Sarah Thawer plays a lot of music. The Toronto-based freelancer splits her time between touring and recording with a bevy of artists spanning nearly as many genres (learn a little more about her insane resume in our WCW feature from earlier this year). With that, she needs drums and cymbals that are as versatile and capable as her own playing. That’s a pretty tall order.
We wanted to know more about what Thawer looks for in an instrument given her incredibly demanding gigging needs, so we reached out for a quick chat about gear and goodies.
Can you tell us a little about the regular gigs you’re on now as well as a few notable gigs you’ve had in the past?
Most definitely. I’m a freelance musician, so the gigs that I play really vary. Here are some of the gigs that I’ve done in the last month in Toronto: I have played with Mark Lettieri Trio, Eddie Bullen, Michael Dunston, Del Hartley, Andrew Craig, Buff Justice, Ekhaya, Mickey Narula, Clear Mortifee, Yasser Desai, Don Naduriak, and Debanjana Karmakar.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of being on a two-month tour in the U.S. and Europe with George Watsky. We played around 42 shows in 60 days. In the past few years, I’ve played with Jane Bunnett, AR Rahman, Ruth B, Charlotte Day Wilson, Benny Dayal, Sean C Johnson, Vijay Prakash, Roger and Sam Grandison, Thompson Egbo-Egbo, and Tyler Shaw to name a few.
You’re a Yamaha artist. What drew you to those drums?
Yamaha, as a whole, represents music, not just drums. The people there are such innovators in electronics, keyboards, guitars, and synths, just to name a few. Their versatility is what drew me.
My gigging schedule is all over the place in terms of genre. One night it’ll be an R&B gig, the next night a jazz-fusion thing, and the night after that, a Latin or Indian gig. Yamaha drums adapt to any and every situation. They are such a beautiful mixture between punch, warmth, and tone.
What model kit and sizes are you using now, and what influenced that decision?
I love playing all of Yamaha’s kits, but my ABSOLUTE favorite is the Absolute Hybrid Maple. I currently use either a 22” or 20” kick; 8”, 10”, and 12” toms, along with a 14” and/or 16” floor tom. I switch between 14” or 13” main snare drums with an additional 10” snare. I love these drums because they sing! Such incredible tone with attack. They are also extremely versatile and again, I can play them in any situation. I also played the new Live Custom Hybrid Oak at NAMM this past January and fell in love instantly. I can’t wait to get my hands on them!
What about snare drums? Do you have a main drum you’re using most of the time, or do you cycle between a few?
I use quite a few depending on the situation. I have been using the 13” Steve Jordan a lot, and I also love using the 14” Absolute Hybrid Maple, the Recording Custom 14” x 6.5”, and the Yamaha 10” Birch models.
What’s your regular cymbal setup? What made you choose those models?
I play an array of Zildjian cymbals and pick the ones to use based on the musical setting. I find myself most often using 13” K Custom Hybrid Hi Hats, and from the K Custom Special Dry line, the 10” splash, and 21” ride, along with 16”, 18” and 20” crashes. I also love to use the K Custom Hybrid crashes as well as the K Cluster crashes. I am a big fan of short and quick response sounds, so I have tons of fun with splashes and stacks. I love to stack the 10” and 8” Trashformers with the 10” A Custom EFX, as well as the K EFX 18” with the 18” FX Oriental China Trash.
Talk to us about head selection. What are you using most often?
I play Evans drums heads and find myself most often using EMAD Clear on my bass drums, G2 Clear on toms, and UV1 on my snares. I also like mixing it up based on the situation. One of my kits have all of the Red Hydraulics, and another has all UV1 Coated heads on toms, an EMAD Coated, on the bass drums and a Calftone batter on one of my snares.
Do you use the same stick model consistently or do you change for different situations?
I definitely change up the stick model that I use depending on the situation. I play Vic Firth sticks and mainly play 5A or 5B. If I am playing jazz, I use the Peter Erskine Ride Stick, American Jazz Model 1, or Modern Jazz Collection 1 and 4 models.
What about your pedal and beater? Do you have a specific preference or are you comfortable with whatever’s available?
I mainly use the Yamaha double chain drive single pedal (FP-9500C). I often use the plastic side of the beater to get that punch and articulation of every stroke, but I also like to use the felt beaters as well. Depends again on the situation.
You seem to be fluent in a lot of different percussion languages. Are there any non-trap set percussion instruments that have been essential to your growth as a player?
I grew up playing and listening to Indian music, and since that music is centered around percussion, I played a lot of percussion growing up. I used to play tabla, Indian congas, dholak, dhol, ghatam, cajon, darbuka, tumbek, djembe, congas, kanjira, and bongos. I was a self-taught drummer/percussionist, and in university was when I really learned the grooves, cultures, history, and authenticity of each instrument and its respective genres. For instance, I studied flamenco cajon and guitar, Cuban and Brazilian percussion, tabla, mridangam, kanjira, and tumbek among many others.
I would say for me, tabla, dholak, dhol, and Indian congas were essential to my growth as a player, especially as a drummer. Each of them had a specific technique that I felt could I apply to other percussion, and it opened my creativity when applying these sounds and rhythms on the drum kit.
My development as a musician was unorthodox. I never had formal lessons on drum set growing up. I learned on the bandstand and from the music, from watching, and especially transcribing percussion onto the kit.
If you could add one item to your kit that you’re not using currently, what would that be?
Roto Toms! When I was a kid, I used to spend hours and hours playing on roto toms. I would imitate a lot of percussion on Roto Toms, and would love pitch bending them. I have been thinking about incorporating them on the kit. Something to think about!