Paul Garisto joined the iconic post-punk band the Psychedelic Furs in late 1983 and remained with them until early 1988. After that initial run with the band, he toured and recorded the album Instinct with Iggy Pop, contributed to albums by Ryan Adams, Jesse Malin, Bree Sharp, and Depeche Mode singer David Gahan, and performed with Clarence Clemons, Shawn Colvin, and Martha Reeves, among many others. It’s been a varied and fruitful ride for the drummer, and a neat career path for the third-generation musician whose elders made their bones by filling a need for the many idiosyncratic players they backed on stage and in the busy New York recording studios.
Eight years ago Garisto rejoined the P-Furs, and his enthusiasm for the gig remains sincere and unabated. “My jaw dropped when I first heard the Furs,” Garisto gushes to Modern Drummer. “They were doing something very creative. They had a sound early on that I didn’t hear anywhere else.”
MD: What was your original audition like for the Psychedelic Furs?
Paul: I was subbing for Billy Idol’s drummer for two weeks, and the Furs decided they needed a drummer and held a cattle call of at least a hundred drummers in New York City. The band had just completed their Mirror Moves album. Keith Forsey—who’s a great drummer and had played on a few tracks—was Billy’s producer as well, and he passed my number to the Furs. At the auditions they played a mix of the record minus the drums, and the drummers had to play to these tracks they’ve never heard while the Furs sat in chairs watching. That was a first for me, but I love that kind of pressure. They had me come back, and Keith came down to that callback and said on the spot, “This is your guy.” I played for them for about five years, left, and came back seven or eight years ago.
MD: Original Furs drummer Vince Ely played some unusual parts. Like many early new-wave bands, the Furs were fairly famous for making it up as they went along.
Paul: Vince had great ideas and sounded fantastic on the early records. They’d put the drum parts down first and then overdub the hi-hats and cymbals. So it was challenging for me, for instance on tracks like “So Run Down.” I love that drum part. It’s got this little tom roll and an upbeat hi-hat. I had to figure out how to pull that off live: I play open-handed, with my left hand playing the hi-hat and my right hand playing the snare drum. I’m a righty, so it’s a little unnatural.
MD: How did you come to record and tour with Iggy Pop?
Paul: I was asked to play a benefit show. I wasn’t in a good frame of mind, and I didn’t feel I played very well that night, but a friend of mine came up to me after the show and said, “Iggy Pop is downstairs and he wants you to play with him.” It was two sentences: “You wanna play with me?” “Yeah, I definitely want to play with you!” The next thing I knew, I was in the studio with Iggy Pop, recording the Instincts album with Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols on guitar. Goes to show how important it is just to show up.
You know, with all these musicians and friends we’ve been losing over the years, I can’t stress enough how important it is to thank people. Iggy’s one guy I’d like to thank, because I was relatively young. I have a tendency to say what’s on my mind, and that can come back and bite me, especially when I was younger. I said some stuff in the studio that in hindsight it probably wasn’t my place to say. But he kept me, toured with me, and allowed me to be my young, ignorant self—and he’s a living legend. What else can I say but “thank you.”
MD: In 1983 you toured with the late Bruce Springsteen sax player Clarence Clemons.
Paul: Mr. Springsteen showed up at a couple of shows. He brought his mother to our show in Washington, D.C., and they didn’t know who he was at the door, so he paid them. When the doorman found out he’d just charged Bruce Springsteen and his mother to get into the show, he tried to give him his money back, but Bruce wouldn’t take it.
I didn’t know it at the time, but he was going to come on stage and play with us. We were in the middle of our set and I was looking down, fixing my drum or something in between songs, and all of a sudden I hear a roar of the crowd like I’ve never heard before, and I look up and there’s Bruce with his guitar on.
MD: Playing music is your family business, in a sense.
Paul: My grandfather Frank Garisto Sr. was a session violinist, guitarist, and banjo player who eventually became a rep for Local Musicians Union 802. My uncle Lou Garisto was a composer who wrote jingles. And my father, Frank Jr., was a studio session drummer in New York City. I didn’t have a choice. [laughs]
MD: One of the benefits of being your father’s son was that he introduced you, at a very young age, to many serious musicians, including Gary Chester. Besides being a successful session player, Gary wrote the highly influential drum method book The New Breed.
Paul: Gary was a session player who played on too many hits to list, and I was lucky to study with him for a couple of years. He was amazing. Gary taught me how to play to a click track, and he taught me about feel and playing in front of and behind the beat. I definitely needed to learn how to do that, because today 95 percent of the sessions I do, I’m playing to a click and trying to make it sound natural. And the way you do that is to push ahead in parts and get behind the click track in other parts, and try to let the music breathe.
MD: You have a great interest in restoring vintage drums. Has that had any unexpected effects on your career as a player?
Paul: It makes me want to play a different way, because each drum has a different feel. They all have positive and negative attributes, and I like the challenging aspect of getting an old drum into shape. I use them to record—I record for at least four hours every day when I’m home—and it excites me. I love the way they look. I think about the history, the people that made them and played them. I’m in awe of the craftsmanship. Restoring and playing vintage drums brought me back into playing on a much deeper level. I’m more relaxed, more independent, and looser as a drummer.
MD: What are your thoughts on being a drum teacher in addition to a performer?
Paul: I get so much more back from my students than I seem to be giving them. Teaching keeps me in check and forced me to dive back into educating myself. I decided to expand my horizons by getting back into some old technique books—Syncopation, Stick Control, The New Breed, Billy Martin’s book on Afro-Cuban rhythms [Riddim: Claves of African Origin], Colin Bailey’s Bass Drum Control. I’m really pushing the envelope on my independence.
Garisto plays DW drums and Zildjian cymbals and uses Vic Firth sticks, a Porter & Davies amp and throne, a Soundcraft mixer, and a Roland SPD-SX sample pad.