Finishing up my drummer interviews from 2014, the last one of the year was with a drummer in Portland that I’ve appreciated for quite a while, Katherine Paul of Genders and Black Belt Eagle Scout. The conversation was long and informative, and it took me a long time to transcribe because I kept checking out her favorite drummers and band recommendations. I encourage readers who are not familiar with the bands she mentions (including Palo Verde, Kickball, and Girlfriends) to check them out along with the projects she is in herself. Enjoy.
How long have you played drums?
I’ve played drums for at least 10 years, going on 11 years. I started off playing snare drum in my concert band in high school. They needed someone to play snare drum, and I volunteered. I played the flute beforehand. It was simple when I started off. My high school had a drum kit, and I would play on it after school and my instructor showed me a few beats. Mostly jazz stuff, and some swing stuff.
Any other instruments that you play besides drums and flute?
I play piano, piano was the first instrument that I ever learned. I started playing the piano when I was in third grade. I play guitar. I’ve been playing guitar longer than I’ve been playing the drums, probably…13 years or so? And I kind of play bass.
I thought everyone who played guitar could automatically play bass…
(Laughing) Yeah, I’m not a bassist. I don’t consider myself a bassist.
But playing all those other instruments, do you consider yourself “a drummer?”
You’re in Genders currently and you’re in another band.
I’m in a solo project but it’s going to become a band this winter.
Are you auditioning people now?
No, I have people in mind that I want to play with. But we’re going to start practicing soon, which is exciting. I’m playing guitar in that. One of my old bandmates, who was in Forest Park with me, is going to be on drums.
Do you think being familiar with all of those other instruments influences your playing style at all?
I guess it influences how I listen. As a drummer I’m really into locking in with a rhythm section, but I also like playing along with certain guitar parts that Steve or Maggie [both in Genders] play. There are some sections where my beat will match Maggie’s strumming or her picking. I think playing those other instruments helps with paying attention to the different parts in a band.
What’s your influence in Genders in terms of song composition? Because you can play those other instruments, do you have any input in writing the songs? Or is the material brought to you in a finished form?
It happens both ways. The more recent stuff that we’ve been playing, Maggie or Steve would come up with a skeleton version of a song and bring it to band practice to figure the rest of it out. When that happens it’s a little more strict, because they have a vision about the song, what it’s supposed to be, how the rhythm will sound. But there is always room for me to make it how I want it to sound, to make it sound good with everything else. There are other times where we’ll jam at practice, and we’ll all find something that works. Of course there are things that haven’t become songs because during that process we don’t all feel it. That is something I like, we all agree that something won’t become a song unless we all like it.
So when you started out playing snare drum because your school needed it, did you already have an interest in drums? Or was it out of necessity only?
A little bit. My family members are Native American drummers. I’m from a small tribe in northwest Washington state called Swinomish. I grew up going to pow-wows. But pow-wows aren’t necessarily a part of that region. That comes from different parts of the United States. My grandfather would travel around the U.S. and he essentially brought the pow-wow to that region of Washington. We are Coast Salish people, and we normally just drum with hand drums. At pow-wows there are bigger drums, and everyone sits around them with a stick and they beat on them together. So, I did that growing up. I didn’t really drum with my family, or sing, that was for older people. I danced. But it was definitely a part of my background.
I didn’t want to get into political questions until later, but, is the musical experience in that culture gendered at all?
Yes and no. There are specific dances that are gendered. Grass Dance is only for men. You have wear specific clothing for that. Other dances, traditional ones, both men and women can do. Drumming includes all genders. My whole family had a drum group, called the Skagit Valley Singers. My dad and all of his brothers and sisters, and my grandfather and my grandmother. My grandmother was the lady of the drum. The leaders of the drum group would do solo singing, and have certain sections where they would stand out more vocally.
So as far as drumming goes, not really then?
Yeah. It’s interesting, you kind of need women singing and drumming due to the variation in their voices. You can always tell when there are women drummers singing. It has a particular sound.
That’s interesting. I’m learning new things today. Moving to drumming specific questions: Who is your favorite drummer, alive or dead?
My favorite drummer, her name is Lauren K Newman. Do you know her?
No, I don’t think so.
She drums in Palo Verde.
OK…I know them.
She’s LKN. She also plays guitar equally well. She’s an insane musician. She’s hands down my favorite drummer ever, in the world. I’ve always wanted to do hardcore metal drumming, but I’m not fast enough, yet.
I feel like that’s false…I’ve seen you play…
I need more strength in my ankles to faster kick patterns. But, she’s amazing. There’s something that she does that I do for fun as well. She changes the tone of her snare drum while she’s playing by putting her ankle on it and running it along the skin of the drum. Then she does these cool hits on it while the tone is changing.
That is great, because my follow up question was going to be about favorite local drummers, but that is two birds with one stone.
I also like Lisa Schonberg’s drumming. I first learned about her when I was in high school. I was in a band in high school. I grew up going to local shows in Anacortes, Washington. There was this venue there called the Department of Safety, and they had tons of shows. Bands would go through Anacortes because they knew they would have a good show there. She was in a band called Kickball, from Olympia. Immediately when I saw them I was like “This is my favorite band,” and we played with them at the Department of Safety. When I saw her play I was floored. Her playing was very intricate, in that band especially. She had beats where she would lock in with the bass and guitar, but the guitar was very sporadic.
Kickball. Ok. I feel like I have a decent grasp on the Portland local music scene after being a journalist here for a while, but I know Seattle and Olympia have scenes that have just as much depth, and I’m not well versed. So I’m going to check them out.
They are really, really good. They have a few albums. I really like their album ABCDEFGHIJKickball. That’s a good album.
Another weird question: If one of your bandmates composed a song and said that they only wanted one cymbal texture for the entire song, and you had to choose between the hi-hat and the ride, which one would you choose, and why?
And why? Everyone has said hi-hat so far. I figured by now at least one person would say “Ride, because I can crash it too.”
I wouldn’t pick the ride that I have right now, because it’s kind of loud.
What kind is it?
It’s a Zildjian ping ride, 20 inches. It just has this really high tone. If I had a vintage one, maybe.
I used to have a 22 inch A Custom ping, and it did cut through anything, but you’re right, it wouldn’t be for subtler material.
I’m going hi-hat because I can make it sound slushy, but then also sound crisp. There’s a bit more variation there. I’ve also been trying to do more 5 stroke rolls on the hat. I’m intrigued by the hi-hat more than the ride right now.
What kind of hats do you play?
I have a pair of Zildjian Quick Beats. I actually got them because of another drummer that I like, Janet Weiss. She used them. When I was in high school I was nerding out and I looked up what kind of cymbals that she used.
What band is she in? I feel like I just saw her.
She’s in Quasi now…
That’s who I just saw…
…And she was in Sleater Kinney.
Ok, that’s where I know her from too. Another dorky cymbal question: What is the biggest crash you will crash?
I probably wouldn’t go past 18 inches. I have always wanted, and have yet to buy, an 18 inch Zildjian K dark crash. I’ve always wanted one of those. I’ve been told the cymbal that I have now sounds similar to it. I have an Istanbul now, I don’t remember the specific line. But it is a nice one…Actually the person that I bought that cymbal from, Jerry Joiner, he’s in this awesome mathy, loopy band called Girlfriends. I bought that ride cymbal from him, but he used it as a crash.
Nice. I can imagine that being very loud as well.
Yeah. His project, he loops his guitar parts, and then he plays along with them on the drums.
It’s really impressive to watch.
Does he perform live?
He does. I’m not sure that project is active right now, I haven’t seen anything recently.
Every once in a while, I think I about doing the same kind of thing, but I’m horrible at guitar. What about for your solo project? Do you loop things or put them on tape?
I loop stuff sometimes. A lot of the time, when I’m playing by myself, I’ll loop things on guitar. I was trying something out for a while, where I had a Rhoades set up with a kick drum under it, and a snare and hi-hat.
It was hard!
It sounds hard.
I had trouble with feedback. I was using my amp to do all this, so I had trouble with feedback, and the parts that I was writing were really fast, so I had a hard time with it.
Yeah, that sounds insanely difficult…Do you have a favorite rudiment?
I don’t really have a favorite. I’ll do paradiddles, but I’ll also make up my own? Any sort of groove, and use that to warm up.
Do you ever use rudiments during performance?
No. I’m not a technical drummer at all. I’m much more of a feel drummer. I’ve never even really been a technical musician. I’ve always played how I feel. Even when I started playing piano, I started playing by ear. After a while my piano teacher was like “You should learn how to read music.” I really wanted to learn how to play Fur Elise, but I couldn’t read music, so I had her show me how to play it, then mimicked her and memorized it. I like doing that a lot more than seeing something.
You mentioned 5 stroke rolls earlier, those count as rudiments too…
Yeah…I just did a lot of those in concert band, so I remember them.
(Laughing) A lot of 5 stroke rolls specifically?
Did you have someone there making sure you alternated the lead hand?
No, my right wrist ended up hurting a bit.
That’s fine, I don’t think anyone else besides other drummers would care, and even then probably not. Speaking of that, are you critical when you watch other drummers play? Of technique or anything else?
I’m currently trying to play with the top of my hand in a certain position, so I guess I notice that, but I don’t like being too critical with music. I’ve been criticized before, so I try not to.
In what capacity?
When I was first learning drums, I had people come up to me and say things like “I want to give you lessons.” It was a nice way of saying there was something wrong with what I was doing.
So far in these interviews I’ve only interviewed one other woman drummer, the drummer for Warpaint…
Oh, cool! Stella Mozgawa.
Yeah. She was cool.
She has some crazy chops.
It’s true, I got to see her at Pickathon and interview her right before their last set on Sunday. When I did, I asked her if she wanted to answer questions about being a woman drummer, and I’ll do the same here…I feel bad, because it’s not a question I ask men. I think it would be a bit strange to ask “How is it to be a male drummer?” I’d imagine the answer would be something like “No one gives me any shit, and I have all this privilege, its fine…” So if you don’t want to answer questions of that nature that’s fine.
I’m totally comfortable answering questions about that, because I’m a huge feminist.
Ok. Would you mind describing any experience where that has been at the forefront, or where your gender was obviously being taken into account?
Not too many times. Very rarely. I’ve been surround by people who are super chill, and politically correct, and open and supportive. I’ve never had to face stuff like that. We’ve been on tour a few times, and I’ve worried about it, what are people going to say, but most people have been really nice. I’ve never gotten the tokenized “You’re good for a girl.” I’ve found in places where I have been worried there might be some kind of comment, it is mainly coming from a place of being impressed by the music.
That’s good. We would hope that people aren’t still going to shows with a skeptical mindset about any musicians due to their gender.
So I’m actually happy to report that I’ve never really had anything happen. But I try and surround myself with people where that wouldn’t happen.
Would you say that is an improvement?
Well, I have had people explain things to me, more than they would explain to my male bandmates, especially during sound check. I feel like sound check is hard sometimes, you are trying to get a good sound, and working with someone who is producing that sound for you, there are a lot of things that could go wrong. I don’t know. I’m speaking from my own experience, but I’ve had a few folks over-explain how things work, and what to do. I work at a music venue, and I’ve run sound before, so I know what’s going on. That’s one example where there could be more improvement…I always think it is awesome when I get to work with women in all aspects of music.
Why is that?
I feel more comfortable. I feel I can relate to women a lot more in terms of the music community.
That’s understandable. Are you still doing the Rock’n’Roll Camp for Girls?
I volunteer there from time to time. They are actually going to be doing an all drum camp for women 21 years and older. I’m really excited to be a part of that. I haven’t taught drums in a minute, so that will be fun. I like teaching drums.
That’s awesome. What do you start with?
I guess it is smart to start with holding the sticks, but I like to start with fun things.
Totally, you don’t want to scare them away.
I do get to those things though. Holding the stick, finding the fulcrum, making sure there is a good motion. I’ve taught drums to kids, so, things like games work. After that, you go to the set. The first thing I do there is the basic rock beat.
Can you give me an example of a drum game?
There’s a game called “pass the beat,” where you are all doing something, like hitting sticks, and you pass the stick around, it acts as the click or tempo for the rest of the group. There’s another one called “beat changer,” where someone is “it,” and someone else is the beat changer. So everyone starts off doing the same thing, and then the changer changes little things about the beat eventually, and everyone has to follow. The person in the middle has to listen and figure out who is responsible for everyone changing, they have to guess the beat changer. It trains them to really use their ears to figure out how beats work.
That sounds a lot more fun than the lessons I had as a kid. I was taught by a jazz person, and I don’t remember any games. In fact I remember him taking a quarter and tracing a circle of that size in the center of the snare drum and making me make sure the tips of the sticks hit inside the circle for stick control. It was kind of hard. That is not as fun as beat changer. I feel like I would rather do that.