Danny Thompson, drummer of Face to Face, gave By the Barricade a glimpse of his world both behind the drum kit and behind the beard. Much more than a full-time drummer for the legendary punk band, Danny spends his free time in diverse business ventures, interests, and hobbies. Not only is he gearing up for a weekend of Southern California Face to Face shows, he is also concentrating on business. What better way to learn about this multifaceted musician than through his own words in the interview that follows:
What is a typical day like for you at The Music Factory School of Music?
Luckily we do not get too busy until later in the day so I have my mornings. I get down here by 11 o’clock and it’s my time to focus on running the school. I focus on business development and all of the marketing. I do the website stuff and I have my virtual teams out there, different website guys I use and I try to focus my day as much as possible on building the classes and building the marketing. Due to the nature of a normal day, I also interact with customers, I have a partner here (Corey Rifenburgh) and we have office help. I talk to new people about what it is like to get enrolled in classes here, our teaching philosophy, teaching methodologies, I spend time talking to the students and the parents. A lot of the success of the school is based on a community of people. I focus on that a lot and try to remove myself as much as humanly possible from the administrative things. I can do all of those things, but I hate it. I like to do the more creative side of things and big picture thinking and planning. We are looking down the road at franchising the school and I am working on issues pertaining to that.
What is the most rewarding aspect? And conversely, the most challenging?
It is definitely the relationships with the students and their families that is the most rewarding. We have students that have been here for so many years that it is really fun to watch them progress, do recitals and then think back to the first time you saw them do a recital and how far they have come. We have a very cool group of students – young and old. We have about 70% kids and young teens and the remainder are adults. In the evening there are a lot of adults, especially guitar students. We have everything from 4-5 year olds doing the kid’s rock classes all the way up to senior citizens doing guitar and piano lessons.
As for challenges, owning your own business is always challenging. It always feels like you are never doing enough. It seems that there is always much more to do, but at the same time it doesn’t really feel like work necessarily. I enjoy that stuff, but the most challenging thing for our school is keeping track of students and their schedules. That is a nightmare. We have systems in place such as scheduling programs and billing software and the school is about to take a leap forward in a new learning management software system. We are good on our side of that, but we are doing 300 lessons a week or so, which is a constant schedule shuffle to accommodate the students and their changing schedules. They have things that come up at school causing a need to change a schedule, but it is getting to a place where we are so busy we almost can’t do it.
A month or so ago you started Mid Life Crisis Band Camp …
It is for adults, and full disclosure, I am totally stealing the idea from another school out east that I saw on Facebook that was doing it. I thought it was a really good idea and I am always looking for the business development side and this camp fit in well for our client base and for what we do.
The idea behind the band camps is that they are for adult musicians, there are a ton of people out there that play guitar, drums, and other instruments and primarily just play at home. Part of the challenge is organizing other people to get together to play with and then maintaining some kind of schedule. Guys may try to get together with a couple of buddies to maybe play a gig once in a while, but keeping people involved, keeping track of their schedule, making sure they make it to rehearsal is a nightmare for them. Basically we are doing that part for them. People are able to join one of the month long camps. The musicians rehearse for 3 hours one night a week. In that four-week process, there is enough rehearsal time that we can get them ready to play a concert. We do a lot of prep work before the first rehearsal: Getting them the music, the tablature, everything they need to learn their parts so they show up ready to go. We have built a flow or curriculum of how we want to teach the songs, how we want to rehearse those songs so we can actually really get a lot done in that one month. We just started these and the first camp has not started yet, it starts in August. I think long term it will be a really fun and cool thing to do.
Are you thinking this might be a catalyst for actual new bands?
We really aren’t even thinking about that. This is our way to get someone that can play at an intermediate level or above that has never really done a band, or they did years ago, and they just want to have some fun, play those songs with some other musicians and do some little bar gigs with it and not have to worry about all of the other stuff that goes into that. They just come to rehearsal ready to play and we take care of the rest. We will put the show together and make it all happen. I think it is really going to be fun for people and I know there are a ton of people that are perfect for it. We can do it year-round, not exclusively a summer camp like we do for the kids. The whole idea behind making it a long 3-hour rehearsal is that we felt it would be easier for adult students to commit to one evening per week as opposed to do 2 or 3 times per week.
A while back you hosted The Skeptipunk Podcast and you seem to have a science interest in general. Where does that come from?
That is just a hobby of mine. I love podcasts and I listen to probably 10 that I am subscribed to and listen to weekly. About 10-15 years ago I developed this interest in science as a hobby and would maybe read a physics book just for fun. That is not my background, I would have been terrible trying to do that in school, but I do find it interesting. More so than the science, what I have really gotten into in the past few years is using a scientific approach to thinking and critical thinking that I apply to everyday items. I think that is something that could be taught much better in schools because most adults don’t seem to understand that process. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand and understand well the scientific process of how something goes from a hypothesis to a consensus of agreement among scientists about whatever the issue might be.
Whatever the issue is, I try to not look at it with feelings as much as what the consensus overwhelmingly is on that subject matter. I think it is better to go with that as opposed to the .001% person out there that is believing the other side of that. Then, you have to be willing to allow those things to change and follow the change as that scientific consensus develops and changes. It is hard for all of us to think that way and I think we probably all have those few things that we don’t let go of. It is not something you can apply so much to a political background but your everyday viewpoint when you see a news story, or something in your Facebook feed some outlandish headline, you can have an understanding that most likely that is not really the truth. Too many people are basing so many of their world views on those type of headlines and that type of story that are not vetted and they are not seeking out the other side of it. It is understandable because the scientific side of it that delves into it is kind of boring unless you like those things. It is easier to read a two paragraph article on Facebook about whatever subject and then go with that versus really digging into things. Regardless of what the issue is, I find it a good way to look at issues and it is fun.
Switching gears to the band, Face to Face released Protection this Spring on Fat Wreck, your 3rd Full Length with the band, what is the writing process like now?
The process of making this record was really great. The writing process was really similar to the last few as well which is generally Trever (Keith) and Scott (Shiflett) write the songs and they will work on ideas on their own and email each other back and forth since we don’t live near each other anymore. Ideas are bounced around that way and each guy will do their own basic home recording version of the song with a drum machine part and Trever may send something to us that has no lyrics or vocal melody or maybe a little vocal melody but the lyrics are not soused out yet and that is how it starts.
Usually by the time we get together to rehearse those songs I have received a demo home recording that may or may not have lyrics, but it is a little bit stronger version of the general feel of the song. I can take those and start working on drum parts, listen to them, think about them and if I hear arrangement ideas or have thoughts on the chorus I can make my own notes, we go from there. In this case we recorded the record with Bill Stevenson at the Blasting Room in Fort Collins. We flew into Denver three days before the recording time was set up. We got into a room together to just rehearse the songs for those three days. That was the point where we got to souse out the feel of the songs and the arrangements. We made changes to the songs with iPhone recordings of those and that is what we brought to Bill at the studio. He had already received the original demos as well. We were able to take it from there and build the framework of what the song is really going to be and then start the recording.
It was really enjoyable. I love making records, it is really fun. Working with Bill was awesome. His crew was so helpful and he had great ideas. The studio environment is really great. They are pro and it went so easy and smooth. Even though I may have done a drum track starting at 10 am and finished at 8 pm, going all day you are physically tired, but I was never burned out tired which can happen during recording. I felt really good the whole time and I credit that to a couple of things, first, we were really excited about the songs, and second, their process in the studio made it so much easier. I told Bill that it was the best experience I have ever had and if I ever make another record, I want to do it there with them. Hopefully we will do another record but you never know how that stuff works out, but it was awesome and we are really happy with the record.
Another unrelated question, you have a product line called Old Ironsides Gentlemen’s Care, what prompted the creation?
I do sell the stuff but that is just a side hobby. When I started to grow my beard out, I wondered if there was stuff you put in your beard to keep it nice and to smell nice. So I went online and found a couple of beard oils and the idea struck me. I noticed there were crappy websites and they weren’t really doing it that well. I felt I could do something better and just started experimenting with it. Over about the year that it took for us to put it together and put it out there, that whole thing exploded. There are now millions of companies doing it and doing it really well. The market got really saturated but I like to do it. It is fun to have a product. The part that I really enjoy is the branding side of the whole thing, working with the designer to come up with logos. I own this business (The Music Factory School of Music) which is more of a service based business so it was kind of fun to try to do a product. I don’t know what I will do with it, we will see how it goes.
I also saw that you also have Danny’s Quality Photo Booths.
I do own some photo booths that we rent out. These are all of my side hustles. For me they are a means to help me to live the way I like to live. Everything I like to do is expensive. Early last year I started to learn how to fly and it is super expensive so I have the music school, I have the band, I have these other little things and I look at it from the standpoint of having multiple streams of income so that if I want to go experience something new and it is expensive or doesn’t fit in the budget, I figure out a way to make some money over here that can pay for that.
The photo booth thing came about because we renting one from one of our DJ instructors at the school and using it for events. When we would do a recital or something, we would have the photo booth and everybody just loved it. I figured if we were paying him to do it, we should just buy one at the school. So I ended up getting one for myself to do parties and events. I don’t really want to go out and do events (which I have done myself so I know how it works properly and how the system works) but the idea is that I have other people that go out and actually do the event.
You also have an interest in Flying, and have posted some videos of your flights. How is that going, any particular feat you are hoping to accomplish?
I haven’t been doing it much lately because time and money make it really tough. I’m about halfway through private pilot training. We will probably be touring quite a bit here, so in the late fall or early winter I will probably jump and try to bang it out in a short period of time. Luckily our weather in California is nice so I can do it anytime. Maybe another 25 or 30 hours and I can finish.
I don’t have any long term plan with it, it is just something that I got interested in years ago. Someone gave me a discovery flight for a birthday present and I really enjoyed it. Once I got up there I started talking to the flight instructor and as I have gotten more into the aviation community, I found a really cool environment with really cool people. What you can do with your own private pilot license is pretty amazing. To be able to fly myself to Vegas in 2 hrs 15 min or 2 hrs 30 min and not deal with the crazy traffic of that drive or deal with the airport is pretty incredible. Getting your pilot license is pretty expensive but once that is done, it is not that bad. I like to travel, I like adventure travel, to get away and do things. I want to get in my own plane and do weekend trips and go places. There is something about it, once I have been out there and doing it and following other pilots I’m hooked.
There are some great YouTube channels with some younger pilots that have loaded up their planes with 6 or 7 GoPros and are doing amazing quality video production of their flights. It is really inspirational to see some of them. If anyone wants to check that stuff out, there is one called Mr. Aviation on YouTube and he has a couple of videos that I would recommend. One is him flying his small plane and landing it at O’Hare at night which is really cool. The next day he has one flying out of Chicago and over the lakefront. There are a bunch of great videos that you can see why it is so amazing to be able to do that. Flying around here, being able to take off and fly out of Long Beach and going over the harbor and being able to do training out there gives a different perspective. This very small group of people get to be pilots and do that stuff. Although I haven’t been doing it much lately, I am committed to finishing that and once I finish this level, I will continue through the levels of instrument training and multi-engine training.
I do not have any desire to do this other than to enjoy it. The older I get, the more I like to get away. I like to get on the motorcycle and go somewhere. I just ordered some camping gear for the bike so I am putting together small enough camping equipment that I can just put it on the bike. I like getting out and am less interested in being in crowds, which is weird being in a band. I am lucky and super appreciative and I do understand how fortunate I am to have been able to get in to the band with the guys and experience all of those things. I never take it for granted … even if we are complaining about travel schedules, being tired, being sick on the road. It is pretty amazing that I get to travel like that and play music, but when I come home from that I am kind of a business geek and I have that side of me that wants to get in an airplane, or get on the motorcycle and go.
What other endeavors have I not asked about that you would like to talk about or is there anything else you wish to tell the readers of By The Barricade?
You mentioned that the site focuses on a lot of younger musicians and new bands and there are couple of sides to it. I was involved in a semi-known band when I was really young back in Chicago but that band didn’t really get famous or legendary until I was out of the band, but I didn’t have any early success. I didn’t get into Face to Face until I was almost 40 years old. Most people that are doing it just give up and quit. Sticking with it is more than half of the game for sure. You have to be a good player and you have to work your craft, but there is that point where you get good enough and what you have to be beyond that is good at being a professional, being easy to work with, and not being an idiot.
There are a million musicians out there that are good enough musically to play in a good band, but they just don’t have any other attributes and that is what has stopped them. That is really important and also if I were doing it all over and I was 21, and decided I wanted to be in a band, I would do what I have started now which is to have my own businesses and my own interests when I was young. If I had started my first business at 21 even if it failed, at that point in your life you can screw stuff up. You can fail a few times and it doesn’t matter. At 40 it is harder to do that, you might have a mortgage or a family or something and it is harder to consider opening a business. You can do it, anyone can really do it, it is not nearly as hard as people want to claim that it is, but by starting something small at 21, by 30 you are set. The music can happen if it does and you can enjoy it, but you also have this other element going on.
Catch Face to Face on Saturday, July 23 at The Lost Highway Festival in San Bernardino or on Sunday, July 24 at the OC Observatory with Guttermouth, Implants, and Western Settings.The band will be hitting a few stops in Mexico later this month and more shows to be announced…