Sarah Wilson is an unstoppable force. From booking U.S. and international tours, to instructing the next generation of drummers, to wowing audiences as one of the most exciting drummers in the game, Wilson balances many roles within the world of music.
Digital Wheat Paste spoke with this Atlanta-based artist about all things drumming, the impact Nirvana made on her as a teen, and the band CHEW.
DWP: Describe your musical history and how your interest in drumming began.
SW: I started playing drums when I was 12 years old. I was a competitive gymnast from ages 6-12, so that was my entire life besides school. It was school all day and gymnastics all night. Sleep. Repeat. I ended up pulling my hamstring, and that pretty much took me out of gymnastics because I basically couldn’t do anything if I wanted it to heal properly. I decided on my own to quit. Now I had all of this free time on my hands and I didn’t really know what to do with myself. It probably took a couple of weeks for me to zoom in on rock music. I was definitely an MTV kid and grew up with all the typical music videos for Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Soundgarden. It’s so cliché , but Nirvana really hooked me into rock at that age. The song “In Bloom” in particular made me want to be a rock drummer. Dave Grohl’s beat on that song is still so tight. After I heard that song, I guess for the first time, I was like, “Wow, I want to play like THAT!” I asked my Dad for a kit one day, and I think he got me one that same night. My parents have been super supportive from the beginning.
DWP: CHEW has been touring extensively since 2015, including dates in Europe last year. When did you begin touring?
SW: CHEW has been touring since we started. That was basically a prerequisite. You have to tour to get exposure and build a fan base. It’s also how the band makes a living. You meet so many amazing people all over the world. You get to travel to cool cities, drive through mountains, eat awesome food. It’s a life experience. All while you’re spreading your music to new ears and bringing joy to people through art. There is nothing like it. I’m hooked on touring. Granted, it’s not for everyone, you have to do a couple tours usually before the shows and experiences get better. Most folks give up pretty early. It’s work, it’s fun work, but it’s work. I love it though.
DWP: You wear many hats within the music industry. Describe these roles and how you became interested and involved.
SW: I am actually a booking agent as well. I have booked all the shows and tours for CHEW, as well as most of the bands I have been in. I ended up doing it because my first serious band needed some shows, and no one was really booking anything, so I taught myself how–and the rest is history. I learned so much over the years. I made so many contacts with venues, promoters, and bands that I now have a nice database of contacts all over the USA, Canada, and Europe. It’s really worked out well for CHEW. It took me years to get my booking game stronger, and I’m happy this is the band I take on the road with this knowledge.
DWP: How does drumming for an instrumental band differ from playing for a band with vocals?
SW: It’s pretty different. I enjoy it because there is a lot more freedom to let the music speak instead of having words. Good vocalists are great and inspiring though. At a recent show we played in Atlanta, we had a local rapper do guest vocals on our closing song, and it was dope! I definitely played that song a little differently with the vocals, maybe a little groovier. Adding another element can morph your playing in a good way. I am not opposed to working with vocalists at all. But for this band, we have so much to say with our instruments most of the time, vocals could potentially cloud that up. Plus vocalists are always trying to stand right in front of the drummer!
DWP: Describe your composition process both when writing solo pieces and with a band.
SW: I honestly like to completely freestyle in a solo. I like the freedom of my subconscious spilling out on the drums. I would like to write more solos though, but whenever I bust out with a solo in a live situation, I’m usually just going crazy all over the kit. I will be shooting a new drum solo video soon–maybe I’ll write something with chimes and triangles! With CHEW, we write songs as a unit. Usually, Brett will come to the table with something on guitar or sampler. We all jam on those ideas, and during this process, Brandon (bass) and I will come up with our grooves until something works. It’s very organic. Sometimes songs will pour out from scratch during an impromptu jam at practice. That’s how you know you’re in a band with good players. When creativity naturally flows and songs get written on the spot.
DWP: Describe your practice sessions.
SW: We actually had a great practice last night! It was focused, we jammed a lot. We reworked a new song to make it better and wrote a brand new one that we are all really excited about. These songs will be premiered this month. But I guess it kind of depends on what we want to practice. A lot of times we do have a plan and tend to focus on that. Lately we’re in a crazy writing new songs kick, but other times we’re tightening up our set.
DWP: You are one of the most dynamic, precise, and inspiring drummers I have ever seen live. Do you have any pre-show routines you follow to prepare?
SW: Thank you for the kind words! I do have a pre-show routine that I try to do every show. I usually stretch my arms and legs for a while, and then practice rudiments on a practice pad to warm up my hands and arms. This helps with my body becoming more flexible and loose for the set. Our set is intense!
DWP: What gear do you currently use?
SW: I love my 4-piece Ddrum kit. It’s all big sizes (24″ kick drum!) and the wood is made out of maple, so it’s very boomy. I also tend to have larger cymbals too. I enjoy a big rock sound. I recently got endorsed by Treeworks Chimes, an amazing chimes company based out of Nashville. I am in love with chimes! They sound so good for transitions and I also like to hit them like bells, its been fun writing with them on our new songs. They also just hooked me up with some fresh triangles too! I love percussion. I play with sleigh bells as well.
DWP: How has drumming influenced your day-to-day life? How has your day-to-day life influenced your approach to drumming?
SW: Becoming a drummer changed my life. I went from being an athlete to being a musician almost overnight. All the discipline I learned through gymnastics really taught me the importance of practicing a lot to get good at a young age. I am thankful for that part of my life. I would practice three hours a day when I first started because I didn’t want to suck for too long! I teach drums as well in between tours, so I am constantly playing drums. It’s completely taken over my life. I also learned a lot by living a regular life, having a job and at the same time trying to live the musician lifestyle. It was tough. Jobs do not like when you tour a lot. It just doesn’t really work. So, I had to make a choice, and I made the leap to being a full-time musician and working for myself. It was not an easy transition, and it’s still not always easy now, but I’m doing what I love and what I was born to do, so in the end, I’m much happier.
CHEW merch is available for purchase online, and will be available for purchase on tour.