Sounding as sunny and pleasant as the warm spring day outside his doors, Dave Lombardo is talking about taking a jackhammer to the head.
“I wanted to be a part of something that was just relentless,” explains one of metal’s signature drummers, talking up his latest project, metallic punk battering ram Dead Cross, whose music Lombardo likens to the experience of getting one’s skull bludgeoned by a power tool.
The band began in an explosive flash, like a bomb going off. Last fall, Lombardo had a tour and studio time booked for his previous band, hard-edged alt-rockers Philm, when that group went kaput. Instead of canceling the shows and recording sessions, producer Ross Robinson suggested that Lombardo instead jam with some like-minded ragers: bassist Justin Pearson and drummer Gabe Serbian from grindcore subverts The Locust, as well as guitarist Michael Crain from Locust-affiliated punk group Retox. With Serbian switching to vocals, Dead Cross was born.
The band already has an album in the can and is currently shopping for the right label to put it out. They’ve released one song from the album so far, “We’ll Sleep When They’re Dead,” a two-minute riot of strangulated guitars, shit-fit vocals and some of the most unhinged, go-for-broke playing that Lombardo’s laid down in years.
With Dead Cross set to open for Napalm Death and The Melvins on Monday at the Troubadour, we spoke with Lombardo about how the former Slayer drummer is bringing his punk-rock past into the present.
You’ve long been known for your fiery playing, but on “We’ll Sleep When They’re Dead,” it sounds like you guzzled a gallon drum of Red Bull before tracking that one.
Well, you definitely have the energy drink correct. It’s amazing how different musicians can bring out a certain style, a certain feel or a certain groove when you collaborate with them. These musicians inspire me to play this way. I’m a big fan of their projects, The Locust and Retox — I really like that style of music, so to work with them, it was a no-brainer. It was a perfect combination.
Since the band came together so spontaneously, and the music was created on the spot in the studio, did you have much of an idea at the time what musical direction Dead Cross would ultimately take?
You knew it was going to be brutal, and that’s what I wanted. That was my initial goal, to create something heavy, fast and powerful. With these guys, it was easy.
In the studio, the test was to remember the parts that you were writing. That was the big challenge, because everything was happening so quickly, that we made sure to have tape rolling all the time, because we’d create something and if it wasn’t recorded, it was lost. Then I had to go back and relearn what I had done, because we have this natural ability to improvise. We’ve created something new and fresh that doesn’t sound like your typical thrash metal or typical punk. This just takes it to another level.
Between Dead Cross and your recent touring with Suicidal Tendencies, it seems you’ve been excavating your punk roots of late.
I crave it, on occasion. I love playing mellow music — a little bit of jazz, blues — but the ultimate music for me, that satisfies my passion, is punk. That’s where I feel the most comfortable. That’s what I’ve known all my life. Obviously, the bands that I’ve played in, they’ve all had that musical thread, and that’s music that’s aggressive.
What was your entrée into the L.A. punk scene back in the day?
I remember The Exploited played this club in Huntington Park on Pacific Boulevard. This had to have been ’78 or ’79. There was a riot; a bunch of punk rockers were out in the street and whatnot. And it intrigued me. Then as time went on, [Jeff] Hanneman, from Slayer, brought these punk albums to the studio — this was before Slayer had an original song, we were doing covers — and it influenced me immediately. I gravitated toward that style because of the aggression and how the drums were played, how fast they were. It’s a style I’ve always liked. It moves me.
Your singer, Gabe, is a drummer himself. I’d imagine you two have a unique rapport that a drummer and straight-up singer might not always have.
It works really well, because the guitar players can’t argue with me about any rhythm or pattern issues, because I have Gabe sitting right there as a vocalist [saying], ‘No, Dave’s right.’ ‘Yes!’ [Laughs] But what’s really cool about him being a vocalist and a drummer is that he understands syncopation, he understands rhythm very well, taking syllables and words and applying them to the patterns and the rhythms that we’re working under. I feel that he takes it to a level where, if you weren’t a drummer and just considered yourself a singer, you would have difficulty in this band. I feel that Gabe being a drummer gives it a different edge.
I’m proud of all the projects I do and all the albums, but this one is definitely going to be taking it somewhere else, taking it to a different level. I play aggressively, and people have heard me in different bands playing aggressively, but I hope this sets a new standard in drumming.
Dead Cross play the Troubadour with The Melvins and Napalm Death on Monday, May 9.