Gene Hoglan is one of the most in-demand drummers in metal. The virtuoso is currently juggling duties in animated metal greats Dethklok and Bay Area thrashers Testament, along with pinch-hitting gigs when other metal greats are in a bind. His drumming style is a dizzying blend of maximum speed and precision-like technicality, earning him such nicknames as “The Human Drum Machine” and “The Atomic Clock.”
In 1983, Hoglan was a teenage fan of the then-developing L.A. thrash scene. It's hard to imagine a time when Slayer didn't reign supreme. But he remembers those years vividly, he tells us ahead of a tour stop for “The Gene Hoglan Experience” – a combination drum clinic/Q&A/spoken word show – at Whisky A Go-Go tonight.
“It felt insulated,” Hoglan says of the scene's gestation period. “You would go to The Troubadour to see Slayer, and there would be 30 people there. Back then, I thought that Slayer would always be too heavy for the rest of the world. To the rest of the world, heavy metal was Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, and Autograph.”
But Slayer — and the L.A. thrash scene — would soon gain momentum with the band's 1983 debut album Show No Mercy. As a teenage drum tech, Hoglan played an important part during those recordings, assisting drummer Dave Lombardo in cracking the code to what is now one of the cornerstones of metal: the double-bass drum.
“I was at their rehearsal space,” Hoglan says. “Dave said 'I'm just having a bear of a time trying to figure out these double-bass drums! My left foot isn't doing what I need it to do!''
Hoglan had never played double-bass drums before, but decided to give it a shot anyway.
“I had air-drummed so much double-bass that when I got on Dave's kit, I just started flying!” Hoglan says. “Dave asked me 'how long have you been playing double-bass?' I looked at my watch and said 'What time is it? I have been playing for three minutes.'”
Lombardo asked him to be his full-time drum tutor, but Hoglan had musical ambitions of his own. He ended up pursuing those ambitions with the band Dark Angel. From 1985 to 1991, the group went on to lay down their own thrash metal classics. 1986's Darkness Descends, in fact, is looked upon as one of the finest (and most furious) slabs of thrash laid to wax during those days.
By the time Dark Angel broke up in 1992, Hoglan had taken over the majority of the songwriting duties, including lyrics and guitar riffs, as well as being the group's drummer. But their dissolution led Hoglan to embark on a new career phase as a hired gun.
In the 20 years since Dark Angel dissolved, Hoglan has bounced from project to project, working with storied metal acts such as Death, Strapping Young Lad, and Fear Factory. One might wonder why Hoglan gravitates from project-to-project instead of just sticking to one thing. But he admits that there is a method to his madness.
“I stick around where it's fun,” Hoglan says. “The money's always going to be there…I've been fortunate to be a bit of a 'drum whore.' I enjoy playing with the Testament guys and it's a fun gig. Dethklok is another one…it's a real pleasurable project to be a part of. If you see me bailing on something, it means it's probably stopped being fun.”
Hoglan joining the previously animated-only Dethklok was credited as giving the Adult Swim-originated project credibility in metal circles. But he insists that his presence was not needed to add credibility.
“[Dethklok co-creator] Brendon Small was writing great music with or without me,” Hoglan says. “Dethklok's a great band! I would listen to them if someone else was playing for them. I just see myself as someone who can help translate Brendon's ideas to the final product.”
While Hoglan has never had to search for work for too long, he has had his battles, including with his weight. For many years, Hoglan weighed well over the 300-pound mark. He was diagnosed with diabetes years ago, but it did not make him change his lifestyle.
“Food was my drug,” says Hoglan. “I didn't do coke, crystal meth, or anything like that. There were lean times, but the one thing I was always able to do was eat.”
The big change in Hoglan's habits occurred three years ago, when a doctor told him that if he didn't change his lifestyle immediately, he would have to start injecting himself with insulin. Hoglan credits his fiancé for giving him the kick in the ass to turn his life around.
“My lady told me 'Fuck that, I'm going to put you on a regimen to not only lose a ton of weight and reverse your diabetes,'” Hoglan says. “And she did. I am a fortunate man to have my life partner truly be a life partner.”
All told, Hoglan lost 160 pounds.
“It really hits me when I am carrying a large 24-pack of water bottles,” he says, noting that he lost the equivalent of eight of those packs. “I'm struggling to carry two [packs], and I was lugging way more than that around all the time.”
Gene Hoglan will share stories from his career and some of his drumming secrets at the “Gene Hoglan Experience” at the Whisky A Go-Go tonight, October 1st.
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