Dave Lombardo - After Hours

 
 Photo by  Christy Borgman

Photo by  Christy Borgman

Words by Tom Hoare

Although Super Mario Kart was all the rage in 1995, sporting a hairstyle like Toad’s lovechild inevitably propels you along the path towards a severe identity crisis. Mine concluded in a Virgin Megastore when a store clerk, after enquiring about what sort of music I liked, advised, with a post- pubescent smirk, that I buy Reign In Blood by Slayer. So I bought it. It was very different to the Bryan Adams records I was used to.

This was the first time I heard Dave Lombardo play drums. The next day I began saving up for a double bass pedal.

For many, Reign In Blood is the magnum opus of thrash metal. Released in 1986, its artwork alone became genre defining. You don’t have to be a metal fan to appreciate that Lombardo, in his own way, is uniquely talented. He’s one of the genre’s most recognisable names; a huge influence on a generation of drummers who would grow up to become household names in their own right.

In early 2013, it was announced that Dave Lombardo was no longer a member of Slayer. One of the biggest metal bands on the planet, the details of his departure emerged in a series of tit for tat exchanges that centred around the financial, professional and personal relationships between the band members themselves and their wider management. Ultimately, facts, figures and opinions were poached by the press and twisted into contextually devoid sound bites, which exacerbated the situation further. For many fans, it was likely an unpleasant, if not somewhat bizarre occurrence.

I met Dave in a dingy basement club. We sat in the corner as a cleaner trawled a mop over the floor and the barman polished glasses from behind the bar. Apart from that, the place was empty.

If you were to assume that Dave’s aggressive playing might mimic his personality you’d be wrong. He’s diligently polite, conscientious and quiet. We talk about his own band, Philm, and work he’s done with famous saxophonist and composer, John Zorn. A performance with the latter is the reason his kit is set up on the stage.

After a while, the cleaner stops in the middle of the floor, his face dimly lit from the light of his phone. He moves the mop slowly back and forth over the same spot, each pass more lethargic than the last. After ten minutes, all motion bar the swiping of his thumb has stopped and he props up his torso with the mop’s handle.

Prior to the interview I hadn’t intended to ask Dave anything about Slayer. I was wary of repeatedly covering the same old ground for the sake of tedious formality. But it was only when sat opposite him did I realise the extent to which I associated Dave with the band he had left, in much the same way Ringo is synonymous with The Beatles or Neil Peart with Rush. It wasn’t the how or why he was no longer a part of it, but I wondered about the effect the experience had on his identity as a musician, and the subsequent impact it made on his life and career. Inadvertently, I found out.

Dave Lombardo: Is it on – your recorder?

The Drummer’s Journal: Yes.

Are you sure? (Prods dictaphone) Testing, testing...

I think we’re good.

Ok.

When I heard you were doing improvisational material with John Zorn, I thought I might find you sat behind a little jazz four-piece kit or something...

(Glances over at his hefty-looking kit) Nah. I’m not sure that’d be me really (laughs).

How is it as an experience being able to progress your own projects?

It’s been great. I’m releasing a new album with Philm which is pretty exciting. Sometimes it’s difficult trying to put everything in place, like getting the right record deal and finding the right people to work for you. Setbacks happen where people don’t quite do their job correctly, but you learn as you go along.

It must have been about 12 months now since you announced you were leaving Slayer...

Yeah, pretty much.

As a year, how would you summarise it? Has it been a big change?

It’ll always be a big change when you’re following other people’s professional advice and it’s ultimately not in your interest but theirs.

You have a very high profile, particularly among drummers, which means whatever you say gets banded around left, right and centre...

Yeah. That’s pretty much how it goes. I have to be careful what I say now because the press aren’t always that considerate.

Do you feel like there’s a mediated version of yourself?

I mean, it’s all me. I try to do the best I can and just be honest. The problem is I can only say so much before it provokes a reaction from the other side and that’s not what I want. I think things can quite easily be taken out of context, and sometimes writers will have bias and want to portray things in a certain light. I’m burned out, I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. Life goes on.

Why is that? Because you’ve talked about it so much?

Not really that, but whenever I do say something, I tend to get a bit of flak from people who are like, “why are you still talking about that, move on!”

Do you think that might be because people perceive that you’re complaining about Slayer?

I think so.

Are you actually complaining?

No. All I do is answer people’s questions. I’m not complaining about what happened. Everybody has an opinion. Especially on the internet.

To leave something you’ve spent a lot of time and effort doing must be quite emotional...

Absolutely. All those years of friendship, hanging out and thinking about how it ended still does make me angry. But I know that’s not a good emotion to hold on to, you’ve just got to let it go. That’s always easier said than done though. I mean, Slayer was such a huge part of my life for such a long time. That’s not something you can just instantaneously chop right out.

So that’s how it made you feel, angry?

(Pauses) Yeah. (Long pause) Are you a psychiatrist or something?

Don’t worry. The first session is free.

(laughs) Ok, that’s good to know.

Did you expect your departure to create the amount of furore that it did?

No. When I mentioned what was happening online, particularly what was going on financially and what I was earning compared to the management, everyone was very supportive. The reaction was huge. I was blown away. I’m very grateful for everyone’s support, very kind, very awesome. Thanks to the fans. But yeah, it wasn’t all positive.

I’m sure you can appreciate that, from a fan’s perspective, why a band member leaving might be a big deal...

Absolutely.

Have you ever seen Breaking Bad?

Sure. I love it.

There’s a scene where the main character says, “there must exist certain words in a certain, specific order that will solve practically any situation.” Do you agree?

Are you asking if I think leaving could have been avoided?

...Yes.

With hindsight, I was told by the people I was working with that everything that could have been done, had been done. Whether that is true, I’ll likely never know. For me, there was certainly no other option. The music business is screwy. I live in north LA, where the porn industry is quite prevalent. There’s a quote that says, “you could work in porn, but if you really want to get fucked, work in the music industry.” I’ve learnt a lot of lessons.

To what extent did you feel your identity as a musician was tied up with Slayer?

When I think of Slayer as me, Jeff, Tom (Araya) and Kerry (King), I think each of us contributed something unique and that’s what made the band appealing. I certainly felt for a long time that, in terms of my career, Slayer was very important. And it continues to follow me around - if I say the wrong thing in the media, it comes right back to me. Slayer questions I try to shy away from. I’m not the one asking the questions – I’m just stating the facts. I’ve moved on. I’m working with these amazing musicians. This isn’t something I would have been able to do with Slayer, so there have been positives too.

Take Mike Portnoy, for example, who left Dream Theater. People still get really affronted by it. He took a lot of flak for that...

Yes. What Mike did took a lot of guts. Especially as he didn’t really have a totally permanent gig that he was leaving specifically for. I might be wrong.

What sort of accountability does an artist have to their fans?

Absolutely, there’s a strict accountability. I remember when Kiss split up and they got these other musicians in, I turned my back on them. I loved that band for what it was, not what it became. A lot of it has to do with integrity I think. In terms of Slayer, before Jeff Hanneman died - bear in mind he was ill for a long time - Jeff personally approved Gary Holt as a replacement guitarist. The fans especially were supportive about that.

Initially, when you were playing regularly with Slayer, what did you want the legacy of the band to be?

I wanted Slayer to retire correctly. I wanted to go out with a farewell tour. I wanted to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to bow out respectfully. To go out the right way with dignity.

Is that a contrast to what Slayer’s legacy is now?

From what I read, I mean, there’s always two sides, but it seems like the band now is just a name. For me, personally, I’m not sure Slayer exists anymore. I know there’s a band called Slayer out there but what Slayer was, what it meant to me, that doesn’t exist anymore.

How did you approach moving on?

Generally, I’m a person that picks up the pieces and moves on. I can still play drums so whatever happens I can still perform.

In terms of making the decision to leave, was that difficult or easy in the sense that you just knew it had to happen?

It was very, very, difficult. I was getting different advice from a lot of different people; attorneys, managers and accountants, who all, of course, had vested interests in whatever I decided to do. I know now you should never hold yourself back from leaving a toxic situation. That should be true for anyone who is in a relationship where you are being taken advantage of, be it a boyfriend or girlfriend, you have to move on.

 Take some responsibility for yourself. You’ve previously said that metal has a lot of boundaries. What did you mean by that?

I just mean that metal-heads like their music a certain way. A lot of metal engineers or metal producers use the same drum programs. The problem that creates is there’s no character, individuality or personality when it comes to instrumentation. Everything sounds similar and people copy each other. There are so many different styles of music out there, and I think metal musicians shouldn’t be so fearful of metal journalists who might drag down on something because it doesn’t sound a certain way.

Any examples?

Something as simple as a verbal agreement with your buddies in the band goes a long way. When things are going well the idea of something bad happening seems ludicrous. You need to know where you stand in relation to everyone else. I learnt not to have your head in the sand and not to let other people tell you what’s going on.

Have we already achieved what’s humanly possible with the double pedal?

I think we’re not too far off what is physically possible. With a double kick, you need to be able to prove yourself live. You might be able to do it in the studio, but live, that’s where you have to deliver. That’s where you’re going to get judged. And if you’re faking it with a play along or backing track, then people will make their own decisions.

Your drum clinics are pretty unconventional...

(Laughs) Thanks. Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty accurate.

Do you always do such extensive Q&A sessions at the end?

Of course. I’ve got a lot of time for the people that come and support me at these things. They’re a real privilege to do. You’ve been to one recently?

It was in Belfast. If I remember correctly, you got several audience members on stage to sing the guitar and bass parts to some Slayer songs...

Sure. I mean, it’s way more interesting that way, right?

It was most entertaining.

Well, that’s what it’s all about.