It's been six years since John Dolmayan saw the inside of a recording studio, and the System Of A Down/Scars On Broadway drummer says that's entirely too long. "About a year ago, I started having a strange feeling, like something was missing from my life," he says. "I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. Finally, I realized that I hadn’t done anything artistically in a very long time, particularly concerning drumming."
With the help of longtime friend James Hazley, formerly of the band Cockeyed Ghost, Dolmayan is eyeing a return to studio recording. The two have formed a project called These Grey Men and are planning an album of covers that, in Dolmayan's view, "will push the boundaries of what you should expect from something like that."
As for the material we can expect These Grey Men to tackle, Dolmayan says that it's a wide-open field. "I have something like 10,000 songs on my phone, everything from Madonna to Radiohead to you name it. And, of course, I've got the classics. So you'll probably hear me put my own spin on things and do my own arrangements to some of the music that inspired me throughout my life."
Dolmayan has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the The Grey Men project, with a goal of raising $55,000 to set the recording in motion. While he admits that the notion of a well-heeled musician seeking funding from fans might raise eyebrows, he stresses that shifts in music-buying habits dictate such a move. "The bottom line is that most people don’t buy music anymore," he says. "That's a fact. So this is a way for people to invest in music they want to hear me do. And I’m an investor, too – I’ve put nearly $50,000 into this myself.”
Dolmayan offers fans various incentives in the These Grey Men Kickstarter program – signed sticks, private drum lessons, the chance to attend a recording session and even the opportunity to guest-produce a track – but he also dangles this tantalizing tease to all: "You're gonna hear me give it my all with this thing. On all my other recordings, I’ve always held back a little something on the drums to let the songs shine through. This time, I’m totally letting loose and will push the limits of what I can do. I want to inspire myself for future recordings, either with System or whatever else it might be.”
You can visit These Grey Men's Kickstarter page here. On the following pages, Dolmayan runs down what he considers to be 10 Essential Drum Albums, ranked alphabetically by artist. “Some songs from these records you might hear me do with These Grey Men – too soon to tell," he says.
Dolmayan's criterion for choosing the 10 records that make up his list was simple and to-the-point: key albums that he practiced to while developing his chops as a young drummer. "These albums make up the basic list," he explains, "but I haven't even begun to address Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, The Police – Stewart Copeland was a huge influence on me. The only reason why I didn’t mention them is because they came later for me than these 10 records."
Which would also include The Beatles. Dolmayan calls himself an unabashed Ringo Star fan, who has little time for anybody disparaging the former Fab Four sticksman. "Ringo is a phenomenal drummer, one of the greatest of all time," he enthuses. "He took perfectly crafted songs and did exactly what they needed, but he did different stuff for each song. Anybody who says shit about Ringo, I'll punch them in the face."
Dolmayan gives it up for Charlie Watts, as well: “Easily one of the most important drummers ever," he raves. "He’s played sort of the same beat for the last 40 years, but in the beginning of his career he was very innovative." But wait, there's more: "And I have to mention Abe Cunningham, John Tempesta, Danny Carey, Dave Grohl, Chad Smith, Matt Cameron and the phenomenal 50 or 60 other drummers who have come out in the past 15 or 20 years."