Gemma Hill – Editor of DRUMMER on All Things Drum
By Ciara Lavers
I first met Gemma Hill some years ago, in a packed classroom at a college of music. From even then it was evident that Gemma would be going places. Fast forward ten years; Ms. Hill has shared the stage with such acts as Cee-Lo Green, Robyn, Cher Lloyd, Cyndi Lauper, Robots In Disguise, and many others. She’s also performed on X Factor and The Paul O’Grady Show.
Today, Gemma is editor for DRUMMER magazine. I chatted to her about her new role there, as well as her thoughts on all things drum…
C: Let’s start off talking about your drumming. At what age did you start, and what attracted you to it?
G: I started drumming when I was 10. I had been playing the violin from when I was about 4 or 5. When my mum showed me a list of instruments that I could play at school (probably hoping that I’d give up the violin), I picked drums- which I carried on with- as well as continuing with the violin! There weren’t any other girls at school who played drums, so I thought I’m going to do that because it’s a bit different. Then when I was 14 I started playing tuned percussion because I found my new teacher very inspiring. I learned all different kinds of orchestral percussion, and that really made me want to teach.
C: What led you to getting the job at DRUMMER?
G: I got the job completely unexpectedly. I’m really into creating wishes; I guess the proper way I should say that is “cosmic ordering”, which sounds pretty crazy, but it’s just having positive intentions and putting them out there. So I wished for my perfect job to turn up within the next 3 months. A week later I got this call from the publisher who said that a previous editor had put my name forward for the job, and they wanted to know if I wanted to interview for it. Three days later, and I had got the job!
C: Female editors in drumming publications are rare. Did you feel any extra pressure as a woman?
G: Yes and no. I felt some pressure from some people when I first took the job, but the publishers were really amazing. I’ve never felt anything but support and encouragement from them.
I feel really responsible, so maybe there is that pressure that I put on myself. I want to make a good impact for female drummers, but I also don’t want people to be like, “Oh God- she’s really laying it on thick about the fact that there’s gender!” I try to include everyone equally, so I don’t want to go too heavily towards the female thing. But I feel it’s really important to feature female drummers because there are so many great female drummers out there, so many players that I know and who should be in the magazine.
In an ideal world, every drummer is just a drummer and it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.
C: How do you decide who to have on the front cover?
G: Normally, I want it to be as varied as possible; I want to represent lots of different genres. I also try to have people who’ve had a long playing history, or who are simply legendary drummers, on the front. I also try to feature people who are a bit younger, because it’s important to me that younger people read the magazine, that they want to pick it up when they see it on the shelf. So yeah- covers are difficult. It really depends- there is no one rule.
C: Have you ever gotten to interview any of your drumming heroes?
G: Yes- probably all of my drumming heroes! My favorite was Sheila E. This was actually before I was working at DRUMMER, but it was just amazing speaking to her; I felt really REALLY nervous. It’s just really cool when you get to interview people who you’ve looked up to, and maybe have been listening to for like 20 years, and then you realize they are just real people. They are just like you in that they’re just doing their thing, and it just so happens that they are particularly amazing at their instrument. With most of the people that I interview, I’m blown away by the fact that I’m getting to speak to them. I just love it!
C: Have you ever been in an all-girl band? How did you find it?
G: Yes, I’ve been in lots of girl bands. I’ve had varying experiences. There were a couple of bands where I loved the closeness and the sisterhood with my fellow female musicians. I’ve also had experiences that weren’t so good… but everybody is different.
C: Why aren’t there as many girl bands in mainstream music as there seem to be mixed or all-boy bands?
G: I think it’s to do with the relationship stuff. It takes a lot to become a popular band. You’ve probably had to play together for a long time, and I think that these female band relationships are really intense; I think they probably can’t survive the pressure it takes to do a lot of that stuff.
I think there is also a lot more to do with the actual music industry side. There are still things that I think record people still consider, like the fact that women may want to start a family, or that they won’t always look like they’re 17, and that when you’re 17, you aren’t at the peak of your playing. There is definitely more attention placed on female musicians; people watch them a lot more closely, and I don’t think you have that with guys. You see a 40 year-old guy sweating in a t-shirt, playing guitar or drums, and people don’t mind it, but if you were to see a 40 year-old woman doing the same, people would say, ‘That’s not something that I want to see.’
C: Do you consider yourself a drummer first or an editor first?
G: Ooh, er… At the moment I feel like I’m an editor first, just because it’s taking so much of my time, but I’ll ALWAYS be a drummer first!