INTERVIEW: Get to know Classless Act with Chuck McKissock (drums)


In spring of 2023, we at Tuonela Magazine decided that it was in everyone’s best interests if we could help the world get to know CLASSLESS ACT a bit better, in the hopes that they’ll find their way over to Europe sooner rather than later to show off their debut album, Welcome to the Show (2022, Better Noise Music). As such, we partnered up with their team and did an in-depth interview with each one of the band members! Next in line, we have drummer Chuck McKissock, who talks about being a twin, the GRATEFUL DEAD, learning to play in the pocket, what would happen if anyone would challenge Dane Pieper (rhythm guitars) to any sports match, and more!

Hello everyone, I’m Bear Wiseman yet again with Tuonela Magazine here to help you get to know CLASSLESS ACT. Today I have Chuck McKissock, the drummer from CLASSLESS ACT with me.

Hello, hello. How is everybody doing?

So I’ve been reading everyone’s bios, just so I can get to know you guys a bit better, and the first new thing I learned about you is that you’re a twin.

I am a twin. I am. Yes.

I grew up with big brothers who were twins, so I have to ask, at least seeing it from the younger sister perspective, was it nice to grow up with a friend, just right there with you?

It was good at times, but we definitely butted heads a lot growing up. But of course my dad always said, you know, “the day will come where you’ll just grow out of it,” and hit 18 and pretty much haven’t fought much since. We have our moments, as all brothers do, but growing up it was very competitive, but not in that sense.

Of course, I also know your parents a little bit from the CLASSLESS ACT fanclub, which is really cool. I love to see, not just you, but also Griffin‘s mom is in there, and it’s really awesome to see such love and support coming from your families. So what’s it like having your parents at the frontline of your support?

Oh, it’s amazing. I don’t think that any of us would be where we’re at right now without our parents. For me personally, they’ve introduced me to all the music that inspired me to become a musician. My mom, her favorite band is RUSH, my dad’s favorite band is GRATEFUL DEAD – those are my two favorite bands. Music was always around growing up, so they were the catalyst for that. Growing up and everything, they always were supportive in whatever I did, whether that be sports or music, they said, “Just do whatever you want. If you love it, we’ll back you.” It’s huge. It’s huge. It’s very important.

I love that. There’s still a lot of parents who will say, you know, “pursue your passions, but also get a haircut and get a real job.”

Absolutely. [laughter]

It’s great to see parents who are just like, “You know what? Follow your dreams.”

For sure. For sure.

Do they ever have any concerns about the old-school lifestyle of the rock star, with all the sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, or anything like that?

[laughs] I’m sure some of our parents do. I don’t think that is the biggest worry on my parent’s mind. They probably… their biggest worry is probably us making it to venue, state-to-state, safely, in one piece. You know, I’ve kind of proved to them throughout the years that that’s not my forté. So I think that they’ve got their trust in me in that. [laughs]

Now, as you just said, your parents are big fans of the GRATEFUL DEAD, and that band is so interesting. There was one song that was mentioned in your bio that was… “Mississippi, something-something-Boogaloo”

“Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” yeah, that one… man, I can say so much about that song. But believe it or not, it took me like 16 years to get into GRATEFUL DEAD. My dad was always playing them when I was little and everything, but I just didn’t get it. And then, as I got older, my dad took me to my second DEAD show (my first one was one when I was like 4 or whatever), but saw DEAD and company in like 2016 or whatever, and they started playing that song and just, what my dad liked to say, it grabbed me by the booboo. It definitely did something to me. I just remember turning my dad and I was like, “what was that?” He was like, “‘Half-Step,’ my boy.” And I was like, “oh man,” and I was hooked ever since. I got on that bus then and I haven’t been off since and I don’t think I ever will. But yeah, I mean, it’s just got the coolest ragtime sort of feel mixed with like… I don’t even know, you could put so much different stuff into that, but it’s one of my favorite GRATEFUL DEAD songs of all time and that’s what got me hooked, that song.

I love it, but I had to listen to it too. And again, like ten notes into the song I was like, “whoa, what is this? This is wild!”

Yeah, that opening progression is a lot like “Michelle” from THE BEATLES also. I love that. It’s just a little descending minor, little lick or whatever, it’s really fun. But the version on “Without a Net,” that one, I know… I can sing that whole solo, I know that thing note-for-note, all the little keyboard licks and everything. I know it by heart, it’s one of my favorite versions.

They’re such an interesting band too, because they’re one of those acts that… you listen to them the first time and you don’t really get it. It seems to take a few times before it sinks in and then suddenly this band is like the coolest thing of all time.

Yeah, and I definitely think… like what they do in the studio definitely does not translate live. It’s completely different. You know, you show someone a studio version of “Althea,” they’ll be like, “okay, this is cool.” But then you show them a live version and then they’re like, “okay, I get it now.” Hopefully. You know, like you said, it takes a couple listens, but you’ve got to see them live, you’ve got to see them live. If you see them live, then you’ll get it and you’ll be like, “This is sick.” ‘Cause it’s not only the music, it’s the whole crowd and everything. Moments! Moments for sure.

Incredible. Do you have any sense of what that special spark that they give is? Do you try to recreate that at all with CLASSLESS ACT?

Oh, man. I don’t know if I could explain it well, at least I don’t think I could put words to it. It’s just something you’ve kind of got to be there to experience. It’s out of this world. I think part of it is because they’re hanging on strings the whole time. They don’t have a safety net. They just jump head-first or feet-first or whatever, into the deep end, and see what happens and if it starts doing something, it happens and that’s that. That’s the thing that happens. I would love to recreate that with CLASSLESS but we’ll have to start getting into, like, 15-minute jams on something first and there’s some of us that aren’t too into that in the band. [laughs]

Not everyone can handle the prog zone. [laughs]

Not everybody.

Seems a lot of you guys are pretty big into sports. Do you ever actually get together and play anything with any of the guys from the band?

Not too much. All of last year, I kept messing with Dane (Pieper, guitars), I’m like, “dude, I will beat your butt in one-on-one in basketball.” And of course he’s like 6’3″, I’m like 5’9″. So we never got to play that whole year, but throughout the whole year… What we did at the end of the year, on the last tour that we did in Florida, which was fun… He destroyed me, but I scored one point and that’s all I cared about. As long as I scored on him, that’s all that mattered. But I kept talking all this crap, like, “Dane, I’m gonna beat your butt. Oh man, I’ll take you down,” and he’s like, “You have no idea what’s coming.” He was right. But, you know, we’re all into sports… the majority of us. Derek loves tennis and stuff like that, Franco‘s huge in soccer. So, Dane‘s all into like football, basketball, volleyball. I think he just did a 5k the other day, which is crazy. But yeah, I would love to play soccer on off days or go golf with the guys when we have the chance. I don’t know, I think it’d be fun. I’d love to.

I think if you guys ever get to Finland… or rather, when you guys get to Finland, we’ll have to put all of you guys through BandFit, because I used to coach CrossFit a few years ago. Every once in a while, it’s good to just throw a little workout at people and see how they fare.

Yeah, definitely. I remember when I was in like middle school, I played on this travel baseball team. They used to… every Wednesday or whatever, for practice, it would just be strictly CrossFit and it was… I remember this one time, they had us do all these sprints, and then like they came in and were like, “alright, plank for 2 minutes.” And the kid next to me was literally crying, in tears, and I was just like, “This is hell.” But CrossFit shows you what you’re made of, for sure. [laughs] That would be fun. I’d love to see that actually.

Back to music then. I understood also from your bio that you were beating on the couch with Lincoln Logs to Neil Peart already when you were a toddler, but all of you guys seem like you play a ton of instruments. Do you play anything other than drums?

In high school I played bass in like two or three bands. I love playing bass. People are like, “Oh, I don’t want to play bass.” I was like, “I’ll play bass.” I love playing bass, it’s the rhythm section in me, I presume. But I also play guitar, not as well as the other guys, but you know, I can kind of hold my own. But I would love to learn how to play piano and other stuff. But I don’t know if my fingers have the dexterity for that yet. [laughs] We’ll see. All in due time.

Are there any instruments that you’d really love to incorporate into a CLASSLESS song that maybe none of you guys can play?

Maybe like a harp or something. That’d be cool. I saw this one girl on Instagram the other day who was testing out guitar pedals on her harp and she was making some really interesting sounds, so I think that would be pretty cool. Maybe a harp or something. It’d be crazy to lug around. I don’t know, Franco could probably play the harp, and Griffin too. That’d be interesting, a harp.

Another thing I read was that you’re hugely self-taught when it comes to drums, but, was it one of your producers who had just given you some John Bonham drum tracks and said, “Listen”?

[laughs] Yeah, I’ve never really had a drum lesson in my life, I kind of just winged it and have seen what has happened. When I first joined CLASSLESS and we started doing pre-production, pre-COVID, we started working with Michael Beinhorn, who did, like, “Superunknown” by SOUNDGARDEN and RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, all that stuff, and I had no idea what pocket was, and for someone who was in music, you should probably have known what pocket was by like 20 or something, but I didn’t know, I did not have any idea what pocket was, and so he sat me down and was like, “Alright, here’s an isolated drum track of ‘A Whole Lotta Love.’ Listen to what he’s doing.” I listened to it, and I was just like, “he’s drumming.” Yeah, he’s like, “No, no, no, listen to what he’s doing.” And I was like, “…okay.” I didn’t get it. He’s like, “you hear how his kick is way out in front of the beat and the snare’s way back?” I was like, “kinda?” I didn’t get it, it was not registering yet, but he’s like, “that’s what you need to get after. That’s what makes people bob their head and shake their butts. That’s the groove.” It took me a while to be able to hear it, but now… I’ve still got a long way to go and a bunch to learn still, but yeah, without learning what pocket was… I mean, I essentially had to learn how to play drums again. After playing for a good 10-15 years. And, by the way, that sounds like a ridiculous number to say, because I’m only 23, but again, I did not get my first drum kit until, like, last year. So I was playing on friends’ drumkits, couches, and stuff. I don’t know, I probably really have been drumming for less than 10 years, but I make due with what I’ve got. I gotta, somehow. But yes, Michael Beinhorn taught me what pocket and groove was, and I’m very thankful for that, because I don’t know what I would be playing now if I didn’t. [laughs]

Incredible. I don’t know what that is, I’m fully going to admit, but it sounds kind of like a similar idea to a thing that I learned playing violin once, a hundred-thousand years ago, back when I played in a group with like, eight other violinist or something like that. There was one guy who had such a bounce to him, that really… he was all self-taught and very organic, just natural with the violin. All of the guys who had the classical training and everything, they didn’t have that thing that he had. And someone explained it to me once as that, he knew how to play with the off-beat and if you’re like stomping your foot, it’s the moment when your foot’s up. That, if you can get that bounce in that part, then that’s where all that life came from. So is that kind of the same idea or…?

Oh cool. Essentially, yeah, I guess with guitar players and string instruments and whatnot, it would probably be more considered like, your “feel” or whatever. But you’re still in that pocket. You know, the drummer kind of creates the pocket. Yeah, but basically it’s the swing, it gets the people dancing and moving. And everyone’s pocket sounds differently, everyone’s pocket’s deeper or smaller than the others. But yeah, it’s just your feel and where you land in certain areas and stuff like that. Some might like it, some might not. And like you said, if something was so organic about him, everyone’s got that different flavor to them. Jimi Hendrix playing in PINK FLOYD wouldn’t be the same, like Gilmore, they’re both strat guys, but they played completely differently. That’s probably a very bad analogy. [laughter] Hopefully someone out there gets it. I’m sure they will.

Do you remember how old you were when you played your first live show? And do you remember much from it?

Yeah, I was probably like 15 or 16, around there. My first live performance, I was playing guitar with this guy who I ended up forming a band with later on, but it was like, me, two other guitar players, and him playing piano. It was literally, I was just playing the same thing over and over again, for like 2½ minutes. It was just one song, it was at this little coffee shop down by me. Every Tuesday they’d do this poetry and performance night, where someone comes up, reads a poem, does a song. Well, we did that… ugh, it was rough. [laughs] But I ended up forming a band with him later that year or something and it was a full band. I was on drums and yeah, that was at this restaurant/bar thing down on Hermosa Beach, down by me. I was maybe a sophomore in high school, something like that. It was fun. I was very nervous. I still get very nervous before I play and, you know what? I just remembered this… I was hanging out with a couple buddies a couple weeks ago that were in that band and we found a video of our first… that show that I was just talking about and we were watching it back and I was just like, “oh my gosh,” I was so bad. I had no dynamics. We’re in this tiny bar and I’m just [gestures] smashing away and it was mixed terribly. It was awful. But, you know, it’s fun to look back and be like, “gosh, look how far I’ve come,” but I sucked. I mean, I was awful. Yeah.

As a wise dog once said, “sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.”

There you go. That’s a good quote. It’s a good quote.

[It’s from] Adventure Time.

Oh, there you go. Jake. That’s one show I have not watched, actually. [laughs] But I’ve been recommended it a bunch recently.

It’s a weird one, but a good one.

Yeah, I’ve been told that I would be a more Regular Show person, if you’ve ever seen that one.

Also a good show! So who was the first person you met in CLASSLESS ACT, because, as I understand, CLASSLESS ACT was an entirely different band and then Dane joined them and I think Franco joined, and so was it you next or was it Derek? Sorry… was Derek second? Oh my goodness. It’s so confusing. [laughs]

It’s cool. So with the old lineup, it was the other guys and then I think Dane came in, and then Franco, and then Derek, then me, and now Griffin. But I think the first person I met was Franco. He says he came up to me after my band played a show with them and was like, “dude, you’re awesome, I love your drumming, blah, blah, blah.” I don’t remember any of it. I was not under the influence of anything, but I just don’t remember. So I guess it was Franco who was first person I met.

Was that how you joined CLASSLESS ACT then? Did Franco recruit you?

He did recruit me, yeah, he DMed me on Instagram and I didn’t answer for a couple of days. Thank God I did. But yeah, he DMed me on Instagram and I looked at it, and he was like, “Hey man. Love your drumming. I seems like we have a lot of the same influences, like Dave Grohl and Queens of the Stone Age. We’re looking for a drummer, would love to see if you could come try out or whatever.” And I was like, “Yeah, dude, super down.” He’s like, “Cool, I’ll send you some songs and come out in like a month or whatever and try out.” I was like, “Cool.” So I learned all the songs that they had at the time and then my band that we played with had a show at the Rainbow Room, I think it was, on Hollywood Boulevard or at Sunset Strip or whatever it is. And a couple of the guys came out and were pretty much like, “Hey, you’re really good. Looks like you can kind of sing too.” And I was like, “Yeeeehh,” and they were like, “Yeah, well, if you want to come out, like next week or whatever, we have a rehearsal space in Tarzana. Come out and do your thing,” and went out there and the rest was history. I remember Derek, by the end of it, was like, “What do you think? Do you want to be in the band?” and I was like, “Sure.” And the rest is history. So thank you, Franco. I love you.

Incredible. As I understand as well, a lot of the main songwriting was largely done by Derek and Franco and everyone else has, of course, contributed a bit. So which songs did you contribute the most to, and did you do any lyrics or anything or was it just drum parts?

Well, I think probably the biggest contribution to the album I had… because Franco and Derek they they did songwriting with Justin Hawkins [THE DARKNESS] and Keith Nelson [BUCKCHERRY], and everything, so when they wrote those songs, they had backbones in terms of drum parts. I just maybe tweaked something here and there, or did a different fill or whatnot. Of course, that got changed again a little bit in pre-production and whatnot. But you know, “All that We Are,” the drum groove in that, I take great pride in because I think that’s a fun one to play and I think it’s pretty interesting, because, I mean, I remember… I’m looking at my drums right now while I say this, but I was just going through the songs before we went into pre-production one day and I kind of just started playing Derek‘s vocal melody on my drums, [sings] “lockdown in the city / heroes in disguise,” and so, on the drums I’m pretty much playing Derek‘s vocal melody. So I think that’s pretty cool.

And then I wrote the riff on “Walking Contradiction” a million years ago, and I was like, “What do you guys think of this?” and they were like, “Oh, that’s pretty cool,” so they threw that in there. Yeah, but “All that We Are” is probably my favorite thing that contributed. I probably contributed like one word or something in a song, or something like that. Yeah, I just did the drum groove in “All that We Are” and then I did the guitar riff in “Walking Contradiction.” I’m not the biggest songwriter. It’s one of my weaknesses, but I’ve been working on it recently. So maybe one of these days you’ll see a Chuck song on an album or something. It’d be something… I would like to be able to write some cool song.

Oh, my goodness, our time is running out so quickly. Tell me a little bit about all the touring that you did, because you had club tours, you guys used to be [a] house band, you had The Stadium Tour, so what were some of the big moments or lessons learned from that time?

Oh, man. I mean, lessons for me honestly was “don’t be a jerk.” I went through a phase where I would just get really mad at stupid stuff super easily. And – excuse me – I had never been east of Utah up until now. So like, first time seeing the whole country, living with seven other people, which I haven’t done ever. It was a lot to internalize and get used to. So don’t be a jerk and just try to live in the moment as best as you can, because these are once in a lifetime opportunities and you don’t know when you’re going to be able to tour stadiums again, you know? So taking it all in and living it up were probably the biggest lessons that I’ve learned.

Musically, I’ve gotta get better at drums. [laughs] There were a lot of moments on The Stadium Tour… I mean, we only had like a 15-20 minute set, so I’m going out there, I want to leave my mark, I want to make people be like, “…damn!” So I’m playing as hard as I can and by the second song, my arm’s already on fire and I feel like I’m dead. I’m probably have the worst technique in the world or whatnot, but I’m learning. So this last tour, I dialed it back a little bit, you know, didn’t hit as hard and I was able to get through hour-long shows, no problem. So that was nice. So being able to learn how to physically be calm and learn how to cool yourself and stay focused in the moment. That’s probably another big lesson. Yeah, but it was amazing. Touring is so fun. I can’t wait to get back out on the road and leave the country and see some other places.

Well, with that in mind, have you ever actually been to Europe before or would a tour over here be your first time?

A tour over there would be my first time. The only country I’ve been to is Canada and that was on The Stadium Tour. That was pretty cool, seeing the US and then leaving the country for the first time and playing internationally. Yeah, but I would love to come over to Europe. There’s cool history and stuff. I mean, buildings over there are like a thousand years old compared to over here. So it’d be really cool to see that stuff and I know how passionate Europeans are about music and so it would be probably a whole different experience crowd-wise over there, which I’m really looking forward to. Yes, but I want to go to Europe and I want to hopefully go this year. We want to go to Europe. We all want to go this year. But you will see us soon. There’s definitely plans to get there as soon as possible. So very soon, all in due time.

Excellent. Well, I have to cut out like five more questions that I had because we’re running out of time but you already touched on this a little bit, but it was my final question for everyone: if you could pass on one message that you just think would help make the world a better place, what would that be?

Be kind. There’s not enough kindness in this world. You know, and that really grinds my gears. [laughs] You know, lead with love, be kind, and there’s no harm in being nice to one another. It can only do good. So be nice! Santa’s watching. He knows when you’re naughty and nice. Santa. Santa Claus. [laughter]

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It’s great to get to talk to you one-on-one and hopefully we’ll be seeing you guys over here sometime soon!

You’re welcome, thank you! I hope so, that’d be so fun. Thank you for your time and hopefully everybody that watches is doing well, and you too.

Interview by Bear Wiseman