(L-R) Adam Alt, Bobby Alt and Frank Zummo of Street Drum Corps.
“Fly me to your house, give me a few hundred bucks and I'll play some buckets for you,” laughs Bobby Alt over the phone. We're discussing whether Street Drum Corps has suffered any fan backlash since he stepped up as lead vocalist in an otherwise traditionally instrumental band and Alt isn't too worried. His business savvy and tireless creativity refuse to allow anyone to pigeonhole the band's potential. Back in 2004 you were more likely to see Street Drum Corps (completed by Adam Alt and Frank Zummo) drumming on overturned buckets on the sidewalks of Venice Beach or Downtown L.A. rather than headlining Late Night with Conan O'Brien. However in just four short years this band of misfit street drummers has become a full-fledged stage production, complete with a post-apocalyptic Blade Runner aesthetic, two albums under its belt and a major label Interscope debut on the way.
L.A. Weekly caught up with Bobby Alt during Street Drum Corps' rehearsal for their Palladium gig this Friday night, opening up for Motley Crue.
L.A. Weekly: So how's rehearsal?
Bobby Alt: Just getting ready for the show. We hired a guitar and bass player and we have three new songs that we just recorded so this will be the first time that we play those.
Let's backtrack. Tell me a little bit about how the hell you hooked up with Motley Crue.
[Laughs] Tommy Lee became a friend of Street Drum Corps in the last few months. We invited him to perform with us two years ago at the Guitar Center Drum-Off. He couldn't make it but he researched us and heard some of our music and he totally got into it. Him and Frank [Zummo] became even better friends and when Street Drum Corps was on tour this summer, we played one of the arenas in Cleveland and Motley Crue was doing Crue Fest the next night in the same arena. So Tommy got us front row tickets, backstage… the show was incredible. Motley Crue are still totally rockin' it. We stayed that night and partied with Tommy in his dressing room after the show. We'll leave that to your imagination.
I've worked with Motley Crue, honey, there's not much left to the imagination. The last time we interviewed you said that one of your objectives was to show that drummers could be frontmen. Considering the direction the band has taken with the addition of you on lead vocals, how does that statement hold up today?
Well, that's still very important to us. We've found a couple really good musicians [on bass and guitar] but the drums, obviously, are the biggest part of this. I'll be playing drums in every song but in the bridges. On the new songs, we made sure that there's enough time for a drum breakdown where we're all playing together because that's still special to Street Drum Corps, when the three of us are all playing. When we go out and do our headlining tour, we'll be taking everything we've done from the first record until now. But [for this Motley show] since we're an opening act, we want to make the best set that we possibly can in the 25 minutes we have.
With the addition of guitar and these more standard band elements, how does that fit in with your traditional choice of using found instruments?
On Frank's drum set he's still using a lot of found instruments — tire rims, garbage cans — he has it all connected. Adam is playing purely all found instruments like grinders; he's still utilizing everything that we started with.
How'd they finally twist your arm to do lead vocals? Or was that your decision?
[Laughs] It was definitely my decision. For 15 years everyone's telling me, “Oh, you should try singing, you have a great voice,” whether it was my friends or people in the industry. Timing is everything. It was a natural progression for me and for the group. We made two albums that were pretty much instrumental. Our influences have grown from making street style hip-hop like on the first record we did with DJ Lethal. On the second record we worked with DJ Lethal and Dan Merlot, which was more industrial dance with a few friends laying down guest vocals. We went from street stuff to industrial to now this record is going to have a lot of tribal elements. We've got tons of drums. The drums are pummeling like thunder in your face.
Conan the Barbarian style?
Yeah, right? [Laughs] There you go. Barbarian drumming. We're really happy with the natural progression of the band and I'm enjoying singing. I don't have to carry as much gear now.
Have you suffered any backlash from Street Drum Corps purists who may be freaking out now that you're singing?
Not yet. We're still keeping our roots with our other groups, like Street Drum Corps presents BANG, which is the show that we built four years ago for the amusement parks and private parties. That's really street drumming. We've got about four or five groups like that now out playing colleges and performing arts centers. We wrote a new show called Street Drum Corps Presents Man or Machine which is utilizing 100 years of technology from microwaves to vacuum cleaners, cash registers, typewriters, blenders, vintage radios… we're making music with all those things. That show goes out to the performing arts centers in September 2009. Street Drum Corps is still Street Drum Corps — we just have different aspects to the level of the art we're creating now.
Have some time to kill? Check out these Street Drum Corps videos:
“Dumpsters & Water Fountains” Street Drum Corps, Directed by Patrick Kendall
“Street Drum Corps live; Get A Life Tour on Synthesis.net“