Dave Lombardo on jazz, pigeonholing and power trio Philm
The morning after
When we meet Dave Lombardo it’s the morning after Philm, his power trio with bassist Pancho Tomaselli and guitarist/vocalist Gerry Nestler, rocked The Underworld, London, in support of their new album, Fire From The Evening Sun.
The odds were stacked against the band – Dave was on a clinic tour in Brazil prior to the show (“The people were amazing, the culture, the food, the drink, they really take care of you,” says Dave) so they hadn’t had a chance to rehearse, and he was playing the house drum kit with borrowed cymbals – but they still smashed it.
That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with Dave’s remarkable contribution to modern drumming. With Slayer, he was right at the forefront of the thrash metal movement in the ’80s and he singlehandedly laid out the blueprint for every death metal drummer who followed in his wake with his terrifying combination of speed and ferocity.
While his career has featured plenty of sonic savagery with Slayer, Grip Inc and Testament, Dave has never been content to stay inside a comfort zone. He’s shown his considerable range working with Mike Patton in Fantômas, playing with the avant-garde composer John Zorn and the musically restless bassist Bill Laswell, and collaborating with artists from DJ Spooky in the Drums Of Death to the film composer Mads Heldtberg.
“That’s always been one thing that’s driven me, to explore and experiment, because I was so pigeonholed at such an early stage in my career because of Slayer. I’m not just this thrash metal drummer, I have a love for all styles of music,” he says. “There’s still more I need to discover, there’s still music I’m continually coming across that blows me away. There seems to be more on the horizon for me than ever.”
With Philm you’re working with guys from very different musical backgrounds – Pancho plays funk with War…
“Somebody wouldn’t think that I listen to Afrobeat, funk, James Brown. Clyde Stubblefield, amazing drummer. Pancho went to school, learned his instrument, but as a kid he was listening to Slayer and metal bands in Ecuador. I consider him one of the best bass players out there right now. He plays with his fingers and he plays as hard as I play and he has a musical creativity and intelligence that I search for in musicians, that’s why I chose him for this band. He’s definitely a character, he’s great to have around.”
Where did you record drums for the album?
“We recorded at this mansion, it was Grace Kelly’s home in the Santa Monica hills. This company I’m affiliated with called Blue Microphones suggested I go there and record the album. They said, ‘You can have one day for free.’ I said, ‘Are you serious? I can record a whole album in one day…’
"I laid all the tracks for Fire From The Evening Sun, 10am to 9pm. Not the guitar and the bass, the overdubs were done at our own little studio, but the drum tracks were recorded at the house. It was huge, this beautiful, cavernous, cathedral-like living room, it’s all rigged up for microphones, everything was supplied by Blue Microphones. I’m very, very happy and appreciative for their contribution.
"The one thing I’m most proud of is that one day, 12 songs. That was definitely a feat. But a drummer needs to be well prepared.
"You can’t go in just knowing half of the song and expect the engineer to cut and paste the parts together. You need to know the song from beginning to end. We knew that we had to deliver because that was the only time I had to record the drums.
"We recorded it in April/May 2013. We were going through several different managers – ‘damagers’ as I call them now – so we had to delay the album several times. We were writing this music while we were recording Harmonic, the first album.
"We improvise all of our songwriting in the embryonic stage of the song. We record them, trim the fat, do a little editing just to get a rough sketch of the song. We relearn it and then add the vocals and everything else.”
Talking about managers – can the business side get in the way of the music?
“It is frustrating but it’s part of it and you come to realise that you have to know the business if you want to be a musician. You can’t go through your career not knowing what’s going on around you. You have to be definitely aware of who’s handling what and how they are handling it.
"That’s one of the topics I focus on in my drum workshops. Yeah, practise your art, practise your instrument, learn how to create music and go to school for drumming or theory, whatever it is that you’re studying, but also study the business side of the industry. It’s very important – don’t go into it blindly. You get screwed.”
How do you play with Philm’s Gerry Nestler?
“Like Pancho, Gerry and I have this musical chemistry. We speak to each other with music. He could sit here and have his guitar and I could tap right here on the couch and we’ll create a piece out of nowhere.
"If we didn’t record it, it would be lost forever because after that moment of music conception, if you don’t capture it, it’s lost. We have that extreme connection with music.
"He has a very heavy side to him but he’s just mellow, really cool, chilled, laid back. You wouldn’t think that’s the same guy that’s screaming his guts out on stage.
"Nobody in this band has an attitude, which I love. No one has to walk around with their glasses on, acting all tough and macho. We have our instruments and what we play on stage, that’s our weapon, not our image.”
Anglophilia, anti-rehearsal and Fantômas
Were you worried about not rehearsing before the London show?
“Our last show was July 25th and I left for Brazil but Gerry had to lay down the guitar tracks for a new EP we’re going to release. While we were recording Fire From The Evening Sun, just like while we were recording Harmonic, there were other songs being written that didn’t have the chance to make it on the record because they were incomplete.
"We have six songs for this EP and they laid down bass and guitars, there are no vocals yet. So we didn’t have any time to rehearse. Well, actually, the reason we didn’t was because the drums were moved around because we were recording guitars, so we couldn’t rehearse. I told them before I left, ‘Practise in front of a mirror, listen to the songs.’
"I didn’t ask them to do anything else, just make sure that they were well rehearsed and they were. They blew me away last night.
"I was nervous. It’s a very important show for me here because I’ve always wanted to share Philm with a London audience. A lot of the bands that I looked up to as a kid were from England – Black Sabbath, Cream, Zeppelin; Mitch Mitchell, he’s one of my favourite drummers.
"I know England has an affinity for this style of music and I feel that we tap into that classic rock style but mixed with a bit of thrash, so I was really looking forward to it. I was hoping that we could deliver a good show. We did, I was very pleased.”
Even with the house drum kit?
"I beat the hell out of his snare drum“Dude! That kit! I looked at it going, ‘Ooohh.’ The lugs weren’t long enough. I unscrewed it just to de-tune it a little bit, it popped out. I’ll have a better kit at the rest of the shows. The club was pleased that I didn’t act like a prima donna, ‘I ain’t playing this drumset!’ No, let’s just make it work.
"I knew when I got here that Ludwig wasn’t supplying me with a drumset. I didn’t even have cymbals. I borrowed the opening act’s cymbals. They were like paper.
"I beat the hell out of his snare drum, I was hitting it really hard, there were some dents. I said ‘Dude, hit me up and give me your address and I’ll have Evans send you some drum heads.’ It’s the least I can do, the guy let me borrow his cymbals and his snare.”
What’s your project with House Of Hayduk?
“That was interesting. Mads Heldtberg is a film composer and asked me to go into the studio and improvise. I don’t know how many minutes of music we improvised, but it’s enough to cover two sides of an album, because he likes to release things on vinyl. I went in, double bass kit, gong, cymbals, bells, everything and he gave me two BPMs. Side A is 130bpm, Side B is 160bpm. He directed me on what he was looking for.
"To give you an idea, one piece had a four-minute gong solo. I love that. That’s creativity. I gave him lots of patterns and stuff that he has taken back to Denmark where he’s going to edit and put together this body of work.
"I was very lucky to perform on this record with Carla Azar, she plays with Jack White. She’s fantastic, that girl has some grooves. I have two older boys and they’re the ones who search out music for me. My son Jeremy said, ‘Dad, watch this.’ Jack White has a band with all guys and another band with all girls.
"He goes, ‘Check out the guys playing.’ Okay, the drummer’s pretty good. ‘Check out the girls playing.’ The girls were amazing. Carla was phenomenal, just how she hit, her execution, her rolls, the feel, she blew away the guy. So I was really honoured to perform with her on this record.
"She started a beat and I played on top of that, we played off each other, soloed off each other.”
Will you do anything else with Fantômas and Mike Patton?
“Oh, let’s just say that Mike and I have been in communication, we’ve been texting each other, like we always have. We always keep tabs on each other, which is great. I love our friendship and I hope that we do get together, that’d be awesome.”
Terry Bozzio said that filling in for you with Fantômas was one of the hardest things he’s done!
“I want you to know something. I was honoured by the gesture of replacing me with Terry Bozzio. That, to me, was respect. Instead of replacing me with a guy that hasn’t done anything in 10 years, waiting on the couch, fiddling his thumbs, ‘Oh my god, when is Slayer going to get rid of Dave?’
"It’s like, come on. Terry Bozzio is an amazing drummer. I love his playing, I love the way he sings with his drums and creates music. I saw some video footage of him playing with Fantômas – wow. He did it his own way and I really liked it.”
Zorn and life after Slayer
How did you meet John Zorn?
“I was introduced to John by Patton and then we performed as a trio, Mike Patton, John Zorn on saxophone, myself on drums, at Slim’s in San Francisco. That went over really well. Actually one of the most embarrassing moments happened to me that night. I hit the gong and I fell off my drum stool straight on my butt.
“I think Zorn heard my ability to improvise and he said, ‘Dave, I want you to be a part of Xu Feng,’ which is where he sits in front of the orchestra and he has cards that have different descriptions of music, like Rhythmic, Arrhythmic, Slow, Fast, Syncopated, all kinds of descriptions.
"He’ll hold up a card, point to two or three musicians, drop the card, those musicians will play whatever that card says.He’ll then point to two other musicians and tell them to play the same thing but drop the card that says Soft, so they’re supposed to copy whatever it is that we were doing, but play it soft.
"I was part of this orchestra and then he found out that I was a big Bill Laswell fan. Zorn said, ‘Laswell’s my friend, we have to play together,’ and the next thing you know I’m playing the Barbican here in London, the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival in New York City, all these jazz festivals. Here’s this metal drummer playing this kind of music. I was honoured and still am.
“I just played the Adelaide Jazz Festival with Zorn. The original drummer, Milford Graves, he’s getting up there in age and with the long flight he just didn’t want to do it. So last minute, he said, ‘Dave, want to come to Australia and do a performance with me?’ I was so happy, because I was in Slayer [for a long time] and I felt like I lost contact with this genre. And now we’ve connected again, we’ve got some shows coming up.
"Zorn is a friend, we hung out in New York City recently after we did a show at the Poisson Rouge. We walked around town, chilled at a park talking about music and life and humans. It’s an amazing relationship I have with these guys and I’m very fortunate and lucky to have connected with them. They’re like brothers – Patton, Zorn and Laswell and Philm too. I’m surrounded by some great, great people now and I love where I’m at. I really do.”
You don’t miss Slayer?
“I think by what I do, I’m creating, working, playing on stage, which I’ve always loved to do, I think it shows. There you go. Nothing is going to stop me, man.”