DRUM! MAGAZINE
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.

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Tom Tom Magazine (by Ashley Macachor)

Thirteen years ago, Denver, Colorado native Susan Lucia inherited her grandfather’s snare drum.  As if a backlit door to the unknown was left slightly ajar and caught her eye, her interest in drumming began as a curious step through that door, not knowing where it may lead. She would soon find herself coming home from school, heading straight for her drum and before she knew it, hours had passed, like entering a time warp.  Today, not much has changed.  Now living in Portland, Oregon, Susan still plays with the inquisitive eagerness she began with.  Currently playing drums in two genre-breaking bands, her trio Human Ottoman and performance group March Forth, she is constantly traversing the boundary line, seeing where else she can venture to musically and having a great time along the way.  After all, she’s in it for life.
Tom Tom Magazine: What’s your first memory of being drawn to the drums?
Susan Lucia: I don’t really have memories of being drawn to drumming. I decided to try it out and suddenly realized I had been practicing five hours a day for several months. I guess it’s true that time flies when you’re having fun.
I heard you started learning on your grandfather’s snare drum?
Yes it is true! After he past away we found a 1960s Rogers Silver Sparkle kit in his garage. At first my parents only brought home the snare. I feel pretty lucky that was my first drum set.
What do you love about playing the drums?
I love that playing the drums is both a mental and physical workout. Using your whole body to express yourself is extremely satisfying and I also love the mental math involved in drumming. More than anything, the feeling of playing a groove in the pocket, for me, is like a meditation. This feeling allows me to just be present for a change. I do not have the most outgoing personality but when I am behind a drum set I can say anything. It is really nice to get to freely express yourself without a filter.
That’s interesting you mention the meditative aspect of drumming.  I recently read that roots of drumming go back to the drum being used as a tool in ritual music, the goal being to bring a person to a heightened awareness.  It sounds a lot like what you describe you experience and what I’ve heard other great players say they experience.  Any thoughts on that?
Drumming makes me feel free. It can put you in a trance-like state. Occasionally, in music school, I would actually fall asleep while practicing and wake up five minutes later to the metronome clicking endlessly.
Being a part of something that has been happening for so long makes me feel connected to the people who have come before me. In Zimbabwe they play mbira at ceremonies, during which they ask questions to their ancestors, connecting past and present.
What continues to inspire you?
I am inspired by musicians that are creating new and creative paths. I am always excited to hear new sounds, ideas and collaborations. I strive to find a unique voice on the drum set and stretch the limitations of the instrument. I am inspired by polyrhythmic-based music. When writing for my trio I often split two meters between two instruments with the drums playing both parts to dovetail them together.
I also play mbira, a Zimbabwean thumb piano. Mbira music layers polyrhythms between several parts, locking in with another person to create something more complex. It is similar to cooking Thai food, mixing all the ingredients together to create a more complex flavor.
Like so many artists, I am continually inspired by the beauty and wonder of nature. I’m pretty sure it is impossible to avoid this feeling while living in Oregon!
That’s awesome you play Mbira, too!  How did that come about?  Do you find that your drumming influences how you play Mbira and vice-versa?
I just happened to find an mbira at an estate sale! It was being used as a decoration. Actually my drumming is most influenced by Brazil, I am completely obsessed with their music. I love that the Brazilian feel creates an irresistible urge to dance. I also love afro-Peruvian music and afro beat. When people are dancing to your drumming you have established a connection with them and that connection is a beautiful thing. There are so many cultures out there with deep roots in rhythm and unique feels that I can’t help but explore them, even if I am only scratching the surface. 
After 13 years of playing, do you still practice regularly?  Anything you are working on at the moment?
Yes, I love to practice and try to make time everyday! A student once asked me how long it would take to master the drums and I responded with: your entire life. That is not what she wanted to hear as that was her last lesson. Always having something to challenge yourself is essential! Part of what pushes me forward is that we are all perpetually becoming better musicians, constantly changing and developing as we grow.
Lately I have been working on pushing a concept beyond just an exercise and exploring the environment in which I can use it freely. I often work on a certain rudiment, for example, within an exercise and feel great about it but do not really have it in my vocabulary yet.  I have been working on phrasing with a combination of different numerators/denominators and implied metric modulation. 
I also recently have been playing double bass for the first time. It is really fun!
  
When you started learning how to play drums, did you have an approach if something was challenging? 
When learning something challenging my approach is to make friends with your metronome, slow the tempo way down and repeat ad nauseam. You cannot rely on intellect alone. When I was first learning to drum I spent countless hours playing along with old jazz albums to try and get the feel of it. The first album that I really got into playing along to was Art Blakey’s, A Night in Tunisia. 
Do you make a living as a drummer? Do you teach?
I am currently making a living as a drummer and teach drum lessons as well. I am hoping to get more students but am on tour so much that it ends up becoming difficult to schedule.
How can people keep tabs on what you’re up to?
You can sign up for Human Ottoman and March Fourth’s mailing lists or visit www.susandrums.com 
If you could choose one word to describe your playing, what would it be?
Earthy.

 

Tama Kit (in photo)
Snare: 13 by 7 Tribes snare with wood rims
High hats: Istanbul 15 Om series
Ride: old 20 Zildjian
Crashes: two 16 cymbal & gong

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Register Guard- "Drumming to Her Own Beat"
 

Tucked between a Subway Sandwiches and an indoor archery range, Susan Lucia’s drumming practice space is a tiny storage room. Of all of the storage units in town, this is one of the few that specifically allows bands to practice there. Every so often a passerby might hear her drums, as well as another band from units units #17 and #18. If you happen to be picking something up from one of the other units, you’ll hear her banging away on her drums almost every day.

Lucia, now a drummer with regular shows in three bands, had a humble beginning. “I didn’t know there were pedals for the bass drum, so I was kicking the bass drum for like a month,” she says.

 

Drummer Susan Lucia constantly has a smile on her face while practicing in her studio. She always seems very content and rarely gets frustrated with herself when warming up. (Taylor Wilder/J463)

When Lucia was a young girl, her parents brought her pieces of her grandfather’s old drum set. At first it was just the snare drum, but as soon as she came home from school, she’d practice for hours. There wasn’t any one artist that she looked up to or aspired to be; drumming was just fun to her. “I didn’t even think twice about it. I didn’t even think once about it. I just came home from school and practiced for four or five hours,” Lucia says. “I’ve never been the type of person that just latches on to one specific name. I don’t remember the name, sometimes it’s not even about the drummer, it’s just about the rhythms.”

You’d think five hours of straight snare drum would drive a family up the walls, but Lucia’s family was supportive of her passion and didn’t complain about the noise. Whenever Lucia’s shows take her near her home town, her family often comes to watch.

During her time in high school, Lucia found a source of inspiration that pushed her to continue her drumming. She was a part of a program called the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts, which brought local jazz musicians together with high school students. Fast forwarding a few years later, she continued her interest in jazz music and graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in jazz studies.

Today she plays the drums in three bands, Bustin’ Jeiber, Human Ottoman and the MarchFourth Marching Band. Each band has its own style and instrumentation, but is original in its own right. Human Ottoman is an out of the ordinary combination of drums, electric cello and electric xylophone. Bustin’ Jeiber is more experimental jazz, while March Fourth is circus meets epic marching jam sessions. “It really is satisfying on a deeper level, just to get into it and move around. It’s physical, it’s mental and it’s fun. It’s everything,” Lucia says.

 

 

When she’s sitting behind her instrument, drum sticks in hand, her body gives away the contents of her mind. Lucia’s head and shoulders bob to the beat. Her arms are detached, fluid, even with the force necessary to produce a healthy sound. The ends of her mouth turn up every few beats. You wouldn’t really know what sort of days she’s been having because she’s completely in tune with the rhythm.

She’s the same way when she solos. “Honestly at this point I don’t think about anything. It pretty much just comes out. It’s almost like a meditation because I have spent so much time on my instrument,” Lucia says.

“It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll,” said Angus Young of AC/DC, and Lucia has been progressively working her way up through her career. Drumming has remained a large creative outlet for her, but she’s had to adapt to the business facets of making a living as a musician. Being her own manager, booking shows and spending time marketing herself or the band online have been the biggest challenges on the way. “I hope to get to the point someday where I don’t have to do all that,” she says.

 


 

Whenever she looks to the future, Lucia just wants to keep playing drums. That doesn’t necessarily mean setting a limit for herself or being disappointed if she’s not a celebrity, but bigger venues and bigger audiences are undeniably in her sights. For now, she’s enjoying the life of a professional drummer, and she even has a few fans. At one of her shows a guy asked her to sign her autograph on his lower back. “I asked if he was sure,” Lucia says, “but the guy was insistent, ‘yeah I want a tramp stamp of your autograph.’”