Lamb Of God's Chris Adler has been busy. This past February he embarked on an 11-date clinic tour dubbed A Throne With A View. Sponsored by Mapex, Adler not only demonstrated his mindblowing drum techniques but also shared his experiences on and off the drum stool. Additionally, he finished a book titled The Making of New American Gospel: Drum Tablature, Short Stories and Reflections in which he wrote about recording this debut LOG album and all the insanity involved in that. The drummer breaks down each song and provides insights about performing that song as well as an accurate tab depicting exactly what he played. And now he is in pre-production mode on Lamb of God's new album. He still found time to talk and here he fills in the holes on these various projects and adds flesh to the bones of his personality.
UG: It's curious that you started your musical career as a bass player. What attracted you to the four-string as opposed to the guitar?
Chris Adler: Most of my friends at the time were guitar players and it was certainly very common at least when I was coming up through middle school and high school for kids to play guitar. My favorite rock band at the time I was into some punk and hardcore stuff but my favorite kind of rock band at the time was Aerosmith. I just thought that Tom Hamilton's playing really stood out in that band as a very, very key element. In the other bands that I was listening to it was very different in that the bass was just following along and it seemed like a dumbed-down version of the guitar. But in the early Aerosmith stuff he was adding a lot to that music and I thought it was very cool the voice that he was giving that instrument. And that's what I was hoping to do with the bass. It turns out that I probably was a little better doing that with drums but I chose bass to begin with.
The music that Cry Havoc and Grouse were playing was heavier than Aerosmith.
It was, yeah. I guess it was just like Metallica listening to Diamond Head and stuff like that. That is what I was listening to but I was driven to be a but heavier than that.
In those bands you were already playing drums; did you play bass seriously in any group?
I was. There were several throughout high school and such but there was one called Calibra and it was a speed metal band that I played bass in. But the one that I did most with was a band called Jettison Charlie. That was based out of Richmond and we did two records and two 7 vinyls on Turn Of the Century Records and toured around the US and had our own CDs and all that good stuff. So that was a full-on real deal kind of project with a band van and trailer and all that stuff.
Were you a good bass player?
Similar to my drumming style, I think I was constantly over-trying; I was an over-eager bass player. I think I was pretty good; I got the whole rhythm thing down pretty well. But I think I was definitely cut out from the drum cloth a little more than the guitar cloth.
Was there a line in the sand drawn when you said, I want to be a drummer?
You know what? There was. The guitar player and singer in Jettison Charlie decided he was gonna move out of town and that really put the brakes on the band. I realized at that point, I was 21 and had been in the band for a couple years. Like I said, we had put out the records and done the touring and I don't want to say that I went through the process of playing drums but in hindsight I basically gave up on the idea of playing music for a living.
You were going to leave music entirely?
I got a fulltime job and then when the opportunity came up to play drums, I wasn't in that headspace of, Yeah, this is what I'm gonna do for the rest of my life. It was just, Yeah, I guess I can spend a few hundred dollars on this crappy drumkit in the paper and let's just see where it goes. It was really for the fun of it; it wasn't with any ambition to do anything. I think that was the major switching point: when I gave up.
When you finally sat behind a set of drums, did it feel natural?
It wasn't immediate; it definitely took a lot of woodshedding to get up to where even today, I still spend a lot of time working on my hands and feet and dexterity and all that good stuff. But I knew that I had a knack for it and within a few months of having that old broken down drumkit, I realized I had enough of a knack for it to go ahead and save up and try to get a nice version of the same instrument and start to learn about what I was missing.
Prior to this had you spent any time at all messing around with drums?
Throughout the process of playing in bands in high school and even through college with Jettison Charlie, I would always when the guys were out of the room or taking a break or having a smoke or whatever, jump behind the kit. So I had some time not necessarily in a project but I always enjoyed banging around. I didn't realize I knew what I was doing maybe as much as I do now but it was always fun to do.
From the beginning was it always going to be the double bass setup?
It was. I know it sounds silly but the guys that I was looking up to that I wanted to play like and emulate in any way whether it was the visual or the sound all had the double kick drums. Now I'm happily married and have a daughter but at the time there was a running joke that two kick drums get you more girls so that was definitely an added bonus.
Who were some of the double bass players you were listening to back in the day?
The guy that really kind of set me off on a tangent anywhere and in the direction I wanted to was this guy, Shannon Larkin, who played with Wrathchild America; I think he plays with Godsmack now and he's been in a million bands all over the place. But he really brought a really interesting progressive voice to the drums, which was lacking in a lot of the hair metal that was apparently given out fairly free in the white suburbs where I grew up. But the speed thing, I think everybody can go back to the song One by Metallica where Lars goes into that infamous double bass part. Now of course, Dave Lombardo for the really fast double kick stuff and the aggression and all that stuff. I think between Shannon Larkin and another guy, Gar Samuelson, who was the first drummer for Megadeth who brought kind of a jazzy feel into the metal, those were the guys that I kinda wanted to sound like. I did that kind of in a strange way where I was learning how to play like Stewart Copeland songs and hoping to bring some of that not necessarily The Police but just different styles to what we were doing. And I think overall that's definitely one of the things that has helped me stand out as a player probably more than anything.
Did you go back any further than Stewart Copeland? Did you ever listen to Keith Moon or Ginger Baker as early examples of double bass use?
Yeah, actually, I did but maybe not the classic guys in the way you define em. Like one of the guys that made a huge difference for me was Billy Cobham; like Mahavishnu Orchestra and what they were doing. Just the idea of this kind of pulse in this ever-changing music where it didn't have to be this static kind of verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo outro and didn't have to be all about beer and girls and stuff like that. I was getting interested in that on a far deeper level. I think guys like Stewart Copeland and Billy Cobham and on the metal front guys like Gene Hoglan and Shannon Larkin really had their thinking caps on as well and they were adding a lot to the instrument. They were more than just a drummer for the band.
By the time you arrive at the recording of New American Gospel, have you been able to put all these different influences together to create your own style? Did you feel comfortable with who you were as a drummer when Lamb of God began that first record?
No, and that's a very interesting question. Up until right now and this record I'm doing right now and we're writing five and six days a week, I really never felt comfortable in my skin as a drummer. I think this recent clinic tour I did certainly helped me gain that confidence. I'm not in any way try to say I'm better than anybody else but maybe finally for the first time I'm comfortable with what I do and who I am as a drummer. So certainly at the time, no; I was in every possible way overcompensating and looking for some sort of validation through everyone else's opinion. Thereby overplaying everything and hoping the people would point out the fact that I was a stellar drummer. Through other people I was somehow trying to vindicate myself by overplaying every tune. No, I was definitely not comfortable.
Black Label is the first song on New American Gospel and the first time fans would hear you play a Lamb of God song. In your book, you talk about the intro to that song as being very simple. Did you think it would be a problem if right out of the box, the first stuff you played on a LOG album was this basic?
I do talk about that a little bit in the book but that song itself was the last song we wrote for the record and was not complete by the time we got to the studio. Only Willie and I by brother Willie knew how the song led up to the end and the fadeout to the end; we didn't learn that. So the guys actually learned their parts in the studio and so the first time we ever played it as a band was while we were recording it. So there's absolutely no live experience with the song; no way to tell how well it's gonna go over; and no confidence in our ability to even pull the song off. And I'm super self-conscious about the beginning of it in particular because it's very comparatively simple to what we're doing.
After everything you've described, it seems strange Black Label made it on the album at all and much less as the opening track.
When we were done recording the album and looking at these 10, 11 songs that we had and trying to decide what was going to go on the record, it's surprising to me that this ended up first. It's surprising it ended up on the record at all. It's definitely surprising that it ended up first because we, as a band, it was totally new to us and we didn't have our legs under us as far as how we even felt about the song yet.
Black Label became one of LOG's most popular songs.
Yeah, I think even today it's probably certainly one of the two or three best-known Lamb of God songs out there.
Do you think the fans could latch onto that simplicity?
I don't think we were aware of what that simplicity would do for us on a level of people being able to appreciate what it was we were doing. I don't want to say that it was dumbed down for anyone but it had the ability to grab attention we didn't expect because of that part. And we certainly learned that lesson since. I think even at that point it took a while for that to sink in and in hindsight it's easy to talk about it. For now, yeah, we've definitely learned over time that leaving people wanting more is certainly better than leaving people wanting less. Finding a good medium where we're able to maintain our integrity in what we want to get out and also make something that makes you wanna drive fast and pump your hand in the sky.
A Warning came with this caveat on the album's liner notes: Written absent the consideration of vocal placement and arrangement like all of the songs except Black Label.' We didn't care. Is it true that lyrics and/or vocal melodies were always secondary to the music?
That's how it's always worked for us. I think we're more conscious now that there are going to vocals. When we started, it was as an instrumental project so it took us a long time to come to the idea that this was somewhat of a successful project and things were moving forward and we had to consider the vocal treatment. But even now as we're several weeks into the process of writing the new material and Randy, our singer, has not come by and we don't necessarily expect him to. Until the songs are done and until there's something complete for him to see and understand the picture. In that writing process we're now certainly more careful of, Well, there's gonna be vocals on this part so it doesn't make sense that we go seven times. That kind of mentality is now in the space whereas on New American Gospel and maybe even Palaces, that would never have been a consideration.
"It turns out that I probably was a little better doing that with drums but I chose bass to begin with."
In your book for the song Letter to the Unborn, you talk about playing 16th notes at 200+ bpm. Obviously that was challenging as a player but is faster always better?
No! [laughs] In fact it's an endless endeavor in frustration to only follow that. No, I think for me that any day of the week, style and groove are far more important than speed. I think at the time I was focused on that like a lot of guys get wrapped up in that whole world of speed and lose the flavor and the love in the music. It's hard for me to listen back to that album and think there was any flavor or love because I was so aggressive and I was so trying to be the fastest and hit the hardest and I was caught in that race. But as I go back through the albums now, I can find where I really started to understand my place and really started to feel good about what I did.
Ultimate-Guitar interviewed Brann Dailor recently and he talked about this same thing. What you're talking about is serving the song and not your own ego.
Yeah. Including Black Label, which is the one song that kinda took off out of that record, but all the songs that have elevated the career of the band are when we got out of the individual mode and when we started looking at the song as a whole. We started understanding the band and got out of playing for our own ego; that's when things really started to take off. When you could pay attention to what the song needed and not necessarily what you could do. In my clinics I talk about that just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should do it and that's been a very important lesson for me. On New American Gospel in most cases, I had not learned that lesson yet so I was overdoing it and overplaying quite a bit. Since then, as I now approach my 40 years on the planet, I'm starting to realize that sometimes it's better not to play.
There are drummers who really don't pay attention to that idea.
Yeah; it certainly seems like that's the trend especially in extreme metal. For these guys who chase the metronome and it's just a never-ending race. I realized a long time ago there are 12-, 13-, and 14-year olds that are gonna outplay me everyday of the week so trying to keep up with that is an infinite loop of frustration.
What is important to you now as a drummer?
Now it's understanding and feeling good about my style and continuing to define that and trying to be the best drummer I can for the band.
In your book you described O.D.H.G.A.B.F.E. as having that sludge feel and you talked about not digging that kind of groove. Why?
At the time I was a fan of speed metal and such and I didn't have time for the slow [stuff.] The bands that we knew that were doing that kind of music were not in the best physical shape and maybe some of the substances that they were introducing to their human system were helping bring about this music. So I had that association; I didn't want to be a part of that. So there was a skew in my brain that fast meant together.
On The Subtle Arts of Murder and Persuasion you played that hypnotic kind of half-time swamp groove. Is groove a dirty word in metal? Can you be heavy and still groove?
I certainly hope so; that's all that I want to do. I think I mentioned it earlier that groove and style are far ahead of speed in my book. Yeah, absolutely. If given the option every time that we're writing songs, my whole goal is to write something that makes me want to move and that is how I kinda define groove. A blast beat is rarely if ever going to do that so I tend to stay away from that kind of stuff and try to keep up something regardless of how aggressive the music is that makes me wanna smile or nod my head or move my hips or something; just move.
One of the poignant moments in The Making of New American Gospel was when you wrote, I hit a point in 2006 where I felt like I was stagnating. Can you address that in a little more detail?
It was right after Sacrament; there was such a huge evolution in my playing from the Palaces record to the Ashes of the Wake record, which were the two prior to Sacrament. There was such a huge growth there where I went from kind of ego idea of a song to working with the band better. But there wasn't that same kind of evolution into Sacrament. I think Ashes of the Wake and Sacrament, the drumming while unique, interesting and very much defined my style, I don't think there's a whole lot different about the two the two records in my playing on them. I think it's good and there's nothing wrong with it; I didn't feel that same evolution that I had from the prior record. I felt like there should have been and I didn't know why. I felt like playing those songs maybe I was getting too old or I didn't have the right inspiration or I was listening to the wrong music. But I felt like I was falling back on the same bag of tricks and I didn't know how to get out of the box that I had put myself in.
You climbed out of that hole by checking out tab books and reading notation from other players?
It definitely helped. Like I talked about earlier with some of that different kind of music that I was listening to, instead of just listening to it now I would sit down and try get into a little bit of the headspace of the guys that were playing it. Using tab books and maybe even sitting down with just headphones and trying to figure out how they were doing some of that stuff. It wasn't that I wanted to copy that stuff but it could get me out of the routine that I was in and think a little bit differently the next time I sat down; maybe play it a different way. A lot of that problem also came about because what's kind of standard and expected in metal is that when you put these songs out on the record, you go out and tour on them and play em the same way every night. And if you don't it's because you can't and if you can't it's because you suck. To me that meant playing it the same way every night over and over and that kind of repetitive motion itself is eventually gonna burn you out; that's kinda where I got to. Where I needed to think about even the things I had already done just in a different way; approach them differently; try the fills differently. I wrote the stuff so there's really no wrong way that I can play it but I was so focused on this one particular way that I think I just burned myself out and created this issue of stagnating in that.
You've touched earlier on your A Throne With a View drum clinic tour and how it has provided positive input for you?
It was a really great tour and I've been invited now to take it overseas and I'm considering all those things. But for me, yeah, it was great to kind of face that challenge that I didn't think I would be particularly good at. I don't know, I've always had very good luck in taking on things that I think are over my head and somehow getting through them and this was certainly one of them. Where I feel like I'm kind of a rock and roll kid that learned how to play over a whole lot of Miller Lite. This was kind of the antithesis of my playing; I don't know how to teach and I've never taken lessons and doing a clinic tour I felt like I was playing in somebody else's backyard. So to get through it successfully and to have everybody as happy as they were about it was initially a huge sigh of relief. But it also did make me feel a little more confident in what I do and that I'm not alone out there in that I didn't go to school or take lessons to do this. There's a lot of people out there that wanna hear that kind of story and are inspired by that kind of story. So, yeah, I think it was great for me and like I said I feel a little more comfortable in my skin and going into this record I think it's going to show.
"I'm not in any way try to say I'm better than anybody else but maybe finally for the first time I'm comfortable with what I do and who I am as a drummer."
While you've brought up the new album, can you talk about it at all?
We're doin' pretty well; we've got 24 ideas and we're up to about 10 of them in line of just kind of working through [them]. We've got plenty of time to work it out this year but we're really just getting started. But we have more material than we could ever use so we're pretty happy.
In the book you talked about being a left-handed drummer and wanting to embrace that facet of your playing. Has that materialized on the new songs?
Yeah, it's funny, I just got the UPS confirmation for a Mapex 16 tom that they're sending out for my left side. And we're gonna try two 20 kicks right now; I have 22 kicks and I'm gonna try the 20 and see if I can get different things going on there with different sounds and maybe [get] my speed up a little bit.
The response on smaller bass drums would be different than the larger basses you've been using?
Yeah, I never tried it before but the producer came in and right off the top the guitar players brought in some stuff that was just ahead of where I was comfortable for any length of time with double kick stuff. So I was beggin' them to bring it down a little bit and they're beggin' me to speed it up a little bit. I'm like, Listen, man, I've been trying to speed it up for all 16 years that I've been playing and I'm pretty sure this is where it's gonna end up in the end. So the producer had the idea to bring in smaller kicks and I'm certainly willing to try and put in the time so, Yeah, let's give it a whirl.
You're happy with where your playing is at and your headspace and all that stuff?
Yeah, very much. I guess I always go into these things worried that I don't want to repeat myself and I don't wanna end up stagnating or having that evolution issue. And even some of the stuff coming out of rehearsal today, both guitar players turned to me and mentioned on separate occasions that some of the stuff I'm doin' is very, very cool and different than what they had expected. Again, I'm somehow vindicated by them but I do think that I have a new set of skills and a newfound confidence in myself going into this one.
"At the time there was a running joke that two kick drums get you more girls so that was definitely an added bonus."
The Making Of New American Gospel: Drum Tablature, Short Stories And Reflection by Chris Adler
Chris Adler's first book is a detailed romp through the madness and magic that happened while recording New American Gospel. The drummer revisits the days when Lamb of God were a brand new band and had entered the studio for the first time to work on their debut album. As the title suggests, Adler has conjured snippets of memories, anecdotal moments, and straight narrative to tell his tale. What makes the book a truly valuable read is the drummer's sense of honesty and uncensored appraisal about who he was both as a musician and a person.
The Making of New American Gospel is broken up into 16 chapters. Chapter One New American Gospel - is a remarkably candid section where Adler discusses the construction of the first album and details all the problems, setbacks, and anxieties that accompanied the recording. Here is an excerpt from the drummer's introductory statement.
"New American Gospel probably our most difficult album to complete. So many obstacles from financial to personnel; it almost didn't happen."
The remainder of the chapter is spent in talking about what those obstacles were and how the band eventually over came them.
Chapter Two Tabs? is a fascinating section about the drummer's newfound interest in the world of tabs and how they changed his life. Adler writes, "My interest in these tabs stemmed from what I can best term a repetitive mental drum injury.'" He talks about feeling inadequate as a musician and resigned to simply repeating himself in terms of chops and fills. A friend then turned him onto tabs and drum books and he felt reborn as a drummer.
Chapters Three and Four Drum Setup and Drum Key describe his gear and the notation key to read the tabs.
The remaining chapters are broken down by song titles and each chapter includes about a page of explanation of how the song was recorded; Adler's drum parts; and anecdotal bits. Reading the drummer's thoughts and memories about each song is completely engaging and puts you right in the heart of things. What emerges time and time again is Adler's ever-changing attitude of how best to serve the song versus what satisfies him as a drummer. Here, in an excerpt from the song, "The Black Dahlia," he touches on the subject.
"That balance is difficult for many reasons. You have to consider, and sometimes keep in check, your ability, ego, and your audience. Too far down the progressive path and you're writing music only musicians can listen to and appreciate, too far the other way and it becomes too dumbed down to grab anyone's attention."
And here, in a brief passage in his explanation of the song, "Black Label," he addresses the concept of fueling the song and feeding the ego.
"At this stage of my drumming career, I was still very much in the headspace of showing off.' The intro was a bit dumbed down on a drum level; so much so, that I initially questioned it "
Each song chapter ends with very accurate tabs of what Adler has played on the track.
This is a really uncensored memoir by Chris Adler. He opens his heart and talks about feeling inadequate as a player, which is something you'll rarely hear any musician mutter out loud. Read his comments on each song from New American Gospel and then listen to the track. You'll feel like you're inside his head when the recording happened and you'll understand what he went through and what he experienced back in the 90s.
By Steven Rosen