Watching Kaylee Preston drum behind Chicago psychedelic art-rock outfit Rabble Rabble is like standing ringside at a boxing match between Animal and the Tasmanian Devil. Kaylee is a blur of energy. Her drumming is spastic and busy but also powerful and precise. When she hits, she hits hard. When she isn’t touring or performing with Rabble Rabble or The Cathy Santonies, Kaylee can be found sharing her skills at Girls Rock Chicago, showing the next generation how to thrash properly.
Interview by Jasmine Dreame Wagner
Full name: Kaylee Preston
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Lives in: Chicago, IL
Current bands: Rabble Rabble
Day job: Nanny
Tom Tom Magazine: When did you begin playing the drums? What was your first kit like?
Kaylee Preston: Although I begged for drums since I could speak, I got my first set of drums when I was 14 for my 8th grade graduation. The kit was a “Coda,” which I understand to be a “first kit” for many drummers. It was fully equipped with tooth-pick-thin cymbal stands, drum heads that couldn’t keep a tune, and a ringy, gnarly-sounding steel snare. I brought the set home after my dad paid the $250 and played. I wanted to be a rock drummer, so I listened to rock music and mimicked it. Listening to Ringo Starr was a big help for me by providing me with simple, solid rock n roll beats to jam on. I’ve always loved Led Zeppelin, namely for the drumming of John Bonham. As I began to get the hang of keeping a beat, I started to learn Zeppelin songs like “What is and What Should Never Be,” “Immigrant Song,” and “Bring it on Home.”
TTM: Describe the kit you play today.
KP: I’m slowly building my dream set, it’s not done, but it’s oh so close! It’s a Gretsch Catalina Club Rock, 16″ x 14″ floor, 12″ x 8″ rack, 14″ x 5 1/2″ snare and a 22″ x 20″ bass drum, which, by the way, is a bitch and a half to get into my little Corolla. The deep bass drum is strong and loud, though, so I carry it happily. I rarely play with the snare that came with this kit anymore, I prefer my Pork Pie 14” x 6 1/2” Curly Wood Maple snare. Occasionally, usually just for kicks, I’ll set up a second snare to my left, and that one is a Beat Boogie 14”x 4”. I play Zildjian K Custom Dark hihats, a Zildjian A-custom 20″ ride, a really heavy Zildjian Medium Ride (for a crash), and a Zildjian A-Custom 18″ crash. Rivers Cuomo of Weezer signed the A-custom crash when I did the “Sound Opinions” radio show on NPR with him and The Cathy Santonies earlier this year, which I think is nifty, I like to think it makes the cymbal sound a little better.
TTM: How would you describe your drumming style?
KP: I like to keep it fresh; I’m not really satisfied with playing a beat that I know I’ve heard a million times before. When playing with Rabble Rabble, I pay close attention to the accents my guitarists and bassist are going for so that I can come up with something that brings them out more. I’m a sucker for rad drum fills, so I’m always trying to either come up with cool ones that I’ve never heard anywhere before, or I’m trying to play some cool drum fill I’ve heard, but with my own spin on it. I try my best to control my dynamics, which is much harder when you’re all charged up and playing a live show, but generally my range goes from slightly loud all the way to VERY loud. As far as actual style, I incorporate everything that I experience. I get inspired from other drummers all the time, and when I do, I walk away with ideas.
TTM: Are there any percussionists out there that you look up to for guidance or inspiration?
KP: Bonham has always been a huge inspiration for me. His energy and power behind a kit is audible, and that’s exactly what I’m going for. David Lovering of the Pixies helped me to realize that controlling your dynamics is a good tool to have at your disposal. Cindy Blackman and Sheila E. are two great female drummers who often play with all-male bands, and are just so professional about it. Their success and skill continues to inspire me, so I like to stay updated on what they’re doing. Christopher “Pow-Pow” Powell of Man Man is a ball of pure energy with refreshingly unheard of and original beats, very fun to watch. My boyfriend Mike Curran (of Agents of Change, Decibal Hogg, Wake Up Souixsie, Mia LeBlon, Add-2, and more), is always a huge inspiration to me because of his ability to play different styles of music, his energy and overall positive attitude behind the kit, and his constant drive to get better and better. All of these things contribute to my drive to never stop.
TTM: Your playing is powerful, but intricate and fluid. How do you feed your strength and endurance?
KP: I love sweatin’! Being active is really important to me in all aspects of my life, so it kind of just comes naturally. I go at the drums with energy whether I’m just practicing or playing a live show, but at live shows particularly, something happens that I really can’t explain. People come to see a show, so I give ’em a show, so you can always expect me to be kind of unpredictable (← a paradox..?).
TTM: Is there anything — any song, exercise, or beat — that you practice regularly?
KP: Right now I’m kind of re-learning my rudiments and trying to work through Alan Dawson’s rudimental ritual. It’s like a 7 page long list of al the rudiments that you’re technically supposed to memorize and play a samba ostinato foot pattern. It’s TOUGH. I’m not going to claim that I’ve got it yet, but I’m working on it and I hope to master it some day. Otherwise, when I’m just practicing on my own, I’ll go through Rabble Rabble songs, only I’ll play them a little faster. Playing by myself is a good time to come up with new beats and fills and integrate everything I’ve heard or seen or thought of since the last time I sat down on the kit. I keep it fresh though, it’s different every time.
TTM: Have you ever encountered any obstacles or setbacks in your drumming, and if so, how have you worked to overcome them?
KP: I always feel like I could be better at whatever I’m doing on the kit. In some cases, there’s a method to help you better your playing. For example, when I was working on getting my sixteenth notes faster and more consistent, I learned the tension-release method, which means hitting your drum or cymbal with tension in your grip, then kind of controlling the rebound to hit it again (release). This method makes playing sixteenth notes a lot more comfortable and effective, so that you can go faster for longer. That’s just one example, there are handy methods for most of the obstacles you can think of. Practice is important too, the best way to smooth out your snags is to do it over and over and over again.
TTM: How long have you lived in Chicago? What’s it like playing music there?
KP: Born n’ raised. Chicago is my home, I don’t think I could live anywhere else. The music scene is massive; you can’t spit without hitting some kind of music group. The summer time is the best time for music-lovers in Chicago, there are outdoor music festivals every weekend. Playing those is a blast, it’s nice to have a change from the late-night bar shows I’m used to. But I love the Chicago night life too, bar venues like The Empty Bottle, the Hideout, the Bottom Lounge, The Whistler, Reggie’s, they’re all really fun and have good crowds. There’s a lot of DIY venues as well, like Happy Dog, Treasure Town, Ball Hall, you might not have an easy time finding their addresses, because the cops don’t really like ’em, but they’re great places to see music. Sometimes you’ll be booked on a show where every band on the bill is a completely different genre. Chicago’s a very diverse culmination of lots of bands, and I love it.
<a href=”http://rabblerabble.bandcamp.com/album/why-not-b-w-long-hook” _mce_href=”http://rabblerabble.bandcamp.com/album/why-not-b-w-long-hook”>Why Not b/w Long Hook by Rabble Rabble</a>
TTM: Tell me about your experience with Girls Rock Chicago. What you do find to be most satisfying about teaching?
KP: Girls Rock! Chicago was awesome. Seeing those young girls kick ass and rock out on stage at the Metro gives me a reason to think positively about women being recognized more and more as capable rock-n-rollers in the future. Because I personally didn’t start playing until I was in my teens, I recognize the advantage of starting to learn how to play a musical instrument at an early age. By the time these girls are my age, I think it’s pretty reasonable to expect that they’ll be a breed of super-rockers that play bangin’ shows and release platinum records.
The satisfying part about teaching is seeing first hand how much the girls enjoy playing drums. I would be so inspired after I left each lesson that I’d find myself rushing to a drum set to play or calling the boys from Rabble Rabble for an impromptu jam session. They want to learn, and when they do learn something, they play it with a “look-at-me-and-my-bad-self” attitude. It’s just great to see kids so dedicated to something that directs my life.
TTM: Do you have any rituals that you follow before playing shows or touring?
KP: Before playing shows I try to just generally take care of myself; get enough sleep and eat well etc. I do stretch out a little bit, just to make sure I’m loose, and, if possible, I like to ride my bike or go for a run sometime during that day. Although all of these things aren’t really necessary to play a good show, I feel more prepared and confident when I do them, and I think that makes a difference.
As far as touring goes, there’s not really much you can do to prepare for the unexpected happenings that you’re about to experience. Tour is crazy, totally crazy. While on tour, it’s important for me to eat right and try to get enough sleep, but you don’t always have control of those things. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and eat at Taco Bell after partying all night and sleeping for 2 hours. And in that case, that’s what Red Bulls are for.
TTM: Finally, do you have any tips for fellow lady drummers about to embark on tour?
KP: Remember why you’re putting up with all the things you are every day– to play great shows to people who have probably never seen your band before. Blow them away. While you’re drumming at these shows, just think about all the frustrations you dealt with during that day and during the whole tour. Use the energy positively. And have fun.
TTM: Who are you listening to right now?
KP: Travis Barker’s album “Give the Drummer Some” came out a couple months ago, that’s got some of the most awesome beats I’ve ever heard. The Beastie Boys’ new album “Make Some Noise” came out a couple months ago, too, and that’s been on repeat. The Tuneyards are rad, I love the rhythms in their music, don’t own the album yet though. I’ve always been a huge Foo Fighters fan, and I’ve been watching them closely lately, it seems like they’ve made a comeback, which I’m really excited about. Their energy is awesome; Taylor Hawkins is as on point as ever. That’s just a few, I could go on and on.
TTM: What’s in store for you next?
KP: Well I’m currently on tour right now, an East Coast/Midwest kind of thing. I’ll definitely be going in to the studio with Rabble Rabble this winter, working on cutting a brand new record. We might be going to CMJ this October, it’s not a sure thing yet, but that would be awesome. We’re definitely doing SXSW again in March, because that was a blast when we went this year. As far as my personal goals for this year, I’d like to do some drum-cover videos, but I won’t tell you which ones! I’ve been talking to Billy at Modern Drummer, and next month I’ll be submitting a blog for him to post on their website. Things are cookin’.
Photo by Patrick Gavula