Drummer for The Used Goods and That Scoundrel, Jennifer Chesler is an amazing musician. Playing the drums for most of her life, Chesler has successfully infiltrated the Jackson music for six years. Chesler’s skills enable her to play successfully with other genres of music. From garage rock and rockabilly to metal, Chesler can do it!
Tom Tom Magazine: When did you start drumming? How did you start?
Jennifer Chesler: My interest in drumming and music came at a young age. My family held gatherings where everyone would play in a band setting, and that became my first exposure to playing the drums. There was also a time when my grandmother got very sick and my church pastor would come to visit us. He happened to be an amazing drummer, which fascinated me, and he would take time to show me different rhythms here and there. Drumming looked liked the best thing in the world to me, and anytime I saw a drummer playing they appeared to be having a lot fun so it felt most like an instrument I would want to play. There is also a great physical aspect of playing drums which appealed to me. I cannot exactly explain why but I had a gut instinct I could do it. My family struggled a lot financially and after years of asking I finally received a drum kit at the age of fifteen. I figured out a way to pay for some lessons and I’ve been pursuing it ever since.
Where are you from? When did you come to Jackson?
I am originally from Atlanta, Georgia and I’ve been living in Jackson for about six years now.
Where do you practice?
I am fortunate to be able to practice in a space in my home right now. It allows me a lot of musical freedom.
What bands are you in?
My current bands are That Scoundrel and Used Goods. That Scoundrel is the first professional band that I’ve ever played in, and it is a great experience to have a group of people who are serious about pursuing music and playing shows. Scoundrel has a unique sound and definitely catches your attention. We have some songs that are groovy and funky, while others lean towards heavy rock and metal. Used Goods is more of a rockabilly/garage rock sound, and I have had a lot of fun with them thus far.
What was your favorite local show and why?
One of my favorite shows in Jackson was at the local venue Martin’s Lounge. The show was put on by local artists and promoters aimed at bringing mixed cultures and styles of music together. That Scoundrel played with one other rock group and two hip hop artists with a DJ. It worked beautifully and was a great way to reach out to people in the music community.
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 have played shows in other parts of the south including parts of Louisiana, Alabama, and Tennessee. Those venues were just as inviting to us as our hometown. The people there were very supportive and everywhere we have performed so far we have gotten a great response to our music.
What does it mean to you to be a woman drummer?
Being a woman drummer means always playing from the heart, having confidence in myself even when others do not, and 100% having fun and enjoying what I am doing. A female drummer is not what people expect from an outside perspective, but my individuality as a musician is not based on the fact that I am a woman. My uniqueness is based more on the fact that I let my music reflect my own style and who I am as a person. I consider it a great gift being able to play drums, and I am very thankful to be pursuing music and art.
In Jackson, is a lot of attention given to the fact that you are a female drummer? Or is it just not a big deal?
There is definitely attention given to the fact that I am a female drummer in Jackson. Jackson has a tight knit music community and there are other female percussionists here. Still there aren’t as many females as males in the drumming world, so it is still considered unusual.
Are women encouraged to play drums?
I think now more than ever women are encouraged to play drums. I see it happening more and more and it makes me appreciate being a musician. Being able to affect someone else’s decision to play and be encouraged by what I’m doing carries a lot of meaning for me, and I think now is a great time for that and so many things are changing for women in the drumming world.
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?
Six years ago I moved to Jackson, and since then I’ve gotten a wonderful lesson in the origins of some of the best music ever made. Mississippi’s culture is so rich and the music is one of the main reasons. Everything from gospel, soul, rock n’ roll, blues, funk, or jazz, Mississippi has produced some of the greatest artists in history. Living here and experiencing that has most definitely opened my eyes and my approach to playing music. I’ve learned a lot of new things about blues in particular. If you learn to play a good shuffle and get creative with it you can broaden the musicians you’re able to perform with. Funk and blues are also two of my favorite styles because you’re not really saying much by using all these complex chords or rhythms, it is more about the expression and feeling you put into the music, which to me says a lot more.
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? Have you ever played in a band with your partner?
I think the fact that our community of musicians is so interwoven definitely has an impact on the closeness of our relationships, however I’ve never played in a professional band with my partner.
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?
My male band mates have always been extremely supportive and encouraging with me. I feel lucky to be a part of a really great group of guys. I’ve never really desired to be a part of an all female group. I’ve just wanted the chance to play music. I try not to focus on the fact that I’m a female more than I focus on being a good drummer. A female drummer is considered a rare thing to see so naturally there is extra focus on it. Honestly I get both positive and negative attention about it. I meet people who are sometimes surprised or even in disbelief when I tell them I play the drums, and other times I meet people who are very excited and eager to see something different.
There have definitely been times I have experienced sexism while at a gig, however. One example in particular is when I was mistaken for my band member’s girlfriend, so I was treated differently than he was. There are also times when people flat out refuse to acknowledge me or make inappropriate comments. The way I see it there will always be someone who has a bad attitude or sees things differently than you, so in order to be happy you have to stick to what you love and who you are no matter what.
What makes your drumming personal?
What makes my drumming personal is playing exactly what I feel and keeping it simple, while also having the courage to express myself and get out of my comfort zone as an artist. I love not having any set ideas in mind and just seeing what I can create on my own. I make my drumming reflect the fun and adventurous part of my personality because that is what drums are to me. One of my favorite drum rolls is a twelve-stroke roll starting with my snare, moving to the first and floor toms, then ending with a big crash. There is a lot of power behind it and I love doing it during performances.
By Kiran Gandhi for Tom Tom Magazine