Charli XCX – Interview with Deborah Knox-Hewson

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Charli XCX – Interview with Deborah Knox-Hewson - Electronic Drums | Roland UK

Reverend and the Makers drummer and V-Drums artist Ryan Jenkinson continues his series of drummer-meets-drummer interviews. In this, his second instalment, he talks with a Roland artist that’s landed the day job many of us dream of.

Let’s face it, any one of us would die to be the drummer on an arena tour. Sure, that’s not why we play drums – but the professional tour is certainly a dream many of us would like to fulfil. Deborah Knox-Hewson is one drummer who is living that dream. After landing her first big gig with singer/songwriter Charli XCX (not heard of her? you will do), Debbie is out on the road touring professionally. Years of dedication to her life passions of drumming and music preceded this particular gig. Sound familiar? Sure it does – these are passions we drummers share, as are the hours of practise behind the kit. This story could almost be your own – Debbie was certainly no different from any of us when she started out.

Getting the gig presented a prime opportunity for Ryan to jump in and talk to her first hand about the experience of ‘making it’.

RJ: Hey Debs, thanks for taking time out to talk to us today. First of all, let me say that I saw you at Nottingham Arena (Charli XCX are on tour with Paramore) and you were ace. You got some serious skills lady! You’re on tour in the US right now, how’s it going?
DK-H: US tour is going great thanks, lots of great food and sights. Glad you liked the Nottingham gig!

RJ: You came through BIMM Brighton, right? How was that?
DN-H: I did indeed. BIMM Brighton [British Institute of Modern Music] was great, with amazing teachers like Pat Garvey and Jack Pollitt to learn from. I also did a year at Tech Music School in London.

RJ: So, you must have known early on that you wanted to make a career in music? Any tips for our readers?!
DK-H: It’s only the last three years that I’ve started to think of music as a viable career. The best advice I’ve ever been given is practise slow. I also think it’s great to go through as many permutations of grooves and fills as you can.

RJ: Brighton has an awesome music scene. Have you played with a fair few bands? What’s your funniest gig/audition?
DK-H: Brighton is amazing for music! When I was at BIMM I tried to play with as many bands as I could. My funniest and most awkward audition to date was for a Japanese metal band. After I played the songs, they stayed in the room and gave feedback in Japanese. It was like charades.

RJ: Let’s get on to your current gig then… Charli XCX. What a gig to land! We (Reverend and the Makers) share the same management and they’re always banging on about how good she is. They’re not wrong! How did that come about?
DK-H: I really enjoy playing for Charli, she’s so, so good live. I heard about the audition through my girlfriend Liz who heard about it from a friend. I was really grateful I got put forward for it. I had a couple of days to learn three songs to audition.

RJ: I landed the Rev gig and only had a couple of weeks to learn the tunes before we went on an Arena tour with Noel Gallagher. How long did you have to prep before the Paramore Arena tour?!
DK-H: It’s crazy how quickly it all happened! It was the biggest audition I’d ever gone for, and when I found out I got the gig, I had two days to learn the set before 15 days straight in rehearsals, and then onto the Paramore Arena tour. It felt crazy that Manchester Arena was our first gig!

Charli XCX – Interview with Deborah Knox-Hewson - Electronic Drums | Roland UK

RJ: And it’s cool you’re in an all-girl band. Our keyboardist Laura and my wife Charlotte (the Subways) always get asked what it’s like to be surrounded by guys in the band. But, what’s it like not having to put up with guys in the band?
DK-H: (laughs) It’s great, man! I was really pleased not to be the only girl on my first long tour, and it’s nice to share the stage with so many talented ladies… great girl-power vibes. There’s a lot of talented boys behind the scenes here too! Our tour crew is pretty balanced.

RJ: Let’s get onto your setup then. Like me, you’re big into the hybrid thing and you have plenty of electronics in your setup. When did you start introducing things with plug sockets into your arsenal?
DK-H: This is the first gig that I’ve really used electronics on. I tried to research as much as I could and use friends’ gear to practise with. Luckily our tour manager Wilkie is a drummer, so helped me get set up.

RJ: The first thing I noticed when I saw you play live is the full size V-Drums pads alongside your acoustic drums. Is that something you’ve been doing a while, or just for the Charli gig?
DK_H: The V-Drums pads are actually Charli’s. I love them because they’re big enough to see clearly in strobe lighting, and I can set them up either side of the hats for some cool grooves. I’m looking forward to taking some time after the US tour to mess around with new sounds for them.

RJ: And what kind of sounds do you assign to them now?
DK-H: Currently they are used for hand claps, boom drops, bass drums and 80s snares. I’m excited to program some new stuff in for Charli’s second album.

RJ: I’ve seen you rocking the SPD-SX in your setup, amazing bit of kit right? Do you trigger your Kick/Snare with it?!
DK-H: It’s great! I was so excited when I got one because I had been wanting an Roland SPD-SX for ages. Both kick and snare are being triggered through it.

RJ: And I’ve spotted TWO RT-10 triggers on your snare, I’m guessing one is a backup? Have you ever had one go down?! I’ve whacked mine pretty hard by accident and they’ve not blown up yet!
DK-H: Not yet! But, don’t jinx it! One is a back-up, and luckily I haven’t hit either of them or had one go down.

Charli XCX – Interview with Deborah Knox-Hewson - Electronic Drums | Roland UK

RJ: So can you tell the readers how you run four triggers/pads with your SPD-SX?
DK-H: The SPD-SX has two dual-trigger inputs [meaning two “zones” for each trigger input, one zone for the head and another of the rim]. I use single zone RT-10 triggers on the kick and snare and connect them to one dual trigger input in the SPD-SX by a twin mono to stereo jack cable, then assign different sounds to the two zones of the input for kick and snare. I use another identical cable to connect the second trigger input to the two V-Drums pads. It’s so easy to use.

RJ: Do you use the SPD-SX for any of its backing track capabilities or do you run a separate system? Why do you think it’s always us drummers that have the responsibility of pressing ‘play’ for each song?!
DK-H: We use Ableton for our backing tracks, it’s run on a switcher so if the main system goes down we can go straight to the backup. The pressing ‘play’ responsibility gave me a heart attack for the arena tour! I like that the drummer does it though, nice to be in charge!

RJ: With the track, I imagine you play to click? Some drummers hate playing to click but I now find it weird playing without one. What’s your take?!
DK-H: I love playing to click now, but I’m not happy with how loud I need it in my in-ears though, so I’m trying to bring it down a bit each gig. I practise a lot to click. But there’s one song in our encore that has no click or track. It really freaked me out for the first few gigs! That reminded me how important it is to have a good internal clock also.

RJ: Awesome… Well it’s been cool chatting to you Deborah, a true fellow pro! Best of luck with the rest of the US tour, let’s make sure we share a beer in a field this festival season!
DK-H: Definitely! Thanks a lot Ryan. Great fun chatting to you…

For more information on Deborah Knox-Hewson, follow her on Twitter –

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