Tag: Josh Morgan

  • Interview With Subways Drummer Josh Morgan: Real-World Rock Star

    All photos: the awesome Eddy BERTHIER

    Every once in a while, we catch a young drummer on the cusp of superstardom. Bid welcome to 19-year-old Josh Morgan, beat maker for British sensation The Subways. The trio first captured American ears last Fall, when the rowdy tune “Rock & Roll Queen” was featured on the popular (and music savvy) T.V. show The OC. Since then, the band has moved closer to U.S. domination with a well-received minitour and a just-released full-length debut, Young For Eternity. A real family affair, the tight-knit trio is completed by guitarist/vocalist Billy Lunn (who is also Morgan’s half-brother) and bassist/vocalist Charlotte Cooper (who is also Lunn’s soon-to-be wife). 

    Morgan took to the drums when he was around 13 or 14 years old, learning the instrument as he jammed with Lunn and Cooper. Although his father expertly manhandles a guitar and his grandmother taught herself piano, Morgan felt a connection to the drums, even before he actually put sticks to skins. “I’ve always admired drummers since I was a kid,” he says. “When I was watching Tops Of The Pops [a British music show], I always stared at the drummers, never at the singers. I thought it would be fun to start, and it turned out it was a real good calling for me. I was an aggressive little kid,” Morgan laughs, “and it calmed me down a lot.”

    Drumming apparently calmed him down a great deal indeed. Not a hint of aggression is evident in his personality—Morgan laughs easily and speaks candidly, peppering the conversation with good-natured profanity—but his playing itself bears the mark of storm and strife. The guy hits like he’s exorcising, or conjuring, demons. He says his playing is “really passionate…very head-bangy and loud. Yeah, very loud. I go through snare skins bloody daily. I really bash them, and sticks don’t last more than two songs. It’s really quite damaging. Billy and Charlotte, bless them, they hate my drumming.” Morgan continues with the joke: “I think they want to kick me out.” 

    Not a chance. The trio—bound by blood and love and music—has made one of the year’s best debuts with Young For Eternity. Released mid-2005 in the U.K. and helmed by producer Ian Broudie (of Lightening Seeds fame), the disc hit U.S. shores in February. The straight-ahead songs, delivered with a double punch of Sex Pistols attitude and a bit of Beatles mania, don’t lend themselves to drum shredding, so Morgan stays true to the groove and his music-making credo: “Go with the flow and play with my ears.” All in all, The Subways’ freshman effort is a taut 36 minutes of sexy, uncompromising confidence that demands your attention—just the way great rock and roll should.

    After the disc has had its way with you, take a moment to towel off and listen again to Morgan’s energetic drumming—or rather, what he’s drumming on. Eschewing the resurgence of monster prog kits and the increased integration of electronic triggers and sampling, Morgan keeps it simple and acoustic, abusing a minimalist 3-piece kit—bass drum, floor tom, snare—and a single cymbal. A lone tambourine hangs in place of an abandoned rack tom. “It’s so comfortable to play at the moment,” he says, describing his unique setup and its evolution. “I’ve stripped it down to what I actually ended up using and needed. I don’t use a hi-hat because I just got sick of it. It’s kind of a dreary sound … So I just thought, ‘Screw it, I’m dropping it.’” The conventional rack tom followed a similar fate. “I didn’t like the sound [of two toms], so I got rid of that and just used the one, and it sounded so natural. On the album, the drums just sounded so free, and the one cymbal is very clean. We go to gigs, it takes five, maybe ten, minutes to set the kit up. And because there’s less, there feels like to me I’ve got more to do: There’s more for me. It’s unbelievable how many sounds I can make out of these tiny little instruments.”

    Even more unbelievable, however, to Morgan was the immediate roar of audience approval at the band’s shows in America. The trio earned their stage swagger the old-fashioned way, by gigging relentlessly, but they did feel some concern about performing in the States. “We came here thinking that people would just be standing there, not even clapping,” Morgan admits, “And at the end of a set—every set we’ve done—they’ve just been screaming for encores and just going nuts. It’s shocking.”

    But not really surprising. From the beginning, the band has had an intimate rapport with their audience, just the way Morgan wants it. “When it comes to chatting with fans,” he says, “I love spending loads of time with them and just talk about nothing. And people do come up and chat.” And that’s because Morgan truly is a bloody great, approachable bloke who—despite all the publicists and the photographers, the interviews and the screaming crowds, the sound and the fury of the rock-and-roll machine—doesn’t quite know he’s a rock star. “It’s hard to judge where I am at the moment,” he thinks. “We’re very new to the music business; we’re kind of babies I guess. Maybe in about 40 years I’m going to realize I’m in the music business. I’ll just take it as it comes.” 

    Morgan reflects for a moment before adding, “The one thing I really hate, though, is like these really sweet people from the record label doing everything for you. We’ve got guitar techs just working their asses off, and I’m just like, ‘Just chill, man. Relax. Have time off.’ They’re tuning the guitars, changing the strings, and all that. It’s a bit weird, people doing stuff for you when I’m used to tuning everything myself. I love to tune my own kit: It keeps me in the real world.”