Passion comes through.
When you see someone truly enjoying what he does, the feeling becomes infectious. It almost never fails to bring a smile to your face. You want to be just as passionate about what you do. But first, you want to enjoy what’s happening in front of you for just a while longer.
Such is the joy of watching Bent Knee’s drummer, Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth. This man loves what he does and it shows. How can you not enjoy yourself once you see how much he enjoys it?
Where does such unbridled joy come from? Well for starters, it’s in the blood. Gavin, age 33, was born and raised in San Leandro, California. His musical proclivities come courtesy of his father, a professional drummer who worked in the San Francisco Bay Area. It didn’t take Gavin long to follow suit. He was clattering away on drums himself by the age of three.
Gavin developed his chops by playing along with records from the likes of KISS and Talking Heads. Things took a more complex turn when his father introduced him to Rush and drummer Neil Peart when he was 10. The live album All the World’s a Stage opened up a completely new avenue for Gavin. Who knew drums could sound like THAT? Just a year later, Gavin heard King Crimson’s Discipline album for the first time. Bill Bruford’s drumming took thing to yet another level. The die had been cast.
Unlike so many other young musicians, Gavin did not feel the need to start or play in a band straight away. Instead, he played in his school concert band and bonded with his friend Josh over music by the likes of Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper and Crimson (who they saw live for the first time in 2003, when Pat Mastelotto was the drummer).
It didn’t even occur to Gavin to think about going to a music-oriented college until his junior year of high school. That’s when he began thinking about the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. As it happened, Berklee came to San Francisco as part of an audition tour. Gavin decided to take a shot.
Gavin learned Peart’s drum part on “The Spirit of Radio” on a relatively sophisticated drum kit in the same vein as the part’s creator. He arrived in San Francisco to find the audition kit was MUCH smaller and geared around jazz. But Gavin adapted, made the kit work, and was accepted to Berkeee.
In high school, Gavin was the big, talented fish in a relatively small musical pond. Once in Boston, he quickly realized he was much smaller fish in a very large pond. Talent was everywhere — obviously — and social status was determined by the band t-shirts students wore. As it happened, Ben Levin and Vince Welch lived in the same dormitory as Gavin, and they eventually ran into one another. Courtney Swain and Jessica Kion arrived on campus the following year. Chris Baum was an upperclassman, but he entered the social circle as well.
But the sextet did not become Bent Knee right away. Gavin was actually the band’s third drummer (there was also an accordion player), and wasn’t completely sure he would be a good fit until he learned and played “Funeral,” which wound up on Bent Knee’s eponymous debut album. That’s when he knew he had something to contribute.
The rest, as they should say, is the present. Bent Knee continues to grow in terms of both popularity and musical sophistication as they record and tour. Gavin has begun to incorporate more electronics into his drum kit, which already thundered away wonderfully behind the rest of the band. That enthusiasm is a constant because it matches his personality: warm, genuine, and joyous.
Gavin and I have spoken on numerous occasions, nearly all of them off the record. He is one of those people you love to geek out with over music. Our chats can (and often do) go on for hours. I decided it was high time we talked on the record, even if it was still fun. A big thanks to Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth for this CirdecSongs interview.
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.
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