photo by Steven Perlin
by Miro Justad
Name: Sandra Vu
Band: SISU, Dum Dum Girls
What was your very first drum kit set up like, and how old were you when you got it?
I was 13 and it was one of those inexpensive and generic entry-level kits in a black wrap. It never sounded good and it was made of very cheap wood and all the screws stripped after a couple tightenings. The cymbals were the worst part–they bent with every hit they broke soon thereafter. Nevertheless, I was beyond happy to get them as I had been hounding my dad for a long time to get them. The dream! I eventually spray painted the rack tom pink and taped fuzzy leopard material to my snare drum to make them at least look special.
Tell us about your basic setup that you have now
I’ve got an acrylic C&C kit, 22 kick/13 rack/16 floor tom, with either Black Beauty or Supraphonic snare. After playing vintage, it’s nice to come around to a modern kit that is easy to tune. I love recording with them for that reason. I also like to play kits in a 20/12/14 configuration. I used to be obsess over vintage drums. My favorites are 60s Ludwig.
I typically use Hi-hats, 1 or 2 crashes, and a ride. I did the first Dum Dum Girls tour with only one crash cymbal (no hi-hat). That was a fun experiment. In my “big kit” days, I had an extra floor tom on the left side of my snare and a glockenspiel! I would have had a timpani or two if I could!
Frazer Harrison/Via Zimbio.com
When and where did you get this drum kit?
I got the acrylic kit a couple years ago through C&C, before the last Dum Dum Girls tour. I used to scour eBay and Craigslist for vintage kits. Obsessed.
Are there any pieces of gear that have stayed with you from the beginning?
I turned my drum stick holder into a flute holder that attaches to a mic stand! Otherwise, I ran every piece of my first kit into the ground. I get very sentimental about gear though. It’s difficult for me to let things go. But when pieces break, the decision is made for you.
If you could only hold on to one piece of your kit what would it be and why?
My Istanbul ride cymbal is the cymbal I dreamed about for ages. It’s beautiful as a ride and a crash. Their cymbals are amazing, very soulful. It’s me and this cymbal for life.
“This is a thing women have to deal with constantly, but the silver lining is that if you can learn to navigate it, it will make you stronger. If you cultivate your own power and confidence, people will take notice.”
Do men frequently ask if you need help with your setting up or breaking down your kit at shows? If so what is your reaction to that/any advice for other female drummers on this topic?
No one will mess with you if you project an “I got this” energy, unless of course they’re trying to talk to you for other reasons. If their intention is to “mansplain” the virtues of drums, or what you are doing wrong, that’s a whole other ballgame. This is more and more rare, I find. What is more common is a guy who wants to broadcast that he himself is a drummer, usually in a manner like a peacock. Great, dude! You did it!
As women, we develop a keen radar to constantly gauge the intention of people who approach us. We typically strive to feel like colleagues rather than students. If people came at me all drum Yoda, or talking down, it can definitely be annoying, but my advice is try not to let it make you feel small. Be respectful but always stand your ground. Sometimes it’s over the top and aimed to cut you down, then hey you can’t help it, a “fuck off” may be in order. If you can pick up the patterns of what’s going on in your radar, you’ll feel empowered too. You can choose your battles and decide what’s petty. If you own it with a professional attitude, brush off the awkward conversations, and tear it up on the kit, you won’t have to say anything verbally. Mic drop.
This is a thing women have to deal with constantly, but the silver lining is that if you can learn to navigate it, it will make you stronger. If you cultivate your own power and confidence, people will take notice.
Whatever you do, try not to piss off the sound guy until after you perform!
Any funny or odd stories about your gear?
On the previous topic, some venue crew once remarked that my minimal kit was like a “girl’s drum set”. We had a laugh to ourselves and talked some shit. If you live in a world where these types of distinctions still matter, I ultimately feel more pity than anger. It crossed over from being offensive to absurd, and funny! It can be a bonding experience to gang up against the world.
photo by Steven Perlin
Sandra Vu is a multi-instrumentalist/composer and has appeared live/ on record with: The Raveonettes, Dirty Beaches, Dum Dum Girls, Midnight Movies, 88BOARDRUM, with The Boredoms, Doug Aitken Art Happening, Alexi Murdoch, Luke Top, Big Search.