Andrya Ambro zipped up her gray flight suit right before she sat down at her kit at Union Pool in Brooklyn, NY. Then she proceeded to hypnotize me and everyone else in the room. She drums hard, fast, and with technical ease. Her band mate, Sarah Register watches her drummer for subtle cues and the energy between them could be cut with a knife. Occasionally Andrya pulls us out of the trance with vocal hooks that are equally engaging. In summary, she is a total bad ass at the kit. She prefers her drums tuned “warm and dead.” Talk Normal just finished recording their debut full length at Rare Book Room with Nicolas Vernhes who will be putting out their album in October on Rare Book Room Records. Talk Normal heads out on a tour of the west coast around that time as well. i secret cog Ep was released digitally on Menlo Park Records this June. Pitchfork just reviewed a song of theirs. I caught up with Andrya at her home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn right before she left for a short tour with her band Talk Normal and US Girls that ended at SXSW in Austin, TX.
Full name: Andrya Elena Ambro
Nickname/pseudonym: Andy, Lenny, Rad Ambro, Double aa
Hometown: Wilmington, DE
Where you live now: Brooklyn, NY
Bands you are drumming in currently: TALK NORMAL
Bands you were drumming for in the past: death.pool, Glen Olden, Antonius Block
What you do for a living: musician/sound engineer
“I like them warm and dead. Like cardboard boxes with lovely tone a la reggae drum sounds.” – Andrya Ambro
Tom Tom Magazine: When did you start playing the drums?
Andrya Ambro: I was 13 when I (with the help of my brother Bryan) convinced my mother to get me a drum kit and let me quit piano lessons.
Tom Tom Magazine: I noticed that you play without cymbals and your kit sounds really flat and low. Why did you decide to play your kit in that way?
Andrya Ambro: To be honest, I never understood how people played with drums up to their ears. It seems like such a disadvantage. Also as a woman (who barely stretches to 5’5”), we are generally smaller creatures than our male counterparts. Men can play bigger drum sets and still get on top of their instrument. It takes a smaller drum-set for a woman to get on top (please excuse all the sexual innuendo ;)).
Tom Tom Magazine: How do you tune your drums?
Andrya Ambro: I like them warm and dead. Like cardboard boxes with lovely tone a la reggae drum sounds. I use my ears.
TTM: When did you and Sarah (Register) meet and how did you form Talk Normal?
AA: I met Sarah in 1999 at NYU. She was in the Music Technology Department and I worked there. We were fast friends. It was not until 2006 that we actually played together in the minimal and discordant band Antonius Block (she on bass/guitar and myself on drums). That band went on hiatus in late ’06. On the tails of AB, we both were driven to create a more raw music, stripped down, and basic. Our first show as Talk Normal was September ’07.
TTM: What was the idea behind your tribal drumming and chanting?
AA: I am conflicted over the word tribal. If tribal means direct – I accept this. If tribal means danceable – I accept this, I want to make the people dance. If tribal means incapable of syncopation – I reject this. I ask you this – why is it most woman get the uncanny rap of being labeled “tribal” drummers? i.e. Moe Tucker, Ikue Mori, Lori Barbero etc. Do stereotypes exist for a reason? I constantly ask myself – why does this bother me so very much? Perhaps woman are just more “of the earth.”
As for the chanting, can’t say any of it was a premeditated idea. If I were to rationalize TN’s collective unconscious, I suppose some might consider our music dark and intense. Something’s gotta bring you up and over.
Short answer: Some might attribute both the tribal drum and chant style to my pursuit of African music (beats, song, and dance) in my formative years. Also, in my teens, I very much took to Mahalia Jackson and the black tradition of the rejoiceful shout.
“If tribal means danceable – I accept this, I want to make the people dance.” – Andrya Ambro
TTM: What region of the world influences your drumming style the most?
AA: Black music is a consummate source. Or rather music of what some might call the Black Atlantic is very powerful to me. To fine tune my coordinates – Ghana and Jamaica.
TTM: What do you think the role of the drummer is (in a band)?
AA: I suppose it is the nature of the drums to be the heartbeat and drive underneath the band, usually perceived as non-melodic, and in the back. Personally I think drums can be so much more. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be the heartbeat and the drive. But why must this be the drummer’s only role? Why can’t others take this role? Why can’t I share the front? I want to sing. Yes, this has happened many times before i.e. Phil Collins, Karen Carpentar, Don Henley, Levon Helm etc. Yet somehow, it always looks, sometimes feels, awkward. It is my own personal assumption that these people were ‘fronting the band’ (another idea that perplexes me) and playing the drums as a secondary/subsidiary instrument, not as an accompanying/complementary instrument. With respect to all of the above mentioned and so many more, I say, I want to break this mold, for myself. I want out of that box – audibly and visually. I want to play the drums as an orchestration within an arrangement of sounds. I want extreme dynamics. Texture. I love structure. I want to use drums (just like my voice!) to tell a story. Perhaps this why I don’t see myself as a ‘drummer.’ I just want to write songs and I happen to play the drums.
“As I grow, I realize these “setbacks” are more like a jewel of bondage – giving me the fire to make something new, to fight to make something my own.” – Andrya Ambro
TTM: Have you experienced any setbacks as a female drummer?
AA: Yes. I don’t want to be seen as a dancing dog; in that you’re surprised it’s even done at all. However, these setbacks seem more in my head than reality. As I grow, I realize these “setbacks” are more like a jewel of bondage – giving me the fire to make something new, to fight to make something my own. I just want to be free.
TTM: Who are your favorite drummers?
AA: Influential: Pat Samson, Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, Brendan Canty, Max Roach, Moondog, Bob Bert, Mac McNeilly, Jaki Liebezeit, Art Blakey, Budgie. Contemporaries I love: Kid Millions, Matt Marlin, Ryan Sawyer, Tim Dewitt, Deantoni Parks. Aside: I love drummers. I love to watch each as an individual and how they approach their instrument. However, in my pursuit of music with rhythm at its helm, it was not solely the drummers that I studied. I love the rhythms and phrasing of Thelonius Monk, Ahmad Jamal, Alice Coltrane, Henry Cowell, Terry Riley, Al Johnson, Roberta Flack, Mavis Staple and the list goes on. In fact I would often try to imitate (on the drums) how these folks would sing or play their particular instrument, more than I would imitate drummers.
“Guess I just want to make stuff – be it visual, audible, or dinner.” – Andrya Ambro
TTM: What are some of your other hobbies/interests?
AA: For gainful employment, I am a sound engineer – primarily live, some recording/mixing at home. I consider this a hobby from which I conveniently make money. If I had more time to encourage hobbies, I would definitely practice my clarinet more, take hair braiding classes, teach high school history, fix my sewing machine to make my own clothes and so much more. Guess I just want to make stuff – be it visual, audible, or dinner.
TTM: Who are some of your favorite lady drummers right now?
AA: Ikue Mori (don’t think she does too much drumming these days), Susie Ibarra, Allison Busch
“I want to use drums (just like my voice!) to tell a story.” – Andrya Ambro
TTM: Who are some of your favorite bands right now?
AA: Naked on the Vague, Magik Markers, Sightings, Fabulous Diamonds, Antimagic, Kanye West, Little Claw, Pterodactyl, These Are Powers
Interview by Tom Tom Magazine Creator: Mindy Abovitz
Tom Tom Magazine Photography by: Jee Young Sim