Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle They Don't Have Steven

By Jason Cohen

AUGUST 9, 1999:  The first band I ever saw in Austin, in September 1989, was Janis 18, at the bottom of a Cannibal Club bill with the Wannabes and the Way-Outs. I don't remember much about the guy behind the drum kit, but I'd be seeing him again. And again. Because a few years later, Steven Drozd would go from playing in a Flaming Lips rip-off band to playing in the Flaming Lips.

At the time, his addition (along with that of guitarist Ronald Jones) totally re-energized the Flaming Lips. These days, Drozd is one of the best rock drummers in rock & roll, but he's also a whole lot more. We lost Dave Grohl to the guitar a while ago, and now Drozd is also limiting his hard-pounding Bonham/Moon stylings to the studio, since he's also the group's keyboardist, second guitarist, and pedal steel player. Musically speaking, the Lips have always been a democratic/symbiotic sort of band, but in some ways, it would be fair to characterize The Soft Bulletin as Drozd's album.

Drozd grew up in Houston. His father, Vernon, is a saxophonist, mostly for Johnny Bush, but he's also played with the likes of Willie Nelson. The elder Drozd has never really understood his kid's jones for noisy rock, but there's no question the sheer musical ability survived the generation gap.

"He can tell you what key a train whistle is in," says Lips bassist Michael Ivins about the younger Drozd.

Adds Wayne Coyne: "He could play with Jay Leno's band. He could literally play with anybody. Maybe some people would think of that as a bad thing, but I think everybody that wants to make music should be able to. Especially the musicians -- sometimes they have good ideas too."

Ha-ha. Drozd says that his bandmates think of him as a muso, "because I know more than four chords. When I was young, I wanted to learn how to play the piano really bad, so I just figured out how to play."

Like so many others of his age (he just turned 30), Drozd grew up listening to bands like Rush and Journey, then got his head turned around by R.E.M. Punk rock came later. He wasn't even a huge Flaming Lips fan until he joined Janis 18. He describes his stint in that band:

"I was young and drank at the Cannibal a lot. They were young and drank at the Cannibal a lot. So we played together."

Then Drozd moved to Norman with his stepmother.

"I remember the place I'd go and cash my aluminum cans in -- Wayne's house was on the way there," he recalls. "Then he came to Alien. I lived in this house called Alien and there was this 8-track studio there. I think we started talking about Todd Rundgren. I talked to him a few times subsequently and then Nathan quit and he asked me to join."

Steven Drozd
photograph by Bradley Beesley

Coyne says he realized he had more than just a great drummer on his hands at an early rehearsal, when Drozd figured out David Bowie's "Life on Mars" off the top of his head. For an untrained musician like Coyne, that's a handy skill to have around.

But to truly realize the esteem that Coyne holds his young(ish) collaborator in, consider what he has to say about former Lips guitarist and current Mercury Rev figurehead Jonathan Donahue. It's a subject Coyne rarely addresses, but in a statement that's probably as close as he'll ever come to a "my band is better than his band" type declaration, he offers this:

"We always knew Jonathan would go off and do his own thing," says Coyne. "The difference is, he doesn't have Steven."

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