OXFORD | Until the age of seventeen, Laurence “Loz” Colbert lived isolated in the forests of the Cotswolds, teaching himself how to play the drums. Once in Oxford, a friend made him listen to a record of Psychocandy and he was instantly blown away: ‘That noise made so much sense to me. It felt passionate, swaggering and all consuming, like being caught in an oil painting that was constantly shifting.’ Back then, he could never have guessed that one day he would be a part of that oil painting himself.
Hester Aalberts | Photographs by Julian Hayr, Patric Carver, Mark Crozer, Nino Loguidice and Cindy Palmano
How are you holding up in these crazy COVID-times?
I am not complaining because I have my family with me. It’s much harder for those who go through this on their own. My wife and I are surrounded by distractions and company – a huge dog, two cats and of course our four children. For them, we now are their friends, parents, teachers, … everything! So it’s full on.
Tell me about your twelve-hour drumathon!
That came out of the blue, during the most intense part of the first lockdown. It was all over the news how bad things were at the hospitals and how nurses were struggling. It just didn’t feel right for me just to stay home. So I was grateful for the opportunity to do something! And if that something is drumming for twelve hours on end, so be it! The preparation was intense and took me several weeks. I went through all the studio files, I re-mixed Ride-tracks and I created new versions specifically for the occasion. I started to shift my body clock. Playing for twelve hours on the big day was easy after that. And it felt amazing to play a live concert for all these people, regardless of their time zone, enabling everybody to join at any time.
You are currently working on a song with Mark Crozer, bass player of The Mary Chain.
Indeed. The working title is Good Things. We both write and play several instruments. Mark and I go back to when he was living in Kirtlington Park, near Oxford. Back then, we were already in a band together: The International Jetsetters. That was a nifty little outfit, packed with great musical artists! I am very proud to have been a part of it.
Mark and I have done many things together. We were in Jim Reid his solo project, as well as in The Jesus and Mary Chain and International Jetsetters. We had been planning on doing something together again for quite some time. And bizarrely now, because of this pandemic situation, we are finally able to do it.
Do these times take you back to your teenage years in which you also felt isolated?
They do. I grew up in the Cotswolds. We lived in a forest in the middle of nowhere and I was left pretty much to my own devices. I mainly lived in my bedroom listening to music and multi-tracking songs with two tape decks, like in a studio. And I could play the drums – without neighbours to annoy! So I completely went into music, with no distractions whatsoever. I taught myself drums and music by listening to records and to the tapes I had made from the radio.
I also listened to certain albums really intensely, like for example Power, Corruption and Lies by New Order. But also Heaven Up Here by Echo and The Bunnymen and some hip hop. I loved the melodies, the epic synths and the mysterious beats of New Order. I felt the ‘emotional drumming’ of Pete de Freitas in the Bunnymen, and I connected with the new drum machine patterns that were emerging in music in the eighties.
How did you discover bands like New Order?
I used to listen to the John Peel sessions on the radio and recorded those, together with any Top 40 songs I liked. I pushed a microphone up against the speaker to record the radio, using an old dictaphone from my mum’s second husband who was a journalist. Also my sister, who went to university, brought back these incredible mix tapes made by her friends. That way I was introduced to lots of Indie music. Bands like Felt for example, but also old school hip hop and early dance music. On top of that my father was feeding me with the Blues, like Jimmy Reed (ha ha!) and Muddy Waters. All in all, quite an eclectic mix!
When did you move to Oxford?
When I was about seventeen. I went to Banbury Arts school, where I met Mark Gardener and Andy Bell. We all used to meet in the record shop were Steve Queralt worked. Soon enough, we formed our own unit within Banbury; the arts crew being rather different from the rest of the population there.
Was Ride your the first band?
No, it wasn’t. In my first band, The Lobotomists, our instruments consisted of my drum kit and a chainsaw! Actually, the chainsaw came into it because of Kill Surf City, the B-side of Sidewalking by The Jesus and Mary Chain! I loved the start of that song. It was the sound of an engine, but in my mind it was definitely a chainsaw.
We had a stereo at school, that we used to listen to each others records. My friend Anthony Grey introduced me to The Mary Chain by bringing a record of Psychocandy. The group was looking around in shock and horror when they heard You Trip Me Up. But I thought: ‘This is it! I don’t know what it is but I am in!’ That was the moment I fell in love with noise. It felt so passionate, swaggering and all-consuming. It was like being caught in an oil painting that was constantly shifting. That noise made so much sense to me.
Before we get to The Mary Chain, let’s talk Ride first. Was Alan McGee of Creation Records the one that discovered the band?
There are various stories on this. One of them we should probably check with Jim Reid: His girlfriend back then, Laurence Verfaillie, was a press-officer at Creation. In Jim his presence she listened to some demos. While listening to the Ride demo, he supposedly made a comment that she should play it to Alan. And apparently, she did! So it may actually have been that Jim discovered us. Wouldn’t that be an amazing twist of fate?
If it had been up to you, would Ride have stayed together without the break?
Well, that is exactly what Ride never got: a break! There is always this question in the back of my mind: what would have happened if we had had one. But instead we were shoveled out to do more touring, without a plan and not having had the chance to perfect anything in the studio. Or to work on our craft, or just have some time away from each other!
That sounds very similar to what Jim told me about the break-up of The Mary Chain:
‘The management should have realised William and I had to get away from each other for a certain amount of time. Six months, maybe a year. I am sure the band would have survived a time-out. But instead we took a world tour and nearly killed each other. It all became so fucking intense. William left. I finished the tour with the understanding the band would be over.’
Exactly! I truly feel for Jim and William. They are brothers and you can’t get much closer than that. Their entire reference system connects to each other. Then they hit London … It’s hard to explain the effect the music industry has on relationships. It can be awful and devastating. It demolishes what’s pure, innocent and worthy. It tears apart marriages, ruins friendships and family relations. Look at the Gallaghers and at the Reids … It is not their fault in some ways, to be honest.
Touring can be a drag. How do you keep yourself busy while on the road?
When Ride started touring we were still kids with no idea how the world worked. The older members of the crew became our role models, as that was who we spent most time with. Now I’m older I can see both sides of how to approach touring. Last year, I did the American tour without drinking at all. It felt so good. Now while on tour, I run in the morning and that really helps to keep me together. I also write music on my laptop, so I can be creative on the go. And I enjoy making field recordings: I often record the sounds of places we visit.
During the breakup of both Ride and The Mary Chain, Mark Crozer asked you to join Jim’s solo project. What made you say yes?
It was a no-brainer, because I’m a lifelong Mary Chain fan. I mean … Jim Reid? Absolutely! And I had been in and out of Ride. There wasn’t much going on there. So I asked for some demos and I really liked what I heard. It reminded me of The Mary Chain: really cool and laid back. And also some surprising stuff. Besides, I always wondered what it would be like for me to actually play Mary Chain songs. So yes, I definitely wanted to get involved.
Then you met Jim!
Yes! Jim actually came to Oxford to rehearse with us. Can you believe that? At one point we were grabbing some food after rehearsing and we were all getting drinks. I had read stories about the debauchery of both Jim and William, so I was thinking: ‘Right, here we go. We’ve got Jim Reid and we’re having beers: this could go anywhere!’ And then, of course, he didn’t want one. I asked: ‘Are you all right Jim, you’re not having one?’ He looked at me and said: (Scottish accent) ‘No, no, I’m not drinking. Because when I drink, I tend to drink … a lot!’ It was such a brilliant understatement. He was just being so absolutely honest. And also humble enough to think that I might not know. Jim was disarmingly humble anyway, throughout the whole period of working with him in that unit.
In 2007, Tom Waits dropped out of the Coachella line-up …
And The Mary Chain got offered the spot! So, after nine years, the Reids got back together! The weird thing is that, band-wise, the only change was William joining us. I mean, Phil (King), Mark, Jim and myself had already been playing together for several years. So it must have been tough on William, being dropped into something pre-existing. Anyway, we had two weeks booked to rehearse for Coachella and I vividly remember the first day of rehearsal. It was all a bit daunting, because … well, for starters, I had never met William and didn’t know what to expect. But as soon as he plugged in his guitar and started playing: relief. I knew it was going to be great. The magic was already happening. I put William on a level with Andy Bell from Ride. The sort of connection between drummer and guitarist … Andy turns up and the room is instantly filled with electricity. I honestly never expected I would experience anything similar with someone else, that excitement to be playing live … But it was exactly like that with William.
In hindsight, did Jim’s solo project miss that key element called William Reid?
Absolutely! And vice versa. After we had worked our way through all the Mary Chain songs on the set list, the Reids started to play the tracks they had worked on separately these previous years. And they immediately completed each other! Once together, they instantly took these songs to the next level and they sounded ‘finished’: it was uncanny.
After Coachella you toured virtually the whole world with them.
I did. And all I can say is that I love The Mary Chain. I love the way they do things, because it’s never predictable, it’s never safe, it’s never how things are normally done. I mean: first gig was Coachella, huge, practically a headline, Scarlett Johansson on stage … ‘Let’s take it slowly’ really doesn’t factor in with The Mary Chain; things just happen.
Coachella, April 27th, 2007 | Filmed by Bert Audubert
Preparing for Coachella definitely made me a better drummer. Being given that opportunity to play for the band I grew up listening to, and learning all the drum parts … it was so great to get into the detail of it all.
Murray Dalglish, JAMC’s first drummer, asks if it was hard for you to dumb down to play Mary Chain beats, being such a versatile drummer.
Honest answer: I loved it. There is something primal, something visceral in these songs that oddly gave me freedom. It made me explore another side of myself. I didn’t need to try so hard all of a sudden. I needed this kind of influence, and again, it made me a better drummer. That’s very kind of Murray to use the word ‘versatile’ though.
Would you have been able to reproduce the drum machines on the postponed Darklands tour?
You are talking to the right person, because during my period with The Mary Chain I entered this ghost world in which I lost myself in trying to replicate all of those patterns meticulously, including all of the sounds, like percussion. I wanted everything to sound exactly like on the record. And eventually I managed to work out how to play all of them. In great detail. The band, however, was reluctant to put songs like April Skies and Darklands on the set list at that point, although we did rehearse them occasionally. Therefore I never had the chance to play them for a live audience. So to answer your question: yes, I would truly relish the challenge of playing the whole of Darklands.
Which JAMC-song did you like playing the most and why?
I always loved drumming to Blues From A Gun, Head On and Just Like Honey. Another great moment is in Far Gone And Out, the bit when the song comes back in and Jim does his hey hey hey! I just cannot explain how good it felt to start mashing the cymbals at exactly that point. I sometimes thought I might explode.
Things fell silent between 2009 and 2012? Thereafter, you didn’t return …
After the big reunion tour, which was hugely exiting, maybe it was a bit too much for them. I think William was working on his solo record back in LA and probably wanted to work with people a bit more local. Maybe that’s why Brian Young, an LA resident and an excellent drummer, is now a part of The Mary Chain. But clearly I’m just guessing.
Because I was not sure what was going to happen with The Mary Chain, I already sort of hooked up with Gaz Coombes of Supergrass. I even felt a bit guilty about that towards The Mary Chain, but when they got going again without a phone call to me, I re-evaluated that feeling!
Were you hurt by your silent replacement?
Maybe I was a bit at first, but it’s classic Mary Chain. Every now and then they like to shoot themselves in the foot with a shotgun and it doesn’t matter what collateral there is. Whatever they want to do, they do. There might have been a reason and there might not have been a reason. I can only speculate. But again, it is classic Mary Chain to just do it and not let anybody know. They are not the types to think: ‘I wonder how X will feel about that?’
You were one of the very few members that was invited into their recording studio though.
Well, this is where I think I shot myself in the foot! When they started talking about making another album, there was a time when all the talk was about going into the studio … with me. Jim, William and myself. Life couldn’t get any better! After all, most of the albums they make are primarily focused on guitars and drums. So it made perfect sense and I couldn’t wait. But then I made the suggestion to go at it as a band, including the other members as well. And that proved to be the end of the dream job I had been waiting for all my life. I should never have mentioned it! But I truly felt the three of us, Phil, Mark and myself, would be a good influence on both Jim and William. And we did in fact record one song together as a band; William’s song All Things Must Pass that was used in Heroes. We performed it live on the David Letterman show.
Live at David Letterman 2007
While touring with The Mary Chain you also attended classes at the Oxford Brookes University.
Yeah, in that period I was living life for sure at both ends of the spectrum. Smacking the drums for the Jesus and Mary Chain and studying music theory. A great balance! And sometimes I couldn’t sleep through jet lag so would work on writing into the wee hours.
In 2014, after eighteen years, Ride regrouped!
And I got to (re-) learn my own drumming for a change!
Is Ride in contact during the pandemic?
COVID did cut the tour a bit short. We had our new album This Is Not A Safe Place out. Luckily we already played most of the gigs, but there were still some festivals left and a big secret surprise thing that would happen in America. But that all got cancelled.
We are definitely in contact there’s plenty going on. You can probably guess what we’re doing. After all, the last album is finished, so what would be logical to do next?
In the meantime, Steve and I have been doing something during lockdown you might enjoy: I told you earlier that I made some Ride song remixes for the drumathon. Based on those, Steve and I have exchanged bass and drum tracks remotely and put them together to make a performance of new versions of Ride tracks. Our rework of Chrome Waves, from the album Going Blank Again, is now online and so is Jump Jet from This Is Not A Safe Place. These reworks are also a great way to stay in touch with our fans.
Why was Ride’s latest album redone completely by Pêtr Aleksänder?
Our manager James Sandom came up with the idea. He had worked with Aleksänder on something before and asked them to do a classical version of the album. They were all over it and the band gave him a golden ticket to just do what they wanted with it. It was released last May as Clouds In The Mirror and it got some great reviews.
You are specialised in Clicks, Ableton Live and MIDI triggering. Excuse me?
A click is an electronic metronome. It’s created electronically so it is very specific and doesn’t waver in time. But often drummers have to be able to play to it. Some people can, and others can’t. When I joined Ride, drumming was something that you just did and it was organic, free. In 1990, when recording Nowhere, I used clicks for the first time. In a way, it came from dance music, which is made in computers to a rigid tempo. I took this skill to the next level while playing for Animal House. I had to really learn playing to a click, syncing up with other equipment that brought in all kinds of backing tracks and rhythmic samples – there was no room to waver in tempo.
When I started in music, everything was done on magnetic tape. Nowadays about 99% of all music is created on a DAW, such as Logic or Ableton. You can make your own music with separate tracks by combining piano, drums and such. With Gaz Coombes, I learned to work with Ableton Live. Ableton is different to Logic, because it works with live music samples. It actually allows you to have ‘live’ input that can be improvised and changed in the moment itself.
With MIDI triggering you can attach a microphone to your drums and that sound triggers any other sound you want it to in a sampler. So your sound palate goes wherever you want it to. I for example often trigger the samples I get with my field recordings. Gaz loved all this and it was very useful to him. When I started working with him it was perfect. All the studying I’d done on contemporary music composition and techniques paid off. He wanted to take his music to a different place and that is where I was headed also.
Do you think, in view of the current events, touring will ever be an option again?
Regarding the future of live music, the first thoughts about viral spreading are usually about the audience and the venue. But one also has to consider the effect of musicians, going from city to city, cooped up together on a tour bus, sharing basic bathroom facilities and meeting new people all the time. So under the present circumstances a touring unit is a potential ‘super-spreader’ and a recipe for disaster.
So I can’t see touring happen unless there is a more comprehensive eradication of the virus. However, I do believe there will be concerts and festivals again in let’s say two to three years. We will just have to rely on science and technology to save us. The human race would be pretty dumb if we can’t solve this one. And the news about the vaccines sounds very promising indeed.
Would like to say something to the Ride fans?
Hold on to your tickets, because they still stand! Meanwhile, keep following us online, because we are working on something very exciting. Also, Steve and I will release another new Ride rework soon. So hang in there!