Feature: Modern Drummer
No Doubt's Adrian Young & 311's Chad Sexton
Brothers In Rhythm
Story by Robyn Flans-Photos by Alex Solca
Courtesy Modern Drummer magazine. December 1999.
It seems that no one is truly prepared when success hits. Some people deal with fame better than others, but one thing is true for everybody: It's a struggle. Musicians working to promote a new album can oftentimes end up being away from home for very long periods of time--away from family, away from friends. No Doubt's Adrian Young and 311's Chad Sexton found that finding camaraderie on a tour can make the situation much more palatable.
These two were lucky. They became close friends when No Doubt and 311 first shared a bill at LA's Palace in 1993. It doesn't always happen, but the two discovered they were similar in a lot of ways. Then the two bands played some scattered dates together in '94 before getting to really hang out when they toured together in '95 and again in '96. Adrian and Chad couldn't have been happier about it.
In the midst of finishing off their latest albums--311's new Soundsystem and No Doubt's tentatively titled Artificial Sweetener--Adrian and Chad took the time to get together at Chad's hilltop home to discuss some of the pros, cons, professional pitfalls, and sheer joy of playing in a successful band.
MD: When you meet another musician who's playing on a bill with you, do you ever think about it ahead of time, like "Is this guy going to be a jerk?" or "I'm looking forward to meeting another drummer"?Adrian: I think it's different with each band, but if you really like the band--which is what is was for me--you look forward to it. It was really looking forward to meeting 311 because we had their CDs and were fans before we played together and became friends.
Chad: I'm usually excited to talk to drummers. I think I might be a littler nervous to meet Dennis Chambers, because I've followed him so long and seen him play a lot. I play to his records every day back in the '80s.
MD: What is the bonding process between two musicians who play the same instrument on the road?
Chad: I think Adrian and I are a lot alike in many ways, in personality. [Asking Adrian] You're a Virgo, right? [Adrian nods yes.] I'm a Virgo too. We're similar in a lot of ways besides how similar we are. I think females probably do that more.
We talk about everything from basketball to music or "did you hear about that new drumhead that came out?" A little bit of drummer talk and mostly normal talk. When you tour with other bands it tends to be a family vibe because you're living with these people very day. You see them in the morning, you see them when you're performing, you see them when they're happy, you see them when they're not doing so good, you see them when they're throwing up--it's a family kind of thing, and I like that. I think it's really cool because people lose their inhibitions and you get close.
Adrian: It's very special in that way. If you're with other bands who you look forward to seeing when you get to the venue, it makes it that much more special. If it's a drag and you're avoiding the other bands, it's pretty extreme.
MD: Why would it be that way? What would be a turn-off?
Adrian: It depends. If you're really tired and you've been on the road for a couple of years straight and you're in a weird zone, sometimes you just want to do your own thing. Most people can relate to that, but some bands are all over you. They'll just walk right into your dressing room while you're trying to chill out and they start chattering at you--"Blah, blah, blah, blah, did you hear about this? Did you hear about that?"
Chad: There are such extremes on the road. People think, "What's his deal? He doesn't want anyone to talk to him?" But you just don't know what it's like to be on the road for a year straight and to try to get just one moment away--"just five minutes in the dressing room, just don't talk"--and then someone comes in and yaps at you. But really, all of those things are just part of the game, and we're happy to be in the game.
MD: You both are involved with Orange County drums.
Adrian: I think he was first.
Chad: Was I? In '94 maybe?
Adrian: Did Daniel [Jensen] give you your snare drum first at the 5902? [The 5902 is a club in Huntington Beach, California. Chad nods yes.] Later that year Daniel gave me a snare drum.
MD: So when you met, you were already both using those drums?
Chad: No, we met in '93 and we were both using another same drum company. There are a lot of similarities between us.
Adrian: We had the exact same drumset at one point I think.
Chad: Yeah, same color and everything.
Adrian: And we both had short blond hair.
Chad: [They laugh.] Lots of similarities.
MD: Do you talk about equipment when you're together on the road?
Adrian: We do a lot when Daniel is around.
Chad: Yeah. [Laughs.]
Adrian: but we really talk more about girls and life and stuff like that.
Chad: We really are more like friends. I don't think we ever talk about drums. Maybe on occasion we'll talk about Orange County--what I'm going to get or the new set he's getting, that's it. We're not intense talkers: "Do you think that Zildjian cymbal is a little too thin? Shouldn't it be medium-thin?" [Adrian laughs.] We're not shop talkers like a lot of drummers are, and I know my main reason for that is because I worked in a drum store for five years and it was shop talk, shoptalk, and more shop talk, with guys rolling every stick. I’m pretty picky about my sticks at this point too, but at the time I was thinking, "Main, everybody in here is just too picky. Just hit the drums."
MD: When you're in one of those zones where things are difficult, you really need a support system, somebody to talk to. Is that hard to find on the road?
Adrian: It depends on whether you're lucky enough to have that in your own band. Some bands can't do it because there's too much tension, but I'm assuming that Chad has that. I know that I have that within our group.
Chad: But males don't usually go, "In order to be more mentally healthy I need to say what's on my mind."
MD: But you obviously know that to be true, or you wouldn't be saying it.
Chad: I know that, but males in general don't think about that. I realize that's the healthiest way to be, but it's just not that present on the mind. I mean, I get homesick and I miss my puppies and I miss sleeping in my own bed.
MD: Do you remember being a kid and dreaming what it was going to be like to be in a successful band?
Chad: Here's the difference: It's not easy. When you're growing up and you think you want to be a drummer in a successful band, you think all you're going to do is play drums. Wrong. You're going to play drums, but you're also going to have to do a photo shoot from 10:00 in the morning to 1:00 the next morning. You're going to have to film a video. Believe it or not, it's work and it's stressful. Everyone thinks, "I’m going to get to play drums, it's going to be so much fun." But when you have to go into the studio and the pressure is on to deliver, it's tough.
MD: Is it close to what you thought it would be, Adrian?
Adrian: I don't know. I didn't really have high goals. I just wanted to sell out clubs across the country. I didn't really have expectations.
MD: You got more that you fantasized which means you didn't envision any of that responsibility. What's the downside of success?
Adrian: Everyone else around you, like friends and even family, sometimes really can't relate. No one really know what it's like unless they're doing it..
MD: What don't they understand?
Adrian: It's hard to explain, but I guess the hardest thing for me is that the perception is that you've changed. And I'm sure there is a little bit of that, but…
Chad: …everyone is changing at the same time with you…
Adrian: …if not more. There's an awareness factor that really gets old. For me, I look forward to getting grounded again, which means staying at home for a long time and hanging out with friends and doing what I normally do.
MD: And they haven't changed toward you?
Adrian: I think initially people did, but after a while it became normal. It's like a balloon and then the air comes out.
Chad: It's acceptance.
Chad: I don't really have that problem because we're not as big as No Doubt, especially worldwide. Adrian has dealt with ultra-awareness. I can go anywhere and no one knows who I am.
MD: So when it becomes stressful and you've been away for a while, does it help to play a gig just to blow it out?
Adrian: I could use a gig right now.
Chad: You think you could! I could use a gig right now. My last show was January '98.
Adrian: October of '97 for me.
Chad: Are you serious?
Adrian: We did one show in Hawaii in '98.
Chad: I have no clue you guys had been off the road so long.
Adrian: We're going to do a little one-week California run of clubs--no hype, no nothing, no production--just play. We should do that together.
Chad: We're doing the same thing, although we're doing a whole tour of clubs across the states from October to December. Everybody would love to play with you guys. You guys should take us to Europe.
MD: What happens when you don't play for this length of time? It sounds as though it's quite frustrating for you.
Chad: To this point it is. At first it was fun to have the break. How about you, Adrian?
Adrian: Absolutely. The break was necessary.
Chad: And then we were working on our record, but the last couple of months I'm going, "Let's go, man." I'm getting antsy.
Adrian: We were going to do a club tour across the States in November and December also, to support the launch of our record, but now our record is not going to come out until next year. We have some more songs to record.
Chad: That sounds like you're being too picky. That first song you played for me, "New," is killer.
Adrian: That's not even going to be on the record. It's just for the soundtrack to Go.
The main problem is that we have nothing to look forward to for the rest of year, except for going back in the studio a little here and there. That's why we decided just to get into a bus and go up and down the West Coast. We just have to play, because ultimately that's what we are--players--and I think you guys are too. It's the live shows that got us here in the first place. I'm not very happy.
Chad: Those are hard things to deal with, and it's all beyond your control. I know how you feel. One of the songs I thought should not be on our record got put on the record. I felt so bad that day because that tune will be on there for my lifetime. They may not be printing the CDs in twenty-five years, but I'll have one. Those are hard decisions, but I realize I just can't win them all. There has to be a compromise.
MD: You have to be philosophical when those things happen.
Chad: Yeah, be upset for a day, but then get on with the positive. That's what I have to do, otherwise I become a negative ass-hole.
Adrian: That's how bands stay together for years and years--being reasonable and compromising.
MD: Were you feeling that your playing was becoming stale at the end of your last tour?
Adrian: Even if it was feeling stale, I know I was getting better just because I was playing every day.
MD: How does taking a break--in smaller doses--help your playing?
Chad: It prevents you from getting burned out. Sometimes when you play for a year on tour, you get stuck in certain ruts of doing the same fill in one spot. [Adrian laughs.] Everyone does! Now I'm so anxious to play songs from our first record because I wonder if I even remember them. I haven't played them in so long.
Adrian: I know them.
MD: You know them?
Adrian: I know their first album because that's one of the tapes I play along with. I think everyone has their main CDs to warmup with or to play to just to get away from their own group., and that's one of mine.
MD: Can a break be too long?
Chad: Sure, but I've been playing some. To do the studio, we rehearse as well. We'll rehearse twelve songs each day and then we'll do the studio. It's not like that every day, but we were practicing five days a week and I could see an improvement.
MD: How so?
Chad: I can't really explain it, I just feel better about it. I feel like a more mature player now. It feels like I don't have to try as hard. It's like, "Don't over-think it now because you've done it so long that it's second nature, so just have fun."
MD: What about the long break for you, Adrian?
Adrian: For me it's more mental because I've been playing in my wine cellar on that old red kit, which stays down there permanently. I go down there and just play to other stuff or work on the parts I'm going to record, so I'm still playing. And I try to do little things here and there. I went on tour with The Vandals for a couple of weeks in Europe [summer of '98]. I like to step up to challenges, like trying to play with other bands who have good drummers. Josh Freese couldn't go and they're all friends of mine, so I tried to fill Josh's shoes, which is very hard to do. I've played on a couple of outside records, just stuff outside my element to try to improve myself.
MD: I spoke to you at the end of your tour and you were fried. I guess you forgot how painful it is because you want to go back and do it again.
Chad: Touring is one of those things that seems better when you're remembering it than when you're actually going through it.
Adrian: I just don't want to go back out for twenty-seven months. If I went out for a year I would be stoked. It would be great. That's probably what it will be.
MD: And what if it mushrooms like the last one? You didn't expect that to go twenty-seven months.
Adrian: We won't be playing catch-up. We're already going to know, right off the bat, if it's going to be happening. And we'll have the tour planned out instead of, "Oh, it's getting big in Australia, we have to go there now." We played catch-up last time.
But road memories are irreplaceable. It's weird because I see some of these older bands that go back on tour, and sometimes I think, "Oh no, I don't want to see a fifty-year-old version of this band I liked." But they don't give a shit because they want to do what they want to do, and maybe they're not rocking as hard at fifty years old, but the road has dr4wan them back in. If there's an audience, it's like, "Who cares--I'm going!" It's one of the few professions where you can get a major rush at fifty like you did when you were twenty.
Chad: When I saw Bad Brains at the House Of Blues…
Chad: You saw that too. How magical was that!
Adrian: It was amazing. It was the first time I got drawn into the pit in maybe five years. It was bitchin'!
Chad: Those guys are forty to forty-five and they're playing punk rock that could rival any band of eighteen-year-olds.
Adrian: It's very rare to see people that age pull off punk, though. IT was the best show I've seen all year.
Chad: Me too. It was unbelievable. I loved KISS last Halloween too. I was a huge KISS fan growing up. We opened for them, too. Imagine me growing up, listening to KISS, wanting to be in KISS, and then opening up for them.
Adrian: Where was that?
Chad: Madison Square Garden, when they first started doing shows again.
MD: Adrian, you fell into a major touring pitfall last time out. Can you talk about it?
Adrian: As far as boozing it up? Yeah, I'd say for the last year I drank every single day.
Chad: Wow. It can get like that.
MD: Didn't it affect your playing?
Adrian: Not at all. I wasn't stumbling onto the stage or anything. And after a while it's like if I drank a six-pack, I'm not drunk anymore. It's like anything else where you need more and more after a while.
MD: What a minute; is this good?
Adrian: I would say no, but…
Chad: …but then you don’t know how somebody is going to react if they don’t have that outlet.
MD: Is there another outlet you can find, because not everyone is going to be able to handle alcohol even as well as you handled it.
Adrian: You mean, they'll step it up to hard drugs?
MD: Or it just becomes a lifestyle you can't stop.
Adrian: Fortunately I could stop and I'm stronger now.
MD: But is there some other, more positive outlet?
Chad: The only thing I could possibly see, which is almost impossible on big tours, is to make sure you get enough breaks. But the problem is when we go on the road, we take out a whole crew and equipment and lights and we have to pay for all of that. And that means constant touring. The only remedy is to get off the road, slow your brain down, do some deep breathing, and clear your thoughts. But you don't always have that option.
Adrian: When your record is doing well, you have to be out there pushing it. It just helps the record the more you're out there when it's happening.
MD: So many musicians complain that the hardest part about the road is sitting around for so many hours just waiting for that two hours on stage.
Chad: You think you're sitting around, but when we finish a show, we might be getting to bed at 4:00 in the morning, and then we get up at noon. Then we go to catering and eat. What's next? Soundcheck. And then what? WE have to do an in-store, so we get in the van and drive to an in-store. Then there's a radio interview because they're playing our record, and then we have the show. And we just want a moment to ourselves, so we go to the dressing room, but then there's a meet-and-greet after the show. Hours sitting around waiting to play is a big misconception.
Adrian: If you have a hit record, you're doing promotion all day long.
Chad: So it becomes stressful and you choose several different options to alleviate your stress.
Adrian: Girls help. The funny thing is that Chad and I always had girlfriends at different times. I don't think we were ever single at the same time while we were traveling together, which was kind of a drag, so it would be extra fun to be single at the same time.
Chad: Girls help, also having a masseuse on the road might help alleviate your stress. But a masseuse can only ease the tension your body is feeling physically. Your brain needs to unwind too.
MD: So you need a shrink on the road.
Chad: [laughs] That's a good idea.
MD: Can having a buddy help?
Chad: Sure, but as you can imagine, even though Adrian can talk to me, at the end of the day, man, he probably just wants to hear nothing. It's like, "I was at the radio station, I did the soundcheck, I played the show. Now I don't want to talk to anybody. I know I have problems, I know I have issues to deal with, but I'm closing up shop for the evening." And just like he said earlier, there's no way to explain it unless you're there, and even if you're there for the first two weeks, that still doesn't explain how weird it gets in the sixth month.
MD: Or twenty-seventh.
Chad: I can't even imagine that. By the sixth month I start losing it.
MD: Do you sit in the wings and watch the other drummer on the road?
Adrian: Oh yeah. I love to watch the other drummers play, especially the ones I like. It's rad.
MD: That's not the time you want to go off into a cocoon?
Chad: That's when most of the energy is going off. There are 5,000 to 10,000 people in there, there's tons of energy, and it's a good time to be a party of that.
Adrian: You can also step outside of yourself. You're not talking to anybody. You're just standing there, watching something. You're into somebody else's thing at that moment.
MD: Do you travel with practice pads?
Chad: Mine's usually in my dressing room. It's just a little pad, although I did buy a whole drumset pad.
Adrian: So did I.
Chad: Did you really?
Adrian: It's in the dressing room.
MD: What do you do on them before the show?
Chad: I just take fifteen minutes to warm my hands up.
Adrian: Same thing. I’m not going to learn any new licks on the pads, but it's great for warming up. By the way, I want to see your drum room. We had the same guy build our in-house drum rooms.
MD: What's the purpose of your room?
Chad: It's soundproof so I have a place to practice up here, because even right now, it's quiet outside and at night it's even quieter.
MD: So you actually practice?
Chad: I have to tell you, I've never practiced at home, not yet. I have a few different sets and I have my set at the studio and I was playing five days a week for the record. Now I am going to utilize this home setup before I go on the road, before our rehearsals officially start. I'm going to practice our new songs. When I take a break for two months and then I come back to the set, phew, it sucks. It's like reconfiguring your hard drive on your computer. You have to reconfigure your body--everything. I don't want to start like that in rehearsal. I want to have some control before the band gets together.
MD: Adrian, you actually do woodshed at home?
Adrian: It's pretty much the same--I only do it when we're not in the studio recording. If there are weeks when I'm not playing, I'll go down to the wine cellar and do it, because I don't like that feeling of getting on the drumset after not playing for a while. I try to avoid having that feeling as much as possible.
MD: With all the experience you have under your belts, have you any words of wisdom for the younger drummers out there?
Adrian: I don't need to tell anybody about having a passion for drumming. I'm sure we all have that. But on a personal level, I think drummers coming up should think about the music and their drumming, but also try to be responsible. Be responsible with your vices and with your treatment of other people. Try to be an upstanding person. And don't let any drugs get a hold of you.
Chad: I want to say that even though we've talked a lot about how crazy it can get and the pitfalls, we are very happing playing drums and being able to do this for a living.
When I look back to 1992 when we first moved out here, and then think about where we're at now, I'm so thankful that I can do this and have a great time and live pretty well and make up somewhat of my own schedule--at least until we tour. There are a lot of benefits--90% of it is incredibly positive. There can be a lot of problems on the road, but you always gotta come back to the fact that you could be a 7-11 man. This is great!