INTERVIEW WITH JON DETTE
John Dette is a recognizable name amongst the metal fans. For the first time his name popped up in the mid of the 90’s when he was playing in Slayer. Later on he has sat behind the battery for such bands as Testament, Anthrax, Heathen and now he is on tour with Iced Earth. It was about time to sit down with John Dette to talk about his works in various bands and his current jobs with Iced Earth and Animetal USA.
INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA AND ARTO LEHTINEN
Metal-Rules.com: First of all, welcome to Finland.
Jon Dette: Thank you. Yes. I believe this is my first time to Finland.
Metal-Rules.com: It is.
Jon Dette: Yeah. I was just thinking of that, the other day I was like, I have been Oslo and Kristiansand, Norway, but never to Finland. I think. Yeah, this is definitely my first time.
WORKING WITH ICED EARTH
Metal-Rules.com: Let’s start with this most current thing, the Iced Earth tour. This was another last minute call tour for you, right?
Jon Dette: Definitely last call; it’s just kind of been the theme of my year it seems like. But it’s great, Iced Earth contacted me. I believe it was about two weeks before this run started and asked me if I could do this arena run with Volbeat. And I was introduced to them through our mutual friend Rob Caggiano who is now playing guitar for Volbeat. And so, that’s how that connection started. So, yeah. They contacted me. I spoke to Jon Schaffer and they gave me 12 songs to learn on a very short amount of time. So, it’s where you get into a room you start wood shedding and go, “Okay. Just take a song a day or two songs a day burn it into my brain.” It’s memory retention really. So, and it’s been going great. Everybody seems to be enjoying themselves having a great time, we are definitely drinking buddies. But I think for the fans that are watching Iced Earth on stage, the reaction I get is that and just from the reaction also from the crew and people that are also watching from the side of the stage that they seem to think that it feels like a unit and it seems very solid. So, the response that I’ve gotten has been really positive. So, I guess that means I’m doing my job.
Metal-Rules.com: So, how familiar you were with Iced Earth’s material before this gig?
Jon Dette: Honestly, I am not familiar with the older stuff. I’ve known about Iced Earth and I’ve heard a few songs over the years, but I’ve never heard an album that I could remember from its entirety.
Metal-Rules.com: Were there any songs you could name, you know?
Jon Dette: Honestly as I said, there were songs I knew. The one song that I actually really liked was the song called, “The Reckoning Day” and I believe that was when Ripper Owens came into the band, he was singing on it. And so, yeah. I’m somewhat familiar with that, but as far as the back catalog not so much. So, it was literally learning material from scratch. Where the thing about, Slayer and Anthrax is that I’ve been fans of those bands since I was 13 years old. And so I’ve not only, I knew all of the songs that I was playing for those bands before even played in those bands, just because that’s how I played when I was growing up as a teenager. So this is, with bands like Heathen and Iced Earth, it’s a different situation for me, because I haven’t had their back catalog. So, it’s a lot of stuff to learn in a short amount of time.
Metal-Rules.com: Actually I was about to ask, it must be one hell of a job for you to start learning the songs that you are not familiar with and you have to learn them very quickly before going out to tour?
Jon Dette: Yeah. Well, and again it just goes down to, you’ve got so many songs to learn and you have so many days to learn it. So, as opposed to going bombarding myself with all 12 songs or… Monday I’m going to do this song and this song. And I’m not even listening to anything else. So, I guess it’s almost calculating it out and figuring out the parts. I can hear everything that’s going on. So, it’s really again just a question of memory retention. It’s like cramming, studying for a test. So, where you just play the song over and over and over again until it gets burned into the brain. And I know when I have the song, well I’m happy with it because I can play the song completely from memory with where I’m not playing to tracks or I’m not playing to a guitar player. I can actually just sit in a room with the drum set and nothing else and I can play the songs. And I made a couple of videos for John as well; that I played from once I had them to memory played them. Just so, they could see. Okay, “Is he hitting the parts right?” I think they wanted to make sure as well. So, yeah. I did the song, “Pure Evil” which is a pretty intricate song. And then a couple of songs off the new record, which were actually much more straight forward and laid back. But I think they wanted to see how I could perform both the extreme side and then the more laid back side. So, I played with clique tracks, but that’s it. There was no guitar or anything in my head, but once I get it to that point then I move forward to the next one. So, yeah. And it was definitely a long days, so I will say. And yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: It wasn’t the first time?
Jon Dette: Yeah. It’s not the first time, but this is one of the few times where again I’m listening to something completely new and green for the first time. So, that presented its own challenge. The other bands that I have played for surely its challenging music, but the last thing that I needed to do was listen to the song for memory retention. So, if I had to listen to, I don’t know, an Anthrax song that I had never heard before or Slayer song I had never heard before and it was like for all of them it probably be a much different situation going to those bands.
Metal-Rules.com: You said that you made a deal with the band to make this tour but do you have plans to carry on with the band in the future?
Jon Dette: Well, that’s being discussed right now. Right now the band is set up to; they’ve got a lot of touring ahead of them. Their record is going to be released in January; I think it’s going to the first or second week of January depending on what country you are in. So, the next step from here is actually Iced Earth is coming back to do their own tour in Europe, January and February. I believe that ends in Moscow, March and then they go to Australia, in New Zealand, then head down to South America and then straight to the States. I believe then it will be the festival runs in summer of 2014. So, we are discussing that right now and my point is open right now. So, as I said I’m getting along, great with the guys and we seem to be enjoying ourselves on stage. So, if it’s something that they want to move forward with, then I would definitely do it for them.
Metal-Rules.com: One of the bands you have been working in the past is Testament. What is your opinion about the fact that Gene Hoglan is now back in the band?
Jon Dette: Gene is a phenomenal drummer. I actually aside from when I was growing up as a kid listening to Anthrax and Slayer and Metalica and those were my main influences. Gene Hoglan, Dark Angel, DARKEST DESCENDS. I mean, “Perish in Flames” and “Burning of Sodom”. And it was just like those, he was going so fast… He was like, he was doing fast stuff back then and it was so precise and so amazing. And every time I see Gene I’m like, “Perish in Flames”. I’m like, “So fucking awesome.” He’s like, “Thanks.”
Metal-Rules.com: Dark Angel are doing shows together again with LEAVE SCARS line-up.
Jon Dette: I didn’t know, awesome. Yeah, Gene is an amazing drummer and he is a perfect fit for Testament. I think they sound great together musically, I think they click as people. Gene has been in and out of Testament. I remember Gene did an amazing record with Testament back in ’97 called DEMONIC, which I wind up doing a tour. Because Gene had just started that band, Strapping Young Lad, but as it turned out Strapping Young Lad was actually the support band on that Demonic -tour. So, was awesome to be able to watch Gene jam every night still. But I think it’s great that he’s in Testament and I wish nothing but the best for Gene and Testament.
Metal-Rules.com: Did you ever have a chance to make recordings with the band with exception of the LIVE AT FILLMORE album?
Jon Dette: We actually, we started… I started jamming with Eric at the end of the Demonic -tour, on songs that he was starting to come up with ideas for the next record. And there was a couple of songs that we had worked on. It was more ideas at that point that wound up on what sounds like the GATHERING record now. But I want to say, the last song on the GATHERING record, “Fall of Sipledome”, is that the name of the song? Yeah. I definitely remember working on parts of that song with Eric, but we never as far as recording stuff. The only stuff that we recorded was the live record and then the actual acoustic tracks that were a bonus to that record. Which is, “Return of Serenity”, “The Legacy” and “Trail Of Tears”. So, those I actually went into the studio and recorded with them. But I’ve never had a chance to record original material with Testament.
WORKING IN BUSINESS
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, it is funny that it was Dave Lombardo who finished the GATHERING album. So it seems that there are always the same names popping up everywhere?
Jon Dette: Well, it’s like the little… I don’t know. I think because those bands have toured together for so long over the years that they know each other. They know each other skills; they know each other’s people. So, things happen in bands as they normally do. And they are looking for somebody. You have to feel comfortable with someone; it’s not just the skill. A lot of people, it’s really easy for the public to make that assumption. Like get this person to play for your band, this person. Because all they know is they skill, and they don’t realize like, you guys are traveling on a bus together. It’s not a 9:00 to 5:00 job; you don’t see this person for four hours in the morning and go to lunch, and then four hours later. And then everybody leaves for the weekend. You are with people constantly. It is like, it’s like a relationship. And so, and that said it’s a very important factor when bands are looking for people or artists are coming together to do this. So, it’s not. I always tell people, it’s about who is the best person for that particular thing and it’s like having a relationship with the girl. You could see the most physically beautiful woman with the biggest tits and the nicest ass. But somebody that’s married, could look at that woman and think if his wife as physically beautiful. But there is something more way beyond. What I’m getting there is a lot of things involved to make it work in a band rather, not just the skill set. Bad analogy, big tits and ass. “Laughs” Sorry.
Metal-Rules.com: Right, many guys who we have interviewed have said that being in band is like a marriage.
Jon Dette: Absolutely, and it can be the littlest things. You could have four guys in a band that are chain smokers, and one guy who has the most amazing skill set in the world, but he hates cigarettes. Or vice versa, you’ve got four guys that don’t smoke or don’t drink and then you got one guy that just loves to party his ass off. Who is right and who is wrong? There is no right and there is no wrong, it’s only what’s right for that situation. But if you have people that have habits that are conflicting each other, social habits, whatever it is. It’s not going to work out in the long term.
Metal-Rules.com: About Slayer, a little bit more about that… I remember when I saw this video, “I Hate You’ where you were playing on. I remember thinking; “Hold on that not Bostaph, who’s that guy?” But how did you get the job with Slayer, replacing Paul Bostaph in ’95?
Jon Dette: That was in November. I started talking to Slayer, September ’95, is when they originally contacted me. And I was actually contacted by a mutual friend of the band. And they had mentioned that Paul was going to be leaving the band, and they were going to start auditions. And that I should audition for the band, which of course I would love to. So, as it turned out, my attorney was also Slayer’s attorney at the time. So, my attorney handles contracts and all that stuff for bands, entertainment Attorney. And so, I called him, I said, “Hey! So, I heard Paul is leaving the band and I’d like to audition.” And he said, “Well, you know I can’t talk about my other clients, Jon.” So, I said, “Okay. Well, I’m sending down an audition tape. If they are looking for somebody, consider myself available.” And I got a call the next day from their management, and that’s how I went down to audition. And actually they had heard my name from a couple of different sources, and I think they wanted to try everyone else out and then try me out last, or second to last. Actually Gene Hoglan was the last person they tried out after me. And they sent me a list of songs, and they said learn side one of DECADE OF AGGRESSION, which I already knew all those songs because I’ve been playing them my entire since I have been drumming basically. And then they said learn DIVINE INTERVENTION, and I was like, “Oh man.” Because I hadn’t really listened to DIVINE INTERVENTION too much. And Bostaph is just like psychotic on that record. And at the time when we were talking, I was going to be auditioning with them in two weeks. So, I’m like, “Okay. One song a day. Let me just dissect this thing.” And that’s what I did, I started with “Killing Fields”, “Sex Murder Art”, “Fictional Reality”. I just boom, boom. I was just going through all the songs. Two weeks came, “Well they are not going to be ready quite yet. It’s probably going to be another two weeks.” “Okay, great.” Now I get another two weeks to polish this up even more. And so, when it finally turned out for me to audition, and the management called me the day before and they said, “So, you learned the song “Divine Intervention”. Right?” And I said, “The song?” I’m like, “No, I learned the album, DIVINE INTERVENTION.” “No, no. You don’t need to learn the album, just that one song.” That information would have been helpful. But as it turned out that was one of the great things about the audition, because when I set up and I was warming up. I warmed up to the entire DIVINE INTERVENTION record, and they were in the room next door listening to me while I was warming up. And after I went through I think the fourth song, my drum tech told me later on because he was in the front, Jeff Hanneman. They are playing with their guitars and playing along with me and they said, “We don’t need to try this guy. Already knows all the songs, let’s just go to the bar now.” But they did come in and jam and again it felt great, we jammed for two days and Kerry took me to the bar at the end… We went to a bar after the second night, and he said absolutely nothing about joining the band. It was all just small talk and then, the bar is getting ready to close and I said, “Well, I guess I’ll just wait to hear from you guys.” And he said, “No. We already decided you are the guy. You will get a call next week and will go roll the details, see you later.”
Metal-Rules.com: And that was it?
Jon Dette: Yeah, literary two sentences and that was it. So, that’s how that went down. And then my first show with them was actually, we did a small club in Miami for American Records. But my first show with them was actually Dynamo in ’96. I think so.
THE FUTURE AND ANIMETAL USA
Metal-Rules.com: The year has been really hectic for you; first you toured with Anthrax, then Slayer, then Heathen and now Iced Earth. But you also have your own things, music and bands, going on at the same time I believe so?
Jon Dette: Well, as you said. This last year has been, this is my fourth time to Europe in one year. I was here this time last year with Anthrax. And then I was back here again with Heathen in May and June, then I was back here with Anthrax in July and August and now I’m here with Iced Earth. I really, honestly I haven’t had time to do anything else, it just been those bands have been keeping me pretty busy. And I actually started working with Slayer after we had gotten back from Australia. We started working for demo and music for their new record. And then obviously what happened with Jeff passing away, that changed some things. But it was definitely moving in that direction for me to be working with Slayer. But as I said there are just some things that changed with that once Jeff passed away, and I think ultimately they felt more comfortable with Paul Bostaph, just because Paul have been in the band for longer. I think it was not going to be as much of a shock to their fans, because first Dave is gone and now Jeff has gone the band it’s now down to two original members. And who have clearly dealt with a lot of it, closely over the last couple of years. So, if Paul makes them feel more comfortable and at home, then more respect to him and I wish them the best with that. But that’s the only other thing that I was potentially moving forward to working on, aside from the Animetal USA project which I have been involved with Chris Impelitteri, Rudy Sarzo and Mike Vescera. So, they’ve been talking about doing a record and they are wrapping up a deal now with Warner Brothers. So, if I’m available to do that then I’ll do it. But as I said, it’s if I’m doing the Iced Earth things then I’m going to commit to them. Then it’s just going to be keeping me busy for quite some time now.
Metal-Rules.com: The Animetal thing, it’s not too well known here in Europe. But it’s known it’s a huge thing in Japan.
Jon Dette: Well, the Animetal thing has really been specific towards Japan and the Asian market because it’s completely based on Japanese anime, the costumes that everybody wears. They are not necessarily based off of; they are not actual figures from an anime cartoon. But the songs are all anime cover songs, every one that they’ve just, they’ve heavy metalized into songs. The songs are actually legitimate, they are well structured songs. It’s challenging to play, but as far as the whole costume thing and all that, I think it’s something that maybe North America, maybe Europe aren’t ready for something like that. I don’t know. My thought is to keep it specific to Japan just because they get it, they understand that’s their music, they know the songs. I played with Animetal at Loud Park Festival in 2011, and Animetal was the opening band at the Saitama Arena that day. And the Arena was completely full, and everybody in the Arena was singing the songs like we were a headline band that had been around for years, because they are Japanese covers songs. Well, the songs are sung in English, there are certain parts that are still Japanese vocals.
Metal-Rules.com: Yes, because Mike can sing in Japanese.
Jon Dette: He can because he used to be in Loudness, right. So, it’s pretty crazy. There is some footage of it on online. You can just see the whole crowd singing with us. It was like; “This is the first show ever that this band had played at that point?”
Metal-Rules.com: The first Animetal album was released in The States as well. How well it was received in there?
Jon Dette: It came out later in the States, yeah. But I don’t know how it did in the States, how well received it was.
Metal-Rules.com: But again, it would be amazing to see you guys doing shows in Europe as well. I think that there would be a great demand for bands like Animetal USA?
Jon Dette: Yeah but as I said, if Europe is ready for it. I mean, there is just certain logistic things that need to happen with Animetal, because of the costumes and the make-up, there is more of a production that goes into that show. I don’t know, will just have to see. Either way, if it’s something that can happen if Europe wants it, if they are looking forward to something like that then it will happen. The other thing that was discussed was the possibility of Mike, Rudy, Chris and myself doing an all original band. Where, yes we are an Animetal but just us, as an original band. Just completely different band. But us, just an original band but that’s something that we’ve been discussing and it’s still in thought process right now at this point.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, you’re really busy guys. I know.
Jon Dette: Rudy has been really busy. He’s been doing the Queensryche thing and Dio Disciples and… I don’t know what Mike has been doing but I know that he is really busy producing. He actually does a lot of producing of records. So, and Chris is just, Chris is Chris. He’s like the Mr. Business mind always doing something business related, really intelligent guy and he’s always busy and something. But yeah, as I said if it’s something that will happen great. But my personal thought is it would be better served to be specific to Japan and the Asian market, just because even though it’s a little more boutique that way. It’s, I think just the way that it’s been marketed. That’s going to be the best outcome for Animetal USA. But that’s just my opinion.
Metal-Rules.com: Okay Jon, our time is up now. Al the best with tonight’s gig with Iced Earth and see you there.
Jon Dette: Thank you guys. Metal Rules!