“We co-headline with 3 Doors Down and it’s a lot of fun,” says Collective Soul drummer Johnny Rabb. “You get up there and you look at the set lists of the bands and you go, ‘Man, it’s like a dang radio hit show.’ … We try to do the best every night and we never take it for granted that we’re getting to play live in front of fans as well.”
The bands’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Express Tour comes to the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. (with Soul Asylum opening); and The Event Center at Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City, Aug. 19 at 8 p.m.
“I was talking with Chet (Roberts), the guitar player from 3 Doors Down, and he goes, ‘Man, the combination of hits and the songs between these bands …,’ and I don’t mean that we’re talking about ourselves as great writers even though (Collective Soul frontman) Ed (Roland) is … (Roberts) wasn’t being arrogant, but the combo in a night of hits that have been on the radio is so great, and the crowd is enjoying it and everyone is having a good time and listening to songs that everyone knows.”
Collective Soul has been recording and touring for more than two decades, and in today’s instant gratification society, many groups have taken to touring with their peers and performing high energy, greatest-hits type sets. When asked if Collective Soul falls into that realm, Rabb said: “We are definitely including new songs in the set, and of course each night we have limited time no matter what we’re doing, so the crowd is getting to hear all of the hits plus at least three new songs that we’ve been in studio recording that nobody has heard. It’s pretty exciting to play these new songs for people as well as the hits; it’s a well-rounded set of music each night. We have 19 songs recorded and in the can right now, ready to be released next year.”
A possible new album with 19 songs? Sounds like the band have been busy. So when can we expect this new work to be released and will it be more than one record?
“I’ve heard rumors about the double album idea,” said Rabb. “We’re big fans of still releasing on vinyl and we literally have those songs ready … we did 10 of the songs in 2017 and nine songs this year. Ed will be the final word on that but, yeah, a lot of new music ready to go.”
“New music” is relative to one’s perspective. “New to the band” or “new musical sounds or styles” can mean different things to different people.
“I have two daughters, so the radio when I’m driving them to school is pretty much on their station,” Rabb said. “But I try to expose them to what we’re doing and what bands my wife and I grew up on in the ’80s. I think there are some great new bands out there, but personally nothing that I totally rally behind. But I do give them credit as far as production and the new styles that people are doing.
“I’m a big electronic music fan myself so I’m not anti-anything, I don’t think it’s the same, but again, I’m 46 and I’ve got my own opinions on how bands were bands back in the day. You get together, you rehearse, you play. You know, like, in our band: five guys playing together, real instruments playing rock. Ed writes the songs, then we get our parts going and literally rock; if one of us stops playing then that’s it, you can hear it.
“I think today is just different, a lot of it is done on full laptops and that’s about it. Nothing wrong with that but I still love just rock and old pop-rock music. It’s a whole new generation of stuff. I guess that’s just how it goes, but hats off to anyone who is doing it now.”
Rabb began playing drums at a young age and gained experience as he discovered various genres. He has become a well-rounded player — a percussive chameleon of sorts.
“I started playing as a kid when I was 8 years old, was self-taught at first and then had lessons. Then some friend of my brothers played (Rush’s 1981 live album) Exit … Stage Left when we were camping and I was like, ‘What is this stuff?’ I grew up with Rush and Neil Peart was kind of the main reason that I got started, and then I got into Yes. Then all of these little instructional videos started coming out and that’s a whole different sign of the times as well; Steve Smith’s ‘Threshold’ video came out and I didn’t even realize he was with Journey, I just knew him as Steve Smith the jazz, funk, fusion drummer; he and I have become really good friends and he’s such a great guy and probably my biggest influence. But that whole era of late ’70s and early ’80s drummers were my inspiration.
“Luckily, I’ve gotten to meet all but a few of them at either drum clinics or festivals and that kind of blows my mind. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to meet them, let alone share a stage with them.”
Another of Rabb’s favorite drummers comes from one of the greatest rock lineages of all time.
“We got to tour with Jason Bonham and Sammy Hagar last summer and I think Jason is just slaying it with what he’s doing. I think it’s very genuine and not just only, ‘Hey look, I’m Jason Bonham and I’m related (to John Bonham).’ I think he’s got his own artistic value going on. He’s so good! Sometimes I’d be on side stage and I’d be jumping up and down because he’s so powerful and good.”
Rabb has been in Collective Soul since 2012. How does he balance his predecessors’ styles with his own?
“Nightly, I pay tribute to the past drummers that have been with them. We’re all friends and there’s such respect and I think, over the years, I’ve adapted to give them what they want — whether it’s the way I’m hitting, or what they want musically. My background is funk, pop, jazz, fusion and I went to Berklee and was schooled in that and I have all that background. So that just kind of comes through. I definitely try and bring to it the correct feel and approach to these gigs, and I love it. This is a heavy hitting gig and I love the guys, they’re second family to me.”
So what will Rabb do when this very busy tour comes to an end?
“It sounds clichéd but I love my family. We’ll hang out, we have a pet dog and he’s awesome. I’ll write music, I have a drum studio, I’ll teach, I do consulting for some drum companies and in the off times it’s rest. The tour will end but there will be some spot gigs like a club or a theater show; we’ll continue to do that. Also, Ed never stops writing, which is amazing, so we may even be in the studio. There’s talk of more studio time in early 2019 and I love that he wants to keep writing.
“We keep in touch. We do things, so it doesn’t stop when the tours end.”
For more about Collective Soul, visit collectivesoul.com.