He came up through the ranks of the famed Minneapolis rock scene and has been banging it out with celebrated indie rock band the Hold Steady since their 2006 breakthrough, Boys And Girls In America. In the process, Bobby Drake has been around the world a few times and has seen and learned some things.
- GIVE THE SINGER SOME. When I first started playing with these guys I thought, Craig Finn has got a lot to say—I can’t step on his feet. Last thing the new guy wants is the frontman looking back at him and telling him to be quiet. But it’s pretty natural for me to stay out of the way. I’m not trying to reinvent the drums. I just play for the song.
- STOW ’EM AWAY. I have a couple of kits in storage overseas. We just leave our stuff there because it’s very expensive to fly gear. And some of the rental gear over there can be a total nightmare. I’ve had kits with heads that were beat to hell and looked like garbage bags. One time I got stuck with a beat-up Vistalite kit. You’d think it would have been good, but it was trashed. Some of those kits have been played a million times and haven’t really been taken care of.
- PARTY SEMI-HARD. I don’t party very hard at all on the road. It’s different if you’re the bass player, but the drummer has to hold it together. I’ll have a couple of beers a night and just keep it low-key. And before a gig I’ll get away from everybody else and not really meditate but take some deep breaths and clear my head. It was tougher to do when we were playing small clubs. I’d have to go into the kitchen sometimes. But in arenas it’s much easier, because the backstages are quite large.
- GO FOR THE GOALS. As a band, we really don’t talk about goals amongst ourselves. But I do have personal goals. Like getting a tour bus, that was a goal. I knew we would. And I want to play Madison Square Garden. It’s totally doable, and a worthy thing to shoot for. That said, I don’t like to get too involved in the business end of things. I don’t want to be swayed from focusing on the music and my drumming.
- YOU HAVE TO MAKE ENDS MEET. Up until about a year ago I was still working when we weren’t on the road. But now I’m living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and I’m not working. That’s a goal I’ve met. Some musicians like to reinvent themselves when they have to find work. I was doing a little bit of everything: a little construction, fixing cars, working the door at a bar in Manhattan—and I’m a little guy. It was mostly NYU students, though, a pretty harmless bunch.
- REMEMBER YOUR INSPIRATIONS. One of my favorite shows ever was Jane’s Addiction at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in Minneapolis, during the Ritual De Lo Habitual tour. Seeing Stephen Perkins shredding just blew my mind. It was life changing. The way the whole band seemed to communicate was something, and it really seemed to center around his playing. I was very taken with the way he played. It was powerful—tribal and hypnotic. That show still inspires me.
- EMBRACE THE CLICK. I usually record with a click. It was a little intimidating at first, because the microscope you’re under is so revealing. But I learned to relax. The click is there to help you. I’ll still drag behind the click a bit. But some songs need a little push and pull. So many people say that the click takes away from this or that. I just think of it as another member of the band—one that doesn’t mess up or get a per diem.
- TECH YOURSELF. I still don’t have a drum tech, and that’s fine. Now that we’re playing bigger rooms, maybe I should at least be polishing my cymbals. But I don’t. And when I change the heads depends on what I’m looking for at that time. Sometimes heads sound a little too bright when they’re brand new. After a few shows, they sound really good. I change out the snare head pretty much every show, though.
- EVERY BAND SHOULD HAVE A MECHANIC. On our first bus tour, the bus broke down—it was leaking oil everywhere. So I ran to the Flying J, got the parts we needed, and fixed it, right there on the side of the highway. The whole back end of the bus opens up like a giant cupboard, so you’re able to poke around pretty easily. The bus driver was super-stoked. As were my bandmates.
- GET OVER YOUR GRUDGES. We had a little beef with Kings Of Leon. Right when they blew up in England, we opened for them in London, just a one-off show. Their dressing room was on the third floor of this place, and ours was on the second. As we’re trying to go down the hallway to get to the stage, one of their roadies says, “You can’t go down there.” And we’re like, “But we’re playing!” Earlier at soundcheck there were some issues as well. We were in the room watching them play, and they were talking some stuff. You know, it’s harmless. I’m over it. I’m sure they’re rad dudes. And it’s probably not even them; it could be the tour manager. Who knows? I’m actually a huge fan. I think their new record is awesome.
You can hear Bobby Drake on the Hold Steady’s latest live DVD/CD, A Positive Rage.