7-23-05: We had the chance to sit down with the Louisiana Lightnin' Craig Nunenmacher during the U.S. Mafia tour to shoot the shit for awhile. It's taken a long time to get it transcribed and on the site, but it's a great interview that sheds some light on Craig's beginnings playing drums, the new album 'Mafia,' his gear setup, and his influences among many other things. Enjoy.
WW: Hey Craig thanks for sitting down with us
Craig: Anytime babe
WW: I know it takes time out of your schedule so let’s get this rolling. Initially when did you start playing and who were your main influences?
Craig: I started playing when I was going on 8 years old pretty much. I have three older brothers and my oldest brother is a guitar player and both of my older brothers were real into music when I was younger. They’re like 9, 10 years older than me so they were in high school already. You know (how) classic rock was back in the 70’s and stuff – and I’m 8 and 9 years old. My oldest brother Steve had his high school band. The dude that played drums with him left his kit in the garage at my house like three summers in a row and it just sat there. They’d jam and dick around when they could - go play a couple of fuckin’ CYOs or whatever - but the kit was always there. So me being a bored kid at summertime – I originally wanted to play guitar. But I was like ‘Ok, this is too difficult’ and not necessarily my personality. I wanted to beat up shit. I was an athlete. I played a lot of football, baseball and basketball. So when I discovered drums I had that kit sitting there with a stereo right behind it and headphones. You know those big ass fuckin’ 70’s headphones! I would just go back there and put the headphones on and just kinda start playing along with the radio. Then immediately, immediately I fell in love with it to the point when I started going to the garage everyday. My mom and dad were noticin’ “well we know Craig’s out there.” My first loves were just about anything that had some balls to it. Zeppelin and Sabbath. Old Aerosmith and Kiss. Kiss was huge of course - that was probably my favorite thing at that age. That era of music was so much larger than life you know? That has a lot to do with what we’re trying to do now. So those were really my main influences – I would go back to Neal Peart and John Bonham and Bill Ward. I mean even stuff like Pink Floyd. I used to play along with Nick Mason. There are just so many great drummers from back in that era that influenced me tremendously.
WW: Did your parents support the drumming after you showed the interest and stuck with it?
Craig: I got my first kit for my 9th birthday. My Dad bought me a hand-me-down kit from a guy at work. It was a little 4 piece kit - it was a little doctored up. We had to make some parts to make it work but I was just in love with the kit. It was one of the coolest things my dad ever did was give me that. Eventually my brother’s buddy moved his drums out and my drums moved in. I spent most of my summer times after playing ball and stuff I’d come home and play drums. We had the stereo so I started throwing records on because I was like ‘wow I can play some of this stuff’ at a young age. You know, I’d throw on Boston, I’d throw on Styx. I’d throw on - if I was really feeling up for it - I’d throw on the Rush records. It’s funny because back in the day with that shitty little stereo, you crank it up all the way and I’d start getting into it and I’m playing louder than the stereo. So I’d have to stop for a second, catch back up and then keep going.
WW: I know you got a chance to meet Bill Ward over the last couple years on Ozzfest
WW: Have you met anyone else that you grew up idolizing?
Craig: Bill has to be the biggest one that I’ve met. I grew up on so much of his stuff. I rediscovered Black Sabbath later in my teens. When I was a youth playing the stuff it was almost like scary music to me. Sabbath was like horror. You know? So yeah, I really rediscovered them later in my teens and then eventually I was in a Sabbath tribute band for a while. So keeping up with Bill’s chops back in those days - he was on fire!
WW: He still is!
Craig: He still is but really back then he had the hands, you know? Guys like him and Mitch Mitchell and Neal Peart of course. Guys like that. None of them played this fast double bass crap or none of that. Keith Moon, Ginger Baker they all had double bass but they used it towards the music rather than making it a drum thing. That’s what I always wanted to be. So all those years I always played single bass. I tried to be as good at single bass as I could. I didn’t start playing double bass until I started playing with Zakk. So I had to really compose my playing to him and to what this band is doing. Even though now we’re actually becoming more of a classic rock band than we were with 1919.
WW: 1919 was definitely the heaviest out of the last three rock releases.
Craig: Zakk really got his heavy side out with Stronger than Death.
Really tuned down and really chunky and some of that bled over into
1919. That record was a little bit dark at times. You can see the
gradual growth that this band has taken. From that (1919) then you
look at Blessed Hellride and that was when we were like ‘Man let’s
make a rock record! Let’s make it bigger than life!’ And that’s really
where our whole new step towards where we’re going now started -
with Hellride. It’s a shame that we didn’t tour as much on that record.
Because to me…and this doesn’t sound very modest…but I don’t have
to be fuckin’ modest, because I’m part of this shit! Hellride to
me - if we really would have worked that record - if we would have
had the proper support and money behind it that record could have
been nominated for a Grammy. To me it’s that type of record. It’s
an ‘Appetite for Destruction.’ We’ll have our day. We’re on our way
because MAFIA really is the next step from Hellride.
Craig: I was 20 when I joined Crowbar. I had been playing - I had started my first band when I was 17 going on 18. It was a cover band. It was actually my band. I started it. I had my ‘rules.’ You know? “OK, I will not play a Motley Crue fucking song - I will not play a fucking Poison song - I will not play any of this gay shit. Don’t ask me to do it. Or find another band!” I was into The Cult, old Aerosmith, The Ramones, Guns & Roses, the Sex Pistols and the Misfits. I was into real credible street rock. That’s basically where I started playing live in clubs. I did that for a couple years and then I got this wild hair up my ass to get out of New Orleans. It was driving me crazy to be down there and playing clubs so I split and moved to Dallas, Texas. I lived there for 6 months and I really didn’t get anything going. I was a kid, I was 18 years old. I moved back to New Orleans and then in late 89 I got together with some friends that were doing a really progressive band. I mean it was like everything but the kitchen sink. It would go from The Police style to Sabbath’s style with everything in between. It was real fun band for me at the time but the guys I was playing with were real bad asses. Totally progressive and an actual jam band. It’s where I really started growing at that age. Then I joined Crowbar shortly after in 91.
WW: How did you hook up with Kirk? Was everyone part of the scene?
Craig: I knew Kirk since I was 13 years old because he was in bands in New Orleans. I had known him for years. His band used to go open up for my brother’s band. You know, it’s not a big town down there. You know one, you know them all.
WW: You were Crowbar’s drummer for their first 4 albums.
WW: …and then you recently recorded ‘Life’s Blood for the Downtrodden’ (released February 8th, 2005) Was it just a matter of Kirk calling you up and asking you to come down and jam?
Craig: It was pretty much dead set on as soon as we made the phone call. “Let’s do a record.”
WW: And you recorded with Rex from Pantera and Down?
WW: You left Crowbar after and then came back, what’s the story with that?
Craig: I had already gotten back together with Kirk in '99 and we did a European tour. I was doing nothing - I was playing with my brother in New Orleans. We were doing absolutely fucking nothing. We were playing for 20 people on weekends. It was to the point where I would have rather been home watching football than doing this. I love my brother more than life, but it wasn’t working. So it got to the point where Kirk made a phone call to me – probably like November of ‘99 or something like that and he said “Look, we’ve got some Euro dates…” and we went and did like a 6 week tour with Eyehategod, Soilent Green and Crowbar all crammed on one bus. I should write a book on that tour alone! We did that and then we came back to the States and then we hooked up with the Black Label Run for the Penchant for Violence tour in the summer of 2000. I guess what May? Something like that. We started here in Anaheim and that was just like surreal thinking back now. Because I was really at my ropes end. I was like “Man, I know I’m a fucking pretty decent player” – but there’s a lot of them – and I was like “Man, maybe this just isn’t for me.” I gotta make ends meet. I want to have kids, I want the whole life you know? And not an extravagant one, just a regular one and it was to the point where I was about to quit. Lo and behold I meet Zakk. Phil was having a hard time and I was in the right place at the right time. I’ve met guys - the guy that was doing the interviews for the DVD for the ‘Stupid Shit.’ He really pissed me off. I don’t know if you noticed this, but on the ‘Stupid Shit’ he said “So Craig when you started with Black Label it was kind of a fluke that you got the gig.” I got really bent by that because I was like “you know what motherfucker?” That’s what I felt like saying – but I feel like I handled it pretty well. I told him “You know what? I worked my ass off and I deserve what I fucking got.” I met a good friend first beyond anything else. It wasn’t a fucking fluke. I worked for that shit. If I couldn’t play, I wouldn’t be playing with Zakk.
WW: Oh absolutely. He has a long history of if you don’t cut it, you’re gone even from the early days.
Craig: Yeah! Of course, of course! Dude, the kind of player that I am – I’m always been me. I’ve never followed the trends. I always stuck with wanting to be a power player. Which I’m glad looking back, I did stick with those things and I didn’t get sidetracked or mixed up. Because then you kinda lose your own feel. So I did the Crowbar thing and I met Zakk on that tour and then ended up playing with him and doing two-a-days for three months. I learned his material in a matter of like a day or two and then I was out playing with them.
WW: I know you didn’t expect halfway through the tour to be pulling double duty playing with BLS and Crowbar.
Craig: No I didn’t expect it, but you know I’m glad I did it.
WW: How did Zakk approach you to joining BLS full time?
Craig: Basically it was a few weeks into the tour. Once he realized that I could handle it and the fact that we were playing the stuff and they were all like “Wow man – this dude hits hard!” The songs sounded really good. It was really what we all needed and then there was the love that we had for each other with Kirk and the guys. So we all sat down to talk about it. I told Kirk, I said “Dude this is an opportunity for me that I have to take.” Everybody was totally understanding about it. It was something that was totally right place, right time with I believe a good bit of fate was involved in that. Because I was really ready to just hang it up. God, my dad, they were watching over me. They were like here it is. Here’s your opportunity – seize it.
WW: It worked out! Now you’ve held down the BLS rhythm section with some great players.
WW: We’re talking LoMenzo, Inez, Trujillo
Craig: Oh yeah, I’m very fortunate
Craig: *Laughing* Yes of course!
WW: Have their individual playing styles affected how you play or influenced your style?
Craig: That’s a tough question because (pauses) I don’t know. Because of the style of music – we play rock and Roll. There’s not a whole lot of adaptation that goes into it as far as adjusting your style. It’s just something that just tends to work. You feed off each other. I’ve been very blessed to play with fucking great guys. They’re all fucking awesome. And I absolutely LOVE playing with Jamo man! Jamo is fuckin’ just the shit!
WW: One of the things I noticed on the Ozzfest tour last summer when Zakk’s introducing the band, you and James were doing a jazzy little break down.
Craig: *Laughing* Yeah, yeah, yeah I love doing that shit!
WW: That was really just cool. I thought it was great with the walking bass line.
Craig: Yeah man, we have a lot of fun. James has a great sense of humor too so it works out great.
WW: How did you guys prepare to record the new material for MAFIA?
Craig: For Mafia, it was in two different sessions. We jumped in the studio and we did Hangover and then we were off for a while. I went home and had a couple of months off and the next thing I know I was back in the studio in April of last year. We did a batch of shit then and it was like 16 or 18 tunes. They mixed them and then we went to listening to it. Then we went out to do Ozzfest we said “Let’s leave the tapes at home. Let’s not even listen to it – let’s get away from it.” Because if we don’t we’ll burn out on it. We’re going to start thinking about it. When we finished Ozzfest we jumped back in the studio. We really felt like we had the record but we felt like “let’s do another 5 or 6 songs and let’s see what we have.” At different times if you do something and you leave it alone for a while, you come back and you get a different vibe. So what ended up happening was the perfect thing. We got a different vibe and then we ended up with ‘Spread your Wings’ and ‘Electric Hellfire’ which might not have happened if we kept writing during the first session. That was in September - October right after Ozzfest and then we finished up everything and that was that. Zakk went to finish all his stuff - mixing and mastering and it came out like a fucking gem. I’m very proud of it.
WW: The Production on it sounds great.
Craig: Thank you. On the first session Barry Conley did everything. *Regal* “Loooord Caahnly.” He’s the best man. He engineered and mixed everything initially. Then Eddie (Mapp) came in and did the second session and recorded along with Barry. I think it was pretty much Eddie that did the final mix on everything. So it was a real collaborative effort between Eddie and Barry.
WW: Eddie does a great job
Craig: Oh yeah and Barry did the Hangover thing which was a phenomenal job too. “Loooord Caahnly.” *Laughs*
WW: I think I met Barry at the Hollywood House of Blues show
Craig: Yeah, yeah he was there.
WW: He was wearing a fedora.
Craig: Yeah the Tom Landry!
WW: So speaking of playing, your kit has evolved the last couple of years
WW: How are your endorsement deals working out now?
Craig: Fucking fantastic man! Everybody has treated me so well. I don’t want to be the guy that makes them feel like the only time I call is when I need something. I always call the guys and say ‘hey’ and ask them how they’re doing and how their families are doing and to shoot the shit, whether I need anything or not. I’m not one of those guys that’s constantly begging for shit. If I’ve got what I need, I’m not calling them and asking for them to send me new shit all the time - which is probably the reason why they’ve given me a lot of really cool shit. At Zildjian they gave me a prototype 24 inch ride cymbal that no one has. I’ve got prototype 16 inch hi-hats. I’m using 15’s on my mains and 16’s on fly on the right.
WW: I think I had that they were 15’s and 14s for the side – I think it’s still on the Zildjian website like that.
Craig: No, my main ones are 15s and my X-hats are 16s
WW: I had 14 inch Z Custom Masters down for the kit diagram.
Craig: No they used to be! Now my X hats are 16’s!
WW: So what are you doing to get your sound now? You mentioned the snare drum earlier today.
Craig: You know it’s like guitar players. And this goes for anybody man – So much of what a person sounds like is so much in the digits man. It’s in the hands. It’s in the way you attack, the way you hit. For drummers it’s the way you lay it down and it’s who you are and how you fuckin’ hit. Zakk can pick up any guitar and it sounds like Zakk – it’s in his mitts, man. Like John Bonham dude, you could put him on a set of Tamas or Pearls or whatever with his heads and pedals and it sounds like fucking Bonzo. Period.
WW: Now the Pearl deal, is that relatively new or were you using Pearl back on the Penchant tour. I thought you were using Tama.
Craig: I wasn’t even endorsed yet when I started on that tour. That was Zakk’s deal. He had the deal with Pearl and he actually owns that other kit.
WW: Zakk has a deal with Pearl?
Craig: Yeah! *Laughs*
WW: He’s got a deal with everyone! James mentioned that Zakk even has a deal with Marshall for even the bass cabs and amps.
Craig: Yeah he has a deal with pretty much everybody *Laughs* But yeah, it was his deal and I was playing a Premier kit that I had bought that I had used for years - which I still have. Immediately during that tour I met the Pearl guys and they were super, super cool. They made the offer. Initially a 70% off deal for me, which was the best fucking thing I had ever heard of in my life at the time! All the years of playing, I used to play so many gigs that it cost me money to play’em!
WW: Drums are expensive!
Craig: Yeah dude! I’d go to Pawn shops or my drum guy to buy the cheapest fucking cymbal to make the gig that night and then end up breaking the cymbal that night. So it’s expensive shit! It was such a blessing after years of busting my ass to finally get some help. You know? They offered me the deal – they said look man, 70 off and we’ll give you pedals and whatever. They basically started it and when I needed something I’d make the phone call and they’d send it out. They’d never charge me for anything. So as we’ve gone along the guys have made it like “Look, whatever you need.” I haven’t even re-upped my deal or signed anything or anything like that. I don’t make money off of anything. I’m not even looking to. That’s not the way it works man. Those guys take care of me and I endorse their shit. I use everything Pearl except my snare. Well actually now I do have an Eric Singer model which I love as my back-up.
WW: That came out at NAMM this year?
Craig: No it was last year’s NAMM. It’s a pretty new drum. It’s 10 ply maple…it’s a cracker dude! It’s fucking awesome.
WW: One of the things I noticed on your kit at Ozzfest last year was how tight your cymbals were. You really choke them down.
Craig: Oh yeah.
WW: How do you like your kit set up? Is there a preference for heads or tension? Could you go over your set up?
Craig: It’s all about tone and the tonality for me. I used to use fucking Pinstripes and shit like that - like everybody. And to me the more I got into fucking playing over the years they just felt like - they’re too dead man. So then I switched to Emperors. I liked the brightness and clarity of the clear ones. Some people say “use the coated ones man, use the coated ones.” The coated ones to me are a little too warm. I like a little more brightness out of the toms. Even in the studio I used the clear Emperors on all the toms and ever since they started making Powerstroke heads for the kicks I use those. I don’t like to deaden my kicks I don’t like to put anything in them. I like them to be big and open and the Powerstrokes allow you to do that because they’ll take some of that high end decay and ring that you may not need nor want.
WW: Now your drums and cymbals especially the kick drums have been getting bigger.
Craig: Yeah I went to 24s now on both kicks.
WW: Was that a conscious decision to fill in the bottom end and to get the bigger sound?
Craig: Yeah, yeah
WW: You’ve got Zakk and Nick on 11 and James has a really great low end. You need all the firepower you can get.
Craig: Sure, sure you know that was the thing, I always played 22s because it was the happy medium. With a 22 inch kick, you can get it to sound good in the studio; you can get them to sound great live. So that was the standard for me and I stuck with that with every kit I bought over the years. When it came around to getting the new kit I was talking to the Pearl guys and I was like “I want to go big this time.” So I went with 24’s and everything else measurement wise is the same. Except I went with a 13 inch front rack tom. So I’ve got 13, 14, 16, 18 and the two 24’s. I like the 24s because they are big sounding. I used them for the first time on the Skynyrd song. I used my whole kit on ‘I Never Dreamed’ and the fucking kit sounds fucking tits on it! The next time we do another record I’m going to use that kit.
WW: So you’ve also got the Pro*Mark 2B sticks
Craig: Yup, same sticks I’ve been using since I was 12, 13, 14 years old.
WW: The 2B stick - It’s a baseball bat!
Craig: But that’s what I grew up playing! You know, I’ve tried different stuff. I’ve tried other measurements and it’s like riding a bike. It’s like that favorite bike that you had when you were 15. You always feel comfortable on it and you know what it can do. It was the same thing with me, I tried everything and I eventually went back to Pro*Mark and they totally sweetened the deal for me. They made my sticks for me and they treat me great.
WW: Wrapping this up how do you keep your chops up during breaks in touring and recording? I guess after Ozzfest, Mafia and Crowbar you might be ready for a vacation.
Craig: To be honest with you I’d love one, but I’m really super ready to fucking tour. I’m excited about touring. The only hard things for me about touring - is being away from my family. I miss my baby and I miss my old lady so much, you know? If I could have them out with me I would. But hopefully one day we can do that.
WW: It keeps getting bigger
Craig: If the records keep taking off and the people keep coming man, at some point my boy will be a couple years old. I told the old lady that I’ll bring him out on the road. I’ll tour forever if I can have them with me. That’s the hard part for me.
WW: So your website is under construction what can we expect when it launches? Any sneak peaks?
Craig: You know, I’ve been thinking about a lot of stuff. I really just want to make it fun. I want to make it where I can definitely take some of my stuff like used heads and things like that and have special auctions. I want to put a lot of pictures up there so people can see from my view the shit that happens.
WW: All of the pictures that you’ve submitted to Zakkwylde.com have been pretty crazy. You can see the good times that you guys are having.
Craig: You know the thing of it is – I’m not a big picture guy. I’m not a guy that walks around with a camera. That’s just not me. So I kinda rely on a lot of the other guys. Nick will take a lot of pictures and he’ll forward them to me and I’ll hang on to stuff that way. I want to make it fun and have some humor involved in it. Eventually I’m doing Louisiana Lightning shirts and hats. All that shit will be available hopefully by the time we get back from Europe if I can get all of that done.
WW: You guys are a little like Kiss with the different personalities. I know the fans really have their favorites. I know a few girls that are “Oh Craig! He’s my favorite! He’s so hot!”
WW: It’s in your way
Craig: It’s so much in your way dude! It does not make sense to me. I’m a logical person man, the hair in the way doesn’t make sense. You can’t see what you’re fucking doing.
WW: *Laughing* you are the ladies favorite!
WW: Right on, hey thanks for sitting down with us
Craig: Oh man, anytime bro.