There were seven band members in a bed and the little drummer said “Rollover, Rollover”

By Thomas Jackson

21 May 2024

How many members do you really need in a band? We take two bands of different sizes and let them tell you the challenges they faced.

Trying to start any band can be a daunting challenge. You may have already started writing songs in your bedroom with a guitar and want to play live. Now you need to find someone who can play drums; someone who can play bass guitar and someone who can sing. These elements form the backbone of most traditional four-piece bands. This has been a successful formula over the decades – The Smiths, Led Zepplin, The Who, Joy Division and new artist like Yard Act – just to name a few.

But when deciding how many people there should be in your band, you may not want to go for that traditional four-piece line up. Having more people in a band means new layers are added to the songs you create, but that comes with challenges like juggling all those people and finding a rehearsal space which is big enough. So, it might be better to strip back, and form a two piece, but you might have to make up space for the instruments you have lost.  

So, let’s take two bands that fit these categories. One big and one small.   

Forming in September of 2021, We hate the Sharkman, is a jazz and funk fusion band from Sheffield. Comprising of Jack Scott, 24 and Matt Radcliffe,24 on Tenor and Alto Saxophone, Alex La Fleur, 24 on bass, Adam Higham-Naylo, 22 and Peter Richards, 25, on guitar, Joe Johnson, 25, on Keys and Leo Russel Moore, 24, on the drums.

That’s seven people who must all get organised and find the right time to practise and practise enough so they can play live.

Scott said: “We’re a lot more structured now about how we rehearse. Out of necessity we have shared calendars and excel spreadsheets with automated formatting”.  He brings out his phone showing an extensive calendar with red and green cells indicating who was available.

Radcliffe said: “We have seven really busy people, just finding a night in the week is hard because we all work full time jobs as well.”

He then pointed out that if one or two people aren’t available, booking practise time on that day is not always beneficial. “Some [music] you can work on but often you need everyone to see what works and what doesn’t”.

But they are quite fortunate, as they don’t have to look far to see what works and what doesn’t. They have their own home studio to practise in. Which has been a very convenient way for the band to practice and record their music when they are available.  

“We have all our own kit. We have no outgoings except buying toys for the band, but that’s our own fault”, laughs Radcliffe.

READ MORE: Want to see more from We Hate The Sharkman? Click here for their thought on making the most out of an album release

Scott was originally sceptical about having a home studio as “when you book a rehearsal room you use that time wisely, here its more relaxed but it allows us to develop a song and jam for a long time”. 

On deciding  the cuts of six new tracks for their latest EP, Sharp Teeth, Dull Minds, which was recorded at their home studio, the band takes a democratic approach.

Richards, who also mixed and mastered the EP, said: “The takes we chose were ‘the bands takes’, so even if there were tiny mistakes or one of us felt like they played something wrong, if there were as many moments as possible where someone did something that was really cool, that’s the take we would choose.”

Recorded in a three-day stint, “The EP is a boiled down set that we’ve gigged over the last year, playing it every week at one point. So, we knew them all but we had to chop them down so they felt more like songs rather than a live performance that you can play around with.  We had to think ‘right, do we really need this to be nine minute song or should we have four minutes of really good stuff’”.

The bands method of writing their jazz and funk driven music comes from their jam sessions. In these sessions, the band juggles and arranges for seven different instruments, which is also then played live, and so they have learnt not to compete for space within their music.

La Fleur said: “There is a big learning curve. You learn from song to song, if someone has a more prominent part then you learn to give them more room.”

Richards concurred: “Sometimes when you are in a small room like The Washington, not everything will be going through the PA, so you do feel like you are in a tin can at times, and we’re not a loud band, especially when there’s seven of us”.

Johnson said: “We are reasonably respectful to each other when it comes to giving each other space.

“But that comes with the way we write. It’s about listening to each other and not having seven people competing for a solo. You definitely pay attention to one another and are keen to hear what the others are playing.”

Scott adds: “There’s a lot of eyes-up when we are jamming, you give each other looks and you know where the song is going to go or if someone does something sick then everyone looks at them with the expression of ‘what was that?’”

In a larger group setting, it takes time to fully flesh out a song with so many people involved, and although the band has managed to find ways of getting everyone to a convenient place, things like having a home studio may not be possible for everyone. So, why not choose to have a small band instead?

There are many great two-piece bands. Including The White Stripes, 21 Pilots, Soft Play, The Carpenters, and The Black Keys.

The Bad Actors are one such band. An Energetic, orange suited, indie rock two-piece, also from Sheffield.

Collecting of front man and guitarist, Khalil Adesanya, and drummer Jason “The Boy” Eton, both 28, the two friends met in secondary school. 

Adesanya and Eton in the studio in their bright orange suits

Adesanya explains: “I was already into playing music, but our school was quite small. We didn’t have any drummers. So, I said, ‘right Jay you’re going to learn drums now’ and he kind of locked himself in his attic for I don’t know, two three months. By then he was smashing it.”

The two have been playing as The Bad Actors since October 2023 and they reflected on some of the challenges and benefits that being in a two-piece band can offer.

Adesanya said that the one big concern for them as a two-piece band is that “we play to a click track and if we go out of sync with the bass guitar that’s been pre-recorded, then that can be disastrous because it can be really hard to get back into that groove.

“I would say that I’m quite an energetic performer. So, I think as we get towards bigger stages, it may be nice to have someone else there as well, to do those bass parts. But I’m happy to take the lead role in terms of showing off and being ridiculous and jumping around. As long as Jay’s there keeping us in time.”

“Yeah, no matter how big the stage is he will make use of it”, chimes Eton.

Looking at some of the benefits, Adesanya said: “The best part is that we’re so flexible. I ask Jay if he can practise this day or that day? And it’s only one yes or no.”

But Eton does add a caveat: “I mean it’s hard for me having to move that drum kit about everywhere.

“But yeah, it is so easy. We just take it in turns to pay for a practice room and then just turn up. Although, I would say that for two people, somehow, we’ve got the gear of a four-piece band”.

When it comes to spending time in the studio practising and recording, Eton said: “It’s a lot easier with the two of us. I’m quite an indecisive person as well. We will try a few things. We can kind of tell if we’re both feeling it. And if we’re not and we’re getting stuck with it, we’ll move on to something else and then come back to it. And I think it’s like that because we have been playing together for so long.

“When it comes to recording in the studio, I’m in and out first getting all the drum parts recorded and then Khalil’s got to do the bass guitar, vocals, backing vocals, and I’m just sat there eating my pot noodle.”

Adesanya adds: “I actually feel a bit bad about that because at least when we had had a bass player in the band, if the two of them finished early, they could chat whilst I recorded, but now it’s just Jay and his pot noodle.”

But the end results culminate into singles like Self made Billionaire. With a growling, heavy riff, and a gritty, funky back beat, for two people, The Bad Actors make a huge sound. When trying to find the sound that’s right for your band, knowing how many people you are going to need is always a good idea. But why you choose that many will start to help you form an band identity that is you own, with your own challenges and triumphs, and hopefully these two juxtaposed bands may help you size up (or down) that option.

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