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From Faith No More to Ozzy Osbourne, building the foundation with Mike Bordin
April 2009: Over the last 14 years, Mike Bordin has enjoyed one of the most enviable careers a hard rock drummer could wish for. Since 1995 when he became a relatively permanent fixture in Ozzy Osbourne's band, he's also played with the original members of Black Sabbath on their 1997 reunion tour, replaced drummer David Silveria on Korn's world tour in 2000, and recorded drum tracks on Jerry Cantrell's Degradation Trip in 2002. With Osbourne he's played hundreds of gigs all over the world and recorded several albums, including Down to Earth, Under Cover, and Black Rain.

Mike Bordin breaks it down at Guitar Center San Francisco. – www.guitarcenter.com

Bordin, who first made an indelible impression on the evolution of hard rock as a member of the influential alternative band Faith No More during the Eighties and Nineties, is humble about his experiences, describing them as an ongoing learning process. "My career is a long story with a lot of different pieces," says Bordin. "If you don't pick something up from each piece you're an idiot. One of the most important things I've learned is that it's not only about the drums. It's about how the drums fit in with all of the music. You always need to play what's appropriate for the singers and the melodies."

Although Ozzy has given Bordin freedom to participate in various side projects over the years, Bordin is prepared to spend 2009 devoted to working with Ozzy exclusively. Mike has already laid down preliminary drum tracks for the follow-up to Ozzy's 2007 album, Black Rain, and Osbourne is currently in the studio working on vocals. Ozzy tells his fans that he won't tour until he has a new album in stores, and he is very motivated to work at a much faster pace than he has in the past.

"I was surprised that Ozzy wanted to get started on the next album so quickly," says Bordin. "He's in the studio singing on the tracks we recorded, and they're turning into finished songs. I've heard the music without vocals and it sounds great. That's the routine in this band-we make music and then we go out and play it."

Joining Bordin on the record are bandmates Zakk Wylde on guitar and Blasko on bass. Bordin says that the new music has come together quickly thanks to chemistry and approach that the band has developed from working together on stage for the past few years.

"Everybody has a role in this band, but Ozzy is at center stage for a reason," he says. "It's his band, music, and personality. People show up at our concerts to hear his voice. When I'm playing live I focus the most on his vocals. If he wants to sing slow, I'll play the songs slow. If he wants to sing the songs fast the next night, I play them fast. Part of my education has been learning to be super aware of where Ozzy is at.

Fancy stick work in the drum shop at Guitar Center San Francisco. – www.guitarcenter.com

"The music we play with Ozzy is very guitar driven," he continues. "Zakk plays melodies and solos, so I try to lock up with the bass and let the guitar stand on top of it. That's the hierarchy on stage. Bass and drums are the building blocks, and it's important to be aware of that. The kick drum shapes the song, then the bass goes on top of that. Our keyboard player, Adam Wakeman, adds to part of the low-end sound without being intrusive. He thickens it up with a dirty Hammond organ sound or an old Moog synth and makes it really sound heavy like a rhythm guitar player would. The three of us make a thick, solid bed for the songs. We're the Rottweilers with the broad shoulders and the other show dogs are going to stand on top of us. Ozzy and Zakk put on the show because that's what they're supposed to do."

Since Mike first started playing, he's always preferred the sound of big drums. "I grew up listening to John Bonham," Bordin explains. "His sound was all about big drums. When you grow up playing loud music in a basement, garage, living room, or outside in a field, it's natural to go for the biggest drums that have a powerful, low tone. Little drums seem to go 'bip, bip,' whereas big drums go 'booooom!' I tried not to have too many drums because I wanted to be able to always play the drums that I had. I thought that you had to hit every drum in your kit on every song."

Bordin has owned a variety of Yamaha drum kits over the years. "I have a lot of 9000 kits, including a black one and a white one with the Akira Jimbo sparkle finish," he says. "Yamaha made me a beautiful Recording Custom kit finished with dark green stain. There's no lacquer so you can really see the wood grain, and it has a lighter shell with the same coating that they use to finish oboes inside it, which gives it greater resonance. It keeps sounding better and better every year. That's my favorite older 9000 kit."

"Everybody has a role in this band, but Ozzy is at center stage for a reason. People show up at our concerts to hear his voice." – Mike Bordin

Bordin's current main drum kit is a Yamaha Oak Custom setup. "I recorded Black Rain and did the whole tour for that album with those drums," he says. "The Oak drums are super dense and solid sounding. Guitar players describe is as a brown sound. It's like chocolate milk. It's a murky sound with tone that's similar to what you get from a kit made of birch. I also like cymbals with a dark sound, like Zildjian's K series. From left to right my cymbals are a 19-inch K China, a 20-inch Crash Ride, a 20-inch Light Power Ride, a 19-inch K Crash, and a 21-inch K Dark Crash. My hi-hats are a 15-inch Mastersound on the bottom and a 15-inch Rock Bottom on top."

Bordin admits that his drum setup has evolved over the years, especially since he joined Ozzy's band, but not in a particularly dramatic fashion. "I now use 14- and 15-inch rack toms, so I've gone down one size," he says. "Ozzy's music is quicker in tempo than what I played with Faith No More so the drums don't have as much time to resonate. My tech talked me into using a 24-inch kick drum that's about the size of a bicycle tire. Mine is 16- or 18-inches deep so it sounds like a cannon."

Mike Bordin makes himself at home behind the kit. – www.guitarcenter.com

The biggest change to Bordin's setup is his Yamaha signature snare, which Yamaha introduced in 2004. Designed by Bordin, his drum tech Chris "Feelie" Gott, and Takashi Hagiwara of Yamaha, the Mike Bordin SD-6455MB snare drum is built with several unique features. "Hagi-san was the grandfather of Yamaha drums," says Mike. "This was his last project before he retired. I told him that I wanted a snare that sounded like the body of a Ludwig Black Beauty-very warm, round, full and deep, not shallow and narrow sounding-but also like the Tama Bell Brass, which was the 'it' drum at the time and has a ton of bite and is very sharp. Hagi-san suggested hammering the bottom half of the shell, which he said would give me a ton of warm tone. A metal shell would give me a sharper sound than using a wood shell, but using a copper shell would be warmer than a steel shell. It's warm but it can sound like a handgun. You can tune it up really high, but it holds its own when you tune it lower, especially in the studio miked with a high-quality microphone."

Because the band isn't constantly on tour, Bordin has developed some unique methods for keeping in shape during down time so he can remain in peak physical condition when the band hits the road. "I like to keep in shape by moving 150- to 200-pound rocks," he says. "I'll build a wall with rocks or dig out a couple of yards of soil, chop down trees, and stack wood. Ozzy thinks it's hilarious. I live north of San Francisco, which is an outdoor paradise, but I'm not an exercise guy. I won't go to the gym because I've been told that weight training develops the wrong kind of muscles for playing drums. You don't want to develop short, fat muscles and bulk. Longer muscles are better for your dexterity and range of motion. If you really want to work out, do yoga or tai chi. I also always play drums a lot, which keeps my skills sharp, and when I'm at home I focus on my kids and family, which is good for my head. When I come back to play on tour I'm refreshed.

"I'm part of a pretty large team, and a lot of people rely on me," Mike explains. "We have a large crew behind us that allows me to get on stage and perform. Even the people who come to see us play rely on me. People who get to make music for a living live on a small little plateau on top of a mountain. It's a blessing and a responsibility. It's hard to get there alone, and it's even harder to stay there alone. I can't think of any drummers that are so far out front that they don't need anybody else, except for maybe Ringo Starr. A few drummers are frontmen, but music is a team sport. You succeed together."

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