Photo by Philip Cosores
There’s plenty to talk about with regards to Preoccupations and their excellent, new self-titled album. Many will focus on the fact that this is actually the band’s second self-titled record, the first one having been released in 2015 under the name Viet Cong. But having brunch with drummer Michael Wallace the day before the band is scheduled to perform at Los Angeles’ FYF Fest, it’s clear that he’s already exhausted from talking about his band’s semi-controversial name change, even with a month to go before the new album comes out.
But that topic isn’t on the agenda today. It turns out Wallace is a bit of an adventurer and has wrangled several near-death experiences out of his last several years of life. Even when recounting the most frightening of these, he’s upbeat and cheerful, not indicating that these kinds of escapades might be coming to an end in the near future. In fact, Wallace generally seems proud of all the ways he’s tempted fate. Maybe not proud of the situations he’s found himself in, but proud of the fact that he’s survived them and can now laugh about it all between bites of salmon benedict.
Michael Wallace: Judging by just the start of this tour, I had this feeling that Dallas was cursed because it was the only show that I’ve ever had to cancel on a tour, which was post-SXSW when I played with a broken hand.
That was kind of a news item, right?
A little bit. It was funny. It got featured in Rolling Stone magazine as one of the highlights of SXSW. It was like “Viet Cong Drummer Plays Six Shows with One Hand,” but then it just had a picture of my bass player’s face. I was like, “Thanks, Rolling Stone.”
But anyway, our first show in Houston, again on this tour, I bashed my hand and it was just very reminiscent of last year, super swollen. Dallas was the next show, and for a minute I thought it was broken again. I was like, “Oh my God, what’s with Dallas? I can never play there ever again.”
That whole escapade started in Indiana last year on Monty’s [guitar and synth player Scott Munro] birthday. We were all just really hyper, perhaps one or two too many tequila shots before taking the stage, but it was during “Death”, our last song, that I cracked my left hand on the snare drum and fractured the bone.
Do you hit your hand against the snare drum a lot?
It’s something I’m continually working on not doing. And part of that is I just get too excited when I’m playing the drums and just sort of lose it in the moment. I didn’t even realize it until the morning when I woke up. It was just so swollen and in a lot of pain, so I just kept my hand in a bucket of ice for two days on the way to SXSW.
You don’t have health insurance I’m guessing.
Well, exactly. That, too.
In Canada, you can just go to the hospital, right?
Yeah, you can go in anywhere.
So you’re just like, “I can hold out until I get home.”
It was me wishing or hoping so bad that it was going to be OK since we had two days until we were there. The first day we had to play the Mohawk, and I did this stick test where I tried to hold the drumstick, and it just fell right out of my hand. I was like, “Oh my God, guys, I think we have to cancel this show.” And then my tour manager was just like, “OK, if you’re gonna cancel it, you’re going to have to go down to the Mohawk and you have to show them your hand and be like, ‘This is what happened,'” and I just felt like that was such an embarrassing thing to have to do. “Really? You can’t just phone them and tell them I hurt my hand?” And he was like, “No. This is a pretty high-profile gig, and what if you just make something up? It’s a lot better if you just show them that you’re injured.”
I really didn’t want to do that. So we were having this back-and-forth with it, and it was Danny [guitarist Daniel Christiansen] who was like, “Didn’t Def Leppard play with one hand?” And the thought had never even occurred to me because I was hoping that it was going to get better in time for the shows. We just pulled up YouTube and watched 10 minutes of Def Leppard videos. He’s got all the crazy foot controllers and stuff, but he’s just doing it all with one hand. It’s his right hand and I’m right-handed as well, so 10 minutes later I was like, “OK, fuck it, let’s do this.” It was just really exciting and super nerve-racking. I didn’t have any time to prepare or practice one-handed. I was just sitting in the backstage, before we had to go on, going over my beats and patterns in my head, song by song of how I would do that with one hand.
Photo by Philip Cosores
You had to remove a little bit, right?
Oh yeah, a lot.
So it was more of how to keep time and how to make it interesting?
Yeah, exactly. Go through the changes, beat for beat. But then it came to “Death”, which is our last song. It has that five-stroke roll. That one I was really struggling with, so it turned into a triplet, but that didn’t feel right. We tried to make a trigger where I could hit it and it would do a five-stroke roll, but it was never in time or consistently the same tempo starting that song. So we started having some backup drummers just play the snare drum and then just join in, which was really fun. A lot of drummers were really excited about it and just the idea to improvise.
Which artists performed with you?
Hayden [Menzies] played, from METZ. We’re really good friends with them. He was really cute. He was pretty nervous about it, but he got up there and killed it. And then the highlight was Thor [Harris], from Swans. I’m a pretty big Swans fan, and it was amazing to meet him. He came literally 15 minutes before we took the stage, and we had a little pow-wow playing on our hands and knees together. He’s just the most positive human I think I’ve ever met. Originally, it was just planned for doing “Death”, but I was like, man, it’s Thor, he’s so cool, just play the whole show with us. And he was like, “Sure, man, whatever you guys want to do!” And it was so funny, too, because it was the Fader Fort, and I think Will Smith’s daughter had just performed before us. I remember having the best time in the world. I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m playing with Thor right now,” looking out into the audience and people just staring at us like what the fuck is going on? What’s wrong with that dude’s arm, and who’s this other guy?
Especially in the Fader Fort. A lot of the fans there are waiting for the surprise headliner, who might be Drake.
That’s exactly what it was and just us in the middle of it. We ended up doing two shows a day for three days. Dallas was our next show, so I canceled that to fly home to get repaired before rejoining the band in Denver. I don’t know if many people know that I continued the tour, only canceling Dallas. In total, it was something like 14 shows as the Def Leppard escapade.
Photo by Philip Cosores
How was coming back once your hand was useful again? Were there any reservations? Like how an athlete comes back from an injury.
Oh, of course. I’ve been contemplating padding my rims, but that’s going to produce a different sound, and a lot of the time you want to hear the stick on the rim. I’ve been trying to be more aware and conscious while I’m playing, but like I said, it’s difficult because I just have so much fun while I’m playing. You want to totally lose yourself and go crazy.