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Wednesday 2 December 2015

Steve White Interview

Last week music-minded students were given the opportunity to attend a drum clinic, organised by the School of Media Arts and Technology and Knightime events, to watch renowned drummer and Visiting Fellow Steve White in action.

Steve White is an English drummer who has worked with many top names, including Paul Weller and The Style Council, as well as playing at Live 8 in Hyde Park.

We talked to Steve to find out more about the man behind the drums.

You have been playing the drums since the tender age of eight. What is it that interested you in this particular instrument?

It was just something that hit me really quite hard when I saw a boy’s brigade band walking along the street. I just loved the noise, the racket, the sound of six drummers playing together. It just touched me. Then, after that, I was listening to a lot of pop music. Even from the age of five I was listening to Slade and The Beatles and all those kinds of bands, so the music just found me.

How were you supported through your education when it came to pursuing your music dreams?

I’ve seen a huge amount of changes in recent years in terms of drums and education. The thing about drums is that when I first started it wasn’t really considered an instrument like violins or the clarinet. There was very little in the way of jazz studies or rock studies so I really didn’t have a lot of support in terms of education. I won scholarships to two American universities but the education system at the time would not support me so I had to go out and get a job. It’s great to see it has totally changed now.

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Who are your musical inspirations?

I have so many amazing musical inspirations – from Frank Sinatra to La Roux  to NWA to The Beatles. I’m listening to a lot of new bands as well. I like the Graveltones – I think they are really good. In my view, musicians should listen to as much music as possible.

What do you love about playing live?

It’s the sense of anticipation and also that leap into the unknown. You never quite know what’s going to happen, what little spark of magic is going to be created. You don’t get into that zone every single night during a tour, but if you can get it to a point where you are almost reading the thoughts of the other musicians on stage it’s as good as it gets

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What would you say has been the highlight of your career to date?

I am still looking for the really big highlight because I’m greedy. I have had loads and loads of amazing performances like doing Live 8 with The Who in 2005 and doing Live Aid with the Style Council in 1985. I’ve been really blessed to play at some fantastic places; big venues such as the Yokohama stadium and small venues like Ronnie Scott’s with jazz musician Art Blakey, so it’s hard to pinpoint one thing. What skills are required to be successful in the music industry?

I think you need clarity about what you want to do. We get bombarded by so many different angles of music where we are listening to, and learning, so many different kinds of music. I think it’s really important to be very focussed on what you actually want to do. There’s no point in learning classical snare drum if you want to be a double bass drummer in a rock band. You’ve got to practise double bass drum. Don’t try to be a jack of all trades and, instead, try to be diverse and to have specific skillsets. Like being able to get sounds together and to drive music, things that will help you to be part of the practical side of music. If you want to go and play West End shows you need to learn to read music, if you want to be in a rock band you have to know how to play to a click track and work with electronics. Just be focussed on what you need to know.

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How can up and coming performers stand out from the crowd?

The most important thing for anyone that wants to make it, especially if they want to go into the pop world, is that they have to have good songs. That’s one thing with the industry. No matter how much it changes, if there are no good songs being made then the whole thing will gradually come to a halt. Be really focused if you are creating new music, don’t try to do it for the money or second-guess the market. It never ever works. What you are doing should come from the heart, from you being passionate, and if you get a little bit of luck then maybe you will have a chance of making it.

It’s imperative to network and get your name out there but don’t overcomplicate the process. If you can put up some really fantastic acoustic demos of someone playing the Cajon and they are really wicked songs then that will get through more than something that is very over-produced and that hasn’t really been worked on. I don’t hold much credence with this whole idea that you can just put stuff up on the internet and people are going to find it. Generally, when bands happen via the internet there is usually a big advertising or marketing campaign behind them.

Do you think the internet has massively changed the way musicians can get out there?

I think it’s a Pandora’s Box. It can be an absolutely brilliant thing and a wonderful tool in terms of communication and being able to find great music that you couldn’t before. I was listening to the one performance that John Coltrane did of “A Love Supreme” yesterday and I would have never been able to do that twenty years ago. It’s really amazing from that point of view. The whole thing with free downloading has almost changed music beyond all recognition. I personally don’t believe in free music and I think any young musician should consider very carefully before they give their music away. A window cleaner won’t clean your windows for nothing. Just remember that.

What do you love about Solent and our students?

I work at some very switched on universities, Trinity Laban and Goldsmiths, and Solent has that same kind of feel of progressiveness and a good energy about it. Not all universities do. I was very impressed with the University’s facilities and just the way the whole place felt when I came. It felt like a very creative place and that’s the kind of places I like to support.


To find out more about studying popular music performance, popular music production or media production here at Southampton Solent University, please visit our courses homepage.