Interview ~ Johnny Rabb of Collective Soul

Collective Soul has been around from almost 25 years with nine studio recordings.  They are out on tour celebrating all their accomplishments with 3 Doors Down and Soul Asylum on the Rock & Roll Express Tour this summer.  Johnny Rabb is a well rounded accomplished drummer for Collective Soul, an author and educator so getting a opportunity to pick the brain of so much a talent is an honor. We had the opportunity to talk with Rabb, just after he landed in Chicago walking through the airport.  With a constant rotating schedule hoping from one state to the next it can be a struggle for any entertainer to find time on a day off to fit in an interview.  However, Johnny definitely didn’t make me feel like he was in a rush or on a time constraint.  The conversation was easy and flowed like butter.  Like as if I had known him for years.

Our conversation started off discussing the hustle through the airport and how hard it must be being on the road from one place to the next.

Johnny Rabb/Collective Soul:  Sometimes it can make it feel like it’s Groundhog’s Day even though were excited to be out and touring. Of course, it’s all about the fans.  We love doing it.  But then It’s always exciting when show time hits, it’s showtime and we’re hitting it and it’s a lot of fun.  Every night is a new show we don’t take nothing for granted.

Exactly, and I’m sure you get excited about the fans in general because every different venue brings a whole new set of fans and depending on their excitement brings how much you actually put out there on stage.  I am sure you always give 110% for your fans but it ramps it up when you have fans singing back to you contributing to your songs.  It has to be exhilarating.

Oh my gosh 100%, it really does make a difference when fans show us they really want us to be there.  It’s a significant thing; that’s what we thrive off of .

I bet you’re generally excited about the Rock-n-Roll Express Tour with 3 Doors Down and Soul Asylum


I’m sure the fans are excited to hear the classic hits, what are the songs you get the most requests for?

A lot of people want to know if were going to play anything new and of course we get to play the hits.  And of course I don’t take that for granted as a musician playing to close to 35 years now and with these guys on the beginning of my 7th year and they are coming up on their 25th anniversary. It’s so fun to play the songs that people recognize and there is quiet a few of them as I look down on the set list every night I go man everyone of these is a hit.  And of course, we do have 2-3 new ones that haven’t been released, so I can’t say they are hits yet but they are a lot of fun to play.  As you were asking earlier about 3 Doors Down and Soul Asylum Rock-n-Roll Express Tour, it has been amazing.  Everyone gets along, we’re all bro’s out there, having fun, joking around.  Then when it’s time to get serious and play music we’re doing that too. So we always have fun with it.  I’ve got Greg over there from 3 Doors Down, I mean like every night giving me jokes from side stage.  It’s just cool cause I grew up wanting to do this for a living and everyone is doing it and we all feel the same way. It’s a lot of fun.

I best it’s amazing getting to be able to live out your dream.

Yes, it is, I love it!  It’s fun and as we spoke earlier it’s work, but we love the work.  I hate to use the term it’s like a Job, because music is my hobby as well as a Job.  Sometimes it blows my mind that we are able to be able to do that you know.

It has to be hard on family life as well.

That part is very true, some of us have families with wives and children and significant others as well and that part can be tough. But the news is for example I was just home, got to do some catch up with my daughters and my wife, do a little yard stuff.  Stuff I like doing.  It goes by too fast, but I tell you it’s all worth it and they know exactly what we’re doing. I wouldn’t have it any other way to be honest because when I am home I am home and when I’m not here I am focused on being as professional as possible at the same time having a blast with my second family which is the band.

How many daughters do you have? Would you encourage them to go into this field?

I have two daughters.  I would encourage them to be anything they want to be.  My oldest daughter plays trumpet.  I don’t see her being professional at it, but that is not because of any negativity.  I believe we expose them to music but by no means am I going to force or try to be the person/father that “you don’t play drums or guitar that you have to do this for a living.” I in no way, but if they want to I’ll try to help them.  It’s a very difficult career.  There is not joke around about that. Just like anything else even business I don’t want to push, like sports or football.  There is some amazing football players not all of them get a change to play professionally let alone college.  Interesting thing with music is the analogy there so I am also big into other things, life and family.  I think if you have a passion for something and it becomes you main career choice then you go for it.  But its up to them.  I have seen some of my friends kind of push the music thing that are professionals and that is cool.  It’s just not me, I just want them to be happy with what ever they want to do.

That’s what I tell my own kids.  Backing up just a little bit. How do you guys fit in the nine studio recordings that you have completed in these twenty five years into one set so that you can give it all to your fans in one show.

Well, there are so many great songs, again I am just happy to be a part of the band, and me to I know what you’re saying; what do you choose? Well, we obviously try to choose what makes a good set of music in time there is popular songs.  I’m honestly a fan of the bands entire catalog.  Ed did a great job writing and the they did a great job recording records.  So every song is fun to play, but at the end of the day Ed decides and we kind of toss it back and forth, next thing you know a set is made and there is going to be some songs that the people are wanting to hear.  It can be anything from “Shine”, “December” to “Why Pt.2” to “The World I know” you know “Run” I could keep going.  “Listen” sometimes gets on there and songs like “Continuing”.  What is cool is when we throw the curve ball in there and we get something from the past records and were like OH COOL we’re playing that.  Not necessary to say a name of a song but just trying to mix it up and it makes a set list and we just get out there.  I am proud of the guys, cause when we change a set up we just get out there and play music.  I don’t know what it is but were able to just play music, you know get on stage and just play, there is not some big crazy nut long rehearsal ever for us.  I’m not trying to be arrogant, but this band is just so tight, it kind of just happens.

I guess twenty five years of experience can do that! Kind of makes is set in stone!

Yeah yeah, but at same point keep in mind me and Jesse are not part of the original band.  I’m just proud of how well things just kind of all falls together each night. Even a night where we might think we were tired or what ever, it’s always a really good show.  We have a great time and we try.  I mean even tonight.  I’m coming in here, knowing there was a small day break, or two day break and  I want to make sure that I focus and yes have fun and give all I can on the drum set.

I know that on the 4th of July you guys streamed four new songs.  How are those performing for you guys?

People are really loving them!  I’m not just trying to be vague, but I really have heard from close friends and fans backstage that all those songs are streaming.  I am really proud of them.  We have 19 songs recorded and we will see how they get released. There is a double record coming out next year in 2019 for the 25th anniversary.  There is such a variety of songs that have such a undeniable Collective Soul sound.  They are doing really well in the sense of when we did these releases.  There is a rumor that on Ed’s Birthday possibly some other songs, four or five songs, streaming them.

Little cat out of the bag there?

Yep… (giggles)

I actually have a fan question for you.

Sure; hope I can answer it.

(Fan Question from Joe G) When you guys first started releasing music as a fresh band the music was clearly from the heart and from experiences.  Do you feel that the new music is pulling from the same areas but from the current heart or from previous experiences?

That’s a fantastic question.  I feel like watching Ed write and working together its all from heart right now or speak of experiences that have happened.  They could be a long time ago but they are all real experiences for these new songs.  When ever this is going to be released, but this new batch of 19 songs are al things Ed is feeling as a human.  It could be fun stuff, it could be personal stuff, it could be about anything you can imagine but none of them are just some made up thing.  He literally is such a writer.  I have been witness to watching him craft on a daily basis on his acoustic and singing.  I’ve been like wow man, that really sounds great.  Then the next thing you know were in the studio recording.  I mean he pulls from direct experiences, stories and ideas.  He’s very thoughtful with that.  So that’s my opinion.

Johnny Rabb’s soundbite for the band’s upcoming show in Greensboro, NC on August 22, 2018!!

Does he pull from the rest of the band as well or just his own life experiences?

Yeah, there could be some possibilities of things that we have all done together.  But he is the main writer for the band as you will see on records.  We then get together and go into the studio and arrange and work together.  There is definitely time for us then and it becomes the studio version.  So in that sense he is absolutely pulling from all of us because we are recording live in a studio together.

Another fan question that is directly related to you.

Ok, awesome!

(Fan Question from Dee P) Do you have any hobbies that are on the side that you are equally passionate about?

Yeah, when I can I like to fish.  It’s as simple as I just like to go and hang out with my daughters or my friends and fish.  I think it’s just the outside and anything nature like.   I’m not like crazy.  I am not that guy that sits at the top of the creek for hours and such but I do like to get out and do the fishing thing.  It’s easy and really simple. I catch and release.  I don’t even eat the fish.  I just like the idea of the skill of getting them I guess.   Then other than that my interests are, the guys laugh a little bit but I dig nature like the yard bird feeders.  Weird enough I love that stuff.  I love taking care of the yard and honesty I like the idea of just real estate.  I have a few friends that are Realtors and I’m having some fun with messing with that.  And I mean messing, I am not even being very serious with it.  I like looking at something and thinking that would be a good house or that would be a good flip.  It’s all kind of a joke because I haven’t done one thing yet.  (laughs)

I can relate to the outdoors stuff.  My son and I both like to fish for bass, trout, pike and perch.  We like the fight of the fish, not so much into the bobber type of fishing like catfish, but that is us.  What it comes down to is that tranquility that you get being one with nature.  It really does create a sense of calm that you can’t get everywhere.

I love it, I’m with you on the bass.  My favorite is definitely pike and muskie.  That’s awesome. I agree with you.  To be blunt it destresses you from the road. No offense to people, but getting away and having my own time.

Yeah, I know! Ok one more fan question.  Have you ever had any doubts about your career and ever considered doing something else?

Yes, upon transition I was involved in a lot of drum clinics but it varied like fulltime. Like video content for companies, clinics which were opposite of workshops all over the world.  I was working for a company with electronic drums and key boards.  It was fun but it was a lot of traveling.  That sorta’ started drying up because things started changing and I was panicked and at that one point I was living in Chicago.  It was a great hub to get to like Australia, and Japan, whatever directly.  But absolutely!  …  It was great, I guess for like resume experience, or like a play list of so and so and country, big band this, I even got my own couple of bands getting signed and all that.  You absolutely have some doubts when things don’t pan out financially. (deep sigh) So luckily that’s when this transaction happened with Collective Soul and this is my main focus.  I love it and I know Dean and I talk he like knows I don’t take it for granted.  It gets tough missing family, I mean I love the dudes.  They are so cool, there is no stress out here in that sense but absolutely the music career is not some easy like (pause) I don’t know how you’d say it.  You like something like the same thing that we talked about like an attorney passing a bar exam but then where do they go practice law to make their income.  It’s kind of like that I know how to drum and write music, play other instruments and do some things, but that doesn’t mean I can make a living at it.  So I am very thankful that the guys have me as their drummer in the band… this feels more like a family than a band.  I feel part of the team here.

That’s amazing to have that type of connection.  It’s great that you don’t take it for granted as well because it will keep you fresh and always on your toes.  I’ve got kind of a fun question for you. If you were to be able to cover any song a song that you personally like, maybe a song in your playlist that you even listen to but don’t want others to know you listen to.  Which song do you secretly wish you could get your band to play?

Hmm, there is so many.  Maybe something from the Outfield; I’m also a big Cars fan.  I’m trying to think here, it’s a great question.  I’m trying to think of a band, the good news is we do a lot of covers.  I don’t know maybe something from early Outfield.  I think that would be a lot of fun, some thing from the Play Deep record that would be a lot of fun.  I know that is kind of vague but its from the 80’s stuff that I like.

Yeah I like 80’s music too.  What outside music do you think contributes to the bands music?

Well this is kind of like what we said with everyone’s upbringing with the late 70’s 80’s.  I know Ed is a big fan of a lot of different music. We all collect vinyl, he’s helped me regain my vinyl collection.  So a blanket statement is everyone has got their influences from Steve Miller to the Cars, Zeppelin, AC/DC to Rush, Devo but that’s just me speaking.  On the bus it’s a gamete of things we can get into electro pop, 80’s Depeche Mode to anything the Cure.  It’s all the music we grew up on that inspires us.

Do you actually feel that you’re pulling anything from these bands directly into your music now?

I mean yeah, as I said Ed is writing so sure yeah.  I think there is some influences that are inevitable for him or anybody to pull that in.   You know what I am saying?

Yes, reintroducing something that is Depeche Mode inspired for me would be amazing.  I am a huge fan of theirs and many others you listed.  I don’t feel bands tap much into them as much as they do other artists. Most bands don’t consider Depeche Mode as a band to consider as a band of influence.

Oh we definitely do.  We’re so wide open with influences it’s fun.

Well Johnny, I could sit and talk to you all day.  You are extremely easy to talk to, the conversation just flows like water, however I know I have to let you go our time limit is up.  All the rest of these questions will have to wait till a different day and time.  I’ll let you go and you can finish running thru the Chicago Airport.

Yeah, no problem.  It’s been fun and thank you.  Getting ready to meet my ride here.  Thank you for your time its been a pleasure speaking with you.

By Contributing Photographer/Writer Michalle Henderson



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