Ashley is busy. You may be interrupting her. As the messages sailed back and forth between Portland and Brooklyn, it became hard not to wonder whether that familiar warning splayed across the chat window might really be true. In only eight years since sitting down behind a kit, Ashley Spungin has become one shredding third of the Portland trio Purple Rhinestone Eagle, with a laser-like focus fueled by Bonham worship, babies, and bad weather. Just back from PRE’s spring tour, Ashley shifted her attention to talk about how she gets her thick, dark sound and how she responds to post-show comments from boneheads.
Name: Ashley Spungin
Hometown: Hartford, CT
Lives in: Portland, OR
Current bands: Purple Rhinestone Eagle
Past bands: None. PRE is her first band.
Day job: Nanny
Outstanding bit of trivia: No, she is not related to Nancy, but she is a distant relative of the great producer and Hammond B3 player Al Kooper, “who is known for musical contributions that are a little cooler than Sid Vicious’s notorious lady friend.”
“I guess I had always wanted to learn to play drums from when I first started going to shows, when I was like 12 or something. I would obsess over the drummers and try to wrap my head around what they were doing.” – Ashely Spungin
Tom Tom Magazine: We know you play with PRE; are you currently playing with anyone else?
Ashley Spungin: Not really. I am usually down to jam with friends but there is nothing else I’m seriously committed to. PRE takes up a lot of my time.
Tom Tom Magazine: How did you hook up with PRE? You formed in Philadelphia, right?
Ashley Spungin: Yep. I met Morgan (Ray Denning, bass and backing vocals) at a potluck in 2004. She and Andrea Genevieve, (guitar and lead vocals) were living together and wanting to start up a band. I approached Morgan because she was wearing an All Girl Summer Fun Band T-shirt. We got to talking and she invited me over to play with them. It was awesome, except I leaned on a faulty guardrail and fell off their porch before I even entered the house and contemplated going home right then and there. I’m glad I didn’t, obviously. We started playing shows shortly after.
Tom Tom Magazine: Ow! We’re all glad you didn’t. How did you end up in Portland?
Ashley Spungin: We ended up moving to Portland about a year and a half ago after going on a short East Coast tour with the New Bloods, who were all living here at the time. Basically they saw how we were all kind of bumming on Philly and itching to move somewhere, so they convinced us to move out here.
TTM: How do you think the move has affected your evolution musically?
AS: Moving here has totally helped us get “serious.” It’s just a far more mellow place. None of us are working our asses off just to make rent. We’re usually able to practice about four times a week. The weather sucks a lot but that can be helpful for locking ourselves in the practice space and working on song ideas. We moved here with the intention of just going for it, and that’s just what we are trying to do.
TTM: Speaking of making rent, what do you do when you’re not drumming?
AS: I’m a nanny. My job rules. I hang out with an awesome 6-month-old baby named Eleanor.
TTM: Sounds like a great life. It’s funny to imagine a 6-month-old named Eleanor….
AS: The name suits her very well. It’s a good job to have, because the family is super supportive of me and understanding about my weird schedule and touring and all that.
“I eventually got my own kit and traded free coffee for real lessons for a few months.” – Ashley Spungin
TTM: How did you get started playing the drums?
AS: I started playing drums when I was about 18. I was living in Boston at the time and had a good friend who let me go to his practice space and play his drums. He started off just showing me basic things. I eventually got my own kit and traded free coffee for real lessons for a few months. I played with other people here and there, but was moving around the country quite a bit, so I never stuck around to play in a real band. PRE is the first for me.
TTM: What inspired you to play drums in the first place?
AS: I guess I had always wanted to learn to play drums from when I first started going to shows, when I was like 12 or something. I would obsess over the drummers and try to wrap my head around what they were doing. Actually playing and getting over my nerves and really cutting loose was like the best thing ever for me.
TTM: What’s with the wanderlust?
AS: I guess a girl’s gotta know what’s out there, ya know?
TTM: Definitely. Who are some of your favorite drummers, or drummers you emulate, past or present?
AS: My first favorite drummer was John Bonham. I used to sit in my room when I was 17 and rewind the one part in “Moby Dick” over and over again when he comes in with the fills after the drum solo. It kind of still blows my mind.
TTM: That’s funny, because the colors you play with and your technique are pretty Bonhamesque.
AS: He turned me on to Vistalites, so that’s true. He and also Keith Moon will always hold a special place in my heart for their amazing drumming. Some of my other faves, hmmm: Bill Ward, Dale Crover, George Hurley, Robert Wyatt, and on and on. It wasn’t until I heard drummers like Moe Tucker and Janet Weiss that I felt more included in the music that I love. It was a good motivator to listen to other women playing drums who were in bands I could really get into.
TTM: Andrea said in an interview last year that PRE’s sound is “heavy riffs laden psychedelic fury with rock and roll roots.” You sound pretty proggy to me. How do you describe it, and how much does your drumming style play a role in shaping the band’s whole sound?
AS: Our music is always hard for me to describe because we aren’t really just going for one thing. We are all pretty big music nerds and are all coming from different musical backgrounds and experiences. We write mostly all the songs together, which works great for us and makes it that much more a special process. Our music has elements of ’60s and ’70s, psychedelic, heavy riffin’ rock and roll. At least those genres are a big inspiration for my drumming style, so I’d like to think that.
TTM: You brought up an interesting point: feeling like an outsider in your own genre (insofar as we can define your genre).
AS: I guess I used to feel like an outsider in the sense that I didn’t have many other female drummer friends to relate to. But that has changed since my move out here, thank the lord.
TTM: Do you still run into the “rocker chick” bias a lot? Like any guy can play thrash or prog or garage rock, but if a girl plays it she must be a real badass, and in fact has to be a real badass?
AS: PRE was touring the U.S. over the past month and a half, and night after night we would get some very weird responses from both men and women, like: “I was really impressed” or “That isn’t what I expected” or the worst, “You play like me!”…like we should feel good that we proved ourselves as female musicians.
TTM: Like you’re supposed to be flattered, or the dude version is the gold standard?
AS: Yeah, unfortunately that mindset is still alive and well, which is both discouraging and fuels my fire, as there is still plenty of work to do! Being able to have teenage girls come up and ask me about how they can start playing the drums after a show, as well as being a part of amazing projects like this magazine, make having to deal with those boneheads much more bearable. Plus, it would feel great to know that some guy in Georgia came up to me after a show and said, “I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life,” and mean it!
TTM: Have you done Rock Camp for Girls?
AS: I’ve only been able to volunteer at workshops because we were touring last summer. This summer I plan on volunteering way more. Portland Rock Camp has got it going on and I want to take advantage of that while I’m here.
TTM: How do you nurture your technique? What’s your setup?
AS: I play a Ludwig Vistalite kit from the early ’70s. Snare, bass, rack and floor tom; ride, crash, high-hats, tambourine.
TTM: How do you warm up?
AS: Warmups include stretching (everything), meditating, and running through some songs if we can.
TTM: What’s your go-to tech drill?
AS: I like to practice paradiddles in the van on the seats or my lap.
TTM: What’s your personal goal for drumming?
AS: My future goals include touring with my band everywhere we can. We’re recording an album this winter and have big plans for tours after that.
TTM: You have an EP recently out, right?
AS: Yes! We have a record out now on the great Eolian Records. It’s our first one and I am very, very stoked on it. It is also turquoise.
Interview by: Meg RyanMeg Ryan’s musical writing has appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Guitar World Acoustic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic magazine, and Electronic Musician magazine. She has done editorial work for Revolver, Blender, and Women’s Health. Before she started playing with words, Meg was a classical flute player, and she currently performs with Susan Elizabeth and Velvet Hammer, providing hand percussion, flute, keyboard, mandolin, and vocals. She lives in Brooklyn.