Getting The ROCK Rolling Again - C.J. Pierce of Drowning Pool

Drowning Pool has faced one of the hardest tests a group can ever be put through. Release a CD on a supportive label, tour endlessly, establish a dedicated fan base and sell over 1.5 million records only to seem to have it all go under suddenly, when your singer and friend passes away while on tour with Ozzfest.

How does a band come back from this? They keep doing what they do. After taking a couple of years off, Drowning Pool finished recording their sophomore effort, Desensitized, with new singer, Jason Gong Jones and the following week left to go on tour with Damage Plan and Hatebreed as part of MTV2's Headbangers Ball Tour. Their song, Step Up was also slotted for the debut single off the Punisher Soundtrack.

When asked Drowning Pools guitar player, C.J. Pierce, about the dark times the band has been through, C.J. was surprisingly forthcoming. In this interview we also discuss the new chemistry in the band, recording with Johnny K of Disturbed fame, life on the road and what it is like to have a couple of your idols, Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul as friends.


C.J. Pierce: Hey what's going on brotha? It's CJ from Drowning Pool. Hey, how's it going?

Pierce.: Sorry, I'm calling you late. I just found out I have to give you a shout out. The tour manager just called just now. Oh, OK How's everything going out on the road?

Pierce: It's going good man. It's going awesome! I'm having a good time. You guys are in Minneapolis today?

Pierce: Yeah. We're in Minnesota and it's cold. And you're going to be in Texas on the weekend?

Pierce: Yeah, in Dallas. We have a show on Sunday. I'm actually going to be in Dallas. You're not going to the guitar show are you?

Pierce: Is there a guitar show? There's a huge guitar show in Dallas.

Pierce: Oh wow! I know that Saturday we're playing Corpus Christi. We'll be driving up. I won't get there til Sunday. I've never been there but everyone is telling me that it is going to be an awesome show!

Pierce: I'd love to go to that. I heard they're going to be doing some kind of auction. I heard that they have Hendrix stuff from Woodstock and they're auctioning off Kurt Cobain's guitars.

Pierce: Oh, Wow! I can't wait to see it! Should be cool.

Pierce: Should be really cool. I'd love to see something like that. I'm just going to start firing away.

Pierce: Cool. What was it like recording the new record with your new singer Jason?

Pierce: It was awesome. We worked a long time on this album. It was a disadvantage that we lost our brother, Davie. I know as far as a second record is concerned, we have a lot of friends that rush in too fast. We took the time to work with him and the songs kind of evolved. I'm very happy that we took our time to do it. The recording process was great. He's easy to work with in the studio. I think all of us, we've been friends for so long we are so opened minded. If something is flowing we go with it. If not, we'll try a hundred different things until it fits right. Before it wasn't like that. We definitely evolved like that. Working with Johnny K (Producer) was awesome. How was it working with him in the studio?

Pierce: It's an advantage for me. He's a guitar player (Disturbed Producer) we took a lot of time playing with a lot of stuff. I was worried on this record because I wanted to do this on the first one but I didn't have a chance to. I will from here on out. Johnny has 30 guitars and I have 30 guitars. We took our time with guitars, different amps, different cabinets, different string gauges. We took a good two weeks just getting guitar tones. I like the fact that Johnny is solid like that. We get the different tones and A/B them and see which ones sound better until you get to the one thats just right for the song. So, it was really cool to really take the time with everything, the drums, the bass sounds and guitar tones. That was a good experience. The guitar tones sound huge. Even though theyre dirty, they sound clean and tight.

Pierce: Yeah, I'm not a gain freak. I cut back on the gain a little bit. Instead of a metal guitar tone, we got a classic guitar tone. We cranked up the mids a little more. We tried to give it more of rock tone than a metal tone. There are a lot of metal bands out there with the highs and the lows, people start to forget about the mids. I kind of went for a different sound. So, it stands out more from the regular metal bands. You do have a little more warmth in your sound. It sounds really good. It sounds really thick.

Pierce: Thanks! How has working with Jason changed Drowning Pool?

Pierce: I've known Mike (Drums) and Stevie (Bass) for so many years through high school. So the way we write songs, none of that's changed at all. A lot of it is still the same. One of the reasons we picked Jason is that he has a lot of similar qualities in the way he works. It's pretty much just rolling along. It hasn't changed a whole lot. He's definitely a different person. He has different ideas. He has a different life so he has some different things to say lyrically. He's actually a little bit easier to work with than our brother, Davie. It's become a little more pleasant on that side. Anything I read said Dave communicated with his audience really well.

Pierce: Yeah, he was awesome at that. Is Jason the same way?

Pierce: Jason's still learning, man! (laughs) This is his first time. It was the same for Dave. He didn't come right out the gate as this amazing front man. It's something that we built up to. We had a lot of road time even before we got signed. Being in Dallas, you can go to Houston, Austin and San Antonio. We got road experience on our own. You develop that stage vibe. That's what we're doing on the Headbangers Ball tour. We're getting our stage vibe together. He's coming around. From day one he's drastically changed and coming into his own. It takes time. You have to learn. Trial and error. You have to learn every night. One night it sounds cool. The next night it might sound like shit. It's fun to watch. He's still learning. He doesn't have the stage vibe down yet like Dave but what he has is cool. He has his own thing. It looks pretty cool. I'm enjoying it. When you guys initially lost Dave, it must have been really hard. At what point did you guys say to yourself that you wanted to continue doing this? Did you ever think not to continue doing this?

Pierce: I've never questioned not playing music. I started playing clubs when I was 14. I love writing songs and I love performing. It was just weird. For a while, I became kind of numb to all of this and just music in general. You know we lost a best friend and a super cool guy. It just took some time to deal with that. I knew I would continue writing. You kind of jump into it even more. You have to get past it. You know what I mean? I've been writing more then I ever have been before in my life. I try to look at that like something positive coming out of it. I never questioned about continuing on. We kind of set a date, January, 2003, to make his thing work and get it rolling. I'm glad that we did that. We took the rest of the year to mourn the loss of our friend and get our lives back. Get your mind back in the right place. Some people can't recover from that.

Pierce: Yeah, loss of a family member is really hard. This is my first experience, knock on wood, my whole family is still kickin' and they're awesome. It was like a double whammy. It was pretty hard. We were on top of the world: main stage, Ozzfest. You lose your best friend and at the same time you lose your career. You definitely feel like you lost everything and you do some stupid things. I really don't know what it is about people being down but sometimes you have to kick yourself a little bit harder to really realize you're on the ground before you get back up. We did that. But, because of music you just have to keep going.

The love of music kept it going. I kept writing songs. We had to look for a new guy. That's the thing. We weren't sure we would find a new guy. We didn't know if we were going to find anyone else. We didn't know what we were looking for. It took a while. It was very discouraging. It took quite a few months. We spent everyday listening to demos. Five demos, 10 demos a day. Then we brought a couple of guys in. Jason was like the sixth guy we brought in. We kept everything low-key. He just stepped in the room. We were like ah. The way his voice fits with the band, his personality, he just came along and he was the right guy. At what point did you realize he was the right guy? Was it the first song he sang?

Pierce: He had a good distinct voice that stuck out. There were couple of guys where the voices stuck out but, his definitely stuck out the most. I noticed when I picked him up from the airport he had that finger attitude and had that demeanor about him. I didn't know what I was looking for. He's standing there lighting up a cigarette. He's got tattoos all over his neck. The whole ride back to the rehearsal room he was funny as hell. He's got the finger attitude going and that's what you wanna have. It's almost got a little too good sometimes! (laughs) That's funny! How did you initially get hooked with Johnny K? What made you choose him as the producer for the new record?

Pierce: It's a funny story. We meet Johnny K before Dave passed away through Ozzfest 2002. We were probably going to do one more tour then start working on the next record. So we started looking for producers. Again, he was one of the first ones that came through the door. We meet with him. After we got Jason and we got everything done to do the next record, we kind of went through a few people. It was just the right place at the right time. Johnny was available and we already met with him before so, we decided to go with him. It was pretty cool how it worked out like that. For a while we thought we were going to go with a few other people. It just felt like we were going to go with him anyway. It worked out good. Wind-up Records is how we met up with him. Did you record in his studio or did you go to another studio?

Pierce: We did the drums in the same exact studio we did the first record, Ocean Way Studio in Burbank. Then we went back to Johnnys to the rest of the record. We put the drums down on tape and then chucked it into Pro Tools. I think that helps. It sounds a little bit thicker too if you A/B stuff. Nowadays Pro Tools really kicks ass. We put it down on tape then we drop it to edit it. You get that natural tape compression when you do that.

Pierce: Yeah, you do. You get a natural sound. I like it. The drums sound very good. I'm very happy with this record. No matter what it does. Whether people like or hate it, I'm definitely proud of it. We worked really hard. I've only heard MP3's of the new stuff but you can tell form listening to them that the sound quality of the CD version will be good.

Pierce: Yeah. It will be out next week (4/20). Buy it! I'm excited. The fan response has been great. We've been doing these shows, cause you never know, they're going to either love it or hate it. All of our fans have been coming up, they've been really into it and excited about it. They even tell me, "Man, we didn't know what to think. I'm a big fan. Nobody's like Dave. You can't replace him." It's nice to hear straight from the fans that they like it. They can't wait for the record to come out and they're going to get it. Awesome! Cause they could have just easily said, That sucked! See you later! You always expect the worst. Maybe a few of them get turned off. You never know. Every night a lot of people come up to me and the say they dig it. From what I've read, you guys have a really devoted fan base.

Pierce: Yeah, we get a lot. We came out really strong on that first record. Let's talk about more of the guitar tone you got on the CD. Let's go into more detail.

Pierce: The tone, the tone, the tone! (laughs) I would describe it as being brutal.

Pierce: I guess. I don't know if it's that heavy. Then again we're touring with Hatebreed and Damage Plan right now. (laughs). I think we come across heavier live. It's not that the sound is brutal because it's very harsh, it's because it's very punchy.

Pierce: It's punchy, yeah. I tell you what. One thing I use on the record and I'm glad we got, was a Diezel Head. I've never tried that. How is it?

Pierce: It's awesome! That's another thing about Johnny K, he's already got a bunch of gear. He's got all these modified Marshalls. He's got the Mesa, Bogner and Orange, all these amps and guitars for different songs and different tones. To get that heaviest, punchiest tone, we didn't have anything that was working for us. So, we went to this store and we plugged into a bunch of heads. We plugged into that Diezel and it just sounded amazing! So we bought it, brought it back to the studio and started using it for some heavier rhythms. We used a Bogner on a lot of it too. I really used a little bit of everything. I used some Digitech stuff. It's just taking the song and finding the right tone for it. I thought that was part of making a good sounding record. That's one thing I didn't like about the first record. Jay Baumgardner is a great mixer. I just went through one head and one guitar the whole record and it was up to him through the mixes to make it sound different for each song instead of recording different tones at that time. Recording this record was definitely a lot more fun. There's only so much you can do with EQ and one head. It's still going to sound similar.

Pierce: Yeah, it is. Musically, what are some of the differences between Sinner and the new CD, Desensitized?

Pierce: It's almost like night and day. Every producer has a different process. I definitely feel this CD captures more of us and who we are musically. Again, working with Jay was our first experience. It was a learning experience. We've been in and out of the studio since then and we always learn more. Keep your eyes open and you find out about how to make your band sound the way you want it to and capture what you guys are really about. It was totally different process. It seems like it is more of us than on the first one. The first one is great. I'm not knocking it. I still like that record but, like anybody says, you still go back and listen to things and you always hear stuff you could have done. I'm sure two years from now I'll go, "Man, I could have done this and that!" Right now I feel we've done all we could. I'm totally satisfied.

There's something I used on the record too that I'm excited about. I've been working with Washburn and they made these V's for me. They made them super thick. They made them like a Les Paul. There was one gold top I was using with the P90's that Johnny K has. It's just super thick. The thickest neck I've ever seen. The body is just stupid fat. So the Washburn guys made this guitar. It sounds great! So they made these Vs for me that are over two inches thick. I got the Custom Customs in it. All the electronics are to my specs. It's awesome! Is that something they just make for you?

Pierce: No, they're going to start going into production this month. It's pretty cool Washburn is on top of it. They're going to start advertising it in all the magazines. They only made the prototypes for me. I love them. They came out great! They are definitely going to start making them. What amp are you playing when you're on the road?

Pierce: When I'm on the road. I use a totally different setup. I like to keep it simple. I've been using this setup for a while. I've tried different things. Some of the stuff I used in the studio like, the Diezel, it was awesome and a lot of the new Randall heads I like a lot. I got these Mesa Boogie Coliseum power amps. They don't make them anymore. They're 300 watts. Yeah, I've seen them before.

Pierce: I'll use those and I'll crank them all the way up on 10. Wow!

Pierce: Then I use a Digitech 2112. They don't make those anymore either. I bought one of those when they first came out. Just having it for so long, dialing it, playing it, I feel like I pretty much mastered it. Everything you can do to that unit, I've done to it. It sounds great! EQ is very important. I know a lot of guys go out on the road and turn their gain all the way up on 10 and I don't. Through the PA it sounds like fizzle. So that's another trick. You've got to back off your gain. That's what I use live: The 2112 and the Mesa Boogie power amps. Then I use my Randall cabinet with the Vintage '30s.

The new Randall stuff is cool. Dime (Dimebag Darrell) is using it. It has these inserts that use these modules. That's working out pretty cool for him. That's one thing that I'm going to fool around with between this tour and the next. I may wind up bringing that out. We'll see. I just have not had time to play with it yet. We went straight from making the record to a week later we're going out on tour. It's go, go, go! That's pretty rough.

Pierce: Busy is good! I've been at the house long enough. As far as the writing, how does that work out between you guys? Is there someone that writes a bulk of the songs?

Pierce: The way that we work and that we always worked and was the easiest was, I'll sit and write songs, I write a bunch of songs, I'll program some in the drum machine, do some bass guitar and bring the idea into the room. Out of those ideas, what grabs Mike and Stevie, we'll take that song and they put their two cents in it. There are always good ideas for melody and singing. I'll just throw those out there. You want everyone to do and be happy with their part. I'll put the idea out there. If Mike and Stevie don't like it, I'll do another riff, another riff and another riff until something else cool comes out.

We don't want to go out on tour and here comes that part that someone in the band doesn't like and every night they got to play this part that they hate. That's another thing we've done with this band. Everybody is happy with every single part. We'll keep changing it until everybody is happy. I'm cool with that. Even if I like something a lot and someone else just isnt diggin' it I'm like, "Cool, I'll just play something else." That's kind of how our songs evolve. Then we just jam it out super loud! Get that vibe. It sounds like you produce yourself.

Pierce: We've done a lot demo wise in the process for this record and the process of finding a new singer, which is a lot of fun to do at a studio. There's a studio in Dallas that we've spent a lot of time in.

I love performing and writing. I never really wanted to get into producing. Maybe later. It's awesome. You kind of have to do that nowadays to get your sound across. It's cool. That's how we do it. Is there any inspiration behind the song, "Love and Wa"r?

Pierce: Yeah. "Love and War" and "This Life" are, I don't want this record to be an acoustic record or the depressing record about the loss of a friend but, those two songs kind of got along musically for me. I kind of had that in mind when I wrote it. I think the angle Jason is kind of taking with "Love and War" is, the whole Iraq thing, not that we're a political band, it's kind of his song to support the troops. I think that's where he is coming from. I guess it's a way of thanking them. He could probably tell you more about that one. What made you pick up the guitar in the first place?

Pierce: My dad plays bass and sang in a band. I've always been around music. My grandmother and cousin played piano. I kind of grew up with it. Maybe my father, he always played on the bass. He's always singing and stuff. He got me a guitar when I was 11. I'd been wanting one before that. Of course Kiss came out. I went all over it. I definitely wanted a guitar. I wanted to be like Ace Frehley. (Laughs) He got me an Explorer, which was nice as my first guitar. That is a really nice first guitar.

Pierce: Then Metallica comes out and James Hetfield is all over it. Like every person, when Metallica came out you learn all of their songs. I just took it from there. Motley Crue, I'm a big fan of that. I've just always been around it. Are those bands that shape the way you play now?

Pierce: I have to say they influence more of the attitude and the feeling you get from listening. Not so much, the bands literally. Take your favorite bands and your favorite songs and learn their stuff but just take how it makes you feel and write your song. So, it definitely effects our music like that. The way I feel, not so much taking the riff from the song. More like the hey! and write songs like that.

I love a lot of new stuff that comes out. I always keep an eye out. I love hearing new songs and new bands. I'm not into the whiney stuff. There is a lot of that whiney happy punk band stuff that Im not really a fan of. There's not a lot of straight rock bands that are hot right now. The focus on the CD is just straight up rock. It's just rock! It's not metal. It's just a rock band. That's what we went for on this CD. How's touring with someone new in the band?

Pierce: It's working out great. It's completely different. Of course, it is for obvious reasons. I didn't expect it to be as different. It's a different time. It's been almost two years since we toured so that's the one thing we factored in. It's just a new guy. He has a different stage vibe. We had that vibe down with Dave and the way we interact. Now we do it all over again. It's great! It's fun! We're having an awesome time. It's a little different. I enjoy it. I love playing live. I love traveling and going to different cities and meeting new people. I love hanging out with the fans. I'm a fan of music. It's cool to tour and play but it's also fun to watch the other bands play every night. I'll go up there and watch them play. Get into it. What songs do you really enjoy playing live. Do you have favorites?

Pierce: I still always love, "Bodies". "Step UP" is a fun song. There's a song on the record called "Hate." It really has nothing to do with the literal word hate. That song is fun to play live. People go off on that one. "Cast Aside" is fun to play live. That is a straight up Drowning Pool song. There's another that we haven't been playing in this set list called, "Numb" that's really fun to play live. That song is a little more laid back, head groove, so we haven't been playing it. How much time are you guys getting with the current tour you are on?

Pierce: We get 35 to 40 minutes depending on the night and how fast everyone is getting their stuff off. The record is not out yet so we are trying to give people a taste of the new songs. We're playing a couple of old songs. A lot of people have been coming to the show every night and they didn't even know we were on the bill or that we had a new singer. I find that amazing but you can't expect it. That's one of the reasons why we are out here, to let people know that we got this thing rolling again. What you guys had to come back from, losing Dave, your singer, I don't know how you come back from that.

C.J.: I don't think that you really ever do, man. You keep moving forward. AC/DC is a big inspiration for me. It can be done. I'm not comparing us to their music in any, way shape or form. Those guys are the Godfathers of Rock! They have it down. Their songs never get old. It's definitely an inspiration musically, on some of the songs. There's a hope factor. That you can keep moving on because it has been done. We play on. We love playing and having a good time. That's all that really matters.

Pierce: That's what it comes down to at the end of the day. As long as you're happy, the fans are happy and you're having fun with it. It's nice. I'm having fun. I'm generally 100% happy again. How long did it take to acclimate to playing on stage again?

Pierce: The first show was just getting back into it. It wasn't like I felt like I was touring again until the fifth or sixth show. Then I got back into this groove. It had been so long. Everybody jumps around and moves differently to their songs. You want to be a physical expression of the songs you're playing. It's tough with new songs because you got to find out how to move to them. (laughs) They sound really tight. We came into them really fast. It's almost a little bit like trial by fire.

Pierce: Definitely trial by fire. I always expect the worst and you think it's going to happen but we jumped into it good. I'm very excited. Everybody is on it again. How was it getting one of your songs on the Punisher Soundtrack?

Pierce: That was awesome that we hooked that up. Wind-up had that coming out and we met with the director while they were still editing it and filming it. We were going to try to write a couple for the movie but they happened to like "Step UP." It was already done so they went with that song. Are you going to be doing anything with those other two songs?

Pierce: No, those are sitting on the side right now. They're done. We may use them as B-sides or something else. We actual have three other songs I wanted to record that we didn't have time to. It's always better to write more. On the first record we had enough songs for the record but we had old songs that we felt werent that strong. So, in preproduction we wrote four more songs to put on Sinner. This one we walked in with way more material. We went with the ones that felt better. Was it difficult to figure out which ones you didnt want on the CD?

Pierce: Well, it's difficult. It's actually a good problem to have. Those two could have easily fit on the CD as well as the rest. I think those songs might have needed a little more vocal wise so we kind of put them aside. I think they just needed a little something more. I think that's what it really comes down to. Not to bang on Jason. All eyes are on him so you got to put your best foot forward on the singing side of things. Are those songs you will go back to or will you start fresh on the next thing?

C.J.: I always start off fresh and go with the new vibe. We'll still hang on to those. They might get used. Wind-up likes extra songs, B-sides and European releases. I know they'll probably get used like that or on a soundtrack in the future. They'll definitely be used at some point. Even if it's like a soundtrack or, we did The Game for Triple H, I'd still like to play those songs live. When you headline you can play those songs out. Right now we are just getting rolling again, letting the people know the new record is out. Once it's out, we'll take it from there. How long are you on your current tour?

Pierce: This tour ends in the middle of May. Then we're going to go to Europe and do some festivals in June. By that time the record will be out and rolling and we'll know. We have a lot options at the end of summer with tours but we're going to wait for the record to come out to see where we sit so, we can do the best thing that is right for us. We'll definitely be touring the rest of the year. We love to tour.

I definitely want to come back headlining because there are a lot of older songs that I want to play and I love to play all the new stuff. That's the joy of headlining. You can play as long as you like, I guess! (Laughs) Until they kick you out the building! It's a little disappointing when the band you want to see doesn't get the time.

Pierce: It's kind of important that we headline. I've heard that too. I have a lot of friends that say they want to see more new stuff. I definitely want to come back and go everywhere again. I love putting on the big show. I love putting on the stage show and bringing as much crap as we can bring out. Do you have a practice regimen that you do?

Pierce: When you sit at the house you play guitar 8 hours a day and write stuff. When you're touring there is so much stuff in between. I try to get at least two or three hours a day. Growing up, I was really into Satriani, Steve Vai, and all that stuff. I learned all that fast soloing. Alex Skolnick from Testament also turned me on to it. I love that kind of stuff but that doesn't really fit into our music. But I don't get to throw it out there as much. I try to put a little more feeling, bluesy solos. Dimebag is so fast. He's got it down. Zakk Wylde is an amazing guitar player. I still stay up on my chops with the flashy stuff but it doesn't fit our music so I don't throw it in there. I'll do that all day long, and just different exercises that I've come up with. Stuff that I know Zakk does. Stuff I know that Dime does. Just hanging out with these guys keeping your fingers mobile, keep them rolling. Do you guys play together?

Pierce: We've had many a drunken night where we've jammed together. Oh, that's awesome!

Pierce: It's so great. I always wish I had a video camera for that kind of stuff. There was one night, oh, it was so funny, Dime throws his guitar at me and he goes on Vinnie's (Vinnie Paul, drums, Pantera/Damage Plan) drums. There are always a bunch of people around. We did a lot of hanging around at Dime and Vinnie's house this past year. We were both in the same boat. They were looking for a new singer. We were looking for a new singer. They got Pat (Lachman) before we got Jason. They're just cool to hang out with. To see them go through their writing process. In the middle of that, hanging out on the weekends. Really good guys. Good friends. Pantera was such an influence on us in high school. You go over there on birthdays and Christmas. How do you separate the friend part of you from the fan part?

Pierce: It still has never separated, man. (Laughs) I still catch myself. I'm always going to be a fan. Yeah, I know we're friends but there's always a little part that comes back to you that says, "Oh, I'm hanging out with Dime and Vinnie!" Even though I've known the guy for five years. I get to watch them play every night. It's just amazing! It's fitting that you guys ended up on tour together.

Pierce: Yeah. We talked about it when Dave was still here. We talked about doing stuff with them in the future. We've all been friends from Dallas. It's nice that we've been able to come together and do this. We both have different singers. We talked about it for a long time and it's amazing that it's happening. Do you play together on stage?

Pierce: I don't want to ruin it but we do get up there and do one Pantera song. I'm not going to lie. It's fun to do that every night. It's a real treat. The crowd goes nuts! They win every night. Hatebreed is awesome, amazing! Unearth is this new upcoming, hardcore metal band. They're kicking ass too. Every time they pull out the old Pantera song the crowd goes insane. It's fun to do that. It's fun to go out on stage and do that. We get done playing and I still get to go out about an hour and half later and do one more thing. That's really great! Thanks for chatting with us.

Pierce: Thanks it's been a lot of fun!

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