|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||4/27/2008|
Interview with Brooks
bombshellzine.com, April 27, 2007
Brooks Wackerman is a busy man, the Bad Religion drummer was recently in Australia playing drums for The Vandals. He also does time with Tenacious D, and is working on a new metal outfit as well as fronting his own project Kidneys, which is described as "a cross between Elvis Costello and the Descendents". Brooks handles all intstrument and vocal duties on recordings, but is joined during live performances by a band. While the busy man was in Sydney, James Green caught up with him for a chat about Bad Religion, Kidneys and more! Read More to check it out.
You’re involved with a number of different projects, what drives you to keep so busy?
I just enjoy playing with different people, you know, my primary style of band is punk rock, as you know, but Tenacious D is obviously different, and when I get home I do a lot of session work, and growing up I’ve always liked playing other styles which I think just keeps everything fresh. Obviously I’m touring with The Vandals at the moment, which is just a huge breath of fresh air, seeing as I haven’t played with them in about 2 years, and get to play different songs.
What’s behind the band name Kidneys?
It’s funny, someone was asking that the other day, there’s really no significant reasoning behind it. Late one night I was driving home in LA, and I was listening to a radio station called KROQ and they were playing a program called “Loveline”, with Dr. Drew and Adam Carolla, and I’m not even sure of the context, but Dr. Drew said the word “Kidneys”, and it just stuck with me. At the time I was looking for a band name, and so I just thought it was kind of sharp sounding, and that’s basically the story behind it.
Kidneys is described as “muso-pop”, that’s quite a change from the other bands you’ve been involved with.
Sure, yeah, but when I write songs I really like to step out of my own box, I love punk music and there’s definitely a punk element in Kidneys, but there’s quite a few slow songs on the record. I wanted something quite eclectic, and I really didn’t want every song sounding the same, and I hope the fans of Bad Religion make the crossover, and accept us with open arms.
I must say muso-pop is a genre I’ve never heard of before.
(Laughs) Yeah, either have I, I created it, I created my own genre. Basically it reflects the musicianship of the band, which fellow musicians can appreciate, there are definitely progressive elements in there, and while we’re not 100% progressive, it’s really very musical. At the same time, we’re not so musical that there’s not a pop sensibility to it, I mean it’s still very accessible to a wider audience than just musicians. So muso-pop to me is just a hybrid of two different styles.
Kidneys was formed in 2003, but the album only came out in December, what took so long for it to come out?
That really goes back to the original question on what keeps me so busy. Schedules were the main reason for the delay. I mean, when Bad Religion releases a record, we’re usually on the road for about one and a half or two years, which makes recording next to impossible. But yeah, I hope to be able to get the next record out much faster.
Is the record out in Australia yet?
No, but you can get it through PayPal on our MySpace. If anyone’s interested, just punch in Kidneys into MySpace. Hopefully in the future I can get some sort of distribution deal down here so that you can buy the record in stores, but with the invention of MySpace I’d like to think our music is pretty accessible.
Did you write the album by yourself?
Yeah, I have a live band, my brother John is a fantastic drummer, drumming seems to run in the family, I mean there’s four of us between my two brothers and my dad. I guess if we were Dodger’s it’d be a little different (laughs). But I was pretty much a one man band for the recording process. My friend Josh played bass on two songs, but I wasn’t trying to be an ego-maniac by doing everything myself. The band at the time was not the band that I have now but I had a real window where I could get into the studio and record, and I just wanted to get it done, rather than wait. That’s really the major disadvantage of working with touring musicians in other bands; the schedules are so hard to align so that it works out for everyone. I hope on the next record to collaborate with more people though.
What’s it been like stepping out from behind the drum throne and playing guitar and singing on stage, have you had to do much work with your voice?
It’s been quite hard; I’ve been playing drums since I was about 2, and so it’s a huge step. I’m still trying quite hard to improve as a front-man; I’m taking voice lessons at the moment. I guess the biggest difference is not wearing earplugs, because I’m so used to wearing ear-plugs as a drummer, but when I wear them as a vocalist I tend to over-sing. My sister in law, who’s actually from Sydney and now lives in California with my brother, she’s been giving me voice lessons but it’s a whole different animal.
What plans have you got for touring with it, is it just going to be fit in around Bad Religion and you’re other commitments?
Pretty much, when I’m home, I’m gonna try and set up mini-tours that fit in with my other bands, because usually I can’t get away for long, I hope to make it down here eventually as well, but the flights down here cost so much that it’s a big investment coming out of one persons pocket, so doing interviews like this to raise the awareness helps a lot. But as of right now, we’re playing a few west-coast shows and trying to get the word out, but I hope we can tour on a more widespread basis in the future.
What was it like when you first joined Bad Religion, was it hard stepping in and being the new face in a band that had been around for so long?
I think it’s all in your perception when you join a band that’s as established as Bad Religion are, I went in there confidently, but at the same time, I have a style as a drummer, and learning 13 records prior to mine recorded by other drummers in their own styles is hard. I don’t mind doing it, but I have to make it my own somehow, and that can be challenging. Luckily they were really open to having me bring something new to the table, but you’ll always get the fans that say “I’ve always loved Bobby Schayer and it took me a while to get used to your style” but I think I’ve been a part of the band long enough now, it’s 6 years I think, to be generally accepted by the fan base. It’s kind of like going in to a job interview for the first time, that’s the best equivalent I can come up with, as in there are all these nerves, and I think you have those because you care, but you just have to deal with them and give your all.
How did you approach learning their massive back catalogue?
It seems every time we tour there’s always a batch of songs that they want to play that I’ve never even heard of before (laughs). Recently we were playing multiple nights in a venue, so we had 4 different setlists so that the diehards who buy tickets to more than one show don’t leave disappointed, so I had to learn about 50 new songs that the band wanted to play on those nights, so that’s always a challenge. But honestly, it’s got to a point where I’ve got the general formula of Bad Religion songs pretty much down, so it’s engrained in my head now, and I instinctively know where each part should be. I mean, there are always little twists here and there, but you get to a point in the song where you remind yourself, and just figure out what works for you. Learning a lot of new songs though is hard, you’re generally just in the car with the CD, pressing repeat and tapping on the steering wheel (laughs).
You also introduced a double pedal to the band, which is pretty rare for punk bands, what was the reaction when you first brought that out at shows?
It was a love/hate relationship definitely. Some people loved it; some people thought it was sac-religious. I think it’s definitely an acquired taste for people that aren’t used to it. I tried, and I suppose my biggest challenge was to play it as musically as I could, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Personally I love the part in “Atomic Garden”, I think it works really well within the song context.
Thank you. I think in Atomic Garden it works well, and there’s also a section of “Social Suicide” where I think it really works well. My biggest fear is overplaying the double kick, I think it has to be really well balanced, so when you hear it, it adds something to the song and people take notice and think, “Oh, that’s double kick”. But it was a definite love/hate relationship with the left side of my pedal (laughs).
Bad Religion used Joe Barresi as a producer on New Maps Of Hell, and I read in a recent interview that he encouraged you to approach the drum tracking for certain songs a bit differently, what was that like?
On the first single “Honest Goodbye”, which is maybe the slowest song in Bad Religion’s history, but a great song that Brett Gurewitz wrote, I used a 26” kick, whereas I usually use a 22”, to get a really huge drum sound. I actually recorded the drum sound first, then overdubbed the cymbals later to get the isolation, and so that when they were mixed both drums and cymbals could sound as huge as possible, so that was a really cool technique that I wasn’t familiar with that made for a great end result. I mean he’s worked with bands like Queens Of The Stone Age, Tool and Weezer, so he knows his stuff backwards. The rest of the record was tracked normally, but that was an example of his creative thinking. Between him and Brett though, those pair get the best drum sounds, out of all the engineers I’ve worked with they’ve always been right on the money with the sound of my drums.
Bad Religion are renowned for their lyrical content, do you all tend to be on the same page when it comes to the substance of the content?
It depends a lot I think. We’re not all atheists, for example, Greg’s the only atheist in the band that I know of, I think religiously we all stand different grounds. As far as politically and environmentally we’re definitely on the same page, we all have the same beliefs and we all are looking at the same things. But what Greg writes about is absolutely mind-blowing to me, I’ve never heard a singer bring as much to the table as he does, and so there’s definitely a huge mutual respect for each other and where we all stand.
How different is writing with Brett Gurewitz and Greg Graffin compared to other bands you’ve been in?
Well, before Bad Religion records we don’t just get together and jam, the majority of songs are written by those two, so they both have home studios and Brett lives in LA and Greg in New York, so they construct the songs there, and send them to us, and we’ll get together a couple of weeks before recording and make it our own, and we’ll all arrange the songs together. I had the privilege of co-writing a few songs with Brett on the last record “The Empire Strikes First”, and I think there’s a distinction between the two writers, even though their styles are so similar. I think Brett is more poetic and Greg tends to be more scientific.
I find it quite hard to tell the difference between the two writers.
Yeah, they have developed really similar writing styles, but I can tell Brett’s songs because they tend to be a little more hooky and more poppy than Greg’s, but to me the best Bad Religion records are the ones that they’ve worked on together.
When you’re writing drum parts, do you generally go with your first instinct, or do you go over and reassess and perfect your parts?
It’s usually instinctive, definitely. Whatever I feel I will try, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a big trial and error experiment, especially when we’re jamming with each other, I’ll play something and then everyone kind of looks at each other and you know whether they think it worked or not. It’s pretty rare that I’ll obsess over my parts and add things just because; usually I’ll hear a guitar riff and know in my head how it should sound.
Does your kit set up remain fairly similar from band to band?
It varies quite a bit, on this current tour with the Vandals I’m playing a simple 4 piece with 3 cymbals, in Bad Religion I tend to use a 2 up-2 down setup, mainly because during recording with Bad Religion I have certain parts that call for more drums, and then with Tenacious D, it was the biggest kick I’ve ever used.
You also have a metal side project in the works, with Dave from No Use For A Name and Brandon from Bleeding Through, called The Innocent. What plans do you have for that?
We’re in the early stages of making a record, we have about 5-6 songs demoed, and we have a manager who’s sent those demos around. We still have another 6 or so songs to write, which is half the record so it’s a little way off yet.
You come from a very musical family, and had classical and jazz lessons as a kid, what attracted you to punk rock?
Actually, it was The Vandals, I was good friends with Josh Freese, and The Vandals were one of the first punk bands that I’d heard, and I was blown away, and I hung out with them a bit, and through them I was introduced to Bad Religion, and I first heard and loved “Stranger Than Fiction” through them, so it was really The Vandals who got me in to the punk scene.
What advice or tips would you give to aspiring young drummers?
Find out what you like, and know exactly what you want to do, stylistically, and go for it. Practice, I know it sounds cliché, but it works. I mean I’ve practiced for years, and still do. Other than that, listen to a wide variety of music, pick up a Reggae CD, pick up a Latin CD, and listen to Stuart Copeland and other really great drummers. Also be patient, it’s not going to come overnight, oh and use a metronome.
Personally, being self taught it’s hard playing styles other than those you’re really into.
Self taught is definitely not a bad way of learning, there are some great drummers out there who are self taught, and a lot just depends on your dedication and passion for the instrument.
Well that just about wraps it up; is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just that it’s great to be back here, and we’ve discussed that Australia should definitely be a part of future Bad Religion album touring cycles, so hopefully it won’t be once every decade (laughs).
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