Just Dance and Have a Good Time: An Interview with The Shivas Drummer Kristin Leonard

kristin leonard, wailing on the drums

The Shivas, a dreamy quartet of surf rockers from Portland, Oregon, released their third LP, WHITEOUT, on vinyl through K Records this month.  Although recorded independently, Burger Records picked up the album as a limited-release cassette-tape-only edition that sold out at the end of last year. Formed during the summer of 2006, The Shivas' lineup has changed quite a bit but now consists of Kristin Leonard on drums and vocals, Jared Molyneux and Robert Mannering both on guitar and vocals, and Eric Shanafelt on bass. Having toured since the beginning of their formation, the band has plenty of stories to share. I caught up with Kristin as she and the band were wrapping up a quick tour through Austin's Psych Fest.

EMILLY PRADO: First of all, where does the name "The Shivas" come from?
KRISTIN LEONARD: Shiva can mean a lot of things depending on where you are and what language you speak. One purpose of the name is its ambiguity. People can interpret it how they want and I'm not going to tell them they are wrong or right. The Shivas, to me, is just one incarnation of a force of nature that has been given many names by many different groups. The idea being a destructive force that completely dismantles your preconceived notions and builds new ones back up in their place. The most important thing about this force is its ability to make you forget about what sucks in your life through its cathartic effect, which allows you to just dance and have a good time. the shivas album cover featuring a black and white photo

Who are some of your greatest influences?

My influences certainly come from listening to bands and people of the past, but mostly from people that I play shows and hang out with. Hooded Hags, Ghost Mom, SexyWaterSpiders, White Fang, Boom, Guantanamo Baywatch, and The Memories are only a few of the many Portland bands making it happen now.

Tell me more about your deal with K Records and how you landed it?

We had known [K Records founder] Calvin Johnson for a little while – playing shows and crossing paths. This past summer he asked us to go on a tour with him and a caravan of other great bands that he put together for Believer magazine. At the end of that tour we played K's Helsing Junction Festival and Calvin asked us if we wanted to put WHITEOUT out on vinyl.

How did you pick the name WHITEOUT?

We originally decided on the name WHITEOUT because it was going to be the name of a track on the album. Though we decided to leave this song off, the songs we chose to include still followed its scary surf persona. The name stuck and took on a life of its own. Rob was particularly enthused by the name because when he was in school in Ireland, kids would sit in the back of the classroom, paint Wite-Out on the cuff of their uniform, and casually huff it throughout class.  

We recorded WHITEOUT at Revolver Studios in Portland with Colin Hegna as our engineer. We had a lot of fun recording and having friends come in and lay down tracks, and we live tracked the recordings on to 2" tape to get [it to sound] as similar to a live performance as possible.

Can you tell me about what it's like to be a female drummer? How do you think people's perceptions of you, or your band, differ based on your gender?
Being a female drummer is just like being a male drummer, except for peoples' insistence on prefacing "drummer" with "female." I feel really lucky that I'm making music with a bunch of guys who don't limit me based on my gender, but who are always supportive and ready to back me up when someone else is an asshole. New audiences tend to judge me, which is apparent by their comments after we play: "Wow, I've never seen a girl drummer really rock before," or "You're really great for a female drummer." It's quite shocking to me that "a girl playing drums" is still such a new concept for some people and shows you how we assign genders to certain instruments. I don't try to prove myself to anyone and just have fun. Anybody that doesn't like it can fuck off. 

You guys have been touring a ton lately! What do you enjoy and miss most about being on the road?
Touring is a blast. You get to meet new people, make friends, see old friends, see a different city every night, and get out of town for a while. It's especially comforting to know that each tour is going better than the last one. We don't do any of the tourist shit. We sleep on friends' floors and couches and experience the city with someone that actually lives there. 

When I'm away from home I miss my friends and family of course, but I also really miss trees. This sounds silly but I think the Pacific Northwest is such a beautiful place because of all the forests. I miss seeing this splendid greenery when I'm driving for hours and hours through the badlands of Texas or Wyoming. I also think that every corner of the country has its own weird counter culture, and I'm particularly fond of Portland's. 

Do you have any tour stories you'd like to share?
After a while it all becomes a blur, but there are a few odd and funny instances that stick out in my mind. Because The Shivas started out when we were so young, we have played a lot of weird shows. One of the weirdest places I've ever played was in Logan, Utah, in-store at the Hot Topic. Though it was super weird and awkward, the store manager turned out to be the coolest person in Logan and [we] stayed at [his] house that night. 

Another funny thing is that in small college towns, and most of the American South, the success of your show depends on if the hometown football team wins their game or not that night. People will show up drunk either way, but sometimes it's a celebratory drunk and other times it's a depressed and pissed off drunk with only half as many people there.

So what's next for the band?
We are staying quite busy in the near future! We will leave for tour again [later this month] around the nation and parts of Canada with The Dandy Warhols for about five weeks. After that, we will start recording our next full length and a single if time permits, at K Records. We'll do another short tour at the end of the summer as well. I'm really excited for these next couple of months.

Any final thoughts for Bitch readers?

Play music. You don't have to know what you're doing, just pick up an instrument and play it. It's up to all of us to make the music world more accessible and inclusive of female musicians and any other marginalized groups, regardless of what instrument or genre you play. If anyone tells you that you suck or that you shouldn't be playing, tell them to fuck off. Isn't that what rock n' roll is all about anyways?

Check out this video of The Shivas performing "Gun in My Pocket":

Photo of Kristin Leonard on drums by Ashley Griswold.

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AWWWYEAH. LOVE IT.

AWWWYEAH. LOVE IT.