The beat keepers: Female drummers making noise

  • Dana Wilde, drummer for Ex-Temper, talks about starting to play drums later in life. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dana Wilde, drummer for Ex-Temper, plays in the rehearsal space where she and the band practice. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dana Wilde, drummer for Ex-Temper, talks about starting to play drums later in life. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dana Wilde, drummer for Ex-Temper, plays in the rehearsal space where she and the band practice. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dana Wilde, drummer for Ex-Temper, reacts to breaking a stick for the first time while playing in the rehearsal space where she and the band practice. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dana Wilde, drummer for Ex-Temper, plays in the rehearsal space where she and the band practice. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dana Wilde, drummer for Ex-Temper, plays in the rehearsal space where she and the band practice. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dana Wilde, drummer for Ex-Temper, plays in the rehearsal space where she and the band practice. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dana Wilde, drummer for Ex-Temper, plays in the rehearsal space where she and the band practice. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dana Wilde, drummer for Ex-Temper, plays in the rehearsal space where she and the band practice. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dana Wilde, drummer for Ex-Temper, plays in the rehearsal space where she and the band practice. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dana Wilde, the drummer for Ex-Temper, plays in the rehearsal space where she and the band practice. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Piper Preston plays drums during a rehearsal with Adam Reid and the In-Betweens, Monday, March 25, 2019 in a studio at The Brickyard in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Piper Preston plays drums during a rehearsal with Adam Reid and the In-Betweens, in a studio at The Brickyard in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Piper Preston plays drums with Dan Surdyka, left, and Adam Reid during a rehearsal with Adam Reid and the In-Betweens, Monday, March 25, 2019 in a studio at The Brickyard in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Piper Preston plays drums during a rehearsal with Adam Reid and the In-Betweens, Monday, March 25, 2019 in a studio at The Brickyard in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Piper Preston plays drums during a rehearsal with Adam Reid and the In-Betweens, Monday, March 25, 2019 in a studio at The Brickyard in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 4/2/2019 1:03:17 PM

Behind the drum set, Dana Wilde is in control. Her arms and legs keep independent beats, as though four different people were creating the rhythm instead of one woman. One drumstick crashes on the cymbal as she taps out a different rhythm on the snare, bobbing her head slightly as she gets more into the song.

“I love being loud,” Wilde, who lives in Easthampton, says.

Looking at Wilde practicing in a dim windowless room, surrounded by set lists from shows that she has played with her band, Ex-Temper, you wouldn’t guess that she had only started drumming in 2013.

But her path to the drums was long. While she wanted to play since she was 9 years old, Wilde says her mother wouldn’t allow it. Growing up in the Berkshires, she toyed with other instruments, like viola and flute, but nothing stuck. “Talk about an instrument I had no interest in,” Wilde says. “The flute? I’m listening to Van Halen and learning to play the flute — there’s no connection.”

It wasn’t until she was 37 that Wilde finally signed up for drum lessons at Downtown Sounds.

“I was sick of walking around the kitchen drumming on my chest,” she says of the decision. “I was like, ‘I gotta take this drum thing seriously. No one else is going to advocate for me on this matter except for me.’”

Like Wilde, Tanya Pearson, a Smith College graduate and current Ph.D. candidate at UMass Amherst, felt discouraged from playing the drums when she was younger, which she attributes to the fact that everyone she knew in her high school who played music was a guy, and so she says no one ever thought to ask her to join. “Women were expected to perform certain gender roles that didn’t include spreading your legs and sitting on a drum stool and like banging the s–t out of a drum kit,” Pearson said in a recent phone interview.

This exclusion of women from not just the drums, but rock-and-roll in general, is why Pearson founded the Women of Rock oral history project at Smith College. Through the project, Pearson interviews women in rock bands about their experiences, with the aim of creating a publicly accessible repository of oral histories of women in rock.

The inspiration for the project came when Pearson wanted to write a paper on the bands L7, Veruca Salt, and The Breeders but could not find enough documentation to write it.

“This infuriated me, because I didn’t choose some underground bands. They were famous then, so I was just like, what the hell happened?” Pearson said.

While the project’s overall focus is to capture the stories of women in rock, Pearson has found that she has interviewed a “disproportionate” number of female drummers. This wasn’t on purpose, but Pearson thinks it makes sense with the project’s mission.

“In the historical record, those are the people that get left out a lot,” Pearson said. “No one says, ‘Oh I want to interview a band, let me interview the drummer.’ People go for the person who’s in the front. The whole purpose of the project is to document this marginalized group of people, but within that marginalized group of people, there are also people like drummers and bass players who don’t get any recognition or acknowledgment.”

Better resources, greater visibility

It helps that Piper Preston, the videographer for Women of Rock, is also a drummer. Preston, who lives in Holyoke and is transgender, started playing drums when she was 13. She has noticed that her life as a drummer has changed since transitioning.

“It was very common for someone who was cis male passing to be out playing shows and drumming. As I transitioned, I do feel that the way I’m treated and approached has changed,” Preston said. “They treat it like it’s a novelty sometimes. They’re almost more inclined to congratulate me on the fact that, not that you’re a good drummer, but that you are not a male drummer.”

That said, Preston, Wilde and Pearson all agree that things are better now than when they were growing up, thanks in part to drummers who’ve led the way: Janet Weiss from Sleater Kinney, Fay Milton from Savages, and Patty Schemel from Hole, to name a few. “No one plays like [Janet], any gender, anyone, anywhere,” Preston said. The same goes for projects like Women of Rock and Tom Tom Magazine, a magazine dedicated to female drummers.

“The good thing is that now we have all of these role models,” Pearson said. “This is part of the reason that I want to promote the oral history project so much — so younger people have those people to look up to.”

This visibility is part of what Wilde sees as her role at Downtown Sounds, where she now works.

“[Customers] are just happy to have women to talk to in the store,” Wilde said. “That’s the thing. When you don’t see people doing a thing, it gives you messages, whether you realize it or not, that this place isn’t for you, or this certain hobby or career or cool thing isn’t for you.”

Wilde also has dreams of creating resources for women at Downtown Sounds as the business transitions into a worker-owned cooperative. Early on in her music career, she found the experience of taking lessons to be isolating. Then she found out about Ladies Rock Camp Boston, an intensive three-day program for women interested in rock music. There, women of all ages with little to no experience with their instruments get together and, over the course of a weekend, form a band, record an original song and perform it in front of a sold-out audience.

“To be in a room with a bunch of other women who also had latent rock-and-roll dreams was absolutely transformative,” Wilde said. “I felt connected to something bigger, and it really helped — like I don’t know if I could have stuck with just taking lessons without having had that experience.”

These kinds of rock programs for women and girls are on the rise. In Goshen, the Institute for Musical Arts hosts summer rock programs for girls. “Getting every girl on a drum kit and other percussive instruments is an essential part of our curriculum,” said Ann Hackler, one of the founders of IMA. And more girls are getting interested in playing drums at an early age, she added: “I’d say that, in each session, there is usually at least one girl who identifies drums as her primary instrument. That is up from zero in the beginning.”




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