into metal. She was into Iron Maiden so I got into them, and then Korn. Because my dad is a bass player I was attracted to music with a unique bass in it. Red Hot Chili Peppers were actually my gateway into metal. I really liked them first, then Iron Maiden followed. I sort of found myself drum and fashion style when I was 17 and I’ve never moved on since.”
Lets focus on your gear and start with the drums themselves. So what drum kit do you play and what does it consist of?
“It’s a Pearl ELX. It’s a beautiful sunburst colour. I got it literally the week before lockdown and then couldn’t play it for two years. It’s a five piece. I have a Chad Smith 14” signature snare. I like a tight poppy sound with not much resonance. I have a 22” bass drum, a 16” floor tom and two rack toms which are 10” and 12”. I use Code drum heads and I have an endorsement with them. They have a great sound, it’s the first time I’ve ever been really happy with a drum sound. There’s a new gadget on the market called a Tru Tuner and it tunes your drums really quickly for you. We tried that recently for the first time and it was wonderful. Doing it manually can take a while. So yay gadgets!
Presumably you use a particular brand of drum stick?
“Absolutely, I use Promark now. I originally used Vic Firth. When they released their new firegrain sticks, it looks like they’ve been barbeque, I’ve never seen anything like it. I run a drumming community online called Drumming Co and they sent me some. I thought I’d give them a go and I’ve never looked back. It’s really rare that they break. So I don’t have to spend that much on sticks any more because they last, and I’m a hard hitter. They feel great. I use a size 5A. I used to used 5Bs which are thicker but when I changed because the shop had run out one time I stopped getting blisters. Every element of playing the drums is so personal to the player.”
So with cymbals what do you use?
“I would like to use all Sabian but they are really expensive. My favourite is my 19” Sabian China cymbal. That’s the one that sounds like Armageddon. My others are a right mish mash. I have an 18”Bosporus crash cymbal from Turkey and an 18” Zildjian crash. Then a Sabian 20” ride cymbol. My hi-hats are 14”Sabian. Usually you find people are either Sabian or Zildjian but at the moment I’m kind of both. It’s a bit like being either Nikon or Canon in the photography world. A crash is probably one of the loudest cymbols and you can use them to accent something like at the end of a bar. A ride is something you’ll play a rhythm on.”
With pedals, you have one for the bass drum and one for the hi-hats too. What do you use style and brand wise?
“I have the Iron Cobra double pedal for the bass drum and Iron Cobra on the hi-hat stand too. The stand only has two legs on it rather than three so you can fit the pedal easier. They’re very expensive. I got mine years ago and I’m clinging on to it. Iron Cobra are made by Tama. My bass drum pedal beaters are wooden ones from America called Low Boy Beaters. You can get allsorts, plastic, felt or even an all in one that you can rotate. You can also get bass drum pads that help protect the skin a bit. But I use wooden beaters. I found these guys through the drumming community. I won a competition to win one and I’ve never looked back. I usually keep my hi-hat open so I can use the double bass which is two pedals for the bass drum which are connected by a piece of metal (bar).”
Another vital part of the kit is the chair. You always see people when they change over at a gig they’ll change the snare and cymbals, the breakables as they’re called but also the chair. Obviously your seat is also important too so that gets changed. What drumming seat do you use?
“I use a Sonar one which is another drum brand. It’s what I could afford when I needed a seat. I think if you’re sensible you’ll have a drum fund so when you crack a cymbal or break sticks you’ll have some money to replace them. I’ve got quite little legs so I do like to use my own seat set up to my own playing position. When I first started gigging seats were never classed as a breakable, they probably still aren’t. I never used to bring my own seat and one time I used someone else’s and it was broken in one position and the dude was really tall. I couldn’t reach the pedals and I looked like a little kid hanging off a chair. So from that day one I’ve always brought my own stool. Usually you share stands but I like to bring my own. I’m a bit of a stand diva.”
So we’ve covered the kit but what about the people who have influenced you as a drummer. So who have influenced your playing and who do you see on the circuit who you love to watch play now, maybe from less well known acts?
“So locally there’s a band called Surya and Nikhill Johnson is an absolute beast. He plays very tight. He really inspires me. Theres a drummer called Aaron Youd from Felicia who is incredible. I’m always inspired by the drummers we’re lucky enough to play with. These are people who should be way more famous and successful than they are. Vish’s new drummer as well Chris Coello in Pretty Addicted. I love hanging out with drummers. I have my heroes I grew up with too. Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers is one of the reasons I play drums. I really like their funk stuff. Their earlier stuff is where my heart lies. Jon Otto from Limp Bizkit. He is an outstanding drummer. I think he has a jazz background. Jamie Miller from Snot, Shane Russell from Twelve Foot Ninja and Arya from Skindred, I love all of them. Dane Pulverenti (Citadel/Sumofus). You may not have heard of him. He’s an incredible drummer. Then there’s JeromeMaffeo from Jimmies Chicken Shack too.”
You might be sat at the back but you control so much don’t you. Tempo and timing.
“Oh yes! If I play a song too fast then my singer can’t rap. We cover a Cypress Hill song and I really have to make sure my timing is on point for that. When I play live I just have such a good time and I love the music so much. It’s easy to speed up with the adrenaline going. It’s hands down the most fun instrument. When I’m playing live my technique goes out of the window a little bit and I know this is bad but I’m having fun.”
So what are the best things about being a drummer?
“Well we’re a bit like unicorns at the moment. We’re really rare and we’re really in demand. It’s nice to be wanted. I think it’s the most fun instrument even though we’re at the back. You’re in control of the beat and I’ve played really busy gigs with people dancing and slamming and it’s amazing. You can look out at a gig and know you’re making them do that. Obviously there’s all of us on stage but they’re dancing to my beat. It’s wonderful. I love groove and I love getting on drums and pulling an ugly goove face.”
So what are the downsides. What are the worst things about being a drummer?
“Err, expensive. Everything is so expensive. It always has been but it’s got worse. A pair of sticks, snap those, it’s 13 or 14 quid. Cymbals are at least 170 quid upwards for the sort I use. There’s a lot of elements, a lot that can break and a lot that can go wrong. And stairs are our worst nightmare. I have a really heavy drum box that I keep my stands in. Lugging those up really flimsy fire escape stairs is not fun. Fortunately my band are really good at helping, even the singer Jojo. She’s brilliant and my band are too. Storing it. We’ve got a studio that we rent which is great but when I have to take them home they take up all of the kitchen. Fortunately my fella is a guitarist so he’s very understanding.”
Now, with how you present yourself on stage. A lot of drummers sort of disappear at the back. But you don’t do that. You’re kind of like this lunatic pulling faces, grinning endlessly and making photographers very happy by playing to their cameras. You’re a bit of a photography hero because you’re a drummer that’s doing something that isn’t just being intense. So why is that. Why is it that you manage to pop from the back so well?
“Well thank you, that’s a massive compliment. I like being called a lunatic. I think it’s just my personality. I don’t practice any of the stuff I do on stage apart from the playing. I just do whatever I feel in the moment. If someone points a camera at me I might flip them off or pull a face or something. I just enjoy it. I enjoy the rapport I get with photographers. I’m a photographer myself and I know it makes it a bit more interesting than just having a concentrating face or looking really miserable. I just become this really obnoxious knobhead on stage and it’s really tongue in cheek.”
For anybody out there reading this that is thinking about taking up the drums, why should they?
“Oh please do it! It’s fun. It’ll make you happy. It always puts me in a happy mood. It’s even cured my headaches – yes I know but it has. There is a shortage too. People should do it because they want to and it’s fun but there is also a shortage. You will be very much in demand if you have your own kit. It is worth all the expense and storage issues and lugging heavy stuff around. It’s so worth it. It’s so much fun. It’s good for your soul.”
Interview and photos by Gary Trueman