Michael Iveson is living the dream. Sitting in the coveted drum stool for Australian sensation Gotye, he is 6 months away from completing an 18 month world tour on the back of Goyte's hit album Making Mirrors. But as for most successful artists, the road to the top has been long and challenging. Working through his 20's playing wedding gigs to pay the rent, it was a chance meeting with singer/songwriter Lior that sparked Michael's career into action. "We were doing a shitty 'music for rich people' gig and Lior, Brett Hurst (bass player) and myself just started working on a record for our own sanity." That record happened to be Autumn Flow. It has since become one of the most successful independent debut releases in Australian music history. "I got to do a bunch of touring and TV etc. from that album, and I guess I got a reputation of being someone who could make records. I really haven't stopped recording since then."
A whirlwind of huge acts followed, with Michael's employer's list reading like a who's who of the Australian music scene: Bertie Blackman, Josh Pyke, Kimbra, Sally Seltman, Jim Moginie (Midnight Oil) and Sparkadia to name just a few. Michael met Gotye through Melbourne producer Franc Tetaz, and as they say, the rest is history.
Spirefocus caught up with Michael shortly before he took the stage at the historic House Of Blues in Las Vegas to talk drums, Gotye, and to see how he is handling all the attention.
Spirefocus - How are you coping with the tour, physically and mentally?
Michael - Trying to stay in shape physically is not so much the problem as staying inspired and happy. Playing the same tunes night after night presents its challenges, and the general wear and tear on your nervous system with the constant jet lag and nerves can take its toll on your mental well being. I wish I had some advice for the readers but it's a work in progress at this stage. I think learning to accept and enjoy the things you can't control (of which there are many on the road) is key for me.
SF - Do you find there is added pressure on your performance given that Gotye is a drummer?
Michael - Yes there is. Wally (De Backer - Gotye) is a pretty intense guy. When I first started rehearsing it was just him and I in a room for days on end and I was being micromanaged like I've never been micromanaged before. It was very hard to be honest, and I had to put my ego aside and say "Well he spent 3 years staring at a computer screen with these songs and knows every single nuance of these drum parts so I guess I need to as well."
SF - Do you find a real camaraderie with other musicians while on tour? Do you get to hang out with other drummers?
Michael - I've been really lucky to hang with some great drummers and go to what the Americans call 'shed sessions', but as far as bands that we do festivals with, to tell you the truth, most of them can't really play and it's more about haircuts than music. With the 'cool' bands there seems to be a hipster philosophy in that being excited about music or playing your instrument well is not cool. So I really don't hang with them. I'm much happier hanging with the older guard here in Los Angeles; those guys have done it all with open minds, creativity and humility.
SF - What kit are you using for the current tour?
Michael - I'm using a Craviotto Kit, with a 24" kick and 13", 16" and 18" toms. I use Instanbul cymbals, and I'm triggering samples using Abelton Live. I also run the visuals from my laptop.
SF - I noticed when you play 'Smoke And Mirrors' live you play the hi-hat part with your left hand. Are you ambidextrous, or have you built your left arm up through practice?
Michael - In my early 20's I would get called to do wedding gigs and that type of stuff, you know just banging out 'I Will Survive' for the rent money. I would set up left handed to amuse myself and to see if anyone in the band would even notice. So I guess I got my left hand lead thing from that.
SF - Do you play Gotye's material exactly how it was recorded, or do you put your own style into it?
Michael - As the tours have gone on I feel that I've made it my own. I really like the idea of creativity within parameters, so staying true to what Wally needs from me and being able to make creative choices within that seems to be working, meaning I haven't got in trouble yet, haha.
SF - How did you get the Gotye gig?
Michael - I've known Wally for a long time as both of us work with Franc Tetaz (Melbourne producer). I've always been a fan of his music, so when the opportunity to hit the road with him came up I weighed up leaving a pretty busy recording career for life on the road and decided that I would give it a try. Almost 16 months on the road now and I don't regret a thing. We have done some amazing things and met some really talented people.
SF - Will you be playing for Bertie Blackman when she supports Gotye on the Australian leg of the tour?
Unfortunately I'm not doing the Bertie tour. I got to play on her new record and had a lot of fun but with the Gotye thing doing what it's doing I have to stay on this ride to see how it ends. My good friend Pete Marin is playing with her and to be honest I think he would do a better job than me, haha.
SF - Do you have any input in Gotye's new material?
Michael - Wally and I spent a day at Studio City in Los Angeles tracking some drums for a new record but I wouldn't hold your breath for a new Gotye record anytime soon...
SF - How did you initially get into drumming?
Michael - I come from a musical family so I started pretty early, I think 4 or 5 years old. My folks were really supportive and sent me for lessons with all the greats that Sydney had to offer: Andrew Gander, David Jones and Gordon Rythmister. Even though I didn't end up going down the path of a fusion/improvising style player, those guys really instilled a passion for knowledge and a discipline for practice that I still carry today.
SF - Do you ever get time to practice on your own? If so, what do you work on?
I have a practice pad kit on the road so I try and do at least an hour a day just working on the basics: tempo, dynamics and independence. I've also been trying to work on my song retention. I watched Dave Grohl do a session a couple weeks back, and I was amazed by his ability to listen to a demo once then walk into the booth and pretty much nail it first or second take with no charts. So I've been putting my iTunes on shuffle and testing myself, listening to the song once then trying to play the tune. I'm hoping it will be a musical muscle I can develop.
SF - What's the biggest highlight of your career so far?
Michael - Playing Saturday Night Live was pretty great, we're just about to do Letterman so that will be one to tick off the list. And having Jim Keltner (studio drumming legend) walk over to me and say "Hey, aren't you the drummer from Gotye? I love your playing." I've never really cared about fame, I've always just wanted to be respected and accepted by my peers and heroes.
SF - What's the worst thing to happen to you at a gig?
Michael - I got really sick on the last European tour to the point I couldn't stand up, but as you know the show must go on. A doctor was organised to pump me full of steroids and a bunch of other good stuff so I could get through the gig, and I don't know exactly what he gave me but I felt amazing and played like a demon! About an hour after the show the drugs wore off and I spent the next 20 hours shivering and hallucinating on the bus. The next day we played Germany and I got up on stage and during the first song my eyes rolled back in my head and I blacked out. Somehow I managed to keep playing and I just tried as hard as I could to stay with the click, even though as I would come in and out of consciousness it would speed up and slow down. My drum tech spent the whole night sitting on my riser with his hand on my back so I wouldn't fall off my stool. That was a pretty rough gig…
SF - And the funniest?
Michael - I played a gig for the opening of a bondage brothel. When we arrived the mistress told us to set up in dungeon 2, and when we walked in with our gear there was a naked dude on stage strapped to a crucifix with nipple clamps and his balls tied up with string like two little balloons. The mistress said "I think it would be great if you could just set up around him, he will make a great backdrop for your music."
SF - What have you got planned once the current tour is over? What does Michael Iveson do in his down time?
Michael - Two weeks in bed watching Breaking Bad, haha. No I'm going to spend some time in Los Angeles working on some records I have planned, maybe even a solo record. Stay tuned…