INTERVIEW : MINDY ABOVITZ : TOM TOM MAGAZINE

Mindy Seegal Abovitz is the creator and editor of Tom Tom Magazine, and she is a force to be reckoned with. A drummer who noticed a glaring lack of representation for female beatmakers and drummers, she rose to the challenge and has, in very little time, taken her efforts from a side-project blog to a full color, beautifully-designed, totally engrossing and inspiring quarterly with booming circulation and a packed touring schedule — it seems every week they’re having a release party on a new continent.

Mindy’s been drumming for over 11 years with various projects, including Taigaa!, Hot Box, More Teeth and Chica Vas — the only one she really has much time for these days amidst the gleeful insanity. She’s also a drum instructor with the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls and Vibe Songmakers. But she will tell you all about that.

Tom Tom holds its Issue 5 NYC release party, co-hosted by Kim Thompson (of KTMUSIC, and, until recently, a drummer for Beyoncé), in Liberty Hall at Ace Hotel New York on Saturday night.


I read that Tom Tom started as a blog, and I was wondering both what inspired you to start it and then how it transitioned into a magazine?

Well, I’m a female drummer, and I’ve been drumming for a really long time and involved in a lot of different groups that empower women to play music, like the Rock Camp For Girls and Vibe SongMakers, and I’ve also had my own personal allegiance to play with women my whole life. I don’t consume any drummer magazines because they don’t speak to me and never have. I was sort of sitting around wondering if there was a magazine for female drummers, and thought that if there wasn’t I wanted to start one.

So, initially the blog was a test to see if anything like this existed. I started the blog with that in mind — “here, I’ll just start approaching drummers I respect and interviewing them and posting it on this blog and seeing what happens.” And with that little experiment I discovered that there was no magazine like it and that we were, indeed, in dire need of something like that. The blog turned into a website and then some benefit shows gave me enough money to put out the first issue. And then it just happened after that. I decided it was a quarterly print magazine and it’s just been growing since then.

And how do you feel about special categories for women making music — is it limiting or liberating or both?

I believe it’s both, but because we’ve been living in a draught — we female drummers and female musicians in lots of specialty fields or whatever…or not specialty fields — we pretty much go unrecognized in the media. So, essentially, while it could potentially be holding us down, initially, it’s not — I believe that it’s really empowering and necessary. I feel like we’re asserting ourselves in the media. I do believe we’ll live in a climate where that’s unnecessary. Until it’s unnecessary, I do believe we need to have these places where we can go to communicate and share and promote each other.

In an ideal world, we would be represented in these current magazines and it wouldn’t be necessary. I would open a drummer magazine and see myself or someone like me and I could relate and I wouldn’t feel the need to have this magazine. But, right now that’s not the case. So, you know, it may appear to be a limiting sort of resource, but for me and a lot of other women and men that I know it’s totally necessary and encouraging and a move in the right direction.

Something that I really love about Tom Tom is that you feature little instructional sections, too, so a drummer will describe a new trick that she has, or how to do this, or how to set your kit up in this way. Probably the last time I banged on a set of drums was like 5 years ago in someone’s basement, but it’s so inspiring to have that kind of invitation. It’s about sharing and not about exclusivity. Also, I was reading  about — I was probably reading this in your magazine — how in more earth-based cultures, women were the drummers because they had cycles, and so rhythm was considered their area of expertise.

Yeah, I find that people want to delineate between genders a lot when they’re thinking about this magazine, in particular — people want to say, “Women were born to be drummers,” or “Women are different kinds of drummers.” I actually don’t believe there’s a difference between women and men on the kit, necessarily — I mean, I can name a few physical differences or potentially cultural differences based on socialization. But I honestly don’t believe that, at the core, we are meant or not meant to play the drums. I just think there should be a fair representation of women
drummers.

But often times people feel that way — we have a lot of different voices of people who play drums and people who love drums represented in the magazine. That was one of the articles you were referring to, I think. Someone said women have cycles so women were meant to be drummers. I think we’re meant to be everything, so, it’s like, some of us happen to be drummers.

What’s next on the horizon for Tom Tom?

We have a tour of the Northeast that’s happening. We’re going to SXSW with the Cake Shop and some surprise guests. We are beginning this thing called Tom Tom Magazine Sessions, which is essentially a concert with instruction built in. Every drummer and programmer is going to give a bit of a how-to to what’s she’s doing. An ultimate goal is to be in every newsstand, bookstore and house all over the world. Books. And a lot more instruction in the magazine has been a big request. We also have a huge online presence, and we post new, original content every day.

We’re working on a really fair way to review music. That’s another thing that’s on the horizon for us — something as good as Pitchfork, but gender fair, gender equal. There’s a ton going on — we’re now in all the guest rooms at the Aces in New York, Palm Springs, and Portland, and we’ve got our Issue 5 NYC release party coming up this Saturday in Liberty Hall. And there are some other Ace events in the works.

Tell me about your favorite bands at the moment.

I have too many. I can’t actually pick favorites. I really support any woman picking up the drums, in any permutation, and I respect and support her, and I try to do that through my magazine and through my life. So, I don’t pick favorites, for that reason. I listen to a shit ton of music.

What have you listened to so far today.

Today? I’ve listened to the radio. I really respect MNDR, and what she’s doing right now. She’s a beatmaker. I love Kim Thompson's drumming. Susie Ibara. I mean, I can’t — the list is so endlessly long, I couldn’t even begin.

I mean, that’s really exciting. There’s so many rad female drummers, you can’t even pick.

Don’t you feel that way?

I do. They’re spinning in my mind like the Wheel of Fortune, actually. And how are Tom Tom and the Rock Camp connected and growing together to support female musicians?

Oh, how are Tom Tom and the Rock Camp connected…well, we’re really good friends, number 1. We’re constantly catching each other’s backs. So, you know, rock camp gets featured in articles and then has advertising in everything that Tom Tom does. And they do the same — they promote Tom Tom. We’re going to try to get subscriptions rolled into camper registration. And, just a lot of that…

Also, we’re hitting universities all over the world. We just did a panel with Kim Gordon at Smith College, and we’re working with Carnegie Melon and working in London, too, at the colleges there. I feel like college students really tend to feel the draught, more than high schoolers and more than post-college. Because they feel like every opportunity’s at the their fingertips but if their school doesn’t make it available to them and their city doesn’t make it available to them, they can feel extremely left out of the music scene. I feel that’s the age when everyone grabs an instrument.

Running this magazine seems like a ridiculously enormous project. You’re not only running the magazine, but you’re creating editorial content, interviewing people, you’re traveling around, touring with new issues, and I know you have musical projects going on. I wonder if the support you have for the magazine has made it your job, or if you have to hold down a day job or do freelance or anything else — and how you find time for music amidst all of that.

Well, up until about a half year ago, I was working at East Village Radio, and this was my side project. And then, I just plunged straight into Tom Tom. So, it’s been my full-time job for under a year, but I’m hoping that this is, that I don’t have to take another job, although I would. But I’m hoping I don’t have to go back to that anytime soon. That said, I work over full-time on Tom Tom, and it leaves me very little time to play music, or do anything.

My band that I’m in right now — pretty much the only thing I’m in at the moment — is Chica Vas. And it’s a project — as many female drummers as we can fit on one stage, and it’s both written and improvised music so that we can play with people passing through town, or different parts of the country or the world, with new drummers. We just put out a 7” and it’s being remixed by DJs in Europe. A full-length will be coming out of the remixes of our songs. And I drum for Vibe SongMakers, which is a high school girl project here in New York. And that’s about it. I mean, honestly I can’t even believe I have time to do those things. I love to drum and I really don’t get to drum very much. But I will. That’s my goal. Make Tom Tom viable, and play music. Ha. I imagine that happening in a couple years.

Well, you’re killing it.

Trying.



Photos by Jesse Untracht-Oakner


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