A Chat with drummer Johnny Rabb of Collective Soul

Courtesy of BJCSHOTS and Ignite Music Magazine.

–by Michael Pierce

A few days ago we published a preview piece about Collective Soul coming to St. Louis on August 31st.

We had the opportunity recently to chat with drummer Johnny Rabb.

Johnny Rabb Interview

MP – All right, we’re here today for Midwest Rewind talking with Johnny Rabb, the drummer for Collective Soul. So Johnny, how are you doing today?

JR – I’m good. Thank you very much.

MP – Cool, and you’re going to be here in St. Louis on August 31st at Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, right?

JR – Yeah, we love playing that venue. We love St. Louis. So we will be there ready to rock that festival and yeah, it’s a great place.

MP – So how’s life on the road these days?

JR – Well, we’re excited, 25th anniversary for the band. Rocking as we can and we’ve hit most of the United States. We’ll continue going through this year and well, it is good, crowds have been great, really enjoying playing some of the new songs off the record and you know, we’re out here having a good time as a band and always having fun. Yeah, it’s hard to believe.

MP – It’s like you said 25 years now since Shine first hit and you guys dropped the new record (Blood) back in June.

JR – Yeah, we’re really just really proud of that record and how it came out.

MP – It’s an absolutely phenomenal album. I’ve been listening to it. I already got my favorite song on there, a tune called Right As Rain. I noticed on that one, right at the start, I hear almost a little bit of a Led Zeppelin vibe with the guitars and then the way you got you come in after few seconds in on the drums. How do you guys determine what the particular vibe is going to be for any particular tune while you’re in the studio?

JR – I mean, we’re just playing as a band, you know what I mean? Like, this time we chose The Barber Shop Studios in New Jersey, but a lot of the songs were recorded at E’s home studio, which, there is just really a great sound there. He’s an engineer, producer, everything, and all of us are, you know, knowledgeable about studios, etc. So we sense the vibe, we play together, rock is it as a band live and in the same room, and literally almost like the old-school jam until we feel like the vibe is there. We even played that song on the road first before we recorded it. So, you know, we got to try it out at different shows a couple times and then record it.

MP – It’s a great tune. Like I said, the whole album is phenomenal, you’ve some great music on there. One thing I’ve always liked about Collective Soul is E’s lyrics always seem to be really introspective, like he’s asking a question and searching for an answer. There’s a lot of positivity in most of those songs.

JR – E definitely has a way of living life and having the songs reflect that. Emotions from life. So it’s not just writing a song for a song’s sake really. He’s definitely interested in telling a story that most likely will relate to the audience, because we all have our ups and downs and triumphs and things like that. So his writing is very very true and natural. So he shared a story with everybody.

MP – Speaking of your audience. I was watching a video of a concert that y’all did in Shawnee, Oklahoma back in May and you can tell E is just having a great time up there. He’s got a big grin on his face. He’s moving around. He’s got the audience in the palm of his hand. We were wondering what’s it like for you guys, the musicians behind him, you’re feeding off that energy, I guess, plus feeding off the energy of the audience too while you’re playing.

JR – Yeah, we all try to, every show we do. I play drums and there might be physical energy, but E’s always got the stage energy and gets a crowd going. He burns off calories left and right when he’s on that stage. He doesn’t stop movement. I’ve got the best seat in the house, and I get to watch my bandmates and the crowd. So yes, we surely do. I feed off everybody. My friends in the band and new friends in the crowd, as always, have that amazing energy on stage and, I’ll tell you what, It’s exciting to watch and that’s what we strive to do is have each show be a unique experience. We don’t just show up, we will always bring it as best we can each night.

MP – Yeah, you can tell he’s just having a blast up there. So a little bit about yourself –  you’ve been with the band since 2012, I believe?

JR – Yes I joined then and, after that tour, you know, I didn’t know what their plans were. So I just wasn’t sure but you know, I’d say within a year or so after that, I’m like, and I don’t mean it’s like nonchalantly, like I guess I’m going to be their full-time drummer, but it was a nice experience building up to kind of being a full-time drummer, because my life had been a lot of backing up as a side drummer with other bands in Nashville and I like that, but this is home to me, and this is what I see myself doing so yes, this is the start of the eighth year with them, and I’m super thankful to be involved and we’ve done since then the live record and then studio albums with them, and I get to play with these guys on a nightly basis, and it couldn’t be more cool. It literally is a band. I wanted to be in a band situation and I’m in this home. I do remind myself on a daily basis of that .

MP – Almost like being part of a family?

JR – Absolutely. E’s has been amazing to me and my family. So yeah, they are like a family to me.

MP – I was watching some of your instructional videos on YouTube today. So when did you first decide you wanted to be a drummer? How long have you been doing it now?

JR – I’ve played drums now for at least 40 years. I definitely started when I was three years old. That’s what I wanted to do. My parents took me to some marching parades at Christmas time and there’d be the marching band. Something got me, grabbed me with that kind of pulse when the band would go by. And so I think I started about 1973 or 1974 and then, once I moved to Sacramento is when the drum lessons kind of kicked in at age eight or nine years old. I’m 47. I’ve been at least playing for 40 of those years.

MP – Well, I was quite impressed. Watching those videos, in particular the one where you do the one handed drum roll.

JR – Free hand technique is what that’s called and I’ve got a video and a book out. It’s been a weird thing. A lot of people have stolen that and made their own videos, and leave it to the power of the digital age for people to kind of take ideas and run with them and that’s cool. I’ve done a lot of workshops and I was inspired by a drummer named Kenwood Dennard. He’s a great drummer, a Berkeley professor, and he was using the rim to kind of have the stick walk back and forth. I decided to make a curriculum and, I was able to do so, so that was a big thing for me to get a book out. Playing a rhythm with one hand that you could play with two.

MP – I also saw where you guys have got another album pretty much in the can already. It’s going to be released next year?

JR – Yeah, I don’t know when it will be released, but we’re always coming up with ideas and E’s always writing, and I’m like, okay, there’s another amazing song. E’s songwriting is something that’s always very natural and just catchy. He writes nice lyrics and team that with a melody, instrumental hooks and riffs. He’s just a master at writing and playing. We don’t stop doing the studio sessions, but that is correct, we have at least another album’s worth. Blood was supposed to be a double album, but we’re going to go ahead and do them separately due to a choice of format.

MP – Does he ever rest because he seems like he’s just a wound up bundle of energy?

JR – I’m known for waking up at 2 p.m., but I’m doing stuff at night time. You get backwards and take naps. E’s a very active person and he’s always been creative and things like that.

MP – Anything you want to say to your fans in St. Louis?

JR – So please come on out and see us on August 31st. Also, check us out on Facebook Twitter Instagram and Collective Soul’s website.

You can also find Johnny’s instructional videos at johnnyrabb.com.

To listen to our unedited interview please click below. This is something new we’re trying out, so if you enjoy listening to the interview please let us know. I’m not a polished interviewer, and I don’t have a voice for radio, but it is fun talking to these folks.

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