If you want to hang out with drummers, you’ll need earplugs. Deirdre O’Callaghan discovered this after spending an hour with John “Drumbo” French as he beat the hell out of his kit one afternoon. Driving home, she couldn’t hear a thing. “Soon after I went to a music store in LA and got proper ear protection,” she says.
O’Callaghan went through no end of earplugs in the five years she spent shooting The Drum Thing. Her moody photos provide a glimpse into the studios and homes of nearly 100 drummers, from Lars Ulrich of Metallica to Jack White to French, who is perhaps best known for his work with Captain Beefheart. “I’m really interested in the personality who chooses to be the drummer,” O’Callaghan says. “They sit at the back, and yet they’re driving the music.”
The Drum Thing, Prestel, 2016
The Irish photographer plays piano and guitar, but hand-foot coordination baffles her. O’Callaghan was discussing this with her friend Jim Sclavunos, who plays with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, in 2011 when she decided to start photographing drummers. Sclavunos helped compile a list timekeepers, which grew longer than a Neil Peart solo as O’Callaghan dove into her research.
At first, she happily photographed them at soundchecks using a Canon DS Mark III and a couple ProPhoto packs and lights. When that got old, she joined them at home and in the studio. That led to far more personal, revealing shots, like a deliriously jet-lagged Pauli the PSM leaping off his bed, sticks in hand. Others, like Zach Hill of Hella, only came alive behind the kit. “He doesn’t like getting his photo taken, but when he plays he just goes into that almost religious zone straight away,” O’Callaghan says.
O’Callaghan was surprised to find many drummers don’t bother with earplugs, preferring to hear and feel everything. Not her. She wore plugs every time and still has an occasional bout of tinnitus. “Every now and then, early in the morning,” she says. After all, a bit of stuff pushed into each ear can only do so much.