MD 2012 Pro Panelist Chris Adler is one of the most well-respected and identifiable drummers in any genre. Add to that a tireless work ethic, a shark-like determination to keep moving forward—as an individual and as a member of Lamb of God—and an openness and warmth that endear him to fans new and old, and you start to get a picture of what makes Adler so special in the drumming community.
Shortly after he helped mix Lamb of God’s eagerly awaited new album, Resolution, and before he took off to tour the globe with the band once again, Chris chatted with us about the specific areas of drumming he’s working to improve on these days.
MD: When we last spoke, at the Mayhem Festival, one of the things you mentioned was that between records you like to shed certain aspects of your playing. What were you working on during this last writing cycle?
Chris: I felt like I was constantly pulling from the same bag of tricks, and that got me into some tab exercises, which resulted in my writing tab books like The Making of New American Gospel and The Making of As the Palaces Burn. I started to try to understand more about what I do so that I could pick it apart and change it—and learn from other people and try other paths. I’ve always been really insecure about jamming with other drummers, because I never felt like I knew what I was doing. I knew I could do what I do well, but I didn’t feel like I had the chops to really sit down and work with someone that had gone to school for drumming.
So I wanted to work on that, to learn…well…not everything, but enough to get outside my box and get some new tools in the belt. The primary way I did that was to reach out to guys that I think are going to change the way things are done in metal in the future. The number one guy, for me, is a dude named Matt Halpern. Matt plays in Periphery, and he’s up in Baltimore, only a couple hours away from me. So I would drive up to Baltimore and he and I would sit down. He comes from such a different background. He’s been schooled since he was like three years old, and he’s kind of this fusion cat that came into metal drumming. The guys that really make a mark in metal are the ones who are bringing in other things.
I would sit down with Matt and learn about different kinds of fusion beats— how there’s these ghost notes and you lead with the snare and all that stuff. Growing up in the suburbs as a Mötley Crüe fan, that’s like rocket science to me! [laughs] It’s like a totally different instrument, so I was interested in bringing some of that into my playing. And it wasn’t so much that I wanted faster hands or feet, I just wanted to change things up and try to bring something different to the writing process.
Specifically what I was doing was embracing the fact that I’m left-handed. Instead of constantly running down the toms and having to throw in a triplet to land on my right hand, why not roll up the toms? I can do that, being left-handed, and I’ve ignored that forever, but it shows up all over the new record.
I was just trying to sit back and understand what my strengths and weaknesses are and trying to build on the weaknesses. And instead of defining them as weaknesses, I tried to turn them into strengths. That was my goal, and the evolution between the last record and this one is far more audible than it’s been between any of the others.
I also started changing things up on my kit, like putting a tom on the left-hand side of my hi-hat. That immediately created different avenues.
MD: As a lefty playing a righty kit, are you trying to bring in open-handed drumming at all?
Chris: Yeah. It’s funny, a friend of mine is left-handed as well, and I set up a lefthanded kit for him, letting him borrow it so he and his kids could play on it. He can play fairly well left-handed, but I feel like I’m walking on the moon—like I have no idea what I’m doing. [laughs] But I immediately realized that I should be able to make it work. There’s no reason that I should be having trouble playing this drumkit. So I’ve been spending the past couple of weeks trying to get comfortable playing open-handed.
You know, muscle memory is really hard to defeat, and you have to spend time doing it. One hand’s stronger than the other, one foot’s stronger than the other…. But over time it evens out, and I’m kind of in the middle of that process right now.
MD: You’re on the MD Pro Panel this year. What topics are you interested in exploring?
Chris: One thing I want to address is this kind of “race for double bass.” When someone says double bass, you immediately think of this competition of guys with hummingbird feet going for a record. I’m fairly fast, and I’ve got the endurance to do a lot of stuff. But going forward, one of the things I’m interested in is not doing three-minute runs of 200 bpm double bass. It’s how you delicately use that power and ability—dropping in and out, accenting things, bringing the lead-in triplets or quads—that can really make things snap.
I think when a fan or another drummer hears those super-long runs, it’s easy to think, Wow, that guy’s pretty good. And the players who can do that are obviously very skilled. But it loses its effect when that’s all there is. If you start to think of your kick drum as more of a snare drum, though, you can kind of pepper a song with different variations—and you build a better appreciation of it.
Guys like Shannon Larkin, from back in the old Wrathchild America days—that’s a blueprint for me on how to play double bass. Shannon wasn’t the fastest or the craziest double bass guy, but it was the way he used it, the way he came in and out of songs. It’s the age-old argument that you want to leave people wanting more, not less. And I think right now the race has led me to want less, to find that balance where I’m really contributing to a song, not just punching people in the face the whole time.