Double Header Interview with Jenn Shellshag & Angie Boylan (Cheeky)

Angie is an incredible drummer. She grew up in Long Island and as she recalls: “I built a drum set of pots, pans, buckets… whatever sounded cool. I attached necklace ball chains to the bottom of pans to get the snare drum sound. I even remember trying to make a foot pedal. My home-made drum set was in the middle of my bedroom, and I’d play along to No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, Operation Ivy, Rancid, local ska bands (Metro Stylee, Channel 59) and 311 records.” Since then Angie has been setting the standard for drummers in the D.I.Y. punk scene in the NY area. She plays or has played in The Krills, Each Other’s Mothers, Cheeky, Little Lungs and guest drums for bands like Screaming Females. When Tom Tom approached Angie to interview her she kindly asked to interview one of her all time favorite drummers, Jenn Shagawat (Jenn Shag of Shellshag). This is their conversation.

Read below for bonus exclusive interview and photo shoot with Angie too! And! See more photos and more interview with Jenn when you buy Tom Tom Magazine Issue 4!

Full Name: Jennifer Shagawat

Nickname: Jen Shag

Age: 39 years old

Hometown: Wayne, New Jersey

Current City: Brooklyn, NY

Current Band: Shellshag

Past bands: lovin mouthful, noise star, static faction, thunder suite, knittles, Kung Fu USA

Day job: used to b assistant to Gary null but got laid off so I’m unemployed now…

Angie:  How long have you been playing drums?

Jen:  I’ve been playing for 19 years. But I took long breaks, I never took drumming too seriously. It was a hobby for me and I would go a long period of time without doing it.  When I was 16 I was playing by myself and my dad – he’s totally a kidster – he was just like, “don’t quit your day job” kinda thing. No one took me seriously. I didn’t really have talent, I just was an ambitious kid. So I would just pick up things and do them. I was always a bit rebellious so by being told I couldn’t or I sucked at anything only drove me to do that thing more.

Angie:  Did you have a kit when you started playing?

Jen:  You ever have a friend who got everything you wanted? Laura was my friend. And I worshipped her. I wanted a drum set and she got one. So she let me play it and this is when we were about 14 actually. And then my family moved to Wayne, New Jersey when I was 16. She came up to Wayne and gave me the drum set and said, “You’re the one who always really wanted it.” And I still play that snare today – that’s the Slingerland that I have.

Angie:  What motivated you to keep playing drums?

Jen:  It became mine. It wasn’t until my late 20s when I realized I wasn’t gunna stop. I started to miss drumming and from that point on I have been in bands. When I see a lot of people I know now who are so good, so young, I’m just like – wow! These kids were born with instruments in their hands! It really inspires me. I feel like the sexism I grew up with is gone in the sense that it is no longer unusual for a girl to shred- its common, because they have already been playing for 10 years at age 24. There’s no sex now for me with music. Growing up it was like, “pretty good for a girl” and all that bullshit and I feel like that’s kind of gone now.

Angie:  But do you think it’s that sexism is gone in the community you’re in and with the bands you play with?

Jen:  I doubt it will ever be totally gone but I think the playing field has evened out quite a bit especially since so many girls have surpassed boys in sheer talent!

Angie:   How did you learn to play drums?

Jen:  [My friend,] Joey and my uncle Jimmy taught me stuff but nothing too formal. If I think about it, when I was in the 5th grade, a drummer came to school and gave a lesson to the kids about how drumming’s athletic… [They were] trying to keep kids interested in hobbies instead of drugs I suppose. That’s the first time I wanted sticks and the little drum pad. My parents gave me a flute and a Jethro Tull record. I was listening to Jethro tull thinking, “there’s no fucking way I can play this music.” And I didn’t bond with the flute. They were kind of like, well, a drum set is big, loud and expensive and blew if off. We lived in a small apartment above my grandparents at the time.

Angie:   What do you think makes a good drummer?

Jen:  I guess good rhythm and I personally love hard hitting. I definitely am a sucker for a good hook too- which in drumming really is restraint. There’s a difference between wanting to rock and have fun and actually making a song sound good. Sometimes it’s better to restrain. We’ve been recording a lot of pop songs and I’m like, “God, I really wanna go nuts on this,” but it sounds so much better recorded when it’s just like “boom, crr, boom, crr.”

Angie:  Sometimes simple is better.

Jen:  Yeah! Learning about space. I do think it was Frank Zappa who said, “Silence is the loudest sound a musician can make.”

Angie:  Do you ever think you’ll play a kit again?

Jen:  Yeah. I’ve been away from the kit for so long and my chops are up from not being back there and instead, standing. So now when I get back there it’s like, “oh my god, everything up here is working 3 times as fast.” The challenge of the minimal kit is really fun and it’s such a part of Shellshag that it’s hard to change it. A kit doesn’t really enhance the songs. Because at that point we want a bass, and a second guitar and it’s like, “reform the band, man!”

Angie:  How was tour with Screaming Females?

Jen:  It was so unbelievably excellent. It made me love them so much more. As people, I feel like I really got to know them and musically, I mean, at first you’re so shocked by Marissa [Paternoster’s] brilliance that it’s hard to recognize that without that band it wouldn’t be going on.

Angie:  Everyone puts all the emphasis on Marissa.

Jen:  At first! Because they’re still in a state of shock because they’re awaking from a sleepy age of sexism.

Angie:  Tell me about your tour in Japan.

Jen:  We toured with a band called DMBQ. We learned a lot from them. A lot of our destruction at the end of sets – the pure passion, we remembered in Japan. Cause we were touring around here and just kind of getting battered down by typical apathy. And then we went over there and those guys were so ambitious about music and excited about it and we were like, “of course! This is why we started doing it! How did we forget?”It really re-motivated us big time. We came back and just started playing our hearts out for each other.

Angie:  So they inspired the trashing of your drums at the end of every show?

Jen:  Definitely. That and The Who and China from DMBQ and Shonen Knife. Everybody would hold up this drum kit and she’d climb on top of it – it was amazing!

Angie:  How many drum heads do you go through a month?

Jen:  In Texas at SXSW, we went to a used drum shop down there and they had stacks of heads for like a dollar each and I had $200. So that’s how many heads I bought. And that’s what started the breaking of the heads.

Angie:  When did you meet Shell?

Jen:  I met him in like 1997, 1998 we started going out. He was in a band, 50 Million, and I was in Static Faction and I was running a warehouse space with a bunch of my friends and they would always come and try to get on the shows. They were excellent and eventually they were on all the shows. We did our first Shellshag tape in 1998 and handed them out to like 10 of our friends.

Angie:  Do you think of yourself as a role model to younger punks in your community?

Jen:  I do feel that way now because you’re here. And Marissa [Paternoster] is so supportive and all these amazing people that I’ve met are really good at their instruments yet really love and respect what I’m doing. It’s surprising. I went years without any of that. There wasn’t much of a support system musically. Like I tell my girlfriends who’ve dropped out of music or have kids – when I play Songs for Moms for them, they’re like, “you gotta be kidding me!” Almost every band now that rocks always has a girl in the band. We went for years playing with bands we didn’t fit in with and it was very isolating. Then we went to Japan in 2004. Then we found our place here – Cory from Stupid Party had a lot to do with it actually. He sent me an email: “We love you guys but you’re playing lame shows. Come play our house.” And I laughed so hard, I was like, “we’re going to this kid’s house.” I didn’t even know who he was and it ends up being our little family.

Angie:  Do you find it hard as you get older to keep playing in a band and to keep touring, to keep a job…?

Jen:  Honestly I don’t because Shell and I are just really solid. We’ve known each other a long time and we know what we like and we know it’s us against them and we’re just used to it. I’ve made attempts at the straight world thing but I don’t feel comfortable doing that. Eventually you give in to yourself. I’m 39. I’m just following what feels right and going with it. A lot of my friends have stopped playing, but I think it’s human nature to move on. Being at shows can get old.

Angie:  Do you have any tips for a girl starting to play drums?

Jen:  I guess my advice would be: don’t stop. Now I look back at the little breaks I had and I regret them. I probably would take formal lessons too.  If I would’ve taken it seriously a little younger I could’ve been really good by now. Learn the basics, which is something I wouldn’t normally encourage, but I now know there’s something to be said for having the basic tools. You can build on them or destroy them and/or unlearn them. For me, I’m always trying to break out of a bad habit. I feel like standing did that for me. Cause I was kind of not learning anymore from the kit. When I got away from it I learned a bunch more about rhythm.

Photo by Jee Young Sim

Tom Tom’s Interview with Angie Boylan

Full Name: Angela Boylan

Nickname: Angie

Age: 25

Hometown: West Hempstead, NY

Current City: Brooklyn, NY

Current Bands: Little Lungs, Very Okay, Each Other’s Mothers (although the moms aren’t totally active,

we plan to record this summer)

Past Bands: The Krills, Passerby, Rounded Edges Don’t Snag, Two Ships Passing, We Meet Under Tables, Cheeky, Dead Dog

Day Job: Department of Education

Photo by Maggie Owsley

Tom Tom Magazine: What you do for a living?

Angie Boylan: Uhh…. Dreaded question. I’d like to say I’m a musician but this doesn’t seem to pay my rent. I’m a substitute teacher right now and that is cool because it’s the kind of job that allows you to leave for tour and when you return, you still have a job.

Tom Tom Magazine: When did you start playing the drums?

Angie Boylan: I started playing the drums as a little girl on the kitchen table and my lap. I became obsessed with drums and at age 13, I built a drum set of pots, pans, buckets… whatever sounded cool. I attached necklace ball chains to the bottom of pans to get the snare drum sound. I even remember trying to make a foot pedal. My home-made drum set was in the middle of my bedroom, and I’d play along to No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, Operation Ivy, Rancid, local ska bands (Metro Stylee, Channel 59) and 311 records. Haha. I even started a ska band with my girlfriends playing that drum set. None of the girls I knew played any instruments but we were all into the Ska scene in Long Island. We knew this guy, Scooter, from shows who played guitar. He came over with his electric guitar and amp and none of my friends actually sang and I was sitting on the floor hitting pots and pans with wooden spoons. My mom made us tacos and we never had band practice again.

Tom Tom Magazine: Why did you start playing the drums?

Angie Boylan: I was drawn to drums as a child. As my parents recall, I was constantly tapping. I always had a beat in my head and always loved music. My brother had an acoustic guitar that he bought at a garage sale. I used to play around with that because there was no drum kit. But after years of begging and convincing, that finally changed.

Photo by Maggie Owsley

Tom Tom Magazine: How did you get so awesome?

Angie Boylan: When I finally got a kit at 15 years old, I joined a band immediately so I was forced to play a lot. We were in Junior High and would practice at Tim’s mom’s house in West Hempstead like 3 times a week. After school my mom would pick up Matt and I and drive us to practice. We had nothing better to do and playing in a band and hanging with the boys was a dream come true for me. At home I would play along to Saves The Day’s “Can’t Slow Down” and Lifetime’s “Hello Bastards.” So I don’t know about “awesome,” but that’s definitely how I got fast!

Tom Tom Magazine: How long did it take til you felt like a “real” and legit drummer?

Angie Boylan: The day I got a drum set, I felt like a legit drummer. I could be in a band and play shows. I was determined to be considered a DRUMMER – not a “female drummer.” I wanted to be as good as all the boys. Nowadays I feel less like a “real” drummer. I am self-taught so I don’t really know techniques, etc. For example, I think it was you, Mindy, who first introduced me to rudiments 2 years ago in our Drum class at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. I was co-teaching, but I felt like I learned just as much as the kids!

Tom Tom Magazine: Ha! Funny …What is your favorite set-up for your kit? Why?

Angie Boylan: Whatever requires the least amount of heavy lifting if possible. But I play a Gretch Catalina Club Mod. I got it because I found a good deal and I love how the bass drum sounds. Besides that, one rack, one crash, ride, high hat, floor tom, snare. Maybe the occasional cowbell or tamborine. Ya know, the basics.

Photo by Maggie Owsley

TTM: What would your dream kit consist of?

AB: I’m not very picky. But I’d like to be exposed to different drums. I think I can play any drum kit.

TTM: What is your favorite style to play?

AB: I like to play music that challenges me and makes me become a better drummer. Usually this is accomplished by playing with Rachel Rubino (Bridge and Tunnel, Each Other’s Mothers). Math rock? I also love punk or anything fast.

TTM: What do you do to get better at the drums?

AB: Don’t stop playing drums! Practice. Expose yourself to different styles of music. Play with a lot of different musicians. Go to shows and zone in on drummers. Listen to and dissect the drums in music.

TTM: What is your favorite drum warm-up?

AB: I don’t really warm up. I guess I’ll play some fast punk beats to get the blood flowing and to test out the kit. But I’m usually ready to go at all times.

TTM: What do you think the role of the drummer is?

AB: The role of the drummer is to keep the time. Also: to compliment the other musicians and to be dynamic, tasteful, and creative.

Photo by Maggie Owsley

TTM: Do you play any other instruments? If so … how does that effect your drumming?

AB: I play guitar, too. It only affects my drumming when I’m not playing drums because I’m playing guitar.

TTM: What do you consider to be the most challenging thing about the drums?

AB: Now that I’ve been introduced to the wild world of rudiments and other techniques, it has been really hard for me to change the way I play and to pretty much go back to square one and practice these things. I’ve been holding the sticks the same way for 10 years. It’s not easy to change bad habits.

TTM: What’s your favorite part about playing drums?

AB: Being loud! Adreneline rush!

TTM: Most notable show you ever played?

AB: House shows are usually the most memorable and fun shows. Probably shows at the Rudich Ranch in Pennsylvania are my favorite; kids are really psyched there and there’s always a big feast. Can’t beat the free home-cooking. One of my all time fave shows was about 3 years ago in a New Brunswick basement. It was the last night of Each Other’s Mothers’ tour with Cara Beth Satalino and it was the fateful night I met my living soul mates, Screaming Females, who headlined. Hunchback and The Pot and the Kettle (Kickball Katy and Ali Koehler of Vivian Girls) also played. Cheeky at the Fest in Gainesville last year was also pretty prime.

Photo by Maggie Owsley

TTM: Have you experienced any setbacks as a female drummer?

AB: I don’t really think I have. Not that I know of I guess. I’ve heard comments of course. The “you’re pretty good for a girl,” “I didn’t know girls could play drums,” “You’re like the only hard-hitting girl drummer.” Other comments of sheer stupidity. The main setback was primarily caused by myself and the pressures of society!!! When I was in 4th grade and had to choose an instrument to play in Band class, I wanted to play drums so badly! But I chickened out. I didn’t want to be the only girl playing drums; I didn’t want to be different. So I played Clarinet. My band teacher called me the Drummer-Wannabe because at Clarinet practice I would be sitting at the drum set with sticks in my hand.  I still regret not playing drums back then.

TTM: Who are your favorite drummers?

AB: Zach Hill, Dan Kleffman, Gordon from Iron Chic, Tre Cool, Dave Grohl, Chris Enriquez, Tom from Encrypt Manuscript, Janet Weiss, Jenn Shag. A lot of drummers WOW me. There are so many, it’s hard to keep track. But these are some that have definitely influenced me over the years. This list also reminded me that as a teen, I really wasn’t exposed to many female drummers that I liked. I knew about Sleater-Kinney, and thought they ruled. But for the most part, I didn’t like a lot of all-girl bands. Not until my early 20s did I come across a lot of all-girl bands that I was into.

TTM: If you could change one thing about the drums what would it be?

AB: I wish they could be more accessible. I think a lot more people would play drums if they didn’t take up so much space, weren’t so expensive, and you could play them without disturbing everyone on your block. But if you love drums, you make it work somehow.

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 …)

AB: I give personal drum lessons occasionally. Hit me up! I also volunteer at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls every summer as a Drum Instructor and Band Coach.

TTM: Where do you shop for your drum gear?

AB: Craig’s List or like where-ever has the deals. Sometimes the Long Island Drum Center has a buy one cymbal – get one cymbal free deal. That’s what’s up. I try to buy sticks in bulk, too.

TTM: Best piece of advice you got as a drummer?

AB: Shorter, faster, louder!

TTM: What would you recommend to a new drummer starting off / advice for new drummers?

AB: Practice consistently and have fun when you play! Try to play stuff you don’t think you can play.

TTM: What are some of your other hobbies/interests?

AB: I like to read. I’m really into graphic novels and, lately, short stories. I write a lot. Stuff that I usually don’t want anyone to read. Just for myself mostly. I like biking. I love pups. I want to travel and tour and have health insurance. Haha.

TTM: Who are some of your favorite lady drummers right now?

AB: Jenn Shag, Lisa from Kickball, Evelyn Glennie, Christina Bouza, Mindy, Kathi Ko, Krista Ciminera, Maggie Owsley, La Frae, Caryn Havlik, Janet Weiss, Melissa York, Sara Lund.

TTM: Who are some of your favorite bands right now?

AB: Screaming Females, Mika Miko, Carnal Knowledge, Thousandaires, Witches, Dead Dog, Brainworms, Algernon Cadwallader, Good Luck, Songs for Moms, Marked Men, Kaki King, probably a lot more I’m forgetting right now.

TTM: What are your plans for the future?

AB: I want to live a lifestyle that allows me to focus on music and to prioritize bands. I want to tour a lot and see the world, but I also want to have a home to come back to.

– Tom Tom Magazine

Exclusive photos by Maggie Owlsey & Jee Young Sim (photo of Angie at top of article)

Exclusive interviews by Angie Boylan & Mindy Abovitz

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1 Comment

  1. “I play guitar, too. It only affects my drumming when I’m not playing drums because I’m playing guitar.”

    hahaha, best answer.

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