Setting Sights

John Tempesta

The heavy-rock journeyman takes Motor Sister for a Ride.

by David Ciauro

John Tempesta has been a constant presence on the hard rock and heavy metal scenes since the ’90s, playing with the iconic thrash bands Exodus and Testament, as well as with Rob Zombie, Helmet, and the Cult. Earlier this year Tempesta appeared on Motor Sister’s debut album, Ride. The band is the reincarnation of Mother Superior, the unadorned bluesy roots rock outfit led by singer/guitarist Jim Wilson that broke up in the early 2000s.

Motor Sister played its first show last February at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn. MD was fortunate to be in attendance and can confirm that the band absolutely crushed. “I’m excited to play these songs live and have a blast,” Tempesta says. “What’s really cool is that my best friend, Dante Renzi, plays drums in Static Summer, the band that’s been opening for us. We met when we were teenagers, and they opened for Helmet ten years ago when I was playing with them, so it’s kind of a reunion of sorts.”

Motor Sister’s story is a unique one. Among Mother Superior’s longtime fans was Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, and for his fiftieth-birthday party Ian decided that all he wanted was to jam on his favorite Mother Superior songs with Jim Wilson at the helm. Ian’s wife, Pearl Aday, had been working with Wilson for years on her solo material, so the wish was granted easily enough. Ian enlisted fellow Mother Superior fans Tempesta and bassist Joey Vera to round out the group.

Tempesta plays with fury on Ride, which features remakes of twelve Mother Superior tunes. The drummer stays fairly true to the original recordings played by drummer Matt Tecu but spices up each song with well-placed, creative chops, giving the album a fresh intensity that lifts the tracks into the stratosphere. “The Mother Superior songs didn’t have double bass, so I tried to use it tastefully,” Tempesta says. “Jim was excited about it. When you use double bass to escalate a section of a song up to this giant crescendo, it’s powerful.”

The music has the classic appeal of Thin Lizzy or Humble Pie, with a newfound impassioned ferocity, care of the metal-rooted rhythm section. The result is a loose and lively album. “This is rock ’n’ roll!” Tempesta says. “It’s not rocket science. That’s the beauty of this record. We recorded the whole thing in two days, all live, no click or anything. It’s not perfect, but that’s why I love it.

Tempesta in the studio with, from left, Scott Ian, Jim Wilson, and Joey Vera
Tempesta in the studio with, from left, Scott Ian, Jim Wilson, and Joey Vera

“I had only played with these guys one time before, at Scott’s party,” Tempesta adds, “and we agreed how amazing it felt to play together and that we should do a record. Two weeks later, we’re tracking in the studio with only one rehearsal the day before. I love being spontaneous. All our favorite bands from the ’70s recorded like that. It’s a great way to make a record, and I hadn’t done anything like that in a long time.”

Tempesta used his Tama 7×14 signature brass snare drum for the entire recording. “I used a Remo Coated Emperor X head, and I didn’t change it once,” John explains. “There are twelve songs on the record, so figure about thirty-six takes to get the drum tracks done. Our producer, Jay Ruston [Anthrax, Steel Panther], was like, ‘Don’t touch that head!’ You can hear that it sounds really warm and broken in on certain songs.

“The kit I used on the record is a maple Tama Starclassic in burgundy sparkle, with 13″, 16″, and 18″ toms and a 16×24 kick. My old drum teacher had a ’60s Ludwig kit in burgundy sparkle, so I always wanted one.”

Tempesta understands more than most how to adapt sonically when playing with bands from different genres—though he’s continually adding tools to his arsenal. “Usually I like a big sound, like Bonham or Cozy Powell,” he says. “I like a crackin’ snare that’s also meaty, and a punchy, open kick. For the more metal projects, I tighten up the kick sound a bit with a pillow or something. The Cult’s been in preproduction with producer Bob Rock, and he’s taught me some cool techniques, like holding the stick up higher while playing the hi-hat to not choke the sound, and not necessarily having to hit the drums so hard in order to have the energy come across on the recording.”

Due to the band members’ hectic schedules, Motor Sister shows will likely be few. A guest spot on Motörhead’s late-September/early-October Motörboat Cruise, however, should prove to be many a hard rock fan’s highlight this year.