I’m sitting with Macey Budgell, one third of Vancouver, British Columbia trio Needles & Pins, at her restaurant Budgies Burritos. Tucked away in the Mount Pleasant district of Vancouver, Budgies was one of the first vegetarian burrito places in town. I ventured over from Vancouver Island on this rain-soaked day to hang with Macey and talk about drumming in a band, have some incredible food, and to share some stories about life and music.
Her personality is much like the band she plays in – infectious, fun, and with a voice you pay attention to. I’ve seen Needles & Pins twice live and I found an instant appeal in a sound Macey finds hard to nail down in words. “Garagey, poppy…catchy?” She tells me she has to think of how to describe the sound of the band to her Mom….as kind of like “Buddy Holly, but” “on speed?” I suggest. We’ve now summed up the band in our own way over vegetarian fare as customers come and go, occasionally stopping at our table to say hello.
Is there a ‘pots and pans as a child’ story I wonder when I ask her where it all began. As a nine-year-old in Saskatoon, “Budgie” was first exposed to drums through her dad’s best friend. “Uncle Hans” gave Macey a few informal lessons drawing on his experience and wisdom as a professional drummer. Macey ventured to Vancouver as a 17-year-old in 1993, but wouldn’t touch the drums again until the age of 27 when a drum kit was left at the house she was in at the time.
Her curiosity to play was rekindled once some girls she knew wanted to start a band, and she really wanted to play in that band. The Heartachers (I love that name), lasted about a year in which time Macey said she learned much from the experience. A short while after this she bought a ‘69 Pearl kit off Craigslist for $500 ( “just loved the way it looked “ ) and took five lessons.
“I did a little research on some of the hardware and accessories I’ve acquired from there, but I’m no drum tech. I’ve tried at times to become a drum nerd, but I just can’t.” She confesses the same about music in general, never really committing band members names, technical stuff, and stats, or industry jargon to memory.
Though at this point she had and come and gone from playing she thinks those early lessons had benefits in learning to play, especially if you lack discipline , “ which I pretty much have had my whole life.” Her kit would now fall silent for a few more years when she decided to open Budgie’s. “I remember thinking to myself, what am I going to do with my life? I’m either going to work at trying to be a rock star or I’m going to open my own business.”
Macey always knew she wanted to be her own boss. Years later, faithful regulars and a staff she speaks of fondly are no doubt glad she chose this path in her life. “Everything just sort of fell into place once I really thought about it.” About three years ago, now band mates Tony X and Adam Ess would approach Macey about playing in Needles & Pins. I remarked to her that the band has a sound like they have been playing together for 20 years. “The nicest guys in the whole world,” she says quite convincingly. “We are very lucky, our personalities match and it’s never weird with us.”
The band’s full length release bears Macey’s image on the cover. Her inner lip is exposed with the tattoo “12:34” on the inside.
Knowing full well it has been asked before; I have to find out for myself the story behind 12:34. I know it’s based on some superstition, suddenly remembering earlier in the day when Macey had called my cell at 12:29 (how very close). Macey reveals she has always been superstitious and has always seen the number 1234 in doorways, on clocks, or attached to events. Though she had been told it also could be the time she might die, she, however, sees it as a positive moment.
“I see it as a sign that you should always be moving forward. When bad things happen I see 11:11. But 12:34 seemed a good name and underlying positive theme for the band’s release.” I personally checked it out and it seems that this is not an uncommon thing in the world. Oddly enough, at a moment when I was thinking about superstition the power went out in the restaurant for a mere second or two.
As the rain started to subside we talked about what kind of music is important in her life. “I listen to Prince at least twice a day. I think he’s an amazing performer” she remarks. In her large collection of mostly vinyl and some cassettes, (cassette player in the van…Love this woman…) she owns a little bit of all genres. “ I have musical phases like everyone, but if I like something and want to hear it more than once, it belongs in my collection. “ “First LP? “ I ask. “Stray Cats”, she says, and her first concert was Gowan at the age of nine. We settle into an exchange of concert stories and music that held some significance in our lives. “Wish I could have seen the Ramones.” (I couldn’t help but tell her I had seen the Ramones several times and even met them once.) “ And Michael Jackson “ she adds.
On stage Macey sports an “eyes down” style which she claims keeps her focussed and not looking off stage for friends. Unlike some bands she doesn’t believe she as the drummer is the pivot in a live performance. She plays drums as a hobby and confesses that the boys are the creative and technical side of the band. “I wanted this to be fun and easy, because you need an escape from reality.”
When we drift into talking about music in the 80’s I ask for her thoughts on electric drums. “Best invention in the entire universe, and it changed my life because now I practice all the time. It’s just easier to play electric, though I would never perform or even jam with them.”
“You have to love beats to be a good drummer”, Macey remarks when we venture into drumming in general. “You have to be able to single out the beat in everything. If you aren’t the kind of person that hears a beat of any sort and isn’t jiving to it, you’re not going to be a good drummer. You’re going to try and play drums, but you’re not going to be a good drummer.”
In the band’s relatively short history Macey recalls favourite shows. “Mean Jeans “has the best live show.” She says she would like to see her band tour more of the West Coast, America, Japan, and perhaps even Europe. She tells me about to having to make a lot of arrangements to go out on a tour. “I have a lot of responsibility, I have a cat, two bunnies, and a dog named Ladydog.” (A name Macey sometimes adopts as an online persona.)
A veteran myself of many loud performances, I ask Macey how her hearing has held up over the years. “Do you wear earplugs on stage”. I ask. “No”, she says but goes on to explain that she had her hearing tested not long ago and seems to have fared well. It seems we both have good hearing but difficulty in focussing on what to pay attention to. Though a ferry ride home beckons, I have the feeling that given the chance we could have chatted the rest of the entire day away.
“Are you going to keep doing this?”, I ask hopefully. “If it stopped being fun…. we all have what we want in life, so we’re not having to fight for this.” Tucking away food to go, I snap a seemingly pensive still of Macey by the front of the busy restaurant.
As I leave the sky breaks just as Needles & Pins by the Ramones enters into my head.
Photos and words by John Carlow