Quicktake: Interview with Steve Brown

Shayne Ivy, Knoxville Cityview, Vol 24, Issue 2, February 2008

As we welcome Shayne Ivy to the position of Creative Director at CityView, we wanted to see what made this guy tick. Drums are a serious part of Shayne’s life, and he felt that interviewing the great Steve Brown of the Hector Qirko Band would make an exceptional story for the kiddies. Shayne saw many of the qualities in Steve’s style that he had been taught as a young drummer, and he asks Steve all the questions you need to know about playing drums in a band.

Photography by Christopher Mitchell

 

Do you have a musical philosophy?

I consider myself a musician that plays drums. I’ve played piano and various percussion instruments. I subbed with the Knoxville symphony orchestra. Rather than just being somebody who beats the drums, I can actually name any scale, any chord.

Can you pick out chords when you hear them?

I don’t have perfect pitch. It’s not like that.

Has drumming made you ambidextrous?

That is a wonderful question. Try eating with your left hand. I’ll tell my students hit your brother with your left hand. Use it! It’s just a matter of sending the signal.

 

What’s your tuning technique?

It’s mostly just what sounds good because different rooms will just make them sound differently. And who you’re playing with will make them sound differently. I have 2 different sets and I tune them differently. But I guess the major rule is they’re probably close to a perfect fourth. Sometimes slightly less a lot of times, but maybe more. I think you need a perfect fourth to have enough differentiation between the sounds. Or otherwise they would sound too similar.

And a perfect fourth is?

Like keys on a piano. It’s a C and a F.

Keys to a chord almost?

Yes.

Do you change your drum heads often?

Only when I absolutely have to.

Mathematical imperfection can be used to add personality in any song, would you agree?

A lot of the interest and spice that I add to a band’s music is what I call rhythmic dissonance.

Does that type of rhythm come from reggae?

The masters of that would be the Indian taba players. They do it against the pulse they hear in their head. When I’m playing with Hector I‘ll let the guitar and the bass do the 4/4 and I’ll apply something else on top of that. Then it will come back and it resolves in dissonance and the chords resolve.

How often do you practice?

I practice an hour a day first thing in the morning when I get up. I don’t brush my teeth, I don’t put on clothes…I just walk over and start practicing. It’s been that way for 30 years now.

Are drums meant to swing the band primarily or to provide backbone?

If you listen to drums around the world, and if you listen to drums in classical music, you have your answers. The percussion is the topping or the garnish. It’s the flavor. The meat of the music is the violins, or brass mostly. And if you listen to world music, drums are the heart of the music, the pulse…the grounding of the music. I think they serve both purposes. They must keep time and move the music forward, but they can also spark the music and contribute to its movement.

Do you concern yourself with perfect time at all?

In music that uses drums, the most important function the drum set provides is steady, pulsating movement-oriented time. That is crucial. I encourage playing along with a metronome, so time is of the essence. I used to sleep with a metronome under the pillow, a different tempo each night so I wouldn’t be stuck on one. When I practice, I always spend 3/4 of the time with a time keeping device of some kind. You don’t want to sound like a machine, but you do want to be in the ballpark. Hector has the best timing of any musician I’ve ever played with, period. He can play the drums if he wants to. If I screw up he just looks at me, he turns his head and gives me that look. He knows.

How have you managed to stay together as a band?

That’s something that I don’t think a lot of people appreciate. Stars make their millions and spend it on drugs and alcohol. But our band has been together for going on 22 years now. We know each other. And what is cool is that we aren’t a band that has a regular rehearsal schedule. We get together when we have new material. That’s it. I like it like that. Keeps it spontaneous.