<I>Los Ultimos Frikis</i>: Metal Legend Dave Lombardo Scores New Documentary
Issue: September/October 2019

Los Ultimos Frikis: Metal Legend Dave Lombardo Scores New Documentary

Dave Lombardo is known as one of the world’s top drummers. He is a founding member of the metal band Slayer, and currently performs with legendary bands such as Suicidal Tendencies and The Misfits. Recently, he accomplished another long-time goal with the completion of an original score for the documentary Los Ultimos Frikis (www.losultimosfrikis.com).

Directed by Nicholas Brennan and shot over a ten-year period, the film takes an intimate look at the Cuban heavy metal band Zeus, which has spent 30 years fighting for the right to play their style of music. A Cuban-American himself, Lombardo was immediately drawn to the concept of the film, and when asked by Brennan to create a unique score, jumped at the opportunity.

“Dave has brought a deeply personal and creative weight to his music in this film, informed both by his Cuban roots as well our shared time together in Havana over the past few years,” recalls Brennan. “With the film's original score, Dave pours his heart into the music, blending Cuban rhythms, a deeply emotional sensitivity, and his metal instincts to echo the powerful, impactful story of Zeus as it unfolds on-screen."

Los Ultimos Frikis had its world premiere at DOC NYC on November 10th, and will screen again at the Havana Film Festival in Cuba this December. Recently, Lombardo (pictured, lower left), who also served as an executive producer on Los Ultimos Frikis, took time out to speak exclusively with Post about his work scoring the film, its challenges and creative rewards. He also provided insight into his Ventura, CA, home studio, and his plans for the future.

In addition to scoring the film, you are also an executive producer. How did you get involved in this project?

“It was probably nine years ago, Nicholas Brenan, the director, got in contact with me, and we had a meeting. He presented this idea for a documentary for a band that had a 30-year career in Cuba. They had gone through a lot of hardships - jail and several other situations. They were celebrating their 30-year career, and he wanted to put together this documentary about their lives.

“Immediately, I was fascinated and intrigued by the idea of this documentary. Not just because it was a metal band, but because it took place in the country I was born in. I immediately agreed to be a part of it in any way possible. Here we are, nine years later, and the film is finally being played.”

What were the music needs, as far as the original score?

“When you are scoring music for film - regardless of whether it’s a movie or documentary - you need to feed off emotions of what is happening at that moment. You never know what you are going to come up with until you watch the film and get a vibe - a feeling from it - and you start to create…It’s a matter of how it feels to you.”

Did you work from a final picture edit or were you working scene-by-scene?

“I am looking at it scene-by-scene. I had about 35 cues - little scenes. And I had to create a piece and send it back. Then they would come back and say, ‘How about this idea?’ Or, ‘A little more like this.’ I welcomed that input. As a composer, you need that opinion. So I was able to go from there and create the pieces as they were sent to me.”

You are well known for your drumming ability. Did you play other instruments as well?

“I am a multi-instrumentalist. I play bass, guitar, piano, and any other musical instrument that I seem to gravitate to. I’ll find melodies. I’ll create feelings and emotions musically. But, since I am not very fluid in these instruments - I was not formally taught - I had to bring in (people). For the opening piece, which is a very traditional Cuban sound, I created the percussion, but the song behind it, that was created (by me) very basically on the piano and then I sent that piece to a pianist friend of the bass player of Suicidal Tendencies. I said, ‘I need for you to elaborate on this idea.’ Sure enough, he came back with a beautiful rendition of what I had written. That only happened in about five of the 35 pieces.

“I also had George Pajon Jr., who plays with Fergie and The Black Eyed Peas. He came in, and he’s Cuban as well. I needed someone to bring that Cuban flavor and style into the song. He laid down some of the guitars in there as well, based on the idea of my melody.”

What were the musical themes you explored? Did you stay away from a heavy sound, knowing Zeus’s music would appear as well?

“It’s obviously about them and their music, so I did not touch their music whatsoever. Everything I did was separate to the heavy metal music. I didn’t want to impose anything heavy that I can write up because they need to shine. I was the undertone - enhancing the visuals and emotions of what was going on - but they were the focus.”

Where did you do your recording?

“I am at a home studio where I can comfortably wake up in the morning, or if I have an idea at three in the morning, just go in and work. It was fun! It was one of the most exciting experiences, in terms of creating, that I’ve ever had. I had some experience with film… I worked with Tyler Bates. He’s a great composer of 300 and several other blockbusters. We did Dawn Of The Dead (2004) together. I did one or two scenes in that movie. So I always had a love for it. It was an amazing experience.”

What tools are you using?

“I was using Pro Tools - the current software. There was some MIDI. There’s a lot of live performance - me tracking myself, playing along, whether it’s bongos or congas - a lot of the Latin stuff. It’s a combination. I utilized as many kinds of tools that I had access to.”

How were you delivering files?

“I deliver it via Dropbox or Hightail, or any type of downloading software. I deliver it in stereo. I send the stems and we go from there. And they mix it into the movie.”

How long were the different cues?

“They would give me the lengths. It would go from 1:24 to 1:54, so say :30? What I would do is be as creative as possible and end a drum beat right where somebody claps their hand. I’d end the piece right there. I used the film as a measure of time. The bass drum or hit of the song is going to end right as he claps his hand. It’s a little more defined and gives the viewer a more dramatic perception of the movie… (They) ranged from very short - :20 or maybe even less - to possibly about a minute. It varied.”

So you were really scoring to picture, as opposed to just working on themes that would serve as a music bed?

“As I am watching, I am playing it. Let’s say on the more drone or soundscape sounds, I would change the chord on the piano or keyboard as the visual of the cue flows. I am using the visuals in the film as a time signature for the pieces.”

Los Ultimos Frikis made its debut in New York City earlier this month. What are the plans for the documentary?

“Ultimately, an online streaming service would be fantastic, and distribution in as many possible ways as it can. Right now, we are hitting the film festivals. In December, they are presenting it at the Havana Film Festival, which unfortunately I won’t be able to attend. I wasn’t able to attend in New York for the DOC NYC Festival. I’m a little bummed because its something that I wanted to do for some time. I have a show with The Misfits in Philadelphia. And for the DOC NYC show, I was in Colombia, doing a show with Suicidal Tendencies.”

Do you think you’ll do more film work in the future, versus playing live?

“I love playing live, and (will for) as long as my body can stand it. I am going to be 55 this year. I feel great! Maybe 30 more years of playing drums? But this is something I like doing. It’s this underlying passion I have. I cannot help watch a show - a television show, a movie - and pay attention more to the soundtrack than the dialogue. I am fascinated by great tones. To understand the geniuses behind Tyler Bates, Christopher Young, Hans Zimmer. These guys are masters at pulling out emotions, marrying sound and visuals.”