If Taylor ever quit the band who would you consider as a replacement.
"If Taylor ever quit the band, the band would be over. At this point if anyone left the band it wouldnít be worth carrying on, because no-one could replace anyone in the band. Itís more important to fit into the band socially - thatís a hard thing to replace. When every band gets together they make a pact, 'If anyone leaves weíre breaking up'. And then someone leaves and the remaining three band members look at each other and go, 'Are you ready to quit?' Each one says no. So it just happens. I feel like if the band broke up tomorrow Iíd miss everyone so much, but it wouldnít destroy my life. At this point I just feel like as long as we can make it together the four of us together we will make it and some day if someone wants to leave then itís okay because weíve accomplished a lot and Iím very proud of all of us. But itís not the kind of thing I would want to do for the next ten years of my life. I think bands are like a can of Spam - they have a shelf life."
When you recorded the last record you said yours and Taylorís drumming styles had merged into one and that you had become one. What influences and inspirations has Taylor taken from you and in turn you from him?
"Taylorís favourite drummers are early Phil Collins, early Genesis. That stuff is a good drumming, period. So Taylorís all about Matt Cameron, Phil Collins, Stuart Copeland and Neil Peart. Whereas I kind of come from John Bonham or Tony Thompson or a number of punk rock drummers like Chuck Biscuits. So Iím a little bit more groove orientated, Taylorís a little bit more traditional progressive rock drumming, and we meet somewhere in the middle. I learn something from Taylor every day - itís great, itís a wonderful relationship to have."
How did you get into playing drums in the first place?
"I started playing guitar when I was about ten years old. My mother gave me a book of Beatles songs to learn. It was a huge 300-page book of songs transcribed into chords and Iíd sit around all day trying to figure them out and sing along. At the same time I was listening to Rush's 2112 and I thought, 'Okay, hereís the first time Iíve heard a rock album where the drums are in the forefront'. I found it really exciting and I just picked up on it. I was playing in a band with kids from my neighbourhood when I was about 12 or 13, and every time the drummer would go home I would go behind his drum kit and try to figure out the beat from this song or that song. Two or three years later I was in a band and the drummer was awful and I finally said, 'How about you play bass and Iíll play drums?' And that was it, I never went back. But actually, when I was 16 or 17 I wanted to stop drumming and start a band where I was playing guitar again, but my sister told me, 'No, you donít have to do that, because youíre turning out to be an okay drummer, and drummers are hard to find, and guitar players are a dime a dozen. So that was kind of it. But I didnít have a drum kit for the first five years while I played. Iíd borrow peoples' or Iíd learn to play on my bed listening to hardcore records. So then, when I finally got onto a drum set, everything would split into pieces."
Who were your early drum influences?
"Well Rushís 2112 album was one of the first things that made me sit up and notice. It was the first record where I really listened to the drums. From there I just got into listening to American hardcore bands, drummers like Earl Hudson from the Bad Brains. Then there were drummers like Chuck Biscuits from the Circle Jerks and Bill Stephenson from the Descendants and the drummer from No Means No and Reed Mullen from Corrosion Of Conformity. There were also some metal drummers I loved, like Dave Lombardo from Slayer, a drummer called Away from Voivoid, then there was Mackie who played with the Cro-Mags. And then from the punk rock stuff I got listening to Led Zeppelin, then I just completely felt reborn. This is how rock drumming should be - heavy on the bottom, graceful, powerful, capable of countless styles. That was my big epiphany."
Did you ever take any drumming lessons or were you self-taught?
"I took two lessons after I had been playing for maybe three or four years. I used to go to a jazz club in Washington DC called One Step Down. Every Sunday they had a jazz workshop and they would invite drummers to come and sit with the house band. I knew nothing of jazz but I thought it was exciting. My mother and I used to go down there every Sunday. We went down on her birthday and she said, 'Oh, would you go up and play?' and I said, 'Mom, please, no'. But I put my name on a piece of paper and they called me up and I was with them for one song and the house drummer was very nice and I asked him if he would give me lessons. So he came over to the house, I had a drum set at the time and he sat down on the drum set first and proceeded to tear it to shreds and then said, 'Okay, let me see what you can do'. So I sat down and played as much as I could as well as I could and he said, 'Okay, first thing, let me see how youíre holding your sticks'. And I held them like they were chicken wings or something. So then he placed the sticks in my hand traditionally and had me doing paradiddles for $75 dollars an hour - so needless to say it only lasted 2 hours. Iíve never learned anything from drum schools or anything. Iíve relied on my ear for everything that I know."
If you had to recommend five albums to aspiring young drummers, what would they be?
"Young drummers should definitely listen to Led Zeppelin Four, Revolver by The Beatles, Soundgarden's Down On The Upside, Wrong by No Means No and The Best Of The Gap Band - I swear to God!"
Do you have any other career ambitions?
Well, Iíve been thinking of opening up a school of music in Virginia and in Washington DC. The public school systems in those areas are lacking in their music education departments. So I started thinking about opening up some sort of community centre or school where kids could come and have a listening library of thousands of CDs, where they could sit and listen and learn, having instruction for all instruments, having a studio where kids could record, kidscould come in and be evaluated to their level of playing, then you pair kids together so that they could learn to play with other people so as they are learning to play with other musicians, have them learn how to work in a studio, and have seminars where you teach kids everything from how to build your own studio, how to book your own tour, how to start your own record label, how to start your fanzine, how to produce your own record. Just have it be a complete and comprehensive place."
What was your first drum kit?
"It was a black Tama Swing Star five piece. It was fucking loud too."
Tell us a bit about your first band?
"My first band was just a bunch of 12 year olds trying to play Rolling Stones covers. We actually played at a nursing home once, and we played 'Time Is On Our Side' and we got extra credit from school or something like that."
What was your old band the Scream like? And can we expect a reunion one day?
"Scream was a hardcore band from Washington DC that I was a fan of before I joined the band, they started in about 1980. I brought there first album in maybe 83/84 and had seen them play countless times. They were from my neighbourhood and were eight or ten years older then me, but they were the coolest hardcore band in Washington DC. DC also had Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Government Issue and all of those bands were pretty much traditional hardcore, but Scream was the one band that would play ĎGreen Eyed Ladyí and ĎMagic Carpet Rideí then bust into some hardcore then break out of that and do an acoustic number. I found this really interesting and thought that they were the most Rock ĎníRoll hardcore band around. The fact that they were from Virginia made it a little more appealing as they were from my home town. We played a lot of different music like straight fast Hardcore, hard rock, acoustic Ballad stuff, we were all over the map. But in the end there was a lot of power and passion there. We spent yearís van touring the country. Remember I dropped out of High School to go on tour, it was amazing, my mother who was a teacher at the High School was none to pleased, but in the end was very supportive because she new I was very passionate about what I was doing."
How did you end up joining Nirvana?
"Scream were touring and our bass player had this problem were he would quit the band every five or six months, usually in the middle of the tour, so we were here in LA and he left without telling anybody, and left us stranded at a house in Laurel Canyon. A friend of mine was in a band called the Melvins and I called Buzz because I knew they were coming into town and wanted to get on the list for their show. When we spoke he asked me if I knew about that band Nirvana? And I said I had heard Bleach and liked it, but I had never seen them play or met them. Well it turns out that they were looking for a drummer and had just seen us play in San Francisco and said to Buzz if ever I became available to give them a call straight away. So I gave them a call and they said that they had already got a drummer, Danny from Mudhoney, so I said no problem here is my number if you guys come into town give me a call. The following night they called me back and said maybe you should come up here to Seattle, so I did and we had one rehearsal and that was it."
What were your first impressions of the other two when you first meet them?
"They were very weird. Krist is six feet seven and a half, and kind of a hippie pot-head philosopher, hilariously funny, incredibly eccentric, he is definitely an individual and then Kurt who is tiny and reserved and just quiet they were both a mystery to me, I did not see myself fitting into that picture at all when they picked me up from the airport."
Were you a big fan of the band before you joined?
"Yes, Iíd heard Bleach and I thought it was pretty cool, I knew 20 people who thought it was the best record they had heard in years. There was something there that nobody else had at the time, Kurtís voice was raw , tuned down sound was something that I had not heard before."
Did you know from the start that the 3 way partnership would end up being something special?
"I knew that the 3 of us together made a good band, but I didnít know anything was going to happen with it, I knew that there were record companies who were interested in signing Nirvana but the goal was to play the same venues that Sonic Youth were playing."
How closely did and you at Krist work together as a rhythm section?
"Well, the songs that they were writing were all pretty basic, Nirvana has a minimalist aspect that we all adhered to, we definitely wanted the songs to be more song orientated than player orientated so Krist and my responsibility was basically laying the foundation for what Kurt was trying to accomplish with the song, and we tried to be as tight as possible but there was something beautiful about the looseness and the sloppy raw messy playing that made the band sound the way it did."
What was the inspiration if any to the awesome groove on Teen Spirit?
"I think that was pretty Pixies influenced. Thereís that 60ís go-go dancers beat that the Pixies used in a lot of their songs and I just wanted to take it to another level by playing it harder and cutting out the 8th notes and 16th notes and just playing on the force, to just break that down to something a bit more minimal and a little more beefy."
If you had to pick one highlight of your 3 odd years with Nirvana, what would it be?
"It would have to be playing the Reading festival in 1992, headlining it, that was pretty amazing we were so disconnected at that point, we hadnít rehearsed, we hadnít played in such a long time. Kurt was going through stuff of his own, there was a lot of speculation that we werenít going to play and that we were going to play, was Kurt in rehab, had the band broken and I was expecting it to be the biggest disaster of our lives. It turned out to be one of the best shows we had ever played. There was somethingm about the energy of the show that night that made me feel that we had really accomplished something."
What is your favourite Nirvana track and why?
"I would probably say that my favourite Nirvana track is a track off In Utero called 'Milk It'. It was powerful enough in the rehearsal space, something bigger and better happened when we got it onto tape and recorded it for the record, it was an interesting drum track, most of the Nirvana drum tracks were pretty basic 4 4 and that one was turned on itís side andit was a lot of fun to play."
What was your least favourite Nirvana track and why?
"I would probably have to say that my least Nirvana track was 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' because it was the track that everybody expected us to play and we only played one show without it."
Tell us about your drum set up that you used with Nirvana?
"It was a Tama 4 piece it had a 24 kick, a 15 rack and an 18 floor, I had an 18" crash on the left, a 20" inch crash on the right and a 24" right symbol with 15" high hats, everything kind of oversized. The idea was to keep it simple and bottom heavy."
Nirvana had 6 drummers, who did you think was the best.
"I think that Dale Crover from the Melvins was the best drummer. He played on their first demo and was by far the best drummer that they had ever played with including me, he was the best drummer that Nirvana ever had. He was an amazing drummer and incredibly powerful. He was a huge hero of mine, I always looked up to him long before I was in Nirvana I was a huge Melvins fan, I always tried emulating his style and he was just an incredible drummer he was more than just a punk rock drummer and more than just a rock drummer. He was a force to be reckoned with and still is."
How would you describe your style of playing?
"I think that my style of playing has a lot to do with learning from my ear rather than a teacher, I think that all my influences come out in any of the songs that I have ever recorded, whether itís Dale from the Melvins or Jon Bonham from Zeppelin. All those drummers are responsible for the way that I play drums and Iíve never considered myself a great drummer, Iíve just always considered myself a drummer. I think that every band Iíve been in where Iíve been the drummer has been more about the songs than the individual players and with Nirvana it was definitely that way. It wasnít about your prowess it was more about a collective effort and at the time it seemed that the world needed that. Being in a band like that your responsibility is really not be the best drummer in the world but to spawn a whole generation of air drummers, I always think that the best drummers in the world are people who donít know how to play the drums but can air play to their songs. Drumming is song writing it has nothing to do with how fast or how smooth it just has to do with the drums being a song within a song and thereís a lot of drummers who do the same thing, nothing I did with Nirvana was revolutionary. Rat Scabies was washing his symbols heavier than me 20 years ago. The double time snare rolls were straight of a Bad Brains record, so I think one of the reasons people might think of me as influential is because the band sold so many records."
At this point you have been in the Foo Fighters twice as long as you were in Nirvana, what is your whole perspective now on the Nirvana experience?
"It changes as years go by, I have new insights and adopt a new perspectives on it. After Kurt died it wasnít the bad things that came straight to mind it was the good things and then as time went on I started remembering all the bad things and healing from a loss like that takes a long time but as long as you feel like life is still in motion and you are carrying on you can deal with the bad things because there is so much to look forward to. From 1991 to 1994 that was the biggest whirlwind blur of my entire life, and whether itís selective memory or because it happened so fast, I wish I would have kept a diary or kept some documentation some sort of journal where I can look back on it. But you donít think of that at the time, especially when it was happening so fast. And now that itís been 6 or 7 years since the bandís been finished it still seems like it only happened like 2 / 3 years to me."
How did you cope with the intense media interest in Nirvana and how do you find it now?
"I was fortunate in Nirvana where I was really just the drummer, I think that unfortunately Kurt had to suffer through the spotlight. Kris and I remained relatively anonymous, me more so than Kris because of his size. But throughout my time with Nirvana I really did remain pretty anonymous. So I had the best job in the world, I was in this band selling millions of records, people had a lot of respect for, but I could still go to the movies and not have anybody ask me for an autograph. It was pretty great and then when joining the Foo Fighters as the years go by more and more Iím being recognised. I have always seen it as something flattering and fortunately the image people have of this band they see us as real normal guys they really see us as the band next door so it someone comes up to me in the supermarket and says 'Hey', I say 'Hi' back 'howís it going?' and thatís it. Thereís never any screaming, crying girls or any drama."
How often do you play drums these days compared to sitting down and playing guitar?
"Well, sitting down playing guitar in front of the TV is easier than sitting down and playing drums. One of the great things about a guitar is that itís portable, I can just carry it with me all day long and sit down and play it when I please. With a drum set you have to have a bit more of a schedule. So I usually play the drums every day, even if itís just for a few minutes. But with a guitar I walk around with it all day long usually."
Do you still have a kit set up at home, if so what is it and how many other kits do you own?
"I donít know how many kits I have, but I donít think itís many. Maybe 2 or 3. I only have pieces of my kit left from Nirvana as Kurt was well know to smash it to bits. There was one drum set I had about 4 or 5 years before I joined Nirvana and it along with most others got smashed up in the heat of the moment, but when that stuff would happen it would happen for a reason. The reason was that everybody was having such a good time, that you honestly didnít care about your instrument, so usually there was no remorse. There were times the next day when we would be taping instruments together."
Do you and Melissa ever jam together as a rhythm section at home?
"Yes, every once in a while, she makes music of her own and whenever she needs a drum track on something Iíll sit down and put it on."
Will you ever record with her?
"Maybe in the future, who knows?"
If you were only allowed to play one instrument again in your life, what would it be guitar or drums?
"Well, Rhythm Readers, I would have to say guitar. Itís the instrument I started out with, I feel like Iím still growing, learning something every day playing on it and as a drummer there are some things I would like to accomplish but at this point in my life I feel like Iíve plateaux. I can do what I do well, but I really donít have the ambition to be the best drummer in the world, I really donít want to be that guy."
What do you see yourself doing in 5 years time?
"In five years time I will probably be doing movie scores every now and then, hopefully having my school of music and performing in one way or another."
How do you prepare for a live show?
"Usually, I sort of jog in place for about 20 minutes just to get my body loosened up I donít really do vocal exercises or maybe just a tiny bit, and listen to music blaring to get me fired up."
Do you suffer from nerves at all?
"I get horribly nervous before any performance. Iím ridden with horrible anxiety always, it can be any show, it can be 5 people of 500,000. I get really very nervous and always have for the past 10 years."
Whatís currently playing on your stereo?
"These days the new Sepultura CD called Nation. It's the best Sepultura record in 5 years. Listening to a lot of Frank Black. Shit thatís about it."
Tell us how you came to record the drum parts for the Beatles film Backbeat?
"Backbeat was a film that came out in 1993, they made this movie and they needed a band to record the music for the movie, which was going to be used as the soundtrack from the Hamburg days of the Beatles and they wanted something raw, sloppy and fucked up, so they called me. The producer was Don Was and he was handpicking people, he got the bass player from REM, he got Thurston from Sonic Youth, he got Don Fleming, he got Grey Dullhi from the Afghan Wigs, Dave from Soul Asylum and he got me."
Have you ever had the chance to meet any of your heroes and did they live up to your expectations?
"My idea of a hero may be different from anybody elseís like when I met Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols that was a big deal for me. I think itís important to think of them as human beings so that when you meet them itís great. There are some people who I have tremendous respect for and when Iíve met them Iíve thought they were knobs."
Worst experience on stage?
"Was Japan in 1998, I had come down with some kind of virus in the middle of the show, so halfway through the show, I had to stop and I said to the audience, 'Look, Iím really sorry but I have to walk off stage because I have to shit and vomit and hopefully Iíll be back in a couple of minutes', and of course they didnít understand me. The tour manager was knocking on the toilet door saying 'Can you go back on?', I said 'No, the show is over', I heard the Japanese promoter on the mic telling the crowd and I could hear the crowd shouting 'Dave Grohl you asshole, you suck'."
Best experience on stage?
"It was playing 'Tie Your Mother Down' with Queen recently at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. That was awesome."
Whatís your tip for playing live?
"Talk to the audience so that they feel they are part of the show but not bullshit to them. Like, 'London, let me hear you scream'. Try to make contact with them and try to be a human being about it if you make a mistake, laugh it off."
What is your top tip in the studio?
"Donít hit your drums too hard it chokes them. Itís important to let drums sing in the studio, and if you beat the hell out of them you wonít get the tones you would get if you were more gentle with them."
What is the best drum performance you have ever witnessed?
"I would have to say the drummer in No Means No, Michael Lee who played for Jimmy Paige and Robert Plant. He was fucking amazing."
If you could play drums with any artist alive or dead who would it be?
"I would probably want to play drums with, well itís a toss up between Minor Threat and Led Zeppelin."
Would you ever consider being a guest editor for Rhythm?
"My grammar is shit, but sure.!!"
Words: Tony Wolliscroft