Story and photographs : John Carlow (Finding Charlotte Photography )
In your own words; write a brief description of your band: We are “Budget Rock”
Name: Leigh McDonald
Hometown: If I had to choose I’d have to say Vancouver, BC Canada
Nickname: Leigh McDonald
Current band: Smoke Eaters
Do you have any side projects? I’m drumming for two other bands; Naked Chillen and Superfashion.. Keep your peeper’s peeled for those bands!
Favourite place for takeout? My favourite takeout is making a big pasta dish, putting it in an aluminum bowl and walking away from home to the nearest bench. Park there and then dig in. If you haven’t tried it, try it!
Tom Tom : When/ how did your interest in drumming begin?
Leigh: As a child my brother always tried to teach me the things he knew, including drums. As hard as he tried I met his efforts with pigheaded abstinence. I wanted to be different. As time went on he formed/joined bands and began to be a presence in the music scene. I would always go to his shows and watch him drum. I would go to any show that was happening; his or otherwise. I was a spectator for a long time, but I found myself keenly wanting to be a larger part of it all. I played with the idea of setting up a venue or jam space, or thought perhaps I would start promoting. When these thoughts were taking shape I was living in Calgary. I found myself confiding my thoughts to Misha Oreshkov of Smoke Eaters. After hearing me out he asked, “Well, why don’t you drum for my band?” After that came to fruition, I found I had a passion for drumming. Perhaps things came full circle, from childhood until now.
Have you ever taken lessons? If not, how did you learn? I’ve learned from the advice, patience, alcohol induced fun of best friends and even better musicians. To date I have never taken a formal lesson, and I never plan to.
What was the first song you learned to play on drums? Honestly, I feel as if I’m still learning my first song on drums. Every time I pick up the drum sticks I’m learning something. I hope it stays that way, but I believe it will if that’s the attitude I choose to take.
Play any other instruments? Not instruments per say. I play fetch, I play with clay, I even used to play hooky.
Do you write music? I can barely write English so maybe I should try another sort of language; one of sounds. I’m working on becoming fluent. To answer the question, I’m highly likely to in time.
Describe your gear: Oh man, my gear! Well I have a Frankenstein kit. Over time we have been picking up bits and pieces of Maxwin brand drums. Misha and I were driving downtown in Victoria when we spotted a Maxwin kick drum in the window of a thrift store. We went in to find the kick adorned in tinsel with other Christmas ornaments draped around it. It wasn’t exactly Christmas, but that day it sure was for us! After acquiring that piece we have slowly built it up. On tour we were able to find a Maxwin snare and rack tom. So, slowly but surely, our kit is turning into a Maxwin kit rather than a Frankenstein.
What is in your musical collection? All sorts of groovy tunes and spicy stuff. A lot of top 40…
What makes a song great? When you put all the bleeps, boops, bangs and clangs in the right spot it really can make a hit.
Who are the bands that inspire you? Preoccupations, Talking Heads (Tina Weymouth) and bands like ours, touring and recording
Musical idols? Greg Saunier, Mike Wallace, Graeme McDonald, Laura from Fountain.
What makes a live band performance one everyone remembers? There are a couple things that always really stand out. For one , the performance itself. It’s always important to remember you are putting on a show and give people something to talk about. In an October ’16 gig, I had my pony tail chopped off. That example is extreme. Just rocking out super hard can be enough, no matter what you do, do it with passion!
What have you taken away from playing live? I’ve gained a lot of confidence. That has to be the biggest thing that I’ve noticed. The whole experience has made me believe that anything is possible. It’s elating.
Pre show preparation involves? For us, the most important thing to do is to get a large double double each from Tim Hortons and shot gun them. Once we have completed that each person is required to tell a funny story about their year in grade four. That’s for special occasions though. Mostly we drink some beer, hang, and get on the same page.
What are the best/ practical clothes for drumming? Something amazingly wacky and tacky is best. Most practical is jeans and a good ol’tee.
Tell us about the first show you played in front of an audience as a drummer? I’ve never been more ready to barf in my life. We had a gig in Edmonton at Chess House; now good friend of ours’ house. I joined the band maybe a week prior. My parts weren’t complicated, as I was back up drumming for George Mackenzie, the previous drummer for Smoke Eaters. All the same, my nerves were like a ball of spiders in my stomach. I was beside myself and until we went on; I barely spoke. The party was a whirlwind and then in a blink of an eye we were up playing, and then settling down. Adrenaline was high and my hands were shaking. One thing I can say for sure is that it got me hooked on the thrill of playing in front of an audience.
What’s the most unusual/funny thing to ever happen to you at a gig? In the 2016 summer that has just passed us, Smoke Eaters went on a X-Canada tour. We were on our way back to the West Coast driving to Kanora, Ontario from Sault Ste. Marie. I took a long driving shift that day. As we were rolling through Upton we were shocked by a loud BANG BANG ! The Smoke Eaters in the back woke up, asking what had happened. I was perplexed. It felt like I ran over something, but I was looking at the road the whole time and there was no way. We shrugged it off as everything seemed to be fine. As far as we knew it was nothing.
When we finally reached Kanora I hopped out and went around the back to unload our gear. As I looked at the back doors, I was stumped. There were two holes, slightly askew and two feet apart in the back of the van! I had no idea what could have made the two holes like that. As the rest of the band came around to help with the gear, they saw the holes as well. At first we were all equally as perplexed but then the realization struck one of us. The two bangs that we had heard were really two bullets that had hit our van in the back while we were driving.
“The two bangs that we had heard were really two bullets that had hit our van in the back while we were driving.”
On closer examination we noticed the bullets had completely gone through the back doors. We found one bullet under the back seat, where one of us had been sleeping. The second bullet had fractured and hit the fire extinguisher in the back. By some miracle it didn’t break with the impact. We were all shaken for our show, all stunned in disbelief. THAT shit happens on TV, not here in Canada! One thing is for sure, we no longer need the bullet decals; we have the real thing!
What appeals to you about a magazine like Tom Tom ? Giving a platform in which people can learn about female drummers in practice.
What’s in the future for you musically? Smoke Eaters are going to be hopefully touring a bit more in the coming year, Other than that we will be putting out heads together and making some new sound waves happen. Personally, I’m putting my nose to the stone and really tapping into a universal rhythm; the search for the perfect beat will continue.
Who would you play with on a dream billing? Opening for Brian Eno while he toured his Taking Tiger Mountain album; that would be a dream. Maybe more realistically, I’d love to be in my bus, with the whole bill for a show with me in it. We would roll around city to city, being hooligans and pals. It’s not as much specific bands as having a crew and really experiencing a country bill after bill. Makes for more bonding time.
Big arena shows or small venue shows? Which is better to you? Ah, well definitely small! In a small venue the intimacy you can achieve with the crowds is unreal. As a spectator a small venue is best, specifically for those reasons. We haven’t played a large venue as of yet, when we do I’ll be sure to let y’all know.
What should people know about Leigh? My middle name is not Donaldita, and my name backwards is Hgiel. My favourite kind of crustacean is fresh.
Advice to young women starting out on drums? If you have passion then don’t let yourself have any excuse as to not start. Everything else will fall into place. Love yourself and be the best you can be. “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History”- Laurel Thatcher Ulrich