For this conversation/interview Shoko and Sara decided to talk about drumming and psychological states. This is a broad topic, but something they are both really interested in. There’s so much more that they didn’t get into here; drumming and trance states, the relationship between rhythmic vibrations and healing…the stuff of future blog entries…Enjoy.
“I’ve learned that if I don’t put my 100% on drumming, it wouldn’t give me any result I want.” Shoko Horikawa
SARA MAGENHEIMER: You and I were on tour together in the US this fall (you in XDS and me in Flying and Fertile Crescent) and recently you just returned from another tour, this time of Europe. You mentioned that your experiences on tour were quite different, especially in your relationship to drumming, and that you were in a very different place physically and emotionally. I’m curious about some connections you might see between your drumming and your psychological, emotional, and physical states?
SHOKO HORIKAWA: I think on the last US tour with you guys and Deerhoof, I was focused on drumming, and nothing else really mattered. I was never able to face to a instrument like that before. It was very intimate.
In the beginning of the tour, I had a really hard time getting used to being on a larger stage, and playing an instrument I’d only known how to play for 10 months or so. But being with great musicians like you guys and Deerhoof made me want to get over it, and gradually, I was able to shake off the negative feelings I had towards my drumming. I was making fewer mistakes, and even started to enjoy on stage. In the end, I felt my drumming got better, and believed I’d accomplished something.
On the other hand, during the European tour we just finished last month, I was not able to feel very good about my drumming. It didn’t get any better or worse throughout the tour. My mind was focusing on something other than drumming, I think. I had a trouble sleeping in the first half of the tour, and that was very hard physically and mentally. After I got over that, it just kind of felt busy dealing with daily schedule of the tour. I started to miss home, and wanted the tour to be over soon, even though the tour itself was going really well.
This may sound too obvious, but I’ve learned that if I don’t put my 100% on drumming, it wouldn’t give me any result I want. I feel that it’s time for me to reset my mind, and get ready to face to face with drums again.
“After we were on tour for 2.5 months this fall/winter I stopped playing drums completely for a while.” – Sara Magenheimer
SARA MAGENHEIMER: Touring can be so hard! After we were on tour for 2.5 months this fall/winter I stopped playing drums completely for a while. In fact, we stopped playing most of the songs we were playing on tour and began writing new ones. When we’d play we’d have Blang time where we’d just Blang out whatever was in the air. Eventually we started recording these sessions and sculpted new songs out of them. This felt like a really good, organic way of working.
In terms of the relationship between drumming and emotional/psychological states I think there are many possible connections. Other drummers have said that they feel a sense of calm after playing and I would say the same. This is mostly after practicing, when I can really get into a groove or just play the hell out of a repetitive beat. I think most people would be much happier if they could do this for a little while every day.
I read something recently that said that the first rudimentary percussion instruments grew out of activities humans were already involved in; we needed to make tools by scraping and tapping and then we made the first idiophones (an instrument that creates sound by way of the instrument vibrating itself, like two bones or sticks being hit together.) This basic need to create rhythm is fundamental to something innate in all living creatures, I think. Nearly every culture has a folktale in which there’s a drum featured prominently. So many voodoo ceremonies depend on the rhythm of the drum to work the participants into a trance in which they commune with/are taken over by a spirit/god. I also read recently that elephants stomp their feet to transmit information to other elephants who are miles away (and receive the vibrations through their feet.) It does seem that vibration, rhythm, is a truly basic way of communicating.
I remember when we were on tour I was really impressed when you told me how much you practice. I think you said that you drum sometimes up to 5 hours! Am I remembering correctly? What is your practice like? Do you have a routine? Also, can you walk me through a practice in terms of what you go through emotionally, psychologically over the course of that time?
“I used to have a serious anxiety problem, and I once had to go to the emergency care because of it. Playing drums has helped me so much with that.” – Shoko Horikawa
SHOKO HORIKAWA: I was practicing a lot before the US tour because I felt so nervous and worried! We did practice 4-5 hours 5-6 days a week at that time. We went through the set over and over, and also played the shaky ones over and over again. And also we practiced with click-track.
Emotionally I was frustrated pretty much most of the time. Jesse would be pushing me to play more all the time, which now I think it was great that he did, but at that time I showed no appreciation…
It’s different now, but I still like to practice at least 2 hours 5-6 days a week. I don’t have any drumming practice routine (I really should. Do you?) We normally work either new songs, or rework old songs, or practice the shaky songs or the set.
On some days our practice would go great, writing new songs and feeling easy. On other days, it’s not so easy and I feel frustrated.. Also of course if one of us is not in the good mood, it affects the other so much, and naturally we don’t get anything done. That’s when dark clouds of negative feelings come to me…and I start to doubt just about anything we do.
SARA MAGENHEIMER: Lately our rhythm of practicing together has been erratic. We just moved to California, but mostly it’s because we’ve been writing and recording for a few months. But I’ve been practicing on my own a lot, which I think is really important to do, even if you’re in a band with another person. Practicing alone gives me a chance to just feel out where I am in my relationship to my drums. It also just gives me time to have FUN and PLAY which is great! I have a list of various things that I can do on the drums, in case I forget, which totally happens. Sometimes I’ll just go and sit down and not really know what to do. Then I look at my list and remember that I can play some rudiments, or practice a few beats I like, or practice moving the snare hit around within another beat, whatever…Or sometimes I’ll just rock out a little bit. Or I’ll try to play along with something. What I’d really love to do is drum with another drummer more. That’s one of my favorite ways to play, but logistically it’s kinda tricky. One of the best moments on tour was when Greg [Saunier of Deerhoof] would join us on stage for the last song. He’s so completely amazing. It was such a powerful feeling to be playing and putting forth so much energy!
I’ve heard about rhythm therapy and people drumming in music therapy sessions. Do you think that drumming has therapeutic qualities? Have you noticed any sort of “healthy” feeling after you drum or anything else that you might call therapeutic?
SHOKO HORIKAWA: I didn’t know about rhythm therapy. That sounds really interesting! I could definitely see that drumming has therapeutic aspect. I don’t get that too often these days because we are working on new material, and I am not letting go of my mind. But when I just play around and don’t use my brain while I play, I usually feel something different than before. It’s not particularly good or happy, though. I feel neutral or calm. I used to have a serious anxiety problem, and I once had to go to the emergency care because of it. Playing drums has helped me so much with that.
“I wish more people had access to drums.” – Sara Magenheimer
SARA MAGENHEIMER: Yes! Neutral or calm. I don’t meditate regularly right now, but when I have in the past it gave me a similar feeling. Afterwards you kind of “wake up” feeling refreshed and centered. That’s really interesting that drumming has helped with your anxiety! That certainly seems like proof that drumming is therapeutic. I often dream of starting an experiential-learning school. One thing we’d have is a room with a beat-up drumset and a whole bunch of percussion instruments. Anytime someone needed to they could go in there and bang on things. I wish more people had access to drums.
SHOKO HORIKAWA: Do you have any routine or ritual you do before you are about to play, to prepare yourself mentally or physically?Especially when you are very tired (after a long tour or sleepless nights), how do you put yourself in the mood to play? I ask you this, because when I watched you guys play night after night on tour, I thought your stage present was so peaceful, and calm, and it was so easy for me to engage with what you did on stage. I sometimes feel too self-conscious or shy on stage. And this sounds silly, but too much lighting on stage totally messes me up sometimes. So I am hoping to find some kind of “method” to put me in the right mood to perform. Even the act of performing in front of people still feels foreign to me. I can’t engage with audience very well, but I want to.
SARA MAGENHEIMER: I don’t really have a ritual that I do before shows. Eben [the other half of Fertile Crescent] and I usually make sure we check in with each other so we get that “we’re in it together” feeling…solidarity I guess. But it’s not the same way every time. That’s really nice that we seem calm and engaged. When there are only a few people in the audience (something that has happened many times) I have a hard time not being incredibly self-conscious, especially if they’re standing a foot away from me, arms folded, with no facial expression (something that has also happened many times.) But something about being on a stage, with the boundaries clearly delineated can be a little freeing. Many “avant-garde” performers talk about “breaking down the wall” between audience and performer, but “the wall” is really just a vague suggestion of architecture. Mostly it’s a mental/conceptual barrier. And it can be useful in calling attention to boundaries that we already have established unconsciously. Just like an art gallery can sometimes be useful, but not all art has to be in a gallery nor should it be.
Mostly my pre-performance rituals consist of ritualized ways of getting ready, such as putting my kit together. I find that activity deliberately kinda ritualistic and calming…checking in with my equipment, making sure everything is screwed together tightly and in the correct position. That’s something that I have to do anyway, but it helps me get comfortable on stage.
I think you do just fine in front of audiences! While we were on tour I witnessed your sheer skill impress so many people. You seem very in-control of what you’re playing. It’s amazing. My equipment was always breaking or falling over, or my sticks were flying out of my hands, but you seemed so cool! I think some of the best performers don’t need to do a lot of talking to connect with an audience. Their performance, behavior, and just generally what they’re doing on the stage is what people connect with.
SHOKO HORIKAWA: I agree with what you said about setting up drums on stage. It does get me in a mood to play. And I realized Jesse and I don’t really talk before shows. We should do that more like you guys do. And also I feel the same way about playing for little amount of people. It sadly happens so often in this over-saturated indie music world we live in.
SARA MAGENHEIMER: Do you have any thoughts on why we make music at all and what the purpose of music is?
SHOKO HORIKAWA: I think about questions like this all the time, but haven’t really found clear answer…To me music is a way to change my mood/feelings (it’s a kind of therapy), and a way to represent what kind of person I am.
That’s what I think about for the purpose of music…
Why we make music at all?
The sounds and rhythms are everywhere in our lives. Your heart is beating steadily all the time.
I really can’t remember when was the last time I had a total dead silence for more than 3 minutes.
Sometimes silence is calming, but other times I find it to be scary for some reason.
Anyway, I believe we all live with music in one way or another. Some do very closely, and others don’t so much, but…
I think that’s why many people engage with music, it’s only natural.
SARA MAGENHEIMER: I like what you said about silence/rhythm. Maybe one function of music is to calm the mind/body through externalizing internal biological rhythms. There’s something pacifying about exerting control over rhythmic patterns that are innate in us. And it’s fun! It’s human to play…to create new patterns out of preexisting ones. It’s language at it’s root. That’s why it’s interesting to me. Communication.
A good note on which to end!
Shoko Horikawa lives in Portland Oregon, with her husband, Jesse, and one kitty named Honeybunny. She plays drums in Experimental Dental School. She enjoys good food and gardening with her neighbors.
Sara Magenheimer is a visual artist and musician specifically interested in multi-disciplinary work, formulating dynamic culture-productions, situations, pedagogical practices, and nurturing/maintaining a sense of wonder in her work, self, and others. She plays drums and sings in the bands Flying and Fertile Crescent. (To Shoko’s humble bio I would like to add that Shoko is an incredible drummer and tireless musician. She and I met this fall when XDS and my bands, Flying and Fertile Crescent, were on tour supporting Deerhoof. She and I had both recently made the transition to playing the full drum kit. Shoko’s drumming can be extremely powerful, yet nuanced as well. As I watched her perform nightly I was struck by her incredible dedication to improving her playing and approaching the drums with a beginner’s spirit each time).