Interview with Stan Lynch — ca. 2000

Date: Circa 2000
Interviewer: Lee Flier
Interviewee: Stan Lynch
Notes: I found this when browsing an old capture of MusicPlayer.com from the Wayback Machine.

Stan Lynch: Drumming in the Music Biz
Insights on how to stay sane in a crazy business

Drummer, producer and songwriter Stan Lynch’s career reads like a rock’n’roll fairy tale: from 1975 to 1994, as a founding member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Lynch toured around the world, enjoyed a string of hit records, and gained high acclaim as a drummer’s drummer among his peers. Apart from the enduring work he crafted with the Heartbreakers, Lynch’s stage and studio credits as a drummer also include the likes of Bob Dylan, Don Henley, Aretha Franklin, The Eurythmics, Roger McGuinn, Stevie Nicks, Del Shannon, T-Bone Burnett, and Warren Zevon.

During his tenure as a Heartbreaker, Lynch became intimately familiar with both the ups and the downs of working in a rock band. It was an exhilarating ride, but there were frequent creative and personal tensions between Petty and the outspoken drummer that eventually led to Lynch’s departure from the band after 19 years. Despite those undercurrents or perhaps partly because of them, the partnership often served as a perfect vehicle for Lynch’s talents. As a drummer, he’s all about paradox and contrast: an irresistible blending of Charlie Watts’ solid understatement with John Bonham’s raw go-for-the-throat power, either of which might turn and rear its head within a single verse. His feel somehow combines the loose gallop of great classic rock’n’roll with the unrelenting tension of barely contained energy. Combine that with a finely honed sense of dynamics, a big signature tone featuring huge toms and in-your-face snare, and an uncanny attentiveness to every moment of a performance, and you may as well have custom designed the ideal rock drummer.

Since leaving the Heartbreakers, Lynch has gone on to become a successful producer and songwriter, performing those duties with Henley, the Mavericks, Ringo Starr, Matraca Berg, Toto and many others. He now resides in St. Augustine, Florida, not far from his and his former bandmates’ home town of Gainesville. At 45, Stan Lynch appears to be comfortably making the transition from archetypal wild rock drummer to trusted elder statesman – all the while retaining the same enthusiasm that made him stand out as a drummer, showing a keen interest in helping young artists through the struggles of building a career. To that end, Stan opens up the treasure trove, eager to share his secrets for maintaining vitality and integrity in a business that can easily rob the unsuspecting of both.

In light of your experience of being in a band for so long, what advice would you give to band leaders to help the chemistry; what do you think is the best possible way to bring out everybody’s creativity in a band situation?
The truth of the matter is the best bands, including the Beatles and the Stones and the Who, have a core of creative fire to them that needs to be nurtured before the other people need to be nurtured. If a band leader had any energy left over to encourage others, they could, and it’s good to include people. But sometimes it’s tough; it’s not a democracy. Great rock’n’roll is not usually made by democracy – that’s the truth. It’s usually somebody that has the seed of an idea that he’s gonna protect.

But usually, in all of those great bands, there’s a lot of creative contribution by all of the musicians. It wouldn’t sound the same if it wasn’t Keith Moon playing the drums.
Oh absolutely, but at the same time, it’s Pete Townshend protecting his idea. I imagine it’s him saying, “You know, I’m only gonna put the best shit on my song…I don’t want one of these to die; they’re hard to come by.”

It’s funny, you know, working in a band is a chop; it’s just another chop. And some bands that have been together for 10 minutes, it’s 10 minutes too long, and some bands that have been together for 20 years are just right. Very few go forever, you know. I mean, somebody dies, or somebody hates it…to get a run, a creative run, is amazing, period. That’s how I see it now. So I think a smart band leader has gotta be a good casting agent and a benevolent dictator.

If you, at 45 now, were to run into yourself at 20, what advice would you give to yourself?
Whew! I would say…you have a lot of energy, young man! [laughter] And the trick is to stay out of your own way, and to stay out of everybody else’s way. You don’t need to try so hard – boy, you wasted a lot of energy trying to be loved by everybody, and the bottom line is that wasn’t what was important. What is important is your musical contribution, and to do your job. I wish somebody had told me that.

Because the problem is when you’re young, it’s make or break. You don’t know you’re gonna make it, you don’t know you’re gonna get over. So you spend so much energy worrying about it…if I knew at 20 that, hell, I was gonna be okay, and be sitting in front of the fire at 45…God, I could have saved myself so many gray hairs and brain blowouts, you know! And yelling and protesting.

And I also probably would have told myself, don’t waste any moments in terms of those six months between tours, where Tom’s writing, you should be writing too. You know, I probably squandered a lot of good time. I figured, “Well I’m off the road, my job’s done, whoopeeee!” I could have been more applied as an artist earlier, you know, I could have made more of a statement for myself.

In what ways do you think that the business is easier, and in what ways do you think it’s harder for artists starting out now than it was when you started?
Well it’s easier because it’s an accepted form of livelihood. In 1970 or 1969 when I told my father I was gonna become a professional musician, I may as well have told him I was gonna wear a tutu and dance with bears in the circus [laughs]. It was like, “Well that’s…interesting Stan, what are you gonna do to support yourself?” It wasn’t a valid thing, there was no business to back me up on that. Now, I have friends that are in their 20’s and 30’s, and they’ve already been to business school and they’ve been to music college and…you can actually select rock star and supermodel on your job application [laughter]. There’s actually channels for this. We all know who the super managers are, we know who the good labels are. We didn’t know any of these things! I just heard “record deal”! I didn’t know that there were good and bad ways to make it. Now, people know you gotta own your own publishing – we didn’t know!

So I think nowadays it’s so much by rote, your first album can sell a million records, and it’s no big deal – they’ll still drop you [laughs]. So, in some ways it’s harder for the same reasons it’s easier, if that makes any sense. It’s really nothing to have a record deal now, it doesn’t mean anything. My cat could have a record deal!

There are so many records out there now that it’s harder to stand out.
Yeah, right, it’s like, everybody’s super-talented and everybody’s a genius and everybody’s signed, and I don’t care! [laughs] You know, but back in the day – here we go, Grandpa Shitpants speaks – in 1970, to have a record deal meant something, that was a discriminator: “Well I have a band…” “No wait, I have a band and we’re signed!” “Oh! Paper, rock, scissors!”

Now, everybody has a CD. Which is great, I mean, that means you certainly don’t have to compromise! All you need is a CD burner and $300 and you too can have your record on the Internet. But I don’t know if you’ve jumped through enough hoops and had enough discipline to make a record worth listening to unless you are Jimi Hendrix.

So I think making it tougher to have a record deal and not letting everyone in the club, actually helped. If I ran a record label, probably one of the first things I’d do is drop half the roster. And I’d probably fire 90% of the A&R staff for hiring them. ‘Cause I want to sign bands that are legitimately talented. Like…Everclear – Art Alexakis is talented! If I had a record label, I’d sign him. I get it. The guy’s a fucking hardcore, he lives and eats it, he’s destined to be who he is! Other guys, it looks like they went to business school to be rock stars.

What do you think are the biggest pitfalls on the road to success, and after you become successful?
The biggest pitfalls on the way to success: disillusionment and panic when you’re so close. If you’re actually really good, and they don’t get it, you can actually believe that you’re wrong and they’re right. That’ll kill you. Like, if Jimi Hendrix had quit when the first 3 guys rejected him…I’m just using Hendrix because he’s such an icon to me.

And he’s also one of the biggest displays of the pitfalls from beyond success: drug addiction, overindulgence, friends that aren’t friends…the peripheral players that just kill you, they bleed you. So I’d say on the way to success: doubt. And on the far end of success: not having that doubt, taking yourself so seriously that you refuse to even believe that there’s a chink in your armor and that you’re real.

I think hunger makes the best sauce, and I think that fortune, money and all that shit that comes along with it can really….working too close to your comfort zone is not necessarily great art. So I think that a lot of people made their best work when they were hungry ’cause they had to.

How do you think you can keep that going?
Discipline. I think, like Michael Jordan always says, that the fundamentals are what make people great. And I interpret that in any way I can: that means spiritually, financially, they know the rudiments, they know their scales…they’ve done their homework! Those that have done their homework and that are honest and humble, you can’t stop ’em!

What do you do if you’ve had a long run of success and then your music goes out of style with the public taste, your sales are flagging, and there is a lot of pressure from people to change. But if you changed you’d be compromising what you’ve been all about. What do you do in that situation?
I think the real question then would be: what are you in it for? If you’re in it to make as much money as possible, that’s a question you would really have to consider. If you’re in it for the journey, if what you’re making isn’t selling, I don’t know if that means that you are doing anything wrong; it just means that at this moment in time, your best work, the music that you most want to make, isn’t being received by the widest possible audience. So – that’s okay!

Now, if you’re trying to tailor your work to the widest possible audience, then I don’t know if you can reconcile those two things. You have to make an honest statement like “I’m trying to sell! And therefore if I’m gonna sell I have to play to the means. Therefore I should do a duet with N’Sync!” [laughter]

But it must be more difficult for the person who’s been successful for a long time on their own terms, and then all of a sudden something fails.
Yeah, you don’t sell records. Yeah, you tank.

It must be tougher to hang onto the premise of artistic integrity in that situation.
Well, conversely, it’s a thrill to know that you’ve had some success. It’s like a pro sports athlete. I mean, some guys bat .310 one year and then the next year they bat .145. It doesn’t mean that they suck; it means that that particular season they were reading the pitches all wrong!

This is a great joke I heard somebody say to me: it was somebody who’s very successful who was producing records for somebody who was lesser known…a record that was probably never gonna sell, but it was a cool record. And I said “Hey man, it must be fun working with so-and-so”, and he goes, “Yeah, thank God I sold a shitload of records ’cause now I can hang around and make records till the money runs out!” So I think that sorta nailed it on the head, I heard that and I never forgot it. It’s like, for me, “Thank God Tom sold a lot of records ’cause now I can enjoy making music!”

I’m not saying…I’m certainly not bulletproof. Hell, it certainly hurts when you spend a year and the record isn’t noticed. But it’s a wonderful thing to know that …I’m on a journey now. I can’t worry about that – it would be so pathetic!

Well, if your ego gets in the way and that’s what’s dominating your thinking…
That would be so sad! If you still have to prove something to others other than yourself. ‘Cause I mean, an artistic life is a pretty bizarre life anyway, a lot of artists don’t ever get paid till they’re dead, they’re not even noticed – and even then! So, you have to be prepared to live with that as a self-employed musician, you have to be prepared to suffer that. And I think to try to predict what a group of people will buy is sad and frightening [laughs]. That’s that old story, by the time you figure that out, they’re on to something else anyway. It’d be so frightening if your life really hung on that balance, on that fulcrum…like if I was actually sitting here going, “God, the demographic of people that buy records is, uhhh, 18 to 24! Now, what records should I produce that will sell to them?” How bizarre! What would I start doing, polling people in high school?

There are a lot of producers and labels that actually do that.
I’m sure they do! But they’re in it for a different ride. My ride is like, I want to be around the best, coolest musicians that will have me! And I want to contribute whatever they’ll let me contribute, and I want to learn what they’ll let me learn. That is the fuckin’ ride.

We talked about how you deal with the external circumstances changing, but what about internally? What do you do when you lose inspiration for a period of time? Is it better to take time off, or work through it until it comes back, or…?
Call a friend. Call somebody you respect. That’s God’s little way of telling you to collaborate. If you still wanna stay in the biz, if you’re still feeling useful. Or, you know – go grow avocados for a year! It may be time to change channels. But most musicians have no hobbies. I mean, for me it’s as pathetic as it sounds, and it’s true: this is my social life, what I do for a living. I take care of my life, I can cook, I can do other things, but music is everything that it always was – it’s still the biggest goddamn thing in my life.

So I think that if you’re flat, if you’ve hit a point where you just don’t know where the hell to turn, that’s usually somebody’s way of saying, “Man, you need a bro.”

That’s good advice for a lot of people now who have home studios and sit in them by themselves.
Yeah, you need a muse. It’s like, Mick needs Keith. John needs Paul. You gotta find your crowd and then you gotta give it up to them a little too, you know; you can’t force them to love you. Collaboration is a whole other thing, you have to let the collaboration happen, and that’s a wonderful lesson to learn.

Most people collaborate, and sometimes I’ve been in collaborations where the person is basically just using me as a sounding board, and that’s all that’s required. But other times I’ve been in a room where you just strike an E chord and the guy starts singing. And you just let him go. You just have to be man enough to hear it, rather than keep trying to change it. Just go! That’s when you’ve hit the real essence of collaboration, where you know you’ve found your partner.

So it helps you to get your own inspiration back to be able to really learn to listen to somebody else.
Yeah, because usually musicians don’t listen, they just critique. You just say well, you coulda done, or you shoulda done, or would you…and what you’re really saying is “Why didn’t you do it my way?” [laughs] And it’s really nice when you hear somebody in the room, even if you’re not sure whether they’re better than you or worse than you, but it’s something you wouldn’t do! It’s great when you actually find somebody that doesn’t hear music the way you do and you start to love them for it.

Otherwise it can become…it’s just fetishism, it’s just “This is my personal fantasy…”
…of what everyone will love. And they don’t! It’s inside your navel, man. How deep into your hole of shit do you need to go? [laughter] You know, mining the same belly button lint for the 10,000th time. But other people will drag things out of you and it’s beautiful if you let it happen.

Rock drummers seem to be almost expected to be troublemakers, and early on you had that reputation. Yet, you’ve actually taken better care of yourself and remained healthier mentally and physically than many of your contemporaries.
For me it was always – I really wanted to live! I don’t know, I can only speak from my own experience. I watched really depressing people get more depressed. And I watched really excited people get more excited, and it was just a big amplifier. And it reverberated for years, some people never got over it. All I know is that I have very selective memory about the whole experience, very positive.

So you never bought into the whole idea that rock’n’roll is just for rebellious kids?
No, it wasn’t a personal rebellion for me…it was a joy and also a way for me to draw attention to myself [laughter], which was what I always wanted to do. Even in the second grade, it was like, the nice way of putting it on the report card: “He seems to be a leader!” In other words, he won’t shut up! He makes a big noise wherever he goes. And drummers tend to be, the big loud rock drummers tend to be that way in personality. Keith Moon, his drums sound like he’s pushing washing machines over the hill! So of course he’s gonna stick his head up from behind the car with a court jester’s hat on and missing teeth.

But I don’t buy that whole thing…I think most musicians really want attention and they want to be heard, and it’s great! I don’t get the angst. The angst actually…what draws most people in drives me away. Like I know Fiona Apple makes great records, but I can’t listen to it because there’s so much angst! It hurts me to see somebody in that much pain, I really internalize it, it bothers me! And that’s what it’s supposed to do, so she did her job.

What do you do if you yourself manage to keep your head on straight but you’re working closely with someone who can’t?
I’ve had that experience, and it was really painful because I was so young I didn’t really know what was happening. But you follow your gut on that one. If you know right from wrong, you speak up. You tell the person that you love, if you love them – or if you need them, maybe you have a symbiotic relationship where if they die, you die, career-wise – you tell them, “Look man, I know right from wrong, and this what you’re doing is wrong. And if you need me to explain it to you any better than that, I will. But this is against everything I stand for, and I can’t let you die in front of me.”

If you’re the kind of person who’s an addict, or if you know somebody who’s an addict, get help! Go to AA meetings, whatever it takes! It’s not a weenie thing to do at all. Just don’t let too much time go by before you do something or it could be too late. So…just pick a time. When somebody’s on a bender you don’t yell at ’em. First off, they won’t remember, so you’ve wasted time. So you pick a really good time, when everybody’s sober, when you’ve got everyone’s attention, and usually you preface it with a lot of love and caring, or a desire to see a full life with them.

But one of you is gonna change, because you can’t coexist in those two different universes. It’s either the only thing wrong with that band is you’re in it, or the only thing wrong with that band is that he’s fucked up. Now which one is it? It’s two immovable objects that hit each other at 100 miles an hour, what is gonna happen? It’s inevitable that some shit is gonna fly. So that one, just take it on, don’t sidestep that one.

I first met you around 1978, and the thing that’s really struck me is that basically you’ve remained the same person all that time. A lot of people in this business seem to forget why they wanted to be there in the first place, their values really change a lot. And I wonder if you have any idea what the core values are that have helped you to stay sane, and also to grow as a person as you’ve gotten older and avoid becoming stagnant or bitter.
Well I have those days….stagnant and bitter, that would describe several weeks of the year. [laughter] That’s a totally appropriate description of my career at times! I know there’s a very depressive side of me that, if I let it, as high as I can get on something, I can go just as far down. Other cats, you never get to them one way or another, they never go high and they never go low. I have real hills and valleys; I know it’s hard to get along with guys like me sometimes too. Unless there’s other people that recognize it, that go, “Oh, he’s in a cycle.”

But it hasn’t taken over your soul.
No, no. I mean I’d say that…joy and curiosity have overwhelmed stagnation and bitterness. I’ve been extremely curious about what’s gonna happen if…? I’ve always been that guy, you know like the Roadrunner cartoon, like “What if I go ahead and blow this up, what’ll happen?” So it’s like, my life feels more cartoonish to me than dour and dark. My music life especially has always felt very cartoonish!

You haven’t taken it too seriously.
Oh, no! And it hasn’t taken me very seriously. So we’re even! I’m not on Mount Rushmore and I don’t think I should be! I’m not overly celebrated; I feel like I was given just the right amount of notoriety that I could handle. I’m very comfortable with it. I mean, there were days when I was bitter about it, I thought, “Oh, man, I should be Keith Moon!” And – no, I shouldn’t!

So the core values are that I’m really comfortable with it, and I always was. It never felt that strange. A couple of the guys I worked with always thought when we were kids that rock stars were better than other people. And so when they became, quote, rock stars they thought they were better than other people. That was not a problem for me!

It was really my only ticket to ride, that was it. It wasn’t that I was gonna be a professor or a model or a car driver or a brilliant architect. My shot out was that I was gonna be a rock drummer!

But a lot of people think the same thing and it doesn’t happen for them.
Oh no, no. And that’s why I smile, usually, ’cause I realize I was given the….the troll said you can pass! [laughter] I mean, I know that. Be it ever so humble, my past with Tom and the band, I never take it for granted. When I hear that old shit on the radio I can’t believe that it’s part of the musical vernacular, that it’s been accepted for so long as real. It still blows my mind that that shit that I remember cutting like it was last week is still somehow…viewed as…REAL! [laughs] Like, to this day, 20-something years later. It’s very incredible.

So it helps you to step back and maintain that perspective.

Oh yeah, that one never changed. I was very grateful. I remember when the other guys I was working with would say, “We’re only making 300 a week!” And I’m going [excitedly], “We’re making 300 a week!” So that was the perspective I had immediately. The other guys might have had a little more expectation, so there was more disappointment for them.

Man, we used to have a joke in the first band I was in, which was: lower your goals and succeed! And what it basically translated to was, “Fuckin’ have some fun with this, wouldya?”

I mean, to me the most rock’n’roll thing you can do is not give a shit! You know? That is what I thought rock’n’roll was. To me, it was like, “Who gives a fuck? We’re a rock band! Come and get it!” Like God, I couldn’t believe it, we’d get off a bus and people would be screaming and yelling and I couldn’t fucking believe it! Other guys in the band were going like [growling], “Nobody lets me sleep anymore. No, I don’t sign autographs,” that kind of shit. Huh? Christ, you’re kidding! I couldn’t get over it, I always was much more lighthearted about it – even in the darkest days of my drug frenzy, which lasted a full month [laughter]. It was still like….this is incredible, I don’t want to die here, this is great! It was just, it was never that harsh to me!

But I don’t know why other people really get burned by it, it really hurts them. Really hurts some guys. But then, I know guys it didn’t hurt. Tom Petersson from Cheap Trick – didn’t hurt him! Great guy! I sat and talked to him a year ago, and it was like my long lost brother. I’d be in a band with him tonight if he’d let me. He’s like, cool looking, great bass playing, beautiful soul …nothing burned him! Great attitude, he knows how funny this shit is, he knows it’s all Spinal Tap.

But it’s wonderful to be in a band, if I have to leave somebody with a thought: it’s wonderful to be in a band, even if it’s just for a short period of time. Don’t even mourn it when it goes; don’t cry about it, if it explodes, let it go, just go “What a great moment!” Better to have rocked and lost than never to have rocked at all [laughter]. That’s all it was about for me. I just didn’t know any better, I didn’t know it turned into a corporate frenzy and we were being sponsored by Levi’s! I thought we were going out there to draw blood! I didn’t know; I was so unsophisticated. That was probably part of the charm was that I didn’t know, and I think the very thing that used to be charming became a burden to [the Heartbreakers]. It became like, “Well that’s pretty stupid that he’s not acknowledging this.” [laughs]

But I’ll bet you’re glad you stayed that way.
I think it’s the only way…to thine own self be true [laughs]. The funny thing is, I really wanted to fit in so desperately, even up to the bitter end. I couldn’t believe that I was the odd man out. I really tried to put on the school tie, man, I tried like hell for the last five years. I tried being late to rehearsals like everybody else…I tried to act disinterested…but it all backfired on me! No matter how hard I tried, they saw through me! Because my nature was to be there 20 minutes early with fuckin’ bells on! [laughter]

But you know, no matter how much shit I give any of those guys or they can give me, there were some great lessons learned in how to grow up with people. They were very bright men. There was a time when they were so glib and articulate, it really was like being around the Marx Brothers or something. They were the best and brightest at the game for a minute there, and I was in very rarified air and extremely good company for a moment there. It was very high level, a lot of looks behind the eyes that said entire paragraphs, and they were all good. There were moments that I really treasure with those guys that can’t be duplicated, you’ll never get it again. But at the same time, that’s why I sorta go back to my original assessment, some bands that last 10 minutes, it’s 10 minutes too long. But the fact that these guys hung out with me for so fuckin’ long is like – oh my God! God bless ’em! For puttin’ up with that – God bless ’em!

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