It’s hard work being a drummer, and an even harder one being a “good” drummer. When I say a good drummer, one that doesn’t just keep the beat, we have machines for that, but one that is capable of realizing where the song needs to rise and fall. This instinctive drive of knowing when to come in, when to rest, when to build, takes many years of playing, and even then a “good” drummer is still a rarity, a phenomena. The demands are even greater when you’re a drummer for a two piece.
A drummer for a duo demands that you become aware of the spaces that are left unfilled, and knowing when to quit it. It demands more attention to structure, more agility and more adrenaline. You become the super drummer braving the bare minimum. I think Maria Schettino is one of those super drummers. Drummer for the Grunge, Alternative, Metal, Rock duo, Object, Maria is capable of the bare break beat, and when called upon for a volcanic eruption, she is there to disrupt your sensibilities.
One of the comments I’ve overheard from an audience member after an Object show, “She makes it stick.” Yes she does, from fast and precise fills to subtle bluesy jazz chimes; she is capable of switching to any genre seamlessly. Her backbone beats situates and sustains each song’s progression and thus, the song’s fulfillment. I caught up with Maria and here is what happened …
Tom Tom Magazine: How long have you been playing?
Maria Schettino: I have been playing for 19 years.
Tom Tom Magazine: Wow that’s a long time. Especially as a woman percussionist, what has been the most challenging throughout those 19 years?
Maria Schettino: Honestly, it hasn’t been anything musical. It’s silly, but I think the hardest thing (and it still is) is getting people to take me seriously before they hear me play. I was chatting with a friend about how I don’t really look like a drummer and he’s like, “yea, you kind of appear to be an anti-drummer.” A lot of the business of music is about appearances, so it’s hard to sell yourself as something you don’t appear to be. That’s annoying. I don’t want to have to “prove myself” on the drums. I don’t think proving yourself has anything to do with music. It cheapens and I have no interest in that. I think people have an interesting reaction to seeing a female drummer. Many of them secretly expect you to suck, but the cool part is that they actually really WANT you to be awesome. Female drummers are classically the underdog, and everyone knows you win big when you bet on the underdog. I want to be good because it’s inspiring to people. That’s my favorite part of playing – that and being inspired by other musicians.
TTM: Did you play with any other bands before Object?
MS: I played in a band called Some Goddamn Alien in high school. It was a remedial sort of punk band with a lot of heart. I wasn’t very good at the time and I think all our songs were some combination of A and E. It was great, though. One of the lyrics really sticks out in my memory, “he was a barnyard sodomizing, fun-lovin’ guy.” Very progressive poetics :).
TTM: Ha, so how long before you started playing with Object?
MS: That band morphed into some other things as we all got better at playing our instruments. I stuck with those guys until my sophomore year in college. After that, I tried to start many things with many people, but none of it stuck until I started playing with Eric [the guitarist for Object]. [Object has] been at it now for seven years.
TTM: What made you decide to play drums?
MS: In fourth grade, they would hand out this sign up slip for instruments. I remember I checked the box for flute, brought my paper to class, and at the last minute, I changed it to snare drum. I don’t even know why. It was a compulsion, I guess. My spiritual side likes to think it was a calling. Also, my brother and my father play drums and they’re both excellent players. The best compliment I ever got was from this guy after a show. He asked me if anyone else in my family played drums and I told him about my dad and my bro and he’s like “I thought so. It seems like it’s in your blood.”
TTM: In your blood indeed. What does your father and brother think about your drumming?
MS: I think they dig it. My brother came to a couple of our shows last year and he seemed impressed which means a lot to me because, like I said, he’s REALLY good. He easily conquered the Led Zepplin catalog at an early age and I starting learning on his drums and with all his books and notes. Those two are actually pretty hard to impress, so it was quite a feat to get their approval.
TTM: Did you take lessons or are you self-taught?
MS: Both. I am classically trained as a percussionist. I have taken drum-set lessons – some were amazing and some were nearly worthless. I try to teach myself new things all the time, emulating drummers that I love. That is one of the coolest things about being a percussionist. It seems like the learning possibilities are endless. There is always a new challenge.
TTM: What would you say is the most difficult thing about drumming?
MS: Blisters. gross.
TTM: Who are your drum heroes and why?
MS: There are so many, but I guess the big three for me are John Bonham, Dave Grohl and Jimmy Chamberlin. Bonzo will always be number one for me. His feel and timing is unmatched. I don’t think there is a cooler beat than the one from ‘when the levee breaks.’ The way it drives and the way they just transform Memphis style blues into Arena Rock – so cool. Dave Grohl turns every project he’s in to gold. His playing is seriously powerful. He’s strong, solid, musical, and pretty hot. I have a permanent crush on Dave. Jimmy Chamberlin is the drummer I try to emulate the most. He comes from a jazz background so he always does all this great snare work – all kinds of syncopation and dynamics, but he keeps it rockin’ all the time and knows when to hold back. Technically he is incredible and I think his contribution to the Pumpkins was more significant than people might think. I don’t think that band could have been great without him. He’s one of those drummers that shapes a song with his playing. I want to be that kind of drummer.
TTM: So you would like your drumming to be more than keeping the beat, but to also influence the melody and the song structure?
MS: Yes, I like to think that my parts influence the composition of the song.
TTM: I noticed that all your drum heroes are male, are there any female drummers that you admire?
MS: Yea, I guess all my drum heroes are male. There are some female drummers that I really like – Sheila E. of course, Suzie Ibarra and Cindy Blackman. I have been very inspired by female singers. I’d give anything to be able to sing like Mary J. Blige or Aretha Franklin. Their voices are a gift from God. There’s nothing better than that. I had one female instructor. I was really excited to study with her, but she ended up being very discouraging which was surprising to me. I think she had some deeper feminist agenda that I just didn’t fit into – like I was too girly, not as a player, but as a person and she really never gave me a chance. I don’t know. Maybe I’m looking into it too much, but needless to say, it was a bad experience. She was the head of the percussion dept. at my college and she wasn’t there the first semester that I attended. Her replacement was this guy from Julliard. He told me that I was a beautiful player and chose a piece for percussion ensemble to feature me. When the female professor came back the following semester, she wouldn’t even give me parts. I had been so excited to work with a woman and she wouldn’t have anything to do with me. It sucked. I even approached her about it and she pretty much blew me off. Lame.
TTM: How would you describe your playing?
MS: It’s obnoxious and tasteful at the same time. I guess you could call it dynamic. I’m a slave to the song. I love to make songwriters shine – Eric is an AMAZING songwriter. I feel blessed to play with him everyday and I just want to make those songs vital. I want to give them the life that they deserve.
TTM: Yes it is really dynamic and listening to your recordings and seeing you live, one can tell that you are the type of drummer that listens to the song and knows where it needs to go, when to pause and when to be explosive. But obnoxious?
MS: Haha, maybe just loud is what I mean.
TTM: You guys just released the single Head Technician on Face Book. New album soon?
MS: New album soon. Yes. We’re very excited. I don’t think “Head Tech” will be on it. We recorded that at Headgear, but we are doing our album in our basement studio.
TTM: For while there you guys were playing live a lot of experimental metal but Head Technician seems to be more grunge alternative. Can you talk a little on the vision for this song and others in the works?
MS: Well, the experimental metal stuff is for a totally different project called TheEvilUs. We’re going to record an album for that once the Object record is finished. As for the Object songs in the works, they are definitely BIG rock tunes – heavy guitars, lots of hooks and big drums. I want to bring big drumming back. A lot of the popular bands today just play one beat through the whole song. That’s cool, but I want to do it differently. I think for these songs, we’re just trying to make tighter more immediate pop songs while still putting our mark on them. I understand the grunge comparisons and I think it’s great! After all, the whole grunge genre was composed of so many different kinds of bands and sounds that the only real cohesive characterization of those bands is good song-writing and musicianship. Those are our top values.
TTM: When is the next show?
MS: Feb 2, 2010 @ Union Hall in Brooklyn, NY. We are opening for Sub Pop’s Retribution Gospel Choir (members of Low). Totally psyched.
TTM: Do you have any advice for a beginner drummer?
MS: Just find the courage to be who you really are and everything will fall into place.
– Nikki Mcleod