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June/July 2016

by Eddie Castelow

Get Yer Kit Off: Stu Harwood

by Eddie Castelow

Get Yer Kit Off: Stu Harwood

Not many local drummers will have built their own acrylic drum kit, or constructed a vintage drum machine. Stuart Harwood has done both, and further proves his versatility playing currently for several quite diverse acts. Describing him as something of a renaissance man, sometime fellow skins man Edward Castelow agreed to ask him to get his kit off for NZM.

Okay, let’s start with the basics… A/S/L?

I love that question! 32, male, currently residing in Mount Roskill, Auckland. I’ve been living in Auckland for the last six years, but I still like to call Dunedin home.

Which groups currently have the pleasure of calling Mr. Stuart Harwood their drummer?

Please, call me Stu. I am currently “massaging the calfskins” (I never say that) for Paquin, Proton Beast, Herriot Row, and Anthonie Tonnon’s band, The Successors.

How did you first get inspired to play the drums, was it the classic high school excuse to get out of maths class, or were you an actual nerd?

A bit of both! I was a total weakling nerd at the start of high school, and didn’t really think much of the fact I could play the drum kit. It wasn’t until around 5th form that I worked out I had a better chance of hanging out with girls if I put down the Warhammer figurines and spent more time playing in bands.

What were some of the first groups that made you want to get behind the drums and have a nudge?

Back in the day we used to go to these really awesome (and probably illegal) all-ages gigs in Dunedin, and party to some really great local bands. The local heroes at the time for me were Ritalin, Mestar, Zuvuya and HDU.

When you were growing up did you take lessons/study music or are you a completely self-taught pounder without a shred of technique and musicality?

Yeah I was one of those kids who was forced to learn musical instruments as a youngster by my folks. I played the French horn and orchestral percussion. Have you ever tried to play the French horn? It’s an awful instrument. At high school I was taught the kit by some reasonably indifferent tutors. It wasn’t until I started my music degree at the University of Otago that I had my ‘A kicked into G’ properly by the likes of Graeme Downes, Rob Burns and Darren Stedman.

The groups that you play in all require a different approach and skill set. What you are trying to do in each group and why…

The music programme at Otago University exposed me to many different styles of music, and drilled home the importance of playing the right part for the song. I know saying stuff like, ‘letting the song breath’ is a naff thing to say, but there is a sense of truth to it. With that in mind, I don’t feel like there is that much difference in how I approach playing in those bands.

gyko-stu

Click to enlarge

There are technical quirks that are unique to each project. Heriot Row is the quietest, and demands more use of brushes and other percussion. Anthonie Tonnon likes keeping the kit quite contained, and Paquin requires the use of a click. Proton Beast is perhaps the most different, as the drums take on more a lead role in the band, which requires more creativity and improvisation.

I’ve seen you incorporating a vintage Simmons drum brain and pads with Paquin. The set up seems quite tech heavy?

In terms of the actual kit I play in Paquin it’s actually really simple! I use a normal acoustic kick and snare, but substitute the toms for these really cool electric Simmons pads that were made in 1982. The brain is called the  MTX9. Most of the sounds that unit are horrible, but they have the most 80’s sounding (and looking) power toms you can imagine!

You’ve built your own ‘Bonzo’-style acrylic drum kit and even a vintage 808 drum machine. Did the drums turn out to be untuneable and the drum machine a glitchy wayward metronome?

Dude, building my acrylic drum kit was probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Seemingly all by chance these undrilled clear RCI Starlight acrylic drum shells turned up on Trademe, around same the time I had access to a well-kitted out machine shop. I imported all the hardware from the Precision Drum Company in NYC, and put together the kit of my dreams. It sounds and looks amazing. (Readers can check out the build on my blog, www.borderline.co.nz).

GYKO Stu builds Edward Scholten

On paper the DIY Roland 808 build was kind of less interesting as it came together from a kit. However it was an absolute marathon of a soldering job, with a few sweaty palms moments when it wasn’t working and couldn’t work out why! Now it’s done I can’t wait to use it in anger live. It sounds super chunky.

Can you give us some insight into how you stay excited playing with others, and giving up your personal time to get in a sweaty room with mostly men.

You’re right I have played music with all sorts of people all over the show, most of them I’m lucky to consider life-long friends. That for me is the greatest thing about playing in bands: hanging out with my best pals.

Playing drums is one of the best ways to make new friends when moving cities. Get on the forums, find bands that need players, and meet some new people! I can guarantee the first band will probably not suit, but keep trying!  To youngsters wanting to get a bit more serious about drumming: Get a good teacher, learn to play to a metronome, and work out how to tune the drums properly.

Which local drummers do you like these days? Are any an influence?

I don’t really get a big tingle from total chops-bandits, instead I get my jollies from players that can make their drums sound incredible, play an interesting part, and keep a rock solid feel. People like Matthew ‘Puba’ Swain and Alex Freer. Jimmy Mac plays the drums in such a violent, non-rebound-y way that should sound horrible, but in-fact sounds incredible. It’s mind boggling to watch.

I see a lot of younger players just going at it hammer and tongs. What do you think the key is to not overplaying? Is it an age thing?

Totally, there’s nothing more awful than someone overplaying above their ability I guess that’s one of the benefits of going to music school, you get pretty brutal honest feedback. Though I think young players could learn a lot from recording their practices and gigs a lot more, that’s ultimately the best feedback.Still – you can’t really beat a good scissor kick. One pet peeve of mine is seeing kids with expensive kits, still with the factory drum heads on them! Put some decent skins on, ya little bastards! I used to think the best thing for my playing would be to buy the latest double-kick pedal. Now I think you just need a decent portable recorder and a metronome. How boring is that?

Why would you stop playing drums?

Man, I don’t know, it’s hard to conceive that happening! Maybe sustaining some kind of chronic injury?