PAUL MCCARTNEY’S HARD-HITTING STICKMAN TALKS PASSION AND DW DRUMS
ABE LABORIEL JR. SEEMS TO EMBODY EVERYTHING ONE LOOKS FOR IN A MUSICIAN—HE’S INSANELY TALENTED, BRUTALLY DISCIPLINED, EXCEPTIONALLY WELL-ROUNDED, HAVING WORKED WITH SUCH ARTISTS AS SEAL, ERIC CLAPTON, STING—AND, OH YEAH, SIR PAUL McCARTNEY—AND PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANTLY, HE’S HUMBLE. EXUDING A WARM KINDNESS AND JOVIAL CHARM, LABORIEL’S LOVE FOR MUSIC PERMEATES THE EARLY MORNING AIR IN GUITAR CENTER HOLLYWOOD’S VINTAGE ROOM—UNDOUBTEDLY, A LOVE THAT HAS LED HIM THROUGH AN EXTRAORDINARY 21-YEAR CAREER.”
“The feeling of playing music is the greatest in the world. It just … it feels like life. It’s a way to express yourself, it’s a way to communicate and connect with others … it’s really the greatest feeling in the world,” says Laboriel. “[I think] that music is transformative. It can change mood, it can alter emotions … first of all, it can change my mood and change my own emotions, let alone what it does to the audience and the people listening, so transformation is a big part of music.” He adds, “Music has given me the greatest gift, which is joy … a feeling of self-expression … honestly, a way to make a living which doesn’t feel like work … so yeah, music has been very, very good to me—in the words of that baseball player I can’t remember that no one else will know what I’m talking about,” he laughs, channelling the old Saturday Night Live skit.
According to Laboriel, the connection with others is fundamental to a musician’s development. “I think the most important thing I can pass on to somebody who wants to play music is that they need to play music with other people,” he says. “I think too often—especially in our culture right now—we spend a lot of time alone. Yeah, we learn things from the Internet … but we spend a lot of time insulated. And I think it’s important—music is all about communication and playing with other people … yeah, get your equipment, do what you have to do, but make sure to invite somebody over and jam, ’cause that’s like the greatest learning you’ll ever get is by jamming.”
Jamming has been a major part of Laboriel’s life from a very early age, which is only natural when you’re the son of legendary bassist Abraham Laboriel. “My early inspirations—I mean, number one, first and foremost, is my dad. And again, speaking of jamming, he would jam with me all the time, which was really cool … he would sit down and he would show me a little beat to play, and then he’d pick up his bass and we’d, you know, play for hours—and that was something that always happened and still does to this day … when we play now, we still look at each other like, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’ So we still are learning things about each other that way.” Just as his musical relationship with his father is ongoing, Laboriel’s inspirations are ever-evolving as well. “Right now, I’m really into Mastodon, and Queens of the Stone Age, and James Blake … just people who are really interesting songwriters, interesting riffs, interesting takes on sound—yeah, there’s so much music out there, it’s infinite, really.”
In order for Laboriel to achieve his own interesting take on drum sounds, he relies on DW, one of the most respected American drum manufacturers in existence. “Specifically, the things that I look for are tonality—I want a really big sound—and I want quality as far as craftsmanship. I wanna make sure that it’s something that can take a beating, ’cause, you know, this is not a delicate instrument … and then, you know, it’s gotta be pretty on some level. It’s gotta be shiny—I like shiny things. Don’t we all like shiny things?” asks Laboriel. “DW drums, in my opinion, are some of the best drums ever made. They care about every single detail about what goes into this drum set, down to the tiniest screw. They wanna make sure that it’s something that will last, something that will not interfere with the sound of the drums—and again, they look great, they sound great, and they last forever. I love [DW]. They’ve made me very, very happy over the years.”
In 2001, Laboriel received a life-changing phone call—one that would usher in a 13-year relationship with music legend Sir Paul McCartney. “When I first got the call to play with Paul, it was a great producer named David Kahne … Paul had hired him, asked him to put a band together in L.A., and David and I had never worked together, but we had a lot of mutual friends and we had met a couple of times … so [Kahne] called me up, out of the blue one day, and said ‘Yeah, well, I’ve been asked to put a band together to record for Paul McCartney. Are you available?’ So I literally, the phone kind of slipped out of my hand as I was fumbling, trying to be cool, like ‘Sure, man,’ … it was only supposed to be for a couple of weeks—of course, the night before, I didn’t sleep a wink, as you would—and I showed up, and within five minutes of shaking Paul’s hand, we were making music, playing together in a room. He actually was in the room with me, playing bass and singing, and I was playing drums, and it completely felt natural, it felt like we’d been old friends. And we were working on new music—which I think was one of the greatest things about that, [I didn’t have to play] strictly a Ringo part or strictly a Denny Seiwell part, or whatever—it was me getting to be myself. So he got to see what I am, as opposed to who I was trying to be. So yeah, it was a great way to start this relationship.”
Laboriel recalls a particularly moving experience, “One of my memorable moments as a musician would’ve been the first time I was playing with [McCartney] in-studio, and we did some song, and I was singing a little background part in the control room, and he was like, ‘Oh! Let’s go sing that.’ And the two of us got on one microphone … that freaked me out, and definitely made me feel like, ‘Wow, I’m experiencing something that very few people have.’ A pretty magical moment.” Laboriel adds, “Getting to play with him is incredibly surreal, because, you know, I grew up listening to those records. My earliest memories are of the White Album and Sgt. Pepper’s, and I would wear those LPs out. So, to suddenly be hanging out with him as—I mean, we’re going on 13 years now, and I can say that he’s my brother, you know, we’re absolute kindred spirits—but still, every once in a while, I go like, ‘Oh my God, you’re a Beatle!’ And the funniest thing is that he actually does the same thing, he goes, ‘Oh my God, I was a Beatle!’ So it’s totally cool,” he laughs.
Currently, Laboriel is finishing up the Out There world tour with McCartney, and his solo project, Sprinkle—an alternative rock endeavor where Laboriel serves as singer, songwriter, producer, guitarist and drummer—is slated to put out new material, perhaps within the year or so, according to Laboriel. “For my solo stuff—obviously I’ve been distracted with my day gig,” he smiles, “but yeah, I’m working on more music … I don’t know if I have enough for a whole album again, or if I’m just gonna maybe put out, you know, three or four songs at a time … but yeah, there’ll be more Sprinkle coming. More Sprinkle headed your way.”
With so many accomplishments under his belt, and a résumé that would impress even the most seasoned session musician, Laboriel still finds his drive and passion in the feeling he gets from creating music. “I think the beautiful thing about being a musician is that there really never seems to be an end date,” he says. “There’s no feeling of, ‘Well, when I hit 55, I’m gonna check out.’ ’Cause I’m always going to play music. And as long as people are willing to listen, I’ll play for them. But if I’m the only one left listening, I’m still going to play music.”