The name Rob Hammersmith may not be a name that you are familiar with but he is part of a band that, unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last 20+ years, you’ve definitely heard of. Rob is the fifth (and hopefully the last) drummer for Skid Row. You know Skid Row. “Youth Gone Wild”, “18 & Life”, “Slave to the Grind”. Yes, that Skid Row. Anyways, Rob Hammersmith lives right here in Atlanta, GA so Rob and I met each other at a local watering hole and over a few beers we talked about what it’s like being the “new guy” in Skid Row, how he ended up in Skid Row, and more importantly I learned just who he was and where he was coming from! Rob is a really great dude and I thoroughly enjoyed bonding, laughing, and drinking with the drummer from one of my all time favorite bands. I hope you all will enjoy getting to know Mr. Rob Hammersmith. Read on.

Rob, you’re a pretty mysterious character man. You’re playing drums in one of the bands I grew up loving as a kid but I know nothing about you. Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up, how did you end up in Atlanta, etc.

Well, I’m originally from Buffalo, NY and I grew up about an hour south outside of Buffalo. I split out of town after I graduated from community college and went out to California with a friend of mine from school. I was out there for a little while in Southern California and then ended up moving back to New York and settling down in Rochester. I just wasn’t happy and the opportunities I was looking for in music just weren’t there. I had some friends that I grew up with who already lived in Atlanta and they told me to come down and check it out. I just packed my car and came down to check it out and that was 13 years go [laughs]. Now I’m married with a house and a kid. I was just at that phase in my life of wanting to go wherever the wind would take me and it brought me here.

So I know you were the drummer for Wednesday 13 for a while and then you played with Rockets to Ruin. How did you end up being the drummer for Skid Row?

I had been playing in Rockets to Ruin here in Atlanta and Rachel (Bolan; Skid Row bassist) agreed to produce our album so we worked with him which was great. Skid Row was just about to put out their Revolutions Per Minute album in 2006 so we went out and did a handful of shows with them on that tour. That introduced me to the rest of the guys in the band. I left Rockets to Ruin and ended up playing with Wednesday 13 in his band Gunfire 76 for a little while. That band was kind of a late 70’s glam/punk rock kind of thing. When my time with that band was done, Skid Row needed a drummer so the timing was right for everybody involved and it just happened.

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So were you a fan before landing the gig?

Oh yeah. I loved that band from day 1. I love the music and I’ve always been a fan of Skid Row.

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You are currently the 5th drummer for Skid Row.

[laughs] I’d have to go back and do the math but that sounds about right. [laughs]

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Are you a little nervous that you might spontaneously combust or die in a bizarre gardening accident?

[laughs] Yeah, the Spinal Tap element is definitely there. I always like to think that I’ll be the last drummer that they’ll have but you just never know. It’s a crazy business but I’d like to think that they found what they were looking for and that we’re all going to live happily ever after.

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In all seriousness, were you nervous coming into this gig knowing that the band had already had a pretty big turnaround in drummers?

I felt stressed in a few different ways. Skid Row has made some fantastic and iconic hard rock records so when I was given the opportunity to step into those shoes it’s intimidating. I was up for the challenge but it was a bit stressful. In addition to wanting to fulfill the expectations of the fans and the band I was given the opportunity to go out and do shows and do things that were new for me. I’m not used to going out and playing in front of some of the crowds that these guys play for. It was intimidating but in a really exciting way. It’s been a very healthy experience for me and it’s definitely been a learning experience as well. There’s been a lot of personal growth as a person and a musician in a short period of time. I look back on it now and it’s been more exciting than anything.

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How has playing in Skid Row changed your life?

Well, in certain environments, people, and more so guys in other bands, look at you and as much as I hate to say it treat you a little bit differently. There are always people that will have had nothing nice to say about me for years and now all of the sudden they want to hang out and go have beers and whatnot. It’s also not a coincidence that they also might play in a band. I try not to hold that against them but there are certain standouts that you can see right through their game. Luckily, I’m at a point where I can deal with that and not really let it affect me too much. The biggest thing that I had to get used to is when people ask me if I play in a band. I wasn’t used to being in a position where the majority of the general public recognizes the name of the band I’m in [laughs]. That was the hardest thing to get used to. I’ve played in so many bands that nobody cared about or knew about so it’s weird that now people actually know the band that I play for. That’s not to say that they’re always a fan but most people know or have heard the name of the band so that was an adjustment for me.

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Skid Row has been quite busy and playing some great shows these days. You guys have been to Europe a few times and even played in Russia not too long ago. Do you feel that the European audiences are as receptive to Skid Row in 2012 as they might have been in say 1992?

Based on what I can see, they have been extremely receptive. There’s always going to be that stigma and the issue of the earlier version of Skid Row vs. the present version of Skid Row. That’s always going to be there. When we go to these different countries to play, the fans are about the music first. They are more about the music and the songs they grew up listening to. That’s where their attachment is and that’s where their excitement comes from. Throughout our show we try and touch on every record from the band’s career depending on limitations such as if we’re an opening act and having to play a shorter set. One of the things I’ve noticed about the European crowds is that when we start playing songs from Thick Skin or Revolutions Per Minute, they go just as crazy for those songs and sing along with them just as much as they do for the older songs. That’s really cool. It’s really encouraging and it makes us want to put out more music.

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There are so many bands from that classic era that go out and ride the nostalgia train which is fine. To me, as a fan, while I love hearing the classic songs I grew up, I like hearing new music. Skid Row seems to be doing it solely for the desire of putting out new music. It’s not like you guys are trying to sell out arenas or get platinum albums or anything.

Right. At the end of the day that is why we all started doing this in the first place. We all just love the creative process and we love playing music. It’s fun to get in a room and make music. I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by fantastic songwriters. These guys are so good at what they do. Even if it doesn’t meet other people’s expectations in terms of record sales or ticket sales, for us it’s an exciting place to be. To be in a position to go out, make music, and still have your core audience want to hear it is amazing.

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Skid Row is working on a new album and this is the first one that will feature you on drums. How did the creative process work for this one?

In this band, as I said earlier, you have some of the best songwriters of their genre and nobody can take that away from them. The talent there is just fantastic. It’s just been fun to watch and observe how these guys work. I’ve learned a lot from that and it’s been a lot of fun. We’re having a lot of fun working on this album. We’re fortunate to be in a position that we’ve been able to take our time to make the record that we want to make as opposed to making the record that we think people want to hear or the record that we could finish by a certain deadline. We’re going to put out the music that we want to put out. We’ve made a commitment to ourselves and our fans that we’re going to make a record that we can feel good about and not just put out new music just to put it out.

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Like a lot of the bands of the era, Skid Row doesn’t really do full on tours anymore as in getting in a bus and doing 200 shows. How does touring work for Skid Row these days?

Skid Row is at a point right now where at certain times of the year we’ll do one off “fly out” dates. This year we’re a bit busier than normal so what we’ll do is fly out to a particular region and we’ll knock out maybe four or five shows. You’re still doing the long weekend thing but we’re not touring in the traditional sense. We’re not living on a tour bus where we’re out for six months or anything like that. If the opportunities are there for us after this new album is released we would certainly do it but it’s been working for us the way we’ve been doing things the last couple of years. This year we’re going to be more focused on knocking out particular regions as opposed to just flying out and doing a show here and a show there. We’ll be doing more 4-5 show runs.

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Skid Row has a show right here in Atlanta on June 9th. Are you going to be playing any new material at all?

It’s a bit early to tell but you never know! Wild Bill’s has become an annual gig for us and we make an effort to make sure that the fans won’t get the same show every year.

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I really enjoyed last year’s show and you guys dug deep and pulled out some fun songs. As the new drummer, what song did you find the most challenging to nail from the Skid Row catalog?

There’s a few that were challenging. Skid Row has had some great drummers and they’ve made some really great music. Everybody’s different in how they approach things. I never really had a formal conversation with the guys as to what they expected. When I first listened to these songs to learn them, I just tried to figure out what parts were important and what would the fans miss if it was there ya know? There were a couple of songs where I really wanted to try and capture the vibe. “Slave to the Grind” is one of those songs. That song has so much energy to it. Not only is it a great song but they really captured lightning in a bottle on that one and on that whole record as a matter of fact.

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Slave to the Grind is still to this day one of my all time favorite metal records.

It’s a great record and anyone who is a music fan knows that it’s about more than just playing the right notes or beats. It’s all about the delivery and the energy. Those are the elusive x-factors that we all chase when we’re doing something artistic whether it’s music, painting, or anything else artistic. “Slave to the Grind” is that song for me and I just wanted to make an effort to capture that vibe and get that energy. There’s a certain excitement to it and if it’s not there than something is wrong. There’s a few other songs but that’s the stand out one for me. “Monkey Business” is another one for me.

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I love that song and even though I’m not a drummer I will always remember how cool Rob Affuso’s playing on that song was.

He’s a great example of a drummer who had a style and a voice behind his instrument. It’s fun to go in there and try to cop that feel and get inside his head a little bit and just try and do it justice. I want to make sure I feel good about it but most importantly that the fans are digging it and that it takes them to that place I want to take them.

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Have you ever met Rob Affuso before?

I have not actually. I’ve never met him. I’ve heard that he’s a really great guy and I hope at some point he’ll make it out to a show so I can introduce myself.

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In the Skid Row set, what is your personal favorite song to play?

My favorite song to play is “Slave to the Grind.” As a drummer, how could you not love playing that song? I love playing “Youth Gone Wild”, if anything, because of the energy from the crowd. There’s no better feeling that seeing how the people react to that song. It becomes less about what I’m doing and playing up there. It’s one of those moments where I just open up your eyes, take it all in, and remind myself that I’m really lucky to have the opportunity to do this.

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Being the “new guy” can sometimes be a really hard thing and as you said earlier, some people embrace the new line up and some don’t. What is the general reaction from the more old school fans been positive?

Generally, yes. You have to know that everybody is going to have opinions and they’re not going to be afraid to share them with you. You handle it as graciously as you and just have to roll with it. We’re just five guys enjoying the shit out of what we’re doing and there are a lot of people out there enjoying it with us.

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I’ll be honest and say that I think it’s cool that Rachel and the guys never buckled to the pressure of trying to reunite. This line up seems to really have a great chemistry together.

We’re five happy guys and we’re having a lot of fun and we’re all excited about the new music. It’s just a really good time to be a part of Skid Row and to be a fan of the band. There’s always going to be the people who can’t accept it and can’t get past things. I hope people can look back on Skid Row with fond memories while also looking forward to the same things we are looking forward to. We are excited for all the people that are there with us supporting us.

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Skid Row has been around for over 20 years. Are you starting to see a younger generation of fans coming into the fold?

Oh definitely. We’re now seeing older Skid Row fans bringing their kids to the shows. This is a whole new, a second generation of fans and these younger kids are singing the songs and getting excited. “Youth Gone Wild” has come around full circle to a whole new generation of kids that are going to go out after the show and do bad shit. That’s awesome [laughs]. You can spot them in the crowd. You just know they’re going to go out and be reckless after the show. It’s exciting for us and that’s what we’re proud of.

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You just got to play the KISS KRUISE not too long ago. I’m bummed I didn’t get to see that. How was that for you guys?

It was so awesome. It was really cool and it was exciting for us to do it. These cruises have really taken off over the last few years. It’s great for any genre of any band and their fans. When you’re talking about a band like KISS and they do something like this for the first time, they’re going to do it right, they’re going to do it big and it’s going to go down in history. For us it was a great opportunity to be a part of that. We also had the benefit of being big Kiss fans so it was exciting. They did the unmasked acoustic show and did all kinds of rare songs. They were so comfortable with the crowd and it made you really feel like you were a part of something special then to be able to go on stage and actually play was a really fun, amazing time.

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Did you get to meet up or hang with Kiss at all?

We actually didn’t. I’ve met a couple of the guys in the past but not this time around. They were so busy but they were great with their fans. They made a point to make sure that everybody on that boat had the opportunity to get their picture taken with them and that everyone had the opportunity to see the shows in the theater as well as the acoustic set. I don’t think people realize just what it takes to pull something like that cruise off. It might look like they only work for the time that they’re on stage but that’s just not the case. Kiss did an amazing job and they made it a really great experience for everybody involved. It went by way too fast though [laughs].

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Rob, let’s go back in time my friend. How did you get into drumming?

I was in 6th grade and my dad took me to get a drum set. I’m pretty sure he thought I was going to do it for a few weeks and like everything else I did at the time, lose interest [laughs]. I think he thought I was going trade them for a dirt bike or something [laughs]. I didn’t take it too seriously at first but I got to a point in high school and I realized that all the other kids around me were growing and I was this wirily little kid. I knew I wasn’t going to be good at sports or anything like that so I just threw myself into my drumming. Around my sophomore or junior year of high school it just clicked with me and I began really enjoying it. As I got older and got more control over my life I began to take it seriously and enjoy it more.

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Do you remember your first concert?

Oh yeah. The first concert I ever went to was when my dad took us all to see Roy Orbison sometime in the 80’s. I just remember being so blown away by it. At the time it was so much larger than life. Seeing him up there and seeing how the crowd reacted to him. My dad will think it’s funny that I’m about to say this but I just found out recently that my dad actually bootlegged the show [laughs].

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Oh that’s fucking awesome.

Yeah it is [laughs]. You remember those big portable tape recorders with the handle on one end? My dad snuck one into the show and had it between his feet. Just this past Christmas, when I was home for the holiday, he gave me a copy that he had burned to a CD. He also gave me a newspaper article that was promoting the show. It’s awesome. I was really too young to truly appreciate that concert at the time but listening to it now but to hear Roy Orbison sing and hear his band onstage is better than 90% of the stuff that’s done with Pro Tools and all that other stuff that we have nowadays. You just listen to that guy sing and it’s amazing. The first concert I ever went to on my own with just my friends was Whitesnake and Great White in 1988. Watching Tommy Aldridge play was an amazing thing. Those two shows made the biggest impact on me. Once you get bitten by the music bug and it’s in your blood, you just have to go with it.

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If you could have 30 minutes alone w/ any drummer alive or did, who would it be and why?

Oh man. I’d probably have to say Phil Rudd of AC/DC. Phil Rudd is the textbook example of a rock n’ roll drummer. Phil Rudd is always dismissed for being a meat and potatoes drummer but he always captures that energy and vibe. It’s not about what you play. It’s how you play it and he’s that guy. He gave me hope when I was a young drummer growing up. While everyone was listening to Neil Peart (drummer for Rush), as much as I appreciate that kind of stuff, I just couldn’t do it. I was never that guy. I could listen to Phil Rudd and his playing always resonated more with me than a lot of those other guys. When I hear the song “Back In Black”, the radio just doesn’t go loud enough for me [laughs]. I would love the opportunity to tell him that. Matter of fact, I’d find a way to drag that sentence out for 30 minutes [laughs].

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I love it man. Phil Rudd gets a lot of shit for being so simple but I read somewhere once that George Young said that while he may have been simple, he had nearly perfect time and never played w/ a metronome.

To me, Phil Rudd should be a starting point. AC/DC should be required listening for anyone wanting to be a rock drummer. There are other bands out there doing all the crazy time signatures and I love that stuff too. I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that at one time I aspired to be like those guys but Phil Rudd was always the standard that I would go back to.

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That’s like me in a way. I remember listening to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and wanting to be those guitarists but it seemed impossible but when I hear The Ramones, I was like, “Man, I can do that!” so that’s what got the ball rolling for me.

That’s awesome that you mentioned The Ramones because they are a great example of that. The records that changed my life and shaped who I am as a player, none of them were the best players. You could probably even make a good argument that a lot of them weren’t even good players [laughs]. They did manage to capture that energy and vibe and for me, that was more important than just being the best player. I mean, being the best player means different things to different people anyways so once I got that in my head, I started having a lot more fun. I’ll still never have the depth of pocket or feel that he has and that’ll keep me in the practice room until the day I die.

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Rob, if Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would play you?

Oh man. So what’s my budget here [laughs]? Well, Will Farrell cracks me up [laughs]. Wouldn’t that be cool ? Actually, I’m not a big movie guy so I don’t have a lot of actors that I’m attached to but yeah, I think we’ll let Will Farrell read for the part and then we’ll do a follow up interview after that [laughs].

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Last but not least, finish this statement: If I wasn’t a musician, I would be…

Miserable [laughs]. I mean, I’m sure I would’ve gone on to live a completely different life but I don’t even like to think about it. I’m having so much fun right now. I’m really fortunate and blessed in my life. I have a wonderful family and the people around me are healthy and things are good. Man, I don’t know what I would do without music.

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There are still a lot of people with dreams of playing music. Do you have any advice for them?

I would say to just educate yourself and set realistic expectations. It’s a strange business and it’s a much different business than it was 5 years ago and even 10 years ago. Learn the business as it exists in the time that you’re trying to accomplish something and chase your dreams. No matter how bad it is in any industry, somebody is going to find a way to beat the system and have the next great idea or cutting edge method to be successful. There’s no reason that it couldn’t be you. Just believe in what you’re doing and enjoy the process. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it.

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That’s some great advice my friend. Rob, thank you so much for taking the time out to do this interview tonight.

Thank you Don. It’s been my pleasure and thank you for taking the time to do it!

For more on Rob and Skid Row, head on over to http://www.skidrow.com

Skid Row is performing at Wild Bill’s in Atlanta THIS SATURDAY NIGHT, June 9th.  CLICK HERE for tickets!

karen says:

Rob is a great guy,I’m from his home town and he was always the nice guy out of the bunch!!

AJ says:

He seems like a really cool guy. Great interview, Fartso!

thegreatsouthernbrainfart thegreatsouthernbrainfart says:

Thanks a bunch AJ. Rob is really a genuinely great guy. Drinks good beer and is a blast to hang out with. So glad you’re diggin’ it!

Moon says:

Awesome!! Will be seeing them in a month :)