When that unknown someone from showbiz lore, the archetypal striver, predicts one day seeing their name in lights, we don’t usually picture punk rock drummers. But that all changed after American Idiot became a musical in fall 2009. The stage adaptation by Tony Award—winning director Michael Mayer features actors playing the roles of Cool, Armstrong, and Dirnt. But instead of being the stars of the show, they jam American Idiot tunes between the dialogue, just like any musical. The actors play characters from the original songs, such as the star-crossed lovers in the epic “Jesus Of Suburbia.”
“Somewhere in the world, whatever day of the week, American Idiot is going to be played somewhere in the world,” he gushes. “It’s like we’re always on tour but not – and I love that.” Just to be clear, the separately released soundtrack to the musical features Cool on drums. “For Broadway purposes, because of unions and all that, it has to be done in a single day so it was just easier for us to record it.”
Auspiciously, American Idiot’s première at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre featured a drummer/actor whose name was “Trey.” “And so I would listen to him, he would give me notes, and that was it,” he explains. “Then he sort of taught the next guy.”
The drum parts became altered as the musical moved to Broadway where it’s currently running. They’ll change again in London, and then once again most likely as it makes its way across the globe, subtly contracting and expanding, like the whispered message in that elementary school game. But Cool takes the long view. “Once I let go of ’It has to be exactly like this’ I learned to just enjoy watching it blossom,” he says. “The records were always the reference. [The stage drummer] listened to the American Idiot record and then he listened to the American Idiot: The Musical record. Any good Broadway drummer with a rock background will be able to do it.”
After working with Butch Vig for Green Day’s last album, 21st Century Breakdown, a process that Cool guiltily admits benefitted the band a lot more than Vig, they have gone back to longtime producer Rob Cavallo. At this point you would think Green Day would not want anybody coming between them and their vision, but as Cool says, the band needed some outside ears. “You might be underestimating what it takes to record a band like Green Day,” he says. “It takes a lot of work. Getting things like guitar and vocals and drums right. That stuff takes time. Musicians don’t want to sit there and do all that and listen for hours on end like we do.”
Before we can ask, there is one word Cool uses to describe the drums throughout the three albums: “Washy,” he says. “It’s power. It’s physical, you know? So we started with that more washy ride setup. And I use a drum-brella, which we built. It’s a little drum thing that goes over …” he wraps his arms like an enclosure. “It just keeps the cymbals from washing through the rim. That way you get a cleaner rim sound. We stole [the idea] from Ocean Way. So there’s little tricks like that.”
If there is one rhythmic thread running through ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tre!, it’s the way the drumming becomes increasingly warm, grainy, and rich.
“Because we had so much material, I changed up the drum style. So when I went to ¡Dos!, I went [from a 22" bass drum] to a Gretsch 24" kick. For the floor toms, 16" x 14" and 16" x16," and used that for half of it and then [for the second floor] I went to 16" x 18". So as the records progress, it gets bigger and bigger, just opens up.”
When this much effort goes into achieving drum sound, the whole idea of sound replacement on a Green Day record is, well, preposterous. “People sample me because I’m the guy who makes the rad acoustic drum sounds,” he says. Without naming names he maintains that a select group of mixers end up with choice samples, and predicts that the new music’s bass drum will soon be heard everywhere. “I know it’s an inside thing. All these guys in the industry trade these files and stuff.”
Cool being cool, he’s okay with that. Matter of fact he encourages it, and not just his own beats but whole Green Day songs. “I like when I hear other people put their spin and creativity on a song that [already] exists. The DJ world is exploding all over the place, you know? Everyone and their mom dee-jays now. Literally, people’s moms dee-jay. Some of them are actually just hipster dorks, but there’s a real art form there. So I just hope that a lot of the really good ones will take some of what we’ve got on this new record and run with it, especially that song “Kill The DJ,” which is just screaming for [a remix],” he says, referring to the tune’s disco beat. “We’ll give them the stems, whatever they want. [chuckles] C’mon, Ludacris – call us up!
Just for the record, cool nailed the disco beat on “Kill The DJ” in the first take. “It’s a Clem Burke kind of thing,” he says. “Mike and I are always doing funky s__t like that at rehearsals.” Which reminds him of a glaring omission on the underrated drummers list. “Actually, [Clem Burke] shouldn’t be on there,” he says after consideration. “He still blows people’s minds every night.”
As for whether “Kill The DJ” is tongue-in-cheek or a DIY punk assault on preprogrammed beats, Cool pleads the fifth. “You’ll have to ask Billy Joe.”