LAist Interview: Street Drum Corps
Los Angeles-based trio Street Drum Corps are living proof that the Hollywood rock star dream can never die. Widely recognized as the "punk rock Stomp" group that plays every stage from drum circles to huge arenas, the boys of SDC are right where they want to be; opening for LA metal gods Motley Crüe. With the show coming up this Friday, we got a chance to speak with front man Bobby Alt about the bands humble beginnings and how they worked their way up to sharing the stage with one of metal's biggest groups.
LAist: So, Motley Crüe, you guys must be pretty stoked!
Bobby Alt: Oh man, this is huge. It’s a big deal. I mean, Motley Crüe? The Palladium? We’ve been hoping to play with them for a while and now its really cool now that we can actually tell people.
How did you guys get in touch?
It was Tommy Lee. Tommy Lee contacted us after one of the Guitar Center Drum Offs that we were doing and my band mate Frank stayed in touch with him. Then at one point we were touring with Linkin Park and we found out that Motley Crüe was playing the same venue we would be playing the next night, so Frank called Tommy and he hooked us up to check out the show. And pretty much anything you can think of that could happen backstage at a Motley Crüe show, happened.
That's awesome. So, going back a little bit, how did you guys start the band?
Adam and I are brothers. We're both from New Jersey and we moved out here at separate times and we've never played with each other until now. We met Frank 4 years ago out here in LA when he was playing with some friends of ours, and he had known about my old band STUN. We were all hanging out at On the Rox and just started talking it out.
At first I was doing more of a drum circle vibe; we'd play schools, charity events, play for kids with disabilities. Then we started adding garbage cans and stuff like that. Then Frank saw us play and told us that he was doing a similar thing. So when things weren't working out with STUN I got in touch with Frank, and he said "look, come down to the House of Blues and play for me and Travis Barker at this kick off party for the Warped Tour". So after the show, I was loading my drums into my mom's mini van and we got offered a record deal.
What sort of influences prompted you guys to get together?
For Adam and I it was Jane's Addiction. Stephen Perkins was just the biggest percussive drummer, very tribal. There was a song called "Triple Way" on their first album where they played anything they could find and laid some effects over it. It became my goal to create those sort of scenes.
When we met Frank, our influences became more "Stomp" and "Blue Man Group". But now that we're making records with guitarists, singers and everything, we're looking at Siouxsie and the Banshees and Adam and the Ant. So were still keeping that heavy tribal sound, even though its less street right now.
I know I've seen you guys at different events around town that aren't concerts. What other type of events have you performed at?
We do tons of private events. That's how the whole thing started. We put it together to play halftime shows for the Lakers and the Clippers. We'll do some marching beats that like maybe Timbaland would do, and we would blast through a 2-3 minute piece. But we've done everything from bar mitzvahs, arenas, private parties, sporting events, etc. There was one week a while ago where we played a bar mitzvah on Friday, then Saturday we played the Long Beach Arena with 30 Seconds to Mars.
What type of materials do you guys use for percussion?
Everyday household items, pieces of whatever we can find really. We use everything from garbage cans, we use grinders and sanders against pieces of metal, pipes, fire extinguishers, tympani, marimbas, real drum sets, anything you can think of we probably hit. Pretty much anything that makes a loud obnoxious noise.
With so many materials on stage, it must be hard to coordinate a live set. How much of it planned and how much of it is improvised?
Originally we were very experimental and improvised, it was very off the cuff. Now we're at more of an 80/20 split, 80% of it being structured, 20% being more frantic. It'll be interesting though when we open for Motley Crüe, where we're getting a 25 minute set.
Who have you guys collaborated with in your performances and recordings?
Wow. I mean, the list is growing. One of my close friends that has helped me more than anyone has been Bert McCacken from the Used. We did a Beatles cover "Happy Christmas" with him where we recorded and shot a video, and now you can hear it pretty much every year on KROQ and Fuse, etc.
But we've also worked with guys from 30 Seconds to Mars, the Letos, Adrian Young from No Doubt, and we've been on tour with Linkin Park. There's also local band called Nico Vega and whenever they have an LA show they ask us to play.
But you know its pretty hard to list them all; there's an ever-growing list of people and its so much fun.
We also understand that DJ Lethal produced your latest album. What was that like?
It was like making the band. [Warped Tour creator] Kevin Lyman approached us in 2004 to make a record, when he saw us doing our 6-12 minute street routine, so he hooked us up with Lethal. Kevin called him up, got him out to downtown LA and we had 10 days to make something. We went with a film crew to some junkyards, and it was like Making the Band. We really had no idea what to create so he helped us structure songs. So that first album has more of a street, hip hop vibe. For the second album we had more resources, more time, more money. The newest one "We Are Machines" has more of an industrial dance vibe, using a lot more metal equipment.
What was it like filming your video for "Wrecks"?
A lot of running. We were very sore. The people at the label said that we ran like girls. But the video is amazing. We got this guy Simon from Artificial Army, and they had won all these video awards. So we used a bunch of animations; we had this monster just chasing us through the LA river, through my old 7th St. rehearsal space, just basically where SDC all started. It was really cool, its like its something we can show our kids and grandkids. We just captured all the gritty moments of downtown LA before all the development.
What genre do you must align yourself with?
[Laughs] Its like "Whats the MySpace headline". People have generally described us as the "Punk Rock Stomp", which is a phrase that Kevin Lyman coined for us.
That was 4 years ago though and I think we've really moved past that. Right now we're just a heavy, energetic, world drum band. But honestly, I couldn't come up with a single genre since it changes every day, you know we've made our own sound. I know were not a normal rock or punk band, we're just influenced and inspired by a lot of different music. We never aimed to be so current or popular, but if we happen to fit in with whatever is popular, then we're happy to be a part of it.
Anything else you'd like to let the fans know?
Yeah you know this Motley Crüe show is really what's been on our minds lately. It's just the biggest honor to be playing for them. They're the reason I moved out to California when I was 19 years old, and I knew if Crüe could do it, if Jane's Addiction could do it, then so could I. It's really important for the kids to know that if they want it, they can do it too.
Check out Street Drum Corps this Friday, Nov. 14, at the Hollywood Palladium.