INTERVIEW: Tim ‘Herb’ Alexander – “My deep inner-being was always driven towards playing drums”

INTERVIEW: Tim 'Herb' Alexander - "My deep inner-being was always driven towards playing drums" 1
Credit: @herbscider

This May, Primus fans celebrated the 30th anniversary of the band’s second LP, “Sailing the Seas of Cheese.” Dan Volohov sits down with Tim “Herb” Alexander, drummer and member of Primus, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer, and founder of Herb’s Cider.

In this interview for XS Noize, Herb speaks about cider making and developing his business, about touring Lollapalooza, the collaborative aspect of his work, describes the transition to “Sailing the Seas of Cheese,” and the early years of Primus.

Tim "Herb" Alexander

Following your own words, having started drumming more than 30 years ago, you’ve never stopped since then. What did you feel when it became kind of your job?

THA: There were periods when it felt like work. And sometimes it feels just like having fun. Sometimes, when it feels like work, it can put pressure on creativity. It does happen, yes.

There were many examples when well-established artists like you or Maynard James Keenan started your business aside from touring and recording activities. So in this sense, let me ask you: what drove you to start Herb’s Cider?

THA: I was mainly thinking about some other business ideas outside of music. What happened is, I made some cider. My wife and I drank it and thought it tasted amazing. And thought: “Maybe we could try to make it a business?” and that started the process. Every year it’s just been a constant learning curve. Always learning about keeping business alive. We all are trying to sell a product to people. We are always trying to sell, unlike in music, where we are selling a product which is our music, but we do it by going and doing shows. And that’s how people can hear it live or on the radio.

With something like our alcohol, there’s no way for people to sample it. Unless they come here to our spot and taste it or get it in a store. The hard part is getting it in the stores, getting it seen so people at least would have a chance to try. That’s something we’re constantly working on. It started small, and I thought I was going to be making the cider myself. And then, the music career kicked it and was telling me that I needed to be on tour being unable to make cider. Because cider, unlike wine—we usually make it and can have a package within three weeks, unlike wine, where you get the grapes and juice and put it in barrels letting it for a year or two or three years (laughter). This process is a little different because it’s made like wine, but the packaging is almost like beer, sometimes. I needed to be on tour, and the person I had been talking to in the beginning, when I was starting this turns out to be available. He ended up coming on to help us make this. And be a business partner as well.

How long did it take to develop your recipes and develop the way products go in Herb’s Cider?

THA: Well, our cider maker, fortunately, had many, many years of experience. He was the first cider maker for a company around for 20 years in this area. So, when he came to work for us, he left them a long time ago and went to study winemaking and beer brewing, doing other things, and then, when we created the company, he was interested in getting into cider. He had all that knowledge already. I have been learning slowly (laughter). But it depends on what kind of apples you use, what type of yeast to put in, how long it ages sometimes. You can use natural yeast in the air or use the specific yeast chosen that would have a particular effect on the flavours. So that’s that knowledge of what a particular apple tastes like when they’re turned into cider and how they’re combined.

So, with our company, we have four different styles in cans that we put out regularly to our distributors that go into stores. We have some speciality bottles, and we have a bunch of barrels that we’re ageing right now. A few different things are happening.

What usually pushes you? Is it general curiosity or a “Let’s do this!” attitude, or something else?

THA: Well, with music, I’ve always done it naturally. It’s just where my deep inner-being was always driven towards playing the drums, making music, and art. I tend toward artistic things. Here, on the business side of things, I get the glaze over my eyes when I’m doing paperwork things, stuff like that (laughter). I don’t like that at all! I’m more on the creative side of things! And it’s just going with how you feel what you should be doing. I’ve worked regular jobs. But I find it more interesting to be striving for my own business or my art. That drives me better than working for someone else.

And, of course, it’s always important to pass through this trial-and-error stage. Was it the same when you started cider making?

THA: Yeah. You jump in and start swimming, seeing how it goes. We’ve been fortunate to have great people in all aspects of our business, and that makes a huge difference. Rather than it all being all the one person or me, we have some smart business people involved. We have creative people involved. Skilled cider people are involved. That’s how we’re able to get what we’re going for! And even with it, we’re still very small compared to some other cider companies on the shelves in stores.

We’re REALLY small compared to them. And we have a decent-sized setup. We’re looking to grow. It needed a dedicated team that would help you would help the company and make great stuff that people can enjoy. That’s really what it’s about. For us, we make great cider, and that’s the main thing.

At the beginning of your career, you were hugely influenced by the drummers like Neal Peart, John Bonham, or Stewart Copeland. But, at the same time, just like many young musicians, you didn’t want to play other peoples’ music. So when did Tim Alexander start sounding like Tim Alexander?

THA: That’s a good question! I don’t know what that is! Because I’ve tried to figure it out. I don’t have a specific thing. When you start playing and creating music from the ground up, when you start combining everything you’ve known, everything you’ve heard, and that gets all mashed up into what happens when I sit at a drum-set. I don’t know. I don’t think there was a point where I sounded like me. To me, I always have all those different elements going on all the time. And I don’t even know where to pinpoint what I do. People say it sounds like me, and I say: “I don’t know why it sounds like me! Just does!” ( laughter )

After you founded Primus, you got away from this kick-sneer-drum radio standards, sometimes doing odd things. What pushed you, and what helped you find the balance between all the elements in your style?

THA: Our musical taste is kind of all over the place, from rock to progressive stuff to real experimental stuff. When we make music, all those things are factors. I’ve loved a lot of Peter Gabriel’s music. Drummers like Jerry Marotta and Manu Katche are a big influence on me. In a way, he made music. What was interesting about Peter Gabriel and why we liked him as a band—because all aspects were unique. The drums were just kick-sneer-hi-hat. Sometimes there was a groove of bass-drum and sneer-drum. A lot of times, there were just rhythms, toms.

We don’t get to hear that much combined with his great singing and great vocal melodies, interesting guitar underneath. Really nasty, and it was so interesting. Those elements, we’ve always creeped out in our plan. Like approaching music in that manner vs sounding like you’re in Guitar Center where you kind of play what everyone else plays. And I think that’s part of when you find your identity. You start noticing more things like that about not wanting to do what everyone else does. Sometimes it may be harmful to your profits (laughs). You can start getting weird narrowing your audience down. There’s an element of all of that–-Rush stuff to Zeppelin to Peter Gabriel. At least in Primus’ world.

While listening to you now, I drew the parallel between making music and making cider. In both cases, you’re in your place to get a certain reaction from people. Does this make sense?

THA: Yeah, I could see that. Even when it comes down to music, I want to be the best with what I can put out—the same with our cider. We’re not trying to make it quick. Everyone is trying to make the best they can to make it the best it can be because that’s what you leave in your life. You don’t want to be known for putting out shitty stuff (laughter). 

At the same time, even though you’ve reached a certain point of success, it is still like “a small business.”

THA: Oh, yeah. Even in Primus, we’re still small compared to.. depends on what you’d compare us to.

But is it challenging to be a DIY person these days? Back in the day, it meant being a person of a certain type of mentality. These days, pop tendencies dictate everything.

THA: Even if you’re not a DIY person, it can be difficult. Nothing is easy. Being in the music world is definitely tough. You’re selling art! The art we make. Some people like it, some people don’t. I thought it would be a lot easier doing cider. Just making it taste great, and it should be fine. But there are SO MANY other factors that make it difficult. In music, you can do whatever everyone else is doing, and it makes it hard as well. Because now you’re doing what everybody else is doing. Now you have to battle all the other elements that get you seen and heard, people who wanna buy your stuff or see you playing live.

When you’re unique, and you’re doing it yourself, sometimes it can be great. You can stand out because you don’t sound like everyone else. We have a little bit of that in our business as well. We’re different in the way our product looks. The way we make it is not always the same as everyone else. We have those elements, and it is nice. It can be on a shelf with other more popular things, as well, fitting right well. I don’t know if one way or the other is harder or easier.

I’ve always considered “Frizzle Fry” to be more of a rock record. While “Sailing The Seas of Cheese” is something completely surrealistic. What pushed this transition from your roots to explore something different?

THA: That album, I guess, was a little bit not normal rock (laughter). That was the thing about us at that time. We weren’t a normal band, which worked to our advantage a lot of times. But it also—sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not so great. It wasn’t like we had intended. “We’re going to be this totally unique band that can do anything [and] make a weird record….” That’s what happens with us when we all sit together and play music. That’s the kind of sound that comes out. And there’s no predicting it. That’s just the way it sounds—you kind of start—usually me and Les. Or Les may have a riff, and I’m playing the drums to it. And Larry adds his part to it on top, or maybe Larry would have something. Just the way we combine makes that Primus sound. You try to make a record sound good, make it listenable. That’s what we ended up with: “Sailing The Seas of Cheese.”

The process of improvisation has always been important to you, being a drummer and a member of this band. How much has its role changed for you?

THA: I had a lot of experience before Primus in a band I was in, in Arizona. And we made a lot of original music in kind of improv-jams and stuff like that. I was used to going in that direction. In Primus, we had times in our music. And as we got older, it got more and more jammy for sure. I just had the experience early on. Learning how to listen and play, you listen and play to it—that’s what I do. You try not to mess it up. That keeps it going. And we have spots live where we do space-outs. But otherwise, I like it more often to have structures that we’re doing because you can get better and better at playing those songs. Eventually, you get a little bit bored in playing because you do not think as much anymore. And that’s the time when the improvisations can break it up. But even if you’re doing improvisations all the time, even it gets monotonous. You’re just playing to some structure.

In 2014 you had a heart attack and a recovery, leading to your discovery of various meditative practices. At that point, you started working with Dean Evenson, releasing the collaborative LP “Net Of Idra.” What affected your approach to writing music at that point?

THA: That happened quite a while after my heart stuff. But yeah, I remember I needed to exercise, and I would go for walks. The only music that wasn’t irritating was Dean’s stuff. I was listening to his other music. And there’s just something about the way my body felt or my nerves or anything after going through surgery and stuff. Hearing rock music was too abrasive. I could hear it everywhere, and it had been irritating me. I just needed to have real, calm, spacious stuff. I’ve been listening to him for 30 years already. And then, I happen to move up to Bellingham, where I am. That’s where he lives! It was a weird coincidence. And we made it happen that I could make a record with him. It was really cool. I wanted to do something rhythmic with him. And I wanted to create some rhythms but the stuff that wasn’t predictable. That’s why the stuff we did, the rhythms, are looped in odd patterns, and they kind of build. I like that record.

But in the world, when everyone can come up and play some parts, how do you define this edge when you start playing with the band?

THA: A lot of those things in the past have been kind of weird. A Perfect Circle started as a band with a few other people and me, then evolved into something else. The record got recorded with someone else. It’s just changed. Then, the same with Puscifer, it started as one thing and just turned to something else. So, either I’m in it, or it just evolves into something else. 

At Herb’s Cider, what are you working on now?

THA: What we’ve got going right now, we’re changing some of our branding a bit. We’re getting new packages. Everything would be in boxes, and right now, we have our dry, which is “Double Stroke.” All of our products are named after musical elements—rudiments and stuff related to music and rhythm. So, we’ve got our “Double Stroke, “our dry, we’ve got “Black Note,” which is black current, we’ve got “Triplet,” “Lemon Lime,” and also have “Imperial,” which is a Bourbon barrel-aged dry cider aged for 22 months, which is nearly two years. Now it’s in cans. So, we made it easy for people to get it in cans. We have all those. We do have them now! The cans are going to look better in the packaging this next month. We’re opening our cider house bar here next week. So, if anyone hears this and is it Bellingham and wants to come, we’re opening!

When you got mass recognition, started touring Lollapalooza, and performing in festivals like Pinkpop, did you feel any unity with artists you met there, or you’ve always been outsiders?

THA: I mean, the big thing was Lollapalooza. We were a part of that tour, where we were with Alice In Chains, Tool, Rage Against The Machine, Fishbone. There were quite a few bands who made a big noise in the world after that. So, we felt connected to that; in that period, we were in it. It was very cool.

You can check the news on Herb’s Cider on their website –

Xsnoize Author
Dan Volohov 22 Articles
Dan Volohov is a journalist and writer from Russia. Found his inspiration in punk-rock he still continues exploring. From 2016 to 2018 he was a chief reporter at Moscow-based “Radio ULTRA” where he used to cover all sorts of alternative music and interview artists like Billy Gould and Michaele Graves. Since 2015, Dan has been writing for various publications including Distortion Magazine, Maximumrocknroll, Punk Globe, Peek-A-Boo, Metalegion, MetalAddicts, Atmosfear, JoyZine and RamZine. Fav Band: Public Image Ltd ( 1978-1983) Fav Album: The Cure – Wish FavSong: Iggy And The Stooges - I Need Somebody

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