INTERVIEW: Frank Zummo talks Sum 41, solo material, and family life

Frank Zummo

Let’s get one thing straight here, right off the bat, Sum 41 drummer Frank Zummo is not from Columbus, Ohio. Remember when we were all taught in middle school that Wikipedia wasn’t the safe haven for information? Somewhere along the line, we all fall victim to a little white lie on Wikipedia — I’m no exception here.

So, when I was getting ready to interview the drummer, my research took me to Wikipedia where I saw many factual things about Zummo: founding member of Street Drum Corps, has preformed with acts like Dead By Sunrise, Krewella, and even Motley Crue. However, also listed on his Wikipedia was that he was originally from Columbus, Ohio. Now, as a Columbus born-and-raised man myself, I thought this would be a fun little thing to bond over — whoops.

“I was born and raised in Long Island, New York,” Zummo tells me with a chuckle when I ask about his (lack of) Columbus origins. He shares a story from the 2017 Alternative Press Awards, in which he performed with Twenty One Pilots Josh Dunn, who also had asked him about living in Columbus. “[Josh Dunn] was like, ‘Hey man, I was looking you up and I see you’re from Columbus, how do I not know you? Columbus isn’t, like, a big city.’ And I was like, ‘Because I’m not from there,'” Zummo recalls.

From there, our interview twisted and turned through Zummo’s illustrious career as a drummer, from the aforementioned gigs with Motley Crue and Dead by Sunrise, all the way to his solo career, as he gears up to release his new solo release, It’s My War, on September 25th via Bite This, the label founded by acclaimed EDM artist/producer Jauz.

To start off, just tell me a bit about you and how you got into drumming.

I was born and raised in Long Island, New York. I still have all my family there, but I’ve lived in Los Angeles for I believe 16 years now. And drumming, it kind of found me. My parents were in a band together; my mother sang, my father played drums. In this tiny apartment I was growing up in, my parents said when I was about two, I walked away from the dining table and the next thing they heard was me in the next room playing my dad’s drums. And that was kinda it, they knew something was there because it didn’t sound like what you’d think a kid hitting drums for the first time would sound like.

There was just something there, my dad kinda had a folding chair with stacks of phone books, back when I think they used to make phone books. They sat me on that and that was kinda it. I don’t remember any of this, obviously being that young, but there’s some cool pictures, and I just kinda found them and that was it.

My dad was a college radio DJ and he gave me his record collection, which I still have, which was like the fundamentals of music to me. It was everything from Queen to James Brown. He gave me headphones, his record collection. Until I was like 6, I went to formal lessons for technique and to learn music and all that kinda stuff, but I was pretty much self taught with those records from 2 to 6 years old.

Do you remember the first concert you went to?

I remember it clear as day, my parents were so rad in taking me to concerts at an early age. When I was 5 years old, they took me to my first show. It was at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, it was the notorious tour of Ozzy’s Bark at the Moon and Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil, and Motley came on stage — and we were in the last row, in the nosebleeds, literally— and when Motley came on and how I felt Tommy Lee, just the power of a drummer that was just so over the top and felt, I felt that in the nosebleeds, and I knew at that moment, at 5 years old, I kind of made a pact with myself, I remember that moment clear as day.

Now to be playing arenas as a career, I always take a moment at the show and look up at the nosebleeds and remember being that kid, in that position, and it was just such a — you talk about just being on the right path and sticking to your path, and to be playing arenas and to later in life, you know, [to be] really good friends with Tommy Lee, who was my idol growing up. He found me because he was a Street Drum Corps fan, which shocked me that he even knew who our drum group was and was into it. And you know, down the road, years into our friendship, when he had an accident and burnt his hand and I got an emergency call to come out and play for Motley Crue for two weeks.

Which, [if] you wanna talk about being in the bands you inspired you to do this, I may pretend that I was in Motley Crue and just playing to those records as a child. I was prepared for this moment my entire life, and it was really incredible. I got to share that moment with my dad, too, because when I was on that tour, we came through Florida when he was living there at the time, and Tommy actually told the audience that story — it’s actually on my Youtube, you can check it out, it’s pretty moving — you know, I can’t even imagine, me being a father now and something I did inspired my children that much and I was literally years later watching them do what inspired me, what a moment, man.

You’ve obviously been with Sum 41 for a few years, and we’ll get there, too — but playing with Motley Crue. Of all the things you’ve done in your career, does that one stick out the most as a “holy shit” type of moment

Absolutely, the highlight of my life, to be in a band that I wanted to be. I dressed up as Motley Crue for Halloween, their posters were on my wall, [and] their records. To be on stage and be playing the songs that shaped my musical career, I mea — and then you wanna talk about being in one of the most notorious bands of just, like, fun. Not only were the shows just incredible, but off stage, living on the tour bus, we’d just be going to a jet to go to the Bahamas or in the woods at a shooting range shooting all kinds of crazy guns. Every day was just such an incredible day, and the dudes in the band are just such incredible guys. To be a part of, I love big rock shows and productions, to be on stage when things are blowing up above you, next to you. Just huddling with those guys, bumping fists, having those moments with those guys before the curtain drops, what a moment to be involved in.

It was just a life changing thing in so many ways. It’s insane. I literally got a call like on their farewell tour, Tommy had a bad tendonitis with his hands and I got a call like “where are you dude?” And I was with Street Drum Corps group in, like, Singapore or something. It was a bummer that I got that call to come back for that tour so I wasn’t able to do it. I’m stoked that they’re coming back. They’re gonna do a stadium tour and all that hopefully when we’re able to play shows again.

Was it the Dr. Feelgood tour? 

That was their Doctor Feelgood anniversary tour, that was their first anniversary tour. We played that entire record and then it was like, back to just all the hits. I got that CD, my dad, I remember one Saturday, I had to do crazy yard work — mow the lawn, trim the trees, all this stuff — and then when I finished, I remember going inside exhausted and my dad, like, hands me that CD as my reward for the day. So I knew that record so, so well. It was so cool to play that record every day.

You’ve played with a ton of amazing acts of your career in music, was it more challenging to be in a fill-in type role or more of a permanent, prominent member type role?

I mean, I think, I would say the two things that come to my head — because you’re right, I have been able to play with so many incredible bands, Scott  Weiland, Gary Newman, I was blessed to share the stage with some incredible artists — and I would say the most different was playing with Krewella, in this DJ world because everything is changing on the fly, there is no click track, there’s no backtrack, it’s all done live based on what the vibe of the audience is.

We rehearse as much as we can, we have a setlist prepared, but everything is changing, and you know, you’re the beat. You can fuck up the whole thing for the audience. It really is like being an air traffic controller, you know, with just like — and with Kayzo, we had other percussionists on stage with us as well, there’s like a lot of drums going on, a lot of people that have to be in tune, and in that I was kind of the live musical director, built that whole live show and produced those segments. It really keeps you on your toes.

And in that DJ world, they’re not playing songs start to finish, it’s just like hook, hook, hook. In a traditional Sum 41 show, we’ll play maybe 15-16 songs in a set. In this DJ world’s show, it’s like almost double and a half because it’s just all about hook, hook, hook. They don’t play full songs, so you have to be on your toes the entire time, you have to be really paying attention. It keeps you really sharp because you don’t have that, okay cool playing the same set every night, I can be thinking about my shopping list for tomorrow for groceries. It really keeps you on your toes, and I enjoy that as a musician, I like to keep challenged, that’s why I’ve always done multiple things. I like the challenge of it. I like to keep my brain learning, you know.

With Sum 41, definitely the most challenging thing, you know, was they wanted me to learn the entire catalogue, and the way that they interpret the songs live, and just learning how our singer runs the show as a frontman, learning his body language, when he wants things taken down, extended, it was a lot to learn when the band had the same drummer since high school. I had to learn a lot of stuff, it’s a band where we’re playing completely live, there’s no playing backing tracks, things change all the time, it’s like, I wanted to bring a different element to the band live, playing samples and things that they weren’t doing live. So I brought in that whole electronics world of live, and sometimes I’m playing keyboard lines while my right hand’s keeping the groove. It was a learning bootcamp to understand how the band operates live.

I’m in the band, it wasn’t just like, “you’re a live guy and we have someone else in studio.” Before the live shows, I was in the studio recording those records. You talk about being thrown into the fire, my first live show with the band was the AP awards, sold out arena, livestreaming, medley of the band’s hits. We brought out DMC and did a bunch of Run DMC songs. It was a fucking insane show for my first one with the band.

While we are on Sum 41, tell me a bit about that and how the process happened when you joined the band once Steve left?

Yeah, absolutely, I met them out on Warped Tour when I was out with Street Drum Corps, and just through Deryck, we had a lot of mutual friends, and I just kept running into him and we became buds. Street Drum Corps had a Vegas residency at the Hardrock for half a year, and we would bring out all of our rockstar buddies to join us, which was super fun during the residency.

Deryck was our special guest on night one, we would bring out all of these guitar players and singers and drummers and all kinds of musicians. He was the first one we kind of ever played together, you just kind of know when something clicks. And literally right after that residency, Steve left the band, and I just kind of shot Deryck a text or an email and was like, “Hey, sorry that your bud left the band, but like whenever you’re ready to play music again with another drummer, I would love the opportunity.” Because that’s one of my favorite bands, I’ve always wanted to be in this band, it fits my style perfectly. And he was like, “Dude, yeah, come over, I’m gonna have a party, lets jam a couple tunes.” And it turned into, come back, lets play some Sum 41 songs. And it got to the point where I was like, okay, I’m gonna bring the band to LA and we’re gonna spend a week together nonstop, hanging, jamming, recording. After the end of that week, I officially got asked to be in the band.

It’s been 5-6 years now, I’m two records in, we were in middle of a world tour when COVID hit. I’m supposed to be in Europe right now. But, you know, with all of this, I’ve just turned it into, Sum 41, we’re taking a break, you know — Deryck just had his first baby, we’re in middle of an album cycle that’s scheduled to be kicked back off in spring, willing, you know that this virus is on track to allow shows by then, but who the fuck knows. So I’m just, I dove deep into my solo career, which is something that has been such an incredible journey that I’ve been on for the least two years. So I’ve been really deep into this, and we’re gonna release my official EP [soon], and I’m in middle of writing a full length record right now, so it’s been a really great time to just kind of dive in and take advantage of everyone being home to work with all of these amazing songwriters, producers.

You know, through COVID and all this stuff, I wouldn’t have found the record label partner that we’re working with. Just trying to keep positive, I can’t control everything else that’s going on in the world, so I’m just trying to keep pushing and growing as a songwriter, just really diving in, it’s been a really great time musically, for me, and inspiring, and all of that.

I’m glad you brought up the solo stuff you’ve been doing. How is that for you? To have more freedom and let it really be your project?

That’s what this project was, I really wanted to — it just hit me one day, I got really inspired, because I’ve been doing a lot of solo shows, like all these big emo night festival shows, touring the world and doing these kind of motivational, inspirational workshops for kids and upcoming musicians. I was just like, obviously I was playing Sum 41 tunes and all these DJ mixes I was doing too, but it just kind of inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and do something where I can work with all these different amazing singers, songwriters, producers, everybody’s been a different producer, different artist. Let’s make it drum heavy, but I want to make real songs, I want to combine my love of rock music, electronic music, alternative pop, I want to combine all of these elements and make it drum heavy, but really dive into song writing and working with all of these artists.

And now that I’m doing all of those, turn it into a live experience. DJs are a perfect example of this; they make music and collaborate with singers and they go out and play them live, playing them live and jumping up and down — I’m performing it live, playing drums — people love that energy, which is working well.

I kind of had this whole vision and inspiration to do it, and the first song I finished is one called, “The Less We Know” that Kayzo produced and wrote with me, and we had Micah Martin sing on it, we put it out around Coachella last year. That’s when I got Scott [Waldman], brought Scott onto my management team, and we sat down and linked me up with a bunch of amazing songwriters, and basically last summer while I was on tour with Sum 41, whether I was in cities that there were songwriters that we knew, I would literally go before soundcheck and go and write and record. When I had a break at home, I’d be in the studio in LA and kind of piece together this EP, wrote it, recorded drums, then it was a matter of finding what singers wanted to be a part of it, mixing it, all of this got done, probably around the winter, and then it was like, I’m home for this, meeting with every label.

We went up, I actually met them backstage at a Sum 41 show, was Jauz, who’s a producer and has an amazing label called Bite This, and it was perfect timing, they were looking to pivot as a label and start doing not only EDM stuff, but looking to do more genres, and with me I’m kind of the new thing of where they’re going musically. It’s been such an incredible collaborative to be a part of.

Basically this whole project is to do something positive, inspirational, upbeat, obviously the world right now is in a very dark place because of just everything going on, social media and all of that stuff. We’d go look at it and now it’s just pretty negative and all it does is just put you in a bad mood. I’m like, if I wanna put something out, I want it to just instantly, the second they hear something, have it connect and touch people, and visually, I want it to be something that is inspiring. The music video we just made is beautiful, cinematic, inspirational.

I just want to put something out that — because that’s where I’m at in my life — is just, you know, move people in this. I have Sum 41 for the angsty, political rebellion, I get those out, but I am in a good place. I’m blessed in what I’m doing, I’m blessed with a beautiful family and home because of music and my music is portraying just that great part of my life that I’m in. I just wanna make really good-feel music and visually present that as well. It’s really inspired me to create and I’m really deep into a record right now, and that’s the whole book for next year. I’m really excited to just share this with the world and do some goodness and brighten peoples’ day.

I love that idea, too. You’re right, there certainly is a lot of negativity going on right now, so it can be refreshing to have something more positive for people to listen to.

My favorite records are records that have all of those different moments. I definitely have, there’s you know, “Hit the Ground” is a more aggressive song. “Holy Ghost” is a very touching, emotional song. The single, “Edge of the Earth,” is kind of all of the emotions in one. I think it’s gonna be very relatable to people, too, because it is just kind of my story about how a kid with just this tunnel vision dream to make this my everything — I never had a plan B — just go forward, that’s my fuel, that’s my inspiration every day.

I try to, every time I do these workshops for kids and they’re like, “what’s your secret, how do I make it?” I’m like, just do it, just don’t fucking stop until it happens. I’m true to that. I’m no different than you. I just had my vision planned and I never stopped. The music, the lyrics and the contents, are just about that as well. Even just the struggles we all go through on a daily basis, and to keep on top of the game wherever you’re at, especially now. I feel like right now, because of quarantine, life being on somewhat of a pause right now, whatever you like, being a writer, we can all get our craft because we aren’t running the fucking rat race, to this birthday party, to this event, to this work thing, to this and that. I try to be a better human, a better musician, all of this. Otherwise, if you just stay home stressing about this, it doesn’t feel good and we can’t control this right now. Let’s just live in our bubble and come out as a better person. That’s how I’m coping and getting through it.

I just think that while I’m seeing my family in northern California because of these horrific wildfires, I woke up this morning, I’m safe, my house is here, my children are happy — that’s all that fucking matters. Anything else that stresses or we worry about, that’s what this whole thing that we’re going through is helping me realize that this shit that we stress and worry about isn’t worth it. I feel like America should shut down at least two weeks a year, everything should be closed, you should have to stay home and have this quality time with your family, even for the holidays, you get two days and you’re stressing the fuck out because you’re running around, traveling, presents, trying to catch up with family in a day and a half or two days, and that’s not quality time. I just wish we would mandatory two week shut down, just be with your family and enjoy the moment.

Like a Purge, but, you know, happier.

It really is what it is, and I say, just dive into passions and things you put off because of just the chaotic madness of life, there’s no excuse right now to kind of go for all those things and just work on everything. That’s what has been the great thing, and just being a father with two little kids. I missed the last year because I was on tour and stuff, so to have this pause, to have this calm down and have time with children that are so young and it’s important time to be here, it’s kind of precious and that’s the silver lining to this whole thing.

This family stuff has been such an inspiration for this music thing. My kids are my biggest critics, and that’s all I care about. If they like the song. I’ll play the song in the car, I won’t tell them it’s mine, because I don’t sing so they don’t know, and if when the song ends and they say “again,” I know we’ve got a winner. So far — thank god — it’s always, they love every song. At the end of the day, if it pleases them, no one else has to like it, I don’t really care.

It’s so cute when I see them riding their bikes around the yard, singing one of the hooks to one of my songs. That’s the greatest thing. I’ll try to film it and send it to the songwriters that I write with. This is the best, we did it, if they like it.

It’s true, that’s a great way of looking at it because you’re normally touring non-stop with Sum 41 alone.

We tour nonstop, and when we have breaks, I have to cram in the solo shit, and these drum tours that I do, and so it’s nonstop, for sure. But it’s been really good to just really take my time with no deadlines to work on writing music right now. Everybody I’ve been working with is an inspiration, everybody’s been in such a good place musically. We love that there’s no deadlines. Even when most bands make records, it’s like, from X to Y updates to do this, we have shows, we have to go on tour, we have that stress of the schedule. Right now to just be creative and when it’s done, it’s done, and let’s take our time and get it right is such a great feeling.

Because of COVID, too, I actually got to put my live show together, because now you see everything streaming, now they’re charging to view it. I was booked to play Kevin Lymen’s mental health festival, and it was gonna be downtown. COVID hit, no concerts, so they said we still have to do it, we’re streaming. So I was like, okay, I have to do this from home, I’m a drummer, I don’t have an acoustic guitar to sit and play on my couch, I have to make sure this is right. I literally called a production friend of mine and be like, how the hell do we do this. I wanna give them something rad, I wanna give the viewers something rad, how do we make this thing look like an arena show? And he was like, “dude, let’s just go into my buddy’s warehouse and bring some production gear, let’s clear a wall, let’s build up an arena rock show in there.” It really helped me and my team build my live show, now we know what it looks like, feels like, it helped me put this together.

I’m actually going to be doing another big livestreaming event for my EP release next month, and now we’re like, okay we’ve done this, how do we top it? We’ve got the festival show built for next year. It helped me build it creatively, and I’m so glad about that, and because of COVID, we can’t have all of these people in the room, and we had my team on computers doing this shit from other places. It’s crazy. It’s been fun to geek out and learn all of this technology. I’d be in Europe right now, touring, festivals, I miss it and I need that in my life. I had to channel it with different training and working out and practicing, I’d go insane. I’ve been doing it since I was 2. It’s a big release that I have to have, so I’ve just kind of had to come up with other ways so I don’t go insane. When it’s been your life for your whole life, it’s insane to take out.