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April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

All the Bells and Whistles

Erin O’Brien: New Drummer on the Go!

by Scott PaulsonSeptember 2023

Erin O’Brien. Photo: Gretchen Otero.

Erin O’Brien, a colleague of mine at UC San Diego Library, is a follower of an eclectic British band called the India Electric Company. She flew to London on a recent weekend just to attend a concert featuring Midge Ure with that band supporting. She was back at work in San Diego the next day. Erin is normally a very frugal, responsible person—but she had to hear both bands, then and there, even if it meant an extravagant overnight stay. And yes, she’s working the ensemble into fall travel plans in the UK, diverting to London one more time next month for yet another brief visit to hear the India Electric Company, this time headlining and promoting their new album.

Erin recently turned 60 and just the other year decided to become a drummer. She hadn’t played anything since she played clarinet in marching band in high school, yet her friends agree that she’s already drumming like a pro! (Though Erin confesses she’s having trouble progressing past 150 beats per minute, keep at it, O’Brien!!)

Erin is living life large after a lifetime of family and community responsibility. People are shocked by her recent jet-setting concert going, but they’re thrilled that she’s making time for things that she loves.

She is still the most responsible person at her workplace and still devoted to the demanding caregiver role she has at home, but now Erin is showing us all how a rock ‘n till high life could be lived, even if, for now, it’s just occasionally featuring whirlwind excursions.

What is it about them (the band, India Electric Company) that caught your attention and led to this extremely loyal fandom.
The India Electric Company do odd little impromptu things For example, Russell Field, the drummer is using a trash can in the second video, below. They also play in beautiful venues with amazing acoustics, like the church that the Historical Preservation Society made available.

I especially love that they bring in the violin in much of their music—and they play a lot of traditional tunes. Vocalist Cole Stacey writes lyrics based on/lifted from poems from Rumi to Barbara Guest and part of the fun for me is digging into the song to find the poem. Their music is rooted in Irish and Welsh folk music, sub-Saharan rhythms, Gypsy jazz à la Django Reinhardt, and more contemporary influences like Billie Eilish and Radiohead. They jam like jazz musicians, with that special telepathy that synchronizes their direction. But they bring so much more to their music: it makes it difficult to pin it to a category.


Here’s a taste of the India Electric Company in concert.

You played clarinet briefly in the high school marching band…and then you were busy with other things. What was your inspiration to get involved with music-making and suddenly pick up drums all these years later?
During the pandemic I was looking for things to keep my mind challenged so I had my clarinet refurbished, started reviewing the note charts and practicing some of the pieces for clarinet like “The Entertainer,” the Jupiter suite of Holst’s The Planets as play-alongs. A drummer friend challenged me to learn drums, which was hard for me to take seriously; I had never considered playing drums, ever. After watching a drum clinic, I was further convinced that Mark Brzezicki (from Big Country) did and I realized that there was four-way independence going on: two hands and two feet all on different rhythms. Oh, heck no! That requires some serious coordination, and I never thought of myself as a terribly coordinated person. I told my friend that I didn’t think I could manage learning drums, but he pushed back: what if you could? What if…?

India Electric Company: (L-R) Russel Field, Midge Ure, Joseph O’Keefe, Cole Stacey.

Regarding drums, who do you study with or how do you learn? Online? In person?
I bought a used kit and signed up for Drumeo’s online 30-day drummer course and I was hooked. I also completed the 30-day chops course online and then backtracked to focus on the rudiments. Drumeo and other online options have amazing resources, play-alongs, songs with the drum track removed, and coaches. When I get through the rudiments, I’ll have a good idea of what I need to work on, and I’ll take drum lessons for more advanced skills. At this point I know where I’m comfortable, playing between 80 and 150 BPM and stretching beyond that as I get those weak left-hand muscles trained.

I take advantage of any opportunity to watch drummers play, go to clinics—Todd Sucherman is an excellent clinician—and take advantage of any lessons online that I can find. Some drummers communicate better than others at the various levels: props to Chad Smith, who not only explains things very well to beginners, but the whys and whens of doing something.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to suddenly start learning an instrument?
There is an excellent community among musicians, and I’ve found a lot of helpful advice and recommendations from asking around. Online, there are learning opportunities, and I think that no matter which instrument or musical style you are playing, you should branch out and see how others are playing. I made a goal for myself of being able to play the clarinet solo for Rhapsody in Blue, and there are dozens of interpretations of that section. I don’t listen to a lot of Led Zeppelin or Rush, but John Bonham and Neil Peart were not only talented, but were also trailblazers and an inspiration to modern drummers of all styles. The early jazz drummers showed what was possible in improvisation: Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Joe Morello, Gene Krupa; those roots are echoed in Ginger Baker, Phil Collins, Stewart Copeland, and Ringo Starr. Bottom line: learn the rules well, then break them. And apply Chad Smith’s admonition to play from the heart.

Erin relays that the India Electric Company is just Joseph and Cole, but they have appropriated Russell for their recent tours, and his drumming adds to the texture of their music: he plays a jazz kit with IEC and rock-style electronic kit for Midge Ure.


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