Exclusive Interview: David Abbruzzese

The Rear View Mirror. Looking back with David Abbruzzese
By Michael Aubrecht

In 1991 I remember a college friend tipping me off to a new album titled Ten by a band out of Seattle named Pearl Jam. I remember how odd that band name sounded but I checked it out and was impressed. The song “Why Go,” not one of their hits, stood out to me. Another song titled “Even Flow” also stood out. I listened to the CD a few times before returning it to my friend and I moved on.

A few months later I’m sitting in the bar I frequented having a beer when the song “Even Flow” came across the jukebox speakers. This version however was live and far more intense than what was on the album. The recording featured some amazing drumming that immediately caught my attention. Unlike the original recording this drummer was playing slick hi-hat accents throughout the piece along with some hard-driving fills. I thought I even heard a splash cymbal in there. The whole band came alive and the performance was very memorable. As a drummer I wondered what had happened between the first cut and this new take. I later learned that the difference was in the drummers. It wasn’t a drummer improving on what he had recorded in the studio. It was a whole new drummer expanding the drum parts and propelling the band forward.

Once again, I appreciated the performance but moved on. Fast forward a month or so in 1992…I’m watching one of my favorite shows, MTV Unplugged where bands like Nirvana and Arrested Development put on performances that were magic. This night Pearl Jam was playing. What immediately struck me was the drum kit sitting in the shadows on the left of the stage. Previous drummers, due to the acoustic setting, used brushes, hotrods, bongos or some stripped down form of percussion. This drummer had a full set-up. Once the music began I noticed that he appeared to be jamming, yet he did not overpower the other musicians around him. It was a master class in control and dynamics.

From then on I sought out the drummer, one David Abbruzzese, who quickly became a favorite. In fact, Dave’s playing influenced my own and I strived to perform with the same skill and intensity that he did. I requested that my band cover Pearl Jam and we decided on “Alive.” I continued to be inspired by Dave’s playing throughout the band’s next two albums (Vs. and Vitalogy) and was very disappointed when his relationship with the band ended. To be honest, that was when I stopped listening to Pearl Jam. As far as I knew Dave had dropped off the face of the earth following the break-up.

Fast forward once again to 2017…Who do I discover on Facebook but one David Abbruzzese. I immediately sent him a friend request and was incredibly thrilled when he accepted. I was a bit star-struck when we communicated online and elated when he agreed to do an interview for the blog. It’s a great pleasure when you get to interview someone who had such an influence on your past. I still smile when I hear that live version of “Even Flow” as it was my first introduction to the man. It still remains one of my favorite songs.

Dave still inspires me to this day and I’m not the only one. One visit to Dave’s Facebook page shows thousands of followers who routinely post hundreds of comments. Honestly, I have no idea how he keeps up with it. His attempt to do so is a testament to the personal attention he gives his fans. From admiring drummers to Pearl Jam devotees Dave does his best to reply to them all. That effort has furthered his fan’s affections for him. It has also furthered my admiration of him. Busy with his own projects as a drummer and producer Dave took some time out of his schedule to share his story from then to now. (*Dave’s interview was conducted over a period of months via Facebook Messenger.)

MA: Let’s start with the obvious question for our readers: What brought you to the drums?

DA: I have no idea. Drums and drumming have captivated me in many ways throughout my life. In my early years it was what came natural. My mother bought me a 45 rpm record player. It ran on batteries and when you closed the lid it would play. Two of the songs that I remember being fixated on were the Beatle’s “Day Tripper” and “Birthday.” Maybe it was because it was the easiest instrument to make at home, I dunno, but I was soon banging away on everything that made any sort of percussive sounds. My first set up was a few Encyclopedia Britannica volumes of varying thicknesses nailed to a bookshelf. Drums soon became my escape, my teacher, my master and my slave. I was lucky enough to grow up in the northeast. The tonight show was alive with the likes of Buddy Rich, and it was there that I first saw how the human body could manifest the sounds. I was blessed with a mind for visualization and I remember that I developed a very keen knack for being able to see myself playing the drum parts to every bit of music that I heard. My folks had a wide range of tastes for music. Grand Funk Railroad, Sam & Dave, Sly and the Family Stone, Carole King, The Carpenters. And then my older brother Frank turned me on to Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Traffic, Genesis, Kiss…. I was hooked on music. So blessed to have grown up during the R&B, British Invasion, Rock & Roll, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Fusion years of music. Before the mid-80’s drum machine era.

MA: Who are the drummers who influenced you growing up?

DA: One of, if not the most often asked question of me from other drummers and interviewers alike is, “What drummers influenced you? Who inspired you? …Who did you idolize? …Who is your favorite, etc.” I have never liked that kind of questioning. I know that my answer could be easily spat out and we would continue with the Q&A. Bonham. That worked. Peart. Also fully acceptable. Fact is, there are so many drummers…so much music that influenced me. The soundtrack to my childhood that made me feel an unspeakable amount of emotion…made me identify these mysterious sensations within myself in such a universal way. I learned how to understand this beautiful language on my own through those countless other drummers and all that incredible music of my childhood. Back then we really had the chance to take it all in. Music was a very personal friend to me. It was food for so many of us. Before too long, I had things that I wanted to say out loud. My language of choice?  Music. My chosen voice? Drumming.

I saw Triumph on their Allied Forces and their Never Surrender tours. Gil Moore. He defined the rock band drummer with his dynamic and musical approach to songs. I was at about mid court, stage left, second level at Triumph’s Never Surrender tour. It was at the newly opened (now torn down) Reunion Arena in Dallas, TX. Gil Moore was crushing it on a very large, drum set that had a mirror ball finish. Wow! At the end of the show, he and the band broke it down to a single bass drum stomping with the beat. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Gil told the crowd that he wanted to see some hands in the air. Up they went!  There was smoke and light that illuminated the scene of 12,000 people clapping and throwing their fist in the air to the beat. I literally said to myself, this is what I am going to do.

Next? Alex Van Halen. Bobby Chouinard (Billy Squier). Dave Holland (Judas Priest). Clive Burr (Iron Maiden). Niko McBrain (Pat Travers). What a time to be a young drummer! I never missed Ted Nugent with drummer Cliff Davies during the loin cloth Cat Scratch Fever, Stranglehold, Derek St. Holmes days. Cliff was a real hero of mine. They all were crushing it. To every other drummer, I say thank you, too. We all influence one another in some way and I am proud to be a member of the coolest musical fraternity that exists: Drummers.

MA: Did you formally study the instrument through school band or private lessons?

DA: Yes and no. I went to school but my head was in the clouds for sure. I had already become aquatinted with the Mel Bay beginning snare method book, so school was basically just something that I had to do. My heroes were my father and every drummer I could possibly absorb. I just wanted to play music. I wanted to be an inspiration, as I was inspired. I wanted to provide others with the soundtrack of their life, as the soundtrack of my own was so important to me.

I was an awful student. Between the ages of 7-11 my family had moved from Connecticut to North Carolina to Texas. I think the timing of these moves allowed me to slip through the cracks of academia. I never ‘got it.’ I didn’t know how to learn with the book method. I knew how to daydream. I knew how to play baseball. My brothers, Frank and Alan, are both incredibly gifted at sports. Dad coached us. Mom cheered us on and patched us up. I think my drumming style comes directly from the blend of my love of powerful music and the healthy competitive nature instilled in me through sports. Somehow along the way, I did manage to learn to read music and I spent a few years playing stand-up bass in the school orchestra and drums and percussion in the school band. Playing tri-toms in the varsity Big Blue North Mesquite High School marching band was the first experience with the direct power of making a large crowd move. I quit school right after my freshman marching season ended, and joined a band.

MA: When did you decide that you wanted to pursue music full-time?

DA: Seeing Triumph on their Allied Forces Tour. They played Reunion Arena in Dallas, TX. Gil Moore had the entire crowd pumping their fists to his kick drum. After I experienced that, it was never a choice that I made. It was just the way life was. It was always about the music. Always.

MA: When you took over the drummer’s seat in Pearl Jam you put your own spin on the songs. How did you go about making them your own?

DA: I was co-hosting a radio station when I made that call to Eddie and Jeff that would be the deciding factor for me. I asked them what they wanted sonically and scientifically…a mirror image of what had been put together on the Ten record, or what? Jeff said to not worry about it, just come up and we will jam and see how it feels. So, I stopped forcing myself to learn Dave Krusen’s parts and just approached them as I would have if they were my own. I would try to stay true to the notion of what the songs were on the Ten record, but the guys were quick to allow me to do my thing. When we rerecorded the song “Evenflow” and it became the version that was released as the single, I knew that the band approved.

I mean the guys were looking for their new drummer, not a temporary stand in. Back then, Stone had a very strong sense of the musical direction and brought a prolific amount of ideas into the fold. He and I worked a lot together. We would spend a lot of time working on music together before the rest of the band would arrive. His guitar style was uncompromisingly original and very rhythmic. Almost percussive at times. After the initial week of getting to know what I brought to their style, it became clear to me that I was going to have a more stylistic influence upon the music. The songs we were creating as well as the approach I took to playing the songs off the Ten album straddled a fine line and I knew that ghosting notes on the snare and punctuating the rhythms with percussive elements such as splash and Chinese cymbals were going to allow for a more flamboyant style of drummer to fit in without ruining the melodic sensibilities of the Pearl Jam sound. As the band started growing on tour, this new style became apparent.

MA: You played some huge festival shows. Did this affect your playing in any way?

DA: Yes. Tremendously. We went from small clubs in Europe for the first European tour in ‘91 to suddenly exploding. Next trip back to Europe. Playing a few festivals. We had played good size venues with the Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins, but none of that prepared me for the energy of 65,000 people and more! It was the most unforgettable achievement. I enjoyed the big shows very much. The band was firing on all cylinders back then and I was still young enough to allow the pain to motivate me.

MA: What are some of the most memorable festival experiences that you played at?

DA: Every time we were a part of a festival production, there was an air of magic to it. Lollapalooza 1992. Wow. What can I say? It was beautiful. Travelling around the country playing music and getting to enjoy the experience of such amazing bands, all in the zone. Every band pushed each other to produce epic performances. Pearl Jam signed on to do the tour before everything ‘broke’. We had an early afternoon slot. The second band to perform for roughly 35 minutes. It was the decision of the band to give everything that we had, every time we hit the stage. There were no lights other than daylight. The entire performance had to rely solely on our energy and performance intensity. I was always proud of the fact that we set the bar pretty damn high for the other bands. It was also really amazing that the entire audience was there for us when we took the stage.

The drummers on that tour were so generous. No ego trips. Bill Rieflin was with Ministry (now REM), Chad Smith, Matt Cameron…it was a bro hang every day. We all had permission to join one another and jam along. There was one gig where, during the Chili Pepper’s set, Chad blew out his kick pedal so I grabbed a stick and laid under his floor toms and played the bass drum part. Every couple of shows, I would slide under Bill and play with Ministry. While Bill would go stand next to their singer Al, and wait for him to notice. My favorite memories were with the crew members. Amazing professionals. The true heroes of a big rock and roll circus. The biggest festival for us was the Pink Pop Festival in 1992. Sharing the stage with David Byrne, Lou Reed, Soundgarden… It was the first time the success and power of the band really couldn’t be denied. Not even by us.

MA: How did you play with such intensity and energy night after night?

DA: It was just how it was. It is the way I feel about what I am doing. The experience warranted nothing less than all I had to give to it. I never gave less than I had because I believed in the band, the music, the reasons, all of it.

MA: Most drummers on MTV Unplugged used hotrods, brushes or bongos. You used a full-on kit yet didn’t over power the other musicians, how did you accomplish that?

DA: Dynamics, I think it’s called! The kit was set up differently. I played a great DW kit and I had Jimmy Shoaf set them up with Remo coated Emperor tops and Ambassador bottoms tuned a bit deeper than our standard tuning. I must confess to the fact that we had just arrived home from Europe. I hadn’t slept in 30 hours and I had a wicked sinus infection and head cold. The band began our unplugged set sometime after midnight. Add to that we didn’t have a real sound check. The monitors and audience were in the round and I was playing with only a very minimum of monitor sound. There were long stretches of that show that I played with no audible reference to what the other guys were playing at all. I think my style of playing was the result of me just enjoying an easy night of good music with confidence in myself and in my friends to do a good job. Also, it was the timing. We never relaxed and played our music. From the very start of joining the band, we had to prove it every time…bring it every night. We knew if we were going to be successful, it was up to us. The band hadn’t even signed a record deal yet! That’s still what eats at me about the band not standing up respectfully at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for how hard we worked and what we achieved before I was fired.

MA: Let’s get technical. You often used splash cymbals, which were not popular at the time, and set up your cymbals in a unique way. Why?

DA: Because that is the way my kit needed to be for me to do what I wanted. My cymbal setup changed throughout, partly due to the effects touring was taking on my body. Also due to the stylistic changes of the parts I was playing.

On the Ten tour I was using two 12 inch Chinas, three 19 inch AA crashes, 20 inch A Zildjian ride, Paiste 14 inch 2002 sound edge hats, two Sabian 8 inch AA splashes and a 21 inch AA crash. These were all atop my big fat late 70’s to early 80’s White finish ply Ludwigs. The sizes were 26, 15, 16, 18 with a 14 inch Pearl piccolo snare.

On our first tour in Europe I was using a back line kit from Yamaha. The sizes were 22,14,16,18. Then I hooked up with John Goode from DW in Frankfurt. He came out to one of our shows with a kit for me to check out. It was a satin pink, 20 inch kick with a 12, 14, 16 tom configuration. I had a gas. It was so tiny compared to my Ludwigs. After the show, the band’s sound engineer Brett Eliason came up to me and in no uncertain terms told me that that was the drum kit for me. Also that night I met Wayne Blanchard and Bill Zildjian from Sabian. I’ve gotta say, I was already a believer in the DW drums and Sabian cymbals sounds, but that night I met the guys from those companies and we became family. And I am honored to report we still are today.

When Vs. was made, I was setting my cymbals up for the parts I was writing. I chose more of a melodic setup. I varied my sizes and the tones became very important. The Vs. setup required cymbals ranging in sizes. I used 13 inch hi-hats AAX metal top/fusion bottom with rivets, 8 inch AAX, HH and AA splashes, 17 and 18 inch AAX stage crashes, 19 inch AA rock crash, AAX 20 inch china, 14 inch HH and AAX chinas, 20 inch AAX metal and AAX stage rides.

MA: You mentioned using a piccolo snare, also a rarity among rock drummers.

DA: I chose to make a Pearl free floating 14 inch piccolo snare as my main snare when we were touring medium sized clubs and small arenas. All too often the snare drum would just be an accident if it made it into the pa. I chose to make sure the guys in the band would hear my backbeat, and that the audience would hear my drags, and the subtle articulate ghost notes that I felt were vital to the movement of the groove. Once we moved into playing stadiums and large venues, festivals, etc. I could then find my voice in the music again. It was then that I then began using a 12 inch Brady snare. It provided me with a crushing crack with depth.

MA: I’ve always been curious. What did those rats on your bass drum mean?

DA: Those were Rat stickers from Rat Sound, the sound company that Pearl Jam used back then. Karry Rat was our monitor engineer and Dave Rat was the system designer and sound engineer for The Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were both amazing people who were responsible for amazing sounds. It was my way of praising the ‘Rats.’

MA: What songs that you played with Pearl Jam personify your playing?

DA: In every way, I would have to say they all do in that they represent my opinions of what the songs needed me to do as a drummer, to achieve the best version of what my thoughts as a musician, performer, listener and band mate beckoned of me. There are some notable, moments of self-realized pride in the compositional choices that I made. “Immortality” from the Vitalogy record still resonates as one of the most soulful and melodically expressive drum compositions that I have ever heard. The song “Tremor Christ” was essentially a reactive drum composition. Stone Gossard intro riff inspired a reaction that Eddie Vedder’s vocal approach sat perfectly upon, in my humble opinion. I also have a great deal of pride and a sense of accomplishment in the songs that I had no time or desire to overthink. The rockers, “Spin the Black Circle,” “Go,” “Animal,” etc. Hell, even my re-approach to the songs from the Ten album were approached in such a manner: drive the songs, myself, the band, the crowd, etc. I love my job!

MA: There is a lot of speculation on why you left Pearl Jam. What was the real reason?

DA: I left because Stone told me that they were looking for another drummer! Ha! It’s funny because it’s true. Truth be told, I still don’t know for sure why I was fired. I’d never been in that situation before. Looking back at it, as I did for years, it had me miffed. Then one day I came across footage of the band Candlebox with the drummer Dave Krusen playing with them live and a theory formed in my head. All personality questions aside, what I witnessed was just another drummer. No spark. No fire. No rock or roll. That was what they (Pearl Jam) had wanted as their drummer? Then I looked at how, in comparison to his other work, Matt Cameron’s approach with regards to his drumming is very tame and lackluster when he is playing with PJ. It made me realize that perhaps they never intended to be a hard-driven, powerful rock band. I drove that band as a rock drummer drives a rock band. Like Matt Cameron drove Soundgarden. Mind you, I am still guessing, yet this is the only excuse that I have found that makes my firing make sense.

Other excuses I have heard such as my cymbals, political views, gun ownership, or that I enjoyed the success more readily, etc. are all laughable to me. Actually, most of the facts surrounding how that powerful version of that band was destroyed is laughable to me at this point. I still think I am a little angry at the chicken-shit way it was handled twenty plus years ago. At least Stone was man enough to show me some respect and didn’t allow it to be handled by lawyers. I will always be grateful for the day we spent together when he told me I was out of the band. It was a very emotional effort that took a lot of strength on his part. He knew that it was going to destroy a part of me that he valued. It was the beginning of one of the most challenging experiences of my life, having to let go of what could have been and witness what all of that hard work was allowed to become.

MA: How did being fired from Pearl Jam affect you as a musician?

DA: That experience began a very challenging period of my life. Being “fired” from a band. Then to be discredited and disrespected and all but written out of the band’s history. The reason for that is a grudge that formed around my participation in an authorized book that was being written as I was fired. I participated in it and it really pissed some people off. I had no idea how far the shadow of profitability extended from the band.

That said, I was able to find myself again producing the Green Romance Orchestra albums. The GRO band released an album and with no mention of a tour, and very limited details on how we planned on supporting it. We still managed to get assistance to release the album on Emperor Norton records via the great Steve Pross, in association with my label Free Association Records. Initially, the support and reviews were very pleasing, almost accurate. Then we noticed that the big players just didn’t seem to get it. Rolling Stone wrote a review that was so bizarre, I still don’t think the reviewer had the right album! The record shipped over 20,000 units and Tower records awarded us a prime spot in their listening stations during the Christmas holiday season. That was huge for us. Then the record was released and not one was put out on the shelves. Regardless, I was so damn proud to have rediscovered my love for music that l just let it go and took it as it happened.

That’s where I would spend the next few years, lost in substance miss-use and lack of sunlight induced haze…and working my ass off! Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way putting any blame on the Pearl Jam guys for what happened to that record. Although they have done remarkably well at keeping a grasp on their surroundings, the big machine still has ways of functioning to protect their interests.

MA: You’ve worked with some great artists such as Stevie Salas. Tell us about those projects.

DA: I’ve worked with a lot of talented people. Eddie Kramer, Rodger Hodgson, Andy Johns, Waddy Wachtel, Carmine Rojas, Jeff Fielder, Perry Morgan and The HABMX band (Mike Dillon, Zac Baird J.J. Jungle, Jon Spiece). With Stevie, I played some of the most powerhouse drumming I ever have. I am very proud of all of the work I did with and for Stevie Salas. The “Alternative” record was written and recorded so quickly. We had a three piece and we just laid it down. We had Melvin Brannon on bass. He is a monster. Throughout the various projects with Stevie, I played with Rick the bass player. Stevie also introduced me to singer Bernard Fowler. I recorded a track with Darrel Jones on bass and Stevie on guitar for the Nickelbag record which was titled “12 Hits and a Bump.” I went on to co-produce and engineer and mix on Stevie’s next two albums. As the producer, I allowed him to make a different type of record in “The Sometimes Almost Never Was.” The follow up, “Be What It Is” was a return to what he does so well. I used the talents of Brian Tichy and Matt Sorum for a few of the tracks. Outside of working with Stevie, I have been blessed to play with a long list of bad asses! In no particular order, I’ll try to remember and make a list! Here goes; bzzzzzzz. I haven’t written that shit down, ever. I will say to each and every person that I have ever worked and or played with; I love you. Thank you.

MA: You are now involved in producing music. How does that differ from being the drummer?

DA: Great question! I’m working on the answer! Honestly, the difference of being a drummer and my production of records is quite simply that I am a drummer. I have produced records. I am not a record producer. I am a drummer. I have engineered and mixed records. I am not an audio engineer. I am a drummer. I play many instruments other than the drums, but I am a drummer. I owned an incredibly well equipped recording facility and spent years learning and developing recording techniques and processes. Still, I am a drummer. I am a drummer and an “opinionist” with a strong love of the musical process. Dig. I have a well formed respect for music and record producers, song writers, audio engineers, musicians, players, listeners. I can say with certainty that as a drummer I have had the pleasure of working with very skilled professionals and my understanding of how I relate to all these other things are solid enough to have valid theories, opinions and techniques that can and mostly do work.

Whether I am creating, producing, engineering or mixing, I just do whatever I can, whenever I can to assist in the wonderfully challenging process of making music. I am a drummer. I have to give credit for their patience with respect to my questions and their generosity with the answers; Brendan O’Brien, David Castell, John X, EveAnna Manley, and my audio hero and dear friend Joe Gastwirt. I almost forgot Mr. Eddie Kramer! I am naming only but a few of the amazing people who have taken the time to share their gifts and knowledge with me. There are so, so many more… Kevin Smith on the early Salas records… Wow. I can’t believe I almost forgot to mention him!

I was just asked, “If you HAD to answer what would you consider your biggest achievement in music?”
My instant response was, “Never giving up!” That’s what I live by.

Here are some videos featuring Dave:

Pearl Jam live at Pinkpop Festival (full show)

Pearl Jam MTV Unplugged (full show)

IMF live at Rockpalast (full show)

Sampling of Dave’s musical projects

Bonus Interview! Ask Abbruzzese:
Dave shared some of the recent questions he has received online:

Brent McGuire asks: Speaking of drum festivals, do you have any footage from your Modern Drummer festival appearance?

DA: I wish! All these years and I still haven’t seen any audio or video from that 1993 Modern Drummer Festival. I have wanted to see that since the night it happened. I don’t remember anything other than I threw my entire plan out the window and performed with Yael DrumAddict, The Love Project and Jimmy Shoaf’s support. I borrowed a skirt and did a shot of scotch with the Drummers of the Black Bottle and proceeded to wing it. Modern Drummer presented me with the award for winning the M.D. Reader’s Choice Award for ‘Up & Coming Drummer of 1993. During the first handful of moments of my clinic, a kid had the balls to ask me, in front of 2500+ people, if he could have a splash cymbal. I told him that if he came up and did the clinic with me, I’d give him all of my cymbals. The grin on Bill Zildjian’s face from the side of the stage while the amazing festival audience ended my clinic with a standing ovation is probably one of the highlights of my entire career. Magic times indeed. Thanks for inspiring the memory!

Matthew Richie asks: Given that you’re a huge part of the 90’s scene, I was wondering if you could give me your perspective on how the Seattle scene influenced the youth generation of that time? For example did you see a change in the way that youth generation behaved or a change in their opinions/beliefs after the scene grew in popularity?

DA: Interesting question. In looking back to that time in my life, I found it was hard for me to answer. I didn’t even consider things like that at that time. I was travelling so much, and had so much going on. For me, the focus was on myself and my health and surroundings. I can say that there was absolutely a strong shift from what was going on when I left Texas for Seattle in 1991…It seemed that the tables turned on the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ Suddenly they had voices and were saying things, both on and off stage that empowered the powerless. As our band got bigger there was a sense of hope and people genuinely felt represented by rock music again. Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane kissed me on the mouth and thanked me and then told me that we saved rock and roll. It was the power and spirit of the music. That’s where the youth were finding the strength to feel empowered in a positive way. It was okay to be okay. But, as always, it sounded better than it was…The 80’s and 90’s were a time where the important questions weren’t asked and if they were, they went unanswered. It was a time where people wanted so desperately to have an easy, effortless and successful life. Because they felt they deserved to have it. Success was made to appear to be only a decision away. But, please know that I wasn’t a member of the generation we were affecting and influencing. I was 23 at the time…just old enough to know that they were watching and listening…and that they were just as baffled as I was in the 1980’s.

Todd Michaels asks: Dave, you’re one of the greatest drummers as far as my generation, but you let us all in and interact with you. Why? I thinks that it’s really cool and hope that you never change.

DA: I have been to the mountain, and it was good. I didn’t build the mountain. I didn’t get there on my own. Once I reached base camp, I learned so much from so many people that came before me. I didn’t climb it alone. Along the way, there were those who fed me. Healed me. Taught me. Helped me. Inspired me to continue. Pushed me. Believed in me. Allowed me to stumble and grow. Forgave me. So many people that turned back and asked me to plant a flag for them. I made it and claimed my place. From that spot I was granted a viewpoint that very few see and even fewer are able to find the words to describe. I knew then that the best part of it all, the payoff for all the hard work, sacrifice and dedication was going to take place not up there, but back down where I came from. My success is defined by what my experiences allow me to bring into the light of other people. When I am able to make a real connection and share my experience, strength and hope…That’s what I find is most fulfilling.

Kristy Kuhn asks: You played on a Jimi Hendrix tribute record, at Electric Lady Studios in NYC. Eddie Kramer was at the console engineering and you got to play with Hendrix’s bass players, Noel Redding and Billy Cox. Also Jara Harris, Carmine Rojas, Duck Dunn, Dan Rothchild, Darryl Jones, Flea, Melvin Brannon, Gary Mukler, TM Stevens, Rick the Bass player….The list goes on and on…One of your best friends is Mastering Engineer Joe Gastwirt. You’ve also written music and recorded with Rodger Hodgson from Supertramp, Stevie Salas, Bernard Fowler, Neil Young, GRO. You have the respect of Neil Peart. You were mentored by engineer/producer David Castell. You were sought after by Axl Rose and invited to be a major factor in reinventing his band, and you chose to be a musician first and a rock star second. You’ve performed Dock of the Bay with Steve Cropper. You’ve got the respect of your peers. You’ve met your heroes. Was it worth it?

DH: I should be asleep, but I am going to attempt to verbalize my emotional reaction to this question. Here goes: In a word, yes. Interesting truth of the matter is that it is a constant state of mindfulness that is needed to pay attention and embrace the lessons that are available within each experience. When I allow myself to trust in both the good and bad times to provide equally valuable life experiences, every moment is truly valuable and absolutely ‘worth it.’ When I think of how many of my friends are no longer with us, I am so grateful for the powerful gift of the music that remains. I love you, Kristy Kuhn. Thank you for posting such a thought provoking question.

Dave uses: Drum Workshop, Sabian, Brady, Pro Mark, Azturk, Remo, Greenfield, Rhythm Tech, Woods, 2112 Percussion N.C., D’Addario



Filed under Drums and Drumming

17 responses to “Exclusive Interview: David Abbruzzese

  1. darrin

    Using a piccolo snare was not a rarity among rock drummers in the early to mid-nineties.

  2. Tommy Chesh

    Roseland Ballroom NYC, Lollapalooza Wantagh NY & Montage Mtn, then Randall’s Island NY,, were where I worked and saw PJ perform live,, Dave is one of the most intense drummers I’ve seen live as well as a master of his craft. Being able to improvise, fill and accent spots during songs is awesome. So glad I got to see the raw energy of the band’s infancy and was able to chat with him at a couple of the shows. Be well Dave and hit em hard

  3. One doesn’t have to be a drummer to appreciate the scope and array of DA’s talents. You are a R&R Messiah, Mr. Abbruzzese. I thank you for always being you, and true to your beliefs. It’s a beautiful thing to continue to witness.

    And you’re not alone in being completely flummoxed as to why PJ would ruin the band you so generously helped create and share with us. Maybe Ed’s ego just couldn’t handle the enormous influence you had on all the fans? Of that band, and of rock & roll in general. Sad. For them, too. They killed a blazing & brilliant living thing.

    F*CK THEM FOR DISCLUDING YOU from the RRHoF induction. Further bullshite. Those four guys couldn’t wash that stain from their backs if they lived another 100 years.

    I thoroughly enjoy your openness, following your FB page, and all the amazing projects you continue to contribute to. Artists as varied as Pseutopia, Nerd Table, Joel Beazer & The Fast Lane, etc. I am so anticipating hearing some of the last music the inimitable Shawn Smith worked on with you. Thank you for always sharing your self with the fans.

  4. Steve Johnson

    I have to admit, after reading the interview, I was turned off by way you dis the other Pearl Jam drummers. You call people chicken shit because they fire you and not tell you why. Maybe they were just trying to be non-confrontational in a no win situation. You obviously have never fired anyone before. Since no one wants to tell you the cold hard truth, I will do it. There are legal implications and sometimes you just don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings. Sometimes you don’t like the person – personality conflicts. Sometimes the employee is just not doing a good job. Sometimes there are external issues or you want to take the band in a different direction. Sometimes, the employee has such a big ego and it is difficult to work with the person. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter; they simply didn’t want you part of the band anymore. Their continued success and frankly your lack of success after leaving the band, shows they made the correct decision.

    You clearly, in your own mind, think you are the best drummer they ever had. You criticize and blame everyone else, including Pearl Jam band members, as the reason why you were not inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You seem to be ignoring how the Rock and Roll Hall of fame vote works. The band members don’t get to vote! Look it up on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame web page. “Official ballots are sent to more than 1,000 voters, including every living Rock Hall Inductee, artists, members of the music industry and music historians. The top artists that receive the most votes become members of this year’s class of Inductees.” Bottom line; your peer group doesn’t think you are as great as you think you are.

    Your logic and conspiracy theories concerning the record company, Tower Records, and Rolling Stone are equally as bizarre. Tower Records and the record company have a profit motive. Did it ever cross your mind that the album wasn’t as good as you thought it was? People simply didn’t like it. Tower Records gave you a shot; they even put in a “Prime Spot” in their listening station. It was the holiday season. Prime time for purchasing albums. If those 20,000 units sold like hot cakes, do you really think Tower Records wouldn’t want to order more? I am not sure what you are smoking that you believe Rolling Stone reviewed the wrong album! No wonder Pearl Jam fired you the way they did. You can’t accept reality. I assume they didn’t just fire you out of the blue. You missed the warning signs and probably totally discounted whatever they said when they approached you. I am true they tried and out of final desperation, fired you.

    It is time to wake up and smell the coffee. I am not saying you are not a good drummer. Instead of blaming everyone else, if you are so great, prove it. Become a member of a new successful band. If not, maybe it is time to accept reality.

    • pjsuxw/odave

      Steve, Do please fuck off….you’re an idiot.

    • Andrew

      “You clearly, in your own mind, think you are the best drummer they ever had.”

      He’s right though, he is the best drummer they ever had. He turned that band into an absolute powerhouse, especially live. Matt Cameron is a fantastic drummer but has been entirely wasted in Pearl Jam, the only decent thing he has done with them is Sleight of Hand.

      • Rick Rob

        If he is so good, then why hasn’t he done anything important in 20+ years. If he was so great, other great bands would have wanted him.

    • Steve Johnson, you did some major “reading between the lines” to derive the conclusions you did. That you also stated them in such a condescending tone says more about you and your intentions than anything else. Your advice, for Dave to accept reality, surely means something to you personally…your life, your success or lack of it…So, please accept the reality that your negative perspective does not read like well thought-out advice, but rather bitter self-criticism from a person that cannot relate to how successful Dave has been. Face that reality and admit that you are envious and resentful. Peace to you. Dave Abbruzzese is one of the greatest drummers to play a kit; Steve Johnson left a snarky reply after a great online interview. True perspective.

      • R&R Peg

        Hey Tony, Thanks for saying it better than I could’ve! That comment from the Johnson got under my own bitter skin, but you set the record straight, imo. Abbruzzese is a monster behind the kit — and a giant otherwise. Following him on social media is a real treat, and often inspiring in many different ways. Thanks for your words. (and p.s…I also agree, for the record, that canning DA was not only supremely pretentious, but the absolute worst move that band ever made. I haven’t listened since, and am happy each time I read some other fan say the same on one of Dave’s pages. There are many 1000s of us.)

      • Rick Rob

        Everyone reads between the lines about what happened. I am sorry that you disagree with Steve’s conclusions. I agree with Steve on many issues. He obviously isn’t alone or Dave would in the the Hall of Fame now. Dave is a good drummer but his peers don’t think he is good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. I read he auditioned for Gun and Roses. They didn’t even want him. I am not sure it if is his drumming or his personality, but the bottom line is no other major band has wanted him in the last 20 years.

    • Kirk

      I do not believe that his peers don’t think of him as HOF-worthy (I would disagree with them if that was the case) but issues between current and former members can lead to members being snubbed. Examples: AC/DC (Mark Evans) and Fleetwood Mac (Bob Welch). I will never understand the downplaying of contributions.

      Playing on the Singles Soundtrack, Judgement Night soundtrack, Vs., Vitalogy, MTV Unplugged and some of the key live performances makes him HOF worthy IMO.

  5. Drdrshsh

    So much wasted potential on both sides(PJ and Dave). I’m sure PJ would have made another amazing record if they stuck with Dave but it just happened to be a time of growth and change for the band and so a different type of drummer was needed. It sucks that PJ (Eddie) only prefers a certain type of drumming style (straight forward, no frills) Dave’s not wrong about MC not playing as intricately as he did with SG.

    I can understand Dave’s pain in that he felt like the company he was brought in to help build up fired him without good cause(personality difference). But his actions afterwards shows that he was thinking he was the only reason why PJ is an amazing band. Unfortunate, he was a hired gun, but that should have led to being a regular hired gun in the music industry. Dave fans should have 20 years of music played by him on different records with different artists, showing how his artistic drumming elevates an artist or music. He could have been as prolific as Josh Freese or Kenny Aronoff. Instead, it seems like his anger, pain, and ego has led him to be stuck in the past. Hopefully, there’s still time and opportunities to hear him play on a lot more stuff.

  6. Colin Gilbert

    Dave was the sound. To this day my kit set up is based on his. He was an absolute monster back there – technical skill, raw power, unique chops, and funk. Very cool interview.

    Also, Steve Johnson you seem like a terrible person to hang out with.

  7. Brian Dobbs

    OMG Thank you for this interview. Let me repeat.

    Thank. You. For. This. Interview.

    I felt the exact same way hearing the new version of Even Flow. BTW, have you ever heard the songs Breathe, Alone and Dirty Frank? Dear God, Dave Abbruzzese kicks so much ass on those songs.

    Yes, it was incredibly hard to keep listening to Pearl Jam after Vitalogy. Jack Irons? Give me a fucking break. Matt Cameron was great in Soundgarden but so completely mediocre and “tame” with Pearl Jam.

    Pearl Jam was never the same. Fuck them for not including Dave A.

    I was their biggest fan. Not anyone else, but me. Then they betrayed me. Dramatic I know, but music inspires passion.

  8. Eric

    Thanks. Dave A was so influential on so many aspiring drummers. He was powerful, graceful, quick, light, heavy and energetic. It was everything I needed as a young drummer. Glad to hear he’s doing well. Enjoyed this interview, thanks for posting.

  9. Steve H

    Killer interview. I read the intro to this interview and went to Dave’s FB page to comment on the link he shared. I read that intro in my voice and it could have been you, me, or 10’s of thousands of others that were fortunate enough to have become an adult during that time. I was mesmerized by his playing when I saw it and to say he didn’t inspire my drumming as well would be a lie. I’ve had the honor of exchanges messages and emails with fanboy questions and accolades and whether in an interview, on FB or wherever, Dave always comes off as such a kind and caring human being. Great interview!

  10. Donna Fiorentino

    Dave as a friend of your mom when my daughter was in the hospital with a fractured skull you sent her all kinds of Pearl Jam swag. That was just so kind and lit up her smile. We went to hear Pearl Jam perform with your parents and you made us feel like VIP’s. You have such a good heart just like your parents!!! I’m glad you are doing well.

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