An Interview with
The Original Drummer of the Shock Metal Glammers
'Murderdolls', now of 'Davey Suicide'
that took place in 2012.
Interviewed by Glenn Milligan
Glenn: What was it like growing up in Boston.. & how did it establish your interest in music?
Ben: I grew up in a suburban neighborhood about 30 minutes outside of the city that pretty much looked & felt like 'anytown USA' ... in the sense that it seemed typical of any small town in the United States. I was always really into music, probably cause it was always playing in the house I grew up in. My older brother was into alot of different types of music.. rock, new-wave, pop, old-school rap & hip-hop. He would always be playing his stereo all the time, so I was exposed to some pretty diverse styles of music at a young age. I had posters of Prince & Duran Duran hanging on my bedroom walls at a certain point.. which in retrospect, is probably what originally established my interest in bands or artists with somewhat of a glam image.
Those posters were eventually replaced by Kiss & Motley Crue, which was the next step in my musical evolution. My best friend who lived a few houses down the block from me was a huge metalhead... so he was pretty much responsible for introducing me to Hard Rock & Heavy Metal. We would always hang out at his house after school & listen to music & watch rock videos all day. Since no one had a car yet, and there wasn't much to do anyway.. all we ever did was just hang out, listen to metal & watch horror movies.
Sometimes on Saturdays we'd go to this store that sold rock & metal merchandise and buy concert t-shirts. Then when we were done there, we would go to this other music store up the street & steal all the tapes we could fit into our pockets. We had to get those new albums somehow.
Once I got into my pre-teens I started going to more shows & seeing bands. There was this all ages rock club that we went to almost every weekend to see bands play. It was a cool place, cuz along with all the local bands.. there were always alot of national touring acts that played there too. So that was really when I was first exposed to that whole realm of things. Seeing alot of those bands there definately made an impression on me.. I knew I wanted to be a part of it. When I was a senior in high school I blew off my prom to play a gig there. So even at that point, I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
(Left - Professional Promo shot; Right - @Vamp'd By Jo Anna Jackson)
Glenn: What made you want to play drums?
Ben: That's a pretty common question that I've been asked many times... and for some reason, I'm never exactly sure how to answer it. I think the reason being, is that I just always wanted to be a drummer.
When I first got started, there was really never a question as to what instrument I would play. When all my friends went out & bought guitars, which seemed to be the instrument that everybody wanted to play.. it never crossed my mind to follow, not once. I always just felt very attracted to the drums for some reason... I related to them a lot more naturally than any other instrument.
Whenever I would go to a concert, my attention would always be focused on the drummer. Or even when we would hang out after school & watch music videos, I always wished that they showed more shots of the drummer. It just looked incredibly f*ck*ng fun to me... and I remember sitting there thinking or probably even saying out loud 'I wanna do that!'. I think another reason I felt drawn to the drums is because they were 50% physical.. 50% mental. Before I got into drums, I was completely obsessed with martial arts for that same reason. Even before I started playing drums, I always felt very connected to rhythm in general... so it was a natural choice. There's something about drumming that is very primal... and that aspect has always appealed to me.
Glenn: Who were your favorite drummers when you were learning to play & how did they influence you?
Ben: When I was first starting out my favorite players were (in no specific order).. Tommy Lee, Randy Castillo, Robert Sweet, Tommy Aldridge, Vik Foxx, Mikkey Dee & Lars Ulrich. I always liked players that not only hit hard.. but also had a real theatrical 'flair' to their performance.
Glenn: What local bands were you a part of there.. and what status & level of success did they achieve?
Ben: I played in quite a few different bands when i was growing up on the east coast.. none of them did anything beyond a local level or were known outside of that area though. I was always playing in at least 1-2 bands at any given time. I think it's safe to say that i spent about 85% of my teenage years locked up in various rehearsal rooms all over Boston.
I was extremely driven and never allowed any distractions or obsticals to get in my way no matter what. I'd join a band and run with it for awhile.. then if I didn't feel like it was happening anymore, or if they were getting lazy.. I would just split without looking back. I was totally relentless.. I didn't care about partying on weekends, or having a girlfriend or any of that. All I cared about was becoming the best drummer that Icould be, so when an opportunity came my way I could take advantage of it.
Some people I came across or played in bands with thought I was 'crazy'.. or too intense, but I didn't care. I had my van with my drums in the back and I was ready to go 24/7. I definately made a lot of sacrifices back then and sometimes wondered if it was all worth it. Nothing happened overnight, but looking back on the way I was growing up... I realize now that everything I did was for a reason & has obviously benefited me in the long run.
Glenn: What did you find where the differences on a social & musical level, when you were re-locating from Boston to Los Angeles?
Ben: Both are two very culturally different places.. there was definately an adjustment period for me when I first landed in Los Angeles.
Boston is a working-class college town, where everybody's really grounded... a bit too grounded for me. In the sense that if you have plans to do something outside of the 'norm' with your life, aside from going to college and then getting some boring 9-5 job.. most people will think that your crazy & will give you a list of reasons why you can't do it. Where as in California, people are born into these rich & famous families.. and pretty much do whatever they want. As far as music is concerned.. I did find that most musicians in Boston definately had a better work ethic than most in LA.
In Boston there weren't too many distractions, and it's pretty cold outside most of the time.. so rehearsing 3-4 times per week (whether there's a gig coming up or not) wasn't unusual. In LA.. there's a social event every night of the week, so it seems like most bands rehearse only when it's absolutely necessary to do so.
Glenn: Who would you say taught you the most about playing drums & being a showman onstage?
Ben: I learned from alot of different players... so the people & things that have influenced my drumming can't be narrowed down to any one specific source. Obviously the bands I grew up on & the drummers who played in those bands had alot to do with making my style what it is today. As far as the stick-tricks and the 'showman' aspect of my playing... that definately comes from the players I mentioned before. Those guys were the best at that style of drumming, so it's certainly a compliment when people find my performances to be entertaining & fun to watch.. because I always aspired to be that kind of player.
Glenn: What would you say goes into creating the most effective drum solo.. & why?
Ben: A great drum solo should be like a good fireworks show.. it has 3 main parts. It opens strong & gets your attention.. draws you in as it builds.. and then it closes big with an exciting grand finale.
It's definately the kind of thing where, if your gonna do it.. you better do it really good, or don't do it at all. I've always felt most comfortable performing within the context of a band.. so I actually didn't start soloing onstage during shows until recently. The guys in Pretty Boy Floyd encouraged me to do it during their live set, so I put something together. It's like anything else.. it just takes practice & experience doing it to feel confident enough to pull it off. It obviously works best in front of an audience that's really receptive & enthusiastic.. I like to have fun with it & get the crowd involved.
But unless you play for Dream Theater or Rush, I definately think you should keep it short & sweet. Cause if it goes on too long, it will seem overly self-indulgent & people will get bored. I also think that the sign of a good drum solo is that you shouldn't have to be a drummer to enjoy it. It should be fun & entertaining to watch whether you're a musician or not.
Glenn: What for you makes the perfect drumkit & why?
Ben: I've played on alot of different kits, especially over this past year while touring overseas. I'm pretty much at the point now where I can sit down at just about any drumkit and do my thing, ya know? However, I am pretty specific about how my drums are set-up.
First of all, I'm 6'5.. so I actually sit really low. And arms are long as f*ck, so my kit is pretty spread out so everything is at a good reaching distance. My hi-hat is practically at head level.. and the drums & cymbals are completely horizontal. Other guys sit down at my kit & say "how the hell do you play this?".. haha, but it works for me. If everything is too close together I feel cramped.. which will have a negative impact on my performance. I can just execute my style more effectively if I can really stretch out & swing.. you know?
I also recently switched to bigger drums now too.. I went up a size on everything. I play a 28" kick drum now aswell... the thing looks like it belongs in a circus, it's great.
Glenn: What were your most memorable moments in being a member of Murderdolls?
Ben: I have alot of great memories from my time in Murderdolls. I joined the band 6 months after arriving in Los Angeles.. so things happened alot faster than I had expected they would.
I was working at this 24 hour adult video store in a seedy part of Hollywood when I first auditioned and got the gig.. and actually quit that job about 2 weeks before our first tour started. I was basically plucked from obscurity & hand-picked to be a part of this band that I toured the world with, which afforded me to have a lot of amazing experiences that I might not of had otherwise. Being in Murderdolls changed my life.. it took a world that I had always fantisized about & made it my reality. Which was the whole reason I moved to Los Angeles in the first place.. so joining that band was definately a good starting point for me.
The original Murderdolls line-up was one of those rare & unique situations.. where the right people.. are in the right place, at the right time of their lives.. and all of those ingredients come together in a way that's not at all pre-meditated. I think that happens every once in a while, whether it be in music or art.. where somthing is created that people really respond & connect with.
Glenn: I originally saw you on-stage with Murderdolls @ Download Festival.. what are you memories & highlights from that gig?
Ben: Download was totally awesome! It's one of, if not the biggest & most celebrated rock festivals in England.. so getting the opportunity to play it was great. I just remember being the first (of the band) to walk out onstage as we went on & seeing this absolutely massive sea of people, as far as the eye could see, in both directions & to the back.. and just thinking 'holy sh*t!'. The gig itself was just this big blur of an adrenaline rush.. it was pretty insane. It's definately up there with one one the biggest shows I have ever done. I also remember that we had to cut a song out of our set the day.. cuz Amen played right before us, and when they were done playing, Casey Chaos climbed up the lighting trus & wouldnt come down for a few minutes... good times mate.
The rest of the day/night was an even bigger blur... just a lotta hangin' out & drinking with everybody from all the other bands, just havin' a blast. It was a great experience & I hope to do it again @ sum point.
Glenn: When a line-up of Murderdolls was reformed, what did you think when you weren't included in the line-up.. or were you busy elsewhere?
Ben: Around the time when that was happening, I was in the studio rehearsing & recording with a new band that I had formed with the guitarist from WASP & Five Finger Death Punch.. so i was somewhat occupied with that. But for the record.. Myself, Eric Griffin nor Acey Slade were ever approached or asked to participate on that last album & tour.
I feel like the real core fans deserve to know the truth about that situation, rather than being lead to believe otherwise. As far as the line-up change is concerned.. I can't really comment on it too much, since I never once saw a photo of any of them. I was an original part of Murderdolls when it was new & fresh.. when people were excited about it. If they want to forge on with some 'version' of what we did, that's fine. It's Joey's band.. he can do what he want's with it.
Glenn: How did your times in Dope, AntiProduct & Sintanic differ from being in Murderdolls... and what were the most memorable points of working with each band?
Ben: Every gig that I've
had has been a learning experience for me, and I have gained something
valuable from each one. Having gotten the opportunity to tour with a
few different acts has taught me alot about what it means to be a professional.
And one of the cool parts about that, is it allows me to put that experience
to work for me with whatever I do now. Murderdolls put me on the map..
& I definately learned alot during my time in that band.
As far as comparing the 'diferences' between the bands I've been involved in.. I don't really judge it like that. Each situation has been unique in it's own way & has ultimately been a piece of the puzzle that makes up my experience.
(Photos by Michelle Star & Gabriella Sixx)
Glenn: How did you come to be endorsed by Pearl drums, and why are they the most preferable to you?
Ben: I always wanted to play Pearl.. right from the begining. When I first started playing, I took drum lessons at this local music store in Boston & they had a few Pearl kits set-up in the store, so I think that started my interest. Then I saw an ad of Tommy Lee endorsing Pearl in a rock magazine, & that was it.. I knew I wanted to be associated with that brand of drums. I think when you first start playing any instrument, you can't help but feel drawn to play certain brands of gear.. usually from seeing your favorite bands or artists playing it. So that kinda thing probably had a influence on me when I was getting started. The first 3 kits I owned were Pearl & I just always thought they were the best.
So when I moved out to Los Angeles & started working professionally I was finally in a position to approach the gear companies that i wanted to play & endorse... and Pearl was my first choice. I've had a relationship with them for a while now & they've always been cool to me & supported whatever I've done.
Glenn: What made you decide to use Ahead drumsticks, and what for you makes them superior to other brands on the market?
Ben: I've been using & endorsing Ahead sticks exclusively for 10 years now... so they've been my main working tools for quite awhile. I think they appealed to me for a few main reasons. First off, I am & always have been a heavy-hitter.. so with that said, I have always used a heavier stick. I don't think I've used less than a 2B since i was 16 years old. And when you play heavier sticks, even though you don't realize it, a lot of your energy actually goes into holding onto them. So I found that using the Ahead sticks allowed me to use a bigger, heavier stick.. with the feel & playablity of a smaller, lighter stick. So basically all of my energy can go into my performance, which is advantagious to my playing style.
Your sticks are your 'life-line' to the drums.. like what a brush is to an artist. So it's important to try different ones til you find that right fit for you. I just find that they allow me to perform at a higher level.. it's like having a bullwhip in each hand.
(@ El Ray Theatre, Los Angeles, 13th Dec. 2012 - Photos by Deliquesce -Flux Photography)
Glenn: What were your thoughts on when you were asked to be the drummer in Pretty Boy Floyd.. & how long did it take to make your decision?
Ben: Kristy Majors had actually gotten my contact info through a mutual friend we both had, who had recomended me for the gig. I had always thought they were a cool band.. the way their first album looked & sounded is pretty much how I had always imagined a rock band from Hollywood to be like. So when the opportunity came up I was down to do some gigs with them without much hesitation. Playing & touring with PBF last year was a great experience.. & a lot of fun.
Glenn: How long was it before you did your first public performance after joining Pretty Boy Floyd.. and what sticks in your head from those rehearsals?
Ben: My first show with PBF was in April 2011 at a small club in Fresno, CA. It was the first live show I had played in over a year, so I was excited but also kinda nervous too. The gig went great & made me realize how much I missed performing live on-stage. My audition for the band was actually just me & Krash... we went into a rehearsal place in the valley on a Sunday afternoon & just kinda jammed. We probably played about 90% of their 'Leather Boyz' album that day.. just callin' em out, one song after another. So from that first rehearsal to the first show was maybe 2-3 weeks.
Glenn: How was the Key Club show last November when you co-headlined with Crash Diet?
Ben: That was an amazing gig... I had such a blast that night. The place was completely sold-out & just packed to the rafters.. I think just about everyone I know in LA was there. You know, getting the opportunity to tour & travel is great, but there's nothing like having a kick-ass hometown show. It's a good feeling.
That show was alot of fun & definately one of the many highlights of last year.
(Left - Backstage @ The Key Club, West Hollywood - (Photo by Jack Bruno); Right - @ The Key Club Show (Photo by Stephanie Pierce))
Glenn: What other gigs have you enjoyed most with the band?
Ben: It's tough to say.. there were alot of highlights last year, so it's hard to narrow it down. The M3 Rock Festival in Maryland was awesome.. It was a great gig & just a super fun weekend all the way around. We played with Whitesnake, Tesla & a bunch of other great bands. The Scandinavia/Sweden tour was an absolute blast. All the shows were packed & the fans just went ape-shit for us. People are especially in their rock 'n' roll in that part of the world. We did a bunch of shows in Italy in October during Halloween week, which was alot of fun. We played Mexico City in November, which was great. Plus I had never been there before, so it was a new experience for me. I don't think many bands from the US play there on a normal basis.. so the crowds were very enthusiastic to say the least. The Hollywood Key Club show was a great night & certainly a highlight.
I enjoyed everything I did with PBF last year.. the whole journey was a great experience, so no regrets.
Glenn: How would you describe the sound & style of Ben Graves?
Ben: That's a good question... I dunno. I feel like I am the sum of my influences.. or maybe just my interpetation of what has influenced me. I definately have certain style of playing that I've become known for... as a high-energy, heavy-hitter with the stick tricks & that stuff. But I'm not sure if I've really established a definative 'sound' at this point. It's tough to say, cuz I feel like I'm too close & involved in what I do to judge that objectively. There are certain players that when you hear them on record, there is no doubt that it's them. For example.. when you hear players like John Bonham, Neil Peart, Stuart Copeland, Vinnie Paul, Chad Smith.. or even Tommy Lee play, you know it's them because they have such unique signature sound & style of playing. I don't consider myself to be in that class of players quite yet.. but it's definately a long-term goal that i'm working towards achieving some day.
Glenn: What gets you 'revved-up' before a gig?
Ben: It's a strange thing, sometimes there's just this feeling in the air... this anticipation of what's about to happen. It's hard to explain.. but if you do anything that involves performing infront of an audience, you understand it.
I think that going through my 'pre-show routine' definately helps to get me into the right mood & head-space to go out there & do what i do.. every performer has one, it's essential. You get ready, put on your stage clothes, warm-up, listen to KISS, sing the words outloud... whatever it is that you do to get into the proper mind-set, almost becomes a ritual of sorts. Especially when your on tour & your doing it every night. It's like the 'Pavlov's Dog' syndrome.. when you put on those smelly stage clothes, that are still damp from the night before.. you know it's time to go out there & take care of business.
But what really gets me reved-up the most.. is when the house lights drop & the kids start screaming & goin' nuts. Even if I'm feeling a little tired from traveling or whatever, the second I hear that.. I snap right into it & get focused. That exchange of energy that takes place between a band & their audience during a performance is awesome. I've always said, if the day ever comes where that stuff dosen't excite me... that's when I'll stop doing this.
(Photos by Jo Anna Jackson Photography)
Glenn: What have been your favorite concert or festival line-ups that you have played so far.. & why?
Ben: There's definately been some good ones for sure. When Murderdolls opened for Iron Maiden it was pretty awesome.. It was in Europe for 2 months as main support for them. It was really cool getting to watch them every night. We did a festival in Australia called Big Day Out.. which I believe is now called Sonisphere. The year we did it was a good line-up.. Foo Fighters, Jane's Addiction, Queen's Of The Stone Age.. lots of others that I don't recall right now. We opened for Guns N' Roses & Slayer in Japan.. that was pretty insane. Download Festival in England was bad-ass.. the year we did it Metallica was one of the headliners.
When I went to Sweden with PBF last Summer, we played this big rock festival opening for WASP.. that was an awesome gig & a lot of fun. And most recently, the Summer tour that I just completed with Davey Suicide, 9 Electric & Static-X was a blast too.
Glenn: What have been your favorite road stories so far?
Ben: That's a conversation that could go on for days... literally. I've lived through alot of crazy experiences on tour.. seen a lotta weird stuff out there.. & met a lot of interesting people along the way. The most important part of touring is obviously the shows.. but it's those off-beat experiences that you have in between the shows that you seem to remember the most.
But I'm assuming that anyone reading this probably has a life of some sort. So in the interest of keeping this Q&A moving & not getting too messy.. I'll 'plead the 5th' on this one.. to protect the innocent & the guilty! Besides.. these stories are better told around a campfire.
Glenn: What have been your most 'Spinal Tap' moments so far.. care to tell?
Ben: Probably the funniest
thing that's happened recently was on the tour I just did with Davey
Suicide... we were out supporting Static-X for about 8 weeks, through
July, August & part of September. Traditionally on the final show
of a tour, the headliner will sometimes pull an end of tour prank on
the opening act. It's usually just in good fun.. but every now &
then it goes a little too far. And on the last night of the tour they
got us good.. although I think I took the brunt of it.
So by the end of the song, all I have left to play on is my snare & hi-hat.. no kick drum, nothing.. it was hilarious. Finally on the last chorus of the song, Static's drummer Shawn Davidson comes out & dumps 2 buckets of baby powder all over me. Now keep in mind, I'm a sitting target up there.. I can't dodge it like the other guys can. So it's all in my hair, my eyes, my mouth... ughh, what a mess. I just closed my eyes & my mouth.. and thought to myself "No matter what happens.. don't stop playing!" Somehow through all the shenannigans, I didn't miss a beat. The crowd just ate it up & loved it.. that whole night was pretty funny.
Glenn: If you had the chance to play any particular venue, where would it be & why?
Ben: I'd probably want to play some of the venues in Boston that I used to go to when I was growing up there. I would always go to see concerts at a few different arenas that where in the area. So getting the opportunity to play these venues that I saw some of my first concerts at.. shows that may have even inspired me to choose this lifestyle & do what I do, would be really cool & provide a sense of accomplishment... almost like I've come full circle.
Glenn: What else do you enjoy doing outside of playing drums.. & why?
Ben: Well.. music is obviously a huge part of my life, so sometimes it feels like i am totally consumed with it in one way or another. But aside from drums & music, i really enjoy designing clothing. I started out just customizing my own stuff, cuz straight 'off the rack' clothes has never been my style.. if I'm gonna wear it, it's gotta be unique in some way. Then I started doing it for friends etc.. and it has gone from there. So I'm working on turning my designs into an eventually brand.
I've always been really into martial arts as well.. Karate, Kung-Fu, Ju-Jitsu etc. I originally got into it when I was a kid.. but it took a backseat when i first started playing drums, because that was my new obsession. But it's something that I've recently gotten back into & become interested in again.. because it's good for your body & your mind.
Glenn: What are the pluses & minuses of living in & around Hollywood.. & would you recommend it?
Ben: Well, the pluses are easy... the weather is real nice 7 days a week & pretty much all year round. And having grown up on the east coast, I definately appreciate that. If your a musician or an actor, or do something that's related to the entertainment industry.. it's benificial to live here for obvious reasons, since this is where most of that stuff happens. If I didn't live here, I definately wouldn't have gotten alot of the opportunities that I've been able to take advantage of. Living minutes from the Sunset Strip & other areas of activity is certainly convienent at times.. like not having to fly myself out to LA anytime an audition or opportunity comes up.
And the minuses... the traffic gridlock here can be a real drag. Earthquakes are kinda scary.. I've experienced a few. And the phonies & poseurs you sometimes find yourself surrounded by can be annoying too.
Glenn: Whereabouts do you recommend to check out in & around the LA area if people get a chance to visit.. & why?
Ben: There's alot to see & do here in LA... I guess it just depends on what your into. There's a lot of cool spots around, but one of my favorite places has to be The Griffith Park Observatory. It's definately one of the best views in the city.. I like to go up there when I need to clear my head. And on the side of the lower extremities.. I'd recommend paying a visit to Jumbo's Clown Room. It's the best dive/strip bar in town.
Glenn: What are you most proud of in your career so far.. & why?
Ben: I'm proud of alot of things for different reasons. I think one of the things I feel most proud of, is the fact that I've stayed true to myself & to my goals.. regardless of what anyone has thought or said about me. I have always taken my own path & followed my heart no matter what.. and that's the way it has to be.
Glenn: What would you say to all the fans who may be reading this interview?
Ben: I have always tried to stay connected with the real core fans who appreciate & support what I do. Because let's face it.. without them, none of it would be possible. Their dedication legitimizes what we do as artists & their support allows us to move forward & grow... and with that, we're able to bring our music & live show to their doorstep. So I would just say 'thank you for being you'. I truely appreciate & love my fans.. always have, always will.
Thanks To Ben for a frank, blood 'n' guts Interview and approval of
photographs. Thanks must also go to the guys in Pretty Boy Floyd, Tchad
Drats (Guitarist of 'Prophets Of Addiction') (for taking the pictures
of me with Mr. Graves) Edward Steel, Stagetech of Club Vodka for the
backstage deal! Oh and of course Chuck Bernal & Christopher Maggiore
of Artists Worldwide Agency and the staff @ The Key Club, West Hollywood,