How's the tour with Flying Colors?
- It just ended. I have just arrived in Los Angeles to enter the studio again with, among others, Billy Sheenan. The Flying Colors tour lasted just over two months and we played mostly shows in Europe.
Is Flying Colors more popular here in Europe than in the U.S. then?
- Yes, one could say. Or no, well... I do not know. The album was received with open arms all over the world, according to the feedback we got in the band but it was clearly the European bookings that began to emerge when we began to gear up to go on tour.
How did it happen when you started Flying Colors?
- I knew Steve and Neil since before and I had played in parts with Casey, who I thought had a great voice. We had talked about trying to put something together but there were never enough time. It was only after I dropped out of Dream Theater as our producer Bill Evans brought us all together in the studio and locked us in there until we wrote a bunch of songs together.
According to those little mini-documentaries on Youtube you clicked right away, musically, was it so?
- Absolutely. We clicked as hell and got a head start with the creative process of writing songs for the album. Personally I enjoyed the experience because all of the guys were so easy and inspiring to work with.
I read an interview with you two years ago where you pointed out that you dropped out of Dream Theater because you wanted to slow down, work less and spend more time with your family. Despite this, you play in five different bands right now - simultaneously. How does that work?
- I have never in my life said I wanted to slow down, I would like to work less. On the contrary, I am a passionate and prolific workaholic who lives to make music and I want to continue to work as much as I can. I know what interview it is that you're referring to and they misquoted me badly. What I said, that they did not include, was that I wanted to get away from Dream Theater and the monstrous machine of total monotony that the band was toward the end. We never took a break to wait for some kind of creative flow, we never stayed up and enjoyed our success, but instead rolled on in 1,000 km/h with album recording, touring, album recording, touring, recording session, tour – this went on year after year after year . I was quite frankly tired of the music we played, the music in general and on my instrument. And that was when I took the decision to leave Dream Theater. The band that I had founded, 25 years earlier.
You seem to work with several, rather scattered musical styles today. Was that something you wanted to do even during the time in Dream Theater?
- I played with Liquid Tension Experiment and Transatlantic, during Dream Theater-years and I jumped in as the drummer of Avenged Sevenfold, so of course I tried several other styles of music even before I quit. But it is even more now. Today, I play in six different bands that all sound radically different. I see myself as a music-loving musician with a broad taste and a burning passion to master several different styles of music. I never wanted to just limit myself to playing progressive hard rock, even if it is in that genre that I grew up with as a drummer.
If I were to compare your drumming today with that 15 years ago, I would say you are playing less intricate and complicated now, and is more focused on groove and straighter rhythms, is that correct?
- Yes and no. I am older now, I have matured musically and like to vary my drum playing. However, I will always love to play progressive rock, which I intend to continue especially in my new project with Billy Sheenan. What I do today, with all my different projects, is that I challenge myself as a musician again, which of course is as liberating as it is evolving. I play with some of my idols and I grow both as a producer, man and drummer. This is something that I wanted to do for many years and right now I feel better than in a long time.
Can you tell us a bit about breakup with Dream Theater?
- No, I cannot actually. I do not wanna talk about it, not the 500th time. I have been misquoted so many times and read so much crap from my old colleagues that I simply got tired of talking about Dream Theater altogether. I make another kind of music today, with musicians who inspire and motivate me. Dream Theater is behind me.
Your old band colleagues have repeatedly expressed a negative view of you and your commitment to Dream Theater while you have been the rather praised them for their musical abilities. How does it feel?
- It's less fun. I have read various less flattering things and it makes me feel really sad. At the same time I have heard that, in particular, John talked in a couple of interviews about what a great role I played for Dream Theater's sound in general and not only as a pace and rhythm machine.
You've played on Tama drums as long as I can remember, why Tama?
- There are lots of really good drum brands out there, you know it yourself. DW, Pearl, and ... many other brands all make good drums, but for me it has always been Tama which attracted most. They are simply amazing instruments in all price ranges and I have always enjoyed both frames as well as hardware and their amazing support over the years.
In the past you played exclusively the Starclassic Bubinga Series, while today you alternate between Bubinga and Starclassic Performer. Why?
- In part, it is a logistical issue. I cannot carry with me my big Bubinga kit all over the world anymore and it's also about me looking for different sounds for different band now. With Adrenaline Mob I play Tama Birch / Bubinga kit because it suits our music better. In the end, though, the Tama builds amazing instruments that always worked perfectly for me. Then it is also a lot about who plays the drums and how he plays - rather than the type of wood the frame is made of or what type of skin that is on the toms.
I changed my Pearl kit in favor for a Starclassic Bubinga when I saw you play them in Dream Theater. Great drums!
- How fun! Yes, those drums are my favorites. If I could choose only one drum kit that I would live with for the rest of my life, my so-called "desert-island-drum kit", it would clearly be a Tama Starclassic Bubinga. A big one. A gigantic thing with lots of parts.
I recently started playing in a new band and after the first two hours of jamming said their guitarist that I demonstrably was very influenced by you. How do you feel when you hear that you inspired a generation of drummers and how does it feel when people mention your name in the same sentence as John Bonham, Keith Moon and Neil Peart?
- Wow! I do not really know what to answer to that question. It is of course incredibly flattering and fun to hear. I am very proud that I have inspired and motivated many young drummers and of course hope that they continue to play and continue to evolve. At the same it was never something I aspired to become, a source of inspiration, or to leave behind some kind of "legacy". I just wanted to make music and express myself through my instrument. That's all I ever wanted to do.
What do you think of the lists ranking the world's best drummers and the top positions that you often tend to end up on?
- It's flattering to win prizes, to be placed high on various lists and get good press. Naturally, it is flatter. Meanwhile, I never really understood that whole discussion about the drummer who is "best". There is in my opinion no one who is better, there are only musical impressions and personal preferences. I know there are thousands of musicians out there who can play both more technical and faster than I can, but for me it's about something else - something more. At the same time I would see it as a failure if my legacy, which I leave behind when I die, contained nothing but praise for my ability to play advanced rhythms in odd sequences and my view of the aggressive, progressive drumming. I hope that my fans see me working more comprehensive than that, I was co-composer on many of Dream Theater songs, guided the band purely creatively in opposite directions for 25 years, directed the videos, produced and I have been involved throughout the creative process - not just the drum playing.
You appear to be very humble. How is that possible after 30 million records sold and, multiple times, being crowned the most important contemporary hard rock drummer?
- I am grateful, motivated and I am constantly inspired by other musicians, something that allows me to always be humble in my role as a songwriter and drummer. I constantly strive to learn more, to evolve and it is therefore also nice that I now have control over my own time and I can really play with all these super musicians who inspire me.
That was all the questions I had. Good luck in the future and thank you for your time.
Thank you. Have a good one.
Interview by Petter Hegevall, editor in chief Gamereactor