When most musicians say they have been playing their instrument “forever,” they are exaggerating. But for Chloe, now seventeen and in her twelfth year playing drums in her band, Smoosh, this statement would not be too far from the truth. We think she is the bomb on the drums and had a great time shooting her and her instruments as well. Catch her and her band, Smoosh, live at our Tom Tom Release party.
Tom Tom Magazine: When did you start playing the drums?
Chloe: I was five and I went with my family to a music store called the Trader Musician in Seattle. We were trying to get a violin strung that I had broken by accident. I wandered upstairs and saw all the drum sets. I thought they were so amazing and huge and sparkly. I’d never played drums before, but my sister Asy played piano and wrote some songs. We met Jason McGerr, now the drummer for Death Cab for Cutie, who was working there at the time. He said that if I bought a kit he would give me free drum lessons. We got the kit, but we never got the violin fixed.
When did Smoosh start?
Pretty soon after that. Asy and I started playing at the Seattle Drum School and Jason recorded our first demos for us. Our first album was called “Tomato Mistakes.” That was when I was six. Jason really helped us get our start— we didn’t know how to do anything. We started playing cafes and open mics and then got some shows at the Vera Project in Seattle, which we got a lot of attention for. Sasquatch was also a really big show for us.
Do you like playing with your sisters?
I hate it. Just kidding, I love playing with my sisters! It’s good because we can be really critical with each other, but we don’t take it personally. I think that helps to make sure that all of the songs are the best they can be. For the album we’re working on now, I’m helping a lot more with Asy and her writing. I’m much more involved than before.
How has Smoosh’s songwriting changed over the past twelve years that you’ve been playing together?
Our songwriting has changed so much. It has gone from total randomness to actually being conscious of what we are writing about. Right now we are also doing some more electronic drums and percussion and we’re trying to be more poppy and catchy. We always corrupt our songs by adding way too much, so we’re trying to keep things simple. For me as a drummer, my new style that I’m really obsessed with is sort of made up: African electronic. It’s electronic drums mixed with big Djembe sounds.
You’ve been traveling between New York, Seattle, and Sweden for most of your life, how has traveling around so much influenced your music?
When we moved to Sweden and wrote Withershins the album was really about Sweden and influenced by the countryside where we wrote it— very isolated in a cabin. The songs are kind of dreamy and you need a lot of patience to listen to it. We are going in a different direction for this album because living in Stockholm was much more upbeat. Then here in New York, things are just so crazy with all the different cultures that are here, we’re hearing so much African and jazz music. This inspired us to include a violinist and an upright bassist. I think if we were still in Seattle we wouldn’t have changed much musically. As a musician you need to have a dynamic, sort of mixed-up life in order to keep things interesting so you don’t write the same thing all the time. Location is everything when you’re writing.
Are there any challenges you’ve faced as a young female musician?
I’m a little conflicted when it comes to the girl drummer topic because obviously there are girl drummers and obviously there are male drummers, but we’re all drummers. I think that labeling yourself as a girl drummer or a feminist girl drummer puts you in a separate category. Instead of just trying to be an awesome drummer, you’re distracting the attention from yourself musically and you’re just drawing attention to a fact. I’m a feminist because I believe in women’s rights, but as a drummer, I just believe in good drummers. So I don’t think I’ve encountered any issues because of being a girl drummer but there have been some issues because we’re young. Like when were setting up and doing sound check, people don’t always take us seriously. Hopefully that changes when they see us play and realize that we’re not just some kid rock band that’s going to break up in the next week, you know, that we’ve been playing together for longer than the band we’re opening for. I think it’s a good thing because it challenges us to break away from that pack and be noticed as good musicians.
Do you have any advice for young female drummers?
Find your own style. Be influenced by not just one person but by a lot of different people. Don’t get bigheaded. You should always have someone to look up to who’s way better than you. For me when I was growing up that was Tony Royster. Having him to look up to really encouraged me to try to be as good as him. I never was, but it made me want to keep it up.
Do you have a favorite part about being a drummer?
Just rocking out and going crazy! Drummers can get so into it and go so crazy and the more into it you get the more people appreciate you as a musician. They see that you’re really attached to your instrument and that you’re really feeling it.
Least favorite part?
I don’t like the general set up where drummers are in the back. There’s this band that has the drums and keyboard facing each other and I think it would be so cool if we did that. It would bring a whole new attention to drummers because people don’t even know what’s going on back there but they would miss the drums so much if they were gone. Drums make a song.
You said Smoosh is in the process of making its fourth record. When is that going to come out?
Later this month we want to go to a cabin somewhere to write. It’s too distracting here. We’re totally influenced by the city but we have to get out just to write. We’re going to release it ourselves so the release will probably be sooner than usual, but we don’t know when that’s going to be yet. I’m so excited to be a part of the writing process for this album. I’m also getting into writing my own stuff on Logic. I’ve been doing a lot of percussion and bass stuff and I feel like I could really contribute to the new direction we want to go in with Smoosh.
Do you have any particular topics you want to write about for this album?
Revolution. I went to a lot of the Wall Street protests and I was so inspired there and I really want to write about that. Also Wikileaks, which would be hard to write a whole song about other than if you wrote about how good-looking Julian Assange is (laughing). Also the digital matrix, you know, all the digital devices and how it’s kind of changed people. A lot of people just think that we overuse computers and that people should be going out and doing real things or reading a book but there’s so much more to it than that. Using a computer is basically the same things as reading a book; they’re both virtual realities and I probably learn more online than I do in books. But it is sad that we’re getting used to writing in twitter-style and that people now have really short attention spans and need instant entertainment. But that’s just the way it is and musicians can’t be stragglers—there are ways we can use all of this to our advantage, like releasing your album online for free or using YouTube and Twitter. We just need to go with the flow.
Here is a feature we ran in Issue 8 of Tom Tom about Chloes musical toys:
Sophie Rae is a writer and musician from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founding editor of Grrrl Beat, an online magazine about feminism and music, and the singer/guitarist in Care Bears on Fire and Claire’s Diary.
Photos for Tom Tom by Diane Russo