Percussive Precision of tUnE-yArDs


In 2011 I was in NYC hanging out with my homie Mindy who started Tom Tom, A magazine about female drummers. It was days before I was moving to LA and she put a CD in my hand and said here, listen to this, it will change your life. It did. It was Whokill by tUnE-yArDs. Bizness, Powa, Es-So. Mmmmhmmm. That formed the anthem for my post-college life, finding my way in LA and trying to figure out how to play music and live music and contribute anything to music.

A month ago, I found out she was playing in Boston, but the show was sold out. I took my chances, got her email from Mindy, and emailed her saying that I play drums for MIA, I love her work so much, and that it would be so awesome to come watch and learn from her if she did have any space on her list.

She wrote back. She said:

DUDE, your interview in Tom Tom helped me so fucking much.  We got two tickets for you no problem.

The day of the show came and Ana, Sunaina, Adarsh and I were getting some dinner at a Thai Vegan place near the venue. Merrill was there eating with the band. We said hey and thanks for the tickets. I asked her man if he was playing bottles at this show again. Merrill turned to me immediately and said, “bottle. ONE bottle.” He said he wasn’t.

When we were eating later on though, she came up to us and asked how many backstage passes we’d need. She apologized for miming – she had lost her voice she said. When we arrived at the venue, tickets and passes were there for us, it was so cool.

The show was so inspiring. There is nothing like what she is doing out there. If we were studying this in B school it would be a perfect example of HIGH BARRIERS TO IMITATION. Wild colorful outfits, two flamboyent quirky dancers who could sing, a powerful percussionist (who needs to be featured in Tom Tom asap) and Merrill’s boo on bass.

The part that inspired me most was how precise the whole show was. I thought about when I was at dinner earlier and how it bothered her that I had said “bottles” when he had always been playing one bottle. The precision and attention to detail felt beyond me, something I rarely think about during my shows. I noticed this precision in MIA’s modus operandi too. These were two women whose music has had such a profound impact on me, and I found myself lost in the vibrations of the show thinking about how if I want my drumming to reach the next level, I need to start thinking about incorporating elements of precision, like key base motifs to return to, in the middle of my improvised solos or concepts. I felt so moved by this.

Precision can be unifying. It can bring not only the band together but a whole audience of people. People want to be part of something, they want to come to a show and enjoy celebrating each other, themselves, unity. There is nothing more powerful than making a whole audience of people understand a rhythm and participate in creating it, by clapping or stomping or swaying or feeling it together. The ability to do this is what Merrill and Maya have mastered.

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