By Daniel Tucceri
Ask any drummer into extreme metal to name the best in the business, and you’ll invariably hear Slayer legend Dave Lombardo’s name come up. Whilst his days smacking cow hides with the thrash titans are a distant memory, Lombardo has been no less prolific. Recently, the Mike Patton fronted Fantomas have reunited and he is recording and touring with his rock-fusion project PHILM. Off the stage, Lombardo has recently contributed to the soundtrack for the Insidious: Chapter 3 horror film and Californication movie series.
Speaking from North Hollywood, Dave admits that while he’s looking forward to a tour of Australia performing his drum clinics, he could do without the sunny weather. “There’s too much sunshine in California. I’m sick of it,” he laughs. Right from the beginning, the skinsman revelled in the darker side of life.
“I’ve always been attracted to notes, minor and dissonant chords. I really like bands that use a morbid, darker sound. Even growing up, when I saw the Iron Maiden album cover, you know, I looked at that cover and I said ‘this has to be good’.” Lombardo speaks with youthful zeal as he recalls that fateful first purchase. “So I bought it and I felt like ‘wow, this is spooky’!”
“I remember having a little organ when I was really little and I used to scare myself”, recalls Lombardo. “I would just hit notes, just play any random notes and they would give me the creeps. It sounded like I was creating some kind of horror soundtrack”.
When Slayer paired up with the hirsute Rick Rubin, it was a definitive time for extreme metal. Every smack of the drums on those records was granted a level of depth and clarity, which made it sound all the more extreme, setting a benchmark for future drummers. Dave explains that he would spend up to a month trying to get the perfect drum sound. “You have to dedicate at least three to five days to really dial in the drum sound and see how it sits with the guitars, the tuning, making sure that there isn’t anything buzzing.”
Where his axe-wielding partners in crime tuned their guitars a step lower, some would be surprised to know Lombardo employed a similar approach with tuning his drumheads. “You have to tune the drums to the other instruments. Recently, I’ve been doing it live; you just find the root notes. Let’s say my guys in PHILM, we tune to C sharp. Then I tune all of the drums, obviously in a different pitch and different octaves, but they’re all around C sharp. Just for some reason, they sit well within the body of sound.”
It’s that level of meticulousness which has seen Lombardo extend his music periphery even as far as classical music. Some would be even more surprised to learn that the skin smasher recorded for an album of Vivaldi pieces as far back as 1999. “That was a lot of fun!” he enthuses. “I loved working within that element. There’s a lot of different sides of me and one of them is the love for classical music.”
Lombardo maintains not a single detail can be spared in terms of doing any type of music justice. “You have to learn how to play a little bit lighter, you have to play maybe different size drum sticks, maybe brushes. You have to contribute to the music not only your style, but you have to play to the music.”
Beyond the kit, Lombardo similarly adjusts his lifestyle to ensure he is playing at his best. “Drumming is something that if you build and work at it, it’s very beneficial”. As a result, Lombardo won’t touch coffee and takes vitamins every day. “I try to eat a lot of vegetables, a lot of fruit, I try to stay away from bread. Minimal meat, but I eat fish,” he adds.
“You can’t be out there abusing your body like I’ve seen many musicians do and expect to, number one, look good. And number two, stay alive.” It’s a sobering thought, especially given the untimely passing of Slayer guitarist Jeff Hannemann. “And I still see it and it’s disheartening. You’re watching this from the perspective of a person that embraces good health. You see it happening and you’re just like, ‘okay, when’s the bomb gonna drop’? You hope for the best.”
In terms of playing the thrash metal he is renowned for, Lombardo is similarly committed to putting the song first. Comparing the experience of recording for a band like Slayer as opposed to Testament (on 1999’s The Gathering), the drumming legend describes the writing process between him and guitarist Eric Petersen as “a lot of give and take”. It’s an approach, which defines his band PHILM, a power trio that resembles Led Zeppelin jamming at fever pitch. Once again, Lombardo adapted his drumming and did something that most hardened metalheads would deem unthinkable; he dispensed with his trademark double kicks.
“One thing I did very early on in the beginning of PHILM was strip down my drum set and I started playing a four piece drum kit, compared to a nine piece like in Slayer or Testament,” he describes. “Stripping yourself from all the bells and whistles, all the drums and toms and double bass, it kind of limits you. You have to find other ways to express yourself in a musical section. If you don’t have the double bass, you obviously can’t go there. You have to find other ways, so you create the double bass sounding pattern with the floor tom and the bass drum.” However, Lombardo plans to dust off the double kicks on the next PHILM record. “It’s really taken it to another level. Actually, it’s made the band a bit heavier”.
For his upcoming drum clinics, the main message from Dave Lombardo to his fans is to experience the growth that comes with playing drums. “Hopefully, to inspire them to continue. Even though it doesn’t go maybe where they want it to go, like to a level of success where they expected themselves to be. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, as long as you’re doing it and you’re having fun”.
Melbourne – 20 October 7pm
Allans Billy Hyde, 152 Bourke St Sold Out
Adelaide – 21 October 7pm
Allans Billy Hyde 58 Gawler Place
Ticketing details can be found here.