[Below is a phone interview I conducted with Rick Allen and Lauren Monroe in 2008. I decided to reprint this in honor of their upcoming benefit tomorrow night. This is Part One. I'll be re-running Part Two soon. I still can't believe I got to do this - it was such an honor and a thrill! Please read, enjoy, and share! - xo, Jenna]
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rick Allen and Lauren Monroe for the release of their album, The Freedom Sessions. The disc marks Lauren’s debut, as well as Rick’s long awaited return to acoustic drums. I also got to chat with Rick (the drummer for Def Leppard since the age of 15) about the making of Hysteria and his work with famed producer, Robert John “Mutt” Lange. When asked if he took any tricks from Mutt to help with Lauren’s CD, he revealed that Lange’s biggest gift to him was “the art of listening.” Hysteria is a major feat on many levels – and not only for Allen’s courageous return to the drums after a life-altering accident. It’s also amazing to note that the lushly layered multi-platinum release was created long before Pro Tools! Audiophiles and gear neophytes alike can recognize that as a huge accomplishment. Allen says, “I believe Pro Tools was created for Mutt!”
Lauren and Rick met when Rick became a client of Lauren’s via his interest in the healing arts. Monroe is a noted practitioner in the field of energy healing, with a vast breadth of cross-cultural experience. It was Lauren who finally helped Rick remove most of the remaining trauma from his body – energy that had been trapped in his cellular memory since his vehicular calamity in 1984. The infamous car accident was born out a moment of anger, though he’s ultimately grateful for it now. It irrevocably changed his life, but he says it’s something that has brought him many gifts, including Lauren. Rick’s battle turned into triumph and has lead him to a lifetime of listening to his heart. The couple is as generous as they are genuine. Both are active in charity work, including the Raven Drum Foundation, which they co-founded. The couple also plays a huge part in The Wounded Warrior organization, which focuses on empowering veterans and people experiencing crisis through the healing power of playing drums. Excerpts from our phone conversation appear below. Enjoy!
Lauren: We don’t take sacred time to spend with ourselves.
Jenna: I think the more technology comes into play, while it’s convenient; it’s also a way to lose ourselves. Just like with Auto Tune and not having to necessarily be a singer anymore, it’s the same with Facebook and social media. You’re in touch with people, but you’re really just reading one sentence of their lives. You don’t often know what’s really going on. It takes away the connection.
L: That’s so true.
Rick: That’s very good. Really the drum circles [a form of therapy from The Raven Drum Foundation] themselves are a metaphor for community. It’s a cross-section of community. It’s fantastic to see people [experience their first drum circle]. At first they feel a little self-conscious. And then they realize there’s a dominant rhythm. And we experience dominant rhythms in all aspects of our lives - whether it’s when we’re standing in front of an ocean, or standing in a forest, or whatever. A drum circle is no different than that; it’s a dominant rhythm. Everybody feels supported by that rhythm. It’s an incredible moment when you start to see people become less self-conscious and really just play. The whole rhythm takes on a life of it’s own. People get out of their heads and really into their hearts.
J: That’s a huge breakthrough! We had a really neat experience the other day when we were shopping. The market has a music store located near the check-out stands. There happened to be a drum circle going on. I thought it was the coolest moment, to be shopping for my food to the beat of the drums. It was really unique. [laughter]
R: That’s fantastic!
J: It was a really different experience from your typical, fluorescent light, frozen-foods type of shopping trip. Going back to visceral part of drumming… I’m happy with some current music, specifically the White Stripes. It’s interesting because Meg [White] is not a traditional drummer. I’m giving drum lessons this evening to a little boy who wants to play like the White Stripes. He doesn’t deliniate gender. He’s just thinking, “I want to sound like that!” I think that’s so cute. He’s not like, “Oh, that’s a girl.” He’s not self-conscious about it. Her work is almost on a tribal level, because it’s really stripped down playing.
R: I love it! You know who else is a really good source of tribal drumming? You wouldn’t think it, but Larry Mullen from U2. I love that kind of playing. If I could do that every day, that would be incredible.
J: Yeah! There’s a reason U2 and Def Leppard are huge. The music, the beat, can tap into your heart. I know we talked earlier about learning the vocabulary [of the healing arts] – people don’t necessarily have that vocabulary in their day to day language, but I believe we have the genetics buried deep inside all of use. The ancient DNA code.
R: It’s all in there! You really remember it – or part of you remembers it. Drumming is such an ancient art form. I think it’s the beginning of communication, dance, and ultimately ritual. A lot of things that exist today probably exist because of that need and desire to communicate.
J: Absolutely! We get cut off from each other, but music can still save. I’m wondering about the project you two are doing. Tell me about the songwriting process and how intuition and healing work comes into play. Do you capture your first take when you two come up with a song?
L: Well, normally it’s kind of a download for me. I open up to the process. It’s very similar to working with healing energy, but it comes with sounds, an arrangement, and a lot of images. Rick’s got his producer's hat on and he can really catch the tempo. He really helps me establish tempo, as well as the backing vocal arrangements. He’s an artisan. He really helps me put it all together.
J: That’s amazing. What do you two listen to for enjoyment? Do your favorite bands find a place in your inspiration for music?
L: So many things! It goes from Frank Sinatra to AC/DC and everything in between. We listen to a lot of chant music around the house.
R: I think every form of music has its place. You can always find the time, the right time…
L: … the inspiration from it.
J: Your favorite music always gets in there and reverberates; even if it’s in the background, it definitely becomes a part of you. The live shows with Lauren are such a different environment than when you play with Def Leppard. Do you like the change?
R: I love the change! My first drum was a cookie tin. [laughter] I moved on to the tambourine. Then finally my parents, they were really kind and they put a drum kit on lay-away. So, acoustic drums have really always been my passion. It’s great doing what I do with Def Leppard and the electronic drums. It’s obviously another facet, another form, of what I do. But to get back to the real organic, acoustic drums is such a huge treat for me.
J: I noticed the acoustic drum set-up in the Mint footage [viewable via YouTube]. I was looking really closely and I was like, “I think that’s a traditional trap kit!” I thought that was really cool!
R: Oh, cool! [laughter] That’s great! I’m really fortunate to have Forrest Robinson. I met Forrest when he was playing drums with India Arie. He is just awesome. He’ll sit there and, between the two of us, we’ll lay down really intricate rhythms. It’s great.
J: You’ve both worked in the music industry for a long time. I know there’s a lot of doom and gloom about how the industry is allegedly falling apart. But I’m curious what you both think about the changes. Do you see a positive side to what’s going on?
R: We both do and we’re experiencing it right now. Being able to promote yourself in a way that’s authentic, getting your music out there, and not necessarily hanging on to any one particular technology, or outlet. Really getting it out there in every way we possibly can. I think some of the social networking sites are excellent. Having access to all of these things, like YouTube, as a way to get the music out there – either video or music. I think it’s incredible. It’s almost like the control is somewhat back in the hands of the artist again, which, on a certain level, is fantastic.
J: It’s being taken away a little bit from the bigwig up in the corporate office who may not even necessarily know what your band sounds like, yet is telling you what to do.
R: Yeah! It’s almost like music became a marketing opportunity, you know, attaching it to a product. I don’t have any problems with that, but if it’s the main emphasis then I think it’s sending out the wrong message. I think all of the social networking options need to be utilized to get music out to as many people as possible.
J: There’s certainly still a place for larger scale marketing, but I think that’s a great point about YouTube. Of course, myspace has been huge for bands. [Haha - 2008!] Being able to make a video for your band, throw it on the Internet - you don’t know what could happen from there. Smaller record labels are also making it possible for some pretty big name independent bands to make a living at playing music. I think that’s amazing. It’s going to be interesting to see where it goes.
R: No, it’s great! Lauren’s made quite a few videos. And to me, I think they’re incredible. It really shows off the band in a way that is very authentic because there’s no messing around with Pro Tools or technology. It’s literally how the band sounds and hopefully people really get that. Hopefully people hear that and it encourages them to come see us live.
J: I think so! Lauren, you’ve got a beautiful voice. Going back to The Mint footage, I felt like I was there. I think your band and what the two of you are doing – that’s the epitome of “vibe.” You can feel that coming through. I’m so excited for both of you.
L: Thanks Jenna, I’m really happy to hear that.
R: That’s really great.
J: And I just have to say, Rick you’re such an inspiration! What you’ve done, how you overcame your injuries and that you continue to play… I’m getting teary. I think it’s so amazing.
R: Oh, that’s sweet! The beautiful thing is that I’m still overcoming. That’s life. You constantly face challenges. This whole project with Lauren has been a huge challenge for both of us, I’m sure. It’s great when you can go into things, embark upon them with all this passion, and actually make something good out of it. That’s the one thing I’m really excited about – we’ve got something outside of Def Leppard. Not necessarily separate, but something outside of Def Leppard that can bring people so much joy.
J: Absolutely! Being willing to put yourself out there in a new way and continually challenging yourself – it’s really amazing. I remember seeing the Def Leppard Hysteria tour in the round when I was in high school. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. And I still think it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!
R: That’s awesome! I’m so glad you were there. The Jonas Brothers are going out there, touring in the round – but I hope people remember we kind of started that whole thing! [laughter] It was amazing to have four front rows in an arena. You experienced it yourself. That was the epitome of total excitement.
J: I have to admit, this is such a thrill. I’ve been nervous all day!
R: It works both ways. We’ve been nervous, too! Again, it’s something new for us. We’re trying new things. It’s wonderful when we met people like you that really embrace what we’re doing. So, we thank you for that.
J: Absolutely. I’m so happy to have been in touch with both of you, and I really appreciate you taking the time.