Banging on the Drums All Day
by Don Zulaica
R.E.M. Beck. A lot of musicians would murder and pillage for a shot at playing with either one of these multi-platinum artists. Drummer Joey Waronker, veteran of several bands including Smashing Pumpkins, Creeper Lagoon, Crumb, and Cibo Matto, has the enviable situation of juggling both. Looks like we had better rethink those protests against cloning. The longtime Beck drummer had just completed a Letterman taping with new mates R.E.M. when we caught up with him to discuss his current scheduling dilemma.
How does one decide to take on two major gigs like this?
It's just wanting to do as much as possible. And you know, it's kind of hard to turn down an offer from R.E.M. Scheduling will be key. But I feel great about stretching out a little bit.
How did you join R.E.M.?
Their management called me in May and asked if I wanted to come to Athens to play with the band. It was really secretive, I had no idea what was going on. They said, "If you can do it, we'll set it up." I went along with it, and then realized that I was trying out for the band. After playing with them they said, "We know you're playing with Beck and we don't want to jeopardize that, but we'd like to work with you."
What was it like playing with them?
When I first played with them at their rehearsal place, we didn't play any old songs. Peter [Buck] said, "I just wrote this song, it goes like this ... " and just played it. It was the most amazing experience for me. I just came up with a part for it and he was like, "That's cool, here's the next section." After a while we had worked out a rhythm track and recorded it. I'd always heard about this sort of mythical process, like wow, they write songs as a band. And there I was.
That was enough for me. The next thing I knew I was doing a show with them, the Tibetan Freedom Concert, and doing more recording for Up.
Even though you were the new kid on the block, was there a democracy with R.E.M.? Were your ideas welcome?
They were definitely welcome, but as you know, it's been their band for so long. Basically whatever I wanted to do was fine, but I wouldn't dare do this if I didn't think I could contribute and play what's appropriate for their music.
How does Beck work with a drummer?
He definitely has a full vision for his music. He can play everything except the drums. Well, now he's getting better with the drum machines [laughs]. He knows what he wants from everybody, and we've played together for a long time and I had to just learn how to read his mind. He sort of relied on my ability to do that.
What's the current schedule?
Right now R.E.M. is doing a promotional tour that ends in November. Beck is currently working on another record. He's called me about playing, but I've been kind of busy!
And Beck is being gracious with the time?
Yeah, he's being great. Originally, after I knew that I was going to be working with R.E.M., he said, "Oh, I really wanted to do some recording then." But he was really cool. Ultimately I asked him, "In the big picture, your new record, is it going to be a lot of programming? All drums?" A lot of times he doesn't like to record with live drums. It's hard to gauge, because he's super-focused once he gets working. Like most artists, you don't know what's going to happen until you're there. So in the future, who knows, but I want to be there for him.