Drummer Dave Lombardo on Cuba & his score for LOS ÚLTIMOS FRIKIS

Drummer Dave Lombardo has an impressive resume: founding member of Slayer, member of Mike Patton’s Fantômas, Dead Cross, and the upcoming Mr. Bungle reunion shows, this year’s Misfits reunion shows, as well as Suicidal Tendencies. It’s a wild ride through punk, metal, and hardcore’s most influential names and acts, and Lombardo could to rest on his laurels until the day he dies and still be considered one of the greats.

Such is not the case, however. The drummer recently completed his first full film score, for Nicholas Brennan’s documentary, Los Últimos Frikis, which tells the story of the Cuban heavy metal, Zeus, and their rise, fall, and surprising new life. Like a combination of Anvil: The Story of Anvil and Heavy Metal in Baghdad, it’s a story about musicians persevering against all odds to have some form of success. It’s an emotional tale, well-suited for the Cuban-born Lombardo, whose score manages to complement and contrast the brutal tunes Zeus knocks out over the course of the documentary.

I spoke with Lombardo by phone about his work on the documentary and how it connects to his roots.

Dave Lombardo // credit Dean Karr

How did you come into the Los Últimos Frikis project?

The director, Nicholas Brennan, approached me back in 2010. He came to me with this idea: that he was filming this documentary about this band in Cuba – particularly, a metal band – that had been around for 25-30 years, and that they went through a lot of hardships in their career to try to play metal. I was obviously intrigued, because I was born in Cuba and I’m a metalhead.

So, I immediately thought of myself as being them, and struggling to play music, and having this passion for this style of music and wanting to play it. They were jailed – the singer [Dionisio Arce] was jailed for like, six years, because of performing this style of music, and other guys have been harassed by the police or the government, so it was a hard life for them, growing up in Cuba, but I immediately found a connection, because that could’ve been me, if my parents didn’t make the decision to migrate over to the United States in the middle of the revolution. That very well could’ve been me.

As time went on, [Brennan] kept me in the loop on where the film stood, and showed me different pieces of the film, and then in November-December 2017 – going into 2018 – he said, “Dave, we’re ready for music,” and I said, “Okay, here we go.” So, in the middle of one of my most busiest years – juggling Suicidal, Dead Cross, Misfits, and various other things I have going – I had to somehow write a score for this documentary. It was very challenging, but very worth it, and I’m very grateful for Nick having approached me and considered me for this project.

Watching the film, it’s apparent that you’re going for a very different sound than the music Zeus plays.

Yes, absolutely. The music that the band, Zeus, created – of course, it’s metal, so I wouldn’t approve of “I want you to write another metal song.” It’s like, you have a band here, with as much metal as I could ever come up with, if not more. It really didn’t make sense that I play metal on here. I had to compose textures and piano parts and drones and certain sounds and strings to elevate the emotional part of the score.

It sounds that the score has Cuban-leaning elements, in terms of the groovy aspects and certain rhythms. Was that something for which you were aiming?

Yeah. Well, of course, with the environment that they grew up in, and the music they were surrounded by, I had to dabble in that style of music – which I’m very familiar with and I love – so it was easy for me. Also, when the director sends you a cue, it’s part of the movie. It ranges from maybe 20 seconds to one minute or two minutes. They came with a description of what the director was trying to convey, and I needed to translate that and apply that to the music, so it can elevate the observer and their emotion to lift them and connect to them, in a way. With the help fo the director, I was able to hone in on certain sounds and styles of music.

The opening track is very Cuban. That was written on a piano and then, later, I sent a very good piano player this piece and said, “Color it up with your style,” and he did. It turned out beautiful – same with some of the guitar playing. There’s only a handful of parts that musicians came in and elaborated on. The majority was written by myself.

Are you a rock doc person? Are films like this one the kind of thing you normally watch?

[laughs] No, I think I’m more of a horror movie person. I think I dabble more in sounds and overtones that are more appealing to demonic forces than anything else. No, this is something that is more like my first step into the world of scoring music, so I don’t consider myself any particular genre. I just take on projects that I relate with and/or enjoy, and if one of them is in one particular direction, then I’ll try to go there. If it’s in another, then I’ll dabble in that, but I think documentaries and more suspense-filled dramatic arc, moody music, is more where I’d like to be.

You’ve done work for a few horror films in the past, correct?

Yes: Dawn of the Dead and I helped lay drums down for Insidious 3 with Joseph Bishara – another amazing composer that I look up to, along with Tyler Bates. I worked with Tyler on Dawn of the Dead – on a couple of piece of Dawn of the Dead. When I say that I worked on these movies, it’s not the entire score I work on: it’s like there’s a few little pieces that I’m featured in.

I’ve also worked with Christopher Young, on some of his Chinese film releases. One called The Monkey King. I also performed live with him on some of his music, with an orchestra. So, my affiliation with this style and genre of film and composers, I’m very familiar with – and with joy, because it’s a different world and a different approach. It could only enhance your ability to play in other forms and mediums and styles of music.

It’s always fascinating to see how much overlap there is between the world of horror and the world of metal, hardcore, and punk. There are so many musicians who’ve made the leap from metal or punk to scoring films as of late.

Absolutely: there are pieces of classical music that are darker and more evil than any self-proclaimed Satanic metal band has ever created, so for them overlapping, it’s entirely true. There’s a lot of people out there that enjoy that, and that’s amazing, because there should be no boundaries: not as a musician, not as a composer, as an artist. There should never be any kind of boundaries.

At the end of the film, Zeus is playing their 30th anniversary concert, and there’s a huge Suicidal Tendencies banner behind them. Did you play that show, then?

Yes. One in Holguín and one in Havana. Zeus did perform on the little drum set that was supplied by a local drummer, and I donated my cymbals, my hat, my drumsticks to the drummer of Zeus – and my drum pedals.

Funny story: I decided to go to Cuba for the first time in 50 or 52 years – because I came to this country when I was two years old. I took my 85 year-old mom. So, in January 2018, I stepped on the island, and immediately felt somewhat confused, because the illusion that our government and certain people give [of Cuba] is this vibe of extreme oppression – which I understand, because they don’t have certain freedoms, and it’s difficult to acquire certain permissions – but, what I found, walking down the street of Havana, getting off the plane, and just driving was, “Where’s all the military? Where’s all the police? Where’s all the tanks and firearms?”

I thought I was going to come into this, you know, military kind of country where you’re being watched, constantly, and Nick, what I found was a country of people with smiling faces, welcoming you, excited you were there. There’s just – you just felt so much love and kindness, and I could count on one hand and one finger the number of cops that I saw, the two times I was there. They travel in groups of two, so I saw six police officers at three different times, if that tells you anything.

I went out at one o’clock one morning. I told my wife – my mom was passed out, tired from walking around and stuff – and said, “Paula, let’s go to this little cafe down the street.” One o’clock in the morning, we walk down there. There’s people having some food, some drinks – it was fantastic. In a suburb of Havana! The city – in the tourist areas – they say is the place you can find food in that country.

It’s interesting: the perception and what governments want you to feel about certain other governments and countries. And vice versa – I’m sure there are people in other countries that view America the same way: “Hey don’t go down that street – you’re gonna get shot! Don’t go to Walmart – you’re gonna get shot!” It’s sad, but it is what it is, and I’m just happy that I could visit there, see my family there, and be part of a cultural exchange when it comes to music and art.

After spending all of this time watching clips of Zeus while working on Los Últimos Frikis, what was it like to see them perform in person?

It was surreal. That entire trip was surreal, because here I am in Suicidal Tendencies, performing in Cuba for the first time, and then with this band that I had been writing music for the score of the documentary – it was an odd feeling, and it felt very natural, and it felt very good, and it felt like I was on the right path.

More information about Los Últimos Frikis is available at the documentary’s website.

Nick Spacek
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