Jane Boxall is a Vermont-based drummer who plays across a wide spectrum of genres, including experimental hip-hop, doom, jazz, surf-punk, and musical theater. She’s recently returned from a recent North American tour with Ceschi Ramos, where she played drum set, sampled percussion, vibraphone, and vocals, and was bandleader of a seven-piece ensemble on the rap/acoustic-punk tour. She’s now getting ready for her first solo percussion performance in India this summer.
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What is your city, country, and age?

Vermont, USA, 38.

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

I play custom-made District Drum Company snare drums. I have a 14″ x 6.5″ in North American maple with a turquoise glass glitter wrap, and a 12″ x 6″ in black walnut. I absolutely love these drums.

My studio kit is a late-’50s Gretsch round-badge set in midnight blue pearl. It was a One Nighter kit with just snare (14″ x 5″), mounted tom (13″ x 9″) and bass drum (22″ x 14″); I found a matching 16″ x 16″ floor tom to complete it.

My road kit is a Tama Superstar Hyperdrive in the Desert Burst finish: 24″ x 18″ bass drum, 12″ x 7″ mounted tom, and 16″ x 14″ floor tom.

I play mostly Zildjian cymbals, including a super heavy 22″ K custom ride, 14″ Quick Beat hi-hats, and a couple of A Custom crashes. I have a chewed-up 12″ Wuhan splash cymbal that still sounds great, and a 1950s “Zenjian” (Italian-made) 14″ ride that sounds great in hip-hop and recording contexts.

I have a Tama Iron Cobra double kick pedal and hi-hat stand. My hardware is a mixed bag and mostly heavy stuff I’ve inherited from other drummers.

I prefer Aquarian drumheads: Modern Vintage on the Gretsch kit and Performance II on the Tamas. The Superkick II is a thing of sonic beauty to me. I’ve been experimenting with their three-ply Triple Threat snare head, which has a great combination of bite and warmth without ringiness.

I use Vic Firth sticks and mallets. For drum set, 2B or AJ1 sticks are my go-to options, depending on the genre and venue.

I play a 5-octave Coe Percussion concert marimba, and a 1970s Jenco vibraphone fitted with a K&K Sound pickup system.

For most of my recording, and for live gigs involving synchronizing to a track or electronics, I use a Westone in-ear monitor system. It’s been a game-changer!

Listing it out, that’s a fair amount of gear! I carry it all in a 2006 Honda CR-V kindly gifted to me by the family of one of my drum students.

Do you have endorsements?

Yes, I endorse Vic Firth sticks and mallets, Coe Percussion marimbas, MalletKAT, and District Drum Company snare drums. I’d love to endorse Clif Bars and Darn Tough socks, because I go through a lot of those on the road.

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

Here comes another list! My performing life is split between regular projects and collaborations, and one-off sessions or tours. It’s a varied and exciting “diet” and I truly love it. I’ve just come off tour with the incredibly original rap artist Ceschi Ramos—I’ve been hitting things in studios and on stages with him for a couple of years now. I’ve been really into rap since I was a kid in rural Scotland, and now I’ve been dubbed “the best hip-hop drummer in Vermont” (though it has to be said that’s a very shallow pool). I play and record for my dear friend Spoken Nerd, a rapper from Nashville, and doomy dictionary-botherer Brzowski from Maine/Texas.

Here in the Northeast, my regular projects include Ricochet Duo, a decade-strong piano and marimba duo with my friend Rose Chancler. We play a lot of contemporary art music, and some classic repertoire from ragtime and tango to Stravinsky. We have a special commitment to playing the music of women composers, which remains ridiculously underperformed in the 21st century.

I also play drums with Bad Smell, a duo with my friend Raph Worrick from central Vermont. Raph wires up a mad-professor rig of antique beat-machines, Korg and Casio synthesizers, and sundry sequencers; I augment the machine-beats with live drum kit, and try not to fall off the train while the Hammond Auto-Vari is spitting out simultaneous “Samba” and “Western Shuffle” beats, for example.

I’m the drummer for Ladyshark, a pun/surf rock trio based in New York City. I came up with punk and rock drumming, so it’s always a blast to be playing hard and fast stuff. Sarah Vardy of Ladyshark uses a lot of live looping, which has been a really interesting and rewarding challenge to me as a drummer. Also in the feminist/queer punk realm, this year I put together PINK-802—it’s a Blink-182 tribute act.

Other artists I work and collaborate with regularly include the one and only Gregory Douglass (Los Angeles), and Vermont genius Michael Chorney, who just won a Tony award for his orchestration on Broadway’s Hadestown. Both are extremely inspiring and innovative gentlemen. Here in Vermont I also play with indie-chamber ensemble TURNmusic, directed by my talented friend Anne Decker.

As a solo artist, I play marimba with zero to ten mallets—I tour that program as a clinic and a concert, and am working on an album to follow up Zero to Eight Mallets, which I released back in 2012. On the other end of the logistical spectrum, my “Portable Percussionist” is a solo program using small and found percussion instruments—from flowerpots to zippers. I’ve twice been a concerto soloist with orchestra, and I hope there’s more of that in my future; it’s such a powerful collaborative experience.

Then I fill in the gaps with recording session work, various musical-theater productions, orchestral work, etc. Wherever things need to be hit.

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

According to my mother I was always into hitting things. My folks got me one of those multi-colored toy glockenspiels when I was a toddler, and I remember being wildly into composing epic pieces on that. On a whim I auditioned for percussion lessons in secondary school, and was very lucky to learn there from Ron Forbes, who also taught Dame Evelyn Glennie. After two music degrees in the UK, I wasn’t done with practicing marimba, which I discovered and dedicated a lot of my time to during my Bachelor’s and Master’s, so I came to the States for my Doctorate in percussion performance, studying marimba with Bill Moersch in Illinois. Drums and percussion are the instruments that have led me to my life here and now. And I never felt the same kind of connection with the other instruments I tried—I was a stumbly, stumpy-fingered pianist, and a horrible violinist and trumpeter before finding the family of hittable instruments.

Who is your favorite drummer and why?

It’s impossible to name just one! But, for her melodic and linear grooves, her aggression and intensity, her flawless drummer-vocals, and her heavy-hitting precision, I’m going to say Janet Weiss. I’m a huge fan of her work with Sleater-Kinney and WILD FLAG.

How do you practice? Do you have a routine?

I practice whenever, wherever, and however possible. I’ve been playing long enough now that my hands hurt if I don’t practice for a few days, and I get all kinds of cranky and confused without regular practice in my life. My preference is to practice marimba or vibes in the mornings, drum kit in the afternoon, in some kind of “cave”—a room or home with a closed door where I won’t be overheard. Usually the bulk of my practice is preparing repertoire for the next gig, concert, or tour—my warmups and technical exercises are pulled from the music I’m learning. Because I tour a lot, my routine has to be flexible. On the road, I use practice pads/paperback books, and I am always trying to improve my mental-practice regimen. I spend a lot of hours trail-running at home or away, listening and air-drumming to tracks while I’m slogging through the woods and mountains. I’m going to say that counts as practice.

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

Say “yes” to the gigs, people, places and things that make you feel big-hearted and hopeful—in drumming, in music generally, and in life! The rest will fall into place, like a well-oiled paradiddle. Think about not only how your playing feels in the moment, to you, but also how it sounds and looks.

This is hardly original advice, but record and video your practice and live work regularly—this will show the weirdnesses and successes in posture, technique, dynamics, amplification, and balance. Think about the balance between the elements of your drum kit, as well as the balance with other instruments in your band—I find many drummers overplay the cymbals and underplay the toms, for example. As we’re playing asymmetrical instruments, it’s important to find a physical approach and setup that works with your body and doesn’t cause or aggravate injury.

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

I do this thing when I’m playing in a band where I get in an imaginary mini-helicopter and go to hover over each individual musician, checking in to see if we’re lined up and connected, and focusing on that person’s sound and energy, what they might need from me at that point in the music. Then I work my way around the stage, with my helicopter hovering over each person in turn. Sometimes I take it for an imaginary spin out to the middle of the audience, or to the sound board. When I tell other drummers this, they either respond with “Jane, that sounds insane.” Or “Oh, I totally do that too.” Maybe it’s an INFJ thing.

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 define success as survival. It’s really that simple. Being a professional artist is not a cookie-cutter career choice, and as you say there’s no “I made it!” end point. There’s no finish line, and there are also no winners. Music is not a competitive sport. In a recent ultramarathon out west, another runner early on was badgering me about what my planned pace was and I shrugged; shortly afterwards I saw a runner in a shirt that read “forward is a pace.” That really resonated with me—whether running or drumming, I’m about going the distance, exploring new scenery and angles on the landscape, and the deep camaraderie that comes with traveling in sync with other humans and creatures.

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

Just before our recent tour, I heard Ceschi say in an interview, “Comfort kills art.” I put this quote on my refrigerator for the season.

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

Before sitting down, I need to have a run or a walk outside. Some food and ideally a cup of tea—I’m a British cliche in my beverage choices. I need to write out lists on paper, do the washing up, and vacuum or mop the floors. Then the procrastination spiral is complete and I can get to work. I like to start with a relatively mindless physical warmup for about 20-30 minutes, before getting into the creative part of the session. At any time I have a lot of ideas scratched on staff paper or yodeled into voice memos on my phone, so that’s usually the seed for figuring out what I want to write or play that day.

How important is failure in making music/performing?

Failure is very important, because it’s valuable feedback about what is and isn’t working for you at any given time. I’ve had (relatively mild) epilepsy almost all my life, and each seizure—a pretty thorough, if temporary, physical failure—gives clear feedback to me about what I need to change, remove or prioritize in the future. So I feel that the recovery and adjustment that follow failure are the most important things here.

In music, many elements are out of your control, and when those things fail or disrupt, it can bring a freshness and focus to your performance. For example, on this most recent tour we had nights where monitors failed, microphones cut out, feedback rolled up like a painful tsunami, the stage got flooded, then hastily covered with sand. Having a backup plan in these situations allows each failure to become a diversion down a different route that may be more interesting, valuable, or ridiculous. Like kneeling in wet sand under my vibraphone, holding an XLR cable into the back of a processor pedal, and knowing this was exactly where I wanted to be.

Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?

You belong here, even (or especially) if the environment seems sometimes hostile or unsupportive. There are fewer real gatekeepers than the industry would have you believe. This advice goes to girls/women, people outside or beyond the gender binary, migrants, and anyone who’s been marginalized or silenced. You absolutely can make your home and your life in drumming and music, although this is an unconventional choice and there will be many naysayers.

Find your community and the people and places where you can draw solidarity. This includes me—I’ll always be your champion rather than your competition. I’ve always found incredible and powerful solidarity at all of the camps and communities under the Girls Rock Camp Alliance. Connecting with any similarly powerful, forward-thinking and hugely fun community will let you know you aren’t alone in this. I also want to say that there is no deadline for starting or “making it.” Women have no expiration date, and it’s entirely valid to be a beginner or a professional at any age.

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

Outdoors and indoors. Writing as well as reading music. Rudiments and melody.

Where else to find Jane

Instagram: @janeboxallhitsthings

Facebook: janeboxallhitsthings

Upcoming: I have some dates in Germany with Ceschi this summer, then I’m playing X-Fest in Cyprus and heading further East for my first solo concert in Chennai, India. In the Fall I’m touring the US as drummer for Height Keech. Then I’m going to take some cave-time to work on my ten-mallet marimba stuff!