An Interview With Drummer Chris Hesse
Chris Hesse is the 28 year old drummer for Hoobastank, platinum-selling hard rock upstarts and favorites of MTV•s TRL, Chris was born and raised in Northern California, and like me, is an Aquarian. Needless to say, but you can see I am about to, he•s just extremely mellow, very cool, super nice. “I get along with Aquarians, we•re fifty years ahead of our time,” Chris offered over lunch a while back, when I hooked up with him here in New York to talk about his band — the band with the worst name imaginable — and how he and his fellow Hoobastank-ers, vocalist Doug Robb, guitarist Dan Estrin, and bassist Markku Lappalainen, have managed to get themselves such huge chunk of the modern rock pie with their self-titled debut (Island Records) while so many other bands are scrambling for crumbs. Chris was happy to give me the lowdown: “Before we left for Europe [for this tour], the record had just come out and nobody knew who we were. It seems like, since we•ve been back, MTV has picked up on the video — I think they showed it forty times last week. People recognize us in the airport, even in London on the trip back here. Everywhere we go, people actually have the CD. It•s weird. None of us feel that we•re “big.” We•re just now starting to experience that a little bit, so if you ask me in another three or four months [what it feels like] I•ll probably give you a better answer. For me, it•s just funny. I just can•t believe that people take us seriously. I mean, we•re a serious band, but… it•s actually just funny.” If success is hilarious, Chris is still laughing as I write this. He•s a pretty good drummer too. Check it out.
How did you make the move from Northern California down to Los Angeles?
The year I got out of high school, I started playing with some people who knew what they were doing. The town I grew up in, Arcada — which is in the Northwestern tip of California, about an hour from Oregon — is really small, so everybody who plays music knows each other and plays together. There was maybe a group of ten or fifteen people that had five or six different bands, with all the bands switching players. I had a band called Rumpelstiltskin from when I was 19 to about 20. The guitar player from that band moved down to LA to go to Cal Arts, and I moved with him. I had nothing better to do and I wanted to play music for a living and knew it wasn•t going to happen in Arcada. That•s how I moved to LA.
Who are some of your drumming influences?
I learned how to play the drums by putting on headphones and playing to Rush, so Neil Peart was my first big influence. My first record I got by them was Fly By Night, and I just put that on until I knew every song by heart. That was the most fun record to play to, for me. You can play to a lot of songs, but anything on the radio was usually not that interesting. Neil Peart does a lot of stuff [laughs], he plays a lot of shit. Now, I almost think he overplays, but for learning how to play drums and learning how to do all that stuff, he was a lot more interesting than playing to just anybody. I was really into Led Zeppelin and classic rock like Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd — not necessarily for the drums, I just liked their music. I play guitar, too, I•ve played guitar for about ten years. I remember when Nirvana came out and their whole thing just changed the way I felt about music, too.
How would you describe your own style of drumming?
I consider myself to be a straight-ahead, simplistic rock drummer. I try not to fit too much crap in and just try and play to the song. That•s something that Dave Grohl did really well [in Nirvana], I thought. Actually, I think Dave Grohl is a big influence, and Taylor Hawkins is a huge influence now because he•s the best of both worlds. He has incredible chops and he also lays down the fattest rock I•ve ever heard. And he looks cool when he does it too — he totally rocks out.
I•m more interested in making the song sound good than just making the drums sound good. I mean, the drums have to sound good for the song to sound good, obviously, but I think a lot of drummers are too separate from the band. The drums can be a really musical instrument, but you have to play them like that. A lot of drummers are just “on their own” as far as how the music goes. They don•t accent or play to the music. You can always tell a drummer that plays another musical instrument from a drummer who only plays the drums. I can read music a bit, but it•s from playing the piano, not from drums. I•m really not technical, I do everything by ear.
Your performance on “Crawling in the Dark” makes you sound like a metal drummer in parts, but then you start to vary your feels. When you went in to record the album, what kind of drum sound were you going for?
I just wanted to sound good, really. I don•t try to do anything too amazing but I try and make the drums sound like they fit perfectly with the music. I try to keep the bass drum in line with the bass, or if the guitar player accents different things maybe I•ll try and do that on the snare. The thing is, although I seem to be hitting hard, in the studio, I hardly hit the drums at all. I usually hit pretty hard live, but in the studio, I actually had to hit really softly to get a better tone out of the drums, so it just sounds like I•m hitting hard. Maybe it•s the way it was mixed that makes it sound louder. Usually I just beat the shit out of it just because it feels good when we•re playing live, but when you•re recording, the concept is, I hit the drum… you•re going for sound, and I hit the drum just a little bit off the center so it gives a little bit more ring. If you hit the drums right smack in the center it just tends to deaden… maybe if I tuned my toms right it wouldn•t happen [laughs]. In the mix, they just turned all the toms up to ten and made everything sound really good.
As the record•s producer, what advice did Jim Wirt give you on your drumming?
[That story goes back to when] we had an independent record that we put out a couple of years ago (They Sure Don•t Make Basketball Shorts Like They Used To). When we did that record, it was mainly a compilation of demos that we•d done. We•d spend a weekend here and there recording one or two songs and at the end of a year or two we had ten songs. In that time [that we were recording the demos], Jim gave me a lot of input, basically, to simplify everything. He suggested that I take out almost every fill in every song. When we went to write this record, we knew what he was going to say and [by the time] we went into the studio, we•d already laid things out as he would have had us do, it so he wouldn•t have to give us any suggestions.
“Remember Me” has a strong bassline, did you and the bassist cut your tracks together on that one?
I do everything first. Basically we•ll go in the studio and put everybody in the room with me and the band will record a scratch track. We actually did the drums first, at a studio called The Village in Santa Monica and spent two weeks there. I•d do the drums to the scratch track, which would be dumped later. Then I•d go back and fix anything I had to do later. But as far as me and our bassist goes, our tracks were all recorded separately. Markku does the bass tracks after me, and then Dan and then Doug.
Hoobastank has obviously been compared to Incubus, and I know you are friends with those guys. Other than sharing a producer, what do you think the similarity is owed to?
We get that comparison pretty much on every interview [laughs]. There•s a reason for it, which is that we do sound a lot like Incubus. [Jim•s production] has a lot to do with it, but I think it had more to do with the fact that Doug and Brandon [Boyd, Incubus vocalist] both are most influenced by Mike Patton of Faith No More. Plus we all live in the same neighborhood, five minutes from each other, and Dan and Doug grew up with Brandon. So, it•s the same influences, the same up bringing. I think that, if you take out the vocals, there isn•t a whole lot of similarity. I just think the singing styles [of Brandon and Doug] has a lot to do with it.
Another thing about Incubus that•s helped us is that on every record they•ve put out, they always thank us in the liner notes. A lot of kids will take their favorite records and look in the liner notes and see what bands they thank, and go study up on them and buy those records. We•ve sold stuff in Brazil and Australia and all over the world just from that.
You•re getting a lot of exposure for the video for “Crawling in the Dark.” What was it like filming that video?
I had food poisoning when we did that, so it was probably one of the most miserable experiences of my life. We had gone out to dinner with our lawyer the night before, and I ate salmon at this really fancy restaurant. It tasted fine, but it wasn•t good salmon. That night I got as sick as I•ve ever been, and I was sick for a week. We left on tour a few days after that, and I was still throwing up. So, for the shoot, it was basically the day after I got food poisoning, and I just stayed curled up on the couch the whole time between takes. We had to do about six hours total of performance, and I thought I covered it up alright [laughs]. You can•t see my face, which its totally green. They probably whited it out in editing.
I think that any drummer can vouch for this, which is the drummer typically gets assed-out in videos and interviews and a lot of stuff having to do with publicity. It•s almost always the guitarist and the singer who get 80% of the attention and the bass player and drummer get the… leftovers. So, I thought in the video you can see a lot more of me that you do of drummers in other videos. And drummers are usually the nicest guys in the band [laughs].
What•s on your agenda for the rest of the day?
We•re doing Carson Daly•s new talk show. I don•t remember what it•s called, I•ve never seen it. That•s at about 4:30, but I think it•s taped, not live. We did MTV•s Fashionably Loud last night. Have you seen it? That was cool. It•s where bands play and models walk around on the stage — it•s like a fashion show with a band playing. Enrique Iglesias was the “name” guy and then us. We almost didn•t do it because of that line up, seriously, but we did and we•re really glad that we did, because it•s a bad idea to say “No” to MTV. But the girls were just amazing, just to be sitting there. Like, we•re standing at the side of the stage while Enrique Iglesias was playing, and you•ve got the Sports Illustrated Bikini Models walking around in these totally revealing outfits. I mean, the poor girls, they•re telling us, “At least you guys get to wear clothes!” It was unreal, to have them strutting around while we were playing, it was the worst performance we•ve ever done [laughs].
I just have to ask, did anyone say the name of the band out loud before you put it on all your merchandise? Is this the type of name that you•ll always give a different answer to the question, “what does it mean?”
It•s a terrible name [laughs]. If you ask me what the name means, I•ll tell you something [laughs] but it will depend on my mood. It might have something to do with what I•m looking at at the moment. Like, “Oh, it•s a certain type of leaf on a shrub outside of New York.”
No one considered that the word “Stank” is part of the name?
Basically, it came from when Doug and Dan were in high school. People used to think we were a ska band because it sounds like “Skank,” or else they think we•re potheads. Actually, none of us smoke pot or do any drugs. We•ll have a drink on occasion. The fact that people say the name on the radio, and it•s such a ridiculous name and its becoming a household word… I can•t believe it. That is, like, funnier than anything, to me. But we•ve seen everything that•s gone into it, into the video and getting us to this point, and it just takes a lot of the magic out of it.
I like the cool sort of “Infinity” motif you have with the way your name logo is drawn.
And that doesn•t mean anything either, its just a cool way to make the two O•s.
It•s, like, Infinity man.
Yeah, Hoobastank forever [laughs]!