's new project, +44
, bears no resemblance to blink-182, the band he worked with previously for over seven years. The new band - containing ex-blink bassist/singer Mark Hoppus and guitarists Shane Gallagher and Craig Fairbaugh - has a dark and edgy feel compared to 182's more punk/upbeat sound. The quartet's debut album, When Your Heart Stops Beating, is a textbook of rock drum techniques circa the 21st century. Barker, a madman behind the kit, marries big acoustic sounds to electronic/hip-hop textures in conjuring up a truly cutting edge relationship.
This interview was three day's in the making. Originally set up to follow a photo shoot and then re-scheduled that evening to follow the band's first live show (held at the Roxy Theater in Hollywood)), it finally took place during a video shoot. There, the drummer spent an entire day of filming the title track and in-between shots, he talked. And boy, does the boy talk.
Ultimate-Guitar: Let's start with your time in blink-182. Was it that blink no longer fed you musically that inspired you to go out and do something else?
In Blink, it was that everyone's work ethic and priorities were kind of mixed up. Mark and I really, really, really, really, really wanted to record another record and then tour. At the end of the day, our other member (Tom DeLonge) of our band had other things that were dictating where and when he went on tour and record a record. I have three mouths to feed as well as my family, my regular family that raised me. I can't have someone dictating when I'm gonna work and when I'm not gonna work. So after that it was really a time for me to kind of like re-evaluate my whole situation, what I wanted to do, what kind of music I wanted to play, what I was passionate about most importantly - before anything like a paycheck.
So I immediately started writing with Mark
. I immediately started playing drums with DJ-AM. We have this routine that we do. I immediately started producing beats and stuff, with like marching snares and quints and just kind of flipping it. I just started expressing myself. Blink was such a monster. We'd make a record and we'd tour for two years and we wouldn't see anything. We wouldn't see home, we wouldn't see our babies, it was crazy. With this, it was kind of like, Wow, I should kind of like really sit down and think, 'What do I really want to do? How do I want to express myself as a drummer? What makes me happy right now?'
And that's kind of like what I did. I've written with Mark for 12 years. I love him, so we have great chemistry and it feels like home to write music with him.
There were a couple of projects along the way. Was there one with Tom DeLonge?
Boxcar (Racer), yeah, that was during blink. We did one record. We were always supposed to do one record. It is what it is and then kind of move on. So we did that. And then the Transplants, of course. And then anything that comes my way that moves me, I mess with. That's what it is. Anything.
Ultimately it was leading to +44. What did you want express in the new band that you hadn't said before?
I think with +44, our first circumstances where we had to write was in our basement. So I was writing everything on keyboard. I was actually writing keyboard parts and programming drums because I couldn't be loud. I had a newborn in my house and whatever, and it was grind time for me. So I was sitting down there every night, just kind of like figuring out my MPC, figuring out my Triton, figuring out my MOTIF. Just kind of learning how to sequence, teaching myself, like opening new areas that I didn't know before. So that was the beginning of +44
. Mark was even programming drums. He was playing keyboards. Everything was kind of like electronic-driven, only because we didn't have the means to have like a big room where we could set up and record real drums. So about 6 months went by of recording like that, and then we got a real studio and we brought everything to life. We recorded everything; programmed drums were now live drums. It was wild. I kind of was forced to learn and I wanted to.
Were the parts that you programmed similar to the rhythms now transferred into the live set?
In the beginning, when you first program - or at least when I do when I'm writing a song like a melody or keyboard part or a guitar part - I first just get a foundation, just like a beat. It has to just be a groove or something to write to that doesn't change, that's consistent. And then that's all I pretty much do as far as like writing as far as sequencing. Then I go in and I make fills and do all my stuff like me playing.
Talk about the recording sessions. How do you go into a studio and lay down the drums?
I give myself a click. At that point, Mark was just kind of like playing a riff and I'd remember the riff. And I'd go, Okay, it's gonna be this change and we do this accent or whatever.
And I'd go in and record drums, like there's drums for that song. Or sometimes Mark would have guitar parts ready, but not like all the changes or bridges or whatever. I'd just go in and I'd bang out what I would think would be my verse, my chorus, my bridge, like how I'd interpret what he is saying with his guitar. I'd listen to his parts and I'd decide whether it's gonna be 4/4. If it's gonna be double time, I'm gonna play in ¾. That's just where you experiment. That's where your ideas come out.
What you're doing as a drummer is very musical thing. A lot of drummers just keep time. Is that the way you've always played?
I don't ever really sit around and kind of try to dissect it or evaluate what I do. It's just that's how I express myself as a drummer. Just like how there's different singers. There's singers like Mick Jagger. Then there's singers like Iggy Pop. They're all different. Frontmen are different. Drummers are different, too. Whether this may be a new breed of drummer, whatever. Once upon a time there always comes something thatI don't know. Maybe I just see it different, you know? I'm inspired by everything, though. I can do a trick on my skateboard that will make me want to do something crazy on my drums. It'll be like, I want to try this with my cymbal!
It's crazy like that! I'm inspired by everything.
A lot of people look at you as a new voice in drumming that brings something musical to the traditional rock band. Do you think about that at all?
No, I never sit and think about anything to be honest. I just try to keep moving forward. Like me as a drummer, I'm always thinking like, There's so much more stuff I want to learn.
Even me, like as I started programming and producing hip-hop songs, it made me a better rock drummer. All that stuff is just a symptom of being a drummer and it all shapes you. Some people may go, He overplays. He hits his drums too hard.
It's what I do. I can't say it's right or wrong. That's how I feel when I play my drums and that's what happens when I sit down to my drum kit.
Did you specifically want two guitar players in the band?
In the beginning, we were thinking that this was a three-piece. Originally it was Mark, myself and our friend Carol. She was playing guitar. But at the time, it was very electronic-based. Like I said, it was 6 months of sitting in a basement. We were like, Maybe this is what Plus 44 is. Is this crazy?
I'm thinking, I'm not gonna sweat at all when we play! This is gonna be rad! This is gonna be so different.
Then it grew into a different monster. When we got into a real studio, what would happen was Mark and I went in and we bought a studio together. That was basically our home now. We lived there. We ate there. We slept there. We just kind of experimented and really kind of established our sound there. And then as that happened, we realized, Yeah, we need another guitar player. There's just a lot of guitar parts going on.
So a lot of the record was written in the studio. It wasn't like Mark and I prepared 15 songs and then we found musicians. It was truly like Craig's a friend of ours, Shane's a friend of ours. We kind of got everyone involved and we wrote together and collaborated.
Why didn't Carol work?
In the beginning, it was really great. It was all electronic. It was really mellow and you weren't hearing live drums. You weren't hearing big cymbals. You weren't hearing distorted guitars. You were hearing everything, like templates of songs. And then when it changed, there was another voice that needed to be heard. Then there was a lot of work to be done with guitars, and I think it needed two guitar players and so did Mark. It was like an organic-like situation to happen. She wasn't bummed. We weren't bummed. It just made sense.
What was it about Shane and Craig that drew you to them?
With me, I'd rather play with someone that one, I can get along with and is super down-to-earth, that can be my friend and a great musician. Some people will take the other card, and they'll just pick the card that is a great musician. I don't want to live with a great musician, not on the bus! I never have. I've only heard horror stories of people saying that. But it truly means a lot to me to be in a band with people that I can be friends with and I can sit down and eat breakfast with or talk about a family with. That means a lot to me at the end of the day.
Were you looking for guitar players that had any of the qualities that Tom had?
No. I don't have anything bad to say about Tom, but we weren't looking for anything near Tom.
On the record you're using the Orange County acrylic drums. Why acrylic drums?
|"Playing the drums for me nowadays is like a therapy session."|
They're my favorite-sounding drum ever. Not like my favorite Orange County drum, percussion-sounding drum, but my favorite-sounding drum period. I put them up against my old Vistalites, other wood drums like old vintage kits I have, and that just happens to be what I really, really love playing.
What is it about the sound that you like?
The toms are very, very warm, but they're still bright at the same time. Just enough to cut through. And they have like a great attack. The bass drum sounds like a cannon. Visually they look cool. I get bored with things. Like I don't like wraps - I don't like seeing it peel 5 years later and paint chip. There's something about this that's just cool. It's vintage, too. It's classic. It's me.
They've been making acrylic drums for a while?
You're also now using a 24-inch bass drum, which you hadn't been using for a while?
Yeah. In different projects, like in Boxcar, the first time I had a big bass drum. It depends on the speed that I'm playing, too. If I was to go out with a speed metal band tomorrow, I wouldn't have a 24-inch bass drum. It all changes to adapt to whatever band I'm playing in.
How about for +44?
Yeah, it's big! It's a big bass drum, big cymbals. I want the loudest drums ever! Orange County is the loudest. I have a Bell Brass that I've had with me for years, like 4 years. It has sweat and blood from like the last 4 years of my life. I'd be pissed if I ever lost that snare drum! And then Zildjians, I'm using K's right now just because it's kind of a darker record at times. I'm using like ride cymbals to crash on, like Sweet Rides to crash on live.
Which is different.
Live I always tend to go to thicker cymbals, but never this big. I've never had like Sweet Rides that I'm using as crash cymbals that I'm hitting like as 16's. You know what I mean? But that's what time it is onstage with this band.
The bass drum you're using is a 24 X 22. Typically the rock guys were like the 24 X 14's back in the day.
Yeah, I still want to up that. I just want to be able to kick the shit on my bass drum and it be able to voice what I'm putting into it. You know what I mean? Some drums can't do that. With the Vistalites and those sizes, I feel like that happens. I'll break a beater before I'll be bummed on my drum kit. I love, love, love those drums and the sizes were just compatible with what we were doing.
Did the sound that was going down on tape translate well from what you heard in your head?
I'm very, very impatient in the studio. I'll walk into the room after sounds are done and whatever, I come in and do my take or whatever, and then I just kind of keep moving along. I like to be spontaneous in the studio. I feel like if you have to play something 6 or 7 times over and over again, it wasn't meant to be. Or if I'm trying part after part. I feel like my first part, my first initial fill I play or the way I kind of approach the track is usually how the track needs to be played. I feel like anything I do after that, I'm just kind of overplaying or I'm experimenting - why am I doing this? You know what I mean? I always trust my gut instinct. I follow my heart when it comes to recording drums. Usually it's like the first couple takes and the sounds are there.
The first track on the record, Lycanthrope, has a real rock feel. How do you build up the song? Is it an innate thing with you?
It depends on what they're singing. Like for me, it's like, What is Mark singing? What is he talking about? How is he phrasing his words?
If I go and put drums down on a song before he sings, I'll definitely go back after he sings everything. And after he puts his words in, I'll record my drums over it because I want to connect with something he says, like words or whatever that I feel like the drums could fuck with. Or I can add some of my snare or be mellow or use dynamics in a part where he sings something a little more sincere. I kind of like to do that when a track is finished.
So you always go back after vocals are laid down?
With Lycanthrope, in the beginning, I played really (stomps beat) straight through. Then after hearing it, I did the (starts a faster-paced rhythm). I accented those things. And then there was no bridge, so what we did was we made a bridge. I just kind of did fills and accented things. Then we kind of made the bridge afterwards, actually stacked guitars and kind of found a guitar part to go with the drums that were already in the bridge. So we'll do things like that. Sometimes it will be like Shane will play a guitar part and that will make me do a fill. Or I'll do a bridge where I'm just kind of like playing what I feel at the time or whatever. Then they'll hear something from it and parts are created from that. So it really is everyone collaborating. It's not like one of us comes in and goes, This is the bridge of the song.
Never. That's why we're in a band. That's why there's 4 people in the band. So we're all shooting ideas off of each other. Like, I think you should do this.
Or, I think it would be cooler if the guitar did that.
Shane might say like, It would be cool if you were quiet there, Trav.
So we really do have a lot of input on our parts because at the end of the day, we're a band. These are our songs.
In Baby, Come On, you're doing a very complex part in the second verse. Is that you just being Travis?
No, I don't think it's complex at all. That's just what I heard there. The first verse was actually MPC drums that I programmed on my MPC, that were real drum sounds. Then I can sample it into my MPC and I can play like something so it sounds like I have a small boombox kit in like the first verse. And then the second verse, I'll have still that boombox kit. There's no hat going, it's just kind of a basic kick going (makes kick sound). And then I'll go over it and I'll play with my drums over it. But with me and that little loop going, it feels different. We're like feeding off each other. We're complementing each other. When he's not playing, sometimes I'm playing and I'll kind of play off what his snare is doing. So I did that in that song. And then the choruses are just big acoustic drums. Whereas whatever drums were recorded, live drums in the verse, it's on a small kit, so I make sure it sounds small. As soon as the chorus comes in, it's just big drums. We did that a lot on the last blink record, on the last Boxcar record. I would do a pass on my verses just on a small kit with like a 20-inch bass drum, 12-inch tom, 14-inch floor tom, in case I used it, 13-inch high hats. And then I'd have an alternate kit that would have like 15-inch high hats, 24-inch bass drums, 15-inch snare. That would be my choruses just so dynamically without someone going there and mixing anything, like drums are already bigger between verses and choruses. So we do stuff like that, too, that sonically would just kind of mess with your ears.
Is that something you learned or started doing with Blink?
I just tried it one day. I think I mentioned it to Jerry (Finn, +44 producer)on the Boxcar record. I was like, You know, I want to try and have a crazy, boom-bastic, Bonham kit on the choruses and a small kit on the verses!
And Jerry is always real cool. He said, Absolutely. Let's try it.
Then we kind of just ran with that. I don't know if anyone else does it. I don't know if it's the dumbest thing in the world, but it works for me and that's why I do it.
Are you a different drummer with +44 than you were with blink?
Absolutely. I think Blink songs were faster, obviously. Really, really up-tempo. I think with blink there was a lot of songs that were really lighthearted and it was fun. It was a different kind of energy. With this record, Mark and I put so much into it. I think when we play these songs, it's kind of likeI don't know. Playing the drums for me nowadays is like a therapy session. It's amazing. It's like going and getting in your car and driving off to nowhere. That's how I feel when I play my drums. Or going skateboarding and not really having a destination. You're just going with you and your skateboard. That's how I feel when I'm behind my drum set, but I'm with my friends doing it. With Transplants, I'm a totally different drummer than I am with blink, than I am with +44.
Like Transplants, my role as a drummer, I had two 808's and I had crazy samples. We were going crazy. That's different. I had to be a different drummer. It wouldn't work if I just went up there and played double-time punk rock music. It wouldn't work. There's like hip-hop beats. There's like break beats. There's speed metal beats. I think depending on your project, I think you do have to change. You still bring your style to every project, even if you play on a record that's not necessarily yours. I just played on Avril Lavigne's record. I didn't go and change and try to be a drummer that would be suitable for Avril. Travis went and played on Avril's record. You should have a signature as a drummer. You shouldn't sound like everyone else, I think. I think that's what's great about being an individual. You should definitely shape yourself and be different. Life's too short to try to be like the next guy.
The physical nature of your drum playing almost seems like an exorcism of sorts, particularly given the hard times you've been going through with your divorce.
Yeah. Everything's okay when I'm behind my drums. I don't have a care in the world. That's where I'm supposed to be at.
Did you always know that?
I did. I had goals as a child. There were other things that I wanted to do. At one time I wanted to be a professional skateboarder. I wanted to be a professional surfer. But I always migrated back to drums, though. That was the one thing that kind of felt like I was connected to and I could kind of understand. I could express myself better through my drums than I could anything else.
Earlier you brought up John Bonham and I've heard that Keith Moon was also an influence. You seem to adapt certain styles, but in your own way. I can hear Stewart Copeland on some of the songs.
Yeah. If I had to pick a drummer
He's the guy?
It's hard (to say). Steve Gadd was probably the first drummer that I saw play that melted into his kit. I was like, That guy enjoys playing the drums.
I hated going and seeing concerts. I hated seeing anyone on TV that looked like they were bored or they were having a shit time behind their kit. I was like, No!
I was seeing dudes like Gadd. I was seeing people like Alex Van Halen, Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Gene Krupa, Billy Cobham. I was exposed to all these great drummers. And at the same time, I was exposed to what my friends were listening to. I was soaking up like Dave Lombardo, my Alex Van Halen, my Lars Ulrich, like all these great speed metal drummers. But then, at the same time I was listening to this rock stuff, I was copying Run DMC records. I wish Run DMC had a drummer. I have to thank their MPC for everything. By growing up on rap music and hip-hop music as well as jazz and rock, and making myself - not leaving my room until I learned Raising Hell.
'o other drummers were doing that as a kid. They were only learning 1984 Van Halen. I was playing along to all these rap records because I really wanted to learn them, too. And surprisingly enough, they were more challenging because they were actually being programmed. They were doing things that a drummer couldn't do. So it was so awesome for me as a child. It's still hard for me to pick a great drummer. I like the way Bonham does certain things, and I like the way Stewart Copeland does certain things. I think they all have these certain elements about them that move me and shake me.
The title song When Your Heart Stops Beating, is there a tom on the verse?
No, I only play on my hat during the verse. I have a four on the floor and I'm just (stomps beat). Then in the bridge, I play on the toms. And the chorus, I do 16th notes and I do up-beats on the ends of my hi-hat. I kind of approached it like a rock steady or like an old like four on the floor ska song, but played more like a rock drummer, like if a rock drummer was accidentally playing that stuff. That's how I approached that song. It was kind of new wave and I felt like it needed a driving four on the floor. I kind of built my drum parts all along that bass drum. The bass drum never stops playing one-two-three-four.
It sounds like there's kind of a Stewart Copeland aspect to it.
Little Death is the first ballad and has acoustic guitars. Your beat is pretty straight on there?
|"I like to be spontaneous in the studio."|
If I was a drummer and I heard this record, I'd probably trip on that song a lot because there's stuff where I'm playing no ride at all. I'm just playing bass drum and snare drum, and I just kind of do like five-stroke rolls and catch crashes on the down-beat real quick. Then there's stuff where I recorded like a small kit. We have a couple different rooms in our studio. One's really small and one's larger-sized. Then there's one that's about the same size but smaller ceilings. So we really use those a lot.
There's like a re-intro in that song where that kit never comes back in during the whole record. Then the choruses are big. Same thing, but that one had a lot to do with a lot of different drum kits and then going in and actually making like bass drums like in a re-intro or a verse, making sure they're boom-boom - almost like forcing them, moving them in the computer to where they sound like they were forced or they were rushed and take away from like how I felt playing it. So there's stuff like that that we alter in there so it would feel kind of like electronic-y. Just give it that Shadow feel. That was really inspired by like DJ Shadow, one of my favorite, favorite DJs, producers. He's amazing.
So those are all acoustic drums?
Well, no. On choruses you'll hear on the record, I have like legitimate 808's. Like I use a Roland 808 on the side of me. So you will hear those from time to time, but everything else is acoustic drum.
Could you run down what you have going on in your studio gear-wise? Did that allow you to bring your drums to the next level?
For sure. Every room you could record in. So there's outlets in every room. Because we recorded in a house on the last Blink record and we recorded drums in a bedroom. Those bedroom drums are gonna sound different than the big living room drums or the big garage drums. So we literally did that in every room of our studio. So that's how we recorded all the live stuff. Studio B is kind of like my studio. Studio A is kind of like Mark's studio. Studio B has drum machines, percussion, marching cymbals, quints, bass drums, like anything. Mark and Craig and Shane might be working on something in there, in A, and then I'm in there programming the thing for the next verse. Then we'll shoot it over there. So we'd work a lot like that.
Yeah, we had a lot of different instruments. We had every keyboard basically that is available right now and crazy stuff like that, to just plain-old acoustic guitars and drums. And we used all of it. We kind of exhausted every idea with this record. Like if we thought, Maybe there should be a distorted guitar in that bridge? We tried it and we tried four different tones before we'd say, Okay, we're okay with that part. We didn't use any lavish studio or anything. It was really cool to be able to do it at the studio you just bought. It would suck if you bought your studio and then you get in there and start recording and you're like, The sounds aren't that rad. It's not gonna be good enough for the record. We need to go get a real studio. So thank God that didn't happen! We did get amazing sounds. We do all my drums. Like anytime anyone asks me to do live drums, we fly them out to our studio or they come out to our studio, and we do everything right there because we literally have, like I said, like three rooms with drum kits already set up.
What kind of console?
We have a Neve console, like an old Neve console that I bought. It's from 1972 or 1971. We're working with Pro Tools. We use Pro Tools and 2-inch tape. We have both. And that's pretty much it. Mark has a million basses, a million guitars. I basically use that one drum kit, a couple different snares. Daniel's (Jensen, Barker's drum tech) always good with drums. He has a million snares at my disposal.
How do you describe what you and Mark bring to a rhythm track?
I feel like he approaches the bass guitar just enough to lock in with the drummer, but at the same time kind of approaches it like a guitar player. And the fact that he played guitar on a lot of the record as well has a big connection with why I would cue off him or set up certain parts that he's gonna do, or likewise for me.
He leaves plenty of room for the drums.
Yeah, and I think we're used to playing like that from blink and stuff like that. Like me filling up some space or whatever and him letting back, and then us switching it around sometimes with him being busy and me just locking it down.
Was taking up the keyboards an attempt to bring the songwriting more together?
A little. I play like marimba and bells and stuff as a child, and I played piano. It was basically just kind of like doing that all over again, reconnecting, because I wanted to. I missed it. Like as a child, I was playing piano. I didn't think it was that cool to play piano. I really preferred the drums, and I wish I would have kept up both. But I'm happy I learned what I learned when I learned it, and I'm just continuing now. I take piano lessons like every 6 months. Like I'll take one just to kind of like refresh myself or learn something new or whatever. But yeah, I just do it just for the sake of writing. I love writing.
Were you involved in the actual writing of the music?
Yeah, absolutely. I didn't donate lyrics or anything. But yeah, as far as writing the stuff, absolutely.
Would you sit with Mark and toss him a chord change?
No, it would be towards the beginning. He would come to my house and I would have things written, like keyboard parts written, drum parts written. And then he would be like, Oh, that's cool! But maybe right here you should go here. And then I'd go, Okay, cool. Because he might know more about that progression or he might write in that key more than me or it might suit his voice to go to B instead of G. So yeah, we would always like make sure we were thinking together, thinking alike.
Do you think you were influenced at all by Tom's writing?
Like in blink?
Well, yeah. I mean, obviously. If you write songs with someone for however many years, you're gonna learn to think like them at some point or time. Or just spontaneously kind of like do things just because it's natural or whatever. But if anything, I think with this record we were inspired to not do anything that he would normally do because he wasn't there. That was kind of cool. It's like we were doing something new because we were having to fill this void that we weren't used to filling. We were really forced to kind of like step up your role and put your back to the wall and learn and grow.
Talk about 155.
That was one of the ones I wrote on my keyboard in the very beginning.
There's a hi-hat rhythm that is not what you might expect a drummer to bring. Does that just come from thinking the way you do?
It was the tempo I was writing it at, and I was like, Gosh, if I don't do anything different, I'm literally going to be doing 16th notes on the hi-hat and it's gonna be kind of blah. So I had this pattern in my head, this rhythm, and I just did it on my V Drums actually in the beginning. That was the first time I recorded that. And I just loved that pattern. So I don't know. I don't think it's hard to play, I just think it's something most people wouldn't choose to play. But I thought it was really, really good and like flattering to the other parts of the song. And it's really fun to play live!
Do you ever compose a part that takes you a bit of time to feel comfortable with?
I feel like I'm so familiar with them after hearing them over and over again in the studio. But yeah, there's some stuff. And some of the things, like 155 was first written off a drum beat. I didn't come up with the keyboard part first. It was that drum, that chicka-chicka-cha (makes drum beat). It was that. Same with our Interlude that's on the song that's an instrumental. (Makes another drum beat). It's kind of weird or whatever. I'll do something in recording, too. Like Mark and I have always done this. I'll just give him the beats sometimes. I'll give him four beats and they're all different tempos and they're all different rhythms and whatever, and he'll write to them. We do a portion of the writing like that, too. And he's great with that.
Is the Interlude something you might do more of?
Yeah, live we absolutely will. I love that song. I love like intros and interludes and stuff. It's just kind of fun to experiment every night. I hate playing live shows and everything is the same every night. So I'll never play my parts on the record live. I'll play like hints of them, but then I'll go around them and just kind of experiment and really like have fun every night. Just so it's new to people who are going to multiple shows and so it's new for us.
Lilian starts off with some strange stuff that sounds like guitars.
Yeah. It's actually a bass that's on delay.
It also has some great high hat, acoustic guitars, and those accents in the chorus.
Oh, yeah. Like the chorus has the accents like in ¾. Then there's in the bridge it's just power parts. I love power parts in songs. The record doesn't kind of like really portray it best until you see it live, and then you're like, Oh, it's going down right there in that part of the song! I love that. I love just power parts where it's not really that hard to play, but everyone can kind of like dig into their instrument.
On Weatherman, there is some tambourine added. Is that you just experimenting?
That song is like syncopated. So what I did was I played on the 2 accent and then I just did 8th notes descending, like getting quieter each time just to like add some atmosphere.
You're comfortable doing tambourine and percussion parts in terms of the timing?
I was a dork. I was in orchestra. I was in band; I was in a marching band. So they kind of gave you like a little crash course in all of that stuff, so I learned how to play the tambourine. Over the time of years of recording and stuff, I've always done it. So it's progressively gotten better. So yeah, it's something I love doing.
Will a song suggest a certain sound to you?
Oh yeah, absolutely. In everything I do in production - James is our other engineer by the way - I can look at James (Ingram, assistant engineer) and go, I know I want that kit for this song. And same for rock songs. Like for +44, I knew like that snare or this bass drum.
Talk about the studio work.
It's literally like a guitar player. Like a guitar player doesn't show up to a session to record a whole record with one guitar. He comes with like 6 or 7 or 4 or 5, at least another alternate if the record's doing this. So same thing goes for a drummer. It should, you know, I think. Maybe I've hung out with too many guitar players! I don't know. I saw Jerry Finn - that's the only producer I've really, really worked with - just really get into stuff. He really gets into guitars. He really has 50 in case he wants that one tone just for that one song. It's worth having those guitars or worth taking the time in using like that snare drum that you picture on the song, rather than just settling with the one that's standing there. So I believe in that. I think everything makes a track. Not only the parts and the instruments and the lyrics and everything, but the sounds, too.
Do the speed metal, double-bass pedal players do anything for you?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think anyone who's playing any instrument and they're pouring their heart out, I'm down with. I respect what they're doing. I respect anyone that's playing music period, to be honest with you. I don't really migrate towards double-bass drummers. It's like you. If you like blonds, then you like blonds. That's just what it is. I can't explain it, but I've always been in love with just single bass. I love the whole idea of a single bass kit.
What about Keith Moon and how he used two bass drums?
I love Keith Moon. I'm more of a fan of Keith Moon because I love to watch him play. Mind you, there's parts that I hear and I'm like, Man, Keith Moon was killing it on this song! But he was more of someone that I thought had a lot of charisma. He looked like he was enjoying himself. That's what I loved about Keith Moon. Player-wise, that wasn't like my favorite drummer growing up. I was probably more drawn to like Copeland and Gadd.
Did you get any of the actual dynamic of playing the drums from Gene Krupa?
|"We really do have a lot of input on our parts because at the end of the day, we're a band."|
Oh, yeah. Everything. Like seeing (Buddy) Rich, too. If I have time to hit a crash, to hit it with all my power and that means standing up, then I will! It just depends how much time I have. But yeah, I believe in enjoying yourself when you're playing the drums.
When you were doing the +44 record, did the physical power of your playing enter into it?
I've always recorded just how I play live in the studio. Like I don't play any different live than I do in the practice room. It's not like a show when I play live or anything, but it's the same way I act around anything.
On No It Isn't, is that you on a Wurlitzer piano?
That's an old Wurly. Yeah. That's actually Mark Hoppus and Chris Holmes (producer), one of the gentlemen who are doing our record. That's him playing the piano right there.
There are minimal drums on that track.
I have a snare and I just like lay real back, and just play accent things here and there. Originally that was all acoustic and I never wanted to put drums in. I always thought like what Mark was saying and the words, what he was talking about, just stood on its own. There didn't need to be anything else behind it besides him and that acoustic guitar. Then I kind of got outvoted. They like drums in it, so I was like, I'm down with it. If it makes the song better, I'm gonna do it.
Make You Smile also has piano.
Yeah, that's a piano song. That was actually written in the basement as well. That's kind of like really drum and bass. There's a lot of programmed drums on there as well as live drums.
Typically will the programmed drums come first?
Yeah. The programmed drums go on like the first verse. Acoustic drums come in with the programmed drums on the second verse. And then the rest of it is pretty much acoustic drums, on all the choruses. But like the bridge you'll hear me on an MPC again.
That's the track with Carol.
Do you ever try to shadow what the electronic drums have done, trying to obtain an electronic feel?
What I find, there's some tracks that I'll build just enough for Plus 44 or whatever, and you'll get to a point where everything is good. Your choruses are loud, your drums are all good. You programmed everything correctly, parts are there. But there's something missing. And these are hip-hop songs. I'll go in and I'll put live drums over them, just a little bit. Just a little bit. But just having someone like feeling, playing something on a track makes the biggest difference. It's crazy.
On any track I build, I'll always use live percussion. I'll never put like a sample tambourine, just so it feels live. So with songs like that, just the way an MPC interprets drums and the way it sequences and quantizes things, whether you try your hardest or whether you spend years trying to do it, you can't copy an MPC. You can't play like that. It's impossible. So MPC, let it do what it really does well, and then I'm just over playing kind of like with it. But then at the same time, like accenting off of it. Like if it's playing 2, I'm playing and 2. Or like with my left hand, like 16th notes or something. But live, I play all the way through because it makes sense. I can use my alternate snare for the first, where there is no live drums on the record. I use my alternate snare, so I'm really quiet, so I sound like a machine. Then I go over to my normal snare and I play loud for my second verse, where there really is live drums on the record.
What is your alternate snare?
I have like a 10-inch snare off to my left. I have a 10-inch snare, 808, and a Splash for my live set. So a lot of the times, instead of going (makes drum beat), I'll take all my ghost notes over here to my alternate snare (makes drum beat). Then I'll go back over here for the other half, the other second-half of the phrase or whatever, just so it alternates. That way I get that drum and bass feel live without just a machine doing it.
Have you seen anyone else do that?
Yeah, there's great, great, great bass drummers that you can see in the UK and stuff, or just playing clubs. It's wild. They'll have like high-tuned snares. Sometimes 808's, sometimes no 808's - djembes or something. That's their 808. And it's sick! I saw that when I was on Leno one time with blink, and I fell in love with it. Then that's all I'd do at sound check. I would sit there and I would imitate Goldie records, all these drum and bass records that I loved. And I just learned how to do it. I used an alternate snare for a lot of drum beats (makes drum beat sound). The higher one, you want to use something higher. So I would just use that smaller snare.
What about Chapter 13?
Oh, Chapter 13. That's the last song on the record. That's one take. We came in, we had had a demo of the song with just like programmed drums or whatever. We liked it, we were living with it. I went in one day and I put drums to it. I said, You know, I'll go back and I'll record everything over it because that was crazy. That was spastic, you guys.
And everyone was like, Yeah, you were overplaying, but we liked it!
And I was like, There's no way we can use that.
I was going bananas. It was one take. It was like the first time I had ever heard the song, no lyrics or anything. Then they put the lyrics down, and it was toward the end of the record, maybe about a month ago. And I go, Okay, well, I'm going to go in and record 'Chapter 13' over, right?
And everyone outvoted me. They said, No, we love that performance.
So I was going to do it all over, but now that I listen to it, I love it! I remember that day. It was a real crazy day for me and it was the best day behind my drums. So I'm glad I never changed that.
That was a song you did without hearing the lyrics?
Yeah, there was no lyrics on it yet. There was no singing. You know when you have one of those days and you're just like, God, I can't wait to go to the gym. I can't wait to just do something, like get this off my chest or whatever.
And that was what I did that day. I had to go right from there to go somewhere else, to go do something. It was crazy, wild, like busy day. We kept that track, to make a long story short, and that's the drum track that's on the record right now. So it's kind of awesome.
You do like these triplets toward the end of it.
It sets up a sense of finality.
Yeah. And he's saying, I'm scraped and sober and there's no one listening.
So it's like drums and vocals - it was crazy.
Has the sound of the drums changed for you since the last blink record?
Yeah, absolutely. When I first joined Blink, I had a marching snare for a snare drum. I had a flam head on it. I just came straight out of marching band, so I was like, Aaaahh!
You know, going wild! And that was my drum kit. One, I didn't have much money at all. I had one drum kit. I had a Roto tom for a tom, I had a bass drum, and I had a Ludwig floor tom and I had a marching snare. Then I met Daniel (Jensen from Orange Country Drum & Percussion), and Daniel gave me a couple of snare drums. I bought a couple of snare drums off of him and then our relationship just built. So yeah, in the beginning my snare were cranked so tight. I was breaking lugs, whatever. I think it helped shape me; I played better at the time. A lot of people in that scene that I was playing in the punk rock scene, they were just kind of beating the crap out of their drums. It was fast and stuff, but you couldn't really tell what was going on.
With that marching snare, I had to be super clean. It was good for me. I was glad I was left with just that marching snare at the time. But yeah, I think I tend to like a little bit bigger of drums now, depending on playing situation - or at least having the alternate. I usually just have that high-pitched snare that was real loud or whatever. But now at least I'll have my normal, big rock snare, but I'll have my high-pitched one at the side in case I need it.
When you listen to the +44 record now, does it capture where you were musically and emotionally?
I think more of the unleashing and the exorcism was through other things like (DJ) AM. That was different. I mean, everyone's started a band before. Everyone's written a record before. What AM and I did hasn't been done before, so that was big for me. I wanted to put drummers in a place that they hadn't been before, and that was my goal. I would go out with my friends and go to all these nice clubs, and there's good times happening around me. But I'd just be there having a drink with a friend and really not doing anything. And I'm like, I'd love to come here and actually do something, serve a purpose here. And AM's already spinning all the time, so it just made so much sense. Learning how to express myself through my drums and being able to have an outlet.
There's drummers making beats now. Like drummers making beats for hip-hop artists! I want to do stuff like that. I really sat down and I was like, God, 50% of my music I listen to isn't even rock music sometimes.
It could be jazz or it could be hip-hop. So I think it was just all around. There were a number of things that had to complete me at the time; it wasn't one thing. There was a number of things I need to do that I've always put on the backburner, that I thought were impossible. They are absolutely possible, I just have to put them in front of me and conquer them. And I did. So that was the greatest.
When I listen to the Plus 44 record, I honestly think it's an emotional roller coaster. That's what I want out of a record. I want it to take me different places, and I think the record does that. I haven't really sat down the record as a drummer and gone, Would I freak out on this?
I don't know if I think like that anymore. I think like, If this song calls for it and I happen to spazz out on it and everyone likes it? Great! If not, it's okay, too.
Talk about your work with DJ-AM.
|"I think Blink songs were faster, obviously. Really, really up-tempo."|
What separates AM, first of all, you've got to give him props just on his own. What separates him is he doesn't just play hip-hop when he goes to a club or when he plays for an event. He's playing everything from your favorite 80's songs to your favorite hip-hop songs to your favorite jazz songs - everything, like your favorite disco songs. And he somehow meshing them up to where everyone can like it. He plays like a guitar player, so we basically put this routine together where he'll have like an a cappella version of our favorite Biggie song. And it's just a cappella, it's just me playing drums. There's no click; there's no nothing. It's just him and I. He's playing, he's spinning records. We do that for an hour straight. We have southern sets that we can go to the south with and make like hip-hop fans go crazy out there. We played KROQ Weenie Roast one time and we played our favorite KROQ tunes. It's amazing. It's never the same. It always changes because music always changes. What's relevant on the radio is changing every two weeks, so we're constantly upgrading our set and updating it. It's wild. You should come check it out sometime.
Do you play in town?
Yeah, we just played like the Sidekick Three party or whatever. We play like T-Mobile events and we'll appear in Las Vegas or things like KROQ Weenie Roast.
You were doing that before the +44 project?
Yeah, I did that like seriously a week after. I was like, I need to play my drums. It's not about money. It's not about anything. It's about me playing my drums and me doing it, me not concentrating on rock music and me not worrying about if some dude is ready to tour or if he's ready to record a record right now. It's about me and my friend AM and going and having a good time and playing music, for an hour straight. No breaks anywhere. I didn't care at the time.
Do you think your work with DJ-AM carried over to the +44 record?
Well, I mean everything you do. Me playing with him. Me playing songs that I've never played before and him shooting ideas to me that I'm not used to a DJ shooting at me? That makes me a better drummer. At the end of the day, me playing with him makes me better, exposes me to music I've never been exposed to. I do the same thing to him. It's the best. So I think anytime you're playing with anybody - it could be anything, anybody, any musician, any style of music - you're growing. You're learning. I guess you could say I try to grow as much as I can. I'll play with my friends' father, who is a jazz musician. I'll play with anybody just as an experience.
Is the Expensive Taste project still happening?
Yeah. It's actually finished. We have 26 songs recorded. Actually because of different label situations, we're actually spreading the record in half now. Half is gonna go to Paul Wall's record and half is gonna go to Rob and my friend Damu's record because we can't get our label situation worked out for the record to come out before Christmas. So we'll record another record. But that's compiled of, to meFirst of all, there's drummers that play acoustic drums and they do what we know as drums. Then there's this whole other drummer who's a programmer. And believe it or not, I know people won't believe this, but there is a talent in it. And you're either good at it or you're not. Either you understand it and you really love it and you get it, or you don't. You find ways to be innovative and different just like you do on a drum set. It's the same thing. There are sounds; there's millions of them. You try to use ones that are rare. So I built like 26 tracks with that. I've used marching snares. I've used quints. I've used marching bass drums, live guitars. It's been amazing for me and it's helped me a whole bunch. It's kept my chops up on the snare drum, to be honest with you!
So there is no acoustic set per se?
The majority of it is programmed, yeah. If you had to categorize it, which I hate doing, it would be like in the hip-hop section. But like I said, there is a place for drummers in there. Hip-hop thrives on beats and rhythms, and we're drummers. So yeah, it was important to me to learn how to express myself through an MPC and the drum set. I worked on TI's record. I worked with Three 6 Mafia. I've worked with some of my favorite rappers growing up. Playing on their records, the biggest achievement of all to still be able to play the Country Music Awards with Billy Gibbons. That's what I'm about. I'm about everything. I'm about crossing those lines and letting music be music, not, He looks like that, so he has to play that kind of music. Or, He's known for that.
What was it like playing with Billy?
The best! Ridiculous. Dwight Yoakam, Billy Gibbons, it was awesome. Buck Owens tribute. All those songs were great. I went and I really, really, really, really studied those records. Mind you, my dad listened to that all the time. I was exposed to country music and jazz. That's the only reason I ever listened to it to be honest. As a kid, I can't say I understood it at first. Then as I got older, I totally understood it. I studied those songs so, so good. I learned every little thing he did. Even if he made a mistake, I was playing them! I was doing everything. And I actually really loved the guy's style on all the Buck Owens' records. He's a great drummer.
Who is that playing?
I have no idea. I didn't take the time to sit and look at his name, but I know every lick he played and I love it. I loved his drumming on there.
So how does it feel to be able to play on everything from rap to country?
The fact that I'm not doing it for money, that's something to be said about it. It's all organicallyAll these people are musicians just getting together. It's not someone paying me to go play on that record. This is all friendship.
You've really worked hard to be where you are today.
Yeah. There has been years of touring, years of everything - but it's what I enjoy, so it's awesome! I never think of it as work. Maybe after the 8th hour of filming a video and they're like, Can you play that same part again or do that same thing with your hands?
You're like, Oh, come on!
But it's like, I can never, ever complain. That was my only goal as a kid, is to somehow figure out a way to play drums and make enough money to eat. That was my only goal. So everything that happened after it, I'm just smiling ear to ear. I never expected or felt like I deserved it. I was just thankful.
Are your other projects like the clothing line and the label an interest in the business side of things?
Yeah, for the most part. Famous (Stars and Straps) was started in '99. At the time, there were a lot of brands out that you couldn't wear. If you were wearing that brand, you had to be a skateboarder. If you weren't a skateboarder, people would be like, Why are you wearing that shirt?
So there was a lot of that going on or it was racial. If you were white, you couldn't wear that. If you were black, you had to wear that. It kind of turned me off and made me not want to wear any of it. It made me want to start my own thing.
I think of my seasons, with my line of t-shirts or whatever or my clothing line, are seasons basically like a record for me. Twelve songs. What I was inspired by in the last four months is fall. What I was inspired the next three months was winter. The graphics will tell the story. If you see something on a t-shirt, basically I went through it. Like you can look at this line and what any idiot would see that's going on in my life and go, I get that. I understand that. It's just another way for me to express myself, I guess. And I think to help people that aren't so into just being one thing. A lot of my friends are skateboarders, but maybe they rap. There's a million things they could be. I guess that's what I migrate to and that's what I keep around me, is people who are willing to go against the norm, to go against the grain and create our own path.
What about LaSalle Records?
We put out a Transplants record. We put out a Kinison record and we're about to put out a record called Warfare. I sign bands because music moves me, the same thing. That's all it is. Just to help out friends and people who I believe in, you know?
Will there be any more television?
I'm not married to her anymore, so, yeah.
Are you aware of what Tom is doing?
You know what? Here's how I think of things. Things that I used to be involved in that I'm no longer around or for some reason the left, those things are invisible to me. I don't let them get to me. I don't monitor them. I believe to let them live. I want to live; let them live. Anyone playing music I can't bash. I can't say anything bad about them.
When you look back at the work you did with blink, could you sum up what you created with them?
I think what we did was great just because we were like 24, 23. We were young, going crazy, touring the world, selling millions of records. We didn't even rehearse before we'd go on tour! We'd be playing arena tours - no rehearsals! No rehearsals whatsoever, playing songs that we hadn't played in like 8 months and deciding to play that night. That's what was great about blink. That was truly what kind of band we were. Anything could happen and anything did happen a lot of times. That was like the heart of it. That's what kept it alive.
Does +44 require a different approach than your other bands in terms of learning the material live?
I've rehearsed more with this band for that one show at the Roxy and like these upcoming shows in Europe than I have for any band in my whole life! We rehearsed for like 2 weeks, so that was long for us. But it was good, though. I'm sure with anything, like if you were not to listen to this and not really take notes or anything, then the day before you'd just kind of crammed everything together, you're not really expecting much. You're not really expecting whoever you turn it into to go, Hey, Steve, good job. You really did good. But if you did prepare for it, then you're kind of like, I'm not worried what they say because I know I did a good job.
That's how it kind of feels right now because we're like, At least we're prepared.
How did The Roxy Show feel, considering Los Angeles can be a tough place to play?
|"You shouldn't sound like everyone else. Life's too short to try to be like the next guy."|
I think L.A. is tough. I live here and you see the ugliest of the ugliest things happen here, the saddest things, the greatest things, the funnest things. So people are exposed to a lot, so they're expecting a whole bunch. But more of a reason to start here. Why don't you start right where it's hot?
With all the drummers and musical styles out there, are there a lot of great things happening?
Yeah, you should be able to look for outside influence. I can go to a Prince concert and see John Blackwell play the drums, and I'm inspired to play the drums again. But at the same time, when you're not inspired, it's your job to inspire other people. Even if you're not a popular drummer, even if it's your friend that plays drums, inspire him to do something new. It's our job as drummers to do that stuff. But I think there is a lot of inspiring things. I think there's great drummers out there. I think there's great music all around us to be inspired by, people making good drums. It's just up to us really. It's just a matter of the ideas. That's what's anything is based off of, is having great ideas and a great approach and good taste.
When you were making the +44 record, could you sense that it was musically hip? Different?
What songs we weren't really into we knew to leave alone. Mark kind of is the same writer as I do when it comes to this, but even when it comes to building beats, recording a new song, writing a new song, usually the ones that are going to be the greatest song in the whole is usually written in 4 or 5 minutes. It is what it is. Like it or not, that's how it goes down usually. Anything that we would bring up three or four times to try and work on it just didn't work. A lot of the times, we'd just move on. We'd save it as an idea. But we always tended to really work on the ones that were coming together really quickly.
Like the first single that we were playing out here was an idea from the basement a long time ago. Mark had elaborated more on it one weekend and brought a newer copy of it. I played drums on it that day. I think Shane went and played guitar on it and it was finished. Mark messed around with the vocal ideas on it for the next week or something, but for the most part that song was done. And you listen to it right away, and there's only about whatever how many tracks on it. You're like, It's finished. It's not a question of it. You just know.
Will you ever do an overdub of some parts? For example, you'll be playing a straight hi-hat and then there's a ghost thing that happens?
A lot of the times, there will be a programmed hi-hat that's just doing something a little different than I am. Or it could be a shaker and I'm playing close to the same pattern as the hi-hat, but it's not. So it's just playing off, complementing each other.
What are the plans now?
The plans now are to go to New York this Sunday, tomorrow. We go do press for about 4 or 5 days, then we go to Europe and we play about 9 shows. We come home and we start a U.S. tour. So it's starting again, but it feels really good. We've only played that one show (debut show at the Roxy in Hollywood) and I can't wait to just be on tour and have like a momentum, like 5 or 6 shows under our belt. The thing about it, we played a show to a roomful of fans that know one song that has been released on the Internet. I just can't wait till they're singing along with every song.
2006 Steven Rosen