Thomas Pridgen: Everyone's Favorite Weirdo

Thomas Pridgen

You better listen close when talking to Thomas Pridgen. Whether it’s the 30-year-old’s latest band or the subject of drumming in general, the seasoned pro’s mind moves a thousand miles an hour, jumping between subjects, going from one trenchant insight to another. He’s either a complete crackpot or a total genius. As of noon on a Tuesday in early December, Pridgen is making adjustments to a drum set in his Oakland studio where he teaches between tours and sessions. He doesn’t have any students till the afternoon so he was able to kill a few hours speaking to us about the latest installment of Pinnick Gales Pridgen, the blues-rock supergroup consisting of guitarist Eric Gales, King’s X bassist/singer dUG Pinnick, and of course, Thomas on drums.

The trio released its debut last summer, but is already about to drop Part Two. “I got to be a lot more myself on this album,” he says while swapping heads on a 5-piece. “I was just holding back this first time.”

It sounds like boilerplate artist quote until you let it sink in. With its muscular grooves, carpet-bomb crashes, and sudden, explosive fills, PGP is borderline busy. By default, PGP2 is unabashedly drumistic. By “holding back,” the drummer is speaking figuratively as well as literally. Not a week before recording the first album, Gales’ wife committed suicide. The tragedy, combined with the guitarist’s history of substance abuse, was a one-two punch that nearly ended PGP before it started. “That we even got that album recorded was a miracle,” Pridgen says. “That whole time in the studio we were walking on tiptoes around Eric.”

For much of that time, Pridgen and Pinnick just jammed. The guitars, whenever Gales managed to track them, were added later. As for taking the act on the road, the guitarist was in no shape to tour. “It’s scary to have someone like that on the road with you,” Pridgen says. “You want everybody to be happy and for me it was like I was just ... I wanted him to be okay.”

Talking Trash

After leaving The Mars Volta in 2009, Pridgen founded The Memorials, fronted by Viveca Hawkins with guitarist Nick Brewer and Pridgen on drums. The Memorials’ funk-thrash was an unexpected stylistic turn, but also therapeutic: venting, metal-style, about his frustration at the way things ended with the Volta. Pridgen shouldn’t feel bad though. Has any drummer lasted more than 18 months with that band? “I say, ’I need royalties,’ and they say no,” he says. But he’s philosophical about it now: “Some people who you are not even playing solos on their record, they just give you royalties because they are nice. It all depends. I am not a drummer that plans on getting robbed, but I am sure everyone has their stories about it.”

The initial enthusiasm around The Memorials was strong at first, with favorable reviews in this magazine and others. But the project fizzled after Brewer, the guitarist, “went off to find himself,” as Thomas puts it. At that point Pridgen began touring and recording with critically acclaimed 15-string guitarist Thundercat, followed by a gig with hardcore band Trash Talk. “I started talking to them on Twitter and telling them about how all black people care about is how many cars they got and there is no angry black music going on anywhere. They said, ’Well, come listen to us,’” he says referring to the one-half African-American band. “They said, ’Do you want to play?’ I said ’Yeah!’ I didn’t even hear their music. I didn’t care. People say, ’Do you think you can play blastbeats with Trash Talk?’ I don’t know. But I want to prove to myself that I can.”

As it turned out, the Trash Talk episode was less about having a job and more about research into music genres and the corresponding lifestyle. “You can play mediocre music and as long is the singer is screaming people are go- ing to jump. I said, ’Damn – that’s amazing to know.’”

Enlightening as it was, the stint was short lived. Though beneath his abilities, Pridgen gave 110 percent. It was Trash Talk that didn’t take it seriously. “I am telling Thundercat I couldn’t go on tour and I would find out that half the [Trash Talk] tour was being canceled when I was in the van. So to them I was, ’Hear me out: I love you, but I can’t do that.’”

For every time social media has furthered Pridgen’s career, it’s worked against it. Or so he theorizes. “I have people that can watch a bad-ass video of Thomas Pridgen and still hit the ’unlike’ button.”

Then there was Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, the avant-metal experiment featuring members of Dillinger Escape Plan and Mastodon. Apparently the whole thing started as a drunken rant by Mastodon guitarist Brent Hinds. “Me and Brent have been through a lot so he is automatically thinking about me, and about how I would like to be in his band. The next thing you know they said Jon Theodore [another ex-Mars Volta drummer] is going to do it.” A few weeks later Thundercat, with Thomas on drums, was on the same stage as Dillinger and proceeded to totally upstage them. Call it poetic justice. “It was hilarious,” he laughs. “That for me is better then a paycheck half the time.”

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