DAVE LOMBARDO: Redrawing the Borders

Dave Lombardo

Best known for being one of the co-founders of Slayer, Dave Lombardo has become one of the most respected contemporary drummers in the world. His departure in 2013 from the thrash metal act opened many doors for his future aspirations and endeavours; and there are many of them, notably in renewing his association with Philm, who are set to release their sophomore album some time in 2014, and who already have written material for the third studio effort.

Prog Sphere spoke to Dave about the new Philm music, his collaborations with John Zorn and Mike Patton, his relationship with Bill Ward and naturally, Slayer among many other things.

The new Philm album is completed and ready for release. Compared to the debut Harmonic, where do the new songs stand? From the song that has been premiered in Bill Ward’s “Rock 50” radio show, the sound is more heavy but less experimental at the same time, I would say.

Yes, you are right. We took that approach with this album, instead of what we did last time. This time around what we did was focus on constructing solid songs, rather than experimenting with, I think, improvisations. Our songs, we create our music, we write our music out of improvisations. So, our music is a lot of times very unexpecting, how it happens.

If I’m not wrong, most of the songs off the upcoming second album were written back in the writing sessions of Harmonic. Was it your idea since the beginning to make the second album intentionally different compared to the debut?

Yes, it was intentional.

Do you have a title for the new record and a release date for it yet?

No, there is not release date yet. The title of the album is Fire From The Evening Sun.

You said earlier that you also wrote a couple of songs for the third Philm record. You guys definitely do not waste time. Where does that new music stand in terms of technicality comparing to the first and what is to be the sophomore album? Overall, what can you say about the complexity and structures of the songs?

The band is evolving very fast, because we play a lot. And not only that we play a lot, we are also friends, so musically we are really growing fast in a positive way. Because we are creating, you know, better bodies of work. And at least to us the bodies of the songs are just much better. We are understanding how each other play. I understand Gerry‘s style and Pancho‘s style a lot better. The more we play together, the better it gets.

Philm

I suppose you will be touring intensively with Philm, right?

Yes, I want to, but first we have to decide on a record company. To put a record out, we need a release date. I am really excited to get out on tour, but it’s been a little difficult to connect with the booking agents. We are still trying, we are still working on it. But I do want to get out and play. I want people to see this band. The band is really powerful, it’s unlike anything anybody has ever felt and seen. It’s a rebirthing with the style of the 1960′s and 1970′s, you know, of the bands of that time, but in a heavy form. It’s a new fusion of styles. We are bringing the old 1960′s and 1970′s style with 1980′s punk attitude.

You will be performing at this year’s Adelaide Festival together with John Zorn and Bill Laswell as part of the Bladerunner trio. If I’m not wrong, it will be your first performance with Zorn in 10 years or so. What are you preparing for this event?

I’m not preparing, I’m just very excited to perform with John and Bill. Wow! It’s great to be so explosive. This is improvisation, a pure improvisation. And it’s a very special chemistry between the three of us on stage. And Bill and John are phenomenal, phenomenal musicians.

Are there any plans to do a tour with Bladerunner? There is this show in Chicago on May 3rd, but do you have plans to take it on the road for some more shows?

I hope so. John surprises me with his emails and phone calls, and you know, letting me know of some shows that are happening. And you never know. I hope to take Bladerunner to Europe. Ten years ago we played a jazz festival, I think, in Paris and then we played the Barbican Center in London. I anticipate there will be more shows in the future.

You collaborated with the Golden State Pops Orchestra last year performing Christopher Young’s Ghost Rider. How did this collaboration come about? I believe it is a whole new experience for you, isn’t it?

It was an amazing experience. I’m very sensitive in music. You know, I was on stage with the Golden State Pops Orchestra with the cellos, the oboes, the French horns, all those amazing instruments. It made me feel different when I was on stage with the guitarist, with heavy guitar, with the metal style, you know, music with the classical orchestra. That night I couldn’t sleep. I felt my body vibrating because of those amazing instruments, it was so exciting. It gave me a different feeling. I was very happy to get the phone from a friend of mine. You know, he doesn’t even work in the music business, and he said that a friend of his is the manager for Christopher Young and to please give him a call. So I gave him a call and they asked me if I wanted to be a part of the show and I said: “Absolutely!” And I’ve been a fan of Christopher Young for years, ever since Hellraiser. In the 1990′s I waited in line to get his autograph. So it was great, it was a good time.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the release of Grip Inc’s album “Incorporated.” Have you thought about bringing the band back to life?

Yes, I have. I’ve been talking to Waldemar and we’ve been getting some ideas together on possibly putting out some new music, some recording we never released. Like maybe 4-5 songs and putting that out this year. And who knows, maybe we’ll take out the band on tour and do some shows. I think that would be a lot of fun.

What are the chances of a new Fantomas album in the near future?

Well, I’ll maybe see Mike Patton in Adelaide at the jazz festival. So, he and I will probably sit and talk, so who knows. And Trevor is gonna be there too, a bass player.

The last Fantomas album was released in 2005. Many people asked about a possible new record, especially now when you are out of Slayer. And also, Fantomas is considered as one of the best contemporary supergroups out there at the moment.

Yes, I will agree. It’s one of the most amazing groups ever. I love that band. And I hope that Mike will say “Let’s do this!” My door is open. Mike and I, you know, we communicate. We have a great friendship.

You’ve been with Slayer for more than 30 years. Have you ever considered all your other projects and bands as some kind of escape from what you’ve been doing with Slayer? Especially now when you are out of band, do you feel that you have more artistic freedom?

Yes. My schedule isn’t tied up. You know, Slayer last year always go out on tour and then there was not so much time for me and my other projects. And when I was in Slayer, I tried to get Philm to do some shows. It would be very difficult to try to schedule around Slayer‘s schedule. Because they just wouldn’t tell me, they wouldn’t tell me the schedule, the dates, so it was difficult for me to put any Philm shows. But now, I’m free. Today after the interview I’m going to go and practice with another band I’m kind of working with. I can’t say anything, I guess it’s a secret. There are a lot of musicians and we’ll see what happens.

It’s been almost a year since your departure from Slayer. How do you look on the whole thing from this point of time?

Oh, when I look back? There were a lot of good times, but now I look at the band and it’s sad. The band should be, now at this time in their career, should be… It’s a good thing, it should be celebrated. But now, with these problems – it just doesn’t look good.

Dave Lombardo

You changed your drum kit from a nine-piece set you used with Slayer to a four-piece set. Do you see it as a challenge in some way? How does it reflect on your playing?

Yes, what it does I’m used to play the large drum set. I’ve been playing that for many, many years. So now, going to a four-piece drum set, I have to almost rethink my drum rolls. And my playing. I have to rethink how to create the drum rolls and to change the parts without another bass drum, without all the toms. So, it’s challenging. I think what it’s doing to me, I am learning to create a little differently. I am learning to make my style more diverse, instead of always the same. So now my style is being applied to a four-piece drum set and it’s making me play different. It’s exciting because some things that I come up with on a four-piece I would ever do on a nine-piece. Because I’m challenging myself.

It’s probably because you are limited by the size of the set, but still it opens space for experimentation – creating something big on a small drum set.

Yes, exactly. And that’s interesting. You hear the power, you feel powerful. Wow! It’s like powerful music, it’s heavy.But only three musicians and a small drum set are making all that. That’s why I decided to record and write with this band. And I want the world to see it. [laughs]

Legendary and original Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward has had some pretty nice words for you and your work lately. What is your relationship with Bill like? How did he in particular influence your drumming?

Wow! Well, I was 16 years old and I was listening to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. You know I had bought Paranoid, Sabotage, all the records. He’s always been a major influence in this style. The power of the rhythm section is very important. Geezer Butler and Bill Ward have a special connection that other drummers and bass players don’t have. Like for example, when they are playing together they know where they’re at. Somehow they know where the other one is and that makes a tight rhythm section. Bill Ward likes trios, because Tony Iommi, obviously Geezer and Bill – they were a trio with a singer. And Philm is a trio too. So Bill likes our music, we communicate with each other, we use the same drum sticks. He really likes my drum stick model. And he’s a good friend, I’m very happy to know him. He’s a really good friend.

Speaking of influences, you played this year’s Bonzo Bash NAMM Jam and it was your third appearance at this event. What did you appreciate the most about Bonham’s playing?

He had an amazing swing. The way he played made the drums sound like they were dancing. That, I think is an amazing drummer when you could make the drum sound exciting. You have the ability to connect with your instrument and he had that. And his music, Led Zeppelin‘s music was a beautiful canvas for him to lay his drums on. Because the music was very dynamic. So, that’s the most important part, I think, of Bonham. His phrasing, the way his drum rolls when he plays his drum rolls. I listened to a lot of that. He’s just very, very important drummer. Like Bill Ward, and like Mitch Mitchell from Jimi Hendrix band. I think the rock drummers, they were taught jazz and then they brought the jazz into rock. And this is like, the purest moment in drumming evolution was this period with these drummers. And I see drummers today have to always look back at those drummers as being our touchstone, they’re just amazing. I mean, there’s all kind of other drummers, but to me those four are the best. Ian Paice from Deep Purple. He is amazing too.

Progressive rock as a music style brought many great drummers that inspired future generations. Whose work from this genre in particular do you appreciate the most? Bill Brufford, Neil Peart, Alan White – any of these guys?

It is very interesting. I’ve been asked many, many times which drummers influenced me. And what I’ve learned about myself that I wasn’t influenced by progressive drummers, like for example Neil Peart. He was never an influence. I sound I think more influenced in the drummers I mentioned earlier than any of the progressive drummers. I don’t think I ever went there as an artist. I am involved in the progressive music, art music. But these drummers in particular, I never got anything from them. They are great drummers, don’t get me wrong. They are very technical, but I don’t know, there is something about the feeling. That’s what I exactly search in drumming.

What is your first musical memory?

My first musical memory… I think, playing my brother’s guitar. He had a guitar and I remember when I was very, very young I was playing it a little bit. And then later watching my brother play drums. I think, you know, it’s a big influence. He’d be great on stage with a single singer. I remember seeing him play. It was awesome.

You’ve were one of the founding members of a new music style back in the 1980′s. When you look back through your career, are you satisfied with what you have achieved over the past 30+ years?

Oh yes, absolutely. I am very, very proud and I’m very happy with what I achieved. I believe that in the ten years I was with Slayer right now, from 2001 to 2013, I feel like I could’ve make more albums, but because I was with Slayer I only did two albums. But I did put out the Harmonic record. And this album we’ve recorded while I was still in Slayer. Oh no, we didn’t. Scratch that. So yeah, I feel like I could have put out more music, but because I was with Slayer I didn’t. Because of the schedule. But I’m gonna catch up now. I’m gonna make more albums, more music. I want to, it’s exciting.

What is your opinion on the metal scene today?

There’s a lot of great bands out there. It’s still strong. Look at the festivals in Europe. These are great. You know, it’s fantastic. So, I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing with everybody. I think the metal scene is still strong and it’s always gonna be there. And I think now more than ever.

Are there any new projects in the pipeline for the rest of the year?

There is one, two… Three… The new Philm album – that’s four. Right now there is about four and I can’t talk about any of them. [laughs]

It seems that we will have to schedule another interview then. [laughs]

Yeah, I have to wait for the other albums. I can’t do a press release on any of them yet.

Maybe something new along the way will come.

Oh also and Grip Inc. So that’s five, so far.

What advice would you give to other musicians trying to make inspired music and get it out in the world?

Play really hard, practice, but also educate yourself. Learn business.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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