Glen Sobel Interview – by Travis Marc – 2011.
Passionate, hard working and determined – these are just some of the words that I’d use to describe American drummer ‘Glen Sobel, the current powerhouse drummer behind Alice Cooper’s house band. In the below interview we talk to Glen (who’s drumming duties have also
included SIXX AM and Paul Gilbert among others) about everything from sword throwing to how his mentor Gregg Bissonette got him his first gig. Here’s what Glen had to say…
Hi Glen – thanks for your time, let’s start with a very common type of question – can you tell us a bit about how your drumming interest/career began?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I was constantly surrounded by all these great pro players. By the time I was sixteen years old I began hanging out at a venue called the ‘Baked Potato’ and because of this, had the opportunity to watch all the greats from about five feet away. I saw them all man, Vinnie Colaiuta, David Garibaldi, Gregg Bissonette – you name it. Just being around and able to hang out with all these guys really opened my mind and helped me. I started taking lessons with Gregg Bissonette shortly after this and he became a great mentor of mine, not only did I learn a lot of his drumming secrets but I really learned a lot about how the business side of things worked. Eventually he even recommended me for my first professional gig which was playing for guitarist Tony Macalpine. I was only twenty one at the time but Gregg had a lot of faith in me and helped me believe in myself, that was really how I got my toe in the door I guess you could say ha ha…
You’re currently on tour with Rock legend ‘Alice Cooper – How’s the tour going and what would you say have been your highlights thus far?
The tour has been absolutely incredible so far. Since our first rehearsal there’s been a really nice chemistry between everyone involved and we all get along really nicely. It sounds a bit cliche, but to get along well together is really one of the most important things when playing in a band. No one wants to be on a tour with people they don’t like or can’t get along with. Highlight wise – Just playing with the rock legend that is Alice Cooper man. We’ve played a lot of the Summer festival dates this year and I’m getting to see a lot of my friends from LA, in addition to making new friends. It’s pretty surreal getting to watch and talk to some of the musicians that I grew up listening to, plus now I’m playing on those same stages, it’s great.
Let’s chat a bit about drum education. What would you say is the one piece of advice or knowledge that you always try and share with your students when teaching somewhere like MI or privately?
Man, don’t even get me started… Truthfully, teaching somewhere like MI has been a huge education for me. Most of the attending students come straight from high school and I learn a lot from them by simply observing what they do, what they don’t do, finding out who they’re listening to etc. Something that I really like to do, whether it’s at clinics or privately, is to simply ask who ever is attending what they’re listening to. Often the artists mentioned can be radically different but no matter who is mentioned you can usually trace that particular drummers influences back to someone else. So, I suppose advice wise I’d say that it’s no big secret that ‘so and so’ big name drummer plays like he or she does because they have had several different and diverse influences and have learned so many songs and famous drum parts, grooves, fills, ideas etc.
You need to be opened minded and listen to everything. The more you listen to, the broader your list of influences will become and hopefully your playing will open up because of this. Besides just listening to different stuff though, you really need to like it. Try and get into other genres early on and not buckle under pressure in regards to only listening to what your friends are listening to. Learn from it all and you’ll be better because of it.
Who (drummer wise) and what (life wise) inspires you?
Mmmm – life wise, just seeing someone who is really great at what they do inspires me. Knowing that they’ve put those so called ten thousand hours into whatever it is they do so that they can do it as well as they do. The ten thousand hours theory was originally put forward by a writer named Malcom Gladwell, and he basically says that no matter what it is that you do – in order to do it well you need to put at least ten thousand hours into it, don’t get me wrong I’m not saying (and I’m sure he wasn’t either) that you need to start keeping a time log in your practice room, it just comes down to the fact that if you want to do something well you need to put the time and effort in. It’s all about having the passion and love to persevere with things.
Drummer wise – there’s what I like to call the ‘usual suspects’ – you know the Bonham’s and Peart’s etc, in regards to Rock drumming at least, but there’s a whole list of other incredible types of drummers out there that might be drummers many haven’t heard of. Guys who might not always been in every one’s top ten list but are able to speak to your musical sensibility and feel etc. It’s really hard to drop names because of how many greats there are out there. I think that a lot of the younger generation of drummers/musicians have been brought up on this Pro Tools mentality in which all takes are cut and fixed etc, but there should be more of a human element to things again. It’s come back around in a good way hopefully where the organic element of musicians just playing together is enough.
In relation to our previous education question – what would you say has been the most important piece of advice you have ever received in regards to your drumming/career?
It might not be quite as much about drumming as what it is about being a person, because it’s really about being that guy who can get along with people. I often get asked at drum clinics how I went about getting this gig or that gig, and I generally answer the question with my own question – ‘how did you get into your first band?’. Usually, the answer is that you got into your first band because everyone involved were friends and then decided to put a band together. That pattern of your friends getting you onto gigs or into bands is quite a typical pattern for how many musicians make their careers. Early on the people who mentored me would tell me about these kinds of things and how important is is to just be able to hang out with other musicians and get on with them etc. I said it earlier but no one wants to be in a band or work with someone who doesn’t fit in. I call it the ‘bro hook up’ because your bros will hook you up if you’re close enough and have worked together in positive professional situations. It’s a really serious thing, because if someone recommends you for a gig and you don’t deliver the goods it can reflect really badly on them. People enjoy hanging out and having a good time, everyone on the Alice Cooper gig either knew each other or had some friends in common. The guy who got me in was ‘Tommy Henriksen’ (one of Alice’s guitarists), he and I have been doing work together for years now, so when he got the gig and they needed a drummer, he recommended me – that’s just how it works.
In regards to touring – do you have any advice or tips on how to stay healthy while on the road?
I’ve seen guys who go out onto tour and really ‘live it up’ to the extreme. While that might work when you’re eighteen it really doesn’t work for everyone and a lot of guys burn out very quickly while on the road. You need to look after your health, especially as a drummer because if your playing a long set (Alice’s set is ninety-five minutes + with very short breaks in between songs) there’s a certain amount of intensity and power that you need in order to make the show the best that it can be. For me personally I have to get as much rest as I can, I try to eat well and I take my vitamins. These of course are really obvious answers but they’re important and have helped me a lot.
If it’s your bands first tour and there isn’t really any type of budget it can be really tough, you’ll find yourself sharing hotel rooms or sleeping in vans and it’s not always the most comfortable of situations. As you move up on the tour roster though, hopefully your accommodation will to, and that makes it a lot easier to rest. It’s important to try and find creative ways to stay well nourished to, so if you’re at the point where your band has a decent tour rider you should try and ask for some healthy snacks in the backstage area. You don’t need exotic things but some fruits and things like that can be really beneficial as it’s one way of ensuring that you’re not only eating junk food all the time. On the plus side though drumming itself is quite a work out so you should be getting a bit of exercise.
Is there still any type of dream gig that you’d still like to experience?
That can be a really tricky question because sometimes as musicians we get on these gigs that we believe is going to be that ‘dream gig’ and it’s something completely different to what was expected. So personally, I try not spend to much time thinking about that type of stuff as I’ve been doing this long enough to know that this career is going to take me in many different directions and to a lot of different places. There’s no way that a year ago I would’ve predicted that I’d be playing with Alice Cooper today. I just want to be able to play with people that I get on with, and hopefully be able to play to some audiences that appreciate and love what we do as a band and what I do personally as a drummer. The way we are as drummers can be very chameleon like sometimes – we like to try and do a bit of everything, and that’s great because we should be able to express ourselves within the context of the gig and also pay respect to the music. In many ways the ‘Alice’ gig is my dream gig, I’m playing great shows with killer people and musicians and appearing at some incredible festivals. I’m happy man.
Do you have any type of practice or warm up routine while on the road?
I try to warm up before every gig and I do all the usual hand warm up exercises etc. As far as actually working on new material, well not really. I’d say that what I do is really more maintenance type stuff. On my days off I prefer to rather step away from everything and come back refreshed and ready to rock. So I don’t have a set routine while on tour. Our set is ninety-five minutes though so I’m doing a lot of playing.
If for some reason you could no longer professionally drum or do music as a career, what do you think you would do?
Oh no…. What a tough question. I don’t even know, I guess I’ll have to look at crossing that bridge if I ever get in front of it, God forbid.
Yeah man, just be open minded. This business is so much about the hang that once you’re in, you’re in. So do the best job you can and people will remember you. Go into situations knowing your stuff and it will reflect well on you. Go above and beyond what’s expected of you because if you don’t somebody else will.
Bonus Question- UK Drummer reader Paul Burne asks – after Alice stabbed your guitarist in Oslo are you fearful of perhaps sustaining any type of injury on tour?
Ha ha, Alice didn’t mean to stab him on purpose, it was a complete accident. Alice uses a sword in a couple of the songs and everyone knows to keep their distance (as it’s a real sword) and one night Tommy Henriksen kind of got in the way and injured in the process. Luckily we were all given these leather vests that were made specifically for the show and Tommy was wearing his that night and the vest protected him a bit.