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You Never Go Wrong Going Heavier: An Exclusive Interview With Drum Legend GENE HOGLAN

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Monday, February 6, 2017 @ 1:21 PM

“I've never taken lessons. But I gave myself a whole lot of lessons with every KISS song I ever listened to, Neil Peart, Gino Vanelli, whoever it is. Stevie Wonder, holy moly, I learned lot of lessons from that guy.”

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He’s known to metal fans as “The Atomic Clock”. And for drummer Gene Hoglan, it’s more than a nickname, it’s a badge of honor. Over a 30-plus-year, often itinerate career that began as a roadie for SLAYER, he’s become the go-to guy from drums, be it as a full member (DARK ANGEL, DEATH, TENET, STRAPPING YOUNG LAD/DEVIN TOWNSEND, FEAR FACTORY, DETHKLOK and now TESTAMENT), a session player (OLD MAN'S CHILD, MELDRUM, TESTAMENT’s Demonic album, VIKING, ZIMMER'S HOLE) or someone would could fill in at a moment’s notice on tour – OPETH (twice), ANTHRAX, FORBIDDEN and UNEARTH.

A self-taught musician, Hoglan first made a name for himself in the mid-'80s after joining L.A.-area thrashers DARK ANGEL, with whom he also played guitar and served as de facto creative director. He reputation steadily grew playing on DEATH’s ever-more-progressive Individual Thought Patterns and Symbolic albums in the mid-'90s and as a member of the wildly unorthodox STRAPPING YOUNG LAD after that. It was during this stretch that he earned the “Atomic Clock” handle as much for his impeccable timing, precise, powerful playing and overall prowess as his dependability and penchant for working quickly, creatively and efficiently in demanding situations.

Soon after STRAPPING split, Hoglan hooked up with animator/voice actor/musician Brendon Small to become part of DETHKLOK, the virtual death metal band at the heart of the Metalocalypse series that has since morphed into BRENDON SMALL'S GALAKTIKON due to an on-going dispute with the Cartoon Network. In 2011, Hoglan reconnected with TESTAMENT, taking over for Paul Bostaph, and has been with the band ever since, playing on the Dark Roots Of Earth and Brotherhood Of The Snake albums.

In 2010, Hoglan issued his first DVD, The Atomic Clock, that featured him demonstrating what he does and how he does it. On Feb. 3, he was set to release his second DVD, fittingly titled The Atomic Clock: The Clock Strikes Two, that offered more of the same and then some. Here, Hoglan highlighted some of his iconic performances on tunes by STRAPPING, DEATH and TESTAMENT and broke down techniques like gallops and blast-beats in an often self-depricating manner that could be appreciated by both ordinary metal fans and serious drum nerds.

In a recent phone interview during some rare down time, Hoglan spoke about the new DVD, his unique career path, various current projects and steady gig with TESTAMENT, and a work schedule that is usually much more insane.

KNAC.COM: First off, Happy New Year.

HOGLAN: And the same to you.

KNAC.COM: Are you at home now, on the road, in the studio?

HOGLAN: I am actually in the parking lot of an L.A. Fitness in San Diego (laughs). I just got done with my workout. I had a little bit of time before 2017 really started kicking in, so I’m taking advantage of it, trying to get to the gym as much as possible and get in fighting shape for touring. The holidays were [in Fat Bastard’s voice from Austin Powers] quite good to my belly!

KNAC.COM: How much time do you have off before you go back out with TESTAMENT, assuming it’s them you’re touring with next and not one of your other projects?

HOGLAN: Yeah, it will be with TESTAMENT. We start our touring cycle at the beginning of February. We start it with the 70,000 Tons Of Metal cruise and then we go to Japan, then we have a little break, and then we start our U.S. tour with and PRONG in April. That carries on through May and then I’m sure there will be European festival dates and I’ll be squeezing in some of my other stuff as it comes. We’re talking about getting some of my other projects on the road, so when we have some news on that, we’ll be keeping everybody posted.

KNAC.COM: Before we start looking forward, how was the tour TESTAMENT did at the end of the year in Europe with AMON AMARTH?

HOGLAN: It was great. An amazing tour, man. Great guys, a really killer package. It was AMON AMARTH and a band from Sweden called GRAND MAGUS. They’re a killer kind of old school, traditional JUDAS PRIEST sounding good, solid metal band. Great guys. Had a lot of fun with both camps and both crews.

It was super successful, we played a lot of hockey stadiums and stuff like that. So it was an excellent tour and a good tour for TESTAMENT because there were a lot of AMON AMARTH fans. Just a sea of AMON AMARTH T-shirts. So TESTAMENT viewed it as, “Hey, some of them might be familiar with us, some of them might not, so let’s go out there and put on a good show every night and turn some heads.”

KNAC.COM: A few months ago, I saw ANTHRAX opening up for LAMB OF GOD, which was the same sort of proposition, with the veteran bands trying win over the newer school band’s crowd.

HOGLAN: Sure. And that’s cool. That keeps the old bands still out there hopefully relevant, keeps everybody out there doing their thing and playing to people who might only be familiar with the name or a song here and there. You can dive into your catalog a little bit and let people see what you've got to offer, and I think that’s always good when something like that happens.

I remember like a dozen years ago, if not more, when SLIPKNOT took SLAYER out, we were kind of like, “Woah, wow. Good for you, SLAYER.” Stuff like that, it happens. Your “underling” gets super successful and then they’re not your underling, they’re your peer. And hey, they’re selling records, so any chance you get to put your music in front of peoples’ faces, it’s always a good thing.

KNAC.COM: Now that the TESTAMENT album has been out for a while, what are your impressions of it? Are you pleased with how it turned out?

HOGLAN: Absolutely. I’ll admit it was a challenging album to record, but the end result was a really killer record. I’m stoked with it. I think it’s a fantastic TESTAMENT album, I think it’s a fantastic thrash album. There’s a lot of killer thrash music on there. I’m really happy with it, I think the guys are too. I would imagine the fans are stoked. Hey, it’s an older thrash band that puts out a killer sounding record, be happy!

KNAC.COM: Chuck [Billy, vocals] and Eric [Peterson, guitar] have said the process of putting the album was kind of rushed because the band has been so busy touring, and TESTAMENT has to factor in you, Steve [DiGiorgio, bass] and Alex [Skolnick, guitar] and your other projects?

HOGLAN: I am OK with that and that's always a challenge. I've done so many projects where it's like “Gene, you have one day in the studio to do 13 songs or 10 songs, you have two days to do 26 songs. And you also have to make it sound like you have worked on these songs and put a lot of love into them for the last six months.” So it's like, “OK, that's why you pay me the big bucks, I guess (laughs). I'll put on my Superman cape for this, no problem, no worries.”

It's challenging enough to record an album and then to do it with added pressures on top of that is tough, but the end result, you've got a killer record. It was a challenging album for all of us. I remember tearing my hair out in the studio, but I let all that stuff go. There sure are a lot of good times to focus on. We're all warriors in there battling, trying to get the best possible product out.

KNAC.COM: Did you feel like you had enough time to lay down what you wanted to lay down, or was it a case of, like you mentioned, recording 13 songs in a day, or whatever?

HOGLAN: TESTAMENT likes to allow for a lot of time to record, however, if they book 14 days in the studio, that's what I have on my schedule to do this. I came directly to the studio from a DEATH TO ALL tour. We finished it the night before. The tour was in Europe. And directly after that I was flying down to L.A. to do the new BRENDON SMALL GALAKTIKON II album and then right after that it was up to do some ZIMMER'S HOLE shows in Canada.

So there wasn't any extra time where if Eric was like, “You know, I've got this idea that I'm trying to work out for a song, it's gonna take me a few days to flesh this idea out ...”

“Well Eric, you don't have the time because Gene doesn't have the time and he's giving you what he's got, but we're on a schedule here.”

I just try to put the best foot forward in those situations, and yeah, there were a couple times where Eric and I were at each others' throats. But I'm always trying to have Eric's vision in mind. I know he has a vision, I see that, but he's challenged in his way of explaining his vision. But I'm versed in challenges, and I'll get it, I'll figure out what you're trying to put across and then we'll apply that.

There were some challenges with the new TESTAMENT album that aren't normally there, but every TESTAMENT album is a challenge to a degree. All that we have agreed on now, Chuck, Steve, Alex, myself and probably Eric, is “Hey, we're probably never going to do it like that again, let's not approach an album that way.” But in the end, the album came out great. The songs are killer.

KNAC.COM: You sort of answered this question a moment ago, but what other projects do you have going on at the moment? You mentioned DEATH TO ALL, ZIMMER'S HOLE and GALAKTIKON. On the DVD it mentioned DETHKLOK, but I'm assuming that's now GALAKTIKON because of all the stuff with the Cartoon Network.

HOGLAN: Yeah, it is. And that's such an unfortunate position for Brendon Small to be in. As a matter of fact, they are kind of in the final stage of mixing this new GALAKTIKON record and I'm super stoked because tomorrow I'm going up to check out the songs we've laid down. I'm not sure exactly what Brendon can get away with, legally, speaking about it, but he has mentioned that “Hey, I can't tell you what to say.”

To me, it's a DETHKLOK record, we recorded a DETHKLOK record. It might not be called a DETHKLOK record, but I just got a text from Brendon about an hour ago saying, “I just did an anagram of GALAKTIKON and the anagram is KLOK AGAIN, with this superfluous T.” So we were texting back and forth about how we could turn the superfluous T into an upside down cross (laughs).

But it's been awesome. I haven't heard the songs since I laid down the drum tracks in May or whenever that was, but I know coming out of that I was super excited. I love working with Brendon, he's one of my all-time favorite guys to work with in this industry. He's super cool, it's always a pleasure and we always make great music. Perhaps, by the end of the year, we'll get some GALAKTIKON on the road. I'm not the one to ask about that, but it's what my hope is. I don't know how, I don't know what we'll able to get away with, are we allowed to take a big screen to put some DETHKLOK up and play some DETHKLOK songs? Perfect world, that's what I would do, so we'll see.

KNAC.COM: What is the status of DARK ANGEL?

HOGLAN: We started writing this new album, Jim Durkin and myself, in 2014. It was kind of an open year for me, there wasn't a lot of TESTAMENT stuff, there was a little bit of DEATH TO ALL going on and it gave me time to do a lot of DARK ANGEL stuff that year. Originally, we just threw it out, “Let's get back together, we've got offers to get back together and play some shows and hey maybe we can write a little music, see how that goes.” And the shows were super amazing, super successful.

The band, we've always gotten along, we never broke up due to acrimony, we broke up because it was time to move on. So all the guys getting together, it's been amazing and we've all grown up, we used to argue like brothers, like teenage boys back in the day, and now we're just polite older chaps.

The best way for us to write a DARK ANGEL record is when Jim and I are in the same room, we've both got our guitars on, I'm throwing ideas, he's augmenting them, he's throwing out ideas, I'm augment them and we work really well together. That has been a little challenging schedule-wise, but hopefully over the course of this year we'll get a little time in and I'll give Jim a shout and see what his schedule's like. I know when I have my gaps so far this year and maybe we can get together.

We've already got five or six songs ready to go and they're killer. The stuff Jim's writing is deadly. And I'm trying to carry forth the youthful energy and aggression of Darkness with a little bit of what we were doing with Time Does Not Heal and some cool ass Leave Scars thrown in. It sounds like DARK ANGEL, but I'm trying to err on the side of hyper aggression, and that's cool with me. You never go wrong going heavier. So write a shit-ass heavy fucking record, that's gold in my book.

KNAC.COM: How long did it take to put the DVD together? With the DETHKLOK references, it must have been shot a couple years ago.

HOGLAN: Like on the first DVD, I filmed that in 2007 but released it in 2010, it took that long. I recorded this thing in 2013 and we then entered quite a bit of technical difficulties with it. The filming was all fine but we just ran into a bunch of problems, like the original director, he couldn't see the project through, but it took a while before we were informed of this – about a year after we were done filming it we finally got the hard drive from him because nothing had gotten done. We shopped it out out to another editor and he had technical issues as well.

Fortunately, our last, our final, our latest editor, his name is Leon Melas, he was able to finish the job. He and I worked together six or seven years ago. DIMMU BORGIR put out a DVD called Behind The Player and that was part of a series of instructional DVDs. They didn't have a drummer and I got a call like the night before saying, “Hey, man, can you learn two DIMMU songs, come down tomorrow, jam 'em with the dudes and be the guest drummer on this?” And we did that. So we reached out to him, he's an L.A.-based guy – the first editor was in Vancouver, the second one was in New York – and since I'm in San Diego it was like perfect. I could shoot up there every once and a while and we were able to make some progress on it.

Leon is a busy guy, too, so he worked on it when he could. On an editing dock, on the computer there is a little code in the top left corner saying how many hours this project has been worked on. Leon had a team of guys working this and just Leon himself, when I was down there two years ago, it said 1,200 hours. It's well over 2,000 now, and that's just Leon's computer. It took that much work to figure out what was happening.

But the final product, just like the TESTAMENT album it had it's challenges, is amazing! I love the new DVD, I'm super stoked with it. I'm super proud of it.

KNAC.COM: You mention all the editing time, but it looks pretty loosey goosey, like you recorded it in an afternoon or something.

HOGLAN: That is one thing about my approach to DVDs, clinics especially, I do zero preparation for 'em. Two nights before I started filming this DVD I was in Europe touring with TESTAMENT. I think that's why the TESTAMENT songs on this, I had just played those for a month and a half, are super tight. But I wing everything.

I'll have a basic gist of what I'm going to talk about, but there's no script, there's no cue cards. I know the subject matter and it's like, “Here Gene, you're going to babble on it, we'll edit down the babble for some cohesion.” And that's the way I like to work, off the cuff. There isn't much that is contrived on there, I have a general template of what I'm going to try to say and hopefully I get it all out.

KNAC.COM: What was your learning experience like as a musician, were you a student or did you pick it up on your own?

HOGLAN: I am completely self-taught. But as I mention on the DVDs, when you are teaching yourself how to play, and you're learning from playing along to your favorites bands or your favorite drummers or your favorite albums, whatever it is, if you're really trying to play a RUSH song like Neil Peart, or a Tommy Aldridge part, if you're trying to break down things, you're paying attention to what their hands are doing or what their feet are doing, you just gave yourself a drum lesson. You apply their approach and that's how you learn.

I've never taken lessons. but gave myself a whole lot of lessons with every KISS song I ever listened to, Neil Peart, Gino Vanelli, whoever it is. Stevie Wonder, holy moly, I learned a lot of lessons from that guy.

KNAC.COM: Since you also play guitar, did you learn that first and the drums came later?

HOGLAN: It was just like that. I wanted to be a drummer in the school band, but in Beginning Instruments, which is what they make you take, you can't just jump into playing for the school band, you've got to start on something. We didn't have a snare drum in my Beginning Instruments, so they handed me a viola. I remember my teacher, he looked at my hands and said, “You have big hands, you're gonna play viola.”

So I took that viola home and every day I would pull out a chord or pick on it with like a guitar pick, so I kinda started teaching myself how to play guitar by playing the viola and a buddy of mine ended up getting rid of his cheap-ass acoustic guitar, so I took it and started strumming along with that. And it wasn't until I started playing in bands that I thought, “Hey, if you learn this instrument well, A, you can start writing, and B, you can speak to the other musicians in your band on their instrument.”

I know the Lars Ulrich approach where if he has a riff idea he has to hum it to James [Hetfield] or Kirk {Hammett] and they have to figure it out. If you can cut out the middle man and actually show your guitarist, “Hey, this what I'm actually trying to tell you,” that's why I started picking up bass and stuff like that. I've played guitar on a whole lot of my own albums. On Leave Scars and Time Does Not Heal I played a shit-ton of guitar on both of those, I played a lead on an EVIL DEAD record, I don't know if you remember EVIL DEAD, but that was really cool. I've played way more guitar than drums throughout history. As a drummer I'm OK, but as a guitarist I kill it (laughs).

KNAC.COM: You mention on the DVD that when you started playing with DEATH is when you really started becoming a “drummer”. That's a long time after school band.

HOGLAN: Yes, that's just because that's all I had to concentrate on. Chuck [Schuldiner] was writing the riffs and doing all the work, all the interviews, all the lyrics, all the biz. All the stuff that I did with DARK ANGEL Chuck did, so I could focus on playing drums. Chuck was always real easy to work with and was always like “bring out your ideas, it's OK. Think larger than maybe you've thought in the past for stuff like this.” And I was like, “I'm already there bro, I'm with you.”

Every time I'd come up with beats or we'd play an entire song, he'd be “I'm cool with your drums, I can play all my riffs over everything you're doing, so it's good.” So that's when I became a drummer, totally.

KNAC.COM: How did working with him differ from working with someone like Devin Townsend?

HOGLAN: I kept any sort of DEATH influence out of Devin's music. If you notice, there's not a lot of jazz fusion going on but there is hyper-intensity on a lot of the stuff that we did. I would really try to support the song, I would try not to be the busy, jazzy drummer that I was with DEATH or just a thrash neanderthal that I was with DARK ANGEL.

It's intense enough, there's enough showing off in playing a song like “Oh My Fucking God” or “Underneath The Waves” or “All Hail The New Flesh”, you don't have to do all these jazzy, “oh look at me” sort of fills. The songs themselves are plenty intense. I've always tried to keep my ego in check, like say doing an album like Infinity with Devin, we did that soon after the City record and I did that with a single bass drum.

It doesn't serve music well when it's just an aerobic, athletic workout that just shows off one person. Why do that when you have a really good song that you could very well ruin by overplaying? So just know your role, know the song's role for you and fill that role well.

KNAC.COM: I'm assuming that also applies to the live situation?

HOGLAN: If you're gonna play like a two-hour set, or something where you're really gonna be laying it down for the whole pile of time, why blow yourself in the first two or three songs by doing all this wacky Tommy Lee looking stuff? It looks cool when you're playing a rock beat, because you're not doing anything else, yeah, whip that stick back over your head and do that stick flip.

I would try to do that stuff in the middle of STRAPPING songs. I remember back when I was doing STRAPPING it was all just muscle memory and really innate, I was flipping sticks in the middle of blast beats just to make it look fun and I was doing stick twirls and all kinds of crazy fun stuff just to be a jerk, you know. And everyone's like, “you know, that looks like you've got four arms, oh yeah, there's a stick twirl, way to go, asshole.” (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Like Dave Lombardo checking his watch when he'd do the double-bass roll in “Angel Of Death”.

HOGLAN: That's awesome. Be a ham, it's cool to be a ham sometimes, unless you're gonna kill yourself being that ham.

KNAC.COM: What do you hope people who watch your DVD to come away with? Do you intend it as a lesson, or more of a philosophy?

HOGLAN: Ultimately, what I would love is if that person bought one, he'd tell his friend about it, his friend would come out and buy one (laughs). But, like I say in the middle of it, “I don't know what I'm teaching you guys but I hope you learn something.” It's more like a day or two in the studio with Gene that shows you a little bit about his approach to things.

So it's more of philosophical, spoken word DVD with a whole bunch of drumming in it. I try to make it so it's like a personal and hopefully personable one-on-one conversation with a buddy, like I'm talking right to you. I guess I do try to take a peek behind the curtain so those who think “Oh Gene, he's just a drum machine.” I'm not, I'm a human drummer, I make mistakes, I blow it. That's OK. It's supposed to be a fun couple of hours and the people who buy it, I hope they enjoy it.

KNAC.COM: And where can people find your DVD?

HOGLAN: If people want to get the DVD, you can get it through my website (www.HoglanIndustries.com), that's essentially the main selling point for the hard copy. And I'm going to be putting it on Amazon, as well, for shipping because they have a cheaper shipping rate than the U.S. Postal Service. We're trying to work out better distribution deals, and we'll hopefully have those in place soon for places like Europe.

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