Author S.W. Lauden explores the history and importance of punk rock drummers in his latest book, FORBIDDEN BEAT: Perspectives On Punk Drumming
What were the last words the drummer spoke before being kicked out of the band?
"I just wrote a song and I think we should record it!"
It's universally known that the singers and guitar players get all of the shine in rock 'n roll bands. With nothing more than skinny mic stands and low-hanging Stratocasters draped around their bodies, the audiences and cameras see them in all of their majestic glory. They do all of the interviews, take all of the pictures, and get all of the credit for driving their bands to fame and glory.
Yet it's the drummers who provide the engine, gasoline, and direction for those drives!
In his new book, FORBIDDEN BEAT: Perspectives On Punk Drumming (Rare Bird Books), S.W. Lauden has put together a collection of essays by punk rock luminaries (both musicians and writers) to take us through the history and importance of bashing the hell out of those snares, toms, cymbals, and bass drums.
Lauden, a drummer himself (Ridel High, Tsar, The Brothers Steve) has recorded several major-label albums, toured and played shows with the likes of Duran Duran, Weezer, Eve 6, and others so he certainly knows a thing or ten about life behind the kit.
As a writer, S.W. Lauden has several books to his credit including, Go All The Way: A Literary Appreciation Of Power Pop, Go Further: More Literary Appreciations Of Power Pop, That'll Be The Day (Power Pop Heist), and others. His latest effort is an overdue spotlight on the instrument and players that too often get left out of the musical conversations and passionate arguments we all have.
With the foreword by legendary punk drummer Lucky Lehrer (Circle Jerks, Redd Cross, Bad Religion), FORBIDDEN BEAT kicks off with a fast and furious rhythm and does not slow down. Essays on Jerry Nolan (New York Dolls), Gina Schock (The Go-Go's), Bill Stevenson (Descendents), and others, offer tremendous insight into the world of some of the best punk drummers to ever pick up sticks.
Not to be outdone by the essays, Lauden interviews prominent figures who helped shape punk rock music such as Rat Scabies of The Damned, Joey Shithead (DOA) on Chuck Biscuits, Mike Watt (Minutemen, Firehose) on George Hurley, Tre' Cool (Green Day), Lori Barbero (Babes in Toyland), and more.
FORBIDDEN BEAT is not only a "who's who" of punk rock drumming and influence, it's a history lesson in the form of an all-access, backstage pass. The best part is you don't have to know how to play a snare backbeat, quick doubles on the bass drum, or sloshy open hi-hats. Drummers and non-drummers alike, who have an appreciation and love for punk rock will find this book a terrific read.
I had the opportunity to read a copy of Lauden's book and he was gracious enough to spend some time with me over the phone. I'm not a drummer so we didn't share technical verbiage or spend 25 minutes on the nuances of the D-beat. We did what two lifelong fans of music, punk specifically, typically do...geek out over our favorite bands, great shows we've seen, and of course, his book.
S.W. Lauden (photo credit Chris Strother)
I was curious how Lauden got his start manning the kit.
"I have two brothers that are eight and nine years older than me. So, I naturally always
looked up to them as a kid. When I was in junior high, my brothers started a heavy
metal band together, one played guitar and the other played bass (they also had a Spandex wearing lead singer and a killer drummer with one of those Neil Peart-style spaceship kits). I thought about taking up guitar around that time, but I secretly chose drums in the hopes that the three of us would one day form a family band together. It never happened, but I think that's the main reason I started playing drums.
I've always wondered why anyone would want to become a drummer. It takes a special breed for sure. There's no glamor, no glitz. You're forced to sit on a stool behind the rest of the band with your face partially covered by cymbals. If you want to get noticed or recognized, this is not the instrument for you. Drummers get a lot of unwarranted grief for a variety of reasons, maybe, just maybe, they're the ones who are truly in it for the music.
Seeing as how S.W. Lauden is a drummer, I figured this was a book he's always wanted to create so we discussed that for a while during our call.
"Before putting Forbidden Beat together, I co-edited two power pop anthologies with Paul Myers, Go All The Way: A Literary Appreciation of Power Pop and the sequel, Go Further: More Literary Appreciations of Power Pop. Paul and I curated/edited those collections, but we each also contributed our own essays.
My first concept was to write an essay specifically about power pop drummers like Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick and Clem Burke of Blondie, but after meeting Ira Elliot, the drummer from Nada Surf, it was obvious that essay would be better in his hands. I wrote an essay about Fountains of Wayne for Go All The Way instead and about legendary LA power-pop band 20/20 for Go Further. Once those two collections were on bookshelves, I was talking to my publisher Tyson Cornell at Rare Bird Books about what I wanted to do next. I read a lot of non-fiction books about music and I’m always a little disappointed that there aren’t more books specifically dedicated to drumming. So, my original idea for a Go All The Way essay finally morphed into a whole collection about punk drumming."
This led to some conversation about his biggest influences and who he might contact to participate in the project.
"A lot of my earliest musical heroes and influences were punk drummers. DJ Bonebrake from X, D.H. Peligro from Dead Kennedys, Grant Hart from Hüsker Dü, and Bill Stevenson from Descendents. I've always thought drummers were the beating heart of punk rock so it seemed like the perfect project. "
One of the best things about discussing music with people is finding out that you have many similar tastes and interests and that makes those conversations flow as if you've been friends for years. Even when some of your tastes differ, you now have an understanding of why this person likes what they do and you can appreciate that so much more. Lauden was gracious and passionate while talking about the book and the music and musicians who inspired it. When that happens, it makes you want to read the book more than you already do.
After finishing FORBIDDEN BEAT, my own tastes came out and I wanted to get Lauden's thoughts regarding what I considered the highlights to be. I asked him about the chapters on Mike Watt, Tre' Cool, and Benny Horowitz.
"All three of those guys are fantastic musicians and I’m honestly still kind of amazed to see their names in the Forbidden Beat table of contents. Not only because of their many individual accomplishments, but also because of what they represent for the eras and scenes they came from. I can't thank them enough for lending me their time, energy, and perspective for this book. From the start, I wanted Forbidden Beat to include a mix of drummers, other well-known musician and music writers. Mike Watt’s name was always right up at the top of that list. Watt's a legend for many reasons, but in the context of this book I wanted to focus on his musical partnership with genius drummer George Hurley in Minutemen and fIREHOSE. Not sure it gets any more punk rock than that. I was lucky enough to have interviewed Watt for a fanzine in the 90s, so that gave me just enough confidence to reach out to him.
Tré Cool has long been one of my favorite drummers from the ‘90s pop punk explosion and beyond, mainly because his drumming always reminded me of ‘60s drumming heroes like Keith Moon and Ringo Starr. And Benny Horowitz is the rock solid drummer for one of the best Americana/Heart- land punk bands of the 2000s, The Gaslight Anthem. When you really stop and think about it, the three of them cover 40+ years of evolving punk rock history—and they’re all still recording and performing today."
My conversations with S.W. Lauden took place over a few days including phone calls and emails. This particular bit came about before I'd finished the book. We stumbled upon a topic that was in the book although I didn't know it at the time. Not being a drummer I was curious to get S.W. Lauden's opinion on one of my favorite bands, Bad Religion, and how one of their lineup changes behind the kit affected the bands' sound. Anyone familiar with punk rock knows that the Los Angeles pioneers are one of the most influential American punk bands in the history of the genre. The band had its share of drummers (two of them are featured in FORBIDDEN BEAT) and sounded amazing with each one. That being said, I brought up how I believed that Bad Religion changed forever once Brooks Wackerman joined and lifted their power and sound to heights they hadn't reached prior.
To my delight and surprise, I was told there's an entire chapter dedicated to that very topic! I was a happy camper.
"I knew I wanted Ian Winwood in the collection after I read his excellent book, Smash!: Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion, NOFX, and the ‘90s Punk Explosion. That’s just a fantastic read if you’re a fan of those bands or even just that era of music. And his Forbidden Beat essay about Brooks Wackerman and Bad Religion is right on par with the writing in that book.
What I find specifically cool about his essay is that he has clearly listened very carefully to their catalog and formed some well-considered opinions about Bad Religion’s discography and their various line-up changes over the decades. In terms of where this essay fits in the overall collection, I feel like it’s the closest Forbidden Beat gets to classic music criticism, but delivered with the focused energy of a true fan.
I also thought Winwood’s essay was a nice bookend to former Bad Religion drummer Pete Finestone’s Top 5 list. Pete’s the one who actually played drums on the Bad Religion song “Forbidden Beat” from their classic album Suffer. Come to think of it, Jim Ruland, who co-wrote the Bad Religion bio Do What You Want, is also in Forbidden Beat, but in this case, he wrote about Bill Stevenson from Descendents/Black Flag/All. Jim's next book, Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise & Fall of SST Records is excellent, by the way."
One needs to look no further than the classic "mockumentary" This Is Spinal Tap to see just how disrespected drummers usually are. From not being allowed to talk to the audience, forbidden to write songs, or in the unfortunate and thankfully rare occurrence from the film, surviving spontaneous combustion mid-song, drummers often get overlooked in the grand scheme of it all when it comes to the minds of fans and critics. Musicians though, know the vital role of the brave souls in the back driving the entire ship.
All kidding aside, songwriting is perhaps the most important skill for any band. During our call, S.W. Lauden spoke about this very subject.
"Dave Grohl is definitely amazing as both a songwriter and a drummer, and it’s kind of unfair that two of the best drummers of the past 30 years are both in Foo Fighters, but Grant Hart from Hüsker Dü is the guy I always point to. Not only was he one of the most unique punk drummers to emerge from the ‘80s (I’ve never heard another drummer play quite like him), but he also wrote some of Hüsker Dü’s best songs like “It’s Not Funny Anymore", "Never Talking To You Again", “Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely” and "Books About UFOs". Hart also released a lot of great music after Hüsker Dü.
Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart is hands-down one of my favorite rock documentaries of all time. So, I was pretty thrilled to include an interview with Jan Radder one of the film’s writers, in Forbidden Beat. I thought it was a unique addition to the collection because it provides a lot of insights about Hart’s personality that go well beyond his drumming and songwriting. Watching the documentary and hearing Radder's memories of what it was like to make the film really shines a spotlight on the multi-talented creative genius Grant Hart was.
Another great songwriting drummer featured in the book is Bill Stevenson from Descendents/All. Not only is he one of the best drummers in the history of punk rock, and probably one of the most pronounced influences on my own drumming, but he has written some of the best pop-punk songs ever, even before the genre officially existed. If you need proof, check out "Silly Girl," "Can't Go Back" or "Clean Sheets." Jim Ruland's essay about him in Forbidden Beat is excellent."
I've always been of the opinion that music is something we feel more so than we hear. We have a chemical reaction to the sonic storytelling blasting through our speakers or the PA'a of clubs and arenas. We float away on a dopamine high lasting for hours thanks to the groove and the BEAT attaching itself to our DNA and making us one with the sound. The instrument that is mostly responsible for the power and biological connection with the music we love is the drums. Say what you will about drummers, they are the musicians who guide and command that very instrument towards making us feel the music the way we do, and for that, we all owe them a debt of gratitude and a bass drum size bucket of respect. Music may be life, but drums are definately the heartbeat.
To put it much more simply, I'll borrow a quote from the immortal Animal of The Muppets:
"Eat drums, eat cymbals"
I'd like to thank musician, drummer, and writer, S.W. Lauden, not only for FORBIDDEN BEAT: Perspectives on punk drumming but also for his time and willingness to participate in this piece.