Tom Hunting is a hard living fun loving dude with a lot of stories to tell and a wealth of metal knowledge. Digging into the history of metal with him and talking about what makes a great drummer was far too much fun.
Interview by Matt Bacon
From Janaurys 2016 Vandala Magazine
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So what was it like to be a teenager year old in that thrash scene?
Tom: It was a good time. It was a killer musical climate. We were all listening to anything new we could get a hand on. We were really excited by things like Mercyful Fate, we thought that was totally satanic. The NWOBHM hit us like a hammer. We were just listening to the riffs and the drumming and it was all amazing. Angel Witch was awesome too.
It kind of blows my mind to hear the progression in metal from Iron Maiden to something so gloriously brutal?
Tom: I don’t know. I think we were just trying to top the things that had been done in the past. Before that me and Gary were listening to classic rock. The hardest thing we heard was Ted Nugent. Then Gary’s older brother turned us on to punk rock and we started listening to Discharge and Dead Kennedy’s and Exploited and all that shit. So if you combine those elements… then you have Exodus if you sprinkle in some European heavy metal.
What does it feel like to then get to be in a band like Angel Witch?
Tom: When I joined Angel Witch I was less than a year removed from Exodus. They just called me up and wanted me to play on a demo for them. I worshiped the band so they didn’t have to ask me twice. It felt great to play drums to the songs I had been listening too growing up. To play on that music nine years after they dropped was a lot of fun.
Why do you think that metal has hit a peak in extremeness… or has it?
Tom: I don’t really think that it has.
How do you define extreme?
Tom: I don’t really look at image too much. I get that there’s stuff that’s visually extreme like Marilyn Manson or Watain. But there’s image extreme and musicianship extreme. Some of these drummers nowadays do stuff that I cannot emulate! It’s pretty crazy. I always look at extreme in a purely musical format. I don’t know what defines that though. Metal played by extremely talented musicians I suppose. Exodus kind of honed our skills as we went along. We didn’t have a plan. We are all influenced by what we hear every day, not just with music but life in general.
Obviously you’re one of the most influential metal drummers of all time. How does it feel to have a generation of artists who’ve pushed your own style to the next level?
Tom: I love them all! Dave Lombardo for example got way faster between Slayer records. He was definitely honing his skills. There’s a lot of people who have influenced my style like Clive Burr from Iron Maiden and nobody ever talks about him! I prefer his drum tone to Nicko actually and he would do all these crazy disco beats. Michael Schenker too – nobody ever says it but he’s a really funky guitar player! Some of that old UFO shit is just funk with a rock and roll drum beat.
What other forgotten metal guys asides from Clive Burr should we turn our focus too?
Tom: I think I need to give an RIP shout out to Phil “The Animal” Taylor. He was a heavy influence on me.
Did you know him?
Tom: I met him twice. We only ever played with them once Mikkey Dee joined the band. We’d crossed paths but we weren’t acquaintances or friends. I loved his drumming though. He was doing double bass before me, or Lombardo or anybody was, so there’s that.
As for other musicians, Michael DeRosier from Heart was awesome. For 1975 he had something of a Bonham style. He was getting f*cking awesome drum tone and just laying it down. Barracude and Heartless have amazing drumming! Keith Moon, Tommy Aldridge, the list goes on and on! David Garibaldi from Tower of Power was awesome – Bay Area funky grease music. I pulled from everywhere.
Even Sha Na Na?
Tom: No! (Laughter) Actually our old lawyer was a member of Sha Na Na, I’m not going to say his name though! I might get sued!
What drummers these days have good tone?
Tom: Dave McClain from Machine Head, Will Carrol from Machine Head, I’ve got awesome drum tone! (Laughter) I like to tune drums, our producer Andy gives me good ideas and I love my Yamaha drums.
What defines a good drum tone?
Tom: It all depends on the genre of music. If you get a big ass 20 inch crash with tons of decay that ain’t gonna work in my band. You have to be selective. With that kind of cymbal it sounds like a gong and if you’re playing a fast song that doesn’t work. I always compare my drum tone to maybe Phil Rudd but tuned a little bit higher and a little more resonant on the toms. But that’s more of a personal preference. I know what I like.
For example when I get a snare drum that I like I call it a ‘crack dealer’. It has a special crack to it and it can get in and get out between guitar parts. Sometimes it’s a fight between me and the guitars!
Is that part of the appeal of playing drums? What do you like about playing drums?
Tom: I like to create songs. I like to be a part of the creative process. I like to hear a riff for the first time and go from the uncomfortable initial stage to its final recorded version. It’s a fun process to build shit. I love that part of it. And we have awesome guitar players in our band and it’s fun to sit and woodshed with those guys most of the time.
Most of the time?
Tom: Every song doesn’t necessarily write itself. Lee is a different type of writer to Gary. Lee and I sat for three hours one day and came up with like 70 seconds of music and then the next day Gary came in and we figured out a song in twenty minutes!
Do you prefer writing with Gary?
Tom: I like both of them. They both write killer music. Gary and I have a longer history together so there’s that. We have a built in comfort level that allows us to jam. Whereas when Lee comes in we will lay down six drum beats for a riff and he’ll leave thinking about it and he won’t say which one he likes right away.
Lee makes wine, Gary makes moonshine. (Laughter)
What do you love so much about music?
Tom: Dude! That was straight out of Almost Famous (Laughter!)
What do you love about Almost Famous then?
Tom: Kate Hudson is super hot! I don’t even like blondes but she is exceptional! It’s a great movie with a real story based on true facts. I’ve seen musicians behave that way!
Any final words of wisdom?
Tom: Just be true to yourself and if you get good in anything humble yourself to that. No matter how many people tell you are badass don’t go believing it!