On the Vancouver, Canada stop of Bastille’s North American tour, Chris Wood took us behind the drum set. Tasked with bringing iconic Bastille album sounds, samples, and loops to every show, Wood delivers with a massive hybrid drum setup. He’s packed every inch of his kit with hybrid gear including multiple Roland V-Pads, RT- and BT-Triggers, KD-7 foot triggers, a TM-2 Trigger Module, and an SPD-SX. In conversation, he shared how his hybrid kit informs Bastille’s uplifting, layered sound.
“Kind of like playing hopscotch and doing an octopus impression at the same time.”
That’s how Chris “Woody” Wood of epic UK indie rockers Bastille describes his performance style. Still, playing in one of the biggest indie-pop bands in the world, Wood does more behind the kit than just playing drums.
Wood’s earliest induction into the world of playing music began in his own home. There, the nascent player explored drums while following in his father’s footsteps. Literally. “I grew up watching him play in bands around Plymouth,” explains Wood. “One night his drummer forgot there was a gig. They had like ten minutes and told me, ‘Go home, get your kit.’”
The recollection clearly still amuses Wood. “I was 13 and kind of learned to fly from there.”
His early influences reflect the salad days of early-’00s alternative rock. “I grew up obsessed with bands like Queens of Stone Age, Muse, early Chili Peppers.” Certain players stand out as well. “As far as drummers go, Dave Grohl is my idol in terms of musicality, but also people like Jimmy Chamberlain.”
Those influences congeal in Bastille’s layered sound. “I’m playing with drum parts at the same time as programmed bits on top. I enjoy the challenge of that.”
Despite his ability to pull off these demanding arrangements, Wood remains humble. “I’d like to think I’m technically competent and can do some odd things. But I wouldn’t say I’m particularly flashy or anything like that.”
Wood’s hybrid drum setup is key to his approach in Bastille. However, his history with Roland and triggers goes back further. “I had a Roland TD-3 going way back to when I went to university.”
His ability to mix acoustic and sampled elements has evolved since then. “There’s a lot of handclaps, intentionally sampled snares, and that sort of thing. We blend them in with the real snare live.”
Plus, there’s another benefit to pads—one which may be a little less obvious at first. “My main reason for using external pads is because I also sing backing vocals quite a bit. I need to look forward and have a vague idea of where I’m heading. Having a bigger target to hit helps minimize mistakes.”
He is quick to espouse the benefits of a hybrid approach to aspiring drummers. “As a general rule, it’s quite useful,” Wood explains. “You can do verse parts purely on electronics. Then when the chorus kicks in, lay in with the actual kit to give it some extra beef.”
Taking into account the technology currently available, Wood sees the role of the drummer as multifaceted. “It depends on the band,” he shares. “As far as bringing energy to the gigs everyone looks to the drummer as a sort of visual thing to be exciting. Half the records you hear on the radio are only half real drums. The rest of it is programming.”
Therein lies to the fundamental challenge: meeting the audience’s sonic expectations. Wood’s Roland drums continually exceed his demands. “People want that exact sound because it works with the music and vibe. I need to be able to replicate that and give an accurate representation.”
Through it all, the opportunity to do what he loves for a living is not lost on Wood. In fact, it colors his whole world view. “This is my dream job,” he enthuses. “Since I was young, I wanted to tour the world playing music with my mates.”
In addition, there’s the creative freedom of drumming for an act with a unique sonic imprint like Bastille. “I’m in the band rather than a gun for hire. You get some say over the music you’re making as well. I know some guys are very good, but it’s a massive privilege to get to do this.”
Never one to rest on his laurels when off the road, Wood launched a new independent record label. “It’s called Du Monde Records,” he says. “Our mission is to help raise the profile of up and coming artists. We’ve recently released songs by Ulysses Wells, a proper interesting guitar player with a unique, glitchy sound.”
The pop and rock landscapes are constantly changing. To that end, does Wood have any particular advice for drummers looking to stay relevant?
“Don’t ever assume that you know everything,” he replies. “You’re always learning. Keep an eye on new music because you can go from being the fresh, young face to the old boy overnight.”