Funky Drummer Day: 24 Drummers, 24 Interviews Part Two

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In honor of Funky Drummer Day, local musician and journalist Trent Moorman has graciously shared interviews he’s done for The Stranger and Vice Magazine for 24 Drummers, 24 Interviews, a four-part series here on the KEXP Blog!

Listen all day today, Wednesday, March 9th from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM, for Funky Drummer Day itself! KEXP DJs John Richards, Cheryl Waters, and Kevin Cole pay tribute to one of the most sampled breaks in music history: the iconic eight-bar unaccompanied solo by session drummer Clyde Stubblefield in the 1970 James Brown single “Funky Drummer.”

[ all photos, unless otherwise credited, courtesy of Trent Moorman ]

7 Matt Sorum

Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver, The Cult)

What runs through your mind when you play, besides Jesus?

Every civilization throughout time has had drums. Whether it’s a war chant, for the Apache Indians, to a Kenyan tribe in Aftica. I think the vibration from the sound of a drum is healing. As a kid that’s why I started playing. There was a divorce in my family and it was traumatic. Drumming made me feel better.

You’ve drummed in different bands and projects over the years. What changes about you and your drumming when you switch between bands?

I morph to the band. I’ve always been a song drummer. I’ve got my chops, but for me it’s more about playing the song the way it needs to be played. I come from of the Ringo Starr, Phil Rudd approach there. It’s about the song, not me. What can I do to make the song work? It’s not about being a great drummer, it’s about making the song great. When you think about great drummers, Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr are at the top of the list because they play the way the song needs them to play, not because they’re flashy.

When I was in the Cult, the sound of the songs and the band dictated the way I played. When I joined Guns ‘N Roses, I became more like what they were. Including the drinking and everything else. The whole attitude. I was like, if I’m going to do this, I’m totally going to do it. It would be like if you joined a gang or something. Me and my drumming kind of morphed into the personality of the band. Same thing with Velvet Revolver. There, it became forward thinking. Let’s take this ahead. Let’s look back, let’s remember the past, but let’s take it forward. Musicians need to grow. Musicians will die if they don’t grow. If you want to play the same song for 30 years, be my guest. A lot of people do that very well. AC/DC has done the same record 25 times. But that’s who they are and they’re great. Their theory is if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But I want to grow and try new things. My new project Diamond Baby is completely different for me, it’s all electric. I don’t drum that much with it at all. It’s more of a sonic trip. I’m layering snare drums, and kick drums, and having fun with the sonics of it, and enjoying producing. I’m trying to give these electric sounds an organic, acoustic feel. Which isn’t easy. I listen to a lot of Kraftwerk, Bauhaus, Depeche Mode, Kate Bush, and early Peter Gabriel.

When is the next time you’ll be in Seattle?

Not sure. I love it up there. Duff McKagan is a Seattle guy. One time Duff called me and invited me to come up to Seattle for a Sonics basketball game. I think it was the playoffs. He was all excited. So I bought a plane ticket and flew up. We got to Key Arena for the game and were walking out to our seats. Duff starts walking up instead of down. I was like, “What are you doing? Where are our seats?” He said, “I like to sit with the real people” and he ends up walking up to the absolute nose bleed section. I think we sat in the very last row. I said, “But Eddie Vedder sits down there, next to the court. We should too.” It was pretty funny. He had me fly to Seattle to sit in the nose bleed section for a game.


Blonde Redhead

photo by Melisssa N O’Hearn (view set)

Simone Pace (Blonde Redhead)

Simone has been drinking espresso since the age of five-and-a-half. His twin brother, Amadeo, is also in Blonde Redhead.

So what’s it like being in a band for 22 years with your twin brother? How does it help? How does it hurt?

Being a twin, a lot of things don’t need to be said between us. You don’t have to explain things as much. The music, and communication, and the vision are more innate. Before, I was in a band with my twin brother, and my girlfriend, which was challenging. But you learn to make up with them quickly after a squabble, because they’re family and you’re around them so much. If you’re in a band with people who aren’t your family, if there’s a big disagreement, you could just choose not to work with them again. But with family, it’s a little different. There’s not really anything bad about it. I’d say something that might be bad is that we’ve been doing it for so long, sometimes I feel a little allergic to him [laughs]. It’s not that we can’t stand each other, it’s that sometimes playing with someone new is refreshing, and you get to soak up their personality. The bad parts are things that happen with any band, and any relationship. You have to keep working at it, and working to evolve.

If you guys had a physical altercation, who would win?

We would wrestle as kids. Some months he would win, some months I would. We were always competitive. He’s a little bossy, so maybe now he would win [laughs].

Blonde Redhead is simple and complex at the same time.

We try to not crowd the sounds. Sometimes it’s hard. You’ll hear a melody, or a line you want to add to a song. But it might be best to leave it more stripped down, and leave it with more space. Some things are better left unsaid [laughs]. I think the more space you give something, the more sound you have. The albums I love the most are minimal, where one instrument has lots of space and sounds huge because of it. I think when instruments are stacked on top of each other, you can lose some of the focus.

What’s a minimal album you love?

Early Caetano Veloso, and Chico Buarque. I like them a lot. Also ‪Connan Mockasin‬.


Kliph Scurlock

photo by Brittany Brassell (view set)

Kliph Scurlock (The Flaming Lips)

How did you become the Flaming Lips’ drummer?

Beck had asked the Flaming Lips to be his backing band on a tour supporting Sea Change. I was a Lips roadie at the time, and their friend. I didn’t think I would be drumming for anyone. Beck was so flaky, and Wayne couldn’t get any concrete answers out of him about anything, so it seemed like a good idea to bring me to LA for the rehearsals. I would be there to get them sodas and food or whatever. When we got there and Beck didn’t have a drummer lined up, they pointed at me and said, “Well, you play drums, and we need to get to work—get up there.” The rehearsals had been set to go for two weeks, 12 hours a day. On day six, Beck brought some drummers in to try out. He wasn’t there for the tryouts, of course, but the Lips guys were good sports and played with each of them. Beck finally showed up around 7:00 p.m. and asked which one they wanted. They said they wanted me. Beck argued that I was an unknown and not a professional drummer. Wayne really dug in his heels and explained to Beck that they already knew me, and that we knew how to work together—plus rehearsals were almost halfway over and we were all on the same page, and if one of the other guys came in, they’d have to go back to the beginning and teach him all of the songs. After about 15 minutes, Beck relented and said, “Sure, fine, whatever,” and left for the evening. For those two weeks, by the way, Beck rarely showed up. We would work from noon to midnight every day, and he’d show up for an hour around 6:00 or 7:00, listen to what we had done, and chat.

On the first night of the tour, I was watching the place fill up and it suddenly hit me that for the first time in my life, I was going to earn a paycheck by playing drums. And I was going to be playing drums with my favorite band, to boot. The tour was set up so that the Lips would open the show and then reset the instruments to be Beck’s band. About 20 minutes before the Lips were due to go on, I got kind of emotional with Wayne and started thanking him profusely for sticking up for me, and for giving me this opportunity to play with them and to actually play in front of an audience. He very glibly replied, “Yeah, sure. You should have told us you were a good drummer. We would have had you play with us sooner. Shit, we ought to have you play with us now. Steven Drozd is playing drums on ‘Race for the Prize’ and ‘A Spoonful Weighs a Ton.’ You should play the rest.” And they’ve been stuck with me ever since.

I haven’t played with Beck since that tour, and I think it’s a very mutual decision. I have a ton of respect for his music, but he was very difficult to work with and he exists in a different world than I’m used to. If Wayne and I have a problem, we sit down and talk it out instead of having some roadie relay our messages back and forth, which is how Beck does things. I don’t mean to talk shit, because he’s Beck and he can do whatever he wants, but most of that tour was a miserable experience. Whatever, I made some money and I ended up being a Flaming Lip as a result of it.

Do you ever get to get in the Space Bubble? Or is that just for Wayne?

I was in the Space Bubble for a bit when Wayne first got it and we were trying it out to see how durable it would be. I was also in one for several hours when we shot a video for the song “Spongebob and Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy.” Being in that thing for four hours with a faux fur coat on and lights blaring on me was enough, and I’ve never felt the desire to be in one again. Those things zip from the outside, so once you’re in it, the only way to get out is if someone helps you out. I kept having panicked thoughts of the other guys fucking with me and leaving me in there as a joke. So yeah, I’m cool with only Wayne being in it.

I wanted to get you to pick out a Flaming Lips song and break down how the recording came together, from your perspective, laying down the drums for it. Any song you want to talk about. Geek out please.

I don’t know why, but “See the Leaves” was the first song that came to mind. For that one, it started with a jam Wayne and I were doing one evening. At some point, we hit on this cool bit and decided it would be a great tag to a song called “Embryonic Storm,” which actually ended up being left off our last record, which is called Embryonic. I set the drums up in the upstairs portion of the studio, and Wayne had a bass and an amp in the usual tracking area downstairs. We played that bit for about 10 minutes with the intention of Dave Fridmann, the Lips’ longtime producer, editing the best bits down to, like I said, a little one-minute tag for the end of another song. We went in to listen to it, and Dave said that—for his money—the first two and a half minutes were great and then it started to lose steam, so he picked that point and lopped off the rest. Then Steven started laying down his magical parts over the top of it. And Wayne quickly came up with some lyrics and sang the vocals. Steven added some harmonies. Then Steven had an idea for a bit at the end, which, after several more layers of his magic, turned into the second half of the song. Wayne came up with some lyrics for that part and sang it, Steven did his harmonies, and voilà, we had a whole song, rather than this one-minute tag. Dave mixed it, we left the original song off, and I guess it was history.

As far as drums. I used my C&C 24-inch kick drum and 13-inch rack tom, a 14-inch Ludwig snare and 14-inch Istanbul hi-hats and a 22-inch Istanbul Crash Ride. Dave used three mics on the drums, one close to the kick drum and two pointed at the walls to catch the reflection from them. He used a mic and a direct out on the bass amp. Most of Steven’s cool bits were on keyboards and were recorded direct, though there are some guitar things that obviously used an amp. I think he went through the same amp that Wayne’s bass went through.


10 Stephen Perkins

Stephen Perkins (Jane’s Addiction)

Perkins’ drumming is a choreographed, primal torrent, running poised Arabian cycles of mortar that dive down to the cosmic pelvis of urges. For Jane’s Addiction, he perfectly drives the cadence of their erogeny.

What makes a great drummer?

When great drummers play, they’re doing yoga, and killing a lion at the same time. You gotta have a quick Sugar Ray Leonard jab. But at the same time you gotta be a ballerina up there.

What do you think about when you drum?

I think about what happens from below the waist. How do I make people move? I don’t think about mathematical drum parts that make people think, or about extremely fast drum fills that make people go, “Wow.” I’m trying to make people’s asses move. Especially women. If I get guys to move, great. But if I can get girls to feel that beat, that’s what I want. That’s my objective in life, to make people move. Most of those people in my mind should be women. When women dance, their hips move, and their hips are what make babies. As a drummer, that’s what I’m after.


11 Nicko McBrain

Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden)

Nicko McBrain plays a drum kit with many drums. He slays dragons. Iron Maiden is one of the greatest metal bands of all time.

My Mom thought your song “666” was evil. Can you please help me out explaining it to her? She thought I was listening to Satanic music, so she confiscated it.

Well, the song is about a dream. And if she confiscated the CD, then she’d have to take your Bible away, too. Because it comes from the Book of Revelation. The imagery of that song, it does conjure a bit of darkness. And that scares some people. But that’s okay. And the image of Eddie being this skeleton creature. It is scary. Tell your mom I’m sorry, it’s just part of our story. You can tell her we’re not demons. I play golf! [Laughs] And that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

And never judge a band by its 18-foot-tall demonic mascot.

Eddie’s just a puppy dog. Tell your mom I’m here in my hotel room watching the British Open golf tournament. We drink tea before we play our shows. Satanic, evil people don’t drink tea before they play. Maybe that will help with your mom. I’ve actually been playing golf with Alice Cooper on this tour. Alice has been opening for us. But he likes to play in the morning on the day of a show, at the crack of dawn. Mark Twain said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” But that’s not true. I love it.

Does anything ever go wrong with the Eddies? I mean, they’re basically big robots.

Things occasionally happen with the Eddies, yes—a stumble here or there. A gear gets caught. Three or four shows ago, I stood up to see what was going on. And there’s the fetus, right by my head. It scared me to death. I should probably know where the fetus is from now on.

Is that an umbilical cord hanging down on your drum kit?

It’s above me, but yeah, it’s an umbilical cord. I probably need to watch out for that thing, as well. There’s a walkway up there; it’s Bruce’s domain. It’s quite a theatrical set.

Your drum kit is so huge, have you ever thought about scaling down to a smaller kit?

The band won’t let me. It is harder these days to get all the way around the thing on the toms. But everything is right where it needs to be for me. At one point, someone was trying to get me to add cymbals, but I told him, “There’s no more room.”


Silversun Pickups

photo by Sally Gray Mahon (view set)

Chris Guanlao (Silversun Pickups)

Did you meet the Roots when you played Jimmy Fallon?

Yes. They’re insanely good. Questlove is incredible. That was the most nerve-racking performance. That studio is pretty cramped, so when you play, the Roots are right on top of you—literally right next to you, staring at you, six feet away. When you perform, they don’t leave their instruments. It messed with my head [laughs]. I was thinking, “Oh my God, I’m not worthy. They know I’m a horrible drummer.” Every year for the Grammys, the Roots host a party where they invite people to come jam with them. They asked us to do it, but we had to decline. Not because we didn’t want to do it, but because we’re not musicians like they are—we would have made fools out of ourselves! I hope they didn’t think anything of it; it was purely because we were afraid.

Whose TV show has the best greenroom?

Jimmy Kimmel’s. There’s a wine bar and hors d’oeuvres; they invite a lot people, so you feel like it’s a club.

Do you guys get crazy with your rider?

We’re pretty tame, to be honest. We have reduced-fat cheeses on there. By the end of the day, the cheeses are gone. One weird thing I request is alkaline water [laughs]. It’s supposed to be better—the molecules are smaller, so it’s supposedly good for your blood. It’s not very easy to find, but when they actually have it for us, I drink that shit up.


Stay tuned for Parts Three and Four, and check out Part One right here on the KEXP Blog! Trent Moorman is a Seattle-based music writer, and drummer for a ton of local bands, past and present, including Head Like a Kite, Pillar Point, Katie Kate, OCnotes, and many more. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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