John HumphreyInterview by Sean Mitchell // July 17 2012
I'm a purist and still love to hold that artwork in my hands and listen to the imperfection with pops and crackles.
John Humphrey is the epitomy of an individual living out the American dream. His life-long passion for the drums has seen him land drumming gigs for two incredibly successful bands, The Nixons and Seether, and he was hand picked by Eric Carr's sister to record drum tracks on Eric's posthumously released album Unfinished Business. The post-grunge drummer had the good graces to take a time out from his busy schedule and share his incredible insight on the music industry (and his incredible KISS collection). Enjoy!
John, let’s start off with your list of influences. Who had the most impact on you as a kid?
Well, as a kid, my first real adventure into rock was being completely consumed with the band KISS. So, Peter Criss and Eric Carr had a big impact on me. I always loved the visual aspect of drumming and the showmanship, so when I saw videos with guys like Tommy Lee, Alex Van Halen or Tommy Aldridge, they blew me away!
As a self taught drummer, what sorts of things did you give priority to in practice?
Initially, I would play along to my favorite bands and their songs. I wouldn't stop until I had performed the fills and every nuance, as recorded. Little did I realize, I was also teaching myself tempo and feel. By performing with recorded music, I was teaching myself not to rush and keep time with the music.
Diverting here a bit, you being a Southern boy and a big Elvis fan, were you influenced at all by Ronnie Tutt as a kid? Elvis had a very unique stage show and I know Ronnie had to be on top of his game all the time, especially having been a studio guy for so long.
Of course! He is an amazing drummer. My aunt had one of the very first VHS recorders manufactured in the late 70s. So, knowing I was huge Elvis fan, she recorded Elvis's Aloha from Hawaii: Via Satellite TV special for me. Every time I'd go visit her I'd have her put that on for me. I must have watched that show, easily, 100-plus times. I loved to watch Ronnie. He plays with so much passion and feel. He was the absolute backbone of Elvis's band. In 2006, I had the privilege of interviewing Ronnie for a friend’s music magazine. It was an honor to speak to him and so cool to hear his stories.
What advice can you give young drummers who want to be “successful” musicians? Are there steps you look back on and say, “I am so glad I did that”? Can you pinpoint anything that put you into the path of success?
Well, I try to tell young drummers to lose the ego. Working with various band members, producers and personalities takes compromise and understanding. Being a musician, on the level I'm on, you are critiqued all the time. Either it's the music critic writing a review, or a producer telling you to try a different drum part in that section, or another member of your band suggesting an idea. You need to keep a level head and an open mind. I have seen very talented musicians not make it because they were their own worst enemy. They might blame the business, but they didn't even get out the gate before blowing it all! I'd like to think my attitude, professionalism and overall work ethic has helped me get this far.
Let’s talk a bit about Seether. You are going to be celebrating nine years with them in October. How did you get hooked up with Seether?
I was in an alternative rock band in the 90s, signed to MCA records, called The Nixons. We had moderate success, and in 2000 the band broke up. The Nixon's sound engineer (and my good friend, Howard Worthen) became Seether's sound man in early 2003. Seether had re-located to the US, from South Africa, following signing their record deal in 2001. Their original, drummer did not. They were having problems finding a permanent drummer, so Howard called and said, "I've told these guys you would be a perfect fit and that they should audition you." And to his credit, he was right. The Nixons were similar in style—Seether is perhaps a bit heavier, but I also came from a hard rock/metal background too. I auditioned in October 2003. I was the last of four or five guys they were trying out. I went in there, prepared (I learned their first album Disclaimer inside and out) and nailed the audition. I was hired on the spot.
What can fans look forward to from Seether in the coming months?
We will be finishing our leg of the Nickelback tour soon. Then it’s overseas, for some festivals, followed by a US headline tour in September/October. There is also talk of a possible headlining European tour and a couple of South American dates. Either way, with the exception of two week breaks this summer, we will be touring the rest of the year.
As a member of an established band who has achieved a level of fame, what does the music industry look like to you now? Where do you see it headed and will we still see acts with the fame/longevity of Kiss or the Rolling Stones in the future?
Well, I think it’s interesting how a band at our level is truly in control of our own career path and longevity. More and more, record labels are becoming obsolete and record sales are not what they used to be. A band makes most of their living from touring. I, personally, think the days of taking two years to write an 18-song CD are done. I think that an artist can release a three to four song EP online. Designate one as the single for radio and hit the road. Tour for six months and then hit the studio with another three to four songs. I also think the ability to connect with fans via social media outlets is important too. The band can control what it actually says and does without misinterpretation. Seether has been a band for 10 years now and I think we can go on, as long as we want to. It ultimately comes down to putting out good music and touring behind that music.
To follow that up, I am curious to get your perspective on music multi-media, being that you are a vinyl guy. Is the CD dead/dying? Do you see a new standard on the horizon? Where do you feel technology will take audio recording?
I do love the sound and feel of vinyl. Unfortunately, the next generation will have their music collection stored on an external hard-drive or on a "cloud" somewhere. I'm a purist and still love to hold that artwork in my hands and listen to the imperfection with pops and crackles.
Turning now to your Kiss collection. I, too, am a huge Kiss fan and proud owner of an original Kiss '79 and Kiss '78 poster. How big is your collection and what are your most prized possessions?
It’s a fairly large collection, consisting of mostly 70s memorabilia and vinyl. My parents didn't have a lot of money growing up, so I couldn't get the record player, dolls, board games, lunch box, etc. as a kid. So now, I have slowly collected those things as an adult. It's sorta like re-claiming your childhood. I identify the band, so much, with those years. The Nixons opened for Kiss on their 1996 reunion tour. It was a dream come true for me, and [Kiss] signed an old, out-take poster from their first LP photo session. It's probably not the most valuable item I have, but it means everything to me!
Is there any memorabilia out there you have yet to acquire? What would be the Kiss “Holy Grail” for you?
Well, die-hard Kiss fans will know what I'm talking about, but, for the first show only (I believe) of Kiss' 1979 Dynasty Tour they used a now ultra-rare tour book titled The Return of Kiss. It featured a completely different cover and incorrect tour dates listed inside. This book now is one of rarest items to collect in the world of Kiss. I also would imagine it would cost a sweet penny, should I ever have an opportunity to acquire one.
I wore the Creatures of the Night cassette out. In fact, I had to buy two additional copies of that and Kiss Alive II. I absolutely thought “Rock and Roll Hell” was an incredible track for them on Creatures—great groove and a well written tune. Not surprised when I read the liner notes that Robben Ford was lead on that tune and that Bryan Adams/Jim Vallance had co-written. What was your standout tune on Creatures of the Night?
"Saint and Sinner," hands down. I dare any drummer to check out that groovin' yet slightly complicated drum beat. It is a great part!
How did it come to pass that Eric Carr’s family asked you to be on the Unfinished Business CD?
I had found and introduced myself to Loretta Caravello (Eric's sister) via Eric's website. I told her Kiss (with Eric Carr, 1983 Creatures Tour) was my first concert and how much he influenced me. We have since become good friends. We email each other almost every week, now. Anyway, she contacted me about the Unfinished Business CD she had been working on and was about to release. However, she said "There is one more song that I would love to have you record the drums on." The song was an old Eric/Kiss demo from 1989 called "Eyes of Love." She then sent me the pro-tool files and I took it to a friend’s studio to record my parts. I tried to play the parts to support his original intent and ad some of me in there. She was very pleased with the final results.
What insight did you get into Eric’s artistic persona in working on his tracks? What kind of a songwriter was he?
I was aware that Eric wrote music and played guitar and bass, in addition to playing drums and singing. He even played bass on Kiss records. He was a very multi-talented guy.
Can you take us through the steps of that session? How do you record with someone who is not there but their track is? Who had the final decisions in this case as far as final product goes?
I was somewhat familiar with the song. The demo had been in Kiss collector circles for a while and was also used for his Rockology CD. I listened to that original demo, many times and developed my parts from listening. The song had been edited a bit, by the guitarist on the track (Benny Doro), so I tried to approach the song as a song intended for an actual album release, not just a demo. I think some Eric fans will even notice the signature Eric Carr drum bit I do in the pre-chorus—an alternating toms and snare part, a very "Heaven's on Fire," "Tears are Falling" thing he did. It's my tip of the hat to him.
The actual recording was the best part of the overall experience. While recording, I had some of the music and his vocals cranked in my headphones. It was like he was actually there. Only because of today's technology could I play with a Kiss member who is no longer with us. I think the song, mix and drums sounds turned out great. I can only hope he is looking down and could see the great care and effort I put into the song.
Did you ever get to meet Eric or any Kiss members? If so, what was the experience like for you?
I've met all the "original" Kiss members with the exception of Eric. I regret that I never had the chance to meet him. But, the performance he gave in my first concert experience impacted me more than meeting a member in person.
What do you have coming up?
We just completed a video for a song we did for the Dragon Age animated movie. Also, lots more touring.
About the Author
Sean has 15 years experience behind the kit, studying under greats like Mitch Dorge and participating in master classes with Dom Famularo and Zoro. It was these life-changing exchanges that prompted the Canadian-born drummer to create a global drumming community, The Black Page, that was easily accessible to drummers of all backgrounds and levels of expertise. In addition to his work with BP, Sean is one-half of the world soul group The Mitchells.
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