Interview:2019/08/19 Drummer Jason Sutter Talks Landing the Gig With Marilyn Manson, Recalls Strange 1st Requirement

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Drummer Jason Sutter Talks Landing the Gig With Marilyn Manson, Recalls Strange 1st Requirement
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Interview with Jason Sutter
Date August 19, 2019
Source Ultimate Guitar
Interviewer Steven Rosen
UG exclusive: "Dude, Manson's drummer just got fired."

Not many drummers can lay claim to the fact that they’ve played with both Marilyn Manson and Cher but Jason Sutter can. He has chops for days and beyond all that, he is one of the coolest dudes to ever walk the planet. Here he talks about some of the gigs he’s landed over the years.

You got your first touring gig with Juliana Hatfield.

I got a call from a friend from Potsdam. My friend was telling me about this drummer from Boston named Stacy Jones who is now Miley Cyrus’ music director and killer drummer and was also the frontman of a band I played in with him called American Hi-Fi. My friend said I’d be perfect for the gigs going on in Boston because everybody loves this Stacy Jones kid but he already has his own band called Letters to Cleo. There were a bunch of bands he was subbing with but if you came to Boston, you’d join those bands right away.

You moved to Boston and got the gig with Juliana?

My friend sent me the Letters to Cleo record so I could listen to it. The band was great but the drumming was like, “Oh, yeah. This is exactly how I play.” I got two auditions with Tracy Bonham and Juliana Hatfield. The management flew me up and put me up and by the time I got back to L.A., they were like, “We want you to do this gig.”

What kind of kit were you playing?

I got a DW kit. I got a white marine pearl finish and nobody had that because it wasn’t hot yet. Nobody had it but I did. We did the Conan O’Brien Show and Max Weinberg had the same kit. When I rolled in and set up my kit, he looked over at me like, “You motherfucker.” It was pretty funny. He was a snot and was definitely not cool with the fact we both had cutting edge finishes.

He was seriously pissed off?

Oh, yeah. He was a bitch.

What was the Marilyn Manson gig like?

That was a unique one. I was on tour with Foreigner and one of the production assistants was a dear friend of mine and she had worked with Manson years before and she was going back to Manson. I said, “Hey - if the Manson gig ever opens up, keep me in mind.” Two years later, the guitarist who had played guitar in Ashes Divide, who opened for the Bravery who opened for Chris Cornell who opened for Linkin Park on their Projekt Revolution Tour was a guy called Andy Gerold, he and I became pals. Years later he was playing bass with Manson and we were at Download around 2009 shooting the shit and I said once again, “If a gig ever opens up, keep me in mind.”

From those two contacts, you got the Manson gig?

I toured with the New York Dolls through November 2010. I was looking for my next gig and got a text from Andy Gerold. It said, “Dude, Manson’s drummer just got fired. Call them.” I call Tracy, the girl who was tour manager. She doesn’t answer but sends me a text right back, “Put your name in the hat yesterday. Management will call.”

What happened then?

I was able to get management to look at my resume and pictures of me to make sure I’m not fat. Seriously somebody said that. Like, “Oh, what’s he look like?” They said, “Oh, he’s not fat. He looks cool.”

Making it to the first step meant not being fat? That’s funny.

That was the criteria for the first step. Meanwhile the drummer had been let go and his drums were still there ‘cause they were in mid-production and sure enough, this guy was a nut job and a ding dong and didn’t learn his parts. He was worried about his girlfriend trying to come to the shows and it turned out he was talking shit on Manson’s band. ‘Cause he became pals with Manson and was partying too much with him and had this false sense of power like showing up late and whatever. It’s none of my business and I could give a shit. I’m just glad the guy was a ding dong.

Did you audition for Manson?

I was literally painting with Louis Waldon who was one of the actors in all of Andy Warhol’s films. I was painting a giant 40 x 40 Marilyn Monroe with one of Warhol’s assistants. I’m painting and I have this smock on. I’m in Hollywood and I get a call from Tony Ciulla, the manager, and he’s like, “Dude, Manson can see you tonight at eight” and it’s like three in the afternoon. He said, “You need to learn these five songs.”

Were you going to play with the band?

He said, “You’re gonna play along to the record version and they’re gonna watch you play these songs and you need to bring drums. We already have production set up so we’re gonna have you miked and you’ll hear the tunes on your in-ears but you’ll just play along to a record.”

Did you even know any of the songs you were to have to play?

Mind you a week earlier, I started learning YouTube versions of the tunes, which are live versions and totally different than the record versions. I now realize the record versions are way longer or a whole other verse or in some cases way shorter. I had learned the classics like “Dope Show” and “Beautiful People” but now I had to learn the new versions and I had to learn three other tunes they gave me and one was a new tune.

You had to do all of that in like four or five hours?

I have to play this in front of Manson and the manager. I have to relearn those songs to the record, tear down drums, show up early so they can be miked and be ready to audition for Manson in like three hours. I’m scrambling and literally run out the door and say, “Later, Louis.” I’m learning new tunes and tearing down these drums and then it’s like, “What am I gonna dress like? What am I gonna look like?”

Which is an important question in a Marilyn Manson audition, right?

I threw on a black V-neck t-shirt, black boots, and black pants thinking, “OK, that’s safe.” But that’s all I could do. I thought, “I don’t have a Mohawk. I don’t look like a creepy creep. I don’t have any eyeliner.” I roll down, set up my drums at this rehearsal place and in walks Twiggy who had played bass three years in a row on all this stuff.

Was he cool?

He was like, “Hey, man. What’s going on?” and he was super chill. We just chatted and he was actually really nice. The next thing you know, in rolls Manson with a cocktail in one hand and an Astro Burger in the other. He’s classic Manson and walks in says, “Oh, look who’s here. Mr. Magic Sticks, Mr. Magic Hands.”

What did you say?

I’m like, “Yeah, cool.” He’s like, “No, man. I watched a few YouTube videos a minute ago with Fred [Sablan]” who also walked in behind him. Fred was with Manson and Manson said, “Who is this guy?” and Fred’s like, “Oh, he’s great.” Fred had seen me play with bands and I give thanks to Fred who I still love to this day and is a great friend and a great, great bass player.” Fred was like, “No, this guy is great, dude. This is a real drummer. He’s a session guy. He played with Foreigner and Chris Cornell.”

What did Manson think?

Of course, Manson could give a shit about any of that. He shows Manson YouTube stuff on this huge screen and shows me playing on a Bonzo Bash. The thing Manson loved best was a clip I put up there years ago of me playing a snare drum solo called “Rudimental.” It got tons of hits even though it wasn’t that great. Manson said, “I’m impressed. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

That’s amazing.

That broke the ice. In an audition, you have to break the ice and you have to speak to the artist. Speaking to the artist for one minute is like two hours in audition time. To be able to give them some sense of who you are and who they’ll be hanging out with on the bus is essential. If you don’t do anything and don’t say anything then they don’t know who you are and you’re doing yourself a massive disservice.

When did you actually start playing the music?

They kill all the lights and there’s a light rig in there because they’re in pre-production for a tour. Nobody gives me any details and Tony the manager shows up who’s kind of dry but a nice guy. They sit in these two rows and they’re just sitting there and I can barely see them. The lights are down and there’s this one red light shining down on me and Manson is drinking his drink and Twiggy and Fred and maybe another roadie and Tony are sitting there watching me. They go, “Alright, ‘Dope Show’’ and they literally press play on the iPod and I’m fuckin’ supposed to rock out.

That is strange.

Talk about a weird, sterile environment, right? They’re watching me play this tune completely silent and I couldn’t be in any more of a fishbowl. I’m supposed to rock so I do. I don’t care and I nail it. It’s like, “OK, what’s next? ‘Beautiful People’” and I nail it.

Does Manson say anything?

While I’m going through the second tune, I see him kind of rocking out and I can barely see him bobbing his head but he’s digging it. I’m rocking out mind you. I’m playing like I’m playing on stage with Manson. My hair is going everywhere and my arms are above my head and hitting as hard as I can.

So Manson must have dug that.

By the third tune, Manson is standing up and kind of weaving and then halfway through that tune, he’s all of a sudden hanging over me and rocking out like we were rocking together. He’s holding a mic but he’s not singing and then on the fourth tune he starts singing in the mic along with the tune and he’s digging it.

That must have felt amazing.

By the fifth tune, he stops the tune and they pick up their instruments and play that song together. We stop, lights go on and everybody splits. It’s me and Tony and he says, “I guess you’re coming to his house now. Do you want to follow me?” I said, “What do you mean?” and he’s like, “Yeah, he wants to play you the record [Born Villain]. I think that went pretty well.” But Tony is dry as a bone so I don’t know shit and Manson doesn’t say shit and everyone just leaves. The next thing you know I’m at Manson’s house.

Did he have a cool house?

It was some ramshackle apartment he was living in. I think it was owned by Billy Zane [actor] and a super weird place but that’s where they have a huge studio [Zane-A-Due] and they recorded in there. It was a weird house with art and shit everywhere but funky.

Manson played you the record?

We go into the studio and he starts to play me the entire record. Chris Vrenna who had programmed all the drums for Nine Inch Nails was there but midway through he said, “I’m outta here.” He was supposed to do the tour and he bailed.

Did Marilyn talk to you at all?

He would get to a tune like “Murderers Are Getting Prettier Every Day,” which is like a sixteenth-note double bass drum pattern that goes for about five minutes. I said, “Who played the drums on this?” and he said, “It’s all programmed. All my records are programmed.” It sounds real and it’s got swing because he’s got great programmers and great mixers and they make the shit sound real but there hasn’t been a real drummer on a Manson record since Mechanical Animals.

This is one of the songs you were going to have to play on the road?

He said, “Don’t worry. When Chris Vrenna was creating this track, he knew a drummer wouldn’t be able to play it. We’ll just program in the other double bass part and fly it in live. You don’t have to play this. I wouldn’t want your legs to get tired because I want you to be able to chase chicks after the show. He actually says that to me.

Unbelievable.

We had a few cocktails and he walks me out and a couple of chicks start showing up and it’s a super rock and roll circus like you’d imagine. I’m welcome to stay but I know I’m doing good and I don’t want to blow it and I know the other guy had partied with him too much. So I was like, “I’m good. Thanks, man.” On my way out the door he said, “Hey, man, I want to let you know that the way you play drums you sound like John Bonham. I always wanted my songs to have a drummer like that. I always wanted my music to swing.

So Manson really did appreciate how good you were.

That was it and I walked out the door. I literally went right to my rehearsal space and it was two in the morning and I started practicing that double bass pattern for about an hour before I went to bed. I was like, “I’m gonna play that drum part someday. I’m gonna nail that shit and there’s not gonna be any tracks anywhere.” Sure enough, I ended up getting the gig a couple of days and the other drummer came back for his callback and played one song and Manson was like, “Let’s pull the trigger on this cat.”

Getting that gig must have been amazing.

Manson always joked that I was his session drummer and that I was the only session musician he ever worked with. That was the nicest he ever was to me because after that it was like whatever. I know that’s why he never pulled any shit with me and never threw anything or screamed. He would pull shit but he never did anything directly because he knew I’d walk off the stage and go get another job. It protected me and I didn’t have to worry about that shit luckily.

What were rehearsals like with Manson?

In rehearsal, Manson was throwing my drums around, kicking drums over, pouring flour and sugar all over them and crumbling up Granola bars so when I hit them they’ll fly all over the place. It’s funny but I didn’t care about the drum setup. Most dudes would be like, “Don’t fuck with my drums” but that’s not what you do with him.

Was it a challenge playing Marilyn Manson’s music?

Oh, hell yeah. They were playing to tracks and you’ve got Manson screaming at you. Any mistake that’s made by Manson onstage, you get blamed for it because you’re a sitting duck. The manager had a meeting with me before I joined and said, “I need you to know if Manson screws something up, you’re getting the blame for it in public. You have to be cool with that and you can’t call him out on that.” It gets old but he always screwed shit up and he had to let the audience know it wasn’t him. It was [in nasty, vindictive Manson-like voice] “Youuuuuu!” You with me? I’m a professional, I have a Masters Degree, I’ve played with all these people and now I have this guy screaming at me and trying to make fun of me with the audience ‘cause I’d screwed up a song that actually he screwed up. You’ve really got to put your ego in check and I know a lot of friends of mine wouldn’t have hung.

He really is a strange cat.

This is a charade that goes on even after the show ‘cause you’re in an altered reality. After the show, you have to go up and say, “Sorry, dude. Sorry I screwed that up. He’s like [in sarcastic voice], “Well don’t do it again.” This is reality, bro. This is the shit they don’t teach you in college. It was excruciating on and offstage a lot. He’s a tough character but I love the guy and we had great times. If I saw him now, I’d love it. He’s awesome but it was a horror show. It was a fucking war.

You also have a Marilyn Manson guitar pick, right?

A guy made them for me. I remember there was a moment with Manson where someone had mentioned I was selling picks online. He was like, “Are you selling picks with my name on it?” I was like, “No, dude. I’m not that much of a dork.” He’s just a nut when it comes to anything [with his name on it]. I don’t know but god bless him. He’s one of those dudes where no one can make a profit off him and it’s more egotistically than professionally. At one point someone mentioned in his camp, “Oh, by the way, your drummer is selling picks on eBay.” He’s got this weird camp and they’re always searching every post about him and it’s a big deal. It’s kinda silly but it was about a two-second conversation. I looked at him and said, “You really think I’m trying to make $5 a pick?”

Chris Cornell was the opposite side of the spectrum from Manson?

Oh, yeah. Chris and Cher. Getting to play with Chris for three years, I can say I’m maybe one of a 100 people in the world who actually know Chris Cornell. He was incredible all the time but we got to see the real guy. The last time I saw him was me and him in a dressing room alone after Soundgarden had played the Hollywood Bowl. It was just me and Chris for 10 minutes talking about him moving to New York and it was a sweet, quiet conversation. It was a beautiful hang.

Chris really was a special guy?

He was a real human. He was a superstar and knew so much about everything and I don’t think he graduated high school. He was worldly, thoughtful, interesting, smart and hilarious and a total rascal.

You didn’t have any sense of what was really inside him?

Who knows? That’s something that was beyond my grasp and I’ll never know.

He never seemed down?

Hell no. It was so great and he was so happy and in love and had babies and he loved us. He loved the band and what he was doing. He was free. It was the first time it was Chris Cornell solo and he was sober and could control his life and how the songs were played and where we played. Audioslave and Soundgarden didn’t want to go to Europe or South America because according to him they hated touring. The bands couldn’t jam and they couldn’t just blow into some tune or go a little longer.

What has the Cher gig been like?

It’s the coolest gig and the hardest gig I’ve ever had to do. It is so challenging and drum-centric. It’s all the click and there are parts that are rubato [no strict tempo] and then Cher cues the click to start up again. It’s gnarly, dude, and I’m literally wearing 20 hats.

Why do you think you’ve had such an extraordinary career?

To sum it all up, when I go on stage, I’m prepared for anything. ‘Cause with Joe Perry, he’d look at me with a wink and we’d go into the next session. I have to be one step ahead of these people whether it’s Cher or Joe Perry. I call on everything from when I was playing in those first pop bands to grad school and playing Bach’s Concerto. It’s not that I’ve played with Marilyn Manson or Cher. It’s just being in the moment and honoring those songs. I’m gonna play like Jerry [Nolan] with the New York Dolls and I’m gonna play like Hal Blaine with Cher. I’m going to pay tribute to those fantastic drummers. With Cornell, I got to get my rocks off and he was like, “More drum solos.” Going into Foreigner, I was like, “I’m gonna lay this shit back and I’m gonna play that fill in ‘Cold As Ice’ perfectly.”

Do you still love playing the drums?

I’m a fan. The beauty of all the bands I got to play with is I’m a fan of every single band. This has all been fun and I can live to tell about it. I’ve played with all these different people, which is a goal I’ve always had my whole life. I never wanted to play in Linkin Park or one band. I wanted to use all my skills and show up and be a clean slate and be able to play music. I don’t have people turn around and say, “You’re overplaying. What’s up the time? You’re rushing.” Those things don’t happen anymore because I’ve paid attention to it and I’ve gotten to play with great players and once you pay attention enough it becomes second nature. I am the happiest, most fortunate, lucky drummer, you’ll ever interview. I could not be more thankful. I’m livin’ the life and nobody is more surprised than I am.