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The Tool Page: An Article

Publication: Modern Drummer

Date: May, 1994

Transcribed by
Ryan Anderson (

 title: Unsung Heroes: Danny Carey of Tool
author: Matt Peiken

        When Danny Carey moved from Kansas City to Los Angeles, he was
just like the thousands before and after who've traveled to L.A. in search
of the platinum rainbow. Carey said yes to every drumming job that came
his way. He simultaneously worked in a country band and two rock bands
(one of them the animated Green Jello) and did spot session work, all in
the hopes that one of these opportunities would flower.

        That the rhythmically thunderous and adventurous Tool would
blossom first, though, took him by surprise. The group's 1992 debut EP,
Opiate, sold just 13,000 copies. Tool went over the top, though, in 1993: 
Undertow went gold in the U.S. and the band toured to packed clubs after
seeing mostly empty floors just the previous year. 

        "We knew the record turned out well," says Carey, "but we never
dreamed it would take off like it did. Obviously, we don't write anything
for any kind of commercial appeal. The video for 'Sober' was really good,
and MTV gave us a lot of exposure, but we feel Lollapalooza and touring
our asses off really put us over the top." 

        While the public regards Tool as a new band, Carey went through a
lot of seasoning to get to the point he's at. And it's easy to appreciate
his playing not only by listening to him, but by watching him perform. 
Danny's musical and controlled approach is rarely found in power rock
circles. To see him pull it off in concert is stunning. His precise and
effortless motions-the guy doesn't move-belie the sheer velocity and
number of notes coming off his drums. And with Tool's public emergence,
Carey's talents are coming to the forefront. But even at thirty-one, he
doesn't mind being considered one of the new kids on the block of
cutting-edge drumming. 

MP: A lot of people who attended last year's Lollapalooza shows felt Tool
was the surprise hit of the tour. 

DC: Well, they were by far the largest shows we'd ever played, but our
name was still very new to most people, so I don't think anybody knew what
to expect from us. And we didn't really know how well we'd go over on that
kind of tour. But it worked out wonderfully for us. We did the small stage
for the first half of the tour and the main stage the second half, so it
was a great experience. 

MP: From what you'd been telling me, every step of this band's career has
kind of surprised you, because you were involved in a lot of other
projects at the same time Tool was starting up. When did this band become
a priority? 

DC: Probably when we got our first American tour set up. It wasn't so much
a musical priority, but more a matter of necessity, because I had to move
everything else aside so I could go on the road for three to four months. 
It forced my focus into Tool, and it was good for me to do that because it
helped the band develop more character. 
        I'd been in Green Jello for three years at that point, and Tool
had only been together eight or nine months. But it wasn't a tough
decision for me where to go, because Green Jello was never a situacion
that any of us took seriously on a musical level. We were great fans and
it was a lot of fun, which is why I think we became successful. That was
around the same time I was doing a Carole King project, playing with Pygmy
Love Circus, and doing a TV sitcom called Sibs. 
        They were all great gigs, especially the TV show, because I got to
play James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone material. I'd never been hip
on the '60s music because it was before my time. I was more into the
'70s-era bands, like Zeppelin, so I learned a lot from that. And I was
also playing in a country band with the bass player from Carole's band. So
it was rehearsals or gigs every night, and up until Tool got signed, I was
also working a day gig. I was literally sleeping three to four hours a
night and playing the rest of the day. It got to be too much. So settling
in with Tool really gave me a break mentally and physically more than

MP: Did all this fall into your lap right after you moved to Los Angeles? 

DC: No, I'd been out here a good three or four years before things started
really happening for me. Like anybody else who comes out to L.A., you're
totally lost, so you start looking in places like Recycler and Music
Connection for auditions that are worthwhile. And you end up wading
throught a lot of crap before you find something that might be promising. 
It's an experience everybody should go through. [laughs]

MP: What made you commit to moving to L.A. in the first place? 

DC: It was pretty much just deciding that music was definitely what I was
going to do. I got my first drumset when I was thirteen, and I was pretty
obsessed throughout high school. But I was also really into playing
basketball. I still am. I had a few offers to play ball in college, but
mainly from smaller schools, and I wanted to go for something big-time in
one way or another. So I just figured my best odds were in drumming. 

MP: But what kind of offers or hopes did you have musically at that point? 
That must have seemed like an equally big risk, committing yourself to

DC: Even when I was in high school, from my first concert experience of
watching Lynard Skynard, I had the dream of, "Wow! This is what I want to
do." I didn't know how realistic it was, and it took me a while to make
that commitment. I had a scholarship to go to the Conservatory of Music in
Kansas City, so I did that. It was mainly oriented in classical music,
although they did have a jazz band I played in. I'd read some charts in
high school and did more of it in college. 
        Anyway, back to your question, it wasn't until after I was
twenty-five and after I moved out to L.A., six months to a year before
Tool got signed, that I decided to take every project I could get my hands
on and make it a do-or-die situacion. Otherwise, I was just going to let
it be a hobby. I learned pretty quickly in L.A. that even if you're in a
hot band, things might not happen for you. So I figured the more irons I
had in the fire, the better my chances were. I liked playing in all kinds
of musical situacions, but I never had any aspirations of being a session
player. I always wanted to be in a band environment.

MP: Did you care at the time what style of music you ended up playing with
a band? 

DC: I was really into jazz in high school and college and I was in a phase
where that's mainly what I listened to, because a lot of the rock going on
in the early '80s-the new wave stuff-didn't have a lot of drumming on it. 
Nobody was playing, everybody seemed to be using Linn machines. So I got
totally into jazz, and I felt that anybody who wasn't playing jazz didn't
        So when I moved to L.A. I told myself I wouldn't mind playing in a
fusion band. But in playing jazz, there was a part of me I wasn't able to
put into the music. I get a lot more satisfaction out of playing in Tool
than I ever did playing jazz. I feel I can put a lot more emotion into our
songs. They're better vehicles for me to say what I want to say musically. 

MP: What elements of your playing now do you owe to jazz? 

DC: A lot of my cymbal playing comes from an old jazz teacher I had who
stressed changing textures with the soloist in the bridges, thinking about
different sections of songs and using the drums to set them up to give it
all a fluid feel and give a direction to the composition. When I hear some
other rock drummers do that, it sounds so natural, but I feel I'm more of
a learned player. 

MP: How did you develop your double-bass style? You seem very fluid and
controlled, yet most of it's really fast. 

DC: That's one of those things people have complimented me on, but I think
sometimes I just flub my way through it. I mainly use the double-bass to
reinforce fills and fill in the bottom end when that's called for.
        But I grew up listening to the great double-bass players.  Billy
Cobham was the first guy I was totally into. I still have all my old
Cobham records, the ones from the early '70s that I suppose only sold a
few copies. But his playing on those is really great, and I used to try to
visualize what he was doing. The challenge was trying to get my feet to do
what I thought he was doing. And that's where a lot of the quads come in. 
I heard a lot of those old records and spent time getting my hands and
feet to pull them off cleanly. Now it's to the point where I don't have to
think about those things as much, and I can pretty much pull them off as
they come to me.

MP: When you recorded Undertow, were there any studio tricks you used to
get your toms to sound so full? 

DC: Just getting them in tune played a big part. I actually tuned the
drums to the keys of the songs. For the songs that were in D, my drums
were tuned to D. And for the songs in B, my drums were tuned to B, and so
on. My first floor tom would usually be the root of the chord because I
tend to lean on that drum the most. We'd just build a triad of notes from
there. It takes a lot of time, but it's worth it because you get a lot of
depth. It feels so much better to play a fill when you know all your drums
are in tune together. 

MP: What areas of your drumming do you see yourself spending time
developing in the future? 

DC: Independence is the main thing. Like it is for most drummers, it's a
never-ending battle for me to maintain different rhythms with different
limbs. When I was younger, I was into making my hands fast so I could just
wail away. I practiced my rudiments and took rudimental solos to all the
high school contests. But you get to a point where you want more, and for
me that means improving my independence on the drumset. That's where I get
the most out of it. 

Posted to t.d.n: 05/01/97 15:26:05