Audrey Johnson is currently the drummer for four bands, whose styles range eclectically from ghost surf to garage to punk to riot pop. Coming from a musical family, Johnson has played in jazz and marching bands, done studio work, and empowered young girls at Girls’ Rock Camps across California.
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.
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What is your city, country, and age?
I’m from Fresno, CA, and I’m 32 years old.
What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?
I play a Gretsch Catalina Club Jazz Kit. It’s a simple set up: kick, rack tom, floor tom, Ludwig Epic snare, Sabian 14” B8 Pro medium hi-hats, Sabian 18”AA thin crash, and a Sabian 20″ AAX stage ride, and a very comfy pork pie throne.
What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?
I am in four bands: Eighteen Hundreds (ghost surf), Squid Ink, (radical punk), Dirty Limbs (garage/punk), and Fatty Cakes And The Puff Pastries (riot pop/punk).
What led you to your instrument? What’s your origin story?
I have a lot of musicians in my family so I definitely wanted to play music from an early age. In elementary school I played saxophone and by junior high I knew that I wanted to be able to play multiple instruments, and that I wanted to be a percussionist. In high school I joined jazz band, marching band, and any other nerdy musicians club, and also began forming bands outside of school and playing shows. After high school I continued to play, form new groups, started learning how to be a better studio musician, and began traveling more frequently.
In the more recent years I have really started stepping it up as far as making connections, practicing, choosing what type of events I want to be a part of, and things have been going in a really positive direction ever since.
Who is your favorite drummer and why?
It’s tough to choose my favorite drummer because there are so many different genres and so many talented folks all over the world, but I’ll choose a few that I’ve been into lately. I really enjoy Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), Questlove (The Roots), Taylor Gordon (The Pocket Queen), and Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs). I like to listen to a drummer who can play solid grooves that complement the band, but can also have subtle, yet intricate sounds and rhythms that showcase the drum kit as a musical instrument, not just something you bang on.
How do you practice? Do you have a routine?
I always stretch and work on sticking and rudiments. I warm-up by doing different exercises that help to strengthen each limb, then work on new fill ideas. I try to pay attention to my technique and sound (and my left hand). Luckily my partner is also a musician so I’m able to jam with her while she plays bass. I work on new ideas and beats. I work on songs from each band I’m in (whether that’s prepping for a recording, a show, or just tightening up the song), and I usually have a full band practice with one of the bands I’m in just about every day. I’m very blessed to be able to play music as much as I do.
What’s something you believe about drumming or music that other people think is crazy?
I believe music is everywhere. When I do laundry, I hear my shoes make a beat while they bounce around in the dryer. When I take walks in the city, I hear a groove between my footsteps, bicycle chains, and the car horns honking. When I take a shower, the water droplets falling into the tub make the best beats. I guess other people might think that’s crazy, but listening to the sounds of the world around me helps me create and sometimes hear things in ways I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
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 to me means that I’m happy, I’m doing what I want to be doing, I’m learning and influencing others in a positive way. I just want to keep growing.
How important is failure in making music/performing?
Nobody likes to fail, but it doesn’t always have to be a negative, and you can take from that experience, and it can make you stronger. We’ve all dropped sticks and it can be embarrassing but then you learn how to keep playing without the audience realizing. You either pick up a new stick or just keep going with one hand but you learn to do what you have to do because the show must go on.
When I was younger I used to become very discouraged when making a mistake (even when I was alone), but I figured out that I could come up with new beats out of mistakes. One day I fumbled a beat at a band practice and whatever I did sounded really cool, so I made a new beat out of it. I would have never thought of it if it weren’t for the mistake in the first place.
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
I encourage womxn and girls of any age to pick up an instrument! It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. I am so grateful to my parents for getting me a drum kit when I was a teen. They’ve never stopped encouraging me and I wish all girls could have that. If you live in a city where you have access to a Girls Rock camp, do it! Find some sticks and watch YouTube videos and learn some basic exercises and practice until you can get your hands on some real instruments. Start a band, start thinking of band names, and have fun. Keep learning and growing (as a musician and a person) and don’t be afraid to question your community. When there are no shows with womxn, don’t be afraid to put on your own show!
Where else to find Audrey:
Facebook: Dirty Limbs