PHILM – A Harmonic Slay
Alternative metal outfit Philm’s roots lie in 1996 roughly, veteran Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo meeting Gerry Nestler (Civil Defiance / Kkleq Muzzil) through Juan Antonio Perez (Kkleq Muzzil). The pair hit it off, the trio forming Philm’s original incarnation. Several demos were recorded between 1996 through to 1999, and subsequently Philm activity occurred for several years during the 2000s. Dave telephoned Gerry in December 2008 roughly, thus re-activating Philm. Francisco ‘Pancho’ Tomaselli (War) completed Philm’s line-up, replacing Juan Antonio Perez.
“I really liked Gerry’s style,” enthuses Dave Lombardo. “I found it very unique; it was heavy at times, but it just had a different style. I felt drawn to play drums with him. Tom Araya (vocals) from Slayer was in the hospital – he was getting some neck and spinal surgery – and I found myself with a bunch of time. I reformed the group at that time but I couldn’t find the original bass player, so I ended up finding Pancho. He had approached me at a drum workshop and told me that he had heard I liked the band he was playing in, which was true. It was a band called War – the classic War band from the 70s – who he’s been playing with for seven or eight years, or maybe longer. We’ve been playing ever since. We took the bull by the horns, just recording the album ourselves in a house. It was a lot of fun; we had a really good time doing it, and we already have material for the next record.”
Pancho’s playing style arguably differs to predecessor Juan Antonio Perez. “Oh yeah, it’s different,” the sticksman confirms. “It’s much better. Pancho knows groove obviously because he’s played with Lonnie Jordan (War), and Eric Burdon (formerly vocalist of The Animals and War). He hung out with Willie Nelson, Jack Bruce from Cream. Where I hang out with metal legends, he hangs out with funk legends. It’s really cool. He has that side covered, so when I drop into a really funky beat – which sounds unheard of from the drummer of Slayer, but yes I do have soul in my playing – he is right on it and keeps up with me. If I go into a fast punk beat, he’s there. He’s an anchor, anchoring the entire thing with myself.”
Gerry Nestler specifically supplies vocals as well as guitar parts. “He brings the ambience,” Dave reckons. “He brings this feeling of like… I don’t know. Flying? We call him the satellite. He disappears, and then he’ll reappear. He’s an interesting guy, but we wonder about him sometimes. He has this connection it seems with extraterrestrials (laughs). I don’t know… That’s a joke… I don’t know. I can’t explain it. It’s very alien, and it’s very musical. What’s amazing about Gerry is he’s a fantastic pianist. He’ll play classical; he’ll play (Arnold) Schoenberg, (Frédéric) Chopin, (Franz) Liszt. He’ll go into jazz as well.
“If there’s a piano onstage, this band – this trio – will go into a full on jazz song. We’ll improvise with piano, bass, and drums, but then he’ll put on that guitar and we’ll play a fast punk style of a song. We’ll play ‘Sex Amp’, or ‘Vitriolize’, or ‘Mitch’. The distance between genres is so big. We have such a large palette to work with, it’s fantastic. I could go into a percussion piece, or I could sit there playing bongos, gongs, and whatever. He’ll then go into a piano section, and the bass player will probably pick up an upright bass. It’ll then totally turn into a whole different band.”
Philm’s moniker is a unique spelling of the noun ‘film’. “Some of the stuff that we were doing back in ’96 was film music,” the rhythmist recalls. “We did the soundtrack for this movie called Crazy Love, which was a B-movie. It was a low budget little Hollywood movie, and we put some music to it. We were bouncing around ideas for names, but we couldn’t decide. I think at some point somebody mentioned ‘Oh dude, it’s great. It’s film music.’ One of us thought ‘Oh film… That’d be kinda cool. But hey, let’s change it to Philm.’ That’s how it came about – just by chance. Later we then find that phi has to do with the golden ratio, which is a formula that is in all things that are on earth. You can find the golden ratio formula in living matter, everything. Phi is the 21st letter of the Greek alphabet. In numerology as well, if you take the one and the two it makes a three, and the band’s a trio. Just all kinds of bullshit (laughs).”
Soundtrack composers influence Philm, as the group’s moniker indicates. “I like John Carpenter, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone,” Dave cites. “There are various film composers that I find to be an influence, but when you’re influenced by so many different genres of music you can’t really pinpoint one particular person. It’s more like genres, but yeah, film scores definitely influence this band.”
To critique Philm against Slayer would be a futile endeavour. “You can’t compare it,” the skin-beater feels. “The only thing you can compare to Slayer is the angst in the drumming, the fire in the playing. That’s the only thing. You hear the drum rolls, and it resonates that Slayer style because it’s me. I have a signature style, and that’s the only comparable component in this band.”
60s as well as 70s era ensembles generally constitute Philm’s influences. “I really, really enjoyed and grew up listening to Cream and Led Zeppelin, which is what my older brothers would listen to,” Dave remembers. “My older brother Danny would listen to Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Cream, Blind Faith, and then my other older brother would listen to Tina Turner, Isaac Hayes, Motown. He was into War, Tower Of Power, and all that style – all the funk and the r ’n’ b of that era. That’s where this comes from. Slayer was the music that I was into when I was a teenager and then kind of developed and grew with, which was metal. What inspired that was not only punk, but heavy metal like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I was into other styles of music before that though. I was into Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, so it wasn’t just what influenced Slayer. It goes beyond that, way before that. That’s what this music is; it’s kind of the preempt of what Slayer is.”
Fluidity was arguably the common ingredient which united drummers like Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience) and Ginger Baker (Cream). “It was very jazz-like at that time, and it didn’t rely so much on the education part of the musician,” the percussionist notes. “Drummers in those days were self-taught; they learnt by watching, listening, and mimicking, and not by reading scores of music or learning from a teacher. They did it from the heart, and learning it from the heart is from searching and educating yourself on something that you feel passionate about. It was done differently back then. Today we find drummers that are educated; they go to Berklee (College Of Music, Massachusetts), they go to Musicians’ Institute (Hollywood, California), and they come out with all these high numbers. But man, if you put them in a room, come on.
“Come up with something, something that’s new, interesting, and fresh. They wouldn’t be able to though. All they come up with is what they’ve learnt, the one scale that they worked on for four or five hours. Sometimes I have to tell musicians that I play with ‘Dude…,’ because I didn’t grow up like that. I was self-taught, so I really don’t know the language. I’ve noticed the difference of certain musicians. I don’t know where the hell this question started (laughs). Oh yeah… Drummers like Mitch Mitchell were very fluid, very natural, and very spontaneous and explosive. It had dynamic. Today of course with what I just said and also computers altering the sound of the drummer and the feeling of the drummer, you lose the swing.”
Dave’s performance on May 2012 full-length Harmonic wasn’t digitally amended during post-production. “You hear little clicks,” he emphasises. “We left them like that because little clicks and sticks hitting are what makes it natural, and what makes it breathe. What you hear is something very unpolished. It’s very unpolished, and it’s in its raw form. I think music needs to be captured like that. I think it’s special, and has dynamic.”
Favouring a late 60s assemblage, the drummer’s kit was reduced to a four-piece. “It’s really challenging because I’ve limited myself,” he acknowledges. “I have to find other ways to come up with what I want to express for what the guitar riff or the song is demanding.”
Accustomed to using a larger kit, occasions happened where Dave would instinctively attempt to use a certain part of the drum set, a part that had been removed. “It happens,” he admits. “It’s like ‘Oh, I wish I had my other bass drum right now,’ because I like to improvise. Sometimes I’ll hear something and would like to add double-bass on it, but obviously I can’t. I have other ways I can make it sound like double-bass though. I alternate between the bass drum and the floor tom, and I play it fast. The snare would be in the same place. Say if we’re doing a beat like ‘Overkill’ from Motörhead (from the March 1979 album of the same name), I can do that with a single bass and a floor tom. I can mimic that style.”
Electronica as well as techno comprise Philm’s more modern influences. “With techno, everybody thinks of ‘Oomph, oomph, oomph’ and that stuff,” the sticksman contends. “I’m thinking of a more musical style. There’s Prodigy, Fluke, Crystal Method, Roni Size. These are programmers, but obviously they aren’t musicians per se. They can be considered musicians obviously – they have to be – but they’re into electronic stuff. They sometimes create patterns and textures that could be applied, or they could be influenced in what you’re expressing. There’s that style of music that kind of gives it a different edge. I’m also using a four-piece drum kit so I have to find and be influenced by certain grooves, and explore and borrow from different avenues.”
Electronica is vastly prevalent within industrial music. “You could say ‘Sex Amp’ was really influenced by industrial music,” Dave observes. “When everybody was into Korn and Pantera in the 90s – Limp Bizkit and all that – I got into Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, KMFDM. Who else was I into at that time? Einstürzende Neubauten – I can never pronounce their name – Laibach. The list goes on and on, so I was in a whole different genre than everybody else. I kind of steered away and went somewhere else, and experimented. So yeah, that’s definitely one of my influences.”
Industrial music commonly employs the use of drum machines. “You see, some of the drummers these days I’m not drawing influence from,” the rhythmist divulges. “I’m gaining more influence from the machines. I don’t know if that’s influencing me in a certain way, but I think like a machine sometimes where every hit has to be executed perfectly. Maybe that helps me. It can be something beneficial.”
The number ‘Way Down’ candidly exhibits said industrial influence. “That one is very much influenced – again – by the 60s style,” Dave submits. “Cream, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, especially that lead on ‘Way Down’. It’s explosive. I love it.”
Harmonic was recorded in North Hollywood, California at the house of the percussionist’s girlfriend. “She has this three to four-bedroom house, and there was a centre room in the middle of the house,” he explains. “It’s kind of strange how this room is set up. This room resembled a drum room that I had recorded in in Hagen, Germany at Woodhouse Studios, where I did three records (March 1995’s Power Of Inner Strength, February 1997’s Nemesis, and February 1999’s Solidify) with Grip Inc. in the 90s. When I walked into that room, she told me that she played guitar and sang in there. That’s where she writes her music. She writes novels and she writes music, and that’s her place. I said ‘Wow, this resembles this drum room in Germany.’
“It had a tile floor, wooden ceiling, and stucco walls. The ambience in that room was really, really cool. It had a nice plate sound, as engineers call it. It was kind of tight. I said ‘Hey, can we record here?,’ and she agreed. She loved the idea, and we pulled it off. It was a lot of fun. We did it on our own time; we started in September, and I think we ended in January. Three to four months it took for us to get this record out, and mix and master it. It was a really nice environment, and she cooked for us every now and then. It was a nice hang.”
Vintage recording equipment was used, providing its own set of challenges. “Only that it would break down, or we would drive it a little too hard,” Dave laughs. “Just shit would happen. There were challenges along the way, but we did it. Man, we took the bull by the horns and just said ‘Let’s do it.’ I got tired of doing demos, so we just pulled as much gear as we could and did it.”
The skin-beater additionally handled production duties. “I steered the album, and made sure we didn’t veer off course,” he evaluates. “I was almost the captain, like ‘Okay, let’s go. We gotta work. We gotta get this done.’ I wasn’t a tyrant. I took the production hat off and I became the musician, but there was a time where I had to say ‘No, this cannot be – we cannot do this. This isn’t right.’ I did leave a lot of things for the musicians though. I didn’t sit there, and dominate every decision. I welcomed decisions, I welcomed ideas, and just anything any other musicians had to say. It was like ‘Okay, we can consider that,’ so there’s a lot on this record that everybody participated in.”
Dave harbours ambitions to undertake additional additional production work. “It has to be something I really, really like though,” he stresses. “That won’t happen for awhile, at least I don’t think so. I don’t think it will because I would like to sit with the musicians, as if I was in the band. I would sit there and listen. That’s the only way I would like to do it. I think for the moment though, to continue producing Philm is my biggest goal. I’m open to producing, but it has to be somebody I trust with this production.”
On January 6th, 2012, it was publicly revealed that Philm had inked an album contract with Ipecac Recordings. “I exhausted all record companies,” the drummer confesses. “Nobody wanted to step up… A few companies did, but we really weren’t happy with who it was gonna end up with. We gave it really, really long thought. I decided to contact Mike, because I felt that the music fit with what Ipecac’s direction is all about. To me the company is about creating, feeling free to show off your creativity, and your art, and not be told what to do by a company. It’s on a one-on-one basis. It’s a friendship, and I respect Mike and all his work. Mike is a great guy, and I know Greg Werckman as well. I’ve worked with Greg with Fantômas – he’s the main guy over at Ipecac. I feel like it’s home. I feel very comfortable. I love the people I work with within the company, so it feels really good. It’s a perfect choice.”
Other record labels might have issued Harmonic solely on the strength of the fact that Slayer’s drummer is behind the kit, but without fully supporting its material. “Yes, I agree,” Dave responds. “Another company wouldn’t have paid attention, or they would’ve shelved it. Ipecac is definitely more supportive, and they’re listeners too. I know Patton listens to music – he’s a listener. It’s not like somebody who doesn’t like listening to music is the head of their A&R. It’s the real deal, so like I said, it’s a win-win situation all the way across. We’ve got a good company, and now the band has signed with Red Light Management. We’re really excited about that too.”
For the first occasion in a career spanning three decades, the sticksman penned compositions in a more improvisational manner. And as well, material exists to complete two future full-lengths. “It’s like a breath of fresh air, because you never know what’s gonna come out,” he enthuses. “We already have 25 improv pieces of music that we can draw from to create probably two albums. When I get back I’m sure I’ll have some time off, maybe four to six weeks. Within that time we could probably demo up ten songs for the new album. It’s the second phase. The first phase is the improvising, and then the editing. We cut things up, and keep the good parts. We listen to all the parts, and then we go back and we re-perform them by memory. We recreate them, and kind of put them in a song structure form. The lyrics are then written. I don’t know how far we can get. Maybe we can get five of them down, and do some shows. I’m hoping to take the band out on tour when I get back after Mayhem.”
Writing in a more improvisational manner generates more of a team spirit. “It does,” Dave concurs. “We were excited. When we call practice, everybody shows up at my place. I make some coffee, like ‘Right guys. Are you ready?’ We discuss the daily bullshit – whatever is going on – and then we get charged up. We then go to Paula’s house, and while we’re there we’ll maybe have a drink, relax, and say ‘Alright, let’s jam.’ We then go at it. The vibe and the feeling is positive, because we just let loose on this record. We just let it all out.”
As well as harbouring desires to produce future Philm material, the rhythmist harbours desires for Philm to perform in the United Kingdom. “I’m really excited about this album and this band,” he beams. “I just can’t wait to play the UK. I feel the UK are going to embrace it, because it’s an art that’s been lost. Bands from the UK were the ones that were doing this. Mitch Mitchell, all those guys. Cream, Hendrix. It’s that trio vibe, and all those bands had that. Like I said, I can’t wait to play with Philm in the UK.”
No UK performances are currently scheduled, however. “We have management looking for an agent, so let’s just cross our fingers,” Dave discloses. “Something will happen eventually, but we don’t know when.”
The prospect of Philm touring alongside Slayer is remote. “It’s not compatible,” the percussionist insists. “At least I don’t think it would. It’s a different animal, it’s very different. It might. You never know (laughs). I would’ve never thought that Kerry King (Slayer guitarist) would play onstage with Philm, and he did. He joined me and the guys, and we did ‘Raining Blood’ (from October 1986’s Reign In Blood) together. It was great. Of course we did a Slayer song, but the fact that he went onstage and did it with me and those two other guys was a lot of fun.”
That was very nice of him. “Kerry’s cool; me and Kerry get along so great,” Dave replies. “There’s a great bond and relationship within Slayer right now, and I think this whole thing with Jeff (Hanneman) has brought us closer together.”
Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman contracted necrotizing fasciitis likely from a spider bite, the news emerging on February 12th, 2011. Vocalist Tom Araya underwent anterior cervical discectomy with fusion to alleviate back problems in early 2010. “Life is fragile, dude,” the skin-beater highlights. “You’ve gotta take care of yourself, and you’ve gotta be careful. I broke my leg in December. I was ice skating with my daughter, but I’m fine now. I’m perfectly fine; I healed perfectly. No surgery, no nothing. They wanted to do surgery on me, and I said ‘No way.’ Then there was the situation with Tom like you said, and then I think in 2004 I had a motorcycle accident that the press didn’t really know about. I had some fractures and some bones broken throughout my face. It was insane.”
The accident in question involved a motocross bike. “I was doing some summer riding in the sand dunes in Death Valley, California,” Dave reveals. “I loved motorcycles, dirt bikes – it’s something I used to do. I used to go out with my sons; we used to go trail riding out through the desert. One day I went to Dumont Dunes out in Death Valley, and there’s this sand dune called the Razorback. I didn’t take the proper precautions on the turn, and I kind of misjudged. I went off of this 60-foot cliff at a real low speed because I misjudged the edge of the cliff. I had a zygomatic fracture in my face, and the side of my skull was fractured as well. I had to do surgery and everything. Life is fragile. You’ve gotta take care of yourself, and appreciate what you got.”
Nowadays, the drummer doesn’t ride motorcycles. “Actually, I keep my feet planted firmly on the ground these days, especially after the ice skating accident,” he assures. “I’m the guy who’ll go surfing, and I’m the one who gets in the go kart. I’ll get in a race car… What else? I’ve done all kinds of shit. I’m the thrill seeker (laughs). I guess drummers are like that sometimes.”
Other musical projects might await in the pipeline, Slayer and Philm aside. “There’s always something,” Dave figures. “I’ve always got my brain thinking about some project or another, but nothing concrete yet. This is it for now. This is my baby.”
A two-track Slayer EP is scheduled for issue later in 2012, possibly prior to the outfit’s Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival summer jaunt in North America. “I don’t know too much about it, except that I recorded my parts in April,” the sticksman cautions. “It came from some work that Kerry and I were doing that started the end of 2011. He and I got together and started working, and we decided to go into the studio and do an EP. When it’s going to be released? I don’t know. Is it done? I don’t know. I know Tom has sung on the songs already, so they’re pretty much done. Mixed? I don’t know. I don’t know the details. I don’t know where it stands. It’s all a mystery.”
At the time of writing, Dave doesn’t know the titles of the two compositions. “I heard one of the songs though, and it sounds amazing,” he exalts. “It’s very cool. I really liked it.”
The tempo of the two numbers is one such question which Slayer fanatics wish to put forth. “What’s fast for Slayer?,” the rhythmist questions. “Fast as in ‘Necrophobic’ (from Reign In Blood) fast, or fast as in ‘War Ensemble’ (from October 1990’s Seasons In The Abyss) fast? The first song is more of a ‘War Ensemble’ kind of fast. Just the pace, the tempo. That’s all I can say, other than it’s traditional Slayer sound and structuring. I don’t remember the second song that they chose though.”
Slayer inevitably plan to record a 12th studio album. “We’ll eventually get another record out,” Dave confirms.
However, no concrete plans are in place at the time of writing. Having contracted necrotizing fasciitis, the health of Jeff Hanneman is another topic of discussion among the circles of Slayer fanatics. “He’s getting better,” the percussionist states. “He’s just working on getting better, and that’s all I can say. We want him back and want him back onstage, but he needs to get better.”
One could assume that Jeff’s recovery has caused a delay in the recording of Slayer’s 12th studio platter, but Dave argues that this isn’t the case. “I don’t think so,” he muses. “I think things are going just as planned. We just have these shows to do. We went in and we did the EP, similar to how we did ‘Psychopathy Red’ in 2009 right before World Painted Blood (November 2009) came out. We released ‘Psychopathy Red’ as a single, so this is similar. Everything is pretty much on track. This has nothing to do with Jeff.”
Harmonic was released on May 14th, 2012 in the United Kingdom and subsequently on the 15th in North America, all via Ipecac Recordings.
Interview published in June 2012.
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