Brain Mantia talks Guns N' Roses

22nd Oct 2012 | 09:36

Brain Mantia talks Guns N' Roses
Brain lifts the lid on the crazy world of Guns N' Roses

In his near 30-year career Bryan ‘Brain’ Mantia has had some unusual gigs - from the mad rock of Primus to scoring video games. But, surely none come close to his six-year stint behind the kit for Guns N’ Roses.

Brain’s induction into the band coincided with the band’s return and the start of the post-Slash/Duff/Sorum era. The next six years would see them write, record, but not release Chinese Democracy, the ridiculously delayed full follow-up to the Use Your Illusion albums. Unsurprisingly Brain has some killer stories from his time backing Axl and co. And here they are…

Brain Mantia talks Guns N' Roses
Brain lifts the lid on the crazy world of Guns N' Roses
First Day Nerves

"We did the first show at Rock in Rio. We rehearsed for probably two or three months without Axl. Our first show’s Rock in Rio and I thought, ‘Wait, what’s it going to sound like with Axl? Where is Axl? Oh here’s his helicopter coming in.’ The first time I ever played a real show with him was in front of 250,000 people! I was thinking, ‘How’s this song supposed to start again?’ Because some he was supposed to cue but we never had a verbal conversation on whether he would or I!

"You look to your left and there was the Foo Fighters, Oasis and Sting! We were headlining that day and everybody was anxious to see what we were going to do because Axl had put this motley group of people together"

Brain Mantia talks Guns N' Roses
Brain lifts the lid on the crazy world of Guns N' Roses
Welcome To The Temple

"They had recorded a bunch of stuff and Josh Freese had recorded a lot of stuff. I think he recorded 90% of the drumming on the 25-30 tunes that were floating around. When I came it was right when they got [producer] Roy Thomas Baker. He was coming from Queen, The Cars, Journey, more the rock thing. He said we had to go re-record the drums because they sounded very industrial.

"We literally drove in his green Rolls Royce around LA and we picked up from every drum company probably every famous drum and tried out every drum. We had them ship it to The Village in LA where we were recording.

"We set up all the drums and I said, ‘This is the Guns N Roses album, we need a vibe’ and there was a temple upstairs that people used to do their speeches in. We went up there and it was a mini auditorium. As soon as I put drums up there and hit them I said, ‘Oh s***, this is the vibe’. They ran cords up there and eventually [then Guns guitarist] Bucket[head] set his chicken coop up there and that’s where he recorded. Bucket and I would look at each other and he’d been in the chicken coop with the wire and he brought in hay. We were up there for three years recording."

Brain Mantia talks Guns N' Roses
Brain lifts the lid on the crazy world of Guns N' Roses
Now do it your way!

"Axl is a perfectionist. Josh [Freese], who is one of my favourite drummers, had already recorded some beautiful tracks but they didn’t have the sound. They were very digital sounding, there wasn’t a lot of air moving, they were electronic sounding. Axl liked some of the parts so he asked if I could play what Josh did but in my feel. He wanted me to replay it note for note.

"So I thought if they want that somebody’s going to have to transcribe this. I made some calls and went over to Sony I went over there and dropped off a handful of CDs and they transcribed it. They set it up on a teleprompter, I learned it and recorded it note for note. After that Axl was like, ‘Now do it your way!’ I think what came out on the album was a hybrid of a little of Josh and what I did."

Brain Mantia talks Guns N' Roses
Brain lifts the lid on the crazy world of Guns N' Roses
Who's Paying For This?

"There was another room with literally 30 snare drums lined up, 15 kick drums, cymbals stacked up like a music store and it’d literally be, ‘This one looks cool, let’s try it with this’. We’d just play some beats and see how it sounded.

"There was no time constraints, there was nothing. I don’t think anybody was keeping track of it. I was going, ‘I don’t know who’s paying for this, or what’s going on but I don’t really care because I get to come here and f*** off in one of the best studios in the world with some of the best drums and some of the best recording gear, everybody talks s*** about Axl and Guns N Roses but this is killer for me!’

"Towards the end we probably came up with one kit that sounded pretty solid and we’d just change out the snare. ‘I’m Sorry’ was more the Pink Floyd thing so I think I used a bigger kick, a 24" or a 26", on ‘There Was A Time’ we used a 22", we were just experimenting. We were having a ball, me and my drum tech. We would try something, record it and send the CD to Axl. He’d check it out and saying, Yeah that’s cool’, or sometimes he’d come in but his hours are pretty crazy so he’d come in at four in the morning and listen."

Brain Mantia talks Guns N' Roses
Brain lifts the lid on the crazy world of Guns N' Roses
Double Drumming!?

"[Axl’s] always treated me really good. Even when I left and Frank [Ferrer, current GN’R drummer, pictured above] took over because I was having a kid, they were pretty accommodating. I think Axl was a little freaked out with another drummer coming in but I did it, he let me do it and it was kind of my decision not to come back because I was getting into other stuff like producing and film soundtracks.

"But I’m still doing stuff, I’ve done some remixes for him. He’s always been good with me. I know he’s got his reputation and I’ve seen it and that’s what makes him Axl Rose. He’s running the whole ship. He’s got a lot of pressure and there’s a lot of freaks trying to take s*** from him.

"He was trying at one point even on this last tour, he was calling saying, ‘Hey, would you want to do a double drumming type thing where you play all of the new songs, Chinese which are a little more technical and let Frank do more of the rock stuff from the older days’. I was considering it. I don’t know if Frank wanted to do that and I didn’t want to put him in that position. And I didn’t know if I wanted to do the Grateful Dead thing with two drummers.

"But he was talking about having this rotating drums thing where it’s, ‘Hey, ok we’re playing ‘I’m Sorry’ from Chinese, the drum thing twirls and Brain’s playing, ok we’re playing ‘Welcome To The Jungle’, it twirls back and Frank’s playing’. It never rolled, I’m not sure they had the budget and Frank might not have been 100% into that. He’s the drummer now and I felt weird about that."

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