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Brand X Special: An Urorthodox History
Not Dead Yet live
Richard Macphail Ma Book Of Genesis

Calling Nir Z's Station - Interview mit Nir Z.


it: You were born in Israel, but what most people don’t know is when?

Nir Z: That was in November 1967.

it: You are from Israel but live in New York now. What was the reason for you to leave Israel and move to New York?

Nir Z: I became a professional musician at a very young age. And I thought it would be good experience to seek my chance in New York. It’s also a place I always wanted to go to and that’s what I did. I was almost 25 years old when I left Israel. To explain what I did here all these years would be really difficult. A lot of time has passed. But it was a very smart move to do and music was the main reason. I knew I would be able to do much more in New York than in Israel. I could work with more people, learn from so many great musicians and play different styles of music. That’s it basically.

it: You have had your own studios in New York for a couple of years now. But as a musician – what do you like better: being in a band or being a session drummer?

Nir Z: I love both. I love playing live with people but I also love the studio work. One of the reasons why I spend more time in the studio the last couple of years is simply because I get to do more. It’s different being just a sideman in a band or being part of the creative process when you’re in the studio, I also produce and write music. There are much more areas to cover in the studio than live. But also, there’s nothing like playing live in front of an audience, which I miss a lot. But right now I am in a stage where I prefer to do the studio work, experimenting with music....I get music from people from all over the world to play drums for them, which is very interesting, because you always find new stuff and have new ideas. I just feel I have more to offer right now to play in the studio rather than being a sideman in a live band.

it: So this is basically the concept behind your studio that you get stuff from all over the world to play drums to...

Nir Z: Well some people send me the music, but many people also come into the studio here in New York, it really depends. I do not only play drums for people, I also produce other people’s demos, do the preproduction, things like that.
Technology now allows us to do music in a remote control; it’s a great thing. For example what we did with Ray Wilson on his last Stiltskin record.

it: We will talk about the Stiltskin album later in details. Now we would like to take a look on what you have been doing over the last ten years, starting with Genesis. Before you played with them, how familiar were you with their music?

Nir Z: Well I wasn’t that familiar with the music, I wasn’t one of those fanatic fans, but Genesis was always there and I always liked the band. I respected them. But it wasn’t like – ‘oh that’s what I want to do’ and it wasn’t my goal to play with them or to play their music. But they were part of my musical education. And then it happened and it was  great experience, it was really amazing. For me it ends up being a step into higher classes as a musician, to develop myself.

it: It’s now almost ten years ago, since you played on the Calling All Stations album and tour. If you look back now, do you see things differently than you saw things back then?

Nir Z: Of course, I can look at it now in a much more objective way than I could back then. But it’s very important for me and I want people to remember my time in Genesis as a positive and good experience. But to be honest it also got to a point where it was very tiring. And that was because of the discussions around it. Ray Wilson and myself, we had to fill such big shoes. There was this legendary band with a history of 30 years and there we were, jumping into the situation. At the time we did the best we could. But I don’t think we really got the chance to develop it, to take it to the next stage. And only when we finished the tour of Calling All Stations - that was the point when it felt like a real band. And I thought – wow, it would be cool to go into the studio now and record a new album. And that did not happen. Of course I was disappointed in the end, but it happened and you have to move on! It was a lot of pressure to deal with. There were so many people around that have analyzed the “new band”...but it was just one record and three months of touring. Somehow we had to accept that and that’s it. I choose to remember that as a good experience. It was a great project to be involved with but it was nothing we could have control over.


Calling All Stations was a great project,

but it was nothing we had any control over

it: Talking about the tour, was it difficult to play these parts that Phil Collins was famous for, like the double drums he used to play during Firth of Fifth with Chester Thompson?

Nir Z: Well, it was a bit difficult but I tried to find a balance between my approach and my style but yet keep the signature of drumming of Genesis – which was basically Phil Collins. When I listen to it now, I am pretty satisfied with what I did. But it’s also a matter of time. The more you play it, the more you will find your own signature for those songs. And I have to say, that Mike and Tony gave me a lot of freedom. They always gave me the chance to do it my way. So it was not really an issue as it came very natural to me. That really was one of the easiest parts for me among all those experiences with the band. Of course people always compare between me and Phil Collins which is funny, it’s like comparing apples and oranges or comparing Ray Wilson with Peter Gabriel. It’s simply a new thing.

it: Have you ever met Phil Collins or Chester Thompson?

Nir Z: Yes I have. I met Phil at a Christmas party of hit & run back in England. And it was great, Phil was very supportive. For what I understood he really liked the drumming on Calling All Stations. And Chester Thompson I met at Namm show in L.A., he is a wonderful guy.

it: You have told Dave Negrin in your 2001 interview for that you would like to work again with either Mike or Tony on their solo stuff. Has it ever been discussed that you get involved in their solo stuff?

Nir Z: Well I don’t remember a particular discussion about that. There hasn’t been one. No one ever talked to me about any particular project. Let’s put it this way: they know where to find me [laughs]. I never got any phone calls from them to be involved with any of the solo projects.

it: They don’t do a lot these days anyway.

Nir Z: You probably know better than I do. I don’t even know exactly what they do.

it: Does it happen very often that you get asked about your Genesis time in interviews?

Nir Z: That depends where you are. In Europe it’s noticed more than in the USA, because we toured in Europe. And as you know in the states the record was not successful and we didn’t tour the United States. So it happens not very often here that people put me into the Genesis category. People know I’ve played with Genesis, but it’s not the main thing.


When you leave that stage at the end of th show and you realize

that you have made 25 people in that club happy

it is as good as making 30.000 happy in a stadium.

it: After the Genesis thing ended, you went on to work with Ray Wilson and have contributed to every solo project of his. And with Cut you played in front of 90 people in clubs and then again in front of 60.000 in stadiums to support Westernhagen or 10.000 to support The Scorpions - if you compare these three different categories of Cut-performances, what memories do you have about this?

Nir Z: You know I really enjoyed all of that. It’s a different vibe at every show. It doesn’t really matter. You can play in front of 50 people and have a great time and I had a really great time. In small clubs it’s the intimate vibe with the audience, face to face. You get the response right away; it’s like a party. And in the stadium it’s a completely different thing, but it’s still very exciting, watching, 10, 20 or 30.000 people. But it never gets personal; at least from my point of view behind the drum kit, all you see is sea of people [laughs]. But I can say that I really enjoy it all, it’s just different. There are situations where even the greatest musicians play in a club in front of 20 people and have a great time. It’s not always about the show; it’s about the music and its soul. And when you leave the stage and realise that you’ve satisfied 25 people in the club - then it’s just as good as if you satisfy 30.000 inside a stadium.

it: After the Cut thing was laid to rest you became more a session player rather than a live player. Did that happen by chance or did you make a certain decision?

Nir Z: Well, some things you can plan, but you don’t have control all the time. I would've love it if we could've continued with Genesis. I wanted to be part of a creative unit, of a real band. I wanted to take it to the next level. It didn’t happen with Genesis, and somehow didn’t happen with Cut. But I went with Cut after Genesis because I was hoping that this band would take off, because I saw a great potential. And then it didn’t happen and you come back home. And I had to continue to do what I do, so I continued doing sessions. That’s basically the reason. You sometimes go with the flow. That was my lane or my fate if you want so. And as a musician you get to the point where you say, ok I’m not 22 years old anymore and also not 25 years old anymore. I cannot put the time in a bag forever if nothing happens. That’s why I became more of a session player. And now I do sessions and really put 100% into every project I do as if it was my own thing.

it: You play on all of Ray’s solo albums including the SHE Album. We have interviewed Ray Wilson last week before his club show in Heiligenhaus [Germany] and Ray told us that it’s impossible for him at the moment to afford you to be in his band. Despite that, would you like to play in his band again?
Nir Z: Well, let’s make it very clear. Ray Wilson is probably one of the best singers alive. And I am saying this from the bottom of my heart. I always enjoyed playing with him. I think the both of us can create something really cool, which can only happen when both of us play together. It’s the way we respond to each other musically. And of course, I would always love to play with Ray! But at the same time all the financial issues that come up – like he’s not able to afford me etc, we all have responsibilities, when Ray did his first solo record, he came to New York, I was there for him and helped him as much as I could. I did the record for him free of charge! It doesn’t happen often that you do something like that. And I’m happy that I could do that.
New York City is a very expensive city; I have a wife and a child. So if I go on the road, there are minimum conditions required….  who knows? Maybe one day we will play together again. I definitely would love to play in his band again. And I really hope that it will happen some day. You know…the fact that an artist like Ray Wilson doesn’t have a major record deal is pathetic. I don’t know what record labels are looking for. How can you avoid a singer like him? There are lots of good musicians out there, drummers, guitarists, and singers who are really good. But once every 20 year you get someone who really stands out – and Ray does! I can tell you that all the people who are involved with my studio, were shocked to know that this guy doesn’t have a major record deal when they’ve heard the tracks for the record SHE.
But it is what it is - what else can I say...


The fact that an artist like Ray Wilson does not have a major record deal

is pathetic.

it: Talking about SHE, how do we have to imagine how you recorded the drum takes? Did you have blank backing tracks without drums to play drums to or was there some kind of drum machine?
Nir Z: Well there are many different ways. The producer, Peter Hoff, called me to discuss his ideas. He described me his vision. And don’t forget that I know Ray for many years and I know his taste and ideas and what he wants. And also, he knows me very well. It was a combination of trust, I guess.  Peter sent me tracks that were very well arranged. And yes, he did send his drum machines tracks to give me an overall idea. So I took his ideas and translated them into real live drums! And I gave them different options for each song. I played one take from start to end and then I would play it again in a different way and then Peter and Ray have chosen what they thought is the best for the music.

it: n how many tracks did you play drums? Ray told us he’s got three extra tracks and on SHE you play on eleven of the twelve tracks?
Nir Z: Well, I did like twelve or 13 tracks for SHE, but not all of them ended up on the record. I don’t know exactly but on the record I think I don’t play on all of the tracks.

it: When did you record the drum parts for SHE?
Nir Z: Sometime in 2005, I don’t remember exactly.

it: You said that for the drum takes of the album Change, that Ray came to New York to have them recorded. Can you tell us something about the recordings sessions of Change and maybe The Next Best Thing?
Nir Z: Well I am a bit confused with the two records before SHE. Change was the one where Andy Hess played bass on?

it: That's right.
Nir Z: With Change – Ray wanted a different approach and basically, we played more like a live band, Ray would play acoustic guitar and sing. And we really built the production around his voice and guitar playing. We did this more in a live environment. So the music will not be over produce, it was much looser approach I would say. It’s more acoustic, more like this middle of the road feel. Andy Hess played bass, he’s a friend and great musician and there was Adam Holzman who is a legendary musician who played with people like Miles Davis.
When Adam heard Ray’s voice he loved it so much that he just wanted to play on it. It was very loose, there wasn’t like a plan from A to Z. We just went with the flow. But for SHE, I haven’t seen Ray at all; I even spoke more to Peter than him.

it: Do you have a favourite track on the SHE album?
Nir Z: Oh – there are a lot of great tracks on it! I really think it’s a great record. So I really love it all. I would say that Taking Time is a great track, Fly High  and Show Me The Way as well. It depends a bit what mood you are in.

it: Ok, now some questions about other projects that has nothing to do with Genesis. Where do you have your studio?
Nir Z: My studio is located in neighbourhood called Park Slope in Brooklyn. It’s a nice area and just 20 minutes from Manhattan. 


This guy comes to me and says "I love your drumming, that was great" and I say

„Thank you very much, what's your name?" and he says

„Billy Squier“ and I say "I'm Nir, nice to meet you".

it: You played with Billy Squier, who was supported by someone like Freddie Mercury in the 80ies. How did you get in contact with Billy?
Nir Z: Well, that really is a funny story. I was in LOHO studio in New York recording some music with bass player Jack Daley who is the bass player of Lenny Kravitz. We were recording a song and then he walked into the control room. This guy came to me and said, ‘I love your drumming, that was great’ and I said ‘thank you very much, what’s your name’, and he said ‘Billy’ and I said, ‘I’m Nir, nice to meet you’. And then I asked him, ‘are you a musician?’, and he said ‘yes I am, I am a singer and guitar player, my name is Billy Squier’ and at that moment I didn’t put the name together. ‘oh cool, nice to meet you’ and I left the room. And everybody where laughing. But I didn’t understand why. Another guy who was with him came to me and said ‘listen, I don’t know if you’re aware of that, but you met Billy Squier and he wants you to play with him on the next tour’’ and that’s when I finally put everything together. And a few months later I get a phone call from Billy himself offering me to go on the road with him. And we did - it was an amazing experience, we had such a great time. We had a great band and Billy was great. It was Billy Squier, Bad Company – Paul Rodger’s Band - and Styx.

it: But what was the reason for Billy Squier to show up in your studio. Did he just walk by?
Nir Z: No, the producer of the project we were working on, Jered Kotler, he is a friend of Billy’s. He just came in to visit him. I actually just received an eMail from Billy this week, he just came back from an All Star Band tour with Ringo Starr.

it: You have also toured with Nena, the german female singer...
Nir Z: The german queen, yes. [laughs]

it: Nena was very popular in the 80ies and then she disappeared for quite a while until she did this unexpected comeback. So how did it happen that you’ve played with her?
Nir Z: A good friend of mine, Van Romaine, who has been playing with Nena for many years. asked me to replace him because he had some commitments in America, and then I played the whole tourr. It actually ended up to be a very good tour. I also think the live album sounds very good.

it: Were you the only non-German band member in Nena’s band or was there somebody else?
Nir Z: It was a bit of an international band, the bass player was American. But the rest were German musicians, it was a really great band.

it: Some general questions now – if you look back on what you did so far, what is the record you’re most proud of to have contributed to?
Nir Z: Oh, that’s a tough question...there are so many different records I’m proud of but they are all so different, different music styles, which makes it very difficult to compare. So of course to work with Ray Wilson or Alana Davis was great and there is some cool stuff I did with John Mayer, I don’t know if you know him. He’s really huge in America. I played on his first record and it sold over seven million copies here. And there are also different records that never get to Europe that I like. There are a lot of independent artist here in NY that I record with them and you can listen to some tracks on my studio web site 
Also recordings I did in Nashville, which are a completely different, amazing artists and musicians. That I like as well, what’s cool over there is that musicians still record all at the same in the studio.. like in the old days.

it: If you could choose now, is there someone out there who you would love to work and play with?
Nir Z: There are so many people out there. My original style of drumming comes from the middle east – although i do play different styles, musicians and  producers in America, they always ask me the same thing, ‘how come that Peter Gabriel never picked you up?’ – I am being honest, I always get such comments. I did some projects with a producer called David Botriell. And that’s closest I got to Peter Gabriel [laughs]. Peter Gabriel would be someone I would love to work with. I think that what comes from me rhythmically as a drummer could work well with his music.

it: You started drumming when you were 12 years old...
Nir Z: Yes, something like that.

it: Was there someone who you’ve been looking up to, some kind of a model for you?
Nir Z: Oh yeah, it’s a long list my friend! And there are always the guys back in my country first of all, even though they are not world wide famous guys, but they were the leading drummers in my country and I learned a lot from them. So the list starts from people like Buddy Rich and Joe Morello, all the way to John Bonham and Tony Williams. And then Stewart Copeland, I was a huge fan of The Police as a teenager. And then Jerry Marotta who played on the early Peter Gabriel records. Phil Collins, of course – I mean it’s not even fair to name these people because I’m sure I leave out some that I shouldn’t. There are so many great legendary drummers out there who taught me so much.

it: During our last interview in 1997, we asked you whether you have ever met Nick D’Virgilio, back then you answered ‘no’ – have you met him during the last 9 years?
Nir Z: Yes, we’ve met once briefly – for two minutes. It was in LA – we ran into each other at the Namm show. And it was just ‘hi, how you’re doing’, ‘nice to meet you’, that was basically my only meeting with Nick D’Virgilio.

it: What are you working on at the moment and what will you do next?
Nir Z: At the moment I’m working with different artists that I develop in my studio. Also, I start a new record in Nashville with producer Frank Liddell, Chack Leavell on piano, Waddy Wachtel on guitar and Glenn Worf on bass.

it: What are your three all time favorite records?
Nir Z: [pause] wooow....again, that’s a tough one. It’s like I would have two kids and you’d ask me ‘who do you love more’ – I love all of them, you favorite records – where should I start? What style of music we talking about?

it: Everything, just your favorite ones.
Nir Z: Okay, it’s tough, but some examples. A record of Keith Jarrett, My Song, it’s an amazing record. Then Ok Computer by Radiohead. Erm...anything [laughter] you know? Led Zeppelin, anything, same with Tony Williams or UK with Bill Bruford. There are so many things of King Crimson, so many records of Peter Gabriel. Wow, that’s a tough question! I was hoping no-one ever asked me this! If you come to my house and look at my collection, you will find so many different records. Today I could listen to OK Computer and tomorrow to the band from Spain, Ojos De Brujo, I don’t know if you know them. They do kind of funky flamenco stuff in the world music environment. But I honestly couldn’t pick only three records, I couldn’t say that! Everytime I look at the Rolling Stone Magazine when they do the 100 best albums of all time or something, that always looks funny to me – how can you do that? How can you decide these are the greatest records of all time?


I use only MACs.

I don't have time for technical PC problems.

it: Do you use PC or MAC?
Nir Z: I am a MAC user. Also in the studio, I am not dealing with an cheep gear any more which means that every unit I buy for the studio is always the top and that includes the computers because I don’t have time for technical PC problems [laughs]. I don’t understand why people use PC but anyway. I have used my MACs for many years and feel very comfortable with it. And most people here, also friends, are all using MACS.

it: Do you prefer American whiskey or Scotch whisky?
Nir Z: Ahh, no no no no! First of all, I am not a drinker [laughs]. I can drink beer better than whisky but there’s nothing like the Scotch whisky. It would be like using substitutes for the real beer. It’s like having the real Weißbier in Germany. I never had this kind of beer in New York. You can get this here but it’s not the same.

it: Ok, that’s it, thanks a lot for taking time for us.
Nir Z: No problem!

questions & transcription by Christian Gerhardts

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