An interview with vocalist/drummer Adam Lee
by Scott Hefflon
While naysayers bond over caffeine-free soft drinks and grumble about punk turning into pussy pop before crawling back under the subterranean rocks from which it crawled, I’m less quick to turn my back on a band just ’cause they can write a hook. China Drum have catchy songs and monstrous production similar to (allow me to leap genre boundaries here), Bush, but they do make your toes tap, your head bounce, and inspire you to press a little harder on that gas pedal? They do, so get off your pedestal/soapbox and let’s party!
So you’re in Holland right now… What time is it?
It’s ten past one. In the morning. We just finished a show here with Magnapop. The crowds are really good.
China Drum is a touch faster than Magnapop…
A bit, you might say. We usually slow down about the time I fall off the drum stool, completely knockered.
How do you put on such a chaotic show when you’re only a three-piece? You don’t exactly have extra members to spare when someone jumps into the audience and doesn’t come out for a while.
When Bill (McQueen, guitarist) jumps in, Dave (McQueen, bassist) and I have to think of something to do to pass the time. Usually we pick our noses and wait for him to come back.
You tell jokes, brush up on your juggling…
Actually, I told a joke about my mother the other day, and she wasn’t very pleased about it.
How did word get back to her that you’d said it?
I think my best friend called her. I don’t even need enemies, I’ll tell you that.
I hear you used to rehearse in a pig shed?
Yep. But it’s not anymore; now it’s a rehearsal room. It’s still got no electricity, so we’ve got to use the generator. It’s absolutely freezing in there during the winter. Then in the summer, the acoustic guitar comes out because the shed turns into an oven. We end up sitting on the hay bales with bits of straw sticking out of our mouths.
And you write the songs during jam sessions in the shed?
Yeah. It’s basically pig shed punk.
Yeah, I see where the fast punk comes from, with all the jumping around and stuff, because you have to stay warm in the winter. Then during the summer, you guys hang out with the lazy, acoustic jams. Right on, I think I just pegged where your variety comes from – climate.
That and we need the variety. Or else we get bored.
So the animals in the shed were your first audience, your first critics?
Right. We actually got some bad news recently on that note. The mother donkey in the field next door to the shed had to be put down. She couldn’t walk anymore, and it was really getting bad. There’s just the daughter now.
You should write a song about her.
I think there’s one that’s actually going to happen. She’s been there all my life. I grew up with a donkey. Not in the field, I mean, but she’s always been there. We should call it “Fairy Love Twin.”
What’s the landscape like up in Ovingham-Upon-Tyne, and how’s it affect your lyrics?
We’re about 50 miles south of the Scotland border, in hilly, woody England. There’s a song, “Meaning,” about just that. There’s also a song, “Biscuit Barrel F.M.R.,” that has to do with the landscape, as well as breaking up with a girlfriend. F.M.R. stands for Full Metal Racket, by the way. The first time we recorded that song properly, we did it acoustically. We used that for a single on Fluffy Bunny Records, on the B-side, so we wanted people to know this was something different.
Besides the Reading Festival and other big tours you’ve done, what club gigs have you done with local bands you hang out with?
We did some gigs with Leatherface, the last one at The Crazy House in Liverpool, where we ended up going absolutely ballistic. The band after us was Guns ‘N’ Wankers.
They were on Fat Wreck Chords, right?
Well, I think they’ve split up now. The singer got back together with his band Snuff. They were in the same sort of vein, but a lot funnier. They used to do the Gillette advertisement, “Gillette, the best a man can get” as a cover song.
What’s your choice for single for Goosefair?
I really like “Biscuit Barrel.” The last single we had out in England was “Last Chance.” We did a video with a sort of Reservoir Dogs theme to it.
I remember the Barrier EP coming in on vinyl. Do you have a strong affiliation with vinyl?
We like to make sure that people who don’t buy CDs are able to get our songs. We don’t want to turn out to be a selfish band that only does CD releases. We like to put out releases for people who don’t have CD players, or prefer to buy vinyl – 7″s, 10″s, 12″s – it’s a dying trade… The first time we got a test pressing of the album, it was on vinyl. It was really amazing to see our songs in the grooves, if you know what I mean. I used to see other bands with records and say, “You lucky bastards!” And now we’ve managed to get a record out – it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
What’s funny is you can look at vinyl and say, “Wow, I never realized that was such a short song!” You can’t do that with a CD.
That must have been one of the winter songs, eh? Except when there’s a very wide groove, then it’s confusing. There’s a lot more space between the grooves, and it looks like it lasts a lot longer.
So you’re, like, a part time physicist now?
Oh yeah, the co-efficient of expansion, and all that.
What was your calling before the band? What did you do?
I used to work at a wine shop, a liquor store. I saved up enough money to buy a drum kit, so I did, and now that’s my job.
I noticed that Newcastle Brown Ale is the drink of choice…
Definitely. I couldn’t believe when I came over to the states and you have Newcastle on draft. You can’t get that here in England, you can only get it in bottles.
Really? It’s your damn beer – how come we have it on tap and you don’t?
Exactly. I was bloody amazed. Something to do with the English beer laws…
What would you do if you weren’t in a band?
I’d probably be working on a caravan or campsite – painting fences, cutting grass, and being very pissed off.
Do you still cut grass in your spare time, ya know, just to keep your chops up?
No. I haven’t got any bloody time. I haven’t even got time to cut my hair. That’s why I shave it off.
That’s what I hear. You’re the crazy-looking fuck who leans forward in all the photos, right?
Well, yeah, that’s me. Oh! We went karting today, ya know, Go Karting. At the most famous race track in Holland, Affen, where they do all the GP 500s, the motorbike races. So we went Go Karting, and we got thrown off after two gos. I got disqualified because I kept ramming everybody.
I believe “over-eager” might be the optimal phrase here. “We have a bald, crazy fucker smashing into everyone, get him out of here!”
Yeah, I’m a total fast freak. Acceleration. Motor bikes and jet skis, anything like that. The faster the better.
That’s a good hobby – whatever you do, you go fast.
I probably won’t last long, but it makes for a good hobby.
Do you have a van or a tour bus?
We don’t own one, but we use our tour manager’s Mercedes Splitter Van. They don’t let me drive it, though. I’m banned from driving.
Now you have chauffeurs, in other words. Wow, just like a real rock star!
Yeah, man. But no chauffeur-driven limousine, yet. I’m quite broken up over that, I must say.
Hey, it’s a step up from sharing a rehearsal space with pigs and donkeys. You’re making progress, right?
Oh yeah. Always got to keep a positive attitude, right? Without that I really doubt we’d be doing this anymore.
Should I ask where more of the lyrical inspiration comes from, or are we going to delve into your personal relationships with animals that I’ll just have to edit out later? I think there are laws against such things in some states.
Oh, bugger, there goes the rest of the interview. Well, really, the songs are very personal: They’re either about things we’ve been through, or things we’ve thought about, or things people we’ve known have done or gone through. We don’t write political songs, because we don’t know enough about politics. It would be hard for us to get it across on stage, or on record, unless we knew the subject well. We seem to write songs with miserableness, kind of twisted, and bitter feelings that people get. Many people leave those feelings unexpressed, and I feel it’s important to let that out.
There’s also the topic of isolation – you didn’t exactly grow up in a teeming metropolis.
That could have had a lot to do with it. We didn’t grow up in a scene. There wasn’t really anything to look to. I can safely say we were the best band to come out of our town because we were the only band to come out of our town.
What did most other people do? I mean, you started a band, what were your other options?
Well, go to school, be a farmer, or get a job in the nearest big town, which was Newcastle, and become a bank clerk, a lawyer, or become involved in the shop system… Those were your choices. Or you start thieving cars – that’s very big in Newcastle. Or you could get a job in the toilet roll factory across the river from where we live. They employ a lot of people from where we live, but it’s closing down soon.
Do you think another band will make it out of your town? It’s batting one-for-one so far…
I hope so. I hope we’ve given them some sort of inspiration.
You guys must have won every battle of the bands in your town?
Those were our first gigs outside of the donkey shed.
Out of curiosity, how do you drum and sing at the same time? Timing and melody are two entirely separate aspects, how do you do both simultaneously?
The secret, if I dare give it away, is to not think about what you’re doing. If you think about what you’re doing, you screw up. In the studio, when I was laying down the drum parts, I was still singing. Only guide vocals, but I have to sing along. Then we went back and recorded the vocals properly in the singing booth. Luckily, the lights were off so no one could see me making a complete tit of myself.
Do you ever find you write songs that, when you separate the vocals from the drumming, you can pull them off in the studio, but you just can’t live?
Do the other guys in the band sing?
They were both in the choir when they were little, so they have sweet angelic voices.
Yeah, let’s not go into the lack of penis size = angelic voice issue, shall we?
They’ve got no balls, mate!
By the way, how’s that work; the other two band members are brothers, do you ever feel like the third man out?
No, never. I’ve know Dave since I was four years old. And obviously, Bill’s known Dave all his life. We’ve never even had an argument…
I’ll print the “no balls” sentiment and we’ll see about that…
We’ll have a full-on, full-ball fight. An Oasis fight.
I was waiting for that reference to come up…
Yeah, but we never fight like that. Sometimes family has a different language, but we don’t have that.
You know that I do have to ask about “Wuthering Heights.” You buried it way at the end; I mean, you’re really putting us through the paces now. I watch TV, and by the end of the commercials, I’ve forgotten what show I was watching; and yet, ya know, you put the bonus track 25 minutes after the last song, what’s up with that?
I’ll tell you what it is; if you fall asleep, really drunk, while listening to the CD, it’ll give you a heart attack when the song comes on. We just really didn’t want to be labeled a cover band. We didn’t want to make a name for ourselves as the band that covered Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights.” We wanted to put the song on the album, but we didn’t want it to be a major part of the album.
So you’re really banking on the fact that “journalists” such as myself have really short attention spans? Yeah, OK, I’m with you, I know what you’re about now… But why that song?
I’m going to really irritate you with my answer: I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to say that in an interview. Actually, Bill and I both have that Kate Bush album, so he was just playing it, and we all joined in. It just sounded amazing when it was pumped up, so we decided to record it. It’s such a good song, we wish we’d written it. We sent a copy to Kate Bush, but we didn’t hear back from her. We did, actually, play it at the Whiskey Club, in LA, and her manager was there; he said it was a compliment to her, so we were pleased.
How’d you hook up with (510) Records?
We were doing a show in London at a club called the Borderline, and we got interest from the English label, the American label, and the publisher. It all happened in one night. We did some shows with Green Day in England when they were managed by Con Man, the same people who run (510).
Do you follow the California punk scene to stay current on the genre?
We don’t really get a chance to do that unless we’re over there. Then we scour the record shops and see as many bands as possible. It’s really hard to get a grasp otherwise.
So you basically built the style from it’s early roots from scratch. You’re a contemporary band that has no clue about other contemporary bands.
No wonder you’re a journalist. “Don’t put the sheep in there!”
Rock. How many times have you seen Spinal Tap?
Hold on, I’m only a drummer, I’ve run out of fingers. Probably about 17 times.
How about Monty Python?
We have The Holy Grail with us on tour. We watch it once a day. “Run away! Run away!