Why I (still) love playing music

Updated: Mar 4

Hi, my name’s Michael Spearman and I’m the drummer in a band called Everything Everything. Along with the Jonathan Higgs, the singer in the band, I attended Queen Elizabeth High School Hexham in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With Everything Everything we’ve been extremely fortunate to have a successful career in music, having four Top 5 albums, touring internationally and playing festivals - including Glastonbury five times - as well as appearing on ‘Later…With Jools Holland’ three times and being shortlisted for the Mercury Prize twice.

Initially I wanted to write this blog about how the pandemic had pulled the rug from under us in many ways and how we’d overcome challenges to still release an album. However, after thinking about it more, I realised that the pandemic had actually helped me reaffirm something far more fundamental and universal than what goes on with my own band. That is, why I love playing music in the first place.

Our band got into a cycle that many bands do, of making an album and then touring it, then making another album and touring that. I’m not complaining at all, it’s just the way it is. In March 2020 when the pandemic and lockdown took hold we were excited to release our new album, Re-Animator, which we were putting the finishing touches to at that point, then to start rehearsing for gigs. Slowly though our touring and festival calendar for the year started to empty and of course we were very disappointed, and have missed playing gigs hugely. However, lockdown also provided an enforced moment of reflection.

When I was growing up, practising and playing the drums, I think I naturally imagined some kind of sense of ‘completion’, that one day I’d say to myself “ok, now I’m a great drummer”. But of course music isn’t really like that; you never stop learning. I’ve been privileged to meet musicians and songwriters at every level and those at the top cert ainly know this to be true and furthermore, they see it only as a positive.

So, if there’s no ‘ultimate end goal’ in writing and playing music then why do we do it?

I was lucky to play music with friends as soon as I started learning the drums. Each informed the other, back and forth, and improved my drumming but also cemented great friendships that I still cherish. Of course there’s the obvious level of enjoyment of spending time with friends, but creating something with others roots those relationships deeper and stronger. Some of those friends still play music, some don’t, but we’ll always have that connection and happy shared childhood memories.

I decided to go further with music and study at Music College but that very pure and almost magical feeling of playing and creating something at the age of 12 is exactly the same feeling I look for today. Being in a fancy recording studio doesn’t make that feeling any easier to find; in fact, things like that can prove to be obstacles in the way of it. I believe many music professionals are on a quest to recapture those early, exciting moments; of making a good sound on the instrument, or harmonising, or coming up with a song idea. For me it’s all those plus the beauty of rhythm – the energy and ambiguity of different rhythms, of ‘locking in’ with a bass player, of making a song ‘groove’. There’s some mystery in all of those things and it’s that mystery that makes them fun, at any level.

So it’s about the journey and not the destination. Maybe the word journey isn’t quite right though. To me it feels more like a ‘pursuit’, as I’ve undoubtedly had to push myself. Through learning and practising the drums I’ve also learnt other, ‘bigger’ things along the way, too. It’s made me see the value of discipline and how much more important it is than motivation. I’ve also learnt that it’s better to concentrate on one thing and do it well than try and cover lots of material only superficially. These and other lessons have helped me in many aspects of my life and I’m very grateful for them and especially to those teachers/mentors over the years that helped me realise them: Ken Morrell, Len Young and Geoff Hutchinson, as well as my incredibly supportive parents, of course.

In pursuing anything of difficulty in life there naturally comes a dose of humility as we fail along the way – sometimes in small and subtle ways and sometimes in front of thousands of people. It’s never smooth sailing and there’s always a degree of pain. I see my relationship to playing music much like an old friendship. I’ve invested time and energy into it and have had to work at it, but it’s given me so much in return. It isn’t about looking for what rewards we can get from playing music, though of course there are many. Ultimately, playing music is its own reward, and that’s the beauty of it.

Re-Animator by Everything Everything is out now [http://everything-everything.co.uk]

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