Dave Lombardo gets around these days. The former Slayer drummer is now a full-time member of Testament and plays shows with Misfits and Mr. Bungle. He's rocked on some of the biggest stages with the biggest bands in punk and metal history, but the 57-year-old has never once thought of himself as too cool to do something fundamentally left-of-center — like the zonked-out hardcore-thrash band Dead Cross he plays in and treats like any of his other projects, past or present.
In 2017, the supergroup — rounded out by Faith No More/Mr. Bungle singer Mike Patton, guitarist Justin Pearson (The Locust, Head Wound City, etc.) and bassist Michael Crain (Retox) — released their spasmodic and furious self-titled debut. It solidified Dead Cross as one of the rare supergroups who actually live up to the sum of their parts, and later this fall, they'll finally release their long-awaited second full-length, aptly titled, II.
While the first Dead Cross LP served as a fun way for these accomplished vets to blow off steam and flex their creative muscles within the low-stakes confines of hardcore punk, II was forged with a sober sense of purpose. As the three instrumentalists were in the midst of the songwriting process, Crain was suddenly diagnosed with cancer, which shook the band of close friends and set them into high gear, putting everything they had into the music and recording it with a newfound sense of urgency.
Fortunately, Crain ended up weathering the disease, and Dead Cross are still here today as an intact beast of gnashing, hardcore excellence. Outside of the nerve-wracking circumstances that colored the creation process, II also just happens to be the band's most accomplished and musically varied project yet, as Patton tapped into his arsenal of varying vocal tricks, and the band penned longer, more dynamic songs that expand the their pallette without sacrificing their ferocity.
We spoke to Lombardo about how the gut-punch that was Cain's diagnosis impacted the band, the special dynamic Dead Cross' members have with one another, his approach to these songs and how he's still making music today that feels emotionally and creatively fulfilling.
MICHAEL'S CANCER DIAGNOSIS HAPPENED WHEN YOU GUYS WERE MAKING THIS RECORD. HOW DID THAT SCARY SITUATION INFORM THE PROCESS AND THE PRODUCT?
Well, we found out about his cancer during the songwriting. Crain, Justin and I, we get together and we hash out some of the parts and some of the structures, and the marriage between drums and guitar riffs way before we even go into the studio. We get some rough skeletons down, so a lot of the songwriting was taking place prior. But what happened with his diagnosis, it kicked us in full throttle.
We knew he was going to be OK. We were optimistic. Although, whenever you receive any kind of news of that nature, it is shocking. But we just took it. He said, "I'm going to beat this." I said, "I know you're going to." I mean, it was a shock.
I was sitting in front of the studio, waiting for him to arrive. He was a little bit late, and the look on his face kind of said it all. And when he broke the news to me, I was just like, OK, yeah, I need to sit down. I need to take this in and just think about it, and not panic and stay optimistic. Like I said, that kicked us into high gear and we just wanted to create the most brutal piece of work that we can do.
DID HAVING A DEAR FRIEND BE AFFECTED BY SOMETHING LIKE THAT INFLUENCE THE ATTITUDE, VIBE AND PLAYING ON THE RECORD?
I'm sure it did. It drove us. It had to have, especially for him. He wanted to get this album done as soon as possible, and get into the studio and record this body of work. But that took a little time, and we gave him his time to get treatment and recover from the treatment, because the nausea ... And you become very weak from being in a situation like that.
The treatment really, definitely messes with your energy and your life. It's just everything. You have to take care of yourself. You have to put time, set aside some time to take care of yourself. And we gave him that.
THE FIRST DEAD CROSS RECORD HAD A VERY HONED-IN SOUND. I FEEL LIKE YOU GUYS COULD HAVE DONE THAT AGAIN AND IT WOULD'VE BEEN GREAT, BUT YOU TOOK SOME DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS ON THIS RECORD. WHERE DID YOU WANT TO GO ON THIS ONE?
Well, we didn't want to stay within the same parameters as we did the first album. The first one was very urgent. It just seemed like that album just came together really fast. And this one, I believe we gave it a little bit more thought. And our approach was, let's take our time. Let's create a body of work, a larger body of work, rather than create these two-minute songs, under two-minute songs sometimes. And it was just a different approach. We wanted some songs to be a little bit longer than others.
WERE THERE ANY DIFFERENT MUSICAL INFLUENCES OR STYLES YOU WANTED TO INCORPORATE HERE?
At this point, it's ourselves and who we are is what we draw from, and our own experiences. We don't suggest to each other any particular band or any style of music. Everything is from the inside, from ourselves. Like I said, at this point in our careers, anything we do ... Well, most of what we do just comes from the heart. It's everything that we've learned during our career that we project.
WHERE WERE YOU AT MENTALLY WHEN YOU WERE LAYING DOWN THESE TRACKS?
Personally, I was in a really good space, headspace. I was optimistic. I remember the drum tracks were laid down around November, December of 2019. And personally, I was in a real good place and all I wanted to do was create a body of work that came from the heart and that I would be happy with, and hope that the fans are happy with too.
LIKE YOU SAID, THE SONGS ON THIS ALBUM ARE A LITTLE BIT LESS STRAIGHTFORWARDLY HARDCORE-THRASH. WHAT KIND OF DRUMMING FLAVOR DID YOU WANT TO BRING TO THIS ONE?
This particular album, I feel, allowed me to be as original and creative as I could have possibly been. I remember coming back from some of the rehearsals and listening to some of the little demos that we were making, and it felt like a body of work that I was free to do anything I pleased.
It was like, let's say a rhythm pops into my mind during the drive to go see Crain and [Pearson]. And I'll go in there, into the studio, and just say, "Hey, I have this idea. This is the drum beat. What do you guys think?" And then they'll start jamming and start coming up with guitar riffs to go along with that.
Obviously, it is hardcore punk, thrash, whatever you want to call it, whatever genre you want to put it in. But as far as the drums are concerned, it was like it came out of somewhere deep in my soul, which is really cool. Instead of a guitar player telling you, "Hey, this is the riff, and here play just a thrash beat to it." It's like, oh jeez, that's very creative, sarcastically speaking. It's the same old, same old shit.
And so I prefer doing it this way, where we could go into a room, we improvise, we record. Crain came up with some riffs as well, and I tried to get as creative as possible with what he gave me. And same with [Pearson]. It's great to be in this position, where you could just let go and have faith in what you're playing and know that it's going to turn out OK.
DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC MEMORIES FROM THE STUDIO THAT STAND OUT TO YOU?
Ross Robinson, the producer in the studio with us, with his pep talks and his spiritual, Zen personality is really conducive to all of us in this band. And I think that his contribution is one of those experiences when you record a record that you enjoy. There's certain producers that really know how to help you with your best performance and your creativity, and their suggestions inspire you as well as their stories. And so the producer is a big part of it, especially with this band.
CRAIN AND PEARSON ARE A LITTLE YOUNGER THAN YOU, THEY HAVE DIFFERENT MUSICAL REFERENCE POINTS. WHAT DO YOU TAKE AWAY FROM THEM AS MUSICIANS AND WHAT IMPACT DO THEY LEAVE ON YOU?
Even though they're, I think, eight to 10 years younger, they still have the same passion, we all share the same passion for aggressive music and love playing hardcore music. Even though there is an age difference, we still have the same drive and energy, so it's not too different.
What I love is that they bring … let's say for example we're chatting on the phone and we'll talk about bands or whatever, they'll bring up a certain band and I don't know what band in particular, or a certain style of music. And they'll say, "Hey, check this out." And we'll be all, "Never heard of this band."
And so they'll definitely make suggestions or something like that to where [I'll] dive into a certain style of music that you never thought you'd get into. They just come from a different inspiration point, and sometimes their suggestions inspire you.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE TRACK ON THE RECORD?
Gee, that's always a difficult question to answer because I listen to the album from beginning to end, there's not one particular song that [jumps out]. "Heart Reformer" is really good. That one is great.
YEAH, "HEART REFORMER" IS A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT COMPARED TO THE LAST RECORD.
Yeah, Patton is singing a little more on this. He's crooning a little bit, which I think is awesome that he's incorporating a little bit of that style into this kind of music. And there's some really, really nice hooks and melodies that he has tapped into. There's a lot of [great songs], man. But I would say all of them.
OUT OF ALL THE SONGS YOU'VE EVER PLAYED ON, IS THERE ONE THAT STANDS OUT AS THE ONE YOU'RE MOST PROUD OF?
I don't think so. I'm just proud of everything I've done. From everything when I was 18 years old. I recorded my first album, my first song when I was 18, and now I'm fucking 57 and releasing an album of this nature. It's all fucking amazing. I love it.
And it drives me to create even more. And it's something that I love, and no matter what level of popularity or likes or whatever the song has, it doesn't matter to me. It's just as long as I'm out there, creating, and having a good time doing it.
BEST YOU CAN ASK FOR RIGHT THERE.
Yeah. Otherwise, you're going against, I don't know, the laws of life. You're supposed to be happy and doing what you do.
II is out October 28th via Ipecac Recordings, and you can pre-order it on CD or vinyl from Revolver's shop.