Drummer Joey Zehr of The Click FiveLast summer I got to experience what it might have been like at Beatles concert at the height of Beatlemania. On separate occasions I saw shows by two new bands: The Click Five, from America, and McFly, from the UK. Not since I saw Hanson a few years ago did I have to cover my ears so much from the piercing sound of girls screaming.

The thing about these so called “boy bands” that makes them stand out for me is that they play well and write their own songs. When I interviewed them backstage after their respective shows, both drummers were unfamiliar with each other. But each described similar life experiences, which made it all the more interesting when, months later, both bands would be sharing a bill together on a sold-out UK tour.

The Click Five’s CD Greetings From Imrie House has sold very well here in America, and has recently been released in the UK. The band has also received three nominations for The 19th Annual Boston Music Awards for Outstanding Act Of The Year, Song Of The Year for “Just The Girl,” and Outstanding Pop Rock Band. McFly continues to break attendance and sales records in Europe, and they’re featured costars in the Lindsay Lohan movie Just My Luck, recently released on DVD. They also have a new single out, “Star Girl.” Let’s meet Joey and Harry.

The Click Five’s Joey Zehr

MD: What attracted you to the drums?

Joey: I grew up in a musical family. My father owned a dinner theater, so I was pretty much there every day watching the bands.

MD: Did your parents play instruments?

Joey: My mom and dad played piano, and my brother, who is four years older than me, plays the saxophone. One day he decided he didn’t like sax, so he picked up the guitar. That was around the same time I picked up the drums, and we started a band. For years before I was a full-blown drumset player, I was a mallet player.

MD: What kind of music did your parents listen to?

Joey: Soul music. I would go to the theater every day of the week and my dad would have old-school acts playing like The Meters, B.B. King, The Commodores, and Beatles tribute bands. And then growing up in school I was into Nirvana. So I mostly was listening to rock and a bit of soul.

MD: How old were you when you started playing?

Joey: I was in the fourth grade.

MD: Who was the first drummer that you noticed as being cool?

Joey: When I was first starting I was into all the typical guys, and I was reading Modern Drummer already, so I would go and watch Dave Weckl.

MD: Were you familiar with his videos?

Joey: Yes. I had a teacher that I went to every week, and he’d give me videos to watch. Musically at that time I was collecting a lot of Zeppelin and Hendrix CDs, and doing a lot of that kind of drumming. My listening has always been all over the map, and I don’t know if I ever got into only the drummer. I was definitely more into the music and the overall band. I’ve always been into music, especially because my teacher in high school, Dane Clark, was the best teacher I’ve had as far as drumset goes. He taught me about supporting the song.

MD: You studied at Berklee. What did you study there?

Joey: I went to Berklee to do performance. But I realized that I sucked and that every kid there could play like twenty times faster than me in twenty different more styles than I could. I tried for like a year and a half to get into the top band. Also I was coming from a high school where I was kind of like a jazz star. All through high school I started out as a band star. I could play the ballads and I was winning all the big competitions. And this is probably because my teacher throughout my whole upbringing wanted me to play everything. Then later in high school, I started learning from Dane Clark, who was a “rock drummer.” After that, when I went to Berklee, I still had this jazz thing—that’s what I got my scholarship for—and I was trying to get into all the top jazz ensembles.

While I was there I got good ratings and got into good bands, but I got frustrated and eventually ended up switching my major to business. I did a year of business and realized I was into it and got all high marks. Then I decided to learn audio engineering. So I ended up double-majoring.
By this time I was living off campus, living a more rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. During my freshman and sophomore years I was living in dorms, going down every night and playing different styles of music with different people. That was when this band started, because we were all living together. We made our first demos in our house, running cables to the bathroom….

MD: So you did demos and shopped them?

Joey: Yes, for a year. We were all in rock bands through college. Then when The Click Five got together, we already had a lot of connections with the clubs from playing in all those other bands.

MD: Were you playing covers or originals?

Joey: We were playing all originals. At first we had our frontman, Miles, writing songs. Then Eric came in. During that year we were constantly changing, but we still had this goal of putting together something we could take outside of Boston. We would practice all the time so that if we ever got the opportunity to open for someone, we would be ready. And we eventually caught the attention of probably the biggest producer in Boston. His studio was five minutes from our house.

MD: Who was that?

Joey: Mike Denneen, who produced and mixed Greetings From Imerie House. He’s worked with Amie Mann. We really wanted to bring this project up to a different level. Mike sent two of our demos to a friend out in Hollywood, and we ended up getting a deal. We didn’t know what to do, though, because it was so early in the game. We kind of held him off and recorded some more, hired lawyers, and started shopping. And then our local radio station had one of our demos and was just playing the crap out of it. One day he called us and asked if we wanted to do a show for like 20,000 people, and we said, “Hell yeah!” That was the biggest show I’d ever played at that point.

MD: Were some of the songs on the album from the demo?

Joey: All the songs that were on the demos are on the album.

MD: Even the two songs that Adam Schlesinger [Fountains Of Wayne] wrote and the one from Paul Stanley [KISS]?

Joey: Yes. The songs that were on the demo are pretty much the record.

MD: So you must have been comfortable in the studio being that you had taken audio engineering and you knew your way around.

Joey: I was very comfortable, but Mike was a very anti-Berklee kind of guy.

MD: How so? Did you have to prove yourself to him?

Joey: Oh yeah! We only had X amount of time and dollars, and he was like, “If you can’t pull this off, I’m calling in a studio drummer.” [laughs] I later found out that he was testing me, but I didn’t know that at the time.

MD: I bet it made you get your act together quickly.

Joey: Oh, yeah. Mike spent a lot of time taking a lot of cobwebs out of my playing. He spent a lot of time with me.

MD: What kind of things would he suggest?

Joey: Just leaving out the extra junk that wasn’t necessary. He’d be like, “Okay, can you try that but with half the fills, no 16th notes. He was the first person who told me that the bass drum didn’t have to go with the bass guitar exactly. I’ve heard my entire life the bass drum and bass guitar had to go together. And I’ve since realized that on a lot of the most awesome songs, the bass drum is just playing 1 and 3.

MD: Did you have experience playing with a click?

Joey: Yes. That was one thing that I contribute to Berklee, because every day since the beginning I would spend five or six hours rehearsing with a click track. And I was so used to the click from my engineering studies—editing around the click. Knowing how drums were eventually edited and all that stuff taught me a lot.

MD: Was there a big use of Pro Tools for your record?

Joey: Yes. We did a lot of “semi-live” playing; nothing was ever recorded as a full band. Most of the time we just record bass and drums together. I think on the next record we’re going to do some live recording where we don’t edit as much.

MD: When I saw you live, you had an amazing drum sound, but when I looked at your kit I noticed there were no triggers.

Joey: Nope, and I haven’t changed my bass drum head since I started recording about a year and a half ago.

MD: What type of head is it?

Joey: All my heads are Remo.

MD: Do you do your own tuning?

Joey: I do.

MD: What sticks and cymbals are you using?

Joey: Vater sticks and Sabian cymbals.

MD: What are some of your favorite songs to play live?

Joey: I like playing “Good Day” because it’s a little punkier. It’s got kind of that “hoppy” thing. I like playing “Say Goodnight” too, although I don’t think it’s one of our better-sounding songs live.

MD: There’s loops on that one…did you create those?

Joey: Yes, though it’s nothing really impressive.

MD: No, but it gives the song a good feel. And that song has great vocals. On that topic, any tips for drummers who sing?

Joey: The interesting thing is that I never sang before this band. So not only was I learning how to sing—but I was learning how to coordinate it with the drumming. I do backgrounds, so it’s not hard parts, but it was definitely a challenge.

One way to learn is to play every night, which I pretty much have done. My biggest challenge is learning how to make my voice sound normal while I’m playing, because your voice tends to shake while you’re drumming. Eventually I learned how to settle down and not go crazy. So usually when I have a vocal part I’ll bring my energy level down to half so that my voice is stead.

I learned a lot of things the hard way. At first I had my cymbals high, and I sat way higher than most people. Now everything is really low, so I can sit lower, and my bass drum is turned to try to correct my posture a little. I think the biggest thing is I’ve learned to control my breathing. And I’ve got to pretty much have my lips touch the mic’, because it makes me focus on my singing. It’s like as soon as my lip touches the mic’, that becomes the main thing my body focuses on. If my lips aren’t touching the mic,’ then my hands are going to be all over the place. We haven’t done it much lately, but we used to practice vocals as a group for two hours a day.

MD: Do you have your own practice routine?

Joey: I really don’t have time to practice by myself. We still have band rehearsals, but as far as practicing by myself, I’ll get in like ten or fifteen minutes before soundcheck, and that’s about it.

MD: Do you warm up before you go on?

Joey: No, I’m pretty bad about that, and I’ve paid the consequences with bad back problems. I’m trying to be much more aware of how my playing affects my body, and I think I’ll eventually figure out new ways to warm up and cool down.

MD: You’re still young. As you get older that becomes a bit more important.

Joey: Yes. Being on the road, I’ve definitely had some aches and pains. [laughs]

MD: Any advice for someone who wants to play in a pop band?

Joey: I think the best thing for someone is to surround themselves with serious musicians and people who have similar goals. And I think it’s important to have a master goal, but also realize that there are small goals first to get to that huge goal. If you are in a garage band at home, it’s fine to have the goal to get signed. But realize that you need smaller goals in between, such as getting the local radio station to play your song. And be realistic about the individual steps you have to take.

Learn as much as you can in school. And for me it was important to be on my own. When I went to college and lived on my own, I had to figure out how to survive. You have to meet people who are going to give you good advice. If you want to do it, move to a cool city and put yourself in the middle of it all. Force yourself to see people, to form a band, and to do projects. I was working a job and I was going to school, so my day was full. But if you want to make it, you’ve got to go and rehearse for six hours…you have to make the time.

 

For more on The Click Five visit their Web site, www.theclickfive.com.