Interview: Josh Eppard Talks About Drum Set Confessional

Everyone has demons, and that’s true for Josh Eppard. Known for his work in Coheed and Cambria, the drummer has started a new project titled Drum Set Confessional, a tell-all of his years as a drug addict, how his addiction affected playing in a band, and the turmoil that followed. Now 15 years sober, Eppard is reaching out and trying to help others who are struggling with the same vices he did.

I was lucky enough to talk to Josh as he was gearing up for the second leg of Coheed and Cambria’s No World For The Waking Mind Tour. We talked about Drum Set Confessional, his work in getting sober, Coheed and Cambria, and more. Check out the interview below.

So why did you start Drum Set Confessional?

If I’m being honest, I definitely felt the push to want to do something for a long time. I wish I could do something righteous to help as the deaths are piling up. I’m not the most confident guy in the world; I needed someone to push me towards this. And that was Rob Arnoff. Just through talking about an idea for a book, and then from the book idea, it was like, Hey, we could push this and do this. None of this would happen without Rob.

To be honest, I felt a little cowardly. I had this experience that saved my life, that I had been quiet about. I felt like maybe that was cowardly. I had this epiphany that maybe the way that I changed my life could not only save somebody’s life, but maybe help a lot of people. Isn’t it hypocritical? What kind of coward would just stay quiet. So, that was kind of the final catalyst. Rob pushed me towards this and ultimately, to try to save some people’s lives. We’re losing people at a breakneck pace. I don’t want to stay silent. As cliche as it sounds, it really is true. If we can help one human being stay on planet Earth, one set of parents that doesn’t get a call that their kid is gone, then it’s worth it. That’s why we’re doing this.

How long were you addicted to drugs?

I always say 10 years, but it’s kind of longer than that. It’s really just 10 years as a hardcore drug addict. But really, the foundation had been being laid since I was a teenager. I used to think people that said stuff like that were so lame. I just was deaf to them. I didn’t want to hear that bullshit. I was wrapped up in my own ego and my own thinking that I’m the exception to the rule.

In high school, using booze to talk to a girl or getting drunk hanging out with my friends meant getting drunk and smoking weed. For me, the foundation was being laid. I hate to say it, but for me, weed was a gateway drug. It taught me how to talk to a dealer, how to make that call. It’s nervewracking calling a drug dealer the first time. I think that foundation was being laid for a lot longer than 10 years. But for 10 years, I was a hardcore heroin user, which is long. I wish it was shorter.

Do you think the reason you got into drugs was to make up for confidence you may have lacked, or was it just, hey, here’s the cool thing I want to try?

These are things that I tried to dissect in adulthood that I don’t know that I know the answer to, and they’re all true. Josh on heroin was the version of myself I always wanted to be because it rounds off every edge of life. Rejection doesn’t exist anymore, and it’s a funny thing that happens. When you do that to yourself, all these earthly things that you want to come, all of a sudden, you’ve got girls, and you’ve got friends galore.

But really, it’s all bullshit. It’s all fake. It’s all other people that want drugs. So the confidence part is huge, but I didn’t realize that at the time. As an adult looking back and dissecting it, I thought I just enjoyed having fun. We used to sit around, a bunch of junkies, and laugh about all the people that have to attach a reason to get high. We just liked feeling good. But, part of that’s true, too. Who doesn’t want to feel amazing? Everybody wants to feel good. The problem with heroin is, it comes at the cost of everything. I can’t knock anybody trying to feel good. Hey, I’m in the gym every day because it makes me feel good, or I’m trying to eat right. I’m failing at that every day. But, I’m trying my best because it ultimately makes me feel good. We all want to feel good. So, that’s also a part of it. 

I’m not sure I think the answer is all of the above. Yeah, confidence. I’m not shy. You’re talking to a person who now you know won’t shut the fuck up. But, I was a cripplingly shy person, wrapped in this boisterous, loudmouth body. But that was the byproduct of how shy I was. I felt like counteracting that. I was going to be loud. I was going to be boisterous. But inside, I was terrified to be around crowds of people. I was terrified to be around strangers.

Oddly, all the things I love now, I love meeting people. I love making friends. I love hearing people’s stories. All of that didn’t exist. And I always question if I would have gotten here so much sooner to a place where I really enjoy being around people sans the drugs. The drugs kind of kept me from evolving into this person that I am now, and so I was kind of treating my shyness with drugs, and it just kept me handcuffed and trapped for years.

I told this story on stage when I spoke it at Collin College with Rob. The first time I tried Oxycontin, I turned to my friend after it kicked in and I said, “I’ve waited my whole life to feel like this.” And it was really true. From that moment on, an addiction was born. I wanted to feel like that every day. I hate to sound like a broken record. It’s not just one; it’s all those reasons but maybe the biggest one is competing to combat that shyness.

Life can hurt; your heart is broken, or you just don’t feel great about yourself. You’re shy; you don’t feel confident in yourself at all. Then, all of a sudden, you take this drug. And now you feel like you feel like you’re God’s gift, and now you’re the opposite. And for a long time, I acted way outside of my personality. It was this synthetic confidence, this drugged up, synthetic ego, which is quite embarrassing. I got to be honest, sometimes I have to kind of hide under a blanket. I’m so embarrassed about some of the ways I acted.

I’m curious, how did you manage a $1,000-a-day drug addiction?

No one can manage that, which I think is kind of the point of saying that when I had more money than I knew what to do with. There were days that I would use $1,500 of drugs in a day. But very quickly, that money runs out. So then my life became about trying to run from being sick with a, on average, $1,000 a day drug habit. Who could keep that up? I wasn’t Steve Jobs. I didn’t have endless money. I grew up a poor kid in Kingston, New York. And not that poor that people use to socially validate themselves. Real poor. The kind that you try to hide from other people. So, I had more money than I ever dreamed I would. And I blew through every penny of it on drugs. I never bought a car. I never bought a house. I didn’t buy anything but drugs. 

Once that money was gone, then it became a crime spree. It was about robbing, stealing, and doing things that are just so fucking embarrassing and awful, like selling all my gear. I had to make amends with a lot of companies. When you’re broke, then of course, it’s not an $1,000 a day habit. I’d say it costs $250 a day though, just to stay not sick. So every day, as soon as my eyes would open, (I’d ask) ,how are we going to scheme or scam some amount of money today? I’m not the sharpest tool, right? But, come on, man. Anyone with a brain would say this is no way to live. And I knew that, but I just stayed handcuffed to that life.

I feel so blessed and lucky that now I have this great life I put together because it was so dark. Every single day I dreaded waking up. I often did not want to wake up, you know? I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt, a normal thought for me was, well, maybe I won’t wake up, and I have wanted that. Because every day brought a new challenge of trying to hustle and cop enough dope to stay not sick because sick was the thing you’re running from.

And just every single day with a crew of other junky gangster thieves and people doing rotten things. We’d become rotten people; we’d become untrustworthy, bad people. I’m still thankful that I didn’t sink to the levels of some of my guys that I ran with. I made a couple decisions that I can hang my hat on. One is that I didn’t smoke crack. It was in my face a lot. That was a line I wasn’t going to cross for some reason. Maybe that was my way to rationalize. Junkies, that’s what they do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a bunch of guys sitting around shooting heroin, talking about somebody who’s got a problem. It’s this disconnect from reality. I mean, it’s really a masterclass in delusion.

What was the turning point for you stopping your addiction and seeking help?

My recovery looks a lot different than other people’s. The NA and AA, these programs are fantastic. They’ve worked for so many people that I love and care about. It did not work for me. I didn’t do the work; I wasn’t ready. I’d been to so many rehabs and left. I just wasn’t ready to evolve. I look back on my life and say, “God, if you just stayed in that one rehab, you probably would have never left the band.”

It was all on the line for me. Coheed had already given me hundreds of chances. And they were still giving me one more. Go into this rehab, and we’ll take it from there. I went in and made it maybe 36 hours because I lied. I don’t know why I wasn’t just honest with the people at the rehab. This is what they do. And say, Yes, I’m still using, and I’m gonna need help getting over this withdrawal. Instead, I went in and said, “I don’t even know why I’m here. I haven’t used in two weeks; I haven’t used in three weeks now.” Clearly, they know I’m full of shit. Once I started to get sick, I called my friends; they drove to come pick me up, and I was out. And it was just such a bad decision.

The catalyst for me getting better was such a strange, weird combination of things coming together for me. One was meeting my wife. Something whispered into my heart and my soul the night I met my wife that she was going to save my life. On our first date, I told her, “Something just told me you’re going to save my life.” I don’t think she knew what that meant. I think she thought I was trying to be musician deep. We were in our 20s; we were having some drinks. But, I just knew that I had one sliver of hope, and she was it. So that’s the biggest one.

Everyone knew I was a junkie, so my wife would hear these things. And then I would lie to her and convince her I wasn’t because I was a master of lying and manipulating people, especially honest people who are sweet and good natured and want to see the good in people. And I started to feel guilt again. She believed me, and I knew I was taking advantage of this human being who has only the best intentions ,and that was a big, pardon the pun, but move of the needle for me in a big way.

When I finally was honest with her, she moved me an hour away. She said, “We’re leaving.” Why she didn’t leave me is anybody’s guess. We had bad guys waiting for me at our house to hurt me and or kill me. And I had to tell my wife, who has a young daughter, there’s people that are capable of doing very bad things. These are the kinds of guys you don’t fuck with.

They had decided that I fought with them, and they were waiting for me at my house. We had to sleep on a friend’s couch in a basement that night, protected, if you know what I mean. This was as real as it gets. And she said, “I’m not doing this. You’re coming with me, or it’s over.” I didn’t want to move an hour away. You take a junkie without a car, without a license, with no money, you might as well move me to Africa. I’m stuck. But, that was the other catalyst: moving me away from my hometown and letting me get a little perspective. 

The other one was music coming back into my life. I had done everything I could to hide. I was fully embarrassed about what happened with Coheed; I was semi-embarrassed about some of the decisions that were made with Coheed artistically that I wasn’t able to articulate. And then Fred Mascherino tracked me down. He gets my number from Mike Todd, the original bass player from Coheed. He called me about doing a band. Music is the other thing that really carried me to another place. And I learned so much being with Fred and that Terrible Things crew. That served me so powerfully in my life to this day. Without Terrible Things, I don’t really get to kind of level up to be the man that I am today.

The person that I am today is one that I like. I look in the mirror, and I like myself. So when people look at the Terrible Things project and think that it was a commercial flop, that might be true, but it was anything but a flop. In my real life, it was so important. I don’t think I’d be back in Coheed without terrible things. I think those guys said, “Wow, Josh is in a band with Fred, king of the straight edge, he must be doing a little better.” And then we were able to kind of put our friendship back together. I’m just really thankful for that time with Fred and with the guys that worked with the band. 

I got clean, but it’s convoluted. I feel like I tricked addiction. I feel like I ran away. Maybe God had something to do with it. I don’t know; I do feel the hands of something else in my life. I’ve never been a religious person, but I do feel the hands of something bigger than me, helping guide my life. There’s no reason I should be alive. I’ve lost a lot of friends that didn’t have the money to shoot $1,000 of dope a day. So, I hope that means I’m here for a purpose and I want to serve that purpose.

That’s cool that project kind of helped you get back into music. What is the hardest part about overcoming an addiction?

If I had to pick, the hardest part of overcoming addiction was letting the time go by that it takes to change the narrative about you. For years, I was known as a piece of shit, even amongst the Coheed fans. I remember when I rejoined the band. There were a lot of really positive comments. I’m sitting in my hotel just kind of reading the comments feeling a feeling I hadn’t felt for so long, like positivity coming my way. And it was overwhelming.

And then this one. The most hurtful part was that he wasn’t trying to be an asshole. This wasn’t a person coming for the throat. But he said, “God, I really think this is the wrong move. Mark my words, inviting this guy back into Coheed is going to ruin the band.” And I remember thinking, like, I’m gonna prove this guy wrong. To be honest, the manager, Blaze James, told me as me, Claudio, Travis sat at a table, “I’m not trying to hurt your feelings. But, I’m not for this. This is Claudio and Travis that push this forward. And I’m not totally against it, but I’m not for it.” I knew that my mission in life was to make him never regret this decision. And the hardest part of addiction was changing.

The reason I bring this up is, the YouTube commenter said that for the same reason Blaze said it. I had carved out a narrative about myself, and combating that takes time. I think every junkie that’s proclaiming themselves two weeks clean, they want it all right away. “Oh, wow, you’re amazing.” And it just doesn’t happen like that. It takes years to rebuild trust; it takes years to rebuild good faith or to have people say good things about you. I didn’t give anyone one single reason to say anything good about me for years. So, it should take years to put that back together.

Recently, in 2019, I passed out on stage. On one hand, it was really a beautiful thing that it never even occurred to me within the first three days that anyone would think that I was too fucked up. If I had passed out on stage in 2006, people would have been like, “God Josh was so fucked up.” But, it took a few days for someone to make that comment, and it was never even brought up. When somebody brought it up, it was like, oh, wow, that’s still something that’s going to follow me forever. And that’s okay. I think about if that happened at other points in my life, no one would think anything other than that I was so fucked up that I passed out or I couldn’t play so I took that as a beautiful thing, but it will also was a reminder that you got to live in the bed you’ve made.

I think the whole story of this is interesting. To find who you were and you’re putting that positive thing out into the world. I think it’s good. The only thing we can do as humans, right?

Yeah, I think that is something that isn’t talked about that much. A perfect example, somebody that has a lot of Limelight is Brandon Novak. I mean, look at Brandon Novak from Jackass now, and look at him 15 years ago. He’s a completely different person. He had to find out who he was. And he got to construct a life that he’s proud of. He’s a different person.

When you come out of the fog of drugs, you’re a blank slate. You’re this confused, lost soul. What am I? Who am I? How do I feel about things without drugs? It’s a really strange place to be, and thankfully, I think for me and Mr. Novak, we’re able to construct the kind of people that we can be proud of when we look in the mirror. I think both of us spent a long time looking in the mirror and really not liking ourselves. So I look at it as, I’m blessed to be the kind of person that I like. I’m flawed; I can be an asshole, and I’m far from perfect, but I do like myself, and that in and of itself is a gift.

Do you have any advice for those struggling with a similar addiction or vice?

Yeah, of course. Addiction is a wide scope. It’s a spectrum. It’s a big thing. But, if you’re if it’s out of control, or you sense it’s out of control, seek help. When you’re ready for the help, please seek help. To those that feel like they’re not ready to seek help, my best advice is to find a friend, find someone that you can be honest with, and pick one person. And be honest with them because I know for me, it opened up a doorway to me to just be honest. And I’m not telling you to come clean to the world; pick one person. And don’t lie to them. And tell them the truth. Say “Hey, listen, I’m picking one person to be honest with. I’ve been lying about this.” Just try being honest with one person, and just see where it leads. 

I think junkies and addicts, we want immediate retribution, right? We want to fix this immediately. We want to talk Tuesday; we want it to be over on Wednesday. My advice is to pick one person, and be honest with them, not half honest, not three quarters honest. Pick one person, and tell them the truth, because that’s another thing. That’s another kind of pillar of my life that helped me. I had a friend that told me, “Hey, I don’t like it.” But I didn’t have to lie to him about anything. I could have had a pocket full of dope, and I couldn’t tell him in his car. And it bred a lot of good for me to just be honest with one person because any addict is living in a world of lies.

I think honesty kicks open the doors of goodness. It honestly changed my life. If I had just been honest with the band in 2006 in Europe when I left them high and dry, and just said to those guys, “I fucked up. I’m an addict.” They would have helped me. I was addicted to saying,” Fuck you guys. I’m no addict,” when I knew full well.

So, we’re gonna switch gears a little bit. What are some songs that you’re most pumped to play on this stretch of the No World For The Waking Mind Tour?

No World For Tomorrow to me, not to always circle back to addiction, is a really powerful album. I think a lot of my own honesty was kinda dredged from listening to this record and hearing Claudio be honest with me through song. But, songs like “The Hound (of Blood and Rank)”; “The End Complete” is a big fun one. I remember listening to the record and imagining how fun that or a song like “Radio Bye Bye” would be to play. This is the second leg of the tour, so we’re a well-oiled machine. I look forward to the whole thing. “The Hound (of Blood and Rank)” comes early in the set. Another is “The Road and The Damned.” I love that song. That was actually written for the movie Ghost Rider, and they didn’t use it. So, we used it for (No World For Tomorrow), and I really love that song. 

I hate to be that cliche band guy, but I really look forward to playing everything. It’s been a few months off, so I’m just looking forward to being on stage with my friends and playing music again.

Any artists or musicians that you’re into right now?

There’s a band from Long Island called The Sleeping that I’ve always loved. They’re ultra-creative, pushing boundaries all over the place. But, they take these chances. They have this song right now they just put out a video for it called “Halcyon.” Which is funny because my grandmother grew up in a part of town called Houthi, and this song just really landed for me. And I just think it’s such a beautiful, cool, interesting song. And I’m really into The Sleeping’s new record. That’s my new thing that I’ve been jamming out to.

Any new Weerd Science stuff planned?

No, maybe one day something will come out of that. Weerd Science, good or bad, I never faked it, it was always from real inspiration. I’m 43. I get inspired by different things now. Talking about this stuff, in a lot of ways, is kind of the same. It’s kind of taking the place of the challenge of, you know, there’s a safety net and songs like I’m allowed to be kind of ambiguous and vague.

It’s much more challenging to speak and try to speak to people and try to speak articulately about this thing that happened to me; that’s plaguing the world, but really plaguing our country. That just seems a lot more important to me than making rap songs to me right now. That could change tomorrow. I tried to not say never, but I don’t feel inspired to do that. I feel inspired to do this right now.

Check out Drum Set Confessional here, and be sure to catch Coheed and Cambria on the No World For The Waking Mind tour.

Photo courtesy of Drum Set Confessional 

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