Atom Willard of Angels & Airwaves
Hometown: Los Angeles
Previous Bands: Rocket From The Crypt, Alkaline Trio, The Special Goodness, The Offspring, Social Distortion
Drums: Orange County Drum And Percussion
Electronics: Ultimate Ears, Hart Dynamics
Every young drummer dreams of being Atom Willard, who turned pro at the age of 16 when he co-founded Rocket From The Crypt. After releasing two records on Cargo, Rocket gained even more exposure after signing with Interscope Records in the mid-’90s. In search of new challenges, Willard quit in 2000 after spending a decade with the band, and began working with such artists as Melissa Auf Der Maur, The Alkaline Trio, and Moth. In 2002, he drummed on Land Sea Air with the band The Special Goodness, a side project of Weezer drummer Pat Wilson, and then joined The Offspring the following year. In 2007, while The Offspring took a break from touring, Willard began collaborating with Blink-182 guitarist Tom DeLonge on his side project, Angels & Airwaves. Before long, Willard decided to commit himself fully to the band, which released its third album, Love, on February 12 for Valentine’s Day weekend as a free download at http://www.angelsandairwaves.com. It’s been a hell of a ride.
Angels & Airwaves has made the transition from big labels to free distribution on the Internet. How do you feel about the way the music business is trending away from making profits off of album sales?
I think this is an inevitable change. As a band member it makes you think in different terms as to how your business will survive, but it is possible. Labels are going to be trying a lot of different things to make up for the fact that records don’t sell like they used to, even though music is more popular today than ever.
After leaving Rocket From The Crypt, you worked as a drum technician for Pat Wilson with Weezer for a little while. What was that like?
It was super hard! I was only able to do that for a little while watching someone else play the drums every night — even if it’s your good friend, is really hard. It sucks.
You’ve replaced a couple drummers during your career. Do you always try to duplicate the drum parts the previous drummer played, or did your rework the parts to better suit your style?
Each situation is different. Some bands are cool with you putting your stamp on it, and others are very much like “stick to the script.”
Did your drum parts change much while working on Love?
Yes and no. The original feel is established with a drum program in the computer, where I will write a pattern or feel. Then Tom will add to the song, maybe another section, and I will react with another part in the computer. Then when the song has kind of taken shape a bit more, I will play a real kit to get a more real sound and feel in there, and we will work on the song for a long time like that. After Tom has sung on it I will finally play the finished drum track.
What was it like working with your producer, Critter?
We’ve done three records now with Critter so we have a really good understanding of how each other works. He’ll let me try as many different things as I want and then we’ll listen back and decide what works best.
How involved are you with getting drum sounds in the studio?
Critter and I will get a few songs together we think will need similar drum sounds, like the big room sound or a tighter more focused sound. It is easier than moving all the drums and mikes all over the studio for each song. We’ll get the kit sounding good and then I’ll play the track and see how it sits in — making change to mike placement and sometimes tuning, even snare drums.
What do you like most about touring?
Really, it’s just playing every day. The songs inevitably evolve and it’s cool when that happens — little things that develop with the guys that become the way it’s played.
How do you stay healthy while you’re on the road?
I’m actually pretty good about it. I run a lot and eat well. Our rider is full of healthy snacks and we hit Trader Joes or Whole Foods every few days for stuff on the bus.
Do you warm up before going on stage?
Yeah, kind of a lot. It starts about 45 minutes before we play — lots of stretching, getting the blood moving, and the hands loose.
Do you mute your drums or tune them wide open?
It’s different for live and in the studio. Live it’s very controlled — I like a short tight tom sound — whereas in the studio it’s as wide open as they can be.
Is perfect time mandatory in creating a groove?
Actually, no. I listen to my favorite records and there is movement, there is an ebb and flow between verse and chorus. I think you need to be able to control that though.