After taking so long to get my interviews from 2014 up, I’m going to try to get through 2015 (and 16) in a more timely fashion. Here is the first interview of 2015 that I did, with Kristin Leonard of The Shivas, after their set at PDX Pop Now! that year
I’m here with…
Kristin Leonard, from The Shivas.
And we’re going to talk about drums. I always start these off with: “How long have you been playing drums?”
Almost seven years now.
And, was there a singular moment in time or a series of events that led you to say “I’m going to play drums” as opposed to any other instrument?
Yeah, that’s an interesting story. Before I played drums I sang, I’ve been singing forever. I played guitar a little bit. The Shivas had been around for ten years, and the old drummer started to get really into cycling, and is now a professional cyclist. It got to the point where he had to say “I can’t do the band any more, I need to focus on this new path.” I was already singing with the band, and Jared came to me and said “Hey, you should be our new drummer. Will you learn drums?” And I said “I don’t know if I’ll be any good, but I’ll give it a try, man.” That’s how I learned to play drums.
Did he teach you how to play?
He taught me a couple things and I just took it from there. I’m mostly self-taught.
That’s awesome. Do you have a favorite drummer or someone that influences you?
Definitely Moe Tucker from the Velvet Underground. She’s close to my heart. Also Marian from La Luz is the best drummer I’ve ever seen. She’s incredible, and I look up to her a lot.
I’ve done a number of these now, and I think it’s an even split between men and women. I’ve never asked men what it is like to be a male drummer, but if you want to answer any questions or share anything about being a female drummer, that’s fine. Like any resistance to that, or inherent sexism…
I’m lucky in that most people I meet are wonderful, and don’t treat me any differently. But I definitely run into a lot of people, audience members, that will try to give me advice on how to play, advice on what I should do with my kit. “If you just changed this, it would be way better.” Very inappropriate things to say to somebody that just finished playing, and that they probably wouldn’t say to my male colleagues. A lot of compliments I get are about my body. Even people that I’ve looked up to, and met, they get sexual and gross.
Yeah. That really sucks. It’s a lot of that. Objectifying, a lot of that kind of stuff.
Does that ever affect your art? Does that evoke any kind of response?
Yeah, sometimes it means me telling my bandmates, “Hey, we’re never playing with this band again,” or something like that, or explaining and saying “If someone says this kind of thing to me, you gotta have my back.” And they do. They’re really good about sticking up for me. As far as my playing goes, yeah, I would say it has affected my playing. Especially in the first couple years, I felt like I had to prove something to everybody, cause a lot of people would say things like “You’re good for a girl,” comments like that.
For a while I thought I had to play as hard as I fucking could so that no one could say “Oh, she’s a girl, she just can’t play hard.” So now I just beat the shit out of my drums. Which I really like. But it’s my own thing. I’ve learned not to give a shit what other people think. That’s what people tell you when you are little, but you don’t internalize that until you start facing those kind of things.
Shifting gears a bit, you said you started with singing, and then moved on to drums. Do you write a lot of the vocal parts for The Shivas? Or any of the riffs? What’s your writing role as the drummer?
Much more recently I’ve become a lot more involved in the writing of the songs. Usually with us, someone will bring something to the group, a riff or a vocal part, and then we’ll all kind of find our parts after jamming it out. Recently I’ve been more confident in bringing things to the group and saying “Hey, I wrote this thing, let’s jam it out.”
So let’s say someone brought something, but they only wanted you to use either the hi-hat or the ride cymbal for the whole song. Which one would you pick, and why?
Do you mean along with the rest of the kit?
Definitely the ride cymbal. I don’t really use my hi-hat. I have one song where I literally just close it. That’s it. For a long time I didn’t even take it with me.
I’m in love with my ride cymbal (laughing).
What kind of cymbal is it?
It’s a vintage Zildjian from the 60’s. Revival Drums, have to get that plug in, I love that store.
Your cymbal does sound great. I think you might be the first or second person to ever say ride. Everyone says hi-hat.
I don’t really dig the hi-hat. Other people use it, and use it great, but I love my ride.
Following that up with another weird cymbal question, what is the largest crash you will crash, in terms of inches?
I don’t even know, the only crash I’ve ever played on is my rock crash. Honestly, if it’s there I’ll fuckin crash it dude. I don’t care. (Laughing)
I understand. I know some people who like to stay small, and others who say “Give me 24.”
Yeah that crash was lent to me and then eventually given to me because I used it so much. I haven’t felt the need to get anything else.
Well again, it sounds great.
Always four pieces in your set?
Yes, always four. There have been some times where I’ve shared with people and there’s been an extra tom there, and I try to work it in and fuck up every song, it’s dangerous. What I’d like is 2 floor toms. That would be fun.
That extra tom always gets in the way of the ride. You gotta put the ride right there.
Do you have a favorite drum song or drum fill in a song, that you hear it and say “I have to air drum this right now?”?
A lot of stuff that catches my ear is stuff that I can’t play, and can’t figure out how to play. I’m trying to play it, but I can’t do it. Super funky and jazzy stuff.
Do you practice along with those?
I try! (Laughing)
But you don’t like the hi-hat, that’s got to be hard.
You’re always kind of attracted to what you don’t play, if that makes any sense.
I thought I caught some swing stuff in this last set…
I do like a lot of floor tom based patterns, that kind of sound like jungle drums.
So you started 7 years ago, and you got those lessons you talked about. Were those formal lessons, or learning parts for the songs?
He would show me the basic beat for the song, and they he would say “Here’s another thing you can do.” Since then, I have a good friend, Ian, who records a lot with us and has played with us live in the past, and I’ve taken kind of formal classes with him. We’ll sit down and play drums and I’ll try to copy what he’s playing. He’s one of the best drummers I know.
I was going to ask if you have a favorite rudiment, but without formal lessons that might be hard. Do you have something that you like to do to warm up specifically?
I was a dancer for a really, really long time. I did Irish step-dancing, which is weird. But a lot of the parts translate to drums, like paradiddles. I’m always doing paradiddles. The Bo Didley beat is also really fun.
Did they teach you paradiddles in Irish dancing?
All the steps are paradiddles, so if you do that with your hands…
Really? Wow. Paradiddles are great.
Yeah, they are a lot of fun.
What would you say to a young drummer?
Keep at it, keep making things happen. Don’t feel like you need lessons or anything like that. Just do it, there’s nothing to it but to do it. Especially if you’re a girl, because very few people are going to encourage you to do it. And some people might be shitty to you. But, a lot of people won’t be. Just know that there are other people out there in solidarity.