Godmother of Metal: Cheshire Agusta

Crazy Talented Godmother of Metal Drummer Cheshire Agusta Tom Tom Magazine

Name: Cheshire Agusta

Hometown: Bethany, West Virginia

Currently Lives In: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania now

Past Bands: Dr. At Tree, The National Wrecking Company, Toy Box, East Coast, Harry Partch Ensemble, Turn It On, and Go.

Current Bands: Stinking Lizaveta, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Exvotos, composing for solo projects, C Section Innocence Project.

Gear: Playing a five piece Ludwig from ’92 in the Statesand Kansas City Drums in EU. My home set up is 20″ bass, 10″, 12″ and 14″ toms. My snare is a beautiful piece of some very original and effective engineering made for me by Philly’s own, Matt Gaither, of Gaither Drums. 14″ Byzance Meinl Heavy hats, 19″ Sabian AAX Stage crash, 18″ Zildjian, K22″ Sabian AA Metal-X ride, Iron Cobra single pedal, Vic Firth 5A wooden tip most of the time, or MS Core sticks for the super slow and heavy.

Tom Tom Magazine: Your drumming brings forth a mixture of styles ranging from classic rock and roll,  jazz, and prog to giant stoner beats. You seem to step outside of this idea of straight-forward drumming, adding creative fills and flares to your signature, without stepping into the noodle zone.  Please explain your approach to drumming.

Cheshire Agusta: My style, such as it is – thanks for the compliment. My approach to drumming is more like an approach to music.  Make it good.  Make it speak for itself.  Don’t leave the listener with a set of drums, bass and guitar.  Make the music harken to other things. My very young students remind me of this.  They want to play games with sounds that represent things in the world and in their imaginations. How does T-Rex sound when it walks?  What’s rain on a drum set? Let’s play “Old MacDonald.”  How do you make a quack quack here and a quack quack there on the drums? I’ve listened and played in so many different contexts and styles, besides the rock band. You have to take in as much as you can and then trust yourself with it.  If I do have an approach to drums for drums’ sake it’s to become a virtuoso at being myself on the instrument.

How important is practice to you?  

Practice is essential to that, yes, practicing, playing, writing, and when I hear someone else’s music, I want to hear that kind of virtuosity.  I want them to dig deep and tell me something about themselves and I want to see that they really put the work into it – which means practicing, living, absorbing all possible influences, reaching out and looking in. 

What goes on for you during the song writing process?

Writing with Stinking Lizaveta amounts to us beating on each other until we are (finally) ready to beat on the material.

Care to share any practice routine/pre-performance rituals you might have?

My pre-performance ritual is yoga and a warm-up on the pad with a metronome.  I like the marching snare triplet and quintuplet grids. Passing the accent(s) forward through notes of equal value in some designated time signature, that’s essentially what a grid is. Much easier to see music notation: one source is snarescience.com.

When did you start playing drums?

I started playing drums as an adult beginner when I was 24.

How has playing drums shaped your life?  

Well I shaped my life around playing the drums. I wanted to drum, make records and tour.  As a younger person I vowed never to do someone else’s grunt work 40 hours a week and I never have -which doesn’t mean I don’t have to supplement my music income with part time work outside the field. One very big choice I kind of made, or was kind of made for me by attrition (biology is a bitch and she does not care about you; trust me) as a result of deciding to continue to play and tour year after year is, guess what? I got no kids.  Yes, my bass player, who is male, has a daughter who will be 14 next summer. My guitar player, also male, had his first kid two years ago. The band survived and toured.

What role has gender played in shaping your experience as a musician?

One curious thing which may have something to do with being female and playing heavy music is the frequency with which male audience members report to me that I definitely must be discharging aggression and anger on my instrument.  On this continuum are men, who because they see me in public snotting down my face, hitting things really hard, making drummer-face from behind a set of drums, assume that I must have a dominant and therefore very exciting and challenging sexual persona.  Without really commenting on the veracity of this last assumption, I am not sure these same people assume the same things about men whom they see playing the drums. I will say, I am usually stupid happy when I’m playing; my biggest drumming rush is playing live.  I like to sweat in a room with a bunch of head bangers and I like to be one of the ones directing the energy.  But I want people to see what they see.  It’s not my decision how someone hears the music or sees the musicians.

Crazy Talented Godmother of Metal Drummer Cheshire Agusta Tom Tom Magazine

You are a teacher of the drums, no?  

Yes I teach. I love to teach. Planning for my students, all between the ages of 3 and 40,  thinking about each person, following their likes and dislikes, finding a way in to each unique and beautiful mind, has become a joy. I don’t have enough students.

Any awesome stand out moments that you want to talk about involving your experience as a musician? Playing big festivals in Europe/ recording with Albini?

There are so many great stories it’s hard to know where to start and then when to stop – from cardboard pizza in the Midwest to chestnut parfait in the Swiss Alps.  Mostly there are all the creative, generous, game, funny, smart people everywhere who make the magic. Maybe save specifics for another time. Albini is a hard working, super-expert who structures his business to implement his values, who is sweet as pie to everyone around him but who never minces words when there’s something important and/or controversial to be said and what’s more, he knows how to have fun. For these reasons and a host of others, he is at least a 6th degree black belt human in my book.

Any advice/closing words you would like to include?

Here’s the advice Little Richard gave to us from fifteen star-struck feet away at his keynote speech, two thousand something or other in Austin, TX at South by Southwest: “Don’t sell yourself short; learn your instrument. Sign your own checks. The grass is always greener on the other side, but it’s just as hard to cut; so be yourself because, anyway, that’s gonna be you up there gettin’ no glory.”


By Ashley Spungin for Tom Tom Magazine

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