l-r: Christina, Jenny, Elissa (photo by: Veronica Ortuño)
There’s much to be said for women who own a fearless character. You can pick up on sincerity in a musician that quickly grabs and engages you — these three women are a testament to that. Christina, Jenny, and Elissa have a lot to bring to the table of female drummers in the underground. Their styles are each moving and without ego. They rip on the kit and they’re not afraid to sweat. There’s few things more inspiring than females who graciously thrive in a ‘man’s world’ — and do it with a good sense of humor.
The Flesh Lights are currently touring the northern part of the continent with the Hives. On July 18th, Foreign Mothers and Dead Space will embark the Midwest & East coast cities together, to support their forthcoming releases on Thread Pull Records.
Tom Tom Magazine: Name, Band, Age, Hometown?
Christina Lough: Foreign Mothers, 22, from Houston, Texas
Jenny Arthur: Dead Space, 25, from Austin, Texas
Elissa Ussery: Flesh Lights, 25, from San Antonio, TX
Let’s jump right into it — what would you say is your best attribute as a person?
C: I would say loyalty, I’m Sagittarius.
J: Oooh…I’m a Taurus, I would say dependable.
E: I’m Aquarius, I have patience.
How long have you been playing drums?
C: I’ve been playing western drums for a little over a year, but traditional Korean drums for 12. With Korean drums, there’s a dance you do to it.
J: 5 years now.
E: Since I was 14.
All your bands are distinctly different — how would you describe your band to readers who are not familiar with your sound?
C: [Foreign Mothers] Post-punk
J: [Dead Space] Post-punk
E: [Flesh Lights] Muscle Pop
What kind of drums do you play on?
C: Gold Gretsch Catalina.
J: I think most of it is Tama.
E: My godfather just recently gave me his ’82 Ludwig kit.
What influenced you to begin drumming?
C: I guess I had a background in Korean drumming and then I met Kana who said, “You can do it.”
J: I played guitar first then preferred bass. I think I’ve always been inclined to the rhythm anyway. The guitar just wasn’t physical enough—drums just felt right.
E: I wanted to play bass then I thought: “I’m really bad at this.”
My godfather played drums in the 60’s, in San Antonio doo-wop bands and he said, “I think you could do it”, and gave me his kit. My grandma lived across the street from me and started losing her hearing, so I set-up the drums in her living room and played after school, everyday for 2 hours, at least.
Anything or anyone in particular that inspires you most as a drummer?
E: Of course, I love Keith Moon, who doesn’t? But honestly, some of the few times—when I’m on tour, or when I want to step up my game—going off to shows and picking up things from other drummers helps me.
J: Yeah, seeing other drummers.
E: Even watching you Jenny, I pick up things from you and think: “Why did I not ever think of that?” —You know, some of your arrangements. I’m kind of a show-man and I love how you’re just there, on the beat, and you know when not to play. And I’ve been trying to master that over the last year; play when it’s needed not having to add crazy fills.
J: [to Elissa] Watching you play every night when we were on tour together, I could see what things you had down and I would try to figure it out.
Any advice you can offer to women who would like to begin playing drums?
C: Sit down and do it.
J: GO FOR IT!
E: I would say once you get the basics [kick, snare, hi-hat] down, play to AC/DC or Cock Sparrer. You know, a band like that, that’s so simple but you feel really good about yourself because they’re some of the highest paid musicians in the world. I feel like being able to keep a beat for 2.5 minutes is what’s key, even if you’re all over the place.
Do you have a favorite drummer?
C: Zach Hill is amazing. And these ladies—I love watching you all play.
J: Scott Asheton of The Stooges. He has a basic and solid driving beat, and although the band is so tough, the drummer’s basically not doing anything! (laughs) Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, Lori Barbero and Emma Gaze, definitely.
E: After I got through my AC/DC phase, you know (laughter), and mastered that…. I started listening to the first Briefs album “Hit After Hit” and I would attempt to play drums to that all the way through as if I was playing a live show. So, Chris Brief, for sure.
Let’s talk about Austin, where you’re all currently based. What’s your perspective on the Austin music scene right now?
C: It’s amazing. So many friends supporting each other; there’s no rivalry.
E: I like it because it is just friends, it’s not like ‘us against them,’ but I like that there’s a little bit of competitiveness, too. If Flesh Lights play after the OBN III’s, I try to kill it!
How would you say being a female affects your role in the music scene, if at all? I feel a sense of camaraderie between women in this town, where there’s an extensive female support group within the community, whereas, 6, 7 years ago, there wasn’t that much advocacy for women in bands. Let’s discuss this.
C: For sure…and there’s a lot more girls attending the shows now, too, not just your guy friend’s girlfriend.
J: Definitely. And there’s so many female drummers here. We could do a whole issue dedicated to Austin female drummers!
E: Yeah, pretty much every show I play, there’s always a female in a band; it’s a lot less of a novelty. People don’t say, “Oh, there’s this band with a chick drummer” as much.
Have you experienced any setbacks as a female drummer?
E: Touring with a period SUUUCKS!
C: If no one’s really heard us play before and we walk into a show—especially because we’re all girls—sometimes we get sniggers or smiles, assuming we’re going to sound super pop-y and sing about our boyfriends. After we play, sometimes we get comments like, “That was surprising”, and I just think: “Um, okay…thank you?”
E: [mockingly] “I mean, I really thought you were gonna suck, but I guess for having vaginas, you’re alright.”
J: I had a guy recently tell me that he thought I was a dude the whole time we were playing and he was “still impressed”.
He was all delicate like, “I mean—I just—you had the hat on…” and I just said, “No, no! That’s just great, because that means you were actually listening to the drumming.”
E: Or you know, comments like, “For a girl drummer, you’re really good.” I don’t dwell on it, but I’ve heard that comment a handful of times and it is something that’s, you know, kind of like racism.
So I’m gonna assume we’re all feminists, yes?
C: I think it’s hard to be a woman and not in some way be a feminist. I’m not a radical militant feminist, but…
J: I AM a radical militant feminist.
I’m pointing this out because considering oneself a ‘feminist’ also has a social stigma and connotation of being a ‘man-hater’, and that’s so inaccurate.
E: I feel like that’s exactly what guys that hate woman want to say. They want something to make you feel like shit for.
J: That’s actually the number one reason I call myself a feminist.
E: I mean, I know so many guys that are feminists! It’s just a word that has such a negative association, you know—[mockingly] “Oh, you probably don’t shave your armpits!” or “How long is your vagina hair??” and that’s not the case AT ALL.
TTM: I’m really glad we talked about that.
Okay, what’s the best advice you’ve gotten as drummer?
J: It’s all in the wrist!
E: Yeah, in the wrist and hit as hard as you can…
C: Play through the drums.
E: And practice a lot!
Are there any current bands the world should know about?
J: Flesh Lights!
C: Dead Space!
All: (in unison) Foreign Mothers!!!
E: A Giant Dog are great and I like Nazi Gold a lot. Terrible Twos and White Crime are so good.
J: Deep Time (formerly YellowFever) and Broken Water is the shit—female drummer.
C: I really like Hidden Ritual. Basically, all our friends’ bands. Also, Turbo Fruits…and on the Rubberneck comp there were two bands I really liked—I think it was Ex Cult and Useless Eaters—they’re both from Memphis.
Any famous last words?
C: To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance. [Oscar Wilde]
E: Why drink and drive when you can smoke and fly?!!
J: …..We’re ending on that one.
This interview was conducted at Las Cruxes by Veronica Ortuño.
Individual photos by Tim Griffins