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Josh Freese - No Alternative

The consumate working musician

 

by Scott Donnell  (adapted by Team HC)

 

 

One day he’s on a private jet with Sting, the next day he’s in a cargo van with The Vandals.
Josh Freese is the consummate working musician. He possesses a work ethic that just
won’t quit, is a genre-bending chameleon, and has a rock-solid reputation that precedes him. A
drum geek from a very early age, he grew up in a musical family and harnessed his enthusiasm
to help pave a fruitful and diverse career path. Yes, there are quite a few extremely talented
players in the drumming universe, but for many artists and bands, there’s truly no alternative.

 

Scott Donnell: Tell us about meeting your drumming idols at such a young age.

Josh Freese: Getting to meet some of my favorite drummers when I was a kid was a huge deal. Growing up in Southern California, I started going to NAMM shows when I was ten. I walked around with a cheap point-and-shoot camera and an autograph album that was a little bigger than a wallet. I followed Vinnie (Colaiuta) and Terry (Bozzio) around like a lost puppy dog and they were so cool to me. They didn’t have to be, but they were! Those guys, along with Keltner, Porcaro, JR, and Gregg Bissonette were such a big deal to me, especially at that age. I even had their phone numbers and would call and bug them about stuff. My dad would drive me up to LA when I was 10-12 years old to see Vinnie play at the Baked Potato. He’d put me on the list and save a few seats right next to his drums. That stuff absolutely blew me away. Getting to watch him up close and actually pick his brain about stuff had a major impact on me.

 

SD: Do you still talk to Vinnie often? What do you guys talk about?

JF: I talk to Vinnie a few times a year and we keep in touch via email. It’s funny because we’re both so busy and, of course, we’re never on the same gigs. We might cross paths if one of us played bass! (Laughs). He’s one of those guys though; we can go a long time without seeing each other and when we hang out it’s like no time has passed. He’s forever my buddy and, arguably, my all-time favorite drummer. SD: How do you feel about being a role model? JF: It feels funny to think of myself as a possible role model for anyone. If I really wanted to read into it, it could freak me out. I’m not sure if I like that kind of responsibility, to be honest. To me, trying to be a good guy and a good father comes first and foremost. Hopefully, I can pass that on to others. If someone can be inspired by my drumming, my resume, work ethic, attitude, or music I’ve written, then great! My role models range anywhere from Steve Gadd to Bill Stevenson, Walt Disney to John Waters, Jaco Pastorius to John Lydon, and Chris Burden to Jeff Koons. Maybe some of those guys aren’t necessarily ‘role models’ to me, but they’re major sources of inspiration.

 

SD: Do drummers often ask for your advice? What do you tell them?

JF: I get asked for advice all the time and, as much as it sounds cliché, I always tell people to keep their ears and minds open. I’m a firm believer in hard work, but also in having fun. I tell guys to get out there and play with as many people as they can. Go out and meet people. Meet other players, producers, songwriters, engineers… you never know who will lead to what. Get involved and experience as much as you can. All of those relationships and experiences, combined with your playing, will help develop your sound and your style. I also say that it helps to find something you really like stylistically, something you also have a knack for, and then just go for it. Try and find your niche and dive in head first. You have to eat, sleep, and breathe it, especially in your younger, more formative years.

 

SD: Do you still do a lot of sessions?

JF: I feel fortunate to always be busy, but the landscape has changed. We all know it and anyone that tells you differently is lying. Everyone’s on a tighter budget. I had one of the biggest names in music have their management call me recently to ask for a discount on my normal rate. A lot of records are still being made but recording sessions, like we once knew, are totally different. The budgets just aren’t there the way they were in the past. It used to be hard for me to turn them down because everything paid so well. Now, the smaller sessions I do are only because I really like the artist and the music. It has worked out for me, and my lifestyle, because I honestly don’t want to be doing two or three sessions a day like I used to. I’ve done that. I’ve put that time in. I have four kids and my priorities have changed pretty drastically in that regard. Of course, I’ll do big-time sessions that come up and then, if I have the time and I really like the music, I’ll say yes to the smaller budget stuff.

 

SD: Where can people hear your latest work?

JF: Some of the more notable artists I’ve been in the studio with recently are Wolfmother, Michael Bublé, Danny Elfman, Sublime with Rome, Rob Zombie, and The Offspring; all on either their latest releases or albums that are coming out soon. Some of those are full records and others are just selected tracks and/or soundtrack stuff. I have some other records I’m trying to get made, but haven’t been able to work it out; everything from a new Vandals record, to a new Sublime with Rome record, to my own instrumental record, and a project with my brother Jason who plays keys with Green Day and Joe Walsh. It’ll also feature my dad and his tuba skills!

 

SD: Which kit is your ‘go-to’ at the moment? What is your preferred workhorse snare?

JF: I have a lot of kits that sound great, of course, and all of them are in the rotation, but the one I’ve been going back to most often is the same kit I’ve been touring with a lot in recent years with The Replacements and with Sublime with Rome. It’s a Gun Metal Grey Collector’s Series kit. It has a 22” kick, 12” and 13” toms, with 16” and 18” floor toms. That’s my ‘go-to’ kit right now. With The Replacements, I just take the 13” tom away and have one up and two down. I use a variety of 14” snares but, for the most part, I lean towards the Collector’s metal snare drums. I really like the Brass, Bronze, and the Aluminum snares. They seem to cut the most in a Rock n’ Roll-type setting. You’ve got to compete with all those damn guitar amps!

 

SD: Talk about the relationship between a working player and a cartage company. Also, how do you build a successful working relationship with a new tech?

JF: My relationship with any tech, live or in the studio, is pretty simple and straight forward. Just like any working relationship, it’s nice to have someone you’ve worked with for a while and that you have some sort of rapport with. Hopefully, it’s someone that knows you and your playing well enough to be able to spot any possible hiccups or glitches ahead of time and take whatever precautions are needed to cut them off at the pass. First off, I’m never really using a giant kit with a bunch of bells and whistles, and I like to think that I’m not too high-maintenance. My tech needs to ensure that the drums sound good, feel comfortable to play, and make sure I’ve got some extra sticks lying around that are within reach. I don’t need the heads to be changed all the time; as long as they’re not dented and are holding up, then I’m good. I’m not a ‘polish my cymbals and drums’ kind of guy. Never have been, never will be. I like some dirt and sweat to get in there. It needs the grit. It’s Rock n’ Roll after all, right?

 

SD: Are you a ‘gear guy’?

JF: No, not to the extent that some guys are. I don’t go out hunting for that ‘perfect’ snare; I just don’t. I’m busy enough and, dare I say, lazy enough that I want to have great sounding stuff at my disposal at all times. I know the difference between the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff. There’s a reason I’ve played DW my ENTIRE LIFE! Since I was in 6th grade I knew that DW was head-and-shoulders above the rest. There you go. I figured out what I thought were the best sounding drums to me and then just moved forward. Sure, there are other good companies, but for what I want to hear and how I want it to look, DW is it for me, no questions asked. I don’t want to have to wonder. Who’s got the time anyhow, right? I’ve got music to make, a family to raise, and P.F. Chang’s to eat. [Laughs].

 

SD: Do you like tweaking your kit?

JF: I like tweaking my kit, but I don’t tweak out too hard on it. Knowing me, I’ll just make it sound worse than it sounded when I first sat down! I will say that I’ve had drum techs since I was sixteen or seventeen and, of course, I spent many years before that loading my own gear, setting up, tearing down…all of that. I do, however, like to sit down and change heads sometimes. It feels good. I feel connected to the drums when I do it.

 

 

SD: What is the perfect Josh Freese drum sound?

JF: I’m not sure what the perfect Josh Freese sound is. I like it all, really. I like
the ultra-tight stuff, but also the big, loud, bombastic route sometimes, as well. It all depends on the band I’m playing with. If pressed, I’ll go with tighter and punchier drums rather than looser and bigger ones. I’ll take the smaller room in the studio over the giant one with fifty-foot-tall ceilings.

 

SD: How do you build a rapport with the FOH (front of house) sound engineer?

JF: I have always just kept my fingers crossed and hoped that the FOH engineer is doing a good job. I’ll ask around sometimes, but I don’t want to be the guy after each show asking everyone, “How’d it sound? How’d it sound?” Chances are, they were hired because they have a good reputation and someone in the band and/or management has heard them in action before. At the beginning of a tour I’ll usually have my tech, or a few different techs, wander out and report back as to how it’s sounding. Once in a while, I’ll have someone play the drums and I’ll walk out front during the soundcheck. I’ll usually talk to them a bit during rehearsals to make sure we’re both on the same page, as far as the drums and the mix go. It’s always a good sign when you have more than two people a night tell you that it sounded good out front. Not that the show was cool or the band kicked ass, but that the actual sound was great.

 

SD: Why Sublime? Why now?

JF: The Sublime with Rome thing happened at a perfect time. I’d just stopped working with Weezer and was doing some one-off stuff with Devo, The Vandals, and Sting, but I was basically at home and doing sessions. I’d been trying to stay off the road after leaving Nine Inch Nails, but you know how that goes. I’ve known the Sublime guys since the beginning of their career, pretty much. They used to play shows with The Vandals and because we were Long Beach residents and in the Punk Rock scene, we ran in some of the same circles. I watched their career rise and then come to a screeching halt. A few years ago, I saw some of their shows, when Rome started singing and playing guitar, and they were great. It was nice seeing so many people that loved their music get to see these songs performed live, because most people didn’t get the chance, originally. They were just getting started when Brad died. After reforming, they toured for a bit and then Bud Gaugh was having a child with his wife and didn’t want to be on the road anymore. They caught me at a rare time when I didn’t have any big commitments or immediate plans. I’ve always loved their songs and it was a slightly new style for me to play, so it sounded interesting. I’ve always loved Eric Wilson too. He’s a great bass player, good dude, and a total character. Rome grew up learning to play guitar while listening to their records. He’s an amazing talent, great writer, and he has an incredible voice.

 

SD: How has touring changed over the years?

JF: Touring can still be a lot of fun but, like anything, it can change as you get older and have done it for so many years. I don’t go out as much as I used to. The party thing slows down once you have a family and start behaving yourself. In that respect, it has become a little too adult and boring for me at times, but oh well. Being away from my family is hard these days, but going out and playing gigs is definitely a necessity, now more than ever. You can’t download or steal a live concert experience and with the recording end of things suffering, bands are really having to tour more often. The internet and technology have helped make touring easier on a lot of fronts: being able to communicate with everyone on tour and back at home, working on music, writing and recording on the road, etc. Passing the time in hotel rooms used to drive me crazy years ago and now there’s no shortage of things to do, watch, and read.

 

SD: How has studio work changed? How have you adapted?

JF: Like I mentioned earlier, the studio scene has changed in the respect that budgets have shrunk incredibly because record sales are almost nonexistent. People steal it off the internet, so nobody is getting paid for their art. Everyone’s on a tighter budget, but advancements in technology have made it incredibly easy to make records without having to book an expensive studio. Home studios are way more common now. At the end of the day, you can record whenever and where ever you want with your laptop and a few mics. People still like being able to record drums in a nice room with a good board and a lot of mics, so even if they’re finishing the record at home, or in a smaller studio, people usually prefer to track the drums in a quality studio, if they can. The big and fancy studios are still around town, but I see a lot more home studios than I used to. I also have my own studio, so people will hire me and just send me Pro Tools files. I know a lot of guys that are doing that because it’s a huge money and time saver for artists on smaller budgets. I do sessions for songwriters and bands from all over the world that I’ve never met! They save a fortune by not having to pay for a plane ticket, hotel room, booking a studio, or cartage.

 

SD: Tell us a funny Tommy Lee story.

JF: I met Tommy through the people at Simmons Electronic Drums when I was thirteen. I’ll never forget going up to his house in Woodland Hills when he was married to Heather Locklear. It was a time when Mötley Crüe was one of the biggest bands around and they were complete MTV superstars. The whole thing was pretty impressive, seeing as I was in 7th grade. I remember that he had this Corvette and was totally into showing off this over-the-top sound system he had put in it. It was a two-seater and had these gigantic speakers and subwoofers pushed right into your back, behind the seats, and under the seats. It was like getting a full-body massage when you turned up the volume! He had a refrigerator in the garage completely filled with Corona beer. No one in my neighborhood had a second refrigerator, especially one solely designated for beer! I’m pretty sure it was the first time I had a beer. I was thinking, “Wow, this dude is married to one of the hottest actresses around, has a Corvette with a PA system in it, and a mountain of beer in his garage…it must be fun to be Tommy Lee!” (Laughs). I still know him and always love running into him.

 

SD: Have you seen any young drummers recently that have impressed you?

JF: There’s a young guy that a lot of people don’t know, but should. His name is Jaydon Bean and he’s a bad-ass. He’s from Utah, but lives in LA now. He has great feel and amazing chops. He plays all over town and is one of the guys that are out there doing it. I met him through my brother; they were doing some recording together for some of my brother’s stuff. He’s really fluid and has a great command of the instrument. Obviously, I’m sure there are a ton of amazing up-and-comers that I’m just not aware of.

 

SD: How do you balance your career and your personal life?

JF: Finding a balance between my professional and personal life, now that I have a big family, is something I work on every day. It’s a constant challenge. I don’t want to regret not being around for my kids growing up, but then I have to work enough to support a family of six in 2016 in Southern California. I also have to satisfy my own personal artistic needs and I have a lot of things I want to be doing right now, but many of them have been sitting on my ‘to do list’ for a while. I know I’ll get to them eventually. Once again, your priorities start shifting once you decide to have a family and commit to being an involved parent. Whenever someone says, “What have you been up to?” My answer is always, “Drumming and daddy-ing.” That’s it!

 

SD: Tell us a bit about your relationship with DW and what it has meant to you over the years.

JF: Ever since I was a kid, Don Lombardi and John Good have always blown me away with their vision, hard work, and dedication to making the best drums available. They’ve always been a few steps ahead of the game and, at this point, I don’t think there’s any arguing that. I said this in a recent DW ad but it’s true, we grew up together. I got to watch DW go from a small operation to a bigger one, then to a bigger one, and then to an even bigger one! It’s exciting to be part of a team like the one at DW. The history we have with one another is something I value very much and wouldn’t trade it for the world.  - HC -

 

- reprinted with expressed written permision DW's Edge Magazine -

                                                                      

 

_______________________________________________

 

 

Scott Donnell is the Editor for DW's Edge Magazine. He's been involved in the percussion industry since 1997 and serves as the V.P. of Marketing for Drum Workshop. He states: "The Cutting Edge is not just a play on words. The fact is, DW’s mission statement is to solve problems for drummers, create the instruments and gear that can inspire musicians, and take the art form to new and uncharted place isn’t just a catch phrase or a way to label our latest product designs. It all goes back to our mission statement and our belief in a Darwinian approach to making drums and gear, while constantly refining and reinventing the tools needed to craft new rhythms and new beats — Play on."

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