Tourniquet: An interview with the thrash band's drummer Ted Kirkpatrick

Thursday 1st April 1999

Thrash metal experimentalists TOURNIQUET have a drummer Ted Kirkpatrick one of the most gifted musicians in Christian Rock. He spoke at length to Alex Figgis.


Ted Kirkpatrick is a walking paradox. His band Tourniquet are one of the hardest bands in Christendom whose towering cacophonous explosions of noise on such classic recordings as 'Psycho Surgery' (1991), 'Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance' (1992), 'Vanishing Lessons' (1994) and 1997's 10 square 'Crawl To China' has been called "gut wrenching thrash", "progressive speed metal" and "pain inducing cacophony" - and that's from FANS of music's harder edges. Yet Ted Kirkpatrick, the award winning drummer who fronts Tourniquet, is not some monosyllabic grunt-merchant with huge biceps and low forehead but a man who gives seminars on classical music and has a passion for collecting butterflies. Ted spoke at length to Cross Rhythms at the Meltdown Festival where he showed his awesome ability behind the kit (he has been voted Christian Drummer Of The Year on seven separate occasions by HM magazine) with a packed drum workshop. I began by asking Ted how he became a Christian.

"I was in Wisconsin which is a mid-western state in the north of the United States. My sister actually became a Christian first and she said, 'You need to go to this church, you need to check this out.' I'd gone to a Presbyterian church my whole life, every Sunday, and never ever once really heard the Gospel presented, of the simple, beautiful message of Christ dying for our sins and how we can have eternal life by giving our lives to him. For the first time at this junior high meeting called God Squad I heard that message and I gave my life to the Lord."

Ted's parents were decidedly musical. Both his parents had musical scholarships and an uncle was in the National Symphony Orchestra. "My parents taught me about music -going to everything from Dixieland concerts to classical concerts, the Chicago Symphony and musicals. I love musicals, Gilbert & Sullivan musicals. Then I became interested in bands like Emmerson Lake & Palmer. I remember seeing California Jam, which is this huge concert in Southern California. They had 200,000 people in this field. I remember watching Carl Palmer play a drum solo and that was it for me. I said, 'I hope someday I can do that.1 So I worked on it. That was the start of my interest in music.

Ted's earliest musical efforts were decidedly humble. "We had this band at home called Nile and it was my oldest brother on the bass and my other brother on guitar and I was on drums. We all had horrible singing voices so we really had ourselves a lousy band. Anyway, when my brother wasn't playing his Gibbson SG I would just pick it up and start playing it and then pretty soon I was playing guitar and he went to bass. My other brother went off to college and somebody else played drums. I just grew up also playing guitar and so on the Tourniquet albums I've done a lot of the guitar parts."

Tourniquet started in Los Angeles in 1990. "I think Guy had placed an advert for a drummer in a local paper there and I answered the ad. Guy and I met that way and then Gary was still in Oregon and he moved down and we just started playing together."

The band's debut album 'Stop The Bleeding' created a buzz and by the time of 'Psycho Surgery' the band were so adept with their intricate polyrhythms and inventive lyrics that they were picked up for mainstream distribution by Metal Blade. Ted reports that the secular company had no problems with 'Psycho Surgery"s in-your-face Christian lyrics. "I think they understand the value of people being honest with their music -whether they're honest about their addiction to heroin or they're honest about their relationship with the Lord, and for us obviously that's what it was and so they were good enough to put out two albums on Metal Blade. We ended up playing quite a few secular shows and got reviewed in a lot of magazines and interviews that we wouldn't have normally been in and it was really great. Of course you get some people that the minute they know that it's Christian, no matter what the music is, they're going to say this is awful. We played things like the Milwaukee Metal Fest with totally secular bands and met a lot of people. I think that's when people really see that you're just a real person, and as they sing about what's important to them, we sing about what's important to us and it was really neat."

Intriguingly, Ted and his fellow Tourniquet members often found it easier playing secular gigs than those in the Christian circuit. "I think it's almost easier when you're around non-Christians especially when they're very, very anti God because the delineation is so clear that it seems to be easier because the Holy Spirit steps in and helps you. He gives you the words to say to people that are totally against God. I think we've always been a band that are very proud to be Christians and no matter where we play we never apologise for where we are with the Lord. I think every venue every situation is different. In the same way that hopefully a Christian would not witness to every person the exact same way, and not take into account, 'Well, this kid's 12 years old' or 'This man's 55 and owns Shell Oil company', or something. You would treat them as an individual and that's what we do wherever we play. There are times when we say a lot and there are times when we say very little and think those are treated just like you would treat a person - individually."

How, I asked, did Ted respond to the familiar accusation levelled at Tourniquet by uninformed Christians that they play "satanic" music? "I think there's a very simple answer for that. You know, two and three hundred years ago they were making the same accusations at Johann Sebastian Bach who was employed in the churches in Germany. He would write these very dissonant organ pieces for Sunday church and the people would come up and say, "You can't do that, that sounded evil, that chord. That D minor chord with this other chord - it's not right.' And he would say, 'I don't understand, it's notes. 'And obviously he was right - it was notes. 250 years later people recognise the music is beautiful. So that is what I always tell people, that music and notes are just that. It's what you do with the lyrics and the people's lifestyles that are portraying these lyrics and that music. That's two things to look at. Take a bam Black Sabbath that writes a song 'After Forever' - you could read the lyrics to that one song and say, 'Wow! This is a Christian band.' Then, of course, you'd see the lifestyles and the rest of the music and obviously that's not the case. So those are the two things that you need to look at -the lifestyles of the people in the band and the lyrics."

Despite some people, me for one, thinking 'Crawl To China' a brilliant rock album, Tourniquet has moved from Diadem. Why is that? "We had a great time with Benson and Diadem and it was nothing personal -1 leave some good friends there in Nashville. I just think it was one of those things - it was just a mismatch. Tourniquet is so far beyond heavy compared to their other bands which are, like, on the edge alternative with a little distorted guitar or something, and we're really not about those things. I just think that there was no one there that really had a vision for 'Crawl To China' and that's exactly what they would tell you, if you talked to the person responsible for Tourniquet. They felt bad about it too. We would have loved to have done another album if it had been the right situation, but it wasn't."

As a filler before the next big Tourniquet blockbuster, the band have released an independent project for their fans. Comments Ted, " 'Acoustic Archives' was something that people had been asking us to do for years. It's nine classic Tourniquet songs from past releases done acoustically. When we come over here to Europe people seem to enjoy that and I get to play guitar and Aaron plays guitar and Vince plays acoustic bass and Luke sings of course - they won't let me near a mike for singing! They let me talk however, so that's nice. There's also a new song, an extremely heavy new song. It's an independent release, while we're working on the next material which hopefully will be on a good label either secular or Christian that really understands what Tourniquet's about.

In closing, I asked this most gifted drummer, guitarist and lyricist how he would describe his approach to song writing. "I think number one we strive to be original. I think lyrics that rhyme 'change' with 'rearrange' are wrong to write, they have just been beaten into a pulp - used SO many times before. Obviously, the Gospel is of foremost importance in our song writing. John 3:16, 'For God so loved the world,' there are about two million ways to actually say that and we should be constantly striving to find fresh ways of expressing Gospel truth. We use allegory, like medical terminology, to - relate to the Gospel in a way that people can understand. We don't purposely want to confuse people and' just try and impress people with big words. There's no point to that, but to be original is the first thing we try to be. Some people say everything's been done, either musically or lyrically but I don't agree with that at all. I think there's a lot of things that have never been done. We wrote a song, 'Twilight' on 'Vanishing Lessons', about the neglect of the elderly in our society in America. There are a lot of old people that are neglected and just put in nursing homes. I've never heard anyone else deal with that topic and from a Christian perspective. Also the topic of animal abuse we dealt with in the song 'Ark Of Suffering'. We have to play it every show we do. They won't let us off the stage without playing that one. We deal with a fallen world. Not every single song has to have the Gospel inherently in every lyric. It just gets too unoriginal that way."

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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