Session Series: Interview with Alex Torjussen (Niall Horan, Isaac Gracie, James Morrison)

Alex Torjussen is among a new wave of young British musicians making a mark on the international session circuit. With an impressive list of credits already under his belt, Alex is showing no signs of slowing down. We caught up with him before his next US tour to chat about gear, aspirations and backstage nerves!

Sam Beattie

Sam Beattie

Alex Torjussen - Andertons Music Co.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself for those who don’t know?

I’m a freelance/session drummer based in London, mainly working within the pop/singer-songwriter scenes both live and in the studio. Over the past few years I’ve toured and played with Niall Horan, Isaac Gracie, Jade Bird, James Morrison, Rumer, Will Young, Rebecca Ferguson and Jacob Banks to name a few.

We like talking about gear. What are the main components of your live setup?

I’m not really a gear nerd to be honest! I’m currently playing Ludwig drums and Zildjian cymbals and pretty much use the same set up on most things. When in the studio I have a couple of old kits I like to use, depending on the music of course. I have a ‘60s Rogers kit which sounds unbelievable and I’ve also just picked up a ‘60s Ludwig downbeat kit. I like picking up odd bits of gear from drum stores on my travels so I have a load of old cymbals and odd percussion things.

You’ve performed everywhere from jam nights in Guildford to Hyde Park and international areas. Do you adapt your setup depending on the venue/your schedule?

As I said before, my setup mainly stays the same with most gigs. Rack and floor tom, kick, maybe a couple of snare drums. In most pop situations these days there is almost always a requirement to run some electronics and track, so you can incorporate sounds and samples from the record etc. I will usually have a few triggers and pads alongside the acoustic drums.

Alex Torjussen - Andertons Music Co.

How about when you’re not touring? Do you have a studio setup or any gear that you like to use at home?

Currently I don’t have a studio space, the joys of London rent…but if I did I would probably invest more in some old mics and pre-amps rather than have lots of different drums. I’ve started to buy bits of studio gear on eBay – so when the time comes and I have a suitable space, I can just move in ready to go.

Can you think of any particular equipment that’s changed your approach to performance or music as a whole?

Not really…I would say though if you want to have a career in today’s music scene, a little knowledge of programming and running tracks is a must, especially if you’re taking more of a musical director role. At the most basic level, being familiar with an SPD-SX inside-out so you can start incorporating samples and loops up to knowing your way around an entire playback rig running Ableton, Cymatic or something similar.

Saying that, most of the situations I’ve been in the MD has programmed everything and has the show already up and running. I just press play and stop and try my best not to fuck it up! Also on bigger production tours there’s usually a playback tech who’s all over it and you don’t really have to worry about anything apart from just playing the gig. I’m definitely not one of the go-to Ableton guys, but just having a basic knowledge is a good thing I think.

Do you own or use any wildcard bits of gear that our readers might not expect?

Not really wildcard but I have some old Session Pro hi-hats. Session Pro is like a Fisher Price drum kit brand you used to be able to buy in Argos. The cymbals that come with kit are essentially plastic. I found these hats in a mate’s attic, covered in shit and all the rest of it. They sound absolutely incredible on record! Really gritty and funky sound. Sometimes things just work when they really shouldn’t!

Who would you cite as an influence when it comes to your style and setup?

Way too many to write down on here but I love James Gadson, Andy Newmark, Jim Keltner, Ringo Starr, Jim Gordon, Keith Moon as well as a lot of today’s session heroes like Ash Soan, Victor Indrizzo, Matt Chamberlain, Matt Johnson, Joey Waronker. I think Jon Theodore and Ilan Rubin are also really exciting. I’m also inspired by a lot of guys currently on the scene in London…Dan See who plays with Jamie Woon, he’s unbelievable. Freddy Sheed is also a guy to look out for.

Obvious question, but do you maintain any sort of practice routine?

Currently no. I don’t have a space in my flat, so I try to maintain my hands on a pad. I listen to a lot of music and try to keep searching for records and to keep inspired.

How about warming up before a show? Any tips or tricks you’ve learned over the years?

I never used to but usually before a gig I’ll maybe spend 20 mins or so just warming up my hands on the pad. Also a bit of stretching, but that’s it really.

I always feel I don’t have much advice to pass to younger guys as I have so much to learn myself.

Many musicians struggle with the idea of music & creativity becoming ‘work’, thus losing some of its magic. Have you ever experienced this, and if so, how did you work past it?

Yeah I think it can happen to any musician. Sometimes, after a long tour or if I’m not feeling good musically-speaking, I may need a few weeks away from drums to just reset. In between tours I try to get in the studio with mates and just record and play as much as possible…maybe write some stuff for fun and to try and stay creative. If you’re touring with an artist where you have to play the same parts day in day out, sometimes it can get a bit stale. For example, you might be having to play exactly the same fills if the artist digs a particular thing. You’re being paid to be consistent and deliver an amazing show every night so you have to stay on top of things and not lose concentration.

Another obvious question, but does music theory play a part in your work as a performer?

I’ve never had to read so far on the gigs I have done but it is a skill I would like to get together. I’ve been trying to get it together for 15 years, ha! If there is one thing I wish I could do well it would be to read music. Maybe in ten years from now I’ll have it down!

Time for some career talk. At what point did you decide you wanted to become a professional musician?

I started playing drums at about 12 years old and I guess I’ve always wanted to be a musician. There’s nothing else I want to do, so I have to make it happen.

Alex Torjussen - Andertons Music Co.

How did your studies contribute to your experience as a professional?

I was very lucky to have some great teachers right from the start. Stu Roberts was my first proper drum teacher and he introduced me to all the good stuff very early on. I always remember being totally floored when he played and I still am. I think if you’re really into music you’ll end up finding your way. I feel I’m just starting that journey really. I have so much more to learn and all I want to be every day is a better musician than the day before.

You’ve spent a lot of time in recent years performing at massive venues, prestigious events and touring the world. Did you gradually adjust to that lifestyle or was it quite abrupt?

Honestly I treat every gig the same, whether you are playing to 50 people or 50,000. A gig is a gig, whatever you are doing, wherever you are. Obviously it’s a buzz playing a big arena or whatever, but I get more nervous on a sweaty club gig. Everything is so much more intimate and up front. No room to hide. Most things that have happened to me have been just an ‘in at the deep end’ sort of thing – you just get on with it.

As a drummer, a lot of responsibility falls on you to keep a performance together and flowing. Do you still feel the pressure, or has your experience helped to ease it over the years?

I think it’s the whole band’s job to do that! Definitely in my early days of touring and playing gigs there was this element of feeling like I had to prove myself to everybody. The more you do, the more your confidence grows and now I’m just happy to be playing. I still get nervous before a gig and I guess there is a desire to make sure you always nail the gig. If you’re playing with a great band then it’ll just happen, ya know?

Do you get much time between schedules to yourself? How do you decompress, either on or off the road?

I do get some downtime – as I said, I’m still really at the start of my career (I hope!). As I write this, I’ve just had some dates moved around so I’m spending some time in Italy, where my girlfriend lives. I try to keep creative and try to keep playing. Sometimes there is a worry of when the phone is going to ring next or what’s going to happen, I think everybody has that. But that’s also the exciting part of being a musician. You never know what might be around the corner.

Could you pick a favourite moment of your career so far?

Recently I did a session with Miles Kane which was great. I was really into his stuff and The Last Shadow Puppets when I was finishing college so to be working on some songs of his in the studio was a cool moment for me. Making a record and touring with Isaac Gracie who’s now a close friend. I played on a song of his called ‘The Death of You and I’ and remember the first time hearing it on the radio and remembering jamming it out in a rehearsal room about a year before. Last year I got to play Red Rocks and the Greek Theatre with Niall Horan on his world tour which was crazy. Had a couple of good ones!

Alex Torjussen - Andertons Music Co.

How about horror stories? Any nightmare experiences on the road that you’d be happy to share?

Yeah, a couple – but maybe that’s best for the pub later…

If you could give a single piece of advice to budding musicians, what would it be?

Play with as many people as you can and try to keep being inspired by all kinds of music. I always feel I don’t have much advice to pass to younger guys as I have so much to learn myself.

Finally, the obligatory ‘what’s next’ – any cool stuff lined up for 2019?

Next week I fly out to Los Angeles to do a few shows with Jade Bird supporting Hozier on his US run. Then we have some bits of promo New York, and from there it’s into the festival season. Then I think there will be a US and UK tour so I’m quite busy with that currently!

Thanks to Alex for taking the time to answer our questions – you can find out more over on his website! Alex uses Zildjian, Vic Firth, Remo and Protection Racket. Photo credits: Christian Tierney.

While you’re here, check out the rest of our industry content – news, interviews and gear gossip. Finally, to play us out, here’s Alex in action – enjoy!

 

Sam Beattie
Sam Beattie
Sam is one of our content writers, as well as being our resident southpaw. When he's not busy being left-handed, he spends his time composing for music libraries and playing in a post-rock band. Sam plays a Mexican Telecaster and a Vigier Excalibur, and is never more than 5 feet away from his Electro-Harmonix POG.

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