Tommy Clufetos Discusses His Tommy’s Rock Trip Debut Album, Beat Up By Rock N Roll - Summer 2021
Tommy Clufetos is one of the most exciting drummers the world has known. Perhaps best known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne, Ted Nugent, Rob Zombie and Black Sabbath, the flare with which pounds the skins is simply hypnotic to watch. Beat Up By Rock N Roll is Tommy’s debut album with Tommy’s Rock Trip, 11 tracks representing bar room rock at its very best with the spotlight having very much a band quality as opposed to an individual one. Whilst Tommy will play down this record as simply something he had the opportunity to do, the fact is this is very special indeed. We catch up with Tommy at his home in Los Angeles to get the fully story of how it all came about.
As Tommy’s Rock Trip you have just released the incredible album Beat Up By Rock N Roll, 11 tracks of powerful, guitar driven hard rock I think the first thing I want to ask is where did the inspiration come from to create this album and what was your overall vision?
Inspiration came from a worldwide pandemic shutdown where nothing was going on. There was no gigs and it was the end of the music business as we all know it. But that’s changed! I was afforded this block of time that I’ve never had in my life: I wasn’t on tour with somebody else, I wasn’t working in somebody else’s band, and the opportunity came up to make a record. I thought about it for 30 seconds and said ‘why not’! I ran through the scenario in my mind. It’s a good opportunity to challenge myself because I’ve never written any music on my own, let alone one song. I’ve never put a band together, I’ve never written lyrics, I’ve never produced an album. I just let the music come out as it came out. So I go ‘why not!’. There was nothing else going on. I might as well take this as an opportunity, a challenge and an experiment to see if I can do it. And if I can do it, will I actually like the output and want to put it out? So I did like the outcome and I decided to put it out but I don’t take it too seriously! I just love what I do.I love to play drums in great people‘s bands - that’s the thing that I love to do - this was just a little opportunity to maybe get a chance to go see if I can write my own songs and it was a musical challenge. That’s the way I took it and people can now decide whether they want to listen to it or not.
I think it’s actually quite interesting that from that casual position of ‘why not’, what you’ve actually done is create something incredibly strong in these 11 tracks. This must be a record that you’re incredibly proud?
Well when I flick the switch to do something, I don’t do things halfway. I’m pretty black-and-white and if I’m going to do something I do it. I wanted it to be the best that it could be. That being said, it was done very quickly. From the first note to the end of mastering, we did the whole thing in two weeks! But that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a lot of effort put in. We didn’t do demos, we didn’t file share back and forth. Things can get stale and people can overthink things too much. This was supposed to be a jolt of a rock record that just slams you in the face from the first song to the last one, and maybe have some peaks and valleys in there. But it’s a rock record and that’s why I called it Tommy’s Rock Trip. It’s kind of my trip of what I think rock ‘n’ roll should be. It will hopefully have a little of the foundation of the rock ‘n’ roll that I grew up on and the vibe that I like in the music that I choose to listen to. So it was my take on what I think a rock band should be, using the filter of myself and the rookie late-bloomer songwriter if you will.
He is a great guitar player but we used him for his awesome rock ‘n’ roll voice!
Absolutely! Eric also has a huge character about him. How did this decision for you to work together again come about?
Oh, he’s definitely a character! But that’s why I love him! He’s off the wall. He has his own sound to his voice. The sound and the timbre of his voice really lent itself to the music that I was creating, and I knew that he’s not afraid to let loose. All I had to do was say “Here’s the words, here’s the melodies - go!”. And that being said he gave me exactly what I wanted. He wasn’t too good to do what I wanted the vocals to sound like. He was nothing but a pleasure to have in the studio. I love Eric and I’ve known him a long time, and I’m glad that we got to work together in this capacity because because he did spot-on on the album. It couldn’t have been better.
But we do need to focus on the rest of the band. Hank Schneekluth on Guitar, Nao Nakashima on Guitar and Eliot Lorengo on bass – they are stunning musicians. We can also see from the video for the lead track Got To Play Some Rock ‘N Roll what incredible performers that band are too. I wanted to be at that show! When creating this band what were you looking for in terms of band member qualities?
Let me pick up on the sound of the record. It has a fantastic raw sound that’s perhaps a great representation of what it might actually be like to experience a Tommy’s Rock Trip live show. How intentional was it to get this live feel within the record?
Absolutely! In fact, it couldn’t have been recorded any more live. I’m sitting in my jam room right now. Well I’ve got Marshalls, Fenders, guitars, organs, drums and everything you could want. You just jump to my house and we are ready to have an arena rock show. We rehearsed right here, we didn’t do any demos, we just played the songs as if it’s 1968 together, then we went down the street to my buddy’s studio which is actually a barn at the back of his house and we set up exactly the same way as we are in my rehearsal room. The amps were facing me, they heard the drums, we didn’t even wear headphones. We played completely live, there were no click tracks, we let the mics pick up the whole sound. I counted the band in and we played the songs from the first note to the last note, and if we didn’t do that we did it again. If we still didn’t get it we did it again! That’s how we did it. I wanted to capture a completely raw, honest performance on the record, mistakes and all! Sometimes those mistakes can be magical things. It had to be sexy and by that I mean it had to groove, it had to move, it had to just shift and we had to go with each other. When you use a click track, or when you’re cutting and pasting it just puts more parameters on it. When you’re in that moment you’re just trying to get a good performance from start to finish, it’s kind of unto itself. My favourite music, whether it’s blues or country or rock - or jazz for that matter - it’s the musicians playing together and what happens out of that. Recording should just be kind of a time and a place to me so I was in control of that and that’s the way it had to be if I was gonna do my own music – for better or for worse! You can always fix things and you can make it sound like it’s coming out of 8000 speakers but I didn’t want to that. I wanted to go the opposite way.
Eric Dover does of course provide most of the lead vocals on the record but you actually take lead vocals on three of the songs. As a drummer how comfortable were you taking up a spot behind the microphone?
I took the vocals to a dark place, let’s say that! (Laughs!) Well I’ve never sung a song before in my life. That being said when I did those vocals I was under the guise of ‘these are just the scratch vocals’ for whoever was going to sing the songs to learn the melodies and lyrics that I had in my head. So I was just sitting on the couch with an SM57 microphone, which is like a cheap standard microphone, and I was just doing what came naturally. And listening back to it and hearing those 3 songs I’m thinking ‘Hey, it doesn’t sound half bad!’. It doesn’t sound half good either! (Laughs!) But it wasn’t making me puke! So I’d go ‘Just leave it!’. There was kind of a little vibe that fit in the track, it fit fine and it was kind of a nice break so I said ’Why not?!’. And also another reason why I sing those songs, there is this song about my beautiful daughter and raising my daughter. Even though it’s a total rock song, it’s called The Power Of Three, that’s about my daughter. So it’s Daddy’s gift to my daughter. I had to sing that song. She also makes a cameo on the song and my father plays saxophone. So it’s kind of a little family affair. Another song that I sing is Make Me Smile which is just to the most sexy, beautiful woman I’ve ever met who happens to be my wife. I’m not good at getting chocolate or getting flowers or writing romantic poems so I brought her this rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues sexy song for her. So I had to sing that song! And the other one, Beat Up By Rock N Roll. It felt right so I just left it. Again, it’s just kind of letting it happen and if people don’t like it that’s cool. If people like it… sometimes you’ve just got to not give a shit when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll and just say ‘screw it’! The reason I left is because I can imagine somebody saying ‘Oh he can’t sing, he shouldn’t do that!’. And if somebody tells me I shouldn’t do it it’s probably just going to happen!
Well let me pick up on the song The Power Of Three because this is a hard rock album, a fantastic beer-soaked rock record, but you have created beautiful and intensely personal moments in this track. And as you said, we see contributions from your dad and your daughter lending her vocals. Just picking up on the family aspect, I wanted to pick up on the line “I listen to my daddy and the stories that he told”. Your dad is of course a musician. How much did he inspire you to follow the path of rock that you’ve taken and how much does he continue to inspire you?
My dad has been my number one inspiration in my life. People ask who your heroes are and expect you to say “Oh, it’s Ringo Starr” or “It’s John Bonham”. Drummers aren’t my heroes, my family is my hero. My dad has raised me to be a man, raised me to be a father and inspired me to be the musician that I am. He never told me that I couldn’t do it. He’s just my biggest supporter. That’s the truth about my dad and I will always say that. When people are great I like to tell them that they are great. I feel obligated to when they’ve had an impact on my life. My dad’s has the biggest impact. That’s my goal – I want to be my daughters hero. Hopefully she says the things about her dad that I say about my dad. Hopefully that’s the line that I’m taking. It’s a very big deal to me. Family, and through music, me and my dad – and my uncle was a musician who passed away a few years ago who was a trumpeter in New Orleans – and we had this bond through music that really makes it stronger than just relatives. If you have people who play sports together who are related, or music or stuff like that, it’s really solidifies the bond. I started playing music with my father and through that I learned so much. You get life lessons out of doing that thing. My dad taught me to be the guy that I am now. And he is still my biggest supporter! He lives 5 minutes down the street, he has a grand-baby now so he’s moved to California. It’s just how we are! Music was always the number 1 thing in my life. Now it’s number 2 but it’s a good number 2 because it drives me to be even better at what I do.
It will be very magical maybe in 30 years when she’s getting married and we’re playing at her wedding and it’s all worked out. That’s why I kind of made it – as a future gift in an odd way. It’s Daddy’s love letter to my daughter. To be honest with you, the music that I love kind of always makes you imagine your own life. That song is a Chuck Berry song all the way and something that Chuck did, he was so great at lyrics that he could paint a picture in your mind. I kind of wanted to paint a picture with the song and some of my lyrics. I didn’t think I was going to go that deep into the lyrics but it became kind of important to me to get what I thought about life into the songs. If anyone listens to the music I think they’ll get who I am. Great music has that effect on me. Music has that thing where you could be at the most low down point in your life and then the perfect song comes on and you rise up and it gives you this hope. That’s what music is. That’s the most beautiful thing about music. I think it’s that important, if I’m going to do my own music I at least want to get my own story out. Again, there is nothing serious about it. It’s totally not serious. It’s not changing the world, and it’s not U2 but to me it’s my everything.
I was intrigued by the album title and the title of track 8, Beat Up By Rock ‘N Roll, and I wanted to explore how autobiographical this track actually is. Have there been times when you have felt battered and bruised within this incredible career that you had?
I feel like that every day of my goddamn life! It’s kind of a play on the whole thing. You could be a construction worker and say you’ve been beat up by the construction business. You could be a plumber and be beat up by plumbing. It’s just that life will throw you curveballs and you’ve just got to plough through no matter what. People tell you you can’t do this, you can’t do - you’ve just got to forge your own path. To me it’s still a positive thing – Beat Up By Rock n Roll. Yeah, I’m beat up. If you’re not beat up by something, you’re not doing anything. That’s kind of the point. On the whole album there’s a lot of songs like that – keep ploughing through. When you’re down, get back up and that’s the way I look at things because I have no other choice. Anything I’ve had I’ve made it on determination, grit, hard work and just going for it. That was all the things my dad taught me. I wasn’t born a rich kid, I wasn’t born with a famous father, I wasn’t born with a trust fund. Whatever I had I had to get on my own and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of my family and I take care of my family and to me that’s what being a man is all about. As far as I’m concerned, I have this great family and this wonderful career that I’m proud of, and to me that equals the highest level of success that I could hope for. I’m the most successful guy I know! And I don’t mean that in an egotistical way. I’m a happy guy because I don’t have a backup plan and I wasn’t given anything. When you earn it it’s a very sweet reward.
As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect upon what an incredible album this really is. Whilst Tommy will politely dismiss this as simply a labour of love, the fact is he has produced is something quite outstanding. This is highly infectious, beer-soaked rock and the fact that ‘family’ is a thread that runs throughout, well, is there anything more rock than that?
Beat Up By Rock N Roll is available now. Check out the video to lead track Got To Play Some Rock n Roll below.