Drummer, Educator, Activist and Author. Mike Cairns is modern day Polymath in the creative world. Based in his own 'Amersham Music Studios', Mike writes and records for an array of artists. He has recently created a whole online drumming course. Mike is the proud owner of this one of a kind 14"x7" African Mahogany stave snare drum, built from reclaimed office furniture in the 70's.
"So first off, the craftsmanship is apparent throughout the drum. Every lug sits perfectly, sitting a new head onto the edge is a breeze and the hoops fit just right. The wood itself has been lovingly treated and looks stunning. This is a drum that looks almost as good as it sounds!"
Firstly I’d love to know your drumming story; how did you start and develop?
I started playing when I was 11. My brother and I got a lovely Pearl Export for our joint birthdays. The guy who sold it to us was well into his sixties and had had two heart attacks. The Doc had told him he had to quit the drumming, so he was gutted to be selling it. We stayed in touch with him and six months after he sold us his kit, he went out and bought another one! Some things are too important to stop :) I played in a bunch of bands in school, then moved to London to enrol at the London Music School in Wapping. That was a year course and totally blew my mind. I was taught by some amazing guys including Mick Morena, Bernard Purdie, Horacio Hernandez and Thomas Lang, who was living in London for six months whilst playing with The Spice Girls and the Lighthouse Family. After that I moved from East to West to go to the Powerhouse in Acton to do my degree in music performance. For most of this time I played in a bunch of bands, but my main one was a metal band called Matahari. We toured a few times, released a couple of albums and had a load of fun. After unit I hit the covers band circuit in a big way and started actually making some money… :) I also played for some amazing artists including soul singer Alexia Coley. With her I toured Europe, released an amazing album and finally got to play Glastonbury, one of my all-time ambitions. Through her record company I then also did some work with the fabulous Izo Fitzroy, with whom I also got to head over to Europe. In the last couple of years, I’ve made the decision to stay at home more to home educate my two kids and build my studio business. I still practice daily, always stretching myself and finding new things to play and new ways to play them.
How would you describe your playing style?
I’m never sure how to describe it. I like to think of myself as a bit of chameleon when it comes to music, so I play whatever the song requires. I can slam the hell out of it playing metal, but I’m just as comfortable playing jazz or soul. I like to think I’m funky. The missus particularly enjoys it when I play disco, but I’m not sure that’s much of a compliment… :) I make most of my live money playing soul and funk these days, which I love. I find it easiest to express myself with those styles, whilst always playing for the song. Plus, it’s all about the groove, which is the whole point!
What artists / drummers have inspired you? Who has had the most impact on your playing?
So early influences were Dave Krusen and Dave Abbruzezze from Pearl Jam and Jimmy Chamberlain from Smashing Pumpkins. Once I moved up to London and really got an understanding of how big and wonderful the drumming world is, I fell in love with Vinnie (who doesn’t), Dennis (ditto), Horacio Hernandez, Akira Jimbo and Mark Mondesir. Recently I’ve been loving Benny Greb’s playing, but to be honest, I’m convinced every drummer I’ve ever heard has influenced me in some way or other.
You run and work in your own music studio, ‘Amersham Music Studios’, how did this start and grow?
Honestly, when my wife and I decided to move out of London, the deal was that I would be able to find a proper space to play. I love London and miss it, but my studio is a pretty decent consolation prize! I love recording but have always been frustrated at the time it takes to set up and get mic’ed, so the ideal for AMS was to be able to walk in and record, so it’s a dream come true. I’ve recorded on and off for a few artists for years, so always knew that it was something I wanted to do more of. Also, a few years back I got interested in the engineering side of things, so it made sense to widen my reach. Now we record complete bands, vocalists, anything that comes along, though my drum sessions are still very much the focus. I recently tracked a strange folk ep that featured me playing the floor tom with a beater as a bass drum and tapping random bits of furniture in the studio until we found the sounds we wanted, which is way more fun than it sounds…
From tuition to remote recording sessions, how do you stay on top of this?
My wife is probably the one to answer this, she’s always telling people that I’m a bit of a machine when it comes to getting stuff done and I guess she’s right. As well as working with students, sessions, recording my own stuff and wrangling the smalls in our home-school, I’m also a writer with 20 or more published books under my belt. If I’m honest I think the trick for me is to be militant with routine and habit. I have a to-do list which I stick to religiously and make use of all the small snippets of time that I can as well as having a practice routine that is non-negotiable. The working day always begins with practice and then it depends on what client work is in the diary. I try to guarantee 48-hour turn-around on drum tracks, so they will often come first but often after practice I move onto editing, writing, mixing, promo and so on. Of course, when I have clients in the studio, all that goes out the window as whole days are dedicated to them. It’s pretty busy, but in a good way, and I absolutely can’t complain.
What do you do to stay creative?
Creativity is the thing that keeps me alive. Honestly, I get really grouchy if I don’t create something every day. I’ve done a few mad things around it. In 2015 I wrote over a million words of fiction and published 15 books. I’ve published over twenty-five books now as well as writing a short story most Sundays for the last five years. Recently, I’ve nearly finished mixing my first audiobook/prog album on which I’ve played all the instruments (some well, others not so well:). So, to be honest, it’s only stressful when I don’t get to be creative!
Could you talk us through your setup and how you’ve utilised the snare?
I recently moved from Pearl to Mapex having finally admitted that the kit I spent my life savings on twenty years ago just wasn’t right for me. I use four toms, 8”, 10”, 14” and 16”, with a 20’ bass drum, and a whole heap of cymbals, most of them by the fabulous Impression. My De Broize is such a beautiful snare and has quickly become my mainstay for recordings. I tune it when needed but most of the time it sits nicely in the midrange and needs very little tweaking. I’ll say more in my review but suffice it to say that I also own a Ludwig 400 14x61/2, which is a monster, and I rarely take it out of the case anymore.
How did you discover De Broize Custom Drums and what were your first impressions?
I was strolling through the UK drum show 2019 when I heard a sound that brought tears to my eyes… Honestly, it was a special moment :) Joking aside, someone was playing the 13 by 8 layer cake and it just had such a crack and such body to it that I stopped and had a wee play. My first impressions, from both the drums and the lovely people on the stand, was of professionalism, a down-to-earth, friendly attitude, and a genuine love of drums. So, I wandered off round the show then found myself circling back. This time I played a little longer and tried out a few others. By the end of the first day, I was just planning how to have the conversation with my wife when I came home with another snare drum…
Can you give us an in-depth review of your De Broize snare?
There are many things worth saying about my snare, but the first, something that matters a great deal to me, is that it’s made entirely from reclaimed wood. As an environmental campaigner and activist, being able to play a drum that is upcycled is a wonderful thing.
So first off, the craftsmanship is apparent throughout the drum. Every lug sits perfectly, sitting a new head onto the edge is a breeze and the hoops fit just right. The wood itself has been lovingly treated and looks stunning. This is a drum that looks almost as good as it sounds!
I use my De Broize mostly for recording and it absolutely shines in the studio. It has a wonderful depth to it that comes across great through the mics. I have found myself losing the under-snare mic and not missing it because the top mic gets so much of the character and warmth. I’ve tuned it to various pitches and always found a sweet spot that allows the drum to sing and speak clearly, from a funky ping to a blues rock growl to my usual tuning which sits somewhere in the middle. This drum has some serious crack, cutting through with or without a rimshot; I tend to favour the latter. It also has a lovely cross stick tone. To be honest, it’s tough to find anything negative to say about this snare. So, I won’t. In short, quality, versatile and characterful.
What can we expect from you in the future? New music? New bands? What are your ambitions?
My online course, learn to play the drums, has just launched which I’m really excited about and you’ll see me proudly sporting my De Broize shirt throughout. I’m just finalising an album to release in the next few months too, it’s an epic 3 1/2 hours long, with narration and all sorts, and requires me to learn about 8 solos, all in odd times, so the likelihood of me playing it live is looking pretty slim but I can’t wait to unleash it on the world... A bass player buddy of mine has just sent me some Cory Wong-esque tracks so I’m looking forward to jamming on them and seeing what comes of it. Beyond that, more sessions, more drumming and that bespoke De Broize custom snare… :)