Interview: Drowning Pool’s CJ Pierce And Jasen Moreno Reflect On The Band’s Legacy, Talk About The New LP, And Look Ahead To The Future
Back in 2001 Drowning Pool was a heavy metal band on the rise thanks to their groundbreaking song “Bodies.” With its memorable hook, Dave Williams’ fierce vocals, and the sheer brutality of the song, it was inescapable. It quickly became a go-to for use in movies, video games, and TV shows. Their debut album Sinner, featuring popular singles “Tearaway” and the title track, was certified platinum later that year. There was no stopping the band. Then, Williams tragically passed away in 2002. That’s where Drowning Pool’s story could have ended. Yet, they persevered and are still going strong 20 years later.
After putting their record on hold for three years due to the dreaded C-word, the next chapter of Drowning Pool is ready to begin with the release of their sixth album, Strike a Nerve. It’s also their third with singer Jasen Moreno, who joined in 2012 and holds the record as the band’s longest-running singer. It’s their heaviest record in years and one that both Moreno and guitarist C.J. Pierce are eager to unleash upon the unsuspecting rock world.
As they prepare to head out on their North American tour, Pierce and Moreno take a break from rehearsals to chat with GENRE IS DEAD about the new album, the evolution of Drowning Pool, and their long-lasting legacy.
GENRE IS DEAD!: Let’s dive right in and talk about the new album. Strike a Nerve was actually written before the pandemic and the lockdown. Of course, when that happened, all plans had to be put on pause, including the release of the album. During that time, did you guys take the opportunity to return to the album and continue working on it in any way?
C.J. Pierce: We worked so hard on this record before we recorded it. We spent more time on this than anything. We took the time to do it and even after we recorded it, we played with a few things. That was before the pandemic and before everything got shut down. So, the record was done. No reason to go back and touch anything because we wanted to put out a great record. A lot of bands do records and – I’m guilty of it myself – you go back on a few songs and think man I could’ve done this, or I should’ve done this part. There’s nothing like that on this record. It’s the opposite actually. We’ve been away from it for about three years and here we are now getting ready to go on tour, going over these songs and going “man this part’s cool!” “Man, I forgot about this. That’s cool!” So, it’s a flip flop of anything like that. It was definitely in the box ready to ship out three years ago for me anyway!
Jasen Moreno: I’m in the same boat. I took the opportunity to step away from the record. Maybe I didn’t want to step away for three years, but it did afford us the opportunity to come at it from a fresh angle. Relearning it is fun.
C.J.: Yeah, right? It’s been fun! We jammed last night going over all the tunes on it. Being in a pandemic for the last three years we only had a handful of shows where we played some of the hits and the singles and stuff. We haven’t had the opportunity to perform the new songs and it’s just – the look on our faces last night especially with one particular song “A Devil More Damned,” that thing is so freaking heavy and jamming. All of us had a smile on our faces. This song is so badass! We forgot how badass it is! I’m not trying to say it like we’re so awesome. I’m just excited to get back to it.
JM: I’ll say it like that. We’re pretty badass.
C.J.: You know we went for badass on this record. That’s what we’re going for. It’s just badass.
JM: I’m not saying we’re the best band in the world, but as far as what we do this is the perfect Drowning Pool record. We couldn’t have captured what we do any truer or any more badass. It’s a badass record.
GID: Given that I had a chance to listen to the record, I’ll third that it’s a badass record. It’s great that you guys were able to return to the album and walk away from it positively because often times when you have so much time to go back and work on something you can overwork it and lose what made it so good in the first place.
C.J.: Yeah, you can overdo it too and take away from that natural vibe.
GID: All these songs were written pre-pandemic, yet listening to them, so many of the themes they cover resonate with what was happening then. It’s easy to think COVID influenced the record, but that’s not to be the case. So, what did influence the record to have those themes so prevalent?
C.J.: We write from the heart. We write from real situations. I know some bands have fantasy lyrics or love songs, but we come straight from the heart. We’ve been a band for 20 years. Jasen’s been in the band for 10 years longer than any other singer. We’ve written more songs and done more shows with Jasen. We’re Drowning Pool and we’re solid and we came into this record with a solid mind frame but there’s a lot of things that carry over during COVID and just lifelong things even before COVID like the song “Strike a Nerve.” You just try to speak your opinion, but every time you open up your mouth it seems you’re gonna piss somebody off. Everybody’s maybe a little extra sensitive nowadays. Listen to what I have to say, I’ll listen to what you have to say. We’re coming at you hard, we’re coming at you with truth and honesty and it’s gonna strike a nerve with you. It’s gonna resonate with you and that carries through from before COVID, during, and afterward, I think.
JM: If anything, it’s just vague enough to apply to whatever the world may be frustrated about. I mean we’re a hard-rocking heavy metal band and it’s been a long road as C.J. mentioned. We’ve been plugging away at this for the 10 years that I’ve been in the band. These guys have been on it twice as long as I have. It’s been a crazy ride with ups and downs and lately, it seems like it’s been challenging so we channeled that frustration on damn near every song and I think that’s universal. I’m not knocking anything against positivity. Of course, you want your energy to be right. If anything, the record is almost like scream therapy for us. We get in there, write these songs, we get rid of the demons if you will. We put it all in the song and we feel better for it afterward. Everyone gets frustrated. Everyone gets pissed. I hope you feel better after you hear this record.
C.J.: Listen to the record you’ll definitely feel better. Because every time we do rehearsals it’s like being in the gym. It’s like man this song’s jamming! This song’s jamming too! Oh shit! When do we breathe? When the set’s over. (Laughs)
GID: As much as positivity is important, it’s also important to have those moments where you feel your frustration and it’s important to have those songs that let you feel that. Sometimes you have those days where it feels like everything is going to shit and you want something that feels the way you do. Music, especially heavy metal and hard rock is a great way to let that out. Listening to a kick-ass song can be that sigh of relief, let’s you relieve some tension.
C.J.: Sometimes it’s like let me be angry for a minute. I’ll get it out. I’ve heard that and felt that. We’re excited because we’ve got so many good things coming up. Finally, the ball is rolling. It’s so frustrating to work on something and just have it sitting there. The tour’s coming up, all these songs are popping out, and the response has been great from everybody. It’s awesome. I can’t wait to go out and play this for everybody. The tour starts on the 26th going through October. We have some more shows in November and December. From here on out we should be kicking it. Hopefully, next year will be our year.
GID: It’s gotta feel vindicating having this record finally come out after it sat on the shelf for so long. People are finally hearing it and loving the new songs, and you guys will finally get to play them in front of fans who have been waiting.
C.J.: Yeah, it’s a big one and it’s also a situation where – I’ve seen my favorite bands and I want to hear my favorite songs. Then I’ve seen them play the new stuff that I’m not familiar with, but there’s no denying this you may not know this new song, or maybe you will because the record’s coming out soon, but you are gonna feel it. There’s no doubt in my mind. We usually kind of played it safe in the past. You definitely want to give fans what they want. You’re gonna hear your favorite songs. But we’re gonna have a new song heavy setlist because these songs, they’re jamming. Why would we not play them? This is Drowning Pool and there’s no reason you wouldn’t enjoy it. If you don’t know it yet, you will get to know it. We’re gonna rotate new stuff, we’re gonna rotate old stuff as well. That’s what we’re doing now. We’ve been rehearsing, getting this all together for the end of the month to come out swinging!
GID: Strike a Nerve is your first album in six years. When you guys entered the studio to work on the album, what did you guys do differently this time around to shake things up a bit or go in a slightly different direction?
JM: We recorded drums last. That was definitely different. Vocals went before drums. Usually, it’s scratch guitars, and then we do drums. We reversed everything, which was challenging and different for us. It gave us an opportunity to really lock in and it was a fresh process. That was Sean [McGhee]. Talk about Sean bro, he’s awesome.
C.J.: Yeah, Sean produced the record and was awesome to work with. That dude was just on top of it. We tried a lot of other things. All of us write in the band. What makes Drowning Pool Drowning Pool is all of us together with our ideas. Jasen had some ideas, [bassist] Stevie [Benton] always has some cool stuff to bring to the table, and I have what I do, and it was nice to expand on that. The one thing that was really awesome – hats off to Jasen for doing this, it was something I never thought about doing before and we’re gonna do moving forward, Jasen has an amazing voice and all the projects we’ve done in the past are in E standard or drop D. I traditionally like writing in drop C or drop D, but that’s not necessarily the strongest key the song should be in. So, what we did also on this record, which is something we’ve never done before, is we tried – okay let’s try the song in this key and this key and see which one worked best for Jasen to convey and hear the feeling in the vocals and what worked best instead of me just writing in drop D and having everything in the same key. We have five different turnings on this record, which expands everything even more so because you feel it. You gotta write for the song. You gotta write for the feeling in every aspect – musically, vocally everything. So, we explored that avenue. Jasen took a lot of time singing stuff in a lot of different ways. He’s a trooper. He walked out of the studio with headaches every day. Singing til his head explodes man! I thank him for that. And I think that’s a testament to this record. It’s something new and different and makes it even stronger.
GID: The first single, “Mind Right” is a tribute to Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell – two titans of metal and ones who still make an impact on musicians long after their deaths. How did the musicians impact you as a band?
C.J.: It’s in my daily playlist always. Growing up in New Orleans I knew Phil [Anselmo] when he was in another band Razor White, then he disappeared. Next thing you know he’s in Pantera and they’re huge. They took metal to a whole other level. For me, that was the heaviest stuff I ever heard in my life. It also still has that southern sludgy feel to it. So as far as coming up with the riff and idea of the song it kind of started with the thought of what would these guys do Drowning Pool style? Every now and then we’ll do some Pantera covers – We’ve done “Cowboys From Hell” before, we’ve done “Walk.” It was just us doing what we do but keeping that style in mind as we were writing as a tribute, not so much as a cover. It’s just keeping that style and the way they used to do things in mind as we were writing the song.
JM: What can you say that hasn’t already been said? How did they influence me personally? I was already into heavy music and they were local and you would see them in bars. They were really cool. To know that they went on to be arguably the biggest metal band in the world for a long set of years, that was pride and admiration. We all got the “Cowboys from Hell” tattoo. Hell, I heard that dude screaming and I immediately started working on screaming. They impacted us in every way possible. All for the better. Without them, a lot of bands wouldn’t be where they are today. You can argue that we wouldn’t be. I wouldn’t be the type of singer that I am. I’m not saying that Phil is my only influence but he’s a pretty damn big one.
C.J.: Dime’s a big influence. Vinnie Paul of course.
GID: Any plans to check out their reunion tour?
JM: I hope!
C.J.: I’m all about it!
JM: I hope I can get a ticket.
C.J.: I hope we can play a show with them. It’s gonna be a hot ticket, right? I don’t get into all the politics or opinions one way or the other. For me, it’s about the music and keeping the music alive. Whatever anyone’s motivations may be is between them and whoever they’re working with. Why would anyone be pissed about it? You get to go see Pantera! Neither my son nor Jasen’s son ever got to see them. I got to see Pantera. I got to hang out with these guys, and I think what they’re doing is great. It’s freaking awesome. You don’t know them personally so what are you mad about? Go see the show. You know it’s gonna be fucking awesome.
JM: I agree I just want to hear the music.
GID: That’s what it should be about and it’s the chance of a lifetime for people who got into them after the fact because they can experience them live. If people do have a problem with it, then the answer’s simple: don’t get a ticket.
C.J.: Don’t go to the show. Or call me up and I’ll tell you how it goes! When we did the tour with Damage Plan I was hanging out with Zakk [Wylde], Dime, and Vinnie. We were cutting it up having the best time ever. I can tell you right now whether you know Dime or don’t know Dime he’s happy as hell wherever he’s at that Zakk is gonna go up there and play music, play Pantera songs for all the people who haven’t seen them in 20 years and the younger generation who never got to see them. Everything is right about this. There’s nothing wrong about this. Just go to the damn show. It’s gonna be awesome. Shut up and have a good time or we’re gonna punch happiness in your face.