Video by: Annie Rinsky
Despite denying rumors of a reunion late last year, Pendulum have four confirmed festival dates lined up for a live performance and getting ready for those shows is just one of the things their drummer KJ Sawka is up to. Between Pendulum, the Destroid project with Downlink and Excision, producing for other artists, writing and producing his own music, and doing the best drum covers on the Internet, he’s been keeping pretty busy between periods of Pendulum-centric activity. We caught up with KJ to hear about his newest solo release “The Time Has Come,” find out what makes him such a special and distinguishable drummer, and talk about his supreme musical hero, the great Phil Collins. And don’t miss his bonkers drum cover above of Skrillex’s “Red Lips” remix from GTA and Sam Bruno.
NHQ: Hi KJ/Kevin? whichever you prefer
KJ: hey hey!
KJ: KJ is good and easier
NHQ: very well, hi KJ! if you’re ready… we shall begin
NHQ: if it’s ok with you I’m gonna go straight for the jugular with my first question
KJ: yes please
NHQ: how much can you tell us about the Pendulum reunion this year?
KJ: It seems I can always tell just a tiny bit about Pendulum as its always so secret, but I’m super stoked about Pendulum live. We have put so much work into it.
NHQ: that was so vague!
KJ: I know right!
NHQ: Y’all have a confirmed festival date… so it’s definitely happening, at least live…
KJ: Well, we have four confirmed and released festivals thus far.
KJ: The hype is real and Pendulum is doing it LIVE once again. We couldn’t be more stoked to rock the world with a truly live Electronic music experience once again.
KJ: I’m really looking forward to Nova Rock Festival in Austria!
KJ: Any festival in the UK is always such a pleasure as its kind of the home of Pendulum, at least for the last almost decade. So SouthWest Four should be a real treat!
NHQ: A lot of people familiar with your role in Pendulum and Destroid don’t know you’re also a producer which I believe you’ve been since you were 13 – can you tell us about some of the other artists whose projects you’ve produced lately?
KJ: Yes, I started drumming at age 12. Started producing at 17 years old when I heard electronic music. Once I heard Electronic music I never went back to my rock, jazz funk and metal roots. Of course those styles are imbedded in my playing and producing forever now.
KJ: I co/produced the KJ Sawka & Mr.Bill tour / show, KJ Sawka & ill.GATES as Unsung Heroes tour / Bass Invaders tour, working on our 2nd and 3rd releases.
KJ: I also produced the new Blood Drums EP this year. That was a real treat. Blood Drums has been a drumming group for almost a decade now, formed by Bobby and Adam Alt and Frank Zummo who drums for Sum 41 and Krewella.
NHQ: loved the Blood Drums EP – that was mental
KJ: ah thanks so much! It was loads of fun to make. Actually, if you want to know some secrets, many of the Blood Drums songs were going to be Destroid songs, that why they are so heavy.. There is many similarities with Destroid and Blood Drums..
KJ: All the releases hit number one and I released them on my new record label Impossible Records.
NHQ: Impossible is your label?! Didn’t know that.
KJ: Yeah Impossible Records started, I think two years ago.
KJ: Best thing I could have done for my music and the artists I love.
NHQ: are you releasing your upcoming EP thru Impossible?
NHQ:We heard “The Time Has Come” and it was insane.
KJ: So, the Time Has Come and Face Crack were going to be Destroid songs, but we decided to keep them KJ Sawka tracks. It is truly an ominous title with multiple meanings. Its heavy and dark, so the time has come for your face to rip off, but also the time as come for all styles and cultures to come together and unite. That’s why they are KJ tunes and not Destroid tunes. My KJ tunes have mixes of dark and light, yin and yang. I’m a fan of very melodic stuff and heavy stuff. I love dark metal and pop stuff..
NHQ: Good friend who’s a drummer says you are his favorite by far, by light years, and he says it’s because your style is more raw and visceral than any other drummer while also often sounding effortless – can you speak to that or possibly explain what he means by that?
KJ: Sure. First tell your friend thank you and much appreciated.
NHQ: TAYLOR THIS IS YOUR MOMENT, sorry you’re not in this chat
KJ: So, I’m kind of self taught. I mean, I studied a ton of jazz and rock books and had a wicked teacher Jay Roberts who is a brilliant guitar player. Son of the legendary Howard Roberts. Jay taught me to groove and not stop practicing the basic drum parts until they sound clean, groovy and slick. We recorded all the lessons and I listened to them over and over. But then at 17 I got into Electronic music. Mostly Dnb, Jungle, acid Jazz, break core and breakbeats. I just wanted to re-create the electronic drum sounds of the records I had at the time. I realized no one was doing that on the drums at the time.
NHQ: Were you part of any peer group who were also on that track of wanting to perform electronic material with live instruments?
KJ: I didn’t have any musician friends who were into electronic music like me at the time. I tried to make electronic music with my band 94th Street, which was a dope rock meets electronic thing. It was hard to keep a band together and took a lot of time. My next band Siamese was a cool all-improve Drum n Bass group. We toured several times around the US. Had loads of fun. A bit too much fun and dissolved. At the time I and since I was 17 I was always doing my own thing. At the time I was ‘Dj Sawka’. But everything thought I was a Dj, and when I showed up with my drumkit they were confused. So, I became, my own name ‘KJ Sawka’. Seemed more fitting. I knew that we would never ‘break-up’ as it is just me. That was really important to me. All these bands came so far with so much work, then when we broke-up, all that hard work and years of stuff that things just seems to dissolve. Still to this day, its very hard to find proper electronic music musicians. Most musicians aren’t into electronic music like dj’s are.
NHQ: Trying to imagine your friends or family from back home (Seattle I believe) who know nothing about this kind of music seeing a video of the Destroid project or Pendulum – how do you even begin to explain the medium you apply your talents in to people who don’t listen to electronic music?
KJ: First I say its tons of fun. They I say is really complicated. Then I say its lots of work. If people truly understand these three key things, then they might start to understand a deeper side of it all. But mostly, fun!
NHQ: What’s the craziest shit you’ve ever seen at a show you played?
KJ: Pendulum was in Russia. Of course the crowd was going fucking ape-shit and the mosh pits were surreal. Then there was this massive bomb-fire in the middle of the arena. I was playing and almost shitting my pants. I asked Gareth, “Dude, WTF!” He’s like, “keep playing, thats what happens here”.. It was cray
KJ: I thought we were all gonna die
NHQ: Like indoor arena?
KJ: no fucks
NHQ: Russia goes so hard
KJ: I think the hardest I’ve seen
NHQ: You mention Phil Collins in multiple interviews as the reason you started playing drums, can you explain to those not tapped into PC’s legacy why he’s such an anomaly?
KJ: Dude, Phil Collins sums everything I want to be up in one person. Musically. To me, he’s a absolute legend. He had no idea what he was creating in the drum world and song writing world at the time. I mean, no one does. He created a feel on the drums and sound like no other. And his song writing, even though super cheesy at times, (I’m not into all of his stuff), it hit me so hard, like no other song writer to this day.
KJ: Mostly Face Value Album
KJ: His first Phil Collins solo album after a huge and sad break up with his wife. Nothing can compare to those songs.
NHQ: And are you aware of his Alamo artifacts collection?
KJ: Wow, this is the first I’ve heard of this.
NHQ: DUDE! Phil Collins fuckn loves the Alamo. He bought a souvenir shop next to it and is doing his own excavations uncovering hella artifacts apparently.
NHQ: ANYWAYS! last question – what advice do you have for young producers / musicians who are grinding it out in their apartments in bedroom trying to get heard?
KJ: I LOVE PHIL
KJ: The most important thing is doing what you do, better than anyone else in the whole world. That’s a pretty bold statement, but it should cut deep into your artistry. Do YOU. Not someone else. Be genuine. Make the sickest shit you possibly can and don’t think for a second that anyone would ever care. Because, why would they? Give people a reason to care about your talents and art. Beyond a doubt. Everyone needs something to loose. Getting booted out on the street. A parent beating the crap out of you. People dying all around you. That is some real shit and when people create art surrounded by these real life things, magic can happens. I don’t wish any horrible things on anyone, but most art comes from suffering. Without a bit of suffering it can be very challenging to break out into this crazy world of a billion artists all trying to do the same thing. If you have a decent life with little pain and suffering, your suffering can be putting in 8-10 hours of practicing until your brain and body bleed. This is what I did. I practiced until my fingers bled for 10 years, 8 hours a day. Thats just one of the many ways you can push yourself to be the best you can be. The rest will follow if you don’t think anyone cares and become jaded. Life is hard, but hard work pays dividends. After your hard work, don’t stop working to become the greatest you can possibly be. Define your goals and pursue them every waking minute. And, always try to have as much fun as possible.
NHQ: that was incredibly well said, thank you KJ!
KJ: Thanks so much, its been a real treat :)
KJ: YOU RULE
NHQ: no you! and if you’re ever in San Antonio…