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Interview with Street Drum Corps co-frontman Bobby Alt

There seems to be a certain chemistry that goes along with brothers and bands. Street Drum Corps is the creation of Bobby and Adam Alt, two brothers who along with Frank Zummo have come up with a very interesting take on punk rock flavored music. If the name of the band didn’t already give it away, Street Drum Corps is a percussion based rock group which uses an assortment of odd and obscure instrumentation…

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There seems to be a certain chemistry that goes along with brothers and bands. Street Drum Corps is the creation of Bobby and Adam Alt, two brothers who along with Frank Zummo have come up with a very interesting take on punk rock flavored music. If the name of the band didn’t already give it away, Street Drum Corps is a percussion based rock group which uses an assortment of odd and obscure instrumentation to create a very original take on a well established form of music. Among the groups instrumental artillery are buckets, hand drums, garbage cans, kitchenware and even power tools. The band just released their second CD, We Are Machines earlier this year and toured as part of the massive summer Projekt Revolution Tour with Linkin Park. Recently we spoke to one half of the brother tandem, Bobby about all things Street Drum Corps. Here’s how our conversation went….

Street Drum Corps has been together now for about four years. Tell us, how did the members meet and the group come together in the first place?
Bobby: Yeah well Adam and I are brothers so we’ve been playing in rock and punk bands for almost our whole lives. When I was taking a break or when I was on a hiatus from my group Stun, um, Adam and I started doing some drum shows, sort of drum circle vibe drum shows that we were calling “Bobby and Adam Alt’s Drum Experiment.” And we got asked by Stephen Perkins from Jane’s Addiction and his drum tech Joey to come up to a camp for people with disabilities out in Malibu, California. So Adam and I went up there and we started playing drums and it was just a really good thing, we were doing it every weekend over the summer for two summers and we started inviting our friends and girlfriends up there and one of my friends is a schoolteacher so he had Adam and I come and play drums at his school for a spirit assembly.

We didn’t really know what we were doing at that point, it was just an experimentation, we’d set up buckets, garbage cans, fire extinguishers, drum sets… anything we could and from there, it kind of caught on and Adam and I were like “wow we might be able to do this for real.” And then came Frank out of Long Island and he knew of my band Stun and we were out at a bar one night and we got talking and he said he had a drum show back on the east coast doing theme parks, it was a trash can band called Repercussion. He came to see us at one of Adam and I’s shows at the Remo Centre, we were doing another benefit there and afterwards we were like “hey let’s put something together, I think we could actually make something really cool.” So we put together a three to five minute EPK, just us in a junk yard, the three of us playing different rhythms, putting a little show together and we sent it out to Magic Mountain, Universal, Disney Land and we got hired to play all those theme parks.

And from then it just grew, I got a phone call from Kevin Lyman, owner of the Warped Tour, I had played some Warped Tours with my band Stun and he said “Bobby, what are you up to?” I said “I got a drum band.” He said “why don’t you guys kick off the Taste of Chaos party at the House of Blues in LA, why don’t you put together a drum set?” So Travis Barker was invited by Kevin to come see us and um, we played the show, it was a really cool punk rock, drum show, they loved it. Then I was loading up my mom’s minivan out front and Kevin walked up to me and said “I want to offer you guys a record deal, I want you guys to be a part of my new Warcon Records, here’s ten grand, go make a record, go find a producer and then come tour the Warped Tour.” I could keep going on but that’s kind of how we met and that’s how we got to the touring cycle.

You were talking there about how you’re not any standard based guitar, bass and drums rock band as you guys use more unconventional instruments such as hand drums, buckets, kitchenware and garbage cans just to name a few. What type of instruments did you and your brother start off with growing up?
Bobby: I was ten when I first started playing drums and it was something I was offered in my school in fifth grade being in the concert band and playing the standard concert band material. Adam did the same thing, he’s four years younger than me but we kind of mirrored each other as far as getting into things and I influenced him obviously being the older brother listening to different music like Led Zeppelin, Jane’s Addiction, Blind Melon…. But when I was ten and I started in the concert band, it was like “oh well I want to rock the drum set.” I had a buddy named Mike and he was in my grade, probably the best drummer in the school and a good friend of mine and we’d just get together and set up two drum sets and drum a lot. Then by the time I was thirteen, and I think this is pretty much the same for Adam, I started playing in bands with guitars and bass and covering Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin. I grew up in New Jersey and we would play little house parties and that was pretty much it, I was a drummer in a band, I wasn’t using any weird instruments at that time, really until four years ago.

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Now on the touring side of things, you guys are part of the massive Projekt Revolution Tour this summer with Linkin Park and Chris Cornell. How did that tour go and what was the crowd reaction like towards Street Drum Corps?
Bobby: It was one of the most incredible tours we’ve ever done on so many levels. It was the first time we’ve been out on a tour on the main stage playing in front of thousands of people as a band. We were playing five new songs that are going to be on our new Interscope album that’s going to be out next year so we got an opportunity to play those songs. And then we accompanied Linkin Park at the end of the night with just our percussion sides, we played the garbage cans and the fire extinguishers and the big barrels, we did Linkin Park’s intro, we did their first song and then we did their encore every night. We also did a contest every day where fans had the opportunity to win two tickets and come and jam with Street Drum Corps at the Music For Relief tent every day at 1:30 pm. So we played all day long, we kept busy, like I said, it’s one of the most pro tours to be a part of, Linkin Park are one of the most incredible bands, they run their shows so tight, so professional, we learned so much. Then you’ve got all these other great bands on the tour like Chris Cornell who has been doing this forever and you know, he came to watch our show then we saw his show and really for me, singing a little more now is one of the things I’m doing in the band. To watch Chris Cornell while I’m going from a caterpillar to a butterfly of a singer, to have him there every day to watch, I’ve learned a lot. Looking at songs from The Bravery and how they structure their songs, we like a lot of the stuff they’re doing. There’s so much, we’re learned so much.

Yeah you mentioned there about playing with Linkin Park in their set. How did this idea come about, did they come to you and ask you? What set the stage for this?
Bobby: We met Linkin Park about two or three years ago, Street Drum Corps performed for MySpace’s second anniversary at Dodger Stadium and one of the bands performing there was Fort Minor, Mike Shinoda’s side project. And Chester was back stage with us and he came into our dressing room and we just got talking and he really liked our show, he really liked what we were doing and he said “I’d really love to do something with you guys some day.” So we exchanged numbers and Frank remained in touch with him and you know, they just started talking and Chester thought it would be a great collaboration. So about four or five months ago, we started trading MP3 files back and forth about what we could do for their intro, what we could offer them and that’s what we’re doing. Like I said, they’re a really pro outfit and they really know how to conduct their business and we’re the same, we’re a very hard working group, we’re building shows every day. We’ve got a show opening in Mexico in a few months, we have a new show we’re writing for Broadway and performing arts centers and we just finished a huge Vegas production so we’re working on all these things, Linkin Park’s working on all these things and I think they saw that in us and here we are. It has gone great and it’s something that Linkin Park wanted to add to their show and we love accompanying other acts because it gets us to our roots, it brings us back to how we started playing on garbage cans and barrels.

Your sophomore release We Are Machines was just released this past spring. How do you feel about the record and are you pleased with how it’s fared so far?
Bobby: Yeah it’s been really cool. We got to use Alex Pardi, our artist that did our self-titled CD, the first one we did, we worked with him again for all the artwork, we also worked with a lot of friends on this. When we did our first album, we picked DJ Lethal to work with because I had known Lethal and I had done some work with him on some other bands in LA and Frank mentioned “why don’t we work with Lethal? He’s really good with beats; he could make some great beats out of some weird samples.” So when we made our first record, it was more of a hip-hop kind of vibe, really percussion based, there wasn’t even really any vocals on it, maybe just a little bit. So we went out and toured on that and for a year, year and a half before we made We Are Machines, we really got to focus on what kind of record we wanted to make because we got really thrown into the fire on that first one. With We Are Machines, we just got really serious, it took more of an industrial kind of vibe and we had Adrian Young from No Doubt play on a song, we had some other guest appearances from theSTART… So we were in LA, we had another two weeks to make this record, we worked with a guy by the name of Jamie Rye who’s an up and coming producer/engineer and it was a really great experience and we feel like it was our first real record we got to make as songwriters.

We Are Machines features the production work of the legendary DJ Lethal of House of Pain and Limp Bizkit. Why did you decide to go with Lethal and what was it like working with him?
Bobby: We first met Lethal about five years ago, I was working on a project for my friend Cat Jacobs and he was doing an album with Lethal who was producing it, they were making a rock record and they called me in to play some rock drums, very Radiohead meets Zeppelin kind of stuff. Lethal has his own record company so he was working with different artists at the time so I went in and played drums and we hit it off and like I said, when it was time for us to make a record, Frank was like “oh man what about Lethal? He would be perfect” and that got us in with him and it was perfect, he did a great job for us.

You just recently were signed to a major label record deal with Interscope Records. How did this whole deal come about? Were you at all hesitant to sign with a major label for fear of being branded a sell out by some fans?
Bobby: After we released these two records and touring, we just felt like we needed major support, some weight behind us. There still is a business to the music business and there still are players out there in the game that know how to get a record out to people, know how to get music on the radio and Jimmy Iovine, Luke Wood and some of these other people at Interscope Records are those people. And we sent out our press packages and our two records to maybe five or six labels, we got meetings with the biggest people in the game and we chose Jimmy Iovine, we liked what Interscope does with their hip hop artists, Gwen Stefani, No Doubt, also one of the main reasons is what they’re doing with the Pussycat Dolls. We thought that Jimmy and Interscope could help us as partners with the recording side of things, getting a single out on the radio, making really nice videos and like I said, we signed with them as partners. So far it’s only been a few months but it’s been incredible, we have full creative control, they trust us, we’re not this new band who’s never done a thing, never done a tour, never put out a record coming into a major label. It’s a natural progression for us to go from where we were to where we are now.

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You play so many different instruments on stage but is there one in particular that you enjoy playing the most?
Bobby: For me it’s always been the bigger drums, the bigger they are, the better they are. I studied taiko which is a Japanese drumming, I studied that in Los Angeles for a few months and a lot of those drums are really big and I’m hoping that I can get some real taiko drums up on the stage at some point. I love playing the bigger drums, I love playing my theremin which is one of the first electronic instruments created back in the early 1900s. It’s a really fun instrument, I first saw Jimmy Page play one in The Song Remains The Same. I know Adam really enjoys playing the grinder and anything that is really loud and obnoxious. And Frank right now, it’s funny we went backwards, we added a drum set to the show now and Frank’s really having fun, we can’t even get him off of it now, he’s hard wired, we can’t get him off the damn drum set! He’s such a great drummer; he’s probably one of my favorite drummers out there so it works out really good. So that’s kind of what we’re into now and it’s fun doing the vocals too, I know it’s not an instrument as you asked, but it’s a challenge and I’ve never sang in my life and I’m out there in front of ten thousand people a night singing for the first time when normally you’re thirteen or fourteen years old trying to become a singer, well I guess Phil Collins did it (laughs). It’s something I’m crafting as I’m out there on the road so it’s going good.

Did you take any singing lessons or are you just doing it from the gut?
Bobby: I just started taking lessons with a woman in LA and she works with a lot of really great singers and it’s helped me with breathing, you know breathing control and warm up exercises though I haven’t really been doing them so she’s going to kill me. I don’t know, I just haven’t found a place to do them, I haven’t really gotten into it but when I go back and start on the new record, I’m going to be in there probably once every two weeks with her, really focusing on it and getting back into it. But right now most of it is from the gut and it’s writing lyrics that mean something to you, if you’re singing something you believe in, if you’re singing something you think could inspire someone or change someone’s life or maybe they have that sort of same story or same situation they’ve been in, it’s all worth it.

What does Street Drum Corps have planned for the fall of 2008 and in to 2009?
Bobby: Well we’re going to finish up this tour and then we have to fly to Florida from Texas to play two college dates which is Street Drum Corps Presents: Bang, that’s what that show is, it’s all percussive show, and we’re going to go do those two shows. Then we all just got new places in LA so we’re going to move in to our new places then I’m going to New York with my girlfriend for a fashion show. Then we start working on production for our show Man or Machine, our new performing arts Broadway show that we’re writing in LA. Then we start with a producer by the name of Switch who produced MIA, we’re going to work with him on some tracks. Then the rest of the year, it’s all working on this new record. And then in the New Year, we’re going to package it up, release it and go out and tour.  [ END ]

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