By definition, the rock ’n’ roll life is all about LIVING ON THE EDGE.
But when LAMB OF GOD found itself the subject of one of the most BIZARRE AND TERRIFYING STORIES TO HIT THE METAL SCENE IN RECENT MEMORY, no one could have guessed just how precarious ITS VERY EXISTENCE WOULD BECOME.
On June 1, 1994, Chris Adler jammed with a bassist friend, John Campbell, for the first time, and as history has shown, bands built on solid rhythmic foundations are built to last. This humble jam session laid the groundwork for what would later become the metal juggernaut Lamb of God—the frontrunner of a reinvigorated American metal sound. Lamb of God’s hulking, red-blooded anthems reflected the group members’ life experiences, serving as both armor and outlet for their emotional purging. Their uncompromising approach to songwriting was echoed in their drive to succeed. In the process, Lamb of God took a new wave of American metal and gave it a formidable presence around the globe.
Adler is perhaps as responsible for driving the band’s career momentum as he is for generating its thunderous rhythms. His self-described businessminded, type-A personality allowed him to embrace the dual roles of drummer and manager during the group’s ascent. And all the dedication, hard work, and sacrifices have certainly been rewarded. Platinum records and DVDs, Grammy nominations, a slew of awards from the metal media, a loyal army of devoted fans—Adler and Lamb of God have without a doubt realized the rock ’n’ roll fantasy.
Adler has also found success on his own as a clinician, an opportunity that offers him the chance to connect with his audience on a more personal level, and to work creatively with the companies he endorses enthusiastically. Chris recently added Vruk to his list of supporting drum-gear manufacturers, and the custom pedal plate he developed with the firm debuted at this year’s NAMM show. The drummer has even added a role as official U.S. distributor of Vruk products to his already impressive résumé.
But no level of success is impervious to the repercussions of an unexpected major event. While on tour in 2012 behind their acclaimed seventh studio album, Resolution, Adler, John Campbell, guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler, and vocalist Randy Blythe got a sobering reminder of just how quickly everything can change.
In late June, the band landed in Prague, where it was slated to play that evening. International travel comes with its fair share of identification checkpoints and inquiries, but the scene upon Lamb of God’s arrival in the Czech Republic was awash in confusion and further compounded by language barriers. Initially the band’s camp felt the situation was nothing more than a trivial inconvenience. That impression vanished when authorities escorted the group into a room occupied by several heavily armed men wearing ski masks. Officials proceeded to notify the band that Randy Blythe was wanted on the suspicion of manslaughter, stemming from the death of a fan who had jumped on stage during Lamb of God’s last concert in the city, two years prior.
A few moments later, Blythe was arrested, as the rest of the group watched in disbelief. The vocalist’s bandmates wouldn’t see him again for over a month. Although they fully believed Blythe was innocent, they found that each day brought more weight to the word resolution, as the tenuous nature of the circumstances brought uncertainty to the immediate future.
Even the strongest of forces would be rattled by these events. In this exclusive interview, Adler takes us through his recent experiences and explains how mental toughness has kept him positive, not only through these particularly trying times but during his entire personal and professional life.
MD: Before that fateful day in Prague, you’d been averaging six shows a week with little rest or time off. Can you paint a picture of what the vibe was like within the band during the days leading up to Randy’s arrest?
Chris: We were five and a half weeks into a run of festivals in Eastern Europe. Things were going well. We were playing good shows, though we were tired. Then we get this super-unexpected slap in the face. We’ve been together as a band now for about seventeen years, and you get…I don’t want to say comfortable, but it’s just not a day-today thought that today could be the last day. It certainly puts you in a mindset of fear and fragility.
MD: In the two years that had elapsed since the incident, neither the band nor management was ever made aware of it, including Randy’s supposed involvement or accountability. Your thoughts and emotions must have been racing with all that information unfolding at once.
Chris: When Randy was arrested, it was scary, and there was certainly a mix of emotions. We were told someone had died at one of our shows, which in itself is devastating. We felt horrible, and we imagined how terrible the [deceased’s] family must have felt. At the same time, being told we were responsible in some way made us immediately defensive.
As reality set in, I felt: You have to be kidding me! After all the work and sacrifices we’ve endured, some shady debacle of randomness might end it all? It just didn’t make sense. The situation threatened us on both a personal and a professional level.
MD: Randy was detained in Prague for over a month. Soon after he was released and back home, you played two Knotfest shows. What was that experience like for you and the band?
Chris: Like I said, after Randy was arrested, nobody really knew if that was it. We all certainly tried to stay positive and hoped it wasn’t, but it easily could have been the end of the band. So there was a renewed appreciation for what we do. We had spent five weeks with our fingers crossed, shelling out money and trying to do whatever we could to help Randy. Those shows felt like a bit of a rebirth.
I was so excited about having the opportunity to get on stage again. A couple bands before us, the crowd started cheering Randy’s name, the band’s name, and “Randy is free!” The fan support created a tangible energy in the air. On stage, the energy was almost therapeutic for us. As our intro was rolling, I looked back at Randy getting ready behind the backline and looked around at the other guys in the band. I think we realized how lucky we were to play music for a living and to have each other. That’s not always easy to remember when you’ve been stuck together in some sort of metal tube for almost twenty years. Friendships kind of come and go—there’s frustration, fistfights, and everything else that comes along with it.
There’s drama in any workplace when egos get involved. But when you love doing what you do, a by-product of that is the strength to keep doing it. In many ways that’s been the key to my success, because it’s never felt like a task or a job as long as I’ve been doing it.
MD: Had the conversation ever come up about what would happen if someone wanted to leave the band voluntarily? What would go into determining whether you would choose to find a replacement and move forward, or to collectively agree to call it a day?
Chris: Being detained in a foreign country is obviously very different from someone in the band saying they want to leave to become a lifeguard or something. A member leaving voluntarily would likely mean entertaining the idea of bringing in somebody new so the rest of us could continue, but it’s hard to speculate. Like most professional bands, we have our legal binding operating agreement that covers all of those contingencies. Being in a band is a business, and we are the owners of that business. And there are a lot of other people involved in keeping the business operational. It’s not about me and my grocery bill; there’s crew, crew family, management, accountants, legal teams, booking agents…. The band has become its own little economy.
MD: Using the term loosely, does achieving success come with the “burden” of having to maintain a certain level in order to keep afloat the economy you created?
Chris: That is very true, and scary, because there is a certain weight and responsibility we feel that comes with essentially being the owners of a business. However, we don’t ever want that to be a burden, where we feel like we have to put out another record. I’m sure bands that were creatively spent have done that, in order to try to do the right thing, but were unable to progress. That’s not something we want to do. I’d rather go out on a high note.
MD: You mentioned the connection, reciprocal support, and respect the band shares with its fans. You’ve personally received several accolades that were audience driven, such as winning the MD Readers Poll. Do you feel any pressure as a role model?
Chris: That’s interesting. I don’t often celebrate the awards. I show them all to my mom and dad, who are very proud of me, and then I pack them away in the basement. That’s not because I don’t want them or appreciate them—it’s that I don’t want them around as a constant reminder of who or what I’m supposed to be.
When our bus pulls into a town and there are kids sitting out in tents at 6 A.M. waiting for autographs, I realize that we mean a lot to them. And I know from talking to kids at clinics, at shows, and through emails that my playing and interviews have helped them to do whatever they’re doing or showed them that not all heavy metal guys are druggies or stupid. That’s something I appreciate.
My dad took me to get my worker’s permit when I was fourteen years old, so it was instilled pretty early on in me that if I wanted something, I had to work for it. My work ethic is about wanting to be the best that I can be for myself and for the band, and I don’t want to lose that by bolstering my ego. I feel that if I ever came to accept what other people were telling me, I would get lazy and somehow try to cash in on that. Staying hungry and pushing forward has worked. What I’ve actually achieved with this band, such as awards and stuff, were never things I had on a list as goals. But they are proof that my work ethic has paid off.
When you love something, the strength builds within it. The frustration of not making any money for the first ten years we were a band, and all the dues we had to pay to get some success—that was easy to deal with, because I didn’t care if there was light at the end of the tunnel or a bright side to the end of the band’s story. I loved what I was doing, and I wasn’t waiting to get paid back for it. If you put your heart into something, the success will come if you nurture that passion.
When you fall in love with something, I think whether you’re particularly talented in that arena at first or not, the passion builds the strength to get into it and stay into it. I’ve never really fallen out of love with the drums. It’s what I love to do, and that love is what has built my ability.
MD: Does the pressure you put on yourself to move forward ever rub the guys in the band the wrong way?
Chris: Occasionally. I’m absolutely terrible at just sitting around and doing nothing. It’s always push, push, push.
MD: Was the impetus to start doing clinics the result of downtime within the band?
Chris: Yes, but even though I wanted to get out there and work, the idea of doing clinics scared the shit out of me. As a young player, I hadn’t really been comfortable with my skills or with my ability to describe them or teach someone else what I had done instinctively. It was a daunting task, but it ended up being very well received. I had to look inside and try to fake some confidence about what I do, and put myself under the microscope. In the end it actually built my confidence, and probably some character as well. Public speaking is not generally the second best thing drummers do [laughs], so I really had to get my act together. I had to come up with a plan.
Instead of trying to study up and learn all the theory behind everything I’d done, or talking about what drummers played what first, or showing the audience how to play triple paradiddles, I figured it would be best to just tell my story. I figured that was something that wouldn’t be any more or less entertaining to a kid or someone my age. Although the people in attendance were interested in the songs I played and the techniques I used, they seemed even more interested in me as a person—how I got here, and what they may have to go through or might experience if they wanted to do the same thing. I think that’s why it worked out as well as it did. Plus, doing clinics presented the opportunity to take the gear I endorse out on a tour and show it off in a way that I could never do at a Lamb of God concert.
MD: An argument can be had about the value of analyzing drum parts that very well may have been created instinctively in the moment. Do you feel that some metal drummers fall prey to feeling the need to overintellectualize their parts in order to gain credibility among more musically educated peers?
Chris: That’s a really good question. I hinted at this idea in one of the first articles I wrote for Modern Drummer. Growing up reading this magazine, I was always so intimidated by it because of the intellectual side, or how it was presented. To this day there are moments of intimidation. For example, if Meinl takes some of their endorsers out to dinner, and I’m sitting across from someone like Thomas Lang—that’s an intimidating guy! He knows stuff that would take me six lifetimes to learn. I think it’s important for younger drummers to realize that people like Thomas or Marco Minnemann are phenoms—they are not the norm.
There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you’re doing or striving to play that way or wanting to live up to that level of technical dialogue. But for me, discussing technique has always been via hindsight. I can go back and tell you that the guitar riff in a particular Lamb of God song reminded me of a song I heard on a Forbidden cassette back in 1987, so I wanted to do a beat that was reminiscent of that. But that’s about as technical as it’s going to get for me. My parts are never thought out like, “I’m going to write this next part so that every seven bars it will come back and align with the guitars.”
However, because I spend so much time playing drums, I definitely recognize the tools that are in my belt, and ones that are becoming overused. So I keep pushing myself to come up with something new for the next song. As a younger drummer, I was intimidated about talking drums with other drummers because I felt inadequate in my knowledge of theory and technique. I started out as a guy with a beer in one hand and a pair of sticks in the other, and that’s kind of the way I kept it. But I also want to keep learning and improving. I’ve found there are more guys like me out there than the ones that are very technical and theory based.
Recently, though, I’ve been more open about talking with and learning from different drummers, like Matt Halpern from Periphery. He’s real into fusion, which sounds like space music to me. I don’t understand anything about it. Sitting down with him, I sometimes feel I don’t even know what instrument he’s playing. Drumming had always been black and white and 200 miles per hour, and so I wanted to explore this gray world a little bit. I think having more experience behind the kit allowed me to be more open to things other drummers were doing in genres that were foreign to me.
MD: You say that you strive to be the best drummer you can be for yourself and for the band. Is that notion being diminished through the availability of social media, where chops and competition can become the focus, rather than things like being the foundation of a band and having the ability to play well with other musicians?
Chris: It is, and I think it’s accelerated a bit by those spending half their lives in their basements learning how to shred. I’m blown away by the speed some of these guys have, because I know it would take me years to get there. But after a while I realized that I want to write songs that make people move or that they want to listen to in their cars. Playing drums only to impress is a certain angle, but as I’ve said before, there will always be somebody faster. Even if you happen to find yourself in the position of coming across the finish line first, there’s no award for that in songwriting.
Watching the documentary Dream Theater did when they were trying out new drummers…I know some of those guys, and I know what it must have felt like to walk into that room to audition. But when I heard what John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess were asking of these guys on the spot, it made me want to throw up! It was ridiculous! If that were me, I probably would have walked out of the room after ten seconds, saying, “You invited the wrong guy!” [laughs]
MD: That’s interesting, considering you’ve worked with Ron Jarzombek, who’s the epitome of the technical prog-metal guitarist/composer. How did that collaboration come about?
Chris: Yeah, that experience was purposefully intimidating. I think Ron is probably the furthest extreme of the technical player. He is based entirely in theory and has spent decades shredding his ass off and putting out some of the craziest music I’ve ever heard.
In the music business it’s very easy to get jaded and burned out on what you do. So as a listener and a fan, I often seek out music that allows me to turn off any sort of judgment, and Ron’s music is the perfect example. When I listen to WatchTower or Spastic Ink or anything else Ron has done, I know that there is no way in hell I could ever play any of it, and therefore I could turn off my drummer mind and just listen. On the tour bus, I would listen to his stuff when I was going to sleep. It was so over my head musically that it actually helped shut off my brain.
I had ordered the new Spastic Ink CD directly from him, because he distributes everything himself, and he wrote me a letter saying that he was a fan of what I was doing and that he wanted to get together the next time I was in town. That blew me away! We started emailing, and I was shocked that he was into our scene and knew about what we were doing. When the band got down to Texas, he came out to a show and we hung out.
At that time I was at a point with my playing where I felt that although the Ashes of the Wake and Sacrament records contained very good and stylistic drumming, I didn’t hear the type of evolution or progression that I heard between Ashes of the Wake and our previous album, As the Palaces Burn. So I was very interested in pushing myself, getting out of my comfort zone, and taking it to the next level.
I drove myself nuts trying to live up to this challenge. We did about three or four songs, one of which was put on Magna Carta Records’ Drum Nation Volume 3 CD. It was a thrill for me because it was the first time I played drums with musicians outside of Lamb of God and with who is, in my opinion, the most acclaimed proggy, techy guitar player of all time. I really had to push myself to get on the same page, but it helped me grow as a player. We didn’t speak the same musical language. We heard things differently, but that’s what helped make it great. Ron said he loved it because I helped him get some groove into what he was doing, which by default is entirely grooveless.
MD: You mentioned listening to music that was different from the type of metal you play. What non-metal drumming has influenced your playing the most?
Chris: Some of the first songs I tried to learn were Police songs, so Stewart Copeland’s style is something I tried to bring into metal. That’s the kind of thing that helps a player stand out in any genre. While most of the drummers that influenced me ended up playing in metal bands, they had different influences in their backgrounds. Gene Hoglan, who’s one of the best metal drummers I’ve ever seen, took funk lessons and brought that style into his playing.
I primarily listen to metal, but if I only listened to metal drummers, I’m sure I would have been caught up in the speed trap. When it comes to playing fast, it should be more about using the speed creatively to play parts that are musically interesting. I always want to find a way to make the drums musical; I want them to be integrated into the rhythm and the pulse of the song. It’s not about showing off.
MD: Beyond musical skills, what’s necessary in terms of being able to maintain the lifestyle of a working metal drummer?
Chris: It takes a certain type of person and certain type of determination to spend several months or years on the road. For the first six or seven years, all we did was lose money. We were touring in our van, sleeping in state parks, putting cans of soup on the engine block on the drive from the club to the park so they’d be warm when we got there, recycling cans so we could afford to buy more soup and another six-pack for the following night…. We did that for seven years. Not everyone is able to deal with that, but for me it was a lot of fun.
MD: Once you started to achieve success, how did the reality of being a rock star compare to the ideas you had of rock stardom as a teenager?
Chris: In 2004 we were invited to play Ozzfest in support of Ashes of the Wake, our fourth record. That’s when things started to turn around for us. When you’re a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old kid, the idea of rock stardom sucks you in: golden helicopters, champagne, girls everywhere…. There certainly are very special moments that we encounter on the road, like playing a sold-out show where every person knows every word to your songs and is slamming around to the whole set. Feeling that energy and connection with other people through the music that we create is super-special.
But when you wake up in the morning, you’re back on the phone with managers, labels, press, and everything else. There really is a lot of work going on behind the scenes, and it’s far from glamorous. We’ve had to keep multiple pencils very sharp along the way. Getting into this lifestyle just to party yourself to death… those days are gone! I mean, you can still do it, but nobody’s going to care for very long. Especially in today’s climate, where people’s attention spans are shorter, you really have to be one step ahead of the next guy, and I think at this point that doesn’t include doing a whole load of drugs.
MD: That’s a completely different type of strength. What do you do on the road to keep the mind sharp and in a positive mode?
Chris: Exercise. In 2003, I ran into a little trouble with feeling bad about my playing and getting in a rut, and physical exercise really helped. Even if it was thirty minutes, having that time without any other distractions was helpful. I’d turn off my phone, put some headphones on, and go for a run or do push-ups or sit-ups. It helped me physically, but it also made a big difference in my mental state. I was able to take more things in stride and wasn’t reacting to things so negatively.
Now I spend about three hours a day working out when I’m not on tour. There’s a gym right where my daughter goes to preschool, so after I drop her off I work out until I have to pick her up. I find a lot of peace in cranking up my headphones and running thirteen miles.
MD: That’s no meager jog! How did it become such a steady routine?
Chris: In 2005 we moved to a new rehearsal space about eleven or twelve miles away from my house. I started riding my bike to rehearsal every day, and I noticed a significant difference in my overall endurance. As rehearsals got longer, I realized I could play longer, harder, and a little bit faster without getting tired. Exercise is now just part of my routine, and it’s something I don’t plan on stopping.
MD: What is your routine like now when you’re on the road? Are you running thirteen miles on the day of a show?
Chris: In 2007 I started a routine on tour where I’d do what I could to find a gym near the venue. Some gyms want $20 a day to work out if you’re not a member, which gets expensive, and I can’t be a member of every gym in the country. So sometimes I’ll call one up and offer a few tickets to the show in exchange for letting me work out for a few hours. That usually works, and it gives me something to do in between press and soundcheck. It’s easier than you think for the negative aspects of touring to get to you, so this helps keep the mindset positive. I won’t overdo it, though, to the point where I’m spent for the show that night.
MD: In light of recent events, what could you see yourself doing if confronted with the possibility of facing a life after Lamb of God sooner than expected?
Chris: I think I’ve always been a fatalist. I told my wife in 2000, when our first record, New American Gospel, came out, “I can’t imagine this thing lasting more than a year and a half, so don’t worry about it. I’ll get a full-time job after.” I still think that way. I can’t believe this is still going on, and while it’s a comfort knowing that our fans support us, I don’t take anything for granted.
I’ve always been a plan A, plan B, plan C thinker, and I’ve definitely put all my energy into plan A. I’m just going for it and taking every risk possible, because this is the band that I’ve always dreamed of being in, and I’m living my dream. At the end of the day, I don’t want to regret not having given a hundred percent to this band.
Along the way, I’ve also built some great relationships with the companies that I work with on an endorsement level, and I think there’s room for me to stay within the world of percussion in the future, but there are no guarantees or any plans right now. I do know Lamb of God can’t last forever, but right now I’m having fun and enjoying what I do.
MD: Your work ethic and determination have remained steadfast through the years. How is the Chris Adler that started this band back in 1994 different from today’s Chris Adler?
Chris: Having a family has definitely changed me. It may seem like a bummer conversation, but as I get older, I look at my life differently. I’m forty, and I play drums in a heavy metal band. It’s a dream come true in many ways, but it’s also scary when you have a mortgage and a child starting kindergarten.
I sometimes think, Is this legit? But over the years I’ve found that my purpose in life is to bring music to people who want to hear it. We talked about how easy it can be to get jaded in the entertainment world. It has a tendency of being very negative and cutthroat. I think a lot of people that do what we do are thrill seekers to begin with, and being on stage gets a little bit of that out. But the more you do it, the more you need it, and you can lose touch with the real world.
Having my daughter has definitely got me back in touch with the real world in terms of remembering how great certain things about life are. Seeing her being a kid is very refreshing and has put some new perspective on things to appreciate in life, and it’s helped me realize how lucky I am to do what I do. And I certainly hope that she gets to do all the things she wants to do in her life.
Drums: Mapex Black Panther Blaster series (walnut shells) in transparent walnut burst finish
- Chris Adler Signature Black Panther snare (discontinued)
- 9×10 tom
- 10×12 tom
- 16×16 floor tom
- 16×18 floor tom
- 18×22 bass drum
Heads: Aquarian coated Hi-Energy snare batter and Classic Clear bottom, clear Response 2 tom batters and Classic Clear bottoms, and clear Super-Kick II bass drum batters and custom front heads
Electronics: Roland TD-7 electronic percussion module and single trigger pad, ddrum Acoustic Pro triggers (2)
Sticks: Pro-Mark TX5AXW Chris Adler model
Hardware: Trick Pro 1-V bass drum pedals, Vruk DrumMaster heel plates, Gibraltar rack system and clamps, Mapex cymbal boom arms
- 14″ Soundcaster Custom Medium Soundwave hi-hats
- 14″ Generation X Filter China
- 12″ Soundcaster Custom Distortion splash
- 8″ Classics High Bell
- 8″ Byzance splash
- 14″ Soundcaster Custom Medium crash
- 16″ Mb8 Medium crash
- 14″ Byzance Dark hi-hats
- 18″ Byzance Medium Thin crash
- 24″ Mb20 Pure Metal ride (signature model)
- 17″ Byzance China (prototype)
- 16″ Generation X Filter China
Accessories: DB Drum Shoes