April 4th, 2012, 2:00 am · · posted by KELLI SKYE FADROSKI, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
The 35-year-old Long Beach resident is best known as full-time drummer for seminal punk band Bad Religion, yet he has several other projects underway, including anchoring both the Jack Black/Kyle Gass musical-comedy act Tenacious D and long-running Huntington Beach quartet the Vandals whenever their main time-keeper, Josh Freese, is busy with his other bands, be it A Perfect Circle, Devo or Weezer.
On top of all of that (and stepping in for studio session work as needed), Wackerman, above right, has his own group, Kidneys, for which he steps out from behind the kit to strum guitar and sing. He also writes all of the songs, and for the band’s 2008 debut, he played most of the instruments and recorded the effort on his own.
Now, bassist John Spiker (also with Tenacious D) and drummer Todd Henning (formerly of O.C. metal outfit Death by Stereo) have joined Wackerman for Kidneys’ latest release, Hold Your Fire, due April 10. The trio is celebrating with a release party at the Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen in downtown Fullerton this Friday, April 6, with support from another side outfit, the Kyle Gass Band.
“It’s a great place because all of my best friends are near me and my family is nearby,” Wackerman says of Slidebar. “We’ve played there like four or five times and we love playing there. It has such a built-in following with all of the college kids and music fans that come out to check out the bands.”
Since Wackerman grew up in Seal Beach, he’s excited that his parents also will be able to enjoy this particular show yet still be in bed by 11:30 p.m. “It’s perfect for them,” he says with a laugh.
Wackerman comes from a highly musical family. His father Chuck is a jazz drummer who runs the award-winning jazz program at McAuliffe Middle School in Los Alamitos. Wackerman also has two brothers who drum professionally (including renowned experimentalist Chad Wackerman) as well as an older bass-playing brother.
“We’ll say that my dad is the best drummer of the family,” he admits. “Chad played with Zappa and now he plays with James Taylor, so our styles are completely different. We all just took different paths stylistically: I’m the only guy that plays punk in the family – I hit the hardest, I have the biggest muscles … not really, though.”
He insists his parents would have been just as proud had he become a hockey player or politician. But Wackerman says drumming was truly his first love.
“There was always a drum kit set up in the garage, so whenever I woke up, I would run in there and do a Van Halen song or something,” he recalls. “My parents started taking me to private lessons when I was 6, and I did that for five years. It was just always around and my dad was my jazz teacher in junior high and high school, so it was pretty much embedded in me from the start. I really had no choice.”
While attending Los Alamitos High School, Wackerman joined a local heavy metal band, Bad4Good. Later, he joined funk-metal group Infectious Grooves and then began drumming for punk band Suicidal Tendencies. He was also enlisted at the time by the Vandals to occasionally fill in for Freese.
“Before I joined the Vandals, I was a fan. Like ’93-’94 is when the Offspring hit – that’s when a slew of punk bands that are big today were really taking off. I met (the Vandals) and when Josh became busy with a million other things they asked if I could play with them.
“There was a lot of punk going on back then, and that’s really when I got into the kind of music that I play now. It was very fresh in Orange County in the early ’90s – there was definitely some electricity going on in the scene and it was very exciting.”
After almost eight years in Suicidal Tendencies, Wackerman left that band in 2001. Via the punk community he heard Bad Religion was looking for a new sticksman. The Vandals as well as a good friend of Wackerman’s, Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, recommended him for the gig.
“I had never met any of the guys so I didn’t know what to expect,” he remembers. “I think a side of me was saying, ‘OK, well, they’re known as this politically-charged and very serious punk band, so they’re probably going to act like that and I am not going to have a good audition.’
“The first guy I met was (bassist) Jay Bentley, and he was so down-to-earth and funny. And then I met (Greg) Graffin and we just hit it off; it all just felt very comfortable. Then Brett (Gurewitz) joined the band again, so there were a lot of factors that were attractive to me, and it seemed like the right time to jump back into the trials and tribulations of being in a band again. We have a great time. I made the right decision.”
These days he’s constantly putting on different hats before stepping on a stage, yet Wackerman says he’s worked out a pretty good system that allows him time enough to do everything he desires.
While on tour with Bad Religion, he often brings his guitar and a Pro Tools rig, enabling him to write and record his own material during downtime. Since everyone in the group has personal projects – Gurewitz runs Epitaph Records, Graffin teaches at Cornell University – Wackerman is also able to schedule in a few shows with Kidneys amid the usual hubbub. And given Jack Black’s busy acting schedule, the drummer is also able to work in time for solo work around Tenacious D’s frequently inactive itinerary.
“Everyone is really supportive of what I do,” Wackerman says. “Occasionally there’s a conflict and I have to juggle some things around, but it’s never too bad.”
The new Kidneys album’s lyrical content, he says, focuses on everything from interpersonal relationships to current events to his views on being a new father. “There are a lot of ‘becoming a man’ topics in there and how becoming a father has affected my life, the joy that it has brought to my life. (The album) kind of runs the gamut of just being human in my eyes.”
He also shares that, compared to the first Kidneys release, this sophomore effort has a much more cohesive band sound, thanks to additional players during sessions. The set was recorded in five different studios, including Spiker’s home studio as well as the lockout Tenacious D utilizes in Los Angeles. Wackerman admits that even though Kidneys has been around four years, he’s still developing into a stronger frontman.
“I always like the challenge. It’s just a completely different animal from being far back on the stage and playing drums. But I’ve always had a batch of songs that I wanted to perform live, and I never liked singing and playing drums at the same time. I’ve always really wanted to play guitar and sing.”
Yet doing exactly that was “kind of frightening for the first few shows, and it’s still a work-in-progress. We haven’t played that many shows … and I’m still trying to master some better skills as a frontman. I love it and I love how different it is from being a drummer. It’s a funny adventure.”
Following the release party, Wackerman has a few more Kidneys gigs lined up before heading out on tour with Tenacious D behind their new album Rize of the Fenix (due May 15), including appearances at Santa Barbara Bowl on May 23 and Washington’s Sasquatch festival, the Pacific Northwest’s answer to Coachella, on May 28. After a European trek that finds them opening for Metallica at the U.K.’s Download Festival, the D returns in summer to play San Diego State’s Open Air Theatre on July 29.
More O.C. music:
- The Devious Means put out new EP
- Midnight Hour goes slow and steady
- The Blank Tapes’ Matt Adams comes home
- Young the Giant wins three at OC Music Awards
- Lee Rocker’s fast train to rock’s roots
- Bleeding Through stays the course
- Orange Pop: Suedehead prepares for Coachella
- Death by Stereo prepares ‘Black Sheep’