CRR archive interview by Eric Sandberg — Carl Palmer
Carl Palmer needs no introduction. If you need me to detail Carl's vast contributions to music during a five decade career of uncompromising excellence at his craft, you shouldn't even be reading this. I caught Mr. Palmer for a brief chat as he prepared to head to the next town for the next sold out date of his successful ELP Legacy tour, promoting their most recent live album and DVD, featuring metalized guitar, bass and drum instrumental arrangements of ELP classics.
Eric: You're about to wind up the American leg of the ELP Legacy tour promoting your great new live album and I see you have dates coming up in Europe in the new year. Now that the album has been out for a while, how are you feeling about the reception it's getting?
Carl Palmer: The reviews we've had have been really good. It's on the same label (BMG) as the entire ELP catalog. I'm signed directly to them as well. The DVD is a tribute to Keith and Greg. It was recorded eighteen months ago and was originally intended as a tribute to Keith Emerson but, within the year, Greg Lake passed away as well, so we postponed the release and added a tribute to him.
The CD is also live and features some new classical adaptations, some new ELP and King Crimson classics and that's packaged with the DVD as well. As I said, the reviews have gone well and the concerts are going great, we've had quite a few sellouts on the tour. All in all I'm very, very pleased.
Eric: I'm of a certain age where I grew up listening to so many wonderful bands from the late 60s and 70s like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes. In this day of the internet, we learn instantly when one of our heroes has passed away and it's tough. As a musician and bandmate, you have had a particularly trying time in the past year with the passing of three very important people in your life. I can't imagine what that has been like for you.
CP: It's been quite hard. You don't often have a career that has that type of problem where you lose three people in such a short time. In actual fact, the three were lost in a period of eleven months. Keith passed in March, 2016, then Greg in December and John Wetton in January of 2017. These were friends, people with whom I've made a lot of music, toured the world and been very successful. To lose three in such a short period is probably a first. I don't think anyone in our business has actually gone through that.
Eric: We are certainly grateful that you are still with us, healthy, and still able to perform behind the kit at the same impeccable level. Bill Bruford and Neil Peart have retired and Phil Collins is sitting on a stool, but it's not a drum stool. I have to ask you how you are able to do it when so many of your contemporaries in the field of percussion have been forced to sheath their sticks because of the pain they are in.
CP: All the people you mentioned have what I call ergonomical problems caused by the way their drums were set up. They had inherent problems for many years because of the way they played. I'm not saying it's relevant to all of them but I think this is relevant to Phil and Neil in particular. I've had some great teachers. I've had as many as six teachers and one of them was an unbelievable instructor. The first thing he did was show me how to set up a drum kit. I don't think many people are ever taught how to set up a drum kit properly. They get a drum set and they just start playing it. You see all these weird angles where the player looks like he's sitting on the floor and the cymbals are tilted at a forty-five degree angle.
All of that contributes to problems which will crop up in the future if you play for many, many years. So that has something to do with it. I'm also very strict with my diet. I'm a Vegan and I've never really drank...I've never had a beer, for example, and I never smoked cigarettes. I've done a few drugs in my lifetime when I was young. You may know I was in a band called The Crazy World of Arthur Brown in 1968. We had the number one single with "Fire." You can imagine being a part of that period of psychedelia, Haight-Ashbury and all that, but none of that really appealed to me.
I was only there for the music, I wasn't even there for the fame. I was into the music and if money came along, and I could make a living...which I have for many years now...that feels fine. So that's how it all came about and that's who I am. All of those things put together; looking after yourself, eating well, setting up your drums properly so you don't have problems...I think all of that's got something to do with it.
I've had both my hands operated on for carpel tunnel but it was nothing at all to do to do with drumming, believe it or not, it had to do with Karate which I've practiced for the last eighteen years. I realized I had to stop because I was getting a little bit older and drumming was more important to me, so I stopped going down to the dojo to train. So I've had my problems but they haven't been severe because they've been controlled.
Eric: I think one word that can all can sum all that up is discipline. I actually spoke with a former bandmate of yours yesterday, Robert Berry. He says hello and wants you to know how impressed he is with your work with Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy and how you are as good as you've ever been, but he also talked about how disciplined you were when it came to managing the day to day business of being a recording and touring musician.
CP: I know Robert very well and what he said is absolutely true. I've always played a big part in the business because I've learned quite a lot. I had my first success when I was eighteen years old and I've paid attention as things have gone along and it's been very good for me. I'm very happy for all of that.
Eric: I'd like to take a moment to ask you about another massively successful band you were in, Asia. You fulfilled a number of tour dates, obviously, with Billy Sherwood stepping in, but are there any future plans for Asia after the passing of John Wetton?
CP: Yes there are. I can't really tell you everything right now because we're still in talks. Who knows, this could happen by next summer. There is nothing in concrete, if it happens I'll still be playing with CPL but Asia could be part of the bill. It's something that Geoff and I have discussed and it's a question of fitting it around with what I do and what he does. That's all I can tell you at this time.
Obviously, my first priority is CPL and don't forget that in 2020 there are a lot plans surrounding the fiftieth anniversary of ELP. I'm trying now to put something together with my band and other outside artists so we can actually put on a concert to be filmed or broadcast. That's one of my main priorities right now. Asia is still there, it was a great band, but it is not one of my priorities right now. If it all comes to work out, that's fine, but I've got plenty of other things going on.
Eric: For this proposed ELP 50th anniversary concert with your band and other outside artists, are you planning to incorporate vocalists and other instruments?
CP: Yes, absolutely. We still do have a number of vocals that we use with CLP. There are some things we have been doing this year with Paul (Bielatowicz) on vocoder. So other artists will be brought in to augment the band and this will include singers. The BMG roster of musicians is very broad in the point of view of different kinds of musicality, so there are a lot of people we could use that would be from the same label. It's just a case of approaching them and building things up so we have something worthy of a global concert.
Eric: With everything else going on in your life and career, how have you also had the time to establish a career as a graphic artist?
CP: I have various people working for me in that area. It's been quite successful. I engage a company called Scene Four in Los Angeles so it's not a problem managing it. I have to find the time to focus on ideas. I have put out two catalogs, the first being Twist Of The Wrist and the second is The Rhythm Of Light. They've both sold exceptionally well and we do hold art events in which I participate. The actual creating of the art is the most time consuming part of it for me.
One canvas can take seven or eight hours, if I'm lucky, and I can also spend that amount of time and come up with nothing. What I'm doing at the moment is kind of a hit and miss art form. I'm basically capturing light from the end of drumsticks which have LED lights built into them. There is a red, green, yellow and a blue. They don't go out when I'm playing the drums. They're self-generating and indestructible.
I'm set up in the other room about twelve feet by twelve feet in pitch black with two two digital cameras set at different shutter speeds and we try to find the right angles for these cameras to be placed until something works. And then it's down to the synergy between me and person operating the camera on that day. If he pushes the buttons at the right time as I drum, we're going to get an image that can be something quite magical, something that can't be reproduced.
So when we get one it's like writing a song or a piece of music. It's something that has been given to you, you take it and you move on. It can be quite an involved process but I'm very happy to be doing it. I started creating art back in 1973, before we had all this technology, which has created a new art form which we have now.
Eric: So, looking ahead to 2019 you have a twenty or so date tour booked already in February and March. Do you think you will be coming back to the United States at all?
CP: We might be back late in the year. It's a little bit up in the air at the moment, we haven't been able to lock it all down, but we definitely will be going to South America next year. We're going to be doing some recording with an orchestra in Argentina and we are going to start our own Summer camp which will take place in the Philadelphia area (see link). It will be a two day event. Paul and Simon (Fitzpatrick) will be there, along with me, teaching classes. We will have other outside instructors and there will be a concert along with a screening of some ELP footage that has never been seen.
Eric: Well you've certainly got all of us fans excited for the next two years. I hope you've booked some holiday time for yourself. Does it ever become daunting to have your life booked out over a matter of years?
CP: I'm very fortunate, because I have a property in North London, actually, I've got a London phone number and a Hertfordshire address. And I have an apartment in Cyprus so I've got two houses I can go to which makes things nice. It depends on the weather whether I go to the UK or head to Cyprus. Directly after this tour I get about four days off.
Eric: Wow! Four whole days! Enjoy!
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.