It wasn’t during his band Big Bad Zero’s 150,000-mile, two-year tour of the U.S. that Rob Whited felt he was truly living the dream. And he still wasn’t feeling full-on pro when he graduated from working at Guitar Center to serving as the drum technician for the Blue Man Group. No, it was after he finally accepted a long-standing offer by fellow drummer and friend Ronnie Vannucci to join him on The Killers’ Sam’s Town tour that his day job officially wasn’t like anyone else’s day job—that he had finally become a full-time rock ’n’ roller.
“Once I stepped into The Killers’ world, [visiting] 45 to 50 countries and seeing that whole thing unfold on that level, I think, this is great, I’m gonna meet a ton of people and learn a ton about the business, and I’m gonna coattail-ride, if you will, one of the most biggest and most critically acclaimed bands in the world,” Whited says, nursing a Dos Equis inside Money Plays. “And that is what happened.”
For the past 11 years, Whited has circled the world umpteen times over, parlaying his role as drum tech for the biggest band ever to emerge from Las Vegas into similar gigs with touring heavyweights Death Cab for Cutie, The Fray and Bruce Springsteen. And despite the frenetic schedule his impressive industry CV suggests, Whited still manages to nourish his creative hunger, playing drums for now-dormant acts Solarcade and Most Thieves (both of which opened for The Killers), active projects Aubergine Electric and Bombay Heavy (both helmed by singer/guitarist Dave Hopkins) and the revived Big Bad Zero, which celebrated its 20th birthday last December. It’s a wonder the 44-year-old hasn’t burned out on music yet.
“I don’t know how to take a break,” he says. “If I’m not doing something musical—if I’m not on the road as a tech or in the studio recording with an artist or something—I get bored quickly, and feel like I’m losing momentum.”
To be sure, his life’s musical story is all gas and no brakes. It began at age 14 in San Diego, when Whited copied a best friend’s ambition to play drums and fell in love with rock ’n’ roll. That led to playing covers in a high school band, and the notion that music could be a passion and a profession. “We’d play a couple of times a week in my garage or my buddy’s garage, and I remember just feeling so empowered by it,” Whited says. “It just felt so good. And I thought, people make money doing this, too!”
That would come to fruition a decade later, after Whited moved to Las Vegas and—mostly through his job at the former Mahoney’s Pro Music and Drum Shop—met a slew of local musicians, including Vannucci and Whited’s future bandmates in Big Bad Zero. Thanks to producer Mike Sak, BBZ signed to major subsidiary Eureka Records and released its self-titled debut, which featured two top-50 songs. Eureka eventually collapsed, BBZ’s touring diminished considerably and a few years later, the act went into hibernation. Whited subsequently focused on his professional prospects, working at various music shops until the Blue Man Group gig and Vannucci’s fateful call. Since then, Whited has played a careful game of Tetris with his itinerary, whether touring with Most Thieves on top of The Killers’ Battle Born trek or trying to record with Aubergine Electric between gigs this summer with Death Cab and The Killers. Which makes leisure activities, creature comforts and family time that isn’t through FaceTime hard to schedule.
“That band you’re touring with is your life,” Whited says. “All of those things you love are sacrificed because you’re all-in. You can’t really have Taco Tuesday in Serbia—which is where we’ll be in two weeks.” But he quickly qualifies his sarcasm. This is, after all, the 14-year-old drummer from San Diego whose dream of making a living through his life’s passion came true. “I work very, very hard, but I enjoy it. The music business is my home. I’m happy to be here.”