GEAR NERD- STONE SOUR'S ROY MAYORGA ON DRUMS
Posted on February 26, 2011
When it comes to paying your dues, STONE SOUR drummer Roy Mayorga can tell you a tale or two- which is why we sat down with him when he was in London with the band in support of their current album Audio Secrecy. In the latest installment of our Gear Nerd series, we discuss Roy's path to where he is now, including his stints with Soulfly and Roadrunner United and how it feels to be where he is now...
RR: So, take us back to your childhood- what was the first instrument you played?
RM: Erm, pots and pans [Laughs].
RR: So you’ve always been a drummer at heart?
RM: Yeah it was more of like an instinctual thing. All the primal urges that a baby has- he can’t really speak, he can only grunt and make noises and find things to hit but I felt comfortable with it. I was always constantly tapping rhythm; I was very rhythmic. I was always dancing or I was hitting things with pencils, spoons, you name it. But soon after seeing a drummer, playing an actually drum kit on TV, that was when I figured out what I was and what I wanted to be.
RR: So when did you get your first kit? When did you persuade your parents to fork out some dough?
RM: Well there was kind of an evolution where I started with pots and pans and boxes, and then after that I had a toy drum kit that was from the local toy shop- that wasn’t really the best kit, just really cheap thin heads. I went through that thing in like a month and then I was back to boxes again! So soon after that my mother and father saved up enough money for me to get a real kit. It was just four piece kit with a crash symbol and a high hat. It was a no name brand but kind of expensive for back then, but they really wanted to see what I would do and how far I would go and they totally believed in what I was doing. They knew I was setting out to be a drummer and they didn’t have a problem with taking that chance, ya know? After that I kind of just went after playing to records. Of course I played to bands that at that time were popular in the 70’s, like Kiss and Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy and Black Sabbath and I religiously played to all those bands every day after school, from 3:30 till my Mom and Dad got home from work [Laughs] and then I’d stop so I had a good two three hours a day to play…and then yeah, took it from there.
RR: So how old were you when you got that first proper kit then? When did you really start playing and did you start having lessons then?
RM: I was about 6 when I got that kit and for the most part I learnt everything by ear. I did have a couple of lessons here and there but I didn’t have the patience for it, and my teachers didn’t have the patience for me because I was all about wanting to learn rock drumming. At that time I wasn’t wanting to learn traditional grip and play jazz! Pretty much all the teachers that were around me at the time were jazz drummers so they were just not having it with me bringing in like Zeppelin 4 and Kiss Alive 2! I was telling them I wanted to learn this stuff and they were like “no, you gotta learn this, this and that” so I stuck around to learn the rudiments and the single stroke rolls and the paradiddles and that was cool but I felt like maybe I should go off and do it on my own more and just keep playing to these records and channelling on these drummers that I really loved and try to emulate them and then maybe eventually come up with my own style. Later on I actually did find a teacher that was more on the same level [as me] so I stuck it out with him for a good month. He was a rock drummer and basically showed me everything I wanted to know, and then some. After that I took it upon myself to continue to play to records and eventually form a band when I was like 14, 15.
RR: So if you were to nail down the top drummers that really inspired you when you were first learning all that early stuff, who would list?
R: Well in no order John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) for one, Keith Moon (The Who), Neil Peart (Rush), Stewart Copeland (The Police), Peter Criss (KISS)... those are the drummers that I looked up to and still do look up to them for inspiration. There’s also a lot of newer drummers that are out now that are pretty amazing
RR: So which ‘new drummers’ do you look at now and you think “fuck me, their awesome!”
RM: Well just different genres of music and different drummers I like to each genre. Right now in the whole metal genre I’m really into Tomas Haake from Meshuggah. I just love his approach. He’s very talented, very technical- super technical- but he’s got such a feel and groove that most drummers in that genre don’t have. He’s got it! He’s got such a weight behind him when he plays especially on the song “Bleed” which is the perfect example of what I talk about with the technical approach he has with his feet, and doing the syncopation with his feet and keeping a straight beat with his hands up top. He creates this flow, this groove...It’s magic! And I’m obsessed with that- along with every other drummer in the world [Laughs] trying to learn those parts, ya know? I’ve learned some of the parts but there’s some parts he does on that I just cannot repeat, that only he can do!
I really like Jack White too believe it or not, like as a drummer- he to me, is amazing. He’s got a really great feel and vibe and he’s got that bounce that I really like; that bottom hand, especially on the “Dead Weather” record that he just made… and even as a song writer, I think he’s brilliant. He’s taken this whole blues thing and taken it another level, like the way Jimmy Page did back in the day. Also Abe Cunningham (Deftones) great friend, great drummer, Dave Lombardo (Slayer) great friend, great drummer- those guys to me are really inspiring to watch and listen to and I enjoy every time I get to watch them and hang out with them and they open my mind to do other things you know?
RR: What other genres would you say influenced your playing and your style?
RM: Well definitely the drummers and bands that I’ve mentioned in the beginning. I think those are definitely at the top of my list. They totally make me who I am now and of course a lot of things along the way ‘til now. I mean someone like Paul Ferguson from Killing Joke definitely back in the 80’s definitely showed me the way of tribal drumming- all that tom work; keeping that full on floor tom with the kick but doing all this other crazy stuff on top like this tribal onslaught on drumming. As far as the weird little bell noises and sounds I have tendency of using, that was all really inspired from listening to an industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten who actually utilised not just that but real oil drums and sheet metal and mounted springs on a metal brackets with contact mics in it... the sounds that they came up with were just incredible. That definitely inspired me to want to use lot of different sounding bells, chimes and chinas things like that.
RR: So you mentioned what you were about 14, you started playing in bands, with friends. Tell us a little bit about those early bands and styles of music you played that helped develop your playing.
RM: When I was about 14, 15… around 1984 or 85, I was more into the punk rock world; a lot of American punk, a lot of English punk, hardcore and I also was listening to a lot of industrial music at that time. Anyway I started a band with a couple of friends of mine from school, this band called Youthquake it was more like fast, thrash, hardcore; kind of like - that was more of what was going on at the time, that was more of what I was into…and I was in another band with my brother which was more of like a Buzzcocks kind of vibe- I was really into that kind of stuff. Soon after, I joined a band from New York called Nausea which was the first band that I actually did a proper tour with. I was about 19 years old and I came to Europe for the first time. I made my first proper vinyl with them and we were pretty successful- we did a couple of European tours and a bunch of American tours and some scattered dates…that band lasted until ’92 or ’93, something like that.
Between ’93 and ’97 there were a lot of one off gigs I was doing. I’d play live shows with bands- bands you wouldn’t even know and bands I can’t remember half the time, cause there’s so many different projects I was involved in- but there was a couple that stood out. Crisis was one band that I actually did some recording with and did some shows, I think on the album ‘The Howling’ and after that I ended up joining a band called Shelter who was a Roadrunner band back in ’96 touring for the album ‘Mantra’. I didn’t record on it but I did tour for them for about 3 or 4 months. That was an interesting time and was my second chance to come back to Europe and do some really cool tours with them and had to open up for The Sex Pistols for a couple of weeks in Germany which was beyond my wildest dreams [Laughs] and getting to meet them and hang out with them and learn that they were really cool people, really funny- that was a good experience. After that I got a call from Max Cavalera around the time of the split up of Sepultura and we formed Soulfly. It wasn’t properly called Soulfly yet. He had a bunch of songs and a four track demo tape that he’d given me to listen to and learn and we got together and jammed the songs and learned ‘em and soon enough we started. We got a bass player and then we got a guitar player and that became Soulfly. We made a record with Ross Robinson which was a fucking amazing time. Working with someone like Ross really pulled out the best and the worst in me [Laughs] and made me utilise every emotion I had- anger, sadness, happiness... and made it come out in my drumming; in my performance and he’s definitely helped shaped me into what I am right now ya know? He definitely had a big hand in that.
Every experience I’ve had throughout my whole life up to now has made me what I am now. Half the time I cant believe I’ve been there and done some of those things I’ve done. I quit Soulfly momentarily and eventually came back but in-between that I was in a band with Robert Trujillo from Metallica and with Whitfield Crane- the singer of Ugly Kid Joe- and Logan Mader from Machine Head we had a band called Medication. We actually did put out an EP and a record and I did tour England with them. That was a good time. It was kind of short lived but ya know we tried to make it work and it didn’t so I ended up going back to Soulfly and did another record with them and a good couple of years touring with. We eventually parted ways again, but it was all on good terms.
There was one point where I was gonna stop music in general and stop drumming period cause I just didn’t feel like I was gonna get anywhere ya know? I’d put 30 years of my life into this and I was thinking “I don’t think I’m gonna get anymore than this” so...
RR: Just that you hadn’t found a stable home at that point?
RM: Yeah, I was really sick of being a mercenary drummer ya know? That’s not what I wanted. I wanted to be in that band for 20, 30 years make a mark in one band and be known as the drummer for that band or whatever. I just didn’t think it was ever gonna happen so I was pretty emotional about it. I was pretty torn up for a long time and I couldn’t believe I was gonna change my life. I didn’t know what I was gonna do. I was contemplating going into production or getting some soundtrack work, which I did or even helping my wife at her hair salon [Laughs] ya know? But I lasted a month at that. My wife was telling me, “This isn’t you, you should be doing it. You need to be out there playing” and she was right. I felt like I had died unable able to play drums or music or do anything like that.
RR: You need that creative outlet?
R: Yeah, I would die for sure without that.
RR: And so was that when Stone Sour?
RM: No, that wasn’t even a thought yet! First up I got the call from Dino Cazares from Fear Factory to be part of the Roadrunner United project which I was like “WOW! Really”? That was a light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t know what to expect from it. All I knew was I wanted to be playing the genre of music I missed playing which was in the genre of music I’m in right now- rock, heavy metal. So Dino and I went into the studio for a week / week and a half and wrote the songs that are on that record and I ended up producing and engineering it and Andy Sneap mixed. That opened a whole new door for me and that landed me the gig to perform as the second house drummer for the Roadrunner United band with Joey in New York. That was a real fun time and I think that definitely helped put me back in front of people; put me back on the map and keep me in mind with other people which led me to actually be part of Sepultura at one point for like two or three months. In the midst of that, while rehearsing for their thing, I got the call from Stone Sour to record Come Whatever May and then whilst on tour with Sepultura, I got the call from Stone Sour saying they wanted me to join and then I lived happily every after [Laughs]!
RR: [Laughs] So do you think that after having that short break that the Roadrunner United thing was kind of like your stepping stone, being front of everybody again?
RM: I think so yeah. I can’t see it any other way- I mean Corey was there and Cory Brenan [Stone Sour’s manger] was there and all my peers were there so it was like “oh hey, I remember you!” I think is what kept me fresh in people’s minds.
RR: So you’re here in the UK, playing tonight, everything’s going great...
RM In a place that I’ve always wanted to play my whole life!
RR: So you’re pretty excited [Laughs]
RM: Yeah! This place was the Hammersmith Odeon and it always will be! I know it’s called Apollo now but I’m still calling it Hammersmith Odeon, I don’t care!
RR: So tell us about your set up for tonight.
RM: The set up tonight is a little bit more simplified compared to what is was before, on the last album cycle. I’m not using two kick drums this time, I’m using one kick. I’m using two toms up top and two floor, gong tom, rata…I just feel less is more. That’s why I have scaled it down. And it’s the way I started as a drummer. The core of my kit is basically how I started- a rock and roll kind of jazz kit. One kick drum, one rack tom, one floor and snare everything else is just extra fun; extra sounds.
RR: Who are you endorsed by now and who have you been endorsed by over the years? Who have you used?
RM: Now I’m endorsed fully by DW Drums- hardware, shells, everything- a great company man. They to me are the Bentley of drums [Laughs] I mean they really make amazing drums and to your own specs. Everything on my kit is customized. You couldn’t get that kit anywhere else, right down to the kind of wood I’m using- the kind of maple wood, the kind of shell, layer configuration...everything is just... its got its own tone.
RR: Must feel really good to be able to just be like “this is exactly the way I want everything”...
RM: Its what I’ve always wanted and I wake up everyday and thank the universe that I’m still able to do this as a living. Now I really do it for a living and definitely all the blood sweat and tears and all the grinding and all the good times and bad times defiantly paid off and I’m thankful for that.
Roy is gracing the cover of the current issue of Rhythm Magazine, which is in stores now. Check it out for even more on his career and a more in-depth run through his kit. 'Audio Secrecy' is also in stores now. Pick it up online at Play.com and iTunes.