I discovered Seattle Surf/Doo-wop band, La Luz, in a Portland dive bar this past Spring. Sandwiched inconspicuously between two punk bands, La Luz seriously took the crowd by surprise with their mix of cool Surf rock and ‘60s girl group-style sweetness. Twenty-seven-year-old drummer Marian Li Pino arguably steals the show with the precise, expert drumming style of someone twice her age. Currently on her second tour with La Luz, Li Pino took time out before playing the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan to chat with me about Red Hot Chili Peppers, cymbals, and her favorite card game.
Photo by Marianne Spellman.
Name: Marian Li Pino
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Lives In: Seattle, WA
Past Bands: The Curious Mystery
Current Bands: La Luz
Day Job: box office at The Show Box
Kit: early ‘60s Mahogany Ludwig
Cymbals: Dream Cymbals
Sticks: Pro Mark 7A
Tom Tom Magazine: How did you first start playing the drums?
Marian Li Pino: Pretty much as far back as I can remember, I wanted to play the drums. I remember begging my parents to let me play the drums. My dad wanted all of us to play music, and my brothers played trumpet and sax and I wanted to play the drums. But they made me play the piano for six years before they let me play the drums. I hate the piano, but I did it anyway. I really appreciate it now though, because when I did start playing drums I had a fundamental idea of what to do with music.
Are you much of a gear nerd?
Not necessarily. Except for finding the right sounds. And it helps a lot when you play other people’s kits ‘cause you hear things you didn’t realize you wanted or you liked. There’s this kid in Seattle and I was playing his kit and it was tuned perfect and the cymbals were perfect and that’s what made me want to find cymbals that sound like that, like the ones I have now. I just bought these new cymbals called Dream Cymbals. They have this really washy, thin, older sound to them. I just love them.
What would you say has most influenced how you play drums? How would you describe your style?
That’s a good question—one that I get asked kind of a lot and I don’t really know how to answer it. I think of each drum as its own thing that I’m putting together as an ensemble when I play. Probably because my lessons were percussion based.Things that really inspire me, especially for [La Luz] are oldies and seeing what the drummers back then did. But I kinda just pull from a lot of music I listen to. Pretty much anything can inspire me.
Have you always been into surf and doo-wop?
Not as much surf until I got into this band, but definitely oldies doo wop, like ‘60s girl groups. My mom was huge on oldies, so I’d listen to that with her. There’s something about those poppy songs that are unforgettable and always get me.
How involved in the songwriting process are you?
[Singer/lead guitarist] Shana comes up with the concept of the melody and essentially what she wants in the song, and then she comes to us and we get to write our parts for it. It’s kind of a constant struggle because I want to over-complicate things all the time and make it interesting to me, and Shana’s like, “Can you just make it a surf beat?” I end up keeping it a surf beat but adding little variations on the ride or high hat to make it a little more interesting.
What do you have coming up?
We’ve finished recording a full-length that should be out in the fall and we’ll tour again.
On your band’s tour blog on tumblr, you mention playing a round of Egyptian Rat Screw. Could you explain what that is?
First of all, it’s a card game, you play with multiple people. It’s kind of like Slap Jack. You’re in a circle and you’re just slapping at pairs or whatever. I have claimed that I’ve never lost a game of Egyptian Rat Screw in my life. I love that game. We have so much down time [on tour] that Egyptian Rat Screw has become a staple.