Circus Magazine caught up with Carl at the start of ELP's massive 50-date US Tour to discuss his feelings about his instrument and his role within ELP itself.
Sometimes playing drums in a live show can be quite fatiguing. For this tour we're playing 2.5 hours with a short intermission and no support group. But I actually expect to have extra energy. I've got a karate teacher coming on the road with me. I've been involved in that for about three years now. I'll spend an hour with him every morning, to keep fit whilst I'm working. Besides karate I also like to golf. I played with Alice Cooper once. He wasn't that good but he's better than me. Outside of drums, karate takes up most of my time because it's such a slow process. You can only move at the rate your body develops. I see karate as very artful, like my drumming. I'm not into it as a hostile sort of thing. I see it as more energy than aggression -- although the animalistic part of me is quite strong.
While I'm on the road I'll be developing my musical skills as well. Touring can be quite frustrating because it's not an experimenting kind of thing, it's just being professional. I get my relief in the morning since I've brought along a xylophone to play. Whenever I'm on tour I always try to learn a new piece of music. At the moment I'm trying to learn Bach's violin concerto #1 in A Minor. I've got that written for xylophone and I'm practicing to deliver it perfectly. I work about half an hour on it every day. That keeps up my interest.
That's really the best thing about ELP for me -- it gives me the outlet for everything. Like with the new Works album. I can do my own work and be in the band situation as well. If that kind of format continues for the band, then all my artistic outlets will be completely fulfilled. I still enjoy playing with the band more than I enjoy doing things on my own. But with the situation we have now, I can compose things that could never fit in an ELP format and still get them out to the public. Like the track of mine off the new LP, "New Orleans." That's a very un-ELP sort of piece. I was about to record that with a group called The Meters -- they come from New Orleans -- but I couldn't get it together. The song still has that very New Orleans, dry, funky, empty sort of feel.
I like to explore as many different styles as possible. I never wanted to be a strict stylist sort of drummer. So many drummers are, and even if they're good at what they do it's still so limiting. Just in these last two years that ELP have been off the road I've been trying to expand these horizons. Besides this Works Vol. 1 LP, we recorded another single LP that will be out soon. But I also did a side-long piece which is a concerto just for percussion, with the members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. For me, that was stretching my musical abilities as far as they could go because I had to practice my parts on the xylophone and the other tuned instruments for about 3-4 months before I could even arrange the sessions.
The reason the piece isn't released as yet is because we figured having two concertos on one LP would be a bit difficult for people to absorb. The piece is on the shelf, though, and maybe around Christmas I'll release it. Or, we may do another double ELP LP because we've got lots of tapes on the shelf that we haven't used yet.
Also during these last two years I produced an album for a group called Back Door, who are a jazz group who are not too well known in America.
I started out in jazz bands, actually. My father gave me my first drum kit when I was eleven and I really didn't do too much 'til the next year when he got me a teacher, a local guy, who played in a dance band and on the radio in the Midland Light Orchestra. Then I got another guy who taught me in the style of a Lawrence Welk-type orchestra.
My biggest inspiration to play was my father. He used to take me out to the various working men's clubs and I'd play in traditional jazz groups and mainstream jazz groups. I picked up a lot of experience that way. I played standard waltzes, rumbas, honky-tonk, everything. I was forced to grow up quickly in that environment. I had just turned 20 when I joined ELP and in a way I think it hurt me. I didn't have the kind of life as a child most people have. I couldn't play in the streets because I had to practice all day. But with ELP I got even more into expanding my classical horizons. I've got a guy who teaches me who's based in England. His name's James Blade. He plays on the Works LP on the Bach piece in D Minor. I worked with him for just over a year and I learned quite a lot. He teaches at the Royal Academy, but I had private lessons at his house. I didn't spend long enough with him, though. I should actually practice a bit more at home. Sometimes it may be as much as three hours and some days not at all.
I had to practice substantially at the tuned percussion. I saw that as a vehicle to write from and display my art as a performer on stage. Like in Keith's Piano Concerto, I play all the tuned percussion. We've got a 70-piece orchestra we're dragging around on the road with us, and they've got a guy who can play it, but I'd rather it myself.
The only thing I worry about when we play live is when we perform in very hot places, I have a tendency for the skin on my hands to split. My skin gets very dry and then I have to put plaster on and then you're not as sensitive, because if you just play normally, with nice hard calluses, the drum stick becomes a natural extension of your arm.
I do expect a few more mental pressure on this tour. Obviously we've never carried this amount of people before, over 120. The insurance alone is astounding. But I think it will be worth it when the people see how powerfully it comes across. The album isn't selling quite as well as we might have hoped right now, but I think the tour will change that. We're willing to wait. Our music has the longevity to it. It doesn't have to hit you right away. It's a bit more difficult. We like to make music that we think will last.
Thanks to Rob Adams, NewPapa@AOL.com.