House Drummer for ITV's The Voice Kids
Emily Dolan Davies
Emily Dolan Davies is a touring and recording drummer based in the UK. She has worked with artists including Bryan Ferry, The Darkness, Kim Wilde, Howard Jones, Thompson Twins' Tom Bailey, Tricky, Cher Lloyd, The Hours, and is currently the house drummer on ITV's 'The Voice Kids'.
Why did you take up the drum kit and how old were you?
I was given the opportunity to try the drums at a 'drum club' that had started in my school when I was 11. I was the quietest, shyest kid you could imagine, so what possessed me to pick up the sticks, I have no idea! But I'm so glad I did, as it was a catalyst moment that changed the direction of my life in an instant.
Who was your first teacher and where did you start?
So my first teacher was a private teacher within my school, a lovely man named Graham Instrall. He taught me lots of basic beats, and I distinctly remember us doing exercises where I would play time and he would be on a cowbell or another kit, and purposefully play out of time to try and throw me off! Ha! I remember really enjoying that, as it felt like a real achievement when he didn't manage it!
What instruments/resources did you have?
Initially I had use of the drum kits at school, so would come into school at around 7.30 to practise for an hour (the teachers must've loved me!!!! Ha!) and then do the same at lunch and after school. That was from age 11. At 14, I got an electronic kit after my parents realised it wasn't a 'phase' so I added that to the routine I was already in. I also continued drum lessons, moving on to a teacher named Rob Stevens who took me through the Guildhall Grades, and at 15 I started with Mike Dolbear, and he hasn't been able to get rid of me since! Outside of that, I've always played live - Blues jams, and getting into school bands from 11, then moving outside of just the school confines from 14 when I started gigging around London with bands. Looking back, I don't know how they swung me being allowed into the venues (I looked like a very young 14 too), but I'm so glad they did! It was a massive part of my education!
Do you have any advice for young drummers during this stage of education?
I'd say get as much experience as you can. Play with as many people as you can, in as many genres as you can, and in as many situations as you can. The early stages of my education it were such a wonderful time full of obsession, and exploration.
With your knowledge and experience, what performance opportunities would you suggest young drummers to engage with?
I'd say all of them! Get playing with as many people as you can, especially if they're more experienced as you. That was a real conscious decision for me. I always wanted to be surrounded by people more experienced than me, so I needed to up my game, and could learn from them too. In fact I still aim to surround myself with people more experienced than me, and I love it!
At what point did you decide this was the profession for you?
I remember the moment exactly, and it was a fairly innocuous moment. I was walking home at 14, I never had a great time at school with always feeling 'different', left out, and sometimes bullied. At this moment I had been playing for 3 years, and loved the drums more than ever, and I just decided and made a promise to myself, this was what I was going to do, and I was going to go all in. I didn't know how yet, but that was just the detail that needed to be worked out. It was never a case of if I could do it, just finding a way. That's still my attitude to this day - I'll find a way!
After school, did you continue your studies? And if so, who did you learn with?
After finishing my A-Levels I carried on with private lessons with Mike Dolbear, but I was so desperate to be out there playing, I decided that just getting out there, treading the boards, playing with as many more musicians that I could find was the best option for me. So that's what I did. I was lucky enough that my parents said I could stay at home for 3 years (my version of Uni), and I got into a couple of covers bands to earn enough money to pay for petrol to get me to gigs, rehearsals or networking opportunities, and for drum lessons. It was a very testing times with ups and downs but I learnt more in those 3 years than the 7 previous about the realities of what being a drummer entailed.
What was your first ever professional engagement, what was it like and how did you get it?
Technically my first professional gig was a Blues jam when I was 14! The regular drummer couldn't make it, and they asked me! I was ecstatic and enthusiastically said 'YES!' At the end of the night the band leader gave me £20 and I felt like I'd just been shot out of a rocket to the moon! It was awesome! Past that, I got involved in paying gigs from about 16. They were never for much money, but it was never about that, it was about the opportunities those gigs afforded, like playing live, playing with new people, meeting new people at the shows, and getting my name out there bit by bit.
You are currently the house drummer on ITV's The Voice Kids, what's this like?
Ah it's AMAZING! First and foremost, the guys in the band are absolutely exceptional, not just as players, but as humans, and a couple of them I've wanted to work with for years, so that in itself is an absolute dream come true!
Then there's the gig itself... It's absolutely bonkers in terms of how it runs and the speed at which everything happens. I can safely say I've never felt so suited to how a gig runs!
So for each round of the show (Blinds, Battles, Semi Final etc) we get into the rehearsal room, and say for the Blinds, we'll have around 60 songs that we need to run before the kids come in to sing the next day. We don't get the songs until a few days before, and because of nature of the show, they're all chopped up versions of songs we may already know, and to learn 60 songs, make changes in the room, then remember those changes for a couple of weeks before filming is a BIG ask!
The way they've worked out to do that practically, is by reading on the gig. Now prior to this I had done minimal reading at best, but in keeping with the 'making sure you're surrounded by people more experienced' vibe, I said yes, and worked out the 'how' before rehearsals started! Now I think reading is just AWESOME! We get into the room, a song gets called, bring up the chart, have a listen to the edit once, then GO! We may only play it once, and then move on, so the next time we play it is with the kid. It's awesome - no wasting time, efficient - I literally LOVE IT!
Then there's the filming which is like entering into this strange bubble with the same kind of speed and precision, with high pressure (the kids and we get the one shot and that's it), and these very surreal moments thrown in for good measure! I'd often just suddenly become very aware of how strange the situation was. One of those moments was sitting, watching Will.I.Am trying to play the bagpipes... pretty surreal... and that kind of strangeness that suddenly appears is one of the reasons I love the gig so much!
Are there any challenges?
I think the only real challenge is keeping up energy and concentration, especially on filming days - you can play for a couple of minutes then have to wait for 30 minutes whilst they film the judges talking to the contestants/amongst themselves (and you're in the back of shot, so it's not like you can just have a little nap! (Ha!) And those days can last for 14 hours sometimes! But honestly, because of the team of musicians, crew, TV guys, it's such a laugh, even when you're knackered, and things are becoming progressively more strange by the minute!
You have also played with many artists/bands including The Darkness and Kim Wilde to name a few, what are the challenges performing with different groups?
I think similar to any gig, the challenge is in keeping up energy, consistency, and level of playing. What I mean by that is - say you're on the road and you've played a show every night for the last week, tonight's show 8, and each night has been in a different city, you haven't had much chance to rest, and you're exhausted. It's imperative that you make choices to make sure the show is your priority, so grabbing bits of sleep when you can, exercising, and making good eating choices, are just some of the things to help. But most of all, you need to be at such a high level of certainty about your ability and your understanding of the gig your playing, that even if you're running on empty, you're still able to pull off the show with the same level of playing and performance as show 1. It's a tough one to battle, but boy do those days feel so sweet when they come :-D
What are your experiences of touring?
I love touring, getting to see places I never would usually, interesting venues, meeting wonderful people is just everything. Then once we're on stage, being able to bring that energy to a room, and almost have a conversation with the audience is so spectacular! I'm really missing touring this year, but I know that I'll be even more thankful for it once we can get back to it :-)
You also own your own remote recording business, can you explain what this entails and how it differs from performing live?
Yea, I started EmilyDrums.com off the back of parting ways with The Darkness. I decided that a lot of my self worth was coming from whether people were calling me for gigs, and I can tell you from experience, that's not a healthy headspace to be in! So I decided to take the reins and maximise the things I love most about playing the drums, and start a remote recording business! It's one of the best things I've ever done for myself!
In terms of it being different from live, it is in so many ways. Recording is all about precision, getting a great tone from the drums (and then mic'ing them well), as well as creating parts in a way that makes the song shine brightest, which often means simplifying it. Then it becomes about locking in with the other musicians on the track who aren't in the room, which felt very weird at first, but I embrace it now :-) The other really fun thing about it being mine is that I get to actually run a business which isn't something I thought I'd enjoy, but turns out I LOVE IT! I love getting to know my clients, making friends and then working out new ways to find new clients, and get the word out there more. I love it.
Can you tell us about your recent venture, the 'Drum Stem Club'?
Drum Stem Club was birthed from EmilyDrums.com and the fact that not everyone can afford for me to record bespoke drums on their music, and I never like to put up things to separate anyone from anyone else - I'm an all inclusive kind of gal! So I decided to start Drum Stem Club where I record drum multi-tracks for anyone to record with, songwriters with, produce with, even release, all for free. It's great for me cause it gives me an excuse to tinker around with different drum sounds, get the EmilyDrums.com name out there, and give back to the music community... it's wins all round!
Do you have any other strings to your bow?
In March 2020, I released an online course to help other musicians pivot into remote recording, and cover all the business side of offering those kinds of services, cause that's the bit that stops most musicians from taking the leap, and I've had so much experience of it over the last 5 years, I thought it only right to collate it and share. Plus in the current climate, it the perfect place to pivot to for live musicians.
What is your career highlight so far?
Ah I've had so many! To be honest, the most prominent ones are either when I suddenly become very aware of where I am and that I am a professional drummer, and that can be in The Voice Kids studio, or in a pub playing a gig with 3 punters - same amount of overwhelming gratitude. I also really love what I call 'full circle moments'... like for instance playing I Believe In A Thing Called Love with The Darkness... I had been playing that song for years in covers bands, and to play it with the actual guys was a humbling moment. I've had a lot of those wonderfully humbling moments over the years :-)
What is the best thing about being a musician?
Being able to connect with other humans, and help tell an artist's story, and not just that, but evoke the emotion of that to an audience, or on a recording. There's something so honest and raw about bearing your soul on a stage. It's freeing.
What would your 'Top Three Tips' be for a young drummer thinking about a career in music?
1. Learn your craft... Devour every piece of information you can and make sure you put into action too, whether that's on a gig, doing a recording, or even through teaching someone else.
2. Play with as many people as possible in as many situations you can.
3. Everything you play, in every situation, get hold of some sort of recording device, and record yourself and listen back - it's the quickest route to being the musician you want to be.
Any last thoughts?
Just thank you for interviewing me, and I hope everyone reading this is well, staying safe, and healthy both physically and mentally. Sending lots of love xx
If you would like to find out more about Emily, please check out her websites:
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Emily is endorsed by:
Zildjian cymbals zildjian.com
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