Phosphorous Heads

Lit by Atma Anur

Tag Archives: Kris Claerhout


Merry Christmas, best wishes, waves of joy, peaceful moments, and endless inspiration for 2012 from the Phosphorous Heads Blog! 

Our gift for you on this second day of Christmas is a first read of Atma Anur’s interview for Metal Hammer Hungary and Soundquest magazine by Gyorgy Danev. Enjoy and let us know how you like it!  

1. When did you start playing the drums?

A A: I had a special event in school called “Show and Tell Day” when I was in the 4th grade in NYC. I was 10 and had just moved to the US from London. One of the kids brought in a snare drum, for marching, and I just took it over and played on it all day (bothering everyone… lol). When I got home that evening I announced to my mother that “I can play the drums”.

Funny, but she then told me that I had been playing since I was about 2 years old. Then I kind of remembered what she was telling me, and we realized that once I had seen Ringo Starr and the Beatles on TV in England at about 3 years old… I had been playing the drums on whatever I could hit!

I kept asking for a drumset for the next year or so, finally my parents got me a Stewart set from Levitt and Elrod on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It had a 20 kick, a 14 snare and a 13 rack tom. I got a 16 floor tom about a year later! It also had a hihat stand and a cymbal stand attached to the bass drum… I had no cymbals though!

2. Who were your major influences?

 A A: Well, after those first Ringo memories came the days of trying to understand what the drums really did in music. That was a deep revelation, as I remember. I mean what sound is what when you listen to a song… like the snare, the bass drum and so on. I think the hihat was the most fascinating.

The very first record I ever bought (my mom bought it) was Curtis Mayfield’s SuperFly… However, the first guys I listened to really were Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham, Carl Palmer and Charlie Watts. Many wonderful drummers came next in those early days, around 14 to 16… like Lenny White, Alphonse Mouzon, Narada Michael Walden and many others. In my teens I really loved listening to Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant and Gong… mostly all European Prog/Rock.

After I began studying seriously and went to music schools, my deepest and most lasting influences took root I think. They would be Tony Williams, Terry Bozzio, Billy Cobham, and Jack Dejohnette. I guess that when I ”just play” I have those sounds in my head.

After the years of formation as a drummer I went back and studied many great legends like Jon Bonham, Ian Paice, Ginger Baker and Mitch Michell. Also Zigaboo Modelist of the Meters, and the drummers of the James Brown Band. Then I got back into my roots by studying many Reggae artists and their drummers. Reggae, then called ”blue beat” was playing in my house from birth; I gravitated towards rock first but never forgot my ”swingin” roots! 

I also love Vinnie Colauta, Steve Smith, Dennis Chambers and, of course, Steve Jordan and Steve Gadd (who I saw live in NYC many, many times in the 70’s).

3. You are a well-educated drummer, as you were studying both at the Manhattan School of Music and the world famous Berklee College of Music. Did you enjoy those times?

A A: Well, absolutely. Study is still a very big part of who I am. I have to credit my mother for putting the ”studier” in me. She had many degrees in many unrelated subjects (besides working two jobs her whole life). I learned how to concentrate from her. Music is about concentration, and drumming even more so.

Being in a good music school is very important I think. Studying history and technique are just part of being a true and good musician. Of course, music is a language of international and multi/cross-cultural communication… so one must study the language, and how to best use it, to share what one has to share. The ability to communicate “the human condition” with music is the whole point for any musician. This communication is part of our human cultural foundation and history.

Understanding how to study and how to copy or re-create what one hears are huge parts of being a sideman. As a sideman drummer you need to learn and chart other people’s drum parts, and perform them with passion and excitement… This is a wonderful challenge.

4. How was the Berklee from inside?

A A: After being involved with the classes in the first semester of school I realized that what I wanted was to just learn how to play the drums. I then spent insane numbers of hours in the practice rooms and on the pad. I went to class (of course) but that was not my focus.

One wonderful part of being at Berklee in the 70’s was the other students. When I was there, Steve Vai, Tain Watts, Smitty Smith, Stu Hamm, Lorn Leber, Tim Landers and so many others were there as well. Tommy Campbell and Rodney Smith were two of my biggest influences and inspirations while I was in school… both amazing drummers and musicians.

The teaching style at Berklee is a very specific and practically oriented method. It is geared toward being able to play in almost any musical situation, and actually intellectually understand what you are playing, not only “feeling it”. Song form and style, reading, counting and traditional chord changes are a big focus. For drummers it’s things like rudiments and four-way coordination. Let’s say that these are all basic music language tools that all musicians use whether they realise it or not.

5. Although you’re a native Englishman, you started your career as a jazz drummer in the NYC area. How did you get there?

A A: Well, my family moved from London to NYC when I was 9; they are from Barbados, but we (the kids) were born in England, and I did all kinds of playing while I lived there. In the earliest days it was progressive rock and fusion. I moved back to NYC after I left Berklee and that is when the jazz on the streets and at the jazz lofts began. This is around 19 and 20 years old. At that time I was very very into Tony Williams and Jack Dejohnette, and wanted to play “free” as much as possible.

At that time (’79/ ’80), I was not at all interested in playing rock or even anything that concerned grooves with a back beat (without improvisation). And of course the idea of 4/4 made no sense to me at all… lol I had discovered that any number could be a time signature and was obsessed. I spent a great deal of time trying to sound like Elvin Jones as well, I had a trio that would play John Coltrane tunes on the streets of NYC for at least 6 hours per day… every day! We made money, and learned how to bop! Quite cool!

During this time I developed the material for my book along with Steven Schwab, the Theory of Poly Rhythmic Harmony. This study of time, rate and grouping has remained with me to this day. The book has not been published.

6. Most people know your name because of your session works for Shrapnel records. How did you get in touch with Mike Varney?

A A: I was doing a lot of playing in Marin County, that is just over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I was in around 7 bands at one time in those days, and many of those bands would play the Marin Club scene.

The first person I met that was connected to Mike Varney was Josh Ramos. To make it short, he told Mike about me, and Mike came to see me in some band at Uncle Charlie’s in like 1984? Not sure. Anyway, we talked about me joining his Metal band called Lemans. They were on Columbia Records and he was managing the band. The lead singer and songwriter was Peter Marrino, and the late Derrick Friggo was the guitarist… What an amazing talent!!

Soon after all that, Mike asked me if I might be interested in recording with a new artist named Tony Macalpine… I had not heard of him, but I was very excited. The rest of the story is history… lol.

Mike and I had a great relationship over the years, and made some great records together. I feel very honoured to know him.

7. Almost all of those ’80s neoclassical metal records were made at the Prairie Sun Recording Studio in Cotati, CA. In my opinion Steve Fontano and Mark “Mooka” Rennick have mixed great drum sounds there. What do you think?

A A: Oh yes, both Mooka and Steve are awesome people and excellent at what they do. I feel that I learned so much from Steve Fontano, especially.

Those were great days of hard work and creativity, and Prairie Sun is a wonderful place with a great vibe. Super for focusing on making music! I spent many many weeks of my life there, working on music. It’s a matter of fact that my then wife went into labour with our first child while I was getting ready to track the Bernd Steidl CD! Of course we had to race back to San Francisco for the birth (she was with me at Prairie Sun), but within a week I was back there and the CD got tracked.

I think Steve Fontano is a tone master, and we had very intense times working together. The whole crew at Prairie Sun is simply awesome!

8. In the mid ’80s Cacophony was born. What did you think when you first heard Jason Becker and Marty Friedman playing together?

A A: I liked what I heard a lot, and had a great time working out those songs and the parts.

Atma Anur, Peter Marrino, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman

 Both of those guys are excellent musicians and very open and creative people. The big thing was how much fun I had working with those guys. I had already worked with Pete Marrino, so that was also cool. I got Swain Noro to play bass live. We were in a killer funk/ trash band called Trick Whitey, a bit of a Bay Area legend.

I was so impressed with how easy it was to be creative with Marty and Jason, both just heard music and played it, especially Jason, this is what I love! For sure Jason is a deeply gifted and unique musician.

9. After 2 records Cacophony broke up. Why was this band so short-lived?

A A: Oh, I have no idea. For me it was just one of the zillions of things I was doing at the time. I think I’ve rarely ever actually been “in a band”, so to speak. I may have learned this from growing up in NYC in the 70’s. We all just played. With whoever, whenever and whatever. I love it, and I am still very much that kind of musician. It’s the music that I am interested in most. Cacophony was a great band with awesome music, and we had a very nice time together. I would do it again anytime!

Maybe it had something to do with Jason getting the Roth gig and Marty going to Megadeath… I don’t know. They were touring with Kenny Stravopolis on drums in Japan for a bit, I think, and they did some recording with Deen Castronovo as well.

I’m pretty sure that by that time I was busy with Richie Kotzen, and had moved to LA.

10. How do you remember the recording of Jason’s “Perpetual Burn” album?

 A A: Wow, I don’t have such very clear memories of most of my sessions. I think it’s because at the moment of creative work, I am just really focused on being in the moment.

I can say that the whole process for me was only a few days. Maybe a week long. It was just me, Jason and Mike Varney. Super creative and a lot of fun. Fontano was engineering and Jason and I had a good work relationship going from our earlier rehearsals.

I was just telling a friend that I actually have a cassette with those original drum tracks as a rough mix… Coolness!

11. Which of your recordings are you the most proud of?

 A A: I am happy and feel blessed to work with so many great and creative artists. They are all special to me for one reason or another.

I have probably recorded hundreds of CDs, only 128 of them have been released, for various reasons. Many of those cds are on independent lables.

12. Most challenging session ever?

A A: Well I have had some very crazy and difficult sessions over the years. I can remember two in particular that were very difficult for me.

The first was a session for singer Linda Rondstad. She had a movie sound track to do and there was a wonderful classic Spanish score performed by a band and an orchestra.

I had the opportunity to play some tracks for that sound track album. The difficult part was that in those days the whole editing was done by hand, so things really needed to be more or less perfect at the time you record them. I had to follow a conductor and play to a chart with no music playing along with me for some of those tracks. They asked me to do a few styles of playing, like a ”jazz” groove and a light ”latin” groove and so on. The thing that made that very hard was following a conductor while being dynamic and creative… with tape rolling! I was quite nervous.

The second one I remember was the Electric Joy album by Richie Kotzen. That is such a beautiful record, with wonderful songs and killer guitar playing.

The story is that I got a call from Mike Varney to come to Prairie Sun for some recording with Richie Kotzen. We had already done the Fever Dream CD and done a bunch of live shows and so on.

To make a long story short, when I got to the studio I was told that the whole CD was ”finished” and they ”just needed the drums to make it right”. Well the CD was in fact finished mixed and so on… with all the over dubs and everything. The only thing was that it was not done to a click and had a lot of time and mood changes. I had to figure out how to follow what had been played, but sound like the drums are the foundation of the songs (no digital editing then also). And as it was with all of Mike’s recordings… we had almost no time to do it! That session may have been just a few days… And that’s from first hearing the songs to being done and packing up my drums!!

I have to say that the CD came out killer (Electric Joy), and we had a wonderful time doing some pretty difficult but creative work. Mooka Rennick and Dino Alden worked on the engineering for that one, I think.

13. Did you have any session you would forget?

A A: Well I have a bad memory about many things. I guess I have forgotten lots of stuff over the years. If you mean do I want to forget a session… no.

I am very grateful to God for all the work and opportunities to be creative and challenged in life and in music. What God has for me will always be the right thing at the right time. I just want what God wants for me.

14. I’m sure you have your own drumming method. Could you share the core of this with us?

A A: To play well, with passion and to serve the music that I am playing at the time… whatever it may be.  I am also very dedicated to learning about the various traditions in modern drumming, and to draw from them to be creative in my playing. I am a student of music.

I spent a lot of time working on the Gary Chaffe linear drumming method, also working with the 40 international drum rudiments. I am a student of the Billy Gladstone method and the Sanford Moeller method.

I try to combine the emotional feel of Reggae with the intensity and power of Metal and the improvisational spirit of Jazz in everything I play… that is my most basic concept.

I also believe in copying the masters, and still do. Lastly, let’s say that I also love to practise.

15. What do you think, has the drum education evolved during the last couple of decades?

A A: Oh, for sure not. Education is education and the information has been around long enough. The Internet has made more easy access to information, but it has not changed human nature at all. Let’s say that entropy and not evolution is what I personally believe humanity is dealing with.

For the musician things remain the same as they have always been… practice practice practice!

Let’s say that the idea of apprenticeship is dying, and that is a basic component of being educated and able to potentially bring something new to the “creative table”. Too many musicians seem to think that they have something valid to say without any study of history and what came before them. There is way too much attention on ”being an individual” and too much fear of copying (while on the other hand there are also many musicians that can ONLY copy!).

Copying is the most effective and realistic way of learning, and not re-inventing the wheel (and then taking credit for it… lol). Traditional learning is about listening and copying – how to speak, etc… and after this we make attempts to speak for ourselves!

16. As far as gear stuff, which type of kits do you prefer?

A A: The good ones. All the companies make good kits at the top of their line. I deeply like DW drums for many many reasons. I’ve played them for about 25 years.

17. Which do you like more, brass or maple snares?

A A: Well, in general I like wood drums all round. These days I have been playing 2 DW Collector’s series edge snares, both 13, not 14. I have played mostly all wood snares for most of the almost 40 years that I’ve been playing. I did play a copper shell snare for a couple of years in the 80s. I have never liked steel or all brass myself. I have also played snares made of other kinds of wood than maple that I have loved. 

18. Could you please introduce your current kit setup for us (with all the dimensions)?

A A: Well the current setup is quite different than the setup I used just 3 weeks ago! Right now I’m on the road playing a kind of commercial, Hendrix type of vibe with Florian Hofer.

I am using a DW Collector’s series 5-piece kit. It has a 22 kick, 10, 12 racks and a 14 floor on legs. Many times I use 2 floors (14 and 16). I also add an 8-rack tom for more prog/rock recordings. Let’s say that a 6-piece kit is the most normal for me.

 For the past 5 years I have been using the 13 edge snares exclusively. I just really like the feel and the sound of those drums. Just before that I was in love with my 13 Craviatto snares. It’s been quite a long time since I have used 14 snares on a regular basis, but I did do quite a few songs on 14s during some recording sessions. 

For cymbals, I have been with Sabian for almost 25 years, and I always use lots of cymbals.  Let’s say that cymbal colours are a real part of the sound I have in my head.

I have a few ride cymbals that are 20 or 21, and they range from loud and bright, to bark and funky sounding. So it depends on what I am playing. For example, on this tour I am using a 21-vault ride; it has a vintage and jazzy sound. But at the Jason Becker Festival a few weeks ago, I used a very loud 20 Evolution ride, with a large bell. A very different ride cymbal.

As for crashes I always have 1 ozone 16 in my setup. Then the rest depend on the gig. For sure there will be a splash or 2. I have a 10 octagon splash that I use also.

Then come to hihats… Always 13s and usually 2 of them. 1 as a fixed open hat, for the double bass pattern playing. Almost all of the crashes are HHX Evolution series cymbals. I like that they are darker and shorter than some other series of cymbals.

So the most basic cymbal setup for me is ride, 2 crashes, 1 splash, 2 hihats and 1 china cymbal. But I am usually using 3 crashes and 2 chinas… (I like smaller chinas; I also use the Sabian Max-stax china. I also place splash cymbals inside my china cymbals to get a dryer, funkier sound.)

19. How was the Jason Becker Not Dead Yet festival a few days ago?

A A: For me it was a deeply spiritual time. The group of musicians were exceptionally talented and wonderful people. All of us joining together in support of Jason was a beautiful thing.

I think that we were really trying to give back just a little of what Jason gave to all of us, and to the world. 

There were 2 keyboard players, 14 guitarists and 3 bass players… and then me. We had 2 days to put together 45 songs, and a few of those songs were finally cut due to time. I had received the songs quite a while before the show and had time to make charts and try to learn the recorded drum parts. Of course playing along with a recording is much different than playing a song live!

The Players at the Jason Becker “Not Dead Yet” European Festival, November 13th, 2011

Timo Somers – Guitar

Barend Courbois – Bass

Atma Anur – Drums

Marcel Coenen – Guitar

Joop Walters – Guitar

Erik Van Ittersum- Keys

Andy James – Guitar

Daniele Gottardo – Guitar

Martin Miller – Guitar

 Franck Hermanny – Bass

Federico Solazo – Keys

Stephan Forte – Guitar

Marco Sfogli – Guitar

Mattias IA Eklund – Guitar

Michael Lee Firkins – Guitar

Stu Hamm – Bass

Kiko Loureiro – Guitar

Hedras Ramos – Guitar

Guthrie Govan – Guitar

Organizers – Kris Claerhout, Laurie Monk, Ron Coolen

Day 1 was a wonderful day of meeting, playing and serious work… It was 14 hours long. Day 2 was a 9-hour day of just music, at the end of this day I was completely exhausted! Day 3 was the day of the show and we had to finish a few songs of rehearsal at the venue in the earlier part of the day. Then, of course, we played the 6-hour show, that day was at least 14 hours long as well.

Amazingly enough, the amount of playing was not physically too much for me (amazing at 51 years old!), it was the mental aspect of it all that was the real challenge. I have to add that the volume of the various guitarists was a factor adding to mental fatigue for me.  But I must say that the love, creativity and positive vibes of everyone involved also gave me the extra energy that I needed to stay in an inspired emotioinal place, and put out what was needed for each artist (each of whom are very different). These are such creative and talented people, it was amazing to play with each of them. Learning all the styles and vibes is truly what i love about playing drums… this was the perfect show for me, “The Guitar Player’s Drummer”.

We had a Skype connection set up with a stereo mic feed to Jason at his house in California, so he could see and hear the whole show live while we played… amazing!

So many amazing things happened it would be really hard to write about them all here. I can say that a DVD is being mixed and put together now, and that future benefit festivals are in the works. I hope to continue my relationship with the organisers, Kris Clarehout, Ron Coolen, Laurie Monk, Guglielmo Malussardi, and keep adding to the love!

20. After hundreds of sessions who else do you want to work with in the future?

A A: Everyone that wants to make really good music!!