Helly (aka Elisa Montin) is a 23-year-old drummer from Venice, Italy. She won the 2017 “Hit Like A Girl” contest in the over-18 division, and is currently a member of the bands The Anunnaki (electronic hardcore) and Cattivator Of Death (satirical/humorous metal). She has played on many different musical projects in several European countries. This year she plans to release her first album, Violet Karma, so stay tuned for that.
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What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?
I officially use Pro Mark, Evans, and DrumTune Pro which is a drum tuning app. My setup usually is: one 14″ snare; one 2’ bass drum; two toms, 10” and 12”; two floor toms 14″ and 16″; for cymbals I use one hi hat; one ride; two crashes; two effects (similar to a china); one chopper; two splashes; and one bell.
What bands do you perform with, if any?
Killin’ Baudelaire is an all-female, alternative rock/metal band. We just came back from a European tour and in May, we will start to record the second album! Since the end of summer 2017, I’ve started to work on my own solo project as Helly. The sound is electronic: a mix of liquid drum and bass and industrial influences. The drums is the only acoustic instrument, in various metal styles. In essence a duality between aggressive and melodic atmospheres.
What led you to your instrument? What’s your origin story?
When I was four years old, I was already “playing” — hitting the kitchen table with pencils and colored markers. I think I started to do this after I saw a marching band performance during a Medieval historical re-enactment in my village.
I started studying at the age of six and, when I was 14, began studying with renowned Italian drummer/teacher Sergio Pescara. Once I met him, I understood that I wanted to turn my passion into my career. By the time I was 15 I was already playing in pubs and clubs with tribute bands and an original death metal project.
Throughout my drumming career, I was able to play with many different musical projects, had the opportunity to travel to several European countries and perform in drum festivals in Italy. I won many national drum contests and the last has been Hit Like a Girl 2017, the worldwide drum contest for girls and women. In November, I performed my first original song, “Violet Karma” at PASIC, in Indianapolis, the biggest drums and percussion convention in the world. It was part of the prize of the Hit Like a Girl Contest! Then I had the chance to record it in Los Angeles, on the first episode of “Veronica One-on One,” a webshow on DrumChannel featuring the amazing, LA-based drummer Veronica Bellino (of Orianthi/Jeff Beck)!
[You can watch the video of Helly’s performance here.]
It has been amazing living those experiences and I’m so grateful to have being part of it!
Who is your favorite drummer and why?
I don’t have a favorite drummer — I have many! The first drummer who inspired me was Lars Ulrich, and he has been the reason I wanted to learn double bass. I was 14 years old. Some of my other favorite drummers are Gene Hoglan, Inferno, Ginger Fish, Tomas Hakee, Joey Jordison, Jojo Mayer, Thomas Lang, Dave Weckl, Ray Luzier, and Terry Bozzio. The reason I love these drummers is simply because for me they are unique! I love their style and attitude on the stage and I can recognize every one of them by their drumming.
How do you practice? Do you have a routine?
It depends by the intensity of the music I am supposed to play in a certain period. If I have to play extreme metal I will be focused on endurance exercises for blast beats and double bass. If I have to work on my own songs, I will not be focused only on speed and resistance, but on the research of new rhythmic figures. So in that case, being fast is the last goal.
Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries they would like to share with Drum readers?
There’s one exercise that I really would like to share, which is a way to warm-up as soon as possible and I suggest it for drummers who need to get ready to play fast. I play sixteenth notes very loud in unison with the right side (R hand and R foot) for one bar, and then the same thing for the left side.
I use the heel toe technique and I keep the heels very, very high up from the pedal; the hands have to be completely closed. I don’t use fingers. It means I don’t exploit the re-bounce of the stick at all. This is just a wrist movement. The sticks always have to start from the same starting point, which is 90 degrees from the snare or pad. I do this for five or eight minutes, until I feel warm enough; I start it at 160 bpm and progressively I try to go faster. After 30 seconds, your heart beat and breath should increase. If you start to feel warmer, it means you’re doing it in the good way! It’s really important to do a good warming up before an intense drumming session. If I don’t do this, I cannot to get ready to play extreme stuff!
What’s something you believe about drumming or music that other people think is crazy?
Music is a mode to express madness. I don’t believe that any music vision should be considered crazy. Without possibilities to express madness, we run the risk of showing it unconsciously, in a destructive and uncontrolled way. If we bring it to the surface, giving it a direction, then we create art.
Without direction, there’s a risk of becoming really mad. I think that even this idea cannot be considered crazy; what’s crazy is thinking that madness has to be repressed! There are no limits to madness, unless it can cause damage to others or ourselves, but performing on a stage can turn it into a high manifestation of “being,” with a enormous artistic and humanist value!
Many of my favorite artists have been considered a manifestation of chaos. For example Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, or even Throbbing Gristle. I think they are genius. The great strength that makes an artist as such is the ability to express through music what common people are not able to express in their own everyday worlds. Aggressive music is a way to exorcise violence, which is drenched in human nature.
As artists, the goal post for “success” is always moving. There’s not one “I made it!” point. How do you think about and define success?
Success is the will and the pleasure of seeking a very high peak — achieve it and then aim for a new one! The last/final peak doesn’t exist. Success is a long and hard process of ongoing evolution and growth. It’s like rock climbing: If we are not continuously moving, inch by inch, step by step, there’s the risk of fall down and having to start over, resetting the probabilities of reaching the goal at all — a goal that, even through effort and perseverance, is never guaranteed. The path is really steep and it implies many risks and failure possibilities.
Without a sincere dream, talent, passion, method, discipline, constancy, and of course luck, it cannot happened. It’s hard, but I want to try it.
Do you have any quotes or sayings that you live by?
My daily mantra for drumming is “Everything is hard before it is easy.” Another saying I love is “Admit openly your mistakes and don’t look for flaws in people. Hide your warts and praise the qualities of others.” I think this is really useful, especially during rehearsal with a band.
When you sit down to make music and are starting with a blank canvas, what’s your process like?
Before sitting in front of my laptop, I let the ideas surface, like a trick ear or auditory hallucination, and then I go with the creative flow, which allows me to feel and listen to the entire song. Then I start to work on Cubase, singing the various parts in order to write the exact melodies I have in my head. Once I write all the notes, I start the research of the sounds, which is the part that I love! Then I work on automations to involve or completely change the original sound of each single track of every single virtual instrument/electronic instrument.
When I finish composing a song, I try playing it with the drums, and every time it’s a challenge for me because I compose stuff that I know I’m not able to play instantaneously. I like to challenge myself! Sometimes I’ll also strum an acoustic guitar and form a short part with which to develop the entire song. This is how my first song “Violet Karma” was born.
How important is failure in making music/performing?
Without admitting our mistakes, I don’t think it would be possible to grow up. And I’m not only talking about music, but I think this concept works for anything. The more I pay attention and accept my failures, the easier and faster I improve.
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
The simple message I would to give is: If you feel it, just do it! Never be scared about what people could think about you. It happens often that men (or even women) say stuff like, “Wow! You are a girl and you can play drums!” as if women drummers have fewer arms or legs compared to men. Sexism and other forms of ignorance are still common.
Since I entered the Hit Like A Girl contest, I’ve seen so many videos of talented women! No instrument should be exclusive to one gender. So, girls, hold onto your drums sticks and play whatever you like. Don’t let society label and stereotype us.
If you had to put together a school or resources for would-be drummers, what would the training include?
One of the first big goals for a drummer should be to obtain a solid groove. Take a look to AC/DC. Phil Rudd has gained millions and millions of fans “just” playing simple, rock-solid beats with immaculate timing.
My training would include exercises to obtain a solid groove; read notes; practice different techniques for hands and feet; awareness of self-movements; rudiments; control dynamics; how to develop independence and coordination; endurance and speed; using a double pedal; how to play in a band; and how to develop a creative vision.
Where else to find Helly
YouTube: Helly Elisa Montin