Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mark Zonder's shoot by Alex Solca for Modern Drummer

Check out the session with Mark Zonder, shoot by Alex Solca and published by Mark on his Facebook stream. There are going to be published soon in Modern Drummer article about Mark's studio. Great job, Alex and Mark!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Metal Drummers - an interview with Mark Zonder plus Castronovo, Portnoy, Rock, Singer and Tempesta

Metal Drummers
by Matt Peiken
Modern Drummer, January 1995

Everybody had great news. Deen Castronovo was at Steve Vai's house writing songs for the next Ozzy Osbourne records. Mike Portnoy was putting the finishing touches on Dream Theater's second album. Mark Zonder, with the new Fates Warning disc in the can, was jazzed about the new home he'd found for his rehearsal studio business.

Bobby Rock, meanwhile, had just come off an eighty-city clinic tour and was releasing his first solo record. Eric Singer was working on material with Kiss. And John Tempesta had just shaved his head to commemorate his new gig with White Zombie.

But their July get-together at a Hollywood cafe - Modern Drummer's first "metal round table" - went much deeper than the latest diary entries. Talk flowed freely, as did the candor and laughter, with topics ranging from clinics, equipment, and soloing to endorsements, career choices, and the business of music.

Surprisingly, despite their varied styles and professional paths, they expressed a genuine bond through the thrill of drumming, the camaraderie that comes from it, and the good fortune to make livings from it.
Modern Drummer: Have any of you ever had to choose between either staying with a group of guys you like or moving to another band to further your career?
Tempesta: I've had to make a couple of those moves. At one time, while I was still with Exodus, Testament asked me to do a tour with them - but just to fill in, not to be in the band. And in the course of that, Exodus got dropped from the label, so there was no work for me. I just continued with Testament and they eventually asked me to be in the band.
Moving from Testament to White Zombie was a little tougher. I wasn't in the band that long, and we'd just finished the record. When the offer came, I just felt deep inside that this was something I should do. I've known the guys in Testament for a long time and I knew it would be hard to tell them, but they were really cool about it.
MD: Of the six of you here, only Mike hasn't change the bands. That seems to be a sign of the times; in the '80s you never heard of people jumping from band to band. Your band either made it or it didn't. When did that change?
Tempesta: Cozy Powell did it! [laughter]
Zonder: I think that started with a lot of bands that didn't have longevity. In the '70s and early '80s, bands could make three, four, five albums or more before they go dropped from the label. Now that sometimes happens if the first record doesn't do well. So the band breaks up and the drummer - he's probably not a songwriter - isn't in a position to necessarily form another band, so he looks for something already established.
That's what happened to guys like Cozy Powell and Tommy Aldridge, who went from Pat Travers to Ozzy to Whitesnake to whatever. Guys who are quality players are in big demand because that's a problem area for a lot of existing bands. And more than that, the drummer is often the foundation of really good bands.
MD: Is there a valuable sense of camaraderie that comes from growing with the band from the ground up as opposed to joining an artist or band that has already paid its dues?
Portnoy: That's definitely a plus for our band. There's a certain brotherhood between us that helps the chemistry. It's tough, though, because everybody's always excited at first. But as time goes on, people can grow in different directions, start listening to different things, and have different attitudes. Sometimes as a band you have to consciously outside of that and realize there's a common ground where you all come together. And I think it takes that kind of bond to survive the times of doubt that every band goes through.
Zonder: An economic side comes into it, too. You might be in a successful band, you have notoriety, you have your endorsements and all that going for you. But you might not get along with the guitar player and you really don't like the music you've been making. So you have to ask yourself if you can find anything better. If you're not sure, it may not be in your best interest to leave, because that's where the money coming from.
MD: Bobby, you kind of blazed your own path away from these dilemmas.
Rock: People first heard about me through the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, which was clearly Vinnie's solo project and not a band in the full sense. I did three years and two records with him, but I've never really aspired to find three or four guys who were into the same thing I was into musically, because I've just never been able to find those three or four guys.
I've always been attracted to the "drummer's drummer" kind of mindset, the Buddy Rich and Billy Cobhan kind of recordings and gigs and vibe. With my solo thing, I've actually been working with the same guys since about '89, so even though we've each done our different things, we've spent a lot of time together working on this project. I don't think you have to be locked into one thing to enjoy the camaraderie of making good music. I enjoy educational and artistic side of drumming with the clinic tours, but I also like playing arenas and getting the 120db vibe.
MD: Deen, you've also delved into the instructional side. Is that something you'd always wanted to do, in addition to being part of a band?
Castronovo: I've always been into the band thing, and the clinics were something I was forced into doing for monetary reasons [Deen has also recently produced an instructional video]. When you're in a band like Bad English which only tours for four months, you get bored. Clinics were something I kind of did on a whim, but then it snowballed and now I love it! It was something I just had to get used to doing and I don't know that I would have done it if the guys at Sabian hadn't talked to me into it.
Tempesta: Did you play to songs in your clinics?
Castronovo: Yeah, because to me, it was almost like an escape. You know there only drummers out there listening, watching every move you make, and the music is like a diversion. It takes a bit of pressure off - but not much!
Zonder: I don't care how big the tape deck is or the speakers are, I can't get past the reality of just me, a drumset, and an audience. [laughter] It's scary.
Rock: I'm actually most comfortable in that environment, and I probably enjoy it as much as - if not more than - performing in an arena with a band. From a drummer's standpoint, what could be more perfect than having a roomful of people who understand and appreciate what you're doing and want to see you pull off the things you've worked on for hours in a practice room?
Castronovo: Sure, you've got the audience you want. But if you clam, boy, there ain't no way of covering up!
Rock: If you make a mistake, you just repeat it two or three times in a row and tell them you're developing a theme! [laughter]
MD: Don't many drum and cymbal companies encourage their artists to do clinics or videos?
Portnoy: That was actually part of my deal with Mapex, that they'd give me clinic support. But every time they bring it up, I sort of say I have to go to the bathroom or something like that [laughter]
Rock: Are you kidding me? You'd kill in clinic!
Portnoy: I hear what you're saying about playing in front of drummers who appreciate what you're doing. But I've always worked in a band situation, and it's kind of scary thinking about stepping outside of that. I'll do it if I keep getting my arms twisted enough, this just came up, though, because our guitar player is doing a video and the company wanted me to do a drum video as well. I was really nervous about it, but I may end up doing it.
The thing is, I really don't consider myself as teacher at all. I'm just a drummer who's used to bouncing music and ideas off other guys. I mean, I know what I'm doing - I analyze it, I can tear it apart, I can read, and I know all the odd times. But I've never had to explain it to somebody else. I'll probably end up doing something, but I don't know when, because Dream Theater will probably be on the road for the next year.
MD: Outside of clinics, you all get a chance to solo in concert, don't you? How do you approach solos?
Portnoy: The reason I love soloing is because it's the only moment of the show that's truly personal to me. It's a moment of improvisation and spontaneity that I don't have to share with the other guys. It's a different vibe every night, and that usually dictates where I go with it. I usually try to approach my solos from a compositional standpoint, based on dynamics and a certain structure I might follow. But the things I'll bring into and around that structure will vary from night to night.
Luckily, a good portion of our audience is musicians, or at least people who appreciate musicians. So I'm fortunate to play for people who usually appreciate what goes into a drum solo. But over in Britain, they hate that shit!
Rock: I try to change things around every night. But what I've found surprising about solos is that a lot of the real technical stuff and the Latin stuff actually translates well in the big arenas through a big P.A. system. I was apprehensive at first about soloing during these big rivet-head shows, like with Iron Maiden, thinking the more intricate stuff would just get lost. But it doesn't.
Castronovo: I get really bored with what I do sometimes. So when I was with Hardline, Neal [Schon, guitarist] would write some stuff out and I would just play along with him. It was more musical to me, like a clinic thing, and it worked well. That, to me, is more interesting from a player's standpoint because I felt myself thinking too much just playing by myself.
Singer: I feel you can alienate your audience in some ways by soloing. Drummers and other musicians may get into it. But Kiss fans, they don't think that way. They're into more of the showy aspects. In some ways, Tommy Lee created such a spectacle out of soloing that it didn't matter anymore what he played as much as how he looked doing it and how it came across visually. He took soloing to a whole other plane in that respect. I mean, how do you compete with going upside-down?
Portnoy: I gotta say this, though: there are some drummers who shouldn't do solos but still do. With certain bands, it's not appropriate because for the most part their fans don't want to hear it. I won't name names, but a guy out there who used two kits on stage for his last tour played one of the worst excuses for a solo I've ever heard. He took up so much time and did nothing with it. Really, I was embarrassed for him. And that just fuels the stereotype so many people have about a drum solo. For them, that's the time to go to the bathroom or buy a T-shirt.
Zonder: I think a way out of that is to work the solos into extended versions of songs. The guitarist can take an eightbar lead, then the drummer can solo for eight bars, and then you go back into the chorus or whatever. Those things can go over real well without rubbing your audience wrong way.
Singer: The thing you have to assess is whether a solo is tied into hot lighting tricks or something else to make it worth watching and listening to, that's all part of rock 'n' roll.
Zonder: You have also think that for every guy that's seen a hundred drum solos, there's a kid out there watching his first one. It's not so cliché to him.
Tempesta: That's a good point. I remember seeing Tommy Aldridge solo for the first time and I was just floored! He'd throw this sticks out and start playing with his hands. I'll always remember that. If I ever knew I could do that for some kid out there, it would be the greatest feeling.
MD: We started talking about drum companies, and that's something I want to get more info - how and why you guys get hooked up with a particular company and what the relationship is between artist and manufacturer.
Singer: The relationship starts one way and ends up another. When you're a kid, you might see a drummer you like and want to play that guy's drums. That's why they have endorsers to begin with, to attract people and influence them to buy those drums. That's what happened with me. I bought Sonor drums because I saw Tommy Aldridge with them. I bought a Tama kit one time because I saw Billy Cobham play Tama. You think your drums are going to sound like theirs and then you realize - wrong!
But them it comes to a point, when you're making your own career as a drummer, that you have to sometimes make decisions that are in your best business interests. Ideally, you want to be able to play gear you really like and can stand behind and, hopefully, get support from a company. But sometimes companies really aren't supportive of what you want to do.
MD: You mean that you might want to play one company's drum, but they won't give you the support another company will give?
Singer: Exactly. That happened to me quite a while ago when I was after a Sonor endorsement. I really wanted to play their drums, but Pearl seemed the most interested in me, so I went with them and I've been with them ever since.
Portnoy: I was like Eric. I played Tama for years and years because Neil Peart played them. Then when we put out our first record, I called and tried to get something going with them, but they were always cold. All of a sudden, Mapex came out of nowhere and started following me all over the place. I'd be in Germany someplace and a guy from Mapex would be in a taxi behind me, like "follow that drummer!" [laughter] Once the ball started rolling with the band, Tama started calling.
They're both great drums. But what meant the most to me was that Mapex cared about me as a drummer. They didn't care how much success the band was having. Mapex wasn't jumping on the bandwagon, and probably the biggest decision in my switch was their support. Their encouragement in having me help develop drums and working with stuff I like was important to me.
MD: Is it hard to put your loyalties aside and make business a priority when deciding to endorse a brand of drums or cymbals?
Rock: That's something I've struggled with my entire career. I've been with all the same companies for about eight years - Sonor, Sabian, LP, and Pro-Mark. It's no secret Sonor's not going to win any awards for promotional support; they're just not that kind of company. I do so many clinics, and Sabian has had to shoulder almost the entire burden. But they're very good and aggressive about that.
It would be nice to have a drum company supporting me like that. But you just can't mess with Sonor drums. At this stage of the game, they're my favorite. It would be very difficult for me to go with another company, sign this sweet deal and get this big advance, but then have to go back to the practice room and play something I wasn't happy with.
Castronovo: That happened to me with Premier. I played Rod Morgenstein's set and I loved it. Then I got mine and they just didn't sound that good.
Portnoy: The trick is, you have to set them up lefty! [laughter]
Castronovo: Man, I knew there was something I wasn't doing right. But, really, I felt weird playing theses drums and having to tell people I loved them when I really didn't. Meanwhile, I'd always wanted Sonor. When I was a kid, that was the kit nobody else could have!
Tempesta: I hear you totally. I remember those old Sonor ads with the Rolls Royce in them!
Singer: One thing kids may not know and that you can take for granted as an endorser is that companies will make drums with custom sizes and finishes and hardware especially for that particular artist. The average kid can't go in and buy the same set. It might have the pieces and be set up the same way, but it's definitely a different kit.
Zonder: It's the same for sticks. There's no way you can walk into a store and pull a pair out of the rack that are as evenly matched as the ones we get straight from the factory.
Portnoy: The irony of it is that the drummers who need all the help they can get to buy a kit can't get a break and the ones who finally have a little money to spend are getting free gear.
MD: Actually, some companies have started supporting drummers with what are called "regional endorsement deals". Let's say a guy is a really hot drummer, plays all the time throughout a city, and everybody in that town knows who he is. He can often work with a company to purchase equipment at costs or 50% off. Sometimes they'll even do posters for him to hand around town.
Portnoy: I haven't heard of that, but it sounds great. Every company should do that because it shows they really care about emerging artists.
Rock: Is there anybody here, at this point in their careers, who would endorse a company even if they still had to pay a little something for the gear?
Portnoy: I'm doing that right now with Remo. I get things from them at artist's cost.
Zonder: I don't know if it's a lie or not, but the stick companies say that unless you have a model named after you, you have to pay for the sticks, even if it's just cost. Their logic is that you can go through thousands of sticks and it would cost the company a fortune if they just give guys the sticks.
And when I started my relationship with GMS, it was just two guys and they literally couldn't afford to give a kit away. But I got to be really good friends with them and I found that they really knew their drums. They told me they weren't going after any half-ass endorsers, just top-notch players. So I was really into it. Two or three years later - I won't name names - but they're giving a kit to a guy who sells a couple million records and...
MD: Eric Kretz?
Zonder: Oh, man. Shut up! [laughter]
Singer: I'm sure you guys have worked with companies that tell you, "your deal is your deal. Don't talk about it with anybody else." [laughter] Some companies have told me they don't give anything free to anybody, while I know for a fact that another drummer friend of mine is getting it free.
MD: John, I imagine drum companies are treating you differently now that you're with Zombie.
Tempesta: It seems like the more popular and exposed the band is, the more companies come knocking on your door. I never had that before with Exodus or Testament. I always played Sonor drums because I thought they were the best, and it's funny that companies have just started coming to me now. It's nice, but I wonder where they all were before. Is it that I'm better drummer now? No, it's because Zombie sells more records. And it's funny, because I just joined and I haven't recorded anything with them yet. The ironic thing is that I'm not playing Sonor anymore.
Singer: But you have to admit that business is business and that if you own a company, you want the most visibility for your product.
MD: Have any of your equipment needs changed over the years in terms of the number, size, and style of drums you want to play?
Tempesta: I'm cutting down my kit now, which is kind of a nice transition, because the music I'm playing now is more groove-oriented and I can just play for the song without blasting away across the toms or doing these blazing double-bass rolls. I'm thinking of playing a single kick now with a double pedal.
MD: Have the rest of you guys changed at all to fit a musical situation?
Rock: Actually, it's just because my tech is getting old. [laughter]
Castronovo: When I was in Hardline, they wanted the big set, and I loved it, but it was hard fitting it into the clubs! I had everything on one of those Voelker racks. After that experience, I didn't want a big kit anymore, so I cut it down a little. But now that I've got this gig with Ozzy, I figure I might as well build it back up.
Portnoy: Actually, I must be in the minority because I just doubled the size of my kit - 360o - all the way around me. I figure if I can get the stuff for free... [laughter] Really, though, I just want to have as many options as I can. I have three hi-hats now and a whole percussion wall behind me.
Singer: But you're in a band that really stretches out, and you have the freedom to do whatever your mind can imagine. I have to play within the limitations of what Kiss does. I've used the same double-bass, two-rack, two-floor setup since I was eighteen. I tried adding a couple of drums to the left once, but I never hit the damn things. If you're going to have something you should use it.
But then there's the other side of the story. A guy like Vikki Foxx has a kit that's more showy than practical, but he's one of the most entertaining live drummers around. The stick tricks and showmanship are his bag and he's being true to who he is.
Rock: My kit keeps getting bigger as well, but there's a reason why it's all there. I was apprehensive at first to have four bass drums because I thought other drummers would look at them and figure that the two on the outside were just for looks and had no pedals. But I wanted more variety on the lower end, so I got a couple of 26"kicks on the outside. Of course, I've got three hi-hats and a couple of remotes and cowbell pedals. I have to do the Chinese splits to reach everything, but I get the sounds I want. And since I'm doing three solos a night, I'm using everything on there.
Portnoy: The problem with a big kit is setting everything up! With the set I just got, I don't have a clue about where anything goes. My tech knows, but I don't.
Rock: If my tech split, I'd be wandering through road cases going, "Holy shit!"
Zonder: Instead of going to a bigger kit, I went into electronics. All the stuff Mike and Bobby have around them, I sample it all onto a disc and get the same sounds without carrying all the big schmutz around. It makes everything more compact and easier to control.
MD: Speaking about electronics, did any of you guys ever experiment with them when the Linn machine and Simmons drums got big in the '80s?
Castronovo: I was forced to use electronics when I was in Bad English, and I didn't like it one bit! The band wanted everything triggered in the studio. And then they weren't thrilled with the way the drums sounded in arenas, so they had me trigger the bass drum and the snare. But the triggers misfired constantly - Guck-guck Guck-guck - and it just drove me crazy. I finally told the sound man to take it out. But I'm kind of a purist that way, anyway. I just like the sound of natural drums.
Zonder: I think that if you're going to do electronics at all, you almost have to turn into a bit of a gear-head so that you can understand why the pads and triggers do what they do. That's what I did when I played with Animotion, and I brought that knowledge with me when I joined Fates Warning.
That's not to say I haven't had my horror stories. But I like having the pads, adding sounds, changing your snare drums just like that. You're never going to be able to do a press roll on them, and I don't care what they advertise, you're not going to get true dynamics out of them. That comes from your hands, your head, and your heart. But electronics are great for certain applications.
MD: When you play big arenas, though, don't you have to sometimes sample the sounds, especially the kick drum, so it doesn't get lost?
Singer: It's really up to the sound guy. Each one has a different philosophy of how to go about it. Some guys are into triggering and other guys want everything completely acoustic. You can use sub-bass through gating or reverbs, and they'll make your drums sound amazingly huge.
Tempesta: And it really depends on the style of music you're playing. With thrash metal, you have to have the kicks cutting through, or else those fast double-bass rolls will sound like mush.
MD: From a musical standpoint, have any of you felt pressured to change your style of drumming simply to adapt to the times?
Castronovo: I didn't grow up with Bonham, like a lot of the other guys here did, and I'm starting to hear this groove type of playing for the first time. Some guys are doing real interesting things in basic beats, and I'm really diggin' it. It's cool and it's really inspired me to play a little more that now. I find myself copping some of those beats playing with Ozzy, and he's like, "Yeah, man... Bonham!" And I'm thinking, "Cool, but it was really something Dave Abbruzzese played on the last record." What's great about that style of playing is that you can incorporate it into a lot of different kinds of music.
MD: I know some of you, like Mark and Bobby, go out of your way to practice and work on new things. But do you all still find the need to practice, in the true sense of the word, or even feel the need to play on your own?
Castronovo: For me, it's all inspiration. Sometimes I'll play for weeks, day in and day out. But when I come off a tour, I don't even want to see a drumkit.
Singer: I got to the point where I realized there was more to life than just beating the drums. For a while there, I pretty much became a "drum head". All I did was think and talk about drums, and I only related to other drummers. Drums are an important part of my life and I always treated it in a spiritual way. But at the same time, there are other things I like doing, like messing around with cars or going to the park with my dogs.
Everyone has their own hobbies, like Bobby and working out. Ultimately, you have to relate to other things in the world. And it might not seem like it at the time, but doing other things can help make you a better drummer, because you bring other elements for the outside world into your playing.
Zonder: One of the best things is when you do go away and come back to your drums and rediscover things; you realize how much you really love playing drums. It's not that you have to make a record or get ready for a tour. It's about sitting in a corner and just doing it for yourself. The last thing you want is for drumming to become a routine.
Singer: How does everybody here feel about practicing on their own now, though? I know we've all been playing for lots of years, and I'm to the point where I find it really hard to be focused and want to play by myself. The minute somebody picks up a guitar and gives me something to fee off of, that's the inspiring thing for me. I can play and time there's another musician around.
Portnoy: I'm horrible, because I don't practice nearly as much as I should.
Castronovo: And we're glad for that, my friend! [laughter]
Portnoy: But, really, I still get as much inspiration from playing the drums now as I first did when I was a kid. But more importantly, I think, is that I'm still inspired by great music. When I listen to the music, I'm not only listening to the drummer, but also the bassist, guitarist, singer, sax player, or whoever, and I'm trying to think of what they were thinking about when they played whatever they played.
Zonder: I don't know if it's a Jewish-guilt thing, but I just love to play and learn. Whether it's taking Weckl's book or Garibaldi's book, I just want to get better. I mean, there's a lot of things you can't control in this business - the record company, the management, the band, maybe even the music - but I can control what I do. I think you have to be happy with what you do and be satisfied that you're doing the best you can.
Rock: I always had the kind of ethic that Mark's talking about. But I think the change for me over the past couple of years is that instead of coming from a real ambitious, methodical approach, like when I was at Berklee - I was like a Poindexter about it, logging the hours and charting everything - I'm going about it now from pure inspiration. The day is rare that I just don't feel like playing. But when those days come, I just don't play instead of torturing myself to be in there. But after tours, that's when I really like to get in practice room, because you can incubate certain ideas on the road and stumble across things that you want to work on and make solid.
MD: How important are connections to getting gigs like Eric got with Kiss and John got with White Zombie?
Singer: Very important. My career has been a chain of events. Every gig I've ever had came about from somebody I'd met from the gig before. They were all interconnected.
Tempesta: For me, being a tech for Anthrax started the whole ball rolling. Exodus and Testament both opened up for Anthrax, and Exodus eventually asked me to join.
MD: How does Joe Blow drummer get to be in the type of positions you guys were in? What's the first move someone should make?
Singer: Everybody always asks that, but you want to know something? Every one us was Joe Blow drummer at one time. We all started in the same place. Where we end up may be different, but we all had that first day of putting the sticks in our hands. It's not like an angel comes down and sprinkles magic dust on anybody. If somebody had the answer, there'd be more guys doing it.
Of course, some guys just have extraordinary talent. I mean, I could tell from the first records Mike and Deen had out on these little independent labels that they had a gift. Other guys might not be as talented, but they make up it with drive and determination and perseverance.
MD: Is location important?
Castronovo: It helps, but it's only a part of the equation. I came from Portland in a band called Wild Dogs, and we did a lot of stuff in San Francisco working with Mike Varney. Through Varney, I started working with Tony MacAlpine. Through Tony, I met Neal Schon. I played in Bad English and Hardline, got some exposure. Boom, Steve Vai sees me. He's working with Ozzy now, he remembered me, and that's how I got in there.
Singer: People have to know that every guy here took a different route to where they are now. Mike stuck it out for seven, eight years with the same band before things fell into place. I've been a hired gun everywhere I've gone. You have to find your niche and make it work for you.
Zonder: Much as everybody's gone their own way, I think there's a common bond: you have to respect for people and you can't treat anybody like shit. The guy you dump on today could be the guy you want something from tomorrow. It's just a basic principle of business, You have to be smart and not burn any bridges.

Text copyright by Modern Drummer© by kind permission of Suzanne Hurring

Monday, August 23, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

An interview with Mark Zonder by Matt Peiken of Modern Drummer, July 1992

Fates Warning's Mark Zonder
by Matt Peiken
Modern Drummer, July 1992

 Mark Zonder is more of a music critic than he is a music fan. That, perhaps more than anything else, shapes the direction he takes with his playing. Deliberate, dynamic, polyrhythmic, and completely unpredictable, his approach goes against the grain of traditional heavy metal fare. And, quite simply, that's the only way he would have it.

    "I can't stand ninety-nine percent of the metal that's out there right because the drumming is so unimaginative," Zonder says. "People say metal is limiting, but I think players limit themselves. I just decided I wasn't going to do that to myself and that, whatever style of music I played, I was going to make the drumming as interesting as possible - to play and to listen to." It's a good thing for Zonder, then, that he's found a band that allows him plenty of room to make good on his self-promise.

    Fates Warning is far from a household name, even in metal circles. Many who've heard only a brief earshot of the band have been quick to write it off as a Queensryche clone. But that label proves to be, upon closer inspection, a big injustice. Like Queensryche, Fates Warning employs an operatic lead singer and goes out of its way to throw listeners to curve with healthy doses of odd time signatures and engaging sweep s of intensity. But Zonder, through mental and physical dexterity, creates percussive novellas - like songs within songs - that few rock drummers ever approach.

    All of that manifest on Parallels, the band's fifth record (and second with Zonder). The album marks Fates Warning's most forward attempt at elusive commercial success, but shorter, more accessible songs do nothing to water down Zonder's contribution. On the contrary, they enhance it. The resultant combination of factors makes Parallels one of the most unheralded artistic successes in metal this year {1992}.

Modern Drummer: Is album-oriented rock station something this band has always shot for?
Mark Zonder: No, Fates Warning never targeted radio until this album. We specifically decided to do something that was accessible to more people, but still keep a product that was real true to what we do. It's not selling out or anything, but it has to do with structures of the songs. We're in a position now where we want to sell a lot of records.

MD: Is it hard to bridge that gap, between keeping with the band's musical vision and making music that's more accessible?
MZ: Actually, in a way it was a little easier for us, because you're talking about a band that has a pretty wide musical range. There are so many tastes in this band - from Paula Abdul to Yes to everything in between. I think that's one of the things that's special about this band. It's not five guys who have grown together and listed to the same music and ripped off the same people. We all have different influences, which comes across in the music, and that makes us different than most.

MD: But you're relatively new to the band. How did you first meet with the other guys?
MZ: I had a band in '83 called Warlord that was on the same label as Fates Warning. We did a couple of albums and the guys in Fates Warning were really big fans. They came out here to L.A. to record one of their records, and I used to work with a few engineers as a drum specialist - tuning drums in the studio. They used some of my different drums and cymbals, and we just met up from there. We kept up with each other after Warlord died, and we developed a relationship over the years.

MD: Was Warlord doing things that touched on what Fates Warning was into at that time?
MZ: Oh, very much so. It was in that classic heavy metal vein √° la Rush, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Uriah Heep - those kind of bands. This was between '82 and '84, and it was very much a time when metal was non-existent here in the U.S. It was around the same time that Iron Maiden and the whole new wave of British heavy metal was breaking, and it was a tough time for us. The band was well-received by its fans, but it was just one of those things that wasn't meant to be.

MD: So did Fates Warning come at a perfect time for you?
MZ: There were a couple of years there where I did a lot of different things. After Warlord died, I spent a little time looking for a band in the same style, but I just got sick of the same old thing - double bass and screaming vocals. I've always been into different kinds of music. So I started studying funk and a more linear type of playing, and I hooked up with a couple of bands. They weren't great bands, but the whole object after learning different skills was to apply them to a band situation. That's where you find out whether you've really got it and if you really under s tand it all. At one point, I was rehearsing with a full-blown funk band from 3:00 to 5:00. Then, I'd play with a sort of new wave, very straight, electronic-oriented band from 5:00 to 8:00. And from then until around midnight I rehearsed with a rock band. That happened here in my studio for about three months, five days a week, and it really developed things for me. Probably one of the best things I ever did was get away from rock and metal and start playing different things, which I ended up applying to rock and metal.

MD: Was it that you just didn't know what you wanted to do musically at the time?
MZ: Since I was really young, I've heard things in my head differently that I could actually physically play them, and I wanted to try to bridge that gap. I heard a lot more sounds than just kick, snare and tom. I ended up in a band that had former members of Animotion, and I got into the whole electronic thing. It was all pads, and I was playing to a click, which was driven by a sequencer for keyboards. So I got fully engulfed in that. At first I was a little out of place. I wasn't hanging out with rock guys, but it was basically going to school for a year. I punched enough buttons and looked at enough computer screens and programmed enough stuff that I have it down. Ninety-nine percent of the things I learned there I apply to what I'm doing now. I'm playing to a click and using electronics, and I'm doing a lot outside of straight 2 and 3, kick-and-snare type of playing. And that would never have happened if I hadn't gone to another band and musical situation.

MD: Did you grow up in the middle of the L.A. music scene?
MZ: No, I was born in Detroit, and we moved to the Bay Area when I was ten. Then at about 22, I moved out to L.A. when I had an offer to play wit h a band, but it turned out to be a big farce. It was the classic story of moving out to L.A. on a prayer and a suitcase. I was young and naive, but it was the best thing I ever did. If I had just given myself a month or a year for things to work out, I probably wouldn't still be here. But I settled in and persevered and put up with a lot of smooth-talking people to get into some situations that have actually helped my career. Another good thing was that I didn't have to do the starving-musician routine. I got a job a collection agency as an office manager, and I had friends who helped me out. I love L.A. now, probably because I'm settled here. Granted, it has its bad points, just like anywhere else. But this is where the music scene's at, and I like being around people.

MD: Did you take drum lessons?
MZ: Oh, yeah, for years! I took my first lesson when I was seven - my mom still has the receipt. When I moved to L.A., I took lessons from a lot of big-name players, but it wasn't really happening. It killed my bank account, and I didn't feel I was really getting anywhere. Then a few years ago, I hooked up with a guy named Craig Yamek, who was a friend of David Garibaldi. He's just an incredible drummer - more of a jazz-funky guy, not a real rock guy. It was one of those things where he'd charge me $10for an afternoon, and I came out of those sessions with so much stuff that it kept me busy for weeks. Most of it dealt with just opening things up - polyrhythmic, playing with all four limbs, different stickings. He was definitely someone who gave me one thing that led to about fifteen others.

MD: Did you have a goal at that time of eventually hooking up with a band you could apply those things to?
MZ: I always hoped to, but the bottom line is that I liked playing the drums, period, so I was fine by myself. I didn't put a lot of pressure on myself for it to happen within a week or a month or whenever. If I got a chance to play in a different kind of band where I couldn't apply the progressive, fusion-type things, that would have been fine, too. I played in a band called Plain English that was the ultimate 2 and 4 gig, but what was cool about it was all the electronics. So instead of riffing and playing a lot of chops, I was playing pads for sounds and it was just a big learning experience. You can sit at home and program all this cool stuff. But unless you take it out, rehearse it in a band, and play it in front of people, and figure out what to do if the sequencer goes down and things like that, you're not going to get the full experience of electronics.

MD: You also seem really business-minded. I mean, not everybody owns an eleven-room rehearsal studio. How did you fall into that?
MZ: I've always been sort of a businessman, and it was just an opportunity that came along. In the Warlord days, we all moved into small building where we lived and rehearsed. When that fell apart, I wound up with 1,000 square feet in a 10,000-square-foot building. Time went by and friends of mine would come up and rehearse. It just turned into something I started making money at, and the opportunity arose with the landlord to take over more and more of the building. I eventually wound up with all 10,000 feet and now we have eleven rooms with one soundstage and a professional recording studio with double walls, double doors, and sand-loaded floors.

MD: Changing the subject, I notice you use traditional grip.
MZ: I always have, since I was seven years old. I don't have the matched-grip thing down at all, and I've spent so much time playin g traditional grip that I get just as much power out of it as I would if I went matched. I have a lot more speed and dexterity this way, too, and I like the way it feels. And I'm a traditionalist at heart. All the guys I love play traditional - Steve Smith, Dave Weckl, Vinnie, Gadd.

MD: When you finally got together with Fates Warning, did they share the same musical vision you had at the time?
MZ: Sort of yes and sort of no. The albums that they'd done in the past were a little different from what they w ere going to be doing on their next album, which turned out to be Perfect Symmetry. I liked the guitar playing and the vocals they had, but, more importantly, I knew that mentally and socially, as people and where they were going, we'd click. A lot of it also had to do with the fact that the new album was going to have a different style, and I wanted to be part of this growing style. They were basically at the point where they wanted to change drummers because they wanted to expand, and the previous guy {Steve Zimmerman} couldn't do certain things.

MD: So did you have pretty much carte blanche to play whatever you wanted to play?
MZ: That brings up kind of a funny story. In the beginning, since they were in Connecticut and I was in L.A., we did a lot of stuff by mail. They would send me tapes with just either click or a guitar part and Jim (Matheos, guitarist and songwriter) would write out the time signature so I could count it out and know where I was going, and it was up to me to come up with whatever I felt like. The first couple of tapes I sent back with drum ideas, I was just trying to get a rough idea down. Jim called me back a couple of weeks later and didn't really know how to say it, but wanted to know if he could get me to play more, which is basically a drummer's dream come true! Then I started coming up with all these parts. But when you finally sit down as a band, they don't all work out. So obviously, when we started to rehearse before the album, we simplified things a bit and tightened parts up. But to answer your question, it was definitely a go-for-broke approach.

MD: It seems like it would be kind of hard to avoid stepping on each other's toes that way?
MZ: What's really cool about this band is that, musically, we're not stuck in formulas. We're not one of these bands where the singer says, "Turn that guitar down because it's louder than me," or "Stick the drummer in the corner," or anything like that. We want the best musical performances out of everybody and for everybody to shine as much as possible. If you have a bass player or drummer who is unbelievable, you should utilize those strengths instead of just going by one's guy vision. Our band feels that the more exposure one musician might get, the better it is for the band. 

On Parallels, we were a little bit more subtle with that concept. There's a lot more hi-hat and cymbal stuff going on, which doesn't get in the way of the music like big tom fills. There's a way to use hi-hats and cymbals and ghost notes on the snare to break things up and give it more texture. It sounds funny to hear a hard-rock guy say this, but with both records I wanted to groove and make them accessible, but I also wanted them to have more of a smooth texture instead of "slam, slam, bam, bam". I know there's a time and place for that, but I wanted to go the other way for these records.

MD: With everybody in the band so geographically spread out, what's the mode of operation for the band?
MZ: Jim, who writes the music, lives here in L.A., Ray lives in Texas, and Bones (Joe Dibiase, bass) and Frank (Aresti, guitar) live in Connecticut. For Parallels, about three out of the eight songs were written before we went into rehearsals, so we had a chance to work out our parts separately. We all met up in Toronto to put the rest of the songs together, rehearse for three or four months, and do the album. Then we all went back to our respective homes and, a little later, everybody flew out to L.A. to do the video. Then for the tour, everybody flew back here to L.A. to rehearse for a few weeks before going out.

Working this way had good and bad points. The bad points are pretty obvious. With everybody so spread out, it costs money to get us all together to do anything. But at the same time, since it's expensive to hook up, our time together is very serious and productive.

MD: How much time do you spend working out your parts before getting together with the rest of the band?
MZ: I usually play a couple hours a day, every day. I don't know if it's one of those built-in Jewish things that makes me feel guilty if I don't, [laughs] but I get antsy if I don't play. I'm constantly screwing around with something on the drums, between the electronics or going over old songs. I remember doing things during soundcheck and that I later developed during my own practice, that either showed up one the new record or will show up somewhere else down the line. It's just a thing of constant playing, because the more you play, the more you improve and come up with things. I've turned my hands around and tried playing the basic ride with my left hand - not that I have it totally down - and I try to come up with complicated bass drum patterns with my left foot. I may never do some of these things in a band situation, but they strengthen my playing.

MD: Have you improved a lot as a drummer since doing Perfect Symmetry?
MZ: I'd like to think I have. I spent a lot of time doing physical things, but also just mental conditioning. I don't thing people realize that playing a musical instrument is such a mental process. My style has changed a little bit. I've spent time working with just one bass drum, and I basically don't even use the second one anymore. I've got that down to where I want it, but I have spent a lot of time playing double-stroke rolls with the kicks. I've worked more on playing four strokes with one foot, and a lot of it is just a matter of woodshedding, deciding what you want to do. That's how I learned to play double-bass to begin with, just holeing myself up in a room and going right, left, right, left for hours. I've spent a lot of time in between records just playing with my hands and training them for strength. I just like to play all the time, just for the heck of it.

MD: Do you think the mental aspect shapes your playing more than physical dexterity does?
MZ: Most definitely. If you know how to read, even just enough to get by, and you know the mathematics of music - halves, quarters, 8ths, 16ths, and triplets, and how everything fits together - once you have all that mastered you can play just anything you want. You can sit down and think of exercises yourself by just breaking down a bar. You can come with millions of riffs and ideas with that approach. Writing it out opens up so many avenues to create, and it's just another tool to express yourself. Guys who don't know how to read it all and have no conception of it are in the dark and are hurting themselves. They're doing it all by ear.

MD: You told me you spent a lot of time recently going over your specific parts. Do you have every note you're going to play etched in stone?
MZ: Oh, yeah. There's nothing left to chance with me. I'm not a jam drummer at all. What you hear is what is going through my mind, and I see it written out as I'm playing it. Night in and night out on tour, it's going to be exactly the same. I figure I spend enough time coming up with these parts that those are probably going to be the best ones to play, so there's no point in trying to go around them. What I've done with some of the songs off past albums is simplify a couple of riffs or make the fills a little bigger and simpler so the audience can grab them more easily. I still like to play the 32th-note stuff, and it sounds good if you're standing real close to the drums and can see what I'm doing. But nobody's ever going to catch it in a concert setting. And what that does is take a song that I might otherwise be sick of playing after three or four years and make it challenging again and give it a new feel. But also, in a lot of our stuff, you can't just jam through the verse and stomp on the bell in the chorus. There are odd bars here and there and specific parts that have to be played, so there's not a lot of room for s crewing around.

MD: Sometimes you seem to play a song within the song yourself.
MZ: I'm glad you brought that up. Only drummers would pick that up. My approach is that I like songs to build. If you take the song "Eye To Eye", the first verse is just the kick and the hi-hat, and the snare comes in on the second verse. I'm also a big fan of real big dynamics, and this ultimately leads to a better song. If your drum part from beginning to end is its own song and has relatable parts - like your first fill being pretty simple, the second being simple with a little twist, and third maybe an all-out blow of chops - the building process there is more interesting to a listener, even if they don't consciously realize it. I definitely sit down and try to compose my parts with that in mind.
One thing I like to do a lot - and I notice Neil Peart  also does this - is change the drum pattern. Sometimes it might just be quarter notes kept on the hi-hat with just a basic snare backbeat, and then in the second verse, there will be a paradiddle played between the ride cymbal and hi-hat, with the snare still falling on 2 and 4. That change of motion will pick the music up, even if the rest of the band keeps its parts the same. That also sets up the vocals well, especially in a chorus. It adds to the song.

MD: When recording, do you do the drum parts first, or do the other guys play with you? One might assume that with all the odd-time changes going on, you would get lost if you recorded by yourself.
MZ: Actually, I recorded all the Warlord albums and some of Perfect Symmetry with just me and a click. I knew the songs well enough, and we didn't have to waste time setting up the guitar sound we weren't going to keep anyway. And it's easier for me, too, because if I screw up, we can just stop right there and do it again. But it's nice to have a scratch rhythm track and vocals to go by, too, because it enhances the feel of my playing, and you also get a better feel of the space in be tween.
On Parallels, the songs are a lot more groove-oriented, and we wanted it to have more of a band feeling. Also, as a reference point for the rest of the band, it's nice to have everybody record together because, otherwise, they might discover a kick drum part that doesn't quite lock up to what the bass is doing - and you can't go around editing drum parts.

MD: You mentioned Neil Peart. Was he a heavy influence on your style?
MZ: The thing about Peart is that I'd steal more the idea of his riff than the lick itself. I like the slower, groove things. I'm not a big tom-tom fan - you'll never hear eight notes descending down the toms from me, that's just not my style. But Peart was one of those guys, along with Aynsley Dunbar when he played with Journey, who inspired me to take the drums to a different place. It was more of an outside playing style.

MD: Most hard rock an metal drummers are going away from electronics, yet you really embraced them on the new record {Parallels}. Where do you come up with these sounds and decide how they fit in? It seems like it would be hard to meld the acoustic drums with the purely electronic sound you went for.
MZ: I think I proved it can be done very effectively. It just goes back to my hearing things differently than just snare and kick. I like the mix between the two because I think it adds excitement, and the electronics are just another voice for me and a means of expression. I've been lucky enough over the past few years with my Akai S900, to get literally hund reds of samples from lots of different people - everything from goofy things like Pee Wee Herman talking to dozens of kick and snare sounds. And you can manipulate samples and gate or delay them with the outboard gear. It just came down to humming the songs in my head and hearing different sounds. I like combining acoustic and electronic snare sounds, because you still have the presence and the attack of an acoustic snare, but the electronic sounds can add variety and make certain parts stand out.

MD: You've told me that Parallels is sort of the band's do-or-die attempt at commercial success. If it doesn't happen, what do you see happening with the band, musically, in the future?
MZ: I doubt you'll see Fates Warning going back to doing wild concept albums. We're trying to put a lot more emphasis on the song that on the individual, and I already see a couple things developing for the next record.

MD: What about you as a drummer? This is obviously the most successful band you've played with, but what if it doesn't break big? What then?
MZ: I love playing in this band and the luxury I have of playing what I want. Plus, it's very important for me to play with guys who have a similar musical vision. That's one of the things that keeps us together. Whenever this band ends, though, I'd like to have ability to make records with a variety of different people. That's something I really desire.

Text copyright by Modern Drummer© by kind permission of Suzanne Hurring {with my additional notes}

Bang Your Head - Balingen 2010. Ray Alder

Ray Alder
Ray Alder
Ray Alder