interview by: Roberto Martinelli
file photos taken from www.paulbostaph.net
Drummer Paul Bostaphís musical legend would have been solidified solely by being a part of the Bay Area cult thrash group Forbidden, but his subsequent 10 years with world metal icons Slayer sealed his place in the hearts of metal fans.
Bostaphís departure from Slayer was a bit mysterious. The official line was that he hurt his elbow and had to retire. Apparently, reports of his careerís demise were highly exaggerated, as his successful return with Exodus attests. We met up with Bostaph at the back of Exodusí nightliner during their 2006 US tour, where he gave us some very candid answers about his feelings around his leaving Slayer, as well as immensely juicy tidbits of wisdom about his cymbal setup, and what we can all learn from Rick Rubin.
Maelstrom: The official reason you left Slayer was that you hurt your elbow. What can you tell us about your departure, and how you felt about it then and now?
Paul Bostaph: Nobody leaves a band if theyíre happy. I was obviously not happy about some stuff. A lot of that was not the bandís problem; it was my problem. Most of it had to do with the business. And when the business starts creeping into your mind when youíre on stage, thatís bad, because itís not where it belongs. And that wasnít their fault ó itís what was going on in my mind. But I had to make a decision about what was best for Paul.
People might say, ďbut, dude, you were in one of the best heavy metal bands in the world!Ē But it doesnít matter if youíre in the best band in the world ó I know people who are in awesome bands, making great money, and theyíre unhappy. And when Iím on stage, I try to give everyone 100 percent of what I can do. And if Iím up there, and somethingís in my head... I get tired of it being there.
(from left to right: Slayer's Bostaph, Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman and Tom Araya.)
When I was in Forbidden, I was one of the guys that was in control. We all had a say. When you donít have that anymore, it becomes a hard thing to live with. But it taught me a lot about being a professional.
Maelstrom: With Slayer, they told you exactly what to do.
Paul Bostaph: Of course. If I were them, I would have. They were selling gold records before I joined the band. And Iím not going to say that I didnít benefit from any of the success that they had, because I did.
For a while, I felt like I was covering Slayer tunes. Iíd put my own stuff in them, but there was a shadow there from the past that I think I got a little tired of dealing with, too.
So when I left Slayer, some friends of mine, Systematic, had a little thing, so I decided to try that out. I had a hand in starting that band. Then I got a call from Exodus. And I thought, ďwhat am I doing right now? Iím looking around for people to start a heavy band. I want to get back on the road, I want to record, but there are just not enough quality people out there.Ē Donít get me wrong, but Iíve played with Kerry [King] and Jeff [Hanneman]; Iíve played with Gary Holt and Lee Altus; Iíve played with Craig Locicero and Tim Calvert... all those guys are great rhythm guitar players, write good songs, and play good metal ó they know what it is. It was pretty tough company to keep. Starting a new band wasnít moving at all. I took a step back. I played in Craig Lociceroís rock band, Spiral Arms, for six months. It was fun: I didnít worry about making it, or getting signed to a label. I just played drums, and that was good.
And no matter if Iím happy or not, I have fun playing the drums. And there were some definite fun moments with Slayer, even at the very end. And Iíve learned that if you hear yourself complain in your head too many times, you better listen. To finalize, nobody from the press came to me after I left Slayer to ask me why. Until now; until [Shovel Headed Kill Machine] (Bostaph's debut album with Exodus -- ed.)came out. No one came to ask, ďis it true [about the injury]?Ē
Maelstrom: How does that make you feel?
Paul Bostaph: At the time, I was taken aback by it. I didnít think it was a cool thing to say. Nobody came to me to say, ďthis is what weíre gonna [put in the press release about your departure].Ē When you say I left your band because of an elbow injury and that I was retiring from drums... now, I did have a problem with my elbow during the last tour we did, with Pantera, but that had nothing to do with me leaving the band.
Maelstrom: Whatís your setup now?
Paul Bostaph: On this tour, itís a 10", 12", 14" rack tom, and a 16", 18" floor. I just added the 10", which means I had to move my ride over. It took me a little while to get used to playing it. Thereís a little more pressure put on the right shoulder. I have more moving to do, but my bellís in a really good spot; whereas before I didnít like where it was at, because I have the x-hat (auxiliary hi-hat Ė ed.) in there, and I have my crash cymbals... Iím settling into the bigger setup for the tour.
Maelstrom: What cymbal setup are you using?
Paul Bostaph: Iím using a Paiste 20" 2002 Novo China, a Paiste 20" Signature Power Crash, a 19" Paiste Wild... they are fucking AMAZING!... I forget what my other china is. Itís a 20"; itís up there by default, so I forget. But itís a Signature, and itís sounding pretty good. Iím running 15" Signature hi-hats: one Sound Edge, one Heavy. My ride is a 22" 2002 Heavy Bell Ride.
Maelstrom: What do you mean, ďby defaultĒ?
Paul Bostaph: I broke the chinas that I was using. I havenít replaced them because Paiste doesnít make them anymore. So I threw that one up because weíre playing smaller stages ó the other [chinas] are very loud. On big stages, thatís fine, but when youíre playing diverse rooms, the cymbals tend to take over the stage, and if your singer is standing five feet or less in front of you, itís something to be conscious of. All my cymbals are power cymbals. The last cymbal I have on there is a 20" Paiste Wild, which dethroned my previous favorite cymbal. I mean, blew it out of the water. I moved my favorite cymbal, a Paiste 20" Signature Full Crash, all the way to the left.
Maelstrom: So whatís so great about the Wilds?
Paul Bostaph: They arenít as heavy. Theyíre easier to hit. I like their playability. Once I A/Bed them with my old cymbals, I was blown away. The Wilds have more volume, but arenít heavier. The bells are bigger, so they tend to have more bell tone. They really add a different texture to the cymbal array that you can run.
I wear Inner Ears when I play, so it cuts out a lot of the volume. And when I run my monitor mix in through my ears, I can almost not hear my cymbals ó but those Wilds cut through. When I had them in the rehearsal room for the first time, when we were practicing before the tour, Iíd hit my Signatures, and it was almost like they werenít there. Then, Iíd hit the Wilds, and it was like, wow. They decay very well. They donít get a lot of buildup.
Maelstrom: But you like to mix up models of crashes. Talk about that.
Paul Bostaph: Well, the Signature series has always been my favorite. But I was talking to Joey Castillo at the 2006 NAMM show ó heís the one that told me about the Wilds ó and heís a heavy hitter. And he was like, ďthese things donít break ó they last.Ē And Iím thinking Queens of the Stone Age, Joey, hits hard, they last... Iíve gotta check these things out! So I didnít even listen to them. I just called up Paiste and told them I was going to send them some broken cymbals, and if they could send me some Wilds. Paiste had always made good cymbals, but nothing could compare to the Signatures, until now.
For any company to have two lines of cymbals that are outstanding... I have that 2002 on my kit, too. The ride. I use that because itís the only one of its kind (with a mega bell) that Paiste makes. Itís the one they developed with Nicko McBrain. I love Nickoís ride sound. I benefit from being able to go to Paisteís factory, listen to a bunch of stuff, and ask them questions. I wanted a ride that had a bell with a really sweet tone.
Paisteís made another one, now, in a 24".
Maelstrom: How do you feel about 24" rides?
Paul Bostaph: For me, theyíre too big. Iíd like to run one, but the problem for me is that the bell would be too far away for where I put my ride. If I was going to run something other than a 22", Iíd run a 20" rock ride. But I donít need that in the style of music that I play.
Maelstrom: Hang on. You were talking about playing smaller shows, having the singer much closer to you, and not having the cymbals be so loud; but then youíre also talking about the Wilds being so loud. That seems contradictory.
Paul Bostaph: What we did on one stage was stack the cymbals on some paper towels. Itís a trick. Instead of putting tape on your cymbal, which takes all the tone away, you stack some paper towels (napkins are the best), but a hole through them, stick Ďem on your cymbal stand, and put your cymbal on top. It takes volume away, but doesnít kill the tone.
Iíll always use the crashes. The thing is with chinas: if you have a really loud china, and you ride it a lot... itís cool for us [drummers]! But the sound guy is going, ďholy crap!Ē and his mix is ruined. Itís something Iíve become more aware of as Iíve gotten older.
Maelstrom: 15" hi-hats... are 14" hats not loud enough for you?
Paul Bostaph: I use to use 14" hi-hats when I was in Forbidden. I like the way 14"s sound; I still have some. But 15"s have a presence... theyíre big cymbals. Theyíre hard to learn how to play when you play fast. But, man, when youíre playing on a big stage, or playing outside, those 15"s command. I started using them in Slayer, and they became my sound. They have a lower, Iíd say, heavier tone to them.
Maelstrom: Weíve got a guest question from Derin Argon from the band Army of Darkness, who asks, ďIíve noticed that your cymbal setup with Exodus and Slayer consist of much larger cymbals than what you used on the Forbidden recordings. What made you decide to start using larger cymbals?Ē
Paul Bostaph: Thatís a damn good question. I use to use 16" and 17" crashes when I was younger, in Forbidden. Those were the cymbals I gravitated towards. I wasnít as strong as I am now. I was using way lighter sticks. Back in the Forbidden days, I used to buy all my own stuff. Also, those were sounds that I liked. But they were sounds that were around me all the time ó in local bands that we would play with, who had limited access to sounds. The more access you have with professionals, the more you learn about.
What changed my mind about it was when I auditioned for Slayer: I played on Dave [Lombardo]'s kit. And I loved the way his cymbals sounded. I think I brought my own cymbals, but when I started hitting Daveís, in that big, gigantic warehouse that those guys played in, my cymbals wouldnít have had any sound... because that band played at such a high volume that there was no way anyone would have heard [my cymbals].
Iíd always wanted to play Paistes. But Paistes were, back then (and I donít know if they still are), the most expensive cymbals. And I was buying my own stuff, so I played Zildjian, because they would last longer for me. And no one was complaining. And the first time anyone told me about Paiste, I ran out to the store to buy them, but I couldnít because they were too expensive. And they cracked really quick. When I was in Forbidden, we shared a studio with a band called Annihilation. The drummer played Paiste. I loved the way they sounded, but the guy complained that he was buying them all the time. But Iím endorsed by Paiste now.
Maelstrom: How does that work? You said earlier something about sending back cracked cymbals for new ones. Do you have a certain total amount that you can have out at one time?
Paul Bostaph: Itís all based on what level your endorsement is on. I was with Slayer, and I had always wanted to play Paiste. But I tried every Zildjian I could. When I played Donnington with Slayer, that was the first warm-up tour I did. I wasnít even in the band ó I was filling in for Dave. But [Zildjians] didnít sound like Slayer. And I wanted to go with Zildjian: they had offered to endorse me when I was with Forbidden ó Paiste hadnít paid attention. But Zildjian wasnít offering me the sound that I wanted. So the first thing I did when I went down to the Paiste warehouse was ask, ďwhat does Dave use?Ē And I walked out of there with two bags full of cymbals. And I thought Iíd be paying for them, but they said, ďdonít worry about it.Ē And Iím all, ďitís good to be the drummer of Slayer.Ē
Maelstrom: Iíve noticed [Lombardo] uses a lot of Rudes.
Paul Bostaph: Thatís a difference between me and Dave. I like Rudes, Iíve used them, and I like the way they sound when Dave plays them. But Iím not a big Rude guy. You either like Ďem or you donít. But now I donít have to think about the Slayer sound anymore; I just have to think about me.
Maelstrom: When you record an album, arenít the relative levels of a cymbal brought down? You donít really appreciate how loud they really are in real life when you hear cymbals on a record.
Paul Bostaph: Youíre right. If you want great cymbal sound, you might not get the best guitar tone. Each one of these instruments competes for a ceratin band on the EQ. Cymbals are some of the highest. They take up something like 1k, which is the very fist band on a parametric EQ.
With [Shovel Headed Killing Machine], the cymbals are mixed low, but the drums are loud. So what cymbals you have for recording isnít going to make that big of a difference depending on how the album is mixed. We had Andy Sneap mix the record. I could go onto a site of his and download files of his work on the album. I was listening to them on my brotherís stereo, rather than burning it onto disk and listening to it in my car, which is where I listen to everything. I can be more critical when I hear stuff in my car. But we were in a hurry, and I didnít want to be too critical. I just wanted to listen to the music.
If you mix cymbals lower, and not have them in your face, there will be something for you [to hear] every time you listen to [the album]. I like that kind of listening, but I do like my cymbals a little bit louder.
Maelstrom: Now, you didnít go to England to record your drums.
Paul Bostaph: The whole record was recorded here.
Maelstrom: I remember you saying that the first time you recorded with drum triggers was on this album.
Paul Bostaph: Right. Only on the kick drums.
Maelstrom: What was your experience?
Paul Bostaph: Itís a totally different world. My experience is that if you play really hard, you have to learn how to control what you do. You gotta watch out for double triggering. In the studio, itís not so much of a problem, because if you double trigger, you can erase it later. My tech with Exodus is really good, so I donít have that problem live. I never used [triggers] with Slayer. Now, Iím using a mixture of both, with the trigger [providing] a little bit of a top end. If I had my choice, I wouldnít use triggers.
Maelstrom: Then why are you using them?
Paul Bostaph: Because sometimes we play in places where the PA is not sufficient. Triggers give you production value immediately. With Slayer, we had the PA system we wanted every time we played.
Maelstrom: You once told me that when you were in Forbidden, youíd have your bass drum heads on as loose as possible, and that you stopped doing that since. Can you put into words how you tune your drums?
Paul Bostaph: For snare, it depends on the drum Iím using. Every snare has a sweet spot that sounds best to the drummer. The bottom of my snare is a little tighter, the top is a little looser. I mean, itís tight ó itís got good bounce to it. I try to get my rack toms as low as possible without the drum losing its roundness. I wonít use tape on my drums. I like the drum to sing out as much as possible at its lowest tuning. I have my kicks tuned where they kick a breath of air ó the microphone picks up on that ó and where they still have some attack. I donít want them to be too resonant ó to be too live-sounding. I put in those special drum pillows that Evans makes.
Maelstrom: Hereís another guest question: ďwhen practicing by yourself, do you ever play rudiments with your feet?Ē
Paul Bostaph: I try to. But I want to say that Iím exaggerating ďtry.Ē I do use rudiments when I practice, but Iím not that good at Ďem, not to the point where someone would watch me and say, ďthatís totally killer.Ē I spend more time on Ďem now, because I think my thrash metal playing is at a point where I donít need to work on it so much... I just need to keep playing, and those things are going to be there.
Maelstrom: But you donít necessarily need them in the style that you play.
Paul Bostaph: Well, arguably, if I were good at them, I could use them. And I would. I work on single, double, triple paradiddles with my feet. Iím trying to do a double stroke roll. It might never happen.
Maelstrom: ďWho were the drummers that inspired you when you were younger?Ē
Paul Bostaph: Phil Rudd, Cozy Powell, Jeff Porcaro (he played with Toto)... man, there are so many. Tommy Aldridge, Steve Smith, Nicko McBrain, Clive Burr... especially. Also Dave Lombardo. Tommy Lee had a pretty big influence on me, too. The first Motley Crue record was great. I used to think that album rocked. It was raw and had something cool about it. But the thing I liked about Tommy was that he would do these one-handed cymbal catches. It would sound like a backwards cymbal. I thought that was the coolest thing. Thanks to that, I can choke a cymbal with one hand. If it werenít for Tommy Lee, it would have taken me a lot longer.
Maelstrom: What did you like about Jeff Porcaro?
Paul Bostaph: First of all, I liked the music the band played. Have you ever heard the song ďThe Lido ShuffleĒ by Boz Scaggs?
Maelstrom: Iím sure I have, but I canít remember it right now.
Paul Bostaph: Shame on you.
Maelstrom: Iíll go find out as soon as weíre done.
Paul Bostaph: The drum beat for that song is killer. Many bands in the Ď80s had drummers that would only play simple beats, but Jeff would always push the envelope. He was a super popular LA musician, but I didnít know about that when I was younger. I just loved the way he played. They have a song called ďRosannaĒ that has a drum beat at the beginning of the tune thatís awesome. Itís a really original shuffle beat. He played the drums really well. He did things that I canít do, still.
Maelstrom: Talk about Nicko McBrain. Metal drummers seem to always want to have two kicks. But heís never used two, and heís one of the genreís most consummate drummers.
Paul Bostaph: A lot of drummers learned from Nicko McBrain. Clive Burr was a single bass drummer, too. It started with Clive for me. When he played a beat ó listen to ďMurders in the Rue MorgueĒ; listen to his right hand on his hi-hat: itís closed. A lot of beginning drummers donít close their hi-hat ó they leave it open. Itís easier to play. Itís harder to drive the beat with a closed hi-hat: It doesnít bounce as much, and it kills the stick. It forces you to work harder. If you took the drum beat from ďMurders in the Rue Morgue,Ē changed it to a punk beat, but kept the right hand, itíd be a very aggressive punk beat.
Maelstrom: How about today? Who are the drummers out there that are absolutely amazing to you? You get to tour with some amazing players. Has drumming gotten better and better since you were a kid? Or is it technology that makes it seem that way?
Paul Bostaph: I can say that Iíll answer the question by not answering the question. Listen to John Bonham. Bonham had a style that one day wonít be around anymore. Drummers like John Bonham and Ian Paice... Cozy Powell, Bill Ward... there was jazz influence in their playing. They were old school drummers.
I took two months of lessons from two different teachers. They were the best thing that ever happened to me. After that I learned by watching other guys, and trial and error.
Maelstrom: Why did you stop, if lessons were the best thing ever?
Paul Bostaph: Because I learned everything I needed to learn. Not that they couldnít teach me more, but what they taught me was enough. I learned what I was there for. I knew what I wanted out of the lesson. If you donít know what you want, then itís hard to take a lesson. Then, youíre just spending money.
Maelstrom: But youíve mastered the style that you play.
Paul Bostaph: No, I havenít. Thereís always something new. If I believe Iím a master, Iím a fool. You have to keep searching, or youíll never find it. If you become complacent, youíll be doomed to do the same thing over and over again.
Every record I do, I try to do something different. For [Shovel Headed Kill Machine], I had to learn and record it in two weeks, so I had to improvise a lot more. Thatís there on the record.
Maelstrom: Can you pick out something in particular?
Paul Bostaph: The end of the song called ďAltered Boy.Ē Itís an awesome tune, and not because of what I do. Itís got a great riff. The song has kind of a sameness to it, so Gary [Holt, Exodus guitarist] wanted to the song to peak in the end. And you have to kick people in the face with something different that comes out of left field.
The arrangement was so new, that we had to take it in pieces in the studio. And everything that I could do to have that escalation in the end didnít work. What Iíve learned in the past is that if you have to think about something too much, donít do it. Just improvise. It had to be something explosive ó an opportunity to explode. I learned that from Rick Rubin [producer of Slayer's most important albums]. The end of that song is a testament of what Rick taught me... and in what I believe in, and thatís breaking the rules. Thatís what I love about metal. Sure, there are things that you have to have in metal, but the more mistakes I put on records, like if I push a drum fill too far out, and Iím thinking, ďholy, I better reel this back in,Ē because I donít know where Iím gonna land? And then I finish the take, say, ďok, that was a mistake,Ē but everyone is like, ďdude, that was killer!Ē And when I listen back, I think never in a million years would I have thought of doing that. It was a mistake; but it sounded good, so I put it on the record. It sounds exciting.
Another thing I learned from Rubin is that the best songs are the ones that sound like theyíre about to fall apart, but donít.
Maelstrom: Ok, talk more about the drummers of today.
Paul Bostaph: Well, Gene Hoglan is a god. Pete Sandoval, Joey Jordison... Terry Bozzio is insane; Virgil Donati is insane... I could run down the list of guys that are amazing.
But the guy thatís been prevalent on my mind lately has been Gene Hoglan. I saw Gene play here at the Pound before I recorded the last record. I needed to do that. When I found out he was going to play, I said, ďI have to be there tonight. I need to see something that will blow my mind.Ē And I saw Gene and it fired me up. Heís so bad. You have to get your ass kicked. When I went into the studio, all I could think of was, ďGene is better than you.Ē
Roberto Martinelli with Paul Bostaph (r).