MTV VJ… Drum Fanatic
Damien Fahey has a dilemma: These days he’s having a difficult time finding the time to play his drums. You see, Damien hosts one of MTV’s most popular shows, Total Request Live, which airs weekdays at 5:00 P.M. EST to an audience of 50 million viewers.
by Billy Amendola
Not bad for a twenty-three-year-old. But Fahey is actually an industry vet, having started working at local radio stations in his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts when he was fifteen years old.
Besides TRL, Damien is also busy hosting the new MTV show Video Clash. He’s also an MTV staff writer. Drummer or not, this guy’s got a problem most of us wouldn’t mind dealing with.
With a winning personality and growing popularity, Damien has a great pop-culture future ahead of him. But he’s not kidding about missing his time practicing and playing his drums. We here at MD are thrilled he would take the time to share his passion for what we also think is the coolest instrument in the world.
MD: Who inspired you to play drums?
Damien: I saw Carter Beauford playing in concert with Dave Matthews, and I was fixated on Carter the entire time. I went out and bought his DVD before I even had a set of drums.
MD:How old were you at the time?
Damien: I was about sixteen. Whenever I would go to a concert, I would always watch the drummer. The way Carter plays, he makes it look so easy. It’s kind of weird with him, because you hear these incredibly intricate patterns and time signatures, but [he’s so relaxed] it seems like there’s a drum track playing over him. All the grace notes – he makes it all just come together. I watched him and I was just completely blown away, so I said to myself, I’m going to buy myself a drumset and see what happens. Then I bought a couple of instructional videos to teach myself.
MD: Which ones did you buy?
Damien: Besides Carter, I bought a Steve Smith video, a Dennis Chambers video, and a Billy Cobham one. I studied them and took what I could from them – stuff that I kind of thought I could accomplish on the set. And then I convinced my dad to buy me a set. In the beginning I just played along to CDs.
MD: Which ones were you playing along to?
Damien:Straight-ahead rock – Fuel, Creed, the basic 4/4 kind of thing. And then eventually I was able to move into a little bit of the Carter stuff, which was more challenging.
MD: Did you ever take formal lessons?
Damien:No, but I’d really like to, because I think that you can only get better with lessons. But I’m always so busy, it’s been hard to fit it into my schedule.
MD: Do you jam with friends?
Damien:Yes, I play with friends back home. They’ll bring their guitars over. We just found a bassist and we have someone who plays electric violin. We all get together, and it’s kind of a free-form thing. Just to warm up, we’ll play some old songs, maybe some Neil Young or Pearl Jam. And then we’ll go into our own musical space where we’ll just start jamming. It could go from a rock beat to a reggae thing or a funk thing. It’s just so satisfying to come back here to work after being home and be like, Yeah, I had a kick-ass weekend making music!
MD: So your drumkit is home in Boston?
Damien:Yes. In my apartment here in New York I have a Roland Stage kit. It’s not the same as the real thing, but it’s a great practice tool. The kit is absolutely incredible. It’s got these pre-sets and beats that you can play along to. And I’ll put my iPod headphones on and just play along to anything that I might have grabbed, MP3s and stuff like that.
MD: What kind of music did your parents turn you on to?
Damien: They were always listening to classic rock – Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones. I actually didn’t care for it at the time because that’s all they played. So I would always call it hippie music. [laughs] But that’s what I listen to now. My mom is a huge James Brown freak too – Clyde Stubblefield, Jabo – oh my God, absolutely awesome! I listened to a lot of that. James Brown is just so funky, and the drummers played so in the pocket that the music couldn’t help but move you. I think that’s really the sign of a great drummer – it’s like the drummer is the glue to the whole band.
MD:Who’s the loudest drummer you’ve seen on TRL?
Damien: I would have to say Dave Grohl. He hits pretty hard. He was on with Queens Of The Stone Age. He’s amazing. I think he’s one of the best rock drummers out there right now.
MD: What do you like about him?
Damien: He’s got these sick patterns and just a way of going around the music and then bringing it right back into the pocket. It’s almost like a James Brown thing, where the drummers just move you. I think the drums are a beautiful instrument. Take “Stairway To Heaven.” You’ve got three or four minutes of a ballad, and then those Bonham fills come in. Now there’s a great drummer. I love Bonham. The new Led Zeppelin DVD is completely – The Song Remains The Same was okay, but this one is amazing. He’s like a freight train on the drums. He’s got those grace notes going, and his shuffle – just great.
MD: Who’s the flashiest drummer that’s been on TRL?
Damien:Kenny Aronoff was kind of flashy, but just in his look, not too much in his playing. He did go off a couple of times in typical Kenny style, but he had the glasses on and he’s got that bald head – he’s got the whole look going. He just looks so freaking cool on the drums.
MD: What do you get from his drumming?
Damien: I think he’s in the same category as a Bonham or Dave Grohl. I absolutely love his drumming. I think Kenny’s cool because of all the stuff he did with John Mellencamp. For instance, he could have just played a straight-ahead 4/4 rock beat, but he made it interesting by spicing it up. I had a chance to talk to him and compliment him on his drumming. He was like, “Thanks, what do you like about it?” So, I told him, “I love how you stay in the pocket, but then at the same time, you’re not afraid to throw a little bit of spice on it, and maybe give it a 2/4 feel in the middle of the song – or how you’ll hit a China out of place and make it all work.” He was like, “Cool.” He was one of the nicest drummers I’ve met. He’s really smart and affable. He takes the qualities from all of the different styles of music and puts them in one, like Dennis Chambers.
MD: Who was the funkiest drummer on TRL?
Damien: That’s a good question. Although he didn’t really play funk on the show, I would probably have to say Dennis Chambers. He played with Santana and then again with Michelle Branch when she came on and sang her song with Santana. That was incredible. I got to meet him and take a picture with him. He was so nice, so gracious, and just so down-to-earth and cool. I was freaking out – I was sweating and my hands were shaking. Meanwhile, everyone’s like, “Who’s Damien taking a picture with? What’s the big deal with that drummer?” [laughs]
It’s funny how some people might freak out to meet Michelle Branch, but I freaked out at Dennis Chambers. I wasn’t hosting the show that day, but I was in the control room watching the show. I was looking at the monitors and saw Santana playing, so I went out into the audience and watched them play. The audience was standing up, so it was kind of hard to see the stage, and I was focused on Carlos, but halfway through the song I realized it was Dennis playing drums. The last time he was on, Carlos had Rodney Holmes with him, who is also awesome. But I was like, That looks like Dennis Chambers – that is Dennis Chambers! [laughs] It was the typical Dennis performance, where he’s playing his drums but with the facial expression that he makes, he could be sitting on a beach drinking margaritas. People ask me what my coolest moment on TRL has been, and I’ll tell them that story. They’re like, “What about Britney Spears?” But Dennis – the man’s a legend, a drum god.
MD:Are you familiar with any studio drummers?
Damien: Yes, I just read about Jim Keltner on the MD Web site. I’m not as familiar with him as I am with Steve Gadd, though. I saw him on Saturday Night Live not too long ago. Gadd is awesome. His drumming with Paul Simon is incredible. He’s plays with such finesse and is so intricate. His technique inspired a lot of drummers to play differently. It almost sounds like it’s him and a percussion section, but it’s just him playing alone. He’s intense.
MD: Are you familiar with Josh Freese?
Damien:Oh yeah, from A Perfect Circle. I went out to dinner with the guys in Good Charlotte, and they were like, “We haven’t found a permanent drummer yet.” I said, “Well, who played on the record? It sounds amazing.” And they go, “Josh Freese.” I love his double bass work with A Perfect Circle.
MD: Who else have you’ve been listening too?
Damien: I like the Simple Plan record, and I like New Found Glory. Simple Plan’s drummer, Chuck Comeau, is really good. He’s the only one who doesn’t talk when he comes on the show. He’s really quiet. They’re from Canada and I think he only speaks French. A real nice guy.
Recently I saw Journey in concert with Deen Castronovo. I was so surprised. I figured, obviously, if you are playing old Steve Smith stuff, then you have to be a really good drummer. But I didn’t expect Deen to be so well-versed. And he took a lot of the songs and made them his own. He came up with some fun grooves. On “don’t Stop Believin?” he played these great patterns. He also sings all the high parts. Seriously, I thought Steve Perry was behind the drums. He sounded just like him. Very impressive.
I like David Silveria from Korn too. I have the Korn DVD, and there’s not enough of Dave on that. I like his double bass work. And he’s really good at doing that basic rock thing. I also like Brad Wilk from Audioslave. On “Like A Stone” he’s got this accent on the hi-hat that he slips in. That little action right there sounds so small, but it meant so much to me when I heard it that I went out and bought the record because of it.
MD: I read that you like Coldplay.
Damien: Yes, Will Champion of Coldplay is terrific. He in the pocket and plays for the song, doesn’t get in the way of anyone else’s instrument. I think that record gets so much radio play because he’s got such a great in-the-pocket feel.
MD: While were on that topic, what about Ringo?
Damien:People always ask me about Ringo. Some people say that he wasn’t a great drummer, but I think he got the job done pretty damn well in The Beatles. He was on TRL about a year ago. I wasn’t hosting, but I made it down to the studio. You have to respect the guy. He was in the most famous band in the world.
You know who I just thought of? Joey Kramer from Aerosmith. I’ve seen him three or four times in concert. I love the way he plays. He’s one of those guys who’ll be playing a cool groove, and then all of a sudden, Whoa – what did he just do? It kind of catches you off guard. Joey does that a lot. I also like Chad Smith; he’s another one that goes off the hi-hat with those little accents, and he’ll throw things that you wouldn’t expect. It’s really fun to listen to his drumming.
Damien: Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters is excellent. Taylor is playing behind Dave Grohl, so he has to be good. We were doing our big MTV New Year’s special here in Times Square, and they came by and played “Back In Black” with Jack Black singing. MTV usually doesn’t like me going into technical questions about music during interviews, but I with Taylor I did it anyway, just because I was so impressed with the last record. So I go, “You know, Taylor, I’ve got to give props to you, because I think this is the tightest you’ve ever played on any record. You’ve come a really long way and matured in a really great sense on this record. Congratulations, dude.” I think he was taken aback. It was a fun, lighthearted interview, and he was like, “Wow, man, thank you so much.” You could tell he never gets that in an interview.
Billy Cobham is excellent too. You want to talk about legends, just cornerstones of drumming – he’s one of the guys. Then you’ve got the drummer who plays with Prince, John Blackwell. He’s another of my favorites. The last Prince record, with him playing jazz and funk – amazing. And he’s flashy too. Stick twirling – and the hat. [laughs] I have to pick up his DVD. He’s definitely one of my favorites.
MD: It’s great to hear you’re such a fan of so many great drummers. Any others come to mind before we go?
Damien: Travis Barker from Blink-182. I love the way Travis plays. You’ve got to respect him. You can’t even keep up with the guy. He’s amazing – and so quick. It’s mind-boggling when you watch him play. He’s got these great patterns and these little accents off the hi-hat – open it up and then hit a splash.
MD: Any favorite bands?
Damien:When people ask me, “If you could bring back one band and go to a concert and watch the show, who would it be?” I’m like, “You know what? The band is still alive, but they just don’t want to get together: The Police.” Stewart Copeland is probably my favorite drummer of all time. His high snare drum sound – everybody else at that time had it tuned down – and the way he played the hi-hat, these little reggae accents on the three. He’d do a roll off the hi-hat and then off the toms – so musical. It was nice to hear a drummer use a tom as an accent, rather than as part of a fill. He played the entire kit that way. He would maybe start the groove from the toms and then move on to the hi-hat with these amazing patterns and rhythms.
Another drummer I really like is Jose Pasillas from Incubus. That last record was very Stewart Copeland-esque, with a lot of odd time signatures and rolls off the hi-hat.
I could go on and on. You’ve got to keep in mind, though, that it’s just rock ‘n’ roll. We’re all just having fun, banging on pots and pans. I love it!
For more on what Damien is up to on MTV visit www.damienfahey.com.