On Being A Creative Drummer

Lisa Cusack : Modern DrummerI think one of the greatest challenges for a drummer is to not fall into the “backbeat,” even though that is often how people characterize us. “Who is the only member of a band that is not a musician?” “The drummer”—yeah, I’ve heard that one—it’s funny—I can totally see that. But as a drummer, I (and many drummers that I know) have tried to break that stereotype. When I sit down to play, especially in Boy/Girl (being that we are a two-piece and therefore the drums are more in the forefront), I try to approach the song as another instrument to be integrated into the song, as opposed to solely a beat for the rest of the instruments to sync up to.

I think this approach has definitely challenged me to think outside the box in terms of beats, and has helped me develop my drumming style. I know what a standard beat would sound like on a song, but then I try to change it up, put accents in opposite positions or try to reverse a beat, just to hear how it will affect the shape of the song.

I have had a lot of artistic freedom in Boy/Girl, being that Eric Stiner (guitar/vox) and I work in a free-form, spontaneous manner. We’ll just go into the studio and “see what happens.” Either he’ll have an idea or I’ll have a beat that I’ve had in my head, and one of us will just start playing and the other will jump in. There really is no structure until after we’ve played and decide to “formalize” the song a bit more.

As a drummer, this kind of writing style and approach has opened up a lot of opportunity for creative beats involving some unique instruments (such as the mbira) and a truly open landscape for me. If you listen to Boy/Girl you can hear this in each of our playing. I have heard a lot of descriptions about my drumming, and they all seem to fit; they all kind of say “this isn’t the usual drumming you’re used to hearing.” That is a huge compliment, which I appreciate fully, as I think most drummers would.

When someone comes up (especially another drummer) and asks, “Hey—what is that beat you did on the third song, the one that goes—” it’s probably the best thing a drummer can hear! Drummers are awesome that way. It’s kind of like when a bunch of skaters that bang their boards on the half pipe when another skater does an amazing trick: When a drummer plays a cool beat, most drummers nod their heads or have some sort of positive reaction and will often go up and tell each other certain songs that they were great on, etc. I will say that I’m not sure that occurs with all other musicians, but it’s definitely something that I love about being a drummer: There really is a sense of community and support for our creativity on an instrument that unfortunately does not always get a lot of attention.

This is my goal as a drummer: To continue to push myself to be creative and not succumb to the usual beats. It’s something that I hope to continue with Boy/Girl and beyond.


Lisa Cusack (girl)

For more on Lisa and Boy/Girl, go to www.myspace.com/pleasehateus.