Charles Hayward is one of the most propulsive, resourceful and generative rock-plus drummers of the past half-century. An influential percussionist, keyboardist, songwriter, singer of songs, and forward thinker through sound, Charles spoke with Phantom Power about a 40thanniversary touring with a partly reformed and enlarged This Heat as This Is Not This Heat, and then opened into generous  reflections on his solo works The Bell Agency  and 30 Minute Snare Drum Roll.

 Charles is founding member of the experimental rock groups This Heat and Camberwell Now. Since the late 1980s he has concentrated on solo projects and collaborations, including Massacre with Bill Laswell and Fred Frith. Most recently he released an album of improvised duets with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth.

This Is Not This Heat play their final concerts at EartH Hackney Arts Center in London March 1st , a two-day residency in Copenhagen March 5th-6th, Le Poisson Rouge in New York City March 18th, Zebulon in Los Angeles March 20-21, the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville TN on March 24th, the Albany in Deptford, London May 25th.

Live performances:

30 Minute Snare Drum Roll live at Café Oto, London

Improvisations with Thurston Moore

This Is Not This Heat

 

Full albums:

this heat

Deceit

Health and Efficiency

Camberwell Now

 

Images provided by Emma McNally and Fergus Kelly.

[CHARLES HAYWARD]

Song is to be human..

 

[ethereal music plays in the background]

 

[CRIS CHEEK]

This…is…Phantom Power.

 

[radio or television static mixed with an orchestra]

 

[MALE ANNOUNCER]

The time now, very nearly three o’clock. The next program on BBC One: “Songs of Praise” follows at three fifteen…

 

[Funk/techno music suddenly cuts in]

 

[MACK HAYGOOD]

Episode nine.

 

[CRIS]

A drummer’s tale.

 

[music fades out]

 

[MACK]

So it’s great to be back. Phantom Power Season Two, and this episode is one that I have been waiting for with a certain fan-ish frenzy, because we’re going to talk about Charles Hayward; the drummer, keyboardist, vocalist, tape manipulator, pioneer of experimental rock and roll.

 

[CRIS]

Yeah, right. And still putting out albums. Still touring. This Heat, the band that you would just hearing, they’ve recently done a 40 year set of concerts under the name “This is not This Heat.”

 

[MACK]

It’s amazing to hear This Heat still making such an impact on music, because I remember playing music in Chicago in the late 90s and early 2000s and at that time post rock was a genre that was a pretty big deal. Those of us playing that sort of music were really inspired I would say by a few bands. There was Can. There was Lee Scratch Perry. There was This Heat. Talk Talk was another one.

 

[CRIS]

Interesting to hear that. I like them too, especially their later albums.

 

[MACK]

So, This Heat was just a group that once you heard them you’re like, I can’t believe this already existed so long ago.

 

[CRIS]

They they take a punk DIY aesthetic and then they retain some of the immediacy of the elements of that music. They were more involved with a very different kind of idea about the interrelationship between melody and rhythm and noise. Dirty sense and dirty samplers and expanded sense inside music making that leads into trance ambience, precise bursts of silence. I think all of that is part of what makes their music still sound fresh.

 

[ethereal music fades in]

 

[MACK]

Charles Hayward went on to play with so many interesting bands, including Massacre with the guitarist Fred Frith and the bass player Bill Laswell.

 

[CRIS]

They just put out an album this year of improvisations with [inaudible] from Sonic Youth.

 

[MACK]

By the way, how do you know Charles Hayward?

 

[CRIS]

Loosely rubbing shoulders on and off over the years. When I was playing music around various different scenes in London. This sort of person who I felt was part of a community of music makers and interested audiences over a period of about 25 years. Of course, I’ve been over here for a while now.

 

[music changes to have more bells clanging]

 

It’s been a while. I know.

 

[CHARLES]

It’s been one hell of a while.

 

[CRIS]

It’s been a lifetime and you’ve just been so unbelievably busy. Are you ever at home these days?

 

[music becomes faster tempoed, more contemporary]

 

[CHARLES]

I’m at home less often then I have been in the past, but it’s all good. I broke my ankle quite literally a jolt. I was back to playing pretty much right away, but while I was lying in bed, I told myself, I wasn’t gonna hold myself back anymore. I was going to do all the things that were in my head that I thought were good, and I was going to share them with as many people as possible. It’s all about now as opposed to having this luxurious time span up ahead.

 

[CRIS]

How does it feel getting back into those somewhat old shoes?

 

[CHARLES]

We’re not doing any new material, we’re only doing what’s on the albums and the records. That can either be an incredible constraint or it can be a big liberating with this is what it is, let’s get on with it. It’s been the second one. There was this agenda when the group was a trio, which was about moving forward. We’ve found a way by integrating it with these five other players to actually, completely revitalize it. The materials got “now” written into it from 40 years ago. For instance, on Cenotaph the chorus is “history repeats itself.”

 

[a sample of the song plays. Very slow and contemporary]

 

The deep sense of irony. A thing happening and being said, at one point, and then:

 

[lyrics come in singing “history represts itself]

 

Unfolding sometime later, and the contradictions inside that or the parallels inside that is really being investigated, partly because history has taken us around this loop. Partly because, for instance, my daughter’s in the group and to be doing that with the younger generation, all the players are at least 20 years younger than me and Charles. With lots of new versions of what the material means. New input often about technology, or about instrumental attitudes, something beyond that concept of non musician. Some might say, well, I don’t know anything about the note F sharp but that thing where they don’t know the names of the notes, but they they now to get the emotion across, and they’ve got their own way of doing that. Then you’re constantly learning and that’s good, really.

 

[music fades out]

 

It feels to me like how I imagined the folk tradition, some non-industrialized position inside music seems to be a good model. When I think about my childhood, I was getting that sort of quiet orthodox 50s music tuition, school. That would be things like English folk songs, really. Then all the Anglican Church of England hymns, and all that stuff.

 

[a song plays inspired from English hymns, but still sounds contemporary]

 

I used to love going along to the school assemblies and singing, I wouldn’t sing the words, I would just do the tunes. I still really love opening up my lungs. Doing that nine o’clock in the morning, I used to feel absolutely fantastic. So I never ran away from that. I had a lot of mates who  sort of turn their back on that. That sense of song, for me, the melodies are so right. It’s not about trying to show off some sort of oblique angle or anything, it’s just getting the tune across, in a way that comes out of your own body.

[ethereal music plays]

 

I’ve always loved that folk thing, crossing over into Greek music, and you get it crossing over into African music. I mean, just the very same Indian music the same…it’s not even aesthetic, it’s the same ethic. There’s a story I heard about a session in the pub in Sligo in Ireland, where one of the Fiddler’s was like the man. Next to him was this 12 year old who was practically scratching at the fiddle. No one thought that the music was being impaired, that this virtuoso was being limited. What was happening was, the music was growing. That’s the good thing about this is not that it doesn’t actually sound exactly like the record. It’s more like a garden.

 

[simple jazzy music plays]

 

[CRIS]

Drummer, keyboard player, songwriter, singer of songs, forward thinker and reflector on sound.

 

[MACK]

So, there was This Heat and then there was This is not This Heat, but there was a long period in between those.

 

[CRIS]

Yeah, that’s kind of 35 years in between those two events. Charles has taken the politics of collective music production into community workshop settings. I asked him if he had a kind of ready made travel kit that he used.

 

[CHARLES]

I just be me. the most I’m ever really me is when I’m playing, unless I’m with my wife and kids. Then there’s that version of me but I don’t really find it very easy to share that with lots of people. The me that I do share with lots of people is is music. I’ve got a thing that I can carry very easily, it’s a frame drum, a little keyboard, a melodic. I think that’s basically it. Then there’s our little set of bells and my voice. Almost never words, or its words, but they’re mumbled and sort of half there. The bell agency, it grew out of disability arts workshops.

 

[MACK]

So what is the bell agency?

 

[CRIS]

Well, it’s like a game. A musical game, anybody can play. And any number of people can play. Each person as a beater, and there is either one or more bowls made of metal. Each person can take the opportunity or the opening to strike the ball with their beater, with this stick. Not in turn, but when they are moved, so to do, but then they have to wait until somebody else strikes it before they can strike it again. A music making structure that people with varying abilities could all participate in.

 

[MACK]

So this really gets into that thing he was just talking about folk music, right? Music for the people.

 

[CHARLES]

It started as a workshop thing with the brief that we’ve got to try and get funding admin and NHS.

 

[CRIS]

National Health Services.

 

[CHARLES]

Local coordinators, and us, and people with disability, there’s like 20 of us. There’s people in the group who’ve got all sorts of learning and sensory disabilities, or they’re not even necessarily disabilities, but they’re not the same as yours and mine. They give signal, and at the same time, the world often interprets the signal as meaningless or like nervous tic response or something like that. I see it as more material in the air. So I try and integrate that into what I make. There’s also dancers that work with the people.

 

[a single bell periodically ringing]

 

When we say dances and working with the people or another word other times has been clients. Another word has been participants. All these words, they basically divide us up into the people who are the professionals and the people who are the patients almost. It’s only language that really does that, because when we’re actually inside it together, that’s the thing that this particular workshop brings, is, there is no real division. The division starts again, the minute we get to half three and the support workers come in. They’re good people, but we were able to afford something that’s like, outside of practicalities. We’re in this world where we don’t even explain it to each other, we just get on with it. It’s very, very nice. It’s very, very abstract. It refreshes your soul. It wasn’t about turn taking where you could see that people getting uptight because they were three  goes away from it being their turn. Nobody had any real over responsibility. Some people were hardly ever participants, you know, they would only make one sound in the whole thing. That’s sort of how it started. It was just a way of sharing what we can do with people who weren’t musicians. That’s often when it comes out the best. I did one Bell agency, which was all arts admin people. One of them was taking the piss of it all the time, she was frightened committing herself. I’ve worked with this sort of thing before. I knew I used to sort of come on all matcho, and sort of almost be argumentative, but I didn’t. I started sort of very slightly weeping. Saying, look, it’s right for you, but these sounds actually mean something to me. Then not only do they mean something, to me, it’s my responsibility to look after them. I can’t handle you not giving them the respect they deserve. Then some of the other admin people started to elbow in and say, let’s get into this. So we got into it, and she got into it as well. By the end of it, she was just like a completely different human being, it was just amazing. It was like she was actually doing the thing that she’d been administrating and sort of like having a certain distance via the paperwork and all this sort of stuff. She’d been doing that for years. Then suddenly, she was actually engaged in this sort of experience she was setting up for people, she was actually inside herself, and it was just an amazing session. One of the things I’m very interested in in a moment is the interface between social obligation and ordinary timetables, like all my trains at four o’clock. Zoning out this weird thing where you can play for a quarter of an hour and it feels like war and peace, but it also feels like the batting of an eyelid. That thing where it transcends social time, and then finding a way of bringing those two together, because in a weird sort of way, they are brought together anyway. It’s the very nature of performance, It’s got social time constraints around it. If someone wants the bell agency to be 15 minutes, then I’ll go okay well, I’ll engineer it so that it’s 15 minutes. With the bell agency I tried to get people to become very conscious of shape across time as opposed to shape in space. I think that music and theater and dance…you’re asking the audience to engage with their memory of what happened at the beginning and how that follows through to the end. If you can get the participants in the bell agency to actually, I say to them that the first sound you make it almost doesn’t matter which one of the bells you play and actually to be honest, it doesn’t really matter that much the second bell you play. The first bell on the second bill, they’re just sort of like they’re at the beginning of the path. Once you’ve got the second bell and the space between the time between the first and the second, the amount of decay you’ve let happen, that’s sort of constraining what you really think should happen for the third sound. The fourth sound becomes even more defined because of the first, second, and third. As you go further into the piece, each choice becomes more and more inevitable. So, tune into that inevitability and obey it, as opposed to think, oh, I’ve got to express myself. Instead of that, just obey, obey, obey, obey, and follow the obeying all the way through. That might mean that the pieces two minutes long, and it might mean that the piece is seven minutes long. It’s because of the choices you made by about sound four and five, they’ve set up the conditions for everything else. It’s just a question of finding what those conditions are, by the doing of it. You’ve also got to be totally present to know when it’s no longer there or when it’s gone. Sometimes I’ll record it or I’ll say to people look, just a minute and a half ago, we went beyond the point. Did you hear it? we’re just now waffling. The feedback from the people who participate is fascinating as well. Who’s that guy, [inaudible]. He did that whole thing about quantum moments. The bell agencies’ that. You think the thing is going one way, but somebody else does something. That can change the conditions of what you thought it was going to be. You’re only allowed to make one sound at a time. That’s the only rule is you can only make one sound, then you have to let somebody else make a sound.

 

[CRIS]

Yes, like a conversation between attentions. There’s a kind of a sense of constraint, productive constraint that’s developing as the piece goes on.

 

[CHARLES]

That’s exactly it. cris. Yeah, yeah.

 

[CRIS]

That is beautiful.

 

[CHARLES]

Yeah, well it is beautiful because I mean that lady I talked about at the Barbican workshop, I’ve been in this trapped inside, what will people think of me? Or sometimes I’m even still in this, how can I be me doing this? Well you’re not being you doing this, because you’re standing outside of yourself asking how can I be me doing this, the thing to do is to just do this. Then you will find that you’re being you. It washes away all these horrible burdens everyone’s carrying, including your personality and how you interact with people, suddenly, all that’s gone, because you’re just a obeying the sound.

 

[bell ringing continues then fades out]

 

[CRIS]

What do you think?

 

[MACK]

I find this really inspiring, and he’s so radically open and present to what’s happening. He’s using sound as a way to do that, to engage with other people. To engage with people across all these kinds of divisions that we make up as he says, with words and this whole idea of disability too. There’s a lot of scholars who work in the field of disability in the humanities and talk about how we have this medical model of disability that says, disabled people are people with bodies that don’t work correctly. Disability scholars will instead suggest that, no, there’s just a whole diverse world of different kinds of bodies. We have social and also physical material environments that make life more difficult for people with certain kinds of bodies. Just to listen to him talking about that knowledge that he has that these are sort of false divisions that we make, and that we can use music to sort of transcend those and let everyone participate according to their own authentic self. It’s really, really great and nothing I would have expected. Just from being a fan of This Heat. I had no idea he was doing things like this. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense with their politics of the band does this kind of radically open socialist perspective on dealing with other people and the spaces that you’re in.

 

[CRIS]

Yeah, that’s why I wanted to talk to him, because I find that the work that he has been doing in other contexts, and the kinds of qualities of attention that he’s been drawing out of being a drummer have opened into these inclusive spaces. You might think that to hit a bell is something that a drummer would do, but to encourage 20 people in a room to really pay attention to hitting that bell and listening to the decay on the sound and so on. The ramifications of trying to produce a little composition collectively really excites me. The thinking process of a musician and mature midlife.

 

[MACK]

That difference between the way he would have responded to that one woman who was sort of laughing at this process. the way he would have responded as that younger musician is to the more really gutsy way he responded to her this time. Which is such a less macho, male, masculine way of responding and yet took a lot more courage.

 

[slow music fades out, a drumroll on a snare drum fades in]

 

[CRIS]

When you’re performing something like 30 minutes snare drum roll we just heard a snippet of about a minute. When all of the attention is on you, and you’re kind of responsible for everything that’s happening but I used to play hand drums a little bit. Sometimes I would sense that it wasn’t me playing the drum it was the drum playing me and I feel like you’re really exploring that in a micro level piece like that.

 

[CHARLES]

If you play a role for the normal amount of time, which is like maybe five seconds, and inside a piece but if you just [makes sounds like a drum] all you really here is the role. If you only play the role and then you vary the role, it brings you into focus of what actually is going on. It’s no it’s no longer like a narrative line that’s being said, or I’m using the word narrative here or whatever. Instead of it being something that’s like a building block inside some sort of linguistic parallel, it’s instead purely sound. I did Barrow in Furness full of noises. I did a big with Laura and Axis Dryland Head, and I did 30 minute snare drum roll. We were in this large space in the interval. I’d gone outside for a breath of fresh air. When I came back in again, there was this whole paraphernalia about the door, the front door of the building. So then I’m doing the snare drum roll, and I can hear a gang of children downstairs in this big, large sort of stone staircase, running around in the building. I’m thinking well, the reason why there was all that ho-ha about the front door when I went out for breath of fresh air, the reason why there was all that ho-ha was because the backstage area wasn’t completely secure. People that got all the computers for the festival, blah, blah, blah, and suddenly there’s this gang of kids running around. I take the volume down of the snare drum and the kids disappear. I take the volume back up again, and there’s all these children singing. Of course, it’s not the children. There are no children singing. It’s snare drum. When you say about me playing the drum or is the the drum playing me, when it really gets going it’s definitely the latter.

 

[snare drum roll continues]

 

Things are starting happening that I’m not even in control of. The audience are hearing things that I don’t even know are actually happening. They’re in a different part of the space and that is something off the back corner of the ceiling. I can’t hear that.

 

[CRIS]

I went off and have a look other people who do drum rolls on YouTube. There’s a whole bunch of videos. Jason Sutter, Wayne Orlin, Kato Harrooto, Jesse Seef. I was looking at all of these and so many of them are all about something other than the sound. They’re sort of doing cheerleader maneuvers, twiddling the sticks in between. They’ve got some kind of marching band paraphernalia going on. What I really like about what you do is just the intense focus on the sound and the production of the sound and listening and paying attention.

 

[CHARLES]

The micro details of the piece change with the acoustic of this space. Sometimes there’s things I can’t bring out because they’re not actually in the room. Other times something that’s like there’s this base sort of [base noise]. There’s this is bottom thing that if you play with a particular sort of elbow, and at the center of the drum, you can bring out this sort of weird sort of base sub harmonic. You can’t do it in every room. If the floor’s not quite the right floor, it won’t happen. I do want to record it. It can’t be recorded in a definitive sense. It will change the acoustic space changes, then the actual piece changes.

 

[CRIS]

One of the cliches about punk is that people didn’t know how to play their instruments. Yet, you could like, if you just got three basic chord structures you could bash out a song in your garage. Leading in some quarters wrongly, to a kind of glorification of ineptitude. Charles is saying something very different. He’s pointing towards care. We heard it in the bell agency, he’s saying I really care about these sounds, I really care about this process. Clearly, he cares about his own music making. His care in terms of this sense of folk transmission that he was talking about. There’s care in terms of just wanting to stay inside the production of a 30 minute snare drum roll and make that interesting. Get as much juice out of it as he possibly can. Take people into the kind of the granularity of the sound. Taking care is the thread that we can pull here. It’s evident in everything that he’s saying.

 

[CHARLES]

The intellect and memory and language and the appreciation of structure through time. These things are part of the totality as well. It’s not like oh, we better be natural, so we better not do songs. Song is to be human. Construct from one day to the next. Going back to the studio to tweak the mix. That is human. It’s not some sort of alien thing. That’s what we are. To run away from that in some sort of anarcho squat parody. That that sense of, oh it can’t be right because you actually spent some time getting it perfect. Not perfect but getting it to feel like you want it to feel. You get upset if it’s not quite like that you must be an idiot. It’s like no, I’m being a human being. If I’d been like this after two days of getting engaged with the process, then maybe I was a bit childish, a bit silly. There must be a reason why I’ve been doing this for years. It’s to get better at it, share it more effectively.

 

[CRIS]

Coming back to a sense of daily practice whatever your line of living is, and taking care of it, and taking care about it whether it’s a garden or you’re building a model ship or you’re making music, learning how to draw or whatever it is. I think that taking care is a very interesting little guide that Charles Hayward suggests we might follow. Thanks so much, Charles.

 

[CHARLES]

The pleasure’s mine cris. Music actually fills the air for everybody.

 

[snare drum roll plays then fades out. Modern music plays]

 

[MACK]

That’s it for this episode of Phantom Power. Thanks to Charles Hayward for coming on the show. You can learn more about Phantom Power and find transcripts and links to the things we talked about and find previous episodes of the show at phantompod.org. You can also subscribe to our show there or wherever you get your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d rate and review us in Apple podcasts. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter. All of the music today was by This Heat Charles Bullen, Charles Hayward and Gareth Williams, and Charles Haywards diverse solo projects. Thanks to our intern Gina Moravec. Phantom Power is produced with support from the Robert H and Nancy J. Blaney endowment, the Miami University Humanities Center and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

[music fades out]

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