DAVE LOMBARDO Talks First Solo Album, 'Rites Of Percussion': 'There's More To Me Than One Speed'

April 18, 2023

By David E. Gehlke

Dave Lombardo would still be considered legendary if he did SLAYER and nothing else, but anyone who has tracked the drummer's career knows that he is infinitely restless. The myriad of projects he presently partakes in stretch far and wide, each with its own demands and styles. It is no longer enough for Lombardo to sit behind the kit for bands of prominent standing like the MISFITS, MR. BUNGLE and TESTAMENT. He is also still immersed in the creative free-for-all that is the Mike Patton / Ipecac Recordings umbrella and doing improv with John Zorn, grindcore in EMPIRE STATE BASTARD or industrial noise with SATANIC PLANET. And let's not forget BELOVED GHOULS, DEAD CROSS and FANTÔMAS. The list doesn't end there. It now includes his first solo album, "Rites Of Percussion".

Recorded during the thick of the pandemic, "Rites Of Percussion" finds Lombardo going at it alone with an assortment of instruments at his disposal. The album is highly cinematic, involved and intense — all to be expected from someone like Lombardo, but it also captures his ability to write songs and create an atmosphere, something the drummer feels may be an overlooked aspect of his playing given his genre-defining work in SLAYER. But SLAYER is in the past and a cavalcade of projects and live gigs are the future, which was among the topics when Lombardo caught up with BLABBERMOUTH.NET.

Blabbermouth: Before discussing "Rites Of Percussion", can you share your 2023 priorities and plans between SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, the MISFITS, MR. BUNGLE and TESTAMENT?

Dave: "Let's start with SUICIDAL. I haven't been able to play with SUICIDAL because he [frontman Mike Muir] is not on tour as often or as much as I'd like. When I joined them in 2016, man, it was on. But then the pandemic [happened] and I believe he has [health] issues. I think he's had a couple of surgeries on his back. It's limited the amount of shows he does a year. I haven't played with them in a while.

"I'm focusing on the MISFITS, MR. BUNGLE, EMPIRE STATE BASTARD and in 2022, when I was on tour with TESTAMENT, I had stuff lined up that was starting to build for 2023. With TESTAMENT, we were having several scheduling conflicts. I couldn't back out of them. I won't be joining them on their upcoming tours for 2023. My focus is on BUNGLE, who I've recorded an album with back in 2019 and we did a live album. EMPIRE STATE BASTARD, I recorded an album for them in 2020. That's going to finally see the light of day later this year. We've already released a single. I'm not doing the [upcoming] shows with SATANIC PLANET… I won't be performing with them. Instead of doing live shows [with SATANIC PLANET], I really like to just be more on the production and songwriting side. It's very industrial, very dark. It's got a very evil vibe, but great guys nonetheless. Some of the most kindest people I've met in my life, which contrasts with the music."

Blabbermouth: What about TESTAMENT? Will you be playing with them in 2024 or on their next studio album?

Dave: "I don't know because everything is starting to snowball with MR. BUNGLE and EMPIRE STATE BASTARD and the MISFITS. I've been with the MISFITS since 2016. TESTAMENT is a well-oiled machine. They're always touring and releasing albums. To try to find that space or that time to release something…I don't know."

Blabbermouth: Would you say, then, that your status with TESTAMENT is "uncertain"?

Dave: "Yes. It's wait-and-see. I can't guarantee anything because of my commitments. I did fulfill my contractual commitment for 2022, which was quite extensive. We did one of the longest tours I have done. It was like seven weeks in Europe, which was great. I really needed to get out there and build my chops after the pandemic. That was a lifesaver. We'll see. The relationship is good. The doors are open. The communication is there. I told them that I was seeing some clashes coming up. This was in the first week of January when I reached out to Eric [Peterson, guitar] and told him. This has been brewing for a while. Actually, I saw it in November/December of last year. I started seeing, 'Oh no. This is going to happen. This is not going to happen.' It's very tricky."

Blabbermouth: You did an album with Lorenzo Arruga in 1999 ("Vivaldi: The Meeting"). Did that lay the groundwork for "Rites Of Percussion" because it was so experimental?

Dave: "I started thinking about 'Rites Of Percussion' way before that. I thought about creating something like that back in '98 or '99, but I wasn't in the right headspace. I wasn't in the right place in life to create that kind of body of work. It takes a lot. It takes a lot of dedication, focus and cooperation from the people you live with and are around to give you the time and space to create something like this. It seemed like 2020 was the perfect storm for a lot of musicians to buckle down and work on their passion projects. I was one of them. It goes way back as early as my first meetings with Mike Patton. He was the one that put that project, at least for me, into focus. He mentioned a couple of other drummers, including one I was a big fan of, Tito Puente. He turned me onto an album called 'Top Percussion'. I knew of Tito's work on other albums that I was familiar with, but 'Top Percussion', for some reason, wasn't on my radar. When he presented it to me, I was like, 'Wow. This is it. I have to do a project similar to this.' It's been in the back of my mind for years. Finally, I could focus on it in 2020; here we are in 2023 and it's out. When people asked, 'Hey, what are you doing to stay busy in 2020?' I said, 'Oh, nothing!' [Laughs] You have to keep things quiet when you're working on them. Then release them at their appropriate time."

Blabbermouth: You've spoken before that you viewed your drum parts as "compositions." How did you apply that line of thinking to your solo album?

Dave: "It's difficult to explain the creative process because everyone has a different approach. How I started was with one piece. I'd record a drum pattern, a timekeeper. After that, I'd layer something else on top, then something else. Then, it will start developing. Eventually, I'll erase the first thing I wrote and keep what I've added later. Then, I'll edit, cut things out, make some space, create other sounds and textures and add to the section. It was like building blocks. Building parts and elaborating on them, and sonically dialing them in. I'm a big fan of the art of engineering. It was fun to have two drum sets at the house. I had a little four-piece in the living room. It was a big, ambient living room/dining room area. I set up a bunch of mics in the room and ran the cables upstairs into the monitor room. I had another drum set in a different room upstairs. I called them the 'dead drums' and the 'living drums.' The 'dead' drums were the double-bass kit. During that session, I recorded BODY COUNT's 'Colors' on that kit. It's quite the experience. You learn a lot about yourself and how much you must stay focused. You need to discipline yourself: 'I need to go to work today. I need to go up to the studio. I need to edit. I need to write, get creative.' But, I really set myself up with a schedule. I'd wake up in the morning, have my coffee, jump in the shower, put on a nice shirt and go into the studio. It was like I was going to work every day. That's how I kept myself sane."

Blabbermouth: Did you use Patton or your son (David, who mixed "Rites Of Percussion") as a sounding board for these ideas?

Dave: "No. Everything was written, recorded and produced by me. Later, post-recording, like in the mixing stages, my son, who helped me mix it, would say, 'Hey, dad. How about putting a little reverb or something on this section?' Or, 'Why don't we distort this?' I'd say, 'That's a great idea. Let's do it.' To the actual structure and the direction of the pieces, how it flowed, it's all me."

Blabbermouth: There may be an expectation from those in metal who don't know your work outside of it that "Rites Of Percussion" would be an album full of you thrashing away at the drums. But it's not. You've created an intense album with congas, wood blocks and bongos. Was it important that you showcased that side of you here?

Dave: "It's always in the back of my mind. Even in the early days when I was on tour with SLAYER. Kids with their compliments that I was like a 'metal drum god' and all this. I loved it and appreciated it. It put me on the map. It's something that I will never deny or shun away from that title. First of all, I love metal. That style of music put me on the map, but in the back of my mind in the early days, I felt that there was a little more to me than that. It took me leaving SLAYER in '92 to realize that there was a side of me untapped: the improvisations. The ability to improvise, on the fly, onstage, even in the studio, with other musicians and connect — almost telepathically, we're able to connect to a point where I've honed in that art so well that I can go onstage with John Zorn or Patton or Bill Laswell or anyone and improvise music. After that show, they will ask, 'Was all that written? Because it sounded like it was written.' It's like, 'No. It's not. It's improvised. I'm going for it.' I learned that in the late '90s when Patton introduced me to Zorn. We've still been working together. I just did two improv shows at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennesee, which were successful. One was with Trevor Dunn, John Zorn and myself, then another with an orchestra and several different drummers, guitar players and a marimba player. The list goes on. There's more to me than one speed."

Blabbermouth: Being under the Patton umbrella has diversified your portfolio.

Dave: "It excites me when I return to a metal project or concert. Jumping from one to the other cleanses each other's energy. Whenever I play in a metal band, I'll get ideas for something I did with Zorn or Patton and vice-versa."

Blabbermouth: You're a few years shy of 60. The health of drummers in your age bracket is a regular topic of conversation, whether it's Lars Ulrich (METALLICA) or Charlie Benante (ANTHRAX / PANTERA). How are you holding up? How do you feel?

Dave: "Physically, I feel great. I've been very fortunate. I think it's the way I set up my drum set."

Blabbermouth: That's right. You've never developed a significant injury: no elbow injuries or carpal tunnel.

Dave: "I thought in the early '90s, around [SLAYER's] 'Decade Of Aggression', I had a back problem. My drums weren't set up properly. From 1984-85, I had a drum tech and would never set up my kit. It was slowly changing to how those drummers would have played the instrument. It didn't feel right to me. It took me leaving SLAYER in '92 to get re-acquainted with my drums. Sit in a room, put them together, take them apart, clean them and set them up myself. As soon as I did that, I felt it immediately. It was like, 'There it is.' And there came the GRIP INC. albums I released."

Blabbermouth: Those are very underrated albums, by the way, especially "Nemesis", the second GRIP INC.

Dave: "It's a brilliant body of work."

Blabbermouth: (Vocalist) Gus (Chambers, who passed away in 2008) was like a punk guy put into a metal band, but he could still sing.

Dave: "He was so good. They've asked me, 'Have you ever considered bringing in another vocalist to replace Gus?' It would be so difficult for me. He had a combination of punk and was several years older than me. He was part of the punk scene. He was legitimate. He was the real deal, but he had a strong and powerful voice. He was a great lyricist. Rest in peace, Gus. I don't think I could ever…unless I found a vocalist similar and with the same characteristics. I don't see that band ever getting back together. I have spoken to the producer and guitar player, Waldemar [Sorychta]. I always see him when I go to Europe. I recently met up with [bassist] Jason Viebrooks, who was in HEATHEN and is now in EXHORDER with Waldemar. We've thought about it, but finding someone to replace Gus would be so hard. He was so fucking good."

Blabbermouth: What's left for Dave Lombardo to do now that you have a solo album in the bag? What's on your bucket list?

Dave: "So much, but nothing I can pinpoint. I have some things that are brewing that I'm working on here at home and communicating with other musicians and sending files back and forth. There's always something. With 'Rites Of Percussion', a lot of people have been mentioning, 'Dave, you need to write a score for a movie.' I've already dabbled in scores and creating drum parts for movies. I worked with Tyler Bates on 'Dawn Of The Dead' in 2003. I recorded some drums for Joseph Bishara for 'Insidious Chapter 3'. I've worked with Christopher Young on 'The Monkey King', a Chinese major-motion picture. 'Californication' with Tyler. I wrote a score for a documentary called 'Los Ultimos Frikis', that's out and can be streamed. It's a documentary about a metal band trying to overcome the oppression of Communist Cuba. That's another thing I'd like to dabble in. When I did work on that stuff, it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed putting sound into the imagery. That's helped me take imagery in my mind and write sound, like on 'Rites Of Percussion'."

Photo credit: Ekaterina Gorbacheva

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