I had the chance to meet Hot Chip’s drummer Sarah Jones last December on the S.S. Coachella cruise ship festival where my band, !!! was playing as well. Somehow, we missed eachother on the decks but luckily, she’s as savvy on the laptop as she is on the set, and we were able to catch up online. I asked her about what it’s like to tour on a cruise ship, found out how she got her start on the kit and got tips on how to play along to sequenced beats which she does often in her various projects.
Name: Sarah Jones
Current city: London, UK
Previous bands: Bat For Lashes, Kele, Jon Hopkins, Cold Specks
Current bands & projects: Hot Chip, New Young Pony Club, Geese
Number of years drumming: 13
Gear: Tama Star, Granstar and Swingstar sets, Roland SPD-SX and PD-125
Sponsorships: Meinl Cymbals, Tama Drums, Vater Sticks, Remo Heads
Tom Tom Magazine: What got you started on the drums?
Sarah Jones: I started off playing the piano, and although I liked it, it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. A friend of my family left a drum kit in our garage; I think any kid left alone with a drum kit over the summer will have a bash at some point! My cousin was learning drums at the time, and she taught me a basic beat. My dad had some friends who would come around and play together on the weekends. I’d sit and watch them, and soon I started joining in. It was great practice to play with older musicians who were patient with me! Soon after, I started playing with local bands, gigging as much as possible. I joined a 3-piece blues rock band which toured around Europe extensively. It was great to tour so much and to play long sets; I got a lot out of that.
Now you’re playing with Hot Chip. How did you meet them?
I had seen Hot Chip at festivals when I was touring with New Young Pony Club; I sort of knew them from that time, but not too well. I was playing in an experimental music band called Geese. The two members of Geese went to school with some members of Hot Chip. They were looking for a drummer and asked Geese for a recommendation. I was very pleased when they asked me to be their drummer.
You were playing with Bat for Lashes for a while. Did you play just live drums, or a combination of live and electronic?
I played with her for about 2 years, beginning with the campaign for the Two Suns album. I had quite the set up with my usual kit, extra toms and a timpani. Alongside all that, I used two KD7’s (kick drum trigger), a PD125 trigger pad for electronic snare, and an SPD-S sample pad. For a lot of the songs, I played a combination of live kit and electronics, especially electronic kick and snare with live toms and hats. I think it has a great effect and is such a fun way to play.
More and more drummers are playing along to sequenced beats. What’s your take on that? Do you find it challenging?
It can be the most enjoyable thing to play alongside drum machines and sequencers. I find that I can still put my own swing to it. It helps a lot when you have a great monitor mix, as the beat can sound a bit disjointed if I can’t hear everything properly. But I used to practice to a click, so sequenced beats never really get in my way. I also enjoy playing freely with a band, which I try to make sure happens often, as well. It’s good to have variation.
How do you adapt sequenced drum beats to a live kit?
If the sequenced drum parts are very busy, it can be hard to play along without it all sounding a bit cramped. The challenge in that case is to try to break the beats down, playing as much as possible on the set, and sequencing the other parts. I listen to the overall drum part to find the bits that I think will work best on the kit. In Hot Chip, lots of the percussion parts are played live at the percussion station; we split the live part between the kit and the percussion.
Do you play to a click during live performances?
I do sometimes with sequenced drum beats, other times without. I also use triggers on the bass drum and snare, which helps make them sound more electronic, and helps with getting the right feel.
Do you write the beats in your bands?
Often I play beats that have already been written and recorded. In those cases, I just adapt them to be played live. With Hot Chip, we change up the songs quite a lot for the live versions, which we all come up with together in rehearsals. In my other projects, I usually write the beats. I really enjoy coming up with electronic beats in the studio, too.
How much creative flexibility do you have when you’re playing beats that other people have written?
It depends on the artist, but I have been lucky to play with people who allow me quite a bit of flexibility to try new things and to play the beats my way. I’ve also been lucky to be playing with people whose music I love. I wouldn’t want to change things too much anyway, as they’ve already nailed it!
Playing on the cruise was quite an experience! It seemed like a dream tour, sailing to the Bahamas and Jamaica on a luxury cruise liner. Snorkelling in the daytime and playing on that huge ship in the evening: quite different from the usual tour schedule! We had lots of family and friends with us too, so it was a bit of an end of the year party for us before we set off to tour Australia after Christmas. In preparation for our new year’s eve show, we learned some fun covers such as Sloop John B by the Beach Boys and 1999 by Prince. It felt like every band on the boat was doing something slightly different, maybe because it was such an unusual setting.
Are you going to have more of a writing role on future albums with them?
With Hot Chip, it would be great to get involved in recording, which we are doing soon. With New Young Pony Club, we have been writing together a lot more, which worked really well for the new songs. I’ve been doing some sessions in London with other artists, and have been quite involved in writing drum parts. A lot of the time, with my own music, I’ll start writing a song from a beat I came up with while practicing.
Any upcoming tours or releases?
New Young Pony Club have a new album coming out very soon. I’ve also been working with Anthony Silvester from Xxteens on a new project which will hopefully release a record soon.
By Alan Wilson
Photos for Tom Tom Magazine by Bex Wade