Richard Spaven on the joy of collaboration, the allure of classic hip-hop and the discovery of his perfect cymbal

British drummer, producer and composer Richard Spaven seldom hogs the limelight, but he’s no doubt on the radar of many a contemporary music fan. His work with artists as divergent as Flying Lotus, Gregory Porter and Bill Laurance has seen him infiltrate numerous listener cliques, while his ear for subtlety and uncoachable musicality have made him a foil for many modern artists, on stage and in the studio. He’s a true musician’s musician and we were thrilled to catch up with him ahead of his first headline show at Band on the Wall to discuss collaboration, some favourite hip-hop and DnB and his unconventional choice of cymbals…

Prior to establishing yourself as a bandleader, you’d accompanied fantastic vocalists such as José James and Gregory Porter. Can you tell us a little about your transition from student to professional musician and the benefits that experiences like those have had on your career and development as a bandleader and creative?

RS: I learned the most playing with some great artists. Early on this was the case and it still is. I value this highly. I intend to keep working in such a way along side doing my own thing. It’s great to run your own project for the freedom and the outlet of ideas – but I love working with others – two current projects for example José James and Jameszoo. Completely different but musically where it is at for me.

The Self is your second studio album and features Jordan Rakei, who you’ve developed a great working relationship with. What brought yourself and Jordan together, and when writing tracks such as the album opener, what was the typical working scenario for the two of you and at what point were lyrics and vocal melodies being introduced to the track?

Jordan got in touch with me about playing on and producing a track for his ‘Cloak’ album. It was such a natural step to ask him to collaborate on my album, which I was writing at the time. He brings so much to my music – he brought ‘The Self’ home – he’s perfect on it. For that track I had written the music and we got together and wrote the lyrics, J had a lot of ideas for the melody – and as is Jordan’s way pretty much had it down by dinner time.

Drummer-led albums can occasionally fall victim to the prominence of the drums, but that’s never the case with your work! Do you have an ethos or any particular ideas about the role the drums should play in a composition and have you ever had any great advice on the role or function of the drums, that has stuck with you and informed your playing?

The drums just need to work – to make the music sound better or to create some ‘head-nod’ groove or whatever. The drums on my records tend to be subtle, but for the discerning listener there is quite often a layer of complexity that is there – without bringing too much attention to itself. The hi-hat part in ‘The Self’ for example – straight up 4/4 but with a little creativeness to the groove.

We’ve seen lots of classic drum ’n’ bass and hip-hop reimagined with live instrumentation in the UK recently: Goldie & The Heritage Orchestra, Abstract Orchestra and others putting a spin on some classic records. What are your favourite drum ’n’ bass and hip-hop records and are there any that you feel you, or other artists, could do a fantastic job of re-imagining live?

I played a couple of shows with Goldie recently – that scene being so important to me it was a trip to play Timeless with orchestra!

Favourite D&B…lots of the early Metalheadz catalogue, Early Source Direct, Photek, Dillinja, Doc Scott… still sounds so fresh to my ears.

Hip-Hop…oh my that’s a lot of records I’m about to forget to mention…I mean classics: Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders, Jaylib – Champion Sound, The Roots – Do You Want More… endless list…

We might just drop a few of these live on the show – maybe not re-imagined… just replayed live with respect to the classics.

We loved witnessing Stuart McCallum sit in with yourself and Bill Laurance Group at Band on the Wall last year! Knowing Stuart from your Cinematic days, how was that experience for you and what most endears Stuart’s playing to you and made you want to involve that in your sound?

I love his sound. I went to a gig he was playing – listening to him from the audience (which I don’t get to do as often as we’re on stage together) I thought ‘if he wasn’t in my band already I’d be on his case right after the gig’. My music is pretty moody and his sound submerges itself in that seamlessly. We write well together – ‘Alfama’ for example is a track I’ll always be proud of (written in Manchester). I love working with the dude – great attitude and a best mate to boot.

Your preference appears to be for quite a rustic looking, less polished cymbal. What do those cymbals give you tonally compared with conventional ones and how much tweaking has gone into your setup generally to arrive at the full palette of sound you’re happy with?

Always tweaking! Yes most of my cymbals look like Tony Robinson just discovered them on a dig. Shiny cymbals give me less sounds – these Meinl extra dry cymbals have become so important – they are my sound and so much can be had out of any one – crusty and expressive. In the studio these are the sounds that blend so naturally with electronically-inclined music.

What have been your favourite musical moments of 2017, be those favourite records, personal experiences as a listener or performer and what’s exciting you looking ahead to next year?

First listen of Bjork’s ‘Utopia’ this evening – got the headphones on whilst I’m answering these questions… wow… thats one!

Had a great time touring with José James this year – something we hadn’t done in a while.

With my band we played a weekend of shows at the Helsinki Festival – amazing vibe all round with crowd and band firing – I promised the audience I’d name a song after them in future!

Releasing my album – it’s such a big deal for me to release all that hard work to the world, suddenly it’s out there. I’m grateful when people tell me it resonates with them. It’s personal. I’m proud of it and how well it’s doing and I’m inspired to do more.

Secure your tickets for Richard Spaven’s Band on the Wall show here.