April Samuels picked up her first pair of sticks at age five and was taking private drum lessons by the age of 11, studying under former Bo Diddley/Ice Capades/Fifth Dimension drummer Warren White. She navigated her teens by playing in garage bands with her guitarist brother, Todd, and later expanded her study when she majored in music at the University of North Texas.
As she developed her musical style, April co-wrote several songs used in episodes on the Discovery Channel show Outward Bound. April has since performed, recorded and/or written with 30+ different groups, including an album with Matthew Johnson (formerly of Great White), two groups with David Harbour (formerly of Michael Harris, David T. Chastain, King Diamond), two groups with Dave Hineman (formerly of Solinger) and a group with Joey C. Jones.
In 2010, April was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer and immediately combined her passion for drums with her personal fight against cancer by founding her nonprofit organization Breast Cancer Can Stick It! Foundation, Inc. Between traveling as a full-time drummer with the ’80s spoof-hair-band Metal Shop, playing and recording with the original band 49th Vibration, as well as playing fundraisers with her cover band, The Breast Cancer Can Stick It! Band, April is performing over 120 shows a year.
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Where do you live?
What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?
I have a Maple Custom Rockett Drum Works kit, a Birch Custom Rockett Drum Works kit, and a Maple Pearl Masters Custom.
Do you have endorsements?
Yes! Sabian cymbals, Aquarian drumheads, Humes & Berg cases, Los Cabos drumsticks, RockNRoller Multi-Cart, Drumtacs, and Wornstar.
What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?
The Breast Cancer Can Stick It! band, 49th Vibration (our new album released digitally on July 18), and Metal Shop.
What led you to your instrument? What’s your origin story?
At a very young age, I was exposed to drums. My older cousin had a kit, as did my best friend’s brother. I was totally infatuated with them. At five years old — at a music store with my mom, while my brother was in guitar lessons — I begged my mom to get me a pair of sticks. She bought them and I was thrilled! For six years, I begged for a drum kit. I began taking drum lessons a few years later, and at age 11, they finally bought me my first real kit.
Tell me about Breast Cancer Can Stick It. What was the impetus for it?
In 2010, I was diagnosed with the rare and aggressive triple negative breast cancer. Two days prior to my diagnosis, something told me that if I had breast cancer, I would be the biggest advocate in the fight against breast cancer that I could be. Within a few short weeks of being diagnosed, I coined the phrase “Breast Cancer Can Stick It!” combining my passion for drumming with my passion for fighting breast cancer.
By far, I’m most proud of Drummathon and how that event has catapulted our fundraising efforts, and thus our effect on the fight against breast cancer in the community. Drummathon was an idea that was brought to me in 2015 — I took the idea and turned it into our kind of annual “walk,” except with drumming. The inaugural Drummathon in 2015 brought in $13,000, then doubled to $26,000 in 2016, and increased again in 2017 to $35,000. The event has already been host to many celebrity drummer guests including Mark Schulman (P!NK), Rich Redmond (Jason Aldean), Carmine Appice (Ozzy, Rod Stewart), Vinny Appice (Dio, Black Sabbath), Keio Stroud (Big & Rich), among many others. Drummathon 2018 takes place September 30 at Klyde Warren Park and will feature seven celebrities.
Who is your favorite drummer and why?
My favorite drummer is Sean Phillips, the original drummer for Sister 7 out of Austin, Texas. He has a pocket like no other and the absolute most tasty fills, but he does not overplay. Hearing his drumming on the Sister 7 albums changed my drumming drastically, and also attributed greatly to my songwriting style.
How do you practice? Do you have a routine?
I normally play along with recorded music, even if it’s practicing rudiments. It makes it less monotonous. I think most drummers prefer to do multiple things at once, so it kind of feeds that.
Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum readers?
I think playing with tracks can really improve your playing and allow for a new approach to playing. Even just for practicing, it can be great. Strip out all the drums and come up with new rhythms and try different things. When I do speaking engagements, I make tracks and come up with new, unique drum parts to already well-known songs. For original music, I always play to the song — add to it, without muddying it up. The drum part should accentuate the song, rather than distract. Also, speed isn’t everything. So many people think it’s important to play as fast as possible. I think the most important thing is timing, and being tight — in the pocket. And being dynamic in songs is hugely important.
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?
Breast Cancer Can Stick It! is the most important thing. Having the support and encouragement of my peers and being able to see that fundraising total go up year after year — the donations we make each year for research and trials, mammograms, and financial assistance — that’s success.
Do you have any quotes or sayings that you live by?
Quality not quantity. Less is more. Make yourself out to be bigger than you are, and you will be. Fake it till you make it. Perception is everything.
And, it’s not about saving breasts, it’s about saving lives.
When you sit down to make music and are starting with a blank canvas, what’s your process like?
Normally it’s either a rhythm on guitar or drums, followed by lyrics. I’m not a person that feels every song must have a guitar solo or a bridge. It’s where the song takes you that is most important.
How important is failure in making music/performing?
Every time you fail, you learn. Failure is necessary.
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
Do it! I talk to so many girls who say “I always wanted to play drums.” Just do it. It’s never too late. If you are drumming, don’t take people’s words too seriously. I always say, “Drumming is a male-dominated sport.” People aren’t used to seeing a woman play — it’s unique and interesting. Something that’s meant to be a compliment might come out sideways — just laugh it off. I hear “You are good ‘for a girl’” all the time. Most people don’t mean it like it sounds when I openly corner them on the subject. Just plow forward.
If you had to put together a school or resources for would-be drummers, what would the training include?
The books Stick Control and Rockin’ Bass Drum. Performance classes — training to be an energetic fun-to-watch drummer. Wardrobe lessons. Playing with tracks class. Gear and tuning class. Be the WHOLE package.