Ten Questions With Terry Gotham: Sabina, Seattle Drummer Extraordinaire

(This week, I’m breaking my rule of focusing on NYC based artists for a good cause. A friend is raising money to fund music programs for at-risk & underprivileged youth in the Seattle-Tacoma, Washington area. She’s a drummer/musician extraordinaire, so I wanted to get the scoop on punk, live music & the scene out in SeaTac. Hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did!) Sabina

1. What’s it like being in the minority of lady drummers in Seattle?
It’s both intimidating and exhilarating. Intimidating in the sense that since the vast majority of drummers and rock bands in general are male, I have experienced my share of patronizing comments and extra scrutiny from ensembles I’ve played in that were all male. Throw in the fact that I’m older, and have not been playing drums for very long as compared to the guys who have been playing in bands since their teens, I can say that for someone who is very confident in most other aspects of my life, coming into this scene certainly forced me to develop a thick skin. On the other hand, since there are so few female drummers, I feel like I’m in a very elite club – a unicorn of sorts. I’ll be honest, I also came into this knowing that people find chick drummers to be extremely bad-ass. I suppose that’s due to the fact that drums have tended to be considered a “guy” instrument. There are many female vocalists and guitarists. Drummer chicks, not so much.

2. Were drums your first musical love, or have you hopped instruments over the years?
My musical experience started when I was 5. I started out playing piano, because my mother is an accomplished classical pianist. I learned to sight-read music at a very young age. But I remember, when I was 6 years old, for the first time hearing a song on the radio by Aerosmith, and from that moment, I fell in love with rock and roll. Growing up in a home where rock was considered garbage, it was tough to stick to an instrument. My parents finally let me learn guitar, as long as it was classical guitar. I had the skill to play, but the passion wasn’t there for me because I wasn’t playing the music I wanted to play. Growing up in NYC in the 80’s and 90’s I also spent a lot of time at dance clubs, and my ear and body gravitated towards rhythms. I became really fascinated by percussion and in awe of the musicians who were able to coordinate their 4 limbs to do different things at the same time and create a single groove. Eventually I ended up dropping piano and guitar while I was in graduate school – which is something I have always regretted. The desire to learn drums was always there though. And finally, 4 years ago it dawned on me – I’m all grown up, I have my own house, my own space, my own income and my husband’s old drum kit sitting in storage. I found a Groupon deal for 4 drum lessons at a local shop in Bellevue WA, bought it, and now 4 years later, I’m still with my same teacher, and still taking lessons every week. The drums are where I belong.

3. Is drumming your day job? If not, what do you do, and how do you balance work & banging on the drums all day?
Unfortunately drumming is not my day job. I work full-time for Amazon in Seattle, as a senior user researcher for their digital products division. Which means I get to test cool products such as the Amazon Echo, Fire TV, Dot and Tap with customers to get their feedback and use that data to improve the products. Balancing work with family, two bands, and practicing technique is challenging to say the least. I’m lucky I have the drums as an outlet. Hitting drums is an amazing stress reliever, and jamming with my bands takes care of my need to get out of the house and interact with people. It can be stressful for sure, especially around times where we’re about to gig and need to make sure the music is tight. Sometimes work stress bleeds into my ability to play drums, and it can affect my focus. But once we’re onstage, I get to be a rock star for a night, and that is the greatest feeling in the world.

4. Hostile Makeover takes hit singles by all male bands & re-envisions them with all women. Was that a conscious choice or did you & your bandmates stumble upon that after your first couple of covers?
I started Hostile Makeover with our bassist Kate Lint because I was pretty sure no other band would want to bring in a middle-aged female drummer with little experience. My vision was to create an all-female hard rock band, covering songs that are unexpected from a girl band. We didn’t purposely exclude music that came from female fronted bands, rather, the idea was to pick some good songs we liked in the rock and alternative genre and give them a “Hostile Makeover”, essentially rocking them out and making them our own. Over time what we realized was that we were all over the map with our set list, playing songs that people expected out of a girl band, such as songs by No Doubt, Garbage and Blondie, along with “unexpected” darker songs by “male” acts such as Alice in Chains and Velvet Revolver.Hostile Makeover at Skylark NYE-13

After having to go through some lineup changes over the last year, the core members of Hostile Makeover (myself, Kate on bass and Krystin Dee on lead/rhythm guitar) did make a conscious decision to narrow our focus and become more of a punk band with a harder edge, and in doing that, it so happened that our new set list is comprised of music created by male dominated bands So we’ve pretty much cut all the Blondie, Joan Jett, Garbage, Hole and No Doubt out of our main set list for now, and we’re working on a set of songs that are more in the classic punk genre, such as The Sex Pistols, Joy Division, The Buzzcocks, and the Ramones.

5. As a lady drummer, do you get shit from the dudes who drum in the Seattle scene?
Sometimes – but not nearly as often as I get shit from male bass and guitar players. The drummers I have met here in Seattle, male and female, are actually pretty awesome. We are a very supportive group, like kindred spirits, all of us stuck in the back of the stage, getting yelled at for noodling, never in any good gig photos, the butt of everyone’s jokes, etc. Where I do tend to see shit from male drummers is on social media groups, where there are thousands of male drummers and a handful of female drummers. I’ve had to stay away from those groups because of the misogyny I have seen, and if I see one more post dissing Meg White, I’ll just lose it.

6. Is punk dead?
Not at all! Seattle has quite a thriving punk scene, and a subculture of people who love to come see garage punk shows. And it’s not just the older people who are into it – I recently played a show with my other garage punk band, and there were a bunch of people in their early 20’s who not only loved it, but they were fans of some of the obscure garage/surf punk songs we were playing.

7. Are you currently drumming for anyone else besides Hostile Makeover?
Yes, I am in another band called The Specks, with two well-known garage punk musicians from Seattle based bands called The Statics and Primate 5. Zack Hoppenrath (aka Zack Static) and Brian Wallace play guitar and I’m on the drums, although recently, Brian has gotten behind the kit for a couple of songs and I’m doing lead vox, which is super fun.

8. What is it like being a live drummer in the era of Skrillex & the drum machines of the EDM era?
In my mind, there is nothing like live music, although I do love the beats and the energy and dance-ability of DJ music. With drums specifically, obviously, a drum machine will always keep perfect time, and that’s what all drummers strive towards. But a live drummer worth his/her salt will keep things fresh – never playing the same thing the same way at every gig, injecting energy that you can only get from a living breathing musician. There will always be a need and demand for that. The great thing is that Seattle’s music scene is so diverse that there is plenty of room and demand for all types of live performances. Most of the clubs here have dedicated DJ nights, open mic nights and live band nights. I actually would love to play drums alongside a DJ. I’m going to add that to my bucket list right now, as a matter of fact.

9. Who are your inspirations, as a performer and a listener?
My favorite famous drummers are John Bonham, Stewart Copeland, Clyde Stubblefield, Clem Burke and Jimmy Chamberlin. Bonham is by far the drummer I’m most inspired by. His sheer power on the drums, his ability to take a small kit and make it sound like thunder, no double-bass pedal, he was super-human in that sense…..and that will never be replicated ever. My other inspiration, believe it or not, is my drum teacher of four years, Adrian VanBatenburg (drummer for Gems, Knut Bell and the Blue Collars, and The Ganges River Band). He has taught me pretty much everything I know, and if I become half as good as he is, I’d be pretty fucking happy. As for listening, when it comes to drums in particular, I can’t get enough of Joy Division, Adam and the Ants, Led Zeppelin (of course), and a lot of classic disco and hip-hop. The heavy bass and sick drum grooves that range from tribal, to super-fast, to completely funky, are the kinds of music that inspire me as a drummer.

10. How long have you been involved with Woodstick & how can people help out?
Woodstick Groove is an amazing event (April 3rd, 2016), where the goal is to try to cram as many drummers and their kits into a big room, and ultimately play a song together in unison, and hopefully break the record for the number of drummers playing the same thing at the same time. For drummers in the Northwest, it is also an amazing opportunity to go to master drum clinics taught by celebrity drummers, network with fellow drummers, watch some amazing drum performances, and basically just grow as musicians.

The larger goal, however, is to raise money for the Tacoma Pierce County Crime Stoppers. The money raised by drummers and their supporters goes to funding music programs for at-risk and underprivileged youth in the Tacoma WA area. I attended Woodstick last year for the first time, and the impact it made on me was huge. One of the kids who benefitted from the program was selected to go onstage with the celebrity drummers and perform a solo, and the joy on his face was something I’ll never forget. Kids who benefit from the program came last year, and they went around to every drummer who attended and asked for our autographs. Literally, it was one of the greatest moments of my life. They were so grateful for what we were doing. Music education can make such a difference for a child. Music builds the brain, brings joy, confidence and self-worth. I’m lucky to have had the means to start my musical education at a young age, but many kids do not. That’s why I’m doing this. And especially for the girls. A couple of years ago, I performed at an all-ages show, and after the gig, a young girl’s mom came up to me with her daughter and told me that because of me, her daughter wanted to take drum lessons, and asked for my help. I really hope she started taking those lessons. That’s why Woodstick is such a great event for a great cause. If you would like to make a donation, visit this page.

Idol show 1

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