Rock and roll drummers are either going to be one of two people in the band: the too-cool-for-school guy or the “What the hell is wrong with this guy?” guy. Band of Psychos drummer Alien Warr definitely fits into the latter category, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
You might recognize Alien Warr as the insanely talented drummer for Jarren Benton on Tech N9ne’s Independent Grind Tour 2014. From his pyrotechnic technique to his off-the-wall personality, Alien Warr is a perfect fit for Tech N9ne’s Band of Psychos tour as percussion extraordinaire and fuel for the rock and roll/hip hop spectacle that’s soon to hit a city near you.
We talked to the Atlanta drummer about his playing style, how he landed a spot on the Band of Psychos and what he looks to bring to the stage in one of our most entertaining interviews of 2014.
Obviously you were on Independent Grind and Tech probably saw you and thought of you for this tour. What kind of relationship did you and Tech develop on the Independent Grind Tour?
A real good one. We kind of fucking saw how we listen to the same music and we’re into the same things. We’ve both been called weirdos in the industry. We both really didn’t mesh well – we gelled with people but we didn’t mesh with a lot of people though so people are like “This guy’s a little bit too weird for me to deal with so I have to kind of get rid of him.” So we kind of like both black sheep in the industry I would say.
I would have conversations with him like “When you was coming up, when you were trying to get on, people look at you like you were crazy talking about the things you were talking about?” He was just like “Yeah” so I kind of think we’re both black sheep. That’s why Strange Music is independent because I guess a lot of people were like “Eh, I don’t know if I’m going to deal with those kind of weirdos.” That’s the kind of relationship. We found out about each other.
We’re both big fans of The Doors. I didn’t know Strange Music was named after one of The Doors songs and stuff like that. What really got us cool also was one day Jarren was drunk as hell and he said he was better than Jim Morrison. It kind of made me mad so we got into a big loud argument right before we went on stage. Everyone saw it because we were drunk (laughs). That’s when I found out Tech was a big Doors fan. He found out from hearing me argue with Jarren that I was a big Doors fan also.
So he was like “He said what?!”
(Laughs) Yeah pretty much.
When you think about going on tour with Tech and being a part of the first band that he’s taken on tour, what goes through your head?
Pssh…rock stardom. Legendary rock stardom. That’s what I say: legendary rock stardom.
You’re going to have the best seat to the best show on earth.
Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you first pick up the drums?
Playing pots and pans. I started drums when I was six years old. I started playing piano at three. I started playing drums at six. I was banging on my mom’s pots and pans so she was like “Okay, you want to play music, well you have to learn how to play piano first before you play anything,” because piano is the basis of everything. So from three to about six she had me doing piano and then she got me a drumset at six years old so then I played piano and drums. So I’ve been playing drums since I was six years old. That’s when I got the kit: a kid’s Percussion Plus drumset.
Who were some of your main influences growing up that kind of shape the way you drum now?
Well it starts off with Dave Grohl from watching Nirvana. Then from there I just started wanting to play drums and that was in the 90s and everything and I’m a teenager and I’m at a black school so there’s no real rock and roll stuff going on. You know how some people have rock bands when they’re in high school? I went to a school with nothing but black folks so they were like “Nigga, we ain’t doing no damn rock shit! You stop listening to that dumb rock shit!” So I listened to rap and rock and I had to hide my rock. But I say it started off with Dave Grohl watching Nirvana and for some odd reason Slash also. During that MTV era when there was really music videos instead of “Here’s a baby having a baby”-shows and shit like that. So watching Slash play the guitar on the piano for “November Rain” and watching “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
Then it went to getting drums lessons and having to practice to Hendrix when I was 15 because my drum teacher made me practice to Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell. So I went through all that time and then once I got in trouble in 2003 and became a felon I started listening to the Mars Volta because this dude I used to practice in the same practice spot did. It’d be Mars Volta, the first drummer from Mars Volta, Jon Theodore from At The Drive In and then from there it goes from John Theodore to John Bonham and Keith Moon, that’s when I started getting involved with them because I started playing for a rock band and that’s when I was listening to Limp Bizkit and shit like that. They were like “That’s not rock and roll, this is real rock and roll.” That happened in like 2003 or 2004.
Well that’s fitting because if you start out with Dave Grohl you eventually have to go back to John Bonham.
Yeah, you have to because Dave Grohl is the John Bonham of now, you know what I mean?
The drummer from Mars Volta, he’s a real drummer’s drummer.
Yeah he’s like the best drummer ever because, I think he’s like half black and Spanish, so he’s mixed with a whole lot of races so he has a whole lot of rhythms inside of him. That first Mars Volta album, I’d say that’s the album that really got me into drumming the way that I do. You know, Dave Grohl is a straight-up rock drummer and John Bonham is a crazy rock drummer but it’s still straight rock, but once you hear the Mars Volta, just like, that first album. So many of them songs are just off-beat type songs, but if you’re able to play them shits? You have to be a damn good drummer to do that shit.
Tell me about your performance style. You’re a really fun drummer to watch. How did you come up with playing the way you do?
It started off like this. It started off with me playing in rock bands in 2004. At first I stopped playing drums from…well I got kicked out of my first high school. I went to another school and I couldn’t play band because I got there too late to join the marching band, which I wish I would have. From then I took a hiatus and tried to be a basketball player and got in trouble in 2003 at school. Tried to sell drugs or whatever so now I’m back at my house practicing and pretty much playing like a regular drummer, learning the techniques of the regular drummers, the ones who get gigs all the time and shit like that, which is one of the reasons I don’t really fit in with those guys now because after that I started drinking Jack Daniels and started playing in rock bands. So then I started playing with this band Hanoman. Hanoman is the white monkey guy in Indonesia. It’s an Indonesian white monkey guy. So I started playing in this band where the front man was an Indonesian singer. The bass player, I’m not going to say how old he is, but he was fucking old. He had a Model T Ford and shit like that. He was living when Model T Fords were around and fucking we’d be playing shows and people would be like “Eh, it’s alright, but the show is kind of boring.”
One day we’re in Marietta, Georgia. We call it Scare-ietta because it’s still racist as fuck. Well it’s racist as fuck everywhere, but it’s still racist as fuck out there. So we’re playing one day, we’re loading in and they’re marking your hands so you can be in the band, you know, band marking, marking your hands so you can go in and out and shit like that. So I hear in my head before this big country white boy marks my hand, before he says it I hear somebody in my head say “This isn’t going to show up on you.” And I was like “What the hell? Why am I thinking that?” So I put my hand out and he goes “You want me to get some white out?” and I was like “You motherfucker!” I knew he was going to say that! So I laughed at him. Then I go in and I’m playing and I’m pissed off, so I tell my guitar player “This show is for the slaves man.” We out here in Scare-ietta and I’m just about to go stupid. So then after that I just started standing up, playing, crashing symbols, kicking shit over. Pretty much turned into I was playing guitar like Kurt Cobain except I was playing drums. It kind of happened through Marietta and the slaves (laughs). That’s how it started. Then from there then I just started learning how to play standing up and that’s just how that came about.
Did you start practicing the stick flipping and all that?
That started off with my first mushroom trip, because I was playing and I started geeking out and then I started – you know how mushrooms do. It’s a hallucinogen but it’s not like it’s real – like if you close your eyes you can dream of some real crazy shit. So I’m playing one night to the Mars Volta on mushrooms and I close my eyes and my hands and arms turn into snakes. So I was like “Okay…” but I’m playing so I’m like “Okay, so I can play with my arms like snakes and twirling sticks.” Like when I twirl a stick it’s kind of like the snake was going (Makes hissing noise), like biting or whatever. So I have to give that up to mushrooms also because I would practice like that doing shrooms. I would just lock myself in my room and practice the CDs on mushrooms and that’s how that also happened too.
So the style is inspired by your ancestors and psychedelics…
And psychedelics! Yeah pretty much like a 60s hippie! (Laughs)
When you’re drumming for hip hop how is that different than rock and what kinds of things do you have to consider?
Well when you’re drumming for hip hop you (don’t) have to keep shit in mind, all you gotta do is sometimes you gotta lay low on the cymbals. I learned that from playing with a lot of rappers and being kicked out of a lot of groups. One of the things I take to heart and I kind of think I’m a bad ass for it is I’ve been kicked out of every band I’ve been in.
Every single last one and I take that with pride for some odd reason. Call me crazy but I like it (laughs). But anyway, for hip hop you gotta – hip hop is like pocket, but the way I play I’ve learned how to suck in and even though I’m not playing pocket I don’t play too loud but I can do crazy shit. The main thing about hip hop…because hip hop is rappers. Rappers talk a lot and rappers want to hear themselves talk. Rappers talk too much so therefore when you’re playing on their verse you’re quiet but they don’t give a fuck about how loud you are on the chorus, because the average hip hop dude doesn’t sing their chorus or the chorus is already recorded. They’re letting their voice rest. So when the chorus comes in things can go buckwild apeshit, but once the verse comes in you’ve gotta take it back in to the closet. Then once the chorus comes back on again you kick your ass right out the door. It’s kind of like breathing. What I’ve noticed is that while I’m playing drums during the verses I’m holding my breath and then when the chorus comes out I let my breath out. That’s hip hop.
Rock is, well first of all, because hip hop you’re playing to a track. That’s one thing. So you can experiment because it’s more like practice. It’s like playing to a click track because you’re playing to a track. Drums on rock is totally different because first of all, unless you’re playing to a click track, which I don’t believe in playing to click tracks with rock bands because that takes the feel away – you become a robot. So I was like “No, I don’t want to do that,” but rock you can do whatever and really like if you fuck up everybody knows it. If you play with a rapper and you fuck up and the track is still going, they might not really hear it or see it, but if you’re playing in a rock band…the bass and the drums are the heartbeat of the band. That’s the backbone, so if any of them fuck up…because I learned that from playing in church. Like if the drums fuck up, people going look at you and be like “Nigga…” and then you’re going to feel like an asshole and your head is going to be all down. You gotta laugh it off and then people be like “Ha. ha…that dude’s that bullshit.” It’s two different things, really two different things. Plus the feel.
The cymbals you have to hold back. Rock songs you don’t have to hold that unless the singer is some singy, singy, singer-ass with frontman syndrome, that’s what I call them, frontmen syndrome. “Stop hitting the cymbals so loud!” “This is fucking rock and roll! You’re not singing loud enough! Fucking scream you asshole! This is not falsetto. We’re not singing Minuet in Beethoven and shit! Sing!” That’s one reason why I got kicked out of a lot of rock bands.
Everyone’s fighting for their spot.
Yeah, that’s what it is!
Now you’re on the tour, what are you looking forward to the most?
The most I’m trying to do is pretty much, I want to join Strange. I want to be the first drummer who was like known as a drummer. Like, I respect Travis Barker, he’s one of my idols you know what I’m saying? I idolize him since day one. I dressed like the motherfucker. I stole a lot of his style. But he came out with Blink 182. He didn’t come out as Travis Barker. Mars Volta dude came out as the Mars Volta dude. He was John Theodore, but he had to be known with a band. I’ve always been looking for a label because I’ve been through labels. I’ve been signed like an artist before. It was like a rapper drummer. We were the first rapper/drummer ever signed to a label as a group, but that didn’t last long. Then I started playing with B.o.B. I was trying to get signed by Grand Hustle as the first drummer/artist signed as his own artist. I couldn’t do that. I got kicked out of B.o.B.. Then I started working for, who else, Pastor Troy. A whole lot of people. I pretty much take the title of one of the first drummers to ever be playing just with rappers – just like with drums, rapper and a track – how people are doing now, which a lot of drummers are doing with a lot of rappers now, and I have it on tape that I’m fucking one of the first and I started that shit. So taking that, I want to be one of the first drummer with a label, you know what I’m saying, like signed with a label or being pumped by a label who does like features like a rapper does, does appearances like a rapper does. So I’m pretty much like a rapper but I’m a drummer. So if Strange can get down and help me out with that, that would be the main goal.
What can fans expect from you as a performer?
Oh man, just a wild, crazy, insane, deranged time. A whole lot of insane shit. A little bit of a history lesson because I want people to understand that drums came from Africa. No disrespect to the white people, but people be like “Drummers are supposed to be white!” That’s what everybody thinks unless you’re a pocket drummer like ?uestlove or a session drummer like Lil John Roberts. And fucking rock and roll was stolen. Chuck Berry and Little Richard were the first rock stars! So I want to bring back the thing about blackness being drums and rock and roll drums.
In my book there’s no real black rock and roll rock star drummers. The one that’s closest I believe is Thomas Pridgen and he played for Mars Volta for a little bit, but he was a California dude. He’s still a drummer, like a session type drummer playing with different bands, but no one is considering like how Travis Barker is the rock star drummer, how Tommy Lee is the rock star drummer, there’s no black dude with that title, and that’s my main thing I’m trying to fucking put out there so people will be like “Black folks do rock and roll too!” You know what I’m saying? Especially rock drums.
It’s not just Tommy Lee, Travis Barker, John Bonham, Keith Moon. People say “Who’s your favorite drummer?” and they usually name a white dude. You know what Im saying? Unless you name Questlove or Lil John Roberts or jazz drummers. There’s a whole lot of black jazz drummers, but there’s no core black rock drummers, you feel me? Yeah, that’s what I want fans to get into because I want more black drummers out here who aren’t just Berkley trained drummers.
I know a lot of Berkley trained drummers and some of them, we’re not cool with each other because they don’t be helping me out with gigs. It’s like a drum community where all the drummers are cool and if one can’t make a gig they’ll call the other one like “Can you play this gig for Musiq Soulchild?” or “Can you play this gig for Jill Scott?” I’m not in that clique because a lot of people know it won’t just be you just take my gig for that week and then that’s it. I’ma take yo’ gig for life until I’m done with it, you know what I’m saying?
I just want to get more black drummers into the rock scene and not just the technical, sane drummers who sound like all these drummers who sound the same who play the same style of drumming. They even have the same set up. The average black drummer I’ve seen have their cymbals low, like R&B style. I’ve played with some of them where I changed their drum set and they’re like “Damn nigga, your shit is like really off! You have a really fucked set up up!” And I’m like “Damn bruh, it’s just drums. All you have to do is slide the shit down,” but drummers are really sensitive about that shit. So anyway, that’s what I want, especially for the black drummers. There’s a whole lot of white rock drummers but there’s not a whole lot of black rock drummers.
The low set up is just so they don’t have to move that much and just be cool and shit?
Right. Pocket drummers. That’s what I call them, pocket drummers. And it’s cool to be a pocket drummer but in my book that’s boring. That’s you conforming to society. The way I play is pretty much the way I live life. I don’t conform to society. It’s not just an act. Like I live this shit: I drink Jack Daniels every fucking day. I smoke weed. When I find shrooms I do shrooms. I don’t do anything else, because I don’t need to because if I do I’ll be hooked on it but God damnit it’s a lifestyle. And I want to bring back the 8o, 7os, 6os and 5os feel of musician ways. Like how back in the day if you were Keith Moon you had to be Keith Moon and live like Keith Moon. It wasn’t like you would be Keith Moon for one show or for a tour and then when you get off the road you’re not Keith Moon anymore, you’re fucking Bill Gates. A lot of people live in that fake life shit, you feel me?
One thing that’s also cool about those eras is that all the musicians in the band were famous in their own right.
Exactly. And now a days…shit, if you play for just an artist, first of all they’re going to put you in the back, they’re going to make you wear all black and they going to have dark light. So they’re not even going to get to see you. Even the average band now…because I believe – I’m not saying that rock and roll or punk rock is dead, i just think it’s on a little hiatus. It might be unconscious right now.
Your average band, people don’t even give a fuck about the musicians. Let’s see, the last big band that was really poppin’ would be like Fall Out Boy and Gym Class Heroes, and all people really care about was the frontman and for Fall Out Boy the bass player. They don’t give a damn about the drummer. Little do they know that the drummer is a fucking metal drummer. He’s fucking changed his whole game just to get some money from that band. He’s tatted the fuck up and all that shit and I’ve seen him play before Fall Out Boy, he’s like a Mastodon-type drummer.
Who in a rock band’s poppin’ besides old bands? Like, I love Queens of the Stoned Age, but Queens of the Stoned Age been out since the 90s. Shit like that. People don’t even really care about Queens of the Stoned Age they just care about Josh because they never keep the same band, they switchin’ out Dave Grohl and the other big jack dude, Costello and shit like that. That’s why I kind of believe they’re breaking up now. They’re all great musicians but it was all about Josh – and I love Josh. I’m a Josh fan. One of the reasons is because it was all about Josh.
Back in that day though it was Keith Moon and Pete Townsend. The whole band could be famous. Nowadays? It’s not even the band that’s famous. It’s all about the frontman. Paramore’s the biggest rock band out there. Paramore, Coldplay and shit like that. People don’t give a fuck about Coldplay, all they care about is the frontman.
I couldn’t name you any of the guys who play in those bands.
No! I can’t, and I want to bring that feel back because that’s not how it’s supposed to be. Back in the day when they would do band interviews, they would interview the whole band. Now, you may get one or two people out the band, everybody else is gone. That makes no sense to me.
Speaking of that, I’m sure you found out who your bandmates are, what can you tell me about them and are you looking forward to playing with them?
Yeah I’ve seen some of them through Instagram. I call it Dumbstagram and shit like that because it’s for dumb people because it’s only pictures and shit and 15 second videos and people are getting famous off of it. From watching them it looks like it’s going to be a real fun time.
First and foremost I like getting out my mom and dad’s house. I still love my mom and dad. Hell yeah and God damnit, I don’t care who the fuck it is we’re playing with, I’m just happy to be playing music with some new people. Anytime I play with somebody new I find out something new about myself, especially musically. I know the bass player’s a fucking shredder, so I might do a little bit of double bass just by watching the way he plays, you know what I’m saying? We doing that Knotfest and I gotta show out at Knotfest. I gotta kick ass because everybody going to be looking at us like “What the fuck is this about?” I’m just crunk about playing music with anybody. I don’t give a fuck who it is.
The name of this tour is Band of Psychos. What’s the most psychotic thing about you and why do you fit that bill?
Besides the way I drum? Because that’s what got me in the Band of Psychos. Otherwise I’d say it’s my fucking mindset. I’m an adopted kid who was raised by Doctor parents, so therefore I’m a suburban spoiled brat, pretty much like the average grunge rock scene in the 90s type kid. You’re not poor but you feel like you’re poor because your parents give you everything you want and then you’re like “I don’t deserve this. Why am I doing this?” Then that makes you a rebel because you want to be bad all the time because your parents are so good. My parents got PhDs and DDSs and honestly in my family I’m the first college dropout. Everybody else like “I’m the first college graduate of my family!” I’m the first literally college dropout in my family. My sisters got PhDs and all that shit. MBAs and all that shit. Masters in Public Health and all that shit. My dad used to work for the government right next to the surgeon general and then you got me, some crazy fucking drummer trying to live the artist’s life whose got mom and dad issues because he’s adopted but also has mom and dad issues because his mom and dad are smart and he’s not as smart as mom and dad.
Psycho? I’ve been in therapy since I was twelve because I was diagnosed with ADHD and then a little bit of bipolarism so therefore I think that makes me psycho enough! (Laughs)
Well this has been a fun interview, one of the most fun we’ve done.
Hey me too! Probably the first interview I’ve ever had!
Anything you want to say before we get out of here?
I just want to say thank to Strange Music. I want to say thanks to Tech and a big thanks to Travis because I know he’s like “I don’t know if we should do this with this crazy fucker,” but I’m glad he took a chance on me. I want to shout out all the Strange Music workers because I know they have my back in this shit. Jose, Mike, Scenario, Brother Al. I’ve got a give a shout out to all of them. Beetlejuice. I’ve got to give a shout out to everybody up in there because everything started once I started hearing about that it wasn’t just a tour I was doing it was also a semi-audition, because I didn’t know! I just went on the tour because I was like “Hey, I get to not be home for three months!” So God damn I didn’t know it started turning into an audition and American Idol in this motherfucker (laughs)! So I appreciate all the support at Strange because like I told them once I found out it was an audition “Oh, well hey y’all need to put me on.” They said Tech was trying to do a rock band and they needed a drummer. He hadn’t found a drummer yet. He had a guitar player but he wanted a good solid drummer. So Mike and them and Jose would be like “Ali, this night don’t do all that stand up shit because people want to see if you can really drum,” and at first I was like “Really drum? Fuck yeah I can really drum!” Then I forgot I was standing up, walking around, jumping around and sometimes not playing at all (laughs) so I gotta give the whole Strange Music family a fucking thank you because it wouldn’t be me who got me here the way I drum and shit. It’s really the whole Strange family for taking the chance on me and everybody having my back, so I gotta say thanks to everybody for that.
What do you think of Alien Warr?
Have you seen him drum before? What do you think of his playing?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.