Dave Lombardo certainly gets around. Of course, many know him as the long-time drummer for Slayer, a band that helped define thrash metal in the ’80s.
But beyond that, at the very least, it’s obvious that Lombardo has a wandering eye regarding band participation and gene hopping. Having been a member of groups such as Testament, Mr. Bungle, Suicidal Tendencies, Dead Cross, Annihilator, and more, Lombardo’s imprint is strewn across the proverbial landscape of rock and metal.
Lombardo is ever-busy with Mr. Bungle. And until recently, he was once again touring with Testament, but for now, at least, that’s come to an end. But that doesn’t mean he’s not staying busy, as his first-ever solo outing, Rites of Percussion, has just been granted its release.
And considering this record has been stewing in Lombardo’s brain since the late-90s, it goes without saying that Rites of Percussion is long overdue. Still, the record isn’t for the faint of heart, nor is it for thrash diehards. No, this time around, Lombardo dove deep into his bag of tricks, deploying just about every inch of musical knowledge and using all instruments he had at his disposal to craft what is perhaps his most eclectic and defining work yet.
In support of Rites of Percussion, Dave Lombardo dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into the recording of his first solo record, the importance of musical exploration through perpetual expression, and more.
Tell me about Rites of Percussion.
The pandemic was unfortunate for the music industry. It left me with a lot of time on my hands that I had never had before. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t touring. So, I figured I’d utilize the time I had to work on projects and collaborations that I never thought could happen. So, that was the main reason that this album happened. I was able to stay home and focus on what was now my main priority.
It’s something that was long overdue, and I’m glad I had the time to do it. But because of how long I’d wanted to do it, I ended up focusing on it heavily so that it would be something I was proud of and be as well received as possible. Ultimately, I don’t care how big it is; it’s something artistic, and I’m very proud of it.
It seems that you consciously tried to stray from the trash stylings you’re mostly known for.
Yeah… well, people have kept me in that mold. And obviously, when I’m on stage with that sort of band, I’m adding to that. But I think this record will give people a good look at my other dimensions as a drummer from what they’re used to seeing me do on stage. It’s just me doing my thing, being creative, and opening myself up to other genres that some people might not have imagined. I mean… I am a “thrash metal” drummer, but I’m inspired by so much more than that. I try to keep myself as open as I possibly can always.
Was it freeing to step outside of your comfort zone?
As a rock drummer, artistically, you want to stay within the parameters of rock music. So, there’s a lot of guardrails there. So, yeah, I won’t roll into a funky beat right in the middle of a thrash song, you know? So, I felt it was important to express myself in as many ways as possible with this album. It was freeing, gratifying, and something that really was long overdue.
I’ve wanted to do this since the ’90s but never had the time. So, to be able to finally step away from what I’ve been doing and free myself from the burnout and repetition, yeah, that was incredible. Because it was not only different types of music, but different ways of writing, too, having that challenge was essential and beneficial to me as a musician and drummer.
Given that the idea for this record dates to the ’90s, how does the finished project compare to what you envisioned back then?
It never had time to shift. Sure, the idea was there, but nothing you hear now reflects what was going through my mind then. I needed to go through all my experiences and be a part of all the various projects I’ve taken on. All of that has moved me forward, and in some way or another, all of that is reflected in this record.
Those projects gave me the confidence to do this and enabled me to be a creative force in ways I’d never imagined. So, it’s not about what I thought this could be then. It’s more that this was the right time to finally do something I’ve always wanted. Having time and finally being ready are why this is a reality now.
How did the recording process differ from previous projects?
Well, there was nobody involved, which was awesome. I had nobody dictating what to play or what not to play. I didn’t have to adjust or create something for someone’s guitar or bass riff. All of what you hear came from me and nobody else. And it developed organically, structurally, and because I engineered it myself. I recorded and performed everything, so what you hear does not sound like a hired engineer came in and messed with it.
If I didn’t understand something technical, or if there was a type of software I didn’t understand, I researched and taught myself how to use it. So, there were several different roadblocks; whether it was computer malfunctioning or studio techniques, I taught myself along the way. So, there were a lot of challenges, but they were easily knocked down by research or my forward-thinking ability and creativity.
What gear did you use during the recording of Rites of Percussion?
One of the more bizarre instances was when I used a cello bow. And I used an acoustic guitar as a sort of percussive instrument, which was a lot of fun. But there were other things, like I took a grand piano, opened the box where all the strings are laid out, and put a sustain pedal with a sandbag pressing it down.
And then I went into the piano box and hit the piano strings with the mallets, creating a creepy-sounding moment [Laughs]. And then, I followed it up with a tiny little drum solo at the end. But there were all sorts of things, like this set of Chinese gongs I’d collected through the years, bongos, and many other instruments that I can’t even think of right now.
Does thrash metal still speak to you, or do you plan to lean into this direction moving forward?
No, I’ll always play thrash. Thrash is the style of music that put me on the map, so that won’t be going anywhere. But I love every style of music, and I plan to pursue different avenues outside of thrash, too. As for thrash, I’m fortunate to have been part of that genre from the beginning, and it still means a lot to me. What I might do is try and continue to find ways to make what I do within that genre even more cinematic, but we’ll see.
Has Rites of Percussion changed your musical outlook?
It hasn’t. I look at things the same way in that I never know what the future might bring. You never know what doors might open, so it’s best for me to remain open to anything. I’m sure more interesting projects will come my way, and I think I’d like to be involved in more film scores, documentaries, etc. But who knows?
Does the collectively low attention span of the world today ever deter you from wanting to create new music?
No, I can’t let it factor into my thinking. I do things when it’s the right time to do them. And I put them out when it’s the right time for the world to hear them. When I put new music out, I’m entirely behind and ready to support it. I can’t worry about social media or how people take in music these days. There’s no point in doing that. And I’ve heard that some people are only putting out singles now, and I guess that’s cool. Beyond that, I take advice from my record company as far as what they feel will get the most traction, and I don’t worry about the rest. Once it’s out there, it’s out of my hands.
Dave Lombardo: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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