The Cult will never die. Why should it? Just one year shy of its 30th anniversary, the adventurous British band, cofounded by vocalist Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy, is creating its psychedelic strain of hard rock with more precision and depth than ever.
The drummer gleefully along for the ride on the band’s ninth studio album, Choice Of Weapon, is John Tempesta, whose fierce metal career included the likes of Testament, White Zombie, and Helmet before he joined The Cult’s lineup in 2006. Tracking the drums with coproducer Chris Goss for Weapon at Hollywood’s Ocean Way Recording (where top producer/long-time Cult collaborator Bob Rock also finished vocals, guitars, and overdubs), Tempesta recognizes the album as a milestone in his own artistic development.
Drums Tama Starclassic (chrome wrap w/ matte black shell interiors)
1 24" x 17" Bass Drum
2 14" x 7" Tama John Tempesta Signature Snare Drum
3 10" x 9" Tom (mounted on crash stand)
4 13" x 10.5"
5 14" x 11" Tom
6 16" x 15" Floor Tom
7 18" x 16" Floor Tom
A 15" Prototype Mastersound Hi-Hat
B 18" Prototype Crash
C 19" Prototype Crash
D 21" A Custom 20th Anniversary Ride
E 20" Oriental China (or 19" Z3 China)
F 20" Prototype Crash
G 20" A Custom EFX Crash
John Tempesta also uses Tama hardware and Tama Speed Cobra pedals and hi-hat stand, Remo heads (Emperor X, snare; Emperor Clear, tom batters; Ambassador Clear, resos; and Powerstroke 3, bass batter) Vic Firth Gregg Bissonette 5B “Backbeat” and Gregg Bissonette 2B sticks, Roland electronics, Porter & Davies drum throne monitor, Meinl percussion, JH Audio in-ears, and Shure microphones.
“I feel like I’m a mature drummer from playing for so long, and from being with The Cult for six years,” he says. “I’m confident enough now that I just put my own style to it. It’s not about me playing amazing fills: It’s about playing with the vocals and guitar melody, which makes a great song!”
Every track on Weapon — bar none — hears Tempesta playing in top form, but a choice example is his work on “For The Animals,” a trippy crusher from the start. After three seconds of a buzzing solo bass line, Tempesta kicks in with a raw rock jolter of a beat. “That’s just balls to the floor: kick, floor, snare, straight up,” says Tempesta. “It’s a basic rock beat, just driving along with the bass. Simple beats like that can be powerful — anything that has room in it with some air, without doing a million beats, is going to be pronounced better. When you have a song like that with great-sounding bass playing, the guitar and vocals kicking in, all done with power, you can hear it and feel it.”
The first verse kicks in at the 0:20 mark, ushered in by a simple single-stroke snare fill going into the purest of driving 4/4 rock rhythms. “It’s a heavy, solid, tight hi-hat beat, almost like a Ramones-type thing — 2 and 4 on the kick drum with open hi-hat,” Tempesta says. “I did try a couple of different types of beats at first, like sixteenth-notes on the kick drum, but it was too overbearing. What we settled on is looser.”
Check in at 0:47, where the song verse shifts into a ’70s Bowiesque (think “Suffragette City”) vibe, and Tempesta focuses the energy accordingly. “That’s when I go to a tighter hi-hat to make it more driving but also a little more subtle,” he says. “When I hear this song, it reminds me of old-school East Village New York — The Bowery, CBGB’s — it has that intensity to it. It’s satisfying because it’s in the pocket. It’s a more simplistic beat, but it’s also about the way you carry that beat due to the song that’s structured around it. Sometimes the simpler stuff is what’s trickier.”
Jump to 1:01 and the crafty drummer starts riding on the crash in the first chorus. “I go back and forth from the hi-hat to the crash (from verse to chorus),” Tempesta says. “I tend to do that on the choruses to open it up, and make it speak a little bit louder. It’s a different, more powerful beat and a different dynamic. Here I’m using a Zildjian K 19" Dark crash cymbal, which really spoke well in the studio. Sometimes cymbals sound abrasive and tinny, but this has a warm feel. The crash can overwhelm the track if you’re not careful, but Mike Frazier mixed it and I think he did a fantastic job.”
The song structure goes back and forth from verse to chorus again. Then a couple of things come up for the drums at 2:21 during the guitar solo, as Tempesta switches to a quarter-note ride pattern, punctuated by a number of those aforementioned straight-sticking snare-roll fills, all pretty much identical.
“Playing quarter-notes works for the solo,” he says. “It’s about making other people shine, and this pattern felt more in the pocket for the lead Billy’s doing. That’s very Phil Rudd-ish [of AC/DC] — talk about a pocket player! He’s a guy who plays for the song, and everything he did complemented the guitars dramatically.
“Those single-stroke rolls are like military-style fills,” he continues. “I felt like they were rolling with the song itself, instead of doing flams, for example. I could do a million different fill variations, but if it works for the song, I’ll play it a hundred times in a row. Don’t mess with a good thing.”
The song ducks down at 2:49, where Tempesta goes to a straight four-on-the-floor kick embellished with tom patterns of increasing intensity. “That’s the breakdown of the song right there. I like how there’s quarter-notes on the kick drum lightly, the toms are really pronounced as I hit them, the snare fill comes back in lightly then louder, and then I go right into a series of tom fills without hitting the crash. That space just opens things up for you, and its more powerful — a smack-you-in-the-face kind of thing.”
After those spacious, tribal pounds, at 3:40 The Cult rocks out harder and harder up to the song’s sudden conclusion. “We’re just blasting right through to the end of the song there,” Tempesta grins. “It’s like, ‘Okay, we’re at the finish line!’ What I like about the song is that it has a lot of dynamics, and the bass and the drums just move with its emotions. The peaks and valleys. I love dynamics, instead of just bashing all the way through a song. But at the end we can really go full out — that’s when you destroy stuff.”
You hear John Tempesta cap it off sharply with one last quadruple tom strike at 4:24 — but don’t give him all the credit for that tasty topper. “To be honest, that was an edit that Bob Rock did,” he says. “Bob did that after I recorded it, but I heard it and liked it. Our original ending was an open cymbal crash, but when I heard the mix, I said, ‘That was cool, maybe I should have done it that way.’ It gave me a different perspective — that’s what great producers do.”