Angie Boylan’s Brooklyn, New York–based band, Freezing Cold, was on the verge of releasing their debut album, Glimmer (Salinas Records)—a set of buoyant, ’90s-inspired punk-pop produced by J. Robbins of Jawbox—when she received a call that upended their plans. Sleater-Kinney, the iconic Portland, Oregon, rock trio who have inspired cultish devotion for more than two decades, asked her to fill in for departing drummer Janet Weiss. “Freezing Cold kind of had to take a back seat when I got offered the touring role in Sleater-Kinney,” Boylan says. “We were going to do a short DIY tour when the record came out, but we had to postpone that. I think my bandmates understand!”
Understand indeed. This was no ordinary side hustle. Named “America’s best rock band” in 2001 by revered music journalist Greil Marcus and many others, Sleater-Kinney were breakout stars of Riot Grrrl, the ’90s punk-rock movement that strove to empower women in music and beyond. Over the course of nine studio albums, their distinct sound—the jagged guitar interplay and vocal weaving of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, atop Weiss’s classic-rock heft—earned them a fervent fanbase, one that included Boylan. “I grew up listening to them,” she says. “I actually played drums in a Sleater-Kinney cover band at a party once, so…I did have a little bit of an advantage there.” [laughs]
Boylan’s familiarity with the group’s music is the least of her bona fides. The self-taught drummer has gained acclaim playing with numerous New York–area bands, such as Aye Nako and Little Lungs—all while earning a master’s degree in education, working a day job, and giving drum lessons. She even found time to volunteer at the nonprofit Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Brooklyn, a “radical and open community,” as Boylan puts it, run by women who mentor aspiring musicians and help build their confidence. “Have fun! That’s the whole point of this,” she tells her students. “You just have to believe in yourself and know that you deserve to be up there.”
Still, Boylan had to employ those techniques herself when she ascended the throne vacated by Weiss. Not only was she walking into a much-loved band, she hadn’t played the larger venues that Sleater-Kinney easily fill, nor was she accustomed to the lengthy sets of a headlining act. “It was definitely intimidating to step into this role, and I think at times I’ve been struggling with some kind of impostor syndrome or something,” she says. “I just never in my wildest dreams could have imagined having this opportunity, and I was in shock when the band asked me to go on tour.”
Boylan’s first gig with Tucker and Brownstein was a one-off at Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina. “I’ve never been so nervous in my life,” she says. “That was definitely the biggest show I’d ever played. I still had a lot of nerves before the shows, but nothing compared to that first one.”
Finding her place in Sleater-Kinney’s trenchant sound came down to figuring out how to channel the parts Weiss had written. “She’s the one who did all the work as far as working with Corin and Carrie’s unique style and coming up with parts to complement that,” Boylan says. “I think one of the hardest things for me in playing Janet’s parts is the fact that I generally lead with my left hand and I believe she leads with her right hand. I’ve had to retrain myself to start fills with my right hand.”
Some of the perks of playing with a more established band helped Boylan make the transition from indie rocker to an all-star team. “I’ve been fortunate enough to get a sponsorship from C&C for the tour, and I love the kit so much,” she says. “It’s their 12th & Vine Big Band Classic. For Sleater-Kinney, I added another crash cymbal—so two total—and I play a Roland SPD-SX [sample pad] on a couple of the songs from their new album. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same setup I always play. At home, I have a Tama Rockstar with similar dimensions as the C&C kit; only difference is the Tama has an 18″ floor tom.
“What I had on this tour that I will truly miss is a drum tech, crew, and in-ear monitors,” Boylan adds. “They really know how to spoil a drummer.” When she broke the heel off her trusty DW 7000 kick pedal, it was a member of the crew who saved the day. “I had a near panic attack, but my drum tech swapped a different heel on and salvaged it for me,” she says.
Tucker and Brownstein have also been instrumental in making Boylan feel comfortable in her new role. “[They] have been nothing but supportive, patient, and encouraging, so I’m grateful for that,” she says. “I’m so honored that I get to have the opportunity to play in a band that I love.”
High Pressure/Low Maintenance
Boylan says that the most difficult aspect of joining Sleater-Kinney on the road is the increased physical demands, which have her adapting her touring lifestyle. “I’ve been playing drums for most of my life and touring for about fifteen years, but this tour felt like a brand-new experience,” she says. “The longer sets do take more of a toll on your body, so I am trying to come up with new strategies to take care of myself on the road, not something I’ve ever really had to worry about in the past, but now suddenly I have to stretch every day. I get a lot of blisters on my fingers and playing night after night, there isn’t much opportunity for them to heal. I bring New-Skin and Band-Aids to every show. I couldn’t survive without those. The skin on my fingers has started splitting as well—another new phenomenon for me. For that, I use Working Hands [moisturizer] in the mornings. Then before the show, two coats of New-Skin, Crazy Glue, and top it all off with a Band-Aid.”
“Sleeping on the bus has been a true challenge for me,” Boylan adds, “but luckily I’m along for the ride with seasoned vets, so there are a lot of herbal sleep aids floating around.”
Though Boylan calls herself “low maintenance” and doesn’t ask for anything special on the band’s rider, the Long Island, New York, native happily imposes her love of Italian food and diners on her West Coast counterparts. “Who knows what they’d be eating without me!” [laughs]