On the YouTube channel of the variously talented Collette Williams, alongside clips of her drumming with 30 other drummers in Gabrielle Aplin’s “Sweet Nothing” video or singing an a cappella version of “Bills, Bills, Bills” by Destiny’s Child, is a post of the 29 year-old covering Manu Katchè’s breezy funker “Travelling Away.” Crisp fills and lush cymbal work splash color over a tight metronomic groove, to her, the root of the music, and responsibility of the drummer.
“It’s important to me that I am always complementing the music,” she says, from her London-based studio. “It’s nice to have that happy balance of playing solos and grooving like a demon, but to me it’s about being one of those drummers that’s always in the pocket, part of a rhythmic team.” One such team, and unquestionably Williams’ main gig right now, is a two-piece alternative rock outfi t called Rews, formed via social media a year ago with guitarist and vocalist Shauna Tohill. ‑ The band has fast built a big following, especially on the festival circuit, and while there’s an album in the wings, grungy-pop nuggets such as “Death Yawn,” “Can You Feel It?” and more recent single “Shake Shake” give a flavor of the group’s sound, and also what’s to come, stylistically, with the new record. “‑ e tracks we have out there already are quite polished,” Williams says, “but I think we’ve had to go through a period to evolve and get to where we are now collectively. ‑ e new stuff we’re working on is rockier, it’s raw, and it’s more riff and tom-driven” — a sound she affirms was inspired by classic duos such as Royal Trux and Honeyblood, as well as all the big-haired metal bands the pair grew up listening to.
Brought up in Northamptonshire, England, Williams first picked up the sticks at school after a short stint singing in her local church. “I loved singing, but my school had a really limited music department,” she remembers. “It was like 20 kids crammed around one Casio keyboard, until one day we had a drum kit brought in and it was like Christmas day for me. I fell in love with it. e idea of being able to make noise!” at night Williams ran home and begged her father for lessons, to which he agreed, reluctantly. She was 14 years old and progressed quickly, and thanks to the support of dad (who by now was escorting Williams to jam sessions at a nearby club) she was soon self-assured enough to sit in and play with musicians twice her age. “at was the start, really. I loved to play. I was taking lessons and I loved rudiments. I loved to improvise with them and was expanding my vocabulary. I was eager to try anything, technically speaking.”
In terms of influence, Williams first warmed to the hard-rocking stick spinners like Travis Barker from Blink-182, before discovering more “technical” players such as Thomas Lang, who she maintains had the biggest impact on her overall approach to the drum set. “I remember I went out and bought his Creative Control DVD and watched it on replay for weeks and weeks, weeping in the corner! I’m still nowhere near as technical as he is, but it’s things like coordination, technique, and the whole education side that I’ve always tried to adopt.” A fan of solid groovers too, Williams also names Thomas Pridgen as an inspiration, as well as Steve Jordan and Ash Soan, pocket players who have informed her sense of timing, space, and dynamics.
Besides rocking out with Rews, both on the road and in the studio, work-mad Williams keeps herself busy in the practice room, teaching drums (privately and via Skype), and lending herself to as much studio work as possible. She’s also done dates for dance label Ministry Of Sound, which called her to play live and triggered percussion over some hardhitting DJ sets. “I guess my focus was always to be flexible, play well, and bring other elements into what I do,” she says, before urgently adding that said “flexibility” does in no way extend to playing jazz. “I would have to turn down a jazz gig. It kind of boggles my mind a bit!” she laughs. “I like structure, so the idea of improvising for five or ten minutes really scares me!” ough her role in Rews requires very little swinging, soloing, or improvisation, the gig comes with the additional challenge of having to drum, sing intricate background vocals, and trigger sequenced samples simultaneously, a task she confesses can often restrain her rhythmically in a live situation. “Physically, I always stuck to the microphone, so unless I got a headset, which would do my street cred no good, I am kind of limited. ere’s just no way I could be like a virtuosic drummer in this band, but to be fair I don’t think it would do anything for the music. It’s really about throwing myself into the groove most of time, and making sure I play for the track.”
Williams describes her role in Rews as two jobs rolled into one, working independently but collectively as well, so much that she always has to practice her vocals at the same time she sits down to practice drums. “It kind of comes as one package with this gig. Your brain kind of gets swamped because you have to play to an existing track. So if I can’t hear myself, I have to pitch my voice, keep to the click, and focus on my time. ere’s always a lot going on!” You quickly get the impression Williams likes the challenge and loves to juggle many projects at once. She hopes the Ministry Of Sound gig will carry on and develop alongside Rews this year, largely because that’s what it’s all about for Williams: getting out there and gigging. at, and laying down a serious groove.