Drowning Pool's American Dream turns to Nightmare…
By Dominic Pierce-Toogood
Drowning Pool were living out every kid's fantasy. They had an album that had sold over 1,000,000 copies – they were back playing Ozzfest (now on the main stage), and they were breathing life into the 80s metal they loved so much ... a major breakthrough seemed not only imminent but a very natural progression. Still, they took nothing for granted. Even when splashing out on new quad bikes, the band remembered how hard they had worked to get where they were and how the fans had lifted them ever higher with every hardnosed, kick-ass live show they performed. That was until August 14th. Until Dave Williams' untimely death ...
Step back a few weeks to July 1st. Drowning Pool are just about to set off on the Ozzfest tour and life is very, very good. We are due to talk with Dave Williams but he is mysteriously nowhere to be found. So we grab the drummer, Mike Luce, who takes a break from final rehearsals to talk to us about how they hired Dave, his and the band's religious beliefs and how life could just not get any better. Some of Mike's comments, sadly, prove all too prophetic…
RoughEdge.com: So where's Dave? You lost your lead singer?
Mike: I don't know where the hell he's at. I'm actually in the rehearsal room and they just called me and told me that they couldn't track him down.
RoughEdge.com: Where are you guys right now?
Mike: We're in Nashville actually. It's kind of a middle point between Dallas and the first show, so we all met here for rehearsal.
RoughEdge.com: How's it going?
Mike: It's going really good. We have some new material we're working on for the next album and we're basically getting everything together and ready to see what it'll look like and sound like for Ozzfest. It's going good.
RoughEdge.com: So we saw you last year at OzzFest on the second stage. Now you're on the main stage. Can you tell us how much of a roller coaster ride it's been for you guys over the last year and what the major differences are in your lives now as opposed to five years ago?
Mike: Yeah, it's definitely been a crazy ride. It's been amazing. It's something we've wanted to happen for a long time. The first difference that I've experienced is that Stevie (Benton) and I and a couple of the band and crew bought some dirt bikes - something I've been wanting ever since I was a kid. I was never able to get one until now. My Dad died when I was young and my mom struggled to take care of my sister and I. My brothers grew up with them, but you know, as soon as my Dad passed on, we got rid of them just to keep everybody cool. What was cool was, I didn't have the greatest credit in the world, but you know, now that I have an accountant I was able to go in and just call up the accountant and he said, "ok, let's make this happen." I really didn't have to do a damn thing - I thought it was the greatest thing in the world.
RoughEdge.com: What kind of bike did you guys pick up?
Mike: A couple of KTM 200s. They're very nice dirt bikes. They're sweet.
RoughEdge.com: So, with all this touring, do you ever have time to actually ride it?
Mike: A little bit, yeah. We haven't had too much time yet, but it looks like we're going to have a trailer on the back of our tour bus, so we're going ride them then. We've got them here actually with us in Nashville - we're going to take them on the road.
RoughEdge.com: So can we expect you coming on stage riding the bikes?
Mike: I don't know if Sharon (Osbourne) will be too happy about that...
RoughEdge.com: So beyond the motorcycles, what else has really changed in your life and the band's life?
Mike: Everything has kind of changed as far as just personal relationships and so forth. You don't see your family as much, but it's mostly all changed for the better. This is something we've always wanted as long as we can remember. We're still homeless, though, which is kind of weird. None of us have a home yet, so I guess maybe that will be the next purchase down the road. Everything has been good - we haven't changed much as people at all. We all had credit problems before - we were just your typical guys working paycheck to paycheck - we fell behind with a lot of stuff. This has allowed us to take care of that; get that cleaned up and hopefully, we'll move on and become functioning members of society.
RoughEdge.com: You're going to actually conform?
Mike: Conform?! Nahh ... no, no, no - that's not going to happen. I mean it allows us to, you know, experience what it is everybody else in the world is getting to do, you know, with purchases or what have you. It also gives you that freedom that I don't have to watch the clock, I don't have to wear a suit and a tie. That's cool as far as that goes as well. I don't have to do electrical work anymore so I don't have to crawl under people's houses and take orders from them because they want a cable run a certain way. It's good - this is the greatest job in the world!
RoughEdge.com: So what's the music scene like in Dallas? Is it basically underground? Is there a circuit that bands go on?
Mike: Yeah. There's definitely a circuit there. The rock scene in New Orleans was way more underground than, say, Dallas. In Dallas they cater more to original bands which is the main reason it attracted myself and CJ (Pierce, guitarist) there. New Orleans didn't have that. There's an underground scene in New Orleans, but you kind of have to already know somebody or if you have some ties in it, you're ok, but CJ and I didn't know anybody so we couldn't get hooked up with the right people. In order to get it happening down there, you have to play cover songs and they might let you start to sneak in some originals here and there. But in Dallas, there are a few showcase venues where they totally cater to original bands. They would have a three or four bands billed ... Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. There's definitely a scene there. If you have it going on and there's a buzz about you, it can definitely happen. That's what happened to us there.
RoughEdge.com: Right, so you guys got discovered there, basically.
Mike: Oh yeah, big time, Dallas definitely did it for us.
RoughEdge.com: So is that where it you basically got picked up by Wind Up (Records)? You had a representative down there?
Mike: What happened was we started getting radio play in Dallas from a station called 97.1 (The Eagle). We had done a demo and they showcased us on one of their local shows: Dallas home grown bands. Here's a band called Drowning Pool, here's one of their songs. And they included our song ("Tear Away") on the compilation that they (the radio station) put out and it started becoming one of the top requested songs and they started spinning it. When we got added to the rotation, people started to take notice and we were invited up to New York. We just instantly clicked with them (Wind Up) more than anybody else just because of the things they had to say and their work ethics and they matched what we thought we wanted our work ethic to be—which was to be on the road and totally earn it by coming up through the ranks and being road dogs. Doing it the old school way. You put out an album; you tour for 18 months. You know, not just crap out a couple of videos and let somebody put a band together that looks nice and pretty - well ‘cause obviously we don't!
RoughEdge.com: Awe, you guys are beautiful!
Mike: Oh yeah! Aren't we?! We totally wanted to do it that way, and they presented us the option of pursuing it through just being out on the road. They were going to put us out on the road with anybody and everybody and that's what we wanted to do. But yeah, Dallas was the stomping ground. The kickoff point—that's where it all got going.
RoughEdge.com: That's cool! It's funny, you were saying that things just happen for you.
Mike: It's not to say that we haven't been playing our asses off but at the same time we're completely appreciative. We're not looking a gift horse in the mouth so to speak. We get out there and try to bust our asses and we try to work hard and stay out on the road, earn everything we get. But yeah, there have been some opportunities for whatever reason. You know, I'm a drummer, I completely believe in timing. Timing just worked for us sometimes—things kind of get presented to us and they make sense and we kind of go with it. Like we said earlier, we don't really question it or try to dissect how it is that it came to be, we just go with what feels right and try to make it even better. Things work out for us that way ...most of the time.
RoughEdge.com: That brings us to "Sinner," your album. We wanted to ask about some of the songs on there that are about religion, you know, organized religion and that it's not really a good thing. And you seem to be a pretty soulful guy.
Mike: Yeah, I mean, you know. I'm definitely spiritual. The big question about religion that everyone likes to ask is why are we naysayers and so forth. It's not necessarily naysaying, it's Dave's point of view, which comes across lyrically. We kind of got slapped with that label a little bit (as anti-religion poster boys) just because of that fact that, you know, our brothers over at the label are Creed. Creed was always perceived as very spiritual and they had a message to relay. You dig into the lyrics, I mean, he's questioning existence and himself and mankind just as much as anybody else is and I don't think we necessarily ever intended to be the anti-religion band. I think we went with a more cut and dry approach and it kind of came about that way. None of us are against anything that makes anybody happy. I mean, if that's what you're into, that's what you're into. At the same time, we weren't into it. I used to have a boss that asked me straight up, what was I going to do when I die because, surely, I was going to hell. And I was like, dude, how Christian is that! You've known me all of maybe a week and you're throwing stones at me? I took it personally because the reason I grew up without religion in my life was, like we were talking earlier, about my Dad passing away early, so as I was growing up my Mom worked three jobs to keep me and my sister in school, in school clothes and everything else. She didn't come home Sundays, or take off Sundays so we could all go to church. I grew up without church in my life. Not because we didn't want to go there, but because she couldn't afford the opportunity to miss work and take us to be educated in religion. I grew up without it. So, when somebody slams me for not going to church, I took it personally because they were basically slamming my Mother for not raising me properly in the eyes of God and I just think that's a bunch of bullshit. She did everything she possibly could to take care of me and my sister and my family and nobody knows our history and for somebody to just come out and slam you and judge you for something that you saw face value - that's fucked up to me. So don't tell me what I'm doing is wrong in my life, just like I'm not going to tell you what you're doing with yours is wrong. So, after the album came out we kind of got flagged with the title of being an anti-religion band. It's not necessarily that—it's a real taboo kind of a subject and if somebody touches it and doesn't necessarily agree with you know, that popular opinion, then yeah all of a sudden you become this poster band up for ridicule.
RoughEdge.com: Right ... well, ridicule or the opposite - praise worthy. It depends which side of the coin you're on.
Mike: Exactly, we're not anti anything. We're very pro YOU, you know.
RoughEdge.com: Pro you, I like that.
Mike: Right! I mean, whatever works for you, works for you.
RoughEdge.com: Cool, you know moving on, I was looking at your bio on www.drowningpool.com and it says the message you're trying to get across to people is self-perseverance which is really to me about survival, and the second thing is self-esteem, which to me is about inner survival. How do you see your music tying these two things together and do you see that as the message you're trying to get across?
Mike: I'd say that's definitely a part of the message. You know one thing we've always said within the band was our big message was, we're not trying to deliver a specific message. We're not going to try to use smoking mirrors or make us seem like somebody we're not. We can't play outside of our means. We've tried it ...we've tried to be cool and what have you. It just doesn't work, so the best way for us to get along is to just be who we are and to try to better ourselves like that. Whether it's just personal, whether it's within the band, whether it's musically. I mean ...ultimately if you surround yourself with better people, and you try to make yourself a better person, then ultimately you're going to influence someone else in a positive way. It definitely holds true with the music, with the band, with our personal lives. I mean we just try to stay with that. I don't know…it starts to get kind of complicated and a little touchy sometimes, especially on the message board. You can get on that sometimes and things can be taken quite literally. An example of that is "Bodies" ... thinking about September 11. When the events of that day went down, they yanked us from the radio. Everyone was asking us how we felt about it. We were completely supportive! I mean why wouldn't we be? We're American citizens. We weren't caring about our chart position that week, you know. There are things that are much bigger than everybody at a time in the world when something like that is going on. So, yeah, sometimes things can quite literally be taken too seriously and we try to be as serious as we can, but at the same time, none of us are rocket scientists - we know what we know and that's it.
RoughEdge.com: What do you think your band was influenced by throughout your career?
Mike: We all definitely were kids of the 80s. We grew up on the metal bands, Motley Crue, of course, Ozzy. You know all these bands, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Van Halen. These are bands that not only did we aspire to be musically, but these are bands that had fun and delivered a good time to the crowd. When that whole Pearl Jam era came out, you know, this whole self-depressed, staring at my shoes while in front of 20,000 screaming people. I have it so bad - oh pity me! Bullshit! I mean this is the greatest job in the world. We love where we're at. We don't want to lose this. That's why we're going to try to work hard to keep it. But that was the kind of stuff we grew up on. Kiss, Motley Crue and people like that went out there and may not have written the most complicated music in the world, but they had fun, and ultimately the crowd had fun and everybody had a good time. You walked away feeling good about it, having a good time, and sharing a couple of beers with your friends. It was just a party atmosphere. Like a big festival or something. So uh ... I mean who wants to pay $30 and hear somebody whine about how bad they have it when in fact, they're sitting on a couple of cool mil and they're bitching about it. We were never into that ...
RoughEdge.com: That turns into the Ozzfest thing, really, Mike. You have the older generation rockers and new bands. You started off on the second stage. It's the new and old (bands) coming together.
Mike: I think that's great. It's awesome. Ozzy has been reinventing himself since Day 1, and if he can still be doing it, he's an inspiration for the rest of us bands to try to stick around, especially now. With every passing 5-10 years, the music business gets so crazy with all the media's, between music television and computer downloads ... everything. There's just so much music now to be experienced by any different person that it's harder for you to stick around. That's just a testimony in itself. Ozzy's still here, still doing it, still kicking ass even more so now than ever - that's just inspiration for people like us. He was one of our idols back then and still is now. It's an honor to be on tour with this guy again.
RoughEdge.com: You obviously get on well with the Osbournes. You give credit to them on "Sinner." How familiar can you get with the Prince of Darkness and his family?
Mike: That's pretty funny! We've actually been good friends with those guys since they took a chance on us. Nobody had ever heard of us. They committed to us being on the tour before we were even finished with the album. We were putting the finishing touches to it, around last February or March, we were still in the mixing stages of the album and they said ok, we're going to put you guys on tour. We couldn't believe it at first. We were like; we'll believe it when we see it! They just stuck their necks out for us and largely in part to do with it were Sharon and Jack. We're good friends with those guys. Ozzy is a little harder to ...
RoughEdge.com: To understand?!
Mike: To hang out with ... you can only imagine! Those people are great - they're amazing!
RoughEdge.com: One of the things we were talking about. The name Drowning Pool, we know how you got it—the band name ... and congratulations to Stevie (Benton, who lost his virginity whilst watching the movie "The Drowning Pool") by the way! Is there any other interesting rock'n'roll virginity-losing stories you want to share?
Mike: I can tell you the weirdest story and I think this will stick around forever. Just to tell you how far people will go sometimes. This was last year and it was on Ozzfest. We were playing South Carolina and we had just finished playing the set and some fans called me over to the fenced off area ... and I'm hanging out. Bear with me on this one because it's going to get a little crazy. Anyway, they pulled this big ziplock bag out ... kind of yellow and blue and green freezer bag full of this white powdery substance and it's filled ... big time. I'm like, "Man you need to put that away ... I don't think you can just pull a bag out here and just go crazy!" They're like no, no, no, no, no, no—these are the ashes of my husband who died last week from an overdose". I'm like whoa! My hand was through the fence because they asked if I could sign something. Kind of recoiled and jumped back. They're like no, no, no it's okay. He's a really big fan. He wanted to be here. He had tickets, but he died last week unfortunately. We were wondering if you could take his ashes and spread it out over the crowd while you're playing. I'm sitting there thinking this isn't exactly the most sanitary thing. I'm sure 10,000 people don't want their heads dusted by some dude's ashes, right!? But, I don't want to be disrespectful to the people in front of me. I'm from New Orleans but I'm not a practitioner of voodoo or anything! So I'm sitting there and by this time, they're reaching their hands into ziplock bag to scoop this guy out and they put him into a cellophane packet and put it in my hand! I'm committed at this point! I'm past the point of no return! This guy is sitting in my hand; a part of him is anyway. And they're like, just take him with you and pass him over the crowd. I'm like, ok, I have an idea. We're already done ... we're finished. We won't be on stage. They said, well you keep him and he'll travel with you to the next show. And I swear to God! I was too scared of me losing a hand or Dave losing his voice. I kept this guy in my pocket ... put him on the bus and kept him on the bus for two days in a candle holder until we got to D.C. and dispersed him over the crowd while we were playing! That was pretty crazy. That's one of the stories. The same day this kid came up to us and wanted us to sign the 666 page out of the bible and I was just like, man, this is getting freaky! This is crazy! I'm like if I go back to the bus and there's like an abandoned baby with a note on the steps, I'm getting out of here. I can't do this!
RoughEdge.com: That's how you get backstage at Ozzfest is it?! Be presented in a casket?!
Mike: Come up with some wild story and just luckily have a dearly departed loved ones' ashes in your pocket and you scare the band members into letting you back there!
RoughEdge.com: That was a great story!
RoughEdge.com: Can we ask you what Dave says at the end of the song "Sermon." It's like you have music/voices that are heard backwards?
Mike: Right, right - I mean that's like what we were talking about earlier. We're fans of the 80s and back in the day there used to be that whole undertone .... oh, if you play that song backwards, you'll hear this message! So I guess I could tell you what it says. It really doesn't say anything. It recites a lyric from the same song, from "Sermon." We just play it backwards at the end of the song. It's just a homage. A tribute back to the old school.
RoughEdge.com: That's exactly what we were going to ask. It seems like a homage back to some earlier rock'n'roll.
Mike: That's it. It was completely done on a whim and we took a line that Davie (Williams) sang and just ran it in reverse at the tail end of the song. Just kind of a ... here you go. No hidden meaning; you don't have to play the song backwards to hear it. We'll just play it right out here for you.
RoughEdge.com: Just a couple more things. You were a trio and you were looking for a frontman basically. What drew Dave in?
Mike: Stevie (Benton) was with a singer and we had another guitar player at the time. We stayed and we all jammed for a while and everything was working out. But then the singer and the guitar player split and we were like maybe eight months to a year without a singer and we had only seen Dave around the scene but we knew that Dave was, you know, like David Lee Roth ... give me the microphone, I'm going to jump around and be a madman on stage...
RoughEdge.com: So you saw him in other bands before?
Mike: Oh yeah! He was all over the place in Dallas. He was probably in three or four bands the first year that I moved there, you know. Upon meeting him, when our singer split and we needed somebody, we approached Dave. At first, he was with somebody else. He said no and our original singer actually came back, but we knew it wasn't going to happen. It was just weird timing. He tried to come back and Dave started coming around. Eventually, we had to have a big confrontation with everybody and say ok ... look, we no longer want you. You already split on us once, we want this guy (Dave). Dave just came in and gave us spark! You know. It's kind of one of those things we were talking about before. Things just present themselves. You don't really know why or how - granted, if all three of us hadn't been at the right place at the right time ... this wouldn't have happened, but for some reason we were. I have to kind of believe it was supposed to happen ... it was meant to happen. I lived/grew up in New Orleans all my life that's all I've ever known and was practically never outside of that city. For two years of high school, I come to a small town in Texas and that's how I met Stevie. The day immediately following graduation I moved back to New Orleans and there I stayed until 1997. Stevie calls me up pretty much out of the blue, saying he wanted me to come up to play drums. I said I would do it, if CJ (Pierce) could come too. We got up there and things just started working. I have to think that the only reason why I ever lived in Texas was to meet Stevie and for this to kind of happen.
RoughEdge.com: And you have to believe in fate if you're carrying dead people around in your pocket!
Mike: I didn't really want to do that ... but I had too much respect for the guy. I just wasn't going to throw him out on the ground right there.
RoughEdge.com: When you say some bands are in it for the fame, others for the money. You guys say it's always for the fans.
Mike: Actually, kind of selfishly, we're in it for us. I mean, there's nothing better I can think of doing than just playing my drums. Selfishly, I want to play my drums for the rest of my life! But if it weren't for the people that bought the albums or come out to see us live, there's no way that would have happened. We're definitely doing it for them too!
RoughEdge.com: You hear other bands say that to fans - we're just here for you ... we're not here for the fame, not here for the money and I'm wondering are the fans going to grow disillusioned with that or are you going to continue that mode of thinking?
Mike: No, we're definitely going to stay with that. There's no way we couldn't! We saw Motley Crue on stage. They weren't up there just going through the motions. They were having a good time and ultimately, that transcends to the crowd. A crowd can definitely tell if you're faking it, or just putting it on just for the fact and ok, well this was cool at one time, but times change. I think basically, we're just spoiled jackasses that got really lucky! People see that if we can get out there and do it - that's like the American dream and who am I to say that you know, Billy, out there in the third row can't be a drummer for a band. I mean ... shit, I did it!
RoughEdge.com: So in five years will we be going to Poolfest!?!
Mike: Five years? That would be something, yeah! That would be something to be seen.
This interview is dedicated to the memory of Dave Williams, 1972-2002. R.I.P.
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Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:11 -0400.