by Billy Brennan
The September issue of Modern Drummer magazine features Cult drummer John Tempesta offering ten tips on navigating a journeyman career and growing as a drummer. Here he elaborates on those topics and talks about his most recent projects, including the Cult’s new album, Choice of Weapon.
MD: Do you think it’s harder to reach a high level of success playing with one band throughout your career or as more of a journeyman drummer?
John: Definitely as a journeyman. I always try to make myself better by trying different stuff, playing new music, and adapting to different things. Recently I recorded with Rodrigo y Gabriela, and that was a whole different thing for me, with a Cuban orchestra and all that. You know, sometimes you just have to take chances. It’s very challenging but at the end it’s very rewarding.
MD: How did that project come about?
John: I was at a Yamaha event and Rodrigo was representing Yamaha acoustic guitars. He asked my brother [guitarist Mike Tempesta] if he thought that I would be interested in recording some songs. I was like, “Of course, it would be something great to do!” Like I said, it’s totally different. So they came out to L.A. and we set aside a couple of days. They’d gone down to Cuba and played with an orchestra, so everything was laid down. There was a click track and I just played stuff on top of it, with double bass and all. It was a lot of fun and one of the most gratifying things that I’ve ever done.
MD: Do you ever get stressed about auditioning?
John: Oh yeah, I always get stressed. I’m a bit of a head case that way. Though once I get behind the kit and the lights are on, it’s all natural to me, you know? But that’s just the way I am. I have a lot of passion and hopefully that comes out; it’s not a good thing or a band thing, but sometimes I wish I wasn’t so stressed out and I could just lean back. It’s just the way I am, man, a mile a minute. [laughs]
MD: This is your sixth year with the Cult, and this is the longest span of time that any single lineup of the band has been together. At this point, how does it feel to be in the band, and are you in it for the long haul?
John: How about that, huh? I broke a record! [laughs] I feel that we’re very comfortable and that we know our dynamics—where to push and pull and everything—whether we’re playing the old songs or new ones. And we’re very excited about the new record and playing those songs.
You know, when you’re in a band or play for a long time with someone, it’s just comfortable being on stage with them. We’ve got a lot of touring ahead of us, and hopefully after that we’ll go as long we can with this.
MD: What was the recording of Choice of Weapon like?
John: It was a constant creative process. We did these EPs with a couple new songs, we did a live version and a movie clip that [singer] Ian Astbury did…. So it started off like that, just to release a couple of things on iTunes. But then we got a new record deal and went into the full process with [producers] Chris Goss and Bob Rock. We did a lot of preproduction and really took our time with it, and I really feel that it shows in comparison to the last record. But it was a group effort, which also shows. It’s more in the style of the Cult, I think.
MD: Are there any new songs that you’re particularly enjoying playing live?
John: Yeah, there’s one called “This Night in the City Forever.” It has a Zeppelin-like feel, and it has really cool ghost notes on the snare drum. I recorded that one on my stainless-steel kit to give it that big sound. I was going for that kind of laid-back Bonham groove.
MD: Was that the Dunnett kit that you recorded on?
John: Yeah, Ronn Dunnett has been a friend for a while, and he makes a great product. I used my Tama bubinga drums for most of the record, but I had the two kits set up in the studio, and the stainless kit gave [some tracks] a whole different feel. I’m really happy how that one turned out.
For more on John Tempesta, go to johntempesta.com. Photo by Matis Cugat.