There are metal bands. There are heavy, thrash metal bands. And then, terrorizing them all from the very depths of Hell, is Slayer.
Drummer Dave Lombardo, who began pounding Slayer’s relentless beat into our ears almost 30 years ago, agreed to talk with me. Far from being an Angel Of Death, Lombardo was a calm, interesting, and funny guy, generous with his time. He is a man who adores music and chatted happily about the Big 4, Mike Patton, his new band Philm, and the new Slayer album (sort of).
Geeks of Doom: You’ve been playing Big Four shows for a while now. How are you finding them?
Dave Lombardo: Exciting! Every time there’s more in the pipe for us to play on. I at least am looking forward to hanging out with the other guys and doing these festivals that are amazing. It’s bringing the European festival vibe to the States. It just feels a little bit like that to me with the big crowds and stuff. It’s a lot of fun, I’ve been enjoying it very much.
Geeks of Doom: So far do you have a favorite show of the ones you’ve played?
Dave Lombardo: [Pause] No, not yet!
Geeks of Doom: What was it like when the Big Four played in Indio, California, where three of the bands are originally from?
Dave Lombardo: It was a great party! [laughs] A lot of friends, locals, you know people we grew up with. People we haven’t seen for a while. So it was good, it was exciting.
Geeks of Doom: All the Big Four bands seem to be pretty relaxed, you’re all very successful and, despite what the press might claim, you said you all get on very well. But what do you think the Big Four tour would have been like 20 or 25 years ago when rivalries were a bit stronger?
Dave Lombardo: I can’t really speak for anybody else but there was never any rivalry from myself with the bands. I never had issues with any of them. I’m sure maybe with other guitar, er, musicians within the bands, maybe, of course there would have been… Twenty years, god, you can imagine the egos and the arrogance and attitude most musicians carry around with them when they haven’t grown up.
Geeks of Doom: You very nearly said the problem between guitarists! [laughs]
Dave Lombardo: I nearly said that, yeah! [laughs] Because, I don’t know, I feel like drummers… we get along a lot better than guitar players do with each other…I’ve done the Modern Drummer drum festival, I’ve done all these various drumming clinics and things and there’s one thing that we all have in common, which all us drummers have, is we like to share what we do. There’s no secret. I think guitar players tend to be a little more secretive and a little more passionate. Well, maybe passionate isn’t the right word, but they’re a little more secretive about their tricks and whatever they do. And twenty years ago, man, I tell ya, it was the same thing.
Geeks of Doom: Do you find at shows that when you mingle with other musicians that drummers stick to drummers and guitarists to guitarists?
Dave Lombardo: Yeah most of the time. Drummers always share knowledge. Like Lars [Ulrich, Metallica] he walks up to me and we talk about drums and whatever. Same with Charlie [Benante, Anthrax] and Shawn [Drover, Megadeth]. All four us can get together and sit and chat for the longest time and talk about our experiences with drums and what we’re going through now and stuff like that. So it’s kind of cool and I notice that. I’ve noticed that for years, you know, drummers tend to be a little more open with their playing and styles and things.
Geeks of Doom: You said the two drummers who inspired you the most were Mitch Mitchell [Jimi Hendrix Experience] and John Bonham [Led Zeppelin]. What was it about those two that you admired?
Dave Lombardo: The fire when they play. They’re able to express emotion while playing their drums. It’s really difficult when you don’t have notes to play and [with] drums you have to know, oh, what’s the word for it? Dynamic! That’s the musicality of drums is making them dynamic where they have crescendos and decrescendos. You know, so you hit really hard when things are very intense and you start getting a little softer as the song goes into another section. Which is a lot more softer than the main, let’s say, chorus where you’re supposed to be hitting very hard so… I’m sorry, what was the question? I got lost in my answer, I started thinking of other stuff! [laughs]
Geeks of Doom: [laughs] What was it about Mitch Mitchell and John Bonham that you admired?
Dave Lombardo: Yeah! Ok, so those guys they were the ones that really taught me how to play with dynamic and emotion rather than just being very still and hitting the drums. They were amazing, amazing musicians. They really contributed a lot to their band. I like drummers that contribute to the band rather than just the time keeper. It takes style and character to add to the music, with drums.
Geeks of Doom: Yeah, I agree with that. If we go back to the Big Four briefly; if you could choose one band to make a Big Five who would you choose?
Dave Lombardo: Exodus for sure.
Geeks of Doom: Good choice! Earlier this year Jeff Hanneman [Slayer guitarist] had to leave the band temporarily after contracting [flesh-eating bug] necrotising fasciitis. How is Jeff now?
Dave Lombardo: Jeff is doing much better. He’s still recovering. He played two songs at the Big Four [Jeff joined Slayer for the two-song encore in Indio, CA on April 23] …you know it was great, he went out there, he kicked ass! But he still needs a lot more recovery. He needs to work a lot more on that arm, so he’s still in recovery.
[Hours after this interview it was reported that Hanneman is likely to miss the next Slayer tour also.]
Geeks of Doom: While Jeff was out you had Gary Holt [Exodus] and Pat O’Brien [Cannibal Corpse] covering for some shows. What were those shows like?
Dave Lombardo: Well, it was a little odd having a different guitar player on stage. But they did a really, really good job in helping us out. They really stepped up. They did their homework, especially Pat O’Brien. Pat O’Brien came in kind of at the last minute because obviously Gary had to do some shows in South America with Exodus that he had committed to. But we were really undecided on who we were going to get so time was just ticking away and we had to make a decision. So we called Pat in and he only had a certain amount of time to learn all the songs so he worked so hard, that guy. Gary as well, but Gary had a little more time.
I just remember on the European tour that Pat O’Brien just…sat in the dressing room [and] he sometimes didn’t get a hotel room, just sat in the dressing room and just kicked ass! He learned everything and did everything perfect. He was a little hard on himself because he wanted everything to be, in his eyes, absolutely perfect and I didn’t hear anything that he did wrong. Nothing. He’s a perfectionist, like most of us are, and [musicians] are never happy with their own performances. We’re very critical but that just makes us who we are. But he did an amazing job, and Gary did as well.
Geeks of Doom: How did the audiences respond to them, were they good to them?
Dave Lombardo: Absolutely, yeah. Nobody got booed. As long as we’re playing we make it. That’s what they’re happy about. So its cool, everything turned out good.
Geeks of Doom: You and Kerry King [Slayer guitarist] have spent time working with other musicians and you said that helped your creativity, having that different outlet. But Jeff Hanneman hasn’t and Tom Araya [Slayer bassist, lead vocals] has said he never would. Would you still encourage them to go and do that?
Dave Lombardo: Absolutely, yeah. But, you know, it’s their choice. I mean, they don’t have to. They’re very comfortable in their place and if that’s where they want to be then I’m happy for them. But I definitely encourage it. Go jam with other people, it just helps you become a better musician.
Geeks of Doom: When you were away from the band you worked with Fantomas; what was that like working with Mike Patton and the other guys [Buzz Osborne and Trevor Dunn]?
Dave Lombardo: When you work with other musicians you learn their method of operation, how they learn the songs, how they come together in a studio and practice these pieces. Working with Patton showed me a whole other side to music I knew existed but I had never experienced. And when I experienced it, it was amazing. What that was is the art of improvising; the art of creating music that is very, not unconventional, but not traditional. There’s a lot of metal bands (and) bands in general (saying) “oh we don’t sell out, we don’t create mainstream music.” But really, technically, a lot of metal bands follow the metal format and that in a way is kind of a mainstream within its own genre. So you step out of that and create something that has very small genre. I mean not genre; very small fan base, and then exploring those ideas in the avant-garde side of music. I mean, that takes a lot of guts and a lot of creativity and a lot of work. He’s just amazing I can not say [enough good] stuff about him, there is so much to say. I could go on forever!
Geeks of Doom: How did Fantomas come together?
Dave Lombardo: I had gone to I think Faith No More’s last show, before they reunited. This was, what, 15 years ago? We were very aware of each other’s work but we had met for the first time there. Actually, Robert Trujillo [of Metallica] was there that night I remember correctly. I was talking to Patton and he [had] heard that I had some kind of avant-garde band. I said, “well, I wouldn’t say avant-garde but we’re trying to make a little different style of metal,” which was Grip Inc. We left, we shook hands, and a couple months later he approaches me and, you know, he calls me up with an offer to do this project. When he was explaining to me the music I understood exactly what he was trying to convey, what he was trying to explain to me, and what he wanted to do. So I said, “just send it to me, I know exactly what you want.” So I learned the music; I had to do a lot of transcribing. Actually I had this entire book that I had transcribed the whole first album [in]. So that was an amazing experience. It was cool, I was honored. I did four albums and then the Melvins Big Band album that I did with them.
We did some great tours. Really makes you humble, you know, because you go out there and you’re not on a tour bus, you’re not pampered. We’re playing small clubs, setting up our own drums, I was setting up my own drums and percussion, everything. Loading in your own gear and we travelled around in a van. But let me tell you, it was the best time I ever had. Better than being pampered on any tour. Those tours were amazing, travelling around the country by ourselves. It was like seven of us total travelling together. So it was good, it was a great experience.
Geeks of Doom: Do you have any plans to get that back together and get a new album out?
Dave Lombardo: He [Patton] has some ideas, he wants to put together a new album. But when? I don’t know. I think he might put something together soon. The last time I saw him we spoke about putting something together but I’m still waiting for him. He’s busy and I’ve been really busy too so…
Geeks of Doom: Your latest band, Philm: how did that come together?
Dave Lombardo: Gerry [Nestler] and I, he played in a band called Civil Defiance, we’ve known each other, geez, since ’95 when we were introduced by a mutual friend. I tried to get that band off the ground back then but at that time I had Grip Inc., I was working on other projects and I was just really busy. Then Slayer had called me in ’99, I’m sorry, not ’99, 2001 and I got really busy with that and Fantomas as well…so I just couldn’t really work with Philm. Recently, with my divorce, I had found some free time and got the band together when I found out that Tom Araya needed surgery and there were a bunch of [Slayer] shows cancelled. So I said, “that’s it, it’s time to get Philm together,” so that way I could keep myself busy. Because if I didn’t have anything I would have been four months with nothing to do! So we got together and we played.
[Laughs] It was funny, the first time we got together, just Gerry and myself, we played at the Rainbow [Bar & Grill] Blues Night. On Tuesday nights they have blues nights, so we go up there and play some Zeppelin and had a really nice time. We reacquainted ourselves, caught up on lost time. We couldn’t find the original bass player so we had to search for another one and I had met Pancho Tomaselli from the band War. You know, War [they] played Cisco Kid [and] Low Rider?
Geeks of Doom: Of course!
Dave Lombardo: A classic California band. Anyways, he had gone to one of my drum clinics and we hit it off. I listen to a lot of the Latin jazz bands that he listens to and the blues, not the blues, but some of the funk that he listens to so we really hit it off. I mean this guy just fits the band perfect. He keeps up with me which, you know, musicians, they have to learn how to keep up with me! [laughs] If they can’t, the train’s gone! Then the dude’s fuckin’ hanging on for his life! So he’s able to definitely fill the spot. We’re about to sign a deal with Southern Lord Recordings and we’ll record the album in August and put it out a couple, few months later. And then go on tour and do the whole thing. I’m really looking forward to sharing this band because it’s definitely different. I play in one of the greatest thrash metal bands, Slayer. I don’t need to put together another metal band. So I am playing a four-piece drum set similar to John Bonham and Mitch Mitchell and a lot of cymbals. No double pedal or double-bass, it’s just straight single bass.
Geeks of Doom: You said you scaled down your kit on purpose, to make you more creative?
Dave Lombardo: Yeah, I mean, you’re limiting yourself so you really have to think twice about where you’re going on that kit before you actually do it. You have to really focus your ideas and get creative with what little you have. So it’s good for a musician to strip down. I don’t know how a guitar player or bass player would do that, maybe go acoustically.
Geeks of Doom: Less pedals!
Dave Lombardo: Less pedals, yeah. Less distortion! [laughs] Whatever it is they just have to strip down what they’re using. It’s awesome, we’re just getting ready for rehearsal. Actually I’ll be doing double duty…practicing in the afternoon with Slayer and then practicing with Philm at night. We’ve got a [Philm] show coming up on Sunday at the Roxy. I play Sunday and then I leave [on] Tuesday with Slayer! [laughs]
Geeks of Doom: A busy time! You mentioned one of your earlier bands, Grip Inc. Sadly you haven’t done anything since the death of lead singer Gus Chambers [in 2008]. Would you consider starting that up again with a different line up maybe?
Dave Lombardo: You know, it’s really difficult to say. I don’t know if we would ever get Grip Inc. back together because Gus was such a big part of it. We have enough music to do definitely a concert with another singer, but writing another album, I don’t see that happening. I mean, he was such a big part of the melody making and the lyrics and his passing is, you know…there’s some people you just can’t replace.
Geeks of Doom: Of course. So, back to Slayer again; how did you feel watching your bandmates during your years away from the band?
Dave Lombardo: I never watched them! [laughs] I was happy for them; “yeah, just go on.” I was doing my own thing, it never really bothered me. I was happy where I was at and they were doing their own thing and it was good.
Geeks of Doom: What did you think of the albums they made during that time?
Dave Lombardo: I wasn’t a fan of them. I listened to them a little bit, not like listen to a complete song or anything, I just like skipped over the songs, listened to the mix, listened to the drums and it told me the whole story. I didn’t have to listen to the whole record for me to get the gist of the whole project. So it was pretty good but I just wasn’t a fan. Now I perform those songs of course I like the music and I have [added] my own drums now so I love performing those songs.
Geeks of Doom: Did you think they were maybe too basic?
Dave Lombardo: Oh no, no. Paul [Bostaph, ex-Slayer drummer] really tried to complicate it, tried to get creative which was great. But still, just for me personally, it wasn’t the Slayer that I knew. Because I sometimes step out of myself and listen to things and it just wasn’t the same.
Geeks of Doom: What was your first practice and show like when you came back to the band?
Dave Lombardo: First practice was amazing. It’s like we never missed a step, like we had no lost time. There was no lost time at all. It was good, it just shows the chemistry within the band. You know, Kerry felt the same about me.
Geeks of Doom: That’s good. Are there any plans for a new Slayer album?
Dave Lombardo: Yes absolutely. Although there’s nothing written but there is definitely plans. Of course. We have to! Why not?! [laughs] I’m not retiring and I don’t think Kerry’s retiring either so… Charlie Watts [Rolling Stones drummer] is somebody I look up to and for someone to be on those drums for as long as he’s been up there then I’m on my way! I’m right behind him, man! [laughs] I’m one of those guys. I like longevity and a true musician never abandons his art.
Geeks of Doom: I think that’s a very good way to end.
Dave Lombardo: Yes! I’m gonna quote myself on that one! Woah! [laughs]
Geeks of Doom: [laughs] Thank you so much for your time.
Dave Lombardo: You’re very welcome, man. Take care.