Interview: Talking drum skills and new album with master drummer Lonnie Hammer from EMN (part one)
Video provided by Lonnie Hammer/YouTube

Friday, AXS was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to talk to Lonnie Hammer, one of the preeminent rock drummers of our day. Hammer has a highly impressive professional pedigree. Lonnie has played in the bands Toy Jester, Chosen, Bullet Theory, Jonah 33, Chemical Zoo, Crushing Juliet, Jack Russell’s Great White and is with EMN (Every Motherʼs Nightmare). He has worked with Wayne Swinny of Saliva, Zach Myers from Shinedown, Jeff Caughron of Full Devil Jacket and members from the bands Roxy Blue and John and Korey Cooper of Skillet. Hammer was the go-to studio drummer at the legendary Sun Studios, Ardent Studios, and Kiva (House of Blues) Studios. In 2008 Lonnie Hammer was nominated for “Best Drummer” in the American Online Music Awards. Lonnie also co-wrote the song “Knock you Down,” chosen by WWEʼs Jerry “The King” Lawler as the theme for his wrestling show. The song was also used by The Memphis Xplorers Arena Football League team. EMN has supported many bands, including Whitesnake, Poison, Jackyl, and Cinderella.

AXS: You began playing music at a young age. Were your parents musical because your brother is a musician as well?

Lonnie Hammer: Actually my parents are not. I mean my dad can play a couple chords on the guitar and a little Johnny Cash but that’s about it. When I was a little kid a friend of mine had a Beatles record, the “Red” album, it belonged to his mother, and I couldn’t believe that these people made the music that was on the record. That was the first time I sort of put it all together, that people make the music that is on records. Like I said I was real young. I was in amazement. My brother and I went home and set up in the bedroom. He had a little plastic guitar and I made a drum kit out of tinker toys, cans and paper plates for cymbals. I used to practice on that all the time.

AXS: You were a drummer from the beginning, what was it about the drums that drew you in?

L.H.: For some reason I just knew I wanted to play drums. There was never a desire to play guitar or anything else, it was always the drums. Playing the drums kind of came naturally to me and I never really had too hard of a time learning. I spent a lot of time in the basement practicing, listening to my favorite artists and trying to copy their drum licks. I would even slow records down so I could really hear what they were hitting. You know, to figure out if it was a kick drum, tom-tom or snare.

AXS: You write music, how did you get started?

L.H.: That was kind of an evolution. When I was real young, about 13, I made a living playing cover tunes at high school dances and I honed in on drum patters and such. I can pick up a guitar and fumble through some chords but I don’t play. I discovered if I am with a good guitar player I can relay what I am thinking in my head for the guitar to sound like and they play it. I hear what I think the song should sound like and put things together in my head first and will even record my ideas on my phone, they get what I’m driving at and it all comes together.

AXS: Tell me about the songs you wrote for on the new EMN album GRIND (due out Oct 6, order here)

L.H.:  Well I brought in “Loco Crazy” and I brought in “Snake.” I bring in my ideas but we all work on stuff together, everybody contributes to everything. One of my favorite songs now is our single “Swing Again,” which all five of us created. That song started out with this drum beat I was playing around with and we all just started to jam. Actually we just kept jamming with that one for a month or so at rehearsals to work on it and that song ended up becoming one of our favorite tracks on the record now. It’s been getting a lot of great feedback, people keep telling me how much they like the drums on that track.

AXS: Heard you recently got involved with D.A.D., Drumming And Disabilities, the drum therapy program that works with wounded veterans as well as special needs children and adults?

L.H.: I thought it was important to give the disabled people a chance. You know many of them have probably never had the opportunity to play the drums or any musical instrument whatsoever. Music touches the heart and I feel that with that spark of inspiration from music you can bring the mind into another dimension. It can help them overcome so many things. From brain synopsis to motor skills there is an insight that music brings. Even the Vets, I’m sure some of them probably already played some instrument, but to let them sit down behind the drums and lose themselves in the music I think is very inspirational and healing for anybody.

AXS: The founder of D.A.D., Pat Gesualdo, is also founder/CEO of the Hall of Heavy Metal History.

L.H.: Pat is an amazing person. In addition to enshrining legendary musicians, record company executives, journalists, and producers who are responsible for making Heavy Metal music what it is today, Pat single handedly revolutionized special education curriculums throughout the world with his D.A.D. programs. I am looking forward to working with him and developing my skills as a drum therapist.

AXS: Do you use drum therapy for yourself?

L.H.: I do! Everybody has good days and bad days. On a day where I am really frustrated but we have a band rehearsal it ends up being a really good rehearsal because I am letting off a lot of emotion. It is a big release. That’s why a lot of great songs are written when people are going through struggles in life, it’s that emotion that leads to really great songs. When a tragedy hits life it’s music that helps you get through it.

(Click here for part two of the Lonnie Hammer interview)