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Artist interview: Sarah Heneghan

5.4.21

We caught up with Sarah Heneghan during the release of her new single ‘Heckler‘, the first release from her solo project Power Out, and chatted about her creative process and being a female percussionist.

What is your creative process? It must be interesting working solely with rhythm during the creation of music.

​My creative process for this is a whole bunch of things:

  • Finding a drum groove I like, and then seeing how it can interact with a DM groove, and then what kind of structure I can create with those musical building blocks.
  • A motif or phrase. Develop.
  • Coming up with a title I like and then thinking about what sound that conjures up. I’m a fan of needlessly long song titles that sound like they’re conveying something profound, but really it just sounds cool.
  • Weird sounds on my trigger drum – these can be samples of anything, like running water, or a thunder clap, not just percussive sounds.
  • Learning other styles of music in my personal practice. My music for Power Out has lots of different stylistic influences.

How do you create a sense of journey or a trajectory without using harmonic elements?

By exploring the many other parameters of music! Dynamics are a big one. Textural changes in the layers of rhythm. The types of sound (e.g. a big bass drum sound, sharp snare sounds. These conjure up certain vibes). Also, trying to convey melody and melodic phrasing on the drums by playing around with pressure on the drum heads to change tones, for example; and using sounds on the drum machine and trigger that maybe sound more ‘pitched’ (all drums are pitched, though) because of their timbre.

We’d love to know your experiences of being a female drummer and percussionist in a very male-dominated space. Have you found that you are able to bring a different perspective as an instrumentalist?

I’m wary of over-playing the ‘being a female drummer’ dynamic, because I want us all to be past that point and get on with the music! However, despite music and women being around for centuries, I definitely don’t think we’re close to reaching that point in the music industry yet, so I know it’s important to acknowledge my non-male/femaleness. I’m very proud to be a female musician who has been supported and encouraged by other female musicians, and I like to champion and facilitate those collaborations.

I’m very proud to be a female musician who has been supported and encouraged by other female musicians, and I like to champion and facilitate those collaborations.

I haven’t had the cliché’d ‘you’re really good for a ‘girl’ (I’m 28…) comment in quite a few years. Maybe because the short hair I’ve donned for the past 5 years confused a lot of audiences, ha. Who’s that teenage boy on the drums?

In terms of providing a different perspective as a drummer, I’d say it’s more my style and approach to drumming that does that, rather than my gender. Maybe I’m lucky, but I’ve often felt very gender-neutral and equal to the male musicians I’ve collaborated with so far. That being said, I do suffer from imposter syndrome, and that does seem to be a very (but not exclusively) female experience in many industries.

Have you had any negative experiences as a female drummer or female instrumentalist?

Imposter syndrome is a big one when I’m surrounded by seemingly-confident men shredding away on their instruments or, at least, not seeming to have any concern about how they’re coming across! I’d be worried about being the ‘weakest link’ and will sometimes over-prepare, or I’d hold back a lot.

In relation to that, I’d say I’ve felt very aware of being in male-dominated spaces, and I have witnessed men be unaware of the impact their taking up space has on those who aren’t men. Which is why I’m very in favour of women-only spaces (obviously not all the time…), because the dynamic can be very different. For example, at jam nights, it’s a very male-dominated space, where, if there are any women playing, they’re usually singers. I wonder how many talented female instrumentalists I’m not seeing in those spaces because they feel shy or anxious about putting themselves out there like that among men, and I think those women need encouragement from those who understand that feeling. It’s that subtle but ever-present power dynamic I find affects me and similar musicians.

Who is an influence that people wouldn’t expect from you?

I’m a closet multi-instrumentalist, so I’ve got a lot of non-drummer influences. As a guitarist, I adore fingerstyle players, such as Kaki King, and Antoine Dufour. As a pianist, I love classical piano, with Chopin being a huge inspiration, and Philip Glass. But perhaps my biggest influence of all, I’m not ashamed to admit, was Matt Bellamy from Muse and their first 4 albums! As an 11-year old, I was strangely enamoured by his musicianship and epic space-rock tunes.

“But perhaps my biggest influence of all, I’m not ashamed to admit, was Matt Bellamy from Muse and their first 4 albums!”

What is your favourite track that you’re listening to right now?

​Tony Allen’s arrangement of Art Blakey’s ‘Politely’. Warm, dark, and moody.

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