Joe Zerbo [Thracian]

Out of a meat grinder of hardcore, thrash and progressive metal, lies Long Islands Thracian. A band that has continued to deliver technical and progressive metal for over 10 years. At the core of it sits drummer Joe Zerbo whose relentless double kick and blasting snare power the band’s indomitable energy.

If you haven’t seen or heard the band, absolutely check out their Bandcamp site and Facebook page where you can listen to the Gear’s EP and see where they are playing next. You can also stay up-to-date on the progress of their upcoming full length release called Wolves.

This week I had the pleasure of sitting with Joe Zerbo for my very first interview.

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MC: Other than Thracian, what bands have you played with in the past?
Joe Zerbo: In high school I was in a band called Captive Honour. It was a metal band that played thrash type stuff. We were based on a Metallica and Megadeth style. The band did original material, but always threw in some Megadeth and Pantera covers. It was together throughout high school before eventually falling apart when I was around 18. We played a lot of shows all over Long Island like the Village Pub South, which is now Amityville Music Hall. After the band dismantled, I was not in another for awhile. Eventually, I met the guys from Thracian and we started that up.

MC: Growing up did you take lessons in school or privately?
JZ: Yeah… when I was 6 or 7 I was banging on things around the house. My mom got me set up with some private drum lessons and I continued for about 6 years or so. At that point I started showing my teacher things and that’s kind of when I stopped taking lessons. He was also trying to push me toward doing more jazz and that bored me. I felt like I was being steered away from metal, and metal was what I was really into… so we parted ways. From there I just began listening to my iPod and playing along. Years later though, as new techniques started coming out, I was trying to get better with blast beats and hand speed, so I contacted him again. He came out to the house and we did a couple lessons. He showed me some techniques to quicken up my hands and feet. Then, I took over again from there.

MC: Being busy with work, band rehearsals and gigs, do you have much opportunity to practice independently? What are some of the things you like to work on?
JZ: I don’t get much time to sit behind the kit other than band rehearsal. I actually play in two bands now, so time is even more limited. In addition to Thracian, I have been working with the bass player on another project (unnamed at the moment). What I try to do is show up to rehearsal an hour or so early and warm up by myself. I’ll work on doubles with hands and doubles between hands and feet with a metronome – always trying to build stamina. Thracian is very technical and not always playing in 4/4 time, so I will also do some odd time warm ups again with my hands and feet. I’ll even play through some Thracian songs. I wish I had more time to practice.

MC: What drummers have influenced you?
JZ: There are a few.
Nick Menza formally from Megadeth played the thrash style metal that I still play. He was a big influence for me. Growing up Megadeth was my favorite band.
Steven Adler from Guns N’ Roses.
Chris Adler from Lamb of God has recently made my list. He is definitely one of my favorite drummers. He knows how to do everything. He plays with Lamb of God which is real heavy death metal. Then he turned around and recorded drums on the new Megadeth album. I’ve seen him do albums and recordings with bands that play all styles of metal. He is very versatile and I like that about him. He impressed me most when he recorded drums on the Protest The Hero album Volition. Volition showed off a style of playing that I never heard Adler do before and he pulled it off miraculously. This album is my favorite Protest The Hero album and I credit that exclusively to Chris Adler’s drumming which seemed to take the entire band’s performance up another level. I also have one of his signature snare drums, which I don’t use much theses days. It’s a smaller drum (12” diameter), but it has a great pop and a cutting power unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
Alex Rudinger I’ve watched on YouTube. If you haven’t checked him out, he is one of the most accurate and blisteringly fast drummers I’ve ever seen. He is also playing very complicated stuff. I have learned so much from just watching him. His hand and foot technique is amazing. He inspired me with a YouTube cover he did of Whitechapel’s “(Cult)uralist”. Alex can hit double kick patterns well over 200 BPM with the straight, old-school “heel up” method and do it very accurately and powerfully. Knowing that Whitechapel’s drummer (Ben Harclerode) plays the “Heel/Toe” method, for the video, Alex used the heel toe method instead of his normal double kick technique to mimic how the original drummer (Ben) plays. If you watch any of Alex’s other videos you will see he rarely, if ever uses that technique. As a nod to Ben, he threw it in that play through with insane accuracy. Truly, Alex is one of the most versatile, innovative, and impressive drummers I have ever seen.
Matt Halpern from Periphery. He got me into that off timing style of drumming. You don’t always have to play in 4/4 time. Even if you are playing 4/4 riffs, he shows you a way to put the snare drums in different places… put the cymbals hits in different places… and use ghost notes to make it sound more interesting than standard 4/4 time.

MC: What do you consider to be the Top 5 drum songs?
JZ: Top 5 drum songs…..This is probably the hardest question you’ve asked!
5. Gojira “From The Sky”
4. The Faceless “Xenochrist”
3. Revocation “The Blackest Reaches”
2. WhiteChapel “Section 8”
1. WhiteChapel “(Cult)uralist”

MC: Regarding style and playing similarity, who would you compare yourself to?
JZ: Well…. I’m definitely not like (Matt) Halpern at all. He is very complicated. I like to keep it more in the thrash fashion. I’d say I’m more like Nick Menza from Megadeth and Chris Adler from Lamb of God. I do a lot of old-school thrash beats, but mix in a lot of double kick patterns and blast beats. On “Gears” I did a lot of polyrhythms (one time signature on the hands and a different time signature with the feet), so that’s the most I’d ever compare myself to Matt Halpern. On the new Thracian material we have moved back towards the thrash style we used to play more of.

MC: What was your first drum kit?
JZ: Tama. I’ve had Tama my whole life. I can’t remember the exact series though. It wasn’t a StarClassic… something more beginner. But it was humongous and I still have it stacked up in the basement. It was blue. 2 kick drums, 4 rack toms, 2 floor toms.

MC: You started playing drums rather young. Were there any other instruments you were drawn to? Do you play any other instruments now?
JZ: I actually bought a couple guitars. I was able to teach myself some rock and metal songs. Nothing lead, but I can play some rhythm. It was something fun to do. Guitars are nice in the way that they have a volume button. I also love the Bass. If I wasn’t a drummer I’d probably be a bass player. I was able to pick bass up more than guitar. Drums are definitely my main instrument though. It’s nice after a week of work to go beat the crap out of something.

MC: What would you consider your greatest music achievement/award/performance to date?
JZ: I would definitely say Gears (Thracian’s EP). It was a pretty big deal. It was the first disc we put out that didn’t sound like it was recorded in a basement. We went to a good studio and got it remixed by an engineer in Germany. It cost a lot of money and took about a year to get the songs where we wanted them, but it was worth it. The recording came out fantastic. After that we got some recognition from a small label in the UK. They signed us for 1 year which included some promotion and album sales on their website. We are working on a new full length now, so I am pretty excited for that.

MC: What have you been doing to prepare for the next recording? Have you been independently working out any parts?
JZ: Gears was more technical. This album is going to be in a slightly different direction. We are going very heavy and very fast. It is requiring more blast beats and more double kick. I have been working on my hand technique and feet much more. I am trying to up my game. Something I’ve picked up on my own and working on is the swivel foot technique. Oddly my left foot is better at it than my right, but I’ve been continuing to build up my endurance.

MC: What is your goto Ride cymbal?
JZ: The Zildjian Mega Bell ride. The thing is enormous. I love and use bells all the time. This cymbal has the loudest bell I’ve ever heard. I think the only other drummer that I have seen use this same cymbal is Mario Duplantier of Gojira. I heard him play it and I knew right away it was the same exact cymbal. I love it and my band hates it. It is so piercing loud.

MC: What is the single piece of gear you couldn’t live without?
JZ: My Trick Drums Pro 1-V Detonator Double-Bass. They are a longboard pedal. I’ve used DW, Iron Cobra’s… The Trick Detonator’s I have had for the longest time. I could never play without them.

Joe’s Gear:
Studio and Touring Kit: Tama Starclassic Birch/Bubinga series
22″ kick, 10″ rack tom, 12″ rack tom, 16″ floor tom 14″ floor tom placed to the left of the hihat
Snare Drums:
13″ Mapex Black Panther Nomad Brass Shell, which is the snare I’ve been using most of the time lately.
12″ Mapex Black Panther Chris Adler signature Maple shell
14″ Tama Starclassic Performer 100% Birch shell
13″ Tama Maple (not sure the actual model)
Soon to order 14″ Mapex Black Panther WRAITH (Matt Halpern signature series)
Cymbals:
13” Meinl Byzance Hats
16” Meinl Mb10 Crash
16” Meinl Byzance Crash
24” Zildjian Megabell Ride
18” Sabian AAX Crash
18” Meinl Byzance China
6” Zildjian Zilbel
7” Zidjian Zilbel
Practice Kit: Tama Starclassic Bubinga Series
(2) 22” kick drums, 8”, 10”, 12”, 14” rack toms, 16” Floor Tom

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