Amanda Dal is a session drummer from Sweden, now based in London, who’s currently touring with the hit musical Rock Of Ages. She also works with singer-songwriter Low Totem, electro grunge artist Nova Hall, and rock/blues band Deep Blue Sea. In 2017 she performed with Grammy Award winners Clean Bandit and toured with Songs For The End Of The World, Dom Coyote’s award-winning gig theater.

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?

London, UK, 27 years old.

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

I use different setups depending on the gig, but for Rock Of Ages I’m lucky enough to have sponsors. I use a nine-piece Yamaha Stage Custom in birch, TRX Cymbals (MDM series, brilliant finish), Collision Drumsticks (model 5B and 5BR), and Cympad washers. It’s a ridiculously big setup but looks and sounds epic. TRX even got the Rock Of Ages logo printed on the cymbals!

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

I’m on tour with Rock Of Ages until August 2019, but I get restless just doing one thing so I tend to cram in as much as possible.

I just recorded an album with rock and blues band Deep Blue Sea. I’ve got some stuff coming out this year with electro grunge artist Nova Hall, as well as singer songwriter Amy Fitz Doyley. I also work with Low Totem, who writes very poignant music, and our live set is more of an immersive experience than a gig.

I love the different challenges each project brings as it pushes me to learn new things and become a more diverse player.

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

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a school with a magical room. Well, it wasn’t very big for a room. I guess it was more like a cabinet. A closet almost. A magical closet. It was magical because within its four walls stood a drum kit. I had never seen a band live and it was still a few years before the “Eureka!” moment in which I’d realize that the bass was a different instrument from the guitar. However, once I laid eyes on that drum kit it was love at first sight.

The first six months held little excitement. I was too shy to enter the magical closet and at best managed to poke my head inside just to look at it. Then the day came when my music teacher announced that we would all get to try something other than the piano, namely the drums! The Hallelujah choir I keep on standby in my head started singing. As soon as I played my first note I knew. This was it. This was what I was going to do.

Being an A-student was suddenly not that important any more. After nine years of exceptional academic achievements, I received the grand prize of a £20 voucher from the local book shop, but despite this I was about to stray from the path. The clear road ahead to achieve a stable, financially secure future in a respectable profession was about to be replaced by literally anything that enabled me to play the drums. (Kudos to my parents for not yelling in my 14-year-old face what a terrible idea this was.)

Alas, I went to a not-so-academically-sound high school—but they had a drum kit!—then spent a brief moment in the Armed Forces doing soldier things (which included drumming). Even though I looked pretty fit in that uniform I decided to hand in my polished boots and hop on a plane that would take me across land and water to the island of Britain! I’d heard that this country offered proper degrees in drumming! Who knew?

Resettling in a world without central heating, and an inefficient hierarchy of countless managers, was a challenge. Things didn’t get any better upon realizing that studying music on an academic level was less than inspiring. Soul-destroying, in fact.

Anyway, fast forward seven years and all is well. I still get in trouble for not putting up with stupidity, rudeness, and lack of balls. But I have my shiny degrees, and I’ve bought a wheat warmer! It stays permanently on top of me whenever I’m indoors. It does make me smell a bit like baked bread, but I’m not cold, and I’m still spending my life playing the drums.

Who is your favorite drummer and why?

Oh, wow, there’s so many. Apologies in advance to the drummers I forget to mention.

I tend to like musical drummers who play for the song and who have a great stage presence. The first YouTube video I ever saw was of Gene Krupa and I was starstruck! His energy was just something else! I wish I’d been able to see him live.

I’m a massive Tool fan so Danny Carey is a big inspiration. Everything he plays, regardless of how technically challenging it is, always fits perfectly with the rest of the band, yet is extremely creative but not overplayed. Another favorite band of mine is A Perfect Circle so Josh Freese and Jeff Friedl are two drummers I keep going back to.

I really love Stevie Wonder’s drumming because it’s perfect for the music. I also love Sonny Payne’s playing on The Greatest!! Count Basie Plays, Joe Williams Sings Standards. That’s one of my favorite albums and Payne’s drumming is just outstanding. I’m working on being able to swing like him.

Of course, greats like Vinnie Colaiuta and Jeff Porcaro are inspirations. I’m also a fan of Jost Nickel and Benny Greb; both are great drummers and educators who have a very innovative approach to the instrument and tons of groove.

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

If I was to give one piece of advice it would be to make sure you’re sitting correctly. The drums should be set up to fit you so that you can use your body ergonomically. This is your instrument. If your drums break you can replace them, if your body breaks it’s less easy to fix. And don’t forget to protect your hearing! Health and safety first.

I use the Moeller technique, which allows gravity to do most of the work, I just execute the motion. Check out the Alexander Technique for general ergonomics. I tend to sit on the edge of the throne with my knees at a 90-degree angle, my weight leaning slightly forward. This gives me good balance and allows me to move around the kit without falling off. So far at least.

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

Well, I’m a slightly crazy in general so I doubt anyone would be surprised about my thoughts on music! I’ll go all philosophical on you and say that music is like chocolate, appropriate for nearly all occasions, only less fattening.

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?

That’s a difficult question. For me, growing up, success was just being able to play the drums and keep getting better at it. Having had a chronic illness since childhood I’ve spent most of my life missing out on things a lot of people take for granted. I could manage about one thing a day, so if I had school I was not also going to make a trip to the cinema with my friends. I had to prioritize the “important” things, AKA homework, lessons, etc., and if I was well enough to play the drums after that I was overjoyed.

As I got older, I realized that the only way to be able to keep drumming was to make it my profession. I didn’t have any idea how to actually do this but I decided to improvise. I failed many times and then tried different ways. As an adult I think I’ve been quite good at stepping outside of my comfort zone and taking risks, which to me is a success on its own.

On a deeper level I think success as a musician is being authentic. Owning who I am and speaking up for the things I believe in. Seeing the people around me achieve their goals and knowing that I’ve been a positive part of their journey makes me feel successful.

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

I may have taken to heart the advice Dame Helen Mirren would have given her younger self.

How important is failure in making music/performing?

It’s essential! The only way you’re going to improve or create something new is by going outside of your comfort zone, which unfortunately also means risking failure.

We’re taught from childhood to fear failure and that mistakes are bad, but both are impossible to avoid. They will happen.

What we should learn is how to deal with failure constructively. How to use the experience to grow. Not get paralyzed by the negative emotions we’ve been trained to feel in response to failing, the emotions that make us give up, or not even daring to try in the first place. Failure is not a permanent state, nor is success.

When I started out ALL job offers I got were specifically for “female drummers.” The only problem was that “female” more often than not meant “person with boobs wearing tight and/or revealing clothes, makeup, and preferably high heels.”

Unfortunately I was more of a “person with boobs not happy to conform to this narrow view of what people with boobs should look like.” This caused me a lot of frustration and I turned down many jobs.

I was advised by several people to accept the industry as it was and just get on with it. I said bollocks to that and pointed out that we should instead do something to change it. I certainly didn’t come all this way just to get hired as a pretty prop (although my cheekbones are rather fabulous).

If you feel comfortable and happy performing in a dress and want to express yourself that way, great! Go for it and smash it like a boss, but don’t feel forced to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Analyze the situation. Are the requirements the same for everyone in the band? For example are they guys also obliged to wear makeup? Have a dialogue with the person looking to hire you and see if you can come up with a solution. Often it’s just miscommunication. If the contractor doesn’t know that you’re uncomfortable nothing is going to change. Don’t be afraid to speak up.

I’ll finish with a list of general advice (aka The Great Wisdom of Amanda, Bullet Point Edition):

  • Find a mentor, someone who believes in you and can see that this is your happy place, this is what you want to do, and therefore will support you
  • Be the best you can be at your instrument—identify your weaknesses and work on them; acknowledge your strengths and keep improving them
  • Be supportive of others
  • Join a musician’s union in your country—as a freelancer you are on your own and the union is your backup
  • Know that you are valuable, and that what you do is valuable
  • Don’t let anyone walk all over you or treat you badly
  • Don’t forget that failure is not a permanent state, it’s normal and part of the journey to success
  • Always be yourself (unless you can be Batman, then always be Batman)
If you had to put together a school or resources for would-be drummers, what would the training include?

The resources would consist of that 17-second clip of Rob Schneider saying “You can do it.” On repeat. Someone seriously needs to do a ten-hour version of it. While we wait for that we’ll watch the ten-hour ultimate remix of Shia LaBeouf’s “Just Do It.”

The training would include fun stuff, like playing the drums. Apart from the obvious teaching stuff (techniques, stylistic appropriation, sense of time/interpretation of feel, etc.) the number one thing a teacher should do is inspire. Inspire the students to learn and push their boundaries to improve. This won’t be possible if they don’t believe in their own ability to learn, and that it’s okay to fail the first 5, 50, or 500 times. Just keep at it, persistence is key!

I’d encourage the students to be supportive and help each other. Drumming is the best thing ever (totally scientifically proven, probably). Working on improving your playing is difficult, but it should also be enjoyable! To quote Ralph Salmins: “It sounds better when you smile.”

Where else to find Amanda: Instagram. TwitterFacebook.