Interview:Riotous Rhythms

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Godsmack's Tommy Stewart:

Riotous Rhythms


Six years ago, drummer Tommy Stewart met up with Sully Erna, Robbie Merrill and then guitarist Lee Richards, and the seeds of Godsmack were sown. Thousands of rehearsal hours, hundreds of gigs in downtrodden clubs, a new guitar player named Tony Rombola, and a debut album later, Godsmack worked their way into the spotlight. To be sure, it hasn't been an easy run, but the band has kicked down the doors standing in their way to rock and roll stardom, and they are ready to run through.


Drumming in a band that's fronted by a former drummer has been a bit of a challenge for Stewart. Both he and Erna respectfully admit they butted heads at the start of Godsmack. Today, though, Erna says of Stewart "Tommy is probably the hardest hitting drummer I think I've ever met in my life. I thought I was a f***ing powerhouse when I played drums and he just dusted my ass when it came to smashing things. He's very intelligent and a very loyal friend."


As Godsmack has pushed and pulled -- sometimes painfully -- from unknown status to stardom, so has Stewart. Nine months after the band's genesis, Stewart took time off to deal with some personal matters in California. He returned to the fold in April of 1998, just as Godsmack was readying for take-off. Coming back to the band, he says, was one of the easiest decisions in his life. "I tell people all the time that never has anything made so much sense in my life. Everything happens for a reason and it definitely happened that way this time." So, was it exciting to come back to Godsmack?


Tommy Stewart: Yeah, our very first show was at Worcester State College in Worcester, MA. There were probably 35 people there. It was funny because I remember Robbie saying that the shows were doing well, they were getting a few hundred people and things were going along pretty well. Then the first show I did when I was back there were like 35 people. I was like, 'Whew, you guys are doing really well.' But the very next night we played a club in New Hampshire that was packed with 600 to 700 people going crazy. So, it was all good. It was exciting, because I knew I missed playing with those guys. I always felt some special energy when we were all together and after being gone for so long it felt like, in a way, I never left. We just picked right back up. And things happened fast after that gig, right?


Stewart: Yeah, that was in April and in June, we signed a deal. The record came out in August and ever since then, it's been a circus. How much of today's Godsmack was evident at the very beginning?


Stewart: About 60 percent of the first record we were doing at the very beginning of the band. There were a couple songs, like "Situation," "Whatever" and "Voodoo" that weren't done yet. Right before I left we just started to mess around with the initial riffs of "Moon Baby" and "Immune" was just starting to come out. "Time Bomb" and "Now or Never," we were doing them at the beginning. To us a lot of those songs are five and half years old and some people are just discovering them for the first time now. It's strange. A lot of people think that this happened over night, but it was like a five and half year overnight story. How do you keep that fresh?


Stewart: It all comes from the crowd. It doesn't matter to me - I like playing and those songs inspire me. And the people in front of me, if they are losing their f***ing minds, that inspires me. So, I don't even think about that. It's hard to not get inspired and not get up for a show when you have 10, 15, 20,000 people in front of you. Whatever it is, if they are screaming their heads off and yelling for you, it's hard not to get up for that. If you can't then there's something wrong with you. What makes drumming fun for you?


Stewart: The absolute release of tension and energy. I've always lived in apartments, so I can't really set up my drums and wail on them. I play a little bit at home, but mostly it's about the live show. So, when I get in that type of environment it's all about the release of everything that's inside of me that day. I can't get massages the day of the show. Everything that's in there needs to be in there when I go up to play, because it all comes out. Sully says you're a nice gentle drummer. No, I'm just kidding. He says you hit like a mutha. Where does that come from?


Stewart: I don't think I really hit like that in the first band that I was ever in back in 1984. I think what it was, to be honest with you, was when I first saw Tommy Lee. I got into Neil Peart and Tommy Aldrich before Tommy Lee, but Tommy Lee was the first guy I saw and remembered absolutely destroying stuff in front of him. He had the long limbs and the sticks on top of that, so it looked like his arms were abnormally long and they were coming from behind the stage. It was so visual and so energetic and so powerful, I thought that was the way to play drums. There's no other way. That fits right in with Godsmack.


Stewart: Yeah, it works well. How is working with Sully on drum parts?


Stewart: He is a tremendous talent and it's good, because we play very similarly. However, we think differently at times about drum parts and grooves. It's actually a good thing, because it's hard to take someone as good as he is and say, 'I'm the drummer of this band, you're going to have to listen to me.' You're not going to take that out of him. So, it works well because we get to bounce shit off each other and a lot of times he's thinking of something that I haven't thought of, or I'm thinking of something he hasn't thought of. So, in the end the drum part is actually the best part it could be for the song. It always comes back to the song and I think we're both very song-oriented drummers. We had our times of butting heads in the beginning, because we're both pretty strong personalities, but fortunately, it all worked out and we learned how to work with each other. How has your kit changed over the years?


Stewart: The first kit that I ever had was a Neil Peart clone, or at least I tried to copy his- I had a little xylophone set up and a double bass, four rack toms, two floor toms. I even used to bring home blocks from school and everything. Now I have a single kick, a couple rack toms and one floor tom. It's a pretty basic set up. The only reason I added the second tom was because there's some stuff that we do that needs another voice. Otherwise, I'd probably just have one rack tom and one floor tom. Less shit in my way. Is that how you approach it?


Stewart: Yeah, over the years that I've played I think less is more-there's less shit to try to hit. I have a good amount of cymbals, but that's just because of the tonal and textural stuff that it provides for a song. As far as drums go, we're not Dream Theater. I love Dream Theater, but that's just not who we are. As long I can pound and have a couple different voices for drums, I just go for it. Plus it gives you more room to swing your arms without hitting shit that you don't want to hit. Though Godsmack is a pure rock band, it seems like you get a chance to play with a lot of dynamics and texture within the songs.


Stewart: Yeah and I'm the first to admit that I forget that from time to time. (Laughs) Maybe I'll forget that I need to play a little more dynamically because I'm so into the show and I just want to get everything out and leave everything up there. But, yeah, both Sully and I think about stuff like that. We're not always going from pianissimo to absolute forte all the time, but there is some room to move within the songs. I think it provides a little something extra for the listener, as opposed to being always on 10 all the way through the tune. You can only bludgeon people for so long.


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