Collective Soul Drummer Johnny Rabb on ‘Blood,’ Sammy Hagar + More

2019-06-25

Collective Soul – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Lee Clower

Collective Soul’s Johnny Rabb talks with Anne Erickson about the band’s new album, “Blood,” the group’s longstanding relationship with Sammy Hagar and more in this in-depth interview

The guys of Collective Soul just unleashed their 10th studio album, “Blood,” last Friday, and the collection is jam-packed with well-written songs that keep the band’s trademark sound and vibe alive.

Drummer Johnny Rabb has been with Collective Soul since 2012. He’s more than just a touring drummer—Rabb helped write and record both “Blood” and Collective Soul’s previous album, “See What You Started by Continuing.”

Rabb spoke with Anne Erickson from Audio Ink about what makes “Blood” so satisfying to perform live, Collective Soul’s 25th anniversary as a band, the group’s longstanding relationship with Sammy Hagar and his unexpected appreciation for hair metal. Read the full interview below, and listen via Apple Podcasts here.

Anne Erickson: Congratulations on the new album, “Blood.” What are you most looking forward to when it comes to fans finally hearing the full record?

Johnny Rabb: The album itself is exciting, because it really is a front-to-back album. I think when you put it on, you get the emotional side of it, and then you get the rock side, of course. But, there’s also some really cool emotional songs in there, and all the lyrics are all real things that have happened that were stories from E Roland or all of us. I don’t mean to make it all sound soft; it definitely rocks. It’s just a life record. It’s called “Blood,” and to me, that signifies just what that is. Of course, it’s a substance, but it’s also family, a brotherhood, sisterhood– whatever. I just think people are going to dig it from start to finish. It’s not just, “Oh, that one song.” It’s a collection of really well thought out material.

Now that you’re out there playing shows, how does it feel to perform the songs off “Blood” live for the first time?

I absolutely enjoy it. It’s just a great feeling to see the crowd, hands clapping and they’re into it, and the songs mean so much to me. Also, to be able to be a part of the recording process on this record, as well as “See What You Started By Continuing,” it just means a lot being part of the band. We’re in there now, actually recording. Of course, we get to play all the hits that E Roland and the guys created over the last 25 years until now, but now, we’re really a part of it. I feel like Collective Soul is at the point where– I guess I feel very proud. That’s the best word. I’m proud and honored to be able to play and say, “These are drum parts we all came up with” or “I came up with.” It’s an honor.

Congratulations on Collective Soul’s 25th anniversary! I know you haven’t been with the band for the full time, but when you’re touring and playing songs like “Shine” that people have loved for 25 years, what does that feel like?

It never gets old. Even myself, I’m like, “All right!” And then I go, “Hold on a second. I’m playing this!” So, I understand where the crowd is coming from, because I feel the same way. I mean, these guys have such a unique sound, and they don’t sound like anybody else. They sound like Collective Soul. I always liked that. Even back in my Nashville days, l would hear them on the radio, and at that time, it was that same reaction. Who are these guys? So, when that song comes on, the crowd rises up and they’re cheering and are into it. So, it does not get old— it’s an exciting moment every show.

When you were first hearing songs like that way before you were in the band, did you ever think that you’d be playing those tracks live in the band?

No, I did not! That’s a great question, because back then, I was just a year out of college, and the band broke with “Shine.” I was like, “Man, this is an interesting video and song.” Then I heard “December” when I moved to Nashville, so I was trying to also get my band signed and doing different things like that, but what’s really crazy is that if you would have asked me what, “What band would you have wanted to be in?” I would have said, “Collective Soul.”

Collective Soul has toured with Sammy Hagar a great deal, which I think is really interesting. Tell me a little about the band’s history with Sally Hagar.

That goes back to the early days. I know, for example, that they opened up for Van Halen in the early days. The bottom line is that they’ve been friends with Sammy Hagar, and Sammy has been supportive of them over the years. He’s had us out there on some solo shows for one offs, and we also did that tour with him a couple of years ago. It’s amazing, because you are out with Sammy Hagar, and you’re like, “This is Sammy Hagar!” There’s no denying who that is. So, even as a band member in Collective Soul, I’m still like, “Oh my gosh. Listen how this guy sings.” The package was great, and the vibe was great. And the whole tour was great. So, he’s been very kind to us. The word “sweet” is a funny word, but he has been completely sweet to to me. When I see him backstage, he’s just a great person.

What do you admire about Sammy Hagar and his career?

That’s a great question, too. I personally just admire all that he’s done, and I’m sitting there thinking, “I play drums. I write music and stuff.” But, where’s that stuff coming from? Not only the natural talent, but the writing… And he’s one of the guys that I couldn’t wait to see live, and I’m like, “Does he really do that live?” And sure enough, he’s got those golden pipes. And I can’t believe the stamina and his sense of vocals. So, it’s a very well-rounded thing with Sammy.

I interview a lot of metal bands, and even though people wouldn’t think of a member of Collective Soul being into metal, I was wondering, are there any metal bands out there you especially love to jam?

Definitely! It’s stuff I grew up with. I’m buddies with Rikki Rockett from Poison. I always liked his demeanor as a drummer. I dig all the early days stuff. He’s also a great guy. Then, of course, there’s Metallica and Judas Priest. I wish I could’ve seen Motley Crue live. I’ve never seen them live. But, again, my era was the total ‘80s metal and ‘80s pop-rock. I’m sure I’m going to leave tons of stuff out, and there’s even harder stuff that I probably can’t think of right now, but I’m big fan of metal.

What’s next for Collective Soul?

It looks like we’re going to be touring all through this year, and it’s the 25th anniversary of the band. So, we’re really proud of that. We’ll be touring all the way through September and even through some holiday months. The record is out, “Blood,” so we’re supporting that, and we’re super proud of it. We’ll also hit the studio again and do some things during the wintertime. We kind of never stop. So, recording and playing live, that’s our main objective.

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