Name: Richard Spaven
Occupations: Drummer, composer, producer
Current event: Richard Spaven's Spirit Beats EP is out via Fineline.
Recommendations: Dilla Time - Dan Charnas; Perfecting Sound Forever - Greg Milner
If you enjoyed this interview with Richard Spaven and would like to know more about his work and current tour dates, visit his official homepage. You can also find him on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud and twitter. Support him directly on his Patreon.
Over the course of his career, Richard Spaven has collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Alfa Mist (in 44th Move), Incognito, Sandunes, Jameszoo, and Jordan Rakei.
[Read our Alfa Mist interview]
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/ or sound that drew you to it?
Playing drums came way before writing or producing music. As a kid I was literally playing on pots and pans - and was in to big band jazz not so long after that.
Then hip hop hit me - hearing Run DMC, Public Enemy, NWA, Eric B and Rakim - I can’t put my finger on what drew me in but I reacted to that music … I knew it was my thing.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
A favourite time for listening is whilst travelling. I have always loved soundtracks. Music and journeying complement each other very well - music is your personal soundtrack to life and that’s something that influences my writing.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
My personal voice on drums has developed by itself without me realising.
It’s when I look back that I see how much the London club scene has shaped my sound and style as a drummer. I was fully immersed in Drum n Bass, Broken Beat and Dubstep and experiencing those scenes in their early stages has left its mark.
Breakthroughs - transitioning from being a sideman drummer to running my own projects has been the steepest of learning curves and I value that. The process of writing, producing, releasing and presenting a record continues to teach me a lot.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I can be a quiet person - as a listener I like insular / moody beats - on headphones that encourage a feeling of being in your own world.That said, I also love to be in front of a sound-system at say a DMZ night of Notting Hill Carnival - appreciating great music in it’s natural setting. In my production I’m also looking to create that headphone utopia. I guess.
The antithesis to this comes when behind a drum kit - I’m pretty dynamic and playing drums really is the best way to express.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Really it’s just that whatever you are playing / producing / releasing - needs to feel like it matters. Add to that the feeling I have that there is all this music is out there which is yet to be written.
A perfectly synced amalgamation of all your influences and experience - I find that endlessly motivating.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
When learning an instrument tradition is highly relevant. In my case playing a lot of jazz, a technically disciplined approach was required. With this as a base it’s really helped me process all the music that influenced me growing up - having some technique so as to be able to access challenging music.
I’m always looking to innovate and think outside the box when it comes to playing drums. I don’t like to recognise separation in genres and I’m motivated in what I might find in blurring those lines and experimenting.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
To state the obvious - drums / drumsticks. Now and again I do pause and think ‘I hit things with wooden things - that is actually what I do’.
Dedication to the instrument is something I established early on and that is still the case. You really need to commit to an instrument and put in the work. As I mentioned, those formative years of a disciplined approach have been invaluable in enabling me to take it in to melding genres or recreating what a sampled beat is doing.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Always plenty to do. Touring days are favourites as are recording days. A normal day would find me in the studio - pretty early (kettle on) - I like to get up and get on with it.
I carefully divide my time between practicing, writing, rehearsing and also now that I run a Patreon - making video tutorials and teaching.
Lockdown flipped the routine in to being quite insular at points but however that for me meant some concentrated writing time - much of Spirit Beats originating from that time.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Lets take "Spin" feat. Jordan Rakei.
I had been listening to a lot of ‘Footwork’ and wanted to do something with a drum part that would relate to the genre. I had some chords in mind and whilst focussing on getting them down I very mindlessly programmed the drums - really just the essence of the idea and nothing really predetermined about it. That pretty much became the groove that you hear. Transferring the programmed beat to the drums was a process in this case - you have to work out the sticking and coordination.
So then with the template in place it was off to Real World studios on a residential with the whole band for this recording. That was an experience - recording in such a beautiful surround and we tracked "Spin" pretty much live. Jordan took the track back to his cottage next door - he appeared that evening waving a USB drive and we all sat back and were blown away … "Spin" remains a special one for me.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coﬀee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Before shows with my band we like to hang out all together - sometimes chatting through anything that's new or different, but mainly just catching up and being a unit pre stage. I’ll probably be doing some yoga moves to stretch my drummers back and controversially (according to my band and Jordan Rakei) cleaning my teeth. Great before addressing an audience to clean ones teeth!
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Creating music will always be a private / personal process for me. I do like the control in being able to decide exactly how something goes.
That said I collaborate with Stuart McCallum (guitarist for The Breath / Cinematic Orchestra) very closely in a writing capacity. Having a sound / trusted relationship with a co-writer is very important.
Also collaborative projects are great ways to let go and I’ve found it liberating to relinquish some control and genuinely collaborate. Ideas move faster and it feels good being able to bounce ideas around immediately with somebody else. The 44th Move project with Alfa Mist is a good example - you can hear elements of our solo projects but there’s also an array of ideas that we created together - ideas that I can see would not have surfaced without the collaborative process.
What tend to be the best collaborations in your opinion – those with artists you have a lot in common with or those where you have more differences? What happens when another musician take you outside of your comfort zone?
I think not having preconceptions is a good thing going in to a collaboration. With Sandunes we really were on the spot … "ok … we gotta write an album". That just grew organically and is what I would consider a genuine collaboration as opposed to "here’s a beat I made earlier". Same for me working with Alfa Mist - it’s a vibes in and see what we come up with.
What are your thoughts on the interaction with other musicians, the need for compromise and the decision making process?
Rules and creativity don’t really work so well together. Personally I’m always open to ideas from those I make music with.
That said - I can be sure at times that ideas must realise themselves how you heard - and that’s the beauty of having your own project. Took me a while to learn this after feeling some frustrations as a side man for many years.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I think music is more important than ever. With all that is going on in the world right now it is very easy to feel useless as a musician - however there are touching messages from people telling you how your music has helped them in some way. Putting music and art out there is important - people need cultural stimulus.
If everyone consciously engaged with choosing the music they listen to and interacting with it in a meaningful way (as I - and probably you do too if you’re reading this) then I could easily imagine a better world for us all.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Creating music is so often a way of channeling emotions and experience. Without such experience we’d have nothing to write about. I’m very appreciative to have this as an outlet.