Watching Kaylee Preston drum behind Chicago psychedelic art-rock outfit Rabble Rabble is like standing ringside at a boxing match between Animal and the Tasmanian Devil. Kaylee is a blur of energy. When she hits, she hits hard. When she isn’t touring or performing with Rabble Rabble or The Cathy Santonies, Kaylee can be found sharing her skills at Girls Rock Chicago, showing the next generation how to thrash properly.
-By Jasmine Dreame Wagner
Full name: Kaylee Preston
Nick name:Gaylee Breaston, The Rock, Cherry Mischief
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Lives in: Chicago, IL
Current bands: Rabble Rabble
Past bands: The Cathy Santonies
Day job: Nanny
Tom Tomagazine: When did you begin playing the drums? What was your first kit like?
Kaylee Preston: Although I begged for drums since I could speak, I got my first set of drums when I was 14 for my 8th grade graduation. The kit was a “Coda,” which I understand to be a first kit for many drummers. It was fully equipped with tooth-pick-thin cymbal stands, drum heads that couldn’t keep a tune, and a ringy, gnarly-sounding steel snare. I brought the set home after my dad paid the $250 and played. I wanted to be a rock drummer, so I listened to rock music and mimicked it. Listening to Ringo Starr was a big help for me by providing me with simple, solid rock ‘n’ roll beats to jam on. I’ve always loved Led Zeppelin, namely for the drumming of John Bonham. As I began to get the hang of keeping a beat, I started to learn Led Zep songs like “What is and What Should Never Be,” “Immigrant Song,” and “Bring it on Home.”
Tom Tom Magazine: Describe the kit you play today.
Kaylee Preston: The set I play now I bought brand new just last February with my high school graduation money. I’m slowly building my dream set, it’s not done, but it’s oh so close! It’s a Gretsch Catalina Rock Club, 16″ x 14″ floor, 12″ x 8″ rack, 14″ x 5 1/2″ snare and a 22″ x 20″ bass drum, which, by the way, is a bitch and a half to get into my little Corolla. The deep bass drum is strong and loud, though, so I carry it happily. I play on K’s for hi-hats, an A-custom 20″ ride, a Z-custom 18″ crash and an A-Custom 18″ crash. Rivers Cuomo of Weezer signed the A-custom crash when I did the “Sound Opinions” radio show on NPR with him and The Cathy Santonies earlier this year, which I think is nifty, I like to think it makes the cymbal even sound a little better.
TTM: How would you describe your drumming style?
KP: My drumming style is kind of hard to classify. First and foremost I’m a rock drummer, but then there’s punk and jazz influence. I was in jazz band in high school for two years. I love hip-hop, I’m definitely very influenced by hip hop beats, I like to play groovy funk drums, although I wish I were better at it, and I would love to be a metal drummer someday. I’m currently working out the kinks in my double-bass pedal playing, making my feet move faster. To sum it up, I like to play beats that make people move and that make my head bang.
TTM: Are there any percussionists out there that you look up to for guidance or inspiration?
KP: As I said, Bonham was, and is, my biggest inspiration to beat the ever-loving shit out of my drums every time I sit down in front of them. I’m also a big fan of Christopher “Pow Pow” Powell of this awesome group out of Philly called Man Man, who plays his set sometimes while shaking a stuffed rat with some kind of shaker in it. Shannon Lucas, who drums for metal bands like Black Dahlia Murder and All That Remains, is a huge inspiration for me to master the art of the double bass pedal. I appreciate and respect all drummers and percussionists who emanate good rhythm and vibes, so I kind of take inspiration from all live musical performances that I have the privilege of seeing.
TTM: Your playing is powerful, but intricate and fluid. How do you feed your strength and endurance?
KP: I love sweatin’! Being active and spry is extremely important to me, so I don’t ever skimp on the energy when playing drums, whether in front of people or by myself. So I guess I feed my strength and endurance by never stopping. The fact that I get inspired so easily and from so many things also drives me constantly to be better and to challenge myself with new techniques or more speed.
TTM: Is there anything, any song, exercise, or beat that you practice regularly?
KP: Although I’m not in the band anymore, I still enjoy playing “Friend/Revolution” by The Cathy Santonies when I’m just messin’ around on a set. Except I play it twice as fast, which is twice as nice. As for the beats I’m playing now, you’ll catch me working on 16th note beats of all different kinds, probably pretty fast, but not fast enough obviously because I’m working on my speed.
TTM: Have you ever encountered any obstacles or setbacks in your drumming, and if so, how have you worked to overcome them?
KP: To be honest, I feel like every damn day I find a new obstacle or problem with my drumming, and the solution is always practice, practice, practice. It’s mostly just me being a perfectionist, but that’s how you gain skill at anything. You find something that could use a little work, and you give it a little work. It’s also important to surround yourself with drummers, namely those who have a few more skills down than you do so that you can go to them for pointers.
TTM: How long have you lived in Chicago? What’s it like playing music there?
KP: I’ve never lived anywhere else! I love it, I don’t know if I could ever call anywhere else home. Because there are so many talented musicians and groups coming out of this city, playing music in Chicago can be kind of competitive. There’s also no one genre that dominates Chicago’s music scene, it’s incredibly diverse. I have my favorite bars and venues to play, the Empty Bottle and the Whistler are my personal favorites. There are also a lot of great DIY venues, like the Ottoman Empire, the Mopery, Locked Out, and Box Social, that hold shows out of their basement or first floor. These DIY shows are fun to play and a hip happenin’ place to see local or touring bands.
TTM: Tell me about your experience with Girls Rock Chicago. What you do find to be most satisfying about teaching?
KP: Girls Rock! Chicago was awesome. Seeing those young girls kick ass and rock out on stage at the Metro gives me a reason to think positively about women being recognized more and more as capable rock-n-rollers in the future. Because I personally didn’t start playing until I was in my teens, I recognize the advantage of starting to learn how to play a musical instrument at an early age. By the time these girls are my age, I think it’s pretty reasonable to expect that they’ll be a breed of super-rockers that play bangin’ shows and release platinum records.
The satisfying part about teaching is seeing first hand how much the girls enjoy playing drums. I would be so inspired after I left each lesson that I’d find myself rushing to a drum set to play or calling the boys from Rabble Rabble for an impromptu jam session. They want to learn, and when they do learn something, they play it with a “look-at-me-and-my-bad-self” attitude. It’s just great to see kids so dedicated to something that directs my life.
TTM: Do you have any rituals that you follow before playing shows or touring?
KP: Before shows I stretch my legs, my neck, my back, my arms, and my wrists. I’ve just found that if I don’t stretch, I’m much too tense when I play, and that ends up slowing me down or causing me some kind of annoying pain.
As far as touring goes, how does one possibly prepare for the metal anguish in store? Haha only kidding, I suppose the only ritual I do before going off on tour is to shower constantly. I literally shower 2-3 times a day before tour because I know that when I’m on the road, I’ll be dirty and living out of a van everyday!
TTM: Do you have any tips for fellow lady drummers about to embark on tour?
KP: Bring plenty of reading materials, music to listen to, journals to write in, or other activities that keep you sane, because you’ll need them. Tour life can be very trying, try to keep your head together and remember why you’re on the road – to play great shows and promote your band. I took all the negative energy I had built up from fretting while on the road and let it all out on my poor drums at every show on tour. Just remember to stay focused and do the damn thing!
TTM: Who are you listening to right now?
KP: I’ve been bumping a lot of hip-hop out of my car these days, Lil’ Wayne, Ludacris, Chicago’s own Mic Terror, my buddy JThunder’s mash-ups. I’ve also been listening to anything and everything put out by John the Savage, this great band from Milwaukee, WI who play pirate-punk-gypsy-rock. Natural Child, a punk band out of Nashville, TN, are great to listen to, along with Jeff the Brotherhood, a two-piece pop-punk band also from Nashville. The new Gorillaz album was a treat recently. The oldies-but-goodies are always on in my car too, like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, standard stuff.
TTM: What’s in store for you next?
KP: Ooooh what a question. Well, playing with Rabble Rabble is pretty permanent for as long as the boys can put up with me. We’re releasing our first full length album, Bangover this coming August, on CD and vinyl, then going on a three-week tour in July, which I’m extremely stoked about. As far as my personal drumming plans, I’m gonna keep trying to get a little faster and funkier every day and keep an open mind when it comes to fun and weird side projects!