Alex Lopez: Grind And Bear It

Alex Lopez

Alex Lopez is kicking it at home in Wittier, California, the L.A. suburb with the dubious distinctions of being both the low-rider capital of the state and the birthplace of Richard M. Nixon. At the moment, the 22-year-old Suicide Silence drummer is reminiscing over a show at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. “It was the most nuts I’ve ever seen it there,” he says of all the hardcore and metal kids crowd surfing and performing something called “head running.” “It’s dangerous,” he says. “People can break their necks.”

Any discussion of danger naturally leads to the Suicide video for “The Price Of Beauty,” a plastic surgery cautionary tale that sports a decent amount of slashing and blood loss, but no more so than your average episode of Nip/Tuck. Apparently the effects were just a little too real for the suits at MTV, who rejected it out of hand. “The lyrics are bad — I mean not bad-bad, but it goes along with the video,” says Lopez. “I’ve seen a lot worse stuff.”

Not to worry. Lopez is well acquainted with the uncertainties of life in a band. Not so long ago, he was in The Funeral Pyre as a guitarist, and clearly remembers his last gig at California MetalFest in 2003. The very day of the show, the other Pyre members informed Lopez that they were relocating to Phoenix. “They basically told me, ’Look dude, if you’re not moving to Arizona with us there’s no use in you being in the band.’ It was just weird because that day Chris [Garza, guitarist for Suicide Silence] came up to me and he’s like, ’Hey man, you can’t tell anybody, but we’re getting rid of our drummer. By any chance do you still play drums?’”

The timing could not have been better for Lopez to join Suicide, but it meant stepping up his percussive game in a major way. “I wanted to basically do what their old guy lacked, because I remember seeing them and I was like, ’Man, if only their drummer could bring some spice, you know, Morgan Rose that stuff. Put some flavor up in there.’”

Not long after shopping their demo around, the band was snapped up by indie label Century Media for the recording of their debut, The Cleansing. Going for a fresh perspective, the band contacted John Travis, best known for his work with Static-X, to see if he was down for producing, and the interest was mutual. “For some reason when he records bands he has to click with the drummer,” says Lopez, describing Travis’ methodology. In the studio, the producer brought out a road case holding some ten snares in it including a bell brass he bought from Dave Grohl. With the exception of one track, the bell was used by Lopez to record The Cleansing in its entirety. “It cracks,” he says lovingly of the snare also favored by one of his major influences, Abe Cunningham. “That thing was an anchor, man. You can hold down a ship with it.”

Travis’ exhaustive m.o. also turned out to be a crash course in miking. “He put three mikes on the snare — he had a [Shure] 57 and he had this weird old-fashioned mike from the ’60s, and when he singled it out it made it sound like I was hitting a tin can, mixed with the 57 which gives a pow, and he had a big ol’ mike beneath the snare which picked up the low end — so we had a good blend.”

Alex Lopez

Upon first listen, The Cleansing evokes classic Bay Area grind à la Benümb or Exhumed. Suicide’s take on the subgenre is the perfect vehicle for what Lopez characterizes as his “solid and simple” pounding, although the album has plenty of blistering thirty-seconds. “There’s two types of blasts that I do — one’s a Euro and one’s a straight blast. For a Euro, I do it in that song, ’No Pity For A Coward.’ It’s basically when you hit the ride every time you hit the bass drum and you hit the snare on the opposite [note].”

Now that he’s locked down a Tama sponsorship, Lopez is currently building his dream kit, a Tama Starclassic Maple in black lacquer finish with black nickel plating. For now, though, he’s cool with the ’98 Tama Rockstar he’s been punishing for the last ten years, which he acquired through an uncle who works in a music shop in downtown L.A. “I take really good care of it, always tune it to make sure the rims aren’t bent,” he says. Superficially, at least, the kit under construction mirrors the aesthetics of his current setup. “I wanted to do, like, a neon green color but I thought for my first [official endorsement kit] I should stay with black to be all brutal.”

Usually musicians bitch about touring — bad food, worse smells, and so on — but for Lopez it was a bonding experience. “We were playing a show in Canada at some college. We were all backstage, everyone was drunk, and there was a little P.A. there and everybody, at least three or four times, went up to it and we were, like, confessing what we’ve done in our lives,” he says. “I heard some stories from the guys from Darkest Hour, like wow — same thing with Unearth. Buz [McGrath, Unearth guitarist] is like the funniest guy in the world. It was a cool memory because they didn’t even care. They said some stuff like, ’All right, I’ve never told anybody this, but once I did this, and then I did this.’ It’s stuff I can’t even talk about.”

With the details of a major summer 2008 tour still being worked out, Suicide Silence has some late-winter/early-spring European dates supporting Polish death-metallers Behemoth to tide them over. “A lot of the people who like Behemoth are some crazy vampire-looking guys, with boots and chains, like they’re straight out of Immortal or something. Our fans aren’t really like that. Our fans are more the 16-year-old kid who likes to hardcore dance in his basketball shorts.”