By Madeleine Campbell for Tom Tom Magazine | Photos: Marcel Walker and Madaleine Campbell
In addition to being the mom of a toddler, a professional letterpress printer and the author of the internationally distributed Ker-bloom! zine for almost 20 years, Pittsburgh-based drummer Artnoose serves as the resident drum teacher for Girls Rock! Pittsburgh, a organization dedicated to empowering local girls ages eight-18 through music and creative expression. In January, Artnoose sat down with Tom Tom Magazine to tell us how she has managed to balance it all – including singing, drumming and playing guitar at the same time.
Tom Tom Magazine: How did you start drumming?
Artnoose: As a kid, Animal was always my favorite muppet, but I didn’t play music as growing up at all. We weren’t a musical family. I didn’t take any music lessons so I think I sort of internalized this idea of “I’m not good at music so I can’t play music at all.” I didn’t actually start playing drums until I moved to Pittsburgh so I was already in my mid-30s. I think the thing that really made me want to start playing was when I saw the band Requiem play in a warehouse in Oakland, California around 2006. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen a band with a female drummer but it was the first show I saw where the drummer seemed to be the center of the band and all of the bandmates were facing the drummer. She was the focal point of the group. It rekindled my desire to want to play drums. After I got my drum set, my housemate at the time showed me the basic rock beat and I took it from there.
Did you play in any bands?
I happened to visit Chapel Hill, North Carolina while the punk scene there was getting ready for their hat band show. It’s basically where everyone puts their name in a hat and bands get chosen and they play a show together. I thought “Oh, that’s perfect! I’ll start a hat band in Pittsburgh and that will make me play drums!” I put out ads and bands were chosen. We practiced at a place that had drums but I didn’t have my own kit until about three hours before the show when I finally found a set on Craigslist and bought it. As a result of the hat band, some of us realized we liked each other’s ways of working and playing. That’s how my band The Bad Daughters was formed. We were an all-lady rock and roll band. It was especially cool because it had one person in their 20s, one person in their 30s and one person in their 40s. We called it three decades of rock. That was kind of our tag line. Eventually, we lost a member and renamed ourselves Bad Daughter. It was really important to me to be able to sing and drum at the same time. I love singing in bands. That’s really my preference. I don’t want to just drum. I want to drum and sing.
Singing and drumming simultaneously can be a huge challenge for a lot of drummers. Do you feel that comes naturally to you?
I think so. To me, its similar to playing guitar and singing. It almost feels like I set my hands to do something and once I learn it, I can set myself on autopilot and start singing to it. I definitely had to learn the drum parts really well before I could sing to it. I think it also means I’m not as concerned with getting super technical with my drums. I’m not as interested in that because I always want to be able to sing. I had a solo project for a while called Artnoose’s Fury. It was all angry breakup songs. I’d play drums with my feet, sing and play guitar at the same time. It was probably the most technically challenging thing I’ve done.
Do you think its more difficult to pick up drums at a later age or do you view it as an advantage?
The one thing, in a way, that made it easier was that I’d been listening to such a wide range of music for such a long time. I kind of knew already what sounds I liked and what sounds I wanted and didn’t want to make. I didn’t go through a 13-year-old Nirvana cover band phase. I think one of the biggest differences between children learning and adults learning is that generally children have a lot more free time than adults do. It was hard to find time to practice. I think I’m probably just as physically fit for the most part.
In 2013, you were the drum teacher at the first ever Girls Rock! Pittsburgh. What was that experience like?
Balancing was the hardest part for me. I had never taught before. We didn’t know beforehand how many girls were going to be drumming, how old they were or if they had ever touched a drum kit before. It was a challenge but I also like to think it was a good education, too. Looking back, I think I taught to the middle range. Some campers pick things up pretty much as I play them. Some campers want to do their own thing. I had them in drum instruction for in hour but not every camper wants to drum for an hour at a time. I’m goal oriented and they do have to play a show so at some point everyone had to focus, but its not rock and roll army. The point isn’t for me to drill them. I want to help them learn what they want to learn. I want to help them get as much out of it as they can but they don’t always need me. I don’t think, for children or adults, in anything that you do, that your technical skill is going to give you the best band. Its about learning how to collaborate and work together.
What advice would you give to a young girl who wants to pick up the drums?
I’d say listen to music that you like and think about what the drums are doing. If drumming is what you want to do, don’t listen to other people who might not believe in that. I don’t have a really technical background but I do sometimes feel that its helpful to learn technical terms, not because you necessarily need them, but because sometimes other people don’t take you as seriously.
You’ve been letter press printing the same zine for almost two decades. How did you get started with that?
This year will be 20 years that I’ve been printing. My zine, Ker-bloom!, has been in print for 18 years. I was living in San Diego at the time working in a gallery at my junior college and we curated a show of a fine book press. It had all of these beautiful letter pressed poems and I thought “Wow, this is something I want to get into.” The next year I transferred to art school in the Bay Area. They had a letter press there and I took a book making class. I write and letterpress print a zine every other month about my life, either something that I’ve been doing or something that I’ve been thinking about. It’s kind of my biography serialized. I started when I was 23 and assumed I’d only do it for a few years but I kept doing it.
Artnoose’s Ker-bloom! zine is available for purchase at http://www.artnoose.etsy.com.