Adapt Or Be Adapted

Willard’s time spent with The Offspring in 2002 exemplifies how a drummer wisely learns to play drums for the song and not necessarily to assert at all cost his favored flourishes into the mix. It can be a tricky thing to negotiate.

“The Offspring was a thing where I had to develop both my chops and my adaptability,” he says. “It was the fastest stuff I’d ever played, and I had to learn to play faster while maintaining my volume level. It just made me stronger.”

It also made him more flexible artistically – but let’s call it a hard-earned pragmatism. Until his first meeting with the band’s head honcho Dexter Holland, Willard had figured that The Offspring’s music contained a lot of room for individual interpretation, drum-wise.

“I went into the audition and did my own thing, and really kind of went off,” he says a bit ruefully. “And the manager called me a couple days later and says, ’The guys want to play with you again, but I just wanted to let you know that Dexter writes all the drum parts on all the records, and he kind of likes to hear what’s there.’ I’m like, oh ... I always thought that the drummer had written all the drum parts, and this was my opportunity to say, ’Look at what you’ve been missing.’” He laughs. “Well, no.”

Holland liked to say, “Stick to the script.” While Willard and Holland did discuss putting more of himself into Offspring drum parts, it wasn’t meant to be. Which, he’s quick to point out, is not as bad as it sounds.

“I was eager to do the right thing, wanted to do right by them, and realized that these are huge songs that’ve sold millions of records. It wasn’t my job to come in and say, ’Let me do it this way.’”

It was an epiphany for Willard. On tour with the Offspring, though, he had a hard time playing the same thing every night. “You know, you hear something and you just go for it. And 50 percent of the time I’d get ’The Look.’” He laughs. “’Oops, not gonna do that again!’

“But right or wrong, it’s how Dexter runs his thing, and he runs a very successful band. If the Angels & Airwaves opportunity hadn’t come up, who knows, I might still be there with Offspring. I didn’t have a lot of creative input, but I wasn’t a bandmember, I was an employee, so when I had the opportunity to be part of a band and have 25 percent creative input, and 25 percent financial output, that was very attractive.”