Author: Dawson, Michael
Date published: June 1, 2011
"It's really your personality and your ego that influence everything in a given group," says Serj Tankian/Juliette Lewis drummer Troy Zeigler when asked how he ended up landing a pair of gigs supporting two very strong personas.
The Tankian position opened up first, when top touring/session drummer Bryan "Brain" Mantia decided not to go on the road to support the release of the System Of A Down frontman's 2007 solo debut, Elect The Dead. A who's who of alternative rock drummers was put to the test at Tankian's studio to determine who would be the best fit, but ultimately it was Zeigler, a relative unknown outside an inner circle of Los Angeles musicians, who ended up in the drum seat. "I just went in without any pretense," Troy explains. "I did my homework, which is very important, and I knew I was a good enough drummer to be there. But beyond that, it's the inexplicable sentiment and the identity that you bring forth in your playing. If you're a total demonstrative asshole, people can feel that in your playing. So I try not to be too much of an asshole...at least not in auditions."
Last summer, Tankian brought Zeigler into the studio to record the majority of the drum tracks for his sophomore release, Imperfect Harmonies. Unlike Elect The Dead, which was a more straightforward rock album, Imperfect Harmonies features a lot of syncopated rhythms, dense orchestral-type arrangements, and multiple layers of loops and programmed drum parts, all of which has added an extra challenge for Zeigler now that the band is preparing to play the tunes on stage. "I have to sing a lot more, while also playing these semi-syncopated parts that I recorded for the album," the drummer says. "On top of that, I'm running loops from a laptop, and I have to play to a click track, which we didn't do on the last tour. But I love the challenge of trying to execute something that's conceptually difficult. My sentiment is: Bring it on!"
Zeigler's other main gig, as one-fourth of actress Juliette Lewis's high-energy rock quartet, came about during some downtime between touring with Tankian in support of Elect The Dead and recording Imperfect Harmonies. The story behind how Troy found himself in this highly coveted drum chair (which was previously occupied by Patty Schemel, Dave Grohl, and Thomas Pridgen) again comes down to bringing the right vibe for the situation. "I got the audition with Juliette through this guy Barry Squire, who puts together bands for artists here in Los Angeles," Zeigler says. "Over the past ten years, he would call me for auditions, but I never went because they're usually cattle calls. That environment is just rife with bad energy, and the gigs were never anything I was that interested in. When he called me about the Juliette gig, I was skeptical at first. But when I heard a couple of the songs from her first album, they struck a chord with me."
Like the initial tryout with Tankian, the audition for Lewis's band was a pressure-cooker environment. "They tried out about sixty drummers," Zeigler recalls. "There was one guy who looked scared out of his mind, so I started talking to him to try to ease him down a bit. He went in before me and played really well. But when he walked out, he was so far gone in his spiraling confusion that he didn't even look at me and just jetted.
"I went in, carrying my sticks and the main section of my double pedal, which still had the two beaters on it," Zeigler continues. "When Juliette saw that, she said, 'Oh, you're not playing any double bass.' Instead of getting all muzoid and saying something like, 'Well, I play double bass and I'm pretty fast, but your music couldn't handle it,' I just said, 'Oh, this isn't the Slayer audition?' That kind of set the vibe. I didn't think I played as well as I could have, but a couple days later they called me. I figure that my ability is what got me to the audition, but it was the vibe-plus a bit of luck-that got me the gig."
Despite his often menacing and aggressive stage presence ("I sometimes get into these blackout places where I'm taxing my body like I never have before-hitting the crash cymbals so hard they're choking out and the snare is about to break apart"), Zeigler is one of the most laid-back and gracious people you'll ever meet. So where does all of this rage come from? "Being really shy when I was younger, along with not being good at sports and being picked on for being different, created this sentiment for music that's unapproachable by anything else in my life," the drummer explains. "I feel like I'm on a fairly even keel as a person because I shed that furious nature inside me on the drums. Drums are an extension of my psyche. It's the self-loathing, frustration, anger, love, elation, and joy that all come out when I'm playing. There are times when I'm using completely improper technique, swinging my arms wildly and literally trying to break my cymbals in half. But that's great because I'm able to come off stage and I'm all puppy dogs and ice cream."