Behind the drums: Chris Adler - "Then I tasted the blood amongst the sweat"

With Lamb Of God, Chris Adler has established himself as one of the premier metal drummers of his generation. 

That reputation was enhanced even further when Adler joined up with thrash legends Megadeth in 2015 for an album and tour. However, rather than taking a well-earned rest, Adler was back in the studio earlier this year, tracking the ferocious Legion: XXX album. 

The record, tracked by Lamb of God under the Burn The Priest moniker, covered the songs that helped shape the band’s early sound. Fittingly, given the time of reflection that went in during this process, when we caught up with Adler, we wanted him to cast his mind back and answer our burning questions.

What was your first kit?

“It was a MX100 5 piece that I found in a local paper classified section. Total piece of junk with duct tape everywhere. The kind of kit that lets you find out if you really want to play drums because it was basically impossible to play. The bass drum legs didn’t touch the ground at the same time and the rack toms were mounted to it so the whole thing wobbled from left to right with each hit. 

"It was like some kind of target practice! If you’ve heard our first record you’ve probably noticed it’s not packed with tom work. While it’s not the same kit on the record, I was still traumatized and worried about hitting the toms and having the whole kit roll out of the room leaving me sitting there crying.”

Who was your first drum hero?

“I didn’t really have drum heroes. By the time I started playing at 21, I’d missed the teenage “hero” concept in regards to drums. I had those “heroes” you speak of, but they were guitarists like Satriani, McLaughlin, Mustaine and Malmsteen. I loved the idea of playing drums like I would play the guitar if I had the same skill set. Your question begs an important note - I was fortunate to not have a drum hero. 

"It allowed me to incorporate everything I had heard without having to weigh it against what my “hero” would do in that situation. I can’t speak for them, but I hear the same thing in the drummers I respect the most - Stuart Copeland, Billy Cobham, Dennis Chambers, Carter Beauford, Gene Hogland, Shannon Larkin, Lars Ulrich and Gar Samuelson. 

“There are far better drummers out there these days than myself or any of the people I just listed - but the idea of better and the pursuit of that concept is a fool’s errand. The drummers listed above made a significant difference in the bands they were in. So much so I think it’s fair to say that if you were to remove any one of them from the projects they were a part of, it would have likely been a fatal loss to said project. 

"They created more than a beat. They brought in an essential voice that had been created through their own grinding up and internalising of multiple influences and spit back a unique personal sound that wasn’t trying to measure up to or sound like any one other person. 

"The key to this whole thing - from influences and rehearsing - even food and life itself - don’t go down a rabbit hole in search of one thing. Go down all the rabbit holes and check all that s*** out! You’ll be surprised at what you can learn from things that may not seem immediately relevant to you.” 

What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t live without?

“That’s tough. Drummers tend to be perfectionists so if one thing is off or different it can throw us into a weird and worried headspace. So many things make up the way you want to present yourself and have built up confidence via comfort with that it’s hard to pick one thing. I guess if I had to pick, it would be my cell phone. 

"That way I can at least call my girlfriend Su and have her talk me off the ledge about showing up someplace crazy like Indonesia, Russia, or China and receiving one broken pedal, a “The Wiggles” snare drum and a 5 piece kit with broken cymbals.”

Drummers tend to be perfectionists so if one thing is off or different it can throw us into a weird and worried headspace

What’s the biggest onstage nightmare you’ve ever had?

“Easy. Simple 16ths tom roll from the snare down the toms and on tom 2 the stick tip split and bounced back at me sharp end first into my right eyeball. I felt the stick beak and then what I’d best describe as a slap in the face, but I was confused as to what happened and was anxiously reaching for another stick to keep the song going. 

"As I reached down, my tech saw the thing in my eye and turned white as a ghost and started pointing at me as if ‘Alien’ was in front of the drum kit and somehow I didn’t see it. Then I tasted the blood amongst the sweat from my face that made it into my mouth. 

"I knew something was fucked and now I knew it was my eye (which is not a good thing to know mid-song by the way) and panic set in. I finished the tune and turned around to my tech yelling “what the f***!?!?? How bad is it?” He said “It’s not good” and kind of crawled away from me as if it might be contagious. 

“I reached up and felt the tip of the stick - about 3 inches away from my face - to the right a bit and in front of my nose. I gently grabbed the tip with 2 fingers and YANKED it out! I could feel the blood start to run down my face so I grabbed a towel, asked for a few more, turned around and started the next tune. It bled for a bit - maybe 3 songs - then slowly stopped. 

"Once the set ended I ran to the dressing room to check the damage while the guys kissed babies and shook hands. Turns out, the sharp end went right into the very corner of my right eye, the inside part right next to my nose. It went in enough to hold itself there, but it hadn’t actually punctured my eyeball and the blood was from the skin tears in the little area right there. 

"I found a splinter or two over the following week, but I don’t know if I even told the band that it had happened. Could have been worse. I tell myself that a lot these days. I’m a lucky guy.” 

What is your biggest strength as a drummer?

“That I’m not really a drummer. I have no idea what I’m doing, therefore I have no out of bounds. I love finding ways to accent the music with syncopation - a skill I fine tuned learning ‘Yes’ songs on bass guitar. Chris Squire should be a conceptual example for every instrument. 

"The guy is first chair violin and at the same time purposefully sitting this one out. Knowing when to play is as important as knowing what to play. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. It took me forever to swallow that - I wanted to try and outplay my bandmates and other drummers for years for no reason other than to prove to myself that I was good enough to do this. 

"Truth is, I was able to quit my job and play music full time immediately after I stopped doing that. The guitarists were the same way - competing with themselves and each other. There was a moment when we actually discussed it and agreed to stop trying to outdo each other. 

When we stopped playing for ego and played for the song, things exploded for the band.” 

I have no idea what I’m doing, therefore I have no out of bounds

Who do you see as an underrated drummer?

“If we start rating drummers we are all in trouble. I can guarantee you there is some kid in his folks basement that hasn’t seen the sun in five years that could make Thomas Lang weep. Does that make him underrated? Does it make me overrated? (Don’t answer that last one...) 

“The music we play and the things we play are very personal to each of us. What might sound like s*** to me might be perfect to someone else. The best way I can think to answer this is that all drummers are underrated. Could you imagine going to see a rock band and the drummer wasn’t there? Just strings and vocals? I know I wouldn’t stick around. Yet they put us all the way in the back of the stage so they can pick out the cute girls first, complain all day about the warm up noise, drink all the beer and never let you know when dinner is up! Cold peas again? I typically cry myself to sleep every night as do most touring drummers. That kind of commitment - to show up the next day and have the same thing happen like clockwork - that is what is underrated. Drummers Unite! NADA!!!!!”

What was the first song you learned to play?

“Message In A Bottle. Huge mistake. Don’t do that. I probably shouldn’t even have written that but consider it a warning coming from experience. Don’t start there. I’m surprised I'm still alive. Go with Back in Black or Gloria.” 

What's the key to a great live performance?

“Being able to fake confidence and control. No one wants to see some guy biting his nails and crying in nervousness - but that’s what’s going on inside. I can assure you. And the guys that tell you - “nuh uh bro - not me. I know I’m gonna go out there and crush it because I rule and you drool” are liars, total d***s and you should delete their contact info (and I’ll put $ on the theory that the more confident they are - the more insecure they are).”

Rich Chamberlain

Rich is a teacher, one time Rhythm staff writer and experienced freelance journalist who has interviewed countless revered musicians, engineers, producers and stars for the our world-leading music making portfolio, including such titles as Rhythm, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, and MusicRadar. His victims include such luminaries as Ice T, Mark Guilani and Jamie Oliver (the drumming one).