Ben Jolliffe: Shoot To Thrill
Besides playing as if his life depended on it, there’s another thing you should know about Young Guns drummer Ben Jolliffe: He likes his football. Instead of practicing for the Guns’ upcoming tour – or even packing extra skivvies in the duffle – Joliffe on this particular evening can be found planted on the living room settee of his London flat contentedly watching the Euro Cup.
“We got knocked out by Italy a couple of days ago,” he says, munching a crisp. “We were in a festival in Germany and surrounded by Blink 182 and all that and it was great fun – and then we lost, and we were very depressed. And that’s how it is. We’re rubbish.”
At least the drummer can feel good about new release, Bones, a soaring melodic hard-rock album reminiscent of Snow Patrol with more sack, or a hungrier Cold Play. This familiar-sounding, enjoyable set refuses to reinvent the wheel, and therein lays its principal virtue. That and the fact that it demands outsize drum parts, which the disarmingly clean-cut 26-year-old metes out with ruff-and-tumble panache: Walloping 4/4 (“Bones,” “I Was Born, I Have lived, I Will Surely Die”), punctuating flams (“Learn My Lesson”), unexpected and explosive crash accents (“Brother In Arms”), tensile strength between right foot and snare (“Headlights), relentless crash/riding (just about every song) – all of it is stamped into Bones’ DNA. “I kind of play as heavy and loud as possible,” he says. “Trust me, I go through skins and cymbals and sticks like anything.”
The bashers of late ’90s/early 2000s punk and alt rock – think Travis Barker and Taylor Hawkins – are the ones Joliffe grew up watching, and their impact was huge. “With UK bands you see a lot of drummers who don’t play with passion,” he says. “They look like they’re there to do a job, and I can’t stand that. I put everything into a set, and no matter how short it is I’ll always leave sweating my face off.”
Recorded in Thailand in state-of-the-art facilities by Dan Weller (Enter Shikari), Bones is the sound of a band that knows exactly what it wants. On the first record, All Our Kings Are Dead, Jolliffe fought mightily to keep himself from playing too busily. “You want those little show-off bits and I think with the first album I learned that basically you got to completely just put the song first.”
Because of the band’s hectic performance schedule last year, Bones was demoed in Garage Band while on the tour bus using crappy preprogrammed beats. To Jolliffe’s surprise, these rhythmic skeletons were just enough to fire his creativity without making him feel like he was locked into specific parts when it came time for tracking. “Sometimes when you’ve sat there learning a song a million times, you lose the love for it,” he explains. “The whole experience this time was much more of ’I want to just try this’ as opposed to ’This is what I’ve got to do to get the job done.’ We’re always about the moment and the vibe.”
The experience was a vast improvement over the recording of All Our Kings Are Dead, which went heavy on the sound replacement, boosting, triggers, etc. “A lot of it was because the drums sounded so great in the studio” Jolliffe says of the Bones sessions. “A lot of it was quite straight, like, I think all producers will go through [an album] and if there’s any snare that’s just a little bit out he’ll pop them in place ... but [Weller] said he hardly had to do anything, which kept him happy, kept him less busy. It was a very simple process really.”
We all know the story of the rebellious young drummer who refuses to drink the click-track Kool-Aid only to become a born-again proselytizer. Jolliffe justifies his reliance on the metronome on multiple fronts including when to cue Bones’ prerecorded synths, strings, and other elements of the album the band cannot re-create live – all of which he triggers from a laptop. “It’s a bit of work but it definitely makes the whole set flow better because the tempo is exactly right,” he explains. “The guys can put their delays on their guitars to be that specific bpm. We’ve found we do need tempo mapping because certain parts of the song we want to slow down and this and that, which kind of gives it a bit more of a natural feel.”
Steadily building in the UK off the strength of several EPs and the self-released long-player from 2010, Bones is Young Guns’ stateside debut on Wind-Up Records, a “major indie” that was put on the map by such bands as Creed, Evanescence, and Seether. At least sonically, Young Guns are more American than the American bands they emulate. We’re not sure what that’s about, we just know it’s perfect fodder for Jolliffe’s beats, which are mostly self taught, although he did go to a music school to study drums for a bit before dropping out as the band developed momentum.
Now that the band has demonstrated commercial promise, Jolliffe is barely taking the time to smell the roses. Instead he feels more pressure to elevate himself vis-à-vis his craft. “It’s really only up until, like, a year ago where I’ve started to actually watch Thomas Lang DVDs,” he says. “I’ve started to finally geek out a little bit more.”
So we got a quartet of swaggering Brits anchored by a power hitter, but don’t think it’s as easy as Jolliffe makes it look. Adding to his workload on half the band’s songs are the backing vocals. “I’m stuck with the high harmonies, as most drummers are,” he laughs. “And in ’Bones,’ like, the last middle eight, when there’s kind of the fast roll bit going into the last chorus, I have to do the high harmony for the whole chorus, and then the group shouts the chorus, and at that point I’m nearly fainting … so I try to keep as fit as I can.”
And you’ll be happy to know that for this double pedal player, it’s a blast-free zone. “There’s not much I use them for,” he says “Mainly for rolls. When I was in a punk band, everything was double pedals. It was constant thrashing on the drums. [But in Young Guns] between the hats and the double pedal, my left foot is fairly busy.”
Even then he can’t leave well enough alone, sometimes to the exasperation of his fellow Gunners, like when he does that crushing yet off-kilter intro on older tune “Weight Of The World.” “I try and make it really complicated so it sounds cool, but sometimes the guitar is trying to play and they’re like, ’Hang on a minute, where has the first beat gone?’ But toward the end of the tour, I’ll just start experimenting and play around in certain parts where I’ll do something a bit more fancy – not that I get bored – but you want to mix it up.”
As for the Euro Cup, there’s always 2016.
Drums Yamaha Stage Custom (recording); Birch Absolute Custom (live)
Sticks Pro-Mark Shira Kashi Oak 747-B