Johnny Salazar, the rhythm of Janus, gives us a behind the scenes look at his drumming past and his latest album “Nox Aeris.” Learn from Johnny as he shares his story, tips and insights.
OLD: When did you start drumming, and what made you want to play?
Johnny: I have an older brother, six years older than me. He was really into music, Metallica, Motley Crew, and that. When I was eight years old, I was basically infatuated with the fact that he was into music. I was just following my older brother around wanting to be into music, too.
I started playing drums with spoons on the couch. MTV was my best friend. Once I actually got my drum set, which was when I was eight years old, I already knew how to play it. I never had any formal lessons. I’ve always just been flying by the seat of my pants, learning as I go along, listening to tunes trying to re-create and mimic in my own way.
OLD: Did you have to beg your parents for your first kit?
Johnny: I did. My parents were skeptical at first, but they did support me and my music. We grew up in small houses, not really a lot of bedroom space nor space enough for a drum kit let alone. We moved to Chicago from Texas, and we had a basement. I begged and cried and pleaded with my parents, “Please, please, please…” and I finally got one. Everything was perfect except for the tension rods. They weren’t the right size, so I couldn’t actually play it once I actually got it. I got the right rods in a few days, and my dad tuned it up. It was ready to roll.
OLD: What kind of kit was it?
Johnny: It was a sky blue Royce drum set. I actually used that drum kit until I got signed in early 1999. That’s the only one I had! I did a couple of recordings with it and everything. My former band did some recordings with a producer named Johnny Karkazis (better known as Johnny K). When he was starting out I had that kit. We recorded with it, and it sounded fine. It had 12″, 13″, 16″ toms and a 22″ kick. I never had a Royce snare drum. That thing shredded shortly after I got it. I still have that kit, though.
OLD: Can you tell us about the writing process you used for your drum parts on your new album, Nox Aeris?
Johnny: I actually start with just voice into my phone with the voice recorder. Then I translate it onto the computer. When we first started doing demos for this record, that’s exactly what I did. I sent Mike, our guitar player, about 30 different drum beats. The stuff was a little too complicated, and I don’t think he completely grasped what was happening with my beats, so he messed around with my stuff. He is the one who structures the songs. Mike would get an idea, and he would contribute. I love that stuff. Whenever I can get input on drums or anything to help develop the tune, I’ll take it. It’s important not to be a selfish or stingy drummer that needs to write the entire drum part. We all work closely together on those ideas, sending them back and forth, and then that would translate to what I would try to do with my physical drum set.
OLD: Were there any songs on this album, Nox Aeris, that were “birthed” simply from a drum beat idea?
Johnny: Promise To No One. It’s got this really staggered drum beat. It’s the most double bass I’ve played in any band, actually. It has this little triplet and bass-diddle staggered right behind it. The guitar follows that specifically. We’re mimicking each other through out the entire tune. During the bridge of that tune I’m basically playing 16th notes straight on the bass, which I’ve never really done before. I’ve always tried to incorporate the double bass to spice things up, but I’ve never had a double bass driven song, specifically.
We’ve been playing that song about 4th in the set. A majority of our material has been all brand new. So, we’ve been giving people a taste of our brand new record. People react well to that song. It gets people motivated to go nuts! We’re not like Five Finger Death Punch where I ride 16th notes throughout the entire song, but I think it’s tastefully incorporated to drive the tune. There are some subtle electronics in their, hinting ondubstep, but without going to the extreme. It’s not totally programmed… just subtle hints of the electronics.
OLD: How do you play the bass pattern for “Promise To No One”?
Johnny: I play “right left right, left right.” I alternate the feet throughout.
OLD: What is your favorite song to play live?
Johnny: I really like to play Promise To No One, but I also like a song called Lifeless. I came to the table with that song with a little drum beat and a guitar thing. I’m not saying I’m a guitar player, but there’s a lot of stigma that drummers can’t write. That’s not true. I can chord out some things on the guitar. This song is a four on the floor with 16ths on the toms up top and doing accents on the toms throughout. It’s the most mellow song on this new record. It’s been getting some weird looks while playing live. It’s a slower kind of song, but it’s a drum song. There’s drums all over it!
The bridge of that song took me awhile to get down because I wanted to do something “in-your-face” and “obnoxious” with a lot of arms going on. I couldn’t really nail it in the studio. It was too busy, so I scaled it back, and that’s when it really started to make sense. The “less is more” approach really helped out, as it did for this entire record. I’m not just letting it go without doing any cool drum stuff, but it’s all done tastefully for the song.
OLD: Do you change your drum parts when playing live or will you stay true to this recording?
Johnny: I change them. I have the advantage because right now, no one has heard it. I can add things here and there, but I think once the record is dropped and people get familiar with it, I’ll probably stick to the way it was recorded, as close as possible just to remain true to the song itself. Depending on the night, I might change it up ever so slightly. We play to a click track right now, so there’s not a lot of freedom per se, but I can throw in a nice peppery fill here and there.
OLD: Going back to your previous album, when you made the music video for Red Right Return, what was your experience like?
Johnny: I think recording videos is probably harder than playing live because you have to put 110% into it all day. We did that video all on green screen. So, it was basically me and a PA, and that was it. It’s weird to perform in that situation. I stuff my snare drum with a sweater or something so I’m not blasting everyone out. We’ll put some pads on the toms. It looks like I’m playing, but nobody’s getting crushed by my intensity in that little tiny room.
It’s extremely difficult. You get tired really fast, and you sweat, and then you have to take time to make it look like you haven’t been sweating all day. I’m a sweater, too. A few songs into the set, and i’m totally drenched. I try to give it my all, but when doing videos it’s more difficult than playing live because you’re playing harder for longer. I don’t usually get blisters, but when I do videos I do. I think maybe my body’s compensating for being tired. I’ll hold the stick a little bit differently. Making a video is tough!
OLD: Do you have any advice for preparing for the studio?
Johnny: When you demo songs, definitely try to experiment with things like fills. Try three or four different versions of a fill for the same little spot on a tune because you’ll go through the process of elimination and you’ll know what fits the song better.
We had a demo for every song on this record before we went into the studio. We didn’t rehears all the tunes as a band before we went in. We learned it and practiced from the demo. I almost knew exactly what I was going to do for a majority of our material before we went in, and that saved me, because I think if we were going off the cuff we would have had a much harder time trying to nail these songs. I really recommend to demo those pieces out and experiment so that you’re not wasting time in the studio.
OLD: What should we expect musically from this new album, Nox Aeris?
Johnny: This record is altogether a little bit on the darker side as opposed to Red Right Return. The entire theme is a testament to our trials and tribulations on the road. Right now we’re touring. We don’t have any techs. We don’t have a sound guy. We’re basically doing it all by ourselves, and I think the entire time we did it made it hard on us, and it started to show in the material that we were writing. We still are dynamic. We have the heavy stuff and the light stuff, but it’s on the darker side.
OLD: Do you have any advice for drummers that are looking to do what you do?
You can’t beat yourself up for the little things that bog you down. Everyone knows it’s hard out there to begin with. Don’t run yourself into the ground. Things are going to happen. If you can fix it, fix it, but if it’s out of your control, don’t let it ruin your entire night. That will eventually ruin your tour.
TWITTER: @janusjohnny & @janus
Check out our 2009 interview with Johnny!