When a band rocks as hard as Drowning Pool, when the music demands to be heard at maximum volume, and when the energy level surpasses the word intense, there’s only so much that a recording studio can capture. The solution: release a live album, the aptly titled Loudest Common Denominator, a limited edition treat for the loyal and growing fan base culled from time on the road and the radio.
“Nothing will ever compare to, or get into the groove of, a live show when we’re in the studio,” says Drowning Pool drummer Mike Luce. “Sweating in the clubs, traveling in a van or bus six to twelve hours to make it to load-in, that’s where it all comes from. That, and the interaction with the crowd when we’re onstage.”
It’s all there on Loudest Common Denominator, as Luce, vocalist Ryan McCombs, guitarist C.J. Pierce and bassist Stevie Benton give their all. “It’s not 45 minutes or an hour deadlocked without deviating,” says the drummer about Drowning Pool in concert. “Some bands are in that world, but this is live — the camaraderie between us, involving the crowd, the impromptu breakdowns in the songs and winging it on the fly. We don’t just run through the songs and get the hell out. We live for that hour onstage and that’s why we take it so personally. You can’t capture that in the studio.”
On a scale from 1 to 10, when measuring the highs and lows of Drowning Pool’s 12-year career, Luce candidly states that the band has experienced both extremes. When success comes — and it often does — it’s euphoric, he says. But when there were crashes — and there were a few —“You pick up and move on. It isn’t easy, but it’s life. The highs and lows make you appreciate everything that’s good. Stuff happens, terrible stuff, to everybody. You try to use it somehow to make something good come out of it.”
Three albums — 2001’s Sinners, certified platinum within six weeks of its release, 2004’s Desensitized, and 2007’s Full Circle — all charted on the Billboard Top 200 and brought Drowning Pool their share of hits, including “Bodies,” their calling card anthem and tribute to the mosh pit. Eight years later, the song remains a crowd favorite and reminder of those highs and lows of which Luce speaks.
“To use a Spinal Tap reference, at the highest times we were cranked up to 11,” he says. “It was the greatest. We were all young, and we’d wanted this all our lives. To play music with your friends for a living — it’s better than winning the lottery. These are dreams and aspirations that I’d had since I first held a pair of drumsticks in my hand. We got lucky, we were on Cloud Nine — to be the Ozzfest darlings, in Rolling Stone, on MTV. We felt like the band was on its way to world domination. Nobody sees the black cloud around the corner.”
That “black cloud” was unimaginable tragedy, when front man Dave Williams was suddenly taken by rare undiagnosed heart condition, hypercardiomyopathy. When such a loss occurs, “It rips everything from under you,” says Luce. “We went from 11 to low zero. Our friend, our brother, was taken away and there was nothing we could do. What can you do? Sure, you feel selfishly shortchanged; you think about all the ‘what ifs.’ Then what? Sulk? Quit? We could have, but we chose to move forward. It’s a constant up and down.”
And so they did what they do best: continued to make records and toured. Touring: it’s what Drowning Pool has always done. It’s how they built and maintain their fan base. With front man, Ryan McCombs, formerly of SOiL, a new record label, Eleven Seven Music, and a new album, Full Circle, both band and their loyal fans agreed that it was the right move.
“We believe, and we’ve heard it from audiences and people we’ve met, that they see Ryan [fronting the band] and they see Drowning Pool again,” says Luce. “If we can go from everybody knowing us as a band on one record, and two records later there’s a completely different guy and people call us the same band and say, ‘You look happy again,’ and as a listener in the crowd they feel they are at a Drowning Pool show again, that’s awesome. The music is preserved, it has a signature, and for whatever style it is, I think we have it. We didn’t want to change the name of the band out of respect for Davey and everything we did together. He helped us to get here, and I hope people can see and understand that. We were all four in a band together. It’s easy to play armchair quarterback after a game and say, ‘I would have done that differently.’ But that’s not your call. As a musician, I couldn’t imagine playing in this band without the three guys in it right now. That would change the fingerprint of the sound.”
On the heels of 300 shows over the course of two years, Drowning Pool decided to capture that sound permanently with the release of their long-awaited live album, Loudest Common Denominator. Included among the 13 tracks are classics “Tear Away,” “Bodies,” “Step Up,” and new favorites “Enemy,” “Soldiers,” and bonus acoustic demo versions of “37 Stitches” and “Shame.”
Loudest Common Denominator is a “live” album in the truest sense of the word: directly from the board and front of house. “Our sound guy, recorded the shows,” Luce explains. “There are no overdubs on the album, just a few tweaks here and there. I tend to run on in speech and I’ve been known to say stuff to the crowd to get them going, so there was some “Edit Mike out of there in those places!” But other than that, it’s all live takes. People listening to the CD can tell that it’s a live presentation of the band. Everything is in there.”
The music industry is always a fight for survival, Luce agrees, and he is confident that Drowning Pool will continue to forge ahead and make inroads to further carve their name in rock and roll history. “You get up and continue with your brothers,” he says. “With Loudest Common Denominator, we’re planting some more roots. Stevie, C.J., Ryan and I love playing music, and we’re thankful that people still want to hear what we do.”