"we want to play music that'll upset people a little bit - because if they don't like it, then we know we're actually doing something."
Taken at face value, this might seem a ridiculous statement. But Keith LeBlanc, Tackhead's drummer and solo artist in his own inimitable right, has good reasons for making such an apparently senseless comment. He elaborates: "We had one really good shitty review when we first came over here playing with Mark Stewart. It said 'if you're going to go with studio musicians, why not use backing tapes?'. The guy really slagged it man, it was great. Those are the reviews that I'm actually looking for - because I figure if people like it, we aren't doing anything different."
Tackhead have a finely developed sense of the outrageous. Their studio recordings are slabs of funky noise, thundering hip-hop beats and basslines backing subtle vocal samples. A long and fruitful association with Adrian Sherwood (the renowned dub mixer and producer) has given them a distinctive sound: aggressive, relentless, and L-O-U-D.
But the latest Tackhead, epitomised by recent live appearances in London, has a new musicality and sense of band identity. The key to this lies in their creative use of sampling technology. Live, Keith LeBlanc triggers samples from his kit, and bassist Doug Wimbish stamps on a set of MIDI pedals for the same reason. And it's all anchored by a simple percussion loop from an ancient Oberheim DMX drum machine - complex sequencers are nowhere to be seen.
"That's right", Keith affirms. "Basically, we'll do the records and then rape the multitracks of all the samples. The main reason for having the percussion loops originally was because we were having Adrian dub the gigs up live. He had to figure out the echo speeds for each tune so he could dub it. But there's another reason: the samples are recorded in the tempo that you cut the track in, so they can only fit in at that pre-determined tempo. But now, the percussion loops have become part of the sound."
Using gear as old as the DMX drum has its drawbacks, though. Before the gig, LeBlanc can be seen opening the machine's casing and pressing the chips firmly into place. "They loosen up, but if you give them a good thump, it usually works", he laughs. "I'm not too precious about gear - except when it comes to drumsets. With electronics, it gets really fiddly, to tell the truth."
Fiddly? Problematic might be a better word. As Keith points out, live use of samples can be a dangerous business...
"I not only have to play drums, I also have to hit samples - and the moment I have to hit the pads might be totally out of time with what I'm playing. If you hit the wrong pad, or the right pad at the wrong time, it's all over, because you just have to let it go. It's a problem, especially if you have a long vocal sample that's in time with the track.
"Our gigs are interesting because we never know what's gonna happen. If the power goes out, I can still play, so that's a good thing; I'm glad we don't depend on sequencers for everything. Some bands just get up there and push a button. A lot of times we've had real problems on the gigs and no one's been in the know except us."
"DRUMMERS HAVE A CERTAIN CAMERADERIE BECAUSE THEY'RE ALWAYS THE SWEAT-HOGS OF THE BAND... BUT NOW WE HAVE AMPLIFICATION, WE CAN'T BE DROWNED OUT - WE'VE GOT A KNOB TO TURN UP TOO!"
Keith LeBlanc has been brought up with a progressive attitude towards his own playing technique. He uses a double bass pedal, two hi-hats, drum pads, trigger bugs - all the hallmarks of the thoroughly modern drummer.
"It's a much more sensible way to play", he explains. "You can do a lot more things. I once saw a drummer with double pedals, three hi-hats... and I said 'gee, this guy is a real cheater'. He was a real innovator, when I think back on it, but a lot of drummers felt that way. It's really hard to change drummers' attitudes.
"When drum machines came in, I think I was probably the first guy to get hit by them, because I was cutting a lot of rap music tracks. I hated those things - I'd try and spill sodas in them, anything I could - because it was so threatening. It was taking the food out of my mouth. I used to call 'em Willy. You pay him once, he never talks back, he never gets tired and he doesn't eat. How can you compete with that shit? And it was a new sound. So I just..." he hesitates, "erm, I finally bought one. And once I had one in my possession, I felt a lot better. Now it's great."
There's an air of optimism surrounding Keith LeBlanc. As a drummer on the cutting edge of a new musical generation, he can lean back and see the broad trends in their true perspective - and offer plenty of encouragement to aspiring skin-bashers of all ages.
"There's so many good drummers out there", he enthuses. "Everywhere you go, you can learn something from somebody; someone is always doing something you haven't thought of. I think that's one of the great things about the instrument. Plus, drummers have a certain camaraderie because they're always the sweat-hogs of the band. But now, with the technology, we can play some other things - keyboards and musical notes. And we have amplification, so we can't be drowned out. We've got a knob to turn up too!
"Guitarists have had their way too long. The '80s are great for us, the '90s are going to be even better. Drummers of the world unite: get some amplifiers!"
Tough talk from a tough player - and it all makes so much sense.
Interview by Tim Ponting
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