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Jethro Tull

Interviewed by Mark Johnson

Interview with Doane Perry of Jethro Tull from 2011


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First off, how do you guys decide which tracks to play, after Aqualung, of course?

Well the idea was that we were going to play the entire record, which we have been doing up to the last couple of days. We were doing everything. We cut out “Slipstream” mainly because…if we’re doing a theater, more intimate setting that seems to work. In the bigger outdoor rock crowds, even though it’s only a minute long, it doesn’t work quite as well. But it’s a great piece. I love that piece of music. We’ll do it more during the theater shows. “Wind Up” has just the last couple of days gone out of the set but I’m sure it will be coming back. Apart from that everything else will be played. Because the original intention was to play the entire Aqualung album live. We recorded the entire Aqualung album and played all of them in the original order live for the first time ever on the Live Sirius XM Radio Show. We did it in the order that the tracks appeared on the album. But it didn’t work well. So now all the other tracks are interspersed within the show.

We look at when we last played and the set list from the other shows we’ve done in that city, for example, Portland, and try to select new tracks for the latest show. We try not to repeat a set. There are other things we’re obligated to do, like for this tour Aqualung. The set list can change during the tour as situations occur. We know a lot of music. We need rehearsal to make sure we do it right. We try to do something from every era of the band. But it’s difficult because there are so many eras of the band. We will try different things. For instance, what Ian is comfortable with singing. We played quite a lot off of Stand Up, during the tour two years ago, also Benefit, This Was, and try to draw from each relevant album. Sometimes things we’ve recorded may not sound as good in the set done live or work well with the other tracks we’re going to play that evening. But generally we try to play music we didn’t play the last time we were in a town.

MSJ: Given the band's familiarity with each other and with the material, how much group rehearsal time did you and the guys need to get ready for this tour?  Tell us what rehearsals are like with Jethro Tull.  How are your Tull rehearsals/sessions different from other gigs? 
No, we actually have not had a proper rehearsal for this tour. We all have our own studios. We all do our own private rehearsing at home. I have my own studio, with gigged live tapes, and we each practice and prepare on our own. Everybody is very professional. We run through things at sound check. The only time we really need to rehearse as a group is for production, (producing a new album), unless it’s completely new arrangements of new material. Then we get together and work out the details.

For instance, we played in Australia in April, (Blues Fest 2011), with Bob Dylan, B B King, Elvis Costello and a bunch of other people, and we hadn’t played together in eight months. I came from America and I met them all over there. We only got a line check. We didn’t even get a sound check. We had to go on stage and make it sound like we played the night before. And we did. I think we played well. And I’m sure everyone thought “hey they’re just in the middle of a tour.” It’s up to everyone to be professional and be prepared.


Your fans love the evolution of the material and I imagine that you all look forward to adding little wrinkles here and there to some of the arrangements.  How does that come about?

You’ll hear one tonight. We’ve added something on the front of “Hymn 43.” It will be new. It will reference the material in a different feel and time signature. We change them to keep our own interests. But sometimes we will dovetail things, like “Songs from the Wood,” “Heavy Horses,” and there was one other. We would do a little bit from every recognizable segment of each piece. Ian will get an idea about the sections he wants and he will lay out the sections and then we work out how each of us will play our part.
MSJ: Are the wrinkles somehow communicated to you in advance of the rehearsals or are they arranged on the fly during rehearsals? 
No, we won’t do those without rehearsal. We talk about it, maybe a verse, chorus and bridge, then a little segue. But, you can talk about it theoretically, but you still have to play it.
MSJ: As a player/performer/artist, what are some of the things you are currently refining in your approach to drumming/performing? 
I record a lot of the shows and I listen to them to critique my own performance and see how it is working in the context of everyone else. I may ask another artist to make adjustments or I will change my own parts. That’s an ongoing process of evaluation all the time.  Listening to the tapes and trying to refine my parts, warming up. As you can see I have a practice kit here and I practice and get warmed up here, (before the show). Every night I try to change things to make them better articulated. The approach is very compositional for all of us in the band. We have many areas of improvisation, but it has to be compositional, like orchestral music. Things that I have to include to signal the beginning and ends of sections, dynamics, so that everyone knows they are gonna be there at the right time. Part of my job is to roll the carpet out for the band. So everyone can rest on top of it easily. Dave and I, that’s one of our primary functions, there is a lot of ornamentation in our playing, but that’s above the superstructure of the foundation.
MSJ: You have such an amazing sense of groove - where does that come from?  Did you study dalcroze eurhythmics?
I’m not sure the reference material, but my first interest was piano. I often think of myself as a piano player that ended up playing drums for a living. I write a lot of music. I do a lot of composing on keyboards. When I did start playing drums, I was initially self-taught. I had quite a lot of formal training. I played in orchestras. I had classical training. I learned to play and read music properly. You know tune percussion, in college, I played timpani and mallets. I had that but I also had a lot of jazz training.  I was very fortunate to have studied with Billy Cobham for the first year and a half of the Mahavishnu Orchestra when he was discovering all of that technique, and I had a ringside seat and was able to watch all of that being discovered. I had enough technique and the ability to avail myself of what he could teach me with all of that technique. I studied almost every kind of music across the board. Growing up in New York I was able to play all types of music with a lot of bands who were available in New York City in the studios. I played a lot of jazz/R&B with jazz artists on the circuit in New York City. I am sure that probably more than anything, that’s where my sense of groove comes from.

Sometimes you have to perform simple, “pocket drumming.” I had a background in fusion and progressive rock background, but I always had an interest in the technical elements, but wanted to combine that with a very solid grounding in groove. So to me it’s really important when I’m playing this music, whether it’s 3/5/7/9/11, whatever it is, and it’s not 4/4, that I can make a groove and people will move to it. If we’re playing in 9/8 and people are moving, and they don’t know that, then I know I’ve done my job. That’s the first thing I think about, the groove. I really try to lock into a rhythm.


When I was 16, 17, in New York, doing studio work, and I had to learn to “click tracks,” and that’s where you learn what your rushing or dragging. I had a barometer to measure myself against trying to play with a click. Whenever you’re in the studio now, for film or television or working on a record, you have to play to the click tracks. I have to learn to make that sound real and that you’re not playing to a click track. If you wanted to work as a drummer, you needed to play with a good feel. I knew many drummers, who did not have a huge amount of technique, but they played with an incredible feel and they worked all the time.


A lot of the Tull stuff, I’ve changed to simplify parts, but I try to keep the feel, flavor and texture of Clive’s and Barry’s parts. I try to keep the original feel of their work. They’ve come up with some very imaginative patterns and rhythms, but I have to adjust them so they would fall naturally unto my hands.


Groove never came from a book…ever. I’ve studied plenty out of technical books. But none of them address groove. You have to learn that from playing with other musicians. Playing with others is always the best way to learn. Recording really helps, because you’re under the microscope. You have to listen to it how it’s feeling, all of the note placement. You can read the notes, but you need to know the feeling. There are guys that can read the book and play like they’re reading notes from the book. You give it to someone else and they sound like they’ve been playing for ten years.

MSJ: Do you have any new toys or gear you are messing with?
I do, not on the Tull tour, right now. I have little things I change, like cymbals. I added a glockenspiel, Chinese prayer bells and some percussion. My drum kit for Jethro Tull has stayed somewhat similar. It’s big, but it gets the job done. I need an almost orchestral range that go from high to low. There’s a lot of textures that I have to cover, as well as all of the percussion stuff.


At home, there’s all kinds of stuff in my studio I’m experimenting with. I love what the electronics will provide. I want to use that for all of the stuff an acoustic drum kit cannot do. A three octave case, like a marimba, but it’s midi and I can go into any kind of device I want.


I did the Divinities tour. I got hold of samples and played keyboards and spread them across all of those pads. I had a map, for every different song on 20 different pads, took weeks to program. Ian asked if he’d do a drum solo. I put together a marimba piece. I triggered things with the keypads, mallet sounds and chord sounds. But I had to know where everything was. Because it changed with every song. The piece included Balinese marimba music, with some Western elements, jazz and Japanese Taiko elements. That was fun and challenging to play. It sounded like more than one person was playing. I played it all in real time. I enjoy stretching the boundaries of drums and percussion especially with electronics. Last year I did a piece with Neil Peart and Terry Bozzio. Terry has an enormous drum kit. For Neil and I, it was hard to play. I don’t play a kit a quarter that size any more. Terry has managed to make it sound all acoustic. I am exploring more along the lines of electronics. It allows me to expand beyond the acoustic kit.

MSJ: All musicians have longings and aspirations for their giftedness.  What would you say is your musical "longing?"
As I’ve gotten older I compose a lot more. I did a piece last year for a benefit album for musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina. I played all the instruments, I wrote it, engineered it, produced it, all in my studio at home. Wrote it for four drum kits, like a drum orchestra, spread across the stereo spectrum. Three marimbas, and a bass marimba, upright bass, strings, tabla, Latin percussion, and African percussion. It combined all of my interests in Balinese music, Japanese Taiko, African, Cuban, Western jazz, and that was fun. I write a lot. I compose music. I write a lot of prose writing. Lyrical writing. I’m actually writing a book of prose. My father was a writer. I find that to be a very liberating outlet, similar to composition of music. Easier than playing drums. More cerebral. Always have written. So I’m moving more into composing and writing.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to?
If you could see my iPod, you would see this incredible cross section of music. I listen to a lot of classical music. Classical music is very stimulating to me for composition. I bought Joe Zawinul’s last album, 75, a live album. Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns, which was always one of my favorite records, I think she’s an incredible writer. I bought John McLaughlin’s, live album with Chick Corea. I bought a collection of Rafe Von Williams work. I love his writing for orchestra, particularly strings. He is such a brilliant orchestrator for strings. Something about his writing that I find that is incredibly moving. He is absolutely one of my favorite composers. I enjoy discovering either works of composers who I admire, and these critical works were new to me, or new composers and new works.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Not on this tour. We’ve certainly had many of them in the past which were chronicled elsewhere.
MSJ: It has been documented that you are a heavy book reader. What are you reading now? How about for the summer?
Kevin Anderson. I’ve always admired his writing. He’s given me a couple of his books. Hunters of Doom and I think it’s the Terra Incognita series. He and his wife Rebecca helped create a musical CD with Terra Incognita. I will be playing on the next Terra Incognita CD. I love his writing. He is an amazing storyteller. Kevin has an amazing imagination. He has an amazing ability to draw you into some esoteric subjects.
MSJ: I didn’t see Steve Winwood on the list of artists you’ve worked with.
I met him through Dave Pegg. I did play with Spencer Davis. We played all that Spencer Davis music. He has a connection with Dave Pegg. At one point Steve Winwood was going to tour with us. But it didn’t work out.


Gary Brooker, I’ve worked with him from Procol Harum. Got to play some of that music. We did a benefit where we had fun playing Procol Harum music. There was a point I was asked to play on a Procol Harum tour. I went down to his house and we played all that old stuff like “Salty Dog” and all of that. But I did get to play with Gary. It’s on tape somewhere for this benefit thing. I like Gary’s writing. I’d classify him from that same era that Steve Winwood is from.


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 4 at
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