In the midst of
Strapping Young Lad’s otherworldly barrage of guitars, screams,
bass rumble, and samples, Gene Hoglan’s kick drums blast through
in furious, amazingly accurate 32nd-note flurries. Hoglan, thirty-seven,
was in on the beginnings of the thrash metal movement, joining Dark Angel
when he was still in high school in Los Angeles. After several years he
left to join the band Death, with whom he recorded two ground-shaking
albums, including 1995’s Symbolic, which raised the bar for outlandish
double bass integration.
After meeting Canadian
guitarist Devin Townsend, Hoglan was convinced to join Strapping Young
Lad. His impressive, over-the-top drumming can be heard on 1997’s
City, 1998’s No Sleep Till Bedtime, and 2002’s SYL. After
taking time off during the recording of a couple of Devin Townsend solo
albums, Strapping Young Lad returned with a vengeance in 2004, releasing
the live DVD For Those Aboot To Rock.
Hoglan, known as
“The Atomic Clock,” sat down with MD to discuss some of his
favorite topics—thrash metal, haulin’ double bass drums, and
the making of Alien, SYL’s craziest album yet.
you always taken a foot-oriented approach, sharing the lead with your
hands and feet?
Gene: I started off being a hand player, because I was
really into Neil Peart growing up. He was my first super duper favorite
drummer—after Peter Criss, of course. I think Peter was everybody’s
favorite drummer, at least for guys my age. Neil was more of a hand guy.
He played interesting stuff, but it was all understandable. It wasn’t
like he was playing real nutty stuff that you couldn’t figure out.
As I got a little older, I started getting into double bass drummers like
Cozy Powell, Rob Reiner from Anvil, Whacko Hunter from Raven, and Filthy
Animal [Phil] Taylor of Motörhead—he used to play a lot of
fast double bass. I just started doing a lot of foot stuff, and after
I started playing thrash metal it got to a point where I was like, Let’s
do some nutty kick drum patterns. My feet can do it, my brain tells my
feet they can do it, so the sky’s the limit on both sides.
When I was in the band Death, we did a couple of records. One was called
Individual Thought Patterns, and the other was Symbolic. By the time of
Symbolic, I was doing a lot of hand stuff as well. So for me it’s
about trying to balance both hemispheres, hands and feet.
MD: What else did
you listen to growing up?
Gene: I grew up on American AM radio—from about
’69 to ’76—which is when I discovered rock ’n’
roll. I listened to all of the ’70s stuff that was big at the time,
like Queen, Angel, Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, and Cheap Trick. I’ve
always thought that Bun E. Carlos was an underrated drummer. When he got
bored playing right-handed lead, he said, I’m going to play left-handed
for the next few years. That’s cool. I’ve always been ambidextrous
too, and it’s really helped out tons in my drumming.
MD: You play open-handed on a right-handed kit.
Gene: I’ve always done things with either hand.
I suppose I’m right-handed, but I do many things left-handed. Playing
left-handed on a right-handed kit is just the way I started playing as
a kid. Every drummer I talked to tried to convince me to lead with my
right hand and cross over with it to play the hi-hat. That didn’t
make sense to me and I didn’t like crossing over, so I said screw
it and made up my own rules as I went along.
did you grow up?
Gene: I was born in Dallas and raised in Los Angeles.
I saw every strip band, all the big hair metal bands of the day. I saw
a ton of cool bands, too, like Metallica and Slayer, back when they were
playing small clubs in LA. I was really young, and this was before they
would card you drastically. When I was thirteen I looked old enough to
be there, so nobody ever gave me a hassle.
MD: You started playing with Dark Angel at a young age.
Gene: Dark Angel formed in about 1981, and I joined in
’84. I hadn’t actually played double bass much before Dark
Angel, but any time I’d get on a double bass kit, I just had an
aptitude for it. It was easy for me to play double bass, so I went with
Dark Angel was a pretty visceral
thrash band. After we broke up in 1992, I got a call from Chuck Schuldiner
of the band Death saying they were looking for a drummer. Sean Reinert,
who played on their Human album, really opened up tons of avenues for
technical playing and killer, speedy double bass. I was like, Wow, he’s
shown what can be done here, so let’s go with that angle, as opposed
to just playing some rudimentary drum parts. Let’s go nutty.
I was really into Steve Gadd around
the time we did Individual Thought Patterns. Gadd’s bembe beat on
the early Al Di Meola stuff was a big influence on me. That was a really
cool beat to me, a cool way to break up a 6/8 pattern. So instead of just
going “chugga chugga chugga, chugga chugga chugga” on the
kick drums, I went nutty with the hands too.
I had started to play with two rides
at that time, one on either side of the kit, and I was doing some crazy
ghost note-y things on the second ride. That was kind of inspired by Gadd.
Then by the time we got to Symbolic, I was super duper into Deen Castronovo
as well. He’s an awesome double bass drummer. Terry Bozzio was huge
for me, too, and Mark Craney as well. I grew up playing along with Gino
Vannelli’s Brother To Brother record. Craney was awesome on it.
MD: I’ve noticed in your work with Strapping Young
Lad that your drum work involves setting up other licks, almost like a
big band drummer. I noticed it on “Zen” [from Alien] quite
Gene: Well, I always try to do that. If I’m going
to be playing a pattern three times in a song, the first lick will be
the simplest one, the second will be a little more advanced, and then
the final lick is going to be me throwing it all against the wall. I’m
not sure if I do that necessarily with “Zen,” but I do try
to consider the entire song when I’m coming up with parts. Don’t
blow your wad the first time you play a lick. If you’re going to
come back to it later, build on it.