An Interview with Shane Fitzgibbon

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Shane Fitzgibbon is best known as the drummer of Gunzo. Formed by guitarist Tracii Guns(L.A Guns) Gunzo features bassist Rudy Sarzo(Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Blue Oyster Cult, and Queensryche), and Keith St. John on vocals. They can currently be found touring various locations around the U.S.

What was it like growing up in Orange County? Did it leave lasting impression on you coming from where you do?

Growing up in OC was really great, it honestly doesn’t get much better. That being said, there was not always a ton of interesting stuff to get into in the suburbs so you really have to search out ways to have some fun and get into a little trouble. As far as it having a lasting impression on me…I’m not really sure…I think the thing that has had the more significant impression on me was branching out of the bubble and trying to do something that is empirically less safe and straight and comfortable…play music for a living.

When did you first discover the love of music? What was that moment like?

I don’t really remember a moment… but I knew I loved music very young like I remember listening to my brother’s walkman in kindergarten and imagining myself on stage performing whatever song I was listening to and getting chills down my spine. I would walk around listening to that thing at my brother’s baseball practice feeling like a total badass and just escape into the fantasy. When I realized that I could sing pretty early on it got that much stronger. I would sit in my room staring at the cd player and listen to the same tune over and over again and try to mimic the vocalist.

Why do you think music has had such a universal appeal throughout time?

Music is one of the things that defines the human experience. It’s wild that something that has very little practical purpose as far as a human evolutionary standpoint has such an impact on quality of life. We are intrinsically wired to appreciate it. Why are infants soothed by the melody of a lullaby? Throw on some tunes around a baby and they know if they like it or not and start to dance! It’s like a sixth sense that attaches itself to the other five. It’s profound that a mixture of orchestrated sounds can make you feel happy or sad or uneasy even without lyrics. Music has a way of attaching itself to feelings and memories of specific times in one’s life and being a vessel for catharsis. Music is a physical manifestation of the human experience of complicated emotions presented in a simple easy to consume form. The fact that there are to my knowledge zero cultures across the world that don’t have some form of music really speaks to its importance. Plus it’s fun to rock out.

Who are some of your earliest influences?

When I was like 7 Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire came out. How a 7 year old got a hold of that record I don’t remember… but when I heard the opening drum fill on People of the Sun my mind was blown. I would rewind it and listen to it over and over. Growing up in Orange County at that time it was all about the pop punk post punk whatever so I was really into Green Day and Sublime and things like that. My brother hipped me to the Chili Peppers and a kind of quazi jazz band called Karate that I drew a lot of influence from drumming wise. I was playing drums by the time I found The Mars Volta’s Deloused in the Comatorium record. That album completely revolutionised the way I approach drumming and every time I hit the woodshed I always find myself popping in the headphones and blasting through it from start to finish. My dad turned me on to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Cream, Iron Butterfly… all the other great rock from the late 60’s and 70’s. My mom was all about funk and soul music so I found out about Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone and Prince. I seriously dig all styles of music and can find value in most of it. It’s funny now that I find myself playing great rock from the 80’s I didn’t really have anyone who showed it to me until much later.

What led to your picking up drumming?

I was always an incessant tapper. I remember early on in elementary school my teacher coming over and grabbing both of my hands, looking me in the eye and saying “Please stop that.” I didn’t even realize I was ripping it up on my desk completely in my own world. There was a guitar in my house that was my Dad’s from another life and when I was like 8 my brother Kyle decided he wanted to learn to play so I just made the logical decision and said hey I guess I should play drums.

What was it like when you got your very first kit?

On my 10th birthday my parents got me a cheap drum set. There is an awesome picture floating around of me the moment I saw it. I’m in tighty whiteys, face bright red with tears in my eyes mid ecstatic jump. I had to immediately go do some boy scout camp thing for the rest of the day and I was about to have a mental breakdown knowing I had a kit but had to go tie knots for 8 hours

When did you first know that music would be your profession?

I always knew I had it in me… but I didn’t really have the cajones to let myself believe it was a real option until right after college. I just kinda went through the motions in college and got my degree because that’s just what you do… go to college get a degree get a job go to work put money in your 401k rinse and repeat. When I was thrust out into the world to fend for myself I came to the realization that I get one chance at life and I might as well go for it while I’m still young and have no one to take care of but myself… and if it doesn’t work out ill figure something out.

What do you love most about playing the drums?

For me music is a team sport. I love being a part of setting the landscape upon which other musicians can explore. It’s all about texture. Rhythm is a visceral thing that’s fun and easy to latch onto. I also love the freedom to play with all sorts of different acts. People fire their drummers a lot and it’s cool to be able to just jump into a different musical situations relatively easily. I also love how physical drumming is. By the end of the set I am drenched in sweat nearly passed out with an endorphin rush like I just fought a bear or something.

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What advice would you offer others just learning the trade?

Try really, really hard and take risks. The harder you work the luckier you will find yourself getting. I know so many insanely talented musicians that can’t seem to get it together because they think that if they smoke weed all day and just get good at their instrument that things will just fall into place. If you want to do something difficult like do art for a living you have to work ten times as hard as anyone else. Play with as many different musicians as you can…you will learn so much from each different person you collaborate with. Study records of all kinds and draw influence from everything. No one ever learned anything because they were too cool to check out a certain band because of their perceived coolness. Don’t be discouraged by people who are much better than you at what you do, instead, be inspired to get better. Be excited and willing to learn from people who have more experience than you. Learn when to keep your mouth shut. No one likes a young know-it-all. Likewise, if you are going to live on a bus with someone for months you had better be a pleasant person or you won’t get the gig. NETWORK. Find a mentor who can show you what they know and learn to be useful to them. This biz is about being in the right place at the right time so you have to be in the right place ALL THE TIME. Ask for the things you want, you will get them if you have the right attitude and you work hard enough.

What is it like to be a part of Gunzo? How did that come about? What is it like working with the other guys there?

Gunzo is awesome. I am so stoked to be playing with musicians of their caliber and it is so validating that they feel that I am the man for the job. I know a lot of drummers out there are like WTF how did this fool get the call? A few years back I started working with Steve Vai’s engineer Greg Wurth at Steve’s studios in Hollywood and Encino. Greg brought me on to help him create his own studio also in Encino called Patigonia Studios on a beautiful property with some awesome vintage gear. I met Tracii at Patigonia when he rented one of our production rooms. We became friends and I did some session work for him and eventually he brought me out on tour with the Devil City Angels as their tech/ everything guy. Tracii really wanted to put something together with me on drums and had worked with Rudy on the Randy Rhoads tribute shows and they really wanted to work together also. We heard Keith was a badass and got him on board and it all sort of came together. The guys are all complete heavyweights and super fun to throw down with. I have already learned so much from these cats.

Are you excited about the Gunzo tour?

Absolutely. I can’t wait to play some awesome music for people and become even tighter with the guys!

What do you enjoy most about performing live?

I love being able to feel the music cranked up loud. Hitting the kick drum and having it shake you to the core just feels right. Stuff happens during live shows that just really progresses the music, you get all hyped up and go for some stuff that you have never gone for in rehearsal and just get into it. In Gunzo we have a ton of fun on stage and I think it shows. It’s just a great environment to celebrate some great music and have a good time.

Do you prefer to work in the studio or on the road?

I can’t really say. I need a healthy dose of both to feel satisfied. Engineering and producing is a newer passion of mine so it is really exciting every day when I come in and work with band and help them make something great.

Do you miss the studio in Encino when you’re touring? How does it feel to have your own studio? Is that something you had always dreamed of?

My contribution to its creation was sweat and elbow grease rather than money, It is a really amazing space that I can bring in projects and have an opportunity to create and help others capture their music. I always wanted to have a space like Patigonia and I’m so comfortable working there.

What do you think is key to a life well lived?

Just don’t take things too seriously. Be humble and admit mistakes. Spend money on experiences rather than items. Learn how to do a handstand. Sneak into music festivals.

What can your fans looks forward to next?

 Look forward to some live shredding and perhaps a Gunzo record soon.

Anything you’d like to say in closing?

 Gunzo Rocks!

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