Influenced by 90′s grunge and alternative, as well as Queens of the Stone Age, Matt Drenik of Lions and Battleme brings his rock and roll badassery to listeners and to stages. We discuss the development of his influences, how he got a Lions song on Guitar Hero III, live shows, and much more!
Alex Obert: What are your earliest memories of listening to music?
Matt Drenik: Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. Temptations. Phil Collins, the big song with the big drum solo, In The Air Tonight. Those are what my Dad listened to. My Dad was really into The Temptations and Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. Those are my earliest memories of music, growing up in the household.
Alex Obert: What was it like when you were in high school, what were you listening to?
Matt Drenik: I was a nineties kid. I remember when Nirvana’s Nevermind came out and my parents bought it for me on CD. And it was a Christmas gift. It had just come out. So I was pretty obsessed with all that nineties stuff like Soundgarden, Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana when I was in high school. And then it kind of went into Led Zeppelin and Sabbath. And then I always had a soft spot for The Grateful Dead.
Alex Obert: You mention Nirvana, do you recall where you were when you got the news of Kurt Cobain’s death?
Matt Drenik: No, I don’t. You know, I can’t really say that Nirvana was everything to me. Jane’s Addiction and Soundgarden, I felt more of a kinship to them than Nirvana. Although I liked Nirvana, I love them, I think they just started everything for me. Getting a CD like that when I was in seventh grade, it wasn’t like I was turned on to Bleach or anything like that, I would’ve been really young at that point. In fourth grade, I would be listening to that. Nirvana turned the whole thing around for me. And so then I started to find other bands that had a kinship, Mudhoney, stuff like that.
Alex Obert: How did you move on to riff rock?
Matt Drenik: I was in a garage band in Austin, Texas called The Good Looks and it was more of a kin to The Stones. We’d do dates, we’d open for The Black Keys, shit like that. And then the band broke up. We had a date with Fu Manchu that was in the books. And so at that point, when the band broke up, the guy told me to start another band. I was so mad about everything that I just turned everything off and just started riffing. It just reminded me of why I liked Soundgarden back in the day.
Alex Obert: What does riff rock mean to you?
Matt Drenik: It means aggressive, soulful guitar playing. Something that speaks to an inner voice. And it’s usually a little bit buried and a little bit deeper and a little bit more aggressive. And other kinds of things.
Alex Obert: You mentioned The Good Looks earlier, how did that band name develop?
Matt Drenik: A buddy of ours gave it to us. We were with him drinking beers. I can’t even remember, I was twenty two, twenty one maybe. The guy said, “Man! Good looks! That would be a fuckin’ sweet band name!” And then we said, “Yeah! That’s what we’re gonna call our band!” (laughs) And that was it, it wasn’t anything other than that.
Alex Obert: How did the band name, Lions, come about?
Matt Drenik: We used to rehearse above a bar and a club that I ran. And it was like a little shithole, an Austin, Texas dive bar. And in the upstairs unit, it was pretty dark and broken down up there. But there was this big blanket with a lion head on it. It was hanging on a wall, it was so big! It took up an entire back wall. So our drummer would set up back there and while we were playing, I kept looking at this lion head. And that’s when I was like, “I think we should call the band Lions.” That was it.
Alex Obert: What are some of your other favorite band names?
Matt Drenik: Guided by Voices. Jane’s Addiction. Black Sabbath. I would say those are the top ones. The Velvet Underground, that’s another great band name.
Alex Obert: Did you ever see Jane’s Addiction live?
Matt Drenik: Nope, never did.
Alex Obert: Who have you seen live?
Matt Drenik: Oh boy. First concert ever was Steve Miller Band when I was a kid. (laughs) And then it goes all the way from my brother’s punk band, he was in a band called The Hairy Patt Band. I’ve seen so many shows, I don’t even know where to start. Everything from underground to bigger arena rock tours, stuff like that. But I was mainly attracted to underground bands that I would see in small clubs.
Alex Obert: Are you a mosher?
Matt Drenik: No, but I did get almost caught in a moshpit when I saw a great punk band from the U.K. that opened for Henry Rollins. They had this amazing circle pit going on. That would be the closest one. But I don’t like to mosh, I like to observe.
Alex Obert: Moving onto Lions, we were talking about band names, but for song titles, where did Metal Heavy Lady come from?
Matt Drenik: I was listening a lot to Queens of the Stone Age at the time and a lot of art is lifted. Their first song on Songs for the Deaf, Millionaire, where Nick Oliveri sings, he has a line where he says “metal heavy” in it. And I thought that that was really clever. So I just wrote a song, called it that, and that was it.
Alex Obert: What was the influence behind that song, instrumentally?
Matt Drenik: Everything on that first Lions record, that first stage of Lions, was all about Queens of the Stone Age really, to be honest. I was really into that band and I liked how the grooves rolled, I liked how heavy it felt. But I also liked how melodic it was. Metal Heavy Lady was written on an acoustic guitar. And it was just a simple riff on an A. And then it just turned into this huge riffage song.
Alex Obert: What is it that you love about Josh Homme?
Matt Drenik: I just like his instincts. I feel like he has great taste and he’s subtle. He just has this swagger about him where it seems really authentic. And I think he’s genuinely a unique artist. He just does his own thing. And I think that that’s cool. I’ve always loved artists like that. I’m not crazy about bands that can sound like other bands. And I think it’s tough to get away from that place and it takes a lot of time. For some people, it takes longer than others. With him, he’s got a genuinely cool point of view.
Alex Obert: What was the first song that introduced you to Songs for the Deaf?
Matt Drenik: It was the first song, Millionaire. I had heard Rated R before that though. Lullabies had just come out too, around that time. I remember being into the heavier, the faster songs like Medication. But I thought that his sense of melody was really cool.
Alex Obert: It’s funny because I saw them a couple of weeks ago and they opened with Millionaire.
Matt Drenik: Who sang it?
Alex Obert: Josh sings it live now. He puts his own spin on it, it’s pretty cool.
Matt Drenik: That’s cool! Awesome. There’s something about that song where it fuckin’ kicks in and it feels like a truck is driving over your face. (laughs) It’s really great, man. I really love that song.
Alex Obert: It’s one of those driving songs.
Matt Drenik: Oh yeah, man! Totally!
Alex Obert: Another song you did, what’s the inspiration behind Start Movin’?
Matt Drenik: Kind of like my call to arms. I felt like with Lions, I was in this strange spot where I would say there was a real firm belief in MC5. I would say after that first record that was pretty focused on riff rock and Queens of the Stone Age, I started to get really obsessed with MC5, revolution type things, and the idea of a spirited rock and roll band. It’s one of those things where I was trying to get people to get out of their comfort zone.
Alex Obert: Another notable point for the band, how were you approached to be on Guitar Hero III?
Matt Drenik: We met an Activision rep at SXSW. Our old bass player met him at a party. They started talking and the Activision guy asked our old bass player what we sounded like. Austin Chronicle was there and they did a big review of our showcase, so our bass player ripped it out and had given it to the guy. The guy said, “That sounds like something I’d like!” He ends up showing up at the showcase, couldn’t get in. We saw him, I had no idea who he was. He was invited back to an afterparty with us and we ended up drinking beer with him until six in the morning. Two weeks later, we got an invite to be on Guitar Hero.
Alex Obert: Did you play the game before that?
Matt Drenik: No, I didn’t really know much about it. I didn’t know really what it was. I’ve gotta say, I’m not a big video game person.
Alex Obert: Are you familiar with the song selection of that particular game?
Matt Drenik: On that particular one, yeah. They sent us copies and it was a process to get the song in. You have to go and you have to send in this remix, you have to send them stem files so they can remix the song into the video game. And there was a big push around it. That particular Guitar Hero game seemed like it was their big coming out party, the third one is the big one. It had Slash in it and I just remember there was all this hype around it. We were getting asked to play these parties, we would come in and be the band that was on it. We played this one show where there was this huge Guitar Hero guitar-off between these kids and they were all playing our song. It was really cool. There was five hundred people there. Pretty bizarre to see a kid playing your song through the guitar controller.
Alex Obert: What are your thoughts on Guitar Hero being a source of introducing kids to classic rock and modern rock?
Matt Drenik: I love it, I wish it was still around. I thought it was a great platform. It was cool!
Alex Obert: Did it introduce you to any songs?
Matt Drenik: Not really. Whenever you’re in rock and roll and you like rock and roll, you love Aerosmith and AC/DC and Sabbath and all those bands. Those were the bands that were on those games. And there were also some newer bands.
Alex Obert: They did well with the unlockable songs.
Matt Drenik: Yeah, the unlockables! (laughs)
Alex Obert: That must have been pretty cool being a bonus song.
Matt Drenik: That was cool and it got a lot of people into our band. It led us to become bigger than we were at the time. For sure. I think we were the only unsigned band on that game. We’ve been a lot of games and got hooked into the video game licensing kind of thing.
Alex Obert: You know another band that’s like that?
Matt Drenik: I don’t.
Alex Obert: Airbourne. They’re in so much!
Matt Drenik: Oh, Airbourne! (laughs) Airbourne’s funny because they had our same A&R rep at Roadrunner. We were briefly with Roadrunner Records. We had kind of a development deal with them at the time. And so did Airbourne. I think we had the same A&R rep. This was around 2007.
Alex Obert: Back into music, what’s currently on your iPod?
Matt Drenik: Kurt Vile. White Rabbits. Archers of Loaf. Françoise Hardy. (laughs) I could go on, man. It’s endless. Lou Reed’s Transformer.
Alex Obert: Do you recall where you were when you heard about Lou Reed’s death?
Matt Drenik: I was at home.
Alex Obert: Are there any other deaths that have hit you in the past?
Matt Drenik: The only big death that I can remember was that whole slew of guys, like when Shannon Hoon died and Layne Staley. Those left an impact. I can’t remember exactly where I was, but I do remember being in Florida when Jerry Garcia died. I don’t know why I remember that one.
Alex Obert: Back to Lions, describe a day on the road and when you have a show that night.
Matt Drenik: Drive for four hours, unload the van, set gear up on stage, get in the venue, set up the merchandise at the merchandise table, do a soundcheck for maybe a half hour, forty five minutes if you’re lucky. And then go change guitar strings or try to go get some food before the show. Then wait two to three hours in the back. And then go on. And then go behind the merch table, sell merch, then break it down and leave.
Alex Obert: Did you ever have a moment where you opened for a band and someone’s like, “Oh, you blew the headliner away!”
Matt Drenik: Yeah, but it depends who it is. But honestly, it happens a lot when people are bigger fans of yours than the headliner. And that happens sometimes where you’re opening for a band. People come and see the opener if they really like the opener. And then they’ll leave. But it’s rare. For the most part, people are there to see the headliners. That’s a good question. I think for the most part, people are there to see the headliners and the opening bands are more of an entertainment value added to it. You’re there and you’re subject to the headliner’s fanbase. And you’re there to convince them that what you’re trying to say is worthy of their attention.
Alex Obert: In your live shows, which frontmen influenced your style?
Matt Drenik: Definitely Tyner from MC5. James Brown. But then also Perry Farrell for sure. Tom Waits. Anybody that was uninhibited on stage and had the “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. Those were the kind of guys I liked. It didn’t offend me when guys would come up with make up on or Iggy Pop or David Bowie, that was the shit that I was into. The guys that were treating the live performances like an art form.
Alex Obert: You’re a musician, why do you do what you do?
Matt Drenik: I just have always been creative and I always was artistic in a way. I like to make things up. I always wanted to be an artist, that’s what I thought I should be doing. Music just happened to be a form of art that I thought was a good route to go. I wanted to be a writer, really, that was what I really wanted to do. And then I just started writing songs. And then I started performing, I really liked the aspect of the performance. That’s why I do what I do because I don’t know what else to do.
Alex Obert: I’m going to go over a few bands, if you have any particular memories with them, listening to them, seeing them, feel free to share whatever you’d like.
Matt Drenik: Very cool.
Alex Obert: Nebula.
Matt Drenik: Nebula! Played with Nebula at SXSW, did a showcase with them. Eddie Glass, super cool guy. Ruben was the drummer, I believe. But we played a couple shows with them. Actually, they asked us, Lions, if we wanted to go on tour with them, which we couldn’t do. Eddie would come out to see us every once in a while when we would play in Los Angeles.
Alex Obert: Airbourne.
Matt Drenik: I saw Airbourne on the back patio of a shitty bar in Austin, Texas during SXSW. And the guy had a bottle of Jim Beam or Jack Daniels on stage, one or the other, and he was just slugging it down. And I thought they were cool. I thought they sounded like AC/DC.
Alex Obert: Motorhead.
Matt Drenik: (laughs) Lemmy! I’ve seen Motorhead a couple times. They had the singer from Hanoi Rocks opening for Motorhead one time. And my friend, Ginger Wildheart, was playing guitar in that band. My stories of Lemmy come from Ginger. Ginger would always hang out with Lemmy and he worked with Lions on some stuff. Him and I had become close friends now. But he would tell me crazy stories about Lemmy.
Alex Obert: Bon Scott era AC/DC
Matt Drenik: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. My old drummer used to sing that song at every single karaoke that he could do. That was his song, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. That’s my AC/DC.
Alex Obert: Do you prefer Bon Scott or Brian Johnson?
Matt Drenik: Bon Scott.
Alex Obert: Everyone says Brian Johnson, but I say Bon Scott all the way!
Matt Drenik: All the way!
Alex Obert: When people think of AC/DC, they usually think of Brian Johnson because of his signature sound.
Matt Drenik: Right. Bon Scott!
Alex Obert: Rage Against the Machine.
Matt Drenik: I love Rage Against the Machine. I loved them when I was a kid. But I have never seen them live.
Alex Obert: Do you have any favorite songs by them?
Matt Drenik: Bulls on Parade. Those first two records.
Alex Obert: In closing, first of all, what’s next? What’s up ahead for 2014?
Matt Drenik: I’ve got a gig with Battleme. I’ve got a big tour lined up with Battleme. We announce it in January and it’s from March to May. My record’s coming out February 25th and then I’m on the road supporting it. I’ll be out there touring my ass off.
Alex Obert: Thank you very much for your time!
Matt Drenik: Thank you man! I appreciate it!