Most days here at Harmonix are just busy work days…but sometimes we get a call that one of our favorite bands is about to show up and hang out. So imagine that you’re in the middle of a Friday deadline when you hear that the guys from Jimmy Eat World are in town, they love Rock Band and want to drop in and do some playing. All other plans were immediately cancelled.
The group spent a friendly hour at Harmonix Central, and we’re glad to report that they’re not only nice guys but killer Rock Band players. Three of the four Jimmies tag-teamed with members of our community team; and we were especially impressed to see drummer Zach Lind playing the same kind of flashy fills he’d be doing at a real show. The impromptu group gold-starred AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” then racked up four stars on Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart”—again with Zach drumming on expert and playing in arena-ready glory.
Before letting them go, we hustled them into a conference room for a quick interview. Present for this impromptu chat were web editor Brett Milano and Jimmy Eat World drummer Zach Lind, bassist Rick Burch and singer Jim Adkins. Among other nuggets, they told us why getting a hostile crowd in Rock Band is way more fun than getting one in real life.
Brett Milano: So obviously you guys have played the game before.
Zach Lind: A couple times [laughs]. When Rock Band first came out, we actually brought a setup with us on our tour bus, and so we actually play on tour and it was a lot of fun. On downtime we’d set it up in the back lounge. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait in the daily schedule of being on the road, so it filled up quite a lot of the wait time.
BM:: I just saw you play “Thuderstruck” and I believe everybody was on Expert and you five-starred it. That would require some expertise.
ZL:: That’s a pretty easy drum song, but it was mostly the work of the actual Harmonix staff playing along with me. I remember when we first got the Rock Band 1, we kept breaking the foot pedal, they actually went to the store and got a metal plate – just like this, the upgrade you made on the Rock Band 2 pedal – we actually did with the Rock Band 1 pedal. We Home Depoted it. [laughs]
Jim Adkins: It survived the tour.
John Drake: Still a DIY band at heart…
ZL:: Yeah, yeah.
BM:: Do you always go for your own instruments when you play the game?
JA: Not always.
ZL:: It switches up a lot.
JA:: I play guitar in real life but I’ll sit down and play drums a lot. It’s just more fun. It just depends.
ZL:: I’d say guitar is probably more fun than the drums.
ZL:: It also depends on the songs
JA:: Yeah, that’s true.
ZL:: But it’s just fun to play the different stuff.
BM:: I just saw you playing “Kickstart My Heart” as well, and when you came to do the drum fills, you were doing what you’d probably be doing if you were on stage playing that song, right?
ZL:: Yeah, I hope so. [laughs] You know, it’s funny. I watched a YouTube clip of a guy playing “Sweetness.” He was sight-reading it, one of our songs on Rock Band, on Expert. And every time a fill came up, he didn’t play in time at all. He just tried to play like [drum noise], like as fast as possible, so I’m wondering, do you get more points the more times you hit the pad? It was weird because the way he played the fills, it was obvious he didn’t know how to play real drums. But then, he didn’t miss any notes on the song on Expert. He aces the song, but when he plays the fills he sounds like a three-year-old playing a fill. [laughs]
ZL:: And then when I tried to play “Sweetness” on Expert for the first time, I failed at 16% into the song.
BM:: People do fail on their own parts. [laughs]
ZL:: But 16% into the song? I dunno… The actual gameplay is intuitive, but it’s not across like, if you play guitar you could do this, [or] if you play drums you can do this. There’s definitely a learning curve to just get the gameplay, but it’s pretty close. It’s the closest thing…with the guitar, it’s probably a lot less intuitive than with the drums. With the drums, if someone can play really good drums on Expert on Rock Band, they could probably make a pretty good transition to learning how to play on a real kit.
JA:: I’ve noticed that it makes a big difference playing the guitar with an actual guitar pick
BM:: So you prefer to use a pick?
BM:: Have you all sat down and played your own songs in real time, with your own instruments? Done it the way you’d do it.
ZL:: No, we keep threatening to do that at band practice, but we haven’t done that yet. It just never worked out. We’re just too focused, I guess.
JA:: We never had the game Rock Band 2 until the beginning of this year, I went and bought it. We’ve just been so busy from the beginning of this year until now. If we have some time or if we’re bored we’ll maybe set something up in our studio and do it and maybe film it.
BM:: Great. You record a song, you write a song, it’s a statement, it’s something you’re making. And then it becomes all these kids are going to be doing in their living rooms – being you playing the game. How does that feel?
JA:: I think it’s genius. I think it’s a brilliant way for people to interact with the song. And it’s funny – I find myself liking certain songs that I used to hate, because when I play them on Rock Band they’re kind of fun. It takes the level of your hate for that song down a notch because, “well, at least it’s fun to play on Rock Band.”
ZL:: It also exposes you to lyrics that you might not have fully gathered from just listening to the song. You actually see the words and [think], “Wow. This is actually pretty powerful stuff. This is awesome.”
RicK Burch: Or, “this is really dumb.” [laughs]
BM:: And in some cases I thought there were cuss words in the song where they go, because we have to get rid of those.
JA:: Oh, yeah. Creative editing.
ZL:: So there’s no “Straight Outta Compton” Rock Band coming up anytime soon?
BM:: Not right away. [laughs]
JA:: Down the road…
ZL:: The Anthrax/Ice-T remix.
RB:: I dunno. You could have a new trigger that’s a beep trigger. [laughs]
RB:: Someone has to be the censor. Boop boop. The FCC version.
BM:: Do you have things to play, songs you do love that you always gravitate toward?
JA:: Whenever we do “Tom Sawyer,” I always like to play the drums, obviously. But that’s one of the more fun drum songs to do. Although, I can’t do it on Expert, so I just play the Hard difficulty.
HMXHenry: Neil Peart couldn’t do it on Expert either.
JA:: Oh, yeah. I don’t feel as bad. There are some songs…for some weird reason, I’m not a huge Killers fan, but their song – what is it called? “When I Was Young?”
ZL:: “When We Were Young.”
JA:: “When We Were Young.” That song is so fun on guitar.
RB:: “When You Were Young.”
JA:: “When I Was Young?”
RB:: No, “When You Were Young.” [laughs]
JA:: Anyway…That Killers song. That’s a really fun song on guitar.
BM:: Do you think the game gives you a similar experience to the one you get when you’re on stage playing?
JA:: I don’t think so, no. It’s totally different.
RB:: There’s an element of fantasy with Rock Band. It’s your ass if you’re on stage. [laughs]
JA:: If you crap out on Rock Band it’s not that big a deal.
RB:: It’s the fun without any of the consequences. If you actually mess up.
BM:: I don’t know…some of the people I play with, it’s still your ass if you mess up. [laughs]
RB:: Yeah, yeah.
JA:: I think for people who aren’t in a band to begin with and don’t play, or aren’t in a band that goes out and plays shows, I think it’s the closest you’ll get. If you’re at a party and everyone’s surrounding you and you’re playing Rock Band – the thrill of having to step up your game…
RB:: You nail a solo…
JA:: Yeah. I think the game then gives the person that doesn’t experience it otherwise, the chance to experience a fraction of it. I think for a band playing shows on a normal basis and then playing Rock Band, it’s totally different.
BM:: Although we do try to give you the experience of getting a lot of dirty looks and booing. [laughs]
JA:: Yeah, but the little people on the TV don’t really carry as much weight as the real people staring at you, looking bored.
BM:: But you get to throw drumsticks at them.
RB:: Yeah, like someone texting in the front row. That’s always good.
JA:: That’s what you should do, in future episodes, if someone’s not playing very well – everyone in the audience should just start talking a lot.
RB:: And people start checking their phones, like “What time is it?”
ZL:: That’s worse than booing. Just complete apathy from an audience is worse than booing.
JA:: Front row texting, everyone looking around bored.
RB:: The dude on the barricade sleeping. [laughs]
JA:: We’ve had that happen before.
BM:: Does that really happen to you guys nowadays, though?
JA:: Yeah, sometimes. Everything happens all the time.
ZL:: Sometimes when you’re playing, like the third day of a European festival and people have been standing there.
RB:: People have been drunk for weeks. [laughs]
ZL:: Oh yeah, sunburned and toast.
BM:: What do you like to do on stage when the audience isn’t really where you want them to be? Do you have any tricks for vibing them up?
JA:: I don’t think so. I don’t think we have any set thing. We just try to play our show and hope they’re into it. There’s a certain amount of…I’ve never really felt like the crowd was just not into it.
ZL:: Except for that bad relationship.
JA:: Yeah, except for when we’re in the wrong place. We did a lot of tours starting out where it’d be like nine hardcore bands and then us.
RB:: And goth.
JA:: Yeah, nine goth bands and us. And there’s not a whole lot you can do there. Just do your thing and maybe one person will dig it. The audience takes on a personality. The first couple of songs, you’re getting to know that person, and you accept them for who they are and then you base the rest of what you’re going to do off that. You can get a feel if it’s going to be a really rowdy show or a more relaxed show. Usually, it’s always respectful. It just might not be this over-the-top crazy event. But that’s not necessarily bad. It’s just what everyone’s into at the moment.
BM:: We’ve definitely had a lot of requests to get your music in, so I’m glad we wound up doing it.
JA:: That’s great.
RB:: It’s a really cool thing.
JA:: We’re pumped to have some songs in the game. My daughter, I think thinks I’m a little bit cooler now because I’m in the same game as Paramore. [laughs]
BM:: Well Paramore’s younger brothers and sisters might feel the same way to be in the game with you.
JA:: We’ll see.
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