Meet Sarah McEwan- artist, drummer and all round creative woman. Be inspired!
Tell us about your current project.
I play in Bambino Koresh
It’s a husband and wife duo Tom and Leti on guitar and bass which makes it really easy and self contained. We started playing together in 2008 when Leti asked me to have a jam with them. We were all friends and luckily liked playing together a lot so we’ve kept it up. We released our debut record this year, ‘Up and Left.’ December saw us supporting Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield.
What kind(s) of drumming do you do and what’s the difference in style?
I play indie rock drums mostly now. Over the years I’ve played in more floor tom based cute, but darker bands. I’ve also played in a heavier indie rock band and a soft and creepy experimental band. It was good playing in the soft and creepy band as it taught me a lot about playing and not playing, listening and dynamics which has made me a better drummer.
What lead you to drums and how old were you when you started?
I was 21. My boyfriend and I were at his parent’s house one day. We decided to set up an old kit he had stored there. We spent the afternoon playing around and I found it really fun and got the hang of it pretty quickly. So after that I was hooked and jammed lots with friends and joined a band!
I’m 33 now and have played in bands consistently for 12 years so I finally feel like I can kind of play pretty well! But I still get so nervous before gigs- I haven’t been able to kick that in all this time.
Do you make a living out of drums? If so, how do you manage it?
No. It’s a fun thing I like to do. I don’t ever expect to make a living out of playing drums. For a while I was very serious about drums but now I am more relaxed.
What are some of the myths you’ve heard/had thrown at you as a female drummer? What do you say in response when you hear them?
Luckily I haven’t really been given too much of a hard time about it. People close to me have been supportive and encouraging and given me lots of help and advice over the years.
With that said there have been times when I’ve felt self conscious. That’s me being sensitive to gender stereotypes and aware that boys can often be revolting and think girls aren’t very good at drums just because they are gender programmed to think that.
Sometimes boys come up to me after shows and exclaim, “Wow, you can really drum!” And I smile and say, “Yes I can.”
From a personal gender politics perspective, I think some boys think they are above mainstream, white, male ideology but in their comments it shows that they are not; drumming is not a girl’s thing, it’s a boy’s thing girls think they can do. But that is more from strangers. All the boys I’m friends with, musicians or not, who know me, aren’t like that to me; they take me seriously when it comes to drumming.
Do you have any personal achievements you would like to share?
I think for me the highlight of drumming has been the tour I did around Europe and China with Grace Before Meals for almost 4 months in 2009. Vic and I played as a duo in conventional and underground spaces through Scotland, Holland, Denmark, Germany and Italy. We then went on to meet Penny and Amelia in China to play 6 shows in Shanghai, Beijing and Wuhan. It was a blast! Except for the gear- I had a 3 and half octave xylophone with me as part of my stand up drum set up which was a real drag and I definitely learnt my lesson – when on tour travel light! Fuck the artistic integrity!
Why do you think drumming is good for the mind, body and soul?
What I really love about drumming is over time as I’ve started to play better, I’ve learnt to switch my brain off and rely on body memory. It’s so amazing to be in the moment and lost. It’s a very healthy out of yourself experience.
On a totally different note, ages ago I use to do a lot of Kundalini yoga classes, which is yoga for your insides, not your body. One of the ways to help your bass chakra is to drum. Interesting, huh?
How does drumming benefit women specially?
In a political sense it is good for everyone to see woman succeeding in a traditionally male dominated area. It helps to break down old fashioned attitudes of men as active and woman as passive. Or should I say men as musicians and woman as groupies.
Have you ever faced discrimination (gender or otherwise) in the music scene and if so, how?
Not overtly, but subtly.
One memory I have is about rocking up to a gig at the Excelsior in Surry Hills about 7 years ago now, when I was much younger and in to being hip and sexy. I am carrying my drums down the back alley and loading in to the venue.
A guy from the other band is also loading in and I say, “Hi.” He says hello back and then asks, “Are you carrying your boyfriend’s drums?”
Another time, about 3 years ago was a drummer I’d met for the first time who played after us at a gig. I thought he was really nice and we were chatting with some friends. Out of nowhere he turned the conversation to the fact that girl drummers can’t hit as hard as boy drummers! I remember feeling very surprised as all his signifiers suggested he was gender neutral until he dropped that bomb.
Why do you think drumming (and the Sydney music scene) continues to be dominated by males?
I moved away from Sydney over 2 years ago now. It is refreshing for me to be out of that scene and away from it. I kind of got over it and saw aspects of it as a boys club or exclusive club which turns music in to a kind of commodity that you do to be cool, accepted and maintain or further your status.
In essence I think music is like any other kind of club, like a football club or stamp club. People want to bond together over what they like.
In my darkest thoughts about a male dominated scene I think of Napoleon Dynamite who says, “Chick’s dig guys with skills.” Meaning boys who want pretty girls need to have some great skills in order to get them in the sack!
In what ways could we improve the encouragement and recruitment of women into drumming and/or their overall participation in live music in your opinion?
To be supportive of younger, emerging musicians, and to jam with any of your friends who are interested in learning an instrument.
I think one thing that is important is to encourage and support other woman musicians, to not be bitchy or aloof but kind and interested in their musicianship and musical ideas. Have conversations and share stories. Compliment girls after they play a killer set.
Girls seeing girls play is always inspiring as well. I had the biggest crush on the first female drummer I ever saw when I was about 19. I thought she was the coolest!
Everyone learns from mistakes. Describe a time you’ve made a mistake in your creative life and what you learnt from it.
I think my drumming mistakes have been when I was younger and excited about playing live and going out. As a result I’ve played live in all kinds of altered states but quickly realised I played my best when I was sober. Learning this early on was really good as it meant I played better and stopped losing or forgetting my gear!
What is the most empowering thing you have discovered about yourself personally through music?
I’m naturally very shy and can shrink easily. Playing live has taught me how to deal with those feelings and to feel strong and confident in myself when I’m playing. It has also taught me that I am just me. I play how I play and that’s OK. I don’t need to do the fastest fills or keep metronome time. The tiny flaws are what make my drumming style mine.
If you could meet the person you were when you first started playing music (or in live music scene), what advice would you give them now with the benefit of hindsight?
Just keep playing and practicing, it’s the only way to get better and be the drummer you want to be. If you stick with it one day you will arrive at the point you want to be at.