Locally-based session drummers remain a rarity, local female session drummers considerably fewer. Kate Baya has taken aim at raising the percentages and has quickly developed a great rep as a session player-for-hire. She’s been performing with newcomers like Robinson, Lexxa, Dunes and She Loves You, to name just some, recently taking to the stage at the 2018 NZ Music Awards. Skinny Hobos’ Sam Holdom had a chat with Kate for NZM.
I have two older sisters and when I was growing up one played the guitar and the other played the drums, which I thought was really cool. There was always a kit around and it was inspirational being around them playing together (but I was never allowed to touch the kit, being my older sister’s and all).
It sucked at the time but I understand it now. If I had a little sibling I never would have let them touch my kit! When they moved out, they took their instruments with them but I ended up listening to all the music they gave me and they told me stories of their playing and I really wanted to do that too. I wanted to be cool like them, so I started playing. I begged my dad for years to get me a kit, and the one I eventually got was so shitty and beat up, but I fell in love with it. I played it every day and went to lessons every week. I’d come home and play for hours until my mum would yell at me.
Right now I’m playing in She Loves You, which I left and then rejoined! I wanted to focus on being a live session musician playing for lots of other people, but the scheduling wasn’t really working out and I ended up missing the band way too much cause it’s like a family there.
Otherwise I’ve been playing for Lexxa, which is really cool, and I’ve got some dates with Robinson coming up. But if anybody needs someone to play drums, I’m there!
It’s nice to be able to play different things and not be stuck doing one thing all the time. The session stuff I do is mainly pop – I don’t have to think about writing anything, I just play what I’m told and I get paid for it, which kind of makes it feel like work. But the best kind of work. I also like it because I feel no pressure… except the pressure to play it right, but I’ll play it right!
I get tracks and often my first thought is, “I can’t play that, I don’t have enough arms!” So we break it down to figure out what I can do and the rest is turned into samples that I’m given to load into my Roland SPD-SX.
I play an acoustic kit with a trigger on the kick and snare as well as a separate kick trigger next to my kick pedal. The acoustic drums add a lot of dynamics to the performance, as it’s hard to get any feel from samples that are all at the same volume. They all come out a bit the same on their own, but I’ve got to work around it and figure out different textures with the samples I’ve got.
I play a standard four-piece set up usually; kick, snare, rack and floor toms. With Robinson I don’t use any toms; it’s super handy showing up with just my SPD-SX and the kit is already there! With Lexxa and She Loves You I use the full kit with hats, two crashes and a ride, plus the SPD-SX. I don’t really need anything else as I can get so much out of the drums I have; if I had a huge kit I wouldn’t know what to play!
My first gig was playing for Dunes, which I got through my degree at MAINZ. In my second-to-last year, I played By Fire by Hiatus Kaiyote for one of my assessments, and Jeremy from The Lab was one of the assessors. He told Jamie and Tom from Dunes about me and they got in touch. It was one of those right-place-right-time moments; I played, someone saw me, they told someone else and then I got a gig!
I didn’t know what the band was but my thought then was to take every opportunity I could get.
It was through them that I started using the SPD-SX, which, again, I had no idea what it was, but I wasn’t about to back down then! You need the tools to get into the game, and that’s a big one for the pop world. Since then, people have hit me up specifically because I use samples and triggers. It was stressful figuring it out though, I had to fake it till I made it!
There are differences when you are a woman in the industry, that’s for sure, but I don’t really ever think about it or let it get me down. Some days are just tough days regardless of gender. I’m sure we all go through different things and yes some people may have it ‘easier’ or be ‘more respected’ because of their gender. But if you are truly good at what you do, then I feel that any person who is making that sort of gender-based judgement is kind’a silly.
Specifically, to me, the only thing I worry about as a woman in the music industry is being taken seriously – but not too seriously! Music is meant to be fun, right?! I’m wary of coming across a certain way, but I feel like that outside of the industry too.
I used to really focus on trying to be the best at what I did so I wouldn’t get shit for being ‘a girl’, but now I realise that music is a journey and I shouldn’t be so hard on myself or measure myself too strictly against other people. I just want to have fun now and if that means I get an opportunity where I have to up my game or learn something new, of course, I’m going to rise to the occasion. I don’t need to worry about it so much.
I’ll admit I hadn’t heard any songs from Drax Project before I saw them live, I don’t actually listen to a huge amount of pop music, but damn… those guys are so great at what they do. They really deliver in their live set. I’ve never seen an NZ band get so much hype and crowd response during a show. It was pretty cool to watch. Even if you don’t listen to their songs, you would appreciate their live show.
My fave NZ band right now though has to be The Beths. They are so very good. I would watch them 100 times and still be back for more. There’s something about the honesty of the songs and the performance itself that is super refreshing.
Main photo: Chris Morgan