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Interview With John Tempesta

  • Interview by: Ankit Baraskar
  • Date: June 5, 2010

He has played for bands like Rob Zombie, White Zombie, Exodus, Testament, Black Label Society, and for the father of heavy metal, Iommi himself. He describes the last experience to the awestruck crowd as “I had posters of the guy in my room as a kid, and here I was playing with him”. Currently drummer for the English rock group The Cult, John Tempesta has indeed come a long way. All the way to Mumbai in fact, for the last leg of his Asia Drum Clinic, in support of the Zildjan Z3 cymbals. So we at Headbangers India decided to see if we could have a chat with him after the clinic. And John was more than eager to comply, though time constraints meant a very short interview. Here is what ensued.

HB: Hey John, awesome work back there!
John: Thanks man!
HB: So how has your experience with India been so far?
John: It’s been awesome man, everyone here is so warm and welcoming, and the crowd’s been really great.
HB: Okay, so can we start with what really motivated you to continue pursuing drums, besides watching Ringo Starr play, as you said earlier?
John: Well, my older brother and the guys in my neighbourhood were really into music when I was a kid. They got me into all the 70’s stuff, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Aerosmith. Bonham really blew me away.
HB: So did you take formal drum lessons to support your interest?
John: I’ve mostly played by ear, you know, playing over records, note for note. But I did start with a few local teachers. The first guy I went to gave me headphones, and put on Mahavishnu Orchestra and was like “Play with it.” (laughs) But then I had this instructor called John Spina, and he taught me a lot, he’s been like a real close friend to me.
HB: But you could’ve gotten into pretty much any genre, playing drums…jazz, blues, rock. How did thrash metal happen?
John: Yeah, though I started out playing heavy metal and all, I was drum tech for Charlie(Anthrax drummer) as I said before. So Testament opened for Anthrax once, and they saw me play, and then thrash sort of fell into my lap!
HB: And after that you moved into White Zombie/Rob Zombie…did this affect your drumming style, going from thrash to something almost industrial?
John: Well, it wasn’t that much of a change, it was more of like getting back to my roots, since White Zombie and Rob Zombie both were much groovier than all the thrash stuff, like Bonham and all, which was what I originally started with.
HB: Drumming seems to be getting a lot more technical nowadays, what is your take on that? Technicality v/s feel?
John: Well, yeah nowadays 10 year olds sit down trying to learn double bass.(laughs). And there’s a lot of technical stuff out there to listen to. But I feel they should really listen to the old stuff as well, like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zep, Sabbath to get the feel.
HB: Yeah, and a lot of progressive stuff also being heard in metal nowadays, like people incorporating tabla from Indian classical, or African percussion like congos and all. Are you interested in thinking along those lines?
John: Haven’t heard much of Indian classical, though whenever I go to Indian restaurants and all, the stuff that is playing seems pretty awesome. I did get a CD by some guy R Shankar, and it had these amazing tabla and all in it, so yeah, I might give it a shot. As for the progressive stuff, I’m friends with Danny Carey, and I really like Tool, and we talked about music, maybe I’ll try something like that in the near future as well.
HB: And have you had a taste of the Indian metal scene as well? Zygnema, an Indian band is playing here tomorrow, are you going to be around to watch them?
John: Would love to, but I just came here last night, and am leaving tomorrow, so really don’t have the time.
HB: So which band do you really dig as of now?
John: Mastodon, especially their latest record Crack The Skye. Really love that album.
HB: So is The Cult releasing any new material soon? And are there any other projects you’re working on?
John: We’re releasing 4 new songs this year, an EP, and also working on another project. I can’t really say who all are involved, but it’s something that shall take me back to my thrash roots, so should be interesting.
HB: Any other hobbies you have except for drumming?
John: I love cooking. (Laughs). Really want to go to a culinary school if it’s possible.
HB: (Laughs). Good luck with that. Any plans of touring India with your band? Quite a few metal bands have been playing here recently.
John: Yeah, I heard about Porcupine Tree last year. Very good drummer, Gavin Harrison. And these guys(pointing at my Lamb Of God shirt) were here too right? Some really amazing bands man. Yeah I’d love to come back. As long as I get to play, I’m ready to go anywhere!(Laughs).
HB: Thanks a lot for the interview John, do come back soon.
John: You got me.

Thanks to Sahil Makhija(The Demonstealer) for arranging the interview, and to my friend Mayur for writing stuff down.