Pat Mastelotto Of Mr. Mister & King Crimson: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Pat Mastelotto Of Mr. Mister & King Crimson: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Feature Photo: criben / Shutterstock.com

As a longtime member of the ’80s genre-confused act Mr. Mister, drummer Pat Mastelotto proved to be one of the more versatile skin traders of the era.

Mastelotto proved pivotal to classic records such as I Wear the Face (1984), Welcome to the Real World (1985), and Go On… (1987) before shifting tides, lineup changes, and record company shakeups saw the band fold its tent in 1990. And while Mr. Mister might have been spent, Mastelotto was just getting started, lending his talents to British indie heroes XTC before his session work grew sparse in the face of grunge and ’90s alt-rock.

Never one to stay idle for long, Mastelotto rallied, joining old-guard psych rockers King Crimson and lending his hands to various projects that caught his ear on the side. Elsewhere, in the ever-curious and musically far-reaching department, Mastelotto lent his skills to the likes of Sticks Men, Frost*, and his most recent project, the hyper-unique, you’ll-regret-it-if-you-miss-it, O.R.k.

During a break in the action, Past Mastelotto dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to recount his origins in music, joining Mr. Mister, working with Robert Fripp, his newest music, and more.

As a young musician, what was the moment which first sparked your interest in music?

It might’ve been something like “the one-eyed purple people eater” or that song about “smoking cigarettes and watching captain kangaroo.” [Laughs]. I was born in ’55, so the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, right? Perfect timing for the Beatles and the British Invasion that rolled in when I was about 8 years old. Bands like Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who, and the Stones were all huge for me. And when I was about 13, I got into King Crimson, Weather Report, and crazy stuff like that.

Who were some of your earliest influences?

Some of my earliest drumming influences were Ringo Starr, Dave Clark, Ginger Baker, Keith Moon, John Bonham, Michael Giles, Bill Bruford, Tony Williams, Joe Morello, Buddy Miles, Jim Keltner, Jim Gordon, James Gadson, Phil Collins; it’s a long, long list. [Laughs]. But there were undoubtedly several non-drummers like Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and Todd Rundgren, too. My style has changed as I continue to gain experience, and music is changing in form and function.

What were some of your earliest gigs where you first cut your teeth?

My seventh-grade power trio, The Creamy Head Blues Band, played a couple of grade school graduation parties and local gigs. Do you know the keyboard player Jimmy Cox? We grew up in the same little town, and I can remember playing one gig with him at some pizza parlor as a duo when we were about 12; that would’ve been when I joined the musician’s union. [Laughs].

Soon I was playing with the grownups, 21-year-olds from Chico State College. We played all over Northern California up into Oregon and Nevada, and that was basically lots of bar gigs. I was playing five night-a-week bar gigs when I was 16, and when I was 17, I left high school and moved to the Bay Area with a band that lasted a few months called Hippie House. And then, I moved to Los Angeles just before my 18th birthday.

Take me through your first joining Mr. Mister. How did you get the gig?

One of my first L.A. music buddies, Kim Bullard, whom I met in 1974, called me to tell me there was an audition for a band called Pages. I took the audition, got the gig, and that turned into Mr. Mister. They’d been auditioning drummers for a long time, but I don’t know who those other drum characters were. I do know that Vinnie Calautti had done the previous record. But like I said, I had been auditioning drummers for so long that they bought a Linn Drum and had it running when I arrived.

The audition process occurred in the afternoon on a day that I was working a straight gig. Coincidentally two other out-of-work scrounging drummers, Cliff Martinez from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Robin Williams from Captain Beefheart’s Band, were working right alongside me, addressing envelopes. I guess we all had girlfriends at work for that magazine company in North Hollywood. [Laughs].

Anyway, I had about an hour’s lunch break to drive down to Ventura Boulevard and play with the Pages guys. I was bringing a bass player buddy, James Ralston, but he didn’t show up, so as fate would have it, there was a bass in the studio that Richard Page picked up so they could audition me. Right away, it was groovy, and then in walked the manager and booking agent, and they loved it being a four-piece with Richard on bass. And then producer Peter McIan – who had the number one records at that time with Men at Work – arrived pumped about how good we sounded, and It was a done deal. I was in the band, and I got to take the Linn Drum Home.

I Wear the Face and Welcome To The Real World remain iconic. What was your approach going in?

With I Wear the Face, I was the new guy. Most of those tunes had already been written; I did get lucky with some stuff I did on the Linn Drum becoming the basis for our song “Life Goes On.” Believe it or not, I was disappointed with the sound of that record; it sounded small and boxy to me. I’d been working a lot with Mike Chapman and Peter Coleman and had really gotten accustomed to getting a big barking British drum sound. But Peter McIan had me play his Men at Work drum kit in one of the deadest studios in L.A. The beautiful Westlake studio was a dead room; I think the best drum sounds on that record were funnily played in the loading bay late at night. [Laughs].

As for Welcome to the Real World, that was a different deal. We’d already been touring for a year or more and were a band. We developed the material in a full-volume rehearsal room with all our live equipment in North Hollywood. We would take little expeditions down to the Laguna or Malibu or up to Richard’s place in La Canada to try to write songs. The band had a strong work ethic in those days, and we were together all the time since we all lived in the same area. And a lot of the songs that didn’t work for us were passed to other people.

How would you say you most affected the sessions?

With the seasons. Meaning I prefer to record and work when it’s cold outside. I like it cold and gray, like October. We recorded “Broken Wings” in October. If you mean the Real World sessions, we worked as a team on the production of the record. At Paul Devillers’s suggestion, we did the drums in pieces as overdubs, we had incredible studios like Ocean Way and Sunset Sound on West Sunset, and Paul and I did a lot of work at night after the guys with longer drives left and got great drum sound.

Another great thing was that we could experiment more with the arrangements; for instance, the acapella break on “Kyrie” was my suggestion. It was something that Mike Chapman had done on Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child in the City” and Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” for example. And since we recorded drums separately, we could make a composite to get the best performance.

Go On… featured a shift in sound and tone. What brought that on? 

Well, the loss of Paul DeVilliers as co-producer. He was a huge, huge part of the sound of the Real World record. We made the Go On… record at the Village with Kevin Killen as an engineer and co-producer, and it’s a completely different-sounding record. The writing was done differently. Richard brought in most of the songs; I think there was only one song called “Healing Water” that we wrote together in the rehearsal room.

We’d been playing several of the songs like “Something Real,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Power Over to Me,” and “Watching the World” live to a great reaction. So, it was kind of surprising with those songs on the album that Go On… tanked so fast on the radio. Looking back, Go On… didn’t do as well commercially because it was a completely different sounding record, and the record company had changed: We were on RCA, and they were bought out. So now, there was an entirely new group of people who were brought in during the transition, and that didn’t help.

Pull was recorded afterward but was never released. What difficulties did the band face without Steve Farris, and why was it shelved?

Oh, no real problems per se without Steve Farris. We did audition lots of guitar players for a long time, and we failed to ever tour again, but we had some great guitar players on the record like Trevor Rabin, Buzzy Featon, and Pete McRae. They all played very creative and cool parts on that record. If there was a problem, it was RCA us waiting for the record company personnel to settle, which is why the record was shelved.

Walk me through your signing on with XTC for Oranges and Lemons.

I didn’t sign anything. [Laughs]. It was a very different world from Mr. Mister. Because Mr. Mister was a band, but with XTC, I was a side man and a hired session player. The fact that I happened to absolutely love XTC. I had seen them live many times, and I was also very close friends with the producer, Paul Fox, at least left me in a place where my ideas were openly welcomed and even encouraged.

What are your memories of your early years with King Crimson in the ’90s?

It’s a long story, but the short answer is I met Robert Fripp, and we hit it off. So, I toured with Robert Fripp, David Sylvian, Trey Gunn, and Michael Brooke. It went well, and then we said goodbye in Sicily at the end of that tour, and I thought that was it. But a few weeks later, Robert called me to invite me to officially join King Crimson. The ’90s was certainly a weird time for music and older rockers, especially with the arrival of grunge. And when I was identified as an ’80s guy, a lot of my session work dried up, which sucked. But I was still doing quite well playing and touring with the Rembrandts and, of course, King Crimson, so it wasn’t all bad.

What can you tell me about the expansive ProjeKct series?

Ah, the King Crimson Projekts. When the band fraKCtelized. Those were great, and they came at the perfect time. I had lots of little unfinished ideas in my head, and I thought that it was a lot of fun, kind of like throwing an Alka-Seltzer into the water and waiting for the fizziness. That seemed to be a very vibrant time for electronic music too. More recently, my Komara project has been in that direction. I’m pretty much always in research and development, earn-as-you-learn mode.

The same can be said about Stick Men. What are the origins and objectives there?

Well, the origins are when Tony [Levin] called me around Christmas in 2007 and asked me to make him some drum loops that he could write over. He specifically said he wanted to play up-tempo material that featured the Chapman stick. So, we did that and then, a year or so later, added stick player, Michael Bernier, to be a trio. And then, we began touring to support our first record, Soup, which has grown since Markus [Reuter] joined in 2010. If there’s an objective, I guess it’s to earn a living while making the most creative music possible. We’re blessed to have an audience that allows us to stretch. Thank you, Stick Men fans!

Let’s dig into your newest record, Day and Age, with Frost*.

That was a fun project that lasted for around a month in terms of the sessions. Jem [Godfrey] emailed that they needed drums on a couple of songs, and I was into it. I’d seen them play on Cruise to the Edge, and they kicked ass and seemed like a great bunch of guys. And Craig Brundel did some excellent drumming, and we had a good chat. Anyway, I think it was Jem that asked if I was available, and I was at that time. So, I played on a couple of tracks, and I’m happy to say they entered the charts at No.1 in England. I’m pretty busy over the next year, so sadly, if they tour, it won’t be with me.

As far as the sounds I got, I had Bill Munyon helping, and I got a big beefy drum sound here. I can’t remember if we did the slap Zeppelin thing or if they already had that as part of their plan. I usually send people a stereo mix with verbs, effects, etc. And then I send them “stems,” meaning it’s a composite of multiple kick drum microphones, the snare top, and bottom, the toms in stereo, cymbals in stereo, etc. If they want, I send them all the tracks with no effects, and occasionally I send the complete multi-tracks.

What sort of drums, cymbals, and hardware are you using now?

At this moment, I endorse DW Drums, Paiste Cymbals, Evans Drumheads, and Vic Firth drumsticks. I like to use Roland equipment, especially on tour – the SPDSX and Handsonic are favorites. I also endorse smaller, interesting manufacturers, like Hamerax and Morphbeats, BFSD, and Expanding Hands. I have an enormous collection of drums and percussion here at my home studio, so there’s a ton to choose from.

I recorded the new Stickmen record Tentacles, other recent sessions for Billy Sherwood from Yes, JJ Chardeau, O.R.k., Steven Wilson, The Reconstruction of Light King Crimson record, and The Romantics Guide to King Crimson that we released about a year ago here. In all those projects, my drumming was recorded in my house. But it goes both ways, and just this past week, I experienced the exact opposite as I was recording with Steve Ball at an old school up in Seattle with about 16 people – 11 of which were guitar players – all playing in the room with me.

Tell me about O.R.k.’s latest record, Screamnasium, and what’s next for you, Pat.

Let’s see, O.R.k just had its fourth record, Screamnasium, on KScope come out in October of 2022. In case you’re not familiar with the band, this is Colin from Porcupine Tree on bass and Lorenzo Esposito Forinsano on keyboards and vocals. He’s organized northern Italian and lives in Bologna, and Carmelo Pipitone is the Sicilian hothead on guitar about as punky a punk as you’ll ever find.

It can be an explosion of emotion playing with these guys, and this record finally captured our sound. We started the record just before COVID and then spent a long-time passing files and finishing this record. We were working on about 25 tracks at one point, and we whittled it down to 10. My friend Machine, the producer-mixer for Lamb of God and King Crimson’s power to believe record, HedPe, Pitch Shifter, did the mixing, and these drums sound fucking great. I’m very excited for people to hear this O.R.k. record.

Pat Mastelotto Of Mr. Mister & King Crimson: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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