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Growing up in Lake Hopatcong N.J Chris Pennie has always been a fan of music since getting his first record, Iron Maiden, (Maiden in Japan) from his father at the age of four. “My parents exposed me to a library of music when I was young. Growing up listening to bands like (Iron Maiden, Kool and the Gang, Beastie Boys etc.) has subconsciously helped me apply naturally what I was hearing onto the kit.” At the age of twelve he was taking lessons locally and received his first set of drums for Christmas. Two years later he started playing in a handful of bands playing covers and originals. He would have to be escorted into the bars by his father to play the shows. “My parents were always supportive of what I would do. That’s very rare to find that.
After graduating from Randolph High School in 1995, Chris attended Berklee College of music in Boston Massachusetts, where he majored in music synthesis. After leaving in 1996, he along with Ben Weinman, Dimitri Minikakis, John Fulton, and Adam Doll, formed the Dillinger Escape Plan. In the past ten years, Dillinger has gone on to be one of the hardest working bands ever, earning critical acclaim through constant touring, and notoriously known for pushing the envelope in heavy music.
Chris started playing drums at the age of 13, and at age 16 decided he wanted to pursue music seriously. He spent two years atBerklee College of Music and received a degree in Music Synthesis, focusing on electronic music compositon and manipulation. As far as drummers, Pennie has cited Lars Ulrich and Stewart Copeland as his main early influences. In regard to his current playing, Sean Reinert is one of his biggest inspirations. He’s also emphasized on several occasions that listening to and playing a diverse assortment of music has been an integral part in developing his style, noting such eclectic influences as 70’sjazz-rock fusion group Mahavishnu Orchestra, technical metal bands Meshuggah, cynic, and electronic-influenced groups such as Nine Inch Nails and DJ Shadow.
As stated before, Pennie is best known for his work with the Dillinger Escape Plan, but he also spent time with the pop-punk group Boxer. Formed in 1995 with another Berklee graduate, Jeremy McDowell, they became first band to be signed to the now famous Vagrant Records. They released one album, “The Hurt Process” in 1998, and broke up in late 1999. Pennie also recorded drums for his former tourmates in experimental metalcore group All Else Failed on their 2004 album “This Never Happened”.
As for his role in the Dillinger Escape Plan, he and guitarist Ben Weinman, along with now departed singer and bassist Dimitri Minakakis and Adam Doll respectively, formed the band in March of 1997. He and Ben Weinman write the majority of Dillinger’s material and Pennie has called Weinman his “musical soulmate.” The current line up is listed on the bands website: http://www.dillingerescapeplan.com. His style is best described as the juxtaposition of rapid machine-like sequences of rudiments and jazz-inflected expressiveness. Pennie also takes care of a lot of the electronic influence in the band’s material in the studio as well as onstage, triggering effects and loops with footswitch pedals.
Chris Pennie Interview:
SD.com: What was your favorite venue from the tour that just ended 8/02/06?
Chris: My favorite venue that Dillinger played this past tour was the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. Growing up and seeing so many bands in that venue, then years later playing two nights there and playing them well, you can’t put a price tag on moments like that.
SD.com: Any plans for the next tour yet?
Chris: No plans, Dillinger will be writing/recording through the remainder of the year, and up until early spring.
SD.com: I have been listening to you guys for a long time and have always been interested and somewhat amused by some of the Dillinger song titles. Can you tell us how the song titles come to be?
Chris: Usually Ben, and Greg (or at the time (Dimitri) will come up with the lyrics and song titles. Both Dimitri and Greg have written about relationship issues, usually that are coming from a dark place, but on the flip side the title is usually more sarcastic and not taking itself too seriously. That’s a pretty good reflection of everyone past and present Dillinger.
SD.com: How old were you when you started playing?
Chris: I received my first kit and lessons when I was 12. I heard Blackened from Metallica’s ….And Justice for All and knew from that point on that I wanted to play drums.
SD.com: Did you play in a school band or any drum corps?
Chris: No corps or band. I was more interested at the time in getting together with friends, playing and writing music that would be fun and challenging. We would practice for hours learning everything from Angel of Death by Slayer to Walking on the Moon by the Police.
SD.com: Ever take any lessons?
Chris: I took years of lessons from many local teachers. The best teacher I had, who really opened me up to many different styles was Stu Miller. He really blew the doors open for me.
SD.com: Who are your top 5 influences?
Chris: There are so many, but I’ll name a few. Lars Ulrich, Dave Lombardo, Sean Reineart, Vinnie Colaiuta, Terry Bozzio, John Bonham, DJ Shadow, Aphex Twin, David Garibaldi, are the five. hahahahaha
SD.com: Assuming that influences doesn’t mean favorites, who are your favorites?
Chris: Again there are so many greats out there, some of my favorites right now would have to be John Theodore, Zach Hill, Teddy Campbell, Aaron Spears and Mark Guliana.
SD.com: Let us know 5 CD’s that are in your current rotation
Chris: Right now I’ve been listening to
Metallica …..And Justice for all
Justin Timberlake future sex/love sound
Miles Davis Panthalassa
Brad Meldaugh Brad Meldaugh trio
Slayer Christ Illusion
SD.com: Can you remember a night you think was your best playing ever? If yes, when and where?
Chris: I think there have been a lot of nights were I was happy with how I played, but more important is when the band as a whole is destroying. I think two of the most memorable would be the 9:30 club in Washington D.C in 2003 on the Take Action tour, and the Roseland shows in ’06 with A.F.I.
SD.com: Do you have a favorite brand of drums or cymbals?
Chris: My favorite drums are anything by Mapex. I am using one of their Pro M classic kits, with the larger bass drum. Sounds amazing. The best cymbals, in my opinion, to play are Sabian. The Raw Bell Dry Ride is the most versatile cymbal I’ve played so far. Ridiculous. Heads I use are Evans. The new EC2 heads are amazing. Sticks are Vater. XD 5B or the cymbal sticks. Awesome.
SD.com: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Chris: Nothing fancy, just a lot of single, double, and paradiddlle combinations with accents on the pad. Anything that is getting my hands going. Same with the feet, single and double combinations. Doing that for forty five minutes, and drinking three or four bottles of water, I’m good to go.
SD.com: If you could give one piece of advice to young drummers, it would be…
Chris: Have fun, enjoy the journey that drums can take you on. Don’t be afraid to step outside of what you know, to try, and ultimately learn something new.
SD.com: Who gave the best live performance you’ve ever seen?
Chris: Hands down it was watching DJ Shadow perform at the Fuji Rock fest in Japan. Dillinger was there performing in 2002, and I was able to sneak onto the side of the stage to watch. All of his records changed the way I looked at making music. Then to watch him weave all these songs together was ridiculous. That guy has always been on another level, for me. Probably my favorite artist ever.
SD.com: If you had to stop drumming, what would you want to do with your life?
Chris: If I had to stop drumming, I would want to be a song writer or producer. Etc. Anything that still deals with the crafting of music is amazing. If I couldn’t do music at all,I don’t think I’d care to do anything else. Be lazy and watch T.V all day.