Feminist punks and lap dogs – A few moments with Helen O’Kelly

Helen O'Kelly of Feminal Fluids

In your own words; write a brief description of your band

Just a few queer, vegan, feminist punks yelling about stuff that really grinds our gears. Like the patriarchy, and dingbat, privileged, ignorant douchebags.

Name: Helen O’Kelly

Age: 27

Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Nickname(s): Smellen Degenerates, Farmer Helen

Current band: Feminal Fluids

Favourite place for takeout: Padmanadi. Best ginger beef on the planet!

Tom Tom: When/ how did your interest in drumming begin?

Helen: I don’t recall a time that I didn’t want to play the drums. When I was a kid, I would occasionally spend an hour on the floor trying to get a wooden skewer through the lid of a tin can to add some cymbal action to my pots and pans. All that grueling effort finally paid off when Mr. Clause brought me a kit at the age of 14.

Have you ever taken lessons?

I had a few lessons right after I got my kit, but my teacher seemed slightly more interested in showing off how fast his single stroke rolls were than he was in actually teaching me much. But he did teach me a couple of basic beats, which I played until my family’s ears bled. Aside from those, I just listened to songs, and tinkered around until what I was playing matched the song.  When I started playing in bands and writing drum parts, I just kind of applied those concepts to my own parts.

What was the first song you learned to play on drums?

“Raining Blood” by Slayer, except I didn’t have a double bass pedal at the time so it was a little bit wonky. I guess the first song I properly learned how to play was “Walk” by Pantera. I was pretty into metal at the time.

Describe your gear

I still play the Pearl Export Series kit I got when I was 14. It hasn’t let me down yet! Aside from a few stripped lugs on the res side of the bass drum, it’s still as good as new! I’m sloooowly, but surely replacing my Sabian B8 cymbals. I’ve got some Zildjian A Custom hi-hats, which are the loves of my life, and I’ve got my eye on the accompanying ride. I would LOVE to get a DW kit one day.

Can you write music/ lyrics?

Absolutely not! My band mate tried to help me write a song probably 7 or 8 years ago, and it was a total disaster. Which is saying a lot with her. She could write a song about a blade of grass and have you humming along within minutes.

Do you play other instruments or sing?

I was in a choir for ten years, but I don’t sing too much anymore outside of a karaoke bar. I can play 4 whole chords on the guitar, and that’s about it!

What is in your own musical collection?

All kinds of stuff. I’ve got some Beethoven and Mozart, some Wu Tang. I really like folk punk, like AJJ and Mischief Brew. Most of the punk albums I own are of local Edmonton bands, and bands that have come through on tour. We played with Brass from Vancouver at Sled Island, and I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with them. Regina Spektor, Queen, the Flatliners, Audio/Rocketry. And obviously a B*Witched album for good measure.

Helen O ' Kelly with Feminal Fluids
Helen with her band Feminal Fluids at Sled Island Festival in Calgary Alberta.

What’s on your walls in your room?

I moved recently, and I’m the actual worst at unpacking things. I have my Oilers jersey hanging up there. I graduated recently, so I hung my cap up. But whenever I move, the first thing that goes on my wall any time I move is the first snare head I ever had.

Do you have musical idols?

When I was playing metal I really liked Chris Adler and Vinnie Paul. I don’t really listen to metal anymore, but I still love their drumming. They write drum parts that you can listen to on their own, especially Adler. Janet Weiss and Tobi Vail are goddesses. Paul Ramirez of the Flatliners is probably my favourite right now. I just love his style. His tom fills are perfection. Watching him drum is also wonderful. He plays these awesome, speedy triplet fills, and looks so relaxed while doing it. Sometimes you could almost swear he’s doing in in his sleep!

Who are the bands that inspire your band’s sound?

That’s a tough one to pin down. We all have such varied musical tastes. I think it’s safe to say that riot Grrrl bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney have given us some inspiration, for sure. Misfits are probably another common ground. If they’re yelling about important issues, and it sounds like they recorded their album in a garbage can, we’re probably inspired by them.

Where do you practice / how often?

I practice in my basement. FF practices usually once a week. I play in another band that jams whenever the stars align just right, and I jam with my roommate sometimes as well. I’ve got a practice pad that I don’t use as much as I should, but I’m working on it!

What have you taken away from playing live?

Nobody cares when you mess up. You won’t even really care when you mess up. Just have fun! If you’re having fun, everyone else will have fun, too!

What does pre show preparation involve?

Despite my best efforts and pep-talks, I get ridiculously nervous before a show. If we’re playing at a new venue, my first mission is to locate the toilet. The rest of my pre-show prep involves pacing around, praying that my stomach stops hurting so much.

Are you exhausted after a show?

Never. I feel so, so good after a show. As soon as I count in for the first song, my nerves disappear, my stomach stops hurting, and all my cares go away. I feel absolutely fantastic after every show we play!

What’s the most unusual/funny thing to ever happen to you at a gig?

A dear friend of ours lives in Calgary, so she doesn’t get to see us often. But, when she does, she runs around, moshing naked from the waist up for at least a song or two.

What are the best/ most practical clothes for drumming?

Shorts. I love winter, but playing in skinny jeans is kind of constricting. I should just bring shorts along to play in, but I never do. I use an Iron Cobra bass pedal. The foot-board isn’t the smoothest, so I wear shoes when I play. I usually wear a flannel with the sleeves rolled up.

Do you have an aggressive style in your drumming? (Do you hit hard?)

I’ve been told that I hit hard, but I don’t think I hit THAT hard. I haven’t broken any skins or cymbals yet.

What appeals to you about a magazine like Tom Tom?

The tagline is “Drummers. Music. Feminism.” What’s not to like?! It’s so awesome to read about other lady drummers out there doing their thing. I think it’s such a great resource for other women and girls to have if they don’t have many lady drummers to look up to in their own scenes. I’m lucky to be one of quite a few lady drummers here in Edmonton. The folks here are overflowing with so much support and community, it blows my dang mind!

Tell us about the first show you played in front of an audience as a drummer?

It was at a talent/variety show in high school. My band at the time played a cover of “Enter Sandman.” It was awesome, because I was so excited to play, and we killed it! It was also utter torture because I have never been a Metallica fan at all. But, we also played “Walk,” so it balanced out.

What are your goals as a musician?

To keep improving my playing, and keep on loving what I do! I would also like to practice more. I’m awful at practicing my rudiments!

What’s in the future for you musically?

More drumming, I hope! I would love to do some more recording, and go on tour with the ol’ band. We’re hoping to have something planned for next summer, I think!

How would you describe the local scene for bands like yours?

Incredible! There are so many amazing bands here. Phenomenal promoters who put on phenomenal shows. Phenomenal bands to play those phenomenal shows. And phenomenal people who go to those shows and support the scene.

What has been the biggest change in your life since lifting up the sticks?

Feminal Fluids. This band has been the absolute greatest experience. My confidence as a drummer has grown. My confidence as a person has grown. I get to play awesome, fun music with my best friends, and I’ve met so many truly wonderful people. What more could a gal ask for?

Helen O ' Kelly at Sled Island Festival in Calgary Alberta
Helen O ‘ Kelly at Sled Island Festival in Calgary Alberta

What else should people know about you?

I’m really, really good at sleeping. Anywhere, anytime. I have the most adorable 80lb lapdog you’ve ever seen.  And I really want to go storm-chasing one day.

Do you have advice for young women starting out in music?

Play what you want to play because you love to play it, and don’t let anybody bring you down. Not everyone is going to like what you do, and that’s okay. Also, don’t be afraid to let people know when you like what they do. It can mean the world to them, and maybe you’ll make a new pal!

What are your interests away from drumming?

I love Lego! And Star Wars. In fact, I’m currently working through the complete Lego Star Wars Saga on my Xbox haha

At the end of the day; when all is said and done …you play the drums because …..?

They’re my happy place.


Story and Photography- John Carlow  Finding Charlotte Photography

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