Juggling Bands: Drumming in Multiple Groups

By Samuel Lakin

30 May 2024

Drummer Kit Searle is well-known in the Sheffield grassroots music scene, and his skill with the sticks has led to him being a member of not one, not two, but four different bands in the city: Jazz-funk group Paul Party, punk outfit Polat, bluey jam band Juggl_r, and jack-of-all-trades IBS (I’m Being Serious). 

Part of the reason for this is Kit’s love of music, but he also attributes it to a shortage of drummers in the wider music scene.

He said: “Firstly I love playing the drums, but often my mates are looking to start bands and need someone to fill in – a lot of drummers are versatile and in multiple bands because there seems to be a shortage of good ones.

“This is probably my hottest take, but I think a lot of great amateur bands are held back by not as good a drummer as they deserve.

“Especially when starting out, you’re probably playing with your mates, and it’s really hard to turn around and tell them that they aren’t good enough.”

It’s precisely this versatility that Kit thinks is highly valuable, and also enjoyable, for drummers. Take Paul Party song Brain Waterfall, where Kit’s skills are on full display: “The regular beat is very danceable and groovy, but it’s a really long and meandering song so I get to play a lot of different styles of drumming. 

“Most of the song I’m working with Loz (bassist), his bass lines are so creative, in the chorus he does a rundown and I can match him on that and shift into a slower beat that’s very jazzy and calm; then there’s a hyperactive middle eight, a proper funk beat with very ethereal backing.”

He continued: “The key lesson for any drummer is that you can play whatever you want as long as it fits the song, as complex or as simple as you like – nobody’s really going to be listening to you.

“As long as you’re not overwhelming everyone with cymbals I think you’re fine, just pay attention to what the focus of the song is supposed to be. Higher pitched frequencies like the flute are often soft, but they cut through the mix so in that way they have a big voice.

“You have to be quite meticulous as a drummer and have that awareness of where your layering of vocals and instruments fits in, and how you hold it together. Sometimes you might have to restrain yourself to let other people shine.

“As a drummer in bands people look to you to find their place in a song, it’s like a psychic connection and it’s something really special. If you’re playing a white knuckle gig without much practice, being the backbone in a live music environment is something really incredible.”

Paul Party playing at Sidney and Matilda

Particularly with drumming, the financial aspect of playing in multiple bands can be a lot to manage. Disregarding the monetary and time cost of booking practice rooms, recording sessions, and transport to gigs for multiple bands, being a drummer itself can be more demanding than other instruments. Most of the time house kits at venues don’t include breakables – snares and cymbals – and drummers can wear through items like this and sticks quickly, with replacements being costly.

Kit said: “I break drumsticks all the time. I buy Vic Firth sticks in bulk and when I get down to three I’ll order a new batch. 

“I’ve probably broken around eight cymbals in my life – if you get a crack in a cymbal, get an angle grinder and cut it out to stop it spreading as soon as you can. Entry level cymbals aren’t great, they’re cheap but they sound horrible and they’re made of copper so they dent and break really easily.

“As drumming’s become a bigger part of my life I’ve been happier to invest in good quality kit and it’s definitely worth it – it sounds better and your breakables lasts a lot longer. 

“There was a point where I was playing a lot of gigs, and gigs with drummers who didn’t have their own snare, so they borrowed mine. The head got absolutely annihilated in about six months but I did get to use that as an excuse to upgrade to some nicer heads, so you win some, you lose some.”

Particularly when starting out, Kit thinks that finances can be a daunting prospect: “It’s about what background you’re from. If you grew up in a detached house with lots of space it’s easy, relatively speaking, to pick up the drums. 

“If you didn’t, it’s a lot harder, and even an entry level kit is three or four hundred pounds where a guitar is about 90, so I think there’s an accessibility issue.

“Music is expensive and you won’t make much money unless you’re famous or a cover band playing at weddings, giving up your creative liberties.

“Playing the local circuit the most I’ve ever ‘made’ is like £700, which is pretty good, but that’s then split amongst people, minus the cost of transport, drinks, etc. and then re-invested into things like your rehearsal sessions and recording time, so in the end you’re really lucky you’ll still only be making £30-50 a person. 

“Most venues though, especially at the moment, are so tight on profit margins that they can’t really afford to pay you at all, so you have to go through umbrella organisations to get promoted and they’re usually pretty horrible to deal with.” 

Kit playing during his three band set at The Washington

There are some highs to splitting your time between multiple bands though, such as having enough acts at hand to fill an entire lineup for a gig by yourself. When supporting acts were hard to find for a gig at Sheffield venue The Washington, Kit pulled in two of his other bands to replace them, and embarked on the ambitious mission of a one-drummer event.

“I said ‘it’ll be good fun’and they [bandmates] said ‘are you fucking mad?’ 

“We booked the bands and didn’t tell the venue it was all me, just turned up and the sound guy asked where the drummers were – I said ‘it’s just me’ and he was actually happy with it because drummers are a pain to sound check.”  

Whilst the possibility of failure in front of a gathering of fans from across his bands was daunting, and changing between differently themed costumes for all three acts was close to too much, things went smoothly in the end. 

Kit recalled: “It was a crazy night because it was IBS’ debut, Loz from Paul Party had broken his nose the week before and was a bit dazed still so we hadn’t rehearsed properly. 

“But in the end it was like putting on an old pair of shoes, like riding a bike, and it was amazing playing with all my friends to chill me out and give me that baseline.”

On the 15th June Kit is running a gig to celebrate his birthday at local Sheffield grassroots venue Make Noise Studios, aiming to replicate his iconic Washington set, this time playing alongside Juggl_r, IBS, and headliners Paul Party.

He said: “If you’re in multiple bands with your mates, play with them all in one gig. Do it once – I’m doing it twice because it’s a special occasion – but do it once, and it’ll be an unforgettable experience.” 

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