Interview : Steve Judd : Karnivool
Making a strong argument for the best progressive rock drummer at present, Steve Judd is a polyrhythmic groove creator-cum-master that begs the respect of anyone, drummer or otherwise.
Coming off the heels of Karnivool’s latest album, Asymmetry, Steve took a few minutes to chat with us about the band’s dynamic, early criticisms of the record and his take on the music industry. Despite the ample opportunity we provided, Steve refused to castigate those who have not received Asymmetry with open hearts. We wouldn’t have been as nice. Here’s our review.
Here now, Steve Judd:
The Drummer | Steve Judd
D&B: I read that you’re a self-taught drummer. For all those up and coming drummers who might think it’s easy, perhaps you can shed some reality as to how long it took you to reach your skill level?
Steve: Nothing worth doing is easy! It can be challenging, but it is a hell of a lot of fun too. If you are willing to invest the time into doing it, those challenges tend to serve as motivation to become a better player. There are also a lot of learning resources out there as well. Between drumming books, DVDs and these days, a plethora of instructional videos on YouTube, it’s not as if you are completely without guidance. By no means does this replace a good teacher, but it can certainly be a great place to start. I grew up playing along to CD’s and learning that way. I also forced myself to learn how to read drum charts (albeit at a basic level) so that I could work through some books and incorporate that into my practice regime. It isn’t the path for everyone; it’s just the route I happened to take. Of course, I am considerably better now than I was when I first started, as is usually the case, but I still have a long way to go in my evolution as a player.
D&B: Your use of polyrythms is as impressive to hear as pervasive in your songs. What about them is so attractive for you to use?
Steve: It is just a way of adding another dimension to your playing and opening up different, creative avenues when it comes to song writing. Messing with rhythms is always fun and keeps things interesting. I definitely enjoy that element of drumming but usually try to take a more subtle approach when it comes to using them in songs.
D&B: What do you still struggle with today (from a drumming perspective)?
Steve: Everything! Haha! I am yet to perfect anything and the day that I feel I have, it would probably be time to give up drumming, as clearly I would have become a lazy, complacent twat. I don’t know. Sometimes it’s technique, sometimes it’s timing, sometimes its execution. Other times it might be something as simple as my attitude. My sight reading has dropped off a bit too so I should definitely start working on that again. I guess as long as you continue to work on what you are weakest at, you will always continue to evolve as a drummer.
D&B: Which single piece of your kit is most important / which piece conveys your drumming the most by itself?
Steve: No one drum is more important than the other. It is a kit, a collective and each part is just as significant as the next. It’s like asking which string is the most important on a guitar…
The Band | Karnivool
D&B: I’m really interested to know more about the song writing process, particularly where you fit in…Are the songs written linearly, are the drums considered primary, secondary, etc., or do you all get baked and jam out?
Steve: The writing process for Karnivool is a strange one and something we have never been able to quite get our heads around. A song might spawn from a guitar riff, a vocal melody, a groove, a bass line or something totally different like a weird synth that one of the guys has been messing with. New toys often inspire new ideas. Other times it may just be us recording a jam and sifting through it to see if any of the ideas resonate with us. As far as how those ideas then become songs, well that can be quite a long, drawn out process. Explaining it!?! Near to impossible and I’m not interested in writing a book today. Haha.
D&B: How does Karnivool define success and when did it achieve that (or when will it)?
Steve: I don’t know that we could define what success is. I think everyone in the band has their own individual goals as well as goals for the band. Their version of success is then relative to what they wish to achieve. I think as long as we continue to challenge ourselves and put out music we are happy with, and people still enjoy it, then we are doing something right…
D&B: There seem to be a bunch of wankers who, for better or worse, constantly compare Karnivool to Tool. Here and now, what would you like to say to these folks? Please be as god damn honest as you’d like.
Steve: An individual’s reaction to music is as subjective as it is to any other art form. What one person hears as an influence may be the polar opposite to what another person is hearing. That is the beautiful thing about music. It presents something different to each of us. I don’t really understand the need to constantly categorize bands/music and lump it all in one basket. I find that a bit strange. As far as the Tool comparison goes, I think it is a very surface level comparison at best and even that is a stretch. To me, it is horribly lazy and a bit off the mark…
The Album | Asymmetry
D&B: In your own words, can you describe Asymmetry and what it’s all about?
Steve: Yes, but the beauty of interpretation is that anyone who listens to it can do the same. Discovering what a record means to you is half the fun. I love doing that when I listen to music and I have no intention of ruining that journey for anybody that is reading this.
D&B: I feel as though Asymmetry had a lot to live up to after Sound Awake. Can you explain the transition of the new album from Karnivool’s earlier work?
Steve: Sound Awake was a definite shift in gears for the band. It was also a good learning experience. With Asymmetry, we wanted to do something different again, both sonically and song wise. It was definitely a conscious decision to create a more challenging album for us as a band and for the listener too. I have no interest in rewriting the same album over and over simply because it ‘works’. As a band, you need to keep pushing forward, to keep growing in order to evolve and that’s what we set out to do.
D&B: If Facebook comments are any judge of opinion (aside from an obvious portrayal of jackasses)… I’ve seen the word “messy” used to describe this album. Do you have anything polite to say to that comment (maybe some inside thought explaining what has been misconstrued as “messy”)
Steve: I haven’t heard that used to describe the record. I guess if that is what people are hearing, my only advice would be is to spend a bit more time with the album. I think it was actually the initial reaction to us releasing ‘The Refusal’ online. It is a very left of centre track for us and I think it shocked some fans. Change can be hard to adjust to for anyone!
D&B: Anything non polite to add to that?
Steve: Not really…
D&B: What’s the hidden or perhaps overtly obvious meaning to the album title, Asymmetry?
Steve: To me it represents imperfection. Those seen in the world around us and in us as humans. The dark side of the light and the light side in darkness. Perfection is a myth, yet we destroy ourselves trying to achieve it. The beauty lies often in what we try to erase… It also kind of relates to music of the album following somewhat of a musical narrative. It’s bookended by intro/outro pieces with adjoining interludes throughout, but when viewed as two halves, each one is slightly different…
D&B: Regarding the [now defunct but similar] prog/metal band Rishloo; I couldn’t help but notice some overlap in song titles from Rishloo’s album Eidolon; tracks Eidolon Alpha and Omega and your own Asymmetry having Eidolon and Alpha Omega. Any coincidence or am I grasping at straws?
Steve: Straws mate…
The Industry | Music
D&B: Where do you feel Karnivool fits in the modern music world/industry?
Steve: Again, I don’t see the need to pigeonhole bands. We fit alongside any other band that does this because they love it.
D&B: If there’s one thing you would change in regards to the music industry and how it impacts Karnivool, what is that?
Steve: With the amount of music streaming sites now at the forefront of popular culture, it’s easy to debate the fact that pay rates for the artist are a bit rubbish. I guess that is the biggest problem I have with this type of service. That said, it’s a step forward when weighed up against music downloading and torrent sites. At least there is a payment as opposed to receiving nothing from illegal downloading, even if it is a pittance. Still, it’s hard to get too worked up about such things. If it allows people to discover your band, increases your fan base and gets people to the shows, then it still has a positive outcome. It’s just a lot harder to monitor the monetary gains in those terms than it is to monitor via record sales.
D&B: Do you ever check YouTube for drum covers of your own songs? If so, do you make comments under an alias?
Steve: No. I’m not a huge YouTuber really. Sometimes the other guys in the band will send me a link if there is a good/entertaining one and I’ll have a quick look, but that’s about the extent of it.
D&B: Which country has the hottest and/or craziest fans?
Steve: European fans are amazing! I wouldn’t call them crazy, but they are really passionate about their heavy music over there. India was quite warm when we were there so of all the counties we have played, I presume they have the hottest fans…
D&B: Thank you very much for your time. Good luck with the new album and I guarantee I will come see you on your next USA tour if you come within 500 miles of me.
Steve: Cheers mate. Hope to see you over in the US soon!!!
Support and Follow
ON TOUR NOW – Cities and Dates
Check out Karnivool on their own website.
Follow them on Facebook.
Buy Asymmetry from iTunes.