Interview by: David Coleman
Welcome to the inaugural edition of our new column The Drum Beat. I’ve been playing drums for 30 years now and will be interviewing some of the best and brightest drummers Christian music has to offer. We’ll bring you the big names as well as those great drummers you may have never heard about (yet). So stay tuned for more exciting additions to this ongoing interview series.
For this first installment of The Drum Beat, I was honored with the opportunity to interview Dan Johnson, drummer for Tooth & Nail’s Love & Death featuring Brian “Head” Welch from the secular rock band KoRn. For those of you who don’t know the back story, Brian left KoRn about eight years ago and gave his life to Christ. Love And Death is the band which evolved from his solo project. Dan and I spoke briefly about his early days as a drummer, his main influences and his current stint with Love & Death.
JW: Hi Dan. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to conduct this interview.
DJ: No, thank you so much.
JW (Q1): Let’s start at the beginning. What got you into music?
DJ: A combination of my mom and 80’s hair band videos (laughs)
JW (Q2): Oh, no! Not hair bands! Although I was into some of those bands, the bands that leaned toward metal at the time really didn’t appeal to me. I cringe at the vibrato style of vocalists from metal bands back then. When did you first know you wanted to play drums? Were drums your first choice of instrument?
DJ: I knew when I was eight years old when I started in the school band. And, yes, drums were my one and only choice!
JW (Q3): For me, I used to bang my head against the back of the couch in rhythm with the music. I eventually graduated to beating on boxes with my mom’s kitchen spoons. So how old were you when you got your first drum set?
DJ: I got my first drum set at 13. It was a black Ludwig kit.
JW (Q4): Oh, a name brand kit, huh? My first kit was a complete no-name bobo kit (Royce, I think) with an even cheesier second bass drum (laughs). The main kit was blue and the second bass drum was red sparkle. Yeah…I was rollin’ in style. How did you learn to play? Are you trained or self-taught?
DJ: I learned in grade school. Yes, I’m self-taught but I took lessons later around 14.
JW (Q5): I was self-taught as well. As a drummer, one of my favorite things to do was to put on my favorite album, slap on a pair of headphones and play along with the music. I always like to say “Neil Peart was my drum instructor.” What type of music were you playing along with at the beginning?
DJ: I was into heavy stuff. But when I was learning I was way into pop rock and pop punk…and I still am!
JW (Q6): Did you have lofty goals when you first started playing? Was your desire to “make it?”
DJ: In the early days I didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew I wanted to play. I got serious around age 14.
JW (Q7): You know you’re meant for something when you’re compelled to play a particular instrument for no reason other than you simply MUST. So who are the top three drummers who influenced you?
DJ: Vinnie Paul, Tommy Lee and Tommy Clufetos.
JW (Q8): Got’cha. All metal drummers…or at least hard rock players. Would you say you are a diverse player regarding the styles you’re able to convincingly pull off?
DJ: Absolutely. I love all styles of music and I can appreciate the drumming in all of them.
JW (Q9): Same here. Some of my biggest breakthroughs came when I started delving into jazz and prog rock. Tell me about your current set up (i.e. number of drums, brand, cymbals, set-up, sticks, heads, endorsements, etc.).
DJ: I play Crush drums; just a four piece with five sabian cymbals, Remo heads and Vater drumsticks.
JW (Q10): I saw a picture of you behind a Risen kit and didn’t know if that was yours. It must have been a loaner kit. Coming from the Neil Peart school of thought, I’m more of a “big kit” kind of guy. I just love the flexibility of colors that having more elements to choose from allows. So what’s your practice schedule like at this point?
DJ: When I’m home I like to practice at least six days a week…no excuses.
JW (Q11): Is there an element of your playing which you feel is distinctive to you? If so, please explain.
DJ: I like how hard I hit and the tricks I do. I just like to play like the drummers I’m into.
JW (Q12): I hit hard too even though it doesn’t necessarily appear that way because I’m a big dude. But I appreciate being subtle as well. What was the name of your very first band and how old were you?
DJ: UO4, and I was 14 (laughs). We played all the parties in high school. It was the only way I had friends.
JW (Q13): It’s amazing what being a band can do for the not-so-cool kids, huh? Speaking of cool, what’s it like playing with Love and Death?
DJ: It’s amazing. They’re my brothers and I’m so proud to be a part of this.
JW (Q14): As you should be. Love & Death is a great band. How do you guys go about the writing process? Do you personally have much input?
DJ: Ehhh…I just handle the drums (laughs). But, yes, it’s a group effort.
JW (Q15): As a drummer with a background in music and theory, I always insist on being part of the process…and I’ve found that the other guys typically are open to my ideas. What’s your favorite “drum song” from the latest album, Between Here & Lost?
DJ: Hmmm…either “Empty” or “Fading Away.”
JW (Q16): I can see why you picked those two. “Fading Away” has a nice syncopated beat behind the verse, and Fading Away has a real nice groove, as well as some very sweet high-hat work. You’re living a dream that very few get a chance to experience. Do you have any advice for drummers trying to break into the business?
DJ: Stay in school (laughs). Just kidding…just never stop working at it and always follow your dreams no matter what.
JW (Q17): That “stay in school” line works for just about any situation, doesn’t it (laughs)? Do you have a favorite story from the road you’d like to share about some sort of challenge you personally had to overcome?
DJ: My very first few tours were rough because I had to leave my family for a while. That’s always hard.
JW (Q18): Sure. Family is our first ministry and brings so much joy to life…unless you come from an utterly dysfunctional family, I guess (laughs). I always like to ask this question in any interview: do you have a life verse? If so, how did it become your verse and what does it mean to you in your everyday life?
DJ: I’d have to say Romans 8:11 – “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
JW: Awesome! Thanks again for your time, Dan. It was a blast getting to know a bit more about your formative years and your influences. And it was an honor having you as the inaugural guest for the column. All the best to you and the band in the coming days.
DJ: No, thank you so much!
Also, enjoy this drum solo from YouTube!