Henry Ruddell Spreads His Wings
Put in context of The Beatles’ lifespan (ten years), The Eagulls (from Leeds, not Liverpool) have been around quite a long time (four years). However, doesn’t 2010 seem like it just happened yesterday? Borrowing more from the punk and post-punk traditions of the ’70s and ’80s than the British Invasion, Henry Ruddell and his mates (Mark Goldsworthy guitar, Liam Matthews, guitar, Tom Kelly, bass, and George Mitchell, vocals) have picked up steam in 2014 playing Austin’s SXSW and New York’s CMJ festivals and The Late Show With David Letterman. Their self-titled debut release (also 2014) is a consistent effort, showcasing layered guitar, driving bass, and brooding vocals. Ruddell serves a vital function in the band: driving the eighth notes, enforcing the backbeat, and wielding subtle dynamics and tension and release at precisely the right moments.
DRUM! How did the name Eagulls come about?
Ruddell It was a culmination of things: in-jokes between friends, timing, and misinterpretation. We like the idea of having a band name that isn't actually a word itself; I think it's effective.
DRUM! I see that The Eagulls are fairly new band. What is like breaking out into popularity in the 2010s? What are the differences between playing in Europe and the U.S.?
Ruddell We've actually been playing as band for nearly four years, but we've always done it at our own pace and dealt with other responsibilities along the way. It's only recently that we've been performing as a band full-time. As a member of the band it's difficult to answer those questions. I suppose it depends how you measure popularity. To achieve it in the 2010s is very positive. As you're competing with so much disposable music floating around the Internet, you have to be clever with it. As for comparing playing between Europe and the U.S., I love them both. We've done a fair amount of playing in Europe: The reception is always good and the people behind the scenes are always very friendly and go the extra mile to make sure everything is fine. We have only played Austin and New York, but again, the reception has been great. It feels like there are more crossover fans in the U.S. too. People just want to hear and experience music, whatever the genre.
DRUM! Are you self-taught or did you take drum lessons? If yes, from whom did you take? Do you play any other instruments? Do you come from a musical family? How do you still find the time to practice and improve your craft?
Ruddell I've never had a drum lesson. I got a kit because my friends already had guitars, stuck it in my garage, and tried my best. Not having lessons can go either way, I think. It can give you a more distinctive style, but it can also lead you to possess a lot of bad habits. I played for about a year when I was 18, then never played again until I met Mark (guitarist) at university three years later. I feel Mark, Liam and Tom are the only guitarists I can play to. I do my best to practice, but to be honest it never happens. The only time I get to play is at gigs or at full band practice, but very rarely on my own. No real family connections with music, unless you count my Mum singing along to ABBA in the living room on weekends.
DRUM! The Eagulls are labeled as “post-punk” and a band such as The Clash comes to mind when listening. Is that a fair description of your sound? Are you OK with the label post-punk? Since punk comes from anti-establishing beginnings, do The Eagulls have a similar rebellious, dark outlook?
Ruddell Post-punk is fair, but it's such a broad term. It's difficult sometimes to grasp the true meaning of the genre. It was natural obviously for punk to evolve into something more experimental, but does the label only count when you're using a guitar, bass and drum kit? To call ourselves anti-establishment would be far-fetched – we all hold certain notions promoted in punk, and we certainly know what's wrong and what's right, but we're not a straight-up politically motivated band. Though, we're certainly affected by politics of the establishment and the remnants show in George's lyrics. I suppose we rebel when we need to. We get asked to do things we don't want to, just like everybody else does from time to time. If people want to come to our shows and feel rebellious and let it out, we'd welcome it.
DRUM! Who are your drumming influences (I noticed some Stewart Copeland hi-hat work and feel throughout…)? Do you enjoy listening to or playing other styles?
Ruddell Ah, thank you; his drumming is very distinctive, so that's nice!
My favorite drummer is probably Lol Tolhurst of The Cure. The first song I could play along to was “Boys Don't Cry,” and it has kind of stuck with me ever since: a nice simple beat that just pushes the guitars forward. When we started, we wanted to make punk music with tribal drumming, but I couldn't grasp it fully (no lessons/bad habits), so instead I just make use of my floor tom a lot. It's my favorite part of a kit. Other than Tolhurst, I love Reni [Alan John Wren of The Stone Roses] and Stephen Morris [New Order]. They stand out a lot to me.
DRUM! Do you endorse a certain drum company? Cymbals? Hardware? You seem to have an old school ’80s drum sound. Can you give us some tips on how you achieve that sound?
Ruddell I've always been a fan of C&C Drums. The craftsmanship and detail is beautiful and the sound they give is massive (and like you say “old school”). They've been kind enough to let me use a few of their kits on our current tours. The ’80s was a fairly integral influence on the album. I wanted to achieve a big, reverb-laden punk sound, but also industrial. I used a metal bin lid on a lot of the tracks and layered it over the top of my snare, which in some places gave it an electric sound. I was a bit nervous about overusing it at first, but looking back on the album, I wish I used it a lot more. I have ideas for the second album…
DRUM! How does the band handle songwriting credit?
Ruddell Although it's probably uncommon for a drummer, I get an equal share. We're a band and we're best friends. Everybody has a role and everybody is vital, so we've always maintained that. Feel free to ask me that question again if we go platinum!
DRUM! Tell us about the challenge of playing behind such a distinctive lead vocalist and – quite often – a wall of sound.
Ruddell I don't really see it as a challenge – it's a partnership. I'm there to provide the beat and drive the music. George is there to speak for us as a band and provide melody. When I see the crowd connecting with George, it just spurs me on to play harder and give him that volume to create more energy. Playing to a wall of sound is the only way for me, the louder the better, it makes you feel like your really creating something and making the most of your instrument. The challenge there is in getting the balance between us right. It needs to be a wall, but a well built one.
DRUM! I enjoyed the beat(s) that you played on “Amber Veins.” How did you go about coming up with those drum parts?
Ruddell Again, I’m just trying to keep it simple and complement the guitars without overdoing it. When I first heard the guitar parts for “Amber Veins” I thought it could have gone either way: You could play a really technical rhythm over it or keep it simple. I chose to play something that would make people dance and move a bit, and I think it worked out well.
DRUM! Is there anything else that you would like to tell our readers?
Ruddell While drumming with Eagulls, on about three or four separate occasions, I've hit myself in the face with my sticks mid-song. I don't think anyone has ever noticed. It's always happened when I'm giving maximum effort. I really, really, really hope it's a common thing other drummers do.