CHRIS ADLER GIVES THE BACK STORY ON HIS EXPERIENCE IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS AND SHARES SOME GREAT ADVICE AND PERSONAL INSIGHTS INTO THE INDUSTRY!
Chris Adler is a man that needs no introduction. He’s revered worldwide for his skills behind the drum kit and his band-Lamb of God-is absolutely one of the biggest metal bands in America today. You’d think after becoming so renowned as a drummer and having his band take part in such huge events (world tour as direct support for Metallica anyone?!) he’d take it easy and just rest on his laurels. That’s completely the opposite of the truth.
Chris continues to work harder than ever to this day to not only refine his craft but to also keep up with what’s going on in the metal world today. Chris was gracious enough to spend some time with me where we discussed everything from his decision to switch from bass to drums, all the way to the details on his drum clinics, as well as his thoughts on Bandhappy.com.
Check it out and troll away in the comments section. For more info on Chris Adler and all his current actives be sure to check out his website by clicking here.
You’re obviously very dedicated to your craft. On your website the learning curve from when you switched from bass to drums is described as “extreme”. Since that time though you continued to improve and refine your craft with each new release and you began to garner a huge amount of praise for your playing from some of the top musicians/websites/publications and as if that wasn’t enough you even received a standing ovation for your performance at the 2005 Modern Drummer festival. My question is-do you still continue to practice on a regular basis? Do you feel pretty confident with where you are now or do you feel like you still have a lot to learn?
You’re extremely well known as being the drummer in Lamb Of God but what some people may not know is that you actually started out in bands playing bass and you were already out touring the U.S. as far back as 91. What would you like to say to the musicians/bands out there that are expecting an easy rise to the top?
Chris: There are no cheat codes. I think that everybody that gets anywhere in this industry has to pay their dues. One hit wonders are that for a reason, and although you might get lucky enough to have a moment in the sun, the real challenge in doing what we do-especially in metal-is the longevity of trying to make a career of it and keep yourself happy. It definitely takes a lot of lumps and a lot of perseverance.
You switched to drums because the band you were in already had a bass player in it. Do you ever think about how crazy that seems in hindsight? Do you think things would have ended up working out the same for your career had you stuck with the bass?
Chris: I don’t. I don’t think they would have. I have thought about how crazy that is and there’s so many random little choices that were made along the way that there was no though put into. When I first came to college I got accepted to Marquette University up in Milwaukee and I flew up there and stayed with a friend and I really liked Milwaukee, I really liked being in the city and everything else. But, Richmond was just a little bit closer to home and it still had that city feel and BCU happened to be a little more of an art school. What I really didn’t want was to have a religious curriculum that Marquette had and so after coming out of Catholic High School I was just sick of it. So, I chose BCU. I’d been picking up bass in local bands here and getting kind of into the scene and getting to know everybody and then just randomly switching over to drums because, you know, we were just gonna make some noise in the back room and I kinda wanted to be in a metal band. There were so many things that could have gone another way where I certainly wouldn’t have done this. It definitely didn’t come overnight-I didn’t even quit my day job until 2005 which was after the first three Lamb of God records were out. I was an IT director at the local University and I went out and got my Microsoft certification and all that stuff. I was fully planning on this music thing being an escape, a little getaway, you know, just to get out and have some beers and make some crude jokes but I was kind of hedging my bet with this other full time gig that I had and I was full time there for ten years. I basically had tenure there, you know, they couldn’t fire me. I had to retire or walk away. *laughs* Then finally everything started taking off. I could have gone either way. In general I kinda grew up with a great work ethic because of my Dad. I’d definitely taken on a lot of responsibility and had thumbs up from the band for doing my daily personal life and that was a scary decision. I think the biggest thing that kept me moving in this direction was that I didn’t want to make any decisions that I would outright regret, and although some of those decisions have been tough I didn’t want to be an IT guy for the rest of my life and think about what might have been if I had just taken that extra tour or done that one more record. So, sometimes you just gotta go by the seat of your pants and I took that leap and so far it’s worked out alright.
When you told your family that you were going to pursue music as opposed to a career being a Network Manager what was their reaction? Did they fully support you or tell you that you were out of your damn mind?
Chris: Well see, they had the benefit of my own insecurities working for them in that, like I said, I didn’t quit my full time job until 2005. They had been supportive since I was a kid with my instruments; guitars, bass, drums, whatever-they always pushed me in an artistic way. My Mom taught me how to play piano and got me a singing teacher who taught me how to sing as well. They were very creative people. My Dad was in a local theatre of arts and all that stuff so they were always supportive of and interested in me choosing this path. They saw me full time in this IT gig, being good with computers and working that whole direction for a very long time. In 2005, when I quit, it was shortly after we did a tour with Slipknot where we were playing full on arenas. So, they came out to see me on that tour when we played the Patriot Center here in Washington D.C. which where I grew up, that’s where the big bands played. So, when they saw me doing that it wasn’t like “oh our dead beat kid is gonna go quit his job and be in a rock and roll band”. They saw the reaction-we were starting to get and the magazine covers and all that stuff; they saw how big it already was by the time that I flipped the switch. So, there wasn’t that nervous period of time where- I spent a ton of time the bars and that circuit but they weren’t really exposed to it. By the time their eyes tuned in we were already well on our way up the ladder.
Wow. I was actually at that show-that’s crazy. You guys fucking tore it up!
Chris: Oh is that right? That’s awesome-thanks!
So from what you said I gather that you come from the school of belief where bands just have to get out there and hone your chops and just keep doing gig after gig after gig and just play your asses off?
Chris: I think in todays world, for me as a fan-and I realize in the way that you asked that question-you know, that’s the way that we came up; that was really the only way to do it. You put your music on the internet for free and hopefully you can get some gigs because when people feel and see the energy that’s when it becomes contagious. So, that’s been our kind of playbook the whole time-just play play play. When we are the band that we know we can be in the rehearsal room, it brings people to us. In a lot of ways we’ve kept our leverage when we’ve done our business dealings because of the fact that we weren’t chasing deals down, people were coming to us. It took us longer because of that and it took many more lumps because of that. We weren’t trying to do anything other than have fun but we just kept at it. For me now, and I’ve kind of grown up with this, we try to stay current with what’s going on with music and still going to shows and I’m still a huge metal fan. For me, there’s so much great music coming out now. A lot more talented and capable people doing what bands have been doing for years but, you know, the technology has really caught up. People are really able to be very very creative but still-to me-it’s all about the live show. It’s not about the CD on the shelf, it’s not about the music on the internet because now any twelve year old can write an amazing song in GarageBand and have it programmed out to the point where it just sounds like unbelievable robot music that nobody could ever possibly play, and that very well may be true. So yeah, to me the live show is everything now and we really try to focus on that to make sure we can stay out on tour, not because we always wake up and always want to be out on the road and play another show, but because that’s the way we were taught how to do this.
Back in 1999 downloading was really a new thing on the horizon and pretty much anyone that did have the luxury of having internet had dial up. During that time though Burn The Priest became the most downloaded band of all time on mp3.com which is something that really lured in some labels. Where you surprised at all by how successful you were with downloads at that point in time?
Chris: It definitely was new. Again, my day job was this computer job so I was right on sort of the cusp of this thing really exploding. When I started getting on there it was all basically one big IRC chat room. At the time it was used, you know, emails were starting and with military and stuff like that and I was privy to some of that in that my organization was asked to keep sensitive data sensitive so we were kind of leading edge of that. As technology changes and as people were getting around on the internet we had to find ways to keep our data safe. So, it was really my job to understand all of these different ways of communication. Then, it got to the point quick when operating systems and sites started coming up and people were building their own sites. You know, MP3.com was kind of the thing before Napster and was kind of this place where you could post up your music and check out other bands and they hired me to do reviews of people’s albums. Not hired, they weren’t paying me, but I was such a metal head that I just kind of wanted to listen to metal all day and talk about it so I would do basically what’s considered today, like, blogs for them about what people’s music was like. Then I started putting up our music and it just steamrolled from there. Then Napster just exploded, this whole new digital age of music and I think because we were right there kind of at the top of it, as much as it has ripped the industry, as much as it does hurt established bands, it was the greatest tool for us as a young band. There’s no way I can turn my back on that now and complain about it because that is probably the single most important factor in how we became a successful act which was being able to share our music with people that wanted to hear it and then show up at their house and rock their face off.
Tell me a little bit more about the drum clinics you’ve been doing-what has the experience doing those been like?
Chris: Yeah, it’s really been super intimidating because I know these clinic guys, these teachers and stuff, and I didn’t come up that way. I’m just kind of this rock and roll kid who learned how to play drums while drinking beer and it has nothing to do with the folks, or the school, or the proper technique. My endorsement companies who are the people that give me the products that I play have been asking me for years and years and years if I would consider doing it and I always felt like I owed it to them to do it, but I thought that I was going to be playing in somebody else’s back yard if I were to do it. You know, I know every Lamb of God song very well and I feel like people look to me as maybe a talking head for metal or maybe as sort of a business guy but I don’t know exactly what I’m doing behind the drums. *laughs* I know that I’m playing some creative stuff in that people have told me that but I don’t sit around and analyze it or try to learn other people’s songs or read drum books all day or spend my whole life thinking about drums. I’m just not that kind of drum nerd. So, I felt like I didn’t know how to do this but I went into it with this kind of understanding that I owe these companies some attention to their products and at the very least I can go there, play a couple tunes, and talk about the products that I use and why I use them. I think that does make a difference for kids when they first walk in the store and I understand why they would want me to do that. So, that was my goal and then I came up with this whole…basically my story, you know-how I started, how I switched from bass to drums, how I had other things going on in my life-I kind of just took this leap of faith. I talked about the gear and played some tunes and some solo stuff. This was in February and March on the clinic tour. Recently I just did one in Spain which was very much the same thing and what I found was yes, there are those who want to take something out of the experience of going to a drum clinic, I think what everybody wants to take out of it is some sort of inspiration. I think more people than not were really inspired by not being over-schooled and super technical and coming at it from a point of view where it’s like hey, playing drums is a lot of fun and I’m inspired by the music that the guy’s bringing it on guitar and it makes me wanna hit stuff and I’ve got this cool drum kit and I’m gonna think about it in this way and when my brother played this riff I was thinking of a beat like this, and he was looking at me like what does that mean? I just kind of tell the story of how we write together, how I kind of put the kit together, why I play a kit right handed when I’m left handed, and little quirks about me that make me stand out. The influences that I have that aren’t all metal-guys like Billy Cobham, Steward Copeland-that come from outside of what we do that find a way into my playing that makes it probably stand out a bit more and make it more unique. I just saw the awe in all these kids eyes where it wasn’t like some instructor showing up with handouts. These kids were looking at me ike “oh shit, I can do this!” and that was kind of that magic moment when that circle kind of completes itself-when you inspire somebody to be creative and do something. So, it’s been a blast for me. Like I said, it was really intimidating to get started but when I got into it I think it started to feel a little bit more comfortable, and when I felt like people weren’t there to judge me, they were more interested in my story and, kind of, getting themselves into my shoes somehow and learning about how I did it.
Can you tell me a little bit about your thoughts/involvement with Bandhappy.com?
Chris: Yeah! Matt [Halpern from Periphery] is just the world’s greatest drummer. Matt and I have been getting together and he’s been showing me some new licks which are going to appear on the new Lamb of God record and I really wanted to push myself kind of, outside of my own box. I felt like if we’re going to keep doing this as a band I need to involve and keep up with what’s happening out there and Matt is kind of this fusion guy that’s bringing it into metal and speeding things up and doing some really, really, cool stuff and I’ve always just been a fan of guys that are coming from a place that’s outside the box. When I was doing the clinics I hooked up Matt with Mapex and Mapex now endorses him and through that, we’ve gotten together several times, shown each other some stuff, and through that process Matt started talking to me about the lessons that he gives on the road and he said it would be fun if he could come out on this clinic run I was doing with me and, kind of, open the show or do something like that. That sort of snowballed into this idea of this Bandhappy.com where there’s basically this centralized location for people to reach out to, I don’t want to call it celebrities necessarily, but to well known performers that will be able to offer lessons directly to individuals where it’s not necessarily a thousand people coming to a drum clinic. It’s way more about very strict individual attention to detail of what a student might want or be interested in. I thought that was genius and it’s obviously working. People that I know in the industry have been doing lessons over Skype for quite a while but to have a centralized location where you can basically reach out to any instrument, any genre, and find guys that are kind of, name-wise respected in that industry. It’s quite a challenge. It’s quite…what’s the word…ambitious of Matt to think that he could pull something like that together. I think he started talking to me saying “hey, you know, we seem to be getting along well and your clinic thing is going well. People seem to like what you’re doing. What do you think about this idea?” So we’ve just been talking about it from there. I’ve met with the developers now a couple times and I’m heading up to Baltimore to speak with them and I think it’s, It’s part of how the industry’s going to change. It’s not gonna be the kid with the acoustic guitar that has a thirty minute lesson at the Mom and Pop shop anymore. As much as I could romanticize that notion and while I was that kid, I think-like with everything else-you kind of have to keep up with the times. I think that’s where everything’s going. Being able to have your own personal experience on a home base level where you get exactly what you need, and I think Matt’s really ahead of the curve on understanding that because of his ability to be doing what he does on the road.
You recently made the leap into producing for other bands. How hands on are you as a producer and is this something you’d like to do more of in the future?
Chris: It’s definitely something that I wanna get into a lot more in the future. You know, I totally overbook myself with all the projects that I want to do but occasionally there are bands that catch my ear, and not because they’re the most super incredible Norwegian black metal band that I’ve ever heard. It’s just something about the band. Maybe it’s the drummer, maybe it’s the guitar player, or maybe it’s just something that kind of inspires me to do more with what I do so I generally reach out to those guys and see where they’re at, see what they’re doing. Bands like This Or The Apocalypse. Of course, that ended up coming to fruition and I was involved in the production of that record and that entailed me being in New York for a while and also working with the guys on song structures from overseas when I was on tour. Helping write some drum parts, doing gang vocals in the studio, giving my opinion when it came to mix time, when it came to tracking, and when it came time to decide what equipment we used. So yeah, I would say I’m very hands on in that level. I’m not gonna send in an assistant and tell them what I think or anything like that. But, there are other bands where it hasn’t come to fruition. I would love to do something with Tesseract-I would love to do something with those guys. I’ve reached out to Ben in Cloudkicker and I’d love to do something with him as well and it’s kind of this never ending cycle. I mean I’m really inspired by new music that’s coming out and some of these really special acts that I’d love to get in deeper with. So, we’ll see what happens. There’s a lot of bands that approach me now knowing that I’m kind of doing that thing and right now I do have very little time before we head out in January. We just finished a record. I fly to New York this weekend for the mix and mastering session and in between all of that stuff I’ve been writing-I just got my second book done and in my hand yesterday and so that’s gonna hit next week.
If you could give one piece of advice to any music or band that’s just starting out what would it be?
Chris: It’s very cliche-but if you’re doing it for any other reason than your love of the music it will fail. If you’re following a trend, it you’re trying to copy somebody else’s sound, its not going to work. You have to love it because there’s so many obstacles and so many hurdles and so many difficult moments in doing this. Even at the level that we’re at it’s very, very, difficult to keep this group of guys together and to make sure everybody’s happy and creatively able to get what they need out it. There’s so many obstacles in getting to the finish line, but, if you don’t love it you won’t make it and there’s no reason to even start. So, do it for the right reasons and if its good and you like it, then it will probably be contagious and it will probably spread to other people. But, if you are doing it in hopes of girls or money or being like a certain band it is bound to fail.
Thanks so much for doing this interview Chris-it’s been an honor! I can’t wait to hear the new Lamb Of God album!!
Chris: Thank you man, yeah me neither, I’m going up this weekend and I’m gonna get blown away, I’m psyched!