Rich Russo – Exclusive OnlineDrummer.com InterviewNate Brown
OLD: How did you get into drumming?
Rich Russo: I got into drumming at an early age — as far as the love for it — but I didn’t start drumming until I was about 12 or 13 years old. I took lessons for a couple of years off-and-on but didn’t have a drum set –just a practice pad.
It’s ironic that I am playing drums for Andrew W.K. The previous drummer who I replaced got me into drumming, Donald Tardy. He has a band called Obituary. Back in the mid-‘80s we were pals. I’d go over his house every day and say, “Hey, can I watch you guys jam?” or “Can I play on your drums?” When I finally got a kit, my parents couldn’t afford to buy all the extras; so he let me borrow some stuff.
He stayed in the Death Metal genre, and I went off to every kind of genre available. Donald got the call to drum for Andrew, and he called me and said, “I want you to be my drum tech”. So I was like, “What’s a drum tech, dude? I don’t know.” I’d never heard of one before; I always set up my own gear. So I started touring with Andrew in 2002 as a drum tech and continued.
OLD: Would you say that’s a usual step from drum tech to eventually a member of the band?
Rich Russo: It’s been known to happen, and I kind of had that foresight going into it, knowing that, “Hey, if anything ever happens or…” I knew from Donald that eventually Obituary would be re-forming and touring again, and they still owed Roadrunner an album; so that was coming up.
I did all the sound checks. He never came to sound checks, so I knew the songs. And there were a couple of times where I had to fill in for him, and at that point Andrew had no idea I could actually play. One of the other guitar players used to be a tech, and he got bumped up, too.
OLD: When did you make the step from tech to drummer?
Rich Russo: I started touring as a tech in January of 2002. I took over as drummer in 2004. For about 20 or 30 shows, we did two drummers side by side. So it was like the hard rock Allman Brothers.
I set up next to the other drummer. The band members said it was the most powerful sound in drums live, two drummers playing simultaneously. Some things I played on the opposite spectrum of what the other drummer did.
And that was actually an answer to what Andrew wants. Eventually, he wants to have two bands onstage facing each other performing his music, and that was a step towards this happening. We have three guitar players right now; he’d like to have another bass player. So that helped make part of Andrews dreams come true, which was cool.
OLD: Before a show, what do you do to get warmed up?
Rich Russo: I get my sticks and a pad, and I work mainly on traditional grip with my left hand. Although, I don’t play it in this style of music, it really opens up my forearms. Then I do a lot of rudiments: singles, doubles, paradiddles, sextuplets, etc.
When I can get on the kit, I warm up for a while with double bass, get my blades moving. The way this setup is [on this tour], they put your drums on stage behind the other drummer; so you can’t really warm up on the kit — and that’s the time you really want to warm up, 30 minutes prior to going on. So I take my pad and go in the bus and warm up.
OLD: When you’re onstage, how important do you think it is that you have a good stage presence? What’s your take on showmanship?
Rich Russo: I focus more on the performance, and I don’t have long hair so I don’t head-bang. If I did, I probably could do that; but it’s hard with in-ears and stuff — and sweat.
To me, the drumming is most important — playing for the song and the performance. A lot of people, after I get done playing, say something like ,“You look motionless” or “It looks like it’s so easy”. I’m like, “Well, this is what happens after 27 years of drumming. You figure out that less is more, range of motion, and all that other goofy stuff you try to do kind of throws you off, especially when I’m listening to a click track on every song.
OLD: When you first got into the studio, a lot of guys say that the producer pushed the metronome on them, and it was their first experience with a metronome. Did you have that?
Rich Russo: Yeah, that happened to me, as well. The band I was in, we were paying 100 bucks an hour to record in the studio, and they were like, “Let’s roll on click track”. I must have wasted two hours, a couple hundred bucks; I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t untill I started teching, gearing and mixing the guy’s in-ears that the click became embedded in my brain every day.
Now, I can play without it; but I like it. I prefer it a lot. Sometimes at home playing with my church I’ll bring a rhythm watch and then my own mixer and play to my own click and not even tell people.
OLD: As far as the tuning and hardware and upkeep of your drums go on the road, how often do you have to change your heads, tune and all that stuff?
Rich Russo: Well, I haven’t changed heads yet, and I think we’ve done about 10 or 12 days. I’m playing Evans; I have G2 coated on the tom.
I play Gretsch drums with Gibraltar hardware. Man, I take these drums out of the cases every day, and they’re still in tune. I’ll just tweak them, and everybody’s fanatic over my drum sound. I think I’m one of the only Gretsch drummers on the tour, so that’s pretty cool.
OLD: If you could only give one piece of advice that you could pass along to the next generation of drummers, just one, what do you think that would be? And no one’s on the spot.
Rich Russo: I would definitely say study. Study with a teacher. Work out of books. Work with play-alongs. I taught for about two years recently, and I taught at two different music stores which both had different curriculums. At one store, there were no play-alongs. I tried to do get my students to do them — it was like twisting these kids’ arms to get them to play a play-along. Why are you a drummer? — because you want to play in a band.
There are a few books that are staples, like Syncopation, Stick Control, The Moeller Method; George Stone, I think. And when you’re stuck, Gary Chaffee is amazing; Double Bass. Joe Franco’s got a good book; but then there’s Bobby Rondinelli, who’s got a better book. So just buy books and study them. “Well, I can’t read music.” “Learn how.” It’s simple.
OLD: Anything that stands out in your mind that’s important to you?
Rich Russo: One thing that’s important to me is the hi-hat foot. A pet peeve of mine is when I see a drummer that doesn’t keep time with his hi-hat foot. They’ll have their hats a quarter-inch and keep their foot on their other pedal or on the ground — do something, man!
I drilled hi-hat control into my students for so long that my knee started hurting. Then I realized I was doing too much; they need to practice more. I should have them do this when I was having to ingrain it into their brain.
OLD: For the guys/gals that are looking to do what you do, what advice could you give them as far as types of things to practice and what skills they’ll need?
Rich Russo: Well, the first thing I would say is don’t stigma yourself into one genre of music. A lot of these young guys today, they’re all about the Metal. Man, play everything, even if you don’t like it.
Also, play with as many different people as possible. There’s a lot of young guys out there, even guys that are popular, that have only played in one band. Sometimes these guys get in a band, they get a deal, and that’s the only band they’ve ever worked in. I’ve been hired and fired by more bands than I can count — and that’s not a bad thing, getting fired, sometimes. It’s a motivational event.
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