Behind the drums - KISS's Eric Singer: “Queen were like The Beatles on steroids"

(Image credit: Kevin Mazur)

From growing up in Cleveland and playing in his dad’s dance band, Singer has performed with Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Brian May and Gary Moore in addition to his long stint with the self-styled hottest band in the world.

What was your first kit?

“My first drum kit was a Dixie, which was one of those stencil kits. Tama and Pearl were making drum kits for a lot of other companies like Sears, they went under names like Dixie, Whitehall, Majestic. 

"Anyway, it was blue sparkle, it was just a bass drum and a snare drum. The next year my mother bought me a rack tom. We took the bass drum down to the music shop, they had to drill the mount and it was £35 to add that tom tom.”

Who was your first drum hero?

“Probably Buddy Rich, because my dad took me to see him when I was young. If anyone ever got to experience Buddy Rich live, they’d know what I’m talking about. 

"There’s no way you could see him and not walk away with your jaw on the floor. Not only being inspired, but also frightened because it was about how amazing, how good somebody could be. There’s never been anybody, I don’t think, before or since, like Buddy Rich.”

Did you have lessons or are you self-taught?

“My first drum teacher was more of a serious disciplinarian-type guy and you can be intimidated by that especially if you’re more thin-skinned or sensitive, which I was as a kid. My second teacher, Buddy Kummel, he was a cool, hip-cat kind of guy, he had a less intimidating personality and he made it more fun. 

"I took lessons with him for a few years and eventually my dad wanted me to play in his band and my teacher said, ‘Yeah, he’s ready.’”

I’m a team player. I’ll always play for the band

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

“Zildjian Stick Wax. I’m so used to using Zildjian Stick Wax on my sticks: it has a lot to do with how comfortable I feel with my grip and how much tension I don’t have by using it. It changed my playing, I don’t have to grip the sticks so hard because of sweat, it made me play with a better technique and in a more relaxed way. It’s the little things in life.”

Do you collect gear?

“Yes, I have a lot of vintage kits. I keep telling myself, I know I don’t need any of this stuff, most of it I’ll never use because I have a Pearl endorsement and I have a lot of cool vintage Pearl kits, but I have a lot of other brands I’ve collected too. I’m very good about paying it forward. 

"I’ve given many kits away to help other people who are less fortunate or an up-and-coming younger drummer, so I get a lot of satisfaction and joy doing that. And all my friends know that they’re more than welcome to borrow any of that stuff anytime they want.”

(Image credit: Ethan Miller)

What’s been your biggest onstage nightmare?

“I’ve hurt myself a few times. I remember I cut my finger on my cowbell at the beginning of a show with Alice Cooper. It was Richfield Coliseum in Cleveland, 1991. I cut my finger really bad, almost down to the bone and it was bleeding like a sieve everywhere, all over the drums. 

"When we came offstage before the encore, somebody goes to Alice Cooper, ‘Eric cut his hand really bad,’ and Alice goes, ‘Wow, cool, real blood!’ As soon as were done they took me to a hospital and I had to get five stitches on that finger. I still have a scar.”

Who would you most like to take a drum lesson from?

“Buddy Rich. I don’t know what kind of teacher or communicator Buddy would have been when it comes to sitting down one-on-one, but I would have loved to have sat there and have him play right in front of me where I could say, ‘Show me the mechanics of what you’re doing there with your left hand.’”

I’d really love to play a little four-piece kit like I originally played in my formative years

What is your biggest strength as a drummer?

“Being a good listener and a very supportive drummer and band member. In other words, I’m a team player. I’ll always play for the band, for the song, for the situation. 

"You need to know what your role is in any situation, not just musically but also personally, the dynamic of the band you’re working with or the artist you work for. You’ve got to be a good hang, an easy hang and be a chameleon, be adaptable to your environment.”

And your biggest weakness?

“Probably that I didn’t learn to be a songwriter. I’m very good at arranging and contributing ideas to the writing process, but to come in with an idea and go, ‘Here’s a song,’ I always feel that’s something I should have developed. That’s my own fault for not learning to play another instrument in a way where I could express that side of myself more.”

What’s been your proudest moment?

“I would say playing with Brian May, because other than Jimi Hendrix, Brian May is my favourite guitar player and Queen is my favourite band. They were like The Beatles on steroids. 

"They all wrote, they all sang, they were all great musicians, and they have a unique sound. Brian May’s guitar playing is so individual and having a voice on your instrument is very difficult. They were such a talented group and they had this unique chemistry, so getting to play with Brian and playing Queen songs, that’s pretty cool.”

Can you remember the first song you learned to play?

“I do remember in sixth grade, I was probably 12, I would play ‘Fire’ by Jimi Hendrix.”

What comes after the End Of The Road?

“I started off playing the American Songbook in my father’s band, we used to play for a lot of country clubs and rich people. But the music was always the classic American Songbook – like Cole Porter, Gershwin, so I grew up on that music. You know, I wouldn’t find it that far-fetched if I ended up going full circle back to my roots. Honestly, I’d really love to play a little four-piece kit like I originally played in my formative years and just play purely for the songs and the music I was weaned on.”

KISS’s End Of The Road world tour features five UK shows from 6-16 July 2019. See for tickets.