What was the starting point for the Chiminyo set up? Where did the idea for integrated synth triggering come from?
The first time I started doing this sort of thing was with a mate of mine, Camilo Tirado. He’s a percussionist, plays synths and produces. He’s wicked, man. He had a Prophet 6 with a jack input and we found out that if we put in a drum trigger, every hit would play one of the notes of the chord held down on the synth, trigger the arpeggio. We started jamming with that and it was fucking sick. It is an amazing feeling to be able to spontaneously dictate everything. It’s what I love about playing piano, when you play piano all the music just happens. But as a drummer, you just don’t have that.
I got Ableton and a few plugins that people had built that enabled you to do slightly similar things. I started trying to build my own compositions using what I’d found, but it was really limiting and difficult. Then I had a kidney operation, I was out of action for three months — down at my parents’ on hard opiates, tripping the fuck out. I couldn’t play drums as I was pretty messy, so I learned how to code and I built my own patches.
I guess as a drummer your role is supporting others, being part of a whole rather than a soloist. Has this been a big shift in your mindset and how you see yourself as a performer?
Well I feel like I always was more into music as a complete, and less into drums as a technical “I’m gonna be a master of the drum kit” thing. The degree I did [at City University] was wide open and less about becoming a jazz performer. I was doing classical and film composition, journalism, radio work, I tried it all. I nearly wrote a musical, I’ve written a string quartet that’s online, I’ve done advert music. I’ve always just done whatever has inspired me at that moment.
I ended up falling in love with the drums in a really big way and have concentrated on that more. Playing the drums is such an earthy and deep experience, it gets you at your core. But when this concept came around, I realised that’s how to satisfy all my interests. Now I’m able to explore dance music and play as heavy and as soft as I want. It feels in hindsight like a very natural progression for me.
Do you find it hard to balance all of your different musical interests and bands? How do you make your life work?
It doesn’t work. That’s something this lockdown has made me realise massively, that I was on a path that I wasn’t able to maintain. And I was on it for a long time. As an artist, when you feel like you’re busy and doing well, you look at your bank balance and it just doesn’t match. That’s one of the reasons you spread yourself so thin, as well as the intrigue of it all — that eyes-wide-open feeling.
I’ve pared back my life quite substantially over the past few years, from playing in 6 or so projects to now only Cykada, Maisha and Chiminyo. I can’t leave those — I’ve done all the stripping I can do.
How does your broad attitude to music, as apposed to being a pure drummer, translate to the creative process?
It varies really, every project has its own way of collaborating. In some of the projects I’ve been in, no one has any ideas, you just jam, gradually shape ideas and then everyone starts to chip in and give their input. What I do struggle with is when I have a melodic or harmonic idea, but I can’t express it because I’m on a rhythmic instrument. I can sing it but I don’t always get it right, so I tend to give less ideas melodically, but arrangements are fine because I can word it.
When you watch Chiminyo live and you see a solo drummer creating so many different sounds, there’s a real visual dissonance. How do you think about translating this when recording?
It’s a difficult one to navigate. I think on my first project I was really trying to explore what these plugins, and the concept of triggering, could do, and trying to demonstrate it in some way. When I listen back to I AM CHIMINYO, maybe people think, “Ah, he’s doing some drum triggers”. But really, when you listen to music that’s not what you do. I don’t think many people put on a tune because someone is doing something clever. Speaking personally, this idea of triggering, it might be a cool additional fact, but people just wanna hear good music.
This is what I AM PANDA is about, I got into a deeper sense of myself and the music that speaks to me, rather than just the technology. If someone works it out that’s a nice bonus, but I realise that a gimmick can’t be a priority when it comes down to music.
Narrative and emotion is way more important.
Catch Chiminyo’s album launch for I AM PANDA at the Jazz Cafe on 21st October and listen back to his Worldwide FM show here.