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Doane Perry

Vision 4 Music traveled to sunny Florida last month to visit with one of rock's most well-known and respected drummers, Doane Perry of Jethro Tull. With over 25 years' experience creating music and touring with Tull, Doane has still found time for his other passions - writing a book, writing music and playing drums with his two partners in a cool collaboration called Thread. Doane is truly an amazing drummer who is constantly honing his craft and learning all he can from musicians he meets during his extensive traveling. In addition to Jethro Tull, Doane has performed and recorded with many incredible artists including Lou Reed, Bette Midler, Todd Rundgren, Brenda Russell, Dave Mason, Peter Allen, Pat Benatar, Jim Messina, Peter Cetera, Dweezil Zappa, Laura Branigan, Dionne Warwick, Liza Minelli, Eddie Van Halen, Patty Scialfa, Vonda Shepard, Charles Aznavour, Kitaro, Jon Anderson, Stan Getz, The Chieftains, Teo Macero and his Big Band, Tommy Emmanuel, Phyllis Hyman, Bill Champlin, Freda Payne, Martha and the Vandellas, Spencer Davis, Jeffrey Osbourne Michel Colombier, Fairport Convention, just to name a few. You'll be inspired after you read our interview with Doane Perry!

V4M: Describe what it's like to be on the road touring with Jethro Tull?
DP: Intense. It's intense because there are certain physical demands and definite cerebral demands that make it a challenge to go out every night and keep it feeling fresh. We're at the end of quite a long series of dates that we have done in 2007 and so it's still a challenge to go out there and play and make it sound to the audience like it's the first time we're playing it. Even after having been in Jethro Tull for nearly 25 years, the challenges remain the same because there are physical challenges in doing what I do, which has a definite athletic component to it. But the cerebral challenges are just as difficult as the physical challenges because there is quite a lot of music to negotiate in the course of an evening. The drummer is the traffic cop on stage and I just need to make sure everybody is comfortable and everything is feeling right. Every gig sounds different and it's my job to key into where everybody is and to try to, as I said before, roll out the red carpet for the band the best I can and create some energy and excitement. I think the other challenge about being on the road is keeping yourself physically and psychologically together the other 22 hours of the day. Although, I've always taken pretty good care of myself over the years, it's important that I get enough rest and that I have a little bit of time during the day when I can read a book or relax…. just to unplug for a few minutes. Many days when you're traveling, you get to a place, have lunch, go to the gig, maybe have some P.R. stuff to do, have sound check and then the gig. There's a lot of preparation that goes into those two hours to make it look relatively invisible to the audience every night. They think we're up there only working for two hours and that it's relatively easy work. What goes into those two hours is a huge amount of preparation every day and much longer than people's average work days. I have to be disciplined about taking care of myself on the road and just keeping myself pulled together, physically, emotionally, spiritually and musically, in order to stay centered. There's a lot of ways people come unglued on the road. Luckily, I haven't succumbed to any of those because I'm fairly disciplined and because I always wanted to be career musician. I always thought for me, the idea of being a successful musician was to be a working musician through my life. I recognized that the way to do that is probably due to a lot of things - being professional, knowing the music, showing up on time, doing your job and all the preparation that goes with that. Being on the road, you're away from your family. We all get homesick sometimes. There are different aspects to being on the road. The music is the great part, the travel is the hard part. Post 9/11 made it harder for everybody who travels, especially if there is air travel involved. Traveling is a wearing thing, so you have to find ways to switch off and stay together.

V4M: What year did you start playing with Jethro Tull?
DP: 1984. I started on the Under Wraps tour. That was very exciting and I loved the band. I saw them when my friend Mark Craney got the gig. I was incredibly excited for him. I used to go see them a lot when I was young. I always loved the band so I think it's quite remarkable that I ended up in a band that I loved so much from my youth and later becoming a member of that same band, for so long. It doesn't get by me. I really do appreciate it.

V4M: What is your favorite Tull song to perform?
DP: I've been asked that so many times and I cannot answer it because there are so many great songs in the repertoire of Jethro Tull. I would say there are over 300 pieces of music. I was asked this recently and two that are almost diametrically opposite come to mind but these are by no means my favorites. “Slip Stream” is a very simple, short song and all I play on it is glockenspiel. I don't play drums on it at all. And then there is “Black Sunday” which is almost the other side of the coin. But there are so many I just love to play. It's really an unfair question to answer! It's like when people ask, "who is your favorite drummer or favorite musician?” There is such a list of songs that are special to me that I fear I will leave some out. I just have to say that for different reasons, many of them have a very special place and for a variety of different reasons they appeal to me.

V4M: What size venues do you usually play and what is the band's preference? DP: On this tour we have played in really nice orchestral halls. Very often, in Europe in the summertime we're playing outdoor places, outdoor amphitheaters. Sometimes we'll do festivals. Those aren't always ideal for Jethro Tull because we have such a complicated setup. We're not just a three chord rock band that goes on and blasts our way through a set. Having our own gigs gives us more control. I have to say playing the nicer orchestral halls gives us a better degree of control over the sound. Next summer in 2008, we're going to be playing a lot of outdoor amphitheaters. The outdoor ones, if they don't have tin roofs, sound quite good. The tin roofs aren't built acoustically for sound, but we'll be playing some of those kinds of places. It depends on where we are in the world and if it's summertime or wintertime. We play everywhere from 2500 seats up to 10-15,000, or the occasional 20,000 seater. If we haven't been to a territory ever, we'll play bigger places. I think our preference is playing in really nice, acoustically balanced theaters. That always sounds best to us and best to the audience.

V4M: Where is the most interesting place you've performed?
DP: One of the most interesting, although probably not the best in terms of the sound reinforcement and all that, but because I love the culture, is India. We had a great time playing in India. I love the food, I love the culture. They're not that up to date with all the modern sound equipment but in terms of its overall appeal, that would have to be right up there. There are lots of places I love to play in Europe and lots of place in America that I love too. It's a little like that question, “what's your favorite song”- they're all interesting and fun for different reasons.

V4M: Prior to your tenure, which Jethro Tull drummer's playing style did you most admire?
DP: I would have to say of course, Clive Bunker. He was such an early influence, had a huge impact on me. I met him in 1970, I believe. I wrote him a letter when I was quite young, when I was about 16. He got me into the show and let me watch him from the side of the stage. He showed me how to play “My Sunday Feeling” backstage at the Fillmore East in their dressing room, and he has become a really dear friend over the years. He was an enormous influence on my playing and certainly the most prominent influence, out of all the Jethro Tull drummers. However, I love all of the drummers who came before me, for different reasons. I've learned a lot from each one of their playing styles but I've had to try to assimilate their individual styles into my own, and at the same time find something that falls naturally under my own hands. That's challenging because sometimes you're dealing with someone else's musical approach that may be quite different from your own, so you have to try to keep the feel and the flavor of the original but make it feel natural to you. That's difficult - trying to put your own stamp on a highly recognizable part that was conceived by someone else but I try to do my best with it.

V4M: For you, what is the most crowd-pleasing Jethro Tull song when you play live and do you change the arrangement to keep it interesting musically or do you stay true to the original recording?
DP: We're always changing the arrangements as you will see tonight. People, of course, always respond to “Aqualung”, one of Tull’s most famous pieces. But we're doing a completely different arrangement of it. You will see that we change the arrangements within a lot of the music, often quite substantially. Sometimes a little bit, sometimes we shorten it and create a segue into another piece of music or perhaps make a medley of a few pieces of music, stitched together from different eras. We do that as much to keep our own interest, as we do to keep the fans' interest, so that they'll hear something they hopefully haven’t heard before.

V4M: What inspired you to become a drummer?
DP: Well, I started playing piano when I was seven. I played classical piano for 3 years. I didn't know anything about drums or pop music. There was jazz around the house. I wasn't playing drums at all. Then the Beatles came along and a lot of kids that age thought, “That looks like a great job”. The drummer's job looked like fun. Piano and drums are very similar in certain respects. Piano is part of the percussion family. A lot of the same kind of independence is used. I found that having played piano all my life, playing drums was more of a lateral move for me. I still play piano a lot and I feel that's helped my drumming plus I feel my drumming has helped my piano playing. So, they're related instruments.

V4M: What is your favorite musical composition in any genre?
DP: One that comes to mind off the top of my head, that I really love is Ralph Vaughn Williams' “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”. That's one of my favorite orchestral pieces. I love a lot of Ravel’s great solo piano music and Stravinsky’s orchestral works. I love lots of music…...like Weather Report, who had a huge influence on me and also, The Mahavishnu Orchestra. I was fortunate enough to study with Billy Cobham, Mahavishnu Orchestra’s amazing drummer, who I was lucky enough to have as my teacher in high school. If you looked at my iPod you would be astonished at the range of music that I listen to. Anything well conceived, written and executed will get my attention, in any genre. I don't really have any major prejudices. Growing up in New York, I was listening to everything from classical, jazz, rock, fusion, pop, folk, Celtic music, Middle Eastern music, R&B, cross-over….. all these different styles I was exposed to and had to play at various times. I learned a lot from playing in orchestras, big bands, small groups and all these other interesting ethnic combinations. Certainly, all the jazz I was exposed to had a huge impact on me. There would be too many to list as far as favorite pieces of music, although the Ralph Vaughn Williams piece has remained one of my favorites for many years.

V4M: Other than Jethro Tull recordings, what is your favorite track you've recorded on?
DP: Recently, someone asked me about doing a discography. I know I've certainly played on in excess of a hundred records. Many people have played on way more than that, but for me it would be difficult just trying to pick out of those hundred, what would be my favorite recorded work outside of Jethro Tull. My partner in Thread, Vince DiCola and I have finished three major pieces of music and we're working on an enormous, almost symphonic piece of music. It's quite a piece. We're not finished yet. We've finished three of the other shorter pieces. We hope it will be out in late 2008. Outside of Jethro Tull, this upcoming album probably has some of my best recording to date, which I'm really happy about. It is very challenging and rewarding music for both of us and it’s our own. Vince and I've had a long relationship playing together with a lot of different artists and groups and all kinds of other unusual collaborations. However, this new one is very, very special. We do have a recent album that came out called DPI...which stands for DiCola, Perry, Ill.... Paul Ill is the bass player and there is another related project called Pity The Rich, which also includes the talents of Reeves Gabrels on guitar and Vincent Kendall on vocals. They are more exploratory and jazzier, perhaps like the later electronic period of Miles Davis combined with Weather Report and other more esoteric elements but entirely different from the new Thread. Overall though, I have to say, that the new Thread album that we are working on has some of my best playing and hopefully, best writing as well.
You can check out some of these projects at: www.tdrsmusic.com

V4M: Do you prefer digital or analog recording?
DP: Digital, I think, just because of the convenience of it. At home, I have a recording studio and as I was telling you earlier, I recorded the music for a solo piece that I've written for this album, that's just coming out now to benefit all the Louisiana musicians who were displaced during the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. It's called “Congo Square Project Foundation”, a great and very worthy project put together by Fabian Jolivet, with lots of incredible artists from New Orleans and dozens of the most phenomenal and gifted drummers and percussionists from around the world…… great, great musicians and a real diverse group. I contributed a marimba and percussion piece loosely based around Balinese Gamelan music, a Japanese type of drumming called Taiko, African drumming, Indian music and some Western music, all of which I find fascinating. You can check out the entire Congo Square project at: http://www.myspace.com/thecongosquareprojectfoundation
I have a recording studio at home and I usually play all the instruments myself, although sometime I prefer to have another engineer come in. I have learned how to work my studio and get a reasonably good and natural sound out of it and I love working and writing in there. I have the luxury of going in there and working on things until I'm happy, at which point I can give them to other people to listen to or work on. The digital environment allows me a freedom I didn't have with analog recording.

V4M: What type of drum shells do you prefer to use in the studio versus on the road?
DP: I use all kinds....birch, maple, or different combinations. Right now the drums I'm using live are birch but they also record beautifully. They all have different qualities. Maple are brighter and livelier. Birch are a little warmer and not quite as loud. For different applications, I change them. A lot of it comes down to the way you tune drums. I try to tune each drum to its inherent note. There is an interval range that each drum sounds best in. I try to let the drums live in that natural range. So, for different reasons it's the same thing as metal shell snare drums with different alloys. Right now I'm using a Premier maple snare drum with the big wood hoops, which give it a lovely big crack but with a nice thick sound. I get a lot of top and bottom out of that drum. It also has a lot of sensitivity for the orchestral passages but I can really whack it and it doesn't choke up, so it essentially gives me four drums in one. That's great when I can find a drum that can do all that!

V4M: While performing live, do you try to control the dynamics of the band?
DP: Yes and I think that pretty much the drummer does control the dynamics of the band. My job is to not only follow what other people or doing but also to lead. I will generally try to control the overall dynamics, bringing things up or down as necessary. Establishing the dynamics, tempo and feel is generally the drummer's role.

V4M: Do you prefer on stage or in-ear monitoring?
DP: I prefer in-ear monitoring and have for years because it's much more Hi-Fi. I have the mix all right here in my ears. I hear the point, the transient of everybody's note. It's not reverberating off the back wall of the venue. For me I have a very democratic mix of the whole band in my in-ear system. I want to hear exactly where everybody is. That way, I can really negotiate where I need to play. If I need to push things ahead, pull things back or sit right in the middle, it is really easier to hear exactly where everybody is, with in ear monitoring. In this way, I don't have these loud monitors with so much sound coming out of them that they bleed back down into the drum mics, which in turn go to the front of house mix that the audience hears. It's a much cleaner sound for the audience and it's a much more hi-fidelity experience for them because we're playing with much lower stage volumes. Although the drums are probably the loudest thing acoustically, overall it's really not that loud on stage anymore because of the in-ear monitoring system. I think it's a great asset in the development of live music.

V4M: Individually, what is your most memorable Jethro Tull experience?
DP: I've said this before, but it goes back to one of the Indian tours we did. We went over there a few years back and we were invited to play with a man who is acknowledged as the master of the Indian bamboo wooden flute. His name is Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia. The Indians accord the title Pandit to one living musician at a time. For example, I believe Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussein are accorded the title Pandit on their respective instruments. Anyway, we had a rehearsal and we had to learn to play a raga. I've listened to Indian music extensively but I've never played a raga in my life. Basically, we had to learn to play a raga in a day and it was pretty challenging. They play in odd time signatures as we do, so we were comfortable in 5's, 7's and 9's, etc. However, it would have been ridiculous for us to go out there wearing turbans, trying to play like Indians, even if we could! We just played the way we play and ultimately it was a great blending of these two divergent styles coming together. However, we really ventured much more into their territory than they did into ours. Hari Prasad has an extraordinary tabla player named Vijay Ghate, who was very exciting to play alongside. It was extremely challenging, even a bit scary at times, because our playing was almost completely improvised around a loose and continually evolving structure. I think all of us felt that we were playing at the top of our form and ability at various points and it was exciting, scary and fun, all at once! At times it was like playing in an Indian version of Weather Report meets Jethro Tull meets Ravi Shankar, if you can imagine that. I don't quite know how to describe it. We played three concerts with him and his group and it was really a career highlight, not only because of the fact that we learned how to play a raga but because we really rose to the occasion. Jethro Tull played very well and we really held our own. And the audience got it. This was true fusion music in the best sense of the word because it was a blending of two disparate types of music coming together and it worked because of the way we all naturally played. We were all listening intensely and somehow it blended together into something much greater than anything that any of us could have anticipated. I remember that we all just felt lifted from those concerts. It has to be one of the most memorable musical experiences that I have had. Certainly over the many years that I have been with the band, there have been dozens of wonderful moments, but that was certainly a great highlight among many.

V4M: Musically, what are your current and future goals?
DP: Well, apart from playing, I really love to write, all kinds of different things…..music, lyrics, prose, short stories. And I have been enjoying that more and more as I get older. I've also had a career outside of Jethro Tull for many years before I joined the band and of course, all during my time in the group. Before joining Tull I had toured with several prominent artists and had made records with many other well known artists across a variety of different styles. After I joined Tull that didn't really stop. I had to curtail it, obviously, with Jethro Tull's busy schedule, so I did less of that. That was a fine and quite reasonable trade off for me, because I love being in a band but I've always had a career outside of the band as a performer and a recording musician plus now I find myself writing more and more. In addition to musical composition, I've also been working on a book. It's not autobiographical and I'm not going to go into what it is about at this point. All I can tell you is that it's going to require a lot of research. It's a labor of love and it's going to take me quite a while because of the amount of time and research involved. At this point, I can only do it in my spare time but I love it. After my touring and recording days are over I may very likely end up just writing books and music. I feel I could easily move laterally into that area. Plus, finally getting the chance to read all of the great books that I have had to postpone the pleasure of for so long! Nonetheless, I'm sure that I will probably be playing somewhere with somebody whether it's Jethro Tull or someone else. Being a performer and playing the drums has always been a great love of mine but it is not the only love and it does not define me completely as a person or as a musician. I enjoy composing and writing so much these days that I cannot imagine my life devoid of that oftentimes, grueling pleasure. I have gone through the years of being a session musician and side man, so I don't really feel any pressing need to revisit that again. I enjoy working on people's albums as special projects but I've been through the rank and file of doing everything from club dates, television jingles, radio, TV shows, movies, records and major tours. Everything you do as a session musician…… I've experienced all that. Although I enjoy that occasionally, I don't feel a burning desire to go back to just being that kind of musician again when Jethro Tull ends. I just feel that's something I have moved through. I've had a very, very fortunate career over many years, which has allowed me to play live around the world with Jethro Tull and a number of other great artists. It is inevitable that you move through different stages in your life, so I will try to embrace whatever comes next and not look back. It's hard to say unequivocally what form all of these things will take but I can see quite a substantial life ahead for me with what I'm currently doing.

V4M: What advice can you give aspiring songwriters and musicians today?
DP: Be yourself. It's very easy to dilute what you want to do and to submit to what other people wish you to do. It's hard to hang on to that especially if there's no money involved. I'm glad I had the apprenticeship in playing a lot of different styles of music and learning lots of things from different kinds of musicians. I even tried to learn something from several of the gigs I took, that I didn't particularly like. If you are confronted with that, or if you're asked to write a piece of music for somebody, even though you may not be particularly inspired by that artist, look at it as a challenge to learn something new. If you're writing indie alternative rock, hip-hop, urban jazz music or whatever and a publisher comes to you and says “I want you to write a country pop song for Faith Hill”, you might actually learn something by studying that idiom and trying to understand it. So, whatever opportunities you're given, you can always choose to look at them as learning experiences and not grumble your way through them. I would sometimes have a sight reading gig and I'd think, "good, now I can improve my sight reading" or to challenge myself, I'd switch my drum set around and play left-handed to make myself learn something different. I used to play these clubs in New York City with all these different artists and I was trying to get a grasp on how to play a lot of different styles. I always pretended that the Rolling Stones' 24 track mobile recording truck was outside recording the gig and I was making a live album. So every time I sat down to play I told myself I was making a record. I played like I was making a record…..in one take. That's the mindset I used in order to get myself to view that kind of experience in a productive way. Whether you use it as a performer or as a writer, I think you can take any experience you might not deem to be a good one and turn it into something positive. Very often when I would go for an audition and I wouldn't get a job, I asked myself “why didn't I get that job?" I turned that around and it made me determined that I would practice that much harder. I was going to figure out whatever it was I was deficient in and I was going to really work it out, which drove me to try to learn more about my instrument. I'm still an eternal student of my instrument. As you see I have a little practice setup here. When I warm up, I have all kinds of music that I listen to and play along with, trying to get a handle on new styles and techniques. Sometimes there are specific study books I take on the road that I will work on but whatever it is, for me, it's an ongoing process. You can always find something good in it. Of course it's all in your perspective. You can ask yourself why didn't I get this gig or get that gig? There are lots of ways to approach any situation, not just musical ones. If you can, look at what you might learn from a difficult situation or conversely, a great situation and what you might really hope to learn from that, if you take advantage of all the aspects of it. Along the way, I hope that I have learned how to do things better, how to play better, how to perform better and to acquaint myself with the details and nuances of my instrument. It's an ongoing thing. Every now and then I come off stage thinking, “I'm beginning to get the hang of this music thing, after all these years.” And then there are other nights I come off stage thinking “I don't know what I'm doing.” It’s a constant struggle. It may not be evident to the audience and hopefully not to the other band members either, but you never know. There are nights you just never know what you're going to get.

V4M: How would you sum up your career in the music business?
DP: Very fortunate. I've been very blessed to have been able to work with some enormously talented artists in a lot of different genres, who have allowed me to work with them. Sometimes I felt like I was being pulled along. At times, I was the youngest and least experienced in the band but somehow they put up with me. But I worked very hard. I practiced very hard. I've been very dedicated. It doesn't get by me how fortunate I have been. I've had the opportunity to work with so many amazing artists in my life. Music is all that I've really ever had to do. I've supported myself solely from playing music and I have to say that 95% of everything I've done music-wise, have been things I've genuinely liked doing. Looking back, I think, “Wow, I grew up in New York City and got to work with some great people there and across the world too”. Maybe I was in the right place at the right time for a lot of this to converge the way it did for me. I was a young musician at a good time and place and I tried to be as prepared and ready as I could. I practiced a lot when I was young. I stayed up until 3:00 in the morning with a practice pad in my room and got up at 7am to go to school. Hopefully, I had done most of my homework! I practiced as much as possible and I studied with everybody that would have me. Many years later, I found myself teaching off an on at The Musician's Institute in Los Angeles. I always went to the library there after classes and tried to avail myself of all they had to offer. The students would sometimes ask me questions to which I would have to reply, “I'll let you know about that next week." And off I’d go to the library!

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