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Life According to Drowning Pool - Exclusive Interview By Shelly Harris

By Shelly Harris, Chicago Contributor
Wednesday, July 2, 2008 @ 3:09 PM

“Shit’s Gotta Change Around Here!”

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It’s 11 PM at Summerfest in Milwaukee and Drowning Pool emphatically mean the business when they charge out onstage full-throttle - clearly not intending to take any prisoners. It’s just a full-on, uber-intense party for the ensuing hour-long set, mostly from current/third album, Full Circle.

And certainly this gig pummeled home exactly why there is a sustained fascination with this most formidable, persevering, and lionhearted of American-to-the-core sonic warriors. But, intriguingly, the roaring vibe of the gig itself also provides a curious and sharp contrast to the contemplative and downright amiable – even tongue-in-cheek hilarious! – quartet that I had just interviewed a few hours earlier, back in the air-conditioned bowels of one of the big stage venues on Summerfest’s extensive grounds.

In fact, from their deep lyrics juxtaposed against their party-hardy live show attitude, and from their overt support for the troops in Iraq contrasted against their firm anti-war/humanist stance, Drowning Pool really are a band of fascinating contradictions and paradoxes on many levels. But, they’re also clearly a very, very cohesive team, as the following transcript might indicate:

Drowning Pool Backstage at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, L – R: C.J. Pierce, guitar; Ryan McCombs, vocals; Stevie Benton, bass; Mike Luce, drums.

KNAC.COM: I see that your Australian tour has been postponed, so what are your plans for the near future instead?

BENTON: Tonight we’re going to drink some vodka!

MCCOMBS: Tomorrow night we’re going to drink some more vodka, and then the next night will be Saturday, so that’s tequila. (laughs)

LUCE: Oh, I love tequila day!

MCCOMBS: Well, it’s comin’ around the bend!

MCCOMBS: But really, we are scheduling some more dates soon. [See new tour dates at the bottom.]

KNAC.COM: Have any of you played Summerfest before? It’s a really great gig to play, with so much great music – as long as it’s not sweltering!

PIERCE: Yeah, we played here like here four years ago, in ’04. And we brought this big monsoon light show, and the first day, the guy plugged it in all wrong and blew half of it up!

MCCOMBS: So now we just don’t bring anything!

PIERCE: Yeah, like Ryan says, now we just rely on the house lights.

MCCOMBS: I’ve played here before too, but that was before I was in Drowning Pool; I played here with my old band [SOiL].

KNAC.COM: Ryan, I know you’re from Indiana – a small town in Indiana, just like me. But a couple of you also grew up in Louisiana?

PIERCE: Yeah, Mike and I are from Louisiana…There seems to be a pretty good connection between New Orleans and Dallas [where the band is “based”].

MCCOMBS: I thought you were going to say between New Orleans and Indiana!

PIERCE: There’s a great connection between New Orleans and Indiana. (laughs) The blues came up through the Indiana River ….

LUCE: The Indiana River?! There’s an Indiana River? (laughs) Now we’re really getting off topic … (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Well, the point is that you’re old friends. And I know to stay in a band after a lot of ups and downs –

BENTON: Not many ups, but we’ve had a lot of downs …

MCCOMBS: Really, the band had an up – and a down – and it’s really been kind of smooth since. (Chorus of laughs)

LUCE: Every now and again, we get a little spike! It’s not even really a spike – it’s more like a speed bump! (laughs) And there’s a little life there …

MCCOMBS: It’s more like a heart murmer.

KNAC.COM: Well, they say trials and tribulations build character …[For those that don’t know, a major blow to Drowning Pool came when their original lead singer, Dave Williams, died of an undiagnosed heart condition when the band was still touring with its first album, and in recent months they’ve also had two major equipment thefts – amongst other things.]

MCCOMBS: Bad character … Jaded character! (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Well, I guess it can also make you too cynical, too, can’t it … ?

BENTON: Yes, yes.

KNAC.COM: Enough is enough sometimes?

[Nods all around]

MCCOMBS: At the same time we’ve had highs, but we just like to joke about it -- it keeps us from crying. And we’ve been able to do some really cool stuff, which I consider some of the highs. Like getting to do the USO stuff: that was awesome!

BENTON: We’ll tolerate some of the lows, as long as we get to rock out every night!

KNAC.COM: But touching on the USO thing – that’s when you went to play to the troops in Iraq, and that was a while back, wasn’t it?

MCCOMBS: Yeah, that was a couple of years ago. It was in November of 2005, and we were back in September of 2006.

KNAC.COM: Which leads me to ask: Do you consider yourselves to be a “political” band?


BENTON: Hell, no! (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Well, it’s interesting, because it was noted in the media at the time that that [performing for the troops in Iraq] was a patriotic thing to do – which it is – but are you saying that you don’t really want to get into the political aspect of it? Because sometimes people think when you support the troops, you also support the war over there, but of course it doesn’t necessarily mean that at all. And, either way you fall on it, it can be considered a form of patriotism, really. And there’s also the fact that you met up with Obama …

MCCOMBS: Uh-humm. Yeah, we met Obama, and we tried to meet Hillary too, but she wouldn’t meet with us. She’d meet with the people that had suits and ties on that were with us, but, as soon as she saw the tattooed people comin’ at her, she took off. All of a sudden she had a meeting to go to.

BENTON: Seriously, we’re not a political band at all. We had our one cause to help out the troops, and to work on that for a long time, but that was our only issue. I’ll publicly say that we’re all for Obama in the election, of course. But, other than that, we don’t get onstage and preach politics or get all wrapped up in it. I just think that, once you start down that path, it weighs the fans down. I want to go to a rock show to have fun, and to forget about all that bullshit! I don’t want to be preached to onstage, you know? Just a good time kind of thing is more our aspect.

KNAC.COM: Well, yes, I think Drowning Pool is particularly known to be an intense party, good-time live act, where the audience can just let loose, but, at the same time, the lyrics are very meaningful on many of the songs.

MCCOMBS: Well, I guess the point is – even though the lyrics are serious – we’re drunk, usually! [chorus of laughs] So, we’re having a good time, and we want everybody out there to have a good time, so that we can keep doing this. … But, no, the songs are serious. Just on a personal note, when it comes to writing lyrics – and I think we’re all like this in a way – you write what you’re going through personally. But you try to do it in a big enough way that everybody can kind of relate it to their own situations in their own lives. We all kind of go through some of our things. But a lot of times you’ll be sitting there with a piece of music and your mess of lyrics, and you’ll be writing about your own personal experiences – and, usually, some of the strongest emotions you go through are some of the negative things. Those tend to be the kinds of things that come to the forefront. I’ve never been in a partying situation and thought, “Oh, I gotta write a song about this,” because you’re partying and you’re drunk, and you’re not gonna remember it the next day. [laughs] So, when you’re just sitting there writing, a lot of times it’s just the things that kick you in the nether regions.

KNAC.COM: So, it’s a cathartic kind of thing, that also gets passed along to the listener by proxy? And with the way the songs are structured, the high energy level, that’s a recipe for the audience to just let loose out there with their own intensity.

BENTON: We try to keep it that way.

MCCOMBS: I think some of the good time is just the release of coming to a rock show and screaming along, hands up, having a good time, and just letting loose. I think, even though the songs are serious, they can let loose and scream right back those emotions that we’re yelling at ‘em, and – not to sound corny or cliché – but maybe there’s a cleansing process going on there, and it’s a good time. … It’s like a colon cleansing! (laughs) I heard you feel great after those; I don’t know.

KNAC.COM: I’ve never actually seen you play live before, so I was wondering if you have a lot of …

MCCOMBS: Colon cleansings? No! Hardly ever. (laughs)

LUCE: We’re working on that, though. We’ll put that on our Rider …

MCCOMBS: We’ll set up a little booth …

LUCE: And we’ll call it Drowning Pool: The Colon Cleansing Tour! (laughs)

KNAC.COM: I think they might ban it! (laughs) What I was going to ask is, what kinds of people are Drowning Pool’s audience? For a start, I thought you seemed to have more female fans than some really heavy rock bands do …

BENTON: You thought. (laughs)

Backstage at Milwaukee’s Summerfest
L–R: C.J. Pierce, guitar; Ryan McCombs, vocals;
Stevie Benton, bass; Mike Luce, drums

MCCOMBS: Seriously, it’s an incredible array of people each night. One time I remember playing this festival and seeing this grey-bearded older gentlemen, with like his granddaughter on his shoulders, and both of them singing the lyrics. It’s just that kind of thing; one end of the spectrum to the other. I’ve sat back and had a drink with an elementary school teacher one night, and then the next night you’re having a drink with a Hell’s Angel or something. I would say Drowning Pool could help your digestive system while you sit and eat with the family at night.

KNAC.COM: It might depend on what you’re having for supper …

MCCOMBS: And afterwards you can have a colon cleansing – it’s great! (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Well, you say that you’re not political, but this band does seem to have a kind of loose philosophy …

MCCOMBS: Yeah! Shit’s Gotta Change Around Here! (laughs)

KNAC.COM: That actually is a philosophy.

BENTON: Actually my political philosophy – and I’ve believed this for a long time – is that I wish it was mandatory – every for years – for a different political party to be in control. So that the country doesn’t get too far left, and too far right, and stays right in the center. When Clinton was in for eight years, it went to far that way, and now that Bush has been in eight years, it’s just too far the other way.

LUCE: And I think once every 100 years, they should let the independent party win by default! (laughs)

MCCOMBS: Take Ross Perot out of cryogenics: “I won!” (laughs)

KNAC.COM: But seriously, what you seem to be saying it that the status quo needs to change.

MCCOMBS: What scares me to death right now – and this is just me, Ryan McCombs, and not the band – I’m scared to death that the Democratic Party allowed that whole thing to go back and forth too long, and come election time, we’re going to end up with a President McCain, because the Democratic Party is going to be too separated. We’ll end up with four more years of the last eight that we just got through with. The man I wanted to be the next President – George Carlin, who just passed – I saw a joke of his the other day, and he was talking about we used to have the upper class, who made all the money and paid none of the taxes, and then we had the middle class, who paid all the taxes and did all the work, and then we had the poor who were just there to scare the shit out of the middle class! (laughs) I was just looking at that joke and thinking, how long ago was that? We don’t have a middle class anymore – that needs to change.

KNAC.COM: Well, let’s talk about your current album, Full Circle, which came out last year. [The title of the current tour, “Know Your Enemy” comes from the song “Enemy” from the record, the first with Ryan McCombs as lead singer, and another “featured” song from the album is “Soldiers” – based on the band’s aforementioned treks to Iraq.] I’ve read that you initially recorded the album all on your own, without the involvement of any label – is that accurate?

MCCOMBS: It is, yeah. We basically had finally broken ties with Wind-Up, and we were actively shopping. But, we wanted to get it done, so we went in with no backing whatsoever, and took care of it and got it done … And picked up our new deal and new management, pretty much at the 14th hour of the process. (laughs) The album was done, basically, when we picked up our team.

BENTON: I think, when we signed the deal, finally, with Eleven Seven [Records] and 10th Street [Management], the only songs we hadn’t finished yet was “37 Stitches” and then we flew into L.A. and did “Reason I’m Alive” with Nikki Sixx. And every other song on the record – we had already done.

KNAC.COM: Were you going to release it on your own, if you had to?

MCCOMBS: That was an option we toyed with for a little bit.

KNAC.COM: Did you feel more artistic freedom with this record on account of that?

PIERCE: We kind of had artistic freedom on all of them, actually. Fortunately for us, there was never anybody breathing down our throats too much, but you still kind of had that presence there. But with this one, yeah, there was none of that.

BENTON: Yeah, it wasn’t until we were getting ready to start working on our third record on Wind-Up that they hired an A&R person. So, all of a sudden, we got this guy calling us on the phone, trying to put his input on the songs, trying to talk about how Wind-Up wanted us to sound more like what’s hip on the radio. And we were like: “No Fucking Way!”

MCCOMBS: “We want you to be Drowning Pool, but we don’t want you to sound like Drowning Pool.” I mean, that’s why we fought to get off – one of many reasons. But for me, it was definitely a neat experience, as far as the freedom involved in the process. Because, the last album I did with the band I was with before [SOiL’s Redefine], that was a pulling-tooth experience because, when we got in the studio, the label had fallen in love with one of the songs we demo-ed [“Pride”] and we ended up recording that song twelve different times, because they were so in love with that demo version, that we could never capture the fire. There was just something that that track had that we could never recapture again, and we ended up spending an extra three weeks in the studio that we didn’t need to. We could have just released the Best of Pride CD at that point!

KNAC.COM: Was it just a particular A&R guy?

MCCOMBS: Yeah, which was no discredit to him, because the A&R guy back then at RCA music, James Deaner, the guy was just amazing, the dude brilliant, so it’s definitely not a knock on him, but we just couldn’t recapture the fire we had at one point.

KNAC.COM: Well, it doesn’t sound like you guys have too many nightmares as far as that goes, but maybe that’s also because all of you were around and playing for a good while before you got record deals, and that creates a kind of toughness, and sense of artistic identity. I mean none of you were 18 and wet behind the ears at the time …

MCCOMBS: There’re a lot of aspects about this business …. I mean, I kind of regret – and I think most of us feel the same way – I kind of regret that it took us as long as it did to get where we were, because there was a lot of toiling, and a lot of hard work involved in it. But, at the same time, we’re almost relieved. Because, it’s hard to tell, but some of us might not be around now if we had been 18 and having the experiences we’ve had in the last seven or eight years.

KNAC.COM: Yes, it can be a very treacherous road … and when you’re very young, there’s also the self-confidence issue.

MCCOMBS: Or sometimes it’s the over-confidence. Sometimes you see these young bands come in here, and it’s just the attitude they have right off the bat. The “I’m owed something” type of thing these kids have.

BENTON: We’ve played with a lot of bands just like that. We’ve been around seven, eight, nine years now. The first day, they’re on fire, ruling the world.

LUCE: If anybody deserves to go, it’s us. We’ve been knocked around all over! (laughs) These young flash-in-the-pans come in, and they’re on, without even struggling for it. It’s like come on, you little babies! (laughs)

MCCOMBS: I guess it’s time to take Drowning Pool out back and put the old girl down. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Actually, you’ve been quite successful – I don’t think you can really complain about it too much, can you?

LUCE: No, no, not at all – we just like making jokes.

KNAC.COM: Well, I want to ask each of you a question that I always like reading about myself: Try and name the three albums that influenced you the most. [This question has all the band in deep thought for few moments.]

BENTON: The Beatles’ Revolver, Alice in Chains’ Dirt, and … Pantera, Cowboys from Hell.

KNAC.COM: Do you want to make any comments about them?

BENTON: They’re AWESOME! They KICK ASS! (laughs)

LUCE: Kiss – Lovegun, that was the first record I ever had, and still have on LP, actually. So, it was those guys, and then Motley Crue - Shout at the Devil, probably. And like Stevie was just saying, it went from Motley to probably Ride the Lightening, Metallica, or Master of Puppets. And then from there it went to Cowboys from Hell, so there’s four – you got the bonus plan!

KNAC.COM: Well, it can be more than three, if you want! (laughs)

LUCE: I can almost remember it happening like that, at that time in my life. In came one and out went the other.

MCCOMBS: I completely forgot about Crue, until you said it, and it’s like, yeah! Do you remember being a little kid sitting in your bedroom listening to “In the Beginning” – and scaring the shit out of yourself?

LUCE: Yeah, that album opened up the whole ‘80s genre to me. If it wasn’t for that album, then there wouldn’t have been Ratt, and ,b>Dio, and it wasn’t just hair metal … It was Cinderella, and Maiden. That album, Shout at the Devil, just opened it all up and took it from hair metal, to where Metallica came in, and just wiped that clean. And then from Metallica came Tool and Pantera.

MCCOMBS: I’d say my three would probably be: Motley Crue, Looks That Kill, Alice In Chains, Facelift, and probably – because I was a little late on the scene – it would be Metallica’s And Justice for All – and from there I went backwards and picked up everything else. I wanted to throw out AC/DC’s Back in Black – that definitely deserves honorable mention.

LUCE: Oooh! Good answer!

PIERCE: I’ll take that one – I’ll take Back in Black! I can’t think of a particular Zeppelin record, but I always watched The Song Remains the Same on video. MTV used to play it a lot, then I recorded it, and I’d watch it.

MCCOMBS: Yes, kids, MTV used to play videos! (laughs)

PIERCE: They used to play whole concerts - I used to record it on Beta and VHS – and I have it now on DVD. ... But AC/DC is definitely on there, and my dad used to listen to Hendrix a lot. That’s the first person I ever heard playing the guitar. I don’t want to jump on the Jimi Hendrix bandwagon, but that is really my first influence – my dad was really into that. He was a musician – he used to play bass.

KNAC.COM: Anyone else have family influences?

LUCE: Probably the other way, actually: “Turn That Stupid Shit Down!” (laughs) This is pretty crazy, talking about musical influences and family influences. My brother is nine years older than me, and the first thing that I ever heard from him was Alice Cooper, and I just thought it was killer, because he was all painted and crazy … and I used to steal his record, but it didn’t really matter. But the scariest thing I remember ever hearing, I found a Black Sabbath cassette tape under my mom’s bed one time, believe it or not.

MCCOMBS: So you just stole from your mother? Dude! (laughs)

LUCE: My mom didn’t even know what a damn cassette was- much less Black Sabbath! (laughs)

PIERCE: Your mom listened to Black Sabbath – she liked it! (laughs)

LUCE: I remember that like it was yesterday - I think I was helping her clean the room or something, and thinking, Why the Hell is a Black Sabbath tape in here? – What The Fuck?! And I remember listening to “The Wizard” - that was strange shit!

BENTON: I can remember going over to Mike’s house after school, and his sister would be in her room, with like the fuckin’ Grease soundtrack cranked up and just singing along. It was like, man, dude, what the fuck is goin’ on at your house?!

LUCE: She had like Moody Blues and Monkees records, but then she would steal all my Zeppelin records. She jumped back to prior where I was even at. Of course all our influences are based on AC/DC and Zeppelin, and stuff like that, so by saying Motley, and Tommy Lee’s drumming, you’re talking about Bonham right there, vicariously. She stole all my old school stuff – she was in there singing her lungs out to Grease

MCCOMBS: You play some pretty gay shit on your radio sometimes. All of a sudden he’ll start singing it, and say it’s some song his sister used to listen to – it’s some awful music. (laughs)

LUCE: I have a stereo of that in my head – I know the lyrics in my head from that damn Michelle Pfeiffer Grease II one!

KNAC.COM: What about the rest of you?

MCCOMBS: My mom played the piano, and kind of forced me and my brother into piano lessons at an early age. My dad can play the stereo a lot better than anyone in Indiana … But, no, there was always music going on in the house. So, there was always support in the music and the arts, and everything like that. When, all of a sudden, I quit college to make my main focus music, mom was definitely not happy about that, until it started paying the bills, but they were always supportive about music in my life. My dad said I was air drumming and air guitar-ing before I could even walk.

KNAC.COM: Do you have any good “Tales From the Road”?

PIERCE: Something kind of crazy or funny happens every day. And when you see it everyday, it kind of numbs you to it after awhile. You just go, “Oh, that’s fucking crazy.” (laughs)

LUCE: Yeah, we ran out of gas on the way to Montreal.

MCCOMBS: Yeah, our bus ran out of gas in Toronto, but we didn’t realize that was the problem until it was too late to make it to the big Montreal festival. So, the first thing in the morning, Jason, our tour manager, is waking us all up, kicking everyone in the ass to get our gear and get us on an airplane. Somehow he pulled it off, and got us to Montreal, and somehow we pulled it off with crews pulling together, and different people there, different companies donating gear to put the show on, and we pulled the show off.

KNAC.COM: Anything else I didn’t ask that you’d want people to know?

LUCE: Just that it’s important that people understand that “Soldiers” is not a pro war song. That Drowning Pool is not a war-mongering band – that’s just ridiculous! But, that the soldiers deserve respect – and to have everything taken care of for them when they get back. I think people are finally beginning to see that – the GI bill has been passed, so people need to get off of their high horse. Whether people agree with why they’re over there for the right reason or not, they’re still over there because they have to do a job, and they have the cojones to pull it off, so just take care of them. They don’t have to agree with why they’re over there; we don’t.

PIERCE: Tell all our fans that we love them, and come on out!

See Drowning Pool live on the 'Know Your Enemy' tour on these dates:

  • 7.1.08 - New Port Richey, FL - Bourbon Street Night Club
  • 7.2.08 - Melboune, FL - County Line Saloon
  • 7.5.08 - Des Moines, IA - TBD
  • 7.7.08 - Lansing, MI - Common Ground Music Festival
  • 7.8.08 - Lexington, KY - A1A
  • 7.11.08 - Little Rock, AR - Riverfest Amphitheatre
  • 7.12.08 - Tyler, TX - Click's Billards
  • 7.13.08 - Temple, TX - Lone Star Bar & Grill
  • 7.15.08 - Whichita Falls, TX - Iron Horse Pub
  • 7.16.08 - Shawnee, OK - Fusion Affect
  • 7.18.08 - Columbia, MO - The Blue Note
  • 7.19.08 - Peoria, IL - Heart of Illinois Fair
  • 7.20.08 - Joplin, MO - The Foundry
  • 7.22.08 - Minneapolis, MN - The Cabooze
  • 7.23.08 - Mankato, MN - What's Up Lounge
  • 7.24.08 - Duluth, MN - Norshor Theater
  • 7.26.08 - Dubuque, IA - Dubuque County Fair
  • 7.28.08 - Michigan Center, MI - Motorheads Bar & Grill
  • 8.1.08 - Kansas City, MO - City Market
  • 8.2.08 - Cedar Rapids, IA - Guarantee Bank Lot
  • 8.9.08 - Frisco, TX - Pizza Hut Park
  • 8.15.08 - LaCrosse, WI. - LaCrosse Center
  • 8.16.08 - Green Bay, WI - Brown County Arena
  • 8.17.08 - Madison, WI - Coliseum at Alliant Energy
  • 8.19.08 - Frago, ND - Fargodome
  • 8.20.08 - Rapid City, SD - Rushmore Plaza Civic Ctr.
  • 8.23.08 - Aubum, WA - White River Amphitheatre

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