He’s a living legend in heavy metal. The drummer’s drummer and the cornerstone to perhaps the greatest thrash metal band ever. Previous comments aside, Dave Lombardo requires no introduction.
With nearly four decades of liquidating faces under his belt, and with time punched in projects past and present including but not limited to Slayer, Misfits, Suicidal Tendencies, Testament, Dead Cross, Mr. Bungle and Fantômas, Lombardo is damn near peerless behind the kit.
After dabbling once again into the world of film – this time scoring and serving as executive producer on the documentary film Los Últimos Frikis, which chronicles the trials and tribulations of Cuban metal band Zeus – Lombardo only continues to flex as one of heavy metal’s more diverse and endearing figures.
The man himself sat down with Metal Injection for a deep dive into Los Últimos Frikis, his connection to his home country of Cuba and his first ever return to the island, adaptability in this work, his longtime friendship with the iconic Mike Patton and much more!
I’m curious when you formally became acquainted with the idea of doing something with Zeus and becoming involved with this documentary. Were you familiar with them at all? Because I know you left Havana when you were an infant, so it’s not as if you grew up in the Cuban heavy metal community, so to speak.
I heard through the grapevine that there was metal in Cuba.
It surprised me because obviously, you know, a lot of music coming out of America wouldn’t be embraced by a communist country. So I was a bit in shock. But before that I knew that there was a metal scene in Cuba because the grandson of Che Guevara was into Slayer, into Exodus, into Metallica. So I mean, this had to be in the late 80s when I heard about that. And then later it was confirmed that there was metal coming out of Cuba, which I found pretty cool.
It was exciting to see at least that there was some kind of acceptance of other music besides Cuban music or reggaeton, which is what’s really popular there. But yeah, I had some idea that there was metal and I knew of the band Zeus, because I believe in that book where it mentioned that Che Guevara’s grandson was into metal, that he was also a fan of a band called Zeus. I did hear stuff like that.
It’s so interesting. You mentioned reggaeton. I think back to the film and there’s a moment where the band is fearful of playing a gig and following a reggaeton band for fear of the crowd reacting violently. It’s really a classic tale of battling adversity. They’d roll up to gigs where there’s no lighting, no power and no set up. I think it’s one of those things we take for granted. I’m sure you played your share of shitty gigs over the years, especially when you were starting out. But with bands threatened with harm or violence or not having power and these sort of things, I don’t think many of us can really own and embrace that.
No, you can’t. And after watching the film and scoring the film I felt very lucky, obviously to be in America and living in a country where diversity and different styles of music are embraced no matter what country it is and it made me … let’s say I don’t complain about little things. I never really did before, but I think to myself, especially after my recent trip to Cuba, hey man, I got nothing to complain about here.
You know, things are good. At least I’m not in Cuba, you know? And they do have it rough over there. Just people not showing up, there not being a metal scene there anymore. It’s sad because these guys still have that fire, even after all the adversity and all the ups and downs that they’ve gone through. They still have that drive to play metal music.
You somewhat answered something I was going to get to in terms of whether or not you had returned to Cuba. In my research I found an article from 2014 where you mentioned you had never been back, but I did see Suicidal Tendencies played a couple of shows there.
Yes, I did. The first time I went back was with my mom. I took my 85-year-old mom with me and she was able to point out different locations of the city and tell me a little bit of the family history. And I got us an airbnb just blocks from one of my dad’s meat markets and the apartment that they lived in at the time. So it was really awesome to hear my mom telling you these stories and just getting myself acquainted with a country and a culture that really was kind of a mystery for me because I was living in a Cuban home.
But then when I stepped outside I was in America. And so the family rules and whatever, you know, it all took place inside this house. But when I went outside, it was another world. So It was really interesting going back. And I’m happy I did. I’m happy I took my mom back. And several months later Suicidal Tendencies worked out a show in Havana and Holguin, which was a treat in itself to play in my country. So that’s definitely off the bucket list. But I hope it’s not the last time.
It’s an interesting thing, too, because it’s not even like we can talk about growing up in a Cuban metal scene on your end since you left when you were what? One and a half, two years old? Your siblings were gone for four and a half years in the United States. This was a period of a lot of strife in the country, a lot of ebbs and flows at this period when your family made the move to the U.S. It was a very tumultuous time in Cuban history.
Yes it was. My mom and dad had placed my two older brothers, who I believe were 12 and 15 or 13 and 15 and put them in this program called the Peter Pan (Operation Peter Pan) flight, and which like 14,000 children were flown out of the country because of fear of being recruited by the communist government. So my mom and dad, they didn’t want my older brothers to be a part of this regime. And they signed them up, and sure enough sent them to America to a foster family in Long Beach, California.
Thinking at the time, my mom and dad, OK well we’re going to send you, in six months we’re right behind you. All you need to do is spend six months with the people at this house, and then we’ll be there. Well, history, there’s a turn for the worse. There’s the Cuban crisis and the wall goes up and all flights, everything is banned from Cuba. And it took my mom and dad five years to see my brothers. And within that time, I was conceived and birthed and spent two years of my life there until I was able to see my brothers.
I think back to Zeus and everything they had to overcome just to perform and make music. So many bands grind and play these shitty club shows and you might get scammed by a promoter, but you never really fear for your life. You don’t really have the threat of government interference, telling you what you can and can’t write.
They’re challenges that go beyond anything any band has gone through here in America. I mean, I’ve heard of metal bands and musicians in other countries in Eastern Europe that have gone through similar stories, similar to Zeus where they’re jailed.
Man to me, it’s just so sad when governments get involved in music. It’s just not a place for them.
With the idea of scoring a film, I know this was a big project for you and something that was really on your bucket list. Obviously you’ve worked on various films for soundtracks and in the music department, but this is a whole different beast where it’s kind of like your baby. How extensive and enriching and odd to navigate a road was that? This is yours from the ground up and not that idea of coming in and tinkering with someone else’s work and making adjustments.
Yeah, it was definitely different because you’re always dealing with someone else’s music and someone else’s idea. Of course, I’ll add to that idea or arrange the song or suggest the music to go a certain direction. But yeah, this was me and the film, the dialogue and the connection with the country and the band Zeus. It was surreal at times because I felt very, one, lucky that my parents got out and two, I felt very connected because I put myself in their place.
It was easy for me to put myself in their predicament because there was this language connection. The dialect, the Cuban dialect, which is unique to the island. And I felt not only engulfed in the film, but the personalities which helped me become connected with the film. I felt the music kind of permeate from the visual, the time and the emotion that the film was generating and it was easy for me to pick that off the film. It wasn’t difficult for me to connect. So I found that very helpful. And then for it to be the first film that I scored, I felt it was a good step in the right direction for me. Hopefully, you know, go on and move into that direction or that medium artwork that’s required in filmmaking or in composing music for film.
One thing I’ve always really appreciated about your work is your diversity in terms of taking on so many different projects, and especially within the metal space. Fom Slayer to Mr. Bungle, Misfits, Fantômas, everything in between. How important is that for you to have that diversity and be able to flex different muscles to keep from getting complacent?
What I love about diversity and working with different projects is that you become fearless when you do step into an area that you’re not very familiar with. You become comfortable. It’s like, OK, I felt this before, I feel a little uneasy, a little nervous. OK, how do I approach this? You ask yourself several questions at the time like, what am I doing? But as time goes on and you do these different projects, you become a little more comfortable with the challenges.
And for me, that’s what’s fun is when you do become challenged and something is just not musically sitting well and you’re trying to work it out. Whether it’s an arrangement or an emotion you’re trying to capture in sound when it’s relating to a film. You just go for it and you can’t be fearful of anything. You just have to be headstrong and just move forward and be as creative and open minded as possible.
Those challenges I think become, for me, something I embrace. Come on, challenge me, bring it on. Stump the drummer. It’s all exciting. It keeps you fresh, keeps you sharp. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Complacency for me is like, no, I don’t want to go there because you become lazy. I know this job very well.
And I think back when I was working with Fantômas, so that was one thing that Patton would do is change up the setlist. We would have like seven setlists, and all named Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A Tuesday show he’d say, well let’s do the Sunday set or let’s do the Monday or Wednesday. You would have to familiarize yourself again with that list and be prepared for those changes. But that keeps you on your toes, keeps it fresh, keeps it exciting. There’s no room for any kind of laziness or mundane. It’s just all fun. It just keeps it fun.
You brought up Mike Patton. For me he’s one of the seminal vocalists ever. God-tier. Obviously you’ve gotten to collaborate with him in a lot of different capacities. Fantômas, Dead Cross and now Mr. Bungle. There must be kind of a chemistry there with him at this point across so many different and very eclectic type projects.
To be honest, he’s great. He’s kind, he’s like a brother. I’ve shared with him a lot of life stories and personal strifes and everything. And he’s called me on the phone at my worst times to see how I’m doing. You know, he’s a real friend and it goes beyond our chemistry on stage. It’s different from any other musicians that I’ve worked with. I’m not saying that I don’t have that kind of friendship with other musicians, but for some reason Patton and I share not only the fact that we’re both self-taught, but he’s inspired me to be as creative and diverse as possible. And I always look to him for inspiration.
Just that attitude of I don’t care what you think about what I’m doing now, this is what I love. He had a quote recently where he says it’s a musician’s birthright to experiment and try different things. I was just like dude, you’re amazing. He’s just a great guy all around. And not only Fantômas, Dead Cross, Mr. Bungle projects, but we have this really cool connection where we can improvise on the spot.
We’ve worked together with John Zorn and we’ve done these trios where it’s a saxophone, vocalist and drummer improvising on stage. It’s so exciting. It’s cleansing to me after you’re playing metal or thrash or hardcore for about a month and a half, two months of touring. And then all of a sudden there’s a gig at a small club with a saxophone player and Patton on vocals and myself.
Or recently, the last one was a violin player, drums, bass and vocals. And we’re just creating on the fly. And some of the moments in those recordings in those bootlegs are so magical that you can just grab those pieces and create a whole body of work out of those improvisations. So with that connection, I think that’s just like icing on the cake, too. He’s a great guy.
Stay tuned for more of our one-on-one with Dave Lombarado where we dive into mystery projects and a very special anniversary
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