He’s a bit of a cutup, Red Fang’s drummer is. But don’t let that wicked smile fool you—what he and his bandmates hit you with live and on record is some of the most serious hard rock around.
John Sherman is all lively eyes, clownish grins, and swinging fists as he provides the backbone to the irresistibly headbanging riffs of the Portland, Oregon, rockers Red Fang. When asked to comment on his band’s sound, Sherman chooses to eschew genres in favor of pointing to one of his personal mottos: Keep it tight and loose. “I think that really describes our music,” he says. “It’s tight and loose at the same time. It works!”
Last year the band released its first proper album, Murder the Mountains (a previous self-titled release collected two limited edition EPs), and secured premier tour spots on the Mayhem Festival, and, later, in support of Mastodon. The album and live show left many heavy-rock fans buzzing, but Red Fang is hardly an overnight sensation. “We’ve been together for six years,” Sherman explains, “and we’ve played everything from the smallest, dirtiest, darkest clubs to gigs with crowds in the thousands. We hope to keep it going—we’ve got big plans for the future.” Despite these recent successes, Sherman is fast to insist that he and his bandmates are “still the same goofballs.” He adds with a laugh, “Even on the Mastodon tour, we were the only ones without a bus. We still had our ’90s van—without a trailer. We just strap everything in and sneeze all over each other.” Still riding high from 2011’s momentum, John took the time to give MD a glimpse at what makes him and Red Fang tick.
MD: How did you start playing drums?
John: I was always drumming on things growing up, but it wasn’t until sixth grade or so, when I was able to take band class, that I actually began to play. Plus a friend down the street had a kit, so I would always be over there trying to play.
My first kit was a crappy old set from the ’60s, but it did have a gold-sparkle finish. It looked really cool, and back then that’s all I cared about. But I only had like half of a bass drum pedal, so I took an old broom handle, cut it down, and wrapped it in duct tape for a beater.
MD: Does being on the road almost nonstop affect your drumming?
John: Being on the road keeps me playing and makes me sharper. Plus we’re always touring with other bands, so I can get together with their drummers and swap stuff.
MD: What’s the best piece of advice another drummer gave you on tour?
John: The best advice might have been to always change your drumheads before it becomes absolutely necessary. If you bust a snare or kick head in the middle of a song, you’re screwed. So I try to change my heads as often as possible.
MD: What’s the songwriting process like in Red Fang?
John: It’s pretty collaborative and usually starts with a little seed that we all put our bit to. Sometimes it’s super-awesome and works great; other times it’s super-painful and takes forever. We’re four different guys, and if it’s not just one of us who’s the songwriter, everyone has to be happy and sign off on it.
One of our mottos is definitely “Keep it simple, stupid.” If you keep messing with stuff, you end up with a song that doesn’t make sense at all. We used to love doing that and having songs with eight different time signatures and fifteen parts. We’re not about that anymore. We’re trying to make…songs. [laughs]
MD: So what’s your approach behind the kit?
John: I try to let the guys suggest options for things that I could do, because it’s hard to be objective. Your instinct is to throw every little trick you know into everything, but that doesn’t make for a great song. Sometimes it’s great to have a really simple rock beat, and then, all of a sudden, there’s that one moment where you do something that makes people go, “Oh, man, what was that?” And then you’re back to the beat. That’s way better than a nonstop barrage of drum licks. To me, at least.
Tools Of The Trade
Sherman plays a Darwin kit with an 11×14 rack tom, a 16×18 floor tom, and an 18×24 bass drum. He alternates between two snares: a 6 1/2×14 Pearl Steve Ferrone signature model and a 6 1/2×14 Ludwig Supra-Phonic. His cymbals, all from Paiste’s Alpha series, include 15″ hi-hats, 19″ and 20″ Rock crashes, and a 24″ Rock ride. John’s hardware includes a DW 5000 single bass drum pedal, a DW 5000 hi-hat stand, and three straight cymbal stands made by various manufacturers.