Interviews With The Finalists of Guitar Center's Drum Off and Judge, Thomas Pridgen of The Mars Volta
Last Saturday, Guitar Center held it's 20th anniversary Drum Off. Local and regional competitions were held in Guitar Centers across the country over the past few months. In the end six undiscovered drummers, the creme de la creme, made the cut and were flown to Los Angeles to compete against each other for $25,000 and a tons of other cool stuff. You know, sneakers, jeans, ad deals, drum sets, cymbals, things like that.
And who would be judging this competition? An assortment of the finest drummers across the land. Or at least an assortment of drummers who were willing to show up. They were as follows the honorable, Foo Fighters' Taylor Hawkins, Tool's Danny Carey, No Doubt's Adrian Young, Avenged Sevenfold's The Rev and session vet Kenny Aronoff. The night was hosted by Jane's Addiction drummer, Stephen Perkins, who did a stand up job and was not afraid to mock the tech guys who were unable to coordinate the dvd player.
I arrived early to talk to the finalists before their moment of glory. The poor bastards were put through a media ring circus. There were media groups from all over waiting like vultures to talk to them. We had roughly five minutes with each contestant, which is about enough time to shake their hand and ask them two questions. Most of the guys were buzzing with excitement and nervous energy. Here is a snapshot of some of their answers.
When did you start drumming?
Anthony Burns of Saginaw, MI : When I was two years old. I used to steal my mama's forks and spoons and drum on the table. After a while my step-dad took me to church where they a drum set. He put me on his lap and taught me how to play.
Ramon Sampson of Memphis, TN:1 Ever since I started breathing! My dad and uncles were drummers. It's in my blood.
Jerome Flood III of Lawrenceville, GA: I had my first drum set when I was two years old. We went to church every Sunday and I played on the pews with pencils.
Timm Newton of La Mesa, CA: Oh man, ever since I was born. But I started playing seriously in church when I was seven.
Sherman Arnold of Englewood, CO: I used to play as a kid, but then I dropped it for sports. I picked it up about eighteen years ago after I was inspired by the gospel drummer, Calvin Rogers. I used to go to a church back in Chicago and he used to play there all the time. I picked it up again and now this here's my fourth time at the Drum Offs. I think this is my year.
Are you in a band? 2
Jerome Flood III: I'm not in a band yet, but I'm trying out for a Christian Gospel band called Victor in Atlanta next month.
Juan Carlos Mendoza of East Brunswick, NJ: Yeah, I'm in a band called True Destiny. We've got a Coldplay-ish type vibe.
Sherman Arnold: I'm a free agent. I don't really like to dedicate myself to one band, you know what I'm saying?
What do you think of LA?
Ramon Sampson: Beautiful place. Definitely have to have a lot of money to live here, but it's a beautiful place.
Juan Carlos Mendoza: Yeah I love the weather. The weather's real dope.
What are you going to do if you win?
Anthony Burns: I'm going to take my daughter to Disney World and do a few things for my family.
Juan Carlos Mendoza: I'll probably help out my parents with their mortgage and some medical bills.
Sherman Arnold: Whew, you're going to see a grown man cry. After this competition, I gotta go back and bury my stepson. He died on New Year's Eve. My wife let me come down here and is working the funeral around me, but when I get back I've got to bury her baby.
em>When asked if they were excited about any of the judges all of the contestants had one name on their lips...Thomas Pridgen of Mars Volta. Pridgen is no stranger to the Drum Off. He won the competition when he was nine years old back before they imposed the eighteen and older age limit. "Man he's huge!" Arnold Burns gushed to me. I was fortunate enough to snag the legendary drummer for a couple minutes and ask him some questions.
What are you looking for in a winner?
Thomas Pridgen: I want to see people spit teeth for this $20,000 here. I want to see blood coming out of their skulls, man. I want to see techs wiping stuff down. If there are girls playing, I want to see braids on the ground and hair on the cymbals, you feel me? That's what I want to see. I want to see it go off! Everybody judging is straight up legit, so you better really bring it out. I want to see a magic trick. I want to see a stick disappear! Who can make a stick disappear? I'm serious. I want to see people cover their eyes with bandannas and pull off a twirl. And juggle their sticks. I want people to come with belly-dancers on stage, you know what I'm saying?
What did you win get when you won?
I won a drum set and I set it up that night. I was too juiced. I was nine years old. But now they've got a eighteen year old cap. You've got to bring your ID when you come to the Drum Off now. You better bring your ID or you can't get enter.(laughs) I love that part. It changes it up. Now kids are like, "I'm eighteen. I'm going to buy cigarettes and enter the Drum Off."
What happened after you won?
Oh man, the next week after it happened some weird shit started happening. Reps from Zildijian and Pearl started showing up and offering me endorsements. Which was weird...I don't know. I'm blessed like fuck. I'm spoiled by everyone I know. And God! God spoiled me, dude.
Do you think you're going to have to make up for it in another life?
I hope not. Man, what if he turned me into a leaf? God's like, "You're a leaf, fool. How you feel?"
I'd have a fucking fifteen day life span.
If you had a super power what would it be?
I would have the most knowledge ever. I would know everything.
I mean I wouldn't want to fly. You could probably get killed that way. I just want to be the smartest dude ever. But not like you're a nerd smart, smart like you're cool smart. Like if I touched a book and got the knowledge that way. That would be dope. I also like the power where you can see through clothes too. You know where you can see somebody's skeleton.
What is the most under appreciated band out right now?
The Mars Volta.
That does not count.
Can I make up a band that doesn't exist?
No, how can it be appreciated if it doesn't exist?
I don't know. I don't want to comment on that.
Do you have a local band that you like?
No, I don't want to comment on that. I don't want to give anyone an endorsement.
So you're only going to endorse yourself?
Yeah! Fuck yeah.
All right. How did you get started with Mars Volta?
I got the weirdest call on my phone. They called me to hang out. Well, in my eyes I was hanging out, in their eyes it was an audition. It was Halloween. We were opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They took me into a back room and they had a whole set up. So we started jamming. Then they said, "Hey we're playing this tonight." and I realized "Holy shit. I'm in the band."
How often do you practice?
I used to practice more. Now, I have a little boy and he kicks me off the drums. He's two and I got him a little DW. His is silver and mine is silver and he doesn't know which one is his. So I'll start playing the drums and he'll go, "No, no move!" and push me off the seat. I play with him a lot on the drums. But you know I'll be on the phone playing with sticks or I'll get irritated with some one and start drumming on the couch. I play everywhere I'm at really.
Did you ever want to play another instrument?
I don't want to sing! (laughs) No, I don't want to spread myself thin. Some dudes like Dave Grohl have a unique talent and can do it. But for me, I don't think that I could do it. I mean I told my grandma that I would win when I was nine, you know what I'm saying? I got a whole different kind of fire for the drums. If I don't have that for something else, I'm like "Fuck it." You know?
Yeah, it's good to do things your passionate about.
My whole thing is that I want my band to be dope. People ask me if I want to be in other bands and I'm like...no. I want to keep making dope-ass Mars Volta records, man. Most bands have to do some corny ass shit. We get to do whatever we want to do.
Have you tried Guitar Hero yet?
I haven't gotten into the whole Guitar Hero thing. I'm too scared of getting addicted to it. People would call me at home and be like, "Are you practicing?" and I'd be playing Guitar Hero. I saw a dude who figured out how to play it on his Wii. People are home, straight nerds, think up this shit. Hot wiring their Guitar Hero. There was this dude who came up to me and said, "Hey I created a player that's you. So every time I play, I'm you."
What's the weirdest promotion Mars Volta was ever asked to do?
I am never the one who get asked. I just do it. I think the funniest promotion ever was Mars Volta SHREDS. Go look that shit up. Basically there's this guy making fun of everyone's music, but he's taking time to do it. Look it up, it's so funny.
Is it hard to keep up with your band mates?
Oh man, sometimes I just get off the drums and just lay there. They'll come over to see if I'm ok and I'm like, "No." I mean I pace myself too. You can't just go full blast on the first song and then play like that for three hours. I'm like, "Ok, I know I've got a solo in this song, but I've got four more solos coming up." So I do themes. This one I'll do all bass shit, the next one all cymbal shit, the next one something else. 'Cause otherwise it would get hella boring. People would come to your show and go, "I know your shit. You're like a three-trick pony."
What's your favorite Mars Volta song to play?
To play? I like playing Wax Simulacra a lot because I've got a solo in that. Whenever I see that on the set list, I'm like, "Yes!"
Well thank you so much for talking to us.
Pridgen was then ushered away and the competition began. With sticks of fury these nervous young guys became drumming gods in a matter of seconds. All of their nerves seemed to melt away as soon as they sat on their stools with their sticks poised for victory. It was incredible. But in the end there could only be one winner and that was Mr. Jerome Flood III of Lawrenceville, GA. He blew the crowd away with his hat trick that left the judges in the balcony so surprised that there was half a beat when no one did anything. Then everyone jumped to their feet cheering. I have never seen such a reaction from veteran drummers before.
Want to see the hat trick for yourself? Watch the video of Jerome Flood III's transcendent performance below.
After the contest the mood turned serious with the induction of three veteran drummers into the Guitar Center's "Drum Legends" Hall of Fame. The late Mitch Mitchell was inducted for his work with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Carmine Appice, was inducted for his work with Vanilla Fudge and Rod Stewart. And Nicko McBrain was inducted for his work with Iron Maiden. After some tearful and utterly forgettable speeches the night closed down with Papa Roach. All and all a rocking good time was had by all.
1. Ramon Sampson grew up in South Africa and moved to Tennessee two years ago.
2. Only two contestants were currently in a band. Almost all of them started playing in church. I have no idea what kind churches these guys go to, but the must bring the house down on Sundays!