Elizabeth Goodfellow has been drumming since age 11. Her first performing experiences were as part of a traditional jazz band playing harvest festivals around her home region, California’s Central Valley. She studied classical percussion at San Jose State while playing jazz and pop gigs around the San Francisco Bay Area, simultaneously serving as a drummer in the California Air National Guard Band of the West Coast, with whom she performed for the president. While residing in San Francisco, Goodfellow appeared on two episodes of America’s Got Talent and subsequently relocated to Los Angeles. Since moving to LA, she has released two albums of her original music (Silly Sun, 2018 and Sea Ranch, 2019), recorded with artists including boygenius (Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus), and toured with Iron & Wine and Madison Cunningham.

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What kind of gear do you use? What’s your set up? Do you have any endorsements?

I endorse C&C Drums, Istanbul Agop Cymbals, and Innovative Percussion sticks and mallets. With Madison Cunningham (current tour), I play my custom C&C purple sparkle drum kit (13”, 16”, 20”), Istanbul Agop Traditional Series cymbals, and a vintage 1960s Slingerland COB snare (14” X 5.5”) I picked up on tour at Revival Drum Shop in Portland.

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

The past couple years have been busy! I spent two years on the road drumming for Iron and Wine (Beast Epic, Weed Garden tours) and am currently drumming for Madison Cunningham (Who Are You Now? Tour). I also toured with the Hot Sardines (hot jazz, NYC) this summer performing at Blue Note jazz clubs in China, Japan, and Hawaii.

What led you to your instrument? What is your origin story?

When I was in fifth grade the school band teacher came around to our classroom and asked, “Who wants to play the drums?” Something in me was called to raise my hand and in a few days I had my first pair of drum sticks. The custodian at our school was a drummer and he gave me lessons during lunch. Our band teacher started youth jazz bands and helped us get gigs at local harvest festivals in the Central Valley of California where I grew up. I was asked to play gigs with my teacher’s jazz band as a sixth grader, and performed with the local symphony in high school. I haven’t put down my sticks since!

Who is your favorite drummer and why?

I have had many drum heroes over the years, so it’s hard to pick a favorite, but currently I have been listening to John Convertino of Calexico. We opened for the Iron and Wine / Calexico “Years to Burn” tour earlier this summer and John was kind enough to tell me about his solo album Ragland as well as his collaboration with Naim Amor, The Western Suite and Siesta Songs. I’ve also been appreciating his work on Amos Lee’s record Mission Bell and Neko Case’s record Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, not to mention his work on the two Iron and Wine / Calexico collaborations In the Reins and Years to Burn and of course the extensive Calexico catalogue he has amassed with Joey Burns. There’s unmistakable personality to John’s sound and approach to drumming: His vocabulary is so evocative of the desert and all of the mystery and longing that comes with that landscape. It’s my hope that as a musician I can have a sound that is that much my own as John’s is his.

How do you practice? Do you have a routine?

I have a rehearsal space in Highland Park where I do most of my loud bashing. Whenever I’m learning an artist’s music, the first thing I do is transcribe the lyrics. The words are incredibly important to me and my understanding of what a song needs, and they tell me so much about the artist and what kind of journey we might be embarking upon. After I transcribe the words I make notes about the form of the music in the margins, and I also transcribe any backing vocal parts. Then I listen to the record over and over and over before I sit down to play along. I put it on in my car, while I jog, etc.

Eventually I play along with the songs using the notes I made, and then I play along with just the song, just the metronome, and just the notes. I make sure I know the song without any aids. That’s when I feel comfortable to start rehearsals with the rest of the band and the artist.

If I’m on the road, I bring a practice pad for simple warm-ups and I make sure to stay hydrated and stretch before and after the show.

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

Nobody has told me that anything I think about music or drumming is crazy, but I do believe that music and lyrics are powerful forces and I have become more and more aware of what kind of music I’m participating in and trying to make sure that the underlying message is one of positivity or at least truth.

How do you think about and define “success”?

I define success as two-pronged. Social and personal. Social: Are my relationships with my community (musical and otherwise) healthy and productive? Am I bringing up the people around me and serving my community in a positive way? And personal: Am I continuing to grow and evolve as my own autonomous artist? Am I curious and inspired and am I producing work that reflects that internal culture?

Do you have quotes or sayings that you live by?

This may sound a bit OCD but it helps me: “Successful people touch things once” is a big one for me. I feel that to focus on one task fully until it is completed has improved my life.

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

These days I’m working in a “three marimba counterpoint” medium, almost as if it were a guitar. So I open a Sibelius document and lay out three marimba staves and start composing a counterpoint I think feels compelling. Then I might loop that and see what words or lyrics come to mind. From there I might print out lyrical ideas and work them into a form, and then come back to the music and try out different melodies to see how I can morph the marimba counterpoint harmonically to accommodate the feeling of the words and melody. It’s my solution to always having wanted to play guitar but realizing that my training lies in marimba, and to use that instrument as a guitar-like accompaniment might be a more authentic voice for me as a musician. My EP Sea Ranch is my very first attempt at this kind of writing and I’m happy to say I feel like it has already evolved since this spring. I hope to release more new music in this vein early in 2020.

How important is failure in making music/ performing?

Extremely. Most growth comes from the times when we are the most uncomfortable, and failure is certainly painful. But if we expect ourselves to succeed the first time we try something new we will be continually disappointed. I think it’s best to expect some degree of failure and be grateful for the inevitable lessons. The hard part is inherently not being able to predict how we will fail, and being okay with the surprise when it comes. And then hopefully being able to learn and laugh about it eventually!

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

Follow your love of the instrument. Make sure your motives are truly for the love of the music and you will align yourself with people who will support your growth. There are so many encouraging people in music and they want to help. Use your essence as a human to create a sound that is uniquely yours. Play with as many different kinds of people in different settings as you can.

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

Put your wing nuts and felts back on your stands! Seriously, organization and equipment maintenance are paramount as a drummer because your instrument has so many little moving parts and pieces. If you respect every part of your gear, it will be easier to function musically. There’s nothing sadder than half a cymbal stand.

Where else to find Elizabeth

Current tour with Madison Cunningham
Elizabeth Goodfellow on Spotify