Interview with Ray Luzier
Interview with Ray Luzier
Ray Luzier doesn’t need much introduction; as the drummer for legendary metal band Korn since 2007 Ray is a firm favourite with drummers and music fans alike. I caught up with him at Musikmesse in Germany to talk about the new Korn album, his European clinic tour, what he practises in his studio and the truth about Korn’s after-show antics…
Who were your early influences?
I grew up on a very large farm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 118 acres in the middle of nowhere. No one in my family was in music so it was kind of strange for me to be so attracted to drums at an early age. I started piano when I was four and my mother has pictures of me playing in church with two fingers. We always had music playing my house. They always had The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Elvis… my parents were rockers back in the day. My sister was five years older than me and I would always steal her records and tape them on cassette, then when she wasn’t at home I’d listen to them cos I couldn’t afford them.
I’d see who was on the cover of magazines. No one told me, ‘You should listen to Deep Purple or Zeppelin’. I saw Kiss on the cover of a magazine so thought they must be the best band in the world and I’d buy a Kiss record. Kiss became a very huge influence on me very quickly because they were so weird looking and when you’re a kid you’d dress up like them for every Halloween.
In the seventies there were a lot of great bands so I just tapped along to everything. I saw my uncle playing bass drum in a marching band and he gave me a snare drum and it was on for me. My parents saw how serious I was and they bought me a cheap kit that I destroyed in weeks. For my sixth birthday they got me a CB 700 that made tones and was real. I played along with records and never got lessons until I was in Junior High. I just knew that ‘Back in Black’ was much easier to play than ‘Tom Sawyer’ by Rush. I didn’t know what odd time was; it’s kind of cool not knowing all that stuff.
Did you have a plan?
I knew I wanted to make a living playing drums for the rest of my life; I didn’t get into the whole rock star thing. It’s great being in famous bands and living nicer rather than being a starving musician, but I’ve done it all; it was a big, giant rollercoaster. When I was in my early teens I knew I would be doing this even if I was broke. I never, ever stopped; the fire I had never died down. A lot of people get discouraged but even when I barely had two pennies to rub together… when you’re that driven it doesn’t matter, you’ll do whatever.
I knew in Pennsylvania I couldn’t make a living there. All my friends were playing in cover bands and I couldn’t go any further; it was either New York or LA. Right after high school my guitar player talked me into going to a music school and that was a big eye opener, going to MI in Hollywood. I thought I was bad ass and then I got there and got my ass kicked! My timing sucked, I didn’t know any latin or jazz. I just played by ear. The staff at that time was Ralph Humphrey, Joe Porcaro, Richie Garcia…it was all massive staff. I was very naïve coming from the farm to the big city because I never even went to Pittsburgh much, only to see concerts.
I always told my parents, ‘If I’m making a living playing, I’m going to stay in LA.’ It’s been almost 25 years, so I’m sorry mum!
And then you returned to MI as an instructor. What was it like to be on the other side?
I was always complaining because at the time there was no rock . I was like, ‘What about people like me?’. There was me and a Swedish guy in the double bass labs rocking out. Everyone thought cos I was a teacher there I must have got straight A’s and I must have mastered all the tests but I barely passed. I didn’t give a sh*t about a piece of paper that said my score; how do you score people on music? You either feel it or you don’t. I was always complaining to Ralph or Joe, the head of department at the time, that they needed rock.
A couple of years later I got signed to a small independent label called Shrapnel Records and it was kind of a Guitar Hero record. I did a couple of records for them and Ralph had heard it; he called me out of nowhere and said, ‘We’re getting a lot of complaints like when you were here. Could you write a rock curriculum?’. I was like, ‘I’m 22 years old!’ and he said, ‘But there are a lot of young people like you that want to rock’.
I’m not a good reader by any means; I taught there for ten years and I’m still not into reading but I wrote him something and he gave me two hours a week teaching. Then it went to open counselling class but a lot of people would show up and go, ‘Where’s the teacher?’. It was quite intimidating because you had 18 year olds straight out of high school to 45 year olds that had raised their family and wanted to go back to school. They try to test you…I would have charts thrown in front of me. And again, you have to bring it; you can’t show any fear! That led to five hours, then ten hours and the next thing you know, I’m there for thirty hours a week teaching all kinds of stuff.
You’re certainly one for doing your homework; apparently you learnt 35 songs for your Korn audition! Have you always been that way?
I was auditioning for a lot of bands around the time I was at MI and I wanted something national. I was a huge Ozzy fan and I found out Jake E Lee was holding auditions. He was one of my favourite guitar players and I was number 50 in line, the same drum set, everyone plays the same three songs. When you’re in a situation like that it’s smart to bring a different element to it because it gets quite boring for them, playing the same thing all day long. I always do more homework than needed. I learnt all the Badlands records that Jake played on, every Ozzy song that he played on. I did my research.
I went in and said, ‘Jake, I love Badlands. Can we do ‘Soul Stealer’?’. And he said, ‘Let’s just play the songs you learned’ and I’m like, ‘Man, I love that song’. The bass player’s like, ‘Does it go like this?’ and Jake says, ‘Let’s just do the songs’ and next thing I know they’re figuring out Soul Stealer and all of a sudden everyone is concentrating on it. The manager walks in and goes, ‘What are you doing?’ and it’s nothing off the list that everyone else had learned.
Sometimes that works, when you do your research because it makes you a little different. Sometimes you can’t; a talent scout might call and say that there’s a new artist who just got a record deal. There might be three songs, she’s unknown so that’s all you can learn but if they’re a known artist do your homework because you never know what you could get tested on.
With the Army of Anyone audition I learnt the six songs from off their demo and we ended up playing almost the whole Zeppelin ‘Physical Graffiti’ record cos I knew they were Zeppelin freaks. I went to the bathroom, came back and they said, ‘You’ve got the gig’. I said ‘Can we play the songs?!’.
What advice do you give to people trying to find auditions in LA?
It’s hard to find auditions in LA. People ask me all the time how to get a break and I don’t know! I’m still in your shoes. Just because I’m in big bands I’d like to think that I’ll keep working and get gigs but the truth is, you never know. I could go back to teaching someday and that’s fine because I’ll be happy if I’m working with music.
The hardest thing is how someone is supposed to find those auditions so I feel for these people, I really do. I have virtuoso guitar player buddies working at Starbucks and they’re amazing! It breaks my heart so I’m always trying to put bands together in LA and get people gigs.
You never know where your next gig will come from…
This little kid came up to me with big thick glasses when I was teaching at MI. There was something a bit eccentric about him; he wasn’t mentally challenged but he was a little different. He was a guitar player sitting in on my drum classes. He said to me, ‘You’re going to play on my record! I know Steve Vai!’ and I was like, ‘Ok. Yeah sure, I’m going to play on your record…’. He would name drop all these people and he got so annoying. I said, ‘Why do you come to these classes cos you’re starting to annoy the drummers’ and he said, ‘But I learn so much for my guitar playing’.
One day he said, ‘I’ve got the studio booked and Gregg Bissonette is playing on it too’. I was like, ‘Yeah sure, kid’. I was a huge Bissonette fan cos he was in David Lee Roth’s band and I love his playing. This kid was saying, ‘We’re going to be recording it at Steve Vai’s house’ and he gives me the address for Hollywood Hills and I’m like, ‘Well that’s where Steve Vai lives….’.
Lo and behold I do three songs and Bissonette had just finished and I was like, ‘Wow, this kid wasn’t full of sh*t after all!’. So that was just a session and I always ask if I can just have a copy of my work. A few weeks later the kid calls me and says, ‘Ray! Guess what? Steve Vai loves it and David Lee Roth called him and said he wants him back. But Steve can’t play with Dave and so Steve loves my playing and suggested me to David Lee Roth.
Then he said, ‘The better news is that he played Dave the three tunes that you’re on and Dave really likes your playing’. And I thought, ‘If you’re messing with me I’m going to kick your ass’ cos this was serious; I’m a huge Van Halen fan. Next thing you know Dave calls me cos he wants to re-track the songs and put vocals on them.
Now I’m in the studio with David Lee Roth because of this annoying, bifocal wearing kid and Dave was saying, ‘Hey I’m a fan!’. It was so bizarre. I did the session, left, said thanks for the opportunity and a week later the manager called me and said I had got the gig. I was like, ‘What gig?’ and he said that was my audition. ‘For what?’ and he said, ‘We’ve got a big tour coming up!’. I think if I would have known I probably would have blown it because I would have been too nervous but I was so relaxed because I was doing a session.
That was eight years of my adult career. I always tell people, ‘Be cool. If you have the slightest attitude in this business, go do something else’. Everyone says there are a lot of rock stars that are pricks and that’s true; there are. But they’re lucky to be where they are if they treat people badly. You never know when you’re going to see people again or what situation you’ll be in.
How was it for you when you joined Korn and stepped into take over from another drummer?
It was intense, especially with someone as powerful as Korn. This morning there was a girl, a die hard fan, who had Jonathan’s face tattooed from her shoulder to her elbow and my signature is tattooed on her arm. There are a lot of die hard fans out there. I’m up to 27 pictures of my name on peoples’ arms and I’m just a farm boy from Pennsylvania!
When a band like that sells 38 million records and it changes so many musicians…it’s scary what they’ve done. People will come up to Jonathan (Davis) and say, ‘You saved my life. I was thinking about suicide but Korn got me through it’. It’s more powerful than people think and to be honest I was a big Korn fan but I wasn’t like, ‘I have to play for Korn some day’. It was too big for me and no one could ever touch them because they’re such unique musicians. Nobody on the planet plays like them, the way they attack and the feel they have… To be that identifiable is huge and no one sings like Jon Davis.
Dave Silveria is quite a different drummer. The original five are what made Korn and I always respect that but we’re totally different drummers. It doesn’t matter how technically good you are; you get the gig on whether you understand what’s going on or not.
There were no rehearsals after my audition for Korn so for two months I was calling the manager and he was saying it was fine but I didn’t know what songs to learn or anything! We rehearsed one time. We flew to Dublin, I learnt the set list and we ran the set the day before at the venue and jumped in to the fire. I was nervous as sh*t!
Let’s talk a bit about being a dad. Has it changed your outlook on music and band life?
Absolutely. Everyone says that when you have kids it changes your life. It’s ten times more than what anyone ever says! I’m not a selfish, conceited guy but when a kid comes along it’s really not about you at all. He took over the house; I’m just the dude that pays the bills.
I’d just become an official member of Korn and had started doing press. I showed up and there’s a football guy, Warren Moon, a legendary football player. They said a model, Aspen Lee, was going to interview me. I was like, ‘Great. A model and a football guy’. I saw the model, who is my girlfriend now, and I said to the publicist, ‘If I don’t marry her or have a child with her I’m done. I’m tired of dating; I’ll be single and I’ll be happy’. I was so over the whole scene. She had a boyfriend at the time and I was a gentleman. I said ‘Here’s my number and if you are ever in LA…’.
Three months later and I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I got a text ‘I’m in Austin, the same place that we met. I broke up with my boyfriend’ and that was it. We started dating and she lived in Florida as a full time model, seven days a week. It got quite annoying flying backwards and forth and flying her out. Five months into the relationship she told me she was pregnant so obviously I wanted to live with her and take care of her. We moved her out from Miami and when he was born it was the best thing that ever happened. Everyone always says that but it truly is. If you’re not in the situation you can’t really know it.
How do you find it when you are away?
It’s rough now. It’s hitting me more than a year or two ago. Last year was the worst travel that Korn has ever done cos we were on the road so much. Cos our family is on the East coast we’d been babysitter hiring and working out who to trust. Aspen’s mother moved out to us, which helped cos Aspen was frustrated as she wasn’t modelling as much.
Right now he is just starting to say ‘Dad’ and it breaks my heart. This tour when we come back here in June is going to be a rough one. We live on Skype. Korn has seen their party days! But now everyone is clean, they drink wine. People say, ‘What happens after the show back stage?’ and it is so boring! We all go to our separate rooms and we dry off. Sometimes when I’m drying off I’m making the Skype call and changing with my family on the other end of the line. So family is what it’s all about.
Korn told me that at one time their gig was an interruption of the party but now it’s all about music. Jon wakes up every day and is in the studio on the bus all the time. He’ll be up until the sun comes up and it is awesome to be around that energy. I don’t think it could have been this band ten years ago cos I’ve never done that whole party thing; it wasn’t me.
I think maybe it’s different if you’re the drummer cos you have so much riding on you?
But I have a lot of drummer friends who like to party and I don’t get it at all. I’ve seen what it does to people, the decline of your health, your gigs….
Do you have any ways of staying healthy?
Is that your secret?!
I’m bad! I don’t really work out, I just play a lot and that’s very physical for me.
What is always in your suitcase when you tour?
Clean underwear. I travel pretty light but I hate dirty laundry; it drives me mental. This is my third shirt today. I had one on this morning, I changed it before I played, I sweated so I changed it again. I love clean clothes so I’m always the first one turning my laundry into the hotel or finding a laundromat.
What do you work on personally, in your own time?
I have so much practising to do. That’s the beauty of what we do as musicians. I always tell people, ‘If you come to that point where you reach a level where you think you’re good and you don’t need to practise anymore you should probably go do something else’. I have lightyears of sh*t to work on; I get p*ssed with myself because I have a studio at my house now and I’ll go in there and play something and I feel like there are some things I just suck at.
It makes you realise, ‘I might be OK at what I’m doing live or with this record’ but I try to do stuff that challenges me like Latin grooves and jazz stuff. Completely the opposite of what Korn sounds like.
What are you annoyed at yourself for at the moment?!
I had a decent samba and songo a few years ago and I just started playing it again but it’s not like riding a bike; you really need to keep playing it. It needs to be in you and I don’t listen to enough of it.
I just saw Richie Garcia play; he was my teacher back in the day and I’ve ordered congas from LP and I got a couple of djembes. I’m really trying to get into percussion and I love it. Screw jazz; I tried so much and I can’t even fake it! Who am I fooling!
Tell me a bit about the European clinics that you have lined up
I’m excited! I wanted to come here for about three weeks but we’re just finishing the new Korn record; I just tracked 20 songs at NRG studios in LA. It’s so new and different; it’s not dubstep like the last record. This one is totally back to the roots but modern and there’s still DJ elements. I’m stoked about it!
We’ve been so busy with that that I was afraid to come here for too long so we only booked a handful and I finally get to play Musikmesse; I’m happy to be here for that. I have a handful here; three in Zurich, one in Brussels, the ones today… I have to go home then cos on the 27th I’m playing in my hometown of Pittsburgh! I fly back to LA and do one at MI where I used to teach.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m really proud of the way that KXM’s record has just come out. It’s George Lynch, Doug Pinnick from King’s X and myself. We wrote a song a day and tracked the drums at the end of the day just fresh. We all had to be there in a room writing together. Sometimes when you get cool musicians together like George and Doug it seems like a good idea and it’s not but this turned out better than we thought. Doug is one of my favourite singers of all time; the soul he has gives me chills. I’ve just started listening to the basic mixes and I can’t wait to show people here.
The new Korn record is going to be out in August; I’m stoked on that. Me and Bill Sheehan are doing a side thing, a drum and bass record; it’s crazy and whacky stuff. He is so insane!
And finally, how do you deal with jet lag with all the travelling you do?
I’m spinning right now. People try to take sleeping pills on planes and stuff but I don’t. I slept two hours on the way here. I don’t fight it any more, I just sleep when I feel I need to but on days like this with my schedule I can’t take a nap. On the road if I’m tired at two in the afternoon I just sleep for three hours and I don’t care because I’m not a kid anymore. Do you fly long distance much? Do you suffer from it?
I‘ve flown to Japan and was jet lagged the whole time I was there, then I was fine when I got home!
Yep, that’s so weird. I go to Japan a lot cos I do a lot of clinics over there and that’s one of the biggest killers cos no one looks or talks like you. It’s so confusing.
It was like being in a dream for the whole trip!
Interview by Gemma Hill
Many thanks to Sébastien Paquet for the photos
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