Thomas Pridgen is one of my favorite drummers of the past decade, thanks largely in part to his work with The Mars Volta from 2006 to 2009. Since his departure from the band, Pridgen has formed his own progressive leaning rock band, The Memorials. He shows no signs of slowing down, as he continues to amaze with polyrhythmic fury. He was gracious enough to do an interview with us, discussing The Mars Volta, his early years, and what's to come...
EIS: Hey man, how’s it going? You first made the spotlight when you were just 9 years old by winning the Guitar Center Drum-Off. Has your early start influenced your career? When did you first start playing the drums?
TP: I started at age 3... and yes my early jump start has totally impacted my career its crazy knowing what you wanna do for the rest of your life so early.
EIS: At 15 years old you became the youngest student to ever acquire a full scholarship from Berklee School of Music in Boston. How would you describe your time there? Your drumming seems to draw equally from rock as it does complex jazz structures. Do you think studying music in school helped to develop your sound and style?
TP: Studying music in school didn't develop my sound, I was already playing like this, that's why i didn't stay in school... [laughs]. Berklee was a blast, I met really good people that I still call on and hang out with... most of my band went to Berklee, so I'm grateful.
EIS: Did you enjoy the Boston music scene? Were you playing lots of gigs after classes?
TP: Boston is cool, the music scene I dunno... [laughs]. I was playing a lot but not making any money cause everyone knew we were college kids. I played with all the students and faculty. I just was burnt out, I hated it... it sucked but I ended up meeting really cool people at the end of it all.
EIS: How did you start playing with The Mars Volta?
TP: Omar [Rodriguez Lopez] called me and flew me out to hang.
EIS: [laughs] Seems simple enough. It’s been told that Omar doesn’t allow you guys to hear each others parts when recording. Did you like that process? How much of the rhythms were already constructed by him and how much did you get to write?
TP: Well according to Omar no one else writes any of the music... [laughs], but that's bullshit... He would play guitar parts and I'd go and try to find cool grooves to play over em... We'd basically have a trial and error period until we landed on something and I would hear the basic parts. I wouldn't hear all the over dubbed guitars, EFX, and the keyboard parts but the basic shit was there... It was weird watching him take credit for things that people wouldn't believe he wrote anyway.
EIS: You also worked on many of Omar’s non-stop solo albums, were those written and recorded the same way as TMV’s records or was there a looser atmosphere in the studio?
TP: Totally, some of the songs were probably songs that Cedric [Bixler-Zavala] couldn't write to. Most times I thought I was recording TMV shit but it would end up on various Omar records... I hated that... I rather do a awesome TMV record than all the various side projects.
EIS: The Bedlam In Goliath is one of my absolute favorite albums of all time. The album takes everything I’ve always loved about The Mars Volta and kicks the heaviness up to another level, in large part thanks to your drumming throughout. What was it like to tour in support of the record? Did you have free reign to improvise on stage?
TP: Yeah, to me the whole record was me improvising and goin' off. I was pissed off most of the time, Omar would make me come play hella parts over and over again... It was our first record together, and yes, on stage I was letting everyone have it. I love playing crazy shit on big stages.
EIS: Comparatively, Octahedron showcased your ability to play a more laid back style, far less explosive than Bedlam. How would you compare the recording/touring process in comparison?
TP: No different, kinda easier than playing hella drum parts but you know it wasn't too different. I like the challenge.
EIS: The entire band always appeared to be having a great time in the viral videos [smoking blunts while performing surgery, huffing fumes in classrooms, learning graffiti], would you describe the vibe within the band to be fairly relaxed? Being a good deal younger than the rest of the members, did you spend a lot of time learning from Omar and Cedric?
TP: There's not too much to learn from Cedric... but Omar is a genius. He doesn't recognize it, but he is. I learned a lot from him, a lot of things about being a band leader. I learned more what not to do than what to do. Things were relaxed, but you know relaxed for me isn't too relaxed for the older guys.
EIS: What caused your decision to leave the band? Would you ever consider playing with them again?
TP: I dunno about playing with TMV again. Haven't you heard they got a new guy? [laughs] Yeah, that's the same guy [Dave Elitch] I used to put on my guest list every time I played Los Angeles... I'm sure he'll put me on his guest list now... [laughs] Funny how things turn around when friends/other drummers you know want fame... Karmas a funny muthafucka tho... and Cedric is a twacked out weirdo and he still owes me money... uggh, so I wont be back there without someone coughing up a check.
EIS: Do you have a favorite record you’ve played on so far in your career?
TP: Bedlam was fun. I love the Christian Scott record I played on and The Memorials record is sick. I love all that stuff. I really love playing different styles on records. I like when people cant believe I can play like that.
EIS: Speaking of The Memorials, you recently started the band, based out of your hometown of Oakland, CA. Was this band something that had been in the works, or was the formation more spur of the moment?
TP: No, we formed the band when the whole TMV thing happened in December. Wrote and recorded the music in a week, then Viveca finished the vocals in a month in a half... we were moving fast. I want to play high energy music with people who were actually cool... not people who were cool when they needed a drummer to save there life... I didn't want to be in another band full of fake ass people... I'm not always perfect but goddamn... The way the whole split happened shows me they weren't my homies at all.
EIS: You enlisted Viveca Hawkins (vocals) and Nick Brewer (guitars) to round out the band. How do you know them, and what can we expect from The Memorials?
TP: Me and Viv have known each other for about 14 years now, we always hung out but never did much music together. Nick and I had a band called Sabai in Boston when we went to school together but we never did a gig, just recorded so we had to hook back up.
EIS: You recently played your first few live shows, how’d they go? What was the audience’s reaction? Do you play live as a three piece or are you joined by more musicians?
TP: The band is actually 6 people but the 3 of us are the core members. The shows have been goin' off. People really like the band and they love the songs... Its crazy seeing such a diverse crowd, its even crazier watching them go off to the album we wrote and recorded in 6 days... I'm stoked about it.
EIS: How would you compare your drumming techniques in The Memorials to your playing with TMV? Has your time spent with Omar and co. rubbed off on The Memorials?
TP: Yeah, Omar taught me a lot about working ethic and how to make so many people work at the same time... The only real drum difference is now I get writing credit... I'm no longer a sideman playing drum solos... We won a Grammy for "Best Rock Performance" on a song that's mostly a drum solo... I told The Memorials to get ready cause I want another one...
EIS: You guys recently finished your debut album, is there a projected release date for the record. Are you currently shopping it around to labels?
TP: We're shopping it now... and hopefully you'll be hearing the record by fall.
EIS: The song snippets on your Myspace page for “GTFOMF” and “We Go To War” showcase your explosive energy and dazzling time structures, when are we going to get to hear a full song?
TP: Soon... [editor's note: since this interview took place a total of two days ago, The Memorials have posted the first full length track, "West Coast" on their Myspace page. How's that for soon? It will come as no surprise that the track is awesome. Real awesome.]
EIS: You guys have covered both Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979”. What brought on the decision to cover such prolific songs from each of the bands? How has the response been?
TP: We love and respect those songs and bands so we wanted to record em... and the response has been great but people really wanna hear our music... which is another blessing.
EIS: Well, I definitely look forward to hearing the album and much more from The Memorials. Any last words you’d like to leave our readers with?
TP: Thank you to all the people who are supporting me and my band, and thanks to all The Memorials staff, my drum companies and my hood homies... also thanks for this interview.
EIS: Thank you Thomas! The pleasure is all mine.
Watch Pridgen rock with The Mars Volta at their finest...
and get ready for The Memorials...