Interview: Chloe Saavedra

By Sophie Rae via Tom Tom Magazine

Chloe Saavedra Tom Tom Magazine Girl Drummer Interview Smoosh Diane Russo

When most musicians say they have been playing their instrument “forever,” they are exaggerating. But for Chloe Saavedra, now seventeen and in her twelfth year playing drums in her band, Smoosh, this statement would not be too far from the truth.

Originally from Seattle with a two-year stint in Sweden, Smoosh has recently returned to the States, choosing New York City as its home. When I meet Chloe near her school in Manhattan on a sunny afternoon, she tells me how excited she is to be in New York City and how much more of the city she has yet to explore. As we walk towards Madison Square Park, a few blocks away, she offers me a Haribo gummy candy which she has been happily munching since I met her. “They’re not as good as they were in Sweden,” she says disappointedly, going on to inform me of the various differences in ingredient restrictions between Sweden and New York that might account for the discrepancy. We enter the park and come upon one of the few empty benches in site. But before we sit down, Chloe looks up at the sky and puts her hands in the air and, apparently, calculates the sun’s position and trajectory. After determining that this bench will remain in the shade for the next hour or so, she sits down and we begin our interview.

When did you start playing the drums?

I was five and I went with my family to a music store called the Trader Musician in Seattle. We were trying to get a violin strung that I had broken by accident. I wandered upstairs and saw all the drum sets, and I thought they were so amazing and huge and sparkly. I’d never played drums before, but my sister Asy played piano and wrote some songs. We met Jason McGerr, now the drummer for Death Cab for Cutie, who was working there at the time, and he said that if I bought a kit he would give me free drum lessons. We got the kit, but we never got the violin fixed.

When did Smoosh start?

Pretty soon after that. Asy and I started playing at the Seattle Drum School and Jason recorded our first demos for us. Our first album was called “Tomato Mistakes.” That was when I was six. Jason really helped us get our start— we didn’t know how to do anything. We started playing cafes and open mics and then got some shows at the Vera Project in Seattle, which we got a lot of attention for. Sassquatch was also a really big show for us.

Do you like playing with your sisters?

I hate it. Just kidding, I love playing with my sisters! It’s good because we can be really critical with each other, but we don’t take it personally because we’re like that all the time. I think that helps to make sure that all of the songs are the best they can be. For the album we’re working on now, our fourth album, I’m helping a lot more with Asy and her writing. Before I let Asy do that stuff and now I’m much more involved.

Smoosh opened for Sleater-Kinney. What was that like?

Sleater-Kinney is a huge inspiration for us. My drumming is really inspired by Janet Weiss. She uses a lot of toms so that’s how I started doing tom-only beats; on some of the songs, like on our song Massive Cure, I would just do this big tom beat on the whole song.

You also opened for Pearl Jam. How was that?

That was great. Eddie Vedder was awesome, but I actually didn’t really know who he was at the time. So somehow I asked him ‘are you Eddie Vedder or Eddie Murphy?’ And then he taught us yoga backstage which I probably wouldn’t be able to do that now, I’d be so intimidated. All the tours were so awesome, each one was its own really inspiring thing. We were going through different phases during each of them and we would always be really inspired by the bands we toured with, both by their music and their clothes and style.

In terms of fashion, how do you think your bands’ style has changed?

Now we are much more conscious of our clothes and overall style. We want this album to have a theme that our outfits work with. We tried it out at South by South West this past spring. We called the theme ‘Swevil’ which is a combination of sweet and evil. So we’d sing in a sweet voice but say something that contrasts with it and is kind of evil. We’d wear long flow-y things that would be sweet if they were white but we wore them in black. I don’t know if anyone noticed but it was a lot of fun.

How has Smoosh’s songwriting changed over the past twelve years that you’ve been playing together?

Our songwriting has changed so much. It has gone from total randomness to actually being conscious of what we are writing about. Right now we are also doing some more electronic drums and percussion and we’re trying to be more poppy and catchy. We always corrupt our songs by adding way too much, so we’re trying to keep things simple. For me as a drummer, my new style that I’m really obsessed with is sort of made up: African electronic. So it’s electronic drums mixed with big Djembe sounds. I love Columbian percussion too.

You’ve been traveling between New York, Seattle, and Sweden for most of your life, how has traveling around so much influenced your music?

When we moved to Sweden and wrote Withershins the album was really about Sweden and influenced by the countryside of Sweden where we wrote it— very isolated in a cabin. The songs are kind of dreamy and you need a lot of patience to listen to it. We are going in a different direction for this album because living in Stockholm was much more upbeat and the people lead a more simple lifestyle, in a good way. And then here in New York things are just so crazy with all the different cultures that are here, we’re hearing so much African and jazz music. Sometimes we go to Puppets Jazz Bar in Park Slope and just listen to jazz music all night which inspired us to play with a violinist and upright bassist. I feel like if we were still in Seattle we wouldn’t have changed much musically. As a musician you need to have a dynamic, sort of mixed-up life in order to keep things interesting so you don’t write the same thing over an over again. Location is everything when your writing.

Are there any challenges you’ve faced as a young female musician?

I’m a little conflicted when it comes to the girl drummer topic because obviously there are girl drummers and obviously there are male drummers and we’re all drummers, but I think that labeling yourself as a girl drummer or a feminist girl drummer puts you in a separate category. Instead of just trying to be an awesome drummer, you’re distracting the attention from yourself musically and you’re just drawing attention to a fact. I’m a feminist because I believe in women’s rights, but as a drummer, I just believe in good drummers. So I don’t think I’ve encountered any issues because of being a girl drummer but there have been some issues because we’re young. Like when were setting up and doing sound check, people don’t always take us seriously. Hopefully that changes when they see us play and realize that we’re not just some kid rock band that’s going to break up in the next week, you know, that we’ve been playing together for longer than the band we’re opening for. But I think it’s a good thing because it challenges us to break away from that pack and be noticed as good musicians.

Do you have any advice for young female drummers?

Find your own style. Be influenced by not just one person but by a lot of different people. Don’t get big-headed. I’m teaching my little sister how to play drums and just because she’s better than all the kids her age she’s getting too confident and that’s stopped her from trying hard when she’s practicing. So you should always have someone to look up to who’s way better than you. For me when I was growing up that was Tony Royster. Having him to look up to really encouraged me to try to be as good as him. I never was, but it made me want to keep it up.

Do you have a favorite part about being a drummer?

Just rocking out and going crazy! Drummers can get so into it and go so crazy and the more into it you get the more people appreciate you as a musician because they see that you’re really attached to your instrument and that your really feeling it. Starting out I didn’t want to rock out because I thought people would think I looked stupid. But just going crazy and not caring at all about what anyone else thinks, that’s what I love.

Least favorite part?

I don’t like the set up, the general set up where drummers are in the back. There’s this band that has the drums and keyboard facing each other and I think it would be so cool if we did that. It would bring a whole new attention to drummers because people don’t even know what’s going on back there but they would miss the drums so much if they were gone. Drums make a song.

You said Smoosh is in the process of making its fourth record. When is that going to come out?

Later this month we want to go to a cabin somewhere to write. It’s too distracting here. We’re totally influenced by the city but we have to get out just to write. We’re going to release it ourselves so the release will probably be sooner than usual, but we don’t know when that’s going to be yet. I’m so excited to be a part of the writing process for this album. I’m also getting into writing my own stuff on Logic. I’ve been doing a lot of percussion and bass stuff and I feel like I could really contribute to the new direction we want to go in with Smoosh.

Do you have any particular topics you want to write about for this album?

Revolution. I went to a  lot of the Wall Street protests and I was so inspired there and I really want to write about that. Also Wikileaks, which would be hard to write a whole song about other than if you wrote about how good-looking Julian Assange is (laughing). Also the digital matrix, you know, all the digital devices and how it’s kind of changed people. A lot of people just think that we overuse computers and that people should be going out and doing real things or reading a book but there’s so much more to it than that. Using a computer is basically the same things as reading a book; they’re both virtual realities and I probably learn more online than I do in books. But it is sad that we’re getting used to writing in twitter-style and that people now have really short attention spans and need instant entertainment. But that’s just the way it is and musicians can’t be stragglers—there are ways we can use all of this to our advantage, like releasing your album online for free or using YouTube and Twitter. We just need to go with the flow.

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