A conversation with Oana Pop, drummer at Lights Out
“How many lady drummers do you know?” This was a question that popped up in my mind sometime ago. I don’t know where this question came from, but it seemed legit. I was inclined to reply Cindy Blackman (Santana, Lenny Kravitz), Gina Schock (The Go-Go’s) and Sandy West from The Runaways. I know there are many more, but these three were the first ones I could think of. Not enough, I said to myself, so I started to search deeper and try to remember bands and drummers.
“Light out”. No, the lights were on, but I remembered the Romania indie band Lights Out and their drummer, Oana Pop. Well, Oana is not only a truly talented musician, but she is also a great person with whom I had the pleasure to talk about music, creativity and new projects. She is one of the drummers I always liked to watch performing.
| How did your start your musical journey? Were drums your first instrument?
I took ballet lessons as a kid and there was this lovely old lady who played the piano for us during practice. At the end of each lesson she'd play something really beautiful for us to listen to until our parents picked us up. I was 6 and I'd fall asleep and have the nicest dreams.
Piano lessons came in during secondary school. I remember at some point being yelled at for not practicing enough (I was really shy and easily impressionable, so being yelled at bordered on tragedy). This music teacher was really gifted, but her methods made me shrink away from wanting to learn more.
So, I turned to the percussion teacher who was really friendly. She had a relaxed sense of discipline which had more to do with enjoying music than making a wunderkind out of you. I'd only been at it for a few months and could barely hold a steady beat when my older brother found out about my plans (I'm a very, VERY sneaky person). He went on telling our parents, and they became very supportive of the whole thing, and I practiced a lot and I ended up being good enough to actually enjoy playing on my own – which is a major breakthrough in a drummer's life. The fact that I can drum has a lot to do with the supportive and privileged environment I grew up in, that's for sure. (Even now I can't play the piano properly, my dog can).
| When I think of a drummer, the next word that comes in my mind is ”innovation”. How do you relate to this?
I'm not sure. I'd say people are a bit too hyped up on “innovation” and “creativity”, especially in Cluj. It helps if we stop celebrating these ideas in their abstract form and start thinking about the creative process as it happens on the ground. It's mundane but crucial to have a room of your own or having a solid practice routine and be able to reflect upon your own work, which makes it an important part of any creative process. Also, it is very important to have friends who are ready to listen to you and complain about how you're sometimes stuck and tired. This is old school wisdom, though, you've heard it before: be big in your intentions, work hard, but also brace yourself for long and uneventful days which are all part of the deal.
| Do you write music as well?
No, I've never written down a piece of music. I do record myself while improvising and get all hyped up when I find cool new phrases in my drumming. I enjoy picking those up and working on them. But I really do miss play with a band, it's the best is terms of creativity. Unfortunately, I don't play so much these days, except for practicing but I think a lot about myself as a drummer. For example, I think a lot about ways of playing which are quiet and small without becoming minimal or groove-less. Think Brian Blade. Or, for instance, I was thinking the other day about drummers who have ways of playing which perfectly match the way they look, like Ginger Baker or Stella Mozagawa of Warpaint, if her grooves would take human form they'd look just like her.
| Were you ever curious about music production? If so, what style would you approach and what nickname would you use?
My nickname would be Yong. But I will come back to you with this one.
| Do you have a practice discipline nowadays? Where do you go to be around music besides a rehearsal room and concerts?
I have an extended understanding of practice, which turned out to be really useful especially during the last two years I spent away from my own drum kit. Stuff like stretching, thinking about songs, thinking up rhythms, improvising, I count as practice. There are days when I do routine or “maintenance” drumming (check out Benny Greb), and days when I have a more exploratory approaches (based on very cool methods a la Billy Martin, the drummer). I have a routine for the snare drum which is a wonderful left-over from the Music Academy. And I try to record myself whenever I practice on a full set. That's about it.
| Is there any news about Lights Out? Are you guys still re-charging your batteries?
Yes, we are no longer making music together as Lights Out. Teo and Andrei made a new project called ZIMBRU, quite different from what they've done before. It's groovy and brave. I hope we'll get on stage together soon, I'm not sure when and in what circumstances. The only thing I know for sure is that all of us really miss having a gig together.
| You gave up the Music Conservatory in Cluj to study Sociology, is it a career re-route or a natural step after experiencing the Music Academy environment?
I was in my second year studying anthropology when I got accepted into the Music Conservatory, so I went on studying both for one year. I was privileged enough not to have to think in terms of career choices at that point. Academically, I continued my studies in social sciences which feed into music in complex ways, but that's a different discussion, and musically we still had the band going plus other small projects and ideas, so it felt ok to give up on the Music Academy.
It's an institution with strict rules, looking back on the experience I'd only recommend it to those who are set on having a career in classical music. What counts as valuable musical experience though is that I got to play and listen to a lot of sonically impressive instruments, stuff I might never have had access to elsewhere, instruments like the vibraphone, or symphonic chimes. They make such soothing sounds; stuff you'd like to hear more often in your daily life.
| What is your connection with NGO’s? I have seen you are working with AltArt, an organization that promotes artistic projects.
I relate to specific projects rather than NGOs themselves. With AltArt I am working with a project very close to me, “The aesthetics of (industrial) work”. It's part visual anthropology, part philosophical musings on creativity. I'm in charge of the research part: we seek out stories about objects that workers used to create something using factory infrastructure, outside of their daily work flow. There was a lot of experimenting and innovation going on, and a lot of freedom in putting the wildest and most ridiculous ideas into practice.
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