Published: 29th November 2019
The Chris Adler interview: Lamb of God slept in parking lots and heated food on our van's engine
Adler was in Chennai as part of a drum clinic series covering India and Nepal. Around 80 musicians were in attendance
Whether you enjoy heavy metal or not, there's no denying that Chris Adler is truly one of the best drummers on Earth. Watch him behind a drum kit, moving his hands and feet at lightning speed and you might begin to wonder if he's even human. The Grammy-Award winning drummer and former member of Lamb of God and Megadeth might be too modest to accept such praise, but again, there's no denying that he's inspired a whole new generation of metal drummers.
Adler was recently at the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music in Chennai for a two-day drum workshop where he interacted with his die-hard fans, many of whom were inspired to start playing after listening to him. But for all the fame and adulation he has received, it would come as a surprise to know that the world-famous musician who's played thousands of shows still gets sweaty palms before he gets on stage. Or did you know that he and his band members (LOG) had to heat cans of soup on the engine of their van and sleep in parking lots?
We get up close and personal with Chris Adler as he reveals some interesting details about his journey so far, his inspirations and a bit of advice for the next generation of musicians. Excerpts...
You spoke about a lot of influences growing up. Who was your favourite drummer?
Probably my very favourite would be Stewart Coplen from Police.
You found a lot of new talent on the internet. Would you recommend that aspiring drummers put their content online?
As long as they're proud of it, absolutely. It used be just getting creative and then tour, tour, tour. Now, taking advantage of the technology that we have, you can be all over the world with a video all day long and all night long. Endorsement companies today are not just going after shows anymore. They're looking at YouTube hits, Instagram followers and that kind of stuff. That's the new era of how music is going to work. So I'd encourage any artist to take advantage of the technology.
What else can they do to put their music out there?
There's a lot of sites like Soundcloud and Spotify. Upload your own music on it. Also, artists should create something that stands out from the rest. Using multiple influences helps you create something unique. It's a crowded market for sure. There's no trick to making it work, but believe in yourself and love what you do, it'll stand out on its own.
A lot of of people say that it's important to follow what's trending, but you're also saying that it's important to create something unique. Where do you draw the line?
It doesn't have to be entirely different. For example, my favourite drummer is Stewart Coplen, but I play in a heavy metal band. I go home and listen to the Police and I try to find ways to incorporate some of those beats into heavy metal. So it's still heavy metal. But now, something is just a little different. The casual listener might not even know what it is, but one little dynamic can change the whole thing.
Now that you've made a life out of making music, do you look back and wonder whether it could have gone by better?
We travelled around as a band for about ten years without making any money. We had a van and would sleep at parking lots of different places. We would buy cans of soup and place them on the engine so that we had something warm to eat. The money and popularity came from the fact that we just loved what we were doing. There's no cheque that comes with the trophy for being the fastest drummer. To me, music is about making myself move, making others smile, connecting with others without saying words.
Does life as a full time musician ever get easier?
After I had the accident, I realised how fragile my career really was. And I didn't really have a retirement plan. The band lost money from 94-2004. It wasn't until 2008 that everyone quit their day jobs. It's not anywhere as glamourous as it looks.
Did you ever have drum clinics like this growing up?
No, it was just practice. The guys in the band, especially Mark Morton, was a significantly accomplished player and I was terrible. Every time we practised, I would feel embarrassed. But when he would leave, I would sit there for hours and hours and practise because I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of him. When you surround yourself with people who are better than you, it really helps you get to the next level. I was nervous about coming to teach here at SAM, knowing that I've never been to music school. I don't know the terms or the right language to use.
So how did the teaching actually come about?
In 2005, I got a phone call from a magazine called Modern Drummer, a premier drum magazine in the US. They host a drum festival every year, inviting the best drummers from across the world. They called me asked if I cared to perform. I almost threw up. I knew I was on their radar. But I definitely didn't expect to be called along with people like Danny Carey and Jojo Mayer. But I wasn't a teacher. I had no idea how to do clinics. But I said yes. The next three months, I was talking to the walls in my basement, going over my routine, what I was going to say, what I was going to play. I was so scared. But it went on so well. It's one of the reasons I'm here today, because I said yes to something, even though I was scared. It has helped me in other areas of my life as well -- jobs, relationships. Every time I said yes when I was scared, those hurdles have been the biggest growth periods. So give yourself a chance.
The Megadeth call-up was a game changer for you. Walk us through it.
I was in LA recording drums and I got a call around 4 in the morning. I didn't believe it at first because everyone knew my favourite band was Megadeth. I picked up, the guy says, 'Hey Chris, this is Dave Mustaine. I was like 'How did you get my hotel phone number.' He said 'A lot of people I trust have told me that you're pretty good at what you do. And I was hoping if you'd be interested in helping me make a thrash record.' These were my heroes on the phone asking me to help them out. But of course, I wanted to say no because I didn't think I was ready. But again, I said yes, and before I knew it I was sitting behind the drum kit with Dave with a guitar staring at me. We wrote the record Dystopia in about six weeks in a weird farmhouse in Nashville, Tennesse. After 12 Grammy nominations, Megadeth finally won their first Grammy.
You go on back-to-back tours all the time and being a drummer, playing a very physically challenging instrument, how do you keep yourself fit?
I'm having a hard time as I get older. If we have a hotel, I use the hotel gym. I bring my bicycle on tours, so I go on bike rides all the time. It is physically demanding, for sure. When I'm home, I'm also big on swimming.
Did you bring one here?
Nah. I couldn't get it on the plane. And I think I'd be scared to ride a bicycle here.
Have you ever taught your daughter how to play?
I have. And she's not bad. The problem is when your parents do something, you don't really want to do it. So she calls it 'boy music' and she doesn't really want to get into it. But she's got it in her. Sometimes when I don't ask her to play or if she doesn't know I'm around, she gets on my drum kit and starts playing. But when I show up, she stops playing.
Have you heard any Indian bands that have really impressed you?
Years ago, when I first came here in 2010, I heard a band called Skyharbour. I talked with the promoter and I asked him if we could have that band play. I'm a huge fan of them. Every time I come to India, It's crazy, it seems like everyone is in a really really good band. I'm starting to feel a bit old and washed out because I'm starting to hear really incredible music coming out of India. I also played with a band called Escher's Knot. It reminds me of 20 years ago, when Swedish bands started coming out, and they had the best of the best heavy metal bands. I think that's beginning in India now.