As the man behind the kit for Queensrÿche, Scott Rockenfield has defined himself as a drummer par excellence, providing both rhythmic support and percussive propulsion with his signature style. A man who can make his hi-hat work as compelling as his tom fills, Rockenfield further expanded the art of metal drumming with inventive playing and showing that subtlety was just as important as aggression. Listen to the seminal rock opera Operation: Mindcrime for proof positive.
I first interviewed Rockenfield for Modern Drummer back in 1997, and since that time his work beyond Queensrÿche has expanded. He has worked on various film soundtracks, started the RockenWraps drum company and recorded and performed with the Nineties rock group Slave To The System, who finally have a second album in the works. While taking a break from Queensrÿche’s current tour in support of their new American Soldier opus, Rockenfield talked about juggling all his different endeavors and his upcoming projects.
Now that you have lived with American Soldier on the road for a couple of months, how do you feel it holds up against Queensrÿche’s other works?
We are very happy with what we were able to achieve on American Soldier, and it is translating great during the live shows. I believe we achieved our goal of really spending the time to construct songs from the stories and hearts of the American soldiers we spoke with, and to tell their tales of their lives.
Did you have a different perception of the military before you recorded the album, and if so, how has that changed?
I was very educated in regards to all things military. I suppose most people could say that. Being surrounded by this and hearing these stories from them has really made me appreciate the soldiers and their lifestyle. The stories that touched me most were ones based on the longing to be home with family and loved ones. Being that I have been a traveling musician most of my life, I could totally relate to missing them.
It’s wild to think that Queensrÿche has been together for nearly 30 years. Given that you have been playing heavy rock with the group since its inception, how do you keep things fresh for yourself as a drummer? Where do you go to seek other inspiration and learn new things?
I am always grateful for the time and longevity we have had as a group. Besides my work in Queensrÿche, I have also been composing music for film and television for the last 20 years. I recently finished a full length score to a feature horror film titled Albino Farm which is getting ready to be released. I am also set to compose the music for four other films in the coming months. Two of the films are going to be set in a crime drama/comedy [mode] such as films like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and the two other films happen to be set in the genre of crime thrillers such as SE7EN and Silence of the Lambs. Real creepy stuff! Besides all that, my family is my greatest inspiration.
Do you try to keep up with the latest drum gear, or are you old school at heart?
I really don’t try and keep up with gear in the drum world. I know what I like and what works for me. I have always been mostly interested in building many of my own drum kits. I currently use Ddrum shells and then customize them to my liking. I also like using mainly drum racks. Pearl is my current favorite.
You have worked with Paul Speer in the past on atmospheric instrumental music, particularly the Grammy-nominated score for the computer animation movie Televoid. Have you stayed in touch with him in recent years?
Paul and I remain friends to this day. He lives in Nashville now, and so our contact and working relationship is done [mainly] via Internet. Paul is currently working on a new solo project and also producing local artists, I believe.
Did your work with Paul directly catapult you into the world of scoring for trailers, commercials and indie films, or did you find other ways to break in?
I was exploring the film score world early on in the 80’s, and when I met Paul we were naturally able to do some very inspiring work together. Breaking in is always the biggest challenge. It’s hard to explain. Just did what I had to do and still have to do. [laughs] The best way I am able to find work is through the networking I have done via my other clients, the Internet and my manager. It is a very competitive field to be scoring music for films, and so I have to always work extremely hard at getting to know as many contacts as possible.
You were initially exposed to film scoring through the late Hollywood composer Michael Kamen in the ’80s when he first worked with Queensrÿche on The Warning. What did you learn from him over the years, and what do you miss about him?
Michael Kamen was a great first inspiration to me. We first started to work together in 1984 when he spent time composing the sessions for songs like “Roads To Madness” and “Sanctuary”. I learned many “secrets” of how to approach film scores and their emotions from being around him. I miss his joyful laughter and creative endurance.
How challenging has it been for you to score feature films like Albino Farm? Are you going to take on more film composing soon?
Films are always a huge challenge but very satisfying. I really love scoring. I have four more film scores being negotiated and should start some of them in the coming months. Keep posted to www.scottrockenfield.com for all further updates. My biggest challenges are really just finding the opportunities. There have been many rockers turned composers through the years — Trevor Rabin from Yes, Stewart Copeland from The Police, Danny Elfman from Oingo Boingo — so my main goal is to expand my field of writing orchestra music and present it in the best possible scenarios.
What inspired you to create RockenWraps, and how are you evolving your business in these tough economic times?
Rockenwraps was born from my desire to make my own kits unique. It worked so well that I had all these other drummers constantly wanting some of the material as well. The ones we did for the current Slipknot tour are pretty cool. We did some really great Black Sparkle wraps with a gold “S” of the Slipknot logo on all the drums. Very classy looking. The band was very happy with them. Keeping above water in these economic times is always a challenge, but fortunately we seem to survive.
Earlier this year, Geoff Tate commented to me that Queensrÿche does not make money releasing albums but through touring, merchandise and outside projects. How do you feel about this, and what advice would you give to younger musicians coming up?
Yes, we do make most of our income by touring and selling merch. My best advice to up and comers is to learn and control everything about your business — accounting, management of your affairs, business decisions, people you hire…
You have drum wraps and composing, Geoff has wine and Michael has a clothing line. Have you ever tried Geoff’s Insania brand or Michael’s Whipwear clothing line?
Yes. Geoff’s wine is fantastic and Michael’s clothing is top of the line. Eddie [Jackson] has been working on some other music of his own, and yes, we always help each other by referring business where needed.
As you get older, how do you juggle touring, working on your outside projects and being a father?
You just get by. I suppose all the years of doing this type of lifestyle has taught me how to juggle it all. Thank the Lord for my family being so supportive!
Any chance your other group Slave To The System will record or tour again?
Yes, we are working on new material as we speak. Slave To The System is a great escape for all of us involved. We have great chemistry together. More news will be coming soon. We actually have one new song that is included on my Albino Farm soundtrack CD, which is available at my website.
Finally, what do you think your fans would be surprised to learn about you?
I am just the guy next door.