|January 2007: Sometimes he's catching a Gulf Stream, headed to the Bahamas with Sting for a few shows. Other times he's touring Europe with NIN for 9 weeks. You can even find him in the back of a van on a US tour with the Vandals. He also shared a holiday dinner with Axl (radical). He plays the drums like a bat out of hell. He is: Josh Freese.
GC: You were already killing it at 12, what was your percussion life like at 9?
Josh Freese: I think I'd just started taking lessons around that time. For a year or so prior to taking lessons I'd been practicing to records. When I was 8 years old it was Van Halen, Devo, Queen, Journey, The Police.....shortly after that came Missing Persons, The Ramones and my huge Frank Zappa phase that I went through. Then of course jazz fusion phase and then landed on punk rock when I was about 16. Kind of a weird mix of folks but I think that's probably what made me into the person I am today. Of course there are tons more but the artists I mentioned just cover ages 8-12 or so. So aside from playing along to records at home after school I started to actually study and take lessons around 9 years old or so. All the basic stuff. Technique and working out of books, reading, stick control and rudiments, etc...
GC: When you were that young, was your practice space pretty contained? Any suggestions for the younger folks on how to not piss off the neighbors?
Josh Freese: My Parents were cool enough to let me play whenever I wanted really....with the Stereo CRANKED too. Pretty damn cool of them. They were always totally supportive and great. I feel really fortunate in that department. It was the neighbors that I finally had to strike a deal with and cut my playing time down to 4-6 everyday. That felt like about 5 minutes back then but NOW as an adult and a home owner I trip out at the idea of the house next to me having someone playing drums along to rock n' roll records ALL day...EVERY DAY! 2 hours a day would drive me nuts! Do I sound old? I feel old when I hear myself say stuff like that but it's true. There's a garage band around the corner from me but they only play once or twice a week. Well, I found a whole box of new sticks in my closet by a company and model that I don't use and I wanted to give 'em to someone who could use them so.... I don't know them and they don't know me but I anonymously dropped the box of sticks on their porch the other day. I thought that was cool. I just wrote on the box "Hear you guys play sometimes. Maybe your drummer could use some sticks. Have fun".
GC: How many records have you played on and as a session drummer? Can you explain the different mindset that separates the live performance from the in-studio performance?
Josh Freese: I honestly don't know how many records I've appeared on but I'm going to say somewhere around 250. Aside from that there have been hundreds (if not thousands) of sessions over the years for Soundtracks, TV, demos and records or projects that never ended up coming out, etc.. The difference between live performance and recordings for me is that playing live is a "performance". It can be very expressive, musically and theatrically. It can be a time to go out on some limbs and see what happens. I always try and stay very focused both in live situations and in the studio but in the studio you can really pick things a part and work them out to your liking. Nobody's "watching" in the studio. Come to think of it....the studio is a good place to go out on some limbs as well. If you fall on your face you can always stop and push rewind....or I guess these days it would be pushing "space bar". I always try and remember that (even though there's an audience) live shows come and go but records live on FOREVER.
GC: In the studio, do you use a wide variety of snares? What kind?
Josh Freese: Well, you'd be surprised. Not too wide of a variety. I'm not much of a gear guy. Meaning, I have some great stuff and I kind of just stick to it and don't mess around too much. I really don't vary a whole lot in the drums and cymbals that I use. I probably only own about 25 snares (not much compared to other guys in my position) and I really only use about 4 or 5 of them on a regular basis. Some of my favs are a deep bell-brass DW snare and a DW Brass and Wood 5 1/2 made by Joe Craviotto. I love my Paiste "Spirit Of 2002" snare (the real deep one) that Jeff Ochletree made. Then some vintage things and a couple "secret weapons" that I can't really get into here.....sorry.
GC: What are some of your techniques for getting the right cymbal sounds in the studio?
Josh Freese: I have a bunch of great Paiste cymbals that I rotate around but I usually stick with the Signature line. I love 'em and can't seem to stop playing 'em. Unless it's a specialty thing or someone has asked for something a little left of center I usually end up using the same stuff most the time. Lots of full and fast crashes (17's. 18's, 19's and 20's). I favor the 14 inch Dark Hi-Hats and the 21 inch Dark Heavy Ride most the time. Sometimes I throw up a 22 inch 2002 ride to change it up.
GC: Versatility - is it something you can learn or is it a gift? If you can, where do you start and what is the secret?
Josh Freese: I think it's a little of both really. It's not something you can just learn out of a text book or have someone explain it to you and then "practice" it and have it down in a few weeks. I think it helps to have it come naturally but if you have it in you to seek out lots of different influences and flavors then I think you're bound to be well rounded and not have tunnel-vision. Be open to things. Lots of listening and keeping an open mind is key.
GC: Do you use electronic drums and/or triggers? How do you incorporate them into your set?
Josh Freese: With Devo I only use one trigger pad off to the left of my hi-hat but with NIN I use triggers on my kick and on my snare but also have 4 trigger pads that I use. 2 off the left of my hi-hats and 2 directly about my 2 floor toms. They are set up by my tech everyday and there is an invisible guy off the side of the stage somewhere near monitor world that controls all the sounds. You think I'm joking... I'm not though!
||GC: Give us a brief rundown of your tour life, from one year ago to the present.
Josh Freese: A year ago (Oct) I had just finished up saving NIN on 2 gigs when Jerome Dillon got sick. I couldn't continue on at the time though because I was flying over to Italy to write and record with Sting at his place in Tuscany for a few weeks. I did a few "one offs" with Sting around that same time. I came back home and stayed busy in the studio with various artists in November and then did some live stuff in December when my schedule freed up a little bit and realized that the guy they ended up getting in NIN wasn't really working out. I had such a good time working with NIN for those few gigs in October that when Trent called again and asked if there was any way possible to come back out with him I jumped at the chance. At that time I went ahead and signed on to tour with him in the new year. Feb through mid July with a 6 week break in the middle at which time I did a week of touring with Sting, came home to do some sessions and a gig in Moscow with Sting which was great. After NIN slowed down in July I got back to doing sessions and playing scattered shows with DEVO throughout the fall and we just ended our string of gigs with a great show at the Greek Theatre in LA on Halloween. More sessions here at home and doing a lot of writing. Trying to finish another solo record before I get busy with NIN in the new year. Rehearsals starting January and we leave to Europe in February for 9 weeks with more touring throughout 2007.
GC: Any suggestions on packing a bag for a 4-week tour?
Josh Freese: Lots of socks, underwear and T-shirts. Only bring a couple pairs of jeans and live in 'em. A pair of shorts or something. One cool jacket. Bring lots of cheapo socks and underwear that (in case you can't get around to laundry all the time) you wouldn't mind throwing out if need be....gotta lighten the load up from time to time.
GC: What are the differences, if any, between your live setup and your studio setup?
Josh Freese: It depends on the studio situation or the live situation but my set up never gets that crazy or out of the ordinary I don't think. You can pretty much always count on starting off with the basic Ringo 4 piece set up and add from there. With the Vandals that's all I use. With Devo add a second rack tom. With NIN keep only 1 rack but have 2 floors and a 3rd floor off to the left of my hi-hat (with NIN the drums are all about 2 inches bigger than I normally would use.....14 rack. 24 floor, 18 and 20 inch floors.....16 off the side of my hihat. With A Perfect Circle 2 racks and 2 floors, 2nd snare off the left of my hihat....more cymbals with APC too. With Sting there are 3 racks but smaller sizes and only 1 floor. Never too many cymbals (except with APC I guess). In the studio my drums are usually something really basic a 4, 5, or 6 piece kit with lots of snare and cymbal choices.
GC: You probably have a quiver of drums, what are your absolute favorite pieces?
Josh Freese: My first kit of course which is a late 70's Yamaha Recording 5-Piece.....very nostalgic. Only appears on one record...the first Vandals record that I made "Fear Of A Punk Planet". My first DW kit is really special to me... my latest DW kit is gorgeous and probably my favorite kit right now.
GC: When your home, how do you practice? Any techniques you would like to share?
Josh Freese: I'm the wrong guy to talk to about practicing. I constantly am down on myself for not doing more of it. I end up playing so often that in order to have any sort of balance in my life I can't practice much. All I really do is play, write music and spend time with my family. Occasionally I see my friends or go out to dinner or a gig but I'm pretty much slammed all the time between playing, writing, and being a dad. Playing and writing music all the time is great though and even though it's tough to experiment a lot when you're "on the job" I guess I always am practicing in a way......as far as getting more and more experience making music and playing drums.
GC: Who are some of the drummers that have inspired you over the years? Any younger guys that floor you?
Josh Freese: My first ever drum hero was Alex Van Halen and Buddy Rich around that time too (7 or 8 years old). After that it was all about Vinnie Colaiuta and Terry Bozzio. Let me think here....as an adult and after going through many different phases as a teenager I've come up with a handful of guys that really feel like I can relate to on different levels and they would be the guys I just mentioned and.....well, here goes the list....Jim Keltner, Stewart Copeland, Charlie Drayton, Nick Vincent, Bill Stevenson, Brian Blade, Danny Carey, Alan Myers, Spit Stix, Jeff Porcaro, Stevie Wonder, Dave Lombardo, Robert Williams, etc.... Couple good buddies of mine that have been coming up over the past few years that I think are great are Jon Theodore and Brooks Wackerman....both fantastic.
GC: Best drum solo ever?
Josh Freese: I've never really been a fan of the drum solo. That being said, I don't really have a favorite.....sorry.... Drums that move me are performances within a piece of music. Danny Carey does a great job of that. Soloing within a song. I've seen Vinnie Colaiuta live a ton since I was a kid and when he takes it out and solos over a piece of music....look out! Nothing like that in the world. He's from Mars and that's why he continues to be one of my all time favs.
GC: Anybody out there you haven't collaborated with yet whom you would like to?
Josh Freese: Yeah, well I did a little bit of work with PJ Harvey on the last Desert Sessions record but I'd like to do some more with her. I'm a huge fan and friend of Frank Blacks. I did one gig with him years ago and we've jammed a few times but I'd love to do something a little more serious with him. I'm trying to put something together with Frank Black, Lyle Workman and Tommy Stinson to do a quick week or 2 tour playing Frank Black songs. Everyone seems into it's just a matter of lining our schedules up and really doing it. Hopefully it's something we just won't talk about. I'd love to work with Steely Dan or either of those dudes solo. Walter or Donald. I liked them when I was younger then when I was in my late teens (and into full on punk rock) I decided they were lame and I rediscovered them about 5 years ago and am into them more now than ever! And on the other side of the coin I'd like to work with Gibby Haynes in some form. Either solo or with the Butthole Surfers. The Residents too...I'd be into working with them.....life long heroes of mine. I really have had the amazing fortune of working with some of my biggest influences already....especially the underdogs (Devo, Ween, Paul Westerberg, The Dwarves, etc) which has been incredible. I feel very lucky.