By Noe Gutierrez
War Drum is comprised of Jack Kohler on keyboards and vocals, Ehren Groban on guitars and bass and Peter Leighton on percussion. Five years ago this mind-bending rock band from the desert was actualized after a wearisome coffee shop gig in the Coachella Valley by Kohler and Groban. Their first two albums, At Old Trails and Fortune Finder, demonstrated the unique sound of lead-footed instrumentation and psychedelic melodies that have haunted the desert during their short tenure.
Coachella Valley Weekly sat down with Kohler and Groban after they devoured some mouthwatering brisket at Smoke Tree BBQ in Palm Desert, CA. CV Weekly will be following the band and their members over the next few months to report on their voyage as well as their respective projects outside of the band. Groban makes no bones about it; “War Drum is the footing for all we have been able to do.” Even with this foundation War Drum is willing to venture into unknown territory without hesitation.
Signed to a multi-year deal on Small Stone Records, War Drum will be releasing their 3rd full length album, Risk Taker, in the spring of 2016. Mixed and mastered by Harper Hug and Trevor Whatever at Thunder Underground Studios in Palm Springs, the album was completed in February 2015. Guest performers on the album include The Doors guitarist Robby Krieger and Gram Rabbit’s Jesika Von Rabbit. Kohler admits the idea of having Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Krieger record on their album is surreal.“He was moved by our sound. Robbie wanted to be a part of it and get behind us.” Groban shared, “Harper showed Krieger the music and he simply expressed interest. Robbie just wants to play music.” Involving both Rabbit and Krieger involves little risk.
The title of the album may allude to the insinuation of danger but it is more of a leap of faith in their own musical abilities and cumulative intuition. Groban urges fans to pay attention to the details once the album is released. “Listen intently with headphones. Some songs have 64 tracks. Some songs have six different guitar tracks.” In all, there are ten songs on the album. Kohler, Groban and Leighton each provide multi-instrumentation and applied the three-pronged approach. “On Risk Taker we joined forces and remained unconventional,” shares Kohler. “We had no predesigned notions and no predictions of where it was going. Collectively War Drum is much stronger. Our investment in this album showcases our maturity. Sonically, it’s the best album we have recorded. Our attitude was to not give a fuck and just do what we want to do. We took our own way to pave our own way. What we ended with is an album that went beyond our expectations.” Leighton states further, “We’ve been sitting on our golden egg for too long and the anxiety is tearing me up! We will keep writing and hoping we’re making music people want to continue listening to, discover new, and even rediscover all over again.”
In addition to his role in War Drum, Kohler is the architect behind Fortune Finder Music Group supporting the booking and promotions for artists such as Caxton, Thr3 Strykes, Alex Harrington, Ideation, J. Patron and of course, War Drum. He is also the talent buyer/booking agent for Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert. He recently spent two days in a cabin in Idyllwild on a song writing bender. “I need a reason to write. My motivator is my creativity.” In retrospect, Kohler is fired up with their current circumstances. “Five years ago we had no consideration where we would be now but there was a self-realization that we might be on to something.” In regards to lyrics, Kohler never intended to sing in War Drum. “I sang out of necessity.” He is beside himself in working with guitar genius Krieger. “Thanks to my parents I discovered The Doors. Having the opportunity to work with Robbie has been amazing. He’s just an old fashioned guy.” Kohler is also collaborating with Krieger in the project The Psychedelic Sundays.
Groban recently returned from an unplugged tour of Europe with John Garcia where he and Garcia performed songs from Garcia’s solo band, Kyuss, Vista Chino, Slo Burn and Hermano. “I felt completely naked. Playing 90 minute acoustic sets was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Using a loop was even scarier. There was a need for me to be more attentive and focused. We enjoyed a lot of the banter and intimacy of the venues.” After the first four shows, their label Napalm Records took note of the success and has asked for a John Garcia acoustic album. The record will be released at the beginning of 2016.
Regarding Risk Taker, “There were no guarantees of return for Risk Taker. We are honored in breaking new ground and we are still rising. We will continue to reach more people wanting more.”
Leighton has set his sights on this album and the possibilities. “War Drum is now at its greatest thus far. The knowledge, experience, and creativeness flowing through this dashing trinity have come to a peak of sorts. There are many more albums to come and we’re proud that this album will be setting the tone for those.” His fellow band members could not credit him enough with his enthusiasm for the music.
Leighton accents the ties that bind War Drum. “Our unit is exactly that, a UNIT. If there is a weakness in one member, another member steps forward to fill that gap. Where there are super strengths, there is also humility. We keep each other in line like a band of misfit brothers with no parents. We keep each other golden. I love those guys. Don’t always like them, just like any other family, but the love keeps us close.”
The Psychedelic Sundays
Robbie Krieger, Bill Stinson, Mario Lalli, Sean Wheeler and Jack Kohler are The Psychedelic Sundays (working title). The music is being recorded and Produced by Hug and Whatever at Krieger’s Horse Latitudes Studios. These exceptional musicians have banded together to break new ground and create kaleidoscopic music. Kohler and Lalli wrote a majority of the songs. Lalli plays bass, Krieger plays his Gibson SG and sitar, Sean Wheeler is on vocals, Kohler on keyboards and Stinson on drums. More details to come!
War Drum albums available on iTunes, Spotify, Band Camp and CD Baby
(Photos by Steve Young)