Dave Lombardo: the philm of his life

Even if Dave Lombardo was never Slayer’s leader, it’s hard not to compare his situation with that of Mike Portnoy and Dream Theater. Both men are extremely influential drummers in metal, and both now enjoy a freedom that allows them to sign up for as many projects in as many genres as they want. When Lombardo tells us in the following interview: “I’ve done more in the past two years than what I’ve done in ten years with Slayer”, we are inevitably reminded of Mike Portnoy’s confession a few months before that: “What I’ve done over the last four years, I never would have been able to do if I stayed in one band.”. Both also claim to be much happier now.

Listening to him, there’s no doubt the man who once played in one of the Big Four is fulfilling his potential in his current artistic life, far from Slayer’s crazy touring rhythm and the energy that demanded. He’s just released a second album with his trio Philm, is already planning a third one (to be released in April), is about to go back on stage alongside Mike Patton and Fantômas, is taking part in a cartoon pilot for Disney and in the soundtrack to horror movie Insidious 3… Far from being a thrash drummer only, Lombardo is a jack of all trades, and that’s precisely what he’s always claimed.

« There’s nothing worse than being a part of a band that does the same thing year after year. It becomes very, very boring for me. »

Radio Metal: Fire From The Evening Sun is the second Philm album. How has this collaboration with Gerry Nestler and Pancho Tomaselli evolved compared to the first album, Harmonic?

Dave Lombardo: The first album is a combination of music from an early period when we had a different bass player. We couldn’t find the original bass player when we formed the band in 2010 and we had to release music at that time that consisted of old and new material. So the new album now consists in music that’s composed by all three of the musicians. So not old material, it’s all new.

This second album seems to have been an opportunity for complete artistic freedom, so how was it conceived?

I actually feel that the first one had more artistic freedom. We had a lot of improvisational pieces, some very strange interludes, etc. On the second one we had to focus more on complete songs because the journalists were saying like: “Oh, this is too crazy for us, this is too far from what we want to hear…” So I kind of took what the journalists said and what I wanted, and we created songs that were more for radio and more structured for the near average listener.

Do often do that, taking into account what journalists or people around you tell you?

Believe it or not, I feel there’s always room for improvement and I listen to not only the opinion of the musicians that I work with, but I also listen to what, sometimes, journalists say. Sometimes [chuckles].

You guys worked with film music composer Tyler Bates and Robert Carranza, also known for his works on movies, on the sound of the album. And you have often associated your music to movies, like, for example, your work with the band Fantômas. Where does that come from?

Tyler’s a good friend of mine. I worked with Tyler on the movie Dawn Of The Dead, the 2004 version of the movie. So we’ve been friends since and when he heard the album, he liked it and wanted to master it. And Robert Carranza, who’s very well known in alternative and rock music, mixed it. Well, [my musical relationship to movies] all started with Fantômas, and when I play my drums I have a way of giving them a lot of feel, a lot of different moods. You know, I can hit my drums and make it sound menacing, like a monster’s coming, then I can make it sound kind of happy. I think that with that ability comes the understanding of how moods and emotions play in movies and how you need to adapt your drumming and different music to that. It started with Fantômas but I always had that ability and understanding. I think that’s the answer to the question [chuckles].

Lately you’ve been working on the music to a cartoon pilot for Disney and on a collaboration with Joseph Bishara for the Insidious 3 soundtrack. How did these projects come about? Do you have some special affinities with these two genres, cartoons and horror movies?

I think it’s just following me. I don’t know because, you know, people call me: “Dave do you wanna do this?” And I’m like: “Yes, let’s work!” Joseph called me and it was like at the last minute, and he said: “Dave, do you want to come in and work on Insidious 3?” How can you say no? I was like: “Oh, but I have to leave on a plane!” and he said: “Well, ok, let me see if I can change the schedule.” And he changed it and he made it work out for me. And the Disney cartoon was recommended by a friend who works, obviously, for Disney – he’s the vice president of Disney Animation – and he asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. It’s a pilot, so we don’t know if it’s gonna be a cartoon yet. I don’t know, it just follows me around.

Do sometimes feel like maybe you should say no to a project or do you always feel challenged?

Oh, I say no!

Because Disney sounds crazy, no one would have expected you to be in a Disney project, honestly…

I know, I know [chuckles]. But it’s modern; it’s not like the Disney we know, like The Beauty And The Beast or anything. This is more modern Disney. Do you know Phineas And Ferb? Ok. Some of those more modern Disney HD for cable television, that’s what I’m working on.

So, no princess movies…

No, no, no. No classic Disney. They told me specifically: “When you guys create the music, make it unique and make it yours. Don’t follow the Disney format.”

« Now, today’s producers take out the human out of the band and the drumming, creating more music that sounds more industrial than rock n’ roll, rock or metal. »

Fire From The evening Sun was released in September this year but I’ve read that you were already planning a third album for April next year. Do you guys feel some kind of creative urge?

I’m working now at a level… Because I’m free… Because you see, when you’re in a band like Slayer, you have a schedule: you go on tour in the spring, the summer and the fall. And it leaves no room for anything. It doesn’t leave room for you to create with other people. You’re kind of stuck. And the ten years I was with Slayer, I only created two albums, well, three with the first Philm album. What was it? Christ Illusion and World Painted Blood, and then the Philm album. And now I’ve done more in the past two years than what I’ve done in ten years with Slayer. The way I look at it is: there’s 24 hours in a day, eight hours you sleep, eight hours to work and eight hours for yourself. So, if you work it that way there’s a balance.

Outside of Slayer you always did some very diverse and even some somewhat crazy music. Do you need this diversity to be challenged and get fulfilled as a musician?

Yes, yes. There’s nothing worse than being a part of a band that does the same thing year after year. It becomes very, very boring for me. And this is challenging and, getting to your previous questions, I do feel like a creative surge, a creative energy. And that’s because I’m just enjoying myself.

Have you ever felt like being underestimated or locked in a box, so to speak, by being mainly considered by people just as a thrash metal drummer?

Yeah, I have. I have for many, many years. I mean, even in the beginning, I’ve always wanted for people to know that I was much more than just a metal drummer. In the early days of Slayer, I was into punk. I was into metal and then I got into punk. Then after that I started opening. I started listening to Jane’s Addiction, I started listening to industrial music, etc. So I just kept growing and started to become more interested in other styles.

Being one of the most influential metal drummers out there, how do you analyze the evolution of metal drumming throughout decades? What do you see as improvement and, to the contrary, as degradation?

This is always difficult because now I’m gonna have many drummers say things about me. Ever since the beginning of the drum set, drumming always improved and gone better and better. But I think, where it’s kind of degradation, as you said, I think that happens when computer started to help the drummers. You know, they started to fix every little drum beat, everything to make the drummer sound perfect. If you listen to the early Slayer albums, yeah, 99.9% of it is perfect but you still hear the human element. Now, today’s producers take out the human out of the band and the drumming, creating more music that sounds more industrial than rock n’ roll, rock or metal. So, it’s not really “degradation”, it’s just change. We can have all of this technology but it doesn’t mean we have to use it, because right now I have the technology but for the Philm album I chose not to fix everything. I chose to keep it real and keep it human.

There will be technology to entirely replace drummers one of these days…

I know! I know! “Hey, we’re gonna play song number three. Press the button and here’s the drummer.” I just doesn’t… You lose the human feel in music, which is ok in some music, some style, like dance music, industrial music, some pop music, etc. You know, I listen to it and I like it. But when it comes to rock n’ roll and you see a band play, you want it to be a human; when you listen to it and when you watch it live.

And the little flaws are just part of it…

It’s part of it! Yeah.

Now that you’re out of Slayer and that Grip Inc is, unfortunately, no more, do you intend to form a new thrash metal band at some point or do you just don’t feel any necessity for this?

Ok, this is what I’ve been saying when journalists have been asking me this: I feel like I’ve played in the best thrash metal band ever. How can I top that? Why would I even want to try? I was in one of the Big Four bands! I think now is time to just be creative, make something new, try to make new changes… Slayer made a change in music history. I would love to make maybe another change, you know, try something else. But who knows? The door is not closed. There’s always something that can happen. I always get phone calls asking if I wanna be in a band. Who knows, if one day it’ll be the right thrash metal band, I’ll say: “Ok, I’ll do it.” I mean, for example, Testament: when I did the Testament album (note: the 1999 album The Gathering), that was special and everybody loved it. Who knows?

« Slayer made a change in music history. I would love to make maybe another change. »

By the way, would it be possible to revive Grip Inc. with a new singer, or is this just out of the question?

I thought about it and I found a singer. I thought he was ok but Gus, the singer for Grip Inc., was very special. He was a very, very special singer. He had a very special character in his personality, his voice and his stage presence. To try to replace him would be really, really hard, you know? He’s gone! That magic we had is no longer there. It’s like Led Zeppelin, you know, without the drummer, without John Bonham. They just turned down 800 million dollars…

Yeah, but this was revealed to be untrue actually…

What?! No!

The newspaper completely made it up!

Really?! No way! Oh! I was like “Wow!” Oh, well. See what happens with the media? [Chuckles] It’s terrible…

Sorry to disappoint you!

Yeah, I was really proud of Robert Plant, you know, because you can’t replace certain musicians…

Having now the time to fully explore and broaden your own creativity with Philm, your movie soundtrack projects and various other projects, would you actually say that you’re a happier musician now than you were, let’s say, two or three years ago?

Yes. I’m definitely happier now because I’m doing more variety. Before I was doing one thing and I was hungry for other projects or creative outlets and it just wasn’t happening. Now, it just seems like everything’s picking up and I’m getting a lot more experiences. It’s great! I like it!

On December 6 you’ll be playing the RockOut festival in Santiago, Chile, with Fantômas. What is you feeling about going on stage with Fantômas again and do you think this could go further, with some new music?

I think it could go further, definitely. How do I feel? My god! I’m so excited! You don’t know… Because it’s been ten years since I’ve played with [Mike] Patton, and Patton and I have a very, very good live chemistry when we play together. It’s just intense… With Buzz [Osborne] and Trevor [Dunn]… I just really miss those guys. It’s been ten years with Slayer and now, maybe, ten years with Fantômas. For now, it’s one club show and one festival, all in Santiago Chile. It’s like a warm up show and then the festival.

You have joined House Of Hayduk and Amen. Any words about those and maybe other projects that you have plan on doing?

I didn’t join Amen. That’s the press who changed that around, they made it like I was the new drummer for Amen and I wasn’t. Casey [Chaos] asked me if I could help him out with the project and I said absolutely, I would help him out, and it was changed and turned around like I joined Amen but I didn’t do that. As for House Of Hayduk, I’ve yet to hear the complete album. I only recorded the drums, so I don’t know what the album’s gonna sound like or anything. So we’ll see what happens. I don’t think we’ll be doing any touring or anything or that. That’s just an album project, recoding and experimenting.

You’re born in Havana, Cuba. What have you kept from your Cubans origins? Have you tried to get inspiration from Cuban music?

Absolutely, all the time. I listen to Cuban music all the time. I could dance Cuban if I wanted to. I play Cuban percussion. I take the Cuban music with me. And the food: I love cooking Cuban food. And I still speak Spanish.

Interview conducted 17th, november 2014 by Tiphaine.
Retranscription, traduction, questions and introduction: Spaceman.

Philm Official Facebook page: www.facebook.com/PHILMOfficial.

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