One of Cool’s fondest memories is from a Green Day tour in Latin America where he attended a drum school for a few days in São Paolo. After the class, he and a bunch of students crammed into the back of a pickup truck and drove all around the city during Carnaval like a big mobile drum circle, hanging in the back drinking beers and playing samba beats.
He’s already been to Cuba twice for master classes and he’s shooting for a third trip when he gets the time. “This guy, José Elario, he teaches Cuban beats that would normally be timbalero and a conguero playing together, but he does the whole thing with his feet and his hands. It took a couple days just to get my head around that. So I went to try and learn that. It definitely rubbed off, but I want to go back there and get better.”
Suddenly, Cool springs to his feet and runs out of the room with no explanation. He reappears with what looks like a school report. Something about Official Underrated Drummers. At the top of the list: The Doors’ John Densmore.
Cool is pacing the room back and forth like a head litigator. “During the ’60s he was the only good American drummer,” he says, daring me to contradict him. “Think about it. Name another one of that era.”
Before waiting for an answer, he’s going down the list: “John JR Robinson – he played on Off The Wall.”
Er, the 8 million—selling album is not exactly obscure.
“But no one knows who he is,” Cool says of the Michael Jackson drummer. “He could walk through Guitar Center and no one would turn their head.”
Now he’s ripping through the names: John Wright (No Means No), Alex Gonzales (Mana – “They’re like a Mexican U2”), Carlton Barrett and Hugh Malcolm (Bob Marley), Irv Kottler (Frank Sinatra), Kenny Jones (Faces, The Who), David Barbarossa (Adam Ant, Bow Wow Wow), Tim Davis (Steve Miller Band), Mark Laff (Generation X) ...
It’s an informed roll call of unpredictable yet believable choices. Until, that is, he arrives at Phil Rudd. How can the AC/DC drummer – one of the most commonly cited influences by drummers in this magazine – be underrated?
“Can you think of a beat better to play on ’Back In Black’? No! That’s why he’s underrated,” he roars. “Then there’s Alex Van Halen: Super under-f__king-rated because [in Van Halen] it’s all about Eddie. I think maybe he just got overshadowed by his genius brother. He just played with pure heart. He was like Keith Moon. He wasn’t afraid to just go out there and kick ass as hard as he could.
He rounds out the list with Zak Starkey (Oasis), “… but only in the studio with Oasis because he will not tour with them. [laughs] And he’s live with The Who,” he adds. “Incredible drummer, maybe a better drummer for The Who than Keith Moon was.”
After grandiose records like American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, with their operatic aspirations and heavy lyrics, the band have returned to a more personal place. “That’s why there are so many songs about love and sex,” Cool says. If ¡Uno! is cotton candy, then ¡Dos! is the unhinged party record. Harder to classify, ¡Tre! is upbeat and pop in that Buzzcocksesque way but with a bittersweet tang. Opening track “Brutal Love” is pure doo-wop nostalgia with backing-vocal harmonies and horn section. The individual records have elements of the other, but retain their own vibe, a quality that sneaks up on you after the second or third listen. “… then ¡Tre! is the closest thing to an American Idiot,” Cool says. “There’s that song ’99 Revolutions,’ which is about the 99—to—1 percent ratio of wealth in the United States.”
More soulful than the galloping style common to punk drumming, Cool’s approach is somewhere between chaotic and dependable – he keeps the song grounded but you never can tell when he might shake the earth, like on “Makeout Party” from ¡Dos! – easily the best song in the trilogy. “Those drums are redonkulous,” he says. “It’s like trying to turn the beat upside down, turning it around, and having fun with it. Just real washy and loose and fast and driving at the same time. It’s nasty.”
The drums reflect ¡Dos!’s hedonistic spirit. “F__k Time” has a vamp-y boom-badda-boom thing on the toms evoking a strip club. But it’s the lopsided churn between ride, kick, and snare in “Makeout Party” that make a hot track smolder. ¡Dos! ends on a somber note with “Amy,” which Armstrong wrote the night he found out that Amy Winehouse had died from an overdose. “So that song is kind of like what can happen if you do party a little too hard.”
One of ¡Dos!’s best tunes, “Stop When The Red Lights Flash,” showcases a finely tuned sense of dynamics. “It starts off with a really long stairwell that crescendos and crescendos and crescendos, and it sounds like it’s going to break through your speaker.
I was hitting hard.”
For all its spontaneous flair, solid playing is the bread and butter of the Green Day drum sound. “I call that mongo drumming,” he says. “I think a good mongo drummer is the guy from Creedence [Doug “Cosmo” Clifford]. He slayed ’em, he just [mimics back beat] hit really hard and really solid. Nothing fancy, but it ruled.
“Or another term is circle drumming,” he continues. “Where you play the pattern and you play the pattern and play it and you play it – and then when you go to the chorus you hit the cymbal. You know, circle kind of drumming. The Cars, stuff like that. Rock and roll has a lot of different flavors.”