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Kate Levitt, Teeth Mountain and the Dan Deacon Ensemble

How would you describe your music?

TM: Is kind of noisey and tribal. We have two drummers, myself and Greg Fox (GDFX), we play alot of poly rhythems, and in alternate timings. We like to play in 3/2. We also have visuals which acompany the music. I am the only girl in this band.

DDE: An ensemble composed of roughly 15 people play dan deacons music for his ensemble tours. It is me and 14 other dudes. It is dance music.

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

In the ensemble, Dan makes all the administrative decisions. However, in TM all the marketing, business, and booking stuff is done primarily by Andrew and myself. The two of us literally do everything you could think of.

Describe your gear.

When I play a kit it's a marroon sparkely Gretch Kit, circa 1970's. However, in TM and the Ensemble, I play a mitigated kit made of: A high hat, cymbol, floor tom, roto toms, and sometimes some other things.

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?

Being a woman who has toured internationally with exclusivly dudes--several dudes at a time, I might add--has given me an interesting perspective on what it's like to be a female musician today.

It is perhaps impulse — my impulse, even — to think that the difference in sex (I say sex here instead of gender because I believe there to be a distinction between the two) between my band mates and I should not matter when touring. Every night we are on the road or play a show, we are all working towards a common goal; to be on time, set up quickly, to sound check and then to play with out messing up horribly. Easy enough, except with a band the size of the Ensemble — and traveling on a school bus which runs on vegetable oil scavenged almost exclusively from highway rest-stops — things generally take several hours longer then anyone would ever expect them to. There is a lot of teamwork involved in this process. I have come to think of us as a teepee: if you imagine the ensemble as a teepee, we are all planks supporting each other, and if one person is not on time, or not pulling their weight the whole structure collapses. And believe me, in the beginning especially, there were times when this teepee was not suitable for inhabitants.

However, it is not in the process of setting up the show that I feel least at home as a woman. Truly, I cannot lift the amps that the other guys can lift. I say this not because I am someone who believes that women cannot be physically strong — on the contrary, I believe that after playing two long sets every night for months at a time that I have have gained muscle endurance which permits me to play for much longer then other male drummers I know — but because it is simply a reality of the situation. Here these boys are dragging equipment which must weigh almost as much as I do (I also happen to be fairly tiny), and I know I can scarcely contribute to this part of the ordeal. Of course, I load and unload all my own gear, but there was a time when we were designating jobs to everyone, and I was relegated to cleaning the bus. I didn't mind this, so much. I always knew where my own things were on our vehicle which became very cluttered very quickly.

Honestly, there were really two main times when I feel the most different and distant. One occurs sometimes when we are playing. I can relate this feeling to a song written by the band Bikini Kill, entitled Tony Randell, where Kathleen Hannah sings, "I see a punk club, he sees a strip bar." Its this feeling when you are are playing and you look up for a moment, and see these guys eyes on you from the audience, and you are not sure exactly why they are looking at you — if it is because they are enjoying the music you are making, or if it is because they are looking at you for another reason: because you are a woman on a stage who is doing something physical. This is especially true when I play with the ensemble. There are so many musicians on the stage, why catch my eye? In no way am I the best musician in the band, nor would I consider myself the most interesting to watch on a technical level. Here's a concrete example of this phenomenon: over the summer we played at Lollapalooza. While we had played Primevera Music Festival in Spain and other large festivals in Europe, Lolla was probably one of the biggest crowds we had played to. There must have been thousands of people there. It was summer in Chicago and it was incredibly hot out. It may even have been of the hottest days all summer, and the fact that there was so many people around made the place seem several degrees hotter. Of course, Denny and Greg, the other drummers, played shirtless that day. It would have been stupid, dangerous even, for them not to. The body heat created when playing a set like Dan's is unparalleled to anything I have ever experienced. Because of this, I decided I would also go shirtless. Of course, I had a bra on and, lets be clear, it was not in any way a sexual undergarment. It was a thick black thing which just as easily could have been a bathing-suit top. However, as we started playing, I noticed that one of the guys in the film crew seemed to be paying especially close attention to me.

It started with him filming in my general direction from across the stage, but, seriously, by the time a quarter of the set had elapsed the man was right next to me, squatting on the floor and filming upwards. It didn't take long for me to figure out exactly what was going on, and I resolved to tell him to stop. However, every time a song ended, or was about to end, the filmer would move to a different part of the stage and act like he was filming someone else, or would be doing nothing — then when the next song would start he would be right next to me again. Part of me thought I was going crazy. Like, I was possibly making something out of nothing, however when I brought the incident up with the other drummers they both admitted that they had noticed what this man was doing as well. This was uncomfortable for a number of reasons: obviously, knowing that there's some guy out there with tape of my chest is kind of disconcerting, but I also couldn't keep myself from wondering whether he would have taken as much of an interest in my if my shirt was on.

I try to consider myself a drummer fist, and a woman drummer second. I am very adamant about this. It is for this reason that I never followed up with an offer to do an interview for an online magazine devoted exclusively to female drummers. I know that sounds completely insane. People have told me this many times, however I do not endeavor to distinguish my self from the boys more than I already have. It might be true, as some people will argue, that any publicity is good publicity, but I can't help taking a moral — almost political — stance on the matter. I want to be praised not because I am a woman, but because I am good at what I do by a general standard, and if I haven't made it there yet then I haven't made it there yet, but I refuse to accept anything less.

The other times when I feel — lets face it — a little bit out of the loop is when we are in transit, or hanging out after the shows. It is during these periods of down-time that the conversation has its way of turning towards girls, and bodies. It is times like after we have broken down all our equipment and we are all sitting out side, drenched in sweat and sharing cigarettes, that I learn who was checking out which girl in the audience, and whether the ladies out that night were a generally attractive crowed or not. Of course, I can engage them in some of this conversation. I can say things like "which girl in the neon green shirt with the big glasses?" and "yea, she was looking right at you all throughout "Woof Woof".

At first it seemed apparent that my role in these scenarios would be obvious: that as a woman I could just simply dole out womanly advice. This could range anywhere from how to maintain their currently long distance relationships with their girlfriends back in Baltimore or New York City — a feat which rarely occurred without incident — to what lady they should hook up with at a party. Honestly, this game was rather amusing to me. I knew pretty much what was going on with everyone for a good while. Not like you don't always know what's going on with everyone all the time when you are seventeen people traveling together 24/7 for weeks at a time, but I really knew the details of the situations. However, a problem occurred as we got deeper and deeper into the tour: as everyone got to know each other better, I felt like I became less of a woman to these boys and more like another dude. Which was cool, except that I'm not a dude. The phrase, "Hey Kate, can I ask you this thing about my girlfriend," suddenly turned into "Kate, your like the closest thing to a girl within several hundred miles because we are driving through the desert somewhere, so can I ask you this question..." At first I was actually pretty excited about this. "Great," I figured, "the boys consider me on the same page." However, there were still elements of their conversations that I couldn't really contribute to. "Oh yeah," I found myself saying sarcastically on way to many occasions, "I hate it when I get road boners to. It really just ruins my day." So, its like I have basically come to feel like I am stuck in a weird limbo zone where I can't accurately fulfill some kind of heteronormative female role in the group because they don't really consider me a chick, but I can't really contribute to conversations about "guy stuff" either, because it simply doesn't apply to me.

Related Themes: Behind The Music Cashing In

Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

Honestly, check this out:

So, it seams like every time a new genre starts woman are initially exculded from it and then slowly but surely creep their way into it. This can be seen clearly with punk and rap, and now it is happening more and more with noise and electronic music. I would like to think that currently woman are becoming more fearless with playing music--that is to say have less aprehension when playing rowdyier--dude like--music. Woman are playing more instruments these days while as in the past were relegated to vocals and the occasional guitar. However, this is not to say that we are equally accepted. I think women still have to be either super good or really really sexy to be accepted in any scene, where as there are a lot of dude bands which basically are terrible and get recognized.

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?

When I first started playing the drums, I was listening to a lot of Riot Grrrl bands. Specifically, I was super into Bikini Kill, and Sleater Kinney--bands who activly promote female musical empowerment. I think this was a very good place to start. Listening to these bands was of particular importance to me becuase I was very into the New York punk scene when I was a kid, I hung out at places like ABC No Rio, and that genre is very male dominated, with an obvious male hierarchy. While the Riot Girl scene developed out of Olympia, and I was living in NY, having female role models who came out of the punk scene was really helpful to me becasue it made me feel like, "hell yea, we can do this too!" The first couple of bands I was in when I was a kid were "riot grrrl" bands. I guess I would suggest that any woman who was feeling kind of self contious about this stuff pick up one of those cds and do a bit of research into that scene. Having female role models I think is really good for any female musician to have positive female role models.

Also, having your first band be with other women can be empowering. There is a strong bond you make with the people you play with, and it is simply different when you are playing with dudes. I can't really explain it further then that. It's intangable and ineffible. I guess for the most part I have found that the people I play with have become my best friends, and having a female best friend is different then have one whose a dude. I'm not close with many of my girl friends from high school, for example, but of those i remain close with the majority are people i played music with at one time or another.

Ultimatly though, the advice I would give to a woman musician just starting out would be just to play the music you want to play, and play at the bars you want to play at, and don't give a shit about what anyone tells you, especially if what they say is discourging. Unfortunatly, though, thats easier said than done.

A NOTE: I think it is really really awesome that you guys are doing this. Check this out: on december 9th i sent a very similar show idea to This American Life. However, I sent it by e-mail and figured no one would ever read it. If you guys did, that is sick. But if you came up with this idea with out reading that e-mail that's even cooler becuase it means more people are just realizing this is a relevent topic. Thanks NPR!!!

Related Themes: Advice

Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

Honestly, I guess I started to play the drums becuase I had a ton of energy when I was a kid (still do) and felt like it would be a good way for me to use that energy. Then I realized I never wanted to stop. I also have always been really in to listening to music, since I was a little kid and hence playing music seemed like a natural choice.

Related Themes: The First Time