By Dave Constantin Originally Published in DRUM! Magazine's August 2009 Issue
Door closes. Window opens. Branden Steineckert gets kicked out of The Used. Joins Rancid. Seems like a fair trade, as far as they go. It’s just that the door closing part still stings a little. No wonder: The Used was Steineckert’s baby. He started it, named it, nurtured it. And then one day in 2006 his mates sent him packing. Why? Not for playing poorly. It was for being … “different.”
“In a nutshell, I’m a pretty simple person,” Steineckert explains. “I’m a married guy. I’ve never touched drugs or alcohol in my entire life. And when I’m on the road I like to be mellow, and I just focus on the show and try to make the show good. To me the tour revolves around the show and not a party.” But the other guys weren’t down with the straight-man routine. “They wanted someone more like them, as they told me. So they ultimately fired me and did exactly that: They got somebody more like them. It broke my heart when that happened. I didn’t know if I even wanted to play music as a profession anymore.”
For two months Steineckert agonized over the loss, avoiding his kit like a cursed thing. “I felt really hurt by everybody I trusted.” That is, until Max Weinberg called to give him a pep talk. “God bless that guy,” says Steineckert.
Whoa. Wait a minute. Back up.
“We played Conan O’Brien at one point and I met him,” Steineckert explains. “We just hit it off. His son was a fan of The Used. We’d keep in touch from time to time, and then when he heard about what was going on, he was pretty upset.”
It happened that Weinberg’s call came just as Steineckert and his wife were on their way to Salt Lake City to see a Rancid show. “Which is one of both of our favorite bands,” he says. He’d met the members of this seminal punk outfit on the Warped Tour a few years before, so when they invited him onto their bus after the show, Steineckert felt comfortable enough to spill his guts about everything that had gone down with The Used. “It kind of became like a big therapy session,” he laughs. “They were just pep-talking me like, ‘Keep your chin up. You’re a great drummer. You’re a good person. Something’s going to work out for you.’”
Steineckert went home afterward with the sage advice of his musical heroes ringing in his head, and felt renewed. “I just kind of got amped,” he says. “I made a playlist on my iPod that was ironically a bunch of Rancid stuff. And I just started playing my ass off every day.”
So when Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong called him up a few days later and told him drummer and founding member Brett Reed just quit the band and asked him if he would fill in on their UK tour, which started in five days, Steineckert said, “Hell yes, I’ll do it!” Then he bent down and retrieved his jaw off the floor. “My stomach was instantly in knots. I was terrified and so excited all at the same time,” he says. “Emotions I can’t even convey in words.”
But he barely had time to let it sink in. Rancid, he would soon learn, didn’t waste any time. “Lars [Frederiksen, guitarist] called me later that day, gave me 25 songs to learn. I was on an airplane to L.A. three days later.” There they rehearsed a handful of songs before the band dropped an even bigger bombshell on Steineckert: They asked him to join Rancid permanently. “It wasn’t an audition. We were rehearsing for tour,” he says, recalling his amazement. “And they didn’t call any other drummers.” They gave him another 13 songs that night to learn, and then they left for tour. “It was nuts,” Steineckert says. “My first show, I was playing songs I’d never played even on a drum set, in front of 2,500 kids in England.” On the upside, the fear of falling flat on his face did wonders for his focus.
As for replacing Reed, whose drumming was as much a part of the Rancid sound as anything else, Steineckert had given it a lot of thought. “I was like — all right, you know what? I’m kind of a Rancid superfan. And if they got some new drummer that came in and changed the style and sound of the band completely because he overplayed or underplayed, I would be so bummed. So to me there’s a fine line where it was like, all right, I think there’s room to step it up here. But at the same time, this has got to be in the spirit of Rancid. And that to me is so much my roots — that’s not hard for me to do. It comes very naturally.”
But while Steineckert was busy defining his style and trying to frantically memorize the band’s mind-boggling catalog all at the same time, Rancid was already beginning work on the next album, most of which they wrote and demoed at Steineckert’s home studio, Unknown Studios, and recorded at Skywalker Ranch, in Marin County, California.
“It was a very collaborative process,” Steineckert says of the writing. “Very equal. I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm and energy sparked up in each one of us because of what’s gone on, and me joining the band. I think that comes across a lot in the record.” Both versions of it, actually — they did an acoustic one as well.
And though he’s the youngest in the band by a few years (“I started playing drums when these guys were starting Rancid,” he laughs) he feels every bit their equal — musically, but in other ways as well. “These are all very mature, sober, focused musicians, first and foremost,” Steineckert says. “That’s a breath of fresh air, because it’s nothing but focus out of everybody and 100 percent all the time.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s completely over his old flame. “Rancid is my band, I’m a quarter member,” he says. “But at the same time, I didn’t build this. And so there will always be a tragedy where I will be saddened by the loss of my band. But I’m not a stranger to being knocked down [check out his harrowing bio on Wikipedia]. I’ll always get up. And I try not to let anything get in my way as far as slowing me down or wasting my time in self-pity. I’ll just keep doing what I do.” And at least with Rancid, he won’t have to do it alone.
For “I Ain’t Worried,” Steineckert delivers a muscular ska beat brimming with East Bay energy. Check out the playful mid-phrase fills that occur in measures 3 and 4 — much of these smaller flourishes are hi-hat-centric, traceable back to the Copeland school of reggae-flavored punk. Also notice the extra texture provided in the verse groove, beginning in measure five, by the left-handed hi-hat accents.
Say what you will. Call them Clash wannabes. The fact is that on these 19 tracks Rancid radiates terrific energy, channeling ska and punk in equal portions and sweetening the mix with a sly humor, deadpan lead vocals set over solid backup harmonies, and a knack for saying all that needs to be said in just a couple of choruses. Whether professing to be “disconnected from the country I love,” grumbling that “the whole world’s gone to hell,” snarling a Sly Stone scat hook, or insisting on not being worried “about a goddamn thing,” they pump their grumpy gospel emphatically over Branden Steineckert’s relentless, restless, and carefully nuanced drumming. He pummels backbeats on verses, alters his patterns over choruses, pares it down when the guitars get busy, maybe lurches the tempo just a bit, keeps his fills spare but drops them in exactly the right places. Hey, it’s a party, not high art — remembering that is just one reason why Steineckert brings it home.