Bassist Jon Leon formed Los Angeles’ White Wizzard in the summer of 2007 with a simple goal in mind — to bring the songwriting, melody, and good times back into metal and rock. Great news: it worked. Drawing heavily from the late ’70s/early ’80s sound of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, the band released its self-titled seven-song EP in 2008. Following a mutiny in the ranks, in which all the other bandmembers left to form a new group called Holy Grail, Leon reformed the band in 2009 with a new line-up featuring drummer Jesse Applehans of Upsilon Acrux. When Applehans jumped ship before the release of White Wizzard’s debut full-length album, Over The Top, Italian drummer Giovanni Durst took over pounding duties. With a screaming demon on vocals, a tight two-guitar attack that can shred and play with feel, thunderous melodic bass and drums, White Wizzard is poised to take up the torch of the great metal bands of the past and look to the future with a dominating spirit and memorable melodic hooks and songwriting.
What is your favorite drum part on the new album?
I really enjoy playing the song “Out Of Control.” It’s fast and in your face. There are some cool drum fills and sections of the song that I have a lot of fun playing live. There’s the drum solo during each verse with Wyatt singing on top of it. It’s a great drum/singer musical interaction. Plus a couple of drum fills playing some cool fast double bass linear phrases, which I personally love! And on top of it people always go nuts when we play it — can’t get better then that!
You joined the band after Over The Top had been recorded, so do you play the drum parts onstage exactly as they are on the album?
I do. I believe that people expect to hear live what they hear on the record. That doesn’t apply for jazz though. I personally hate when bands do that live. If you worked hard to record a good album, then you should always stick to the plan. But of course, at the same time, I also wanted to give it a little touch of my style during live performances — just to put the Giovanni Durst signature on it too. Anyway all the main grooves and drum fills are still there, now and then I just embellish things.
Do you wish you could have recorded with the band?
I did actually play drums on the two bonus tracks, “Gates Of Gehenna” and “Heading Out To The Highway,” which you can find in the double CD of Over The Top. It didn’t take too long to lay down those two tracks. Actually both of them are just one single take, and we did something like three takes of each song, just to be sure.
How prepared were you for the White Wizzard audition?
I was uber prepared. I was even dreaming the drum parts when I was sleeping. Yeah, heavy metal, while feeling under pressure, sometimes can play weird tricks on you.
Do you play to a click or samples on stage?
Live we play with no click and no samples at all. All you hear on the record, you get it live. That’s the beauty of it. And the bigger the crowd, the faster I play, so I have to run around the block a couple of times just to kick down the adrenaline … just kidding.
Describe the worst gig you've ever played.
When we played Hammerfest in March in Wales. We basically flew in and played the very same day after an 11-hour flight and 9 hours jet leg. I also got food poisoned and played the show with a constant feel of having to puke my guts out anytime soon — awesome! So Spinal Tap. I also exploded after we finished our set.
Do you wear earplugs?
I do wear earplugs every time I play drums. I have custom fit earplugs. I really care about not getting deaf when I’m still young. When I get older, I don’t care — even better! I won’t have to listen to my future wife bitching about things. Anyway, my next expense will be buying a good set of in-ear monitors. Especially now that I play with no click, it’s vital to me to clearly hear everything.
Do you warm up before going on stage?
Always. Every drummer should do it before a show. Stretch arms and legs and warm up for about an hour. Get your hands and feet moving a little before hitting it hard.
Do you do your own tuning?
Yes I do. It’s not one of the things that I enjoy doing a lot but I really care about how my drums sound. For my rack toms, I tune the bottom head lower than the top head. This gives my drums a deeper tone and a slight fall-off or dip in the decay. I mute both my 14" and 16" floor toms a little bit. I like them to sound a bit more muffled than the rack toms. My bass drum is extra muted. I like to have more attack and less resonance. I put a big blanket [in it] in order to create more punch.
How often do you change heads?
Usually after every tour if there are no major dents or scratches. I always change drumheads for a recording session.
What techniques have you learned by listening to or watching other drummers?
I learned a lot of what I know now by watching and listening to my main influence — and actually the reason why I started playing drums — Dave Lombardo. That guy is the man! What I learned from him is the ability to play metal with groove. He is to me the only real metal drummer with an insane power, stamina, control, and groove with a capital G. Most of the people know him for playing drums with Slayer. But if you listen to the other projects he played in, like Fantomas and Grip Inc., you really understand what he’s capable of.
Do you feel perfect time is mandatory in creating a groove?
To me perfect time is always relative to what style you play. You can feel a little sloppy, but at the same time play an insanely groovy shuffle. In the case of rock and metal in general, then you must be spot on! Time is more a personal feel that you have and grow little by little with your experience behind the instrument. And by practicing with a damn metronome! Practicing with a metronome is really important for building a strong inner pulse and sense of rhythm.
Do you practice when you're off the road?
I do practice every day at least a couple of hours. You never stop learning and improving yourself on your instrument.