Take the gig - even if it means turning down your idol
Guns N’ Roses are back filling stadiums all over the world in the reunion that they said would never happen.
While Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan are present and correct, it is latter-day GN’R drummer Frank Ferrer who is behind the kit for GN’R 2016.
While some may complain at the absence of Steven Adler and Matt Sorum, Ferrer is no slouch. After all, he has held the Guns gig for a decade, making him the band’s longest-serving drummer. As Guns trek the globe we have looked back on this interview in which Frank tells us just how he has survived in the crazy world of Guns N’ Roses.
“I really try to keep the spirit of the way the song was played," Frank explains. "When we play the Appetite… stuff I try to have the push and pulls. Steven’s punk rock bits are great.
“Adler’s playing was one of the greatest rock drumming performances in the history of music. You can put it in the top ten. His playing on Appetite… is perfect. Then with Sorum it’s a little more tight and more reserved kind of playing. I do try to keep that spirit, though.”
Make it your own
“I have tremendous respect for the drummers in Guns N’ Roses. I love Brain so much. What Brain told me was to try and make the songs my own. I never forget that. Obviously my own personality comes through, especially on some of the funkier stuff. I might give a more New York hip hop kind of feel to it.”
“My favourite song to play is You Could Be Mine, that’s so fun to play as a drummer. It’s a lot of fun. That one’s like shifting in a car. You’re peeling out then hit a low gear, then you’re cruising. You have to shift the gears. It’s balls out.
“Rocket Queen is dope. Brownstone is dope. I do Brain’s intro to Brownstone. Adler used to just do the bo diddley on the floor tom where as Brain was doing it more on the toms, the two racks and the floor. Think About You is a lot of fun, real punk rock and more of the kind of spirit that I grew up with.”
Give Axl room
“Some of the first record stuff, the way that Brain was playing it when I watched him play it, it sounded like it gave Axl more room to sing. Axl sings fast a lot so you have to pull back a little bit so he can get his words out.”
Go with the flow
“I’m stepping into this thing four or five drummers into it. The style of music and sound I like to hear is like John Bonham, big, huge, open toms.
“What they did with Chinese Democracy, the drum sound they got there is the one that they like to use live. It’s not important to me that it has to be my snare sound, just as long as it sounds good. If it makes the music sound better then that’s all that matters to me. I don’t really mess with the tunings.
“I have a great tech and front of house guy and they’re the experts in that as far as I’m concerned. I have a 12” rack, 14” and 16” floor, 24” bass drum. The snare drum is the diamond of the kit, it’s a Tama bell brass snare. It’s the greatest drum I’ve ever heard. They used those on the record, but they used the original one from the ’80s. I think the one I’m using now is the newer one, the one Lars Ulrich came out with. The ones they used on the record were 27 years old, $3,000 a piece!”
Stay in shape
“During the live show I play on all of the [guitar and keyboard] solos so I don’t get off my riser once. It definitely pushes you to the limits.
“There’s nights I feel like I can play all night long. There’s nights where I think, ‘If we don’t get to Paradise City soon I’m going to pass out!’ Then sometimes you get to the double time in ‘Paradise’ and think, ‘Man, I’ve got to play this now!?’
“It’s a gig that you have to have your mind in it, your body in it, you have to be in it because it will get away from you fast. Most of the time even if you’re not feeling at top form the crowd will pull you through. I just started doing a little yoga. It’s good to do that kind of stretching.”
Waiting for Axl? Warm up!
“Obviously there’s always issues of us going on late, so I always have plenty of warm up time. I never have to worry about that! Usually I can get in a good half hour before we hit the stage.
“I’ll be ready to go. I’ll have tons of water, a little bit of wine. Just to loosen you up. The only thing I ever get is anxious, never nervous. I just want to hit it. I never tense up.”
Change it up
“I do change my style of drumming a little bit for these big arena shows. I perform more, maybe. Back home it’s all about playing, it’s not about performance at all, you just stare at that snare drum and make sure the two and four are in the pocket.
“So, it’s a little different, it’s a different animal. But everything is different. Every day is a brand new, spanking unpredictable day.”
Just go for it
“I only did a solo for a little bit with Guns. When we started back up again in 2009 I did get a solo spot. I’m not a big chops guy, I’m more of a feel drummer. I can pull out couple of tricks, but when they’d announce my name I’d just go for it.”
Lay the foundation
“The kind of drummers I love are guys like Phil Rudd, Charlie Watts, Peter Criss, just foundation type drumming. Soloists that I grew up listening to where guys like Zack Alfred, Sterling Campbell.
“I’m in between there, I would imagine. I can rip it out. My mindset was to just give it to them, just hammer them, throw your sticks down and walk off the stage. What’s great about Guns is that I get to showcase my talent within the songs.
“A lot of that stuff is the Sorum stuff, but there’s also songs like Brownstone. If you want to know what kind of drummer I am just listen to me play Brownstone or Rocket Queen. I love being the foundation and sitting in that pocket. I can be in the pocket all day. I’m more like Phil Rudd, I just want to 2/4 it and let everybody else do their thing while I sit up there holding it together.”