WEB EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: DROWING POOL VOCALIST RYAN MCCOMBS ON THIEVES, LIARS, AND ROCKING FOR THE T
Alternative-metal band Drowning Pool have not had the best of luck since their inception in 2001.
First, original lead vocalist Dave Williams died of an undiagnosed heart condition. His replacement, Jason “Gong” Jones, left the band after their second album to join the group AM Conspiracy. Then, after Drowning Pool recruited former Soil vocalist Ryan McCombs, who had been a good friend of the band’s since meeting them at 2001’s Ozzfest in Holland, their equipment was stolen. Twice.
Despite all the loss and larceny, the Dallas, Texas–based four-piece is still going strong. Since 2006, the band has released its third album, Full Circle, has performed for the U.S. troops in Iraq twice, and is currently on the road for their “Know Your Enemy” tour. They're played Ozzfest on August 9 and just recently debuted their new video, for the song "37 Stitches." (Watch it below.)
But perhaps biggest of all, this fall Drowning Pool plan on entering the studio to record their fourth full-length in time for a late spring/early summer 2009 release. “The guys are looking forward to doing two records with one singer,” McCombs explains. “As long as I don’t implode by then, that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing.”
REVOLVER Your current album, Full Circle, came out last year. I heard that you initially recorded the album on your own. Is that correct?
RYAN MCCOMBS Yeah, we fought for a while to get off of our former record label, Wind-Up. Nothing personal against them, just they came right out and even said they didn’t really want to be in the metal business anymore. They wanted Drowning Pool but they didn’t want us to sound like Drowning Pool. So, it was just time for us to split ways, and we fought to do that for a while. We also ended up splitting ways with our management, too. We just decided that we wanted to start over with a completely fresh, clean slate. So, by doing that we didn’t have any backing whatsoever. So we went into the studio and we cut the album ourselves. We’d go up and play a show here or there every weekend if possible to help fund it. Yeah, we funded the album ourselves, and then used it to go shopping.
Nikki Sixx’s Funny Farm Records produced a couple of songs on this album. Which songs were they?
Yeah, we did two songs with him, but only one of them made the record. It’s called “Reason I’m Alive.”
What was it like working with him?
Oh, it was awesome. I would definitely suggest it to any other musician out there if the opportunity arises. I mean, it’s really a no-brainer for a musician when you think about it, when you look at his body of work and the hits that he’s written over his career. It was amazing. I mean, you’re sitting around in a circle bouncing ideas off of each other and he’s, you know, as much as you want to sit there asking him this story or that story, he keeps things rolling. He keeps you focused on the job at hand. You’re not working with somebody that thinks their shit don’t stink. It’s completely bouncing ideas off of one another and then everybody’s got a say on it. It was a great experience.
This was your first album with Drowning Pool. How did you come to join the band?
We met originally back in 2001 in Holland. It was Ozzfest there in Holland, and I was in a band called Soil at the time. I met Davey, the original singer, there, and he and I just instantly hit it off. Through him I met the rest of the guys. All the guys in the band instantly became my best friends in the business. When I would vacation, I usually would end up in Dallas at some point, visiting the guys and visiting Dave’s mom and dad. It was kind of a no-brainer. When Dave first passed away, there were a lot of legal issues as far as contacting me. There were the old hypothetical conversations that we would have. We joke about it now, but there was nothing we could do about it at the time. So, it was kind of, you know, when things didn’t work out with Jason—the second singer—I had been out of Soil for about 9 months at that point. The bug was starting to bite me. I had quit music. I really thought I was done with it, because I really didn’t have the desire to get back into it. A lot of things came to the table that really just didn’t interest me enough to get back into the mess that the business side can be. And when these guys came to me the second time, well, not necessarily the second time, but when they came to me and I was actually in a position where I was able to do it, it was just, kind of, if I’m ever gonna do it, this is the situation for me.
I read that the song “Enemy” was directed to your former bandmates in Soil. Why did you decide to write a song directed at them?
It was written about them, to be honest. When I quit the band I didn’t point any fingers. I cited personal reasons. I said that it had nothing to do with anything other than the fact that I just wanted to go home and be a full-time husband and father. But there were a lot of issues. Understandably so, I was always the fifth wheel there. Those guys, they grew up in the same music scene together. They grew up playing together. Three of the guys were in a band for seven years before I even joined. So, understandably, I was always on the outside looking in. It was a lot of different personality conflicts. Over time, you’re living on a bus together, it’s almost impossible to deal with when you’re living in that close proximity. I don’t think it was anybody’s fault. We were just different people and it was time for me to go. And when I did go, I didn’t even say that, and then all of a sudden I got attacked in the press in every form that you can imagine. They pretty much made every story up about me that you can even think of saying about somebody. It got really ugly. I never retorted. Even when I joined Drowning Pool and they started attacking Drowning Pool, none of the guys in the band ever commented or replied. We just ignored it. So, this song “Enemy” is about that, it’s about taking the high road. The chorus, itself, is “I walked the high road away from you/God knows what I’ve been through.” I tried to write it in a way that works for anybody who’s been in any kind of a situation, whether it be any type of a relationship or any type of working situation, where you took the high road, you kept you’re mouth shut and you’re trying to do the right thing and you still get called out for complete bullcrap. It’s a tough thing to deal with. I just put it in a song instead of going public with it.
How’s your relationship with them now?
We haven’t talked. I haven’t talked to any of those guys since I quit the band. Our lawyers talk, but I haven’t spoken to them personally since I quit. I think I talked to [guitarist] Adam [Zadel] once. I miss him. I miss the hell out of him. Adam was just the talent behind the band. Somebody else would come up with a riff, but Adam would construct the songs. He was really a joy to work with. I miss working with him quite a bit.
So, you’ve done a lot of work with the USO on behalf of the troops. How did that come about?
It was something that we wanted to do for some time. We kept hearing comments about how they pretty much had adopted the song “Bodies.” You know, the military was using it for videos and using it for different things over there. On top of that, [bass player] Stevie’s dad is a Vietnam vet of two tours. We’ve all got people within our families that have been involved in the military in one aspect or another. It was just something that we wanted to do with the conflict going on. The people we had with us at the time, the management and stuff, just didn’t have the knowledge, didn’t have the contacts to make it happen. We were doing a radio interview in Dallas, Texas, and the DJ doing the interview actually had a USO tour set up through the radio station. She was gonna take this other signed band out of the Texas area and at the last minute they sort of backed out. She asked us if we would be willing to do it and we just jumped all over it. That led us to our first trip over in November 2005, and we went back over in September 2006.
What were those experiences like?
By far the most humbling experience I’ve ever had in my life. For two hours those guys and girls are back home at a rock show. It doesn’t matter. You look out there and you see, not to pigeonhole people, but you say, OK, there’s a country music fan, there’s a rock music fan, there’s an R&B music fan. But for two hours they’re all fans of whatever is taking them away from that sandbox for that two hours. You see it in their eyes. They’re not worried about anybody shooting at them. They’re not worried about shooting at anybody else. They’re just back home at a concert. It’s really just an amazing feeling to be able to give that to somebody. The USO didn’t know how to handle us at first. They were used to, I think, a completely different type of entertainer. We went over and they were like, “OK, we’re gonna take you in 15 minutes before show time and we’ll get you out 15 minutes after.” We were like, “No, we wanna get there as early in the day as possible and spend as much time on base with the troops as we can. We prefer not to leave until everybody gets whatever they want as far as signing sessions go.” We ended up breaking the record for the longest USO signing session. It was, like, two and a half hours, which was the shortest one we did. We were actually there for six and a half hours after one of the shows. We actually had people who had to leave on a mission after the show, and they came back and we were still there signing. They were just like, “Man, thank you so much.” We didn’t leave until everyone got a handshake, or a picture or whatever it is they wanted signed. It was cool. It gave us an opportunity to get there during the day and go eat lunch with them and meet as many people as we could and hear the stories firsthand, instead of swallowing what CNN or whatever news station wants to feed you.
Were you nervous about being over there?
Oh, yeah. We definitely had nerves involved in going over. You’re going into a war zone. We were four, and then we had two crew guys, so yeah, we were, like, six guys, six jackasses. We definitely had no idea what we were getting into. So we definitely had a lot of nervousness. But once we got over there, and we told a lot of people—I know Shinedown has gone over since, we talked to them about it—once you get over there, you gotta put it in the perspective that you’re surrounded by the best security that you could ever imagine, when you really think about it. I mean, your security is Army and Marines and Navy. You’re not gonna get security like that anywhere else. Once you got over there and got on base, there was no fear involved. The first time we went over was during [Muslim religious observance] Ramadan, and that scared me more than anything. I was worrying about how the locals in Kuwait would, you know, react if they saw my tattoos, if I was gonna wind up getting skinned or something.
So, Drowning Pool have run into a few problems over the last few months. Your equipment was stolen.
[Laughs] Yeah, that was our holidays. That was Thanksgiving, Christmas. We were on the road during Thanksgiving and our rehearsal spot got broken into. All of our P.A. equipment, all of our recording equipment got stolen. We ended up having the actual Thanksgiving off. So, we went home, then we found out about it. It happened a couple of days before Thanksgiving. The remaining equipment we had left, we cleared it out, we put it into storage. Then we came home for Christmas and put our touring gear in the same storage unit with that stuff. While we were celebrating the holidays away from our equipment with our families, we get our storage broken into and our touring gear then gets stolen. So, it was quite an eventful holiday season for us.
Yeah, that’s quite the happy holiday gift. Did you find out who did it?
You know, I wanna try to get this right so I’m not falsely accusing anybody of anything. They did catch one person. He got in a fight with his wife or girlfriend and she turned him in. [Laughs] That happened in one situation. So, if you’re gonna be a thief and do something against the law, make sure you stay on the good side of the people who know. But we did come across some of our equipment. I think it was C.J.’s, our guitar player’s. They found some of his equipment at the pawnshop. And the pawnshop legally has to hold on to it for a certain amount of days. Well, the police, who knew about it, didn’t go and pick it up in that window of time and the pawnshop ended up selling the equipment. And there’s no recovery now because the pawnshop was within its legal rights to do what it did. So, the police dragged their feet on it just long enough so even though we found some of it, we didn’t get it back.
Interview by VALERIE McQUEEN