by David Ciauro
Thirty years into a career of trailblazing thrash drumming, Gene “The Atomic Clock” Hoglan shows no signs of slowing down. Between touring and/or recording with Testament, Dethklok, and Meldrum, conducting drum clinics, and filming an instructional video, he’s as busy as ever.
Hoglan’s new DVD, The Atomic Clock: The Clock Strikes Two, is now available for pre-sale at hoglanindustries.com, in several package options, from a $30 version that includes a signed DVD and poster, to a $5,000 “Galaxy” option (limited to North America) where Gene will fly to a fan’s hometown to hang out for the afternoon. Check out the clip above for a taste.
Gene is also currently in the midst of a clinic tour, with remaining appearances at the Whisky in Hollywood, California, on October 1; Milano’s in San Jose, California, on October 4; West Music in Coralville, Iowa, on October 17; and Cascio Interstate Music in New Berlin, Wisconsin, on October 19.
Modern Drummer Online sat with Gene to discuss some of his more recent recording and touring projects.
MD: You were recently the subject of a Modern Drummer “Influences” feature. In the extreme metal arena, your name has become almost deservingly cliché to be listed as an influence, almost like what John Bonham is to rock drummers and Neil Peart is to prog players. Has there been an instance when you filled in for a drummer and could hear your influence in their drum parts?
Gene: When I filled in for Martin Lopez from Opeth, he was there for the first ten days before I fully took over. Before I started learning his parts he said, “I pretty much modeled my playing style after you.” Sure enough, when I started listening and learning the songs, the drum parts and fills I anticipated and would have played were often exactly what Martín had done. It was really cool to hear what he was playing and think, “Wow, this guy really did pick up on things I’ve done and incorporated my style into what he’s doing.”
MD: It completes the cycle of inspiration, because as you’ve mentioned in past interviews, your style is a hybrid of all your influences.
Gene: Most definitely.
MD: You filled in for Charlie Benante on a recent Anthrax tour, after his mother passed away suddenly. How did you manage to prepare for those shows on such short notice and while being on the road?
Gene: I filmed Charlie with my iPhone for three shows, and basically watched them over and over on the tour bus to see what fills he was playing, and how he was playing them at the time. Charlie’s the type of drummer that will change things up from night to night, and I wanted to cop the fills he was playing on this tour. I had about a week to learn all the songs in the set with only a few brief rehearsals, and then we just went out and did it.
MD: Even though Testament played right before Anthrax on that tour, you still played Charlie’s kit.
Gene: The main reason for that was that in the past when the band needed a fill-in, they had people they would call. I know Jason Bittner [Shadows Fall] had done some fill-ins for Charlie in the past, but Charlie’s absence for these specific dates was unexpected, and I believe Jason had a prior engagement. What it came down to was that if I couldn’t pull double-duty, Anthrax would have been forced to leave the tour. That would have sucked for a lot of reasons, but one thing I thought about was all the people that work for Anthrax. That’s thirty-five some-odd people that are not working now on a tour because of an unfortunate incident that occurred. So, I was happy to step up, and in doing so I didn’t want to send Charlie’s drum tech home, so I used his kit. It’s a lot different from mine, but there’s an aesthetic quality that’s important to the Anthrax show, as well as the sound of his drums and the kit configuration. The band is used to hearing fills sound a certain way. He has more toms and tunes his drums differently from the way I do, and I wanted to make the band feel as comfortable as possible by keeping as much consistency as possible. The only thing we changed on the kit was that we raised the toms up a bit. Everything else was good to go, and the shows went well. There were no moments where I had all three guitarists turning around staring at me because I messed up real bad. I was glad to do it, and it was a lot of fun to do.
MD: Was it difficult playing two sets back to back? It’s not like you’re playing ballads for nearly three hours.
Gene: Almost every night on those double-duty gigs someone would ask me how I was able to maintain the energy and stamina. My line of thinking was that I often play for eight to ten hours a day when I’m rehearsing or recording with a band, so playing for three hours is really nothing in the grand scheme of things.
When I was doing the fill-ins for Anthrax, I had this idea of coordinating a tour with all the projects I’m a part of—an evening with Gene Hoglan. We’d get Dethklok, Testament, Pitch Black Forecast, and Mechanize, for example, on one bill, and I would just play all night. That would be a fun way to showcase the differences within the various styles of metal and how I adapt my style for each band.
MD: In your last Modern Drummer cover story [November 2010], you mentioned that with Dethklok you would typically learn a few songs and then record them on the same day. Did that process change at all for Dethklok III?
Gene: The process was pretty much the same, with the exception that instead of learning and recording two songs a day, we would track one song a day. Brendon Small would start showing me the riffs and we’d start putting the parts together, arranging and whatnot, and then record. When I finished my tracks, Bryan Beller would come in and lay down his bass parts.
The thing I enjoyed about doing one song a day was that I could take what we had recorded each day home with me. I could listen to what I played, digest it, and see if there were any spots where I felt I could play better, or do something more creative. Ultimately, it was tiny stuff, but stuff that I knew would help me sleep better at night knowing that I redid them so they matched what I heard in my head.
Dethklok is funny, because as serious as it is, the way we work it’s almost like a hobby band, because it’s not a band that will have a rigorous, ongoing recording/touring cycle, because there’s more going on than just the band.
MD: Meaning the albums and tours are reliant on when the seasons of Metalocalypse air?
Gene: Yeah. So it allows me to be available for other projects, even though Dethklok has become a huge band in its own right, and is a priority for me. I’m trying to be as dedicated to Testament as possible, and they understandably want their drummer there as much as possible. The guys in Testament are no strangers to having simultaneous projects going on, so they’ve been very understanding when conflicting dates arise. Dethklok was initially scheduled to tour with Lamb of God, but that was cancelled due to the situation with their singer Randy (Blythe). As a result, some of Dethklok’s rescheduled shows conflicted with some of Testament’s overseas dates.
MD: Let’s talk about the Meldrum album. When you mentioned bands for the “Evening with Gene Hoglan,” you didn’t mention Meldrum. Is the Lifer record something you wanted to release as a tribute to [late founder Michelle Meldrum] more than have it be a record that you took to the road?
Gene: The Meldrum album is something that we are all really proud of, and we’re stoked that it’s finally released. It has been a tough process getting that album to come together, but we’re all super happy with how it turned out.
The thing about the album was that it fell into a weird niche. After Michelle passed away, we weren’t sure if we were going to carry on as a band and we didn’t know what the next step was with the material we had written. When we decided that we wanted to make the record as a tribute to Michelle, we knew we’d have trouble getting a label behind it because there was no band to move forward with. Every record company passed on it, even if they liked it, because labels generally aren’t interested in putting out just one album. So we decided to put the record out ourselves. I wrote really awesome liner notes, and the whole thing has become a great tribute to Michelle’s memory. What’s most important to me is that it’s finally seeing the light of day, because it’s been so near and dear to my heart.
For more information on Gene Hoglan, go to hoglanindustries.com.