Interview: Derek S. Abrams (3 Headed Snake & Ministry)

Derek S. Abrams

Hazy Eye Music Media is proud to post another interview in a series of interviews I’m currently conducting with some of my favorite artists. I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone and have begun picking the brains of some phenomenal musicians. This time I, Andy Jillson, was fortunate enough to interview Derek S. Abrams.

Abrams is an extremely proficient metal drummer. He has been playing since the age of seven, and professionally since the age of fifteen. In high school, he focused on jazz history, theory and composition. After high school, he embarked on an extensive study of world percussion and ethnic drumming. He is most known for being a touring drummer for the pioneering industrial-metal band, Ministry. Continue reading below for my full interview with Derek S. Abrams.

Derek S. Abrams

AJ: Hi Derek! How are you?!?

DA: I’m doing fantastic!

AJ: For those readers who may not know, can you tell us a little bit about who you are, the bands you’re in, and the type of music you play?

DA: My name is Derek S Abrams. I’ve been a professional drummer for 30 years, starting at the age of seven. I cut my teeth in the Minneapolis music scene, and I’ve primarily been a metal drummer most of my professional career; however, that’s not all I do musically. I’ve played in too many bands to list that all went absolutely nowhere in my early years. Trying was the fun part. Coming up as a younger drummer I played with anyone I could possibly play with. Most of the time they ended up being metal bands, but every once in a while I would get a rare chance to play in a group that wasn’t necessarily a metal band. I ended up getting to play some community theater gigs, and some odd bands too. For instance, a Tibetan pop rock band which was an absolute blast! I also played in a few country-western cover variety bands. Honestly, anyone I could work with.

AJ: Any Ministry or 3 Headed Snake news/updates you’re able to share?

DA: The big news with Ministry is that I parted ways with them in December 2019. I was prepared for the moment when it happened, though it still came as a shock. We all know that there is a revolving door of musicians to go through that band. Right now with 3 Headed Snake there’s been a ton of writing, and demoing. Sin and I are just trying to nail down a time and place we can get into the studio and actually do some serious recording. You should see some teasers coming up online very soon.

Derek S. Abrams 2019 (Photo by Andy Jillson)

AJ: Speaking of Ministry, can you tell us how you became the drummer of Ministry and what playing live w/ the band is like?

DA: I first started working with Ministry as a crew member in 2015. Through happenstance one of my best friends was their Stage Manager at that time, and knew that I would be a perfect fit for the Drum Tech job. Over the years, after the tour I finished with them, I always stayed in contact with everyone in the band. I worked as their drum tech for various North American dates that they played. The opportunity to audition as their drummer came up and I jumped on it! It was a nerve-racking thing to do at the time thinking I had maybe overstepped my bounds asking for the audition. Luckily it all worked out. Playing live with Ministry is very intense being that there’s so much material to get through on stage. There’s barely any time for anyone to talk or even for me to stop and take a drink of water in between songs. The show is put together during pre-production rehearsals for tours, and it stays exactly the same throughout the entire tour. In essence, once we get on stage and start it doesn’t stop until the last note seamlessly.  There is a monumental amount of electronics being used on stage sequenced with lights, video, smoke machines and sometimes confetti cannons depending on what we’re doing for a live show. There is zero room for error.

Stream Ministry’s 2019 compilation album Jesus Built My Hotrod on Spotify

AJ: Speaking of 3 Headed Snake, can you tell us about how that band was formed and what the recording process was like?

DA: 3 Headed Snake was formed through Sin having a bank of songs that he had written, and really didn’t know what to do with. On a whim he did some recording with Michael Rozon, and afterwards he was really happy with how things sounded and decided he wanted to move forward with it. He then proceeded to ask all of the musicians who he really truly likes to work with (being myself, Cesar Soto, DV Karloff and Johny Ray). The recording process is about as high tech, and modern as you can get being that none of us really live in the same state. Sin and I will get together and go over what he wants for the drums. I then lay it down in the studio with Michael Rozon and the rest of the parts are sent out to the rest of the band spread out all across the United States from Florida to Indiana to Texas to LA. Everything is put together, mixed, mastered, and Abracadabra you’ve got a song or album.

3 Headed Snake

Stream 3 Headed Snake on Spotify

AJ: How have you been staying active and keeping yourself busy since coronavirus altered our world?

DA: I’ve been doing my best to stay as active as possible. When it comes to practicing, writing, and being as creative as possible during this pandemic while the entire industry has shut down. I have been writing as much as possible with as many people as possible. I’m practicing as much as I possibly can with a practice pad kit in my apartment. I’m not going to say it hasn’t been difficult, but I’ve been making the best of a tough situation so all of us come out unstoppable in 2021.

AJ: Have you written any new music or worked on any other projects during 2020?

DA: I have been working with some friends in a studio in San Pedro writing and recording anything that comes to mind or strikes our fancy.  It’s been very beneficial for sanity’s sake. Keep your eyes peeled for a group called Fast Ride. I’ve been recording with them, and it’s been an absolute blast!

Derek S. Abrams 2019 (Photo by Andy Jillson)

AJ: When and where was your last show? What do you remember about it? Anything particularly interesting about your final live performance?

DA: My final life performance with Ministry was at Slayer’s very last show at the forum in Los Angeles. It was truly an emotional spectacle. Everyone from the industry came to pay tribute to Slayer in force. That show was something I thought I would never witness. My last live performance was sitting in with my friends band Fast Ride at Molly Malone’s. It was a total kick, and an absolute blast to get into a small club and kick around some drums for the fun of it. I miss it terribly.

AJ: What was it like being on Slayer’s final North American tour? Any fond memories or funny stories from being on tour w/ Philip Anselmo, Primus, and/ or Slayer?

DA: Getting to be part of Slayer’s last tour is some thing that I do believe any musician would have given up a digit to do. I am still in awe and truly humbled to have been part of it. Two very funny things happened to me on the tour that I certainly will not forget. Coming from Minneapolis, I’m very familiar with midwest dishes such as a dish called “tater tot hot dish”. When we played Fargo North Dakota the catering team had made “tater tot hot dish” for their lunch service that day. Les Claypool in particular was blown away at how good it was. I told him that I had a killer recipe for it, and then wrote it down for him. I still don’t know for certain if he’s made it. I know it will bring a tear to his eye when he tries it. Another funny story was after one of our performances Phil Anselmo had come to the side of the stage to watch us play, and afterwards Al told him that he had dubbed him “uncle Phil” because he is too goddamn old for this shit, and will start referring to himself as “grandpa Al.”

Derek S. Abrams 2019 (Photo by Andy Jillson)

AJ: I mainly cover shows in DC, MD, and northern VA; and most of my readers attend shows in the DMV. Any particular shows or venues in this area you have fond memories of?

DA: I really haven’t played that area a lot aside from the times that I played with Ministry at Rams Head Live in Baltimore and at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland. I really enjoyed playing at The Fillmore. They really treat everyone very well when playing there. I am open to playing anywhere as long as I’ve got a crowd I can play to. I look forward to being able to get back there to play in that area again. Music fans there are amazing!

AJ: What have you been listening to lately? Any particular artists and/or albums you’ve recently discovered or rediscovered?

DA: Lately I have been on an enormous Deep Purple kick (long with any stoner-rock band that catches my ear). One band in particular is a group called Goat Snake. They kick ass! I’ve also been listening to Death From Above. Their record Outrage Is Now is amazing. I also listen to Failure a lot, especially Fantastic Planet. That record has resonated with me since I was very young.

AJ: What are your best memories/proudest moments of being a musician?

DA: I have a lot of amazing memories and moments that I’ve been part of throughout my career. Starting at such a young age slugging it out on the road in a van. Being flat broke, and absolutely destitute. Those moments are things that not many people get to experience. The people I’ve met, the strange places I’ve been, the wild parties I’ve gone to (and then thrown out of) are truly a testament to what it’s like to be a broke musician. My proudest moment as of right now is having played a sold out show at Madison Square Garden. Being able to say that I played such hallowed ground is something that I do not take lightly, and I will forever be humbled because of it.

Ministry @ Madison Square Garden 2019

AJ: Most embarrassing and/or awkward moments playing live?

DA: Most embarrassing moment for me was showing up to an audition, and had forgotten to bring half of my drum kit. That was a true dip shit moment. Let’s just say I did not get the gig. My most awkward moment on stage was playing a slow night at a bar in Iowa where a woman had brought two of her young children; and I mean young. She had brought her two toddlers to the bar. Having toddlers standing right in front of me on the stage, playing to nobody but them while watching their mom get drunk, is probably the most awkward thing to date.

AJ: Any advice for struggling musicians, drummers, and/or musical artists in general?

DA: My best advice for struggling musicians: do not be afraid to take constructive criticism. Do not take it personally. If you can’t handle criticism, this is no business for you. I can say the same thing to upcoming drummers. On top of that; the more you practice and the more you broaden your horizons, there will be less chance of pigeonholing yourself into a one style of music. You will be better off and more valuable as a drummer. The most important thing you can do as a musician/artist is be open-minded. Make sure that you’re as empathetic as possible. The easier you are to work with, the more you’ll be able to work and collaborate with other musicians. No one wants to work with a dickhead.

Derek S. Abrams 2019 (Photo by Andy Jillson)

AJ: You have your own personalized “I’d rather be” bumper sticker. What does yours say? I’d rather be…?

DA: Honestly it would say “I’d rather be on tour.”

AJ: Anything you would like to add? Any final words for the readers?

DA: I’m really curious to see how 2020 plays out. I’ll be doing what I need to make sure that I have grown as a person, musician and drummer. Once we get passed this truly bizarre/frightening time that we are living in. I hope everyone else takes the time to do the same. Stay healthy, stay safe and goddamnit! Start practicing, and get better at your fucking craft! No excuses with this kind of time on our hands! I’m really excited to hear what comes out next year. We’re going to have a flood of new music from everywhere!

AJ: Thanks Derek! Fin.

Much gratitude and respect for Mr. Abrams. Hazy Eye Music Media appreciates his willingness and openness. Check out the 3 Headed Snake bandcamp!

Stream 3 Headed Snake on Spotify:


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