The Drum Thing

 Pauli ‘The PSM’. Gorillaz / Damon Albarn. Photographed at home, New York.

Pauli ‘The PSM’. Gorillaz / Damon Albarn. Photographed at home, New York.

Acclaimed photographer Deirdre O Callaghan spent five years photographing drummers from around the world, including some of the biggest names in music, along with an array of underrated legends. She called it “The Drum Thing.”

What is that drum thing? A drummer has none of the mascot bravado of the frontman, nor the laconic cool of the bassist—but there's still that thing. Is it sheer magnetism? Maybe it's just their stance? While their bandmates bounce around between every corner of the stage, they sit—the bashing, twirling, stamping heart of the whole enterprise.

"People focus less on the drummer in a way. They're underrated," says photographer Deirdre O Callaghan. "But they're the driving force behind a band, and I think that's what drew me to doing this. Meeting all these people, it takes a certain personality to be a drummer. People are drawn more to the frontman, or the guitarist. But, for me, I find the bass player, the drummer, and the rhythm section really interesting."

The Drum Thing is O Callaghan's tribute to that often unheralded musical element that acts as the engine to the big machine. Among the many she captured on camera are Dave Grohl of Nirvana, Neil Peart of Rush, Questlove of The Roots, Clem Burke of Blondie, Stewart Copeland of The Police, and Zach Hill of Death Grips. And that's barely skimming the surface of the names included.

Meeting all these people, it takes a certain personality to be a drummer. People are drawn more to the frontman, or the guitarist. But, for me, I find the bass player, the drummer, and the rhythm section really interesting.

"One of the things that I wanted to cover were some of the very underrated drummers. So someone like George Hurley from Minutemen—I just loved meeting him. What's really interesting is that you meet someone like Chad Smith from the Chilli Peppers, or Matt Cameron from Soundgarden, or Jon Theodore from Queens of the Stone Age, and they all loved Minutemen. They were such a huge influence on other bands. So it was interesting to find this thread that developed throughout the project that linked all these people together."

Only now, with the project collated in its own photo book, is she able to see the enormous journey it took from its humble beginnings as a casual discussion over dinner back in 2011. In its early stages, she quickly made the decision to abandon shooting during otherwise innocuous backstage sound checks, realising the importance of documenting her subjects in their personal studios and in private rehearsal spaces. But even then she felt something was missing.

"When I photographed Roy Haynes very early on in the project, he was telling me so many incredible stories, so from that point on I realized I've got to start recording and interviewing people."

The only hard part of the project, she says, was knowing when to stop. "Even when I had finished it, I was still kind of itching away to shoot. I'm there, trying to work out how to fit people in, but then I was just, 'No, you need to stop.'"


The Drum Thing is available through Prestel Publishing. You can also read interviews with the drummers by ordering a copy of Issue One here

 

Words: Us of America