I suppose it’s natural for a singer to receive more attention than a drum- mer. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the conversation I had with a PR man who was (briefly) representing Missing Per- sons during their last tour.
“Hi, I’m from Modern Drummer magazine, and we need to arrange for photos to be taken of Terry Bozzio.”
“You mean Dale Bozzio, don’t you?”
“No, I mean Terry. I’m from Modern DRUMMER.”
“Oh . . . right. “
Actually, that type of conversation isn’t all that uncommon around here. People often express amazement that anyone would be interested in a band’s drummer, and in certain situations, I can understand their attitude. After all, in quite a few groups, the drummer does seem to be the one who just sits in the back at a concert and reproduces the dull thud on 2 and 4 that a Linn machine played on the record.
But this is different. We’re talking about Terry Bozzio here. The guy Zappa wrote “The Black Page” for. The guy who played with such “musician’s bands” as U.K. and the Brecker Brothers. The guy who, in addition to playing drums for Missing Persons, writes a great deal of their music and coproduces their records. The guy who designed and built his own electronic drumset. The guy who is one of the most visual drummers on the scene today. Surely Terry’s identity is strong enough that he should receive as much attention as a singer—even one as flamboyant as Dale.
But there’s a paradoxical element about Terry’s identity: It has an almost Jekyll & Hyde quality. On stage, he appears to be possessed by demons, as he attacks his drumset with an intensity that borders on violence, frequently snarling and leering at the audience—all in all, a rather dangerous-looking individual. And yet offstage, Terry comes across as one of the most affable and gracious people you ‘d ever want to meet. Speaking with him, one is apt to be struck by his intelligence and sophistication. He speaks with equal ease about rock, jazz and classical music, and his conversation is sprinkled with references to art and design.
The point of all of this is that Terry Bozzio certainly does have an identity, but one that’s made up ofcontrasting elements. To understand him, you have to know about all of the different parts that are combined—the intensity and the niceness; the chops and the sensitivity; the cynicism and the compassion; the sensuality and the spirituality. The outer shell may appear intimidating, but don’t befooled: There’s a very big heart inside.
RM: Before you started Missing Persons, you were in several successful groups—Frank Zappa, UK, The Brecker Brothers. All kinds of people have left prominent bands to start groups of their own, and were never heard from again. Did it scare you at first?
TB: Yeah, it did at first, I suppose, but I knew I had to make my own statement or go on for the rest of my life depending on someone else to be the creative genius. I didn’t want to live with myself that way. I really wanted to try to make it happen. It’s funny; in the early days we thought that we could get a record deal in six weeks, because of who we had been with and because of the few people we knew in the industry. We thought, “Hey, we’re writing these great songs, we played with Zappa and UK, and we’ll have no problems.” Little did we know that it was the beginning of the serious crunch in the music industry, and people who we were giving tapes to one week were literally no longer there the next week when we went back to see how they liked them. No one had any money. No one was willing to take a risk on anything new. The whole musical taste of America was in an upheaval. No one knew how it was really going to turn out.
It was a very difficult time, and yet that was one of the most beneficial situations that we could have been in, because we had to go out and make it happen on our own. We started taking control. We realized that, if we didn’t do things ourselves, they weren’t going to get done. We ceased looking for a father figure in the guise of a manager or record company who would come along and say, “You’re good little kids, and you have good little ideas. We’ll fill in all the blanks and turn you into the stars you think you can be.” Record companies don’t have that kind of imagination. So we just worked from scratch. We found an alternative that was valid enough to allow us to compete with the groups who have the whole music industry machine behind them, and all kinds of money and behind-the-scenes talent helping them develop their careers.
That’s basically what we did for ourselves. We pressed up our own EP, released it through a tipsheet called Album Network, and took out a little ad. It was played on 22 stations nationwide, and went to Number One on three of them. The end result was that we sold 10,000 copies, and from there we started to play around town to promote the record. We went from playing 40 seats at the Valley West to selling out the Santa Monica Civic, which is 4,000 seats, without a record company. We did it all on our own—putting up the little posters, lugging in the equipment ourselves, and covering the stage in plastic. I was designing little neon florescent sculptures to decorate the stage. Dale was designing the outfits. Warren was playing his little non-existent guitar, which had a body made out of a Vox Cry Baby wah-wah pedal! The dimensions were approximately 4″ x 8″, and it looked essentially like a guitar neck with no body! I was playing RotoToms and sticking the drums all the way up front like a lead guitarist would. All these things started to pay off. We developed a huge following and basically created a situation that couldn’t be ignored by the record companies. It gave them a feeling that the band was going to happen whether they were going to be involved in it or not. So then they signed us and the rest is history.
In the spring of 1982, we recorded Spring Session M. We released it in the fall of ’82, and toured all through the beginning of ’83. Then we took the latter part of ’83 off to relinquish ourselves from any managerial and production situations we had prior to this. We’ve now taken complete control of the band. Dale is acting as spokesperson and manager of the band. I, along with Missing Persons, produced Rhyme & Reason with Bruce Swedien, who engineered Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Basically, we’ve taken everything under our own wing and gone for it from there. I think the result has been great. It’s, once again, a real growing experience where we’ve expanded and kind of blossomed into a multimedia entity rather than a rock band of individual musicians.
RM: How much time are we talking about from when you quit UK and started Missing Persons, to the time when you got your record deal with Capitol?
TB: About two years.
RM: You’ve been quoted frequently as saying that one of the things you learned from Zappa is that you’ve got to get up every day and hit it. Two years is a lot of days to get up and hit it. Did you ever wake up any of those days and think, “It sure would be easy to get back in a band and be paid a salary again”? Did you ever have a doubt?
TB: Never that kind of a doubt. There were definitely days when I got up and was very depressed, after having been rejected by several record companies and maybe feeling the backlash of people I had played with before who didn’t really understand the direction I was going in with Missing Persons. They didn’t understand that, just because I had played certain kinds of music in the past, those types of music weren’t necessarily what I was all about, and when it came time for me to write some music, I wouldn’t copy the Brecker Brothers, or UK, or Frank Zappa. Those things can make one depressed at times, but that’s when you learn to pick yourself up and just “give again,” as the song says. A lot of our songs are autobiographical. They’re the realism of Missing Persons—the following of dreams; the journey and adventure that your dreams take you on; the giving of yourself over and over again just to be able to have the opportunity to give more, because that’s really all that success is. It enables you to keep doing what you’re doing.
Yeah, there were days; there were a lot of days when it was really rough. What can you do? You just get up and try to move on. You have to think positively. It would have been easy to go with a band. I had offers from Jethro Tull, from Eddie Jobson, who wanted to continue with UK, George Duke & Stanley Clarke, and all kinds of bands.
RM: Didn’t Zappa offer?
TB: Yeah, Frank even offered to take me back, and Warren as well. Within weeks after we formed the band, Frank called Warren and said, “I’m going out on the road. Come down to rehearsal.” Warren was completely shocked because we really hadn’t made the transition of being a band yet. Warren went down to that rehearsal, but he realized he didn’t belong there. He belonged with us. There’s a fantastic chemistry between myself, Warren, and Dale, and Patrick and Chuck as well. We stuck it out. We knew that, if we made the stand, it would pay off in the long run. What have you got to gain by just continuing on? I had already probably gone as far as I could go being a drummer with UK, or having lan Anderson want me, as much as I respect him, and George Duke & Stanley Clarke, who from my earlier jazz influences were always heroes to me. When those guys call up and say, “Come out on the road,” or something, of course you feel a twinge of doubt, but it’s the satisfaction of saying, “This is mine. Nobody is responsible for this but me. If you don’t like it, talk to me. If you do like it, talk to me.” You can’t exchange that for anything.
It’s just positive thinking. You have to keep projecting that you will be there. Whatever you dwell on long enough, use your powers of concentration on, dedicate yourself to and persist at, you will bring to fruition. I suppose it’s a holdover from the early days when I practiced. There was nobody twisting my arm to practice six to eight hours a day. I just did it because that’s what I wanted. I was very inspired by the likes of very spiritual musicians like John Coltrane, and the dedication and discipline that they showed to their art. It doesn’t always have to be as narrow as just playing the drums or developing stick control technique and things like that. You can take that same attitude and diversify. That’s really what’s happening with Missing Persons. It’s sort of a renaissance — an omni-directional expansion in all kinds of different avenues with art, drawing, designing, and now inventing a new drumset, and all these other things—songwriting, composition, lyricism.
RM: You’re definitely more than just the drummer in the band.
TB: But you know, it all gets down to what I am as a person, or what I believe in, or whatever spiritual entity is working through me and allows me to be the vehicle that these things come out of. It just comes down to the fact that, if I believe it, I can make it happen. There’s definitely a power to tap into there, and anyone can really do it who believes in it.
RM: A lot of people hear things like that and try it for a little while, but then they run into days of discouragement. At that point, if you’ve got a viable alternative like a good gig that somebody else is offering, it’s too easy to go with that and not follow your own thing.
TB: I’m very lucky to have Warren and Dale, because Dale is a virtual fount of this kind of positive energy and Warren is great too. I lean on them and they lean on me. We hold each other up through these kinds of times and build each other up.
Life is a rollercoaster—my mother sent me an article about that one time—and any artist lives on that rollercoaster. You just have to remember that when you’re going down, all that momentum is going to send you back up to the next dizzying height. That’s just the way it is. There are always going to be ups and downs, but if you keep plugging, you’ll get there.
RM: I guess the reason I’m bringing this up is that, from a distance, your life has had sort of a fairy-tale quality. Some people could look at that and just see the surface things.
TB: Oh, they do.
RM: Fresh-faced kid comes from San Francisco, wins the Zappa audition, makes records with Zappa and the Brecker Brothers, replaces Bill Bruford in UK, starts his own band, makes more records, has videos on MTV.
TB: Just like falling down steps.
RM: I guess I’m curious about the aspects of your career that weren’t on view.
TB: Definitely a lot of work went in to it — a lot of work. The responsibility we take on is not what your normal band takes on—being responsible for the production, every little part, every little arrangement. I write 60% of the music, the lyrics, the arrangements, almost all of the keyboard parts and a lot of the guitar parts. This kind of responsibility deepens one. You have to face those kinds of problems if you really want to be responsible for what your end result is going to be, right down to the lyrics and the effect. Whether we want to or not, we’re having a huge effect on people and we are influencing them. Therefore, we feel this responsibility to make sure that the little hook line they’re singing over and over in their heads and are being subliminally brainwashed by is something that is realism at its best. It should not lead them on any fairy tales. Instead, it should help them in life. We don’t want to preach or lay any trips on anyone. It’s still basically about entertainment, fun and self-expression, but if you read the lyrics, you know they can help you.
RM: They’re very positive.
TB: It’s a very positive approach.
RM: And yet, you’re not just viewing the world through rose-colored glasses, either. Take “Words,” for example, which says that nobody listens anymore.
TB: That was just an obvious cynicism that most people can relate to. Somewhere along the line, they’re going to run into that and they’re going to be able to relate that to their own life experience. That’s another thing, too: A lot of the songs are really designed to relate on multiple levels to one’s individual experiences. There are kinds of blanks written into the music that listeners can fill in with their imaginations—that they can relate to on their own personal level which we hadn’t thought of. For instance, “Destination Unknown” became an anti-nuclear theme song in Australia. That’s the last thing we thought of when we wrote that song. We had these radio stations calling us and saying, “These marchers are demonstrating against nuclear power plants and the nuclear bomb, and they’re using your song.” They related heavily to “Destination Unknown.” We had just written it on a spiritual, personal, daily life basis of not knowing what’s around the next corner.
Any song I write takes on a whole new meaning when the band takes it out of my mind and it becomes something that’s actually realized by the band. It can then turn into something that’s much farther along than what I had originally intended. It can just quadruple and turn into a great and wonderful thing. I once got a fan letter saying, “This song has helped me. I was going to commit suicide.” Indirectly we possibly saved somebody’s life by just putting out this one little positive thought and it snowballed. Anything can happen. That goes for preparing you for the tough days too, because things can go wrong as well. You have to have the strength of your convictions to deal with those days.
RM: It must be very sobering to hear that your song saved someone’s life.
TB: Yeah, it was pretty interesting. I was just happy. That is a pretty sober thought, but that was just one in a million letters—all kinds of people read in many wonderful things to what we’ve done.
RM: Have you ever experienced the other side to that—somebody totally misinterpreting what you’ve done?
TB: I think a lot of people have been very superficial in their view of us. They can’t get past Dale’s blond hair and Plexiglas fishbowl tops. That’s ridiculous. All of my musician followers know what’s going on. They hear the intricacies in the music and they know the depth, because they’re a little bit more sensitive. I think, in general, that our audience is pretty intelligent. They’re intuitive enough to know that this is not just image without substance. There is depth: some great musicians, great playing, great recordings, great sound, great projection, wonderful imagery, and very artistic, free self-expression. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t look deep enough. They aren’t willing to take the extra step or make the extra effort to see what’s going on here. Maybe that’s because the first few songs that gathered attention, like “I Like Boys,” “Mental Hopscotch,” “Walking In L.A.”—songs like that—were pretty tongue-in-cheek. They weren’t meant to be taken seriously. There was no big statement there. They were entertainment. Maybe they didn’t read the lyrics on “U.S. Drag” or see some of the more meaningful lyrical statements that were on our first album. But it seems that a lot of critics really like Rhyme & Reason. They realize we are trying to do something. We are coming from a good space and trying to stand for something good that doesn’t sacrifice strength. We’re not really trying to preach or lay any heavy trips on any- one, but there’s something there that you can believe in and sink your teeth into.
RM: Have you become more conscious of your position as one who influences youth?
TB: Yeah, obviously, after having kids turn up at the shows dressing like us and imitating us, and even seeing bands that are now coming up in the wake of Missing Persons that have last year’s Missing Persons’ hairdos, and who cop a lot of little motifs that we used in our videos, or tactics that we used in the early days—you know, plastic and florescent lights. There are millions of things. One realizes that, whether you want to or not, you are having an effect on someone, so you better speak from your heart and make sure that what you say is true, or else it’s going to go awry.
RM: Zappa is sometimes criticized for the kind of influence he might have on young people, due to some of his language and the subject matter of some of the songs. You were a part of all of that. Do you have any reflections on it?
TB: I think that Frank is misconceived by a lot of people. I think one should first achieve the age of reason before experiencing Frank’s music. I just see it as incredibly humorous. But then, he says a lot of truthful, heavy things that need to be said. A lot of it’s not to certain people’s tastes; maybe it’s a little too risque, or a little too gross, or a little too true! Personally, I love Frank. I know him a little bit better than the average person on the street, and I know he’s really a great person in his heart. He’s got a lot of strength and a lot of wisdom. He’s very intelligent. He’s helped me and a lot of other people with their lives. I’m certainly no one to speak for Frank Zappa; he can speak for himself. I’m not ashamed of anything I have done with him. It was what he wanted and what I was paid to do. In that respect, the role I was playing was more that of an actor and a player—an orchestra member. He would throw composed music at me and I would play that music note for note, or a lot of times, he would give me space to contribute my little creative efforts to the whole. I’m grateful for that experience. Realistically, it was not my self-expression. Obviously, that has come to light now that I’m in Missing Persons and I’m doing what is 100% mine. It is completely different from what Frank would say or do. That’s where one gets into the individualistic properties of human beings on this planet. We’re all different. We all have our little expression. It’s all beautiful; it’s all valid.
RM: I respect Zappa a lot, but sometimes I’ve looked around at the audience at his concerts, and I’ve wondered if some of these kids are taking certain things too seriously. I’ve also wondered about the ones who show up completely wrecked.
TB: You can’t be completely responsible for the effect that you are going to have on someone. There are people who are superficial—who cannot see through the glaze of the rock ‘n’ roll image and persona, and all that folklore. They think that what it’s all about is to get high and jam. That is not what it’s about. That’s not how you get anywhere. They have no idea about that. That’s why I’m so candid in my interviews. I tell everybody exactly what we’ve done to get from point X to point Y to point Z. It’s not because I think the y should do that; believe me, there are a million ways to achieve the same end and you have to find your own way. It’s just that a lot of people in the rock audience do not have a clue as to what’s really going on. They’re just content to get high and go to a concert, and not see past the light show, someone shaking his fist in the air, and the amount of decibels. All those things are well and good. They’re all part of it, but that’s not all there is to life. There are a lot more important things.
I think Frank has always been very misunderstood in that direction. He’s a guy who has never taken a drug in his life, hardly drinks a drop, and he’s the most serious workaholic and genius that I’ve ever had the experience of meet- ing. He’s really done wonderful things in his life—writing scores, being commissioned by the Paris Chamber Symphony Orchestra con- ducted by Pierre Boulez. That’s a serious achievement, let alone the 50-million albums he’s done, how great a guitar player he is, what a wonderful family man he is, and everything else. He’s a real achiever. People don’t know that. They see the imagery. They get caught up in the entertainment and they take that at face value, rather than looking a little bit deeper, which is sad for them. I don’t think all his audience does that. But, as in every band’s audience, there is certainly an amount of individuals who just don’t look deep enough.
RM: I guess the question is, how do you balance trying to be responsible? You have the two extremes of receiving a letter from someone whose life you may have saved, but also look out in the audience and see someone who is wrecked and who is dressed like you are.
TB: I don’t know. There are a lot of people who come to see the spectacle, but they probably wouldn’t come a second time if there was no substance, and there is that substance. They get more out of it than just the spectacle. But, on the other hand, why would people want to cover their eyes to the spectacle? It’s a wonderful thing. Art and visualizations of imageries are great mediums. I think that, as long as we’re clear about those things in whatever statements we make and what we’re saying lyrically, there will not be a mistake about it. I can’t go out there and stop every kid who wants to come to one of our concerts from doing that. But I will go on record as saying that none of us take any drugs. Missing Persons did not happen accidentally, and we wish that everyone wouldn’t take those drugs.
Our audiences, I would say, are fairly drug free. They’re also well behaved and they have a great respect for what we’re doing. A lot of them realize the depth of musicianship that’s going on up there and respect that it’s more than just a spectacle. Our die-hard fans really know what’s going into the band, what’s behind it, what we’re talking about in interviews, what we stand for and what we’re doing with our lives. I think that we’re making a very positive statement and I think that our fans are positive people who can relate to that.
RM: Moving on to your drumming, Ed Mann once described your style as “Every note I play will be the last thing I’m remembered for.”
TB: [laughs] I guess he means I have a lot of conviction.
RM: That’s how I interpreted it. The picture that went through my mind when he said that was seeing you with Zappa, and you were literally jumping off your seat with each backbeat. There are things on Rhyme & Reason where it doesn’t sound as if you’re laying into the drums the same way. It’s the same chops and yet a different texture—more finesse, maybe.
TB: I don’t know. Possibly it’s just my growth and development. We did try to make this album much better sounding than any record that we have ever done. It’s sort of a combination of a myriad of sounds. It’s Simmons triggering Linn, digital sounds blended with the analog electronics, my Paiste cymbals and some Tama drums and some Roto Toms—all kinds of stuff blended together in there to make the sum of what it is. I’m really happy with the album. It’s exactly what I wanted. It’s possibly more polished than the other albums that we had done before, and that has to do with the production and with Bruce’s engineering. He’s the best engineer in the world and he has a knack for capturing our sound.
Missing Persons makes everything work by developing an identity. Each of us develops a little part of the arrangement that has an identity all its own—that in and of itself stands up—and you could listen to that and gain enjoyment, satisfaction, and possibly be captured by it, just by itself. Hence all the little guitar lines, and all the textures from the synthesizers. There are millions of little parts going on, and they’re all interwoven. If you don’t have an engineer like Bruce Swedien who can take that dense a track and make each part audible, it turns into a soup and kind of a mush. That cleanliness, that precision, that pristine quality is something that we went for on this record.
Possibly it’s also just part of the electronic sound. One does associate the sound of electronic drums with drum machines, and the machines that had heretofore played them. Therefore, one has to play a little bit more mechanically. One has to be a little bit more careful of the time. You can’t be as loose, because if you are, it just sounds wrong, like a machine with a broken wire. So that’s possibly where the difference comes from. That, once again, gets into the seven veils of Missing Persons. You don’t really get the whole impact unless you see the band live, hear the music, read the lyrics, talk to us in inter- views, and see the videos. Each thing is a totally different art form. You don’t get the full impact unless you experience all those things. When I play live, it is still my same technique.
RM: I was listening to the drum parts and thinking, “This guy’s not just sitting there playing a beat. This is actually an arranged part of the song.”
TB: Right. We have just solidified our sheet music deal. This year there should be some Missing Persons songbooks coming out. They will have every iota of every arrangement on there. The same kind of perfection you get from the production and everything else we do, we’ll put into that endeavor as well. It’s yet another aspect. We’ll be making sure that all those little guitar parts, keyboard parts, bass parts and vocal inflections—as much as we can write out some of the strange things that Dale does—and my drum parts will all be written out.
We all try to do something that stretches the traditional roles of the instrument. We’re not a traditional rock band in the sense that we have the drummer keeping “the beat,” the bass player playing the root notes, the rhythm guitar player playing chords, and the lead guitar player holding back until his little place to improvise freely over the chord changes. None of that is inherent in Missing Persons’ music. It’s more like we’ve tried to get away from the traditional roles of the drums, the bass, the guitar, and the synthesizer. All these little things are used more in concepts deal- ing with textures, colors and melodic expression, but while still holding down a corner of the function that needs to be held down. The beat has got to be there or else people are not going to relate to it. So the beat is there, but there’s all this other stuff too that musicians are interested in. Yet, on the other hand, it’s never something that people can’t relate to on every level. In other words, you don’t have to be a musician to appreciate Missing Persons, but if you area musician, you appreciate Missing Persons even more. It’s that kind of approach from the guitar as well. Warren has never played guitaristic lines. And I write most of the keyboard parts. That kind of approach—whatever my approach is, from majoring in music, from my com- positional development and from whatever I’ve developed over the years—is not the way a keyboard player per se would come in and play a part that would fit in the Missing Persons sound. It’s a very intermodified and intricate reweaving and revitalization of the traditional roles.
RM: Ken Scott told us that for Spring Session M. you came in and, without even a reference track, laid down all of the drum parts straight through. He was remarking that he wasn’t even splicing things. You played it from start to finish and had it down. Did you do the same thing on Rhyme & Reason?
TB: No. Rhyme & Reason was a different variation on the same approach. What I had done before I was able to do because I wrote all the music and had worked out all these parts, but this time, just in working with Bruce, his techniques were a little different. So what we would do was either put a LinnDrum track down, or play with the LinnDrum track and the whole band at first. I just played my drum part down, then immediately bass, guitar, keyboard and rough vocals were put on, so we had a general idea of what the whole song was going to sound like from square one. If we had kind of fumbled in the dark with layer upon layer, when we got to the end we might have found that there was no room left for the best part, which we were saving to put on last.
This was a great way to work, because we really knew pretty much where we stood with a track from day one. Hence, we used the LinnDrum, the Drumulator and sync tracks. We had two 16 tracks and a 24 track all synced up together. The way we worked would allow each individual player to come in and fill up a whole reel of tape that could then be bounced down to a work track on yet another reel. Say it was all drums: That would all be bounced down to one track of drums on a fresh reel of 16-track tape, which, by the way, has 30% more oxide per track to get a much fatter sound. Then Warren would come in and fill up 16 tracks of guitar—not cluttering the tracks, but allowing us to put on the parts we had envisioned, because we worked everything out in preproduction. For two months, we wrote all this music. I don’t think a note of it changed when we went into the studio. We just went for the best sounds and the best performances.
We don’t leave anything to chance while we’re in the studio. If wonderful things happen, well and good, but otherwise we’re pretty well prepared. Then Warren would have the opportunity to record tracks in stereo—again a beefier sound, a more high-quality sound for whatever part was there. That was the wonderful difference. You have all these tracks being utilized and these three machines humming, purring, and talking to each other, totally in sync. It was just a great way to work. Little by little, rather than being surprised with a new part, we were surprised by what a great sound we could get, and how this sound was so much better than the rough version we put down live. It was being built from that standpoint, rather than kind of like building a wall without first knowing how high you’re going to go, and knowing that there’s a tree in the way that may prevent you from building it any higher. A track can only get so thick. Before you know it, the three frequency ranges you’re dealing with—high, mid and low—are going to get cluttered up with one sound source or another, and pretty soon they’ll start to step on each other’s toes. That, of course, can be a wonderful effect, as in the case of heavy metal and guitar distortion and room ambience and stuff, or it can be a devastating effect. On this record, we wanted to have that clarity.
RM: Were any of the Linn tracks used on the final mix?
TB: Yeah, all kinds of things were used. I have no qualms about saying I used the LinnDrum. I think it’s great, and I think any drummer who thinks it’s stupid is being trivial and not very farsighted at all. This is a wonderful machine that was invented to help a drummer. In the old days, I couldn’t stand going into the studio and doing track after track trying to get the right track all by myself. I would try to make sure that I didn’t breathe wrong or didn’t adjust my seat in the middle of a hi-hat beat, because that could put a little dent in the time feel, and I would have to live with that dent every time I heard it on the radio. I know exactly what I want, so why not program it and have the machine do it? Of course, I’ve worked it out live. There’s no problem with me playing it and executing it when we go on the road. But here’s this great machine that saves hundreds of thousands of dollars in studio time by making it possible to get it perfect right then. It’s no different from the way I would want to play it if I could play it perfectly. Depending on what the circumstances are, I may not be able to play it perfectly on a certain day. It also frees me up for working with the sound, which is so important. Once I’ve gotten the idea for what the part should be, the sound is everything. It’s no longer some vague kind of thing hanging in the ether that one calls “the feel.” It’s different than that. Of course, feel and all these other things are definitely valid, but to me the LinnDrum is a very valid instrument.
I worked on this album just about every way you could work. There are acoustic rims, toms, percussion, timbales and my Paiste cymbals, including the double cymbals with the little bells. Stuff like that was all stuck in there. Then we had the Simmons drums going into the trigger-in of the Linn, and the digital recordings of real tom-toms that are available in the LinnDrum. I’ve had some special chips blown for my own sounds. Blending those together gives the Simmons a little bit of a transient and a warmth that maybe they don’t have by themselves. Then there were straight-ahead analog Simmons electronic sounds that I tried very hard to be subtle with and sophisticated with—not to make them be the Syndrums of the ’80s. I didn’t want to be too obtuse with those sounds, because that’s something that one has to be careful with. But then that’s the beauty of electronic devices. They all really have— just like an old snare drum or a K. Zildjian cymbal—their identity and character, and they can do something that nothing else can do. Like the Mini-Moog, for instance, has a great, warm, fat bass sound and those oscillators cannot be duplicated by any of the newer synthesizers that can do other wonderful things. You have things that can be done on a Prophet V that other machines can’t do. They all have their own little identities. You learn where the flavor is—what you can get out of an electronic device and how it’s going to really perform at its peak—how to get the optimum results out of it. With all these things working together, I’ve been able to come up with this sound.
Of course, I can recreate it live on my new drumset, which basically is a dream come true. It’s like a bad dream that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe might have had when trying to design a drumset. It’s influenced by the Bauhaus architects and their furniture, and it’s sculpturally coming from that kind of space. It’s also coming from the minimalism idea—smoothness of line and the minimal amount of structure to keep the function happening. Therefore, I have one bar in front of me that’s comparable to the whole drumset that I used to have. It was a big, giant drumset, and I had to reach way the heck over my right shoulder, lean back and get off balance to play the floor tom, and then way the hell over on the left side to hit a crash cymbal. All those things are now brought within three feet. The individual pads have three sound sources on them, or more in many cases, which are extensions of a normal drum. I’ve got an outer rim that has a transducer in it, a pad playing surface that has a transducer in it, and then a near rim that has a transducer in it. Say a certain pad would be a tom-tom: The far rim might be a stick-across-a-rim sound—kind of a very clicky, sticky sound—then the pad itself would have the normal tom-tom sound, and the near rim would have a rimshot sound. The same thing happens with the cymbals. Suppose I want a bell on top, a ping sound on the pad, and then a crash sound on the near rim. Anything I would want can happen. I simply record whatever sounds I want, have them transferred from analog audio tape into digital information, save it on a disk, and by calling up the memory, I’m able to have whatever drumset I want wherever I want it on this set.
I haven’t got the computer end of it worked out yet; I’ve got some business deals I really can’t talk about that may be in the offing on that. But what I’m doing initially is using it to trigger my Simmons drums, and it’s also wired to trigger two units that have 16 channels of whatever digital chips I want to put in there, called the J.L. Cooper Sound Chest.
RM: How many different sounds do you have in that kit at any one time?
TB: It’s basically 32 sounds, but 14 of those sounds are coupled with Simmons sounds. Then each one of those sounds has four different Simmons presets, if I so desire. So that’s where it gets kind of com- plicated. But at any one time, I can have 32 different sounds happening. I’ve got the toms, the kick and snare, four of the cymbals and the hi-hats doubled with the Simmons. My hi-hat pedal is a combination of the Simmons hi-hat, which uses a photo cell to close the sound, and the J.L. Cooper pedal, which is a simple switch closure. Both are built into my hi-hat pedal to work simultaneously. I also have my own digital percussion sounds, which I recorded in the studio: bells, gongs, cowbells, etc.
One thing I might add that I think a lot of drummers might be sort of caught up in is this: One of the things that the Simmons people rave about is the ability to have a variety of preset drum sounds when you go on stage. But you know, in a live situation, that’s really an unpractical thing because the house mixer EQ’s for one good sound and that’s the sound that’s going to work in that hall. If you change sounds for every song, that’s really going to leave your sound engineer in kind of an awkward position, because what sounds good to you through your playback system isn’t exactly what is being heard out in the house and it isn’t exactly what works in the whole mix. So the capability to have a lot of different sounds isn’t necessarily a great attribute for a live performance. In a lot of ways, it can be kind of a hinderance.
My situation was just going for the sound that I really wanted. I got it in the studio and put it in there. If I want to change from tour to tour, from week to week, or whatever, I can do that by putting in different chips, but to change from song to song really throws the mixer a curve. I could end up with really valuable parts of my drumkit, like my kick and snare, being absent from the mix, by changing.
RM: Are you ever changing any of the 32 sounds from song to song?TB: No, but I do have an effects rack. I really had a lot of problems with that on the tour. It went back to L.A. about four times. All kinds of little quirky things would happen with it, but I finally got all the little quirks out of it electronically. I had to determine how hard I could hit the thing because the transients that would come off the kit would be really intense and they tended to fry it. So, I got my levels all straightened out on that and now it’s working wonderfully!
I have a Korg digital delay—a great little ‘ digital delay that has nine different presets and I can get anything from flange or chorus phasing to real funny, almost vocoder-type sounds out of it. I also have a ring modulator and a device called a VCF that’s used to achieve sample and hold types of filtering effects, as well as phasers and pitch transposers. I can kick those in and out at appropriate moments.
RM: There’s no end to the possibilities, I guess.
TB: Yeah, it’s wide open.
RM: Since all of your pads look the same, how long did it take you to memorize which pad was which sound?
TB: Well, it was something I really didn’t have to memorize, because I took the visual layout of my normal drumset and just condensed everything. It’s exactly the same layout but in a smaller format. So in essence, it was no big deal. I did feel a little bit of awkwardness when I first started playing the Simmons. It was just 14 of these black pads there and it was hard knowing what was what. So I just put them in the position that they used to be in, and after a while, I knew what they were.
RM: An interesting quality that those add is a sense of mystery. With a regular drumset, you can look at it and pretty much know what sounds the drummer has to choose from. But when I saw Missing Persons live, I never quite knew what sound was going to come out of your kit next.
TB: Yeah, I guess that’s part of the magic. A lot of people are quite freaked out by that because it’s almost like looking at a keyboard if you aren’t a piano player— what note means what?—or like looking at a typewriter keyboard if you’re not a typist. For me, it was really nothing. I’ve got my five toms, and the snare and the other little sounds laid out in the most logical fashion, just as if I had set up an acoustic set. After a few weeks of dealing with it, you just know where everything is. You get that mental, visual image. It’s actually a lot easier to play than any other drumset because you don’t have to lose your balance. You don’t have to reach that far and throw your timing off or anything like that.
Having a pad that’s about 4″ x 6″ is really not a problem for me, because I’ve been very disciplined in my practice as far as my aim is concerned. Plus, there’s not a rim separating the pads to get hung up on, so I can play really fast. I can do all kinds of things that were hitherto physically very demanding and/or impossible.
The other thing is that I designed a bass drum pedal with Wayne Yentis and Arndt Anderson, who fabricated it and also did some of the engineering design work. Our pedal uses sort of a cam action, and is no bigger than, say, a wah-wah pedal. It has a striker that feels very light and very fast, that hits a transducer. So no more bass drum!
The pedals have just been a dream. They were broken at one point, and for two days on the tour I played the old pedals, which triggered Simmons pads. It was just like going back to the Stone Age. These new pedals are just so light, and so responsive, and so fast. They’re just fantastic. The thing I really can’t wait for is, in a few years, when kids start to play them, they’re not going to have to go through the muscular aches and pains that I had to go through to try to play fast. Their ideas are going to be able to come forward more easily and they’re not going to be impeded by technique. With my pedals, it’s effortless to play really fast and really accurately. I believe I will be manufacturing and marketing them in the near future.
RM: Even though you used a combination of acoustic and electronic drums on Rhyme & Reason, you only used your electronic set on the tour.
TB: In most cases, when you talk about amplifying and electrifying music over a public address system, the best way to go is with direct electronics. You get less leakage. It’s like the difference between playing a tape at a concert, and when the band comes on, all the clarity goes right out the window because all these things are kind of muddling within each other. You’ve got drums leaking into the lead vocalist’s mic’ and the cymbals leaking into the bass drum mic’s, and all these problems that are kind of a nightmare and don’t make for a very clear sound in concert. Those problems as well as feedback problems are all eliminated with electronic drums.
RM: Do you think that acoustic drums and cymbals are on the way out?
TB: No, I think they’re like God almighty: They’ve always been and they always will be. [laughs] There’s nothing that can replace the energy—the primitive, raw expression—that one gets from playing acoustic drums and acoustic cymbals. It’s a beautiful thing in and of itself, but so are electronics, and that just happens to be what I’m dealing with now. Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll throw it all away and go back to acoustic drums. I don’t know, but I’m certainly not going to limit myself in any way, shape or form.
RM: I sometimes wonder if we’ll ever reach the point where the only reason they will make acoustic drums and cymbals will be just for that brief moment it takes to record the sounds digitally and put them into a machine.
TB: I doubt it. There are so many wonderful sculptural aspects to a drumset, and such energy that comes off it. A lot of drummers will go to a club or a concert, and they’ll just sit there and admire the drumset—how one cymbal goes up high on this side, and how maybe the toms are at this strange angle. There is really a lot of satisfaction to that, and there is a lot of aggression and energy that comes straight off that, which goes beyond the audio range. That obviously has fallen short in electronics, but there is a whole other beauty in electronics. I’ve always been the kind of player who can be demonstrative, so I can put out those vibrations myself. The electronic drumset enables me to be seen even more and to get that energy across uninhibited even more.
The end result of all of this is something that I’ve pioneered from day one: You have a drummer out there who is visible for all the world to see—to put any kind of personal expression into the music visually. Drummers shouldn’t have to be hidden behind this barrage of cymbals and tom-toms and bass drums, which kind of inhibits all that energy and action from getting across to the audience. That’s something I’ve always kind of stood for. I’ve always thought drummers should have that connection and should be able to get their visual image across. Now they can do that.
RM: When you’re playing, how much of the jumping up and so forth is visual, and how much of it is actually related to your playing?
TB: That’s a hard question. It’s not something that’s contrived, but I don’t really know what it ultimately does if you aren’t looking at me. It’s just my expression. That’s how much I feel it.
RM: Do you look the same way playing in the studio as on stage?
TB: Obviously not. When you reach for those kinds of extremes, you sacrifice control. Control is something that can be sacrificed for emotion and excitement in a live performance situation, but not in the studio. One has to temper oneself a little bit, because if I were to stand up and sit down, who knows what that would sound like with live mic’s. And of course, the time might suffer a little bit. Maybe it wouldn’t. Who knows? I just never felt that way in the studio. There’s something about the interaction between a live audience and a performer that pushes my limits beyond what I would do in a studio.
RM: I’m wondering if people could be misled when they see some of your physical gestures and might get the idea that you’re actually using your whole body to hit a drum.
TB: Well, in essence I am. You can’t deny that energy. It’s there and that wind up has definitely got something to do with the end result, which is what’s communicated to the audience.
RM: Drummers who play hard have com- plained about wrist and arm pains from hitting the original Simmons pads. What are your pads made of?
TB: Some are steel; some are aluminum; some are bulletproof plastic.
RM: Have you had any physical problems from laying into your pads the way you do?
TB: Knowing how to hit a drum correctly is one of the things I learned from my teacher, Chuck Brown, up in the Bay Area, which I’m really grateful for. I couldn’t see it at the time, but he made me spend a lot of hours studying the physics of the arm, the biology involved and what actually is going on, and training me to release upon impact so that all of that ten- sion is not absorbed in tendons in the arm, wrist, elbow or fingers. There’s a release when I hit.
It goes back to something as simplistic as Elmer Fudd in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, chasing Bugs Bunny through a petrified forest, taking out his ax and going “Whack,” the bunny ducking, and Elmer Fudd striking a petrified tree—all that vibration and “Boooooong”—and possibly he cracks and crumbles to bits and pieces, [laughs] That, in essence, is what’s going to happen if you don’t release upon impact. So as much as I crank up and whack something, there’s a follow-through and a release so all of that energy goes back the other way. My fingers are loosened so that the stick can rebound and come back up ready to be pushed down again.
That whole period of my life really trained me for what’s happening now, indirectly and unbeknownst to Chuck or myself, because we didn’t know that drums would take on that aspect. But then again, a cymbal has always been a very hard thing, a hi-hat has been a very ungiving thing, and rimshots, which I use a lot of, have always been a very nongiving, nonspongy kind of thing. So, even if you play acoustic drums, you have to be aware of that. I feel sorry for so many people who I know have so many really bad physical problems from just playing normal drums, let alone the people who claim that they’ve had physical problems from playing Simmons. It’s not the fault of the Simmons. It’s the fault of improper technique and possibly not enough foresight to realize that’s what’s happening.
One has to take an open-minded approach in these areas. A lot of acoustic piano players, the first time they sat down at a Fender Rhodes, said, “Hey, I can’t play this. It doesn’t feel like a piano.” But then you have an artist and a genius like Herbie Hancock who never attempted to play a Fender Rhodes like an acoustic piano, but instead developed a concept and a style for expressing himself on that instrument that was never thought of before. He developed a whole new thing out of that—playing very sparsely and using that loose touch and that inarticulate kind of feel to the benefit of the music and the benefit of his expression. That’s what one has to do with electronic drums. You have to be open-minded enough and hopefully have a good enough teacher who is going to explain those kinds of things to you.
Even if you play acoustic drums, you have to know what you’re doing or else you’re going to ultimately hurt yourself. But when I market my drums, I think I’ll try to take that into consideration. For myself, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve practiced on very hard rubber pads because of Chuck Brown for years. I’ve worked with mirrors, making sure that the path of my stick was exactly straight, along with the most physically efficient way of getting the stick to go up and down according to the levers of the wrists and the elbow and the fingers. He taught me where the energy’s coming from, what the most efficient way of pressing the stick or bending your wrist or elbow is, and what’s going to really make the stroke pay off. Obviously, the quickest distance between two points is a straight line. So when one works that way, one learns how to play on practice-pad sets, hard rubber pads and tabletops, and it’s really no big thing to play on an electronic drumset. They are very unforgiving, however. If you flub, it’s noticeable.
There are other things you have to learn to deal with. Obviously, there’s only so much sensitivity inherent in one of those transducers. I would say that, if you go from one foot above the pad to three feet above the pad, it’s not going to get any louder. It’s all within one inch to one foot; that’s your dynamic range. So you have to limit yourself to that, unless you’re just trying to put across a visual emphasis that doesn’t have to come across audio-wise. But then again, I’m working on some things with that with Jim Cooper, the guy who built the Sound Chest. The dynamic curve will be logarithmic and it will be harder to get louder. The louder I get, the harder I’m going to have to hit to make it that little increment louder. That will be more in keeping with what acoustic drums feel like. Also, my pads are hard surfaces but are shock mounted on sponge, so they “give” when struck hard without sacrificing the sensitivity of the new “soft surfaced” drum pads.
RM: With Missing Persons, you play drums, you compose, you produce, and you are also knowledgeable about such things as art and design. I’ve often felt that some musicians become so involved with just their instruments that they end up being one-dimensional.
TB: I wouldn’t trade anything I’ve ever learned—any experience good or bad— because all these experiences help some- how. They make up the sum total of what you are. Drummers do tend to get a little bit narrow-minded, but I think once they grow in life, they realize that life is a very manifold thing. They’ll go through a renaissance, diversify, take in other energies and other influences, and apply those energies they’ve concentrated in that one narrow field to other areas. If they keep their minds open, it can only help. I didn’t; that’s why I can say that. I was real close-minded.
RM: Can you be specific?
TB: Where music was concerned, if it wasn’t something like Miles Davis, John Coltrane or Igor Stravinsky, it was garbage. It had no validity whatsoever. Nobody but Tony Williams and Eric Gravatt meant anything to me. I don’t feel that way anymore. There are all kinds of expressions in life. I’m sure I was a real fool. I would make real technical, clinical comments about drummers, not realizing the beauty of what they had done. I was missing the whole point for one stupid little thing that I may have been obsessed with at one point in my life. It’s a mistake I hope anybody who reads this doesn’t make.
RM: Everybody goes through that. For example, there seems to be a whole generation of drummers that was influenced by Tony Williams. They all tell stories about trying to inflict his licks on whatever they were playing, whether it fit or not.
TB: I did the same thing. I got the gig with Azteca, but then after a while they kicked me out because I was just playing too busy. It’s just a phase, you know. I’m glad I went through it, because I learned so much by imitating Tony, but then you come to the point where you learn the techniques, not the licks. You can then form your own expression having the benefit of expanded technique. Then, those licks become less and less important to you. I think, more and more, your own self-expression and your own identity become important to you, more than anything else—more than how fast you can play. The thing you want to get across is what’s in your own soul.
RM: There’s an endless debate as to whether you should memorize other people’s solos. I once heard someone compare it to when you’re a child and you imitate the words your parents speak. At first you may not even know what some of those words mean, but that’s how you learn the language. Ultimately, you use those same words to express your own thoughts.
TB: Right. To me, a solo is a complete concept. Therefore, I would suggest that a whole solo would be the most appropriate way to learn. But you can break it down into the little words and letters—little notes that make up those statements. You can take a motif, analyze it and say, “Okay, this is a coordinated figure that deals with the interdependence between my left hand on the snare drum, my left foot on the hi-hat and my right foot on the bass drum.” You can then take those techniques and say, “Okay, fine. I don’t have to say the same little statement that Tony Williams or Elvin Jones said. I can make up my own utilizing those techniques and therefore develop my own style.” That’s what I always tried to do—to take just those techniques, and develop my own motifs and statements using those techniques. And then there are other techniques that one directly wants to ignore just to retain some identity. That’s a good thing too sometimes—not to imitate—because not everybody likes the same things.
RM: At one point, certain jazz drummers decided, “I am not going to play the hi-hat on 2 and 4 anymore.” They were trying to break away from what everyone else was doing.
TB: That’s why I decided not to play the ride cymbal anymore. Tony Williams said it all on the ride cymbal, [laughs] I’m trying to develop my own sounds and techniques.
RM: A lot of people are saying that we’re entering an age where technique isn’t really going to matter much anymore—that the only things that will be important are ideas.
TB: It’s already that way. Technique itself is an idea; it’s a concept. So it’s not that technique isn’t valid. It’s just that in the world of recorded music where the performer isn’t present, what makes the sound—the actual process—is no longer important. Ever since the LinnDrum was developed and the sequencers and computerized keyboards—even 24-track recording—it’s the end result and the effect that are important. In the old days, you had to really be able to play and get it in one take or else you were ousted. Now that’s no longer the case. You can go back and rework, and punch in, and overdub, and do any of that to get the point across. So that,in essence, is true, and it has been true for a long time.
RM: Do you feel that you no longer need all of the technique that you spent years developing?
TB: Personally, I wouldn’t go back and do anything differently. I’m glad that I learned how to play the drums. I’m glad that I can play an acoustic set and that I’ve developed all the technique that I’ve developed, because that’s part of what l am. But in the end result, which one is more valid? That’s really something that we’ll never know. It’s really a personal thing. It’s a matter of taste. I think that there are things equally as great as the best drummer who has ever played that are being programmed on drum machines by people who don’t even understand what a drumset is or how it works. I think, in that respect, that’s just as valid as people who spend all their lives learning how to master the art of drumming. But those are just two totally different fields that ultimately have the same result in recorded music.
In performance music, obviously, there’s really not much point in people going up there and standing by the drum machine that they so brilliantly programmed while it works out. That isn’t very exciting. On the other hand, to see someone really burn at the drumset is exciting. It is awe inspiring. It’s something worth watching—worth the price of a concert ticket.
RM: If you had children who wanted to do what daddy does, at this point would you buy them something like a little Remo PTS drumset and teach them how to use sticks, or would you buy them a Synsonics and start teaching them how to program patterns?
TB: I’d buy them both. I’d probably give them anything their little hearts desired. I don’t know; I’d probably spoil my kids. On the other hand, my father, who was a musician, didn’t allow me to play the drums. That sort of fueled the fire, I guess. His saying, “No, you can’t do this” made me more and more adamant about want- ing to play the drums. In the end, he gave in and got me the drumset, and I was really whipping; I really wanted to do it. I’ve had a lot of friends whose fathers gave them whatever the hell they wanted at any point in their lives and it didn’t really mean as much to them. But then there are kids who probably got it at age four, like Tony Williams, who became real monsters. So I would definitely get my kids a drumset—get them whatever they wanted. If they follow through with it, great. If not, there are other things to do in life besides play drums.
RM: You said a moment ago that you are glad that you learned to play acoustic drums. Would you try to influence your children at all if they didn’t want to learn to play real drums, but instead, just wanted to get the Synsonics and learn to press the buttons?
TB: That would all be well and good. I have great respect for bands like Kraftwerk. There is so much to great electronics. I think that that in itself is an art form. I would just let them do whatever they wanted to do. You can’t stop the progress of things like that. It’s like not letting your kid have a car because you rode a horse.
RM: Good comparison. I think that brings us up to the future. Is there anything you can say about future directions of you personally or Missing Persons as a group?
TB: It will be full of surprises because this past year has proven to us that we can do whatever we want, and we will continue to do whatever we want at whatever given time. That is a groove. It’s great to have that kind of freedom in life and to reach that point. As far as what I’m going to do as a drummer is concerned, I don’t know. I have feelings in both directions—the electronic and the acoustic kind of drumming—and I can do either or both. It would be great to do both if we had a big enough production budget. And as for the band, it’s pretty much wide open. Whatever we feel like at the time is what we will do. I think our audience respects us for that.
CLANDESTINE PEOPLE by Terry Bozzio
This is an example of a song in which the drum melodies came first. The guitar line and other parts were constructed around the drum beats, and then the lyrics (from a previously completed poem) were added last.
This beat was constructed to loosely imitate the rhythmic guitar line that Warren Cuccurullo wrote and plays in this song. The guitar plays through a digital delay which is set to play 16th notes to fill in the space between rhythms. My kick/snare/hi-hat pattern complements that.
RACING AGAINST TIME
This drum part came from a jam that Warren and I used to audition synth and bass players with because of its rhythmic complexity. Later, it became “Racing Against Time.”
THE CLOSER THAT YOU GET
This is my idea of a spacious and melodic tom fill. Tom fill in intro
This pattern was designed to work with the little synth/echo part in the verse.
A jocular example of “ambidextrous polyrhythmicry” using 3/4 over 4/4!