In 2002, when Alien Ant Farm was touring in support of their breakout album ANThology, their number one single was a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” and you could say things were really going well for these boys from the Inland Empire (Riverside, CA). The follow up to their number one single was “Movies,” and it introduced the world to a highly talented band that quite obviously had more tricks up their sleeves than just a cover song by the King of Pop. The sky was the limit for AAF that is until their tour bus crashed in Spain and practically destroyed their lives and careers. Dryden Mitchell (vocals) suffered a broken neck and subsequently ended up in traction for several months, guitarist Terence Corso shattered his left leg above his ankle and bassist Tye Zamora chipped a bone in his right toe, drummer Mike Cosgrove came out unscathed. What would seem like a devastating blow to a band that was skyrocketing to rock superstardom became a turning point in the lives of four young men.
To celebrate International Drumming Month, AAF drummer Mike Cosgrove spent some time talking to themusicedge.com in between mouthfuls of food during a tour stop in support of their newest release, truANT. Stone Temple Pilots bassist and guitarist, Rob and Dean DeLeo, produced the new record. truANT finds AAF in their creative stride. They’ve expanded upon the ideas that perforated ANThology by combining their collective talents and producing a formidable rock record diverse enough to keep it interesting and loyal enough to their original sound to retain all the old fans and gain new ones.
Cosgrove is a drummer’s drummer. He’s a gear head and musician in the boldest sense of the term, forever searching for and improving upon his technique and musical prowess. In his formative years he took lessons from a private teacher and now he’s currently taking lessons (in between touring and promotion) from DW Drums President Don Lombardi, focusing on accent and time signatures while learning to tie all of them together. As for influences, he says, “I like (Tower of Power’s) David Garibaldi, Danny Carey, Carter Buford, Tony Williams-all the good drummers. Man, I really appreciate what they do. I love Darren Jesse who plays for Ben Folds Five. I don’t think he gets much mention yet he’s a very talented drummer.”
Adding, “I always liked to have my own record player and stuff and then I got into tapes but I think playing music - Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction came out and it really made me want to learn how to play and then from there I wanted to go further and further with it. I was into skateboarding and punk rock and heavy metal and all those kinds of things and you know, I just wanted to keep going in that music direction.”
Mike has driven himself to learn other instruments such as piano, bass and guitar and he’s currently trying to decide which wind instrument he would like to learn next (favoring the idea of picking up the saxophone). While growing up in Riverside, Cosgrove honed his chops by listening to such greats as The Police and Guns and Roses.
Not unlike many American public school attendees, Mike didn’t have the opportunities afforded to him regarding outlets and programs to play school music. He says, “At the time, I didn’t really have a school music program in my school. Honestly, I was ditching school to go practice drums. My neighbors weren’t home and my mom was at work so I’d go home during school and play drums without worrying about getting the cops called on me. I didn’t have the benefit of a good music program.”
AAF met while they were playing in bands separately in the area they grew up in. Mike says, “We were all playing in bands separately and got together through mutual admiration of each others playing. It was kind of like the most obvious players in our little area and we decided to put a band together.”
The writing process of AAF is relatively simple; they come together and flush out certain grooves or riffs and expand on it from there. Dryden lays down the lyrics after the song is written and the melodies and structure come together. “No matter how great everything could get, you know, it could get redundant and you could go crazy playing the same stupid songs, if they were really stupid, but if you have smart music there’s a little bit of pride and a sense of accomplishment. Even if it’s only you who knows it or maybe other people who might share it with you, at least in the band you feel good about it.”
Favoring technique over speed and attack, Mike stipulates, “Technique is the only bridge to speed. You might play fast but if you’re playing wrong you won’t play fast for very long. It won’t sound good. Plus you might be able to play one song like that but you won’t be able to play a whole set, or a tour for that matter and its bad on your body.”
Exercise is one of the key aspects of stamina for Mike as a drummer, though he admits he’s not always felt the connection between fitness and playing. “I’m not like some buff guy, I like to work out. I mean I like to stay in shape. When I slack off and just kind of sit around on the bus all day and don’t really do anything.” I’ve had tours where I wasn’t being fit or staying fit and I could feel it in my playing. When I stay active I feel stronger throughout the set. I feel like my notes are better. It may not be the best thing under the microphone if your going to slam out every note but when your playing to a big audience and they’re getting into you and all that its part of the show. If I’m trying to keep up through most of the show rather than playing strong and feeling good through most of the show, it says to me that I need to be exercising and taking this thing seriously, ya know?”
According to Mike, some of the most important things he’s learned in his years, as a drummer are, “Some things don’t come easy. If you really want the rewards that anything may have to give you should really learn to love the labor of it. And not expect to get something for nothing. If you take care of your craft and all that then it will take care of you. If you deny it and put it off and go chasing girls too much and getting into drugs or whatever then its going to get you back (negatively). So it’s like, whatever you put into it you’ll get more out of it and I don’t think that could be more true when it comes to any aspect of life.”