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Carolyn Cunningham, Woven Bones

Photo of Carolyn Cunningham, Woven Bonescourtesy of the artist

How would you describe your music?

Woven Bones songs are really fun, definitely on the darker side of garage rock. Right now I am learning the existing drum parts. As far as my playing in general, I’m a pretty sparse drummer. I would say my drumming is minimal, without many fills or flourishes. Maybe it is because of my drumline background (in high school) but I tend to just lay down a solid beat and stick to it.

What is your role in your band? In the studio? In business or marketing decisions?

"I am fairly new to Woven Bones, we have been together for about a month. We are a three-piece so it has been pretty easy to bond and get to know each other. A lot of the business decisions are handled by Andy (the leader singer and guitar player).

In the Pillow Queens, we made all the big decisions together. I tried to take on the role of facilitator. I like being the backbone of the band rhythmically, and I also like to create a supportive atmosphere where people can feel comfortable trying out new things musically and be themselves. I see a similar role for myself with Woven Bones. But for now I am just focusing on getting up to speed with the songs and integrating into the band and the sound as seamlessly as possible. "

Describe your gear.

"I have a 4-piece Mapex drumset. I am not really into having super expensive gear because it all gets thrown in the back of the van the same way no matter what. I cobbled together a collection of cymbals and hardware over the years. In Woven Bones I play a snare and floor tom standing up.

The only modification I have ever made to my drums is staining them. I took the vinyl wrapper off the drums, sanded the wood, and stained them green. "

Related Themes: Gear

Do you think being a woman and a musician is different from being a man and a musician? If so, how? Was there a moment that made a difference clear to you?

"For all-male bands, I think that bringing a woman into a band can be a big deal. She is expected to bring something extra to the table. If a guy joins an all-male band, on the other hand, there is probably an assumed level of familiarity and comfort.

There are more and more women starting and joining bands, but it is still feels outside the “normal” realm of rock n roll. I am constantly reminded of this when I tell people that I play drums. The most well-meaning people respond with, ""Wow, that's so cool! A girl drummer!"" I doubt that many male drummers hear, ""Whoa, a dude drummer. Awesome!""

I remember going to see bands in high school and college. Seeing women on the stage really made an impression on me. In school band, you don't have to be cool, and usually the uniforms make that impossible anyway. But in rock bands, your confidence (or lack thereof) can take center stage, even if you are nailing your musical parts. The women I saw were up there wailing on their instruments and making it look so easy and fun.

Playing drums in school, I was always surrounded by male musicians. That was good preparation for playing rock n roll. Everyone was on board with me playing drums, but there was also this feeling of me (and other females) having to step up to the plate and show them my chops. Everyone else just got to play drums. "

Related Themes: Old School vs. New School

Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

"That is an excellent question, and one that I don’t feel totally qualified to answer. I have not spent a lot of time with women musicians who are from a different generation than me. I think older women musicians had a much harder row to hoe than I did. Rock n roll has always been a boys club. Something that happens fairly frequently is women who are older than me coming up to me after shows. They give me the best compliments and are super supportive. A lot of them say things like, ""wow, playing drums would be so fun!"" like it is something they never considered doing themselves.

In each of my bands there have been a handful of times that people assumed I was the guitar player’s girlfriend or whatever. But aside from that and a few comments about how I am a “good girl drummer” (as opposed to a “good drummer”), I feel very supported. I don’t think women always had that feeling. I guess I have my parents to thank for never making a big deal out of me playing the drums. They always told me I did a good job, and it wasn’t because I was a girl, but because I was first chair. "

Related Themes: Off The Clock

Did anyone ever give you any valuable advice about making your way in the music industry? What advice would you give to a woman musician just starting out?

"This may sound like a no-brainer, but I really listened to people when they told me to “go for it” when opportunities have arisen. When the Pillow Queens first went on tour, we didn’t know what we were doing but we just got out there and started contacting people and made it happen. When Woven Bones approached me to play with them, I was incredibly excited for them to ask me but I was nervous about what that would be like. Then a trusted female friend encouraged me to jump on this opportunity. It was different with my other bands because I was already friends with them when we started playing music together. As it turns out, joining Woven Bones has been a seamless process because I really like my bandmates and we all have a strong work ethic.

I would tell a new woman musician that there is nothing to be scared of, and that if you realize that all these other bands are playing shows and making records all the time, you can certainly go make a name for yourself. Also, don’t date your bandmates.

The best advice I would give any new musician is to go out and get involved in your local music scene. Check out your local independent newspaper/music blog/record store and meet people who are doing what you'd like to do. They can be your best source of information and inspiration.

I don't think that there are any post-feminist musical subcultures. Every woman musician will be forced to think about her identity in a musical context at some point. This sounds cheesy, but practice practice practice until you know your stuff is really good, and then get out there and play it for the world. "

Related Themes: Advice

Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

"When I was in 5th grade, the middle school band director came over and had the aspiring band students try out several different kinds of mouthpieces and instruments. When I told him that I played piano already, he had me pick up the drumsticks and tap out some rhythms. That was the start of me playing drums.

I have stayed with it because it is really fun and I see playing drums as making a big contribution to whatever group I’m playing with. "

Related Themes: The First Time