An Interview with Dave Lombardo of Slayer about Metal Masters 3 , Lawyers and the Art of GrooveBy Joe Daly
March 28, 2012
There are two kinds of all-star jams: the kind that people rave about for years and the kind that leave a bad taste in everybody’s mouth. An example of the latter category is what happens at the end of every single Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
An example of the former took place last September, when a gang of heavy metal’s tallest legends assembled in New York City to literally put on a clinic. David Ellefson (Megadeth), Kerry King (Slayer), Charlie Benante (Anthrax), Frank Bello (Anthrax) and Mike Portnoy (Adrenaline Mob/Flying Colors) descended on the Best Buy Theater in New York City and took turns demonstrating techniques before breaking into a ferocious jam session that ended with surprise guests Scott Ian (Anthrax) and Pantera’s Phil Anselmo taking the stage for a pair of Pantera songs. Anthrax closed the festivities by delivering a full set for the 500 lucky bastards who paid zero dollars to watch history go down.
Sponsored by music gear companies Samson, Hartke and Zoom, the clinic portion alone afforded a unique opportunity to see these innovators in a loose, intimate environment. To then witness a full set from Anthrax and to see Phil Anselmo perform two Pantera songs for the first time since leaving that group in 2001, was to witness something very special.
When Samson recently announced a Metal Masters 3 event on April 12, 2012 at the Key Club in Los Angeles, to say that expectations were high would be an understatement worthy of Smithsonian recognition. Eyebrows arched and coffee was spat onto monitors when Samson’s Mark Menghi, the event’s organizer, vowed that the Metal Masters 3 event would “outdo” its predecessor. An aggressive warranty, to be sure, but can he deliver?
In addition to the same roster of metal masters from the New York event, Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo has been added, creating a lineup so heavy that they might be classified as a brand new element on the Periodic Table.
Menghi is thrilled. “We’re getting three of the best drummers, two of the best bass players and one of the best guitar players in the world to do some pretty cool stuff. If you saw or read anything about the second one, you’re gonna get that with a lot of surprises. You never know who else might show up.”
Pressed for more specific details, Menghi demurs, reiterating, “We’re going to try to top it. And you never know who’s gonna show up.”
Tickets are still available for the event, which will also be broadcast live on Sirius XM’s Liquid Metal channel and streamed live on Best Buy’s Facebook page, as well as on the homepages of Guitar World and Revolver magazines.
I recently had a chance to sit down with newly-minted Metal Master Dave Lombardo to discuss Metal Masters 3, what’s happening with his band Slayer and of course, our pesky Either/Or segment.
What was the appeal to participating in Metal Masters 3?
Well, I just got a phone call asking if I’d like to do it. The appeal really is going on stage and hanging out with friends, hanging out with fellow musicians, and going up there and having a good time. That’s what it’s about for me. And it’s for Zoom, and Hartke and Samson, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Because it’s presented as a clinic, there sounds like there’s a teaching component to it. Is that something that you enjoy? Do you teach at all?
No. Teaching was never part of my thing; I never really liked to teach and I never really went to school to learn how to play drums. So to interpret what I do is a little difficult sometimes. But somehow, when I have done clinics, it works out because I just go up there and say, “Look guys, I don’t know how to explain it to you in technical terms, but I can probably sing it to you.” Then I’ll start mimicking drum sounds to the crowd (hums drum beat) and it becomes a cool interaction thing that goes on between us. It’s a lot of fun.
Eddie Van Halen used to turn away from the crowd because he didn’t want to give his tricks away. Are there any tricks that you’ve protected throughout the years?
No, I’m just trying to keep my drum tracks from leaking out there, individually, so people don’t make other songs out of them, like they’ve done to James Brown’s drummer, where they take that funky drum beat and apply it to rap songs. I just don’t want that shit happening.
I remember years ago, seeing a YouTube video of you doing a drum clinic, where you asked people to shout out what they wanted to hear and you’d play it. What do people usually request when you do that?
“Angel of Death,” “Raining Blood,” “Chemical Warfare,” “War Ensemble…” I’ve played these songs for so long that I can play them without any guitars and have the crowd sing the guitar parts and the vocals, so it’s kind of cool–we all do this singalong thing and they kind of help me out.
Looking back, some of those songs are coming up on thirty years. How does it feel to still get that big response when you play them?
Lucky. It feels very lucky. For anybody to last more than five years in this business is rare. You have to count your blessings in this business because you never know when it’s gonna end. I’m very fortunate and proud of the fact that I’m part of a band that’s legendary.
In addition to Slayer, you’ve done a ton of different collaborations and projects. When you’re invited to collaborate with someone, what are the aspects of the project that sell you?
Musically it has to be something that I find different or artistic. I mean, I did the Testament record and I know that was metal, and I did all the Grip, Inc. records and that was metal. I try not to leave the metal fans behind so I try to do things like that. I try not to get too diverse.
Drums of Death…
I love that record, just because it’s so different.
I did that for the fun of it. It was an idea proposed to me by the guy from Thirsty Ear Records. He said, “Hey, how about you and a DJ” I told him “I’d love it” and asked him to put it together. It was one of those things where at the time it felt fun and interesting to do and I just went for it. Rhythm and drumming is so synonymous. It’s all based around the beat, so it was good.
How do you keep your playing fresh?
By not playing. I try to play as much as I can, but it seems that I stay away from sitting in a room for an hour or two hours by myself and playing rudiments. I’d rather go and spent those two hours with a band instead of sitting by myself, trying to learn some rudiment on paper that some guy wrote out but probably never played before in his life. So I got about it in a different way.
What other styles of music do you listen to?
What genre would you like to discuss? We can’t go by what kind of bands I listen to; I listen to genres. I listen to world music, to old R&B and old soul–60s, 70s and maybe even late 50s–I listen to the blues, I listen to industrial music… Now, under world music, I’ll listen to Cuban music, African music, like North African music…
Are you inspired by any new music or anything currently happening in music?
Yeah, how about in either metal or rock? Are you listening to anything new in metal or rock?
No. Off the top of my head, I don’t think there’s anything heavy that I’ve been listening to. How can you listen to anything else heavy when you play in Slayer? Nothing compares to it.
As soon as I hear the drummer sound like every other drummer I’ve heard in new or modern music it’s automatically switched off. Once it’s gone through the “ProTools Paralysis,” which is everything perfectly synched, I don’t listen to it. It’s not stimulating.
Looking back on your storied career, what would you say is the most important lesson that you’ve learned from making music?
Get an attorney. Negotiate all your contracts and deals with an attorney. Never make a deal on a handshake, unless it’s somebody that you truly trust.
I was sure you were going to go in another direction, so that’s an interesting answer.
That’s the bare bones of this business. If you’re not protected by an attorney, you have your chances of getting fucked very hard.
So for a new musician…
Get an attorney.
Is that a mistake most of them make?
Absolutely. Pretty soon it’s five or ten years down the line…twenty years, and next thing you know, “Hey, where’s all my money?” You played for millions of people and where’s the money?
To me, that’s the number one thing. You get a contract presented to you–what are you going to do? “Oh, this sounds OK.” No, it’s what it doesn’t say that’s scary. If it doesn’t cover certain things, then there are these loopholes where they can take from you. There’s a lot of shit going on out there that’s really, really bad. It’s sad. I just heard that Red Skelton at the end of his career was doing paintings just to make money. He was this vaudevillian and television comedian and genius–fucked over. Billy Joel–fucked over. Ever since I started living in Hollywood, in the past year and a half, all I hear is nightmares, horror stories, of agents, managers and friends ripping people off.
It’s sad because next thing you know, they go through their life living this dream, and then they can’t play anymore, they’re retired, and there’s nothing left. Nothing. So where are they living? In a little one room flat with a kitchen and a bed. And these are the gods from years past.
This is pretty deep. This is a deep interview when we should be talking about the music…
What’s happening with you personally? What’s on tap for the year ahead?
I have a new album coming out May 15. The band’s called PHILM. It’s my first production–I actually produced it and I’m really excited. It’s very old school. Very reminiscent of the old Cream, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix-style of playing. I play a four-piece drum set, instead of the big double bass kit, with a single pedal instead of the double pedal. And it’s a trio–bass player and guitar player who sings. It’s fifteen songs, there’s improvising, there’s very moody soundscape stuff, and some very heavy songs but yet very bluesy songs. It’s very diverse and very different. And it doesn’t have any “Pro Tools Paralysis.”
How did you like producing?
I loved it. It’s what I want to continue doing. I asked the other guys–although I am the main person in the band, but it is a band–but I asked them for production of the first three records of this band. And if there’s a different reputable producer coming into the picture, then I’ll say, “OK,” but I don’t want some fly-by-night producer coming in and taking over…
Are you going to tour behind it?
I’m hoping to pick up some shows in between Slayer or during Slayer. If Slayer’s on tour and there’s an opportunity to fly PHILM out, it’s only two other guys, so it’s easy. Or even between Slayer dates, maybe book a week of special shows, and then when Slayer’s off the road, then I’ll maybe set up a tour.
So what’s happening with Slayer?
Writing new music. Kerry and I are writing new material. We have nine songs and everything’s moving forward.
What does it sound like so far?
So old school fans will be happy?
Traditional fans will be pacified and non-traditional fans will be like, “Again?”
Any estimation when the album could see the light of day?
I don’t know, but we’re going to do a three or four-song EP to keep the fans pacified until we come out with the full-length record. Kind of like what we did with “Psycopathy Red,” which was like a two-song 45.
Besides PHILM and Slayer, anything else in the works?
There are other little things, but nothing to really talk about now. I’m always working and recording.
We end these interviews with five quick Either/Or questions.
Uh huh. (begins peering over onto the interviewer’s notes) Kerry King or who? (laughs)
Hey! No cheating. OK, Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich?
Oh, fuck… Why you gotta do that to me? Dude… Both. Gene Krupa had a bad-ass style. Buddy Rich was mean and yeah, he played hard and with fire, but man, Gene Krupa had flair. He had style and charisma, and I like that.
Yeah, and he got busted for pot.
Fuck yeah! Pot smokers rule! (laughs) By the way… Living in California is a wonderful thing when it comes to that.
Especially if you have glaucoma…
Oh, yeah, well you know me. Glaucoma… I can’t sleep…
Comedy or horror?
Comedy. I’m over it. Horror doesn’t impress me anymore. Comedy impresses me because you have to get creative but with horror, how many times can you smash a body up? How much blood can you see? I’m numb to all that.
South of Heaven or Seasons in the Abyss?
(long pause) The first one that came to mind was South of Heaven, because of the drum sound. I didn’t like the drum sound on that record, but later I came to love it. But there are classic songs on Seasons as well. It’s an amazing record, but the drums on South of Heaven were cool.
Groove or speed?
Groove. Speed gets redundant. How fast can you go, you know? There are guys trying to go fast, but there’s no groove or feeling.
Ok, last one…
(peering over at the interviewer’s notes again) Oh fuck. Sabbath or Zep? Fuck. Again! Krupa or Rich, now Sabbath or Zep? Man… You know, I have to go with my first love, and that was Zep. Sabbath came later, for me.
Was Bonham an early inspiration?
He showed me groove. He showed me dynamic by listening to his playing. When they played, it elevated. Although the tempo didn’t build, there was something in the playing that just made it come up, and you’re feeling, “Oh man, that feels great,” and then they bring it down and groovy. I don’t know, I think I feel music more than a lot of people do. You know, it’s how you hit the drum. It’s not the execution of the hit. It’s not how many paradiddles you can do or how fast you can do it, it’s how you execute the beat.
Thanks for your time, Dave.
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