Exclusive Interview With Eagles of Death Metal Drummer And Rider Jorma Vik

Seattle native clears his head with bike camping on his Triumph desert sled

eagles of death metal band
Eagles of Death Metal jamming at the Hollywood Palladium as openers for the Pixies on December 13, 2017.Photo: Scott Witter

Childhood friends and motorcyclists Josh Homme and Jesse Hughes formed the rock band Eagles of Death Metal in 1998. Homme has described the sound of the band as a combination of “bluegrass slide guitar mixed with stripper drum beats and Canned Heat vocals,” and while his first band, Queens of the Stone Age, has reached a higher level of popularity, Homme—a multi instrumentalist and lead singer for QOTSA—contends he and Hughes are equal members of EODM, which tours with Dave Catching on lead guitar, Jennie Vee on bass, and Seattle-area native Jorma Vik on drums.

“This isn’t a side project for me,” Homme has said in interviews. “I’m in two bands. I have musical schizophrenia, and this is one of those personalities. In brief, they are amazing.” The rising success and heavy touring schedule of QOTSA meant a need for a steady drummer to keep the beat for Hughes on the road, and—in 2018—the studio.

I spoke with the 37-year-old Vik last week as he was preparing to hop in his truck and spend some “me time” in Arizona during the holiday before EODM heads back into the studio and hits the road with QOTSA in January.

I understand you were heavily influenced by drummers Stewart Copeland and John Bonham. How did you hone your style to make it your own?

Those are my two dudes! I still refer back to those records for inspiration when recording. I took lessons at an early age and learned technique by listening to records. When you’re young you ape your favorite musicians, and over time one develops as a musician rather than a drummer. I grew up in a musical family with diverse tastes; my parents took me to the New Orleans Jazz Festival several times growing up. All of that shaped my style and approach.

I remember reading an interview 30 years ago with Wynton and Branford Marsalis, two giants of the jazz scene, who said their favorite album was Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin.

…and Bonham was big into Elvin Jones! He was heavily influenced by jazz; there’s plenty of back-and-forth inspiration with musicians.

What did it feel like playing in front of 50,000 people in São Paulo, Brazil, after just one rehearsal with EODM? Was it the moment you had prepared for all along?

It was a trip! I remember going on stage and thinking, 'I barely know these dudes!' It was wild; the whole thing happened so quick. I spent 14 years with my punk band, The Bronx. We had done some festivals before, but nothing that big. I joined the band and two weeks later boom! I'm thrown into the deep end in Brazil.

eagles of death metal band drummer view
Vik’s view for his first show with EODM.Photo: Jorma Vik

Our side band was a Mariachi El Bronx, and that opened doors for us the punk band didn’t. We opened for Foo Fighters and the Killers, so that helped me get more comfortable playing in front of larger crowds. That said, I still get nervous!

When’s the next Eagles of Death Metal record coming out?

We’ve been demo-ing it for the past month or so, working out of this random recording studio in the San Fernando Valley that Jesse found. It was originally founded in the 1960s, and the Beach Boys and other big bands recorded there. The owner lost interest after a while, then opened a Hudson Metropolitan car dealership next door. He closed down the studio for about 35 years but left everything untouched.

We met a guy who reopened the studio about a year ago, and it looks and feels like a time capsule; nothing has been touched. All the original microphones and sound boards and mixing desks are still intact. It's a gold mine. Jesse and I scored the new Super Troopers movie there, and were quite comfortable working there.

Hopefully we’ll start tracking in January, but we’ll see.

What do you think of the Indian Scout Bobber?

It’s a blast. The center of gravity is so low it makes it easy to handle, even for a littler guy like me. The lean angle isn’t the same as my Triumph, but it’s fast and fun in the canyons where I ride. And comfortable!

I’m still getting used to forward controls; I like to have the pegs under me for more control, but it works for a dude my size. It’s set up perfectly for me.

How old is your Triumph Bonneville, and how long have you had it?

It’s a 2003; I got it seven years ago. I stripped it down and turned it into a desert sled with help from Kevin at Moto Chop Shop. When I get off tour it’s my decompression tool. I get home, pack a tent and a sleeping bag, then ride some dirt roads into the middle of nowhere and camp. It’s the greatest outlet for me. There’s a meditative aspect to it. All the clutter in my head goes away.

When did you get into motorcycles?

I grew up near Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, and when I was 12 my parents got me a Honda Trail 90. We lived on five acres, and my brother had a friend with a front-load tractor who built a motocross course on the front of our property when I was 13 or so. That’s where I developed my riding chops.

There was a 200-acre piece of land called the gravel pit overlooking Mount Rainier on the Sound. We had all these trails and a sand bowl; it was the best place to grow up with motorcycles. Unfortunately they’ve turned it into a county park so you can’t ride there anymore.

You’ve lived in LA for more than half your life. Where are your favorite places to ride?

My spots right now are near Kernville and the Sequoia National Park; gorgeous fire roads and truck trails with waterfalls and hiking. You can cut out of there and dip down into Death Valley and ride through the Mojave and connect with Angeles Crest highway. You can make a weeklong loop if you want. That’s why I love my Triumph. We’re blessed to live and ride in California. I did a ride through Baja, Mexico, a few years ago, and then there’s Joshua Tree, which has always been a hot spot. Endless riding within a couple hours from me.

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A man, his bike, and his tent. Me time, Jorma Vik style.Photo: Michael Yoshi Jasionowski

Big Sur also has hidden gems, with dirt roads and prime camping overlooking the Pacific.

Who’s part of your motorcycle exploring posse?

It depends; when I first started riding my Triumph I’d put a call-out on my Facebook page to anyone who wanted to join me. Over the years I’ve met people through people, including musical industry folks. It depends on who’s available and who’s not on tour. Jesse and I have been riding a lot lately; Indian kicked him down a Chief to enjoy, and it’s so Jesse with tassels and bags.

So his copper copy is kicked to the curb for the time being?

(Laughs) Yes it is!

Touring must put a cramp on your motorcycling. Do you ever rent or borrow a bike on the road?

I do on days off; touring is high stress, combined with long periods of absolutely nothing. For a good portion of our day there’s nothing to do. I’ll rent or borrow a bike and ride; I get so much social interaction while on tour that it’s nice to escape it once in a while. Have some “me time.”

Rush drummer Neil Peart used to ride between gigs, towing his Beemer in a custom trailer. Does that idea entice you to do the same?

That’s the dream! Jesse and I have discussed it. He has an old Honda CL360 and we’ve talked about throwing it into the tour trailer. We’re always looking on Craigslist for another plated dirt bike for ripping around. The problem is not letting the bikes get destroyed in the trailer.

I’ve been looking to buy an old Yamaha TW200 with the big, fat tires to throw on the back rack of my Toyota Tundra. You can go anywhere on that bike, and 200cc won’t get you into too much trouble. I’d like to get another pure dirt bike, but I just don’t trust myself not to get too gnarly on it.

When you’re playing the thunderously long drum intro to “Speaking In Tongues,” are you distracted by Jesse’s silver Doc Martens pony prancing or jealous that you’re stuck behind the kit?

I’m definitely not a front man! Jesse will milk the crap out of that intro sometimes for 10 or 15 minutes. It’s exhausting!

I got the EODM gig after calling up Josh, asking if they were looking for a permanent drummer. It’s a lot different than the punk drumming I’d been doing for so many years. Playing with EODM is like the big band days: there’s a frontman and we’re in a supporting role. A lot of my playing is developing that pocket and keeping it there. Not overplaying, not a lot of fills, but quick set-ups and stabs, moving things along and marking where changes are.

It took a whole different approach for me drumming for EODM; it was equally challenging to hold back and not overplay with Jesse and the band. It took discipline. He gauges the audience so we can diversify when the opportunity presents itself.

With this new record you’ll get a chance to play songs you’ve created with the band versus just playing someone else’s stuff.

Totally! I’ve never done this before. I’ve done session work where I was asked to play in a certain style. I toured through South America once with Gilby Clarke from Guns N’ Roses, and playing those iconic songs was wild, where down there GNR is appreciated like the Beatles. It was my first “rock star” experience with security and all that.

With EODM we have to adapt on stage; we start with a set list, but we rarely stick to it. Jesse is great at feeling out the crowd’s mood. The huge guitar solo at the end of our “Moonage Daydream” David Bowie cover is our time to vamp. I can stretch out with bigger fills and wait until Dave gives me the nod to end the song. I like things that make me feel like the train could come off the track at any time.

Like motorcycling.

Absolutely. That’s the similarity I draw between playing music and motorcycling; those moments of intense anxiety and adrenaline. The meditative spirit keeps me going. I stopped riding for 10 years after hurting myself on dirt bikes. After becoming a career musician I realized I need all my limbs to perform my duties and took a break.

vik sitting on his motorcycle in the mountains
Vik overlooking one of his favorite riding spots near Angeles Crest Highway outside Los Angeles.Photo: John Hebert

Like you said, there’s risk in anything we do in life. I try not to ride in the city; I use my bike to get away from traffic and people, actually. Los Angeles is trouble! Nature is better; it’s my yoga without the funny tights and mat. And my selfies don’t have a holistic, regurgitated faux quote attached.