Interview by: Jim Howes
Words by: Jim Howes
Drummers, they’re the often ignored heartbeat of rock music. Sure, what they’re playing means an awful lot to the songs it’s undergirding, but drummers are in the background, anonymous, disposable. Their job is an essential job that often goes uncelebrated.
Not in the case of Frank Zummo, not at all. Zummo has spent his entire career making drums the priority. In the theater of punk rock, where drummers are especially faceless and no-named, Zummo has built a platform for percussion that lifts drummers up and pulls them to the front of the performance.
As the founder of Street Drum Corps – a punk-slathered percussion ensemble with chapters scattered across the lower 48 – Zummo has given drummers from around the world a place to work, thrive, and hone their craft.
Now, as the drummer for iconic pop punk band Sum 41, Zummo is learning what it means to get what you give. His hard work over the past decade and a half has given him the opportunity to travel the world playing drums for one of his favorite bands behind a custom kit designed by his favorite artist.
Most recently, Zummo has won the APMA Skully for Best Drummer, and alongside that has had the opportunity to curate a theatrical drums-only performance with two of the more larger-than-life drummers of all time.
Frank Zummo is living the drummer’s dream. We sat down with Zummo to talk a little about the journey he’s been on.
It’s been a hell of a couple years for you. From joining Sum 41 to winning the Skully for Best Drummer at the APMAs, you’ve been on quite the tear. Looking back, did you ever think any of this would happen? How did it all come together?
Without sounding cheesy, it’s definitely the dream I’ve always aspired to accomplish, and I’m just really enjoying this great ride right now. I’m just really grateful for it all. I came out to LA 13 years ago from New York to “make it” and do something with my life and really change it and my goal was to do it within a year. I didn’t want to be one of those guys who was just trying to make the dream happen forever, so I just gave myself a year.
Street Drum Corps came out of that, and it’s just all been this amazing ride that just keeps getting better every year. I’m just really grateful for it all, and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve had the last two weeks after AP at home with my family just reflecting and taking it all in, and it’s just amazing. I leave tomorrow to head back out on the road with Sum 41. It’s just good times, man, and I’m really grateful.
Now’s just as good a time as any to talk about Street Drum Corps. It’s a super cool concept, and as a lifelong drummer, I really appreciate it when projects bring drums and percussion to the foreground. Talk a little bit about what your journey with that has been like, and how it’s been drumming along with other drummers all the time.
It was something I did for a couple of years on the East Coast, and I never thought it was something I would do out here on the West Coast, and I magically met Bobby and Adam Alt the night I moved to LA, and that changed my life. I literally found out that they were doing drum shows, and we just decided after hanging out quite a few times to put it together, and it was more of a fun art project that really took off. Sitting here 13 years later, we’re so proud of it, and it’s really become a movement.
To compare it to something, it’s like a Blue Man Group or a Stomp now, where we have multiple touring troupes out, and tons of drummers that we’re employing. That’s my greatest accomplishment ever: Being able to give drummers a job drumming. We have all these drummers out touring and working and making a living playing drums. I didn’t have those opportunities when I was young, and to be able to give them out is great. If we get a show in a given city or town, we don’t fly groups out; we actually hire local talent to do the job when we have long residencies at a theme park or wherever it may be, and we’re finding some really great talent. That’s been the greatest part.
It’s just been so fun to play with drummers and to make it all about drums, and not focus on lyrics or melodies, but to just take it back to this primal thing. Also, just to be able to do all of these different things: We could play a Bar Mitzvah one day and the next day play with Linkin Park. You’re able to do so many different things, because at the end of the day, it’s just drums, man.
That’s what’s been so fun about the AP Awards; again, we were able to bring the drums to the forefront and do something different for an awards show that’s band-oriented. I approached them with the idea of doing this drum thing that I had in my head, and they mentioned that they were thinking the same thing – that they wanted to do a drum moment. So we were completely in sync about it and they just let me go wild.
Adrian Young is a dear friend that I’ve collaborated with for 13 years, so I called him right away, and when we were thinking of another person, Josh Dun was the guy we kept talking about. He’s doing so many amazing things live and really stepping out to the front with the drums, and we got him on the phone and he was in. And it was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done.
I hope it turns into more, because it was so much fun, and it’s a great new set of relationships. Josh, Adrian, and I are great buddies now, and it was just really fun to do something artsy and drum-forward for a band-driven show. People just love drums, man!
How long did it take to dial that in and get three drummers synced up? I know you and Adrian [Young] have been working together forever, and you probably have mad chops in terms of syncing up with other drummers, but how much rehearsal did it take for you, Adrian, and Josh to pull that off?
We did a lot of pre-production work through email, then got together for 6 days straight in Los Angeles in Adrian’s house, in his little dungeon drum room where we just had a kick, snare, and hat each. We had the structure, and so the challenge was to figure out how we were going to make this really f***ing musical and not step on each other. We literally took two-bar fills and went up and down the line with them to make them as musical as possible, figure out different parts, and letting each other shine.
Then we went to a real sound stage for 3 days and did full production, then when we got to Cleveland we did a full dress rehearsal all night until, like, two in the morning, with all the production and everything, and we worked really hard with the lighting team, video team, and sound team to get it to be really theatrical and different. So, yeah, to answer your question: Playing-wise, about a week, but months of prep and building and emails and all of that kind of stuff. Such fun work.
It’s not often that a musician gets to collaborate on custom gear with an iconic artist. What was it like working with Shepard Fairey on your SJC kit?
Shepard is my favorite artist and has been a great friend for many years, and we’ve collaborated together for different TV shows and things I’ve done; he’s painted my kick drum head, for instance. We’ve always talked about doing drums one day, and we felt like it was the right time when Sum 41 was going to go out and support our record.
We were on Warped Tour last summer and I was seeing all of this horrible stuff going on in the world with guns and terrorism and so on, and I called Shepard and told him how I was feeling. I said “I want to incorporate your art into this drum set”, and SJC Drums was actually able to etch his “Rise Above” piece into the drums – which I’ve never seen before – and it turned out so beautiful. That was the first drum kit we’ve done, and I’m still touring with that kit, and when we’re done touring it’s actually going to go and be displayed at the Hard Rock [Hotel] in Vegas, which is really cool, for everyone to be able to see that.
Then, we just took it a step further: They sent him three raw maple shells for the AP Awards, and I said I wanted it to look like something on the street that had been bombed/graffiti’d. So he literally just stenciled/spray-painted them, and he hit it out of the park. It was amazing. After the show, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame picked up those drums, and is going to display them, which is insane. It’s just so amazing that these drums are going to be displayed at the Hard Rock and the Hall of Fame.
Now we’re working on something really special that’s actually going to be for the public, and that’s all I can say right now, but be looking for a new collaboration in the near future. It’s been amazing to build on that relationship [with Shepard Fairey]and work with him on the art front. I love art drums, and I love to speak through my drums, so this has been something that I’ve been really proud of, and it’s been great to work with someone who’s such an iconic artist and such a great dude. He’s really been having fun doing this.
Who’s your favorite drummer of all time? Favorite drummer working currently?
Growing up, it was Tommy Lee who made me want to become a musician. When I was 5 years old and saw him in an arena with Mötley [Crüe], Buddy Rich (who I got to see before he passed away when I was young), then the James Brown drummers, the P-Funk drummers, all those pocket drummers in Funk. John Bonham (from Zeppelin). Then, later on in life, Dave Grohl and Questlove. Powerful pocket drummers are my thing. Then recently, the last couple years, Josh Dun has really been someone that is a showman and does cool visual things for the audience. Jay Weinberg from Slipknot is a f***ing beast. I’ve known Jay since he was a little kid and to see how far he’s come and how he plays is something else. What a great f***ing drummer.
You joined Sum 41 in 2015, and since then you’ve gotten to travel the world and record an album with them. Getting to play with a band the stature of Sum 41 has to be a crazy thing. What’s been your favorite aspect of being in the band? What’s the funniest experience you’ve had on the road with them?
Just being in the band that I’ve been wanting to be in that’s one of my favorite bands is the highlight of all highlights, and being brothers with those guys now and getting to know the fans and how devoted the fans are; I mean, the fans are the ones who voted for the Skully! And to get that acceptance after replacing a key member in the band is a beautiful thing, and I’m so grateful.
I keep using the same kinds of words, but it’s the best way I know how to describe all this great s**t. The whole thing has been amazing. Touring the world. We’ve been f***ing everywhere. We go to Asia next week, Canada tomorrow. Just playing these shows to 80, 90,000 people. Supporting Linkin Park in Amsterdam was such an amazing time.
Chester has been family to me for 13 years, and to have that time with him before his unfortunate passing is something that’s really, really special. I called Chester and noticed that we had a day off in Amsterdam and we didn’t play there on our last tour, and I called Chester and he asked the guys and he made that happen. So it was a really special moment – especially with what’s happened recently.
Funny stuff? Bringing back “Pain for Pleasure” every night on our nine week tour was the funniest, most hysterical thing ever, and being a part of that and making the behind-the-scenes videos about it was just super fun.
You’ve really leaned in on what it means to be a drummer. While a lot of drummers take a relatively passive approach to the craft, you’ve embraced it and really built a persona around it. As someone who’s sort of on top of the drumming world right now, what advice do you have to drummers out there who are just getting started?
It’s really simple: whatever your passion is, it will happen. If you are that passionate about it and you are on your mission to accomplish that, it will happen. There’s no f***ing science, there’s no being in the right place at the right time; if you put it out there, it will happen. Just stay true to what it is and don’t get caught up in all the bulls***t and smoke and mirrors. Surround yourself with good people, and people that are positive. It’s not a rocket science thing. Just set out on your mission until you accomplish it and you will. You really will.
Anyone who’s reading this – even if you’re not a musician – anything you are in life, you will. I’ve got a one-and-a-half year old now and everyone always asks me “what if he doesn’t become a drummer?” that doesn’t matter to me. Whatever he wants to do, as long as he’s passionate about it, I’ll support him the same way my parents did me, because they knew music was it for me. They never sat me down and made me come up with a B plan and they never asked “what if this music thing doesn’t work out?” because the just knew that it was my passion and that I was going to do whatever I could possibly do to make it happen. They let me leave home and go all the way to California to follow my dream. It’s just all about staying on your path.
With Street Drum Corps, we have so many kids that I’ve trained to be in [the band]from all over the world that move to LA to train, and I feel almost like a dad to them, and I’m making sure they keep on their path, because it’s really easy to just fall into all the bulls***t and get involved with the wrong people and lose sight of things. You just gotta stay f***in’ grounded and stay on your path, and what you want will 100 percent happen.