Tina Havelock Stevens
Where are you from and/or where do you live now?
How long have you been playing drums? And what initially drew you to the instrument?
I’ve been playing on and off for about thirty years. Eons! I was really into music from when I was super tiny, I had decade-older siblings so listened to their records, I listened to heaps of radio too and I was obsessed with music shows on TV. Drummers always looked like they were off in their own zone up the back, holding it all together and having a good time. I started hitting saucepans with chopsticks and my Dad asked why I had my hands crossed over (snare/hi-hat maneuver) and I replied that’s what they did on TV. I ran all the way home the day my school got a drum kit… and yelled out to Mum that I was learning a ‘musical instrument’ even before I’d gotten in the door. I wasn’t attracted to the violin or piano. It all felt a bit serious. When I watched fellow students performing…it just didn’t look too fun and they were always doing exams to be graded on their instruments and that seemed even more un-fun.
Do you play any other instruments?
I have written songs on guitar but I wouldn’t categorise myself as a guitar player. I’m more a guitar whateverer. I’m lucky I’ve got a good ear so can make things up but I’ve never committed to bar chords.
I think I’d like to have a piano.
What are you working on right now?
Well I’m an interdisciplinary artist and currently I’m doing a lot of video installation work. All the projects have drums attached to them in some way…I’m either performing in them or scoring my visuals. Right now I’ve been asked to do a video for Performance Space, Sydney so that’s going to be a mix of drums, text and Melbourne dancer Jo Lloyd. I’m also cutting a new video for a show coming up at Galerie Pom Pom, Sydney titled ‘Dark Boulder’. I have a practice around drumming ‘charged spaces’… this particular work was made at Giant Rock in the Mojave Desert, California. The rock has a rich history as a ‘spiritual vortex’. I have a moniker ‘White Drummer’ and I go and tap into the frequencies of site and place. The performances are improvised and often durational. I started this project about seven years ago. In 2013 I played a full kit underwater for ten minutes. I know…what?! That year I also made a work where I drummed my way through the post-apocalyptic city of Detroit.
What else are you (currently or previously) involved in (bands/shows/projects etc.)?
Ok…well I basically emerged from the post punk scene drumming with Plug Uglies, which formed back in the mid/late 80’s. I then went on to play with Crow, The Titanics (with Dave McCormack), a bunch of other things and more recently did a little bit with Chicks on Speed. I have an instrumental band The Mumps with my long-term collaborator Liberty Kerr (guitar)…that’s been going for about ten years in a very sporadic fashion. It’s pretty much a driving post-rock three piece. Our bass player is Adele Pickvance. (Robert Forster, Dave Graney) We get in trouble for only playing occasionally, which is a nice way of audiences saying they like us! We all live in different cities and have other jobs which adds to the trouble. Liberty and I also play as an experimental duo and its all improv. It’s a pretty nice conversation to be able to have with such an old pal. The last shows we did were for my large-scale video installation THUNDERHEAD at Dark Mofo, 2016 and Live Works, Performance Space, Carriageworks, 2016. The work is of a storm I encountered by chance in Texas. After I’d done the edit I showed a bit of it to Liberty for one minute in my kitchen and then we went into the lounge room, hit record and played to it for 17 minutes. In exhibition mode THUNDERHEAD plays with that soundtrack which loops and then in the evenings we’d do an ever-evolving soundscape for two and a half hours in front of the projection. We had a great time. I also hired nice sturdy kits. The DW I used in Sydney was particularly satisfying.
When I’m in NYC I jam with Sara Landeau (guitarist/The Julie Ruin) and I also have a bunch of projects coming up with Cat Hope including a gig at the Make it Up Club in Melbourne in May. Cat does a myriad of things but in this case will be playing bass noise. We’ve never played together so I’m looking forward to it. I’m also the drum mistress for a Noise Opera that she’s written so we will be in development for that in July in Adelaide and I am doing a ten-minute video (as visual score) for her new music ensemble Decibel for the Fremantle Biennale later in the year.
Solo wise I’m doing a work for the Big Anxiety Project which is a new experimental Arts festival and I’ll be making a video and will be including some live performances where I drum an ‘anxiety/empathy loop’. I’m also a Finalist in the John Fries prize at UNSW Galleries in August so pretty wrapped with that.
Apart from all of this I think The Mumps owe it to ourselves to make an album …I’d really like to pull this together before we hit 109. I’m super proud of many of our tracks.
Do you write music or develop your own shows? What are they about/how have they come about?
Ok so I’ve re-imagined my drumming from a more traditional band format into an art practice which is now about spontaneity, unpredictability and the non verbal. It’s not about writing music in preparation. I work with video in the same way…I love a type of immediacy. I have a DIY punk hangover ethic and I make a lot never knowing where it’s going to turn up. I also get asked whether I have an idea for a festival or am invited into a Gallery show. My projects are essentially portraits of the state of the contemporary world, they have an experiential quality and are open to interpretation for a viewer. I like to get in on our limbic systems.
What are your thoughts on collaboration in music and in the projects you’re involved in or the projects you run?
I started on drums playing to loud music from speakers next to my head… and when I first played with a band it was beyond exhilarating. Growing up I was always way more into groups than solo singers! Conversing on instruments is a truly special thing. I get sick of talking. We had a few different bass players in my first band and I remember the penny dropping with how variable each persons feel was… even with the same tunes and how that affected my own playing. Its like any relationship…you just lock in with some players and it’s beautifully hard to describe. In the end it’s important to be a fan of who you work with.
I collaborate a lot but also have what’s seen as a solo practice. This is true, I often drum alone but when I am making work I’m ultimately collaborating with whoever is operating the camera or drove me to the space.
Collaboration is there on a whole bunch of levels. People affect people all the time!
Who are you listening to/whose music are you enjoying right now?
Right now? I’ve been streaming a NYC jazz station WBGO, when I fly to Melbourne tomorrow I’ll most likely listen to classical and in between I’ll obsess over one track like Caribou’s ‘Sun’. I did a work at Performance Space a few years ago called ‘Rewind Room’ where I drummed for three days to significant tracks from my life so far. They were chosen for whatever reason and it wasn’t about making a cool play list or one about drums. Anyway for the last two months I’ve been posting a track up pretty much daily on my FB from that work. I listen to the track before I put it up and in the last week they’ve been Plug Uglies (Pounding Grace) Kate Bush (Sat in your Lap), Frank Black (Los Angeles), Soul to Soul (Back to Life), Susuma Yokota (St Mesa Substation), Velvet Underground (Hey Mr Rain) and X (I Don’t Wanna Go Out).
Do you have any favourite drummers? Or other musicians who inspire you? Why?
Gene Krupa and Keith Moon were free spirited incredible drummers. Stewart Copeland was unique and imperfect and his snare had such a crazy tight sound that was so him. Like-wise I’ve enjoyed the guys from Thee Oh Sees and Battles and of course the poetic Jim White. I loved Sheila E when I was a kid. I caught her live recently. I just love seeing someone get in the flow. Other musicians? This is way too hard a question for me to deal with so I’ll just pick three that instantly come to mind… PJ Harvey, Peter Cook (bass/New Order/Joy Division) and Stevie Wonder. They’ve all created the type of textures and emotive life sounds that have made me happily wither.
How would you describe the kind of music or projects you’re mostly involved in? And/or what kind of unique perspective/sound do you bring to these gigs?
It’s hard to describe what perspective I bring but I can say that I love things that travel and soar. I love quiet and loud. Fast and slow. I love minor chords, intuitive surprises and whatever that equivalent is in all of my visual work too. I like that an audience can share an experience but have multiple perspectives. I don’t practice so there’s a certain spontaneity in my playing I suppose as I sit down on drums and think…oh yeh I love this…I need to do this more! Ouch is that a blister? Maybe it’s all just the autobiographical exorcism.
Do you have a particular warm up or practice routine? Or favourite exercises?
No warm up. Maybe I’ll have a whiskey. Put on a band-aid.
Does social media play a big part in how you promote yourself as an artist and your various projects?
I remember gig postering all around town and meeting deadlines for various press and now I can just put something up on Instagram or Facebook and venues/galleries promote the show you’re in and you can share that too. It’s beyond handy.
Do you make a living from music? What different types of work does this comprise?
Basically I spread myself across a few occupations. I direct and shoot documentary for TV and I’ve done some University teaching lately. I have a few art commissions for video work that will have drumming involved. I don’t think I really knew how to make a living from music. I was a ‘girl drummer’ which really was unusual when I started so I was up against it a bit. I got commented on all the time and it did make me self-conscious. I was also into making moving image so perhaps that felt more realistic as a ‘living’. Anyway it was a bit of a juggle but I’ve worked it out now.
Where’s the coolest place that music has taken you?
This question is way too huge but you said ‘coolest’ so I’ll tell a funny human interaction story. In the early nineties I was on tour supporting Sonic Youth and Kim Gordon came up to me after I’d played and said ‘That was really cool’ in a slow, NYC cool voice and I responded with a thin ‘thanks very much’ Australian voice which reverberated for years in my head! I might have been making a loud noise on drums but I was so little and shy. I loved this band so much. I’d just be near them…wishing I could say something. Starstruck! So music opens up a plethora of experience…and then there’s those moments when you’re playing and you have that intense feeling of so being in your skin. How great is it to know how to play the drums? Pretty great.
If you could give your younger drumming self some advice what would it be?
Get some good cymbals