Jess Gowrie of Chelsea Wolfe was kind enough to grant me an interview before her show here in NC on Friday the 13th! So, check it out!
DIY: How did you get the gig playing with Chelsea? I know you played with her before in a different band.
Jess: That’s exactly it. It was probably like 10 years ago, actually I keep saying 10 years ago but it might even longer, but around 10 years ago. We grew up in Sac (Sacramento) together. We were in a band for like 3 years and then you know we parted ways. It was sad but I totally understood and you know she wanted to do a solo thing and so we didn’t actually talk for like 7 years. 2015 rolls around, and we go to a New Year’s Eve party together and instantly just like reconnected as friends. It took about a year – 2016 I was in the band. So it was just a kind of a transitional period of time. I think Dylan (their last drummer, who I also interviewed) was getting my pretty busy with his other project (Mang Chi). I think it was honestly like a mutual kind of time for everyone to just transition into different things, and so the timing was actually really perfect, and so I’ve been with her ever since and we did the record together and it’s been awesome.
DIY: I’ve seen some of the Instagram pictures, and your light show looks amazing.
Jess: Yeah! It varies from different sized clubs on a nightly basis you know? Using a full rig, or half a rig. Every time it changes it’s almost like for the better because it’ll be more stripped down and Punk. But, then its super intense because there will be like a strobe behind me, or something that’s just like making up for the fact that the full rig isn’t being used and then when the full rig is up it’s amazing.
Jess: I’ve said it a million times but it’s true! I grew up in the 90s, and grunge is very important to me, so learning how to play those songs just like on the radio really developed how I approach writing, but then I realized much later that those are jazz drummers who were in rock bands. I didn’t realize they came with the certain style that usually you don’t get from just being in a rock band, so that kind of helped me broaden my mind I guess without even really realizing that I was playing with like a jazz style. I’m definitely not a jazz drummer, so that’s not what I’m saying, but it’s just like writing a riff rather than just like four on the floor. Jazz kind of like you know, pardon the pun but it really Jazzes it up to see that style in rock. I don’t know, they were just really interesting drummers.
DIY: So you teach drums as well?
Jess: Yea, I used to teach a lot more, now I’m with her (Chelsea) and I’m hardly home and I don’t have a consistent schedule, but yes I did teach for a huge chunk of time.
DIY: Do you recommend your students playing along to their favorite bands more so than let’s say sitting with a pad? I guess it varies depending on what they’re looking for.
Jess: I do both, yeah. We start with the pad and then “the fun part” as they put it, is playing along to one of their favorite songs. You’ve gotta make it fun but at the same time, if you are teaching and your student doesn’t know what a paradiddle is then what kind of teacher are you? You just have to incorporate that somehow. But yeah mostly it’s just getting in the garage and jamming to your favorite songs. That’s where your creativity comes from and maybe a passion might be sparked you know?
DIY: Also in the modern drummer interview, I read about Rocket Shells. Tell me about that. Whats it all about?
Jess: Dude, I’d love to. I’ve worked with Rocket Shells since I was 18, so it’s been like 17 years…and it’s a custom carbon fiber Drum Company. The problem though is that drums just weren’t cutting it, so now we branched into custom carbon fiber other things and we don’t make drums anymore, which breaks my heart. However, my snare drum – I’m playing Tama, but my snare drum is my Rocket Shell, and my snare drum is my secret weapon. I get so many fucking compliments on my snare like “what is that!?” and it’s a rare gem. There are some Rocket Shells floating around out there but not really. It’s what sets us apart, in fact, on Hiss Spun I had like 15 snares at my disposal, and we would go through each one for each song and Rocket shells is 80% of that record. And it would be just like, okay we didn’t know it was Rocket Shells, and everyone of us in there would be like “I like this one” which was the Rocket Shells. I mean I would have gone with whatever sounded best, but it was the rocket shells almost every time and I was just so stoked! I switched to Tama because I needed a company who makes drums now, but I will always always use my rocket shell snare. My snare is super fucking loud and my drum set is too, for being kind of on the smaller side of the sizes they project really well, so live you get a bigger bang out of a smaller kick or whatever.
DIY: I read that you normally use a 20-inch Kick and now you’re using a 22?
Jess: Yea I went a bit bigger. So I can’t play a 24, it makes my toms too far apart, so my compromise was going to a 22. I’m VERY happy with Tama, of course.
DIY: Are you using the Bubinga?
Jess: Well, thats a loaner kit. I have one being made and it wasn’t going to be done in time for this tour. It takes like 5 months or something, but yes in December I’ll have a full Bubinga 22,16,12. I wanted a 13 inch tom but that would have made me wait even longer, so I’ll make that adjustment later down the road. It’s a pretty simple set up but yeah full bubinga, its going to be flat black black.
DIY: Black hardware too, or just the classic chrome?
Jess: The flat black was kind of a compromise. I personally don’t want to play on some weird color drum set, and naturally with her (Chelsea Wolfe) black works with or without – whoever I’m playing with or whatever I’m doing, black is a classic. It’s like a t-shirt, it matches everything.
DIY:So you have an endorsement with Tama?
Jess: Yea, that’s basically the reason why I got a loaner kit so I could start getting the word out and not have to wait until my kit was made. They actually came to our first show in Santa Ana and GoPro’d the whole thing by me. I haven’t seen any footage yet but I’m sure it’ll be cool. It was a warm up show, but it was still rad and it was really hot, so I’m sure I was just sweaty and crazy.
DIY: Do you have any pre-show rituals or anything like that? Or maybe even as far as stretches and warm ups, or also maybe any sort of spiritual thing?
Jess: I mean with the new record, playing these new songs, I definitely started practicing on the practice pad. I used to go in there cold and not do that, but the drumming is a little bit… “more”… on this record and so I just realized I need to start warming up and get loose, but I mean that’s pretty much all I do is you know warm ups on the practice pad and take a couple shots basically.
DIY: Nice. Whats your poison?
Jess: Well right now its Grey Goose. No whiskey, that’s just bad…bad news. Its mostly just Grey Goose.
DIY: Do you use any in-ear monitors? Or do you just go with the house monitor system?
Jess: Well, I play to a click live so I have only the click, as of now, going into my ear and I rely on the monitors. However, one of our next steps for after this tour is getting me with both of the in ears in, and having my monitor mix, because I know it’s not good for your ears to just have the one. I’ve noticed that when the show starts, my click is to here, but by the time it’s ended I’ve turned my click up way beyond that, and when you put it in your ear the next day you’re like HOLY SHIT! So basically hearing the whole mix in my ear is going to save my hearing for sure, but I just need to get the proper mixer to have all those channels to work with. Other than that it’s just the click thats in my ear yea.
DIY: What’s your favorite food on the road?
Jess: Oooooh! Alright I think I have some here. (Jess digs through the cabinets of the tour bus) Ah! These miso ramen noodle soups!
DIY: Oh cool! Dr. Mcdougall’s vegan miso ramen noodle soup! Are you vegan?
Jess: No but my bandmates are, so I buy these so everyone can enjoy. I mean I don’t care, they taste fine to me, but these have been a lifesaver. When you’re done and you’re back on the bus and then you’re like I’m hungry, this is it dude.
DIY: Do you have any advice for drummers trying to “make it”?
Jess: I mean seriously, two things, and its probably like what everybody would say but it’s SO true. I’ve been playing music for a long time and recently now feel like I’m actually doing some cool shit, and it’s because, like I said I practiced in my garage and kept playing playing playing…and then seriously, do not EVER give up! Like, I don’t care if your band breaks up in 2 years or 5, keep doing it… seriously, something can change just like that, and sometimes takes long time, sometimes it doesn’t, but you just have to keep trying. Perseverance is so cliche but it’s so true. If I had stopped, you know even when Chelsea and I stopped playing together the first time around, we would have never made this full circle to come back into each others lives and create what I think is one of the fucking coolest records that I’ve ever been a part of. I feel like they feel the same way. Everybody put their own little specialness into it and came out with something that I think is very rare for everyone involved.
DIY:It seems very cosmic.
Jess: Exactly. And that was me going my separate way, being in a bunch of bands, learning my styles and improving my chops, and her going her separate way, making a bunch of records playing with certain different types of people, adding instruments here and there, to get us where we are open-mindedness and just being ready, and we were both ready at the same time and it was great, and here we are we made a record and now we are touring on it.
DIY: Well thanks so much for chatting with me, and inviting me onto your lovely tour bus!
Jess: Of course! Thanks for having me. And you’re right, there needs to be more female drummers that are like fucking doing shit that people know about. Even the modern drummer thing, I was just like dude thank you for even caring.
DIY: I mean, women in general and female musicians I feel like, for some stupid reason, are not given the same amount of attention as other accomplished musicians, and a lot of the times they are way better.
Jess: I feel like you have to take gender out of it and just look at like, what is this person doing? What are they accomplishing? What HAVE they accomplished? What makes this person special? Whether or not they’re a man or a woman just shouldn’t matter, but for some reason it does, and its a shame. We just need to break that barrier somehow. Like I said, even with modern drummer being like “yea lets do a little story on you”, that’s a big thing! I mean they’re like the Bible of drumming right? I can only hope like…you want to be on the cover, you know? Like THATS the thing. Maybe someday, but you know what we did was more than I would have ever expected, so I’m totally down to talk about drums and get the word for Chelsea out and the record out there. However I can help is important.
Main photo courtesy of Mary Gebhart
All others courtesy of the internet.
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