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Drumming since she was eight years old, Maren Alford has been a past finalist and fan favorite in the Hit Like A Girl competition. Now playing professionally, she is the drummer for the award-winning, all-girl power trio Not Ur Girlfrenz and has headlined shows, provided tour support for pop punk icons Bowling For Soup, and this summer joined Vans Warped Tour as part of the youngest touring band in the event’s 24-year history. Maren also blogs about drumming and touring for Gretsch.

Women are underrepresented in the percussion world. Our weekly series, Woman Crush Wednesday (#WCW), aims to recognize, celebrate, and inspire female percussionists of all stripes. Each Wednesday we’ll feature a profile of a drummer, who will share tips, advice, and videos. Want to be featured yourself? Send an email to anna.pulley@stringletter.com telling us more about you.

 

What is your city, country, and age?

I live in Dallas, Texas, and I’m 13 years old.

What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?

I play a Gretsch Catalina Maple kit with a Gretsch Taylor Hawkins signature snare drum, Zildjian A Custom cymbals, and DW 9000 pedals and hardware. My favorite setup is a 22” bass drum with SledgePad dampening system, snare, three rack toms (8”, 10”, and 12”), 1 (14”) floor tom, 16” and 18” crash cymbals, and a 20” ride.

What led you to your instrument? What’s your origin story?

Both my brother and my dad were always playing guitar around the house when I was younger. I thought I wanted to be like them and learn how to play guitar, but that was all before a drum kit found its way into our house. My mom had always wanted to learn how to play drums and percussion, but her parents believed it wasn’t very ladylike and said no. My dad knew this story and when I was eight years old, he bought my mom her very own kit for Christmas! Of course, I wanted to try it, too. The first time I sat behind the kit, I knew it was definitely for me. I instantly fell in love with everything about it and started begging my parents for lessons. I’ve been playing ever since.

What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?

I play in an all-girl rock band called Not Ur Girlfrenz. We’ve been together for about a year and a half and have already been in and out of the studio, played lots of shows in the Dallas area, been on tour opening for pop punk greats Bowling For Soup, and this summer we were the youngest band to ever tour on Vans Warped Tour — the greatest experience of our lives! The best part about being in Not Ur Girlfrenz, is that I get to go on this insane journey with my two best friends, Liv and Gigi. And our manager, Jaret Reddick, is an amazing mentor who’s taught us so much about the music business and how to be a part of it, even at a young age.

What was it like to perform with Warped Tour? Were there unique challenges or rewards to being the youngest band there?

Getting to perform on Vans Warped Tour was an absolute dream come true! So many bands that I admire and look up to have played on the tour over the years, such as Paramore, Thirty Seconds To Mars, My Chemical Romance, and Fall Out Boy, and many of them were even on this year’s tour with us, like Simple Plan, Waterparks, Tonight Alive, As It Is, Palaye Royale, and tons more.

Being the youngest band there was definitely interesting. Since we’re so young, there were times where people underestimated us or were a little skeptical at first, but every crowd we had at our shows was amazing. There were tons of times that I looked out from the stage and saw some of my biggest influences in our audience watching, which was mind-blowing! We met so many fans, and the bands were just incredible.The Warped Tour community is full of overwhelming support and acceptance whether your a band just starting out, or if you’re the headliner, so it was amazing getting to experience that at only 13.


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Who is your favorite drummer and why?

THAT’S SO HARD. I admire so many drummers and lots have influenced my playing, such as Zac Farro from Paramore, Taylor Hawkins and Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters, and Matty Best from Tonight Alive, but if I had to pick just one it would be Shannon Leto from Thirty Seconds To Mars. Shannon’s style is so unique, I’ve never seen anyone play like him! He always gets so into the music when he plays like nothing else matters — I love his intensity and commitment.

How do you practice? Do you have a routine?

Usually when practicing, I start out by stretching, warming up, and working on different kinds of rudiments and fundamentals, then I start playing around with new things I’ve learned and work on songs either for the band, or just a song I wanted to learn to cover for myself.

Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum readers?

Since I’ve been drumming, I’ve discovered that:

1.) Rudiments are very important! They might not be super fun all of the time, but you can find ways to make them fun because they will really bring your playing to the next level. You can get creative with them too, like inverting or reversing strokes to find new variations. Doing them over and over again with different variations helps a lot with muscle memory, improvisation, and your creativity when it comes to writing drum parts or solos.

2.) Liquid bandage and athletic tape can become your best friends! I use them to protect my hands from blisters and they help me keep playing without pain.

3.) Grip tape is another great tool if you find yourself gripping the stick too hard, or if your sticks are slipping out of your hands. If you’re playing outside a lot (especially in the Texas heat) it really helps.

What’s something you believe about drumming or music that other people think is crazy?

I’m not sure if you’d consider this crazy, but I think that drumming and music is the very best way to connect with other people. You can all come together through a love or appreciation for certain songs or artists, and can find so many things that you have in common! Music also gives you a fun or unique way to learn about other people and expand your knowledge. Not everyone has the same tastes so it’s great to compare and learn from others, too — it’s a great way to discover new genres, artists and songs by having an open mind.

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?

I don’t exactly think about success by how much money we make, or how much merch we sold. I think about success in relation to how many new fans we make at a show, and how many people we’ve inspired and believe in us. The best feeling is when you turn around and there’s a little girl that’s kind of timid to talk to you, but says that’s you’ve inspired her to start learning drums, or to start learning an instrument. I define success by those feelings and those events because those are the ones that I’m going to remember forever. Being able to inspire others, and being a positive role model is the greatest success I could ask for.

Do you have any quotes or sayings that you live by?

There aren’t any specific quotes or sayings that I live my life by, but I‘ve always believed in empowerment and individuality. I think that everyone should be who they want to be, and do what they want to do. There’s always gonna be someone who doubts you, but there will also be someone who believes in you and what you’re doing. It may sound like a joke, but “you do you” is also something that I believe in strongly. I think that no matter what you want to be or do, you should follow your dreams and not let anyone tell you you can’t fulfill them. Who knows — you might even empower someone else to follow you! That’s the philosophy I live by.

When you sit down to make music and are starting with a blank canvas, what’s your process like?

It’s kind of like storytelling to me, and figuring out how drums help complete the story. I think about a lot of different things, the message of the song, the feel, what the other instruments are doing, and I think about telling the story of the song. I try a ton of different things, even if it’s something super weird and out there, to see if what I’m feeling should be in the song. My process is really different every time, sometimes when listening to a song, a drum part literally pops into my head and I have to figure out how to actually play it, when other times I have to experiment and see what I like.

How important is failure in making music/performing?

Failure is super important in anything that has to do with music, and in life in general. You have to fail at some point, in some way, in order for you to get better. Just make a mental note of what didn’t work, and try a different approach, or keep improving your skills to reach your goal. Some things just take getting used to, like playing in front of big crowds and not getting nervous. Some people don’t have any trouble, but others have to get over their nerves and get out of their heads. It’s all part of the process. Besides, sometimes nerves are good for you.

Women are underrepresented in drumming. Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?

My advice would be to go for it. You should do what you want to do, because anyone can if they really want to, whether they’re a man or a woman. Start by playing every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Listen to a bunch of different genres of music to see what you really connect with, and find some drummers whose style you admire, you can look up to and aspire to be.

My most important piece of advice would be TO HAVE FUN. Music is meant to be something that you’re excited about and want to do! The most important thing really is to just have fun, it’s as simple as that.

If you’re just starting out or want to, I just want you to know that I believe in you and believe that you can do this. You’re going to be amazing!

If you had to put together a school or resources for would-be drummers, what would the training include?

Naturally, it would start with fundamentals, like rudiments, drills and proper form — but I would also encourage students to explore what they are really interested in, or curious about musically — even if it didn’t stick with a basic “lesson plan.” And include classes or exercises that stretch them creatively, whether it pertains to song writing, developing a new rhythm or way of doing things, even using non-traditional things as percussion instruments. The sky’s the limit! It’s very important to learn the basics of course, because everything else builds on that, but I also think that it’s very important to let them exercise their creativity early on and blaze their own trail musically.

Where else to find Maren

I recently started a YouTube channel for drum covers and look forward to adding to my videos there. And lots of exciting things are happening for my band Not Ur Girlfrenz! We’re releasing our debut EP New Kids In America in October, and some new music videos, too. We’ve got lots of shows coming up, and hope to tour again very soon — hope to meet you if we’re in your town!

Finally, you can find and follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @marenalford and the band at @noturgirlfrenz!

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