Trials and tribulations plague many a group, but some arguably suffer more than their fair share of hardship. Drowning Pool experienced initial success courtesy of debut album "Sinner" (2001), but this was cut brutally short when vocalist Dave Williams passed away as the result of cardiomyopathy. Subsequent singer Jason "Gong" Jones survived only one album (2004's "Desensitized") before parting ways with the outfit, though eventually, ex-SOiL frontman Ryan McCombs filled that void - beginning with 2007's "Full Circle".
Issued on April 27th, 2010 through Eleven Seven, Drowning Pool's self-titled fourth studio full length shifted twelve thousand copies in the United States during its initial week of release, charting at position thirty-five on the Billboard 200. Recorded at "House of Loud", "Drowning Pool" was produced by Kato Khandwala with David Bendeth handling mixing duties. Vocalist Ryan McCombs' father sadly passed away during the recording process for the album, with the track "Over My Head" drawing inspiration directly from McCombs' bond with his father. Slide guitar surfaces on "Alcohol Blind", a composition which furthers Drowning Pool's fascination with acoustic guitar. Inaugural single "Feel Like I Do", meanwhile, reached position four on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
"Drowning Pool" marks the first time a vocalist for the group has returned to cut a second full-length, and joining frontman Ryan Combs are: guitarist C.J. Pierce, bassist Stevie Benton and drummer Mike Luce. From mid to late August, Drowning Pool will appear on Ozzfest's Second Stage, which'll also feature Black Label Society, Kingdom of Sorrow, Goatwhore, Skeletonwitch, Saviours, and Kataklysm. Appearing on the Main Stage are: Ozzy Osbourne, Mtley Cre, Halford, DevilDriver, and Nonpoint.
On April 16th at 20:00 GMT, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned Drowning Pool guitarist C.J. Pierce to discuss the group's self-titled effort.
C.J. Pierce: Hello?
UG: Hello. Can I speak to C.J. please?
This is C.J..
This is Robert Gray from Ultimate-Guitar.com.
Hey, how's it going man?
It's going great. How are you C.J.?
I'm good; I have a couple of days off at the house before we get busy again. I'm just doing what I love to do, which is working on music.
That's good to hear. Would it be alright if I began the interview?
Yeah, yeah. We can get on with it.
How did Drowning Pool's fourth studio album come to fruition?
Basically, after we put out our last CD 'Full Circle' and toured that album, we had a little bit of time off. I just sat at the house, and came up with about seven ideas. We started working from there, and the next thing you know - a few months later man - we pretty much had a good chunk of the CD, about ten to fifteen songs, written. I think at the beginning of 2009 was when we really, really buckled down and finished the writing. It was cool, because at that time, whenever we had a day off from touring, we went into the studio and tried to come up with even more stuff. Once we had the CD written, I think some of the best songs actually came right there at the end because you're already in a comfortable mood, and you're just trying to beat what you already have. Basically, I guess that was the whole process. By the time we went in the studio, we had twenty songs.
Will any of those leftover tracks be used as B-sides?
We have one that we recorded as a B-side, and then the rest of it... With every record cycle, we always end up with a couple of songs that didn't get finished in time, or just had to cook a little bit longer. I know with this record, there's ideas that we had kicking around for a few years, and they finally came together on top of all the new material. I think each band probably goes through the cycle of having a couple of ideas that they still want to get to, and then of course, everything else from there is brand new.
Did those ideas that had been kicking around for awhile have a different sound compared to the new ideas?
Yeah. We had one song called "Horns Up" for awhile, which I really felt was gonna make it onto 'Full Circle'. It's a really straightforward, jamming Drowning Pool tune that I'm really glad made it onto this record. Another one, called "King Zero", was honestly an idea that I had back when Dave was still with us - we recorded that as a demo, and "King Zero" came out of a song called "Less Than Zero". I've always kinda liked the feel of that song, and I've always wanted to write something like that as a modern day Drowning Pool song with that kind of old school, original feel - if you're a super fan, the old demo stuff, and kinda that vibe.
How did having the same vocalist in Ryan McCombs - as on 'Full Circle' - benefit 'Drowning Pool'? Where Drowning Pool's vocalists are concerned, original vocalist Dave Williams (who sang on 'Sinner') unfortunately passed away of course, and Jason Jones subsequently sang on 2004's 'Desensitized'. With that in mind, how did having Ryan McCombs return benefit 'Drowning Pool'?
It was great. It was something very new for us, because it seemed like after every time we made a record, the bottom fell out and we had to start from scratch again. We've always been friends with Ryan for years - in fact, the reason why I met Ryan was actually Dave. He was a fan of Ryan's voice, and I think his voice fits our band perfect. Also, it was really cool because going into a second record with Ryan after touring with him over the years and really getting to know the guy personally really made it a lot easier for me as a songwriter. I wrote what I felt, but also had Ryan's strengths and weaknesses in mind. Whenever I write something, if I just maybe push it to be a little bit like this, it'll help Ryan's voice really shine. That was an advantage. Mike, Stevie and I have been friends for roughly fifteen years, and writing music together over the years definitely just gets to the stage where we know the point we're trying to make with our ideas because we know each other so well. I think that was an advantage. Honestly, I could never be more proud of working with these guys on the CD we just made.
Were there certain strengths which Ryan has that were exhibited on 'Drowning Pool', but weren't on 'Full Circle'?
Yeah. Ryan's got a great, strong rock voice; I always thought he had a good rock growl, but he also has a really good singing voice. It's something that isn't a comfortable zone for him, because he's used to being a pretty hardcore dude. The Drowning Pool fans will still get that on this record, but we wanted to try something new with this being our fourth album. We kinda pushed Ryan on a few songs to actually really sing. I think he has a great singing voice; it isn't super clean, but still has that rock growl to it. I like what he's done; it's awesome to see him do something that he's never done before, and to kinda push him out of his comfort zone.
You said that in the past, you had felt as though the bottom had fallen out on Drowning Pool during certain parts of the group's career. Was there every a time where Drowning Pool might've just split?
You know, there was never a point where we ever thought about splitting, honestly. Every time something tragic like that happened, it just brought us closer really. Those guys are my best friends - we've been through a lot together. I mean, I know everybody goes through a lot in life. I know a lot of bands go through a lot of different things, but it feels like we got hit with one of each. Instead of it all causing us to break up or end up hating each other though, it all just made us closer really. I'm glad that it did that, because a lot of bands break up for lesser reasons. I think that's another thing that hopefully rock fans will get with our music, that what you're really hearing is all four guys coming together to write a rock record as one band.
In what ways do you feel Drowning Pool has grown since the days of 'Sinner'?
I think we all really try to be better at our craft, but I think our songwriting has changed. I feel like we're better songwriters, and I hope that people can see that. The more you do it, the more you love to do it. There's definitely a lot of things you learn on the business side of things as well, but you have to learn the hard way. That's another thing that kills a lot of bands as well; bad management, or a bad label, or the business side. That's another thing that you got to work around though, that you never think of when you join a band. You think it's all drugs, alcohol and sex (laughs), but you got to get a little business sense out of it as well to be successful.
Has Drowning Pool been the victim of bad business deals in the past?
Oh, horrible deals man. I used to get mad about it, though I don't get mad about it anymore. I just look at it as a life lesson, but when it's literally hundreds of thousands of dollars that you got ripped off out of... I don't wanna walk around with a chip on my shoulder about it. Lesson learnt, and next time around, we won't work with these type of people and look for those loopholes. I've read so many contracts since then that I feel like I could be a lawyer, you know what I mean? There's a lot of work involved, and that can kinda kill the vibe man. You got to handle the business, and then go back into creative mode. We don't have to worry about it. You got to be good at business though, definitely.
Following on from 'Full Circle', in what different directions does 'Drowning Pool' venture in?
Well musically, we wanted to expand even more, so we tried something new on 'Full Circle'. Doing a song like "37 Stitches" was something we hadn't done before, and that seemed to really open up the door. A lot of fans seemed to accept "37 Stitches", which is a lighter song - it's probably the lightest song we've ever written. Not that we're gonna turn into a light band by any means, but it's nice to explore different styles of music. There's a song on 'Drowning Pool' which is an all acoustic song - which I never thought I'd do in my life - but at the same time, there's other songs on there like a song called "Regrets", stuff that's actually heavier than anything we've ever done. We broadened the spectrum with heavier songs and lighter songs than we've ever had on a CD. There's a couple of songs - there's probably like three to four - where there's singing and harmonies. I mean, we've always been kinda more of a grunt, count to four in the background kind of band, but I just wanted to try other things we hadn't explored before.
Would the acoustic track you referred to be "Alcohol Blind"?
Yeah, that's "Alcohol Blind".
You play slide guitar on "Alcohol Blind".
Yeah man, I love the slide guitar. On tour one time, we were in Memphis and other towns like Nashville - they got these musicians that just kick ass on slide. It's definitely an art form in itself, and it's something I've been playing around with. The whole influence for that song honestly came from an acoustic record Zakk Wylde did called 'Book of Shadows', which had a really cool vibe to it. I've always wanted to write something within that zone, and again, that's another band that Dave introduced me to - he's the one who got me that CD. "Alcohol Blind" is something that I would've loved to have done with him, but now is just the right time and the right place for it. That's another song where Ryan really sings, which is out of his comfort zone. It's just got a cool vibe to it. We played "Alcohol Blind" live at a bar one night when we were still working on it, and the whole room just had this really cool feeling, so we thought "We gotta do this". The slide was fun man - I spent a lot of time on it.
"It was something very new for us, because it seemed like after every time we made a record, the bottom fell out and we had to start from scratch again."
So even though Dave unfortunately passed away, would you say that he still influences Drowning Pool in some way, and that his spirit is still there?
Yeah, his spirit is always with us man. There's always funny stories to tell. I'm glad that we actually toured with Ryan back when Dave was still in the band, and we were all friends. We all knew each other - it's just like a big family. I really feel like you gotta be family first before you can write songs. Family and friends always come first, and people always have good stories about the time they spent with Dave. I think it's great fun.
In an interview, you said that you had a few acoustic songs lying around. Are there plans in the pipeline to cut an acoustic Drowning Pool album?
We did acoustic versions of "37 Stitches" and a song called "Shame" from 'Full Circle', which again, is the first time we've ever done that. Those tracks featured on 'Loudest Common Denominator' (2009), and came out really good. Some bands do acoustic; I know Sevendust does it, and they do it well, and Alice in Chains are probably the ones who started it obviously, and they do it well. I'd like to do one, I really would, and let Ryan pull it off. For some bands it is, and for some bands it isn't. We've done a handful of songs acoustically though, and there's a couple of songs on 'Drowning Pool' like "Alcohol Blind", and there's also "Turn So Cold" and "Over My Head", which I think would be great candidates. Oh yeah, and "More Than Worthless" - that one definitely sounds cool. I'd like to do that; I'd love to do some acoustic covers of the songs that we have that haven't been done acoustically, and also, I have a ton of acoustic music written that I've never even got to really do anything with. It would be fun to bring a bunch of new songs in as well, and be where we can push the envelope, but that doesn't mean we won't come back and do a metal record though.
Once the touring cycle for 'Drowning Pool' has concluded, is a potential acoustic album a project the group will discuss and seriously consider?
Yeah, me, Mike and Stevie have been talking about recording an acoustic album. We sit around sometimes, and just jam ourselves with the acoustic on the back of the bus, so we've kinda been in that time frame for a little while - it's really bringing Ryan onboard. I think it would be a great CD to put out before we put out the next heavy one though, in between record cycles like we did with the live record that we put out last year. That kinda keeps things flowing, and gives the fans something else to listen to and soak in before the next record. I've been listening to a lot of heavy stuff lately; the new Fear Factory record (February 2010's 'Mechanize') sounds so heavy. I listen to all these heavy bands, and think it couldn't hurt Drowning Pool to have a little bit more metal on the next record either. I'm always trying to stay one step ahead of the game though. That's where I'm at right now.
When you have a vocalist like Ryan onboard, if Drowning Pool wished to become even heavier musically, that's something the group could explore obviously.
Oh yeah yeah. I think, definitely. We can, definitely.
How did Kato Khandwala approach producing Drowning Pool?
He was great man. We wanted to go with an A-list producer, and we wanted our record to sound sonically better than anything we've recorded. I think we had a lot to beat on 'Full Circle' sonically, and 'Sinner' was always a great sounding record. So that was the big focus. By getting in touch with Kato, we found out that he worked with bands like Paramore and Breaking Benjamin, and those two records (2007's 'Riot! and 2006's 'Phobia' respectively) actually sound really great - they just sound huge, and were successful. Yeah man, Kato is a rock guy. He's kinda like a drill sergeant, and was awesome man. We worked fifteen hour days, seven days a week, and he'd say "Do it again. Play it like this. Play it faster. Play it slower. Play it backwards. Play it forwards". We explored every single area and option that we could on every part of every song, and I was really happy he was so thorough. He really pushed us, and that's what we wanted; we wanted somebody that's gonna make you go beyond your comfort zone, and your limit.
So Kato definitely strives for perfection then?
Yeah, yeah. He's definitely a perfectionist man. You do that on every record, but with Kato, it was like that times a thousand. He's a great producer, and I can see great things for that guy in the future. He's gonna get a lot better.
When you have a guy like Kato onboard who possibly says "That was a good take, but I think you can do even better", does that help?
Yeah, he was great at that. I'd be sitting there playing, recording and thinking "Man, I got it", and he'd just hit the bar for me to start over again. He wouldn't even say anything, except "Start over again". I'd say "Really dude?", and he'd just say "Do it again" (laughs). Then there were other times when he'd look at me and laugh, saying "Is that really what you're gonna play?". He'd just start laughing, so I'd think "Aw shit, I better play something better" (laughs). Yeah, he had his techniques - his little tactics - to push our buttons. I'm glad he did that, because he made me a better player.
How would you describe some of the riffs that appear on 'Drowning Pool', given the fact that the group is a riff heavy group?
I know of a good example, which would be a song like "Feel Like I Do", which is of course... I didn't think that song would even make it to the record, and it was one of the songs that we wrote sitting in the back of the bus on tour. I was listening to Corrosion of Conformity, and Down, and stuff like that - I guess you would call it modern day Southern rock type stuff. I have my wide variety of influences, but yeah, "Feel Like I Do" is a kind of riffy song. I love that modern Southern rock sound, so I'm glad that comes across in our music.
Looking back, does it feel weird that you didn't even think "Feel Like I Do" would appear on 'Drowning Pool''s final tracklisting? Considering the strength of that song?
Yeah, in a good way. We got to the point where we don't worry whether a song does or doesn't sound like Drowning Pool. How we think is "Is this a good song or a bad song?", and we don't try to do anything except write songs we all enjoy together. With that kind of outlook on "Feel Like I Do", it really grew once we got it in the studio and recorded it. The song came together, and just has this feel-good vibe to it. "Feel Like I Do" just turned out to be a good song.
Sadly, Ryan's father passed away during the recording process for 'Drowning Pool'. Did that affect the outcome of the material at all?
Man, that was intense. I can't think of anything more intense in your life than losing your mother, your father, or like a brother or sister, or some other family member. I haven't lost my mother or father yet, but that definitely has to be a tough time. Ryan came back in about a week after that, but we didn't know what to expect at first. Everybody reacts to losing a family member, though he came in there, just fell right into it, and got it done. I don't know how he did it man; he just went in that room, sang for like fifteen hours, and came out sweating. It was done, and he got on top of it. Yeah, it was tough. I know it was definitely a tough time. It was kinda hard; he was in and out of the process at that time, so I was kinda worried we would have to push it back or something like that. I said "Take all the time you need, and if you wanna push it back...". He came in there though man, and got it done. He jumped on it and was really focused. Sometimes, I think people do that too as a reaction. I think he would've been focused anyway.
Musically speaking though, would you say that the passing of Ryan's father affected 'Drowning Pool'?
I think it's probably gonna affect things more on the next record, because that happened during the recording process, and all the songs were pretty much written and ready to go before Ryan lost his father. I know that some stuff was affected; some lyrics on "More Than Worthless" he changed at the last second, and that probably has some reflection on that. I think we'll probably see more of that on the next record though, because I think right now is the time he's really dealing with it.
"I know with this record, there's ideas that we had kicking around for a few years, and they finally came together on top of all the new material."
Even though his father passed away, is Ryan well enough to tour and so on?
Yeah. I think the first tour we went out on was an adjustment period. Up until then, that was probably the longest we've been off tour for awhile - we were off tour for about five months. It always takes about a week to get back into it, but he seems to be doing really well man. He seems to be doing really good; he doesn't talk about it too much, but everybody's different. With me, when we lost Dave, it helped me to talk about it a lot, but other people don't like to talk. He seems to be doing well with it. I know with Dave, there was some point months later where it hit me again, and a second wave of depression set in. But he's around all of us, and if you're around friends and family, that's the best thing I think.
So certain things trigger those memories, and bring them flooding back?
Yeah, definitely. It's kind of weird man; we've had a couple of shows where we've seen people we hadn't seen in like five years, and they were friends of Dave's. When we played for the first time with Ryan, they were standing on the side of the stage, and Ryan was like "Woah". It gets emotional at times, yeah.
Why did Drowning Pool decide to release its fourth studio album as a self-titled effort?
Funnily enough, we were in a conference call about it with the label. With the way that this CD sounds, and with this being our second record with Ryan, and all of us just having been friends for so long, we really feel like we went in with an idea. This is what we wanna sound like, and we feel like we got that across. So in essence, we just called the CD 'Drowning Pool' because this is Drowning Pool; this is exactly what we wanna sound like, and that's exactly what you're gonna get. I know a lot of bands name their first CD the name of the band, and that's the defining sound of their band. I kinda feel like this is a rebirth in a sense; this is really where we want to be, and this is where we want to go from here.
So the album's title is a statement then?
Yeah, it's a statement. Straight up.
Thanks for the interview C. J., which is really appreciated.
Alright man. Thank you so much. I appreciate it too. We'll see you sometime in the future.
Ok. And all the best.
Right. I'll see you around. Thanks.
Interview by Robert Gray
"I could never be more proud of working with these guys on the CD we just made."