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The Heart of Kidneys
Bad Religion/Tenacious D drummer Brooks Wackerman steps up to the mic with Kidneys—but don’t call it a side project
What’s the last thing a drummer says before he’s fired? “Hey, why don’t we play one of my songs?”
An oldie but goodie, to be sure—but lately, the joke has lost some punch. Think Dave Grohl—or, closer to home, think native son Brooks Wackerman, who drums for Bad Religion and Tenacious D. Wackerman further erodes the joke with Kidneys, his one-man-in-the-studio-but-real-thing-live band. Kidneys’ first release is due next month, and the band are filling their dance card accordingly. As an in-demand rock drummer, Wackerman doesn’t need an outlet such as Kidneys to stay busy. At the time of this interview, he’d been back only one day from a tour of Australia with Bad Religion.
The definition of “working musician,” Wackerman got his start early. “When I started walking, they threw drum sticks in my hands. I started playing in bands around age 9,” says Wackerman. “My dad’s a high-school music teacher and a drummer. My brothers are drummers, except for one bass player—the black sheep.”
Sounds like the basis for a sitcom. “We had our run-ins with our neighbors growing up,” says Wackerman. “We had some religious fanatics who moved in next door. The first day they moved in, I was practicing, and the cops were at our porch within 10 minutes. After that incident, my parents said, ‘We’ll give up our garage and soundproof it.’”
Within three years of joining his first band, Wackerman was on a major label. “The very first band I played in was called Bad4Good,” says Wackerman. “We were signed to Interscope Records. It was kind of like a child-prodigy band: our guitarist was 9, I was 12.”
While Wackerman’s high-school years were way cooler than yours—he drummed for Infectious Grooves, Suicidal Tendencies and the Vandals—he also lived some kids’ nightmare: His dad was his Los Alamitos High School jazz-band teacher.
“It wasn’t difficult with him being my teacher, but it was difficult walking together on campus. I was embarrassed,” Wackerman says with a laugh. “It just wasn’t cool to do that back then, but I’ve apologized to him a thousand times over about that. I kind of owe everything to my mom and dad.”
Wackerman graduated high school and eventually found himself in a college of sorts: sitting onstage while hitting things with wordy punks Bad Religion. “Every record we release now, there are words I have to look up to find out what the hell they mean,” he says.
Finding his way behind Tenacious D, Wackerman plays at the opposite end of the scale from Bad Religion’s political punk. ““It’s cool to play serious political punk rock and also comedy theatrical rock,” he says.
But being in a million bands means touring. “There is a lot of being away from the wife and loved ones,” says Wackerman. “You’re on video chats every day, talking to your kids or your wife. I would say the distance is the hardest, but there are other jobs that are a lot harder than what we do.”
Touring also leaves Wackerman with a lot of time on his hands. “Unless you are an alcoholic or a drug addict, time can go very slow,” he says. “So I try to keep myself occupied by reading, walking around in new towns, or writing in GarageBand.” Hence, Kidneys.
Wackerman describes his songs as halfway between Descendents proto-pop punk and Elvis Costello power pop. (Proto-power-pop punk?) While Bad Religion fans may have a natural interest in Kidneys, Wackerman doesn’t want to emulate his other, other band.
“The fact that it doesn’t sound like BR is a good thing,” he says. “I think if I did write like Brett [Gurewitz] and Greg [Graffin, principal Bad Religion songwriters], people would say, ‘Those guys do it better than anyone else anyway.’”
While Wackerman will likely be thought of as a drummer first and foremost, Kidneys isn’t just a side project or hobby band. “It’s a challenge to strap on that guitar and become a front man,” he says, “I write a lot, so I constantly have a batch of songs that I am working on, and for me, that’s refreshing. When I come back to the drums after Kidneys shows, I become a better musician in Bad Religion or whatever project I’m working on. It’s good to mix it up.”
Kidneys with Mojave Mystic Cheese, Aurico and Blue Powda Monkeys at DiPiazza’s, 5205 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 498-2461; www.dipiazzas.com. Fri., 9 p.m. Call for cover. Kidneys can be found at myspace.com/kidneys.