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Stan Lynch — Heartbreaking Rhythm
By Robyn Flans
Modern Drummer — February 1984
With $100 in his pocket, Stan Lynch drove his dad’s VW bus from Florida across country to L.A. in 1974. For $40 a month, he found the ultimate luxury of a Laurel Canyon basement sans kitchen and bathroom, and got a job at a record store, but quit when he found himself peering into the wrong end of a gun during a holdup.
Shortly thereafter, Benmont Tench phoned him to play on some songwriting demos. Tench had been the keyboard player in a Gainesville band which rivaled Lynch’s band “back home.” The whole group, minus the drummer, had journeyed to Los Angeles and now Stan found himself in the studio with them on that momentous occasion. Tom Petty, another member of that rival band, dropped by that night to play harmonica, and about a month later, he called Stan to ask him to assist on his project. His solo album was not coming together and he wanted to know if Stan would be interested in coming down to work on it.
“The next thing I knew, the record was out and we were going to Europe,” Stan recalls with a smile. “It all happened mystically in a way. There was no plan for any of this. All that was going on in 1976 was disco and we were coming out of left field. We were making a very inexpensive, crude rock ‘n’ roll album with a record company that barely existed. Somehow we lucked out and ‘Breakdown’ got on the FM soundtrack. And something happened.”
What happened was that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers became one of the most successful bands since 1976 and Stan Lynch has been living out his childhood dream since then.
RF: What impressed me most about seeing you play with Petty was how much did you and the sound you got from such a small setup. Everyone assumes that a rocker should have an Alex Van Halen-type monster set. Has a small set always been your orientation?
SL: Definitely. I guess I’ve been as far out as to use five pieces at a time, but four pieces have been pretty much my setup ever since it’s made any difference. I’ve gone through all the phases. I’ve tried two bass drums, but it didn’t suit me, physically. I couldn’t play what I wanted to play on that big a drumset. Physically, it was too much work to get around it. So the small kit has worked out rally well and it has forced me to learn to tune those drums really well because I don’t have an alternative place to go. If you only have one or two tom-tom’s, they’d better sound very good or you can make a complete ass of yourself trying to be impressive. It’s that fine line. Some people are really upset bu that too. I’ve had people say, “Oh man, your drumset looks so stupid,” but I think for a band like the Heartbreakers, you’ve got to have the songs and you’ve got to play the part that makes the song work. You can do that with a real small kit and still be cool. You can definitely play it down.
RF: Do you find that a smaller set makes you more creative sometimes?
SL: You just have to be real steady. You have to be real solid if you play a small set of drums. The player is very visible on a smaller set. If you take Max [Weinberg] or Charlie [Watts] or any of those guys who are playing a minimal setup, when they make a mistake, it is almost physically obvious in their body because their body language shows it so much. You can see everything the drummer is doing. It is like doing magic in a small theater. You can’t hide behind a small set at all, so it’s real exciting. It’s really cool.
RF: Can you expound on your tuning to a single note?
SL: You take a song, and if the song is in A, you’ve got to have tom-toms that don’t ring in competition with that note A, so you have to tune to a triad that complements A. Basically you can do that by, say, going to a piano or a guard and hitting an A chord — most drummers can do that — and finding the triad to A. Tune your tom-toms to that — root, third, fifth — and tune the top and bottom heads to A. A lot of drummers made the mistake of not listening closely enough and just think it’s close enough. You’ve heard that expression — “It’s close enough for rock ‘n’ roll.” Well, it ain’t! If you want to make good rock ‘n’ roll, sometimes it requires that you really bust your butt to get it right. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but if you’ve got a tom-tom that is going to be featured, that is going to be mixed up good and loud, and that is in B while the song is in A, it’s going to sound like hell. Drummers are really notorious for being kind of sloppy individuals.
I think there’s been a lot of overemphasizing of the technical thing, though. It’s just a feel thing. Every drummer interprets music differently; they pat their hands differently; they clap differently; therefore, they play the same beat differently. What’s important is that the drummer thinks like the band or the band thinks like the drummer, whatever way you want to look at it, so that they all interpret feel the same way. So many times in a group, people tell you, “Groove and feel,” and if you don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, it can infuriate you until you suddenly realize that what they’re saying is so simple. They’re not asking you to do any more than just what it implies: “Feel the music our way. Just feel it.” Groove means just enjoy it — groove on it. You’ve got to feel the music and you’ve got to groove on the music. That’s so much more important to me than chops.
RF: This may be an impossible question to answer, but while you can go to school to learn technique, how do you learn feel?
SL: You don’t learn it; you just do it. You just practice. It’s important that the people around you are hip, too. I’m lucky. The band I’m in is a very grooving, feeling band. They’re not robotic at all. They’re very groove oriented. We all listen to Booker T. and the MG’s and the best of a lot of groups — the best of the Byrds, even the best of Steppenwolf. Every band, as weird as they were, did something usually pretty cool and the trick is to find what they did, digest it and synthesize it, take it in and turn it into something you like. Any band that can’t groove, I can’t listen to. Any band that rocks is different from any band that grooves. AC/DC rocks, but they really groove, too. The drummer who recently quit was great. He could really make that stuff work. But just the average heavy metal band, sometimes to me doesn’t groove and they lose me. But it’s important to appreciate all kinds of music for what it is.
RF: How do you see your role in Petty’s band?
SL: To try and make that song work. He’ll come up with real scattered ideas and sometimes you can see that he’s like a songwriter in a supermarket with his ideas. Tommy’s got a warehouse of ideas — some of them are like in the antique department; some of them are frozen — they’re all over the store and he’ll come in with just pieces. He doesn’t really know where the feel, groove, or beat is going to be. It’s not concrete in his head.
RF: How does he present an idea?
SL: In the eight years, I’ve seen songs come in every possible way and under every possible condition. I’ve seen them come in as completed demos. I’ve seen them come in as an acoustic guitar riff that turned into a real electric guitar riff. I’ve seen them just come in as “What the hell is that going to be?”
RF: Can you give me some specific examples, and how you dealt with each situation and worked with it?
SL: On some I contributed the drum idea more than others. On some, the drum idea has been self-explanatory. Let’s start from the early, early band days. “Breakdown” was a riff on a Wurlitzer piano and Tommy helped me find that beat. He was trying to describe it, using every kind of language in the world. We found a beat between the piano and the drums, and then the band fell in on top of that. On the second album. “I Need To Know” is an obvious example. At that time, Tommy was very adamant about showing the drummer the song first. He wanted the drum part to be together before he invited other people to learn chords. He wanted me and him to play it — not the whole song, but just the feel — to get somewhere close to what this record was going to sound like. We were learning those first two records in the studio while the tape was rolling and by the time I had learned the song, we had gotten the take. I’d always want to do one more, but it was, “Well that’s the record.” The first two records were very fast. He showed “Listen To Her Heart” to us in the rehearsal studio. We were going to go to England for the first time and we had already done the first record. He showed us that song just in passing, like, “I’ve got this song. It has an Everly Brothers harmony.” I remember his showing me the riff and saying, “Just give me something real straight on the kick, just four on the floor, something real straight so it will sing easy for us.” That one just sort of happened. At the time, we were into real, real simple drums. They really wanted primitive drum parts — nothing too excessive at all. A drum fill was almost excessive. If I took a fill it was like, “Oh no, can we talk you out of it?” “Okay, no problem.” Those first couple of records were very straight forward and then the third album was kind of when all hell broke loose. We got [Jimmy] Iovine, a real producer, and a real engineer and the songwriting really walked a mile. Those songs were presented almost in demo form. Michael [Campbell] wrote the music to “Refugee” and he had it almost as a completed track, so the drum track was pretty well defined to do it something like the demo. The feel was already established. I just had to duplicate it, which is pretty difficult in itself. Boy, “Refugee” almost broke up the band. That one took its toll early in the game. That was a hard record to make for some reason. It was so simple that it was impossible.
SL: That was a transition for me. I was a lot younger and I didn’t understand why they were trying to move into more of a rhythm & blues record. I was trying to make a metal record out of it. I really wanted that record to be loud and I thought heavier than they did. I now understand. I’m always about two years behind them. I was still trying to move into R&B with more dynamics, up and down. The new producer wanted to hear more tom-toms, more explosive drum actions, and I was still sort of behind it. It took me a while to catch up. It was really the whole band, not just me.
RF: According to Rolling Stone, that was the album you left the band on.
SL: Oh yeah. I’ve split on every record, I think. I split on the third record and I split on the last record we just made.
SL: Musical differences. It all works out fine in the end, but I’m unhappy and then they’re unhappy, or they’re unhappy and then I’m unhappy. I don’t feel the need to make music-making such a horrible experience. I just leave. Then you can work it out however you want, with me or without me. You can use a machine. You can do anything you want.
RF: What makes you so unhappy?
SL: Being told that I have to “do this or else,” musically, especially if I think what they’re doing is wrong. Then I have to split. That’s all there is to it. The reason we had a problem with the last record was that I was just real unhappy with the way I was being treated as a person, and I was having a hard time dealing with it. It felt like they weren’t my friends. I didn’t enjoy being around them. I’d walk to work and I’d get a stomach ache. I’d go to the studio and I’d feel bad, so I knew I had to go home. It all worked out fine. I came back in and we did the record. There was no problem, but I was unhappy, so I had to leave. I don’t want to die doing music. It’s very important to me, but there are other things that I really enjoy doing, too. I really enjoy water-skiing, and if I’m not enjoying music, I’ll water-ski. I can’t see why it has to get so damn hot when you’re making these records. I just can’t see it. I’m a different person than those guys are and a lot of times that really shows up when we’re confined to close quarters. In the studio, it really comes out how different I am from them. It all goes full circle and we’re not immature about it. I don’t stomp out. Nobody freaks out, points a finger, and says, “You’re fired!” It’s very mature. It’s simply, “I’ve got to go. I can’t be in this room anymore.” I’m not even asked to explain anymore after ten years. And I’m not the only guy in the band who does this.
RF: So then what makes you stay?
SL: I really like it. It’s a good band, and ultimately, they are my friends. They’re the only people who would put up with me for any length of time.
RF: Why are you so difficult to put up with?
SL: Because I’m a nut. I’m real excitable; therefore, I’m prone to being real excited or real depressed. Middle ground is boring to me. When I play a concert, I want it to be really great, or I’d just as soon play our 20 songs and split. I’m not going to sit there and fake it. There’s very little show in me. I just want it to be really cool or really bad. That’s how I feel towards lile. Not that it’s all or nothing, but I just don’t bullshit with people who aren’t my friends and make them think they’re my friends. I either tell people I love them or tell them to get lost, and with the band, I expect that. Sometimes it gets a little grey and I make pretty heavy demands on people. I demand their time and I probably monopolize the group a lot. That’s why I’m difficult. When we’re traveling, I want them to talk. I want them to be more touchy-feely than they want to be and it probably wears them out. But now we’ve worked it out. That was really a few years ago. Now it’s sort of like, “Ah, it’s just Stanley.” The band is coming around more to my way of thinking and I’m coming around a little more to them. I’ve learned not to expect them to be like me and vice versa. Plus, I’ve grown up. When I got into the band, I was 19 years old. If you could imagine that when I was 20 or 21, we were already on our second tour of Europe and I was totally hysterical. For the first two years, I was loco, out of my brain. These guys had a few years on me, and when you’re 19 and they’re 24, that’s a big difference. They’d already been through all the crap. I give them a lot of credit for not just flipping out and booting me. They had a lot of patience and they still do. The gap closes, but there’s still a big difference between us. They’re older, they’ve got kis and I respect the hell out of those men. I’m amazed that they still put up with me because sometimes I think I’m still 19 going on 14.
So on the third album, they really wanted more sophisticated chops. They wanted the band to grow. That’s really what all the fighting has been about — growing. Sometimes I think it’s growing in a direction I don’t want to go in or I was hoping it would go in another direction. I was hoping that we’d all get together after six or eight months and it was going to grow this way. You get together and say, “I wasn’t prepared for that,” so you consciously or subconsciously fight it and you end up being aggressive about it. Then you calm down and realize that this is the way the band is going. I’m either on the bus or off the bus. I want in or I don’t.
The Torpedos album was really good. Torpedos was fairly worked out. The tracks that weren’t worked out are probably more fun to discuss. “Refugee,” “Here Comes My Girl,” and “Don’t Do Me Like That” were worked out. “Shadow Of A Doubt” was a real obscure dong on that record that wasn’t worked out. That was great. That one just came in a real raw form and it worked as a real good record. “Even the Losers” was not worked out and that came real naturally. Tommy showed that one all at once because he wanted to hear the collective energy. Tommy’s very intelligent. He knows how to work his records. If he wants a tight record with a concise rhythm section, he’ll show the drummer his song. If he wants collective energy, he presents a song to the whole band, of which the drummer is now part of the ensemble. “Even The Losers” was presented to the group and it was instantly arranged. We never rehearse for albums. The record is learned as we record it, which is why every time I hear a record I say, “Why didn’t we just do one more take? I could have really done a good record.” But that’s all part of his energy. He likes not knowing what’s going to happen and if it works, it works great. If it doesn’t, boy does it not work! “Even The Losers” was real loose. All the stops and starts were organic. There are a lot of stops and starts in the song. It falls apart, it comes back together, and it falls apart. None of that was really worked up. It just felt normal. Everybody really contributed to that song, myself included, on an arrangement level. A lot of stuff on Hard Promises was really neat. Michael presented “Woman In Love” as a demo worked out, which we didn’t use at all. Tommy liked the song, but not the arrangement, so we made it a lot more dynamic. Maybe I was partially responsible for that. I remember dropping verses down to just a cross-stick pattern and bringing up the choruses real loud and things like that. They sort of enjoyed that. They’ll tell you what they don’t like, but nobody really knows what they do like, so you just keep throwing out ideas when you’re playing drums with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
RF: How much overdubbing do you do?
SL: The last record I did got into some overdubbing. I really hadn’t done that much up to then. On the Hard Promises record, I overdubbed the whole drum track to “Insider,” which Tommy and Stevie [Nicks] sang. There were no drums on the record, and as Rolling Stone put it, the drums were terrible on that record. It wasn’t my fault, folks. I was asked to do it. I didn’t even want to put drums on that record. On the last record we overdubbed a couple of things. We threw a couple of tom-toms on “You Got Lucky.”
RF: Tom’s records really have a tremendously live sound.
SL: Shelly [Yakus] is a good engineer.
RF: Do you use the same equipment in the studio?
SL: I’ve used the same drumset since Damn the Torpedos for almost all the records, except for an odd track here and there. “Between Two Worlds” is a live drumset because I had just come off the road and I was real comfortable playing this giant road set I had at the time. They were fun to play, but they kind of sounded lousy. I don’t use that set anymore. There’s a song called “A Wasted Life.” That was a cool song. We all really contributed heavily to that record. That song came as a song with a real backbeat, as it was presented to us in demo form. It turned out to be a song that really worked well with brushes, sort of doing a ’30s slow-dance brush groove.
RF: What made you do that?
SL: I don’t know. We tried to cut that song for days and it just didn’t work. Tommy finally threw his hands up because he was really pushing his mode of cutting it. He wanted to hear it a certain way, with certain instruments, with a certain beat. He really had specifics and it just didn’t work. We did it for days and days and mucho dinero was spent, but it never panned out. The song was good, but before we pitched it out, Benmont and I were just messing around and it worked. That’s the way I heard that song anyway. Every so often, the drummer can actually come up with the right idea. When you didn’t write the song and you don’t have to sing it, it’s hard to understand what the singer is going to go through, because whatever drum beat you play, the poor singer has got to sing over it.
RF: You’ve said that a drummer should really sing or play another instrument in order to know what the other band members are going through.
SL: Rephrase that to say that a drummer should try, not have to learn to sing or play another instrument. It’s not important beyond the fact that a drummer should make an honest attempt to understand. I’ll never be a good bass player, but I own a bass and I make desperate attempts to try and make my four tracks work with my own bass playing. I understand what a bass player goes through. I own guitars, I own pianos and it’s a pain. Now, when I play with a group, man, I’ve got a lot of respect for those musicians. I understand what plays good. “Oh, that’s easy. He probably would like to hear that.” I think a drummer ought to make an attempt. It rounds that person out, and brings the drummer into the musical category beyond just the rhythmic category.
RF: Speaking of singing, am I correct in saying that you spend more time considering the relationship between the drums and vocals than you do between the drums and the bass?
SL: Yes. I sort of feel that the bass player’s responsibility is to kind of play along with me. That’s not cocky. It’s just how I would view it if I were thinking of my position on the stage. If I’m center stage and physically behind Tommy, I’m very close in proximity to the cat, and if I’m not on his wavelength, I’ve made life hard on him. It’s a real drag for him on stage to sing over my part if it’s not complementary. If the drums and the vocals are working, the song is really going to happen. The bass has got to follow that. You’ve got to make the vocalists comfortable or they’re not going to be able to do their thing. If the vocalists can’t do their thing, the whole thing goes down. Howie [Epstein] is great. He knows what to do to make it work, and he knows when to pick and choose his slots. He’s a real perceptive musician.
RF: You mentioned that Tom wanted you to be basic on the early albums so you could sing as well.
SL: He heard a specific harmony part that he wanted in this one song. It was a duet. We sang every word of all the verses together in two-part harmony. He wanted an Everly’s thing. He’s really taught me a lot about singing – how to phrase, how to breathe, how to pronounce or not pronounce as the case may be. He’s a real stylist. He’s got his own way of talking, walking, dressing, and dealing, so if you want to sing with a guy like Tommy, you’ve got to deal with it.
RF: Did you sing before you met up with Tom?
SL: Yeah, I was in a band in Florida in which I sang, so it was real natural. That’s probably what got me into the band. We were in competitive bands in Florida. They were in one band and I was in another. We all knew each other really well. I’ve known of these guys for 16 years and known them for a good 12. They raised me.
RF: Singing and playing can be tricky.
SL: It’s real natural now because it’s all song awareness. If I’m singing, I remember that I’m playing a song. This is not a drum solo. I’m here to make this song work, and if I’m singing, it really presents that to me. Even if I don’t sing on a verse, I sing the verse to myself, just to lock in. It makes you think.
RF: For a drummer, you have very good posture and I wonder if that helps vocally? Do you ever have trouble breathing on a real rocker?
SL: That’s where the running comes in. I know when I’m out of shape. If I get lazy and try to play the set after three months off where I’ve been just coasting, I think I’m dying. I get blue in the face. If you run or play tennis or anything that keeps you worked up for a couple of hours, then playing a show is a breeze. On the last tour, I was jogging about four to five times a week, and I stayed off the dairy foods so as not to accumulate too much phlegm. The older you get, the more aware of that you become. When you’re young, that stuff bounces off you easily.
RF: Singing can be rough because drums are a very physical instrument. Have you any tips?
SL: You are not immobile when you sit on a drum stool. You’re thrashing around like a mad fool, so it’s hard to keep your head in the right place. That’s the thing that took me a long time to learn. I have a permanent spot on my lip from an SM-57 Shure microphone hitting my upper lip, just because I learned to keep my lip against it. If I can’t feel it, it’s not there. I had to learn not to sing until the mic’ was in my face. That’s just learning as you get older. Like now I don’t cut my fingers anymore. I used to cut them up all the time when I played. I would hit myself in the ears; the nose — all over the place. I was hitting so hard that I’d be swinging, always clipping my ears or getting my hair caught in the drumstick. Now I’ve learned that you don’t have to play so much from your upper body as you can play from your forearms and wrists, and it becomes more fun. You realize almost without fail that the things that are easy to do are the best things to do for so many reasons — they’re more fun, they look better, they’re more exciting and you can put more energy into them. The things that are hard to do aren’t necessarily that good. It should be fun. This is why it’s called playing music. The best shows and the best tracks I’ve ever done have been those where I walked away without even knowing I did it. “That’s really a take? I thought I was just having some fun.” You’ve got to relax. The best advice there is for a younger player is to just stay really relaxed. I’m sure you notice that you can do so good in your living room, but as soon as you get in front of people, you choke. That’s an emotional trip. Many times I sat down to play in the early days and my hand was like a claw. It felt like it was made out of lead and I couldn’t make it work. If I could have relaxed and felt comfortable, no problem. Try to enjoy it, really enjoy it, or you’ve missed the point.
RF: Do you do anything to warm up before a show?
SL: I stomp around, sing a little, play a littlle, just a few warm-up exercises. Propellering your sticks can be good if you don’t overdo it. Turning your sticks inside out is good. It’s mostly just relieving tension. Just don’t over warm-up. Push-ups help warm you up also, because they make your shoulders move. Even chin-ups help — anything that uses your shoulders. Otherwise you walk out and forget that you can move your shoulders and you get all stiff. It makes you aware that you have a whole upper body you can move. Stretching is real good too.
RF: What about pacing a show?
SL: That’s real important. You’ve got to remember to breathe, just like running. You’re uptight, maybe excited, maybe even bored and have to remember you need air. Running taught me that. I apply exercise to drumming. You don’t lose your timing as easily because you don’t get winded, you don’t rush and you stay cool. Most rock ‘n’ roll drummers are forced to walk out on stage and play one of the fastest songs of the set first. That’s hard. You don’t want to blow your energy in the first song or play as loud as you’re going to play for the whole night. If ten is the top, you should rarely hit ten, because when you do, you have nothing left. Even at your loudest, you should only go to about 9.2 and always keep a little bit in reserve just do you know you’ve got it — just for confidence. If you blow your own ten out there, maybe the audience won’t be aware, but you’re aware that you can’t go any higher and you’ve officially done it. That can scare you. Plus, if you’re playing a steady beat real, real loud and you take a drum fill, the bottom falls out of it. If you keep your beat at one volume and take a fill, you can always climb back up and come back down, and keep it balanced.
RF: I have read that basically your show is the same every night, and the set and solos are the same every night. Is that accurate?
SL: No. We usually start and end with roughly the same songs because we found that those work, but this last tour, we played songs we hadn’t played before. I get a song list every night and every night it ends up being different.
RF: How much freedom do you have on stage?
SL: I have unlimited freedom if I want to make a turkey out of myself, but I think you owe it to somebody who paid to see a concert, from a drumming point of view, to produce the same beat and feel to a song. If there is a drum intro, I will pretty much play it letter-perfect to the record. There will be certain places where I can mess around, and every night I can play with that because that’s expected of me, but the band is depending on me to stick to certain things on other ones. If I go tripping off in left field, I’m leaving them high, dry, and starched.
RF: How much do you keep things fresh when you’re doing basically the same show nightly?
SL: That question is almost irrelevant to me because I like that music. When it no longer is fresh, I will quit playing that music. It’s that basic. I dig what I do and I have never gotten bored with it. Keeping it fresh is not a big problem for me. Just doing it well is a problem. I’m happy if I can just do it and do it the way I said I was going to — the way my emotional contract reads, which says “I’m going to play well.” I don’t want to sound self-righteous about it, but I’ve got a responsibility to myself and to the band. Saying that I have to keep it fresh would imply that I’m bored with the music, but I’m not.
RF: But let’s be realistic. A tour is rough and long.
SL: Okay, you play a song 100 times and you get sick of it. Are you asking how to deal with that? The audience can save it — that’s the bottom line with that. There are a lot of people coming to hear this song and without fail it blows my mind. I can’t see being bored in front of them. That’s really insulting. It’d be pissed if I went to see a band and they didn’t put out. And if you can’t do it, then you leave, which is exactly what we’ve been known to do. If it’s not working, we split. We might come back, but we have to leave now because it’s not working. We can’t do that to the song or the audience, to say nothing of our self-esteem. I have to live with that tour for the next year; it’s my last memory of the band and what I did. I want to remember that we were rally good and it really worked.
RF: Would you detail your setups, both live and recording?
SL: They might not always be different. They’re different now because of Jimmy and Tommy. They really like that Damn the Torpedos-esque sound.
RF: What comprises that sound?
SL: That is an older Tama drumset, the Imperial Star, which is a thin composite shell. They’re all stock sizes, a set you can buy off the rack, with a 14 X 24 kick drum, 8 X 12, 9 X 13, and 10 X 14 rack toms, and 16 X 16 and 18 X 18 floor toms. I never use all those drums at one time. They’re there in case I want to hear specific sizes. The most toms that I use in a drum fill is in the middle of “Don’t Do Me Like That.” I used four tom-toms. Usually Jimmy and Shelly like to hear two rack tom-toms, the 9 X 13 and the 10 X 14 on top of the kick drum along with the 16 X 16 floor tom. The snare drum I use is an old Ludwig Superphonic.
RF: You mentioned the “Refugee” snare. Is that the same one?
SL: That’s the one. I have a whole slew of snare drums, but that one snare cuts the majority of records. Occasionally I’ll get an old brass snare on there. We’ll always use a white coated Diplomat bottom head, and depending on the song, we’ll use Pinstripes or white coated Ambassadors on the top. If we want a more live sound, I go with the white coated heads. I’ve taken all the mufflers out of the drums and I have any new ones made without mufflers. I never put any tape on any of the surfaces. That makes me very honest. I either tune my drum correctly or it sounds terrible.
My cymbal setup is Zildjian. Depending on the song, if you want a little less noise, go to bigger cymbals because they don’t ring as much. If you want things to sound real bright, go to smaller cymbals. Live, last tour I used a smaller set than I record with. I used a 22″ bass drum, a 9 X 13 rack tom, a 16 X 16 floor tom and a duplicate of the studio snare.
RF: Why the smaller set live?
SL: I think the smaller set is more fun to play. It’s all part of the growth process too. I was trying to do something different. I just wanted to play a different setup because I thought maybe it would make me play differently. It did, too. Live, I use a 21″ ride, a 22″ swish, an 18″ crash and 13″ New Beat hi-hats, which are kind of unusual but they feel great. They’re a lot more fun. The 13″ are a little more responsive for live stuff.
In a live show you vary your tempos from song to song like crazy. One song is really fast and the next song is a funeral dirge, so you have to have a kit that will respond to all of that and will work in extremes. Then it will work everything else in the middle. In the studio, you might spend two days working on one song, so you can tailor your setup to make that one song really work. Live you have to go for instant satisfaction.
RF: What about your heads for live playing?
SL: I’m using white coated Ambassadors on top and Diplomats on the bottom, and the same with the snare. The kick drum has the white coated Emperor on the live kit and in the studio I use an Ambassador, white coated. On the live kit I needed a little thicker head just for the security of it.
RF: Your live sound is terrific.
SL: There’s a guy called Genaro Rippo who does sound out fron and he’s been with us about seven years. He’s great. He and Dave Bryson get a phenomeal drum sound. Those guys really bust their butts for me. They’re real honest and tell me when my drums sound horrible.
I think it’s very, very important that the crew you have on a tour be working with you and not for you. It sounds trite, but it’s very true. If you have a crew that just works for you, they’re not going to put out anything more than they have to. They’ve got to want to do that for you. There are too many outs and excuses to use not to do something. You get people involved with you who don’t make excuses only by showing that you care. The band is traveling separately from the crew now, while we used to all travel on buses. You have to make sure you don’t separate yourself. When you have a chance, you eat dinner and talk with them. The fact that you don’t see somebody shouldn’t stop you from taking the time to hang out. There have been nights on stage when I was upset or something, and I would just do the show for the crew. There have been times when they were tired or sick, but they did it for me. There’s not enough money to make this worth our while, really. You’re only doing it because this is what you basically like to do. I’m really insulted by people who get out on the road and bitch. If you don’t like it, you can leave because there’s somebody who would love to be here. I dig the road and I don’t want it to end. That was my childhood fantasy. I have a great time. I get a little testy because I want to be home, but there are a lot worse places to be than the road.
RF: How did the record with T-Bone Burnette come about?
SL: I just got a call, so I finished up his record.
RF: What was different for you?
SL: It was a lot less pressure. I was so relaxed. When I do a T-Bone record, they don’t know my limitations and strengths yet. I’m an unknown quantity, so I get a chance to try things that I might not normally try. I’m really freed up, whereas Tommy and Jimmy immediately want me to do what I do well right off the bat. You build up a lot of confidence when you do sessions and such.
RF: What are your current plans?
SL: Now we’re going to stop, regroup, and get hungry again. I’m definitely hungry for it, but collectively, we’ll get energy again. We have another place to start. We’re at a plateau now. We stop and jump off. Everybody takes his little chips, goes to his little scene and evaluates what he wants to do. My dream ten years ago was that I wanted to move to L.A., I wanted to play drums in a great rock ‘n’ roll band, I wanted to be rich and famous and get a lot of girls — it was so basic when I was 16. Now, when I see a falling star, I see other things, like it would be great to learn to produce records. It would be great to be really good. I want my family to be alright. I want to have kids. It was all so simple back then. It’s a real strong motivation for young musicians — they think if they can just make money, they’ll be alright, and they’re right, but what do you do for an encore? Okay, now you did it. What are you going to do? Are you going to keep making the same record over and over again, because if you do that, you’re going to go right out of business. I think it’s important that, once you achieve success at what you do, you do something else and become real good at that. You can’t just sit around holding onto what you’ve got. You have to go forward.
RF: You said you are all going to go off to do your own thing and then bring that growth back to the band. How do you go off, and expect that when you get back with the band, you will all have grown together?
SL: I’ll let you know in a year. I don’t know, It’s like everything else, like a relationship that has hit a point where it can’t go any further. You have to drop that relationship and be scared and alone before you can get another one. I’m going to have to hit rock bottom, play some clubs, find other people that I musically enjoy and grow again.
RF: Is that what you’re going to do with the year off?
SL: I would think so. Maybe the stuff with T-Bone will work out and I will get musical input from that. There’s songwriting and there’s producing — things that are being thrown at me now that weren’t available five or six years ago and I’m going to look into, without bringing my track record into it. I don’t want to walk into a project saying, “I’m the drummer with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.” I want to walk in like a guy who would like to learn something here, like I always did. With Stevie Nicks, I had a pedigree. It was “Give me some of that Stan Lynch stuff,” which is the equivalent to the acting term of being typecast. That’s what I’ve got to get away from. I want to learn to do the things that I can’t do.
RF: What are you interested in doing?
SL: The recording aspect, trying different kinds of drum sounds and different kinds of drums, using different techniques. The technique I use for Jimmy Iovine and Tom Petty is a real typecast situation. They want a certain pressure on the drums — a certain pound per square inch coming down. Certain cymbals must be used because they create a certain ambience around the drums. They want a specific snare drum: “Get the ‘Refugee’ snare drum in here,” which is all fine and good, but it’s time to locate new avenues. Up to the second record, my sound and technique really jumped. It’s time to make that jump again. I’ve got a lot of greeat ideas and I’ve got to put them into practice now. So this is a long hiatus and I really don’t know what will be at the other end of it. There are no guarantees. If everybody has different trips together, who knows what will happen? But I’m not scared of it. For the first time in my life, it’s actually kind of exciting.