It’s hard to believe that Lauren Hammel wanted to be a guitar player originally. When listening to her behind the skins for ferocious metal band High Tension or folk punks Fear Like Us, Hammel’s drumming is the powerful sonic backbone that neither band could be without. In the wake of Fear Like Us’ recent politically-charged release Succour and High Tension’s calling out of bad pit behaviour at a recent show, I had a quick chat with Hammel about railing against the perpetuation that drums are a ‘man’s instrument’, writing about what’s important and about how “all women are as strong as hell.”
What originally attracted you to playing the drums?
I originally wasn’t attracted to playing the drums tbh. I’d always thought I was going to be a ripping guitar player. Randomly one day, I received a phone call from a friend saying the drummer of their band wants to play guitar (didn’t we all) and did I want to come over to their practice space and give drums a go. I was like, “um, I don’t play the drums man” and went over anyway. I really liked the songs they were writing so taught myself how to play. The steering wheel of my Nissan Pulsar and the pantry door in our house were my first drum kits.
How do discussions/implications that perpetuate the idea of drums being a “man’s instrument” affect you?
It pisses me off that people are still trying to have these discussions with me. With women. I still get “you’re such a great female drummer” at most shows. I’ve also had “that was great, you drum like a bloke, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment.” How is this still seen as okay? No one is saying this because they genuinely think women can’t drum. Of course we can drum! They say it because women having that much control in making music, and making music with a band they had assumed had a male drummer threatens them and the patriarchy. For generations men have tried to claim drums, or you know, any instrument/music as a whole, as a dudes club that women should feel lucky to be allowed to participate in. Fuck. Right. Off. I play drums because I genuinely love it. I don’t ever get on stage trying to prove anything, but when that shit happens, there’s an extra drive to fucking hammer it. If I can empower just one woman to want to play music, then that’s pretty rad.
There’s still the tired trope that women don’t belong in the pit or if you get hurt or assaulted, you’re asking for it. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go before we are seen and heard as equal.
The latest Fear Like Us album Succour explores a lot of what’s happening in Australia at the moment, do you think it’s important for music and musicians to be responsive to their political and social surroundings?
Each to their own. It’s important to me, but I don’t really feel comfortable speaking on behalf of any other musician. Music and lyrical content are very personal. We never went into this album with a prior discussion about it being politically charged. We just write about what is important to us, and that’s not riding our bikes down to the beach to smash beers anymore.
What song on the latest album do you think is the most powerful and why?
A lot of this album features songs that address the horrific environment refugees face on Nauru and Manus Islands. ‘Who Killed Reza Barati’ is one of the songs that chokes me up every time I hear it. The first time I heard the finished version I had my head in my hands and my heart on the floor. Jamie Hay has an incredible ability to paint vivid pictures through his lyrics, and deliver them in heartbreaking honesty. Anyone who wants more info on the topic can visit http://www.asrc.org.au.
As you play in two bands of differing style, do you find there is a variation in reward when playing different styles of music?
I wouldn’t say the reward differs between bands. As long as everyone in the crowd and on stage is having a good and safe time, I’m stoked.
Filmed before Hammel joined High Tension, though she can still be seen amongst the crowd of women cheering on the fight.
There’s a lot of discussion at the moment in the music scene about visibility of women musicians and performers, what’s your perception of the current music scene?
I’ve sound checked before, then the sound guy came and sat at my kit after I made my monitors request and played the kit and went and changed it to what he thought it should be. I’ve walked into venues and been stopped getting backstage carrying my gear to be told girlfriends aren’t allowed backstage. I’ve received a worksheet specifically stating “girlfriends” must enter through main entrance, not “guests” but “girlfriends.” There’s still the tired trope that women don’t belong in the pit or if you get hurt or assaulted, you’re asking for it. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go before we are seen and heard as equal.
Mindy Abovitz creator of Tom Tom magazine, a quarterly magazine for and about female drummers, once said in an interview “there’s so much about being a drummer that teaches you how to be a strong person”, do you agree with that?
Mentally or physically strong?
If it’s mentally strong, my answer is short. All women are strong as hell.
If it’s a physical thing…. Maybe. I mean drumming is fairly physical, but all drummers aren’t necessarily toned or muscular. It’s more about endurance in my opinion, but that builds with practice, refining your technique and making sure you have a fan onstage. Seriously, always have a fan on stage. It changes everything. Oh and not eating a burrito anywhere in a two hour window of going on stage.
When heading out on tour, what’s one thing you look forward to when hitting the road to launch new music?
Playing shows is fun for me whether it’s at home or not. I love getting out and seeing mates in different cities. The social side; I’ve made some amazing friendships with people all over the country through music, most I would consider a part of our massively extended family.