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Street Drum Corps brings dark whimsy and driving beats to Vinyl

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Street Drum Corps sees the world as one big instrument pile. As in, air compressor + Mack Truck parts = music.

Jamming on spoons with Chris Cornell on tour, backing Skrillex at EDC or unleashing No Doubt’s Adrian Young as a twisted ringmaster armed with exploding golf balls—Street Drum Corps has some highlight reel. The band’s run at Vinyl continues Saturday, with a darkly whimsical Lost Vegas concept and guest spots by the likes of Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee, Godsmack’s Shannon Larkin and our own School of Rock.

Founding trio Bobby and Adam Alt and Frank Zummo have built the SDC brand into a franchise, but the Vegas show is personal. Zummo says it’s the creative culmination of their 10 years together and a crucial toehold in an entertainment scene they’ve always dreamed of cracking. He caught up with the Weekly to chat about EDM’s rhythmic borrowing, kids who can rock Black Sabbath and the sweet, sweet sound of a vintage Cadillac.

Street Drum Corps has been colorfully labeled, from trash rock to a punk take on Stomp. How do you describe the band? It’s definitely a no-holds-barred, no-rules art project. We just get to explore all our different sides, all the things that we love and being in all different kinds of bands. The punk rock thing was the owner of the Warped Tour. That was our first tour we ever did, and he’s like, “They’re a punk rock Stomp,” and that kind of stuck.

Do your live shows fit that genre? I think it’s just our attitude and the way we play our instruments. The music is more industrial and heavy. Half the live show is a full drum show, and the other half has songs with vocals and guitar and background singers. It goes through where we started to where we are now.

You and the Alt brothers are East Coast boys who joined forces in LA a decade ago over a shared appreciation for drumming on really weird stuff. I was a fan of Bobby’s. He used to be in a band called S.T.U.N., great political punk rock kind of like The Clash or Sex Pistols. And [the brothers] were frontmen as well as just great drummers doing something creative, which was appealing to me.

Naturally, you became a band in a spontaneous jam session. One of my best friends who I grew up with was on tour with Stomp, and I took Bobby and Adam to see it. We all got really, really, really inspired. We were so high from seeing the show that we were in my car—my sh*tty Nissan Sentra that I moved to LA with from New York—and we all started jamming on my car, hitting doors and whatever. My buddy from Stomp was using the windshield as a kick drum and smashed it. We wound up at this bar, and he’s like, “I want to jam right now.” … Sure enough he had the staff bring out kegs and buckets, and we went on the dancefloor and they stopped the music, and we went into a drum jam and it was just sick. The next day we were like, there’s something here.

There's something about a drum circle ...

There's something about a drum circle ...

One homemade video in a junkyard later, SDC got a contract offer from Magic Mountain. Then the Warped Tour gave you a stage. What is it about drumming that fits just about any setting? It’s infectious. It’s a complete loss of reality. … That energy, that push and pull with the audience, everybody just gets into it, including us. … It’s been that way since the beginning of time. Drums were used to communicate. It’s still that way.

In a city where electronic dance music is such a force, it’s nice to see a group creating beats the old-fashioned way. Dance music is heavily based around beats and rhythms, so we’ve partnered up with a lot of DJs at EDC in Vegas and different events in LA. We’ve worked with our friend Skrillex and with 12th Planet.

What was it like backing Skrillex? When he was blowing up, his first time at EDC Vegas the first year, we got up with him and closed his first set. He had us come up there shooting our grinders and beating the sh*t out of kegs. … When you do add the live element, which is what is missing right now in that EDM world, it’s just so powerful and amazing.

One of the best things about your live show is the surprising array of found instruments. Adam is the mad scientist of the band. That guy will find the weirdest, most random things. … We use electric angle grinders, sanders, pneumatic tools, air compressors, Mac Truck parts, massive tire rims, 55-gallon oil drums, big plastic barrels and kegs. … In the last year we added washing machines and dryers.

Is the old Sentra part of the show here in Vegas?. Not yet. When we get a permanent show in Vegas we’re definitely gonna be able to have stuff like that. We just found out that a Cadillac from the ’40s sounds unbelievable ’cause the doors are so thick and heavy. Our first record we did with DJ Lethal, and we went into a junkyard that was all old cop cars and fire engines and we had mobile outdoor recording devices and just started playing jams and beating on cars. A lot of our songs on that first record are us slamming doors in time and this and that. So I incorporated a lot of that into this car. Instead of just having it be a set piece, we mic’d it, and when you slam a door on a Cadillac like that going through a sound system it shakes the theater.

So the goal is to land a permanent Vegas show? When we were setting the company up in the beginning, we were like, one of our biggest goals is to have an amazing show in Vegas and make it be everything we ever wanted. … We hired Mötley Crüe and Kiss’ production team to help us build 10 years of everything we’ve done into an amazing hour performance. We added stilt walkers, dancers on poles and girl-on-girl balancing acts. We added a backing band. And then there’s parts of the show where it just strips down to me, Bobby and Adam doing buckets, how we started.

One of the guests for this weekend’s performance is Tommy Lee, who’s played with SDC before. Mötley Crüe was the first concert my parents took me to in New York when I was 5 years old. That’s what makes me do what I do right now. And Tommy Lee, he’s in my wedding party—he’s one of my dear friends. A couple summers ago they were on their huge Crüe Fest tour and he burned his hand, and I had to go out and was in the band for two weeks. … Just walking around the casino, just seeing them and us on every other elevator is just a f*cking trip ’cause I go back to being a 5-year-old kid who saw that.

You’re also into featuring local talent. Who have some of the supporting acts been so far? We’ve had Systemic do two of the shows, First Class Trash. … We called the School of Rock, and their all-star band of kids is going to open the show, and that’s going to be amazing. … They sent me their set list and they’re like, “Are you cool with this?” It’s like Iron Maiden, Priest, Sabbath. I’m like, “Are you f*cking kidding me?”

Your run at Vinyl wraps in November. What’s next? I want to stay exactly where we are and keep building the show until we’re at the Joint like Mötley is for three weeks at a time with that big of a production. … I’d love to have that Cadillac limo onstage.

Street Drum Corps September 28, 9:30 p.m., $20. Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel, 693-5000.
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