Jules Stewart has over 20 years of experience playing drums and percussion. She started studying Scottish snare drum at age eight and the drum set at age 12. She has played with bands, singer/songwriters, and projects in Seattle, Phoenix, and San Diego, and is currently a member of Dragontree, Soundwave, Love Angeles, and Sweet Deal. She plays with singer/songwriters including Chris Avetta, Lindsay White, Lizabeth Yandel, and Mary Hamer. She’ll also be playing and teaching her first clinic in April 2019 through Drum Flip at the SoCal Drum Show.
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What is your city, country, and age?
I’m in San Diego, California. I’m 32 years old.
What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?
I play Sugar Percussion snares and I have a few different kits that I pick based on what sound I’m trying to get. I have a maple PDP kit that sounds great for rock and pop stuff, and a vintage, heavy-duty birch/mahogany/birch Premier kit that I play for just about everything else.
Do you have endorsements?
I’m endorsed by and endorse Drum Flip which is a cool local drum shop in Vista, California. I also pay Jefferson from Sugar Percussion a hefty sum of money to not block my phone calls. All jokes aside, I have received more kindness, drums, and love from Sugar Percussion than a signed endorsement deal could ever give me. I “endorse” them with my whole heart, and nobody is paying me to say that.
What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?
I am really lucky and excited to be playing a lot around San Diego and a little in Los Angeles. I play with Dragontree (funk and blues), Love Angeles (pop rock), Soundwave (party covers), Chris Avetta (forest pop), Lindsay White (alternative/folk), Lizabeth Yandel (neo-soul), Mary Hamer (alternative/folk), MixMix (indie pop), and Sweet Deal (Roots Rock).
What led you to your instrument? What’s your origin story?
When I was young, everyone in my family did a Scottish activity. We’re just that Scottish. When I was eight years old I begged to switch from Scottish dancing to playing a Scottish snare drum with a bagpipe band. I was hooked and I started learning drum set a few years later. I love how natural rhythm is to most everyone on the planet—like a lot of other people, expressing myself through rhythm comes naturally. I was lucky enough to get to feel the incredible joy of playing music with other people from the very beginning of my journey, and that has yet to get old.
Who is your favorite drummer and why?
My favorite drummer is Aaron Sterling. His musicality and sense for how parts (and space) fit in the general landscape of a song are incredible to me. Anika Nilles blows my mind. I really have no idea how she plays what she does. Actually no idea. I’ve also always admired Carter Beauford from Dave Matthews Band for his comfort behind a drum set and mind-boggling ability to make complicated parts sound easy.
How do you practice? Do you have a routine?
I divide my practice time into chunks for accomplishing goals: learn new music, improve upon past performances of music I already know, improve my technique, and drive my creativity. I try to make sure I spend a significant, intentional, distraction-free amount of time on each of those goals, each week.
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Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum readers?
My favorite thing to do lately is find someone who loves a genre of music I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with and ask them to recommend a playlist or a few artists that they dig. When I listen, I really try to pay attention to what makes the music feel the way it does, then I sit down and a drum set and try to capture that feel. It’s a blast and it feels like stretching for my brain.
What’s something you believe about drumming or music that other people think is crazy?
Buckle up. I believe everyone can sing and everyone can keep a beat. Some people might need a little more encouragement than others, but music is one of the ways humans naturally express themselves! We’re all good at it. I promise.
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?
This is such a cool question. I have a, well, “mantra” sounds cheesy, doesn’t it? But I have something I like to think about when I’m feeling stuck or trying to make a decision. I always want to play better and better music with better and better musicians for more and more people who connect with the music. If I’m doing that, I’m succeeding. And there is always a way to progress in at least one of those realms.
Sometimes, when it feels like there are too many factors that are out of my control, I think of the very next step I can take to make progress. Sometimes it’s helping a singer/songwriter I play with market their next show. Sometimes it’s sitting down to practice. Sometimes it’s sending a bandmate some encouragement. So, if I were to condense that overwhelmingly wordy answer, I’d say progress is success to me, and I am very clear on how I measure progress.
Do you have any quotes or sayings that you live by?
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.”
— Henry David Thoreau
Always comes back to me when I’m starting to doubt my own sanity.
When you sit down to make music and are starting with a blank canvas, what’s your process like?
If I’m playing with other people, I ask them to loop a part so I can just try a ton of stuff. Once I find something I like, I’m careful to check if I can take away some of the notes I’m playing and serve the song better. If I’m alone, I play a groove for 15 or 20 minutes and let it evolve until I find something I like and want to build something from. I guess repetition is pretty important to me.
How important is failure in making music/performing?
Failure is a funny word to use in the context of making music or performing. I certainly have rehearsals, gigs, and takes that don’t go the way I want them to. But it just is what it is and context is what makes something sound “right” or “wrong.” In a more global context, I have learned so much from “failure” experiences like not nailing (or not even getting) an audition or joining a band that wasn’t ultimately a great fit. Those are the experiences that push me to develop as a human and a musician. And, if I’m not failing at anything, it’s a pretty good sign that I haven’t put myself in enough scary situations lately and I’m not anywhere close to the edge of my ability yet. Growth is progress, and progress is success.
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
We are underrepresented in this community, but I think it’s in the process of changing right now. If you’re trying to make it in the drumming world, find some ladies that are crushing it (Anika Nilles, Allison Miller, Cindy Blackman, Emmanuelle Caplette, Bianca Richardson, Sarah Thawer, Jen Ledger, Senri Kawaguchi, Kim Schifino, and a bazillion more), and a group of friends that are on your side, and don’t worry about a thing other than improving and creating. Comparison kills the spirit, so guard yourself against that. Just keep your focus on your own progress.
If you had to put together a school or resources for would-be drummers, what would the training include?
If I were putting together a school, training would include a mix of one-on-one instruction and band practice. I volunteered this past year at Rock and Roll Camp for Girls in San Diego and watched rockers that had never played an instrument before learn a little each morning and apply it with their bandmates later each day. I think it’s super crucial to build in the practice of being creative and expressive into music education right from the start. There is no required proficiency level for being able to play real music with real people, anyone can start. Victor Wooten compares learning music to learning language and points out how from day one of learning language, we’re encouraged to “jam” with “professionals” by trying out words and sounds. If the same were true in learning music, I think creativity wouldn’t be such a challenge down the road for people and we’d learn much, much faster.
Where else to find Jules
Instagram at @adventuresofjj