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Marillion's Ian Mosley: These Drums
Forward by Jason Gianni
Interview by: Jason Gianni and Scott Kahn

Photo: Paul Bultitude

If there's a real, true life “soul mate” for a band, Marillion has certainly found its match in drummer Ian Mosley. A perfect & equal blend of technique, precision, speed, versatility, musicianship, and groove, Mosley provides a perfect complement to the many faces of Marillion’s music that spans the twenty-three years he has been a member of the band.

You want time signatures? Try the lush 7:8 feel within the walls of “Just For The Record” from Clutching At Straws. You want a little Latin Mozambique flavor? Try portions of “Bitter Suite” from Misplaced Childhood. And if you’d like some epic and grandiose feel? Well, go no further than the aptly titled “Beautiful” from Afraid of Sunlight. And the descriptions don't stop there.

Among the various stories, twists, and turns that Marillion has dished out to the listening public over the course of a few decades, Mosley has been there for almost all of it, and has contributed significantly to the character of their definitive sound.

His kind disposition, witty sense of humor, and love for music made it a pleasure to find out what makes Marillion’s time keeper tick (and tock!).

Note: If you jumped into this interview directly, don't miss our extensive Marillion band interview and feature story here.

“None of us want to make the same album
over and over again.”

MPc: I want to start by talking about Somewhere Else. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your feelings regarding the new record.

IAN: Well, we’ve been rehearsing today and just been working out the title track and playing it in the studio. It’s going to sound great! I mean, the recording of this album was good fun, and that’s a good sign when you enjoy the recording process. It usually means it’s a good album, and I think it is. I think we’re all pretty pleased with it. It’s still a little bit too early for me to say [much about it], really, because it hasn’t been released yet and I probably need a couple of months away from it before I just sit in the middle of a room with fairly loud speakers and listen to it as an album. But the whole recording process was really good fun. We got Mike Hunter to be our producer; we’ve known Mike for years as he’s worked on and off with us as far back as Brave [in an engineering role].

MPc: He mixed much of Marbles.

IAN: Yes! He did a few tracks on Marbles. He’s a very talented man. He’s full-on, totally enthusiastic about all things musical, really. When he has a day off, he goes off to a music course or he goes and sees an orchestra. Well, that or… football/soccer.

MPc: Well, hey, we have Beckham now so… (laughs)

IAN: (laughs) Alright, then! Well, with Mike, he came in fairly early on. We were in the studio and we were jamming, and he came in fairly early on and started recording everything. After a few weeks… I say a few weeks, but it could have been months (laughs), but it felt like a few weeks, Mike sort of went away and took some of the jams. Then one day, he walked in and he said, “Well, I’ve put a few things together, tell me what you think.” And I just remember we were all sitting in the studio and he played us “Last Century For Man.” And it just blew me away! He put this really nice string arrangement on the second-half of it.

From that point on, things really seemed to accelerate. I don’t know, I guess just being around Mike just sort of gave us a lot of energy. I think you can tell that on the finished album as well. I think you can tell we haven’t spent months & months overdubbing on it. A lot of it is really us in the studio just playing.

MPc: I’ve noticed that it has a much more organic/rock feel to it, whereas Marbles had a very polished feel… more precision to it.

IAN: Right.

MPc: But of course, one of the great things is that you guys always find a way to do something very different from one album to the next, yet it always comes out sounding like Marillion.

IAN: Well, that’s encouraging that you say that because we’re all very aware of it. None of us want to make the same album over and over again. I think, probably, the key to our longevity is that we feel like we’re moving forward and we’re not repeating ourselves every album. We certainly feel that, with this album, it’s another step forward. My son said to me after the [semi-annual Marillion] convention, “Dad, there’s no one else that sounds like Marillion, so it doesn’t matter what you play.” If we’re doing a cover version or something, he’d say, “You can tell, it still sounds like Marillion.” And that’s quite flattering, really. It’s a good thing.

MPc: You guys definitely have an identity.

IAN: Well, today as I said, we were working on the title track, “Somewhere Else.” Mike Hunter was in the studio today because we were jamming. Before we start rehearsals, we’ll jam for a half hour or an hour and he records it…

“I feel that most of Marillion’s music really,
from a drummer’s point of view, is quite simple.”

MPc: We heard you were practically done with the next album!

IAN: …Well, um, I’m reluctant to say to you…

MPc: …Or maybe Steve Rothery is a little more overly excited! (laughs)

IAN: (laughs) This is a first for Marillion. We have got probably five or six tracks left over that are really good but will be on the next album. But we still need another three or four tracks, so that’s why we’re jamming at the moment before we rehearse. It seems to make sense, really, to do that. But Mike, today… He said what he was amazed by was that he was listening to the title track and he said, “The whole guitar on ‘Somewhere Else’ was one take,” which I think was incredible. If you listen to what’s going on with the guitar… the little melodies… it’s extraordinary that Steve Rothery does do that. He did the same with the solo on “Easter” back on Seasons End. He just plugged in, played it, and that was it.

MPc: It’s funny that you mentioned that solo. I think that H. just mentioned to us that it’s one of his favorite moments, and he also mentioned that it was a first take. After the fact, Steve had to go back and learn what he did because he never worked it out! (laughs)

IAN: He’s either a genius or lazy, I’m not sure! (laughs) I mean, today, on the way into the studio, I thought that I’d better actually learn some of the stuff myself!

MPc: That actually leads to a good question: What do you have to do to prepare for a tour? You’ve got over twenty years worth of material that you’re picking from. How much of it do you have to relearn, and do you have to spend any time specifically practicing to maybe get your chops up to the level that they’ve might have been at during the recording? What’s it like for you?

IAN: For me personally, I feel that most of Marillion’s music really, from a drummer’s point of view, is quite simple. I mean, I remember when I played with Steve Hackett and that was full-on all the time! If I had to do a Steve Hackett set now, I’d probably have to go and practice for weeks. But Marillion… for me, not a lot of it really is demanding as far as chops and technique. But one of the things is getting the right feel and getting the key fills in place and making things gel, really, and making the arrangements flow.

MPc: You’re really funny! There are so many drummers today who would consider your drum parts exceptionally technical from a learning and performance perspective, especially because there’s so much work outside of the realm of 4:4. Asking a drummer to count can be quite a challenge sometimes! (laughs)

IAN: I suppose. I mean, the beauty with Marillion is that if we do have to play anything in a different time signature, usually it’s very melodic. I don’t usually have to count because I can just follow the melody, like “Invisible Man,” when that whole constant section is in seven.

We actually jammed it originally. None of us knew what time signature it was in; we were just playing. The same in the second-half of Easter – that’s all in five. But I’m not counting it because there’s such a strong melody there, so you don’t have to count it. I wouldn’t like to be in a band where you would have to count every bar (laughs)!

MPc: No, that would be a lot of work.

IAN: Yeah, that would be hard work. Math was my worst subject at school! (laughs)

“When an engineer had a different idea for the drum sound
than your idea, sometimes it could be very, very frustrating.”

MPc: So, let me ask you about your drum kit. You’ve got a couple of kits, one you leave in the studio and then one that you take on the road. How do you resist the temptation to continually change your gear? I mean, you’ve had a pretty steady set-up for quite a while now, whereas a lot of people are always constantly searching for something different.

IAN: Well, my kit in the studio is my favorite kit. I’ve had it for a long, long time. It’s the Tama Artstar II, birds-eye maple kit. As I said, I’ve had that for a long time and it used to come out on the road with me as well, but unfortunately, the rack system is starting to fall apart and it’s a bit of a nightmare to set up. So, now, it is set up permanently in the studio. I have a duplicate kit, which is in black, same Tama, which comes out on the road with me. That is quite a versatile kit, except that one is a single bass drum kit, whereas the birds-eye maple kit is actually a double bass drum kit. So, on the road, I just used a double bass drum pedal on the single bass drum.

MPc: And which pedal do you use?

IAN: I’m using the Tama Iron Cobras at the moment. But to be honest, I used to use a very old pedal called a Premier 250S, which was used by guys like Ian Paice and Cozy Powell in the ‘70s. They were fantastic pedals, but they used to fall apart. And in the end, they ran out of parts and stopped making them, so I had to find another pedal. I still haven’t found one that I’m completely comfortable using. It’s like a pair of shoes, isn’t it? I’m always aware that’s it’s not quite right.

MPc: Speaking of which, do you have any kind of preference for what kind of shoes to wear when you’re drumming?

IAN: I just wear normal, every day Reebok trainers. When I was in my twenties, I used to wear Chelsea boots with a heel on them and everything. I couldn’t even walk in those now, let alone play in them! (laughs)

MPc: I’m trying to remember if Mike Portnoy drums in just his socks, actually.

IAN: Well, we had an endorsement deal once with Puma. They made us the latest shoes and they said “Marillion” on all of them. They were really good.

MPc: Wow, I have to look for those on Ebay! (laughs)

IAN: (laughs) That was in the mid-eighties when we had endorsement deals for all sorts of things. Now I use just a normal kind of trainer. That’s what I feel most comfortable playing in, really. But I’m still searching for a bass drum pedal. One that just does what your foot does, ya’ know, if you’re just sitting down and tapping your feet on the floor.

MPc: One of the most amazing things that we saw this year at the NAMM show in Anaheim was a new kick drum pedal that uses a magnet instead of springs for resistance in order to achieve a perfectly linear response. The founder of the company (Drumnetics) basically started out as a drummer who was never satisfied with pedals, either, and he decided to apply some science to it.

IAN: Oh wow, I’d really be up for trying one of those. Apart from it sounding quite futuristic, it sounds like it might work!

MPc: Well, we were definitely impressed by just toying around with it at the exhibit. Obviously, you’ve been playing music for so many years that you’ve seen a billion new products come and go. But this one seemed genuinely cool and new.

IAN: Oh, I’d love to try one out, definitely.

[Editor’s Note: We hooked Ian up with Drumnetics and will let you know what he thinks about their pedal at a future point in time.]

MPc: So, moving back to some drumming questions, what are your thoughts of where modern drumming has gone today? A lot of the more modern rock drummers have taken it to a whole new level of calisthenics.

IAN: Well, I think there are some fine players at the moment, and some fine young players coming up. And there are some really good bands coming through as well, which is quite inspirational. I don’t remember if it was the mid-eighties or nineties or whatever, but there was a time when things seemed to be getting very stale. Everyone just was into electronic drums and the old “steam driven” kit was just taking a back seat. Now it seems that the new technology and real drums have come together a bit and you’re getting the best of everything coming out.

MPc: Are there any new bands in particular that you’re enjoying?

IAN: Well, I’m a big fan of System of a Down. I’ve seem them a few times (live) and I really love the album, Toxicity. I just think that is a great album. There’s something about that band – that they are just honest in what they do, which is how I think a band should be. They are very good live. There’s a humor to the music as well, although the lyrical content is very serious. I like bands like Tool, who are really good, I love Porcupine Tree, and I should mention Dream Theater, too. Mike’s playing is just ferocious. The guy just never stops working, and I just don’t know where he finds the time! I’ve met him a few times and he seems like a really nice guy as well. So, there’s lots of good players coming up. It’s quite scary, really! (laughs)

“To be in a band with guys that I like,
making music that we all enjoy making,
is a dream come true.”

MPc: Now, when you’re in the studio recording, can you tell me about some of the specific techniques you use for capturing your drum sound?

IAN: I fairly much leave it up to whomever is producing the albums these days. I mean, we’ve had long-term relationships with Dave Megan and Mike Hunter.

MPc: Did Mike take a different approach to your drum kit on the new record?

IAN: He just sort of experimented somewhat with various mic’ing positions and some ambient mics. And we set up another kit, actually. Just a small kit opposite my kit and had just a couple of mics on that, and recorded a few things like that. It made things sound very live. But the answer really is that I haven’t changed much. I always mic my snare drum top and bottom to pick up any grace notes that I’m playing. Mike and Dave, we’ll record some drums and I’ll go back & listen, and I’ll never have to say anything. That is wonderful because I do remember in the early days when I was freelancing and doing session work, I’d have to go in and try to explain what I wanted. When an engineer had a different idea for the drum sound than your idea, sometimes it could be very, very frustrating.

MPc: Starting back on Anoraknophobia, you guys started doing a bit of work with drum loops. If we look back twenty years ago, a drummer would have been disgusted about throwing up a beat from a drum machine and having the band say, “Play along with that.”

IAN: (laughs) You know, you’re right. But someone could set up a drum loop that is really “vibe-y” and I might say, “Hey, I want to play along with that,” and it’s almost like someone picking up a regular instrument & saying you want to join in with that. I quite enjoy it. I mean, it’s quite rare for Marillion to play a song in its entirety with a drum loop. I think it happened with “You’re Gone,” and I think that might have been it. I like the way we approach it, which is to maybe have a drum loop start the song, and then when the real drums come in, the loop stops. I really feel that I like music to speed up and slow down and have dynamics. Unless you spend weeks to program a drum loop to speed up & slow down, it tends to sound a little bit static.

MPc: Well, now, speaking of speeding up and slowing down, do you record your songs to a click track?

IAN: A lot of the time, yes, we do. It depends on what’s going on. Sometimes there’s a sequence in the song. For instance, a song like “Between You and Me” has a constant sequence going on in that track. What we do is that we trigger it every couple of bars so there is room there to speed up and slow down and it can go slightly out of time. Then it can be marked or triggered on the first beat of the bar again.

MPc: Does this have anything to do with “Mr. Blinky?”

IAN: (laughs) Mr. Blinky is like a security blanket, I think. I don’t take much notice of Mr. Blinky! (laughs) But I think it’s a good thing actually. If I’m counting in a number, I think it’s a good thing to actually look at the light and see that it’s the right tempo.

MPc: It sure would stink if someone had messed up and set it to the wrong tempo…

IAN: Oh, that has happened, yeah! (laughs) I mean, sometimes I’ve looked at the light and thought, “I don’t know what that’s doing!” But I think the band should play to the drummer, really. They shouldn’t be looking at lights, ya’ know? They should be listening.

MPc: Do you have any final thoughts or closing comments that you’d like to share?

IAN: Well, I feel very fortunate that I’m still in a band that’s been a band for over twenty years. No one in their right minds could ever think that our band would have lasted this length of time. To be in a band with guys that I like, making music that we all enjoy making, is a dream come true, really.


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