Killing You, Not Softly: An Interview with Adam Pedretti of
Technically, Adam Pedretti’s career as a drummer began at age four, when he found a drum stick in the back of his uncle’s car. “I’d been seeing Kiss and AC/DC videos on TV and always looked at the drummer. I thought that looked cooler than playing guitar. Within two or three years I could copy guys on TV playing beats. Then, when I was 11 years old, I finally got a kit and it started from there. I’m self-taught, but I’m trying to get lessons at the moment just because I’m 24 now and I better get my reading skills up to par,” he laughs. Among drumming influences, he cites Danny Carey from Tool, David Sliveria of Korn, Lars Ulrich. and AC/DC’s Phil Rudd. “And Ringo Starr, too,” he adds, being a huge Beatles fan, “ever since I was a little kid all the way until now, he’s still a big influence.” Pedretti most appreciates “Solid players with a lot of tasty little licks. They surprise you sometimes, those kinds of guys.”
For Pedretti, the common link between his former band, hardcore rockers, NIL, and his present group, the teen-appeal rock band fronted by 17 year-old bombshell Ella Hooper, was producer Paul Kosky. “Paul had worked with NIL as producer, so he knew I could play a little bit off the wall,” says Pedretti on the phone from his home in Melbourne, Australia. When Killing Heidi (which also includes Hooper’s brother Jesse on guitar and bassist Warren Jenkin) needed to add a full time drummer for touring, Kosky thought of Pedretti immediately. “[Paul] dropped off a Killing Heidi demo and I started learning the songs. It just took off from there, and I’ve been in the band almost three years.” While Killing Heidi have played only a handful of club showcases in the States, they regularly draw crowds in the tens of thousands at huge Australian music festivals like The Big Day Out and do in-store record signings that routinely attract up to 3,000 fans, creating mob scenes of the N’Sync/Backstreet Boys variety. “It can get a little bit nuts,” Pedretti laughs.
Killing Heidi’s debut, Reflector, has been out over a year in Australia, but just saw Stateside release this past March, which means the group was already at work on its follow up even as Pedretti and I spoke.
Killing Heidi are being marketed almost as a teen-appeal band. How do you feel about having that image?
The band got that image not by initially pushing it, but by us just being drawn to that place because Ella is a teenage girl, talking about teenage girl stuff. Unfortunately, the 40-year-old guys who write Backstreet Boys songs probably don’t get where teenage girls are at. So, if a teenage girl writes lyrics, I think a teenage girl can pick up on it and go, “Hey, here’s someone who’s writing honestly about stuff that either pisses me off or that I can totally understand and I’m totally into.” So, it doesn’t really surprise me. I mean, even if we were being marketed as just a straight pop-rock band, that market would find us anyway.
What’s the fan mob scene thing like for you?
We’ll go to a record store and do an in-store record signing for kids. Then we’ll usually play for or five songs in an acoustic set up. That can just be crazy. We’ve had three thousand kids sometimes, try to get into these things and it’s just totally out of control. We’ve had to hire security and all this kind of stuff [laughs]. It’s quite phenomenal for Australia.
Do you think this band will break in the States?
It’d be great to break anywhere, but I don’t think we’re going to be an overnight success there. I think we’ve got a lot of hard work to put in, in the states. There’s a lot of great bands there. If we’re going to get people to respect what we do, I think we’re really going to have to prove to them that we’re not just four kids from Down Under trying to take over their territory.
What was your objective for Reflector, and how did you achieve it?
Paul obviously had grabbed me [for the band] for a couple of reasons. He knew I could play a little bit off the wall. Hence I just went, “OK, cool, this is all the stuff that I’ve thought of playing.” I was coming in with ideas, and we were recording on Pro Tools, so me and Paul could do whatever the hell we liked; play over parts on songs. Like, on “Mascara” or “Superman/Supergirl,” I could be riding a double kick drum all the way through it. [My drumming] didn’t have to match what the music was doing. By the end of [recording], we were tracking over drums and doing all this weird stuff. Then it was a compromise of what Paul wanted, what I wanted, and stuff that was made up — spliced out of everything. A lot of the stuff was spliced out of what was being played by this guy, Nicki Bomba, who was doing a lot of loops on the record as well.
So, you’ve got me playing the beats and fills, then Nicki playing loops and Paul playing whatever the hell he wanted to play, mixing it all up in a big bag and then me having to learn everything — even if it doesn’t make sense and it’s impossible to do — so I can play it live. All the parts are there, everything has been played in full, it’s just been switched around a little. Being able to do that is almost like a god send. There’s no triggering or sampling, everything is played live, but the editing process is digital, so everything’s a lot quicker.
Do you play to a click live or in the studio? What do you like about that?
I play to a click in the studio and• live I play to a click 80 percent of the time. I do that because in the studio, when you do use a system like Pro Tools, you’ve got to play on a click so the drums are always going to be the same tempo every time. Live, we use a click because I’m using a DA38, a digital audio tape machine, with all of our back-up stuff on it, loops, little percussion lines, little guitar and keyboard lines, stuff that we can’t replicate live without hiring other musicians.
The click track in the studio is for one reason and the click track live is for a completely different reason. I do like playing with them, but usually it’s out of necessity more than what I would normally choose to do.
What’s in your setup? Does is vary between live and the studio?
The studio set up is always going to be different. I generally try to bring in three times as much as what I own, in a studio situation [laughs]. Then you’ve got a wider choice of sounds. Live, I’m playing on a Mapex Orion classic and my specs are running from 24×18 kick drum, then my toms run down 12×12, 14×14 to 16×16. Then I’m playing a 12×8 Black Panther snare drum, which just sounds like a gun going off. Then, upstairs there’s just as many cymbals as I can fit in, all Zed (Zildjian) customs, just because I love to hit cymbals. Then obviously the DA38 which I’m running plus separate headphone amps so I can control my volume and a few little toys, good luck charms and stuff like that [laughs].
Songs like “Superman/Supergirl” and “John’s Song” and even “Weir” have a lot of abrupt time changes. What’s it like to have your playing challenged that way, if it is a challenge?
Actually, in the beginning it was a challenge, and it was really cool, especially on “Superman/Supergirl,” because the click just stays in one tempo and I’ve got to be counting in another tempo to try and come in [on time]. It was just really cool because it was challenging playing to a click that’s going to change tempos like that. Usually, you just go off feels and eye contact with the other guys in the band. This way, [the band] would just hope that I would get it for them. That was a really good challenge and something now that I can easily do. I can jump into any kind of situation with whatever we do, it’s no problem.
I guess that makes the song more fun for you to play?
It makes it a lot more fun to play, actually, because you don’t have to keep the time yourself. It’s already there for you, all you have to do is worry about having a good time [laughs], so it kind of takes half your gig away for you, which is cool, you just get to muck around a lot.
You come up with lots of very intricate fills, especially on “A Jar Called Small.” Do you pay special attention to those?
In the studio, I had Paul make those up. I said, “cool, whatever you want to do, make up a fill and I’ll learn it.” He would create something and say, “Have you heard anything like this before? See if you can do this.” So I’d have to listen back to it and learn how to play it. Then, when we do it live, I made up a few more fills that were more and more intricate as well. It’s just another example of being challenged. But all of those songs are like that. There’s lots of different things in there which were made up by chopping and changing — things that were made up on the spot, which were designed to re-challenge back Paul and the other guys in the band.
It’s all a good learning curve, this record. The thing is, we took a long time making it, too, about a year. I don’t think any band, with their debut record, will ever get that opportunity. We count ourselves very lucky. It’s been out a year in Australia, and during that time we’ve been trying to get a deal in the States
Since Ella and Jesse write the songs, do they hand the drum parts over to you to write?
They just hand me a song and say, “Here, do your thing.” Or they might go, “Well, we were thinking of this kind of feel or groove,” and then I can play that. But generally, I’m left to my own devices with Warren. Then me and Warren try to work out the rhythm part.
What’s it like playing those huge shows like The Big Day Out?
That’s awesome, that’s what it’s all about, just a massive rush. The best thing is when we all feel it at the same time because everyone just kind of looks around at each other and just smiles and is just shaking their heads going, “Do you believe this? That’s the best, that’s so cool.” The Big Day Out, to play with everybody on that show, Coldplay, PJ Harvey, that was like, “whoa!” And we’ve played with Powderfinger a couple of times before so that’s been really cool. One other band [we like] is Placebo, who we supported here last year.
Would you say recording this album really presented you with an opportunity to stretch, either chops-wise or by allowing you to experiment with different feels?
It allowed me to grow, because what I was playing before, I was used to over-playing on everything. This is the first time I’ve been able to do a record where I was asked to over-play, but also asked to underplay and listen to songs more than just how thick can we go. I mean the whole band situation has really made me grow as a player, so I’ve added these three years experience onto my previous playing experience, and I feel like I’m a much better player now, definitely.
Since you live in Australia, are you watching Survivor?
Oh my god, don’t tell me you watch that! [Laughs] Australia is the home of reality TV. We’ve got so many people who will do anything, go on a desert island with no food, sleep the night in a hornet house. I mean, get a job.