Jackson Drummer #1: Caitlin McNally Cox

Amazing Jackson Mississippi Drummer Caitlin McNally Cox Tom Tom Magazine

Native Jackson, Mississippi musician, Caitlin McNally Cox, has accidentally become a local sensation in her two-piece band, Liver Mousse.  Accompanied by her husband, Corey on guitar, McNally has transformed the way we play drums.  Using just a hi-hat, snare and crash cymbal, Liver Mousse delivers a unique and catchy sound that everyone can vibe too. 

Tom Tom Magazine: When did you start drumming? How did you start?

Caitlin McNally Cox: I started around February, 2010, after my husband Cody and I recorded the first Liver Mousse EP. The songs were all super lo-fi and silly, and we did the whole thing at home. I mostly sang along on that record, and played the guitar on one song. When we had a discussion the night before the CD release over whether we should bring drums and include the electric songs, I accepted Cody’s persuasion and agreed to play. I wasn’t thrilled about it–I had no gear, just the snare that we found and the floor tom that I think we borrowed? Inherited? And the snare drum sat in a chair and a friend lent me his sticks, and I’d only given it the one shot the night the before the show. It was pitiful, and really, really fun, and I was horrified. And we had a great time.

Where are you from? When did you come to Jackson?

I’m from the gulf coast of Mississippi, a blue-collar/millionaire hybrid town called Pascagoula sandwiched between Northrop Grumman and the Chevron Refinery. I moved to Oxford, MS in 2006 to go to college, then spent three years figuring out that I really didn’t want to be in college, then decided to move in Spring of 2009. I didn’t want to leave Mississippi, I have some pretty serious attachments to this state, but I couldn’t settle for moving back to my hometown, so I moved to Jackson, the physical, and for me, emotional, middle-ground between Oxford and home. I’ve never made a better decision with as little reasoning in a shorter amount of time and it’s changed my life in more ways than I could have anticipated.

Where do you practice?

When we lived in a single-family home, we just practiced in our living room. Our neighborhood was inhabited mostly by young people, bar-goers and party-types, and they generally didn’t care about noise levels, which pleased us greatly. Now, however, we live in an apartment closer to where we work and we have to rely on favors to practice. So far, our spot has been pretty nice. The owner of the coffee shop I manage has a recording studio, and he’s kind enough to let us make racket there. It’s a great arrangement.

What bands are you in and what genres are they?

Liver Mousse is my only iron in the fire. It’s just me and Cody, and we play pretty simple, silly, straightforward garage-style songs, with the occasional gloomy femme-tune, when I have my druthers. Rubber-band rock, Cody called it once. As I mentioned, my kit is one snare, one floor tom with a triangular-folded washcloth taped to the head, and one cracked crash. All found/inherited items. In the two releases we’ve put together, the style varies from song to song, some are dancy little punk tunes, some are really moody and morbid, some are droners, some are happy or romantic or just completely stupid, we have yet to fixate on a sound-mission. To me that’s what makes it so freakin’ fun: that complete lack of urgency to create anything other than what comes out when we do create. It’s pretty nice, and so far nobody’s held it against us.

Amazing Jackson Mississippi Drummer Caitlin McNally Cox Tom Tom Magazine

What was your favorite local show and why?

Some of the best ones are the ones we play to 5 people or less, for whatever reason. But in early July we played one show, that really stood out to me, with one of our best friends, Hunter Stewart, opening solo, and one of our favorite bands in the southeast, Riverwolves, headlining (Riverwolves is from Shreveport, LA, and has a bad ass lady drummer named Melissa Disedare). We played in Jackson at a bar called the Ole Tavern. Riverwolves brought their party pants and were super supportive and dance-y (and they’re really simply wonderful, fun people) and our set felt so much like one of our first shows. It was freshly exciting and stimulating and we played too loud and sloppy but still kept really suspiciously good timing with each other. I remember standing up after that set, sweaty butt and all, and feeling an advanced appreciation and love for the songs we play, and the city we live in, and that incredible bandmate of mine. The shows like that are the ones I try to think about when I get to feeling lazy or indifferent, and it’s always worth it to be reminded.

Have you played shows in other parts of the country? What are some of the major differences you have noticed between shows in Jackson (or MS) and those other places?

We’ve played in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and all over Mississippi. I think the most drastically different scene-experience was the one we had in Austin, TX. I think that city has seen a huge transformation over the past couple of decades, regarding its music scene and what it means to the community. I don’t knock it, it’s a gorgeous city inhabited by a lot of brilliant, forward-thinking individuals, but it’s got a huge scene, vastly, and once that secret gets out I think it changes the movement.

The biggest game-changer between Austin and honestly any Mississippi/Louisiana/Alabama town we’ve played could most likely be equated to the fact that there’s just a whole lot more going on in a place like Austin; a “mecca.” Gogol Bordello played down the street from us the night we played in Austin, for example. You’re never going to compete with Gogol Bordello in Jackson, MS, or Monroe, LA, or Mobile, AL. Small towns have to nurture whatever scene they can muster, and support and praise each other, and get the hell off the couch get out to a show like both the band and the venue depend on it. And they do, in a lot of ways.

What astonishes me on a daily basis with Jackson’s scene is that support. It’s such a strong scene, bolstered by great talent, great passion and great friendship. People collaborate in Jackson, share band members, rock & rollers share bills with hip-hoppers, and most every show you go to in Jackson is attended by a general majority of other musicians, visual artists, all sorts of creative types, and always your standard party people. There’s a lot of love and appreciation that comes from a sincere, grassroots push for success and sustainability, and from a dire need for and delight in what the community can create. I know it’s like this in other places, at least I hope it is, but I’ve really never seen anything like what we have going here. It’s incredibly moving.

Amazing Jackson Mississippi Drummer Caitlin McNally Cox Tom Tom Magazine

Talk to us a little bit about the recent recording session you had – how did it go? What are key differences between drumming in the studio and live?

We recorded at Morning Bell on August 10th, with a local hip-hop artist, Stephen Brown, who goes by 5th Child. 5th Child and Liver Mousse released a split-7″ this past Fall. We met with Stephen a while back to collaborate on his song, Out of Town Girls; I sang the hook for the song, and Cody wrote and recorded a guitar track for the song. This collaborative project is something I’m really excited about, and it’s somewhat of a newer idea for Jackson. Until recently, our generation hasn’t experienced a lot of mixing and collaborating among rock and hip-hop cultures in Jackson. Both have pretty strong scenes built up here. Several friends of mine have spearheaded this concert series called the Blender Series where hip hop and rock performers share bills and actively introduce each other’s fans and friends to one another. It’s been really cool to witness this growth, and this shared effort with 5th Child is an extension of that movement.

We want it to keep getting bigger; Jackson has a lot of growing to do. There are still some very deep-seated race issues here and all over the South, and that’s all kind of part of it–that Jackson obsession. There’s such an incredible movement towards acceptance, celebration and equality, for everyone, in a place that really, really needs it, and it’s coming from within the community, from real voices and real hearts.

At Morning Bell, we recorded our song, Apocalypse Shimmy, and it features a verse written and performed by 5th Child. It went really well. Cody and I recorded my drums and his guitar live, in two takes, and added a second guitar track and then Stephen’s vocals last. I definitely clam up a little in the studio–I always want more chances to get it just right, and I’m hyper-critical of myself when I don’t nail it automatically. We used to record at home, though, track-by-track and never live, and that was my least favorite, for sure. Part of what strengthens us is our reliance on each other’s erratic-isms, so it was awesome to have Drew turning the knobs and us being able to churn it out together and live. We’ve already decided to record our next full release with Drew; he and Sara are really solid people–trustworthy, kind, and a lot of fun to work with.

What Drew and Sara offer at Morning Bell is a more accessible and affordable option for people like me and Cody, and many others, who can’t necessarily afford much more than what it takes to do it ourselves but want recordings that sound good and are well-mixed. I want to say they’ve had a good number of teen-aged bands come in and do some recording with them, in addition to the older musicians, and I think that’s really important for that to be available and enabled. Teenagers need a place to do that. Morning Bell is definitely a lofty addition to the Jackson music community and I’m excited about seeing it flourish.

What does it mean to you to be a woman drummer?

It’s funny, I attach very little to the term “drummer.” It’s been an absolute life-changer for me, and I owe it more credit, but I still consider more that I’m just beginning to tap in to a part of myself that stayed dormant for twenty-two years. Finding myself involved in a creative effort at all is still something that surprises me. Until I met Cody I was always more of an appreciator and not so much someone who gets inside of the process, in a lot of ways. Drumming has transformed my self-awareness, my behavior, and my involvement in my community. And I catch a lot of hell for “only” playing two drums and a cymbal. A lot of people want to know when I’m going to learn fills, or use my feet, get more drums, etc.; once, a girl from the audience, in mockery, proclaimed herself a “real girl drummer,” because she could “do fills,” to the drummer from a band called Boom after our set when we opened for them here in Jackson, so there’s that kind of stuff too. A lot of people really don’t like what I do. It used to piss me off, and make me feel extremely limited, but it’s not so bad anymore. There are people who really enjoy what I do, too. And most importantly, I love doing what I do, and I don’t think I could say that about anything I was doing before I picked up the sticks. There’s some certain part of you that transcends its former self when you put yourself in a position to be loved or hated. I owe a lot to drumming, for that. Few things have changed me so drastically.

In Jackson, is a lot of attention given to the fact that you are a female drummer?

It’s generally a natural fit, among familiars. There are a lot of female musicians in Jackson. Strangers, mostly males, will get pretty excited about it, and they always want to talk to you after a show, and tell you how hot they think girls in bands are. I’m a pretty top-heavy gal, too, perhaps it should be mentioned, and my bosoms tend to play their own beats when I drum, audiences love the Tasmanian Devil titties.

Are women encouraged to play drums?

Not necessarily. Not directly, anyway, from what I can gather. I imagine that because Jackson inspires so many young people to do what they can to create in and nurture their city and their community, men and women alike strive to pursue and develop the parts of themselves that are creative and nurturing. Change is always needed, as there are many damaged and vulnerable aspects of life in Jackson. This city aches, and it has for a long time. A lot of my peers just find whatever it is they can do to make this place better, and we all combine our efforts the best we can.

How does the Mississippi blues culture and its musical heritage play a role in being a drummer in the south? How does living and playing in Jackson influence your rhythmic styles, music and drumming?

The MS Blues! What an institution. There is some seriously gorgeous, haunting, timeless, and honestly perfectly executed blues music that has come out of this state. That music deserves the reverence it gets, and I think its influence in all MS music is as sound as it is in music internationally. That being said, there’s some local organization having some blues festival basically every weekend in the south. That heritage has been horribly exploited, in some ways. It’s tricky, though; it’s also responsible for a lot of really phenomenal styles of music, and it’s inspired some of my favorite artists. There are some of our songs that are obviously a little more bluesy, but again I think that culture and heritage has been borrowed from, and has been influencing so many people, for so long that for me personally it’d be hard to tell whether inspiration for a blues-driven song came from Captain Beefheart or through someone who influenced him, like John Lee Hooker. Mississippi blues music has traveled a lot more of the world than I have.

Amazing Jackson Mississippi Drummer Caitlin McNally Cox Tom Tom Magazine

I noticed that there are many wife/husband bands in Jackson and I love this! Is there something about Jackson life/culture that encourages this?

You know, I think collaboration is something very prominent in this city, in general. That applies in local businesses, in the visual arts, in music, coffee, food, and in a lot of ways in all of those things (and more) in assembly. My urge to collaborate with Cody spawned from a lot of curiosities. He’d been a touring and hard-working musician for almost a decade before I even met him. It was something I really wanted to understand, because the way it affects him always captivated me. I wanted to know what it would feel like to be a part of something so completely personal but that in practice becomes shared and selfless. It is very romantic and nourishing to create something with the person you love, especially within a field for which you both feel a strong and shared sense of longing. The community support is a breeding ground for collaboration, among friends and lovers, and among all people who want to make it move forward.

How do you find it working with your male counterparts in the band? Have you ever wanted to be in an all-female group? Do you encounter much sexism when you play or when you engage with others about your music?

Since it’s only me and Cody in Liver Mousse, I have it pretty easy. We want to both please and challenge each other, and we do these things pretty well. I can’t imagine drumming with a bigger group, because what I do is so stripped down, and it’s really made for what he and I do together.

I’ve thought about assembling a lady-band. Occasionally, maybe just 3 or 4 times to date, we’ll play with our best friends, Josh and Ruthie Taylor, another married couple, who have a band with our friend Ryan called Swamp Babies, under the name Double Date. I love playing with Ruthie. She plays bass and our husbands play guitars and sing, and it’s always a treat when we can play a set together.

As for sexism, I get the most of it from other women, and that sucks. Maybe it’s a Southern thing, I wish I knew, but I have experienced several female musicians on multiple occasions be ugly towards me or ugly towards one another over this, “I’m a better girl musician than this girl musician,” and I feel like maybe these women think they have to compete solely because they’re women. I try really hard not to compare myself to anyone else, and to shrug it off if another girl compares herself to me. I wish I understood that issue. It shouldn’t be about that. We’re not fighting over anything, we’re making music. That ought to be enough.

Amazing Jackson Mississippi Drummer Caitlin McNally Cox Tom Tom Magazine

What makes your drumming personal?

The way I play drums is like Dr. Frankenstein’s Adam-meets-Donkey Kong? It’s not very experimental, but rather quite primal and simplistic. It feels good, too, just to play the darn things, and abandon all the mental dust that keeps me reeling and worn out all the time. Drumming is the only thing I know how to do in a straightforward and simple manner. Cavewoman meditation? That’s about right.

Kiran Gandhi for Tom Tom Magazine

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