BY DAVID JARNSTROM | FROM THE SPRING 2019 ISSUE OF DRUM!
“I don’t keep track of Slayer,” Dave Lombardo says over the phone matter-of-factly. “I have too much to deal with over here.” Currently enjoying some well-earned downtime at his Southern California home, the ever-genial drummer couldn’t care less that the legendary thrash metal band he co-founded as a teen is in the midst of a two-year farewell tour. While Slayer slowly rides off into the sunset, Lombardo—54 years young in
February—is headed in the opposite direction, cracking the throttle on his storied career.
Splitting time between crossover pioneers Suicidal Tendencies, horror-punk icons The Misfits, and hardcore supergroup Dead Cross (featuring co-conspirator Mike Patton of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle on vocals), Lombardo barely has time to think these days—which suits his spontaneous disposition perfectly. “It’s invigorating going from one project to another,” he says. “I finished a six-week Dead Cross European tour this summer, hopped a plane in Amsterdam the next day and started a Suicidal tour in New York the day after that. No rehearsal, just straight to the stage. I’d done my homework and was on point. Music is music, you know?”
Lombardo claims it was a “no-brainer” when Suicidal Tendencies frontman Mike Muir asked him to join the band, which—like Slayer—originated in Los Angeles in 1981. “I’ve known Mike for many years, I’m a fan, and I love the music,” Lombardo explains. “Also, it was a great opportunity for me to venture into the crossover scene; implement some funk grooves, get more swing into my playing. I’m able to dabble in different styles, which is beneficial for any drummer.”
On Suicidal Tendencies’ latest LP, STill Cyco Punk After All These Years, Lombardo’s drumming jumps out of the speakers with raw, uninhibited energy so often absent in modern recordings. Playing live with the band, sans click track, helped facilitate this immediacy, he says. “I feel you don’t get the organic performance, the excitement that a song needs, when it’s recorded to a click. That’s why so many drummers sound similar today. They’re consistent, but there’s no identity, no originality. Dead Cross never uses a click. All the early Slayer records were done without a click. People connect to those songs not just for the lyrics and music—it’s the emotional feel, the human element. Beat Detective? Quantizing? That shit’s evil.”
Lombardo’s extreme BPM mastery on those classic Slayer albums may have inadvertently influenced a generation of metal drummers whose primary focus is speed, often at the expense of power, groove, and passion. “You can’t give a typewriter feelings,” Lombardo laments. “Some drummers I see online, they’re like typewriters. It’s like I’m hearing somebody type, not somebody actually playing drums. There’s so much that contributes to playing with real feeling. It’s something that can’t really be taught—some people just have a certain soul with their instrument.”
In addition to being a lefty playing on a right-handed kit, the Cuban-born Lombardo stresses that hand percussion and improvisation have played an important role in developing his unique style. “Listen to all types of music and take a bit from everything,” he advises. “Take a course in hand drumming and apply what you learn to the drum set. So often we restrain ourselves as players. Don’t be afraid to just let it flow. Improvising cleanses the mundane. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong, just get it out. I’ll tell my bandmates, ‘If you hear me start a roll in an unusual place, don’t worry about it—just be sure to land on the 1. I’ll be there.’”
Though he’s spent decades crafting his own indelible drum parts, Lombardo is now tasked with interpreting timeless tracks originally performed by other drummers. It’s not a responsibility he takes lightly. “There are nuances that are so signature to these compositions,” he notes, “and I have to hit those, otherwise I’m doing the fans a disservice. Maybe I’ll throw in a little extra spice now and then, but I’m not changing much, especially with The Misfits. I’m not going to mimic or copy the mistakes, because on the early recordings, there’s tempo issues, there’s a lot of random ‘clams,’ as Buddy Rich says. I just make sure to give it the respect of the original recordings and clean it up, make the band sound like a fine-tuned machine.”
Lombardo is also looking forward to writing new Dead Cross material this winter. “With those guys, I can create the hardest, fastest music that I want. Our first album, that’s what I wanted to do. That’s exactly what was on my mind and in my heart. Just so much anger and aggression that I needed to release at that time. I hope I can still dig up some of that for the next one. Who knows, it might be a whole different album—but I doubt it.”
Lombardo made his bones by being one of the most brutal drummers on the planet, and his projects still demand the utmost in physicality. At The Misfits’ long-awaited homecoming show in New Jersey in May 2018, the ageless powerhouse pulled double duty with Suicidal Tendencies filling a support slot. “I try and take care of my body as best as I can,” Lombardo says. “I take my vitamins. I drink a lot of water. On tour the majority of my diet is fruits, vegetables, and salad. I stay away from red meat. I eat more fish. I do my daily push-ups, get on the treadmill when I can, that’s pretty much it. I’ve never had any injuries and I’m so grateful for that. On the contrary, when I do get pain in my joints, it’s usually because I’m not playing drums.”
He adds, “People at my age talk about retirement—that’s not even in my playing cards. When you’re given something like this, where you get to do something you love so much, you don’t disrespect it. I feel most alive when I’m onstage, when I’m working. In 25 years people will be saying, ‘That’s Dave Lombardo? He’s still playing? Who’s he playing for now? Who the hell is that?’”
By Andy Ziker
“Lost My Brain…Once Again”
Dave Lombardo is one of the architects of thrash metal drumming (Slayer), but shows his versatility with hardcore overlords Suicidal Tendencies. Here, Lombardo gives us a lesson in how to create a hard-driving punk feel. In the first five bars, he plays fills with the bass player and builds tension with open hi-hat quarters and crashes on the & of 4. The phrase starting in measure six features eighth-notes on a pingy ride, syncopated bass drum, and finishes with a rapid-fire flourish in measure 13.