On getting back behind the drums after suffering a heart attack.
It was a lot of just Will I be able to do this? The heart attack happened in July of 2014. We had shows booked for the next month and I couldn’t do those, so Danny Carey stepped in. Then we had a tour set for October. I had basically August and September and part of October to recuperate and get ready for the tour. I was feeling a lot of pressure, and [there were] a lot of questions as to whether I could do it or not.
When they do the surgery, they cut through the chest bone and the ribs and open it up. When they’re done, they bring them back together and wrap them with this wire. My surgeon said that he double-wrapped a bunch of my stuff so that if I’m playing drums, it wouldn’t come apart. That was pretty freaky, to think, What if I’m playing and I pull my chest bone apart?
On suffering a second heart attack.
It wasn’t like the first time. The first time I had really bad pains in my chest and then we rushed to the ER. The second time I was feeling something in my chest and we just wanted to be cautious and they found this enzyme the heart releases when there’s something going on. We weren’t thinking it was anything—just the pain. Then they found that enzyme in the blood. It shocked the hell out of me. I thought I was clear. It really freaked me out. I’m thinking, Is this the end? Am I going to have to leave my family? That’s what was really freaking me out. I wasn’t thinking about drumming.
On how he approaches drumming these days.
I’m pretty much normal now, just getting old. There are no major issues or problems. I’m working on playing the drums versus pounding them. I discovered how much I hit into the drum and through it—not finessing it. I’m trying to work on that now. And I’m finding that by doing that, I play better. I’m working on getting to the point of just playing the instrument and not pounding it.
On preparing for life after drumming.
How long is my body going to be able to play Primus music? You just don’t know. I’m fifty-two now, and I feel the changes. That’s a reason why I recently started my hard-cider company, Herb’s Cider. It’s available online. Right now I’m just considered a distributor. We have a company in Washington state making it for us. But I’m working toward the manufacturing part of it. Eventually I’ll have a Herb’s Cider cidery where you can come and try ciders and other drinks, and we’ll have food trucks out front.
It’s about looking at your life and your family almost like this platform, and you need all these supports underneath it. My life has always been music. It’s not always available or enough to make things work, so I’ve been focusing on diversifying in a way.
On having to audition for Blue Man Group after establishing himself in Primus.
I think there was a bit of: I have to audition? I’m Tim from Primus! Especially when I found out that the drummers who created the music were fans of mine even before Blue Man Group existed. But they needed to see what my vibe is when I’m playing. It’s one thing to see me in Primus. But what’s the vibe when I’m playing their music? It’s not just about being technically good. It’s about what your feeling is when you’re playing it. Are you into it, or do you look like you’re bored or struggling through it? There’s a lot to it. Because it’s a very visual show, it’s not about just the drums.
On coming and going from Primus.
I don’t like doing that. It’s only been twice. The first time it happened was 1995. We’d finished the Tales From the Punchbowl tours and we just weren’t getting along. It just felt like I should go do something else. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought about not even playing drums—I wasn’t really excited about it. When we reunited in 2003, I’d been doing Blue Man Group. We did a few years of doing Sailing the Seas of Cheese live and then we just took a break. Life happens, I guess, and a lot of things are going on—health things, emotional things…. [I’ve made] a lot of emotional decisions that probably weren’t smart in terms of a career, but that’s just how it went.
On meeting your heroes.
We opened for Rush when Sailing the Seas of Cheese was out. And they were a huge influence on us as kids. We were totally freaked out. They were super-nice. We’d hang out. We started inspiring them to jam backstage. We had a little practice drumkit and an amp, and we got them to come and jam with us—even Neil drumming on a cooler. That was pretty heavy. Neil was pretty cool, but then he’d have something on his mind and leave to go do it.
On a band like Primus becoming successful.
We always hoped it would be successful. But there was an aspect of surprise when it happened, because our music was so different from Nirvana or Soundgarden. They were the big things that were happening then. But it was interesting to see that we could fit in all these different places and succeed. We toured with a lot of different people—Rush, U2, Public Enemy and Anthrax, Fishbone, Lollapalooza with Alice in Chains and Tool and Rage Against the Machine…. And we’re still out there doing it. It’s pretty wild how we’re still able to fit in.
Alexander plays Tama drums and Zildjian cymbals and uses Vater sticks and Aquarian heads.