Moms on Drums: Part 1

For those of you who picked up Issue 4 of Tom Tom Magazine you already got a glimpse into the mystery that is a pregnant drummer. It exonerates the condition of the female drummer to the fullest (mostly because a male drummer would just NEVER have to deal with such a thing). So read this article about Sasha Lawless, one out of four, that illustrates the why, the how, and the wonder of drumming while pregnant.

Location: Baltimore, MD, United States
Band: Mzery Loves Company
Baby due: August, 2010
Drums: Pearl and Ludwig drums, Remo heads. Zildjian cymbals

Billing themselves as “the anti all-girl band,” Mzery Loves Company kick out a compelling blend of hiphop and heavy rock. Backing up emcee Mzery are guitarist Ladie Clair, bassist Lizzie and drummer Sasha. Sasha manages a busy touring schedule, a family life with her partner and ten-year-old son, music education work with young girls in Washington DC, and a new baby on the way, all without missing a beat.

TomTomMagazine: Hey Sasha — first of all, huge congratulations!

SashaLawless: Thanks for the congrats.

TTM: So could we start with just some background info about your drumming (when did you start, what bands have you been in?) and your current band?

SL: I fooled around with drums from middle school. In college I got really serious. I didn’t play with any specific bands until I started working with my current band Mzery Loves Company in 2007. One day it just occurred to me that I could probably use my talent to play with other people. Before that, I swear, playing with other people -like in a band- was something that never occurred to me. I just never thought about taking my talent outside of the basement.   The reason is because I didn’t necessarily care for working on the ‘frontline’. After college I started a music publishing / indie label called The Blok Records with my partner O.Liver [who’s also an emcee]. I really like working the behind the scenes part of the music business. It’s so intriguing.

TTM: How did MLC get together?

SL: In terms of MLC there are four of us: Mzery is the emcee, Liz is the bassist. Ladie Clair is the guitarist. And I am the drummer. We got together because Mzery decided to expand her solo emcee/rap career and add in a band. So we all found each other through the magic of low and high technology: MySpace, Craigslist, word of mouth.

TTM: Did you feel shy about getting out from behind the scenes and up on stage?

SL: I could care less about the stage. I don’t hate it or anything, It’s just that being a ‘frontman’ isn’t my dream job. That’s why being a drummer is good because I can chill behind my kit while still being a part of the action.

TTM: So this is your first child, am I right?  When are you expecting?

SL: No, it’s my second child. My first son is 10 years old. But it is the first child I have while still playing in a band. I am due August 21, 2010.

TTM: Has it been daunting to be playing drums while pregnant?  Have you had to adapt your playing or touring schedule?

SL: It hasn’t been daunting per se, it’s just being a new experience, because there is no definitive stance on whether drumming while pregnant is totally OK or totally not OK. Everyone has an opinion. I don’t think the actual drumming is questioned [everyone knows not to carry heavy equipment or anything like that] – I think the issue of how much noise is too much noise. Cuz as you know, being on stage is really loud. Even practicing is really loud.

TTM: Have you taken any specific advice about noise levels and hearing protection for the baby?

SL: We changed up a little to accommodate some things – but what we really changed was the sets [not the gigs all together]. The main change was I didn’t do background vocals anymore. At first it was because every time I opened my mouth vomit came out. Later it just became a case of not exerting myself too much, and drumming and singing at the same time is kinda exertion.  The only change I would say I did was take out certain songs and shorten the set time. I thought about wearing something or doing something to muffle the sound but I couldn’t really think of a way to muffle sound? Like what could I tie or put around my entire stomach that would stay during a set?

TTM: So how is your current gigging and touring schedule?

SL: We have really slowed our schedule down but the reason is because we are working on our next album so we are spending a lot of time in the studio. By slow down I mean, we used to do 2-4 gigs a week, usually every week. Now we do about one a week.   By mid-June or early July we’re going to stop gigging altogether. I need to chill for a minute and get my head together for motherhood so many years after the first time. I gotta see if I still remember the basics of babies.

TTM: That’s still quite a schedule! Do you find the baby responds when you are drumming?

SL: That’s why I can’t stop gigging either-even when I say Im going to stop [I was going to stop in May but I changed my mind] — because this baby likes to rock out. Babies even know how to kick and move with the beat of whatever I’m playing. It’s cute. There is a time in early pregnancy where you can’t feel movement that well [baby too small] and you are in between doctor’s visits so you worry, but the baby would always move when I played so it was like good reassurance.

TTM: How do you think your drumming career will change after the baby arrives?

SL: I don’t think it will change that much. Just like it is now with my older son, it’s all a matter of scheduling.  O.Liver and I have a studio and practice space in my home so I don’t have to go anywhere for practice. And I’ll just schedule gigs accordingly. If I can’t do it [no babysitter, cranky baby] then I just won’t schedule the gig. It’s not too hard to be a grownup and be in a band. I will also probably get ear plugs for the baby.  Just in case the ‘thump-thump’ from the bass gets too loud during practice.

TTM: What advice would you give to other pregnant drummers?

SL: First piece of advice would be ‘don’t listen to me, what do I know?’  Second piece would be: listen to your body/baby. Don’t be stupid. Don’t carry your heavy or cumbersome equipment [make your bandmates and roadies carry stuff]. Drink more water than you would normally drink. The first problem most pregnant women have is they get dehydrated and think it is something worse. If it doesn’t feel right – throne uncomfortable, body hurts, something doesn’t feel right – then STOP.  Also, the beat and the band will go on. I worried a little bit that my band would be all sexist and misogynistic and try to kick me out for being pregnant. Then I decided I didn’t care cuz babies are so cool. But they worked around me just as I work around them when their schedules or head colds or whatever changes the schedule. So it’s all good. The beat goes on.

TTM: How close are you and your bandmates?  You didn’t know each other before forming MLC, right?

SL: Nope we didn’t know each other. But we spend so much time together we are extremely close. One of us talks to at least one of the other of us everyday [even if it’s by text or Facebook or something.] You know being on the road makes anyone close [either close they hate each other or close they love each other – but close nonetheless].

TTM: Are you self-taught or did you study drums with a teacher?  Who would be some of your influences as a drummer?

SL: Overall I am self taught. That comes out often cuz I don’t know all the tricks of drummers better than I. I just keep a solid beat and do what I think is a good idea. But I did have a drum instructor a while ago to help me get my technique tight.

TTM: In terms of the hiphop/rock crossover in your music, do you take more influence from programmed beats/loops (as heard in a lot of hiphop tracks), or from rock drumming?

SL: I’m from DC so the whole genre of ‘Go-Go’ music influences me greatly. The ‘knock’ common to go-go music is found often in my playing. I like a lot of drummers and hate making the ‘who do I like’ list because the list is really long, cuz I take something from so many people. I even like drummers for their philosophies on drumming too. Rather than just the way they play. I am a Rock girl for real. I am AC/DC in my head. Hip Hop is great and I love that we crossover. But I actually have the hardest time doing hip-hop or any ‘loops’ because loops mean it’s the same thing every bar and I like to be all over the place sometimes. But I practice to hip-hop, R&B, jazz, rock. I like to take influence from all genres.

TTM: Could you explain what the Go-Go “knock” is?

SL: Yeah, Go-Go is only known in the DC area. And the farther out in Maryland or Virginia you go -even they haven’t heard of it. But it’s very, very popular in the area [so popular it makes it hard for other genres to get a foothold in DC, cuz Go-Go is what the kids wanna hear at the clubs]. Take an old-school Go-Go artist like Chuck Brown [Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers] there is a knock in the music that comes from the drum kit playing alongside the congas playing alongside the cowbells. I can’t really explain it though, it’s ingrained in the music.   Just like metal it gets a little ‘much’ if you listen to it too much but it’s so percussion heavy it’s a good thing to hear.

TTM: Have you experienced any negativity from audiences or other musicians, as a female drummer?

SL: Heck yeah. People know us now so it doesn’t happen locally so much anymore [it still happens when we go to a new place though]. Our whole band is all-female so we get it on all sides. Girls can’t do hip-hop. Girls can’t do rock. Girls MOST CERTAINLY can’t play drums. At first dudes use to come up to me after gigs and try to give me advice. I finally started giving them advice right back and they realized I wasn’t new to this, so leave me alone [they know good and well they wouldn’t go up to a male drummer and start giving unsolicited [and usually incorrect] advice after a set. But we get the most problems from females. It’s all in a day’s work though.

TTM: When you say you get the most problems from females — what form does this take?  Most other drummers I have spoken to have had more issues from men than women — I’m wondering if problems with female attitudes may be specific to you working in hiphop?

SL: Yes I think it does have a lot to do with hip-hop. Sometimes we get girls who are like “Girl power! It is so awesome that you are female musicians.” And sometimes we get girls who are like “Eff you!  Who do you think you are?  You are supposed to be showing breast and sitting in the background!” But men give us problems too. And they give us ‘hip-hop’ problems too. Girls can’t rap you must remember [that’s me being sarcastic].

TTM: I didn’t realize girl rappers got a lot of the same kind of criticism as girl drummers — that they “can’t” do it.

SL: You know who is always supportive of us though? Young girls. They are so inspired and amazed to see girl musicians. It’s so great. My band does non-profit work with young girls.  We work with girls after school or in Southeast DC public schools. We are trying to get grants to make it a bigger deal.

TTM: That is great to hear — I think it’s so important for the young girls to have female musicians championing them and making them feel like they can do this.

SL: Me too. Cuz they can.

Jane Boxall has always loved hitting things.  Originally from the UK, she moved to America in 2004 to study percussion at the University of Illinois.  As a solo marimba artist and a rock drummer, Jane has performed and toured in the US, UK, Italy, Belgium, France and Ireland.  She plays and endorses Coe Percussion marimbas and Vic Firth sticks and mallets. —

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