Emily Rems: Drummer of Royal Pink and Editor of Bust Magazine talks Drums

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Emily is an amazing drummer who has contagious energy when she is on the kit. I met her through Ladies Rock Camp where she learned the drums and have had the pleasure now of knowing her as a friend outside of camp. She is the managing editor of Bust Magazine and can be seen ripping it on the skins in her NYC band Royal Pink.
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Full name: Emily Rems
Nickname/pseudonym: in the band my nickname is Princess Pink. We all have royalty names.
Age: 34
Hometown: I grew up in Westchester until I was 15. Then my family moved to Northern Virginia. So I really consider Westchester my home town.
Where do you live now: I live on 14th Street in New York City
Bands you are drumming in currently: Royal Pink and I may be starting a side project with my boyfriend, called Grasshoppers that I may be drumming in also, but right now it’s just Royal Pink with the Grasshoppers on the horizon.
Bands you were drumming for in the past: I had never played drums before I met those girls [in Royal Pink] so I learned as I was in the band. That was three years ago and we all met at Ladies Rock Camp. Which was the first session that they had. I was there covering it for Bust Magazine. I played drums there for the very first time and they put me together with the girls who are in Royal Pink and we formed a band and fell in love. I think we were all each other’s dreams come true.
What you do for a living: I am the Managing Editor of Bust Magazine; it’s a feminist pop culture magazine.
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Tom Tom Magazine: Reason that you started playing the drums? Emily Rems: I had always wanted to play drums since I was a child.  In elementary school, they had school band and they asked the kids to pick an instrument and I picked drums but my parents were like, “no, absolutely not. It’s too loud; it’s too big” and so they picked the flute for me and I never even took it out of the box. I only wanted to play the drums. And I could have pursued it at some point when I grew up but there were always the practical concerns of like, “They’re so loud; where would I put them? Where would I practice?”

Tom Tom Magazine: How long did it take til you felt like a “real” and legit drummer? Emily Rems: I think that there’s a certain insecure part of me since I’m primarily self taught. I took lessons for a while from Caryn Havlik, the drum teacher at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls and she really taught me a lot in such a little time. But primarily I am self taught. The first time we played a show and there were actual people at the show I started drumming and they started dancing. That’s when I was like “They’re dancing! They’re moving their little butts back and forth to it!” That was the moment when I felt somehow legitimized, by butts moving.  It’s all booty validation. They can’t even really help it; the cheeks start a twitching.

Tom Tom Magazine: What is your favorite set-up for your kit? Why? Emily Rems: It mostly has to do with space. I’m not a small girl and often if we’re using a house kit, the drums are always crammed in the back of these tiny stages and I feel like I’m right on top of them. My favorite is having space to almost be like in a low rider car.  I’m back away from it, with my legs kind of extended to hit the pedals. I have very long arms so I don’t have a problem hitting the cymbals or the toms if they’re somewhat far away. A standard kit with room for me to be stretched out behind it.

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Tom Tom Magazine: What would your dream kit consist of? Emily Rems: A crash and a ride and a high-hat. I don’t have like the Def Leppard 1000 cymbal setup!

TTM:
What do you do to get better at the drums? ER: I guess it’s boring but practice. I don’t practice nearly as much as I should. We practice for a few hours every week and I know that time is dedicated drumming time. It’s a slow process but I think it mostly just has to do with confidence; not being scared of all the working parts.

TTM: Do you play any other instruments? If so … how does that effect your drumming? ER: Not really, I played piano as a child but nothing really came of it.  I just wasn’t feelin’ it.

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TTM:
What do you consider to be the most challenging thing about the drums? ER: They’re huge and they’re loud. And I can’t have drums in my apartment and practice them. Special arrangements have to be made for me to even get near a drum kit and that’s not true for anyone else’s instrument. That’s part of what makes it awesome on stage: It’s huge and it’s loud! It’s a challenge especially if you’re living the teeny tiny apartment lifestyle in New York. It’s not always easy to make it work.

TTM: Most notable show you ever played? ER: We’ve played a few that were real whoppers. The one that really sticks out in my head was really recently we played a benefit for the Gotham Girls Roller Derby Jeerleaders.  The roller derby has cheerleaders who cheer for each team called Jeerleaders. We played this gig with lots of punk-ass roller derby people there. The place was packed. And there were actual cheerleaders with pom poms dancing along with their pompoms to every song and they were like ripping their clothes off and throwing bras at us and screaming. And it was like “Yeah! We’re rock stars!” in this real girl power kind of way. You’ve never played drums until you’ve seen cheerleaders pom-poming it to your beat.

TTM: Have you experienced any setbacks as a female drummer? ER: You definitely have to toughen up. There’s always the sound guy.  And never in the last 3 years has there ever been a sound girl. Only ever a sound guy. And it really depends on the sound guy’s attitude. A sound guy made me cry. Just making me feel like total crap. Saying my gear was unplayable, sneering at me because I couldn’t find my drum key.  Making me feel like an illegitimate poser. I’m sure he probably makes guy drummers feel that way too. I have felt shit on by sound guys before. It would be nice if it weren’t like that but that has to do with toughing up and feeling confident in your ability. The drums have like a thousand million parts and it took me a long time to feel comfortable setting everything up the way I wanted it to be. And not to get rushed by the sound guy.  That and buying gear can sometimes be challenging. Because people think you’re someone’s girlfriend.  You’ve got to toughen up. That’s one of my personal challenges.

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(Picture of Emily from Ladies Rock Camp by Kate Milford) “There happened to be a photographer standing in the doorway the moment I had the feeling of “Ah!” I had both hands going at the same time for the first time ever and there was a big “Ah!” Someone snapped a picture. I just can’t believe that someone with a camera was there at that moment. It was the first day of Ladies Rock Camp. It was such a big joyous relief. Everything there was such an amazing coincidence.” – Emily Rems

TTM: If you could change one thing about the drums what would it be? ER: I want there to be a teleportation device or something that just zaps them where they need to be, or just fold them up in your pocket. I just wish that they were easier to move around.

TTM: Do you do anything else drum related besides playing in a band? (i.e. teach drums one on one, rock camp, drum circles, etc …) ER:We were asked by Ladies Rock Camp the year after we formed to come back and play.

TTM: Best piece of advice you got as a drummer? ER: Not to be all Caryn Havlik! Caryn Havlik! But she’s my drum Yoda. She really taught me everything that I know. When I was first getting started, she was right there. I still have terrible stage fright. I get very flipped out before I play and she told me “Look: nothing can start until you say it starts; there’s no song until you start the song so don’t sit down and say you’re ready unless you are actually ready. No matter what people are saying. Put all of your drums and cymbals exactly where you want them, play around the kit for a second to make sure you can reach everything, take a breath, stretch your arms, it’s not going to take very long and you’ll know that everything is exactly where it’s supposed to be.” I’ve gotten into trouble not taking that advice. Make sure you’re ready before you start and everyone else can fuck off until you are ready.

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TTM: What would you recommend to a new drummer starting off/advice for new drummers? ER: You don’t have to tune your instruments; you’re not going to play it wrong when you’re first starting. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You hear something that you like: just try to bang along to it until it strikes you as something that you like. You don’t have to wait to learn.  Just start by, hit-stick-against-skin. Get real caveman about it until you find your own way.

TTM: Who are some of your favorite lady drummers right now? ER: Mo Tucker of course from Velvet Underground and Catie D’Amica from Rasputina. Both play standing up in the most insane way-you feel it in your sternum and you might pee, it’s so deep. And of course Caryn Havlik who was in Broadband when I met her and is now in Slaywhore and Mortals. And Valerie Scroggins from ESG, I actually saw her play at a small private party in 2001 and I thought I would die. Hannah Blilie from the Gossip-disco style. I saw Harry Drumdini who was the last drummer for the Cramps, the year before Lux Interior died and I saw him at the Avalon. I literally watched him drum and copied every last thing that he did. I pounded it into my memory and ran to practice. I stole from him left right and center. I know he’s not a girl but seeing the Cramps was really very instrumental to my instrumentalism.

Interview by: Alison Mazer (a drummer and amazing mom, writer, and chef!)
Photos by: Velvet d’Amour
Photo of Emily on drums by: Kate Milford

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6 Comments

  1. Totally. Fucking. Cool. And amazing. It’s about time. Sure, I’m a man-type drummer, but I have no interest in the BS drum and geetar mags that basically look like guys with power tools and Porsches getting sweaty and rubbing homoerotic shoulders together.

    Lady drummers need recognition, role models, and a forum. And already the content is far more interesting than the crap I mentioned.

    Sure. It’s a mag about female drummers, but it’s refreshing to see drum(mer) articles with some thinking and class for a change!

    Go!

  2. Great article!
    I’ve had a similar experience in that I got a late start (age 44 so really late) and I even got stuck with the flute in junior high! Drumming has been something I’ve always wanted to do as well. Friends always had a brothers with drum kits down the basement and I wasn’t allowed near it. Just made me want it more.

    Been playing for a year and a half studying under Stephen Hund in NYC and have met a lot of amazing women drummers, also students, who just wanted to friggin play! Unfortunately I don’t have a band to play with but about every 6 months all the students do a group show down at Arlene’s Grocery where we get a chance to play with a band. I’ve done it twice so far and am practicing some Green Day for my next shot. It’s an awesome experience to be on stage, and yes…scary.

    When I started I thought I was alone but there are plenty of women who want to rock out there.

    So I say just do it!!!

    Emily…you rock!

  3. Emily;

    I LOVE YOU! (But don’t tell your BF – LOL!)

    We actually have a couple of things in common.

    Not only are you are literary lass (I’m a “big girl” that does a bit of writing, but makes zero money from it – sigh), and you also make “big boom-boom” as a bona-fide “rock chic” in NYC (I spent MANY years in that delightful business we call “show” – more on that some other time).

    How freekin’ cool is that?

    If you and the gals in “Royal Pink” (LOVE the name!) ever get out to the Windy City (home of the blues!), I would definitely love to see you guys jam, and maybe even help you out.

    I am still one of this city’s best damn lighting designers, as well as a “take-no-prisoners” type production/road manager (lots of stories there!) who will NOT allow any smarmy sound techs (regardless of gender) to give you crap.

    You totally rock! Good on ya, sis.

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