Carmine Appice Interview
By Steph Perry
October 13, 2009
Legendary drummer Carmine Appice recently released his Guitar Zeus project “Conquering Heroes”, a double-disc album of original material with guest guitar solos by rock luminaries such as Brian May, Slash, Ted Nugent, Zakk Wylde, and many more. Along with Carmine, the core group includes Tony Franklin (fretless bass) and Kelly Keeling (vocals, rhythm guitars, and keyboards). The songs were produced in the late 90’s but only now released in the US. Carmine relates, “The good thing is…it was done in the late nineties and it still sounds fresh today. What we were trying to do then is make a combination of like The Beatles and my group Blue Murder and the Seattle grunge movement, and solos. When we did those albums no one was taping solos, the solo was just a rhythm track. But now solos are coming back in again. So the sound of them and the way they feel and the lyrics and everything make them sound modern.” Appice considers Keeling a visionary, and said “he’s like a John Lennon kind of guy…his lyrics are very visionary, like colorful painted pictures”. I chatted with Carmine as he took a quick break from editing his latest instructional DVD. He’s also working with VH-1 to produce a TV show featuring his SLAMM project. Appice is active in community and charity work, his next project will be helping his friend Alice Cooper share musical instruments and music lessons with underprivileged kids. He was very easy to talk to, and when he said, “I’m having a good time with my career now. My life is fulfilled”, I could definitely hear it in his voice.
First off I would like to say how cool it is that as a drummer you chose to showcase the guitar in this way.
Thanks. Really what the idea was, this was a solo album and to bring attention to the album I thought, “let me bring a bunch of my friends to play solos”. Most of them played solos and some played rhythm too. I wanted it to be good singing, good playing, good songs, and good solos.
Why did you decide to re-release the music now?
I never really released them here in America, only in Japan and Europe. And they’re actually coming out again in Japan in remastered high def version. So I made a deal with Fuel Records for a lot of records that are in that position. We decided to do the Guitar Zeus ones first as a double package. We’ve also got Guitar Zeus Korea and Guitar Zeus Japan, where I used Japanese and Korean guitar players. It’s pretty wild. So basically that’s why it’s coming out now.
You and Kelly co-wrote most of the songs. Can you talk a little bit about the writing process?
Kelly was the guy with a million ideas and just needed someone there to cut off all the fat. And I have a lot of ideas also and I like writing with people. So what we ended up doing was either he would come up with an idea and I would add to it, or vice versa. He came up with pretty much all the lyrics unless I came up with a chorus. And then we put it down on a 4-track without the bass and we sent it to Tony Franklin, and Tony would put a bass on it. I put drums on it with a really small baby drum kit. And that was our demo. And we utilized that demo as the arrangement when we got in the studio we used the demo as a guideline to really put the stuff down and make it sound great. A typical day would be, well I would rent a hotel for Kelly near my house, and we would put the 4-track in there. Then I would go over there from like noon to about 10:00 at night and we would come up with all these different ideas for the day. And then I would go home and Kelly would take what we did and take it to the next level. And then the next day I would go back and listen to what he did and I would cut the fat off and fix this and fix that, and rearrange this and that. And then after a couple days we might have like three songs in good condition. Then we’d actually put versions of them down on tape.
Can you reflect on the meaning of the song “Nobody Knew”?
It’s just basically, nobody knew what would happen with all the pollution and stuff, and here we are in the year 2000 and it’s still going on. In other words nobody knew who was running the white house and it’s like they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s funny now since we wrote those lyrics in ‘95 and we said “nobody knew who’s running the white house let’s paint it all black now” it’s pretty wild because Obama’s a black president. So that’s a controversial song right now [laughs].
The song “Where You Belong” has a bluesy and bittersweet vibe.
It is bluesy, and the bass work on that sounds so sad, like it’s actually singing or crying. The bass work is tremendous on that. And Slash did a great job on his solo, he really did.
Will there be a Guitar Zeus 3?
Well unfortunately there’s no money out there to do that anymore. Unless for some crazy reason. You know I don’t expect this thing to go gold or platinum. I’ll be happy if it sells 20,000 units in today’s market. But it took $110,000 per disc to make, that’s why it sounds so good. I had to pay the guitar players, and paid the best engineers and mastering, you know and Kelly and Tony. It costs a lot of money to make these damn things. I don’t see the budgets out there right now and I don’t like making records on Pro Tools. I think Pro Tools suck. It just doesn’t sound good.
I have to tell you, it wasn’t until yesterday that I realized that these songs were written in the 90’s and it blew me away because it sounds so fresh and very new, but you have the vibe of the old days.
You hit it right on the nail! We were doing the old and the new together. The jamming parts of the old, and the song structure and lyrical content and sound of the new stuff. And that’s even more apparent now because you get these younger bands that play actual solos now. It’s a great sounding record and also when I did that record nobody was happening then. Neil Schon wasn’t in Journey, Brian [May] wasn’t in Queen, Ted Nugent wasn’t happening, Zakk Wylde wasn’t big yet, Dweezil Zappa wasn’t doing what he’s doing now with Zappa Plays Zappa. Everybody is out playing again and is doing well.
You’re very active in conducting drum clinics around the country and around the world. What have you learned from doing the clinics?
It gives me satisfaction. I got to see what impact I actually had on the drumming world and the rock world from doing these. From doing them I ended up doing the book, and from doing the book I ended up doing more clinics, and then I sold a lot of books. I met people like Joey from Slipknot who told me he went through my book. The drummer from Goo Goo Dolls went through my book. Dave Weckl, the famous Jazz drummer, now went through the book. There’s just so many of them that have gone through the book. I’ve gotten to see that I made an impact with the books and with the clinics. And from that, even it created a whole genre of drumming, this power rock drumming that I started out of necessity is now what every rock drummer does. They don’t play like Mitch Mitchell, they don’t play like Ginger Baker style, they play like my style which evolved into John Bonham’s style, which evolved into these other styles. So that’s what I learned from doing the clinics. And the fact that generations of drummers are getting better as we go on. I’m doing this DVD now it’s a kids video. Realistic Rock is the name of my big selling book, I have another book that’s called Realistic Rock For Kids which is my second best selling book. And I’m doing a DVD for that. I ran a contest with Modern Drummer and found this 11 year old kid to star in the video and he’s actually doing the teaching. I’m directing it, I’m in the video doing some definitions and talking, creating jokes, and there’s some magic things we’re doing like your drums disappear, snap your fingers and I appear, that kind of stuff. I wrote the script and put it all together and directed it but he’s actually doing the teaching. I thought it would be better to have a kid teach a kid on their own level like they’re hanging out. And this kid is a really great drummer and he’s only 11 years old. Much better than I was at 11 years old! So this is what I’m saying, the younger generation is getting better and better, it’s amazing. So that’s what I get to see.
In your lecture series, “40 Years of Cool” your curriculum includes topics like focus and staying clean.
Basically you can’t do anything with out focus. This is why my career’s still going and a lot of my peers that started when I did are pretty much dead in the business, and it’s all about focus. I have a way of demonstrating focus. As far as the drugs go, I never really was a drugger. I never drank. I mean I smoked a little pot in my life but that’s it and I got rid of it. I found out when I did smoke pot I lost my drive. When I got rid of it is when a lot of stuff in my life started happening. Not from luck but from work. So now I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I never smoked cigarettes, I never did cocaine, I never did any of that stuff. I faced the world mostly straight and that’s how I do it now. Actually I couldn’t even imagine getting high now. There’s so much to life, and you think about your body and how it functions, you’re lucky it functions the way it does without trying to drug it out and screw it up.
You’re often named as a major influence on many of the world’s most prolific drummers, and on rock musicians in general. I was wondering if you could tell me a story about you meeting or getting to know one of your own personal heroes?
Oh yeah I got to know Buddy Rich. The way I got to know him, my manager at the time wanted me to play on a show that he was doing in LA, this was in 1980. That was when Showtime and HBO were just starting so they said we could video it for cable. So I said, I don’t want to play with Buddy Rich are you kidding me! So it ended up getting back to Buddy I was challenging him to a drum battle, which I wasn’t. So when I went to see him at this gig, his daughter said to me, Buddy’s mad at you because you challenged him to a drum battle. I told her no I didn’t! She said come on in and see Buddy. And I said no way! [laughs] Then she persuaded me to go. So I said to my brother Vinny, you come with me! So we went in there and I told him the story and he said, that’s it? So then he said, do you smoke? And at the time I smoked pot a little bit. Next thing I know he’s lighting up a joint, and me and Vinny are sharing a joint with Buddy Rich! [laughs] That’s how I met my idol!