Moments with Keltie Duncan of Ottawa’s Bonnie Doon

Name:​ Keltie Duncan
Age​: 35
Lives in : Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Nickname(s)​ : Kelts, Dunks, The Drummer
Current band​: Bonnie Doon; Sleep Late; The New Calling
Favourite place for takeout: ​Little Caesars (Crazy Bread)


 

Tom Tom Magazine covered Sled Island Festival in Calgary, Alberta Canada last summer. This is the sixth of several featured drummers from that festival.

 

Tom Tom : In your own words; write a brief description of your band Bonnie Doon

Keltie : Moon-howlin, ghost-chasin, spooky doom beach bums.

​When/ how did your interest in drumming begin?

I had always wanted to play drums, so in my early twenties I rented an electronic kit for cheap and just started playing with headphones in my apartment. I could read music thanks to childhood piano lessons and a friend recommended I look for a specific drum rudiments book (​Basic Drumming ​ by Joel Rothman). That very week I came across it at a local used book store for $5.00. I played for over 5 years just on my own before a band ever found me. Now I’m in three!

Have you ever taken formal lessons?

Never.

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

Skulls by The Misfits

Describe your gear

When I turned 30, a huge group of friends and family pooled money to get me a gift card from the local drum shop here in Ottawa (SHOUT OUT DAVE’S DRUM SHOP). I got what I call an ‘Ocean Sparkle’ blue-green Catalina Club kit from Gretsch. My pedal is a DW-5000 single. My sticks, swear by em, are Vic Firth American Custom SD9 Drivers. Light, loud and sturdy for accidental and intentional rim hits. All cymbals are Sabian: hi hats are AAX 14”, crash for Bonnie Doon is a tiny 14”-er to cut through the two basses, and the ride is a hand-me-down tried-and-true plain Jane ride. My earplugs are Vic Firth and I never leave home without them.

Dave’s Drum Shop. Tell me more about it.

Dave is a great example of a guy who knows what he loves and found a way to make a living at it. When I was involved with Girls+ Rock Ottawa, Dave was always so kind and generous, and when we got a grant to purchase four bands’ worth of instruments, Dave gave us the good stuff at a very good price. He travels a lot to conferences and trade shows and because of that, the shop is always carefully stocked. At the same time he does consignment, so there’s always a REALLY sharp vintage kit that comes through the Instagram feed. I have a drummer/collector friend in Calgary who loves the Dave’s Drum Shop Instagram channel! He happily custom orders whatever strikes your fancy (my favorite sticks!), and he’s just a good guy, which is always a bonus in this world.

Would you like to eventually sponsor a brand as a drummer?

If I believed in the product, I definitely would. My ideal ‘audience’ is young women or otherwise under-represented folks who have an interest in playing music that might be tipped over the edge into trying it by seeing first-hand that it can be done. Side bonus would be to normalize the presence of women in the endorsement circle. Any sort of extra visibility, or sadly extra legitimacy 4 all da h8trs, that could support the mission would certainly be welcomed.

Can you write music/ lyrics ?

I can, but I don’t!

Do you play other instruments or sing ?

I can play piano if I have to and I sing when I want to.

Keltie Duncan of Bonnie Doon. Sled Island Festival

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

It was at an iconic Ottawa space called ‘The Meat Locker’(now an iconic Ottawa space called ‘House of Targ’) which was a large-ish neighborhood garage with two jam rooms, a couple of pinball machines and no toilet paper. We opened for a local band called Voicemail (RIP; also ended up in a band with a couple members years later) and a Toronto group, Valley Boys. I was so nervous that I did half of sound check with the snare off, and I have no idea how it actually went but we went on to play more shows so it couldn’t have been that bad. One of our two bass players’ dad took a great date-stamped photo and it sure looks fun.

Out of the 3 bands you’re part of , is Bonnie Doon the one you play with most?

I’ve played with Bonnie Doon the longest, but I split my week between Sleep Late and Bonnie Doon, with a third splinter for The New Calling whenever we have a show booked. Bonnie Doon has been on a bit of a self-imposed show-less streak since Sled for writing and babies, which will continue until spring/summer, so my main outlet has been Sleep Late.

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

We’ve been told bands like Teenage Heads, B-52s, ye olde surf rock, X-Ray Spex, The Curse, The Viletones. We all have very different tastes and nothing is overt so I would add to that… Andrew Lloyd Webber?

What have you taken away from playing live?

To stay on my toes and to embrace situations where there’s no going back. Dive in head first.

What does pre show preparation involve?

One beer – no more, no less.

Are you exhausted after a show?

I’m usually energized immediately after but ffwd an hour and I’m pooped.

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

The drummer in the band before us borrowed my kit and breakables and ended up making good on the name and destroying my snare head and cratering all the toms. He also broke his hand open in the process and wound up completely spattering all my drum heads with his blood. Looked like a crime scene (which was appropriate as the show was in the basement of an old 1800s courthouse.) I had to borrow a snare from the band ahead of us and we were all stuck with the moon toms for the rest of the night. To his credit, though, the offending drummer replaced all the heads on my kit a week or so later. No harm no foul!

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

I don’t hit hard, no. After the above story I learned that I can’t lend my kit to many shows because most drummers hit much harder than me and do more damage to the little Gretsch in one show than I do in a year.

What would be a ” dream bill ” for you ? Who would you want to play with ?

Deerhoof, hands down. With Wet Brain (Baltimore) and Full Bush (Philly)! I’d play a dreaded 4-band bill to be a part of this line up.

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

Oh, here in Ottawa it’s aces. There’s a healthy, thriving indie music scene in Ottawa for pretty much whatever your poison is. It’s not a huge city but there are a ton of interesting people here taking the well being of the community into their own hands and putting on safe, fun and interesting shows all over.

Where do you practice / how often ?

Bonnie Doon rehearses in an old basement around the corner from my place on Mondays, and both Sleep Late and The New Calling jam at our friend Luke’s jam space, Capital Rehearsal Studio, which has lockout rooms and rental spaces with back line and amps provided (nice). Sleep Late jams Sundays and The New Calling will jam for a few weeks around a show.

What are your thoughts on streaming music and its effect on bands?

I’ve never quite been in the echelon of making money from music beyond slowly building a band fund to pay for recording or a weekend writing retreat, so I can’t comment directly on the impact on me, per say. Obviously anything that takes revenue away from hard working musicians is an issue, though I think it depends on the level of band-dom you’re in. Streaming platforms are popular to the point of being a viable promotional tool for smaller bands, so I would be fine getting some poorly paid exposure, personally. My understanding is that for most bands the best way to make money has always been playing shows and selling merch whether they have a record deal or not, so I suppose it pushes folks to get out there and be among the people. If you’re at the level where there is no return from being on a streaming platform, like you don’t need the exposure, that’s where it starts to get problematic.

 

Bonnie Doon at Sled Island Festival . Calgary Alberta

 

Whats on your walls in your room ?

A Peanuts painting.

What is in your own musical collection?

It’s very ecclectic and mostly stuff pre-1999. I have mostly vinyl now since phones with decent storage have become prohibitively expensive to me, and a small cassette collection. Early Bonnie Doon was released on cassette via Ottawa’s own Bruised Tongue Records, and we’ve been on a few Pentagon Black compilations out of Montreal, so most of my tapes are from those folks (not just our own releases…). My most treasured records are a hand-silk screened copy of Deerhoof’s Reveille that I found at Amoeba in San Francisco, and a personalized signed copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas from Jerry Granelli. I tend to mostly listen to the radio (roulette wheel of rock n roll, babies) or to podcasts (shout out My Favorite Murder!) these days.

Do you have musical idols?

Jerry Granelli is the drummer I’ve listened to the most in my life.

Any more thoughts on Jerry Granelli . Why an idol?

I’m just so familiar with his performance on A Charlie Brown Christmas that I’m sure it influences my own drumming style. Jazz drumming in general is about ‘less is more’, which is definitely a principle I play by. My band mate Ian calls what I would call the more show-offy stuff ‘tra-la-la’, and I love that. Jerry plays with no tra-la-la, and I find I prefer to play that way, too. There’s more to good drumming than loud fills and fancy moves – it’s okay to keep it simple!

What appeals to you about a magazine like Tom Tom?

When I read Tom Tom I feel like I’m being ‘shared with’ rather than ‘spoken at.’ I feel that it’s a peer resource that takes me and my interest in drumming as seriously (or not) as I do. If you are just getting into drumming, there’s content for you. If you’re a serious professional or have been playing for years, there’s content for you, too, and any combination in between is treated as valid. I love that Tom Tom is about drumming first, and women+ second, though the latter is obviously equally important. First and foremost I want to be taken seriously as a musician, and Tom Tom places the emphasis on technique and skill, but presents it within a safe and familiar space that allows me to feel comfortable delving into something new. I’m inspired by hearing from women of all levels, and especially from actually ​seeing ​ women behind that kit. The more we all see it, the more normalized it becomes. The focus on women writers, performers and mentors leaves me more open to learning and confident that I’m welcome in the land of drumming!

What are your goals as a musician ?

To relieve stress, continue to grow a little bit every jam, and to have funnnnnnnnnnnn.

What’s in the future for you musically?

I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, playing with people that I love, and taking whatever opportunity happens to come my way. I work a pretty demanding job for a large international film event, so my expectations for my future as a musician are pretty realistic, I’d say. I’ll just keep on keepin on and enjoy myself as much as I can!

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

I’ve gotten over some pretty big stage fright, and really learned a lot about myself in terms of group dynamics by being in bands. It set me on a path to overcoming a lot of performance anxiety in many areas of my life, and allowed for a built-in stress release every week.

What should people know about you?

I’m not as young as some, and I started this journey relatively late, but I don’t let that stop me from playing. I’m aware that my male counterparts had more opportunity to get involved in bands a lot earlier in life than I did, and because of that I support organizations like Girl’s Rock Camp (Ottawa Rock Camp for Girls+ in my city) that provide a safe space for young women to experiment and get silly without feeling judged. My professional life is very busy and full of pressure so by learning to let go of my fears of fucking up through performing with my friends I feel I was able to unlearn some of the things I absorbed about what I can and cannot do. I’m still unlearning these things!

 

 

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

Just do it! Find a friend with a kit, rent a cheap one from Long & McQuade (hey hey Canada) like I did, join a band… take lessons if you want, but I’d say don’t let a lack of ‘musical skill’ keep you from getting into it. Don’t focus on the technical parts of music right off the bat if that’s not your strong suit. Just have fun and make noise and the more you do it the more you’ll figure out about your style and get the feel for what drumming means, and means to you. Just listen to your favorite music and play along for a while. Honestly, play Rock Band! That game is a game of rhythm – even the guitars are beats.

What are your interests away from drumming?

I’m an independent animation programmer and a certified film nerd, so if I’m not at work or at jam I’m watching my television. I’m also a die-hard hockey fan (GO HABS GO) and in the summer will check out our local Can-Am baseball team.

Your job sounds interesting..Can you tell me a bit more about it

My job title is ‘Director of Film Operations’ for the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) and its parent organization, the Canadian Film Institute (CFI). We’re a registered charity, so I work in the indie, non-profit arts field putting on film screenings of varying size and notoriety. I’m responsible for everything that is seen on-screen at the CFI, hence picking up drumming to try and relieve some of the tension that builds from that level of responsibility (so much). It’s a lot of technical work – watching films for quality checks and processing of files to work across a few different screening platforms – so pretty cool gig. My main love is now and has always been independent animation, so the real highlight of my year is the film selections work I do for the OIAF. It’s a competitive film festival, so I get to hole up with a colleague and the artistic director to watch hundreds (cut down from thousands) of animated shorts over the course of a week and offer opinions on potential in-competition films for him to choose. I then go off on my own and watch MORE animated shorts to choose films for our out-of-competition programs. We see film curation as an unsung creative specialization, and it’s the one week of the year that gets me through any low moments on the job.

 

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

Because I feel like I’m good at it. I get joy from trying new things and experimenting with drums as an instrument with my very creative friends.

 

Any last thoughts ?

Vive la Tom Tom and thanks for this!

 

Story/ Photographs : John Carlow/ Finding Charlotte Photography

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