Crocodiles: No fills, nothing fancy, just straight beats – An interview with Anna Schulte

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Name: Anna Schulte
Age: 30
Hometown: Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Lives In: San Diego, CA
Day Job: Crocodiles
Past Bands: The Slits, Schulte/Eriksson
Current Bands: Crocodiles

I am waiting at the corner of 5th and Broadway. That is as far as the bus from my San Diego suburb will take me. Since I don’t have a car I have to rely on the kindness of strangers. Minutes later a white nineties BMW picks me up. Anna Schulte is behind the wheel and her husband Aaron in the passenger seat. We drive up and down the hills, hit the freeway and reach the beautiful outskirts of the city. Hawks are circling in the air above a lake and hopefully rattlesnakes stay away from us. We are just in time for a California sunset on the Crocodiles’ drummer’s terrace.

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Tom Tom Magazine: You are from Frankfurt, Germany, how come you live in San Diego, California?
Anna Schulte: When I was 19, I applied for this brand new University in Liverpool, which was co-founded by Paul McCartney and hosted in his original school. It’s called Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and I was able to study pop music, which was cool, and focusing on drums actually. After those three years I went to London because I wanted to further my studies. Once in London and finished with my 2nd degree, I started working at the Record Company Mute Records and I was in loads of bands. One of them was called Cash Machine. One of the sub labels of Mute Records is called Blast First and is run by Paul Smith. He happened to be at one of our shows. He said: “Anna, I love your drumming” and that was it. Maybe a couple of weeks later he was in the office and said that he wanted to help out a band that wanted to reform, and that were The Slits. He explained that they were still looking for a female drummer and that I should audition for them. I was already planning to move to Berlin soon, so I thought there wouldn’t be much point. But simply for meeting them and learning from an audition, I told myself, “ok, let’s do this.” So I did it and they called me immediately and said, “you are the chosen one”. I didn’t quite know what to say because I thought I couldn’t join due to my move to Berlin but they didn’t think it was a big deal they were like “Oh! Well the singer lives in Jamaica anyways and we live all over the place, so it doesn’t matter where you live. Are you in?”

When was that?
That was in 2006. The year I left England to move to Berlin. One of the first things we did together was a humungous American tour in October 2006. As part of this tour we had a supporting group, which were Dmonstrations, and the drummer of Dmonstrations is now my husband. I was still living in Berlin and Aaron in America and he eventually moved to Berlin during 2008 and 2009 and finally, in 2010, we moved to San Diego where he is from. So, long story as to why I am here.

When you moved to the United States did you still play with The Slits?
The last tour we did with The Slits was in May 2010. And I had moved to the US in January 2010. When that last tour ever finished, that was when the Crocodiles called.

How did you become associated with them?
The keyboard player in the reformed Slits is Hollie Cook. On the same American tour, probably a day before or after I met Aaron, Hollie met Charlie, the guitar player of the Crocodiles. They are still a couple and since The Slits were always tight as friends I knew Charlie as well. At the same time Charlie and Brandon, the singer of Crocodiles, are old time friends of Aaron, they all grew up in San Diego. So both associations must be why they knew I had moved to San Diego and called when The Slits broke up.

Did they have another drummer before? Because they used to be just a duo…
They were just touring as a duo and with an iPod. Hollie actually told me that they were planning to get a band together for live performances. So initially they got a drummer from New York, but the band was based in San Diego and I was now living here so…

They called…
In august 2010.

How did you get into drumming?
Originally I learned classical violin. I started when I was 12 and also played in the school orchestra. I learned violin until I was 19. When I hit 14 I wanted to be a bit more of a rebel so I got myself an electric guitar, had lessons and my first band. We managed to get a rehearsal space in one of the old Second World War bunkers in Frankfurt and I was the one with the key to this space. This bunker was between my parent’s house and the bar I used to go to all the time. So on my way home I always thought, “Oh, I guess no one is practicing right now so I could go and bash on the drums.” I enjoyed it so much and I thought that if I took drum lessons just for a year it would really improve my timing for my guitar playing, this lead to me taking drum lessons from 16 onwards. It turned out that it was so much fun and I was advancing really fast I didn’t quit after one year but kept going! By the time I applied for the University in Liverpool about 6 months before the program commenced I actually auditioned as a guitar player. Being accepted was a big deal because it was a new school and so many all over the world were applying. By the time I had moved to Liverpool I was already more into drumming and so when I enrolled I asked if I could change my course to drums instead of guitar and they let me do that which was amazing!

What was your first band called?
“Notsonne”.

What kind of music was it?
In a review they called us “pseudo-intellectual high school girl Goth,” forgot I was kind of a little Goth at the time. Not bad. We got plenty of attention and won an award in Frankfurt where we won a free recording of an EP at 17!

What were the other bands you played in while you lived in the UK?
So many. At 20 in Liverpool I formed my own band it was picked up by John Peel who called me and played it on the incredible John Peel show; imagine, him on the telephone! John Peel is from Liverpool, so that may have sparked his interest also. That band was called Schulte/Eriksson, and it was a Swedish girl and me as the two guitar girls and singers and we were backed up by some Liverpool lads. There was also Fun Size Lions, which ended when I moved to London where I was in Cash Machine.

The music scene there must have been quite inspiring. Did you find something comparable in San Diego?
I guess the situation is just different because when I moved to Liverpool it was the first time away from home and we walked the streets of Liverpool listening to Echo And The Bunnymen rehearsing. And walking the streets where The Beatles once lived. It was just way cooler than Frankfurt. And then living in London was even more exciting. Literally every band plays there, I was working at a record company so I went to shows all the time and your whole life revolves around every new band and having done that for six years is probably the reason why I wasn’t searching for that kind of environment once I moved to San Diego. I know it’s there and there are cool people for sure. With life being so busy touring all the time I almost think that my life in San Diego is a bit of a retreat. I almost cut myself off a little bit even though I still love going out, to the Casbah for instance, but San Diego is my cozy home hiding spot and I get my social fix on the road en masse!

Were you involved in the process of recording the new Crocodiles album that just came out in June 2012?
The first record features a drum machine. The second record has real drums but they didn’t have a drummer at the time. It’s mainly drum loops that Brandon played, I think. So at the time they had a drummer, but a separate entity, more as session musicians. So when I joined them it was still on those terms. You play the shows and that’s it. And just before the third album and about 130 shows we had played together later, the two said that they really wanted us to contribute to the new album. I was really happy about that! So in September 2011 we went to Berlin, practiced and recorded the whole thing as a group. So from now on it will be even more exciting playing live because I am representing something I was involved with.

Will you go on tour this year?
Yes we will be playing an insane amount of shows between now and April 2013 when we start on our next album. For now we got tours in Europe & USA multiple times, festivals in the summer and then Asia and Australia is also on the map for later this year!

What music has influenced your style?
I have two different approaches here because when I look at myself as a guitar player I focus on the ‘song’ – I mean melody and chords only – and as a guitar player I don’t care so much about technique because I always think that the stuff that sounds difficult also sounds kind of corny. With drums it’s a different story. Not that I am obsessed with technicality or hard to play stuff but when you have drums that are ‘difficult’ I always instantly think it sounds amazing. I am talking specifically 1960s Rock drummers and all the Jazz masters like Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones. If you think about it, during the late 1950s you only had Jazz drums pretty much and so all the 1960’s Rock drummers had to have studied Jazz because that was all there was. So they all have a more intricate style when playing Rock/Pop to a lot of drummers nowadays, when you look at Keith Moon or Robert Wyatt from the Soft Machine or Mitch Mitchell for instance. Their style is what I love, this lively but non-metal 1960’s rock style, having said that, in the Crocodiles I don’t really play like that because they come from a much more minimalistic approach. When I joined the band they actually said to me, “no fills, nothing fancy, just straight beats.” Which is a challenge by the way. You always have to be alert anyways as to ensuring what you do actually benefits the songs. Think Ringo Starr here! Not fancy at all but really supports the songs!

When you studied in Liverpool, you probably studied different styles. Did you start from Jazz?
I wish. If I could turn my life back I would just concentrate on Jazz. I did study lots of different drum styles, including jazz, but the schooling I went through was more Rock/Pop oriented. I would love to really heavily master Jazz, not because I love Jazz so much musically necessarily, but because I believe that once you master Jazz you are going to be an accomplished drummer, especially when playing other styles like Rock & Pop as you will be able to incorporate really interesting elements and fills. All my favorite drummers had a jazz background and then played in 60’s Rock bands, think, Mitch Mitchell here.

Music video: Crocodiles – Sunday

To find more music, info and tour dates on the Crocodiles, visit their MySpace and Blog

Interview and photos by Sibilla Calzolari

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