The flicker of a Cheech And Chong film on a flat-screen TV lights the inside of the tour bus parked on 11th Street in San Francisco. Empty bags of Doritos, crushed beer cans, and a half-eaten tray of veggies with ranch dressing beg to be thrown out. It’s an hour before sound check and just another day on tour for Davison, Michigan band, Chiodos.
Promoting their new album, Bone Palace Ballet, a riff on Charles Bukowski’s book of poems by the same name, the band played 35 shows in 23 states and two countries in less than a month and a half – a schedule that would annihilate most bands. But all the traveling seems second nature to Derrick Frost, Chiodos’ 22-year-old drummer from ... well, everywhere. As the son of a military man, Frost skipped around Navy bases in Montana, Texas, Asia, and Europe. And at 15, he took his first drum lesson in Japan, where his teacher warned him, “If you want to get chicks, being a drummer isn’t the way.” Somewhere in Tokyo, a drum instructor is eating his words.
Moving back to the States, Frost played in his Texas high school’s marching band and had a few stints with ska, pop-punk, and punk rock bands – one of which, he says, wanted a drummer who could play double bass. “So I learned how,” he says with a nonchalant shrug that only a 22-year-old pro could pull off. Ultimately, Frost found himself on AOL Instant Messenger answering a call for drummers for a band called The Chiodos Bros (the name is a shout out to sibling filmmakers Stephen, Edward, and Charles Chiodo). “I told them I wanted to try out,” he says. “Next thing I knew I bought a Greyhound ticket up to Michigan and never came back.”
That was four years ago. Since then, behind a sleek but modest Mapex kit, Frost has helped Chiodos earn a word-of-mouth following nationwide. Climbing the indie ladder from VFW rockers to Warped Tour ragers, the band is no longer getting kicked out of Flint, Michigan churches for causing a ruckus. And of course, Bone Palace Ballet, released in September, debuted at #5 on the Billboard top 200.
“I was at home visiting my mom,” Frost says on hearing how big the band had gotten. “I was giving a friend a ride to What A Burger because he was hungry, and he says, ‘Oh man, I can’t believe you guys are going to be Top 10.’ I had no idea. I don’t check out the Billboard charts, so it was a big surprise. But it’s pretty cool to see your band in the back of Rolling Stone.”
The band has been called emo-core, post-punk, post-hardcore, and a slew of other near-miss terms about which Frost couldn’t care less. “We want to be genre-less,” he says. “If someone puts a name on us, they’re going to start asking, ‘Why don’t you play this?’ or ‘Why did you do it like that?’” But for the sake of comparison, Chiodos sounds a little like Saves The Day on HGH, with a shot of Rush (complements of a good Peart impression by Frost and lead singer Craig Owens’ Geddy Lee-like vocals) and a bordello at midnight – hey, it’s a lot of high-pitched screaming.
Built on Owens’ onstage antics, the band leaves little in the way of experimentation for Frost, but that seems okay by him – he says some of his favorite drummers are those who “don’t try to stand out.” Odd, coming from a guy who’s influenced by John Bonham – perhaps the least understated drummer, both on and off stage, of all time. But Frost’s influences seem to translate to his own style with Chiodos – after all, his biggest fill on Bone Palace Ballet is a mere eight beats of triplets on the album’s last song, “The Undertaker’s Thirst For Revenge Is Unquenchable.” “It’s my solo,” he jokes.
Even on stage, Frost is physically hidden behind his long hair, scruffy beard, drums, cymbals, and the rest of the six-piece band. Though as hidden from the audience as he is, Frost doesn’t miss a beat, to use a cheap cliché. He keeps better time than quartz crystal and his use of double bass sounds like a popcorn machine, which can be frighteningly complementary to bassist Matt Goddard’s lines. It should be noted, however, with regard to quartz crystal, that Frost has become a big fan of every session drummer’s best friend, the click track. “I love it,” he says. “I like having it there, keeping time and making sure I’m not rushing. It’s weird now when I don’t use it.”
His affinity for the timepiece clicked during Chiodos’ two months in Lexington, Kentucky recording Bone Palace Ballet. With only five songs on paper before heading to Lexington, the album was written predominantly in the studio, each song taking several forms before the final cut. Frost says they would often lay down tracks only to go back and rewrite certain parts, then rerecord them the next day – a method he says was stressful but led to the sound they wanted.
“It’s great because you can get new ideas and put stuff together that you wouldn’t do with pre written parts. It wasn’t just ‘go in, sit down, knock out your parts, and you’re done.’ We were writing vocals while we were recording,” Frost says. “I wish we had more time in the studio.” Even more than the writing process, though, Frost says each bandmember’s instrumental execution is what made the album a Top 5 piece of work. “Everyone went in and did great performances,” he says. “I think that’s more important.”
Frost has accomplished more than most 22-year-old drummers. Scratch that, more than most people – a Top 5 album, busloads of fans, a tour schedule that would put Avril Levigne in the emergency room – the guy’s done a lot. Asked, though, what the best thing to happen to him as a drummer has been, Frost says he loves seeing his name in lights. “Having an ad for Mapex drums – I’m in this magazine in Barnes & Noble and it’s just me. I think that’s pretty cool.”