Amy Devine is the drummer for feminist punk band The Baby Seals, the trio The Centimes, and the experimental outfit Violently Demure. When not playing in bands, Devine records with local artists as a session drummer and, with a friend, is in the process of starting a music/performance school for people who have learning disabilities and autism called The Cambridge School Of Music And Performance, slated to open next year.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org telling us more about you.
What is your city, country, and age?
Cambridge, England, 31.
What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?
Kit-wise, I’m a Sonor lass for acoustic, although Mapex comes in at a close second. Electric-wise it has to be Roland all the way. My favorite cymbal is my Paiste 2002 crash. I love Paiste but recently I’ve had my head turned by Istanbul cymbals. They’re so sexy! Stick-wise I will use nothing but Vic Firth, American Classic, Hickory 7a.
Do you have endorsements?
We’re in the process of endorsements with Vic Firth and looking to confirm early 2019.
What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?
I play with The Baby Seals; we’re signed to Trapped Animal. We’re a feminist punk outfit, and we’ve toured the UK and Northern Europe. I’m also part of another trio, The Centimes. We play sporadically, as our guitarist now lives in Denmark. I’ve also just begun playing percussion/drums with a new band called Violently Demure, which has given me full range to be as experimental as I like. This includes using my feet on different surfaces, recording kettles boiling, and other weird and wonderful experimentation.
The rest of my time is spent recording with local artists as a session player and have depped quite a few a times, which is good fun.
What led you to your instrument? What’s your origin story?
My first real drumming inspiration was my uncle Mitch Devine. He’s in a band with my dad called Colonel Gomez. Back in 1984, they were featured on [British television music show] The Old Grey Whistle Test, and did various shows around the country. When I was 15, I used to spend a lot of the school holidays walking four miles to my uncle’s house to play on his Ludwig kit, which he still has. He was the person who introduced me to the paradiddle world, and is a massive fan of Ginger Baker, and so taught me quite a lot of that style of playing.
I used to love watching my dad’s band, but was particularly drawn to the drums. I liked the way my uncle moved and could make all of these different sounds with different parts of his body. There was and still is for me something primitive about the communication with music and how it unites people of all different cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs. I’ve also had some really top drumming teachers, so thank you Matt Seymour, Mike Barnes, and of course my first one, uncle Mitch.
Who is your favorite drummer and why?
I love playing different genres, so for me it would be almost impossible to name just one drummer. At the moment, because I’m primarily playing punk/rock, I lean towards drummers like Tobi Celeste Vail from Bikini Kill and Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney. I also like the more old-fashioned jazz-style drummers, such as Buddy Rich, Ginger Baker, and John Densmore, and contemporary drummers like Fliss Kitson from The Nightingales, Emmanuelle Caplette, Kimberly Thompson, and Keith Carlock to name but a few. While studying in middle school, I began to fully appreciate people like Bernard Purdie. Many of those old recordings didn’t pick up the ghost notes and semi-quavered bass drum notes, but I’m telling you, the written music certainly highlights his complex rhythms and intricate style.
How do you practice? Do you have a routine?
My practicing routine can change depending on what I’m working towards. For example, if I’m practicing a piece of written music, I warm-up with three or four rudiments, which supports my mind to focus. Practicing for a recording or live session is a lot of wrist and foot exercises. I also got this cool little device to squeeze, which strengthens the wrist and totally helps to withstand any fatigue that the limbs may feel at times.
The main thing I do for whatever it is that I’m practicing is to start off the session with something that I have mastered and enjoy playing, and to end the session the same way. Leaving the bit in the middle, or the bulk of the practice, to master a new groove, rudiment, solo, etc. This for me is a huge piece of advice that I give to all of my students. We have to want to pick up the sticks again, ending a session with something that one hasn’t yet mastered can be soul-destroying—it has to be fun and inspiring. After a while, what you will find is that the thing you may have been struggling with for a couple of months is now the thing you love playing and can do well.
Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum readers?
Having a good match grip technique can help so much with playing and feel. It’s considering the way our wrists move naturally and going with that. My other advice is to focus on rudiments around learning new grooves. You can also use the rudiments as groove ideas, too.
My most-loved rudiment is the paradiddle. In fact, I love all of the paradiddles. Double, triple, inverted, paradiddle diddle. I usually put these into grooves or place them round the kit for solo ideas.
I think the two best techniques I’ve ever learned are the push-pull technique for double rolls, 5, 7, and 9 stroke rolls. The Moeller method is amazing as you can use this for feet as well as hands. This one has allowed me to use one bass drum pedal instead of two for galloping rhythms used in various songs. And a great practice tip for waking your feet up is to play a single paradiddle using your feet with a nice steady quaver roll around the drums. It’s hard to do but a lot of fun trying.
What’s something you believe about drumming or music that other people think is crazy?
Something a bit more personal to me, which is a little more “out there,” is that when I pick up my drumsticks, I feel like an extension of the kit itself. I believe that whatever instrument we play, we have to become part of it and let ourselves go slightly. This is what I think makes the incredible drummers stand out from the good. In fact, I was giving this advice to one of my students and they looked at me as if I were mad! You can hear it in the way people play when they clench their sticks so tightly, it almost chokes everything that they’re doing, or they use the sticks as a kind of mallet, trying to bang an imaginary nail into a sheet of metal. To feel your instrument in such a natural, part-of-you way comes with practice and allowing a relationship with whatever one plays.
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?
For me, the definition of success is doing what you want to be doing and doing it well. My ambition was to earn a living from music and be in a band that tours. I’m now doing both of those things. My new ambition is to open my own music/performance school for people who have learning disabilities, which I’m in the process of doing with a good friend of mine. We want to bridge the gap for people who have special-educational needs from college into the professions that are involved with the arts.
So, to me, success is like milestones—people’s ambitions and dreams change all of the time. As long as you’re happy, fulfilled, work hard, and chasing the stars, you’ve basically made it.
When you sit down to make music and are starting with a blank canvas, what’s your process like?
The process depends on what it is that I’m listening to and working with. The main starting point for me is listening to the track, bass line idea, guitar/piano idea, etc, which give the feel and emotion of the track. When working on The Baby Seal’s first album, the drumming needed to be big, rolling, and punchy, as the songs were high energy, catchy, and fun. So to start off it was me sitting at the kit and having a ruddy good time listening to these great tracks and sticking some punky grooves over the top. The first album is themed around body image, periods, the porn industry, and equal pay—things you can have fun with and will make people laugh.
Our second album is in the process of being recorded at the moment and although it definitely has a high-energy feel, it’s a lot darker in tone and has more of an epic style, (or Femic, if you will.) These songs demand a little more consideration with dynamics and phrasing, as they have a darker message within.
A complete blank canvas for me would be working on a solo idea. I always start off with the pulse of whatever time signature I’m in and go from there. Sometimes picking a real simple groove but placing the bass drums on the off beats, similarly with the snare drum too, maybe ghosting the snare drum notes. Then layering fills, using different parts of the kit to play the groove, that kind of thing.
How important is failure in making music/performing?
My mum has a saying, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail,” which is true of some things in life but I think that once you reach a certain point, especially in the arts, no matter how much you prepare yourself, it’s inevitable that at least one project will be doomed to failure. (Unless you’re incredibly lucky.)
Often you don’t get the chance for a practice run with some things. Say for instance, releasing an album or organizing a tour. You do it, often quite blindly, and either learn from the mistakes and be able to swallow it, or you won’t. Personally, I think failure is a healthy part of life. I believe it supports our growth as individuals and makes us appreciate the good points of a career. It also teaches us that we could maybe be practicing a bit more regularly.
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
If you love it, do it. Try not to let anyone make you feel that you shouldn’t be on a stage, in a music shop, or behind a drum kit. It’s incredibly sad that there’s an awful lot of misogyny out there, and most women who are heavily involved with music will have had some of this thrown their way. There are some incredible drummers who are not represented within the drum world, but they are out there.
[Ed. Note: May we suggest this #WCW column to explore!]
Submerge yourself with Sheila E, Fliss Kitson, Emmanuelle Caplette, Cindy Blackman, Kimberly Thompson, Karen Carpenter, and others. The list is so long! I think it’s fair to say that women in general are sexualized, and sometimes manipulated to present themselves as sexy, inanimate models, draped over a drum kit. This was suggested to me once at a photo session, and I told them no! It is uncomfortable, but know your self worth and stick to your guns. Also find some really cool friends to play with. Gigs are a million times more fun when you have a load of smashing lasses there kicking up and rocking out!
Even though I have encountered misogyny, I feel lucky as I work and have worked with some proper gents, who are aware that they are privileged as men and respect the space that women are trying to forge for themselves.
I’m interested in the way that female drummers are portrayed. It’s so great that there are magazines out there (such as yours) that are willing to give women the space and respect that is needed to encourage equality. I still think there is a long way to go. This is reflected for me with how many girls and women I teach—out of my 20 students, there is one woman. If this statistic were mapped out with 100 drummers, only five would be women.
If you had to put together a school or resources for would-be drummers, what would the training include?
My training and resources would include a metronome, a nice little bop kit, a rudiment chart, and a Roland practice pad to play while watching TV, on public transit, doing some photocopying at work, etc. So, no excuses. You can practice all of the time. Also I’d lend my little sign that says, “There’s no such thing as talent, only hard work,” for inspiration.
I’d put together a little video with some fun exercises, such as the walking foot pattern, in 4/4, bass and hi-hat walking the crotchets, and then the hands playing crotchets, quavers, and semi-quavers over the top. My little paradiddle foot exercise. A chart with every variation of the rock beat known to humans, and my Ginger Baker DVD. Also some fruit to keep the energy up.