Susan Lucia was a top ten finalist in the 2014 “Hit Like A Girl” International drumming contest. She has toured nationally with March Fourth marching band, and internationally with EMA, recently opened for ten shows with Depeche Mode. She is influenced by so many different styles of music but especially enjoys traditional Afro-Peruvian, Brazilian, and African dance music.

Women are underrepresented in the percussion world. Our weekly series, Women 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.

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What is your city, country, and age?

Portland, Oregon, 28.

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

I am constantly changing my setup. I play a purple Allegra drum set (22”, 12”, 15”) and a Tribes snare drum (13” x 7”) with wood rims. I play with Vic Firth X8D sticks. Right now, my cymbals are 15” OM series Istanbul hi-hats, two 16” Cymbal & Gong crash cymbals, and a 20” Meinl Byzance Sand ride. I love my cowbell. I like taking sounds that people expect to hear in a certain way and putting them in a new environment. Same goes for the double bass pedal. The past year I have been mounting a mini hi-hat in place of a second tom and lately I have been experimenting with other sounds, like hitting a lap steel.

What bands do you perform with, if any?

My band is called Human Ottoman, we are a power trio of electric vibraphone, cello, and drums. I call our genre polyrhythmic rock.

Over the past five years I have played with many different bands of many different genres. I played with March Fourth for a while which was so much fun and have recently been playing with EMA. We recently opened for Depeche Mode!

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

At age 13 my friends and I wanted to start a punk band — oh, we were feeling the angst! To my surprise, when I sat down at the drum set, I was completely addicted to the feeling. I loved the coordination challenge and pretty soon I was practicing along to jazz records. I don’t really remember how I took the leap from casual punk band to five hours a day of jazz drumming, but it is funny to think about.

Who is your favorite drummer and why?

Impossible to choose! Here is a short list: Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Tony Allen, Zigaboo Modeliste, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Greg Saunier, Nate Wood, Trilok Gurtu, Danny Carey, Tim Alexander, Sarah Thawer, and Chris Dave.

How do you practice? Do you have a routine?

I wouldn’t call it a routine but I usually end up doing these three things: warmup, improvise, and play with the metronome. If I don’t have anything I need to practice, like learning songs for gigs, many times the improvisation will lead me to an interesting idea or concept to further explore, or I will notice something that is not quite up to speed. I love that kind of practice; it doesn’t feel like work at all.

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

Take a pattern, for example, a paradiddile. Change the rate from sixteenths to triplets, displace by adding in a note or two in-between and then doing the same with two paradiddles, all without stopping and keeping the quarter note the same. This creates over-the-bar line phrasing and then you can mess with the orchestration to further expand the idea. I first got the idea from Mark Guiliana’s eBook and have expanded from that, which has really taken my ears in new directions.

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 is something I haven’t figured out. It is nice to play gigs that help to make a living; it’s nice to play for larger audiences that are responsive. I’ve heard people say that if you make one person’s night, that is a success. Part of it is to be doing something you believe in and are happy doing as well. For me, I guess success would be finding a balance of all those things.

Susan Lucia

Susan Lucia. Photo: Sam Gehrke

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

I’ve been reading Scott Kettner’s book Maracatu For Drum Set And Percussion and there is a quote in it by Mestre Walter I love: “I don’t care how tradition tells you to play, I just want it to sound and feel good.”

Of course, I am not saying to ignore good technique or to disregard what people have done before us. There is a lot to be learned from that! But at the end of the day what matters is if what you are doing feels and sounds good. There is more than one way to do things and it is easy to forget or never realize that. I’ve found, in the drum set community, we have a clear idea of what is “good” and exactly how to play to achieve that. I think we could all stand to think outside the box a little bit.

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

I always start by playing drums, maybe with a rhythmic pattern in mind. I make up grooves and move my limbs around to different places in the set to hear how it changes the groove. After playing the drum groove that I like over and over I start to hear a bass line. Then I will record it and try singing melodies over that. So the process is from the edges in, if that makes sense. I love writing polyrhythms between multiple instruments. I will try to get one instrument to play in rhythm with my right hand while another instrument plays with the kick and snare, for example. It feels so satisfying. More fun comes in with melodic phrasing and how you can make something that sounds surprising to the audience.

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

Stop contemplating — take the leap and try it out! Get out there and do your thing! Chances are that you will have so much fun and stop caring what people think of you. You will connect with your audience if you are having fun with it.

Try to be a good drummer; don’t try to be good “for a girl.” It bothers me when people say to female drummers, “It’s amazing that you play drums.” Aim for “You are an amazing drummer.”

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

Well, things like technique, coordination, ear training, reading, such as:

  • A class that studies all of the crazy rhythms from around the world! I personally love traditional music, so much truly incredible stuff out there.
  • A meditation class: where everyone just plays quarter notes for an hour straight [laughs].
  • Basic dance: learning to move your body in time isn’t that different from playing drum set.
  • Melodic instrument class: It is good to have that knowledge at least to be able to communicate with people.
  • Groove/solo transcription: It’s good to learn different feels by playing with recordings and to get ideas that maybe you never would have thought of otherwise. Again, there is an endless supply of fantastic material out there.
  • Band class: Each month would be a different type of band, from metal to jazz to dancehall to country etc. There is so much versatility to be learned from playing different genres and understanding how drums fit in to each one.

Where else to find Susan

Instagram: @susandrums