BY ANDREW LENTZ | FROM THE MARCH 2015 ISSUE OF DRUM!
An impossible number of rings echo in the void — each more despondent than the last. Finally, the phone picks up. Inquiring if we might speak to Stefanie Eulinberg, a voice growls: “That depends.” The drummer’s less than sunny mood is understandable. She played her last Kid Rock show a little more than a week ago and was just starting to decompress. Now the spectacle is starting all over again. Only this time it’s to promote album number 12. Par for the course when you’re in a traveling circus, her affectionate term for Kid Rock’s backing musicians, Twisted Brown Trucker Band.
With the next show coming in just over a month before Kid Rock, appropriately, plays the Daytona 500 to kick off the Nascar’s Sprint Cup Series, the window between performances is a chance for Eulinberg to get prepared physically, mentally, and spiritually. But right now she’s wrestling with the physical. Besides a handful of popcorn and a pickle slice, she hasn’t eaten a thing all day. Starvation diets aren’t normally her thing (“not when you like to eat as much as I do”) but Eulinberg’s got on her game face.
How does an outspoken woman of color end up with a misogynist white country boy?
“We’re old now,” says the drummer, who turns 46 next week. “We were old when we started, we’re real old now, so my body hurts [laughs].” She cites sleeping on four-inch mattresses in the tour bus as especially punishing. “I’m at that stage where I need to stay as healthy as I can so even on my bad days I don’t cramp up or wake up with my spine on the other side of my shoulder.” If you’ve lately witnessed Eulinberg’s effortless power behind the kit it’s hard not to think she’s exaggerating. But first things first: familiarizing herself with the songs on First Kiss. “There’s nothing complicated about any of them,” she says. “It’s the sort of beats I’m familiar with.” She and Kid have an understanding where the drums have a slightly different presentation live from on the record. “Bob is cool with that,” she says referring to Kid Rock by his g iven first name. Then for emphasis: “He wants that.”
Recently, Twisted Brown Trucker Band has grown to a nine-piece with the addition of a percussionist. As if corralling all those other players wasn’t enough, now she has to create room for a conga player. It’s a better option than in the past. “It used to be me jumping up and getting on the timpanis. It looked a little ridiculous.”
How does an outspoken woman of color end up with a misogynist white country boy? Either Eulinberg is a masochist or has a sense of humor, one that embraces Kid’s regular shout-outs to strippers, monster trucks, and moonshine. Another explanation: It’s all part of the MC’s Southern-pimp persona. Kid Rock, a onetime B-boy who grew up in relentlessly urban and racially diverse Detroit, isn’t actually the character he plays on stage.
“Oh, yes he is,” Eulinberg corrects. “He could sit on the porch, drinking a beer and fish for the rest of his life and be totally content.” Still, Kid Rock’s chauvinism has always been more humorous than threatening. At the end of the day, he’s a likable every-bro who’s more complex than he comes across. How else do you square the singer who yells “You can kiss my Anglo-Saxon ass” (from “Sugar”) with a poignant tune like “Amen” where the same guy asks, “How can we seek salvation when my nation’s race relations/Got me feeling guilty of being white?” When Kid Rock is doing “There were like seven snare things like punching out Tommy Lee or raging against freedom-hating Afghanis (“Warrior”), it’s on him. But when the band is playing a stage with the Confederate flag as a background, it’s Eulinberg who takes the heat. “That does make it a little hard,” she sighs. “Friends are like, ‘My God, how can you do that?’ He gets the racist card thrown at him. He gets the sexist card thrown at him. Every card there is.
“He’s not racist. His son is black. When I first met him his girlfriend was black.” But the provocative lyrics gave the drummer pause until finally she and the boss had a heart-to-heart. “He kind of broke it down,” she recalls. “He’s like ‘Stef, there is a difference between a woman and a ho. You’re not out here trying to do people for money or extort guys. That is ho-ish,’ and I think that when he looks at me he sees too strong a woman to be in that category. It’s not my nature to use someone to get what I want.”
It’s not that Eulinberg is justifying her employer’s behavior as much as she understands what it is to be human. She recalls a time at a bus stop when somebody called her the N word. She ran away, but the damage had been done. “I was scared, and that did make me kind of a racist after that. Because I think everyone is all of those things a little bit sometimes.”
With a music career that began at age three, Eulinberg’s journey from Sears-kit basher to stadium backbeat has been anything but easy. Before ever laying down a beat of original music, the Ohio native was doing the cover-band circuit for ten solid years in various outfits (Nation Of Teflon Souls being one of the more memorable). Playing her favorite songs was a fun way to make a living and, crucially, was a forum for developing her chops. She brazenly cherry-picked from influences including Tony Thompson, Chester Thompson, Neil Peart, Dennis Chambers, and Terry Bozzio.
When a scout saw her play at a club in her then-residence of Nebraska, he put her in touch with Sister Moon, a supposed “next big thing” that landed a recording contract with Sony and asked her come out to Milwaukee to meet the band. After a successful audition, it looked like the days of playing Top 40 were over. “It turned out to be the biggest lie,” she sighs at the memory. “It was playing bowling alleys and birthday parties. It was just this guy, like a cult leader, telling us what to do, how to play, what to wear.”
And being funny with the money. Despite the supposed six-figure advance, Eulinberg was housed in the worst part of Milwaukee. “Remember Dahmer?” she asks, referring to the serial killer. “I was like down the street from where he lived. Total projects [laughs], but luckily he was already in jail by then.” Balking at the Svengali’s demands, she bailed on Sister Moon. When her drum skills were missed, he begged her to come back. She refused. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know who you think you are, but I am not that weak chick.'”
Despite the setback, Eulinberg’s reputation as a force behind the drums was out there. Vixen, an all-female pop-metal trio tried to recruit her but Eulinberg didn’t pursue it. Instead, she formed her own all-girl band, Puppy Steak. A closet head-banger, she snuck in metal tributes wherever she could, even when audience feedback was negative. One time a club manager pulled the plug when they played “Beautiful People” by Marilyn Manson. “Anyone that’s not a drummer usually doesn’t get it,” she says. “It just sounds like a bunch of noisy fast stuff because your ear can’t dissect it. I’d sit there and watch Joey Jordison, and was like, ‘Damn you!’ because he was just so fast, and he’s small. He’s 50 pounds, dripping wet. And he plays really lightly, which is the opposite of the way I play, which is coming down from up here [gestures above her head].”
It rarely happens in Kid Rock, but this side of her personality can be heard on classic cut “American Bad Ass” with sudden, explosive d-beat in the mid-song breakdown. “I studied Lars Ulrich very closely,” she says. “He reminds me of Bonham. Everyone is like, ‘John Bonham is an amazing drummer.’ Hell, yeah, he was. But the reason he was amazing is because the band played around him. Lars is brilliant for the same reasons. He got to dictate to the band how things were going to go. Anytime you can get anybody in the band to listen to you, you are a success.”
A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY
Ironically, Eulinberg’s inner basher faced its biggest challenge once she was firmly situated in Kid Rock. Fusing hip-hop and hard rock seamlessly on the 11x platinum Devil Without A Cause, the frontman went from rapper to country balladeer with subsequent album Cocky. Imagine one day you’re walloping chunky boom- bap then all of a sudden you’re barely hitting the drums. It confounded fans and the label for sure, but Twisted Brown Trucker was at a complete loss.
“It took a minute,” she says. “It was quite a change and I’m not going to lie: We were hesitant about it.” Sometimes you’ve got to have faith, and luckily, this drummer does.
“We have so much material that is heavy already that you don’t go to sleep at our shows or when we incorporate some of those twangy numbers in there.”
“I trust Bob completely. He knows what he’s doing — he’s amazing at what he does. So we made the change, and it worked out.” It’s also worth pointing out that the shifting tides of music made the transition easier. By the early 2000s country music had been reduced to rock with cowboy hats. It’s that same modern country sound with whomping 4/4 beats that Kid Rock channels, that is, when he’s not trying to be Lynyrd Skynyrd. “We have so much material that is heavy already that you don’t go to sleep at our shows or when we incorporate some of those twangy numbers in there.”
When the vibe is cow-pokey though, Eulinberg still finds a way to make the rhythm sizzle. “I think that organically happens because I never approached anything straight on. I’m going stay in time but I’m going to accent it in different places, and you might not notice it but you will notice it if it’s not there.” A great example would be “Care,” a lap-steel-caressed weeper featuring T.I. and Martina McBride. To better illustrate, she puts us on speakerphone then starts to slap her thighs and tap her feet. “Yeah, that one. I call it a split-shuffle. What I’m doing is I’m shuffling with my feet and playing straight ahead on the top. I really don’t like the shuffle sound; I like to hear more drums, but it’s not a true shuffle. Oh, now all my trade secrets are coming out! [laughs].”
In the 1990s, Kid Rock was a solo act with an MPC sampler and a microphone. Even after the addition of Twisted Brown Trucker, there was a lingering stiffness to the performances for the first year. One night after the click tracks and sequencers crapped out at a show, her MC saw the light. “We had to just do it by ear and we got through the set and afterword he turned around like, ‘That’s the sound I want.'”
It’s around this time that Eulinberg’s drum set regained its customary dimensions, which were forcibly pared down by Kid in the early days. “I used to have a bunch of splashes and stuff at first. He was like, ‘What’s all this sh*t?’ He hated cymbals. He was like, ‘Get rid of the ride.'” But now that Kid Rock has become an increasingly accomplished musician (and, according to Eulinberg, a decent drummer) he appreciates the different voices around the kit. For First Kiss he became something of a snare connoisseur. “There were like seven snare drum sounds on this record. I had to keep a spiral notebook on what drum was used and where, and then sample that same drum in case I wanted to trigger it later.”
Kid Rock does have a sampled/digital beat component, but it’s not prerecorded. Eulinberg controls it, whether it’s with her Octopad or PD-8-style reverse-beater for bass drum sounds. She and the frontman sometimes seem like they’re on different trajectories. Just as the drum-machine–backed rapper morphed into a guitar strummer, Eulinberg has always had a weakness for programmed tones. In the clip for “Welcome 2 The Party (Ode 2 The Old School)” she’s banging some vintage Simmons, the hexagonal ones from the ’80s. In fact, she was air drumming for the video and the kit didn’t belong to her. “But if I could find some of those I’d love to start a little museum,” she adds.
Over the years she’s had a number of e-kits, but never used any of them in Kid Rock. There was a brief window, however, when it could have gone that way. “At first he was like, ‘You could use electronic drums.’ And I just was like, ‘Well, you’re going to have to find somebody else. I can’t do that.’ If we’re going to end up at the Holiday Inn then I’m down, but I’m not going on the world tour with an electronic drum set.” Eulinberg has nothing against technology, but sometimes you need boundaries. “I’m afraid that it’s going to make me too spoiled,” she explains. “I’m a little nervous that I’ll have no muscle tone at the end.”
At the moment, she’s satisfied with her approach on titular lead single “First Kiss,” a deceptively straight-ahead tune that features a few gnarly transitions — and whose first few bars are programmed drums. “I have no issues with that. I like when it’s a little bit different. [Kid Rock] likes bringing in the digital or taking out the digital,” she says. “But there are times when it’s a nightmare duplicating that in a live setting, especially when you’re not relying on an editor or sound guy.”
Bands that speed up live are a pet peeve of hers, hence the Beat Bug, a visual metronome with LED display. “In my head I know where 90 bpm is,” she says snapping her fingers. “So every time I hit the snare — boom-BAH boom-buh-boom-BAH — it’s going to show me a reading of 45 so that I know I’m in there. It was a game changer. And I don’t have to put a click in my ear, because that’s the worst. And if you are a little off, so what? It sounds human.”
La Vida Loco
First Kiss marks the beginning of a new relationship with Kid Rock. From this point forward, Brown Trucker Band will no longer be used for recording. “I hate to compare it to a marriage but after 17 years you’re going to stray,” she says. If it sounds like a demotion, you wouldn’t know from Eulinberg’s tone. “I am excited because I can do something that I have never done before with the time that I normally would be spending tracking with him.”
One of those things is the soundtrack to the film adaptation of Harley Loco, a best selling memoir from Penguin Books by Syrian-born Detroit-bred author Rayya Elias. “The book is doing great and is getting a lot of notice from a lot of people, so HBO is interested, Showtime. [Elias] is like, ‘It’s time to start writing the music because this is going to go!’ So that’s where I’m focusing most of my time now, because I love doing production, I love writing, and the book is super dark and that’s right in my wheelhouse. I love Nine Inch Nails and really dirty, grimy stuff like that.” The venture is also a litmus test for life post–Kid Rock, whatever and whenever that may be. “You know how these projects are: You only get one shot to do it right. Otherwise you’re starting over again with a blemish on your record.”
What might seem like a left-field detour is an artist finding her way again. “When I first got into music I wanted to make a movie soundtrack. I didn’t have a huge desire to be a performer at first; I grew into that in my teenage years. But when I was younger I would just watch movies and go, ‘I want to get into that.'” It’s also about cultivating new and different parts of her musical personality. For starters, the beats are an afterthought in all the Harley Locosongs that Eulinberg has so far written. “I’m not trying to sell the drums,” she stresses. “I’m trying to write these really catchy, easy-hook songs. I’m really digging it, plus I get to go into the studio and play whatever the hell I want, which is always awesome. I can lay down the drum track in like one take because it’s already in my head.” The drummer had been producing other bands for the last few years, but more as a favor to friends than hanging out a shingle. “I’d love to get my producing thing up and running on a higher level.”
For the next few months her priority is Kid Rock. Touring behind Motor City’s longhaired cowboy is a major commitment, and that’s how she likes it. Small freelance jobs are not her style. “I’ll do session work, but not very often because I don’t want to burn myself out. I do stay very busy playing.”
Reached by e-mail the following week, Eulinberg wasn’t in the mood to answer questions. “It’s my birthday, so no thinking!” she playfully replied. Despite branching out, she seems to be more entrenched in the Kid Rock camp than ever. She’s been in Detroit for two years, having moved back after a long period in Colorado. “It was just getting way too expensive to get to work. I’d be in a hotel in Detroit spending even more money and renting a car and being away from my dogs. I’m like, ‘This is stupid! I got to go back to Detroit.'” The move also lets her be closer to family in Cleveland. She road-tripped down to Tennessee to visit her dad at Thanksgiving, and then treated her mom to a Stevie Wonder concert. “His ass is 64 years old and he never dropped key on anything,” she gushed. “And everything was on the tempo that it is on the records.”
She’s the first to admit it isn’t easy being a part of something as big and fragmented as Kid Rock, which she likens to having ten brothers on the road. But band blood is thicker than water. Whether it’s turntablist Freddie “Paradime” Beauregard, keyboard player Jimmie “Bones” Trombly, lead guitarist Jason Krause, or the Kid himself, you better step correct to this posse. “That was one of Bob’s main goals. He’s like, ‘We’re going to get attacked by critics and bands and haters. They’re going to try and separate us, but we will kill for each other if we have to!'” Enduring her share of hard knocks in and outside the band over the years, Eulinberg’s bond with the others — sorely tested at times — has only gotten stronger. “Sometimes it’s like sibling rivalry and we’ll poke fun at each other,” she says before quietly adding, “But if anyone else does? Not cool.”