John Tempesta

The Cult’s heavy hitter talks Zildjan Project 391 cymbals.

AS A YOUNG MAN, BRONX NATIVE JOHN TEMPESTA WAS A FAN OF THE U.K.-BASED HARD ROCK OUTFIT THE CULT, AND WOULD EVEN DON A T-SHIRT BEARING THEIR 1985 RELEASE, LOVE. A LITTLE MORE THAN 20 YEARS LATER, TEMPESTA JOINED THE BAND HE SO ADMIRED. BETWEEN HIS WORK WITH EXODUS, TESTAMENT, WHITE ZOMBIE, ROB ZOMBIE AND HELMET, HIS PLAYING ON COUNTLESS SESSIONS, AND HIS NOW EIGHT-YEAR STINT WITH THE CULT, TEMPESTA HAS FORGED QUITE AN EXPANSIVE CAREER—AND HE’S ONE OF THE NICEST GUYS YOU’LL EVER MEET.

“The feeling I get from playing music is the most amazing thing ever,” says Tempesta. “Just hitting the drums—I’ve always wanted to play the drums, and I’m very fortunate and blessed … I was always inspired by the drums. My next-door neighbor was a drummer, and I bought my first drum kit from him for 25 dollars—I begged my mother, ’cause she would always buy me those, like, Christmas kits, and I’d break ‘em in, like, an hour. So, he was like, ‘Hey, I’m getting a new kit. I could sell this one to Johnny.’ And I’m like, ‘Mom, please!’ So, I just remember getting it that day—the next day, I woke up, it was a Sunday morning, I polish ’em up, and putting jewelry around the kit and everything … that was it, man. Right then and there, I was about 11 years old, and I knew, I’m gonna just take this as far as I can go.’”

Having found his passion at such a young age, Tempesta was inspired by some of rock’s greatest players. “I have a lot of influences—obviously Ringo, seeing A Hard Day’s Night. Then my older brother got me into music, I was very influenced by the ’70s [rockers], Led Zeppelin, John Bonham, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, KISS, all those bands from that genre. And then, the older I got, I started practicing and really taking it seriously, taking drum lessons, and my teacher was into jazz fusion, and then I started to get into Steve Gadd, Tony Williams and Billy Cobham and those kind of guys … Terry Bozzio is one of my idols … the list goes on, man. It’s great.” And as far as new artists are concerned, “I really love Brann Dailor from Mastodon, I love his style. And Danny Carey’s a good friend of mine, and he’s definitely at the top, you know, ’cause I’m really into that progressive rock as well as he is, and you can hear it in his playing. I mean, the new generation, there’s some really good kids out there … it’s exciting.”

And though he is known for the various heavy metal acts he’s played for, it’s those early influences that first shaped Tempesta as, in his words, a “rock drummer.” “I started playing thrash metal—I was always a rock drummer, like, a hard rock drummer. And then I was asked by Exodus if I could do the tour with them,” he says. “I was Charlie Benante from Anthrax’s drum tech, and it was a big challenge for me to step into that kind of style … from Exodus I went to Testament, and then after Testament, that’s when I got the call for White Zombie—and that’s kinda more my style, the groove kinda playing there. And that led me to Rob Zombie, and after that disbanded, I got to play with Helmet, which was really exciting ’cause playing with Page Hamilton, he’s just an incredible musician, and made me a better player … it was very challenging and exciting.”

An especially memorable experience came in 2012 when Tempesta was asked to join the guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela on their fourth studio album, Area 52. “I was very fortunate to play on Rodrigo y Gabriela’s record. And I got to do a couple shows in L.A. [at] The Palladium, and then Radio City Music [Hall] in New York, where I’m from, was sold out—I had my parents in [the] fifth row, and that was probably one of the most exciting things in my life that ever happened to me,” Tempesta smiles.

The Cult once again returned Tempesta to his classic rock roots, and since joining in February of 2006, he has had the opportunity to play on two world tours in which the band played a classic album in its entirety—the Love Live Tour and the Electric 13 Tour. “Doing the Electric Tour was mind-blowing because I seen that tour [when I was young] … I love the record, [it’s in my] top 10 records of all time. And to create that, playing live—I always stick to, you know, the actual basics of the song … it was so much fun, the energy was there—some songs we sped up and slowed down, but we captured that vibe. And as well as, back in 2007 or ’8, I believe it was, we did the Love record. And that tour was really cool as well—I had a bigger kit, ’cause I tried to emulate some of Mark Brzezicki’s kind of style … so I had some concert toms, a snare on this side, just a bigger [all-around] kit. And I had a Cult T-shirt when I was a kid as well—I wore the Love shirt … so that’s pretty amazing.” He adds, “And to play Royal Albert Hall, sold-out, and have Mark Brzezicki play on my drum kit, was fascinating. I just sat on the side, like, ‘This is not happening, man.’”

Another relationship Tempesta has been a part of for quite some time is his partnership with Tama drums, a company that is known the world over for having crafted pro-level instruments for four decades. “What I love about Tama, they’re a family business, I been with them for 20 years now, they’ve always taken great care of me, and the product speaks for itself,” says Tempesta. “I’ve never had a problem with the hardware, ever … nothing is too bulky and their shells are incredible … especially, like touring for a long period of time, you need something that’s dependable, and they definitely are strong enough for that. Strongest name in drums.”

Not one to compromise on quality or tone, Tempesta pairs his Tama kit with Zildjian cymbals—a brand he’s not deviated from since his youth. “I play Zildjian ’cause I been playing ’em ever since I was a kid … they’re another great company, family-owned business, and their product is incredible … I’ll tell you a funny story, when I was a kid, I was taking a drum lesson, I had enough money saved, and I went to this music store and bought this cymbal, and on the way home, I was on the bus, and this old man said, ‘Is that a Zildjian cymbal?’ I go, ‘Yes.’ He goes, ‘You’re on your way, kid.’” Tempesta laughs, “So I was like, ‘Right on!’”

Lately, Zildjian’s Project 391 cymbals—so named for the company’s 391 years of cymbal making—have graced Tempesta’s kit, offering the bright, cutting and explosive tone he needs. “I been playing them for a couple years now as prototypes, and I had talked to Paul Francis (Director of R&D, Zildjian) [about] what I was looking for in a cymbal,” Tempesta says. “[They’re] really crisp, [they cut] through everything, clean, precise, and as well as durability—I had them on tour for the whole Cult Choice of Weapon Tour, and I didn’t break one cymbal. And [they cut] through loud music, and that’s what I need for that type of style.”

Currently, Tempesta and the rest of The Cult are in the early writing stages for the band’s upcoming album, which Tempesta expects to start tracking late this year. “What happens is Ian (Astbury, vocals) and Billy (Duffy, guitar) get together first, and they get the structure going, and then we’ll all get in the room and put our ideas down.” Tempesta describes his contributions, “My creative process as a drummer for a song is, obviously, play for the song, you know what I mean? If [it calls] for that—it could be a simple groove, [with] a tasty fill or something, but I’ve always been that player, to—obviously—play for the song, that’s the most important thing.” He adds, “The role of a drummer is, obviously, the backbeat—if you don’t have a drummer, you don’t have no groove, man, you know? That’s everything … fat, back, beat.”

And for those wishing to play that role in their own musical journey, Tempesta offers, “Stick with your gut, and always believe in yourself … going out and seeing bands and [watching] other drummers play, or any musician, is inspiring. And from there, you can get your own style, adapt from there, take lessons, and just learn … there’s always something to learn out there.”

Written by Brian Ruppenkamp / Photography by Ryan Hunter

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