A Few Words With...Jonathan Mover

Interview and photos by John A. Wilcox

Anyone can hit things. A few can hit them well. Even fewer can hit them in a way that can make your jaw drop. Jonathan Mover falls into that last category. His resume as a drummer includes work with a wide variety of musicians and bands from prog to jazz to pop: Marillion, GTR, Tubes, Joe Satriani, Shakira, Fuel, Mike Oldfield, Frank Gambale, Alice Cooper, as well as his own project, einstein. Progsheet sat down with this thoughtful, insightful drummer for a corker of an interview! Ladies & gents - Jonathan Mover...

PS: What was the first drum part you tried to learn to play on a kit?

JM: The first drum part, but not on a kit, was definitely the drum solo to Inna Gadda Da Vida. I remember kneeling down on the living room floor and beating a hole into the carpet from playing along to that solo, over and over and over again. The first full song I recall playing to on a kit, start to finish, was Siberian Khatru. Still one of my favorites to this day.

PS: As someone who is not a drummer, I'm curious - as you build your kit, I know the basics tend to be a kick, a snare, a hi hat, a ride, and a crash. Beyond the basics, what is important to you tonally and texturally in terms of toms, other cymbals, etc?

JM: You're right that the kick, snare and hi-hat are the basics and they're all that's really important to me. I've actually done quite a few gigs using just those three voices, and really love the result. You can get so much out of so little, when you have no other choices. From there, whatever I add to that basic set-up, is usually dictated by the style of music, recording or the gig. My first choices for additional pieces would be a nice large china cymbal and a floor tom. Beyond that, it's the world... multiple toms, splash cymbals, another kick, gong drum, some percussion...if you've seen some of the kits from my past, you'd see that it's endless.

PS: What is your current kit comprised of?

JM: I have two main kits that I use for most everything these days, and a third larger double kick set, but that doesn't come out very often. The two main kits are a four-piece: 26" kick, 12" rack, 16" floor, 14" snare with 15" hats, 22" ride, 18" & 19" crashes. The other is five-piece: 24" kick, 10" & 13" racks, 16" floor with 14" hats, 21" ride, 16" & 18" crashes, 19" china. Again, it can vary a bit depending on the particular session or gig, a 20" or 22" kick, splash cymbals, etc., but those two set-ups are my templates.

PS: When working with, say, Joe Satriani or Mike Oldfield, how much latitude are you given to construct your parts?

JM: Well, those two situations were very different from each other. With Mike Oldfield I was hired to sub for Simon Phillips and play Peter's Pop Festival, which was mainly my syncing to and copying all of Simon's parts. With Joe, it was pretty much an open playing field in the beginning. It started out as a heavy fusion rock gig, so the three of us had a lot of room to work in and a lot of space to fill up, so we all got to "play" and establish our own personalities. But, as Joe got a little bit of popularity, the more he wanted to move away from the chops and improv, and stick to the more straight-ahead rock performance.

PS: In GTR, you worked with a very tasty bass player - Phil Spalding. How does a bass player effect your patterns and fills while working in the studio?

JM: Very often the bass player can make or break a session for me, in terms of what's happening at the moment. Playing with Phil was a wonderful experience. He had just come off of a few years of working steadily with Simon Phillips and Preston Heyman, so his chops and time were dead on. He kicked my ass a lot in the beginning. Made me step up to the plate in terms of laying down a steady groove and being solid, which when you're playing odd time and/or songs with many parts, can sometimes be a challenge, especially with 5 guys in the band.

As for how it affects me, it really depends on the player and the song. Often times, the bassist and I will come up with the rhythm part together, so in that respect it affects me greatly. Other times, the parts may already be decided on. At that point, I only hope that I'm playing with someone who has great time and a good feel. If that stuff is lacking, I'll usually turn them down, or even off, in my cans, or ask them to overdub after I lay down my track. In regard to fills, unless something specific was worked out for a particular reason, fills would be on me and only me.

PS: GTR sort of imploded before they could release a second album. Could that project have been rescued, or was it doomed from the outset?

JM: Unfortunately, as much as I wished it had had the chance to move forward, it was doomed from very early on. Too many cooks in the kitchen and too many kitchens to cook in. The two Steve's had pretty much stopped talking while in the studio during the recording, so by the time we hit the road, there were three camps out there, all traveling separately, but together. Howe and his road manager, Hackett, his wife and his manager, and myself, Phil, Max and Matt. So, it was disjointed the entire time. It's a pity too, because the music that we started recording for the second record was really great. It had more of the progressive edge to it, much like the original tunes for the debut before Geoff Downes got his hands on everything and tried to become Trevor Horn junior.

PS: Talk me through your thought processes on a few specific songs in terms of the parts you put together. Let's start with You Can Still Get Through from the GTR album.

JM: Interesting choice, since if I recall correctly, the track on the album is a machine/synclav track and not my original drum track. Again, this was Geoffrey trying to be like Trevor Horn and create something similar to Yes's 90125. He basically copied my drum part, but used different sounding bells for the ride cymbal/hi-hat pattern, and electronic drum samples for the kit. In my opinion, it ruined the song...but hey, I'm only the drummer. As for the parts, I can't really remember anything in particular, other than those were the days where you could experiment a little bit more, and come up with the not-so-typical parts. It's been a long time since I've heard any GTR, but I'm sure whatever I played, followed along with the basic rhythm and groove of the track, in terms of phrasing and accents. I do recall though, that the track on the record is an edited down version of the original. The original had a break down section in the middle with accents and all that cool prog stuff, but that part was scrapped all together.

PS: Imagining, also from the GTR album.

JM: Although we all wrote the album as a group, Max, Phil and I were given publishing on the one song that each of us had the most input on. Imagining was mainly my song and was credited as such. The main riffs were something that I came up with and worked on first with Hackett, who had originally titled it Boneshaker. Then Steve Howe brought in what I called the "Achilles riff," since it was very similar to a riff from Achilles Last Stand. In the beginning, a lot of the record was more along the lines of Imagining, before it was toned down and sliced up in order to make it more 'radio friendly'. I can only imagine (no pun intended) that a lot of people were surprised and disappointed when they finally heard the record. You know, you hear that the guitar players from Genesis and Yes have joined up and you're thinking In The Cage meets Perpetual Change... but instead you get When The Heart Rules The Mind. I remember when I first heard about Asia, I thought they were going to be the saviors of arena prog rock. Then I got the record, played about 30 seconds of Heat Of The Moment, lifted up the needle and reached for UK.

PS: Mirror Mirror from the einstein won album.

JM: Mirror Mirror was one of my favorite tracks from einstein. It's just one of those songs that comes together and gets written in a few minutes. I wrote the main riff while tinkering on the piano, and then the rest followed immediately. The middle section was something that I wrote to accompany the drum parts - the linear and 32nd kick drum groupings in 7. To me, that track was a really good example of my writing style and what einstein was all about at the time. I wrote most of the music for the first record in about three weeks time. A lot of the lyrics were Stan and my collaboration, with exception to Pain which was my first time writing a complete lyric.

PS: World Goes Round from the einstein too album.

JM: For me, einstein won was more or less a catalyst for me to play and get my compositions heard, whereas einstein too was more to show my lyrics and story ideas via compositions. And it's the lyric to World Goes Round which is much more important to me than the playing, which I think is pretty much the same for the second record all around. I don't think I underplayed, but I really didn't put much time or thought into my drum tracks, as much as I did the lyrics and arrangements. The lyric was a reflection on my personal experiences and what I had seen in the world up to that point in my life.

In a nutshell, I had been all over the globe, seen and done things that most would never get to do, or even think of, and yet whenever I would visit back home in Boston, I experienced a lot of jealousy, envy and even hostility from other drummers/musicians. I heard everything, from - my wealthy parents (I grew up anything but wealthy) buying me gigs, (if you can believe that) to me actually lying about the people I had or was playing with. It all comes down to - you see the same shit everywhere. Nothing new, just my way of saying it. I recall reading a great statement from Zappa. He basically said, there's no difference between playing with high schoolers and pros, they just pay you more to deal with this shit that comes along with the pros. Very true!

PS: How did the einstein project come together & will there be a 3rd album?

JM: It came together when Stan and I met while on a recording session at the old Power Station in New York. We were chatting in between tracking, and found that we had a mutual love of much of the same eclectic music, beyond the normal popular prog...Gentle Giant, Captain Beyond, Be Bop Deluxe, etc. From there we talked about doing a project together and it evolved into einstein. The tough part was finding some other guys that could play the crazy odd time shit, and sing their asses off. After too many auditions and disappointments, I convinced Stan to sing lead and we got my friend from Boston, Jani Mangini, to join as the keyboardist, covering the bass parts as well. She is the most polymetric person I know next to Vinnie Colaiuta and I absolutely loved every minute working with her...as well as looking at her. As for a third record, I actually wrote quite a bit of it a long time ago, but it seems almost impossible to find the time to record, being so busy with everything else. The first record was recorded and mixed in about ten days total. Basically played live, with vocal overdubs and then mixed two songs a day. The second record took almost a year and a half to complete. My drums were done in a couple of days, but it took forever to get all the other players on board, in the studio or recording in their own facilities. I sent out a dozen ADATs and DA88s, and it took over a year to get them all back.

PS: Having played with progressive artists like Joe Satriani, Mike Oldfield, GTR, Marillion, & the Tubes, in what way, if any, does your thinking differ when approaching parts for a pop act like Shakira?

JM: My thinking is always the same, which is to play the right thing for the artist/song/gig. With Shakira, she's going to need a nice solid groove to dance to, with some smooth fills that don't upset the flow. With the GTR and Marillion it was helping to create the songs, with parts that were complimentary, worked with the others in the band, and displayed a sense of "progressive" playing. With The Tubes and Satriani, it's more about taking their music, making it my own and playing it to the hilt. So, whatever I'm playing and whomever it may be with, I'm always doing what I think is best for that artist and situation.

PS: Speaking of the Tubes... When playing with them live, are you encouraged to stick to Prairie Prince's parts, or are you given free reign?

JM: They only encourage me to get through the song! It doesn't matter to them what I play, as long as the song comes across and we knock the audience out. It's about 50/50 in regard to the parts, and that's absolutely my choice. I love Prairie's playing and he was a big influence on me growing up, so quite a bit of the gig is fun for me to play and replicate his parts, since it is exactly what I dreamed of when practicing to Tubes records as a kid. On the other hand, The Tubes are such great players that I can change things around a bit, fuck with the time, throw in some polyrhythms, and not have to worry about being alone when I hit "one."

PS: What are the most challenging & rewarding aspects of playing with the Tubes?

JM: The rewards are: playing the gig well, knowing that the guys in the band are feeling comfortable and safe with me behind them, getting to play the music that I loved as a kid, and play it with the guys who actually created it. The ultimate cover situation! It's also really gratifying to have fans come up after a gig and tell me that they were really happy to have me sub for Prairie, not that they prefer me, but just that it wasn't a disappointment that Prairie was missing. The challenge is being able to do all that without any rehearsals or time to work the gig out. I literally get a last minute call, write down the dates, get the set list, show up for the first gig, have a quick talk through and wing it. The Tubes are notorious for having very wild and creative shows, not only visually, but also with drastically changing the arrangements and versions of the songs. So even though I might know Mondo Bondage or Telecide by heart from the record, I have no idea what version it might be when I get to the stage. So the first couple of gigs are more like live rehearsals. Keeps me on my, toes that's for sure.

PS: What studio projects are you currently working on?

JM: I just finished playing on and mixing a record that I'm really excited about. It's for a French guitarist named Rudy Roberts. The music is pretty wild with lots of odd time and chops, but very melodic, which makes it nice to listen to and easy to play. Tom Kennedy of Dave Weckl's band, plays bass, so it's a nice little trio. We hope to do some touring in Europe later this year. I also recently played on a nice project, and got to share the spotlight with some serious players. It's for a guitarist named Sean Harkness, and aside from me, Simon Phillips, Ricky Lawson, Thierry Arpino and Joel Rosenblatt are playing. What else...laid down some drum tracks for a Russian guitarist named Slavic Selin, and just knocked out a drum track on a song for Pink.

I'm also in the midst of putting together a band with the former singer of Fuel, Brett Scallions. He and I are very good friends and started writing and recording demos not too long ago. We've got a few things to finish up individually, and then we're going to knock this one out later in the year. So I'm keeping busy. It's nice owning Skyline Studios NYC, artists from all over the world that normally wouldn't think they could get me or afford me, can now just ftp a file and all things are possible.

PS: Please tell me 6 CDs you never tire of listening to.

JM: Hmmm. I'm going to take liberty and stretch this one out. I'll give you six artists that I could never tire listening to, and six CDs not related.
The Beatles
Led Zeppelin
Pink Floyd
Jane's Addiction

Roxy Music - Avalon
Brian Eno - Discreet Music
Todd Rundgren - Second Wind
Peter Gabriel - Plays Live
Greg Mathieson - Baked Potato Super Live

Those looking for more info on Jonathan Mover can check out the following:

Table Of Contents