Interview with Derek Kerswill continuation from Sick Drummer Magazine Issue 10
Interview & Pics by: Brandon Marshall
SDM: Tell us about your time in Scattered Remnants. What you did do with them?
DK: That was a weird time for me, man. They were like death metal before death metal, like 1996. I'd never even played a blast beat in my life, had no idea what it was. They had to show me what a blast beat was. They were recording a record and needed some help. They couldn't find a drummer. In our area, drummers are really hard to come by. I was a rock drummer who could just play metal, and a lot of these guys like the hard, aggressive groove style that I had. It was just double bass, that especially for a death metal band, that I wasn't like accustomed to playing. So, I ended up playing for them. I recorded a record with them, and it was probably, in my opinion, the worst record in my catalog. I tracked drums in like two days. Yet again, no clicks back then. No one was using triggers yet, really. It's really inconsistent, and I wasn't happy in the band. It wasn't me. I was just playing other parts. So, that was a real weird time for me.
SDM: Good experience though, from a drummer's point of view, I bet.
DK: Yeah, it was a decent experience.
SDM: You had a short stint with Shadows Fall, only appearing on a few tracks. Can you tell us about that experience? What exactly did you contribute to Shadows Fall?
DK: Well, I wrote the majority of the Art of Balance record with them. I'd say three-quarters of that album I wrote with them. It was an interesting time for me. They really wanted me to join the band full-time. I had a corporate job, and I have a wife at home. I had a really good job with Hewlett-Packard that I was kinda afraid to leave. I was a little complacent, and the touring lifestyle was never really conducive to the way I wanted to live. So I kinda always feared touring, but I loved being in the studio and working with all these bands, and these guys really liked me. I'd come in, help them out, and play with them whenever they needed me. That was 2001, and I played with Shadows Fall for the majority of 2001. We went to Japan in August 2001, three weeks before September 11. We played Yokohama Arena with Pantera for the Beast Feast festival. It was my first arena show, and it, ironically enough, ended up being Pantera's last show ever. Like, if you Google "last Pantera show ever", Beast Feast 2001 comes up. So, that's in retrospect for the rest of my life now. It's pretty crazy to know that I was at Pantera's last show ever, in Japan, and, ya know, played.
SDM: That's something else.
DK: Those guys are great friends of mine, and I love them to death. I had a good time playing with them. I hear from people that they just always have such kind words to say about me. They really liked it when we worked together, and I liked working with them. It just wasn't the right time.
SD: You've known them from an early age, right? You guys grew up around the same area.
DK: No, they're from western, western Massachusetts.
SD: Oh, okay. Yeah.
DK: Like north Hampton and a lot of east Hampton... the Hamptons, not the Hamptons, Hamptons. [laughs]
SD: I thought they were from the NC, the north central. [laughs] How did you manage to hook up with Kurt Weinstein of Down and Crowbar fame for the band Kingdom of Sorrow? Is that band a main band for you?
DK: Okay, so here's the Kingdom of Sorrow situation. Basically, I was playing in a band called Seemless, and Kirk was a big fan of Seemless. I remember getting a MySpace message from him. The guy never even gets online. It was like, "Yo rocker, love your record. We should tour". [laughs]
SD: Sounds just like him.
DK: Yeah, I spend a lot of time with him. Anyway, I'm just prefacing the whole story with that. Like, he was aware of who I was and about the band I was playing in. When I worked with Shadows Fall, I recorded with Zeus. Zeus was going to do the Kingdom of Sorrow record, which was Jamie and Kirk coming together for an album. They were looking for a drummer, and Zeus said "Hey man. I gotta guy I know who'd be perfect for this". And they told him, and they were both like, "dude, we're big Seemless fans". Kirk loved Seemless. He was like, "I want that guy". So, that's how it came about. That record's really special to me. Not only because I worked with Kirk Weinstein, and he is now a great friend of mine, but we wrote and recorded that record in real-time. Like me, Jamie, and Kirk, that's the whole album. We locked ourselves in the studio for about, well, under ten days, and we would write a song. I would chart it on a dry erase board and erase it. We'd track it live, drums and guitars, erase it, and move on to the next song. At the end of the week, we didn't even remember any of the songs. We had to go back. We're like, what if these songs suck? One song has a click track. Everything else is just me and Kirk playing live. So you feel the push and the pull of the live takes. When I listen to the album, it feels so real to me, and it's dark. It comes from a dark place, man, but it's some of my more unique drumming. There are inconsistencies that I like on there, and it was an awesome experience. We toured twice together and did Ozzfest last year. It's been a great experience. I'm definitely in the band, Kirk's definitely in the band, and Jamie's in the band, but Jamie toured last year while Kirk was out with Down, and I was out with Unearth. So it's just really interesting. I think the band as a studio entity is one thing, but being on tour, there's a place that many people could kinda hop in and be in the Kingdom of Sorrow. So, we leave it open to being able to be interpreted in a different manner live. Sounds crazy. [laughs]
SD: Yeah, kinda does. I talked to Jamie, around September, and I remember he said he was gonna get them together soon. Any truth to that? He said he might do a tour.
DK: Yeah, I mean, we played with Crowbar, actually, as a surprise guest at our Louisiana show that we played on this tour, and four fifths of the band were there. Even the live line-up like we normally use, but not a word was ever spoken.
SD: Ah, come on. Be the initiator next time. [laughs]
DK: No, no, no. I gotta be honest. I was just really happy to see all of them. Down's been so busy, Unearth's been so busy, and Hatebreed's so busy. I think everybody was afraid to bring it up, because it would get our heads going, and all of us are pretty burned out with our primary projects at the moment, but I'm sure you're gonna see something. When we were out on the road, we were working on riffs that were already being written that were pretty awesome.
SD: Oh, hell yeah. When you joined the band Twelfth of Never, was playing gothic style music something that was easy, or was it hard to get into?
DK: Wow, that's funny. You really know my discography. I actually was never in the band. I played all the live drums that were on their record. That was ten years ago. Just great friends of mine, and I'm all about diversity. To be honest with you, metal is the least of what I listen to and want to play. I just do it because, I mean, I love playing it, don't get me wrong. I travel with five iPods with like twenty-seven-hundred CDs archived in them. From Robert Johnson and Son House blues, from the '30s and '40s, up to Stradivarius, Lost Horizon power metal, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and everything in between. I mean, I love music and I never, ever want to paint myself into a corner as a player. I wanna play everything and anything that comes my way. There's a lot of stuff I track that a lot of people never end up knowing about because I do a lot of work with this producer Kenny Lewis, who develops a lot of Christian artists for Michael Sweet from Stryper. I've done a bunch of records for them. The last record I did for them is this girl Sonia V. It's like the band Garbage meets No Doubt or something. It's something that if you heard it, you wouldn't believe it's me playing.
SD: Well, that's a good thing, sometimes.
DK: Diversity is everything.
SD: What happened to your band Seemless, who just recently played their last concert in September? Why the break-up?
DK: Basically, Seemless was my baby. It was the first time that I wrote all the music. I play guitar and bass, and a little bit of keys, but that band, all the music was written by myself, especially for the first record with myself and my friend Pete Cortese, who played guitar in Overcast. You know Overcast, old Boston hardcore band. He and I had had a band called Medium before Jesse even joined the band. But Seemless was my baby. Like I had to see it through the best way that I could. I worked with Unearth on the Oncoming Storm also, I wrote some of that record with them. During that time, Seemless was really starting to come into form, and I turned down Unearth. They asked me to join the band then, before Mike even joined the band, but it was like, my band's really starting to come together. It's the band I always wanted, and I need to see it through before I can, you know, move on to something else. And, you know what? Seemless did everything that we could. I'm really proud of those records, like I was saying earlier. Another instance of like super-integral song-writing. On both records, all the rhythm tracks, guitar, bass, and drums, are completely locked together. No clicks, just us in a room together. So you can feel the push and the pull in those albums. I'm really proud of what we accomplished. We did everything that we could. We lost a lot of money, and it was time to take a couple steps back. Everybody realized that it just wasn't going to work out. We were going to try to keep the band together for fun, but I handled everything with that band and it was too much of a weight on my shoulders. I just finally decided, you know what, it was a time, it was a place, we did everything we could, and I know that in my heart of hearts, it's time to move on. And, I have plenty going on right now.
SD: Any chance in regrouping every couple years or so?
DK: I don't believe in reunions. I'm not a reunion guy. I don't like living in the past. I like living in the moment and letting the future come to fruition on its own. I have a new project right now called Tangents that I'm really excited about. Our record's coming out. It's just me and one other guy -- http://tangentsmusic.com/ by the way.
SD: MySpace also?
DK: Yeah, <http://www.myspace.com/tangentsofficial>. It's like if you took Radiohead, Muse, and Jeff Buckley and put it all together. It's just a friend of mine and myself. I tracked all the drums on the record, but I had a lot to do with the production and the song-writing. It's just a project that we put together that's unlike anything I've ever done in my life. For me, it's like, why keep hitting my head against the wall with Seemless when I have this other project now? It's new and it's fresh, and very low maintenance. I'm super proud of it and it's kinda where my head's at right now.
SD: Did you play strings on it too? What else did you do?
DK: Yeah. I did all the orchestral work.
SD: No kidding. Wow.
DK: Yeah. I tracked every string instrument myself -- nah. [laughs]
SD: So when's that coming out?
DK: I'm not sure. We have three songs online right now that we're just giving away. The album's done. We're mixing it right now. I'm still kinda shopping it around. See if I can get somebody to put it out. There's some stuff brewing. So I don't have a definite time, but early 2010, early-to-mid 2010 for sure. I mean, it's done. I'm just sitting on it.
SD: Gonna have to check that out. Sounds pretty cool.
DK: Yeah. It's pretty cool stuff.
SD: What was touring with Testament like? I know you don't like talking about the past. [laughs]
DK: Nah. I was talking like class reunions, family reunions, like anything that has the word reunion attached. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. To me it's like people going to live a life they've already lived, or attempting to re-live a life they've already lived. I don't want to do that. It's done.
SD: But if something were to happen naturally, then, that's entirely different.
DK: Yeah, but that would be something entirely different. That would be fine, but reforming Seemless, like in any band that re-forms, think about it, man, normally like 99.9% of the time, it does not work.
SD: What about Guns'n'Roses? They're doing pretty well. [laughs]
DK: Yeah, perfect example. [laughs] Thank you. That was one of the greatest tours I've ever done. Like high school me was geeking out every day because they were one of my favorite bands. Bostaph is a monster drummer. To look over on the side of the stage and see him watching me, like ninety percent of the time, what I was playing, and asking me questions about my setup, and what I was doing, I was like, "dude, what are you talking to me for? You're Paul Bostaph". But one of my theories has always been once you stop learning, why are you even going to keep playing? So it's cool to see a guy in his mid-forties still throwing it down harder than he ever has in his career; played with Slayer, out with Testament, and still learning from someone. And, likewise with me, I'm constantly out trying to push the levels of my playing on any level possible.
SD: No matter how good you are at anything, there's always room to improve.
DK: Absolutely. Once you hit the top, there's no place else to go. So who wants to be the best at anything? I definitely don't. I wouldn't want that responsibility, either.
SD: Then you've got to reinvent it.
SD: On the DVD, there are three music videos from The March: My Will Be Done, Grave of Opportunity, and Crow Killer. Tell us how they were made, and what the experience was like for you for each video.
DK: Videos are like, ya know, there's kind of a love-hate relationship the band has with videos. They're really tedious and boring. You're just playing take, after take, after take of a song you've already played live so many times, played in the studio, and tracked. You're faking your way through a song for a video.
SD: That's gotta be a tough for twelve hours.
DK: It's tough. Twelve hours is light. That's a light schedule. You're talking fifteen-twenty hour days. My Will Be Done was pretty cool. We were in this old, empty theatre. We tried to make it represent the band as much as possible. Nothing too tricky. Crow Killer was just a culmination of a bunch of live stuff from the three day March shoot and we put it all together. It looks like us just being us. Grave of Opportunity was a whole other story. We had this idea; actually, someone from our management team came up with the idea: "Hey, what if you guys are the animated characters in Rock Band or Guitar Hero. We'll throw a party. You guys get all your friends together, and we'll throw a party. They're playing the game, but they can't win, because you guys are so awesome, but we can cameo in the video at the party". That's how that was made.
DK: It took months for that video to come together, man, but it's so funny to see us as animated characters. It's hilarious.
SD: Now, did they have to get your movements down electronically?
DK: Yeah. Basically, we had to take shots of DaVinci poses. They modified the animation with the DaVinci poses. [laughs] Yeah, it's pretty funny and all, man. It's a cool video. Definitely one I'm going to be psyched to show my kids someday. Look at cartoon dad. [laughing]
SD: [laughing] That's awesome! Have you learned anything new from the any of the drummers on this latest tour? You're pretty set in your ways and have your own style, but, did you learn anything new?
DK: Yeah, I am. I mean, we all get along really well. Matt Byrne from Hatebreed and I talk and geek out about drums every day. It's pretty funny, man. He's constantly seeking out new information, new techniques. It's so great to talk to drummers. Everybody on this tour, drummer-wise, goes behind each other's equipment and asks each-other questions because everyone has such a definitive style. One thing I've learned is that triggers can be really inaccurate. It's unbelievable. I've been watching some of the guys. You take a band like Hate Eternal. I get them using triggers, but you hear misfirings and stuff like that sometimes. I feel bad for those guys, ya know, but that's the whole reason I don't use them. I love organic, natural tone. I never wanted electronics to get involved with how I play, because that takes away from the life of what we're doing. If you go back to the history of drums, it had nothing to do with electronics. I don't mind playing over loops, from an electronic perspective, and stuff like that. I do a lot of that in Tangents; still organic drum tones, no triggers. I am so adamantly opposed to triggers. That's just my opinion and my stance, but I back it. I go to a gym and I learn how to hit hard, so that I can get the best possible natural tone that I can without letting it be manipulated by electronics. To be honest with you, man, it's just one more thing that can go wrong in the live show, too. I feel bad when it does for guys.
SD: Well, music's about emotion.
DK: Yeah, exactly. I definitely agree with you there. I can see where guys use it so the kicks cut through, because they're playing so fast. It makes sense. I still don't agree with it, but it makes sense. I get it. I don't want to be the jaded old guy, but all my favorite drummers drum. They play hard.
SD: Gene Hoglan helped the band out touring a while ago. What exactly can you tell us about that? Did you have a chance to see him playing Unearth's songs?
DK: Okay, Gene Hoglan is one of the coolest dudes on the planet. Great drummer, too, and what a resume that guy has. I definitely have so much respect for him. He only played like fifteen shows with them. It was right when Mike got kicked out of the band, or left the band or amicably split. It's definitely up for debate. Ya know, I'll say it's when Mike and the band decided to part ways. He's definitely such a different style player than somebody that would play with Unearth. The guys said it was such a great experience to play with him and stuff. I never saw them with him. I know that here's a guy that uses triggers, and the Unearth style doesn't really lend itself to a triggered sound. They're not as mechanical as they are just hard, brutal riffs, but they said it was awesome having him. I will tell you this much, not to toot my own horn or anything, but we played in LA on the Testament tour, and Gene Hoglan was there. I walked around the corner and he's like, "Ho daddy-o, you play that shit better than I ever did, man", and he just hit me on the shoulder and said like, "good job, my brother". Then he proceeded to tell me, "Ohhh, just one thing; that last beat part, in this line. Bro, you might wanna lay into the snare a little bit. Other than that, it sounds amazing". I was like, "dude, thank you very much".
SD: He drums a hundred miles per hour, but, like you said earlier, anyone can play fast, but just slow down and not everyone can do that.
DK: Yeah, he's definitely seasoned though, man. I give him that. Dude, he's like forty-two years old and still playing like a kid, ya know? He's legendary in the drumming world. You can't help but give him props. He's got groove to his style even though he uses triggers and stuff. He's a unique player, and I'm just thankful there are guys like that out there.
SD: That's gotta be an amazing experience. Did you ever see him with Death?
DK: No, never saw him with Death. I'm not a big death metal fan. I love Entombed. Funny enough now, Symbolic and stuff really isn't even that heavy by today's standards. So now I enjoy those records so much more. I was a big Entombed fan. It was like Entombed was taking aspects of death metal and fusing it with rock'n'roll, and that was the ultimate metal band to me; Sepultura, Anthrax, Metallica, and Megadeth, of course, Pantera obviously, but then, other than that, you know. In the early '90s, death metal started coming around. I was never really into Cannibal Corpse and that stuff, but now I can go back, listen to Death records, and really appreciate them, Cynic and stuff like that. But, Entombed was my favorite. Entombed and Sepultura's Chaos A.D. record. Oh my lord, so raw and organic. I love that record, and I think it's one of the heaviest things ever.
SD: Yeah, that's an album that's always stood the test of time. It's been out for some fifteen years.
DK: Yeah, and it fused rock and metal together. Like there's a rock'n'roll groove aspect to a lot of those riffs.
SD: Tell us about the new tour documentary entitled The Three Day March with footage shot by the acclaimed director Doug Spangenberg, who also worked with Lamb of God, Everytime I Die, and Job for a Cowboy.
DK: He just did their DVDs. He's a good friend of ours. He's from Space Monkey Productions. We got out for a nine day run and decided, "hey, let's film some of this".
SD: So it was totally unexpected then?
SD: Oh, cool.
DK: He just shot us for four days and put together a twenty minute documentary. It's just us being us on tour. So it's really funny, man. There's some random stuff, dude. [laughs]
SD: So it's kinda like the old Pantera videos.
DK: Kinda, yeah, yeah. We're like thirteen year old boys that go to summer camp for the first time. Every time we go on tour, we have so many Jackass-type shenanigans. [laughs] On that DVD, one night we were all drunk and our bus stopped at Wal-Mart at three in the morning. We went in and Buzz bought a box of Depends. Just randomly bought a box of Depends. Me, him, and our guitar tech Dave all put on Depends and pissed in Depends because we just wanted to see what it felt like. [laughing]
SD: Couldn't you wait sixty years to find that out? [laughing]
DK: Dude, it's videotaped. [laughing] It's on the DVD. I'd rather know now. [laughs]
SD: I'm gonna check that out. I think everyone else will too, after they read this. They'll be wondering, "what the fuck?". [laughs]
DK: Yeah, it was pretty funny.
SD: Now that's the new bonus DVD with the CD The March that just came out, right?
DK: Yeah, that's all on it. Yup. Yeah, that's what I'm telling ya, man. It's more like buying the DVD and getting the record as a bonus because it's eighty minutes. It's got the Wacken footage, which is the greatest documented footage of my playing career. Like sixty thousand people, and if you were to ask me right now what my top ten musical milestone memories are, and some of them might probably surprise you, that one will probably go down in history as the greatest musical moment of my life; opening for Iron Maiden at Wacken Festival in Germany to like sixty thousand people in the pouring rain, and we have it documented. I'm going to be able to see that and watch it for the rest of my life.
SD: That's the metal mecca. Was that your first time at Wacken?
SD: Are you guys going to be going over there next year?
DK: Yeah, I think we're going to be doing the festivals.
SD: Some say your style is similar to Killswitch Engage's drummer Justin Foley. What's your opinion on that?
DK: Wow. That's pretty awesome, man, because I think he's one of the better drummers in metal right now. Whoever said that, thank you for your kind words.
SD: Well, fans are saying that.
DK: I'm just kinda wondering if it's because we both have ridiculous red beards? [laughs] That could be it. God, I don't know what to say to that, except thanks. Ya know, I pull from a lot of different influences; John Bonham and Led Zeppelin being the whole reason I play drums and play music in general. In terms of drummers, it goes all the way from Cozy Powell Jr., and all the stuff he did with Rainbow, and a lot of bands in the '70s, all the way through someone like Phil Collins, and the work he did with Genesis in the '70s, and then guys like Vinnie Paul. I love John Tempesta and even Steve Gorman from the Black Crowes. Guys that have soul in their playing. I think Justin has been able to fuse soulfulness into metalcore, or hardcore-influenced metal, and I think that's something that's really hard to do. If that's why people would remind me of him, then I'm thankful. I mean, that's definitely a decent reference point, I'll tell ya that much. I think he's extremely underrated, to be quite honest with you. You see some of these drummers I won't name all over the place, and I think he's far superior to them. I see that in general, you know. Take somebody like Matt Grenier, the drummer from August Burns Red; I never read about him, and he's one of the better drummers out there right now. He's just a kid, but he's so soulful and yet so precise in his playing. We were out with them on a tour in 2008 -- no, 2007. He and I would bounce a lot of ideas off each-other. It's cool. I like being on the road with drummers that are respectful of each-other and have a mutual admiration for each-other, because you wind up learning so much from one another; about every aspect from pedal adjustment to tuning to the cymbals you use. There are just so many variables in what makes somebody's style. To be able to appreciate all of that on a lot of different levels is pretty amazing.
SD: Others say your leaner approach to drumming has changed the sound for Unearth and The March. Would do you have to say about that?
DK: I think that's great, because I consciously decided to make sure that I was playing effectively for the songs, and with feel, than to worry about filling the songs with stuff that didn't need to be there. Dude, anybody can do that. To me, the beauty of drumming is knowing when not to play and letting the songs breathe. Not filling in the space, letting them breathe. I wouldn't call that a leaner approach. I'd call that a musically intelligent approach. You know, you listen to soul music from the '60s, and those drummers were some of the best drummers of all time. They weren't throwing in fills and crazy nonsense into songs to show people what they could do. They were playing effectively for the songs. That's my approach. I'm a songwriter first and foremost. I understand the craft of a song, and I just wanna play drums effectively for the music I'm playing and the artist and/or song I'm playing for. Not for me as a drummer. I know what I'm capable of, and I'll never be the player I want to be, but I know what I can do. I don't need to throw it down on a record to prove it to people. I need to make songs. I need to take songs to another level, and that's the way that I play.
SD: Yeah, I think that will do it. Any last words?
DK: I'm definitely a pretty humble and thankful dude, a late bloomer of sorts. I'm in my mid-thirties and finally getting recognized. Just don't give up, because I didn't, and things are really starting to come together now. The funny thing is, too, is always have passion for your playing, because the business got in the way for a long time. I started to lose that drive and playing became secondary. Once I joined Unearth, playing was all that I did because I didn't have to worry about the administrative duties, like with Seemless and stuff. In Seemless, twenty percent of what I did was play the drums. In Unearth, like a hundred and twenty percent of what I do is play drums, and it's just made me really appreciate playing. I feel like I'm playing the best drums of my life, in my mid-thirties when I thought I was gonna get worse, ya know, as I got older. So just continue to play with passion, and don't give up. That's one thing that I'm thankful I did. Just be good to people, because you never know who you're going to bump into.
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