Interview by Danny Coleman
“We co-headline with 3 Doors Down and it’s a lot of fun. You get up there and you look at the set lists of the bands and you go, man it’s like a dang radio hit show, it’s exciting and I love watching the audience line up and say, wow I remember that song and our true followers; we still do pack’em in and we pack a lot into each set per show and it’s a lot of fun. We try to do the best every night and we never take it for granted that we’re getting to play live in front of fans as well.”
Collective Soul drummer Johnny Rabb makes no attempt to hide his excitement over the current tour they share with the aforementioned 3 Doors Down and Soul Asylum. Thus far, Rabb is very pleased with the early results and seems very optimistic going forward.
“It’s going great! I was talking with Chet (Roberts) the guitar player from 3 Doors Downand he goes, man the combination of hits and the songs between these bands and I don’t mean that we’re talking about ourselves as great writers even though Ed (Vocalist/front man Roland) is; he wasn’t being arrogant but the combo in a night of hits that have been on the radio is so great and the crowd is enjoying it and everyone is having a good time and listening to songs that everyone knows is kind of cool. You’ve got three bands with a lot of history and a lot of songs, it’s awesome.”
Collective Soul has been recording and touring for more than two decades and in today’s instant gratification society, many groups have taken to touring with their peers and performing high energy, “Greatest Hits” type sets. When asked if Collective Soul falls into that realm; Rabb readily elaborated,“That’s awesome that you asked that but again we’re coming up on 25 years and I’ve known about these guys even from back in my Nashville days and then more when they came about in the late 90’s. We are definitely including new songs in the set and of course each night we have limited time no matter what we’re doing so the crowd is getting to hear all of the hits plus at least three new songs that we’ve been in studio recording that nobody has heard. So it’s pretty exciting to play these new songs for people as well as the hits; it’s a well rounded set of music each night. We have 19 songs recorded and in the can right now ready to be released next year.”
A possible new album with 19 songs? Sounds like the band has been busy; so when can we expect this new work to be released and will it be more than one record?“I’ve heard rumors about the double album idea. We’re big fans of still releasing on vinyl and we literally have those songs ready and it’s funny going back and listening now because we did 10 of the songs in 2017 and nine songs this year. Ed will be the final word on that but yeah, a lot of new music ready to go.”
New music is relative to one’s perspective. New to the band or new musical sounds or styles can mean different things to different people and there’s neutrality in Rabb’s take on today’s, “New” music.
“I have two daughters so the radio when I’m driving them to school is pretty much on their station but I try to expose them to what we’re doing and what bands my wife and I grew up on in the 80’s with satellite radio in the car. I think there are some great new bands out there but personally nothing that I totally rally behind but I do give them credit as far as production and the new styles that people are doing. I’m a big electronic music fan myself so I’m not anti anything, I don’t think it’s the same but again I’m 46 and I’ve got my own opinions on how bands were bands back in the day. You get together, you rehearse, you play, you know like in our band; five guys playing together, real instruments playing rock. Ed writes the songs then we get our parts going and literally rock; if one of us stops playing then that’s it you can hear it. I think today is just different, a lot of it is done on full laptops and that’s about it; nothing wrong with that but I still love just rock and old pop rock music. It’s a whole new generation of stuff, I guess that’s just how it goes but hats off to anyone who is doing it now but it’s just a different vibe for sure.”
Rabb began playing drums at a very young age and gained experience as he discovered various genres and through this has become a well rounded player; a percussive chameleon of sorts.
“I started playing as a kid when I was eight years old, was self taught at first and then had lessons. Then some friend of my brothers played, “Exit Stage Left” when we were camping and I was like; what is this stuff? I grew up with Rush and Neil Peart was kind of the main reason that I got started and then I got into Yes. Then all of these little instructional videos started coming out and that’s a whole different sign of the times as well; Steve Smith’s, “Threshold” video came out and I didn’t even realize he was with Journey, I just knew him as Steve Smith the jazz, funk, fusion drummer and he and I have become really good friends and he’s such a great guy and probably my biggest influence but that whole era of late 70’s and early 80’s drummers were my inspiration. Luckily, I’ve gotten to meet all but a few of them at either drum clinics or festivals and that kind of blows my mind now; I didn’t think I’d ever be able to meet them let alone share a stage with them. All of my influences I’ve had the opportunity to meet, see or have dinners with and talk shop. So the whole drum hero journey has been a really cool thing for me.”
Another of Rabb’s favorite drummers comes from one of the greatest rock lineages of all time, “We got to tour with Jason Bonham and Sammy Hagar last summer and I think Jason is just slaying it with what he’s doing. I think it’s very genuine and not just only, hey look I’m Jason Bonham and I’m related; I think he’s got his own artistic value going on, he’s so good! Sometimes I’d be on side stage and I’d be jumping up and down because he’s so powerful and good.”
So with varied tastes and an education to boot; is there any period of adjustment to be made when he saddles up to perform with Collective Soul and how does he balance his predecessors styles with his own?
“I play the songs and nightly I pay tribute to the past drummers that have been with them. We’re all friends and there’s such respect and I think over the years, I’ve adapted to give them what they want whether it’s the way I’m hitting or what they want musically. My background is funk, pop, jazz, fusion and I went to Berklee and was schooled in that and I have all that background. So that just kind of comes through, I definitely try and bring to it the correct feel and approach to these gigs and I love it. This is a heavy hitting gig and I love the guys, they’re second family to me.”
Respect is key and Rabb is currently paying it to a classic drum manufacturer as well. Playing a set of drums which pre-date him, Rabb sees the value in experimentation and visiting the past as well as living in the present.
” I was doing the endorsement thing for years and I stopped and then I did it again and I just recently stopped again so I could play whatever I wanted to play whether it be new or vintage. Right now I’m playing a ’69 Rogers Holiday kit with a white acrylic gloss wrap that’s really fun. I had a sparkle kit on the 2012 tour but this one is white and our stage set up has a lot of white in it so it works. There’s so many great drum companies out there which is kind of one of the reasons why I stopped doing the endorsements because I wanted to be able to explore and go back to the reasons that I started playing.”
“The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express Tour” makes two stops in the Garden State; the first is August 11 in Holmdel at the PNC Bank Arts Center and the second is August 19 at The Borgata Event Center in Atlantic City. There are VIP packages and single tickets available for both shows and prices vary at each venue.
So what will Rabb do when this very busy tour comes to an end?“It sounds cliche but I love my family; we’ll hang out, we have a pet dog and he’s awesome. I’ll write music, I have a drum studio, I’ll teach, I do consulting for some drum companies and in the off times it’s rest. The tour will end but there will be some spot gigs like a club or a theater show; we’ll continue to do that. Also Ed never stops writing which is amazing so we may even be in the studio. There’s talk of more studio time in early 2019 and I love that he wants to keep writing. We keep in touch, we do things, so it doesn’t stop when the tours end.”
To discover more about Collective Soul, the tour or ticket information; please go to www.collectivesoul.com.
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)