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Tanks For The Beats: An Interview With New Order’s Stephen Morris

Stephen Morris- Tanks For The Beats

Recently I had a chance to have a brief conversation with the charming Mr. Stephen Morris, former New Order and Joy Division drummer. We touched on his long drumming career, synthesizer repair, the impact of the German krautrock drumming style and of course, his hobby: driving around in an army tank.

Electronic Beats: There’s been a lot of focus lately on female drummers; 2009 saw the birth of Tom Tom Magazine, which is devoted entirely to that subject. Do you follow the world of drumming?

Do I follow the world of drumming.. (laughs) or do I follow the world of girls. Yeah I do a bit. My attitude to drumming is a bit funny because there is this whole thing where you start reading drumming magazines and all that and it kind of becomes like athletics. But the kind of drumming I do is just relaxing and banging about. But girls playing the drums I think it absolutely fantastic. When I first started drumming one of the people who I really wanted to sound like was Maureen Tucker from The Velvet Underground. She was a great drummer, quite unique style. I think Meg White from the White Stripes, she was great. Cindy Blackman is a great drummer. In this band called The Whip they have a girl and she’s great as well. Except for Cindy Blackman who is pretty accomplished I think they all have a sort of style that I like and is quite simple, it is just straight-ahead, just doing the beats but kind of in your own way, which I am totally fine with, rather then being incredibly technical. I think that’s what I am trying to say. I’m not a very technical drummer, I’m not trying to say that girls cant be technical drummers because I’m sure they can. It just coincides that a lot of female drummers play in a similar style that I like.

Your own drumming has been described as very machine-like actually.

Yeah… I kind of like that, keeping it very simple. I thought it would be easy. I do find it quite easy but all the people say it’s difficult to play very rigidly and I can play rigidly. I can play either way. Some people have difficulty doing it and it’s just something that I started doing, something quite natural for me.

How do you think feel about the more motoric drum beats, from Neu! and Can and that whole krautrock style of drumming?

There you go, you hit off the next influence after Maureen Tucker. Jackie Lee from Neu! and Can. They’re really big influences on me. Neu! are absolutely fantastic and Can, the first time I heard the first album Monster Movie and You Do Right was fantastic. It just sounded like nobody else. To date I still think Jackie is one of my all time favourite drummers, and a very interesting person as well.

So have you always been more attracted to the drumming side of things? I know for the early New Order stuff you could hear your vocals on some of the tracks.

I don’t really have the right sort of head to be a singer. I can only sing when nobody is looking which is a waste of time. When New Order started after Ian died there was the New Order singing competition and our manager at the time had a great idea that I should sing and play the drums at the front and I just thought that was a terrible idea. I don’t like singing drummers. I think there are some great singing drummers but I don’t want to be one of them. There’s just something about it that doesn’t appeal to me at all. I find I can’t sing and I certainly can’t sing and play drums at the same time.

You’d rather be secure behind the drum kit.

Yeah because well when you are drumming you drift off somewhere.. don’t ask me where, you kind of just get into drumming and you’re somewhere else. When you’re singing it’s another kind of concentration, I think. When you’re drumming and it’s good you’re sort of very relaxed, but for me when you are singing it requires a lot of thought. It makes me anxious and I think that’s why I didn’t enjoy it. I think it takes a certain kind of personality to be a good singer, and it’s not the kind of personality that I got.

One thing that I thought was really interesting was that you collect military vehicles.

The tank collection.. (laughs)…yeah.

How did you get started with this?

I actually wanted a vintage car, I wanted to buy something from the Bristol Car Company. They’re old English cars. I think it was a Bristol 401 or 403, and I took Gillian, my wife and the New Order keyboard player to have a look at this vehicle and I thought it was fantastic, that we would be driving home in this luxurious gangster car and she wasn’t impressed. I just thought this wasn’t going down very well and I swiftly abandoned the idea of Bristol 401. Two weeks later I saw someone selling a tank, and I said maybe I’ll get a tank instead. And she said yeah, get a tank. So I ended up buying a tank! I always wondered what it was like inside one and now I can tell you it’s not very nice.

Are there a lot places to drive tanks in Rainow?

I don’t drive it as much as I ought to, no. I keep needing to do a bit of a circuit. I have enough space to do one. But this bloody music keeps getting in the way. I never seem to have enough time. In the next couple of weeks I will take it for a run. It’s fun. Some people like rollercoasters and things like that.

And you like tanks.

Yeah, but it is sort of think about it when you go on a rollercoaster it’s a fear thing; you’re frightened but you’re excited at the same time. It’s a bit like that driving a tank, and the fact that you could destroy a lot of things by driving over them and somehow when you don’t do it you feel very relieved. It’s an adrenaline thing but it’s a slow sort of adrenaline thing because they don’t go very fast.

So if not tank driving, what would be your favourite thing to do in Rainow?

My favourite thing to do, not driving a tank… Oh… I don’t know… I just keep ending up mending things, getting old things like synthesizers and restoring them. I quite like that. That’s a pretty boring hobby.

No, that’s actually pretty interesting.

Yeah, I like stuff like that. I like old things, I think possibly because I am becoming one. There is something interesting about old synthesizers and drum machines that are broken but not quite broken. Bit like circuit bending, they’re kind of working but not quite right and you can occasionally get some really interesting sounds out of them. I enjoy doing that but it’s not very relaxing. I find relaxing difficult.

What’s your favourite synthesizer?

The Monomachine. I use that an awful lot. I have two Voyetras that are getting mended at the moment; I remember them very fondly. But the one that gets the most use is the Juno 106. So I suppose that is me favourite. A close thing between that and the Monomachine.

What would be your favourite drum kit to use?

My favorite drum kit. Oh, that’s easy. The one I have at the moment, the DW. Don’t ask me what kind it is, I can’t remember. It’s a blue sparkly one. I have had a few through the years, obviously, but the last one I’ve got, The DW Collector Series that’s right that’s what it is. Fantastic, really great-sounding drum kit.

If you could spend an afternoon in the tank with your favorite drummer who would that be?

An afternoon in the tank with my favourite drummer – I think it would be Jackie out of Can. We might have problems communicating.

Dead or alive?

Dead, Keith Moon. I would take Keith in the tank any day. Keith Moon was another one who I never really wanted to drum like because I can’t understand it. What he did is amazing, you couldn’t copy what Keith Moon did. I know I could never drive a Rolls-Royce into a swimming pool.

What about a tank?

I could drive a tank into a swimming pool – yeah, I could do that instead. Keith Moon is a legend and absolutely brilliant. But he’s not something you could copy because it’s just so obvious what you would be doing.

Published June 28, 2011.