by Interviews

Ara Babajian has drummed for punk legend after punk legend- The Slackers, Leftover Crack, World/Inferno Friendship Society, Ari frickin' Up! (Also, he was in a band called "Das Booty.")

In fact, the Slackers just released their new album. It's self titled and has a killer opening tune called "The Boss." On top of that, the Slackers are playing Punk Rock Bowling this year (We're sponsors!)

So, Punknews editor John Gentile called Ara up and asked for some bowling tips. Oh, yeah, they also covered the 5,407 bands that Ara has been in, working with THE Ari Up, and the new Slackers record.

How do you like to approach the lane?
With caution.

What's the best bowling grip?
Two hands.

What is your method of mental concentration before beginning a new match?
I don't have one. I try to ignore the fact that bowling even exists.

Bowling: is it a real sport?
No. It's an excuse to wear slacks and eat chicken wings.

what's your stance on bowling alley food? Nice part of the atmosphere or blasphemous pizza and hellish French fries?
I try not to eat that garbage. It makes my body sad.

You were in a band called "Das Booty" in the 80s. Please tell us about Das Booty.
Das Booty! It was named after the popular German 5 hour submarine epic, Das Boot. I grew up in Southern California in the 80s. The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone were local heroes. We used to go see them regularly- the Peppers, Fishbone, Thelonious Monster, Jane's Addiction, Trulio Disgracias, Mary's Danish. All of these bands were playing some weird hybrid of punk-funk/metal before it had a name. Das Booty was our teenage attempt to be all of those bands at once. A strange fact- the four song Das Booty demo wound up years later on Chili Peppers bootlegs credited as early Chili Peppers demos. The truth was revealed 15 years later that it was actually us. So, we are a bizarre footnote in Chili Peppers lore.

How did you first learn about ska music?
Fishbone was my first exposure to ska. I would come home every day after 6th grade and listen to that first Fishbone EP over and over again- Particularly "Lyin' Ass Bitch." I'd never heard anything like it. It was everything I loved in one tidy package. That band was indescribable, amazing. They still are, in fact. The Clash, The Specials, The Police, Elvis Costello and the Attractions were all I knew of reggae, ska, ectcetera. Topper Headon, Pete Thomas and Stewart Copeland were my idols. So when it came time for me to play in a ska band in the early 90s in NYC I was coming at it from a bizarre angle.

For me, your drumming technique is particularly impressive as you seem to have mastered that classic 60s vibe. Was this by instinct or practice?

I didn't learn how to play traditional ska until I hooked up with The Slackers in 2003. They used to make me "orientation" tapes of the stuff they were influenced by, such as, lots of Skatalites and obscure 60s Jamaican artists that had one common denominator: a drummer named Lloyd Knibb, who basically invented that particular style of drumming. The Slackers take on ska is unusual. Vic and Dave used to sing drum parts to me when I first joined the band. Then I'd try to approximate the sounds they were making. They told me the Slackers "ska" should sound like a steam train running down the tracks. The hi-hat is the steam and the snare/kick are the chugging of the wheels. So, every night for two hours I'd morph into a train and try not to fuck up. It's a hard style to get right, basically like drumming in reverse because everything falls on off-beats and lands on "the one." But, like rock and punk, everything is still counted in fours. It's just the accents that are different. So, with a lot of practice, I eventually got comfortable with it and figured it out. But I'm constantly learning how to play it better. The knowledge is infinite.

You were in The World/Inferno Friendship Society. Is Jack Terricloth really the person he appears to be onstage?
Yes and no. Jack is like a sweet and tender ghost. Behind the Jack Terricloth persona is one of the most unguarded, warm and pure artist/humans I've ever met. I think I had to stop playing in the band because Jack was too fun to drink with and I'm a bad drinker. Two drinks and I'm drunk and then can't sleep for 3 days. It was tough to juggle being in a couple other bands and return to family life after living in Inferno world. So, I had to stop having too much fun. I'm the drummer. I gotta keep my shit together or else everything might fall apart.

And speaking of unusual people, you recorded with Ari Up. What was THAT like? What was she like?!
Ari was a beautiful energy- just a wild, gorgeous soul that we were all in awe of. Me, Vic and Jay of the Slackers were in a band with her for a short while. We all had a crush on her. And we just wanted to do justice to her vision, which was some cosmic mix of dancehall queen and punk high priestess. She never pulled any trips on us- she spoke in a German/English accent with Jamaican patois that seemed totally natural and was always bumming Parliament Lights off of me. Also, she couldn't read a lick of music. So in order to get her ideas across to us she would sort of dance them out. She would make these shapes in the air with her body and dreads and I would try to approximate them on the drum kit. It was a beautiful thing. She inspired all of us to go deeper whenever she was around, be it at one of her gigs or if we were just out buying records together. Getting the chance to play with her made us all feel like we were on the right path.

Your drumming on "The Boss," off the new record, is particularly cool. Tell us about that song.
"The Boss" is the first track off the new self-titled Slackers record. It's my favorite song out of the most recent batch, and the one I most enjoy drumming along to. I have no idea what it's about. I rarely ever follow the lyrics of the songs I'm playing. It's all feel and melody for me. Words are usually secondary or tertiary. One of the only exceptions to this rule is "Crack City Rockers" by Leftover Crack. One day I actually sat down and read those lyrics from top to bottom and realized what a brilliant piece of writing it is. Anyway, The Boss is just fun to play. It's got a martial drum pattern that I've now snuck into several LOC, Slackers and Star Fucking Hipsters songs, something I must have stolen from Larry Mullen Jr. when I was a kid and it's got a drums/horns breakdown in the middle that is just a joy to realize every time. It's a song that never quite "resolves," but is constantly "going there." And wherever "there" is seems like a wonderful place to be.

What do you "get" out of playing music today? Is it the same thing as it was 20 years ago?
20 years ago I wanted my bands to make money, change the world, and allow me to attain a certain position in life. Now that I've achieved some of that, I just want to keep what I have without turning into a bullshit human being. Playing in a band is a job now. 20 years ago it was an aspiration. So, there's more at stake. Fortunately, The Slackers are still a very creative entity. And nothing makes me happier than being behind the kit and playing these brilliant songs that my friends have written. If I ever feel like that is not the case, I'll simply quit and pray that Target will hire me. Although, I'd miss the camaraderie and glory of being in a real band. And The Slackers are about as real as it gets.

People always talk about singers and guitarists, but the drummer gets kudos far less often. Yet, the drums are the engine of any band. Do drummers get enough credit?
I feel like everyone gets the credit he or she deserves. Musicians shouldn't need credit. If they're doing their jobs then they should be barely noticeable. It's the song you should be noticing. There are of course many exceptions to this, but by and large you should be playing for the song, doing what the song tells you. Unless you're Stewart Copeland or John Bonham, I shouldn't even notice that you are there.

What does the new Slackers album represent to you?
The new Slackers record is the fullest realization of everything I've attempted as a musician to this point. For the band, it means 25 years of being "on the mission," as we refer to it. I love the fact that I don't have to get up onstage and lie to people for money. I've had to do that many times in my life, onstage and otherwise, and it feels pretty awful.

What's next for The Slackers?
Next for the Slackers is 100 shows this year, including Punk Rock Bowling, Rebellion and Boomtown fests in England and the usual ball-breaking and madness of six middle-aged guys on the road. What's next for me? Trying to be a good husband and father while continuing to honor the gift I've been given and to be present in my life.