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An Interview with Ben Barter

Photo by Jake Chamseddine

Ben Barter is a Los Angeles based drummer from New Zealand. He is the drummer for Lorde and has performed with artists and bands such as Broods, Kingston, Jarryd James, and Passion Pit. 

We're grateful to have a moment to chat with Ben to hear both his life story and the wisdom he gained through his musical career.

Hi Ben, please share your story with us and how you got started as a drummer. How did you get to where you are today? 
I got my first drum kit when i was five and had lessons from family friends and played in my family church like many musicians do. In high school, I got lessons for a number of years from an amazing drummer Michael Franklin Browne. He went through the basics with me and then into a lot of advanced independence which I'm thankful for, as a lot of the electronic patterns I play aren't conventional and I need to be able to split my hands and feet up to recreate what was programmed on an album.

I played in high-school and university with friend's bands and started touring on and off between studying and working as an architect. Then a manager of one of those bands started managing Lorde when she was kicking off and asked me to audition.

That week was one of the most stressful week of my life. I remember being really sick but staying up until 2am every night to make sure I had them down. And after the audition, it was the two most stressful days but i got the job!

The first tour cycle was a crazy experience, with Lorde getting so big so fast and we got to tag along and have some amazing experiences. After that finished, I moved to LA to keep drumming and played with my good friend Jarryd James and filled in for other bands when their drummers couldn't make the show. We are just finishing up Lorde's second album cycle, which has been bigger and better than I could have imagined and I look forward to drumming next year whatever that will look like!

Photo by Jake Chamseddine

Overall, how has the journey been? Has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It's been amazing and I'm extremely grateful and lucky to be where I'm at now! I always dreamed of drumming for a living at this level and am still amazed that I'm actually doing it, especially coming from NZ which is such a small country. I often pinch myself when I'm traveling somewhere beautiful or far away and playing to huge crowds.

It's been a big learning curve, learning about myself and what makes me happy. At the end of the day, physically drumming and making music makes me the happiest so I figured out that it doesn't matter whether I'm working on something, practicing at home, or playing a big show. I'm happy in any of those situations and that's the thing i've learnt over the years: to keep myself busy and I'll be happy.

When I moved to LA, I only had a couple of shows with a good friend Zac Farro's band HalfNoise, and nothing lined up after that. So in my downtime, I would practice about six or seven hours a day. That was the only thing that got me through that tough year, but slowly things came up and I got on my feet. That first bit in LA was really tough but I'm thankful for it looking back now because that work I put in really paid off.

You've performed at Glastonbury, Coachella, Austin City Limits, Outside Lands etc, some of the largest festivals in the world, as well as television performances (Ellen, Letterman, Fallon etc.). What's it like? 
I'm finding those big shows easier as I get older. At first, they were the most nerve-racking times. Almost an outer-body experience where there is so much riding on us that we just had to hold on for dear life and make it through. But now, I'm a lot more confident in my ability as a drummer and have gotten used to doing TV and big festivals etc.

Most of my stress now is gear related. I use a lot of electronics in my set up so a lot can go wrong, but I have amazing people looking after my drums (Thanks Yoshi) and companies are coming out with better products over time. Once I know that all the gear is fine during the show, I now have a blast. It's an amazing experience!

Photo by Jake Chamseddine

What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is planning to pursue a career in percussion?
I would say make sure you can make the simple stuff feel really good. It's been a long journey for me understanding good feel and I'm still learning all the time. Watching someone who can make the most basic beat sound so incredible that everyone in the room is feeling the music is so much more impressive to me than someone who can do a bunch of technical fills.

Photo by Jake Chamseddine

Then be a nice and good person who is easy to work with. If people like hanging out with you and enjoy working with you, you'll get asked back and be recommended for other jobs. Most people get work by being recommended so make sure you give people a reason to recommend you.

What projects are you currently working on and excited about?
I'm really excited for Jarryd James's next album. Ive been lucky enough to hear some of it and it's amazing so hopefully I can tour with him again soon. We are really close friends so its a super fun time!

I've been recording and producing some projects for friends and myself in LA and thats been really fun. It's something I can sit down and do all day for hours at a time and love doing so really excited about working more on those projects.

Photo by Jake Chamseddine


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