As one of the most popular and well-respected drummers in metal today, Helmet’s John Tempesta is a star on the rise. John started his career as the drum tech for Anthrax’s Charlie Benante, but he soon took the drum throne behind thrash metal legends, Exodus. John recorded three albums with Exodus before jumping ship to join Testament. But the gig that made him a household name was his tenure with Rob Zombie; first with White Zombie and, later, Zombie’s solo band. In 2004, John joined up with guitarist/ vocalist Page Hamilton to reform Helmet, one of the most highly influential metal groups of the ‘90s. Helmet’s comeback CD, Size Matters, was released in late 2004 and the group has been touring the globe ever since. A new Helmet CD is planned for release in spring 2006. Metal Edge was lucky to catch up with John between tour stops for some serious drum talk.
Metal Edge: The new Helmet music is very different from the high-speed thrash metal you played with Exodus or Testament or the programming- heavy Rob Zombie records. Did you apply any new techniques for this gig?
John Tempesta: Actually, I went back to one bass drum and a single pedal and simplified my whole kit. Recently, I’ve been very influenced by John Bonham. He just has the whole package: power, dynamic, sound and technique. I started listening to him a lot when the How The West Was Won CD and DVD came out. When I did the demos with Helmet, I brought out my John Bonham-sized kit with a 26” bass drum. I wanted to get away from all the electronics and click tracks and just be raw and organic.
Metal Edge: You’re a bit of a drum collector, aren’t you?
John Tempesta: I’m a bit of a drum freak (laughs). I’ve got drums all over my house. I have one of my (TAMA) Bubinga wood kits in the living room and right now I’m looking at my John Bonham amber Ludwigs that they’ve reissued. I also have a blue Vistalite kit that Mike Piazza gave to me – which is amazing – and a Sonor Vistalite kit, like the one Phil Rudd from AC/D used to play. Finally, I have half of Cozy Powell’s drum kit, which is like a shrine to me.
Metal Edge: What are your feelings on the prevalence of recording software?
John Tempesta: Protools does save time and speeds up the recording process, but I love the analog sound tape. I love to listen to old vinyl by Queen or Zeppelin. Tape is just much more organic and fat sounding, but the sound of Protools is definitely improving. I do think maybe some of the artistry of playing the part yourself might be lost though. I listen to stuff these days and it all sounds the same to me. It’s kind of sad in a way.
Metal Edge: What is a ‘normal’ practice schedule for you?
John: The studio where the band rehearses is two minutes from my house. I try to go there every day, maybe for an hour or two and just jam out. I’ll work on my chops or my time or whatever, but there’s nothing specific that I practice. It’s cool though because the guy who taught me to play double bass when I was in New York, Pat Nestor, lives in Vegas now. Pat was a student of (famous studio drummer and educator) Gary Chester I’ve been trying to get together with him out in Vegas every so often and also get back into my reading, which I never finished. The books he’s turned me onto include Haskell Harr’s Drum Method and New Breed by Gary Chester.
Metal Edge: Tell me about playing on Tony Iommi’s solo album.
John Tempesta: That was a big thrill of my life. When Zombie was on the Ozzfest tour in 1999, we would go on before Black Sabbath. I would watch Bill Ward every night and just think, “This is just too amazing.” When Tony was putting together this record he’d been working on for a while, he was gathering singers and different musicians and I guess he liked the way I played. He asked if I could do a couple tracks and I was like, “Are you kidding me? Hell yeah!” We had a few days off and we went to Massachusetts to record at this studio called Longview Farm. I wrote a song called “Skin” in the studio and recorded it right there. I’m really proud of that track and the production – they got this massive drum sound. But it was just a great thrill riding on Tony’s tour bus and hanging out with him.
Drums: TAMA StarClassic, African bubinga wood shells in piano black finish
Sizes: 24”Bass Drum, 10” & 13” Rack Toms; 16” & 18” Floor Toms, 7”x14” Snare
Hardware: TAMA hardware
Sticks: Zildjian John Tempesta model
Microphones and Monitors: Shure
Official Website: http://www.johntempesta.com
(Note: John Currently plays with The Cult)
John Tempesta Wall of Snares Photo Courtesy of John Tempesta Dot Com
This article was originally written for Metal Edge Magazine as part of a monthly column by Gail Worley (under the pen name Jayne Rollins). With the magazines’ dissolution, the article has been added to the content base of The Worley Gig for our readers’ enjoyment.