Tommy Johnson – Bobaflex – Exclusive OnlineDrummer.com InterviewNate Brown
OLD: Why are you a drummer? Why did you choose to do this as a career?
TOMMY: I don’t know. When I started listening to music, early on, as far back as I can remember, I just wanted to play drums.
I tried to play guitar at first, but it wasn’t enough really. I had to play the drums.
OLD: Before a gig, what do you like to do to get warmed up?
TOMMY: Well, mostly now that I am getting a little older, I like to do a lot of stretching: arm stretches and whole body stretches. I grab the sticks and hit a stool or whatever I can bang on.
OLD: You guys have been at this a long time. You had an album out in 2007 and you had another released in 2010? Were you doing a lot of touring in between?
TOMMY: We did like 260 shows a year. And if we were not doing that, we were constantly rehearsing to make our live show really stick out. We are more of a live band. I think it comes across better live what we do.
OLD: As far as being on the road, when you started out, you had a perception of what it might be like on the road, the big grandeur of things, but is there a difference between what you thought it might be like and what it’s actually like?
TOMMY: You think it would be a little more comfortable. Initially, we toured in a van and trailer, saves money. We have been on a couple of buses, which is great, for long tours. But the thing about touring in a van is, you get more showers, you get more hotel rooms, and that’s the tradeoff. We were just out with Royal Bliss and Oceans Divide and toured the whole country. They would get mad. I am like, man, I haven’t showered for three days. They are like, it sucks.
OLD: Any advice on when you are in close quarters like that, with the same people for years on end, any advice on keeping the peace or having a good relationship?
TOMMY: We have been lucky because we all kind of grew up together. We have all known each other since we were kids. So everyone has gotten along great. Everyone gets mad. You have to, living that tight, but we mostly get along.
OLD: Any advice on what skills a drummer would need to build in order to do something like what you do?
TOMMY: Stamina comes in as a big part of touring. You can rehearse at home all day. This is the way I am. We rehearse like four or five hours a day, about five days a week when we are home. It’s different when you come out and start touring, because you mix in all the miles you travel and then career things.
OLD: A lot of drummers or bands in general are excited about first getting “signed,” Did you have any experiences where you thought, I wish I would have been smarter as far as that goes; any advice in that area?
TOMMY: Not really. We have been signed to a couple of labels. It has helped get us to where we are at.
OLD: How much of a focus do you think a drummer should put on learning to be more visual, like stick tricks, flips, etc?
TOMMY: I think it helps really. I have seen people that don’t do this; there are drummers that don’t need to do it. You can’t let it get in the away. I have seen that too. You have got to be able to play first.
OLD: As far as equipment and keeping up with your tuning, because you are playing all the time, how often do you change out heads, and how often do you have to retune?
TOMMY: Oh, I tune a lot, like almost everyday and every time. The weather changes everything. As the heads go, usually I go through snare heads a lot. But I change them about every couple of weeks, according to how many I have. But tuning-wise, I tune almost every night.
OLD: What do you think about the use of triggers in the live show?
TOMMY: No, I haven’t had much luck with it. Our sound guy argues with me, but I mean the way I tune and working with him, he has been with us a couple of years. We have got a good drum sound without triggers. It’s hard to find a good trigger setup, because I have always had double trigger issues. I like drums. A good drum, tuned well with the right microphone is what I am about.
OLD: Do you have any advice on how to deal with the people that run each venue, as far as your demeanor?
TOMMY: Oh yeah, you have got to be nice. Not everybody is friendly. You run into the clubs where the sound guy is maybe having a bad day. But, we have always been really cool to everybody; get on and off stage when you are supposed to, things like that. Don’t stand up there and tear down each cymbal. Get it all out of the way and box it up. With the owners and promoters and everything, we have always had good luck.
It comes back to haunt you. If you do something to somebody, you will see him again. It’s a small world. Imagine you are out on tour and, oh God, there is that guy. You were drunk and threw a beer bottle at him the other night [laughs].
OLD: If you had only one piece of advice that you could pass along to the next generation of drummers, what do you think that would be?
TOMMY: Check out other bands. Be inspired by people. Listen to other things that you wouldn’t normally listen to. I watched an interview with Tomas Haake of Meshuggah where he was explaining how much time he spent just playing a song. He spent as much time on that song as he did on the whole rest of the record. And sometimes you have got to do that; you have got to push yourself. You can’t give up and say, I can’t do that. You have just got to keep playing and play through and eventually you will find it.
I am still inspired by even younger bands that we have toured with. If the drummer is great, he is great. You can always learn.