After slowly building their fan base and live reputation over the years, No Doubt exploded in the mid-‘90s with the release of Tragic Kingdom. The album went on to rack up sales of 16 million and spawned several hit singles. Behind the band’s rock and reggae-infused rhythms was Adrian Young. Known as the jokester of the band and never short on comic relief, Adrian is all business and seriously passionate when it comes to playing the drums. His love of music and joy in playing was in full effect as Rhythm caught up with Adrian at No Doubt’s rehearsal in a cavernous yet cozy Burbank sound stage. Adrian was as energetic as ever about driving the band as they gear up for a world tour in support of their new release, Push And Shove. It can be a dangerous thing in the music industry to take a too long a break. There are fair-weather fans and tastes and styles change. Mr. Young tells us how No Doubt shook off the spiderwebs with live touring and reconnected as a band, spurring the creative process for what would become Push And Shove.
In between No Doubt’s records and tours, Adrian keeps active musically by playing with various other groups and doing the occasional studio session. In his down-time between those projects, Adrian and his wife have two children, ages 10 and one, that keep his hands full (when they’re not holding drumsticks.) After rehearsal, we adjourned to a plush couch and talked of the new record, playing in other projects, and his deep love for reggae and its effects on him and the band. Reggae is more than a musical genre,it’s a true lifestyle and to truly play it with authenticity,one must do more than just mimic the beats. It’s something Adrian absorbed through his parents’ love of music and his constant exposure to not only reggae but rock as well. All these influences were absorbed and their make their appearance throughout No Doubt’s music. Watching Adrian go from an up-tempo double-time rock beat to a laid-back reggae groove (sometimes in the same song) leave no doubt (pun intended) that’s Adrian’s musical osmosis has yielded a fruitful harvest. After doing a few random live dates, including a seven-night stand in LA, and some promotional European dates, No Doubt begin touring in earnest in the spring with plans for shows in the UK.
What did the programmers bring in that was challenging?
“Keyboards and percussion ideas. I would take these ideas and manipulate them or replay them a little differently on acoustic drums or play them on an electronic kit. I played electronic and acoustic on many of the songs.”
What type of electronics were you using?
“I used a Roland TD20 and we were also triggering some custom sounds that weren’t part of the Roland bank. I also played a finger on my iPhone on one part of a song. There were no rules. That wasn’t the norm but there were times when it got a little bit different. I played a Simmons brain with pads on one song. It’s a newer one,but but it’s a basic unit. It’s almost like a starter electronic kit,but the sounds were so basic on it, it was perfect for the ‘80s.”
What acoustic kit did you use?
“I used my acrylic Rasta kit with lights toward the end of the record. I used a mix of Orange County kits and an old ‘60s Camco kit. Snares, I used all kinds of snares. Orange County snares, World War2 era Radio King and everything in between!”
Do you enjoy experimenting with all the different sounds in the studio?
“Oh yeah,I really love it! With our band, we cover many different genres, so it allows me to go there if I want to. Old,fat-sounding drums or tight,ping-y drums. Depending on the song.”
Did you write in the studio or did you have frameworks for the songs established?
“It was a bit of both and different for every song. Some songs were completely written and we would go in and record full versions. Then, it could be six months later and when we would revisit them, our producer might say, ‘You know what? This verse needs to be rewritten.’ That would change everything, including my parts. There was so much experimentation at times I was getting lost. Like, ‘Which version are we playing?’ There was so much editing on this record that when we started working up the songs live, it was like relearning the parts. Some songs, I didn’t play all the way through. Some sections were done months apart.”
Was it difficult working that way?
“With technology today, it makes things easy. There was plenty of of opportunity to keep experimenting. Whether I did it back to back days or six months apart,it didn’t matter.”
Can that be a two-edged sword, having that much freedom or leeway?
“It just makes things take longer perhaps. We didn’t settle on, ‘That take was good enough.’ It depends on the song, as well. A song like “Undone”, which was a ballad, it was more straightforward. I did it in one night. No electronic drums. It was straight ahead, like the old days. I didn’t have to think about it that much. A song like “Dreaming the Same Dream”, there’s at least there versions of that song. I’m really glad that we were patient enough to arrive where we did on that one.”
Is that a group consensus, deciding when a song is done or is there some push and pull?
“Often there is pushing and pulling. That’s one of the reasons why the record is named that because in some ways we’re always pushing and shoving each other about how we’re going to keep the band going, play music, be creative together and still be friends and make this thing last as long as it has. Everyone has to sign off on it. We all compromise a little bit. That’s what makes a band. It has to happen.”
Were there any unique or unusual techniques used when recording drums for the album?
“Not really. Spike Stent, our producer, and engineer Matty Green are so good at getting drum sounds there’s not too much messing around. The artistry is in the ‘knob twisters.’ I did change out cymbals for different songs. “Dreaming the Same Dream”, I used an Oriental crash where normally I use A Customs. For “Undone”, I used K Constantinople hats and a crash. It sounded good with that WW2 snare. I used to be really good about documenting what I used on every song. That’s when there would be one or two takes instead of months and months of different versions.”
How has your approach in the studio changed over the years?
“I used to be into doing it in as few takes as possible. I always feel like the first couple of takes are more instinctive and creatively it helps me not over-think my parts. With this record there was none of that. There was some spontaneity and I’d grab those pieces if I thought there was something cool but it was a totally different way of making it. There was no song that was done in a few takes. I used to be really anti-electronic drums. Even though I loved bands that used them in the ‘80s, it wasn’t my thing. I’ve come to embrace it and it’s definitely helped me not stagnate in my approach to sounds and playing. I think it can be overdone, but it really depends on the band. For us, it depends on the song.”
What’s your practice regime like and has it changed over the years?
“When I’m off I generally look forward to freelancing because that forces me to practice things I normally wouldn’t. It takes me out of my comfort zone playing someone else’s music. I used to do it quite a bit during the off-years. Mostly in the studio, sometimes live with other groups. I think it makes me better.”
Which other artists have you worked with?
“In 2010, I got a call from my manager and he said, ‘Maroon 5’s drummer is leaving the tour for a week, they need someone to fill in and your name came up.’ I said, ‘When’s the next show?’ He said, ‘Tomorrow night, in Rochester, NY!’ I stayed up on the red-eye and made notes and tried my best to chart the songs with my chicken-scratch methods. I did three shows. I was proud of myself for pulling that off. I also played live with Bow Wow Wow. I played on Scott Weiland’s record as well as Unwritten Law’s Here’s to the Morning. One of the more unusual things I played on is a country rap artist called Colt Ford.”
Do you enjoy working with other artists?
“I do, I really like it a lot. It’s different because I’m trying to please whoever the artist or band is, I don’t have an emotional stake in it. It’s different with my band, I’m trying to please myself and my bandmates but it’s a totally different dynamic.”
What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry?
“The last time we put out a studio record was in 2001. There was no Facebook or Twitter. I don’t even know if there was YouTube. That’s been a little bit different, social media, instant feedback from the lovers and the haters. I know bands sell less records that they used to. I don’t know if that’s the most important thing. I think the most important thing, at least for a band, is to get the music into people’s hands. Especially for us. Our big thing is playing live. That’s what we enjoy the most. If people get their hands on our record and they want to come see us live, that that’s awesome for us.”
How were you exposed to reggae and how has it influenced you as a drummer?
“My parents would bring home all the Marley, Peter Tosh and Steel Pulse records. I didn’t have to wait until I was a teenager to discover that stuff, it was already in my house, every day as a child. Rock, reggae and ska really made me want to play drums when I was a kid. I feel like it’s always there, even in non-reggae songs I’m still throwing those flavors in. As far as No Doubt goes, we all grew up loving the music as young people. You know this, and I think most of the readers will agree music that you grew up with in your early years – child, teen, early twenties – is music that will stay with you forever. My parents had not only those reggae records, but hard rock records in the house. Deep Purple, Hendrix, The Doors and Janis Joplin. When I started learning how to plat drums, that was all in me. I wanted to play like those people and like people that I grew up listening to later like Stewart Copeland and Fish. I’m definetely still into the rock thing and sometimes I can’t get away from it. There’s times where we get into these reggae grooves when I really try to stay more … and less aggressive. It doesn’t always work out that way. When we were doing Rock Steady we worked with Sly and Robbie in Jamaica. They produced two songs, “Hey Baby” and “Underneath It All.” Sly…”
What is is about reggae’s style that … to you as a drummer?
“The style hits a place, rhythm-wise, that nothing else does. I think to play it great, you have to love it. in the ’70s, reggae drummers typically played side-stick and kick drum on “3″, but around 1980, many reggae drummers were emphasising kick on … and the snare on “3″. I am fond of both sides.”
Can you tell us any specific artists or tracks that really had an impact on you?
“It’s hard to think of a track, but I’ll name a few dummers. Fish from Fishbone is probably the most talented that I’ve seen as far as mixing styles and of course playing punk, reggae and ska. It’s hard to beat the groove that the Barrett brothers achieved in the Wailers throughout the ’70s. Those grooves were so deep that I don’t know if they’ve been matched. As far as British reggae bands go, I think that Grizzly was really great for Steel Pulse. He had this thing, it’s almost like his parts were big hooks. Every time he did a fill, it was like a hook.”
Who are some of your rock influences?
“Ian Paice from Deep Purple. Everybody loves Neil Peart. On this record I was listening to a lot of Simple Minds. Mel Gaynor played like a rock player, but a very talented rock player with chops. Funky too.”
What’s some of your current listening tastes?
“I don’t listen to as much new music as I used to and I don’t know why that is. When I do hear newer bands, there’s so much four-on-the-floor dance beat going on that some drummers aren’t standing out as much as they used to. With that being said, Dominic from Muse is a standout. What a great player.”
Any tips for drummers trying to make it today?
“I don’t know if I’m the right guy to ask because I’m more of less self taught. I took a drumming class in college after we recorded Tragic Kingdom [laughs] to try and improve and do proper … instead of my made-up way. I think it comes down to passion, if people want to play, there’s not exact way to play. Whether you want to play by learning and playing to CDs, learning how to read or taking lessons. It depends on where your passion lies. That’s the awesome things about music, it’s supposed to make you feel good.”