Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree
By Phil Hood Published September 18, 2009
Gavin Harrison (left) with Paul Batres of San Jose Pro Drum. Note that Paul is sporting a natty DRUM! "Hit Hard" t-shirt.
We caught up with Gavin Harrison, the polyrhythmic wonder who powers the progressive rock of Porcupine Tree, at an autograph signing near our office this week. Harrison is in town to play San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium, the third stop on a 49-city tour that will finish in Mumbai, India a few months from now.
What's great about what's happening for the band now?
Well this tour has started great. This is a long tour, which ends in Mumbai. I've never been to India and I even wonder if we have fans there. We certainly don't have record sales.
You must have fans everywhere now, with the internet.
Well, it surprises us. Like Australia we did very well when we were there. This band had grown steadily every year. It's been 17 years and it seems like each tour shows slow and steady growth. It's a 17-year overnight sensation. [Ed. Note: Gavin joined the band in 2002 after original drummer Chris Maitland departed.]
What do you like best about touring?
Well, we finally can make money on the road. For years it was very tough. I mean our first tour we made like $50 and the record company lost $400,000. But we keep growing and the fans are people who have heard us before and keep returning. I've played in lots of sessions and with lots of bands but I never knew what it costs to tour, like how much it costs to rent each piece of gear, because that had nothing to do with whether I got paid as a sideman. But now I know and it's a bloody fortune. We figure it costs us $5,000 a day just to live on tour. We could tour in a van, but we don't want to do that.
But bands that do that tour in a van don't sell as many tickets as you.
Right, but we could. That's what we were advised when we first toured the U.S. Get a van and haul your own gear. So I'm thankful we can tour well and make money now.
Do you travel with your own lights and everything? On this tour. Like we bought our own desk [mixing console] you know because our soundman is picky and after a couple of tours we've paid off what we would have spent in rent. You know, if you go to a club or arena, they'll bring in rental gear and it's never quite right. We like it to sound right.
[Ed. At this point a fan in the audience asks why they load all your sounds into a computer and leave most of the gear at home, a question which elicits laughs from those crowding around Harrison.]
We're too old for that. We like amps and guitars and big drums and we like it to sound good.
What are you listening to these days?
You know in many ways it's things I always listened to. There is that magic period between 15 and 20 when you fall in love with certain songs and musicians and I find myself going back to that. I still buy CDs. I'm not sure kids under 25 are buying music. I wouldn't if I was that age and could get it free. But growing up I had no choice. In fact, I've recorded some of my vinyl to CD and then rip them to my iPod. So I'm walking down the street with my iPod listening to pops and clicks. [laughs]
There have been discussions that a version of your tune "Time Flies" was distributed without bass drums in the mix?
I know and what's crazy is that it was a downloadable promotion. You know what occurred could have happened to anyone. Because when you have been recording and mixing for weeks you just reach a point where you can't hear anymore. You can't hear your mistakes. So I'm sure that what happened is they asked Steve [Wilson, of Porcupine Tree] for the track and he listened to it a few seconds of it and said, "Yeah, that's it," and gave them the mix. But the bass drums are entirely missing."