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Adding drums to previously drumless songs:

Tom:Ashley, when we take some older piece to rearrange such as "Babylon" or "Bruton Town" or "As I Roved Out" how is it that you approach that?
Ashley:I think I'm fortunate in that – well, I don't know about "Bruton Town" but – I think having heard More Bad News as much as I had, I mean I played it incessantly. I don't know if you noticed but –
Amy:The sordid secrets of how obsessed we are.
Ashley:Once I get a hold of any album that I want to learn I just listen to it constantly. I totally inhale it and memorize it. Then I get sick of it and put it away for about a month. When I come back to it again I can start to play along with it. That's how I learned to play music, by listening to all those '70s progressive rock bands [laughter]. I always treat the drums as another voice, as another "musical instrument." Since I also sing, play violin, piano, and I even tried the bass guitar for a short while, I try to treat it that way. This may sound weird but I already heard drums on More Bad News. I never thought: "Why aren't there drums there?" I just heard that in my head and I was happy with it, and I just kept it to myself. So suddenly here I am with this wonderful opportunity –
Amy:– to play all the things that you'd been picturing in your head. That's exactly where I was actually, because I'd been listening to this stuff and thinking: "Well, you know, if I was hanging out with them and playing I would do blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah …"
Ashley:A perfect example: We're driving to Philly Folk Fest and this guy [points to Tom] is harmonizing to everything. That's the kind of thing –
Jim:Oh yeah! Oh, you'd never driven with Tom before!
Ashley:No, but that was terrific! And I started joining in with him and I was trying to find a vocal line that wasn't the same as his but that still fit.
Jim:Use for future reference!
Ashley:I would drive around with my parents all the time, and my grandparents. They'd have the radio on and I'd always be thinking up my own parts to the songs. It's the same thing here. So when you give me "Babylon" I already thought I was going to do the cymbal roll at the start and I also tried to fit the drums to –
Ashley:Yeah. I already thought of that. I don't want to sound pompous about it. I don't mean it that way, but I had already thought up most of the ornamentation. I was just in the right place at the right time at that point.
Jim:I'm amazed! You think of things ahead of time?
Ashley:In that case I did. Another thing I do a lot of is I always try to echo the lyrics and make some kind of emotional impact on the drums. "Spinning round" with the cymbal – like that. I always try and do stuff like that. Even another line in "Roved" – in the latter half –
Amy:Was it the "hair on her head" one?
Ashley:No … it was "stick!" I always - PING! – on – I always try to do that thing on the word "stick" as if I was hitting, as in "well beaten." I try to whack that. So far I haven't gotten it to sound quite the way I want but … one of these days.
Amy:You said a second ago that you think of the drums as if you're playing another instrument. I think it's as if you're playing seventeen other instruments! It amazes me how much you do.
Jim:I think I was only with Mike at the time. But we were in Milkboy listening back to, maybe "Babylon" or "As I Roved Out" or something like that.
Ashley:When we were recording?
Jim:Yeah, when we were recording at Milkboy. And at one point only the drums were up.
Ashley:That's what happens when you're on tape one! [The first multitrack tape to cue up in the studio.]
Jim:And Mike and I were thinking: "Ashley is playing every part just on the drums." And you can really hear just what you're doing.
Ashley:You mean you knew where things fit by virtue of hearing the drum part?
Jim:No, I mean you can actually – well, maybe because I know what's supposed to be there. But I can hear that you've done something with everything. You've looked at a whole bunch of different things about the existing song and … put something on top of them.
Ashley:I try to do that. A band's really effective when they make each other sound good. And that's what I try to do, I try to make everybody else sound good. For instance, Greg Howard, when we played during Stick Night 1997, made me sound great.
Ashley:I was petrified at first. And I told him later, I said: "You made me sound fantastic." That's exactly what he did.
Tom:It was good.
Ashley:Thank you. That was Greg, and I try to do the same thing when we play.
Jim:But you gotta know how to respond and listen, that's really something.
Ashley:Well, sometimes you just literally give up and say –
Jim:You're really underestimating yourself I think because, a lot of people, drummers in particular, I don't mean to slander you and your people but –
Ashley:"Do not say anything negative about my people!"
Jim:…a lot of them just don't listen. I've played with drummers before. A lot of them just – it's as if they're drag racing.
Ashley:[quickly] 1-2-3-4.
Ashley:I bet if I hadn't played violin and I hadn't played those other instruments, I might have been just as much of a drag racer.
Helene:Violin players aren't supposed to listen either.
Tom:The thing that sort of occurs to me about this topic though is that, I feel that a lot of our music, especially on More Bad News I think more than the previous recordings, and especially some of the stuff we did as trio, there is kind of an implicit beat in a lot of the songs. There is a sense of an implicit rock beat in places.
Ashley:I agree. "Lord Bateman."
Tom:I think "Lord Bateman" is actually less that way than some of the others.
Ashley:[pause] Naaah!
Tom:Like "As I Roved Out" and "Babylon" –
Ashley:Oh, they all have beats.
Tom:And I think "Sheath and Knife" does and the reels obviously do. But then it's more of a folky beat.
Ashley:One of these days we're going to do "Lord Bateman!"
Jim:You've been going on about "Lord Bateman" for a while and I'm interested to see what you think, because I can't picture it.
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Forming the Band | Helene Joins | From 1991-1997 | Ashley Meets B.E. | Amy Meets B.E. | Ashley and Amy Join | The Philadelphia Folk Festival | It's New All Over Again | Adding Drums | Fun with Woodwinds | Arranging | Traditional Music | Complete Interview
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