Adrian Young Of No Doubt
Back To Skank
It’s a psycho-suburban dream come true: Adrian Young was a striving young drummer, living in suburbia, playing golf, drumming at home, and playing in a local band called No Doubt. Fifteen years and seventeen million records later, Young is a striving young drummer, living in suburbia, drumming at home, playing golf, and playing in a famous band called No Doubt.
On the eve of their latest release, Rock Steady, No Doubt was days away from ’warm-up gigs’ with U2. DRUM! magazine caught Young at his very large home on a country club golf course. He graciously offered a tour (because the reporter was wide-eyed staring at the pad). The house was tastefully decorated by Young and his beautiful wife Nina in a dark wood, Southeast Asian opulence. Many of the furnishings were picked out by Young while on tour with No Doubt and shipped home. “We went to Malaysia, Thailand, places that were new to us. Those are great. I loved going over there.” Young pointed a casual finger into bedroom after bedroom, saying, “We party here a lot and people like to stay over.” The bar is large and well stocked, and a grinning Young says, “We’ve had a lot of good parties here.”...
There’s a game room, replete with arcade video machines. The game room ceiling is papered with album covers, mostly ’70s acts, some ’80s: Fleetwood Mac, Steve Miller, Madness, The Police. “A lot of those are my wife’s, but my parents were sort of hippie types, they had a little rock band, so I grew up on all that stuff, too. I lived in the Santa Barbara/Pismo Beach area until I was ten. That probably affected me more, musically, than growing up in Orange County did. When we moved I stopped listening to as much ’70s rock and started listening to more new-wave, punk, and ska.”
There’s a room that used to be the office – you can tell by the wall full of gold and platinum records – but it’s being redone as a nursery. “I’m the only one married in the band, and the first with a baby.”
As Young walks around the house, he looks more like an athlete than a musician. If it weren’t for the Mohawk, he could easily pass for a young pro ball player instead of a rock star. “When I was growing up I was all about sports. Basketball in high school, and golf. I didn’t start playing drums until I was 18, a senior. It was sports. Now I’m on a basketball team, and a softball thing. My main thing is golf. I probably spend more time golfing than I do drumming.”
All the members from No Doubt claim roots in neighboring Orange County. Anaheim, in particular, serves as a metaphor for things plastic and “Tragic” in the Orange County “Kingdom.” But now some of them live in L.A., and Young is in a suburb known more for Aviation executives than celebrities. “We’re all from Orange County. I live here because I love [this area]. My parents are still in [a town about ten miles away], I like to be close to them still. L.A.’s too much. Too much partying, too much everything.”
Young waves off the last couple of rooms, offices, guest bathrooms, blah, blah, blah, he seems uninterested. But he gets a spring in his step when he takes us back downstairs to a room near the bar. He slides a large sofa aside to reveal a trap door. “My drum room is down here,” he says, “Watch your head.” We descend the short steps into a basement that has been padded with acoustic treatments. There’s a kit wedged into the corner, a stereo system, piles of CDs. In the room directly above us, a tape recorder and some other studio gear is wired to capture evenings of inspiration in the drum room. It’s everything a drummer needs – especially privacy. “Last night I was playing in here until about 12:30. It’s great.
“I don’t have a standard practice routine. During the off time I just keep my chops up, trying to stay fluid. I play to Steely Dan records a lot. I’ve been playing to Jeff Buckley’s stuff. I don’t know the drummer’s name, but he’s good. Some Erika Bahdu for groove. I’ve got a Rush CD down here still [laughs]. Last night I was playing to some 311 stuff.”
Young warns us to mind our head again as we come out of the little studio and go to a front room where we camp with some food and drink and get the lowdown on his working life. Through the front window the golf course is busy with players. Behind us is the huge backyard and the stone-rimmed swimming pool.
“On Thursday we’ll start three weeks with U2 as a warm up before the record comes out. So awesome. U2 is totally bitchin’. We’ll do our tour next year. This is the beginning of a long cycle for this record. We’ll do a lot of national and international promo for the record first. Do some live dates. Wherever the record’s doing good next year, wherever we could do good tours, that’s where we’ll go. It all depends on how the record does. For us a lot of things are decided close to the dates. We won’t do the states until next spring or summer. By February we’ll know.”
The promotional tour is comprised of a barrage of radio station visits, press interviews, television appearances, and anything else that might shout from the rooftops, “THE NEW NO DOUBT RECORD, ROCK STEADY, IS IN STORES NOW!”
“It’s not like a regular tour. We don’t take quite as much stuff. I take my kit, I don’t do rental stuff. It’s a little bit broken down. It’s more of a pain in the ass because you’re doing interviews every day, multiple interviews every day. And different time zones. It’s just work.
“We didn’t want to wait until next year [to release the CD]. The record company’s behind it, they think it’s going to fly. If we have their confidence then we’re pretty much willing to do anything. Because if the record company’s behind it, your foot’s already in the door for your record to do well, because the dollars are going to be behind it. That’s half the battle.”
With Rock Steady the band has turned into a dance hall groove machine. “During the last tour we put on dance parties after the shows. We were listening to a lot of dance hall music and a lot of ’80s stuff, too. This is the fastest record we’ve ever done. It usually takes us two to three years to make a record. This one’s a total funk-party record. We weren’t trying to prove anything. Just trying to have fun. There was lots of pressure on us for the last record. This one we were like, whatever.”
The fact that the airwaves are saturated with beat-box rhythms was likely not far from their minds, either. By the time this interview hits the newsstands, most Americans will have heard “Hey Baby,” No Doubt’s first single from Rock Steady.
“Even though I don’t write any of the songs, I still get to have a pretty free opinion about direction [of the songs]. That’s what’s made it cool over the years. I’ve taken a little more of a back seat on this record, though, as far as involvement goes. The songs, pre-recording, are always a struggle and a challenge, and it’s very rewarding. Any band will tell you that. This time I didn’t have it in me to fight the fight, you know, and I was more comfortable taking the lesser role. And I’m glad I did. It’s been more fun.”
Young told us about the birthing of the infectious dance-hall groove on “Hey Baby.” “My wife and I have a friend with a Victorian house in San Francisco, a one-bedroom place. It came vacant, and he said, ’Do you want to stay in it for a while?’ This was during some down time for the band and me and Nina wanted to get away, so we got a U-Haul and took one room’s worth of furniture, just grabbed the sofa nearest the door and whatever else we needed and went and lived there. But while we were up there, trying to get away, Tom and Tony came up to work on ideas. Work was following me [laughs]! So we went to this recording studio to work out some ideas.
“Tony had this bass line, this dance hall bass line, and I came up with a beat. There was a million ideas, but this one idea became ’Hey Baby.’ The drums were just recorded stereo, it wasn’t supposed to be a real recording. We got to Jamaica [later, to record tunes for the record with Sly & Robbie] and tried to re-record it. But we couldn’t get it happening. So we just flew [the stereo drum track] into Pro Tools, and it became the first single.”
We asked if the band jammed on it a lot, or did a lot of takes. “Not really. Pro Tools does that. You can stop stuff or cut it up. Versus the last record, when I was hardheaded about the whole thing. My approach then was, ’I don’t want to cut anything, I don’t want to do any of that crap.’ Sort of an unnecessary, macho way of looking at it. But, I feared that if I started doing that, then people would say, ’That guy’s not really doing that; he’s getting all cut up on tape or Pro Tools. I didn’t want to become one of those guys. But after using [Pro Tools] on two records I realized it’s a creative tool. It’s not a way for lousy players to sound good … well, maybe it is, but I don’t think that applies to me.
“The whole thing was done on Pro Tools. So was the last one, actually. A lot of the songs were done at Tom’s condo. He’s got a Pro Tools setup there. So, a lot of the parts recorded in the demoing sessions in his apartment were kept. That environment creates more of a drum machine, drum loop thing, versus four people just getting together and jamming. At least for the starting ideas, before I get to play on it. I did all my parts after the fact. It was different, kind of going backwards, drumwise.”
Was that better? “It’s not really better for me, it’s just different.” Did it increase the fun factor for the band? “I think so, yeah. There’s only like two rock tracks on this CD. Those are the two Ric Ocasek did. It’s a pretty eclectic record, which I guess all of our records are. It’s one of our happiest records. We’ve always had that ’80s thing going on, there’s no shortage of that on this record.
“There were various individuals we wanted to work with, and this was a good way to hit a lot of ’em. The record was co-produced by the band plus the producers: Nellee Hooper, Ric Ocasek, Sly & Robbie, Steely & Cleavie, William Orbit, and Prince.”
Once the record is out and the promotional tour is done, it’ll be time to pack up the OCDP kit and hit the road. Young, for the most part, looks forward to it. “Touring was one of the best things for me. We toured Tragic Kingdom for two-and-a-half years. After that I felt really, really strong. Definitely helps, getting out on that road and working on your thing. That repetition is a good thing. I love playing live.” And sometimes friends need a favor and Young is happy to oblige. “Sitting in with other bands is a bigger thrill than playing our own show sometimes. I was in Vegas – my wife was working for Stone Temple Pilots at the time – and Eric [Kretz] asked me to play on ’Plush.’ That was cool. But I don’t know if I can keep touring as much, now that I have a family on the way.” The enthusiasm in his manner as he talks about playing live seems a bit stronger than his cautious words about fatherhood. And he’s enthusiastic about his new drum set, too.
For this tour Young will be pounding on a brand-new kit from Orange County Drum and Percussion, made from a jellybean jar selection of acrylic shells. Young was excited to get to New York for the U2 shows, because, “I haven’t played this kit yet. This will be the first time I use it.
“There’s a lot more sampling and sequencing on this record, too. So, live, I have a lot more samples to play. Some of the tracks I’ll be playing to clicks. We’re using Tascam 2424 Recording machines, and the tech will be running that. I’m going to give him the look – ’push the button.’ I’m wearing headphones, and I tried to get the biggest, most obnoxious ones I could find. I’m going to make them even bigger, put stuff on ’em.”
Some drummers, in the off-season between tours and records, like to hook up some outside gigs, some sessions, some clinics. Was sitting in with Stone Temple Pilots an omen of things to come? “I don’t really have time to play with other bands. No Doubt is full-full time. I’ll do little things when I’m out, sitting in with other bands, I love doing that stuff. I’d love to play on other people’s records in the future. I could never picture myself doing clinics. I can’t really solo, and my reading is not very proficient. I’ve taken some basic reading classes, but I haven’t really utilized it much.”
We give a hearty “yeah, but.” Enough of the modesty. How does it feel to sell seventeen million records and tour the world? “It’s pretty awesome. Definitely one of the best things about this is the drum recognition from young people. And from people that are older, too, actually. I’ve even heard people cop licks [from No Doubt recordings]. I’m not going to name bands, but I’m flattered by it, I love it. I do it, too. I still do it; I hear my peers, I can’t help it. My friend Josh Freese lives around the corner. I subbed for him a couple times in the Vandals a while back. I copped some of his stuff on this record.”
We asked Young what he would recommend to young drummers shedding for their future. “I would suggest playing to a lot of different CDs. Mixing it up. Keep those horizons expanded. As teenagers musical tastes are usually skewed into tunnel vision. So, expand. Work on groove stuff. If a kid wants to go to school and be taught properly, that’s great, that can only be a good thing. But some kids that come up learning only like that play so stiff it’s amazing. I’ve seen players with lots of drum corps chops but – so stiff. It’s too one-sided, I think.”
Young cast a glance across the way to the fairway. Would he golf today? “I don’t play rounds every day, but as far as playing or practicing goes I probably get in five days a week.” And would he ever consider switching from drums to golf? “Go pro? No. Too hard. I’m not good enough. Right now I’m a 5.3 handicap. That would be rad, though. I work on my game enough.”
Is there a similarity between golfing and drumming? “Oh, yeah. You’ve got to stay relaxed. [laughs] Stay relaxed or everything goes to hell.”