Much like his compadre Charlie Hunter, Carter McLean is a talented multi-instrumentalist and composer. While he is the drum specialist and Hunter is the guitar wizard, they each have an understanding of one another’s favoured instrument, which informs their strong musical connection. The pair will perform live at Band on the Wall on 29th September and ahead of their show, McLean was kind enough to tell us about their first meeting, his education project and favourite pieces of kit. Drummers, prepare yourselves, McLean owns one of the most gorgeous looking and sounding kits you’re ever likely to encounter!
How and when did yourself and Charlie meet and begin playing together? Was your connection immediate or did it take a few sessions to get on one another’s wavelength?
Carter McLean: ‘I first met Charlie Hunter in 1998 in Colorado while opening for him with my brother Jamie McLean. We didn’t play music at all together until about 2 1/2 years ago. It was super super easy to play together right out of the gate a totally natural connection.’
Charlie has such a distinctive sound and playing style. What were your thoughts when you first heard him play? Given the inherent groove in his playing, is it easier or more difficult to accompany Charlie, than a guitarist with a more conventional playing style?
CM: ‘The first time I heard Charlie was on the radio driving to Pennsylvania around 1994. I had no idea he was playing the bass and the guitar parts, I just knew the group is unbelievable and the music was GROOVING. I did some research and found out he was doing both the guitar and the bass parts at the same time and was totally blown away. Playing with Charlie is super easy as a drummer. Charlie is actually a fantastic drummer himself so he totally understands what the drummer is doing. If you can’t lock in with Charlie as a drummer you have major problems.’
You’ve been fortunate enough to tour with some phenomenal musicians, Fred Wesley and the late Melvin Sparks amongst them. How do musicians of their generation compare to those of your own? Were the elder musicians keen to give you advice in your younger age and if so, what has stuck with you?
CM: ‘Playing with older musicians was fantastic when I was in my early twenties. The biggest lesson I took from those guys was to play less and listen more. Still the best advice you can give someone these days.’
You set up Four Hands Drumming in order to help players become more proficient and expressive at the drum set. How gratifying has the process been and has preparing tutorials taught you more about yourself as a musician?
CM: ‘Starting an educational website was fantastic. It made me figure out a lot of things I was doing playing wise in order to teach people with clarity. It’s also super rewarding seeing somebody who was struggling and then they are able to play with they hear in their head.’
You use an array of gear, from the beautiful shells and cymbals, to hand percussion, practice aids and more. What pieces of gear have most significantly impacted your sound and the way you play?
CM: ‘Gear is super important to me as a translates the sound in your head. Switching to George way Drums and Istanbul Agop cymbals has been the biggest change. Working with these two companies has really gotten my sound down to what I hear in my head. I’ve been working on this for thirty years. Also shrinking the size of my set up has really been helpful. With Charlie are use only two or three drums. It’s a very small simple set up but it makes you become more creative on the instrument.’
What are yourself and Charlie planning set wise for the forthcoming dates? Might we hear the two of you together on record any time soon?
CM: ‘Charlie and I make up the set list as we go. Before the show starts I have absolutely no idea what we’re going to play which is fun to keep things fresh night to night. Charlie and I have been working on some different projects together and you will be able to hear us together shortly.’