Name Ellen Reade
Hometown: Edmonton, AB
Nickname(s): People call me Allen when I’m drunk
Current band: Dead Friends
Favourite place for takeout: A&W
In your own words; write a brief description of your band
Dead Friends is what you see during sleep paralysis.
Tom Tom Magazine covered Sled Island Festival in Calgary, Alberta Canada this past summer. This is the second of several featured drummers from that festival.
Tom Tom: When/ how did your interest in drumming begin?
Ellen Reade : The first time I ever properly got behind a drum kit was in 10th grade. There was some awful guy in my class and we hated each other. As an attempt to make some peace, he taught me the basic 4/4 beat in the music room at lunch. Now he tries to start pro-life and pro-UCP arguments with people in the comments section of my Facebook. James, if you’re reading this, thanks for teaching me to play, but for the love of god… please don’t vote. I didn’t pick drumming up again until about a year after I graduated high school. I started jamming with friends (poorly) on and off, but only properly committed when Dead Friends started. I suspect Jesse and Carter only asked me to join the band because I knew how to get good shows. I’d played in bands for a while beforehand and knew a lot of people. Musically, I seriously had no idea what I was doing at first.
Have you ever taken lessons?
Nope! I’m (mostly) self-taught. It’s been a lot of trial and error, and patience from my band. While I was in school at MacEwan University, I would toss a drummer from the music program a chocolate bar (or something small) to show me a fill or two. But still, I’ve learned primarily from jamming or trying to mimic fills and beats in songs that I like.
What was the first song you learned to play on drums?
Either Can’t Sleep, Mono, or Big Door by Dead Friends ha ha ha. We started out writing; there was no period of trying to figure out how to play first. We’d already written three songs before we ever learned another person’s song. But for covers, I think we played My Shadow by Jay Reatard at our first show.
Describe your gear
It’s everyone else’s. I have a chronic borrowing problem and I’m broke. The gear I do own (breakables/snare), I don’t want to talk about too much. It’s good quality, but it doesn’t have the sound I’m realizing I’ll need for my music. I didn’t use any of my own gear on our upcoming album because I don’t love the way it sounds. I hope to upgrade within the next few years, but as an independent contractor and a student I don’t think that’s gonna happen any time soon.
Can you write music/lyrics ?
Oh yeah! I used to front a band called Brunch Club and I wrote all the songs. I still write a lot but I don’t currently have a project or outlet to put it towards. I prefer drumming. Fronting a band went to my head too easily. My “writing” is all just very basic chords on guitar. I’m much more confident with my melodies and lyrics.
Do you play other instruments or sing ?
I started out as a bass player! I only played bass (sometimes singing) in bands from 2014-2016. I also “play guitar” but only when I’m writing songs. I’m definitely not strong enough of a player to keep up in a band.
What are the best/ most practical clothes for drumming?
I like wearing loose pants or shorts with a baggy shirt. Something that breathes well, I need to feel free. Some people find this weird, but I HAVE to take my shoes off when I drum.
Do you have an aggressive style in your drumming ? (do you hit hard ? )
I used to, but I have to be really gentle with myself because of the carpal tunnel. I’ve found the more I relax myself (shoulders, grip on the sticks, psychologically ha-ha), the better I drum. If I need to hit hard to accentuate something I do, but I generally like to play more on the gentle side.
What is in your own musical collection?
Oh god, everything. This is an unfair question. I can’t even begin to start talking about what I listen to. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of The Abigails, DakhaBrakha, Wallows, Wand, and a bunch of old outlaw country. My roots are definitely in what I used to see on the wall when I’d walk around HMV as a teenager (Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Radiohead etc). My tastes are generally all over the place. I listen to 60s Christian Hymns when I’m angry.
Whats on your walls in your room?
A lot of tapestries, psychedelic scarves and fabric from a phase I went through when I was 18. The phase is over but the tapestries are still sick. I also have a world map and I mark down everywhere that I travel.
Do you have musical idols?
Not anymore. When I was younger I was completely obsessed with the myth surrounding characters like Syd Barrett, Kurt Cobain, and Daniel Johnston. The tortured artist archetype was really alluring when I was a teenager, but I’ve grown out of that. It’s just left me with bad posture and resulting back pain (playing bass hunched over is NOT cool). Another part of this, is the music cannon was (and still is) very male dominated. It’s hard to idolize and aspire to become someone who you can’t fully relate to. There weren’t as many easily discoverable female musicians for me to identify with when I was younger. I found a lot of badass women in music as I got older, but growing up there weren’t a ton of female classic rock or grunge icons to look up to.
Who are the bands that inspire your band’s sound?
Our upcoming album is heavily inspired by The Abigails, The Growlers, Enio Morricone, The Doors, Iggy Pop, and a load of other stuff. Our sound is sort of similar to bands like The Oh Sees, Ty Segall, and Kind Gizzard. It’s super heavy garage psych, but we’ve incorporated a western influence recently.
Where do you practice / how often ?
We practice at our guitar player Jesse’s house about once a week or once every two weeks.
What have you taken away from playing live?
There’s almost nothing I love doing more. Live shows are one of the things I genuinely enjoy the most in my life, and I hope to be doing it for the rest of my life. It’s also made me realize how important it is to be close to your band. Tension in the band leads to actual sonic tension on stage. I’m so glad to be in the band with Jesse, Carter, and Callum. They’re three of the best friends I’ve ever had. I think our friendship and group energy translates well into our live performance.
What does pre show preparation involve?
I have killer carpal tunnel and some mild back pain, so I stretch a LOT. Sometimes I follow yoga videos if it’s a particularly large/stressful show. I think my constant stretching and yoga everywhere we go gets on the guys nerves, but they never say anything about it. I actually have no shame about it, I’ll stretch in the middle of the venue if I feel I need to.
Are you exhausted after a show?
When I play a show that I’m not proud of I’m so tired that I could sink into the dirt and die for all I care. I completely shut off and usually try to dip as fast as possible. I’ve actually run straight out the back door of venues and immediately tried to sleep in my car. Bad gigs do a number on me. BUT I could stay up all night on the rush of a good show though, so it really depends.
What’s the most unusual/funny thing to ever happen to you at a gig?
I think our gig opening for Calpurnia was the most hilarious and bizarre. We’re just your local dive bar garage rock band, but teenagers were swarming us asking for autographs and treating us like celebrities. People were screaming and waving at us when we were loading in. We gained over 400 Instagram followers in one night. I still get stopped in public and treated like I’m actually famous. Obviously I’m not though. I sleep in my minivan on tour because I can’t afford a hotel. Very surreal and funny feeling like a big time band for one night.
What appeals to you about a magazine like Tom Tom?
Female drummers are entirely underrepresented and rarely covered. It’s awesome having a publication that focuses on them. I find that the small amount of coverage of female drummers tend to be like “this WOMAN talks about what it’s like to be WOMAN playing the drums as a WOMAN”, but Tom Tom puts the focus on musicianship. Tom Tom also takes a deeper dive into the lives of each of these drummers. Unlike a lot of other coverage, “what’s it like to be a female drummer” doesn’t feel like the centrepiece of the story. It’s a great way to give women the opportunity to talk about JUST THE DRUMS, rather than about the plight of sexism… which sometimes feels like a forced topic in interviews.
Tell us about the first show you played in front of an audience as a drummer
We played a janky Rockin’ 4 dollar set that The Buckingham in Edmonton. I felt entirely under prepared. I promoted it online as me “pretending to be a drummer” and I told everyone to come see me embarrass myself. I set the bar as low as I possibly could. A TON of people came out, and all of them said I played better than they expected. My plan to set the bar low and exceed it worked, and everyone left impressed.
What are your goals as a musician?
To take my band as far as I possibly can. I never want to look back on this era of my life and think “if I’d tried harder maybe we could have been more successful”. I’m giving it my ALL so that I will never look back with regrets. If the entire thing flops at least I’ll know that I tried my hardest and had fun.
What’s in the future for you musically?
I’m moving to Toronto, but we’re still going to keep the band going. We’re looking at it as an opportunity to grow rather than as something that inhibits that growth. We’re in the process of recording a full length album and will likely start premiering tracks before the end of the year. As for me… I recently changed ALL the songs I’ve personally written to be played in C Standard tuning. I’m hoping to front a new band when I move out to Toronto and get ( hopefully ) some new music released.
What has been the biggest change in your life since lifting up the sticks?
I actually feel confident playing my instrument. I always felt like I was pretending to play bass. Drums came to me much quicker and truly feel like the instrument that I was “meant” to play. Drumming doesn’t create the same emotional exhaustion that fronting a band does. I don’t feel as looked at, and there isn’t the same pressure of everyone analyzing my writing. It’s a lot more lighthearted and fun, and feels like a hobby rather than a job.
What should people know about you?
I’m the worst.
Do you have advice for young women starting out in music?
Fuck the boys club. It’s a fight to be taken seriously, but don’t ever take shit from anyone. Make yourself the alpha in every situation. Take control, call people on their shit when they’re being sexist. Put people in their place if they talk down to you. It’s an annoying thing to deal with, but don’t EVER question your ability as a musician or as an artist.
How would you describe the local scene for bands like yours?
There used to be a lot more bands in our genre a few years back, but not so much any more! Indie rock, garage, and psychedelic music aren’t as popular as they once once, and that’s fine. I make the music I make because I love it!
What are your interests away from drumming?
I study media and communications . Lately I’ve had a really deep obsession with the future of public relations and communications theory, machine learning, intuitive graphic design, automated sentiment analysis, and how all of that is going to impact our relationships with digital information in the future. I need to finish my degree, but I eventually want to get a masters in this area. I love reading books about the topics I’m interested in. I also do a bunch of miscellaneous work in the festival industry in various roles. I’ve recently been trying to teach myself code with HTML. Other than that I’m learning Ukranian and French just for fun. I used to be really into video games, Dungeons and Dragons, and Magic the Gathering but those are unfortunately lost hobbies that I don’t have the time for. I wrote a huge part of a Trail of Cthulhu campaign but I haven’t had the time for it yet. I also try and see EVERY single movie that comes to theatres!
At the end of the day; when all is said and done …you play the drums because …..?
I love it. There’s no spiel about the value of artistry or how it all “means something”. I just like it. It’s fun.
Any last thoughts ?
Story/ Photographs : John Carlow/ Finding Charlotte Photography