Chris Adler Interview – OnlineDrummer.com ExclusiveNate Brown
OLD: Tell us about the Metal On The Mountain Retreat that Lamb of God will be hosting in July.
Chris: I guess it’s kind of like band camp, basically. We got an offer from this place in upstate New York to come hang out for a week, and they would give us these vacation style cabins, and then sell tickets to be able to come hang out with us, learn what we do … be able to go to different clinics, meet us personally … kind of get behind the veil of this rockstar thing. I thought it was a cool idea … kind of weird. Still is kind of weird, but I guess they do this kind of thing all the time. And, our band was one of the ones that was asked for more often than anybody else. So, they reached out. I think it was odd to have a metal band coming up there. I’d think they’d had some virtuosso guys do the same thing prior to us.
I went on the website, and it looks like a pretty nice place to take the family for a weekend or something, and so I figured what the heck, I’ve done drum clinics, and I’ve been in this band long enough, I can kind of tell my story and let people hang out.
We came up with a curriculum where we’re going to have certain things go on during the day where there’ll be guitar clinics, guitar lessons, drum clinics, drum lessons, kind of one-on-one stuff, and then there’s gonna be writing sessions where we’ll sit in a room with people interested in the writing process, and go back and forth on how we do what we do, and how we beat each other up about ideas and build on certain things. I guess there’s one night where we’re going to basically perform a set and that’ll be toward the end of the week, where we’ve given lessons all week and whoever … if there’s a particular drum student that’s really good at one song … he’ll come up and play that one song when we do it during the concert.
We’re also bringing our tour manager to talk about that aspect of things. Our sound guy to talk about doing sound in a live setting and a few of our techs to talk about what it’s like if you’re not necessarily the singer or whatever … if you’re working behind the scences … how to get into that business as well. It’s basically a week long instructional class on every side of what we do.
OLD: How do contribute to the writing process?
Chris: I think we all probably think of ourselves as four-fifths of the band, if not more. Normally when we write songs, I found kind of a niche with the guys in that I may bring in a rhythm, maybe something that I’ve been working on, on my own … kind of exploring polyrhythms or trying to get myself to do something that I haven’t done before or maybe a pad exercise that I’ve worked out or whatever. Sometimes just a very basic rhythm can build a part or riff.
I do play drums the way I would want to play guitar. I try to play them musically and add things and subtract things and try to syncopate with what is already existing in the music.
But, most of the time the guys come in with something on guitar first. So, I found my role is to help glue things together. Find in my memory bank … remember the thing we did three days ago that’s going to sound really good with what just came in the door. While the guys are focusing on playing what they came up with the night before perfectly to show the room what’s gong on, I’m immediately thinking, what does that sit next to really well and how can we build on that? I guess that’s kind of an arrangement deal that I’ve found myself doing fairly often.
Also, I’ll work with somebody who brings in a more fleshed out idea … we’ve never really had anyone bring in an entire song. We like to build it together so that we all feel like we’re involved in the process, and I think many of the songs are better because of that. We do kind of argue. It’s not just one person’s vision. It’s all of us kind of being able to get our voice in there too. I think that helps.
So another thing that I’ll do if somebody brings in something … say it’s a simple kind of riff … I’ll just give them a simple backbone so everyone can get up to speed. Then I’ll ask them if they have a home demo or record it in rehearsal, and stay afterwrads and work with it where I can try to find something a little more syncopated, not necessarily complicated, but something that works with what they’re doing to elevate the listener to another level where I don’t feel like I’m just doing the common denominator drum beat for everything that comes in because the band doesn’t know it yet.
In that learning process where everybody’s learning the song at the same time, I’m also thinking ahead as to how I can challenge myself or how I can challenge the music really to take it to a different level on a rhythm level.
OLD: Have you done any long distance writing using technology to collaborate with other musicians?
Chris: I’ve done several projects where it was basically all Internet. I did a couple songs with Roger Zombeck where we were never in the same room at the same time.
I just came home … the band hasn’t announced taking part in it .. .but I just recorded an album with a band outside the country. Spent a month out of the country, and that was all done with me working on it here in Richmond, and then flying there to record it.
But, in Lamb Of God, we have never done that. We all live within 15 to 20 minutes of each other, and we shut ourselves in a room, like all the wildly unsuccessful bands of the past have done, and actually come up with ideas and argue and beat each other up about it. I prefer that way. To me the difference is feel. I think feel gets lost a little bit when you’re sending MP3s around and kind of being told what to do or just to program for this or that. I think you lose a lot of that energy that happens between people that are collaborating in music. Not that it’s not efficient and has obviously created some great opportunities for people to work with each other … I don’t want to talk bad about it … but in my experience, being in a room with other people and collaboratig … it’s kind of the next level experience in the writing process.
OLD: You perform at concerts as well as drum clinics. Is there a difference in feel, in the overall vibe when performing at a clinic vs. a concert?
Chris: It’s black and white. I mean there’s very little similarities. In the concert setting it’s all about the rock show. I’ve got four guys in front of me making all kinds of noise that are kind of hiding me, and I can be in back in my own world. Certainly there are parts of our songs where the lighting guy is highlighting me. There are drum breaks that kids are asking me to do in clinics. So, I realize the drums are a significant part of the music that people are paying attention to, but I definitely feel sheltered by the idea of the PA pumping out music at 110 decibals … it sounds like a jet’s going off. There’s people running around. There’s beer being served at the bar. It’s a little more comfortable, and it’s kind of how I came up. I would go to rock shows when I was a kid. I would be there buying beer … certainly interested in seeing the guys perform it the way that I heard it on the album, because that was impressive, but it wasn’t quite as extreme or being under that microscope as doing a clinic, where for me that was just … it’s absolutely torture test.
I had never done a clinic before I was called by Modern Drummer to do the Modern Drummer Fest, which is basically the super bowl of clinics. I’d never done one before, but I felt like there was no way I could tell these people no. I’d be such a jerk to say no to this. Like I’ve got to rise to the occassion. So, I spent months just talking to a brick wall in my rehearsal space going over what I wanted to say … exactly what I wanted to say. Although, watching it now I can see how nervous I was and almost blacked out during the performance of it. I think I’ve loosened up quite a bit since then and the ones I’ve done since then, but even that one seemed to go fairly well. People talk to me about that particular one all the time, I guess because it was on DVD and a little more popular than the one-off city ones that I do.
But from there I was able to parlay that into having the ability to do more clinics. So, I got a big jump start on being a clinician, and I’d never considered myself a clinician. I didn’t grow up studying drums, and I’m not a theory guy at all. So, it was really kind of daunting to step into that pool, knowing that most of the guys that do it are very well taught, handing out hand outs, drum pads and exercises … and really going into very microscopic details of playing.
I’ve always been kind of a guy with drum sticks in one hand and a beer in the other. It turned into me telling my story and how I got to where I was and showing a few examples of how I think of things differently behind the kit than maybe some other people do, and I think that really actually worked. I think there’s a lot of people in the audience for clinics … while I think there’s some people there that want to know the microscopic detail and get down to nitty gritty stuff … I think the mass of people are more interested in if they wanted to get on that stage, what does it take to get there? I think my story is more important than going home and playing paradiddles at 200bpm for the rest of your life.
OLD: At the clinics, have you ever felt that you were so respected that you could play anything, and everyone would think it was great?
Chris: I never felt that. I definitely put the pressure on myself to be far more … even more so than a concert … and I put a lot of pressure on myself for every concert. I’ll warm up for 2-3 hours before every concert. But on the clinic run that I was doing, I would make sure I got the right amount of sleep, make sure I was eating well; I wouldn’t have anything to drink. It was very serious business that I was under the microscope and I did not want to miss a single beat whether it was in the talking presentation or the playing. It may very well have been that no one would have noticed, but I definitely took it very seriously that every one was there to notice that, and I was going to make sure that I could do my best every night.
OLD: Lamb Of God tours overseas extensively. Do you have any advice for touring overseas?
Chris: Initially starting off, it’s pretty difficult. You’ve got to learn how to make it work without the tools to make it work. What I mean is that, while we are able to tour the US with our own equipment and gear, a lot of times … especially when we were coming up as a young band … when you show up some place, you can’t afford to bring all that stuff on the airplane, you can’t afford to ship it over, and you’re basically showing up with rental gear or you’re borrowing somebody’s gear that’s playing that night, or just using whatever the club might have there. So you have to be able to adapt to those challenges that occur.
It’s often frustrating, and I’ve seen guys really losing their mind … I’ve had several times when I’ve showed up and there were literally no cymbals. So there are obstacles. It kind of comes and goes. You’ve got to be … not only prepared … I don’t mean prepared like having a bag of cymbals in your backback … mentally prepared that it may not be what you need and you still need to make it sound good. That can be tough because I know a lot bands put a lot of pressure, just like I do on myself, to be perfect and to put on their best show, and with faulty gear, and you can’t bring the right people along, you don’t have your sound guy, there’s no techs, the guitar has seven strings instead of six, it’s not the guage you play. It’s tuned wrong… There’s a million things that can go wrong when you’re using your own stuff, but when you just kind of show up with a bag of underwear, it’s pretty challenging to get it done right.
You just got to be ready for that kind of thing, and as you pay your dues and make those kinds of situation work in your favor, you get to the point where you can bring a little more next time and the next time. We’re now at the point where we have basically a storage shed in England where we keep a copy of everything we have in the US, so when we arrive there we just pull up and grab it out.
OLD: When YouTube became popular, did you notice any added pressure on stage to perform?
Chris: I have had moments, where sitting behind the kit … even if we were playing … we did like a two year run with Metallica, so we’re playing the biggest places on the planet all over the planet, and still when you look out and you see that kid holding his camera up and the red light is on, you do kind of … mentally … you do kind of freak out a little bit and want to make sure … you know it’s going up on YouTube … you want to make sure you don’t flub it entirely, but you can’t really focus on that. You’re already on stage in front of 10 people, nevermind 50,000 people. You’ve got to have the confidence in what you’re doing, and you’ve just got to do the best you can.
There’s always going to be something that’s going to potentially take you off your game … with experience you get through that. You get a couple beers thrown at your head, you get food off your face a couple of times. You see a red light … you just keep on trucking.
OLD: How do you find time to practice while on the road?
Chris: It’s tough because the intsrument is basically packed away on a truck, and then being setup on stage. So for me to take the stage and rehearse on my own kit would be very, very annoying to all the people that are working on stage and setting up the band or the techs that are walking around. It has many times happened before that I’ll be working something out if I’m having a hard time with a part in the middle of a tour because things come and go all the time.
And normally, the more often you play a particular song, sometimes the worse it gets. It’s just a random thing that happens with players. You know, some Mondays are better to play drums than other Mondays. It just is what it is. But, I’ve had techs come up to me and tell me to shut up. It is difficult to get time with my actual instrument, but I did put together just a really small, really easy to carry practice setup where I’ve got an extra set of pedals … I think it’s Promark that makes these little … you’ve probably seen them at your local music store where you can test out the pedals … I’ve got two of those, two pedals and a twelve inch snare pad that I velcro around my leg. So I can basically sit in a folding chair in any room and kind of run through what I need to do. While it’s certainly far from an exact replica of my kit it does present its own challenges and helps me think in other ways as well. Like I said, I’ll spend sometimes 2-3 hours, at least an hour and half every day with that little setup in some backroom closet somehwere by myself playing along to either our music or something on my Ipod or maybe some exercises that I’m doing.
So, I definitely try to keep up on the road. Beyond that, I’m kind of an exercise freak, so I’ll spend 3 hours at the gym before I come back and do that. I think those two together help to keep me up to snuff.
OLD: Do you have any advice for people looking to do what you’re doing?
Chris: There’s no real cheat codes. We’ve all practiced a million hours and wood-shedded this stuff forever, and I definitely think the one thing that helps us get through a lot of the times where we got shit on by the headliner band or given a hard time by the audience or got through those frustrating moments when we didn’t have our gear, really all the hurdles and all the dues we had to pay, broken transmission in the band, whatever … whatever the whiney story is that you can come up with … we dealt with it and just paying your dues. The way we didn’t crack through all of that was because we really loved the music that we were playing. It didn’t matter if 5 people showed up. That was far from a disappointment. That was great because we got to turn 5 people on to what we were doing.
I think we judged our success by how well we liked our own music. When we did that, I think it became a bit more contagious than chasing the idea of trying to get more heads in a room to watch you play. If there was a secret for us, I guess it might sound cheesy, but it’s the truth, we played the stuff for ourselves, and we beat each other really bad until we get it the way we want it, and then we presented it. Because we spend the time and care about what we’re doing, I think that translates better than just copying somebody else.