HardRockChick interviews Jeff Friedl from ASHES dIVIDE, Puscifer, and Devo

I first became aware of Jeff Friedl when I went to see Puscifer early last month, and was particularly moved by his performance. It was after the show, when I was researching for my write up, that I realized he looked vaguely familiar because he’s also the drummer for ASHES dIVIDE. And then I discovered that he’s also done some work with Devo, who I saw a couple days after that Puscifer show. My favorite interview subjects are the up and coming musicians. Jeff took time out of his very hectic schedule to chat with me before the holidays. Turns out, not only is he a very talented drummer, but he’s also extremely hardworking, loyal, and diverse.

HardRockChick: When did you first start playing music and decide to go with drums?

“I would witness that year after year and thought, ‘shit- I want to do that!'”

Jeff Friedl: I decided to play drums at a really early age- 9 or 10 years old- maybe even before that. I grew up on the East Coast in West Virginia, and all of my family would get together- my father and his brother and my cousins. They all played drums, and a couple of my cousins played keyboards and bass. So our families would get together and drink beer- well I wasn’t drinking beer at that time- I was watching them drink beer, shoot pool, play drums, play keyboards and bass- blues and jazz. I’d listen to that, and they’d just get together and have a gay old time. I would witness that year after year and thought, ‘shit- I want to do that!’. They’d leave the room and I’d hit a drum and run away real fast so nobody heard. I was pretty shy at first about it. I kinda warmed up to the instrument I think by 10. I started playing in the school band and convinced my uncle to send me the drum set which was my dad’s first kit to Arizona, which was where I was living. I loved playing rock music and pretty much anything blues and jazz. There was a local scene in Tucson at a venue called the Downtown Performance Center- or the DPC as they used to call it- and a lot of underground bands used to go in and out of there. My parents or my friends’ parents would drop me off there and I would catch shows like Green Day and The Offspring before they got big, and Pennywise. All kinds of different bands would roll through there and it was a pretty huge influence on me.

HRC: What were some of the first bands you were in?

JF: I was in some pretty shitty bands at an early age, just kind of experimenting and covering- well- trying to cover Danzig songs, and Alice in Chains, Metallica, and Zeppelin songs and stuff. It wasn’t really until high school when I started getting into bands that were good. I joined a punk band when I was a freshman with a bunch of seniors and we actually started playing at the DPC and going around Arizona and playing. I couldn’t even drive yet, so the bass player would pick me up and throw all my drums in his car and cart me around everywhere. That was cool for me, to be amongst older musicians who were lifting me up and experiencing the life of being in a rock band at a young age. I played with some metal bands as well in high school, and a rock band that experimented in reggae. I played in a bunch of school bands like the jazz band and I was in the drum line in marching band and the wind ensemble. My junior year in high school I joined a Cuban band and that set me off in an entirely new direction. At that point I didn’t know what I preferred playing most- whether it was Cuban music or rock or jazz. I was a confused young man. It turned out being a good thing, but at the time I wondered if something was wrong with me. At that age, you don’t know if that’s a bad thing or not. You look around and most musicians have their one thing that they do. They have their niche and they kind of stick to it. I seemed to not exactly have that- or I had it and something else would come along and that would appeal to me.

HRC: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?

JF: I was listening to a lot of rock stuff- that was the majority of it. But, because of my dad and my uncle and my cousins, I was still listening to blues and jazz- Albert Collins and B.B. King. My dad showed me the funk band Tower of Power. I was also really into Slayer and Metallica and Guns N’ Roses- you know, heavy bands. Instead of going out with friends on a Saturday night, I would make a shitload of Top Ramen and wait until midnight and watch the Headbanger’s Ball. That was my life as a kid.

HRC: Is there any person in your formative years as a musician that was particularly influential on your career?

JF: There were multiple people…I had some really great teachers growing up. There was a teacher named Dave Jeffrey that I had- and he turned me onto playing big band jazz music, and really got me reading music very well. I was preparing in high school to move on to the collegiate level and play big band music and record jazz and do that kind of stuff. He was super influential on me- like teaching me old school dance and ballroom beats and stuff so I could play in old school jazz orchestras. He hooked me up with a couple of groups he was playing in in Tuscon to sub for him which was awesome. There was also a guy names Mike Eckroth – a piano player. He was the piano player in the Cuban band that I was in in high school. We actually traveled to Cuba and spent a month there, playing in the International Jazz Festival. We played the wrap up party for that, hung out, and took a ton of lessons. We saw probably 20 shows in 30 days. Mike was well immersed in that music and well educated- he’d already graduated and I was just a freshman in college by the time we went to Cuba. He just pushed me so much- so much so that I thought I was gonna cry a couple of times. I probably did, though I’m trying to push the saddest part of that out of my memory. He was huge into Brazilian music and funk and soul and Cuban music and he demanded excellence. It really pushed me and made me really strive to find the true spirit of Cuban music and anything that I was playing with him. He was a big influence on me. His musicianship and his drive to be authentic in whatever style he was playing rubbed off on me quite a bit. I’m sure I’m missing so many people as far as influences are concerned – there are tons of Cuban musicians and rock musicians as well.

HRC: Let’s go to the moment when you decided to move to LA from Tucson- how did that all take place?

JF: It had really been building up in my life for quite some time. I think I knew at a really early age – probably by like 12 or 13- that I wanted to move to Los Angeles to play music. Even back then I knew that the music scene in Tucson and just Arizona in general or any small town for that matter was limited. I even remember showing my folks registration stuff for Los Angeles Music Academy, which it wasn’t accredited at the time, and they saw the paperwork and were like, ‘I don’t know if we can do this. It’s just a year. How about college, college?” I kinda had to wait a little while. I went through high school just kind of hating it and wanting to leave, longing and dreaming of something bigger and better. But those were formative years anyway- I’m glad that things ended up the way that they did. I went to college at the University of Arizona and attended that school for three years, and spent a couple years in Arizona just hanging around and playing. I had a full teaching studio and just hung out and played in a ton of different bands and recorded and what not. I decided when I was 25 that this was the right time for me to leave. A close friend of mine- Rene Camacho- an incredible bass player that lives out here that’s from Tucson- had a vacancy in his apartment and he invited me out. I visited a couple of times and just kind of fell in love with the idea of being here just like I had been all along really. At that point it just became a reality. It overtook me – I just had to come out here and that’s what I did.

HRC: On to ASHES dIVIDE- were you involved in the recording process for the record or only the touring line up?

JF: I was mainly a part of the touring lineup. When I heard of the auditions, the record was already finished. Billy (Howerdel) for the most part did the entire thing, and Josh Freese recorded drums for it. I went through pretty much on and off a half of a year’s worth of auditioning- a couple rounds of videotaping and an in person audition. Then on New Year’s I got a call for it. At that time I think the record was mixed and ready to go, and I think a couple months later it was released. I did record some stuff after I started playing with Billy and we were auditioning the rest of the band- guitarists and bass players. One day he said, “Hey- I recommended you to Danny Lohner to drum on some remixes that he’s doing for the record that are either going to be released on iTunes or overseas or whatnot. He’s under a time crunch- would you be able to come over to my place- the studio- tonight after we are done playing today and record?’ And I said, ‘Well, hell yeah!’ So, that night, we recorded 2 songs- a remix of ‘Sword’ and ‘Forever Can Be’. I don’t think they did anything with ‘Forever Can Be’- but ‘Sword’ released with the European release of the record. So one way or another I was a part of it. It was really cool to at least do that because the record was already done. To be a part of it in some small way was an honor. Especially at that point when I just joined, and was just joining as the tour line up- to be able to record something for it was something special to me.

Watch this video interview on Hollywood Drum about Jeff’s long interview process for Ashes. (click on ‘Ashes Divide’ below the video screen)

HRC: What’s going on with the band right now?

JF: We’re pointing back in the right direction. We’ve taken a lot of time off. It’s been a little over a year since we’ve played a show. We had a really good time playing- I really feel like we had something special in that band- and I guess we still do- it just feels like we haven’t done anything in about 10 years even though it’s only been one year. We’re writing some material right now. I’m not sure how we’re going to release it- whether we’re going to do single songs or an EP or a record- but we’re kind of in the middle of the writing process. We’re probably going to be playing some shows next year in January/February, West Coast style, at least around the LA area as much as we can, until Matt and I go out with Puscifer again in March.

HRC: And that’s a perfect segue for Puscifer. How does the prep process go for those shows since you change up things from night to night and have a lot of transitions on stage?

JF: There’s a lot of work that goes into each show. There’s definitely a rotation – a small handful of shows- from night to night. So if you were to come- if we had three or four shows in San Fran, each night would definitely be different. That’s kind of the vibe of the band and the thing I dig most about it, is there’s that aire of improvisation each night. There’s structure- there kind of has to be with the video clips and some comedy sketches and what not, but the music changes, the vibe of the music can change at any given moment. Maynard could say, ‘ok, well, you know how we did Rev 22:20 last night? Well tonight let’s not do it like this, why don’t you think of doing it like this- like a more sinister version of it. See what you can come up with.’ And a couple minutes later, we’ve kind of recreated how we’re going to play the song. We might not even play the whole thing and Maynard will be like ‘OK, I like that, let’s just do it like that tonight’. And we’ll just get on stage and play it that way. And that’s the nature of that band. It sounds like it’s super loose- it’s not. Because everybody really is firing on all cylinders and is on the same page and the same wavelength with each other, it allows us all to be comfortable with playing and to be able to do those kinds of things on a whim. And there’s the behind the scenes production- we have great people working for us that really help make the show a success and keep it up and running. But musically speaking- that’s kinda the vibe of it-things are prepared but you never know when something’s going to change.

HRC: I read some reviews of the show that weren’t positive- especially a Houston review– talking about how they didn’t ‘get’ the show. Are you affected by any of the more negative reactions to the show from the stage or perhaps from reading a review afterward?

JF: For the most part, I don’t really know when people are affected negatively unless they are yelling and screaming. I remember hearing a heckler or two in Houston and you know, I’m not going to chalk it up to- ‘OK, well that’s an aggravated Tool fan’. I think I remember hearing about somebody giving a bad review in Houston, and saying they got up in the middle of the country night. And that’s probably why that person got pissed off, because they thought the whole show was going to be country. But the reality of the situation is that was just a part of the show, and it eventually kind of morphs into something different, so if anybody gets pissed off enough and takes off, well it’s their fault for paying good money to see the show and taking off and not seeing the entire thing. That specific night evolved into something different, something special, and it’s like basically two shows packed into one on that night. You have to go into Puscifer shows with a very open mind, knowing that it is a show, it’s a performance. It’s not a rock concert where you just sit there and chug beers and push each other around and yell and holler and scream and get rowdy. It’s more of an experience that you have to absorb. If I saw a Puscifer show not knowing what it was, I would be taken aback by it no matter what just because it’s something pretty unique. It’s nothing like I’ve ever been a part of. That’s one of the things that I will always take away from being in this band. It’s something I’ll always cherish- the fact that it’s something very unique and I’ll probably never be a part of something like this ever again. It’s like a Broadway show on acid.

HRC: What exactly was your involvement with Devo and are you still doing work with them?

JF: I play with them just occasionally- pretty much whenever Josh Freese can’t do it. That’s really his band- so I kinda keep the seat warm for him whenever I’m asked to. I have a friend who works at Mutato Muzika, and is involved in that camp, and I would just hang out with him every once and a while, going back three or four years. So I’d say hi to some of the guys in Devo just in passing, and go hang with my buddy, who kind of put a word in for me to do some studio work when one of their drummers couldn’t make it or what not. And when I was on the road with Ashes, I found out that Josh had recommended me for a Devo tour that they were going to do that actually got canceled. But I thought it was cool that he recommended me anyways. I think my friend had as well- but I was on the road with Ashes and was absolutely staying loyal to Billy and the guys- we had a good thing going and I wasn’t just going to jump ship- even if it was Devo! As much as I love Devo- it could have been Eric Clapton or somebody like that and I would have stuck it out. But it ended up being canceled. Later on in that tour- at the very end of it, Josh was finishing up with Nine Inch Nails at that time, and he wasn’t going to be home until the middle of December of ’08, so I got another call asking me if I had any availability to do some studio work for them, because they were recording a new record that’s going to be out in April of 2010 I think. So, of course I jumped on the opportunity. I knew we were coming home and I also knew that we weren’t going to go back out for the rest of the year and I wasn’t really sure what the future held for us so I said ‘Hell yeah I’ll do it!’ I ended up camping out with them for a couple months straight working every week and recording a bunch of stuff for the record, and Josh had already recorded a bunch, too. I didn’t know what they were going to do with it- it was just an honor to be involved regardless. And every once in a while I’ll get a call to do something for them.

HRC: When you’re not playing drums, what else do you like to do- or do you have time to do anything else?

JF: Most of the time I don’t, you know. I think I tend to gravitate towards peace and quiet when I’m not drumming. I spend the majority of my time during the days of the week making a lot of noise- so when I’m not making a lot of noise I definitely- I wouldn’t say that I’m reclusive- but I try to find peace and solitude in whatever. I really love sports, so I try to follow sports the best that I can and I read when I can, or go to the beach and relax. I hang out with friends and family as well. When I’m not traveling, I usually come home and I end up recording with a band or going to catch shows. So just hanging out with friends at coffee shops or whatever.

HRC: Are there any musicians or bands that you are interested in working with in the future?

JF: There are a handful of artists that I’ve always wanted to work with for sure. One guy that’s always been way at the top of my list is Sting. I’ve always really liked Sting. I don’t know if that would ever happen, but I’d love to play with him one of these days- that’s for sure! There’s a band called Los Van Van– from Cuba- I’ve always had a huge dream of playing with them. That will probably never happen either, but it’s a dream and I’m allowed to dream. I’m a huge Nine Inch Nails fan, too- always have been since I was a little kid- so working with Trent Reznor would be amazing. I have a lot of respect for him and how hard he works. He’s quite an amazing individual. There’s a jazz piano player, too, named Brad Mehldau. I’ve always really loved his playing- he’s a very innovative player that mixes together all kinds of modern rock influences with classical and traditional and modern jazz influences. He has a trio that he plays with that just blows my mind. I’d love to play with him one of these days.

HRC: So you have upcoming Ashes shows in January/February, then Puscifer in March….what can we expect from you in the near future?

JF: I kind of hit the ground running after the Puscifer tour. I’ve been home for a couple weeks now. I’m reuniting with a hardcore band that I used to be in that I started with some guys in Tucson. I guess we were all about 21 or so. It’s a band called Is To Feel. There’s a couple records that the band has put out. I think the last one was put out like 3 years ago. We recently decided that we were going to reunite. That’s pretty much the last rock band I played in before I moved to LA. That was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make in my career, too, because those guys are really close friends of mine. They are really talented and I loved playing in the band, but I had to make a decision to detach myself form Arizona slowly but surely and get myself out here. But we are getting back together to do a record sometime this year. Right now I’m working on that stuff- it’s really challenging music and the last thing that most people would be wanting to do around the holiday season is play crazy hardcore music. I’m playing a shitload of drums right now working on this material and really enjoying the challenge of it, especially at this time of year. Instead of getting drunk and drinking eggnog and opening presents, I’m thrashing around on the drums playing this stuff and it’s fun. So that’s something people can expect sometime this year- a new record from Is To Feel. I’ve been camping out working on some material with a couple guys- this guy Bryce Soderberg from Lifehouse and another guy names Pelle Hillstrom who’s in ModWheelMood with Allessandro who used to be in NIN. So the three of us have been working on some new material that’s really fun- more of a straight ahead rock vibe. Other than that, there’s some other things going on, but definitely at least those things and Ashes and Puscifer. And anything else that comes my way- I’m sure I’ll clamp onto.

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