“Hello BirmingHAM,” Tommy Lee roars into his mic’. “Do you want that faster?” The crowd roars its assent, “I can’t hear you, BirmingHAM, “yells Tommy. “D’YA WANT IT FASTER?” This time the crowd really pulls out all the stops to let Tommy know that he should play still faster and, by implication, that his Birmingham fans are loving every moment of his solo spot. The tremendous enthusiasm of the crowd can’t be put down to the mindless mass hysteria that is often found at rock concerts; there are some very good reasons for it. Tommy began his solo with more than a demonstration of technique (although it was that, too); what he played was pleasant to listen to and almost tuneful. Then he went into an audience-participation section, getting the crowd to clap along and shout responses. But now Tommy’s drum riser, which had been pushed forward by unseen hands at the start of his solo, is gradually tilting forward. As he goes into the “faster” climax of his solo, the platform is nearly vertical, and the audience finds itself actually looking down on the kit. In spite of his unconventional position, Tommy Lee is playing as accurately as ever and even more energetically (if that is possible). His sticks flash across the toms, the kick drums roar like thunder, there is a flurry on the cymbals and a brief crescendo on the snare drum, and it is over. Tommy leans back to get his body into the vertical position, lifts a can of beer as a toast to the audience, and takes a swig from it before throwing it. As the riser is lowered and the other members of Motley Crue return to the stage, the beer can spirals out towards a sea of raised hands.
“Motley Crue?” I had said to the pianist in my jazz trio, the night before going to interview Tommy. “They are an American heavy metal band who wear makeup and are known as The Bad Boys of Rock.” The pianist raised an eyebrow, Spock fashion, and with dry irony said, “You should have a lot in common, then!” I must admit that this point had been worrying me. A great deal has been written about “The Crue” during the last five years: everything from learned studies about the band as a social phenomenon, to pornographic fantasy—young girls talking about what they would be prepared to do to get close to the guys in the band—plus, of course, the usual “fanzine” stuff. They have hardly, if ever, been presented as pleasant human beings: Bassist/songwriter Nikki Sixx is quoted as saying, “I know we intimidate people—we do it on purpose—because we’ve mastered the art of being bastards. “Motley Crue stands for rebellious youth: one of a series of bands in the history of rock that the kids love, the parents hate, and the press loves to hate. There can be no denying that this publicity is good for the band’s career, but it often means that the superb drumming of Tommy Lee and the tightness of the rest of the band meshed around it generally takes a backseat when the words start to flow.
Tommy is philosophical about this: “Sometimes it does bother me, because I give it everything I have, and sometimes I can barely breathe. So when people don’t bother to write about the energy, I wonder why I bother. But I’ll never change, because that’s the way I am, that’s the way I like to play, and I love doing it.” Motley Crue obviously offers more than a rebellious image. Platinum and gold records, sell-out world tours—it means that there has to be substance in what they are offering as musicians and entertainers. And as far as Tommy himself is concerned, I told myself that anybody who is married to Heather Locklear can’t be all bad!
Backstage at “The Crue’s” gig in Birmingham, England, drum tech Clyde Duncan and tour manager Rich Fisher treat me like an honored guest, rather than just another reporter to be tolerated. Going around back after watching Tommy’s solo from the auditorium, I am anxious not to get in the way, but Clyde beckons me and indicates that I can stand directly behind the riser to get the best possible view of the drummer in action. (The riser is at least five feet high, with wings on either side for the other Crue members to climb on. So with the bulk of Tommy’s kit in front of us, Clyde and I are not really visible from the audience.) Tommy swivels half around to play on his floor toms, sees me standing behind him, and pulls a manic grimace before breaking into a grin. Clyde indicates that I should climb up and put my head over the back of the riser to hear the bass drum monitors. I do, but I don’t stay there very long! From my vantage point, I can tell that Tommy is really enjoying himself; it’s no act. He never stops moving. If his sticks are not actually pounding on his equipment, they are spinning like propellers as he twirls them, or flying upwards (usually) to be deftly caught and brought back into play as they descend. If a stick isn’t going to return to his hand, Tommy is always there with another one and never misses a beat. During the final chord of the final number, Tommy keeps a roll going on his bass drums while throwing sticks, with alternate hands, into the audience. Whichever hand isn’t throwing is rolling on a cymbal, while the hand that has just thrown picks up another stick and continues the cymbal roll to free the first hand again. Tommy Lee is, quite simply, the best showman/drummer I have ever seen!
When, at the relatively tender age of 23, a person is a celebrity, a sex symbol with a macho image to maintain, and also happens to be damn good at what he does, it would be almost understandable if that person were also conceited and on a bit of a “star-trip,” but you couldn’t hope to meet a nicer guy than Mr. Tommy Lee. Effervescent, ebullient—these are the words that spring to mind when describing the way Tommy talks about his drums and his band. He loves the whole thing and really lives for it. I told Clyde that I wasn’t going to try to hang out with Tommy for too long before the show, because I assumed he would need to get psyched up. Clyde laughed.
“Don’t worry about that,” he said. “Tommy is always psyched up when it comes to drumming!” Tommy demonstrates sensitivity and modesty too when he says things like, “I’m really lucky to be doing what I’m doing and to have had the success that I’ve had. There are so many good drummers around, and they all deserve success. I’ve just been fortunate.”
SG: Whose idea was the tilting drum riser?
TL: It came to me in a dream one day. Originally, I wanted to go upside down! But I made the mistake of asking the wrong people about it, and they all told me that it wasn’t possible: too difficult, too expensive—all that kind of thing. So then I thought, “Well, how about just tilting forward? It would give the kids a chance to see what it would be like to look down on the kit while it was being played.” They never get to see this, right? But this way, they see your hands and feet moving, they see each drum you play, and they see everything you do. I don’t think there are many people in audiences who have ever seen all that.
SG: It’s a great spectacle, too.
TL: Yeah. “He’s playing like that! How does he do it? Drums weren’t meant to be played in that position!” That’s the sort of reaction I get, and it’s great. But now that I’ve created this monster, I’m eventually going to want to top it. The next thing has got to be getting myself upside down. It’s going to be difficult. It will involve an enormous riser and massive machinery—maybe something like a roller coaster, where you start going from side to side, then whaaam, whaaam and you’re up. I want to do something like that so badly now that I can taste it!
My riser in the States goes all the way up to 90 degrees. This one we’ve got with us on the European tour doesn’t quite do that; it only goes to about 75 or 80 degrees. This is because many of the places we play have lower ceilings. But my riser in the States is much bigger: The platform is eight feet high before I start, and then it goes straight up at 90 degrees. They said I wouldn’t be able to do it. The day we got the riser built, the hydraulics working, and all the rest of the stuff sorted out, they bolted my drums down, strapped me in, sent me up, and I played. The guys who made the riser had said there was no point because I wouldn’t be able to play in that position, but then they stood there and said, “Wow.”
SG: There must be some gravity problems though?
TL: Yes, it is much harder to play like that. Gravity is pulling your hands down, and you have got to bring them back up and play. It’s strenuous; it’s strange. I wish we had time to strap you onto it, so that you could go up and find out what it feels like. It’s different!
SG: Next time, perhaps. One thing that surprises me is that you don’t have clips, like racing cyclists use, on the pedals.
TL: I’ve found that I don’t need anything like that. My toes just go up against the chains, and there’s enough friction to make it possible to play.
SG: When I was standing behind you, I was able to hear just how powerful your stage monitors are, particularly the bass drum monitors. Why do you like to have so much volume there?
TL: It’s not so much the volume, but I love to feel that low end. And I can feel it; my hair moves! Also, I need some reinforcement when the riser moves forward. The monitor underneath, which blows up through the grill behind my seat, comes with me, but the rest stay in the original position.
I’m sure it must seem real, real loud to you, but it feels good back there. These guys play real loud, but I haven’t got that sort of electronics. I’m competing, and there’s just me beating it out. I’m only human, so it helps.
SG: Another non-musical aspect of your performance that is very impressive is your stick twirling, and the way you are able to bounce your sticks way up in the air and catch them. How did you develop that?
TL: I don’t throw them up in the air. A lot of drummers do that, but I bounce them off the snare drum. It happened by accident. A stick slipped out of my hand, and I saw it shoot up into the air. I thought, “Wow, that’s cool!” So I tried to perfect it. I took my snare drum, my drum seat, and a bag of sticks into my parents’ backyard. One would go into the neighbors’ yard and another would go behind me, until eventually, I could get most of them going straight up and down. But still, I can’t be sure—sometimes nine out often, sometimes only six out often. It’s very hard to be accurate. It depends on how hard you hit, the angle of the stick, and the point on the drumhead you hit, whether you follow through. It’s a difficult trick to make work every time. I can’t say that I’ve perfected it, because, as you have seen, I haven’t.
SG: Some of them were getting deflected off the lights above you.
TL: Well, when I can catch them, it looks great, and when I can’t, I just let them go, so ….
SG: Putting on a good show is obviously very important to you.
TL: I’m sticking up for the drummers here. I don’t think that they should always just sit back and be the rhythm section. I think it’s time for drummers to come out and really show their stuff. There are a lot of good drummers out there, man. I know there are. Drummers put out so much energy, and they are the ones who make the people stamp their feet and clap their hands.
My main interest is what makes people move. My motive is to get those feet moving and the heads bopping—what- ever it is. Drums are great! Rhythmically, you are in control of the audience. Whatever you play, if you can get them to do that, you are winning. I love to see people happy. That comes before a lot of things. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not a technical drummer, because I do some technical things, but generally I bash it out pretty much straight ahead, because that’s what makes everybody move. Most of the kids don’t know what 7/8 is anyway; they relate to a straight four much better. I do some pretty weird stuff in my solo, but I’m into making it look really easy. I would like to be able to do some really incredible stuff, but make it look like [shrugs] no sweat.
SG: Now that we’ve got onto the drumming, can we go back to the beginning?
TL: Yeah. I started when I was four or five years old. From what my parents say, it was as soon as I was tall enough to reach into the silverware drawer. I would pick up things like spoons and knives, beat hell out of everything in the house, and drive them crazy. They reckoned I was going to be a drummer, so they got me my first drumkit: It was a cheap little paper-headed set for children. I used to take it out into the backyard, because I wanted everybody on the block to know that I was playing drums; I wanted everybody to hear it! This little kit had a cowbell. I’ll never forget that, because I have become a cowbell freak. I love percussion of this sort, and I use a lot of cowbell in my solo. So then my parents started me on accordion lessons. A guy went around from house to house offering accordion lessons, and they said, “Okay.” I played the accordion for six or seven years. I learned to read music, and then my parents got a piano. I started having piano lessons, but for some reason, that got really difficult for me. I guess I was 12 or 13 at the time. I was progressing, but I think I was trying to do too much too soon, and my heart was really in the drums; I didn’t want to play piano. Now I kick myself in the ass for not sticking with it, because I could have learned a lot more. So anyway, I always wanted to play drums, but my mom and dad would always make me practice the piano. I just couldn’t wait to get that hour over with, so I could spend the rest of the day on the drums. That’s what I really wanted to do! Eventually, the accordion went into the closet, the piano lessons stopped, and I formed my first rock ‘n’ roll band—in my garage.
SG: Did you ever have drum lessons, or are you self- taught?
TL: I’ve never had a lesson. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know! I played in a marching band at high school, but I never had an individual lesson. There were so many drummers, and everybody just learned together. I never had a lesson on drumset. What I learned was from playing the piano and reading drum music for the drum corps. That’s where I picked up the rudiments and some of the showy stuff I do like twirling the sticks. I saw some- body do that, and I wanted to do it, too. I would sit in my room for months practicing it. I would carry a stick around in my back pocket, so that I could take it out and twirl it whenever I had the opportunity. Eventually, I got it down. None of these tricks came overnight; you have to work hard at perfecting them. I never had a big brother or a drumming friend to show me things. I learned the stuff on my own and from watching people.
SG: Do you see this as a disadvantage, or has it helped you develop your style in your own way?
TL: I might have developed a different style if I had taken lessons. It’s hard to say. You can learn anything from somebody else, but when you try to execute it, are you going to sound like that person? Somebody can show you how to do something, but you’re going to perform it the way you’re going to perform it. Everybody has a different style and a different way of doing things. Somebody might not be very good with the left hand, but that person might be better than you are with the right. Everybody has different qualities and faults.
Do you know what I’d like to do now? I’d really like to take some drum lessons—get together with somebody who is really technical. There’s a lot of stuff out there that I don’t know about, and that pisses me off. I just want to keep getting better. I can’t get enough. I’ve always had a trash can philosophy; I can never learn enough. My drumming will never be as good as I want it to be, and I hate that!
SG: If your playing was as good as you want it to be, you would be complacent, and that’s not a good way to be either.
TL: Right. I’m always thinking of ways to do something new and interesting.
SG: What about your musical influences?
TL: Well, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin was a very big influence. I would say that he is just about my all-time hero when it comes to groove players. He played very hard and very simple. I enjoy that more than listening to someone who is technically trained, and can do lots of weird timing and stuff like that. As I was just saying, one day I would like to learn to do some of that, but it is completely uncalled for in the type of music I do. So the greatest influence on the way I play has definitely been John Bonham.
I have other idols; another guy whose style I really like is Tommy Aldridge. Then there’s Simon Phillips. He’s a technical player, but I like him a lot. I’ve never seen him play anything real simple and heavy; he’s a pretty flashy, technical drummer, but I love what he does.
SG: It’s interesting that, of the three drummers you have mentioned, two have been English.
TL: [laughs] Okay, to even things up, another guy is Tony Thompson. I think his style and the way he plays is great. He plays very hard, very rhythmic, and very simple—one of the greats, definitely.
But John Bonham didn’t only influence me with his playing; it was the sound he used to get from those drums as well. Wow! I’m very sound conscious. I always used to use much heavier heads than I do now until I saw a video of John Bonham, and I said, “Hey, that’s how he gets that sound!” I think he was using white coated Ambassadors. They ring more and give you more of an ambient sound. So that’s what I shot for, and I couldn’t be happier right now. Actually, I’m using Emperor batter heads; they are thicker than the Ambassadors, and therefore, they hold up a bit better under my type of playing. But with the really thin bottom heads, we manage to get the sound that I really like. The Bonham sound is a good direction for me to go in for the type of style that I play.
SG: Clyde has already given me a rundown on the stuff you use, but is there anything you’d like to say about your choice of gear?
TL: Well, those Sonor drums are just great. I’ve never played louder drums—and the tone! The Paiste cymbals sound just the way I like them to. They’re real loud, too. They break but ….
SG: What? Even the 1000 marching cymbals and the Rudes?
TL: The marching cymbals don’t go so quickly, but I do go through the Rudes. You know, when I first got a Rude cymbal, they told me that I wouldn’t be able to break it, and I said, “You just watch me!” [laughs] For some reason, I break hi-hat cymbals; the top one always goes. I go through two or three a week. I guess I hit them too hard—I don’t know—but one top cymbal on the hi-hat lasts me for two, maybe three shows, that’s all. Once you’ve got a little hairline crack, you need to replace them, because as the crack gets bigger, the sound goes. Thank God that Paiste endorses me, or I’d be broke. Paiste makes good stuff. Those cymbals are much louder, and they cut through much better than any others. Live they smash right through and just kick ass. They’re perfect in the studio, too.
SG: Do you use the same setup in the studio?
TL: Yes, but I don’t use the Simmons pads, and I use fewer cymbals. It’s mainly the stuff in front of me. The stuff on the side is really for the show, when I do that thing where I have both bass drums going and I hit and catch the cymbals on either side of me. It looks impressive—I hope.
SG: Don’t worry; it does! Where do the ideas for things like that come from—from watching other drummers, or is it all you?
TL: Some of the things I do are from things I’ve seen other people do. It’s hard to say really, because you see somebody doing something you like and you say, “That’s cool, but I’d do it My way,” and it comes out differently. So some of the ideas come from things that other drummers have done, and some come from my sitting down at the kit and just seeing what happens and what I like.
SG: Could you tell us about your use of the Simmons pads?
TL: I’ve got three set up with the kit at the moment. One is programmed with the sound of an orchestral chord, another is a Vibra-slap, and the third is a combination of a gunshot and a cannon. The Vibra-slap effect is something from a song on the new album called “City Boy Blues.” I took the sound of the real Vibra-slap, which I did on the album, lifted it off the master tape, and burnt a chip of it into my Linn machine so that I could trigger it with the Simmons.
SG: So what we hear live is not only the same Vibra-slap as was used on the record, but it’s even the same hit?
TL: Exactly. I hate going to see bands and thinking, “Hell, why didn’t they do that? It’s on the record.” But I also hate doing things half-assed live: You can’t take a real Vibra-slap, hold it up to a mic’, and expect it to sound good in a band this loud. But I can hit the pad, and it sounds brilliant; it’s perfect every time. I thought, “Why not have it exactly like it is on the album?” So I lifted that, and I also lifted the gunshot and cannon shot, which is all on the same chip, and is on a track called “Louder Than Hell.” This way, I can keep it sounding the same as it does when someone buys the album.
SG: The pad with the orchestra in it is only for your solo?
TL: Yes. I got tired of going to rock shows and hearing the same old drum solo all the time. Now that we’ve got electronics to play with, we can get some new and interesting sounds. And this orchestral sound is musical. It’s not just a case of putting my head down and beating the drums up. I can play this musical sound along with everything else, and people wonder where it’s coming from. They look up and say, “Whaaat?”
SG: Do you go for sounds in the studio and worry about reproducing them live later, or do you think in terms of live performances all the time you are creating new arrangements?
TL: We definitely think live, right off the bat, because if we go to perform and we can’t reproduce it, we think of it as cheating. So we always think about the performance: how we might be able to break it down live and make it an audience-participation trip—a sing-along—a shout-along. Yeah, we’re always thinking live, and we certainly don’t add tons of keyboards and harmonies that we can’t reproduce. If you do that, people get depressed, because it doesn’t sound like the records.
SG: Many bands use sequencers and backing tapes to get around that problem. You obviously don’t.
TL: No, we just use an intro tape; that’s about it. After the intro tape, it’s all live.
SG: You are getting quite involved in using electronic drumpads to give you effects to back up the sounds of the acoustic kit. Would you ever be interested in going all electronic and getting your regular drum sounds from pads as well?
TL: It would never happen. I could never do that. I’d be letting a lot of people down, plus I wouldn’t be happy. I like the sound of the real drums and the way you hit them. You hit an electronic drum, and it’s just not real to me. There are a lot of drummers who do that, and it sounds brilliant, but I just couldn’t play that way. Also, I’d probably break them. They wouldn’t last that long, and they are quite expensive.
SG: You wouldn’t need to play so hard, though.
TL: That’s true. But I like to play hard. I get a little bit aggressive with my drums; they take a bit of a beating, [laughs]
SG: You play piano on “Home Sweet Home.” Do you find going from the hard, physical bit on the drums, where you are using arm and leg movements, to the delicate finger action of the piano difficult?
TL: Great! That’s very understanding. It takes a drummer to ask a question like that. When I come off the drums, I’m really worked up; I’m on “11,”you know! When I go to the piano, I have to make a psychological adjustment: take a deep breath and tell myself to relax. There I am having to play a ballad on piano straight after doing something like “Ten Seconds To Love” on drums, and I really have to psyche myself into that in the few seconds it takes to go from the drums to the piano. And it’s hard to do. I really have to tell myself to relax. I might play the thing a bit too percussively, so I have to calm myself down.
SG: You’ve been getting involved in the songwriting for the band recently.
TL: I didn’t do any writing until the last album, Theatre Of Pain, but I co-wrote three of the numbers on there. Nikki and I are getting more involved in writing things together now.
SG: Do you specialize in writing melody or lyrics, for instance?
TL: My contribution is more in the arrangements: timing, stops and starts, rhythmic breakdowns, and things like that. I can write melodies, but Nikki is great doing that, so I more or less leave that to him. I’m good at working out how many verses, how many choruses, and stuff like that.
SG: What about drum machines? You said that you have a Linn.
TL: Yes, I approve. There’s a lot you can do with it, and there’s a lot that I could do if I learned more about it. I’m not worried about being replaced by one though. I’m not sure that a machine could produce the same sort of energy. I saw something on a guy’s T-shirt once that I think really sums it up. It said, “No machine can replace me until it learns how to drink.”
SG: Speaking of energy, do you do anything to keep yourself in shape, or does it happen automatically?
TL: I do sit-ups and things like that, but we have a pretty heavy touring schedule. Tonight was the fourth show in a row. We’ve got another show tomorrow, then a day off, and then another four shows. So when I have a day off, I don’t usually leap out of bed in the morning and say, “Right, now for some push-ups.” I like to rest. Particularly, I rest my hands; they get a little bit …. [He holds his hands out to show the callouses.] I exercise when I’m at home and not playing, but my drums really keep me pretty fit. It’s pretty good exercise. Check this out: I got hold of one of those milometers for joggers, which you can strap onto your foot and it tells you how many miles you’ve run. I had one of these on my right foot during a show, and it registered six miles. That was with the one foot. Imagine how much energy I was putting out with my other limbs.
SG: You do a fairly heavy touring schedule?
TL: Well, by the time this tour ends, we will have been on the road for nine months. We had Christmas and New Year’s off, but apart from that, we’ve been touring all that time. We’ve got a slave driver for a manager. That’s what it is. [laughs]
SG: Do you plan to spend so many months of the year touring, so many recording, and so many off?
TL: No, there’s no fixed schedule for that. When we go home, we might have a couple of months off, then we’ll record, and then we’ll do this all over again. You see, in this band, everybody complains by saying, “I want to go home” when we’re out on the road, but after we’ve been home for a week, we’re all saying, “I want to get out there and play some more.” We’re a young band, and we enjoy working. When we’re home we get miserable, because there’s nothing to do.
SG: You all seem very happy with Motley Crue.
TL: Oh, man! When the four of us came together…. We have all been in other bands, but that was more or less standard rock ‘n’ roll. This is like New Year’s Eve, Hallowween, and a party, all in one. We put on a show. Everybody dresses; there’s nobody in just a T-shirt and jeans. There are lights and pyrotechnics. The reactions in some of the places we go are just incredible!
SG: How do you see the long-term prospects for the band? Will you still be together as a rock band when you are in your 40’s, like the Rolling Stones?
TL: I really, really hope that could happen, because it would make me really happy. That’s one of the reasons why we change our look—our image. People ask us why we changed from the leather-and-studs thing to the more glam, show-biz look. The answer is that, if we didn’t change, we wouldn’t be around. Kids ask me, “Why does this new album sound different?” I tell them, “What do you want us to do—record two albums that sound the same?” We want to be around for a long time, so we’ll always change. We’ve never been a band to look and sound like anybody else. If anybody ever said to me, “Your new album sounds just like the last one,” that would really hurt. And we’ve found that, when other bands seem to be coming along with an image like ours, we shrug and say to each other, “Okay, it’s time to move on.”
SG: Where do all the ideas come from?
TL: From the band—from us. We all get involved in the set design for the stage, the light show, the sound, what we wear, album covers, artwork—you name it. We’re involved in everything. We take it all seriously. The music is definitely first, but the rest of it is almost as important. You can have a great album out, but if you go out on tour and nobody wants to come to see you play, what’s the use? We always keep it very interesting, and give them tons and tons to look at as well as listen to.
SG: Would you be interested in doing solo projects?
TL: When we record an album, I get very involved. I’m the first to arrive and the last to leave. Tom Werman, our producer, Duanne, the engineer, and I are the people who are there all the time. I take an interest in all the technical things. I don’t claim to know a lot, but I’ve learned quite a bit by doing three albums. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but if I knew when I started what I know now, I’d be well on the way, if you see what I mean, [laughs] I love working with Tom; he’s great. We call him “Pops.” Working with a great producer has inspired me to some extent, and one day I would like to produce an album. Being a drummer, I love dance music—not disco, but good funk. I’d like to try my hand at something like that one day.
SG: Playing as well as producing?
TL: Just producing. I hope that I can develop some engineering skills. It’s one thing to have a sound in your head, and it’s another to get it down accurately. But I do know what I want to hear. [He pauses for comic timing and then sings a drum part “boom, tsst, boom boom, tsst.”] Anyway, this is keeping me busy enough at the moment.
SG: You obviously enjoy being one of the “Bad Boys of Rock.”
TL: Yeah. It keeps it interesting out here, you know. It’s never boring, but if you let it get to you, you can lose your mind. It keeps everybody smiling!
SG: Doesn’t it get to be a bit of a strain sometimes, keeping up that image?
TL: [laughs] Oh yeah! Sometimes I wish that I was in a band like Hall & Oates, or something like that, where I would just have to play my drums and not worry about anything else. But fortunately—I say that because I enjoy it—we’ve created this monster, and we’ve got to live with it. I’m having fun. Somebody has got to do this! [laughs]
Drum Tech Clyde Duncan On Tommy’s Setup
by Simon Goodwin
CD: It’s a Sonor Phonic Plus kit. They are the best drums and hardware made in the world. It’s the only equipment that I would ever want to try tipping up vertically! This stuff has been around the world twice, and we’ve never had any problems with it. I can’t really say enough about it.
The kick drums are 14×24. The toms are 14 x 14 and 15 x 15 mounted, and 18 x 16 and 19 x 18 floor toms. The snare drum is custom-made for us by Sonor; it is 12 x 14. Basically, it is a marching drum without the marching attachments. We’ve got two here, but he only uses one at a time. The other one is a spare, for obvious reasons.
The heads we use are Remo coated Emperors: front and batter on the kick drums and batter side on all the toms. The bottom heads on the toms are some that I got specially made by Remo. They are the same thickness as snare heads. They are really thin, which gives them that give for a real “boo-uum.” [He mimes a note bending, with his hand.] The batter heads on the snare drums are CS. I change them after every show, because they get completely mashed. I usually have to change the tom heads after about three shows.
The bass pedals are Drum Workshop Turbo 5000. The rest of the hardware is Sonor Signature—the heavy-duty stuff.
There are three Simmons pads that we use to trigger some custom sounds, which we sampled off the album. The chips are in a Linn 9000.
SG: As we are actually looking at the kit, perhaps I could run down the cymbal setup. They are all Paiste. Going from left to right, there is a 12″ 505 splash, 15″ Rude Sound Edge hi-hats on the stand, and an 18″ Colorsound crash. Directly in front and on either side of the rack toms there are two 20″ 1000 series marching cymbals. That’s unusual.
CD: Yes, he uses these up front because they’re super-loud. That’s the main reason. Also, they don’t crack too easily.
SG: High up at about 2:00 and 10:00, there are two 20″ Colorsound China-types. Around on the right: a 24″ 602 ride, a pair of 15″ Rude cymbals on a Tama X-Hat, an 18″ Rude crash, and a 22″ 2002 crash. There is also an Ice Bell and various cowbells.
CD: Those are all made by Latin Percussion.
SG: This one here looks like a small church bell.
CD: Yes. This one was given to Tommy about four years ago, by a girl. It’s an actual old church bell. You can see here that it’s been dated 1878. He’s broken it in a few places, but it still has a really nice bell sound.
SG: What about the Mighty Mouse that’s perched between the rack toms?
CD: Well, I think that he was a childhood hero of Tommy’s. You’ll notice that Tommy has a tattoo of Mighty Mouse on his left arm. This one was given to him as well, and he has become a mainstay. He’s been stolen a couple of times. Girls have run up on stage and grabbed him, but we’ve managed to get him back.
SG: Could you tell us about the miking system you use?
CD: We use three channels for each drum. We have a Countryman mic’ on the outside, a May EA on the inside, and we’re also triggering the Linn 9000. So there are three separate drum sounds from each drum, which are blended together to get the sound that is out front. We’ve got over 30 channels on the drums.
SG: Tommy seems to have four monitor speakers behind him at floor level facing upwards.
CD: These two cabinets each have two 18″ speakers in them, which just blow low-end from the kick drums to hit you in the seat. When you hit a kick drum, it boots you right in the ass!
SG: What’s in these other cabinets to either side?
CD: In each of these there are four 12″ speakers in a reflex cabinet, with a horn in the top for the really high stuff, like the guitar. It’s extremely loud.
SG: And all for the drummer?
CD: All for the drummer. Sometimes the guy out front gets a little mad, because these are almost as loud as his P.A.
SG: Before I ask you to talk about the riser, what sticks does Tommy use?
CD: The sticks are Vic Firth Rock Nylon. I carve them up to put a bit of friction on them, because he does a lot of twirling.
SG: Okay, now for the riser.
CD: As you can see, these pieces are built into the bottom of the center section on each of the stands, so that they can be bolted to the riser quite simply. The threaded rod slips into the dish built into the platform base. You tighten it by turning it counterclockwise. The rubber feet on the stands grip so that it is very secure. It’s also got to be quick to set up and dismantle; we’re doing it every day. The kick drums are strapped down, and fixed in the same way. It all works very well.
SG: Securing the drummer might be harder than securing the drums.
CD: That’s something that did take a bit of practice, but we had a harness made for him, similar to the ones used by people who go up on telephone poles. There were bits added to it, and we got it sorted out. I test it myself each day. It must be just right, with even tension on each leg, because when it goes up, he is literally hanging there.
SG: What about the mechanics of tipping it up?
CD: It’s a hydraulic system: There are two hydraulic piston arms, which are mounted on either side about midway back. The hydraulic pump pumps fluid into the pistons, and up it goes. So far, it has worked perfectly every night.
SG: As long as it comes down again!
CD: We had thought that on the final night of the tour we might play a joke on him like not bolting the drums down, or leaving him up there, but I don’t think it would go down too well! [laughs]