Lelah from TacocaT

Minka Sicklinger_ Tom Tom Magazine_ female drummers

On a hot night last summer in Brooklyn, I pogoed and sweated with my friends to the salty-sweet tunes of Seattle’s TacocaT. The band first came to my attention when I read and article written by the bassist, Bree McKenna, for The Stranger. It’s about the different ways journalists approach writing about bands with women in them vs. bands with men in them.

Lelah_ TacocaT_ Tom Tom Magazine_ female drummers

My friends and I were eager to see TacocaT play, especially after reading a description that claimed they were like the Monkees crossed with the Go-Go’s. When they hit the stage, we hit the dance floor. Yes, it is possible to write fun, pop punk songs about UTIs and Toxic Shock Syndrome. Thanks, TacocaT!

I had the privilege of interviewing the drummer Lelah who reveals her family connection to drumming and the importance of drum-borines, throne height, and cats.


Tom Tom: How did you start playing drums? Do you play other instruments?

Lelah: I started playing when I was 15. I was friends with this girl from school in our small town and we would hang out at her place a lot because her parents were “cool.” I don’t know how her dad knew who I was, but he asked me one day if I was “Steve’s daughter.” My dad was apparently a big deal drum dude in Longview, Washington, but I never knew that. He’d died when I was really young of a heroin overdose. Cris, my friend’s dad, was/is the big deal drum dude in Longview then/now. When I told him that was my dad, by golly, he asked me to come to the drum zone behind the house and play. He said he’d bought my dad’s kit after he died in 1990. It was very weird. I was terrified. I didn’t know how to play anything. He just told me to sit down. And play. And I did. It was a lot easier than I thought. He gave me free lessons after that for quite awhile. As for other instruments, I don’t play any of them very well. I own an acoustic guitar and a bass. I played the bass in a TacocaT side project called “The Sallie Maes.” We had a few shows. Very fun. The guitar, I just can’t seem to grasp, or put my finger on, or some other pun.

Are there any drummers who inform your style of playing? Do you ever get compared to other drummers?

I don’t necessarily take notes or try to learn from one specific drummer. I write down songs that have drum fills or parts that I want to employ. One of my drummer goals is to be able to play every song on Green Day’s album Dookie. I have a friend who does it well; he’s going to teach me. I’ve had people tell me that I play like Tommy Ramone and Ringo. For reals! People have said this to me. It’s an incredible compliment. How does that happen? I love Tommy and Ringo so much.

Is there a particular piece of equipment that you could never live without?

I’ve played on lots of kits. Every one is different; they all have their own feel. Kind of like driving different cars. One thing that I have to have if I’m going to drive someone else’s drums is the right seat. Gotta move the seat up, the owner’s too tall! Or whatever. I just need the drum throne to be at the right height. If not, things get wild. I also really like playing with a drum-borine. Or “hat trick,” my first one was called. Bree bought me a cowbell for Christmas. I’m working on making that essential.

Who or what inspires you as a musician?

Other musicians. Music. Fun. I used to watch a lot of old Carpenters videos to check out Karen. She was such a bad ass. Music and art are in an everlasting battle for my heart. Sometimes I declare a winner. Sometimes it’s music. Sometimes art. I guess they go together. Why the battle?

How did you become a member of TacocaT? How did the band start?

Bree wanted her friends to come jam. Bree has been the driving force behind a lot of creative projects for me, personally. She’s a cool motivator. Back then, she had access to this practice space somehow. So for fun, she’d invite people down to jam all the time. I guess we kinda got a groove going with me and her and Eric. We were just playing around and had a few different friends who would play and sing with the three of us. When we wanted to get a little more serious and actually form a band, we knew there was something missing. I suggested Emily. We got her down there ASAP. It was perfect.

How do you guys write the songs?

They come out in different ways. Used to be we’d all just get messed up in the practice space and jam out. Have a good ol’ time. Usually a radical song was born. We’ve been considering employing this method again but these days, Bree or Eric will come up with a tune and then usually just the two of us will work it out for a bit and go from there. Emily is our lyrical genius, but we all make contributions there as well. We feel like the best songs come out with a kiss from everyone. We’re all very creative people.

What do you think makes TacocaT unique?

Maybe this is trite or delusional or something, but I really don’t think we sound that much like any other band. We definitely get compared to lots of bands, and I think the comparisons are apt, but we have a lot of different influences. They keep things interesting. I think mixing up male and female musicians is a pretty solid recipe for more original sounding music, too. Everyone in TacocaT is a Libra except me. I am a Gemini. Lennon-McCartney? Libra-Gemini. It’s in the stars. Also, we’re best friends.

What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened onstage?

Remember how the drum throne means so much to me? In an attempt to remedy a short-throne situation one cooler-of-beer night at [the Seattle venue] the Funhouse, I put a whole bunch of stuff on top of it. I can’t even remember what it was now. Needless to say, I fell off mid-song. There was another show, I believe also at the Funhouse, where I ended probably half our songs after the second chorus. I just stopped playing. I have no idea why. And it kept happening. Kind of embarrassing. Kind of funny. Oh god, we played this bizzarro show in Chico, California, I think. Eric had this friend who set it up, a real wildcard. Back then we did a cover of NoBunny’s “I Am a Girlfriend.” To mix things up, I would sing and Emily would play the drums. Because NoBunny always performs in his underwear, I’d also do the cover in my underwear, sometimes. We were pretty lubed up that night, so I did. This inspired the wildcard. He promptly pantsed Eric while we were playing. But that wasn’t enough. The rest of the set was an incredible struggle between Eric and the wildcard for his boxer briefs. I remember him writhing on the stage, butt-crack everywhere. In the end, the undies stayed on, but barely. He even managed to play most of the song while kicking and rolling around. In the end, the ‘roos were too ripped up to be salvaged.

What do you find yourself thinking about when you’re drumming?

Hahahaha. This is funny. During practice if I mess up a lot, Eric will ask me, “what are you thinking about, because it’s not the drums?” It’s weird where you mind goes when you’re in the zone. Or where the zone goes when you’re in your mind. If I am trying to focus, I count a lot. If I’m not, I’m thinking about my life I guess. Mistakes I probably made. What I want to say to someone. Whoever I might be dating. Or maybe I’m just hungry. If we’re playing a show, I enter a different mind zone. I try to stay focused on the moment. I try to remind myself to smile (probably ingrained from high school cheerleading days, which I am no longer ashamed to admit). I try to make some eye contact with the crowd. Or really take account of what my bandmates are doing onstage. If it’s a real awkward show, I try to not think about anything and just be silly or something. Oh man, awkward shows.

Which bands/artists would be on the bill of your dream tour?

Oh this is a tough question. But obviously The Beatles, The Ramones and The Beach Boys. Nirvana and Andrew W.K. open.

How do you stay sane when on tour?

Laughing. Everybody in the band is really funny. For reals. When you spend that much time with someone, your communication evolves. We’ve had people tell us on tour that they can’t understand what we’re saying. Or that we’re speaking in our own language. Every day is a new, unpredictable experience. Everything is funny. Also the van. It’s your home, so it’s essential to your sanity. It’s funny when you arrive somewhere after a good 10 hour drive, get out, take a look around, and get right back in the van.

What do you like to do besides play music?

Painting and drawing. I’m always trying to devote more time to that. I’m a wretched procrastinator and all around scatterbrain, so that makes projects and progress difficult. “I’m an ideas man, Michael!” I love good ideas. Silly ideas. Weird ideas. Any kind of project. I’m always trying to mail stuff to friends or start some kind of blog. I have a few that I’ve started that I forget to update later. I want to get into making videos. I take a lot of short ones on tour. I also made simple animated ads for a year or so, so I want to learn more about animation and get some creative projects flowing there. In the summer, I try to go swimming as much as possible.

Which do you like better, cats or tacos?

Cats. Tacos, very good. Cats, much better. I had to kick not one, but two cats off my lap while answering these today. I didn’t want to, but they were making this really hard. Paws all over the place. But they’re great. Always bringing happiness.

If TacocaT was the cast of the Golden Girls, which band member would be which Golden Girl?

This has come up before. In general, I feel like nobody ever really wants to be Blanche. So, I’ll take that bullet. Bree is a great Rose candidate. I’d say we could both be Rose, but no, I’m Blanche. Emily and Sophia? Sure. They have the same hair color and make hilarious witty remarks. Obviously Eric is a dead ringer for Bea Arthur, so that’s a no-brainer.

What’s coming up next for TacocaT — tours, record releases, reality shows? A song penned by Prince?

All of the above. We have got a full length album in the works, and east coast tour in June and hopefully, If we can get a new sweet van in time (RIP Hondassy), a U.S. tour in the fall to go to CMJ. We’re actually having our people get in touch with the artist formally known as, see if he wants to do a collab. Wait, is he formally known as, and now currently known as Prince? Did that happen? Prince, currently or formerly, if you’re reading this, you could never take the place of our man, but let’s go crazy.


— Rebecca DeRosa

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