Dave Lombardo needs no introduction. The legendary drummer is considered something of a deity in metal circles after 30 years of agitating the skins for Slayer. Recently there’ been a much publicized fallout with his former bandmates, yet in the last decade he’ also been working in more experimental realms, firstly as part of Mike Patton’ Fantomas project and later in the improvisatory trio Blade Runner with John Zorn and Bill Laswell for which he’ coming out to Australia. Bob Baker Fish caught up with Dave Lombardo via email.
Bob: Of course everyone is aware of your imposing legacy in Slayer and for a long time it seemed like your sole focus, but you’ve increasingly been involved in left of centre or weirder projects like Fantomas or your work with Zorn. Did a light bulb suddenly go off above your head where you realised that people would be interested in your stranger music, or was it more that people of the calibre of Patton and Zorn started asking you to do things?
Dave: I’ve always been a fan of music that is left of center. It wasn’t until i started to work with Patton that i realized i had the instinctual ability to play avant-garde style of music. When Patton introduced me to the first Fantomas demo’s I felt very comfortable and connected with the music. When I performed Xu Feng for the first time with John Zorn and his ensemble, I was comfortable and uninhibited. This is the most pure form of musical self expression.
Bob: What do you get from these less metal and weirder projects?
Dave: I get the chance to play drums without limits, believe it or not metal has a lot of boundaries. When I play with these artists, the intensity and dynamics are so great because we’re tapping into so many genre’s. Quite honestly.. most music, in comparison, feels less exciting for me.
Bob: Can you talk about your work on Sepultura’ last album and creating a double drum jam with Eloy Casagrande for the song Obsessed. How did you set it up and musically what were you going for?
Dave: I was walking on the beach with my son and daughter, just enjoying the day and I decided to send a text message a good friend, Ross Robinson (Producer). He responded immediately asking if I felt like playing drums. Really? You don’t need to ask me twice. When i got to his beach house/studio I found Derrick, Eloy, Andreas and one of the best Caipirinha bartenders (forgot his name). The drums were being set up face to face. Â Ross recorded the two of us exchanging drum solos. It was an amazing improve session. Â Eloy is an amazing up and coming drummer.
Bob: Speaking of double drums, you do seem to enjoy playing with other percussionists, I’m thinking of Dale Crover on The Melvins Fantomas Big Band. How do you not stand on each other’ toes and what do you get from playing with someone like Dale?
Dave: Its simple, listen to what the other is playing and don’t play over each other. Its about complementing the song and not battling on who can hit harder. Working with Dale was great, he has an unique and powerful style that I look up to…Have you heard Senile Animal? Fantastic drum laden album.
Bob: With your departure from Slayer and from what I read little chance of that changing anytime soon I understand that you’re focused on Philm’ second album. The first album Harmonic was operating with a much broader focus than Slayer, how would you describe the upcoming one?
Dave: PHILM’s first album Harmonic was a musical expression unlike any other album I’ve worked on. Blending structured songs and improvisations was the direction I intended to take the band. PHILM’s ability to improvise and create music unlike the typical sounds that have emerged within the past 20 years is refreshing to me as an artist and drummer. As the producer of the band, I suggested for this album that we leave out the improvisations and focus on structured, concise movements. I always want to change it up and keep it fresh. As we write the 3rd album I’m reintroducing the double bass drums which will take the songs to a different level.
Bob: How did Drums of Death with DJ Spooky come about? What was it like playing in a more groove orientated way with electronics and hip hop vocalists like Dalek and Chuck D?
Dave: Projects like Drums are usually presented by other producers or record company executives. That is how this came about. I had a great time doing this project. Down shifting the tempo is always enjoyable for the artist. I don’t get it when when hard line metal fans insist that all I create is metal and fast. Can you imagine eating the same thing everyday? There are some people I know that are content living a repetitive, mundane life… it’s just not for me.
Bob: Tell me about Blade Runner? I know that you’ve played on a couple of previous projects with Zorn but I’m slightly terrified about Blade Runner. Were your surprised by how it turned out and are my fears founded?
Dave: Blade Runner is a trio unlike any other and yes you should be terrified. When we hit the stage you need to be aware there’s no rehearsal, no written music. You will hear improvised music directly from the soul, without a structured formula that is normally created to carry the listener through comfortable, often predictable musical journey. The controlled chaos of this band has more energy than most metal acts I’ve seen live.
Bob: What makes you keep going back to someone like John Zorn?
Dave: I have the utmost respect for John Zorn and Bill Laswell. I believe working with these master musicians brings out the best in you. Now that Slayer is out of the picture, Blade Runner will perform more shows through out the world.
Bob: I’ve heard you say that playing outside of the band structure with the likes of Zorn gives you a kind of freedom, but isn’ there also increased complexity and at times a certain rigidity if you’re working off a notated score? Or are we talking chalk and cheese?
Dave: Chalk n cheese… Hahaha!! The majority of the times I’ve seen music performed by musicians reading charts, I’ve noticed there is a bit of rigidness in the performance. Not all, but most.
Bob: I’ve become a bit obsessed with music that’s so bad, or so misguided it’s good lately. My favourite being an Australian album from the 80′ called Beatle Barkers with dogs howling the Beatles lyrics. Just wondering what is the best worst music you’ve ever heard?
Dave: The only group that comes to mind is The Shaggs. Check out their song, “Foot Foot” Lol!
Bob: Is there any work with Fantomas on the horizon?
Dave: I hope so! Ultimately, it’s Patton’s decision. I’ll be seeing him soon, so maybe there’s some good news on the horizon.
Dave Lombardo will be performing alongside John Zorn and Bill Laswell as Bladerunner as part of the 2014 Unsound Festival in Adelaide on Thursday 13th March. For more details, go to http://www.adelaidefestival.com.au/2014/music/john_zorn-triple_bill