Receiving over 81 million foreign tourists annually, France is the most visited country in the world. Known for it’s rich history, excellent food, and fine wine France has many amenities to offer its foreign guests. But what is the local music scene like, and what type of music is considered popular to them? In this interview Drummer Connection member Sebastien Tworowski gives us an idea of what it’s like to be a working musician within the local area. Part of the progressive rock duet OulchenOwski – the group has released its third album AKT.2 which they will be promoting heavily throughout 2010. An educator and endorser of Velvet Cymbals, Sebastien takes a moment to speak with us about his background, music gear, and a rare instrument that gives OulchenOwski its unique sound.
DC: To start off with tell us a little bit about yourself and your musical background.
ST: My name is Sebastien Tworowski (Sehb), I'm Belgian/Polish but I've spent most of my life in France. I grew up in a Christian middle class family. I'm a drummer/composer. I first studied drums at the music school of my village and after two years or so, I entered a TAMA drum school for something like 3 years. Then, I mostly continued to learn by myself. I played with so many different bands, I couldn't count. I went through Thrash Metal, Tonal Jazz, Free Jazz, experimental stuff... I also did a lot of soloing. It's only way later that I went back to music academies to learn electroacoustic composition. First at C.I.R.M (Centre International de Recherche Musicale) and then at C.N.S.M.D.L (Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et Danse de Lyon) where I specialized into "Applied Research for Electroacoustic and Computer Music".
DC: What made you decide to take up drumming as a hobby and then a profession?
ST: I started experimenting on a classical guitar around the age of nine. I didn't know how to play it but it opened my ears to music and, obviously, dissonance. My neighbor was a brilliant drummer/composer. I asked him to show me stuff I could practice at home on my plastic tanks. I would have spent hours listening to him playing. He was extremely talented and he quickly became one of my major influences. His name is Franck Smith, you can find lots of things about him on the Net through his label ODIOLORGNETTE. I especially was influenced by his project called ZOIKHEM. Their music was very syncopated and almost never in 4/4. It was quite dark and a mix of Free Jazz (Dolphy's style) and orchestral chamber music directly inspired by the music of Edgard Varese. I particularly was fascinated by the sound of cymbals. To me, the drum kit was just like and orchestra of percussions directed by one man. Even after twenty years of drumming, this is still how I think the instrument.
DC: Who were some of your drumming influences?
ST: Even if he didn't leave much in the way I play drums now, Lars Ulrich from Metallica was a big inspiration to me for the first four years I would say. The only two drummers who really affected my approach of the drums are :
- Christian Vander from the French band Magma (definitely my biggest influence of all times... even as I'm writing this)
- Franck Smith with his project ZOIKHEM (ODIOLORGNETTE). I particularly recommend "Requiem" and "Vox Clamantis In Deserto". This is music of rare quality, a pure marvel. I also was very influenced by the music of Edgard Varese, Stravinsky, Xenakis and John Cage.
DC: Who were some of the French drummers/percussionist you could bring to our attention that you were inspired/influenced by?
ST: Again, if you do not already know it then I really do suggest you to listen to the French Band called Magma and his drummer Christian Vander. Never has a drummer pleased my ears and my musical expectations that much. He really is a "must listen to" musician.
DC: Who were some American drummers you were influenced by?
ST: Joey Baron, I'm a huge fan. To me, he is the first class of drumming. His playing is so clear, so refined! Ralph Humphrey and Terry Bozzio. There also was Tim "Herb" Alexander from the band called Primus. I really loved his playing. And of course, Elvin Jones.
DC: How would you define your playing style?
ST: That's a tough question Damian (laugh). I try to make it powerful but very shrewd. I always switch from binary to ternary. I always think orchestral (if it fits to the music of course but I'm thinking composition here, personal music). I often play with mallets. It's always a mix of Jazz and contemporary music. A mix of, at my humble level, Elvin Jones and Edgard Varese. I think drums as a wave of dynamics. Sometimes quiet and then it becomes loud and again back to quiet... something always moving, something breathing... alive.
DC: Tell us what it's like being involved in the music scene in France. What styles of music/bands are popular there? What are most people there listening to?
ST: I guess it's a bit like everywhere else. We have marvelous musicians and great bands in any style of music. However, most people listen to what's on the radio because they simply do not have enough free time to explore culture. French radios mostly play lots of Pop-rock and Hip-Hop from the US of A and England. Then it all depends where you are in France. East, West, South or North, it's very different. Cannes (the city of the film festival) is a lot different than Paris. Traditional Jazz works well in general. Contemporary too but the problem is to find halls. If you live in Paris, you'll have lots of clubs but if you live in the center of France then... you'll probably play in the mountains (laugh). As for us (my duet OulchenOwski), it really is not easy. Southern France could be a great place for music festivals because it's always sunny but it's not the case. If you don't play Pop-Rock then, you'll have to double your imagination to promote your music. In fact, the audience is here but the concert halls are missing terribly.
DC: How did you come to acquire your endorsement with Velvet Cymbals?
ST: It was Victor Perret from Velvet Cymbals who contacted me through Facebook. He let me know about his products. There is a player on their website where you can listen to samples of the different cymbals. As soon as I heard them, I liked them. It was so obvious to me that theses cymbals were going to fit my needs that I immediately sent them all the files and information I had. A month or so later, I got an e-mail telling me they were interested. We agreed on a contract and... basically, that's it.
DC: I noticed the video on the Velvet cymbals website and it's very cool to see the in depth process of how they manufacture their cymbals. What were you most impressed with when it comes to how they craft their product? How do their cymbals help you to define and express your sound?
ST: Turkish hand hammered cymbals are the best to me. These guys do such a great job with their hammers, it really is impressive. I like it when cymbals are not totally finished. I like big cymbals with dark harmonics when it comes to ride cymbals. I never use crash cymbals, only chinas. Again, big dimensions. I like them to be powerful, brief but with a dark sustain. I use my chinas to accentuate strokes or to create sound mass (like Xenakis and his clouds). The ride cymbal is the moderator, it makes sure the sayings of the snare and the kick drum are not too conflicting. The sound of the Velvet cymbals I use is vintage but not too much. It has this "sharpness" that I want for my music. It goes perfectly with the sound of my Remo Be-Bop made of acousticon. I used to play with three different brands of cymbals but having all the cymbal kit made by the same team of workers gives a unique homogeneity that I really do appreciate.
DC: I noticed on your Groovy Fun video that you rock your hit foot back and forth. Could you explain that technique to us and why it's useful for certain grooves that you play.
ST: Well, as you know, it's a well known technique that lots of drummers use from time to time. I usually try to avoid it as it's a waste of energy in most circumstances but, when working a lot on the toms, I use it to help me stay aware of where I am. It's always the beat on the heal and the up-beat with the toes. I also use that technique in fast tempo Jazz especially to create fast open/close effects on the Hi-Hat when my hands are playing other instruments of the kit. Nothing new really, just and old technique.
DC: What type of drum kit do you play and how do you tune your kit? I noticed that you prefer a boomy sound for your kick drum, how does that apply to your playing style and do you ever change it for other styles of music that you play?
ST: It took me quite a long time to figure out what type of drum kit would suit me the best. I tried different things but really the Jazz kits (called Jazzette in France) are what I love the most. My kit is a Remo Be-Bop with an 18" kick drum, 10" tom, 14" floor tom and a second floor tom in 16". They're all made of acousticon for a very strong sound projection. The snare drum is a Gretsch tho, 14X6.5 made of maple. I love it! It's very precise and powerful when I need it. The heads are all Remo Coated Ambassador and are quite strained. 18" kick drums sound amazingly when quite strained and stay very precise even when played fast. I never ever put anything on my drum heads to muffle them. Not even on the kick drum. I want it to sound orchestral, tribal and primitive. Most of the time, I do not even use the wire on the snare to keep the tribal sound. I like the sound of the jungle. To tune it, I simply choose notes I like on the drum head and reproduce the same one on the sustain head. That's it. This tuning fits most of the music I play so I never change it. The only style that cannot handle it is pop-rock. In that case, I simply put two pieces of large sticky tape on the drum head of the kick drum. But I almost never play pop-rock so...
DC: Tell us about your band - How did you meet, time you've been together, and some of the acts you've played with and opened up for? What is one of the coolest gigs or venues that you've played at?
ST: Well, it's a duet. Fabrice Oulchen (GBP Guitar/Vocals/Sampler) and I (Drums). Our music style is usually classified as "Progressive Rock". GBP is for Guitar-Bass-Percussion. It's a unique instrument imagined by Fabrice Oulchen and conceived by a luthier called Mike Sabre. Basically, it's a guitar with a bass-guitar's string (fretless) and two amplified wooden plates on which one can play percussions. It has four independent outputs, each with an adjustable level :
- Electric guitar
- Acoustic guitar
He came up to this not by any kind of pretension but only through his experience and techniques he had been trying to put in place for a while. A desire to develop new ways of approaching the instrument.
We met in 2000. We both were trainees in a recording studio. He told me about some compositions he had. We decided to give it a try as I had no bands at that time anyway. On the first rehearsal we both had great fun together and the feeling was good so we decided to start something together. A bass player joined in (there was no GBP at that time). We formed a band called Oro-Boros and recorded our first album together : "Réalité non virtuelle". After that, I went back to my electroacoustic composition studies and soloing projects. Meanwhile, Fabrice was working on his first prototype of the GBP. It's only five years later that we decided to work together on a bunch of compositions of his own. Most of them were acoustic stuff and I had always wanted to work on an acoustic project so I joined in with pleasure. In 2006, we recorded our second album "OulchenOwski" (concatenation of Oulchen and Tworowski). Not only "OulchenOwski" was the name of the album but it was also going to be the name of our duet. This instrument was very interesting and promising but the technique was still very "guitaristic" if I may say. Therefore we worked on something like twenty new compositions together in order to experiment and discover the possibilities of the GBP. In 2009, we chose eight of these compositions and recorded our third self-produced album AKT.2, in Fabrice's own home studio (Oulchen Studio). The music is radically different than the ones from the previous albums. My influences and arrangements start to show and it's our first real album as a duet with a capital D.
As you can see, we've spent most of our time experimenting and working around a new instrument's techniques and ways to implement it into our musical ideas.We really do appreciate and love each and every concert we do together. Even the very small ones in pubs. People are always interested in our approaches and the unique sound we produce together. There hasn't been a show where people have not come to us at the end to talk with us about the GBP or the way I use the drum kit and my huge china cymbals. We love playing music together and we're happy no matter the size of the room or the number of people present at the show.
DC: How did you prepare mentally and physically (such as practicing) for the studio album recording and your approach to playing with a click track?
ST: I almost never play with a click. I love to keep things real. It doesn't matter if the tempo moves a bit as long as the energy and the good vibration is here. We always record our albums live, all together. If there's a mistake or something we don't like, we do the take all over again. I only use three microphones for the whole drum kit : two over-heads (Brauner) and one microphone for the kick drum. No compression. I want my takes to sound exactly like what I hear in the studio when I'm playing. I want things to stay as real as can be and sound as live as possible. The aim, when we recorded AKT.2, was to provide a sound that would give the listener the impression that he is seating with us, in the studio, during a rehearsal.
As for preparation, it's a very deep process indeed. I'm not gonna go too much into details as it is a very deep and important subject in my approach of drumming. Basically, all the work is based on breathing methods. Drumming is for me what meditation is to a Tibetan monk - it's the balance of my inner self. After only few minutes of playing, I fall in an internal state of sensitivity to the sonorous world that surrounds me. A bit like trance or something. My breath becomes very slow and I'm very relaxed. I'm always very concentrated when I'm playing. Even though I'm having great fun while playing music, it's very hard to make me smile until the end of the concert. It's like a switch that gets turned on as soon as the concert, recording or the compositional work begins.
As for the physical part, I like to use Jojo Mayer's technique where you join your two hands in front of your face, keeping the palms one against the other (a bit as if you were praying), and you clap 800 thirty-second notes in a raw at a speed where you feel comfortable. The aim is not to go fast but to warm up your muscles. Then, I practice on a pad different combinations of one, two, three and four strokes rolls.
DC: So what do you guys have planned for 2010? Short term/long term goals?
ST: Many things. We want to work on the promotion of our album AKT.2 through gigs, internet, interviews, videos and radios. That is very important. Then, a "slide guitar" version of the GBP is on the way for December 2009 (the Weissenborn way). The position to play it will be totally different of course as it's meant to be played on the knees but there will also be three percussion areas with one made of metal. Of course, it's gonna require a lot of experimentations again in parallel. We're already working on new compositions for our next album at the end of 2010. I also really do wish to develop my relationship with Velvet Cymbals. Our goals really are to make a good living out of our music, get lots of events and develop partnerships with interesting and innovative firms who want to explore the new fields of sound.
DC: What is the connection that you feel to your instrument and what do you feel as you play it and express yourself as a musician/person?
ST: Well part of the answer is in the previous question about the mental preparation before a gig - it's the balance of my inner self. More than an instrument or a tool for my job, it's a part of me. I could live without it I suppose but it would be like breathing with one lung only or, eating only soup everyday for each meal (laugh). When I'm playing drums I feel connected, with a particularly high sensitivity, to the sonorous world that surrounds me. As if I were the transmitter of some frequencies that would pass through me. I know, it sounds pretentious but it's an idea, an image that I like and it really does help me to disconnect from everything else that is not related directly to sound and music. It is totally linked to a zen attitude anyway. The aim is to focus on only one thing which is the music we produce, us as musicians, when we're playing together or even when I'm improvising on my own. I always try to make a whole with my sonorous surrounding. As a result on my personality, it puts me in a state where I am always thinking music. A bit as if I were a radar constantly getting information without necessarily interpreting it. Drumming is the way I breathe. Keep me away from my drums for too long and I will slowly but surely smother.