Jessica has played in bands from Washington D.C. to Texas. Growing up a pianist/guitarist, she’s also a fantastic singer with gongs to prove it. Although she was always drawn to percussion, Jessica initially felt shy about taking up the drums, intimidated by all the gear involved, she didn’t know any other “chick drummers”. Luckily, the availability of an ex’s room-mate’s drum kit allowed Jessica to come out of her shell as a hard-hitting drummer, and before too long she was drumming front-and-center with a Houston trio, skyblue72. While singing about butterflies, Jessica and husband Jason Zoller expect a baby girl in March.
-By Jane Boxall
Drummer: Jessica Zweback Zoller
Location: Houston, Texas
Due: March 19, 2010
Drums: 1970s Ludwig Vistalites and a custom snare by Mark Brown
TTM: So first of all, congratulations on your little drummer on the way. Do you know if you’re expecting a boy or a girl at this point?
JZZ: Thanks! Yep, it’s a girl!
TTM: And is she your first?
JZZ: Yes ma’am. Do you have kids?
TTM: Not yet. But part of my interest in doing this interview series was wondering what lady drummers do while pregnant – can you play?
JZZ: Hell yeah you can play! I’ve done a good bit of research on the subject. The deal is, supposedly, that when the baby gets to be about 26 weeks or so, they develop a stronger sense of hearing. So that was about the point that I decided just to tone it down a bit – not to stop playing, but just not to beat the shit out of the drums, you know?
TTM: So would you say the baby needs more protection from decibel levels than from the actual physical action of you drumming?
JZZ: Yes. For sure. Because I am also a yoga teacher and I still practice yoga every day. You just have to listen to your body and make adjustments based on how you are feeling. I really didn’t start drumming professionally until after I starting practicing yoga. My body awareness and focus really increased and I believe that my yoga, the breath awareness, everything, informs my drumming and allows me to play the way I do. Also, to tag onto what we were talking about before, I can pretty much tell now when I think something is stressing the baby, like loud sounds, weird vibes, etc. So I won’t expose her to that stuff. I mean as much as I am capable of doing that.
TTM: I noticed you set the kit up lefty, but play a lot (or mainly) open-handed, so it’s your right hand mostly keeping the hi-hat beat. Was this a conscious decision? I wonder if it might come from a guitarist background, using your strumming hand for beat-keeping on the hi-hat?
JZZ: Yeah, my set-up is totally wack. I am primarily left handed naturally. I started playing drums right handed, though. Just a normal set-up. Then I hurt my right leg and couldn’t use the kick with my right foot for a while so I switched feet and wound up keeping the cymbals and snare on the right, and it just seemed to feel good to me! So I kept it that way. I’ll play straight lefty or righty set-up sometimes just for practice and coordination, but I usually just end up coming back to my own weird set-up.
TTM: When you are singing, especially, how much do you think of the drums as a melodic instrument?
JZZ:. I do think of my rhythmic patterns in a very melodic way, I guess. Often when I’m singing the drums end up being an extension of that, so they end up working as an extension of the melody.
TTM: I think my favorite quote from your website was something about you “singing about butterflies while hitting the drums very hard”! Where do you find lyrical inspiration?
JZZ: Lyrical inspiration, well…usually I write lyrics when I’m dealing with difficult emotions. Transitions. Trying to make sense of life. The title of our 2nd (most recent) record is Feel My Way Home. Which I feel sort of sums up the vibe of what we’re trying to say on that record pretty well. It’s about opening up to your spirit, feeling what is true for you, and moving in a direction that is positive and healing and growth-promoting, spirit-enlivening. That’s what inspires me. Experiences that delight my spirit.
TTM: I’m assuming pregnancy is one of the big transitions in life. Have you drawn any musical or lyrical inspiration from being pregnant?
JZZ: You know, since I’ve been pregnant I have not been writing much at all. I keep telling myself that my body is creating the ultimate work of art, so it’s OK if I’m not really inspired to write. Making a baby feels like it’s taking up most of my creative juice! I don’t know that it’s like that for everyone though.
TTM: How was your last show before maternity leave?
JZZ: Our gig in December was just so much fun. We had lots of friends and supporters come out and we just had a great feeling, energetic show. We had some guest musicians, too. Our friend and one of my favorite drummers in the world, Richard Cholokian, played with us. Because I just wasn’t sure how I’d be feeling by the time that show came around, we rehearsed with Richard, so for many of the songs, he played drums and I just got to sing. For some songs, we played together, which was totally fun and a great experience. We really played off of each other, and he is just a phenomenal drummer and spirit, so it was a great time. We also had a guest sax player, James Murphy, who ripped it on a few songs. That was special too. And at the end of the show, I got quite emotional! I mean, I’m always pretty emotional, so you can imagine that with all of those hormones amping up I am even more so (my poor sweet husband).
TTM: Since that last gig, are you drumming at all, or truly just taking some time off?
Did anyone actively advise you against drumming up until December once you knew you were pregnant?
JZZ: I’ve been playing some. Not out though. My doctor said it was totally cool, that I could keep playing until I gave birth, just like any other kind of exercise! But I just felt that it was the super loudness of how my band plays that started to feel like it was too much for me and the baby. Like if we were a more mellow type of band, I honestly would probably still be playing out.
TTM: It sounds like your life was pretty jam-packed with social work, band, marriage… do you have any idea how the balance of your time will be different once the baby arrives?
JZZ: I definitely plan on being a drumming mom! And I hope my little lady will want to play too! Of course it will be her choice, but I would love it. I am excited to see how everything falls into place once the baby comes. I know I’m gonna take time off initially just to be with her and be a mom, but when it feels right I definitely want to keep pursuing the things that are meaningful to me: music, yoga, social work in whatever capacity.