Michael Spearman


Course Studied: BA Jazz

Year of Graduation: 2007

Top Career Highlights:

  • The Mercury nomination [for Everything Everything] was a big one for me - I’d always followed the Mercury’s growing up
  • Appearing on ‘Later...with Jools Holland’ three times was a (terrifying) thrill.
  • Playing the Other Stage at Glastonbury - it’s such a special festival. 

2017 has been a highly successful year for three-time Ivor Novello Award nominees and Mercury Music Prize shortlisted band Everything Everything. During the summer, the group performed a not-so-secret show at Glastonbury Festival and released their fourth studio album ‘A Fever Dream’, which was received with much critical acclaim.

Amidst a hectic touring schedule, we spoke to the band’s drummer Michael Spearman to discuss jazz, rhythm and life on the road with Everything Everything.

How did you begin working with Everything Everything?

I knew Jon (lead singer) from school and we always vaguely talked about starting a band after we did our degrees having played in a few bands together at school. It was something I took with a big pinch of salt but after graduating I decided it would be fun to move to Manchester and give it a go. 

What do you attribute to the band’s success and critical acclaim?

Well there’s definitely quite a lot of luck involved; not just once but a few times along the way. Having said that it’s true to some extent that you make your own luck and you have to have a ticket to win the raffle. By that I mean we committed to it fully from the start and worked hard playing as many shows as we could. 

It’s impossible to know how well something you make will be received critically but we’ve always been quite tough on ourselves and have tried to make the best albums we possibly can, even if that meant being brutally honest with each-other at times, which is hard on a personal level when you’re friends and not just simply colleagues. We’ve learnt to deal with the mental and emotional side of being in a band for the ten years we’ve been together. That’s half the battle. You can have a great band but if you can’t stand to be in the same room as one another then it won’t last long. We’ve reached a good place where we’re respectful of one another and try not to take anything too personally, putting the music first. Also, despite the music being pretty serious in tone at times we find that having a shared irreverent sense of humour helps a lot. 

What tour highlights do you have with the band? What would you say are your biggest achievements with Everything Everything?

I never really went to music festivals growing up as that wasn’t so much the culture at the time so I really enjoy the festivals now, especially abroad. Last summer we watched Radiohead play Glastonbury and TRNSMT festival in Glasgow within a couple of weeks and I had a moment of thinking how lucky I was that this is my job. When I think of our achievements I could pick things out that look good on paper but really it’s those moments of feeling incredibly fortunate, which can catch you by surprise. 

How does studying jazz at Leeds Conservatoire prepare you for working with a major indie-rock/alt-pop band?

Jazz, I think, is the most challenging music to play on the drums and it’s where the drums came from. So to try and understand the fundamentals of the instrument through the lens of jazz and really get under the skin of the music was a great thing for me. It wasn’t so much about an end result of feeling like ‘I can really play jazz now’ - more than, it was an amazing exercise in chipping away at something every day through lessons, theory, practice, rehearsals, gigs, essays, to get as close as I could to understanding the music and playing the music on the drums. It’s a process that never ends with music. 

I had always played a range of styles on the drums but to zone in on what makes a jazz rhythm feel good and what it is about different drummers’ approach to time - as well as more practical things like reading and technique - really helped my drumming in a deeper way than just learning jazz as a ‘style’. Once I started hearing music in a deeper way I could apply what I’d learnt via jazz to playing all music. 

Has the use of rhythm across different genres helped influence your own performances and musical creativity?

I’ve always loved rhythm and found it kind of mystifying. As well as jazz I studied Afro-Cuban and Brazilian music at Leeds Conservatoire and that helped open my mind even further to rhythmic possibilities. I try to see it all as music and not draw too many distinctions. Whatever the genre, rhythm can create tension, release, chaos and order, and that’s a powerful tool in any genre. 

Which drummers across jazz, rock and pop do you admire? Why?

So many... Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Billy Cobham... By the end of studying at Leeds Conservatoire I was really into the drumming of Brian Blade, and still am. His playing is so deep and you can hear the soul of his drumming predecessors but he makes it fresh and vital, which is what jazz should be. I also love the ‘weirder’ guys like Jim Black and Joey Baron, who both did masterclasses and gigs at Leeds Conservatoire while I was there. I still love listening to other newer jazz guys like Bill Stewart, Mark Guiliana, Keith Carlock. 

In terms of pop and rock music... John Bonham, Ringo, Levon Helm, John Stanier, Sam Fogarino, Dave Grohl, Greg Saunier... Again, the list is endless. 

What advice would you give to budding drummers?

Focus on the fundamentals and listen. 

What was it like studying at Berklee College of Music? What are the major differences between studying in the UK and the USA?

Berklee was exciting because it’s in America and there are some amazing players there but it’s the biggest music college in the world... In some ways that’s a good thing but I think I felt more comfortable at Leeds Conservatoire where I could get to know people better and it was a little less overwhelming. 

What attracted you to studying in Leeds and what do you think of the music community here?

It was the course and the teachers really. The community was brilliant and I played a lot of music in Leeds, all with people I met at Leeds Conservatoire, so it was a really formative and fun time for me. Great to have so many different musical experiences with different people. 

How did studying at Leeds Conservatoire prepare you for your career as a professional musician?

There were definitely times I was out of my comfort-zone musically but it really helped me as a drummer and ultimately my confidence as a person generally. For example, I’d played in school big bands before but having to do things at Leeds Conservatoire like be a last-minute dep as the drummer in a big band, drumming in a concert, with an audience of mainly musicians and classmates, is very character-building! 

What’s coming up next for you? How is the tour of Everything Everything’s latest album (A Fever Dream) going so far? Are there any particular gigs you’re excited about?

Heading to Australia just after Christmas, and Europe and America later next year. Hopefully Japan too. I love that we get to travel with touring and see the world. 

In the UK we have our biggest ever tour next year, culminating in Alexandra Palace in London in March. That should be a special show. 

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