Rasmus Bom Andersen Vocal Masterclass Part One

Regular visitors to these pages will know that The Guv’nor makes no bones about being a big fan of Rasmus Bom Anderson. Like everyone else, The Guv’nor first became aware of the Danish-born vocalist upon hearing Diamond Head’s 2016 album Diamond Head, and he’s enjoyed singing the singer’s praises at every opportunity since.

Following DH’s triumphant 2016 North American tour, in which the band played twenty-six shows in thirty-two days, including a run of fourteen consecutive shows without a day off, The Guv’nor sat down with Ras to talk about how singers cope with the demands of performing live.

In this, the first part of the interview, Ras discusses the pros and cons of formal vocal training and offers some survival tips for singers on the road.

The Guv’nor: You studied at the London College of Contemporary Music (LCCM). How would you describe your education there?

Ras: I learned very quickly in life that you take what you think you can use, then you adapt and learn by yourself. When I do vocal tuition, I will always tell my students “I have a method that works. I know it will work for anyone, but take what works for you, and work with that. You develop your method.” Because everyone is unique in that sense.

The Guv’nor: So what did you take from LCCM?

Ras: A mixture of things–mainly the vocal stuff. There were some really good vocal classes there. I actually came over to the UK expecting to get battered with feedback from top professional industry musicians, but I actually got the opposite experience in my first year there. There was one specific task that was technical and it had to be done. I did that exactly to the point, and I was expecting and wanting to get slammed. I would have expected that–it would have been fine, I would have taken it in as the feedback you get–and I got a good grade and good feedback. Then another person went up and absolutely fucked it up. In no way did they do the right thing, and they got exactly the same feedback. So after then, I stopped listening to the teachers’ feedback and just decided to take what I think works, and just do my own thing and develop my own methodology.

Knowledge is key and I took a lot of important vocal information with me. I know a lot about the vocal anatomy, a lot about how it works as an instrument. I know a lot about different methods of singing different styles of music and how to adapt like a chameleon, because that was very much what they tried to teach you. They didn’t really help or teach or support individual growth as an artist or creating your sound, but just help you learn how you sound in any genre so you can fit in and do session work and that kind of stuff.

The Guv’nor: I think that’s so important, because so many kids coming into the business get so focused on playing one style of music, and I think that exposure to different things enables you to bring a lot more to the table.

Ras: Yeah. I started wanting to be a pop singer in my early years, to be honest. But when I got more and more exposed to rock–progressive rock, alternative rock and rock history–that very much changed my view on things. I always loved rock, but couldn’t figure out how to do it right. It demanded so much from you physically and I wasn’t ready to understand that back then.

Performing at Sweden Rock, Solvesberg, Sweden (June 8, 2016). Photo credit: Marco Manzi.

Performing at Sweden Rock, Solvesberg, Sweden (June 8, 2016). Photo credit: Marco Manzi.

The Guv’nor: So let’s talk about the formal aspect of your training. What technical things did you pick up that you were able to use effectively when you started to sing in a heavier, hard rock vein with Diamond Head?

Ras: The thing is, vocally, there really isn’t that much difference between singing heavy music and, say, funk and soul or anything else. It’s comes down to power and energy. Where I did have an advantage from some of the things I learned in LCCM was using techniques expressed in Complete Vocal Technique (CVT), which is a vocal methodology by a Danish vocal instructor called Catherine Sadolin.

She’s one of the only vocal instructors who has approached singing for heavy metal, and singing in heavier or what they call unorthodox or dangerous methods, with concrete answers. She delved into that and actually had a way to explain what was going on.

You have some other ones–an American woman [Melissa Cross] who has a DVD called The Zen of ScreamingQuite frankly, that disc was full of shit. It’s literally just everyone kissing her ass–there’s nothing factual, no information at all about how to do it. But Catherine Sadolin actually went in and did the science with her partner. They did a lot of endoscopies, where they stick a camera in your nose, and you see from above how your larynx and your vocal chords and everything else works in changing the sound to heavier vocal qualities. I take a lot of that into effect when I need to get more heavy vocal sounds in certain songs.

With Diamond Head, the classic sound is not death metal. It’s not that heavy–it’s still a very classical sound and it’s not the most demanding in terms of that kind of technique. I add it in here and there because I think some songs, like “Am I Evil,” may need it. I sing a little bit heavier here and there. Some songs I do a little bit of screaming, but not too much. I do it to taste, and when it feels like it works dynamically for the song and performance. Otherwise it might ruin the songs integrity and that’s the last thing I’d want to do.

You have two other styles or methods or singing. The first is Speech Level Singing by Seth Riggs. It’s very popular and widely used in heavy metal singing and that kind of classical thing, because it bridges the head voice and the chest voice in what’s called “the mix.” Doing a mix voice is a great way to create the illusion that you’re singing in much higher pitches and energy than you actually are, but you’re not. It’s basically an illusion. So when you see some of those singers that are going “Ahhhhh,” [imitates a classic Ian Gillan wail] that’s actually a mix and not solely a chest voice quality. If you stand next to them, you can hear the difference in the energy from someone doing something in full pelting chest. There’s a huge difference. There’s also a physical change in how much physical energy you need to spend to project that pitch.

There’s also the Estelle technique, which is also good and is what I started out with at LCCM. But like I said, I always suggest learn all of it, and take what works for you. I’ve got my own theories developing here and there that I might actually write a book about at some point, but I haven’t had a chance to do anything like that yet.

One of the biggest things that a lot of singers need to overcome and actually get to learn is chest voice. And chest voice is key to having a healthy vocal life. So when you ask me, “How can I do 14 gigs on the trot?” the control of the chest voice is key to all good technique and survival.  After that, of course, it’s sleep, lots of quality sleep. And diet also helps depending on each individual.

Performing at Bloodstock, Catton Park, Derbyshire UK (August 12, 2016). Photo credit: Rich Ward.

Performing at Bloodstock, Catton Park, Derbyshire UK (August 12, 2016). Photo credit: Rich Ward.

Chest voice or vocal technique is the key. Chest voice is like a continuous motion in your body. This happens by taking air in and filling your lungs, tightening your abdominal muscles to keep your rib cage extended so your lungs don’t collapse in their natural function of circulating oxygen. Then, by controlling the steady flow of air pressure going through the vocal cords, you can produce longer, powerful notes and reach higher notes in your chest range. So chest voice is: extended ribs held in by abdominal muscles to control the flow of air. There’s a bit more to it, but that’s the gist of it.

The Guv’nor: So you mentioned sleep as a an important thing. But what about nutrition and hydration? Because when you’re on the road, that stuff becomes that much more complex. It’s not like you’re at home and you can make yourself something healthy. Sometimes you’re at the mercy of whatever’s out there. So how do you deal with that?

Ras: Well, you try to prep while you’re there–a good tour manager is very vital from the singer’s perspective–someone who can plan. If you have a giant tour bus where you’ve got beds and everything you can sleep whenever you like. It’s not too bad, then. But if you’re in a splitter van without a bunk at the back, you have to try and plan to get as much sleep as possible. On the last tour we did, Karl did a fantastic job of planning that out, so we more or less got about seven hours of sleep most nights between some long treks on the road. That was very important. And comfy beds in a decent hotels–no roach-ridden brothel joints! So get good rest and have someone plan that out for the vocalist’s needs!

Dining-wise, you kind of have to pick up where you can. Because when you’re touring the US, you’re sitting down for long lengths of time, so you don’t really need a lot of food. So it’s about grabbing the good stuff where you can, when you can. I try to avoid the really shitty fast-food places like McDonald’s, although sometimes you don’t really have a choice. In the US, you don’t always really have a lot of great food options on the road. So, to be honest, if I could, I would find a Starbucks and find one of the salads that they do–their Zesty Chicken & Black Bean Salad Bowl was the more ideal food on the road. So I try and aim for something like that.

And nuts, like brazil nuts, are fantastic, both in terms of protein, carbs and energy. They can keep you full for a long time. I stay away from chocolate and things like that as they can be troublesome for singers, but I’m in general very tolerant of lactose and dairy products. I always say its up to the individual to judge for themselves what they can handle. It might be fine. It might not. I always stay away from anything too heavy before a gig though. I love tiramisu, that’s one of my weaknesses! But I will have it after the gig, not before, because it can coat up even though I am lactose tolerant.

The Guv’nor: And alcohol?

Ras: Again, it’s very much up to the individual. It depends on how you can control it. Alcohol is not the thing that messes your voice up. It’s actually the hormonal imbalance that happens from having too much alcohol that makes your testosterone levels skyrocket on the night. And the day after, it’s trying to level out with progesterone. And that’s why you have such a low voice, because your vocal chords are really swollen from the whole system trying to balance out.

So you can have alcohol afterwards. That’s not really the big issue. It’s just how much you have. It’s very individual. So you can have someone like Lemmy or others who just thrive on it. For me, when I have that many gigs, I might have a beer or maybe two, but that’s about it.

I know its tempting to let go and have several beers and other delicious poison, but my personal pride is way more important than getting hammered. Because if I have a gig the next day and I couldn’t hit my top notes or perform to my own standards, then I would have a huge internal conflict. The joys of being a guitarist, drummer or a bass player are that you don’t have to worry about having the beers after a gig because it doesn’t affect you in the same way. You might have a hangover and all that, but it’s nothing that’s going to affect your arms or fingers or other limbs in the same way it’s going to affect a singer’s noise box, because a singer’s instrument is made of soft tissues, muscles and ligaments, you know?

About Bruce Pegg

I write about running, music and spirituality.
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