TAMA :Let’s just start out by talking about System’s newest records Mesmerize and Hypnotize. Can you describe what the writing and recording process was for those sessions?
John : We officially started in the studio, I’d say three years ago, three and half years ago. But songs were being written [already], for example, Daron had written a lot of songs already up to 6-8 years ago. Depending on what songs they were; it was a long process, and every album is a long process. We went into Rick’s studio expecting to record one album, and we ended up recording two, which was a surprising experience for us. But once we got in there, it was flowing too well and we kept on going. It just seemed like more and more songs were coming out until we finally decided to do two albums.
TAMA : When you guys record, how do you go about recording the material? Do you lay down the drums first and then the other instruments? Or do you record live, in a live environment?
John : We record live and then everything is considered scratch except for the drums. Then if there are overdubs that are necessary, it’s done. Some of the scratch stuff is used. It depends on what song it is. It’s different things for different songs, basically.
TAMA : Do you typically record with your click?
John : We use clicks.
TAMA : When did you first start playing the drums?
John : I was 15 years old, when I first started playing.
TAMA : Did you have any lessons or formal training?
John : No, never did.
TAMA : How would you say you developed your skills?
John : Just practicing. I used to put on albums and play along with them daily. I practiced with them 4-6 hours a day, depending on the particular day. I did that for years and years. I developed my own style from basically taking from so many different styles. I used to play with whatever I could get my hands on, which included my Dad’s collection of jazz albums and the rock albums that my friends and I had.
TAMA : System of a Down incorporates a wide of variety of styles into their material. How did you learn to play with such diversity? Also, what is your approach when composing drum parts?
John : I try to make it as interesting as possible without taking away from the song. I try not to repeat what I do too often. Although sometimes it’s a necessity, because the song with call for a certain feel and you can’t help but repeat something you have done in the past. There is always a way to put a certain spin on it so that it sounds a little different and unique. I do the best I can to have something completely different for each song whenever possible without taking away from the song. I don’t believe in playing for myself, I play what’s right for the music.
TAMA : Your music is very schizophrenic in nature, containing a lot of set starts, stops, close tempo, and time signature changes. As the driving force behind the band, what goes into making those transitions?
John : It really boils down to, as I mentioned in the last question, do what’s best for the song. If it’s written in a schizophrenic manner, you have to connect it in the best way possible, so that it doesn’t sound 2-parted. It has to sound like it has a flow. But the vocal and the guitar melodies really enhance that and give me the ability to make that seamless.
TAMA : You are a very accomplished and well-respected drummer, but you are constantly evolving and developing new techniques. What would you say are your weaknesses that you want to improve on?
John : My double bass is never as strong as I want it to be.I think that if I have any weaknesses it’s mainly in my double bass. Technique wise, I can still improve. There are many ways I can still improve for this band. I still feel like I am learning everyday. I have actually taken about 3 to 4 months away from the drums so I can come back and approach them in a different manner. But I think you are always constantly learning, teaching yourself and learning from others.So, I don’t believe I have done my best work in any shape or form, nor do I believe System has done their best work. I think that are best work is in the future.
TAMA : Who are your biggest drumming influences? Who are some of your favorite drummers today?
John : My biggest influences were definitely Keith Moon, who was probably my biggest influence. John Bonham was a huge influence, Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart and some I don’t know their names, but I know what albums they played on. Billy Idol’s Vital Idol drummer was good as well. Other influences are the Dickies’ original drummer, Maynard Ferguson and his drummer; there were a lot of drummers that were big influences. But I took influences from just about anything. I would play Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction, one day and be playing a Miles Davis album the next. It really did crisscross genres and completely different styles of playing and that’s how I achieved the style that I have. Not to mention the influence that my father had on my music.
TAMA : And what was that?
John : He was a saxophone player and he actually started on the drums so whatever talent I have is from him.
TAMA : What drummers who are currently on the scene today have impressed you?
John : I don’t really know names. I like the drummer for The Killers, and the way he plays. Its not that he is so technical or that he goes off, but I like the grooves that he lays. And I feel the same way about Muse’s drummer. I really like what he does. Of course there’s Joey [Jordison], an incredible double bass player from Slipknot. I like him for that. I like different drummers for different things. I like the Foo Fighters drummer a lot. I like the Chili Pepper’s drummer a lot, and I think he is an amazing drummer. If you see him play live, he goes off a lot more than he does in the albums. There are a lot of drummers out there. It’s not like the 80’s, when it was ridicules listening to drummers. It’s not as “tasty” or lame as it used to be. There are a lot of people who are innovating that are doing things that are interesting. It’s much more open to drumming. There is more drum influence now than there was 20 years ago. Such a more positive time.
TAMA : What are System of a Down’s plans for the rest of 2006? I know you are going to Ozzfest.
John : We are playing in Ozzfest and then we are taking a long break. Actually, Ozzfest may be the last time people will see System for at least a year and half. We are not going to be doing much touring. We need a break, man. We’ve been working our asses off for the last ten/twelve years. It’s about time we took some time off.We are on break right now, but in about a couple of weeks we are going to start rehearsing for Ozzfest.
TAMA : Are those the only live dates you guys have planed for this year?
John : Those are the only live dates we’ll ride, for this year.
TAMA : After the break will System head back to the studio or head back on the road?
John : Only time will tell. Maybe a combination of both of those.
TAMA : When you aren’t [recording], how do you stay in shape and keep your chops up while on the road?
John : When I am on the road, I don’t do much. But when I am at home, I work out at home. And I practice and play sports, basket ball, volleyball... that kind of stuff.
TAMA : In the past, you have used one bass drum with a double petal...
John : Now I have two.
TAMA : Right, now you have two. What made you decide to make the switch?
John : I was playing more double bass, and I like the feel of having two bass drums better. When I was playing very little, I was playing one and it worked ok. But now that I am playing more double bass, I like to have two.