On the Beaten Track — Interview with master percussionist Pete Lockett

His musical repertoire over the past three decades covers the who’s who of world music scene during the period. And his personal instrument collection would translate to an assortment of just about all of world percussion. Which kind of explains why this multi-percussionist is one of the most sought-after instrumentalists in the world today, be it world music or Hollywood. And the man has always had a special something for India, of late even foraying into the Indian film music scene, working with A R Rahman. Even as he gave this interview he was in Jaipur with a folk project he has been working on. Music Aloud’s tete-a-tete with Pete Lockett..

So when did it all start for you, your bout with drumming? Was it percussion right from the start or some other department of music? And when did world music take your fancy?

I was lucky.  I discovered music late at the age of 19 and it was totally something for me.  I had no external pressures, society pressures or achievement pressures.  I had left home and mastered my own destiny. I could just enjoy drumming for drumming sake.  It started out with drum set after I saw an advert in a drum shop window for drum lessons.  I went straight in and had one.  Two weeks later I was in a punk band and the future of my life was mapped out.   I moved to London a year later with no money and started to gig in rock bands and the like.   It was a few years until I discovered Indian music.  Again quite by chance.  I stumbled across a free concert given by Zakir Hussain and Ali Akbar Khan and was immediately mesmerized.  I feel so lucky and blessed to have had those moments.

In your world music discography, I have noticed a slight majority going for Indian fusion. Even among the two books you have released one has been on Indian rhythms.  Any reasons for the penchant towards Indian percussion? Is it something to do with the complexities involved in the Indian beat structure and the challenges therein?

I am a multi percussionist and that is my instrument.  It includes instruments and traditions from all over the world, from North and South India to the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Latin America Japan and much more.  However, the holy grail of complex and developed linear rhythm is Indian.  Everyone knows that who has studied it.  It is by far the most involved linear rhythmic system in the world and that is why I have worked with so many Indian projects.  However as an individual my style is about hybrid integration of it all.

All these albums you have done, does the music get planned and then recorded, or are they recordings of impromptu jamming between you and the collaborating artists?

To a point you can jam but one really needs to compose to get the true potential from projects.  Improvisation gets more complex the more people you add and you can end up with one almighty mess.  A balance of improve and planned content is the ideal station.

Apart from your fusion work, you are extensively into movies, having worked for some of the biggest hits of Hollywood. So how different do you find arranging for movies from say, composing for a fusion album?

When you are composing then you are choosing the route.  It is up to you if you fly, go by train or by road.  Stop here, stop there or stay overnight.  In the studio with films and other peoples music there is more of a route planned because all the musical points are in place.  You need to create grooves, moods and accentuations that bring the best out of the music already there.   The session players who do not succeed are the ones who over impose themselves on the music at the cost and to the detriment of that music.   It is all about making the music sound its beat.

How did Sivaji happen? And how was the experience of playing with Rahman?

I have worked on numerous projects with Rahman.  I recently did the Commonwealth Games Theme with him along with the film 127 hours.  I did Vande Mataram with him and numerous other projects.  He is an inspiration who is totally at one with his music making.  It is great when composers get so involved in sessions as the way he does.

You are particular about the knowledge you have to aspiring percussionists, updating your website with videos, audios and text on a regular basis, and that too for free! Have you ever thought of taking this a step further? Like starting an institute may be?

I don’t have the time.  I rarely have the time even for individual lessons.  I am lucky because I am busy playing.  I love my work and am lucky to get so many opportunities.  However, I still feel a burning desire to make the little that I know available for those that want it.  I wish for a day when there are far more multi percussionists around than there are today.

When can we expect Made In Calcutta and the other album where you are collaborating with Airto Moreira? Is there anything else you are working on currently?

Those two will come out this year.  I just had a meeting with the Airto team last week in LA and they are nearing completion.  The Calcutta album is signed over to Bickram Ghosh‘s new label and has a pending spring release.  Watch this space and my website.  New projects always on the horizon.

If we were to ask you to list down your top five favorite musicians today, who would they be? Who were your idols in your formative years?

I have such a wide ranging eclectic taste that I cant really answer that question.  However, I would say that my first major drum influence was Keith Moon.  Two other names that come prominently to light are Zakir Hussain and the late great Harishankar, the legendary Kanjira player.  I would put the two of them at the top of the list.  Zakir is most certainly the best living drummer or
percussionist in the world today.  His skills are incredibly flexible and he sits so comfortably in so many different musical settings.

I have read in another interview that you don’t consider any particular instrument as your favorite, but still there must be some instrument in your collection that you consider a prize catch, a treasured possession?

Not really.  It is all my instrument, I am a multi percussionist.  It is totally hypothetical to answer it, like saying which album would you take to a desert island.  If you did end up on a desert island you would not get that choice, nor would there be electricity to play the CD!!

So many artists. so many concerts.. Any memorable incident that pops up in mind?

Again there are too many.  I have been lucky enough to have toured all over the world in many different situations.  All of these have different memories. Currently I am in Jaipur and then Lucknow with a project I have with 24 Rajasthani folk musicians.  We premiered it last year at the Jodhpur RIFF on top of Jodhpur fort at midnight with a full moon.  That was pretty special!!

You can download some of Pete’s music for free at his official website. And below are some videos of the man in action. Cheers!

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