My first introduction to Egypt Central came in the form of “Taking You Down”, off of their long awaited self-titled debut. I was immediately entranced by the strong vocal presence and riff heavy melodies, accompanied by a stellar rhythm section that was well worth the five year wait for the album’s release. John Falls and company showed an impressive musical cohesion, that would be sure to set them on the path to greatness. Fast forward three years later, the band’s sophomore effort lands on my desk and prompts me to write my most enthusiastic proclamation of greatness ever. White Rabbit is a cover to cover musical masterpiece of biblical proportions. So it should come as no surprise that I instantaneously requested the chance to get inside of the minds behind the album. Fasten your seatbelt, and keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times, as we dive down the hole with Egypt Central’s fearless leader and immerse ourselves in the twisted world of the White Rabbit…
AWAY-TEAM: First and foremost, congratulations, you really nailed it with this album. I think I was most impressed by the fact that, usually on a great album you’ll find one or two songs that you can sort of live without, on White Rabbit there is really no weak spots. I very rarely give out perfect scores when I review an album, but congratulations you guys earned it.
JOHN FALLS: Thank you very much man, we read your review and it was amazing! And flattering to say the least dude. I mean your writing is unbelievable man, the way that you tied everything together, and lead it through and made it just like a story is so similar to the way that we try to do things for the fans. It just makes it all makes sense. I was just blown away, Joey and I were reading your review as we left Memphis the other day, and thank you very much man! It was awesome to see an earnest response like that from someone who listened to the record and they got it, ya know. (Read said review here )
AWAY-TEAM: Well thank you, I appreciate that. There’s actually more than meets the eye to the title of this album. Explain that to me, what exactly is the White Rabbit?
JOHN FALLS: Well, the White Rabbit represents one side, it’s like the White Rabbit becomes this army of whatever is the black cloud that’s been over the band. This character Fatty Arbuckle is at the helm, and just constantly trying to manipulate, maneuver, and control the band. And our lives. We just went through that so many times, and it’s almost like people see you and see what you’re doing, and they attach themselves to it. Ya know, that’s what this industry does to you. If people see something that they think they can make money off of, and ultimately if people think that they can’t make money off of you they won’t take a chance at what you’re doing. So it’s kinda like six in one hand, a half dozen in the other. You get some people that just kinda try to keep a blanket over you, and keep you all to themselves, for fear that they don’t bring enough to the table to get you to the next level I think. I feel like people won’t stop at anything, ya know, they’ll go to the furthest length to put this wall up around you, and paint this fake world of everything’s kosher, and everything’s great, everything’s going as it should, but in reality nothing is as it seems. It really is our awakening that we’re talking about on this record, as well as any other life lessons, and tragedy, and just ups and downs that we went through in between the first record and the second. But going back to the story of the White Rabbit, when we first wrote the song it was a song about a specific scenario, and specific people, we were getting it off our chests, ya know. All the other conceptual things that attach to the song to go further in depth to actually tell the fans the story came when we started saying ‘Man, we can do some other stuff, other than just music on this record, to really bring it to life. We can do this comic book, and tell this story in depth, but give it an obvious elaborate twist to make it a fun read, like a comic book.’ We’ve all been fans of comic books and things like that, growing up. We’re way into movies and stuff, so we wanted to take the opportunity to show some other creative sides of the band, and attach that to this record. So we’re working on that diligently, around the clock. The fans will be getting four panels in the record, when they buy the record, but there’s also another eight panels as well that Joey also did with a little bit of a story. A little bit of a poetic rundown, from the birth of Fatty Arbuckle to when the band encounters this evil character. We’re gonna start debuting those in a couple of days, on a twleve day countdown to the release of the record.
AWAY-TEAM: That should be pretty cool. I think you kinda touched on this already, but, the record is sort of a concept album, but not in the traditional aspect, were the songs written prior to the concept? Or were they written specifically with the White Rabbit concept in mind?
JOHN FALLS: No, no, that’s the thing… I don’t wanna say that we’d never do a concept album, but the music is the music. It has to be real, it has to be something that you’ve lived, and that’s what makes it relatable. That’s what makes it honest to the fans, and what makes it honest for yourself. First and foremost, you have to be honest with yourself, and get things off your chest. You have to bring things that are in the basement out, and that’s what’s great about music, is that it’s kind of a self therapy session when you’re able to just express yourself like that. So the music was done. It wasn’t until after the record was done that we decided to start playing with some ideas that were concepts. The concepts have nothing to do with the writing of the music. We found a cool way after the record was done, to go back and tie it all together. Cuz, ya know in the writing of it, we basically were just going back and telling the stories of things that happened over the last couple of years from when we released the first record to when we began recording this one. So naturally, there being stories there, it was easy to go back and put together a storyline that connected song to song.
AWAY-TEAM: Yeah, it’s art imitating life.
JOHN FALLS: Yeah, it was all lived in that gap.
AWAY-TEAM: Back to the comic book, is it a little weird the first time you see yourself drawn in comic book form?
JOHN FALLS: Yes and no. It’s actually really cool, cuz I was way into comics growing up. And Joey’s drawn the band before in a couple of different ways, so it’s always been… ya know, the first couple of times I was like ‘Holy crap! Look at me’ (laughs) But in this sense, it’s telling a story where we actually go from what we are in the storyline, to what we actually have the potential to be, and taking on that role of the uncommon superhero is really cool man. And we’ve found a way to connect it to some neat stuff. I think people are gonna really enjoy it. We actually are picking up our new merch guy today, who’s one of our best friends for many years, and he’s been Joey’s best friend for a long time. He’s also an artist, he did the album artwork for the first record, he and Joey did. So we’re gonna have him out here as well working on this thing, so we got the green light to go ahead after we finished these panels this last month, to start working on the full length comic, or graphic novel, or however it comes out in the end. So we’re willing to push it as far as fans go. If it comes out and fans are liking it alot, and it really goes that far, who know’s, the sky’s the limit with how far we take it.
AWAY-TEAM: Well I can’t wait to see it. One of my favorite tracks off the album is “Down in Flames”, which is sort of a call to arms to an entire generation. What was the inspiration behind that song?
JOHN FALLS: Well, I mean, you said it right there. It’s one of those things that, we live in the world, I mean we consider ourselves to live in one part of the world, but humanity as a whole. With everything that’s been going on in the world, with natural disasters, and wars, the economy… everything, all the issues that we have as a race, needs to be addressed. The only way it’s gonna be addressed, is if we all come together and decide to (pauses)
AWAY-TEAM and JOHN FALLS simultaneously: Wake up.
JOHN FALLS: …and truly try to change what’s been going on in the world. Because no one’s gonna do it for us. As long as we continue to keep barriers up, and we continue to get distracted by, ‘Oh hey, let’s watch prime time TV, because this is cool, this is entertaining let’s forget about the fact that we have people dying all over the world. Let’s see who’s gonna be the next American Idol’! Ya know, ‘Let’s see what’s going on with Charlie Sheen and Two and a Half Men’
AWAY-TEAM: Yeah, we’re not focusing on the real problems.
JOHN FALLS: Yeah. Ya know, one thing covers another. I mean, we’re not political, we’re not gonna talk about politics, or religion, or anything like that because that’s to each his own. I don’t think that that’s something that we would choose to take on, with our music or our opinion. I feel like that’s exactly what it is, and everyone’s entitled to their own. I will say that when you have tragedy, there’s no good that can come out of people killing one another. And that gets covered up by another scenario, and you have the thing in Japan, and then that gets covered up by something that happens here. Then you got Alabama, and that covers up Osama Bin Laden. Whatever’s the hot new thing, it covers up another issue, and we stop addressing the things. We get distracted so easily by what we’re being fed in media, that we have to take the extra time to stay involved with what’s going on on our planet! And try to work together, and it truly is a wake-up call that the next generation that’s coming up is gonna have a whole seperate set of issues than what anyone in the history of this world has ever had to deal with. We’re trying to do our little part to make sure that maybe we get a few of them to smell the coffee, and get out of bed. (laughs) And start working towards a better future.
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) You’ve enlisted the services of mega producer Skidd Mills to produce this album, which I found to be really evident in a song like “Backfire”. Other artists that I’ve spoken to that have worked with him have told me that he is a pretty passionate hands-on type of producer. What kind of suggestions did he bring to the table to help make this thing the monster that it is?
JOHN FALLS: He had tons of input on it. I mean he was there for the whole thing, which is what made it awesome. That’s why we went with Skidd, is that we wanted someone who would really get in there and be a part of it, who would believe in the band and see where the band could potentially be if someone really got in there and put in the work that we were putting in. From everything to co-writes, to ideas of us playing with different sounds. It was just going the extra mile to make this record what it had the potential to be. He didn’t fall short on anything. He didn’t take any shortcuts of any kind. He put himself into the record as much as we did, and through that truly became our brother in arms on this thing. He’s an awesome human being, outside of being our producer, and our friend, he is a great family man. We all have that in common with him, so there’s alot of passion on here that you can feel from him, and from us. Even if you listen to the mixes, you can tell that he was in there just rocking out the whole time.
AWAY-TEAM: Well you guys certainly make a great team.
JOHN FALLS: I think so also. (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: I had read that you were influenced by a pretty unlikely source in Garth Brooks. Who were some of your biggest influences growing up, and when did you first realize you wanted to be a singer?
JOHN FALLS: I don’t know, I’ve always liked music growing up, and I’ve listened to alot of different things. Not so much even rock, but it wasn’t until… I mean I always liked singing in the car, I’ve just always had a passion for music as long as I’ve been alive. It wasn’t until though, I was riding around in a car with Josey Scott from Saliva, and we were just jamming out listening to some tunes, and he was like ‘Man you really gotta start a band, ya know things are taking off for me, and I’ll help you in any way I can. I just think you have a really cool voice, and I think people will like it.’ And I was like ‘Aww,Shut up dude! Don’t play like that man! I don’t even know anything about music. I don’t know how to play an instrument!’ I think I played trombone for a little bit in junior high. I was like ‘No man!’ (laughs)
JOHN FALLS: I was like ‘I don’t know about all of that man. I’m not you…’ He said ‘No man, you really should. I think you could bring something to the table’ Then a couple weeks later we were riding around in a car with a friend, and it was Josey, and I, and a mutual friend of ours, and he just kept going ‘You need to hear John sing. You need to hear him sing’ He kept pressuring me, so we sang a couple of songs and stuff like that. Then after that I thought maybe it’s not such a terrible idea. Then we were hanging out and I met some of the guys that were eventually gonna be in the band through that, and I was like ‘You know what I’m just gonna swing for the fences, and give it a try. Make a complete career change, and give it a shot’ And then when I hooked up with Blake, and Blake brought Joey to the table, I was like ‘OK I got my musical mastermind in Blake, I’ve got my lyricist that could write about friggin’… a frog on the wall.’
JOHN FALLS: I mean he can write about anything. He just has a gift for it. It’s just unbelievable to watch. What’s awesome is that at the same time that he can do that, he’s also open to anybody’s ideas, and everyone writing. On the first record we did tons of collaborating, everyone in this band is such a team player, it’s not like ‘Hey this is what I do…‘ At the same time you know that certain people have an expertise, so people also stay out of each other’s way, and let someone run with it when they’re just on fire. We’re all truly brothers. We’ve played together, lived together for almost ten years and so we’re all sort of like family. We’re not one of those bands where the singer found the guitar player, and they got a record deal. We are a real band that started from the ground up, in a hole in the wall room in Memphis, TN and just did everything together. Grew up together, learned about life together, fought with one another. We’ve been through it all, and we really are a family who’s out here doing this together.
AWAY-TEAM: You guys were originally signed to Lava Records back in 2003, but ran into some issues with the label and the album didn’t see the light of day until 2008. I had spoken with Sean from Smile Empty Soul, who had the same thing happen to them when they were signed to Lava, the only difference is that they had already put out an album prior to that. Being your first album, and having such a terrible experience with it, how did you perservere and keep focus for all those years? Did you ever consider just giving up?
JOHN FALLS: Well I think that there’s days, naturally, when you’re faced with something like that, that you look at yourself in the mirror and kinda start to question, but. There’s two kinds of people in the world, there’s the kind that when you tell them they can’t they believe that they can’t, and there’s people that when you tell them they can’t it pisses them off and they’re like ‘I can!’ We’re all fighters in the sense that we don’t give up, ever. Which has raised some crazy, early, youthful arguments and events. (laughs) Cuz we all have that fire in us, none of us are scared to take life on head first and no matter what it throws at us we take it, and just keep going. We always believed in the music, so no matter how many doors got slammed in our face, no matter what the misfortune was, or what got in our way, it was never ‘Ya know what? Let’s just give up’ People were like ‘Change the band name, write a new record, do this do that’ It was always like ‘You know what dude…Kiss my ass!’ That’s just how we felt. No matter what you say or do, this is our music! We made this! And as long as fans keep coming up to us and telling us things like ‘This song helped me out at a time when I was suicidal. It saved my life.’ Or ‘This song helped me get through my divorce. This song helped me when I was at a low point.’ Or ‘This song gets me pumped up when I’m having a bad day.’ As long as it’s affecting people’s lives… if we were changing ten people’s lives who had been in the dark places that we had been in, we were willing to keep fighting. For them. Because we have the ability, and we are blessed to be able to make music and do it for a living, and other people can’t always express themselves that way. So we always just kinda felt that kinship with the fan, that ‘You know what? We’ll say it for you. And we’ll keep fighting, as long as you keep believing.’
AWAY-TEAM: I know you guys, and Joey in particular, are constantly listening to new music when you’re out on the road. When you’re in the songwriting process, do you find it hard to keep present day influences out of your songwriting so as not to sound like everyone else? Or is it something that is welcomed?
JOHN FALLS: Well, I think when we go into the studio, and we’re writing, and we’re recording, we shut the whole world out basically. There’s nothing that exists except Egypt Central. So when we’re in that mode, we’re writing, and we’re listening back, and we’re taking what we recorded that day home and we’re working on it. We’re constantly doing it that way, and not listening to the radio, not necessarily to block it out or anything, but it’s that we’re so obsessed with what we’re doing and making our music the best that it can be. So I think that through the process there’s just not enough time because we’re so focused on our stuff. When we come out we just go right back to listening to what’s out there.
AWAY-TEAM: Well it shows man. Speaking of being out on the road, you guys recently had some trouble with your RV, and ended up having to cancel a few shows because of it…
JOHN FALLS: Man, you did your homework homey!
AWAY-TEAM: Well you know… (both laugh) You now have a brand new tour bus, a pretty nice one I might add, and you’re planning on having all of your fans sign it. Tell me about that, how is that gonna work?
JOHN FALLS: Well, we’re gonna pull in, park it, grab your Sharpie and write something awesome and sign your name!
AWAY-TEAM: That’s really cool!
JOHN FALLS: We wanted to do something for the fans that would be a unique experience. Something that they probably never have seen before, or had an opportunity to do. Ya know, we sign stuff for them any time they want us to, but it’s like you can leave your mark and say ‘I was there.‘ Then when we’re done with this leg, and this bus, we’re gonna take tons of pictures of it, and then it’s probably gonna cost us alot of money to have this thing repainted. But hey, it’s fun for us and the fans, and ya know, alot of bands say ‘It’s all about the fans. It’s all about the fans. It’s all about the fans.’ Yeah well that’s because your publicist told you to say that. For us it really is about the fans, because we were cutting up Big n’ Tasty’s four ways just to feed ourselves. We were splitting hot dogs, one bite apiece for six-seven years just to keep doing this, and the only thing that kept us going was the fans. For us it really is about the people that believe in us and we believe in them. So it’s all about us connecting and coming together as one movement to get the music out. And they work with us on that, they’re proud, and that’s the one thing that’s really cool about the die hard Egypt Central fans. They’re proud to be Egypt Central fans, they’re proud to show you what they call “Their Band’s music” and it’s awesome for people to call us “Their Band”. It’s not just flattering to us, but it also let’s us know that we have this huge clique of people that are our people, and see the world the way that we do.
AWAY-TEAM: I think that’s one of the coolest gifts you can give back to the fans, because yeah it’s cool to say ‘I got my picture taken with John Falls.’ but to say ‘I actually signed their tour bus.’ That’s pretty cool.
JOHN FALLS: Yeah, it’s different. I mean normally if you walk up and sign someone’s tour bus, you’re looking at some jail time. (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) Yeah…
JOHN FALLS: But with this, we want everyone to come and have fun with it, ya know. Don’t do anything so stupid that we have to cover it up, because just remember there are fans that are underage. Don’t put anything that’s too inappropriate. Have fun with it, but at the same time, keep in mind we gotta take care of the little people out there too, okay.
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) The band takes their name from a street in your hometown of Memphis, have you been back to Memphis recently to see the effects of the recent flooding? Are there any plans for Egypt Central to put on any kind of a benefit concert to help the victims?
JOHN FALLS: We actually just spent some time in Memphis. We actually limped into our hometown with the RV, to play Memphis in May, and then it just crapped out completely. So we put it in the shop and they didn’t have a high enough turn around to get it back on the road to make it to Florida to do the last couple shows on the tour. So we were just stuck at home, which is nice because you get to see your family, but we were gonna get about a week off anyway after the Florida dates. So it kinda sucked, but we’re gonna make that up and get down to Florida. We love our fans there, and we’re gonna get back down there and make that up. It was crazy though, they were talking about cancelling it (Memphis in May), the RV was parked on the path down at Tom Lee Park and the river was coming up into the grass, almost hitting us that day. It was on watch all day, it could’ve come up another foot at any time, and if so it would’ve just flooded. With all that electric stuff, it would’ve been a bad day for everyone. Fortunately we got through Music Fest OK, and over the next couple of days at home downtown just got reamed, and not just downtown there are so many areas that are underwater. It’s a tragedy, not just for Memphis, but everyone that’s been affected by the Mississippi River. Zach Myers from Shinedown is from our hometown as well, and has been a long time friend…
AWAY-TEAM: He’s a great guy!
JOHN FALLS: Yeah! He’s currently trying to put together a benefit right now, which we’re hoping that our schedule is going to allow us the time to get back home to do. We’re working on that right now, trying to squeeze it in for the date that he’s looking at. But whether or not we’re able to do that, we’re gonna set up to take some type of donations where 100% of the proceeds will go to the flood victims in Memphis. It’s definitely a blue collar town, and there’s not alot of things set up to help with this. So we’re gonna definitely do our part to try to bring some relief to the people that are in need right now.
AWAY-TEAM: I love to see artists do things like that.
JOHN FALLS: Yeah, at the same time it’s one of those things where we want people to know that we’re gonna do what we’ve gotta do for our hometown, at the same time if you guys need us in Alabama just pick up the phone and call. We understand what they’re going through as well, and it’s unbelievably tragic. I can’t even find the words to imagine what they’re going through, and I just don’t want people to forget that Alabama, alot of it was just left in ruins, and alot of lives were lost over this. We have alot of issues that are going on right now that we have to come together and help out with. So it’s gonna take everyone working together to make that happen. Not to go back to it, but we just have to remember that there are a ridiculous amount of people in Japan right now, who when we had Hurricane Katrina come down on us, bent over backwards to try to help us. We need to continue to try to focus on them right now, and keep helping them out.
AWAY-TEAM: It goes back to what you said before, one thing makes you forget the other.
JOHN FALLS: Yeah, let’s not let the blanket cover up the people that need to be helped man, ya know. Let the politicians take care of the political stuff, and let the other things just filter themselves out. Let’s work on what we can work on together. It’s one of those things, I know everyone’s broke right now, the economy sucks, but if you’ve got that extra five dollars that you were gonna spend to rent a movie tonight, take that extra five dollars and send it to somewhere good. I know people go ‘Oh it’s five dollars, how can it help?’ Your five dollars by itself can’t help, but go and tell your friends to give five dollars because if you do that, and the entire country can do that, we can alleviate alot of the issues.
AWAY-TEAM: Oh dude, I know that first hand. I actually have some business relations in Tuscaloosa, one of which lost her entire house, and we were part of a big drive to aid them, and you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff that was being donated. I mean brand new chainsaws still in the box, hundreds of dollars worth of goods from single donors. It was unreal to see how people come together in a time of need like that.
JOHN FALLS: That’s the thing, is that what’s amazing about our country is that we band together like no other during a time of need. The problem is that there’s so many needs right now, that we don’t need to forget about any of them. They’re all important, and we just need to attack it man. We need to attack it with extreme prejudice and help these people out.
AWAY-TEAM: The Grand Ole’ Opry sustained some pretty bad damage with the flooding in Nashville last year, do you know how safe places like Graceland and Beale St. are from the current disaster?
JOHN FALLS: It seems like everything, I mean barring a tragedy like a levee breaking, it seems like we’ve gotten out of the fear zone. When I left, that was a couple days ago now, I had gotten word that they’re worried about it continuing to rise at this point. I think that their fear is that if it rises above the level of the levee, what could happen is it could topple. I’m not really sure because I don’t claim to be an expert on that, I’m really pretty ignorant on the matter, I don’t really understand what the dangers really are, and what you would do to prevent it at this point. But, I know that they’re taking every precaution they can to make it as safe as possible. The thing is that, downtown kinda sets up on a bluff, so if it came up over that and then went down, I can’t even imagine what the damage would be. But it’s some of the other low lying areas that aren’t up on the bluff that are being affected. I mean the casinos bring so much business to the area, and them just being shut down, and the damage. I mean, I saw a picture before I left where it had a sign that was like 7 feet or something like that, it was one of those PVC bars that designate height clearance in the parking garage, and it was floating up, like feet above. So far as I know, I read a statement that they made in Memphis, I can’t remember who made it, but he was like Graceland is safe. He said something about like running into hell, or he would do something crazy like that to save Graceland. It’s a huge tourist thing, not just for our city, but for music fans around the world. It’s something that I think people would lay down in the streets to keep safe. They would hold themselves together like sandbags to keep water out of Graceland. I mean it’s the second most visited house in the world, I didn’t know that, but it’s second only behind the White House. It has alot of value in that Elvis, even still to this day keeps people believing in music, especially rock music, and I for one thank him for all of his contributions in life and in death still to this day. Keeping the faith alive.
AWAY-TEAM: Oh dude, I’m a huge Elvis fan. I know where you’re coming from.
JOHN FALLS: Me too dude.
AWAY-TEAM: Alright man, I know your answer about who’s gonna win, but Game 7 today, Grizz by how many?
JOHN FALLS: Actually, I think it’s gonna be a tough game, it’s gonna be a very physical game. They’re both very young teams, but I think that we have a veteran leader in Zach Randolph, and we have a guy whose heart is bigger than the city of Memphis in a guy like Tony Allen, and in Shane Battier. I think that they’re carrying the weight of the city of Memphis. Memphis has just gone through so many things over the last couple of years, in the last decade even, that through their success they’re making Memphis believe. Everywhere you turn there’s a Grizzlies sign that says ‘Believe Memphis’, and it’s got Memphis believing in itself again that we can take our city back to where it once was. I feel that they now know that they’re carrying that weight, and that’s something that when you go into a ten round heavyweight championship fight like what’s gonna go on today, they have a passion going into it that’s not about winning a championship, it’s not about just playing to win. They’re carrying such a heavy load that I feel like these guys are gonna get out there, and they’re just gonna deliver for four quarters, and I think they’re gonna have a huge victory tonight. I couldn’t speculate as to how they’re gonna do it, and in what form, but that’s what’s great about us. We’re a blue collar town, with a blue collar team. We don’t depend on one or two players to get it done, they depend on one another, and for me that’s what makes me love the team even more. I feel like they’ve gone through their adversities the same as Egypt Central has, and they better hope that my set time is not during that game tonight, because we may be missing a show. (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) Well I’m pulling for the Grizz too, now that my Celtics are out, so we’ll see how it goes.
JOHN FALLS: Awesome. Go Grizz Baby!
AWAY-TEAM: John, thank you for your time. I really appreciate the kind words too.
JOHN FALLS: It was awesome man. Thank you so much for your kind words, and I’m glad that you connected with it the same way that we have. We listen to it the same ourselves, so thanks.
AWAY-TEAM: Good talking to you. We’ll have to make sure to get together when you get down to Florida.
JOHN FALLS: Oh yeah we’ll definitely have to hang. We’ll do lunch or dinner or something. I’ll be in touch.
AWAY-TEAM: Talk to you soon brother.
JOHN FALLS: Bye.
White Rabbit hits stores May 31st. For more info on Egypt Central, including tour dates and to pre-order the album, visit www.egyptcentral.com
Special thanks go out to John Falls for so graciously giving me his time, and to Amanda Cagan at ABC PR for making it all happen.
Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, and Ozzy Osbourne… aside from being iconic figures in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, what do they all have in common? They’ve all had the honor of calling Tommy Clufetos their drummer. Ever since he picked up the drumsticks at the age of seven, Tommy Clufetos has lived and breathed rock ‘n’ roll, doing more in ten years than most people dream of accomplishing in a lifetime. It’s that kind of dedication that has brought him from keeping time for the Motor City Madman to tearing through the Diary of a Madman. Recently I had a chance to speak with Tommy about what it’s like to play with rock royalty, covering everything from the Prince of Darkness to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. So sit back, grab a cold one, and kick up your feet as we delve into the mind of one of rock’s great stickmen….
AWAY-TEAM: I’d like to start by congratulating you on the success of the current tour, and on semi-recently being named the new full time drummer for Ozzy Osbourne.
TOMMY CLUFETOS: Thank you.
AWAY-TEAM: You guys are currently touring with Slash as your supporting act, I know you’ve had the chance to play with him before, how did that come to be?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: You mean how did it come with me jamming with Slash before?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: I was doing this thing with Alice Cooper, not when I was in Alice Cooper’s band, he just asked me to help him out and do this thing called the MAP Fund, which is affiliated with the Grammy’s and it helps those with substance abuse addictions. So we played at this concert, and Slash jammed with Alice when I was playing drums, I think he played “School’s Out” or something. So we played together then, and he just asked me to jam with him a couple times out of that. He’s a total gentleman, Slash, I love his guitar playing. Ya know he’s one of the last guitar hero rock stars out there, so… I can’t say enough about that guy, he’s such a great guy, and great musician.
AWAY-TEAM: Yeah, he’s legendary!
TOMMY CLUFETOS: Right.
AWAY-TEAM: Now I spoke with Gus G. a few months ago, and he hadn’t yet met Slash, and I asked him this very question, but he didn’t have the answer yet. So now it’s time for an update… have you guys played any songs on this tour with both Ozzy and Slash on stage at the same time? I know they played together on Slash’s album.
TOMMY CLUFETOS: Ozzy sang on Slash’s album, yeah. But they don’t do that during the concert, because we fly in and out of the shows, so it doesn’t really leave much time for us to… ya know, sometimes we’ll get there when he’s already on stage, and we have to get ready, so. The schedule is quite compact, so I don’t think it technically leaves room to do that. But that would be cool.
AWAY-TEAM: Sure would.
TOMMY CLUFETOS: But the package of Slash and Ozzy together is going over really well, and I think it’s a great thing for fans. Alot of tunes that people are familiar with, and alot of tunes where people go ‘Oh, I forgot about that song’, so it’s a great night of rock ‘n’ roll hits for everybody.
AWAY-TEAM: I think the great part of it, is we haven’t seen something like this in a long time, and I’ve said this before, it kinda brings you back to the days of the old Monsters of Rock tours and things like that.
TOMMY CLUFETOS: Yeah. I mean Slash is just an icon, and so is Ozzy, so it makes for a great night for everybody.
AWAY-TEAM: Right. So how did you get the gig with Ozzy? Did you have to audition? Or did they call you and say “Hey, what are you doing? We want you to play with us”? How did that work out?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: I was kinda in the right place at the right time. I was brought in to help out during Gus G.’s audition, he came in from Greece, and their drummer at the time couldn’t make it, so I was asked to do it just so Gus could be comfortable and focus on playing guitar… and the music would be solid. So that’s what I came in to do, and then they asked me to play at a thing called Blizzcon in California, which again Mike Bordin, who’s an amazing drummer, could not make due to commitments with Faith No More. They asked me to do that, and out of those couple experiences they asked me to join the band. So I was very lucky, and excited, and so ecstatic to say ‘Yes’.
AWAY-TEAM: Now you left Rob Zombie’s band to take the gig with Ozzy, I understand Rob was a little bitter when you left him. Have you spoken to him since, and managed to salvage your friendship?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: I have not spoken to him. But I have nothing but great things to say about Rob and my time spent there, and ya know I base our relationship on what I saw when I was there and I have nothing but great things to say about that. I wouldn’t say anything negative, just because of a couple statements in the press. So, no hard feelings on my end. I wish him, his wife Sheri, and all the guys nothing but the best. I still think the world of all of them. So, that’s how I feel.
AWAY-TEAM: These days Ozzy seems to be a bit more energized than he has been in the past few years. I’m sure in part it has to do with some of you younger guysbeing around. With guys like yourself and Gus being closer in age to Ozzy’s kids, than the man himself; do Ozzy and Sharon treat you with more of a parental instinct? Or are you still just one of the guys?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: The age thing doesn’t really come into play. We play in his band, and it’s business. But this is more like a family than anything I’ve ever been involved with. They’re super cool, and super nice, and ya know we just played an L.A. show and Ozzy’s whole family was out there. They couldn’t be better to us, they treat us all great despite the age. Whether you’re old or young, it’s all the same thing.
AWAY-TEAM: It’s all rock ‘n’ roll. And speaking of that, Ozzy’s still going at age 62, where do you see yourself at age 62?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: I’ll still be rockin’ n’ rollin’ my friend!
AWAY-TEAM: Kick ass!
TOMMY CLUFETOS: I just hope I die on stage. That would be… not too soon! (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) Yeah. Let’s not rush it!
TOMMY CLUFETOS: I can’t stop. So I’ll probably be that dude up there that people are saying ‘Why won’t he quit?’
TOMMY CLUFETOS: At least I know it right? (laughs) I’ll probably still be taking my shirt off when I’m a fat guy!
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) I gotta ask this question… the whole metal world let out a collective ‘What the fuck?” when we first heard that Ozzy was working with Justin Bieber, in fact I even read somewhere somebody said ‘I hope Ozzy bites his head off’ (laughs)
TOMMY CLUFETOS: (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: How did the guys in the band feel about it, see when we first heard we didn’t know it was a commercial, we just heard they were working together so it obviously created a bit of a storm in the media. So how did you guys feel about it? I mean did you bust his balls a bit?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: I mean he’s doing a Super Bowl commercial, so who wouldn’t be in a Super Bowl commercial? It’s like the biggest thing in the world, and I mean he’s Ozzy Osbourne he can do whatever the hell he wants. So I think it’s great, Ozzy is more than music, he’s a cultural icon! He’s like Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola is just fucking cool, and so is Ozzy. So, I mean we go up on stage and Ozzy just rocks balls! Harder than anybody out there, harder than any punk kid. He’s the real deal, so whether he’s in a commercial with Justin Bieber, or in The Osbourne’s, he still IS rock ‘n’ roll. He’s the definition of rock ‘n’ roll, and he proves it when he gets on the stage, and we’re there to back him up on it!
AWAY-TEAM: Speaking of backing him up, current band not included, if you could pick an all-time, all-star lineup for Ozzy, consisting of former band members who would it be?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: Oh man, that’s a tough one. He’s always had such great bands. The No More Tears era was a great band, of course the Blizzard era was a great band, ya know I just feel honored to be in the Ozzy Osbourne band legacy. That’s what I feel lucky about. My name is in those ranks, and that’s just a great feeling, because he’s always had and always found the great musicians. Ozzy’s so good at getting great musicians in his band, and he can see talent, so I feel blessed and honored to be in that category. I’m not saying I’m in that category, but just to be mentioned with the same guys is a great feeling.
AWAY-TEAM: Yeah, I think Gus put it really well. He said you guys get to “…go out there every night and play the Bible of Heavy Metal” That’s pretty fucking cool!
TOMMY CLUFETOS: When we played in Los Angeles the other night, Tony Iommi was out there and Bill Ward came into our dressing room… sweetheart of a guy, total monster, amazing drummer. So it was great to meet those guys and have ‘em at the show.
AWAY-TEAM: That’s awesome. So how did you get started playing drums?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: My father was a musician, and I got drums for my 7th birthday, and from that moment on I’ve known what I was gonna do with my life. So it was full on instantly, blinders on, to get to doing what I’m doing now. So it’s been an endless, relentless pursuit of quality and determination to get where I am now.
AWAY-TEAM: What was the first song you ever learned? And who did you idolize, or style your play after growing up?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: Wow, first song I ever learned (pauses) I think it was, my dad was a musician, so I think it was growing up a song called “C-Jam Blues” which was a Duke Ellington thing. Kinda like a little swing number, and it had little breaks for me to do some fills in, and stuff like that. That’s the earliest thing I can remember doing. I started so early, it just sort of came easy for me. I could just play tunes instantly, so um, ya. Once you look back it’s kinda funny how quickly it goes by.
TOMMY CLUFETOS: I idolized my parents. Ya know, as you get older it’s harder to have idols, but my parents; I give them the greatest credit for me doing what I’m doing now. They never told me I couldn’t… I mean my mom, I can’t imagine the noise she had to deal with for 20 years in the house, at all times of the day blasting music and playing drums. And my dad always made sure I had drum stuff, and took me out and saw music, and put me in his band, so. The support was always there, and they always told me I could do whatever I wanted as long as I put the effort in. So they gave me the tools to have the confidence, in order to go out and do what I do. That’s really who I’m gonna give credit to. To do music, ya know, you gotta have that right mindset. Being able to play your instrument and be good at it is almost the easy part. Your mind has to be together, and you have to understand your place and your role. So it’s very easy, ya know we’re staying at the Four Seasons Hotel and just got off a private jet, it’s easy to start thinking you’re a big shot. But you gotta remember where you came from, and remember why you’re there. You gotta stay grounded, and I credit that to my parents for instilling those values in me. Ya know, when I did wrong, they put you in your place, when you did good, you got credit for it. So I carry those lessons with me to this day.
AWAY-TEAM: Now you got your first real big break with Ted Nugent, how did you end up playing with him? Had he known you from the Detroit scene?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: I got to first play with Ted, a guy in Detroit, a great sax player named Alto Reed whose played in Bob Seger’s band for the last 30 years, asked me to play on a movie soundtrack that he was putting together. Ted Nugent also played on it. So I first played with Ted during that, and didn’t have any idea of what music we were gonna play, he just sat down and wrote a song, and I immediately followed him. We did one take of it, and we cut it. Then we did another one in one take, and I think I impressed him because he called me the next day to go on tour with him. So, ya know, you get certain moments in life where you go “This is my shot.” If I didn’t buckle down and kick ass, Ted Nugent is not gonna give me another shot. You can work for ten years busting your hump, and eventually your break will come in a round about way, and you get that one opportunity to go to the next level. And I knew that was my moment, my one moment. I’ve had numerous moments like that, that have led me to where I’m at. But you don’t get those moments without the years and years of hard work and preparation in order to lead you to be prepared to take advantage of that moment.
AWAY-TEAM: Right, it’s all about what you make of it. So being with a guy like Ted, it’s almost a requirement to be into guns…
TOMMY CLUFETOS: You know what, Ted doesn’t give a shit. Ted only cares about you working your ass off, and being professional, and doing your job. Of course he’s gonna take you to shoot guns, but he doesn’t care if you’re a vegetarian, if you’re black or white, as long as you kick ass and do what you do to the best of your ability, your his best friend.
AWAY-TEAM: So what’s the sickest weapon you ever shot with him?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: Oh my god. We went out in Texas, he would fly us out to these hunting ranches for his birthday and shoot like, I don’t even know what they’re called. But like insane crazy machine guns, like you’d see in movies, like in Red Dawn. Just stupid, stupid stuff. I’d be firing these things and be like “What am I doing right now!” For me it was crazy, being the city guy, ya know?
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) Right. Having played with so many greats over your career, do you ever get jaded? In other words, let’s take someone I know you’ve never met, at least I hope you’ve never met! Elvis walks by, is it ”So what it’s Elvis he’s just another guy like me”? Or do you still get a little starstruck?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: You picked the one guy, I mean I’m an Elvis nut…
TOMMY CLUFETOS: …so if he walked by, I’d really be going crazy. Second of all, I would have loved to play for Elvis, that’s one guy I would’ve loved to play for. I am an Elvis fanatic! To me though, we’re people. Elvis would be the one dude that I would freak out about though. But, we’re all people, and at this point you’re either an asshole, or you’re not an asshole! (laughs) So sometimes you meet famous people and they’re fucking assholes, sometimes you meet famous people and they’re the greatest people in the world. So, ya know, we’re all just people. I don’t really let anybody freak me out, cuz who cares. You can’t be intimidated by people either. You can be excited, and have a certain charisma that makes you excited to meet them because they’re exciting. But it’s not just because they’re a star, ya know. Like Ozzy has a certain charisma, where you’re like “Oh my god, this is Ozzy“ It’s fucking cool! But it’s not just because it’s Ozzy, it’s because he’s a cool person. If that difference makes sense.
AWAY-TEAM: I know exactly what you mean!
TOMMY CLUFETOS: Like there’s certain guys I’ve played in bands with where I go “Oh my god, this guys a douchebag!” But the guys I play with now, everybody is so cool, everybody is on the same page, and so professional, it’s just a joy to be around. We’re having a riot out here…Blasko, Adam Wakeman, Gus G, Ozzy…all top notch supreme gentlemen, and highest level musicians.
AWAY-TEAM: Of all the legends that you’ve played with, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, and Ozzy, what’s the best advice any of them has ever given you?
TOMMY CLUFETOS: Best advice anybody has ever given me… that’s a tough one. (pauses) I have no idea. I learned alot from Ted Nugent, he gave me my first big break, we’re both from Detroit, share alot of the same influences, come from the same place and look at things the same way so I learned alot of things from him. But most of the stuff, my parents gave me the tools, I knew what I was doing. I was ready when anything came down the pipeline. I’m talking emotionally, and mentally I was ready. The best advice I can give somebody, if they wanna do this, is to keep the music number one. If something else comes in front of your music, or whatever you wanna do in your life you will not make it. Everything I do during the day has to do with me wanting to play music for the rest of my life. And when you get away from that, when you start getting into drugs, and start drinking, when the partying becomes too much eventually, it may take years, you’re gonna fall. I don’t care who you are, when you stop practicing as much you will lose your chops. You will lose it, I’ve seen so many drummers that are like “Oh yeah, I don’t really pick up the sticks in between tours.” WHAT? You don’t pick up the sticks? I have to pick up the sticks, I have to play, I have to stay hungry for it. Or year, after year, after year you will become dull, and you will lose it slowly. You gotta keep the hunger, and you gotta keep the music number one. So that’s my biggest advice, and everybody who I’ve worked for, that’s what they do and they have 42 year careers because of it. So they may not say something, they may not say the advice, but if you’re smart enough and perceptive you can pick it up on your own. Watch and learn.
AWAY-TEAM: Very true. Excellent pearls of wisdom. Tommy, thank you for your time, it’s been a true honor.
TOMMY CLUFETOS: Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it, and all the best to you!
AWAY-TEAM: Same to you. Best of luck with everything, and I look forward to seeing you behind the kit for many years to come.
TOMMY CLUFETOS: Appreciate it. all my best.
AWAY-TEAM: Thanks buddy! Talk to you soon.
TOMMY CLUFETOS: Bye.
Special thanks to Tommy Clufetos for so graciously giving me his time, and to George Vallee at Sumerian Records for making it all happen.
7 out of 10
1988 – Glenn Danzig released Danzig I. I remember it well. Never having grown up on punk I didn’t know about Samhain or the Misfits. But I heard that James Hetfield of Metallica was doing background vocals on this song about cocaine, and well, I was hooked the first time I heard ‘Twist of Cain’.
Danzig’s first two albums were stellar works. And there are a handful of songs on the last 7 albums that I still listen to, but overall the production and the songwriting has deteriorated from album to album.
2010 – Deth Red Sabaoth is released; it is Danzig’s ninth studio album and may very well be his best in 20 years. Upon first listen he still has that ‘rough’ production feel. Leaving the guitars very gritty while other parts of the production are overlaid quite polished and pristine. The first song to jump out at me on first listen is ‘On a Wicked Night’ with its acoustic opening and stripped down sound. Stark, barren, and ominous it leaves one envisioning a bleak winter’s dead forest, breath hanging frozen in the air, and unspeakable beings swirling around just out of sight.
Immediately following is ‘Deth Red Moon’ almost as a reprise to ‘On a Wicked Night’ the guitar work is nonstop and frenetic throughout the song.
The opening to ‘Ju Ju Bone’ is a spoken piece by Glenn who seems to be channeling Elvis Presley not only while speaking but his inflection while singing gives the listener pause, This ‘sounds’ like a Danzig song, but damn, Is that Elvis singing ‘JU JU Bone’? Again, very solid guitar work and soloing throughout the song.
‘Pyre Of The Souls: Incanticle’ is a direct descendant from Glenn Danzig’s Arias. Leading into the darkest, heaviest of the albums tracks ‘Pyre of the Souls: Seasons of Pain’.
The final cut, ‘Left Hand Rise Above’ starts out almost as an epic, a very grandeur opening leading to a sparse soundscape of verses crescendo rising only to fall on the sparse musical landscape of the next verse.
While this is not Danzig I or Danzig II level music, it is definitely his strongest material since How the Gods Kill and his most cohesive album by far.
You can pick up Deth Red Sabaoth today on Amazon and download it on Amazon mp3.
For more information visit Danzig‘s website here.