Date: November 22, 2002
Location: De Boerderij
Place: Zoetermeer, Holland
Interview: Clemens Steenweg

Talking about music with absolute #1 rockdrummer in Progrock-history Carl Palmer, meanwhile preparing himself for the gig, is like heaven for musicians!!
Followed in the room by other virtuoso Palmer-members guitarist Shaun Baxter and bassplayer Dave Marks, Carl talks about past, present and future, his new custom-made drumset, albums to come out and much more!

Take your time, you're gonna need it!!

CS: Your professional career now continues for some 36 years...,
CP: Eehhmmmm................................37!

CS: ...what time of that period was most important for you?

CP: I consider all of it important, it just has different levels of being important. But it was very important to leave home when I was fifteen and play with Chris Farlowe and Thunderbirds. That was important, that was a major move in my career. Without that, I wouldn't have got to London, and I wouldn't have met a lot of people. So that was important, 'cause that opened up the whole page, so that was important! So, to say just one particular thing is important, it's hard to say: one thing's important. There has been so many, that have been vital, absolutely vital.

CS: But the first thing you've mentioned, when you met Chris Farlowe, was, for your career, one of the most important things?

CP: Well, one of the most, yeah, but there were many. But without that one I wouldn't have got started, because that was the door opening, and I could say: playing at Madison Square Gardens was important, I could say: selling 8 million records with one album from Asia was important. So many are important! You know, it's just different levels, but they're all important!

CS: What are your real musical roots?

CP: I'd have to say that my roots originally are kind of with the music of people like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson. I would say that my roots lie really between big bands-sort of jazz and quartet-jazz, bebops of West-Coast. I would say they're my roots. I've never really gone along with my roots, because I've ended up being a rockdrummer and not a jazzdrummer, so it's different, but that's where I started. I did for many years play in a big band when I was young, but I found that once I started playing with guitars and keyboards and amplifiers, then, you know, my roots were important but there was something else. There was more to life!

CS: Buddy Rich is your greatest inspirer?

CP: He inspired me, yes, but the first person to inspire me was Gene Krupa, in a film called "Drum Crazy". Gene Krupa was played by Sal Mineo, that was an inspirational film. I saw the film when I was 11, and I just started to play a snare-drum prior to that. Seeing that film, I was still 11 at the time, 11½, I decided then that I would like to become a drummer. That was it, and I liked to do it as a professional!

CS: Are there drummers nowadays, who influence you?

CP: I don't really soon get influenced by people. I listen to them and I kind of learn from whoever they are, if they are really young or really old it doesn't matter. So I'm ready to be influenced and I'm ready to learn as much as I can, still, 'cause to me it's interesting. There's quite a few drummers who stand out. There's a guy in Tool, called Danny Carey, who stands out as being a really good drummer. There are a few around that I really like and I'm ready to be influenced. If somebody play something good, then they can influence me, why not?

CS: Do you see them as competitors or colleagues?

CP: Basicly, I see them as both. I see them as colleagues, really first of all, but if it's a case of "playing with them in a room" and to see who could do what and who, you know, if it was on a friendship-basis, I would treat it as a friendship, but I would want to come away playing the best. It would had to have an element of competition for me, because that's what keeps me doing what I do. Competition breeds interest, which breeds a mind that wants to investigate and find out and learn, and you want to compete. Music isn't a competition, but it's a self-motivation, part of the competition which I enjoy, and it motivates me to try that much harder, so I use the word competition, but really it's self-motivation I'm after all the time, and yes, I would call it competing, but you know, it's not really what music is all about, but it is.

CS: Although you played in The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, I miss a song of that short period on “The Anthology”. Was there no recording available?

CP: Yes, there is a recording of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, but I'm not particular recording of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. I was in the group when the group had a number 1-single and -album, and I recorded "Fire", Drachen Theacker, the original drummer, recorded "Fire", John Hiseman recorded "Fire", and I think there might have been a fourth person, because it was recorded by so many people. I was payed a percentage to play with the group, though I wasn't the original drummer, and I thought that, to save misleading anyone, I would leave it off, because it was played by so many people.

CS: The “Concerto For Percussion” is a difficult piece of music. Can you consider this piece of music as a bit of a masterpiece for you personally?

CP: It's a big achievement, it happened in ' 76, and it was for many years on the shelf. People were very shy of using or wanting to play it with an orchestra or wanting to release it. Deutsche Grammophon didn't, EMI didn't, because a Percussion Concerto was unheard of, and then people like Evelyn Glenny came along and started playing, she's a well known percussionist, a female, and she plays incredibly well. And now people play Percussion Concerto's, there's many been written. When that one was written it was just too far in front, and I've had invitations to play with an orchestra, and play that piece and I might. I've done it, I just don't have a big yearn to want to go and play it with an orchestra. I will do it at some stage, it's not something I'll do immediately.

I think it just shows that I can be more then just a rockdrummer. I mean, basicly I made my living out of playing in a rockband: Emerson, Lake & Palmer is a rockband, Asia is a rockband, Palmer is a rockband, but I enjoy classical music, and I've managed to bridge the gap with classical percussion. Over The Percussion Concerto is a prime example of that, 'cause I play xylophone, the timpani, the bells, the Glockenspiel, the crotales, so that just lets people know that there's just more to me. I do that, that isn't me, that's just a part of me. What I do is what you see this evening is really what I am, you know, I'm a drumset-player.

CS: The song “Decline And Fall” contains some parts that come back later in the first version of “Tank”. In that period of time, were you still developing your own style?

CP: Yeah, you know, I don't think I ever stopped developing, because you don't stop being influenced. I think you're always developing. Sure you can stagnate and you don't improve and you don't do this, but I'm always developing and I'm always trying, at least I think I am. And that particular time, yeah that was early, so sure, I'd be, you know, still trying to get stuff happening.

CS: You chose “Canario” from the album “Love Beach”. To be honest, was that album a real ELP-album, in other words, did it satisfy you?

CP: I always refer to it as the worst album that ELP ever made, not only the music did really stand up for me: the albumcover I didn't like, I didn't like the whole period of being in Nassau, The Bahama's, I didn't think that it was conducive to the band's way of writing, living, creating, rehearsing, playing. I found that the best piece of music was written by someone else and that happens to be Rocking Rodrigo (Joaquín Rodrigo, CS), so for me it wasn't a great album, no. Slightly sad!

CS: How did you expirienced the working with Mike Oldfield?

CP: I find Mike Oldfield to be very professional, very...how can I put it... introvert, you know, just with himself, very hard to get through too, very nice man. No problem.

CS: And musically seen?

CP: Musically, Mike has a big problem, he likes to do everything himself, so he never gets to play with other musicians and I found that working with him. I would do things which he wouldn't expect, you know, 'cause he's always telling people what to play, and it was amazing how in certain areas he was actually quite undeveloped, because he had never really expirienced "jamming" with people and things, he doesn't do that, you see, and when I worked with him we did a lot of that, just to see if we could get some ideas together.

CS: Were you nervous when Buddy Rich asked you to play “Shawnee” with the Buddy Rich Orchestra?

CP: I played with his orchestra about two or three times before that, on separate occasions. I wasn't nervous, I was kind of concerned, because the piece "Shawnee" has never been recorded or released by him, and he doesn't have music, so it's a case of "sitting down and playing" by ear, which is not a problem. But I was very fortuned to be able to be playing the drumset and having Steve Marcus, the alto-player, was here (points a place left of him, CS), so I asked him to just turn his stand, so I could just see where the accents were and where the breaks were, just so I'd have something, and it was O.K.!

CS: A Live-album is planned for 2003. Can you tell something about it?

CP: Yes, it's going to come out on the same label as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the main label being in England, which is Sanctuary Records, and Adello or whatever it might be over here, I'm not too sure what their distribution is for Emerson, Lake and Palmer, I've got it written down. Would you like to know that fact?
CS: Yes, please!
CP: (searching in his stuff)........ So Belgium here, I'm gonna tell you now, be Music Shock, Holland is going to be.........(searching), .....here we go, BMG. So we will come out on BMG, March the 17th, and it'll be a Live-album recorded in England, and it will consist of tracks like "Barbarian", "L.A. Nights", "Bullfrog", "Tank", "Toccata". It'll have roughly 40, I'm not gonna tell you all of them, 'cause I must keep some of them as a surprise, it'll have roughly 43, 45 minutes of Live-music. And there will be in 2004 a second Live-album, which will include things like "Tarkus", "Trilogy", "Carmina Burana", "Howdown", "Fanfare", and when that is recorded I will then put a compilation together of the two Live-albums, with a new track, a new unreleased track, and then we release it as a Box-Set. And then, in maybe 2005, we will record a new album as a band, new music.
CS: Exciting!
CP: If it happens, it will be!

CS: Do you have an opinion about today’s music, and I mean specifically the "ephemerons" who make lots of money and then disappear after a short period of extreme popularity?

CP: Mmm, well, number 1: I have no problem with anyone who makes an extreme amount of money. I think it's very difficult to make an extreme amount of money. I think the public gets confused by how much money you can actually make. When people hear about somebody like Robbie Williams getting a record-contract for 80 million pounds or dollars, whatever it was, you have to understand that's not actually given to him. And each album will be cross-collataralized against the next, so he might not actually get that amount of money, so anyone who makes a fortune or a lot of money at music, they deserve it! They've obviously made a lot of people happy, so I'd see nothing wrong with that. Whether or not you like the music is another thing. I don't like all types of music, but if somebody has made that amount of money from it, then has to made people happy, and I just say: Fine!
CS: No problem?
CP: No problem, yes! Somebody's happy! You can't make people buy a record or a CD! It doesn't mean you don't have to like the music!

CS: Do you feel it was harder to get to the top in musicbusiness in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s then nowadays? I mean that you had to have more quality on board for making music?

CP: I didn't really try to get to the top in the 60's. The 70's is when I started, really. I think, to be honest with you, whenever you do it, you have to be good! There's just different types of being good, you know. Today I could say it's easier: because you've got MTV, you've got this, you've got that, you've got video's..., we didn't have video's! On the other hand you could say it's harder, 'cause it's more different types of music, so you just have to be good! I don't think it's easier or harder, I think as time goes by, possibly right now it's harder 'cause there's more bands, but there's more opportunities to get your music out there.

CS: For a long period you played on Remo-drums. At the NAMM show in L.A. the world could see your new custom made drumkit by Paiste. What was your decision to let Paiste make you a new drumkit?

CP: First of all, they made me snare-drum, which I've been asking them to make me a snare-drum from a cymbal, and they didn't have time to do it. Anyway, they realised after a long period that this was a very good idea, so they started making snare-drums which I have here this evening, it's called "The Spirit Of 2002"! I have it downstairs and I'm playing it today. When I received the drum, I said: "It was really good, but why don't we look at the situation where you make a complete drumset?" So they did. So they made two complete drumsets, out of cymbal-material, and the drummer from Tool, Danny Carey, has one, and I have the other one. It's not here this evening, unfortunately, 'cause I still having some cases made for it.

CS: Did you ever regret selling your custom made heavy-weight drumkit you used in the late 70’s?

CP: No, because I can get it anytime I want to, it's with Ringo Starr, it's not a problem to get it.

CS: What kind of equipment do you use on stage these days?

CP: I'm using a wooden drumset which is very important, it's actually on the endangered list in the world, it's in the top-5 of endangered trees. It's a tree called Marginata Eucalyptus, it's known as Jarrah-ply, and it's about 1000/900 pounds per square inch of pressure it takes. It's one of the hardest woods, but the tree takes 20 years to grow and during that 20 years many of them die anyway, quite naturally. The company that make the drums, are called Brady in Australia, so I have a Brady-drumset which was made specially for me, which they didn't give me, I actually bought. That's the one I'm using at the moment. The shells were sent to New York, and in New York they pull the fittings on for me by a company called Lang Percussion. If you would to buy the best drumset from a retailshop it would be made from rockmaple, and that would be 1000/500 pounds per square inch. I'm 1000/9, so it's that much harder. Not that it makes a difference to you listening to it, it just makes a difference to me playing it.

CS: ELP was always progressive in their way of making music. Is that still a goal for you today?

CP: Yes, it is, yeah. It is a goal. I'm still interested doing as much as I possibly can. As I say we have a plan kinda rude as a band, which we are going to go down at the moment, and eventually we'll get to creating ourselves, that will be obviously a big moment, and I still feel as enthousiastic about it, as I did when I first started. Not this band, but when I first started playing whenever.

CS: What is your motive to still go on making music and tour around the world?

CP: I think I just enjoy being in a group of people working towards the same objective. I enjoy playing with good people, with good players. I enjoy quality, I enjoy hearing it, night after night, for me it's a great reward, and I think all the time that I get the chance to play with good musicians, for me that's almost all I need, really. As long as that's there then it makes it for me and that's inspirational, it's very important to me, yeah.

CS: Keith Emerson said in an interview in 1977 that “Versatility and being able to read are the two most important things when you start making music”. Was that your drive too, when you started as a musician?

CP: Yeah, I learned to read from my grandfather, because my grandfather was a professor at the Royal Academy of Music, so reading was kind of a normal thing. I started when I was 11, so by the time I was 13, my reading was like well adequate, to play in any sort of a danceband, kind of thing. So it was never like a taboo-thing, it was never anything that we were forced to do, it was just a thing that everyone sort of did in the house, I mean they would always make me like pick out a tune on the piano like reading the notes with the one hand. I never learned to play piano, it's just a case of that, and of course, when it came to reading just rhythm-lines, it was very, very easy because I understood the mathematics of music, so it was always treated like a game in our house.

Obviously, drummers have developed so much more now with fourway-coordination and it's written fourways, so obviously I've kinda grown up with that and I've doubt with that as it's come along, but I found that being able to read music is always been very helpful to me, 'cause if I couldn't learn something, of a record or whatever, or if I could see it written down, if I could get some music, then I could play it almost straight away, 'cause sometimes it's nice to see it written down, and in ELP we'd part things and Keith might have a rhythmical idea and it be to hard to explain, so he would kinda write it. It's something like: this is what I'm thinking I'd write, I play what he has written, and then he would say: No, I don't mean that, then I'd say: we'd write it, it's thís. So I found it quite a good skill for a drummer to have, really, 'cause basicly what I play is an instrument which accompanies anyway, so I'm kind of very keen on making the people feel as good as I can around me, and if it means I'm writing down a little thing to say: Hey, I need something like thís, then it's great.

And sometimes you can't read at all. Who are great like Dennis Chambers, it doesn't matter, it's not a problem, it's nothing to be ashamed of, you know. I've never treated it as a big thing, 'cause it's always been there in my life, it's just been there. I've tried, to be very honest with you, I've tried to learn as many things by ear, and not write them down, because when you have things written down, I find harder to remember, so I would try rather remember things then write it down. I write it down only if I know I'm not going to play it for a long time, so I can go back to it and it's real quick then, and it just jogs the memory.

CS: I recognise these things. I'm a musician myself, I play keyboards, and about 10 years ago I decided to write down some music of ELP on paper: Karn Evil 9, Fugue, Knife Edge. None of them were on paper, so I had to listen again and again to write it down on paper, and it's the same you said: when you hear it, you recognise it much faster when you want to play it.

CP: Yeah, I think to be honest with you, and I should speak to my grandfather about that, I could learn 8 bars of a snaredrum-part. I could read it, and then I could learn another 8 bars by memory, and what happened was the 8 bars that by memory and physically playing there, stayed with me longer. I could never go back and say what the 8 bars was written down in music, because when you commit to memory, it's a really good thing for musicians, 'cause I believe that's a major part. I mean, when you see people playing in orchestra's, you have to understand that, the repetoire that's played, whatever it is, if it's Beethoven's Fifth, or if it's Tsjaikovsky's this or the Romeo and Juliet, you know whatever, they know those parts almost backwards, you know. The music that's in front of them is purely what we call "roadsigns" for them, just to jog their memory. Yes, they have to read sections, but they know so much of it, because there is no way that you never read notes individually, you only read blocks, as you know, shapes, whatever instrument you play, that's how it gets when you get to an advanced stage. So I think it's good to learn by ear, I think it's good to see the music, and the minute you can try remember where your fingers were, you know, that's the way to do it, yeah! Because they always tell you in most of the musicbooks, after a while you need to remember shapes, that's important, that's all part of the memory-thing, and it just makes your reading more fluing, when you have that as well, you know.

CS: Last May the concert in Holland was cancelled. Greg Lake should be there too, and rumours said that Keith Emerson should come as well. Were these rumours correct?

CP: I have no idea but they were real rumours. I have to say that was a very big upset, for Greg 'cause he didn't want people to spend money, I'm thinking he was going to be around. We all heard the rumour in the band, and I don't know where it started. I think one has to realize that with Internet, chatrooms and digestrooms, you'll always get somebody who's going to say something which is not 100% true, and then it escalates. You know how stories grow and I think, you were looking at that, we actually spend quite a lot of money just contacting promotors and people to find out why this is being so, and no-one knew where it came from, but we know it came from an Internet-chatroom, and that means nothing, except people start to believe it. No-one could find a poster, no-one could find an adver, but everyone believed it was true, and say it was amazing!

CS: Do you still have contact with Keith and Greg?

CP: Yes, I do!

CS: What are your further plans for the near future?

CP: Well, we will start touring next year in April, like we normally do, and as I say there'll be some product out, we will carry on. This year we started in February in Mexico, we went on, we had a great time, and we've been to Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy, played England, and we're going to Spain, so basicly we've sort of played a lot of countries and we will just continue to do that, really. I mean we don't tour for a long period, two weeks at a time. We take time off, and go out for another ten days or whatever. The whole of the summer we were in Italy.

CS: Is there still a musical wish for you in life?

CP: For me in life? A musical wish... Well, you know, I think really as long as I can keep playing at a level that I think is still up there, presentable, well above the average players then I'm kind of happy with that. Yeah, sure I'd like to level this band to become like really well known. I'd love it to happen as something which is a cultural event, 'cause I believe that's what the music is, and I think if we could put that across... I'm working with two musicians who can help me do that and I think they want to do it, it's part of them. I think it feels avoid that is missing in music today. I mean, there's no gimmick's here, there's no real big sort of showmanship, we have some fun, we let the public see the music is the most important thing, so it would be very nice if I was involved in something that actually went again. I've been very lucky in my life so I always keep my fingers crossed and I don't bank on it, and I know it takes a lot of hard work, and I know this is the moment in time now it's not as strong for this music as it was in the past, but I still believe that there's a large amount of people out there who still want to hear music of this quality and caliber, whether or not it's played on the radio.

I think we could definitely fill a big gap within the industry, I definitely think that because we could end up actually performing with an orchestra as a band. I consider what we play today, if somebody was to say; "Gimme a lable for it, Carl", I would say: "What we play today is probably the 'Modern Day-jazz'", you know, like you had the traditional "New Orleans-jazz", it went on, then you had "Cool-jazz", "West-Coast", I think that's where this is. And I think it's for people who understand a lot more about music, who can't get it on the radio. The only way that you can get it is on the CD or going to a live-concert, and I think it's important. I think it's music for people who are more intellectually stimulated, for example in England when we play in certain clubs, they come to me..., certain Rockclubs we like to play still, we try to play in small concerthalls where there's like 500, 600 people, that's what we like, 'cause we can't go to the bigger one's and fill them, you see, so we like the concert-environment where people are sitting down, 'cause people of the age, the demographic 35 to 50, like to sit down..., we do play some Rockclubs, and when we play in Rockclubs, there are three or four that I'd still like to play, they always complain to me that the people don't drink as much, because it's not that type of person, it's different you see.

CS: If you could choose to do it all over again, what would you do?

CP: What would I do? I wouldn't change a thing.....I wouldn't change a thing! I might start earlier, start sooner. Yeah, I started at 11. I have a daughter and she didn't wanna be a drummer, which was great. If I was to have my life again I'd do exactly the same thing I'd start about 8!
CS: Learning to play?
CP: Yeah! Because at 8 you have a certain amount of muscle-development, it's been proved, and it's good, be good to start. 11's great, 11 was good, but 8 is better, which means I'd have three more years out of being playing, which means I could be a bit better!
CS: You're not always satisfied?
CP: It's not a case of being satisfied. I could sit here and I could make a list as long as this room of things that I could improve, and I could make another list of all these things that I do which I know are great. Yeah, I can say it myself, but I have two lists: one's a good list, and one's, well, could do a bit better, you know!

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