A Q&A with the Drummers of Gustaf and IDLES

Melissa Lucciola asks Jon Beavis about getting his first kit, playing to a click, and seeing Bigfoot.

Melissa Lucciola is the drummer for the New York art punk band Gustaf; Jon Beavis is the drummer for the Bristol-based rock band IDLES. Gustaf just released their debut full-length album Audio Drag for Ego Slobs — via Royal Mountain Records — and toured with IDLES last month. To celebrate it all, Melissa interviewed Jon about his first kit, his “Taxman” nickname, seeing Bigfoot, and much more.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Melissa Lucciola: Hi, John. How did you get your first set?

Jon Beavis: My first drum set was a gift for Christmas from my parents.

Melissa: How old were you?

Jon: I can’t remember. I started playing when I was eight — I can’t remember when I got the kit.

Melissa: How did you start playing?

Jon: I think my sister had started playing saxophone. So my parents, I guess, were already kind of comfortable with a loud instrument that wasn’t that good. My mom worked in a school, and they were really close friends with the music teacher. I guess we were around for dinner one night when I was a kid, and I was tapping on on the table, and he was like, “Oh, you should try drums.” And I was like, “Alright, cool.” So I just picked up drums. Like, I had had a couple of lessons and I just instantly was like, OK, “I can kind of do this.” Obviously, I wasn’t very good, but I was like, “I’ve got the rhythm. This is cool.” So I was in ever since then.

Melissa: Was it just that moment you were like, “I could be a drummer?” Or did you ever have a moment where you’re like, “I really, really want to be a drummer in a band?”

Jon: Well, I had lessons for maybe about four or five years.

Melissa: Who were the lessons with?

Jon: It was a guy called Andy Davis. It was the first guy I had. But towards the end of my time with him, I would always ask if I could learn other songs, or popular songs that were out at that time. And he was like, “No, no, no, let’s stick to this.” I was like, “OK,” and then I kind of got bored of it, because it was a lot of sight reading stuff. 

Melissa: Oh yeah. 

Jon: So I got kind of bored, so I left him. Because I had a kit already, I was kind of just self-teaching — just listening to songs, learning the drum part, playing along to that. And then I went back to a different teacher, because I wanted to go to BIM, which was a music university in Bristol, and it said on the on the site that you had to be grade eight. So I was like, “OK, so I’m going to go back and have lessons and get grade eight.”

I did that, and then I realized that not everyone there was grade eight. I mean, it was good because I’ve learned all these skills, and then, yeah, like BIM helped. I was there for three years, I learned loads. Every drum teacher was either in a current band, or a touring musician, so they had like all the extra tricks of the trade. 

I think maybe when I was, I don’t know, 15 or 16, I kind of felt like this is what I want to do. But at that point, it’s just a dream, isn’t it? Kind of like, “It would be cool to do this, but I should probably get a real job.” And then I didn’t really like anything else in school, so thankfully there was a music course I just kept doing. 

Melissa: What was your first show, and what was your band that you played, you remember?

Jon: I mean, I played, like, in the in the school —

Melissa: No, your first rock & roll show.

Jon: I don’t remember fully. I definitely played at a place called The Croft in Bristol when I was young, because I remember the bouncer wouldn’t let me in the venue because I was under 18. I was like, “Well, I’m playing the show.” He was like, “Yeah, nice try.” And I’m holding loads of drums. Why would I lie? [Laughs.] Until the age of about 20, I was always in more than one band, just because that’s the drummer thing, kind of always playing around stuff. 

Melissa: What was the name of the band?

Jon: I don’t know. I mean, I’ve been in some bad names. There was a post-punk band called Snapshot. I was in a band with some friends called Second Stem. It was really bad. 

Melissa: That’s not bad! I’ve had worse.

Jon: Yeah, but I just link those names to the awful music that we played.

Melissa: How many bands have you been in? Do you know?

Jon: I don’t know. Maybe like 30?

Melissa: 30 bands, jeez. 

Jon: But some of those are like, if you’re a kid and you start a band, you don’t actually play a gig, you just make some songs. I used to be in jazz bands, and swing bands.

Melissa: Swing bands!

Jon: Yeah, I was in swing bands. I love swing bands. It’s good fun.

Melissa: Were there, like, 50 horns?

Jon: It was in school, but it was definitely sections.

Melissa: I got offered to be in a swing band one time. They saw me play the bass drum with my foot and a hi hat with my other foot and play guitar. The guy was like, “You want to play with our set?” They were playing right after me and I was like, “Yeah, sure, I’ll play.” And I just played. And then they were like, “You want to be in our band?” [Laughs.] It was really funny.

Jon: I haven’t thought about this in years — there was a song, I don’t know what it was, but on the fourth or fifth page — because it was a band where you had to play and turn. And the first time I was doing it, I saw it had “drum solo” — and I was about 13, 14, so I didn’t have any confidence — I’m pretty sure I ran out of the room. I started doing something and it was terrible —

Melissa: In the middle of the solo?!

Jon: I just dropped my sticks and ran out of the room. I just couldn’t handle it, I was so overwhelmed. So that was a pretty harrowing memory. 

Melissa: Oh, my gosh.

Jon: I did come back and complete it.

Melissa: Is that worst thing that’s ever happened to you musically? Like, on stage?

Jon: I mean, it wasn’t the worst thing. It wasn’t on stage, it was a rehearsal, so it was alright. I can’t think of a bad experience on the stage. There was like times where I was nervous, but that’s not bad. 

Melissa: You never messed up?

Jon: Oh, yeah, I messed up loads. It was horrible at the time, but I mean, looking back now, I can’t think of those times, and it didn’t really matter because I’m here.

Melissa: [Laughs.] You’re so good at drums, you don’t even have a bad memory!

Jon: I don’t think it’s ever happened with IDLES, but there’s been points where it’s just a break with the drums, and I’ve dropped the stick, and then whole song sounds crap. But it doesn’t matter.

Melissa: It’s punk. 

Jon: Well, I’ve just sort of learned to be like, Yeah, it doesn’t matter. The world still turns.

Melissa: Yeah. I remember one show I played and the drummer, his bass drum pedal broke in the middle of song, and I was playing guitar and I was so embarrassed. I thought I was going to die, like I was about to pass out on stage. [Laughs.]

Jon: It does suck when it happens. There was a festival where I was on this riser — it was a stage, but it had nothing behind it — and I fell off the off the drum seat. No, really. Itt was moving and it fell off the riser.

Melissa: No! In the middle of the song? 

Jon: Yeah. Oh, actually — I also I used to do a thing where I would climb on my drum and stand on it. But like, when I was drunk. And I did it once and I fell onto my drum kit.

Melissa: Did the drums go everywhere? 

Jon: Yeah, and it really hurt. And it was mid-set.

Melissa: Oh, man!

Jon: I had to get up and put them back together. 

Melissa: [Laughs.] What’s the most gross venue you’ve ever played? 

Jon: I’ve got really bad backstage, which was in Vienna — I think it was in Vienna, or Prague. You’ve seen the film Saw

Melissa: No, I don’t like scary movies.

Jon: Neither do I. But it looked like the set of that, and it had those light strips where they were blinking and flashing. It was fucking disgusting. The venue was all right, but the backstage was just horrible.

Melissa: Did it smell?

Jon: It was wet, it was leaky, it had sewage. It had graffiti and stickers everywhere on the wall. That’s a really stressful environment — it was just everywhere, mixed with this really bright flashing light. It was like we were being interrogated, I thought I was going to die. But the venue was alright.

Melissa: [Laughs.] Our lights are blinking in our green room tonight.

Jon: It’s not that hard to fix a lightbulb!

Melissa: What’s your first musical memory? 

Jon: A time that I got really into drums was, I was listening to one of my dad’s friends’ Buddy Rich cassettes.

Melissa: Really cool.

Jon: Yeah. He gave it to my dad, because he heard that I just started playing drums, so he was like, “He might like this.” I remember putting it on and being like, “This is insane. This is incredible.” 

So that was linked to drums — in terms of general memories of music, I don’t know. I’ve got a pretty shit memory. I remember being a kid and dancing to Spice Girls, because my sister liked them. I pretty much had her music tastes, because I was the younger brother. I just got passed down Spice Girls and Gina G. 

Melissa: That explains a lot. [Laughs.] Just kidding. What stick deal do you want? 

Jon: Vater.

Melissa: Yeah?

Jon: 100%. Only Vater. They’re the only ones for me. [Laughs.] 

Melissa: Have you ever seen a UFO?

Jon: No.

Melissa: No, never?

Jon: No. I have potentially seen Bigfoot.

Melissa: Where?

Jon: In the Redwoods, or somewhere in some forest area.

Melissa: Elaborate.

Jon: I can’t. He told me not to.

Melissa: OK. [Laughs.] Someone had a Bigfoot story on tour, in Nashville. This girl of Erica — she told us this crazy Bigfoot story. And she couldn’t describe it, she said it was like just this blur.

Jon: Was it a tree? Mine might have been a tree. 

Melissa: It could have been a tree.

Jon: I was very tired when I saw it.

Melissa: Have you always been this cool?

Jon: I don’t think I’ve been cool. I’ve never been cool in my life.

Melissa: What!

Jon: I’m the least cool member of the band. 

Melissa: No, you’re not. 

Jon: I mean, I am, in fact, and I don’t mind that. I don’t mind not being cool. 

Melissa: Why do you think that? Thats not true.

Jon: I have a cool job. I think I’m a nice person. I think I’m pretty chill, I don’t think I’m cool. I never felt comfortable saying that I’m cool,

Melissa: But that’s what makes you so cool. 

Jon: I’ll take that. 

Melissa: What were your other jobs before drumming?

Jon: I used to work for Starbucks. I used to work in a grocery shop. I used to work in a pub, and then I was a restaurant assistant manager. 

Melissa: Do you know the internet thinks you’re an accountant sometimes?

Jon: Oh, yeah. I mean, I’m shit with numbers, so that is not true. It’s because I’ve got a fan name as The Taxman.

Melissa: What?

Jon: On one of our YouTube videos — it was on the NPR Tiny Desk Concert — in one of the comments, it was like, “The drummer looks like he’s their taxman.” I guess it’s because I was wearing a white t shirt and I had glasses on.

Melissa: You have your ears, you don’t look like an accountant. That’s because I didn’t have any tattoos then. Now it’s different. We were on tour at the time with Bambara, and Sammy [Zalta], who’s the guitarist, just kept calling me Taxman. And we got him on stage — I think it was San Francisco, for his birthday — and just before he left to crowd surf, he got the whole audience to chant “Taxman.” Everyone sang happy birthday, and then he was like, “Tax-man! Tax-man!” So it kind of stuck more with fans then, because they saw videos of it. 

Melissa: [Laughs.] So that’s why. Because I’ve seen it in a few comments, and I was like, “Jon never said he was an accountant?” 

Jon: It’s sort of died out. 

Melissa: Did you feel comfortable doing the Tiny Desk, or was it annoying that you had to play quiet?

Jon: Yeah, it was weird. It was just a weird morning.

Melissa: Was it early?

Jon: Yeah, but that’s fine, most of the sessions that you do are early because you’ve got the show in the afternoon. But we got booked and it was a big thing to do, and as we get there, you know, we already said before we were a loud band, so we’ll play quieter, but not quietly. So we start playing and they were like, “No, this is way too loud.” We’re like, “You booked us!” I get that it’s all in the office — just tell the office workers to stop working for half an hour and move out of the way. So it was very it was just very annoying. Because also, Joe couldn’t sing because there’s no monitors there, and he was just losing his voice. It was like, “We have a show in the evening.” But I mean, it was funny in the end. But it’s just that thing where you have to jump through hoops, and sometimes they make for really good things. Sometimes it works because it’s a different take on how you would play the song normally.

Melissa: Yeah. Well, I saw it and I thought it was awesome. But I felt for you, because everyone else — they could just turn down their amps and they could still rock out as hard as possible. But as a drummer, you have to… did you have to use other sticks?

Jon: I was using your sticks, 7X. 

Melissa: Oh, really? 

Jon: And I wrapped wool around them.

Melissa: Yeah, you didn’t use the little sticks that are bound together?

Jon: No, I think I think I tried — you know, the drumstick pencils? They’re, like, novelty shit gifts for drummers. I got them every year of my life — “It’s Christmas, here’s a pencil with a drumstick at the end of it.” And I think I had one in my bag somewhere, so I tried playing it. It was pointless. So I just used thinner sticks. 

Melissa: Yeah. I felt for you, because then everyone was like, “He looks like an accountant!” It’s like, he’s just trying not to be too loud! But I thought it was one of the most fun NPRs I’ve seen — I think everyone else is like, “Oh, it’s so stripped down, I have to be acoustic,” but you guys were like, “Nah, we’re still going to do what we do.”

Jon: Yeah, it definitely looked like our live shows.

Melissa: Yeah, exactly. So it really worked. When you guys record, do you record to a click track?

Jon: It depends. Not always. Brutalism was all off a click, Joy [as an Act of Resistance] was all off a click. Ultra Mono — I felt like that was where we thought more about tempos, so… I can’t remember if it was to a click. I definitely before a take would have had the click in my head, and then turned it off and then played. And then Crawler was more to a click — in certain songs, no, because it kind of sucks the vibe of my take. We’ve always had the rule of three takes — that’s all I get.

Melissa: Just you, just just three takes? 

Jon: Yeah, because everyone else can do overdubs. So that’s fine. Otherwise, I could do, like, 12 and it’s never as good.

Melissa: You get tired.

Jon: Yeah, and it’s just not as good. Three is good. It’s more often than not the first or second take. I quite like that pressure, because obviously you practice the song loads before you go in the studio. So it’s nice to have that kind of one or two take buzz for your muscles. 

“War” was done in two takes, and everyone was like, “Yeah, that’s it. Cool.” And [those takes] didn’t have the drum break in it, because that wasn’t part of the song. It was just Joe singing, “This means war,” and I just kept playing the same beat before the break down. So we did two takes of it and they were like, “Perfect, let’s let’s move on,” and I was like, “Nah, I think I got better.” And just in my head, I was like, I want to do something there. So I go again and I put it in, but I dropped my stick — everyone was like, “What the fuck was that?” I was like, “It just fell.” And it was like, “Yeah, that’s sick, do it again!” And I’m like, “I don’t know if I can…” So it was the take after that when I did it. 

Melissa: Oh, man, that’s crazy. That’s one of my favorite parts of your set! When you guys write, how does it happen? You just play a beat and then Dev [bassist Adam Devonshire] plays with you? 

Jon: There’s so many different ways. We used to do it where we would just kind of jam, like I have a beat Joe comes in with beat — because I’m not the strongest songwriter. I can just write drum parts, I don’t understand guitars, I don’t understand bass. I can offer advice to their parts, like, “I like that but can it go this direction?” But, yeah, I’ll just come with beats, or anyone else can come with beats and I’ll kind of edit them a little bit. But there’s no strict rule. We always have a kind of thesis behind the album and how we’re going to write for it, but how the actual songs happen is just random.

Melissa: Cool. Do you wear the same shoes every night when you drum? 

Jon: Yeah. 

Melissa: For how long?

Jon: Forever. The shoes I’m wearing now are new for the last year. Before that, I had the same pair for two years. They stink. [Laughs.] The ones I have now — basically, because I’ve been touring for ages, I know how annoying washing is. So I was like, “I’m going to wear as little clothes as I can.” I like being free when I play, so I cut off the arms, because even that pisses me off, because it gets kind of wet and in the way. So I just cut it off, simple. Then I wear swimming shorts, I don’t wear any boxers

Melissa: You wear shorts every night,

Jon: Yeah, they fucking stink. They get, like, really horrible. I was doing it without socks for the first month in the UK, and then I was like, “This is disgusting.” Now I wear socks, and it feels better.

Melissa: Oh, my god. 

Jon: I don’t like playing in jeans or trousers now, because it just gets in the way. Minimal. If I could play naked, I would.

Melissa: I was just going to say that you should just be a nudist. 

Jon: I would. But, it’s a bit uncouth.

Melissa: Final question: Do you have anything to say to anyone?

Jon: Hi, I’m Jon Beavis, and I’d like to get endorsed by Vater. I need some sticks.

(Photo Credit: left, Felipe Torres)

Gustaf is an art punk band from Brooklyn, NY. Their debut full-length, Audio Drag for Ego Slobs, is out now on Royal Mountain Records.

(Photo Credit: Felipe Torres)