In part two of our 10-part Drummer Appreciation series, we spoke to Max Szollosi. Max first crossed our radar as the back-beat backbone of the reformed LA by way of Dublin hard rock outfit, Moth Complex, when he relocated from his home in Colorado to join the band. Since moving to the City of Angels about a year ago, Max has yet to buy a bed and is still crashing on his Air Mattress. Find out what keeps the Sleepless in Los Angeles drummer awake at night, other than the lack of a bonafide spring-air Serta.
How did you first get into drumming?
I never wanted to be a drummer as a kid. I wanted to be a guitar player. When I was a kid I played on pots and pans and stuff but I wanted to be a guitar player. There is this guitar for $10 at a garage sale and I told my mom. I begged her, begged her, to buy it for me. She said “No, you’re never going to play that thing.” I was kind of upset about that and then two days later my mom comes home and surprises me with a huge drum set. She bought this drum set from a different garage sale a few days earlier. She asked, “do you want to play the drums?” I said “yeah, but why can’t I play guitar?” And she said, “Because I like drummers better, they’re the ones that get all the girls.” This is what she said to me at 10 years old. My mom has just always been amazing.
And so at 10 I started to play the drums. I played my first show at 10 – it was a talent show, and also the first time I ever broke a drumstick.
How did that happen?
Well, on a drumstick there’s something called “the sweet spot” near the tip. Every drummer knows that’s the one place you have to be careful: you have to set your cymbal up right because if its too straight on or too flat and not angled a little bit, when you hit it right there, it’s just gonna break, every time. Sometimes, it will just knock the tip off, sometimes it will crack all the way down; I’ve had a drumstick, literally, split completely in half from just hitting it there. I can usually make a drumstick last a while, but if you hit that sweet spot, it’s done. That’s what happened.
And the next show?
I played in a band around that same age with some kids around the neighborhood, and we played some shows around our neighborhood, played for some churches, you know, whatever we could. I got kicked out of that band at 11 for getting in a fight with the singer.
Then I played in a punk rock band called “Low Budget Entertainment” for five years. We played shows every weekend and by 15 I was playing in bars. I’ve probably played at every venue in Denver, with the exception of the new ones and the Fillmore. With that band, we played the biggest local show at the Bluebird, we were one of the first local bands to sell it out completely.
What types of bands have you played in?
I played in metal bands, punk bands, and rockabilly bands, all sorts. As a drummer, I think a good drummer listens to every type of music and finds the good elements of it and kind of makes it their own and takes what they can from it. The thing that’s always been the most important to me isn’t the music but the people in the band. So, of all the bands I played in a lot of those people became the best of friends, and that’s what stuck with me.
The band that I toured with when I was 19, I didn’t really know them very well and I just kind of jumped in the van. I knew one guy who was the guitar player from my high school band. He told me that his drummer didn’t want to go on tour. I wound up jumping in the studio to record a CD with them, where I was literally sleeping in the studio, waking up every day, writing the parts and recording them. And then we hit the road for a three-month solid tour of the Bible Belt. It was just those central, mid-west states: boring, hot, less fun to be in during the summer, lots of fireworks. It was a great time and I learned a lot.
What do you mean ‘lots of fireworks?’
We literally caught our RV on fire. At one point we burned a hole – about the size of someone’s foot – through the bottom and you could see the road. The thing about being on tour at 19 is there’s way too much free time to fill. Being 19, you’re not old enough to drink, so fireworks are the best part of your day. Playing shows is awesome, but it’s also work. So on our free time we played with a lot of fireworks. I still have shirts with burns and holes in them.
Tell me about your training and development.
A few weeks after getting me drums my mom asked me if I wanted to take lessons. She found this guy named Ethan Mesple he’s still doing pretty well as a drummer – and I took lessons from him for about three years. Then I took lessons from Don Newby, an old man with this huge beard, but an awesome drummer. I also played with another drummer named Joe Morton, who was the tour drummer for some pretty well known bands.
My mom was the best. She came to every single performance. She didn’t care what time it was at or what she had going on the next day. When I played in metal bands, she learned what breakdowns were. She’s just so engaged in all of it. My dad is definitely not the biggest music fan, in fact I’m not even sure if he likes it, nevertheless he’s still super supportive of what I’m doing. And they let me play all day everyday for as long as I wanted; even when the neighbors complained so you could say I’m lucky to have them.
So how did a drummer in Colorado connect with the Irish front-woman of Moth Complex, Aoife?
I don’t think she knew how far away Colorado was from California. I was playing in another band, and my heart and my soul was into it but it just wasn’t going where I wanted to be as a musician, it wasn’t taking me there. So, I started looking for other bands and I put together some website profiles: a ReverbNation page, Facebook page, promoting myself as a drummer. I put all these videos up and I put ads up for a couple months. Then, one day where I decided I was giving up, not that I ever really had that attitude, but I’d gone to so many bad auditions where the bands didn’t have the drive or didn’t have the passion, the commitment – that day, I came home and there’s one email.
I looked at it and I thought “This must be a joke,” or “This must be fake,” because no one in LA responded to me. I responded nicely to it though, and checked out the music and thought, “Whoa, this bands pretty good.” She called me the next day and she was totally on top of it. So I instantly saw her work ethic and what every other good band I’d played in was lacking. So many bands will say their gonna make it, and that’s their goal but Aoife was doing the work to get there. If at the end of the day, we don’t make it, at least I’ll know that we gave everything we possibly could have. There are no regrets at this point.
What is the most random gig you’ve taken on in order to support yourself as an artist?
Early on in that first tour our RV broke down and we were out of money. So we all took jobs at an annual festival that’s somewhat like a carnival, and we ran the bungee jump attraction for two days. We didn’t have any experience so I’m kind of surprised they let us do it. But they did, and they let us stay at their house and paid us enough money to get our RV fixed.
Later on that tour, still in Kansas we got this new sound guy and he insisted on doing this sound check one day with all this new equipment that he’d brought. And out of nowhere over 50 people showed up – it was crazy, all these people just came from miles away because they heard us during this sound check.
That tour was sweet. Pretty much I’d wake up every day, go skateboarding and then go play a show. That was my life, every day, for a whole summer.
Who are your drumming heros?
I knew you would ask me that. That’s a difficult question cause they are always changing with every band I play in. Right now, with [my work in] Moth Complex, I’d say Dave Grohl or Taylor Hawkins. Those guys, they don’t have anything that’s that crazy of a beat but they’re really solid and really tight. They have some intricate stuff, but if you’re looking for the most intricate drummers – Chris Pennie, who used to play in the Dillinger Escape Plan and played in Coheed and Cambria – he’s one of my favorite. He’s just amazing. Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater, Buddy Rich – that’s old school, John Bonham, there’s so many great drummers. Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlain – he just played simple grooves, but he made them work, such a great drummer. So there are a lot but it changes over time. Haters gonna hate but I’ll always love Travis Barker – listen to his live albums, that’s all I’m saying.
What were the first bands that really opened you up to music?
The first CD I ever got was 311, thanks to my brother when I was in the fifth grade. So at ten years old I was listening to 311, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins. Rage Against the Machine was the second CD I ever got: Evil Empire and oh my god, that CD killed! Man I loved Nirvana. The first song I learned on the drums was Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. I loved the Offspring (old offspring when they were still real punk none of that new bullshit), Pennywise… I was kind of a weird kid. I think the music I listened to was a little bit more mature than my age because of my older brother.
I was just endorsed by Spaun Drums, my new kit is here and I’m really excited about it. It’s a completely custom kit. The band released our first CD in January and I’m releasing some free drum lessons online through YouTube. I ‘m hoping to build my following and profile through that.
Will there be more Adele covers?
There’s definitely going to be more covers. Now that I have my new kit I’m focusing on finishing these lesson videos and other covers that I’m going to do. I’m trying to decide if I should do more remixes or covers. The Adele cover was great, within a month we got over 1,450 views without even promoting it.
Gunpoint Karaoke – go!
I’d sing either Gangsters Paradise or any Britney Spears song.
Share your Guilty Music Pleasure.
That’s another one that changes. I could sound really lame here. A couple years ago I was really digging Kelly Clarkson and listening to a lot of her stuff – her drummer is AWESOME. There are so many. I watch all those cheesy You Tube videos and there are so many singers on there that are terrible – that’s kind of a guilty pleasure. I’ve also been watching a lot of X-Factor and have been getting really into that show. I was really upset when Rachel Crow got kicked off, I wrote Nicole a very upset message on twitter and somewhere else. So I’m gonna say X-Factor is my guilty music pleasure.