David Bowie 'Likes the Struggle' of Winning Fans, Says Drummer Zack Alford
For the past year and a half drummer Zachary Alford has been forced to walk around with the secret that he plays on David Bowie's new album. "It's been torture," he says. "Everyone always says to me, 'So, what's David up to?' I just had to shrug my shoulders and say, 'I wish I knew.'"
Now that the secret is out, Zachary is finally able to talk to us about the secretive recording sessions for The Next Day. We also spoke with him about his tenure in Bruce Springsteen's "Other Band" in 1992-'93.
Let's start at the very beginning. Tell me how you first heard about this new Bowie album?
David sent me an email asking if I was available in the first two weeks of May of 2011. It was out of the blue. I mean, we'd been in email contact, but there was never any talk about work.
What was your first reaction?
I said yes. [Laughs] Luckily I was available, so I was just really happy about that. But I didn't know what it was. But whatever it was, I'm available. [Laughs]
He asked if you were available, but he didn't tell you it was for a new album?
There was a time where I didn't know what it was. He wouldn't even say where it was or what it was. I remember [bassist] Gail [Ann Dorsey] and I talking about it, like, "Oh, did he contact you too?" "Yeah, he contacted me." "What's it for?" "I don't know."
We didn't know if it was a performance or a recording or anything. It wasn't until maybe a week before that he said, "Yes, be here at this studio on this day." Then somehow it leaked out.
What do you mean?
Well, I got an email from David saying, "Do you know a photographer named so and so?" I could find the name, but I don't remember offhand. I said, "No." It's a good thing I didn't know him. [Laughs] Apparently this photographer had called someone from David's office and asked if it was OK for him to take pictures of David at the studio. They were like, "What? Who told you there was even a session?" Obviously, someone from the studio leaked it out. We got an email after that saying, "OK, change of plan. We're doing it at Magic Shop."
By this point, are you shocked to learn that he's making a new album?
Um . . . I'd say I was relieved that he's finally back in the saddle, and I was relieved that I got the call.
Tell me about the first day of recording. Did he lay out his vision for the album, or did you just start cutting tracks?
It was all very matter-of-fact. We weren't allowed to hear any of the songs before that, because he didn't want anything out there circulating. So we basically walked in, and there wasn't much discussion. It's like, "Here's the first tune." Usually he'd play us a demo. It would be a home demo with a drum machine and a synth. Then he'd play a rehearsal demo, because they had actually rehearsed some of the material up from the initial demo stage in November. I guess that was in 2010. And so we listened to both, and then we'd go in the room and start playing it.
Is this you, Gail, Gerry Leonard and David?
Yes, and David Torn. The first week in May we actually had both guitar players, David Torn and Gerry Leonard. Gail was on bass and David was on either synths or he'd play acoustic guitar or piano, depending on the song.
Gerry would hand out charts while we listened to the song so we'd have something to follow, and we could make any notes we needed. We listened to the songs about two or three times, and then it was time to go play it. That was the drill.
I assume David told you that you couldn't tell a soul about the sessions.
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. He handed out nondisclosure forms for everyone to sign.
Did you even tell your family?
Yes. I told my wife and my kids. But we home-school, so I didn't have to worry about them blabbing it all over school.
It's pretty amazing in this day and age that it didn't get out there.
Yeah. I think it's a real testament to the value of privacy. This is zero promotion. Basically, him saying nothing is almost promoting the record itself.
Being quiet a whole decade and doing no interviews makes him this real mysterious character. It's almost like he's this ghost, and I can understand why he's reluctant to give that up.
In this day and age, people are so distracted that it's hard to show them anything they'll pay attention to. By actually giving them nothing, they want to know more.