Jen on being true to yourself…
Jen Ledger is the Coventry-born stickswoman for Grammy-nominated, kerjillion-selling US rockers Skillet. We caught up with her at Download earlier this month, where the band continued their campaign to win over the Brits with a storming set in which Jen’s energetic drumming, and beautiful singing, backed up Skillet’s anthemic hard rock with considerable flair.
“The biggest thing that I’ve learnt, which I feel like I stress all the time to people, is not panicking about playing like other people – which just sounds so simple and cheesy but I used to get really locked up because my sound isn’t really flashy with the drums.
“I finally realised I really enjoy playing the way I play and I’m not going to try to play like Travis Barker because it’s not the way I want to play. Maybe it won’t impress the drummers in the crowd, but I’ve realised that I really enjoy performing and it inspires people way more when you’re true to who you want to be and how you want to express yourself. There can be the drummer nerds standing side-stage going, ‘She missed the last 32nd… duh, duh duh,’ and you’re like well maybe I did but I had a //great// time on stage and I think a lot more people really enjoyed the way I played because I’m just being true to myself and having fun.
“My advice to people who are nervous is take that pressure off yourself and try and enjoy yourself up there and play the things you know how to play well rather than stretching yourself to play things you can’t do well, and you’ll sound way better and people will enjoy your feel a lot more.”
Jen on developing as a player…
“In many ways I feel like I’ve gotten better, in performance and staying with the click, and all these professional things I feel like I’ve got better and in many ways I feel like I’m getting worse!
”I did Young Drummer of the Year when I was 16 [she was a finalist in 2006] and I had way more finesse back then because I was learning independence, I was just learning a lot more. And now I’m in a rock band and it’s just kind of simple, and in some ways, I think, ‘Have I actually got worse?’ But I know that in my performance I’m a million times better and I know I have a stage presence now that I would never have had without this experience and without this opportunity. Don’t test me on my rudiments and my double strokes because I haven’t had to do them in a long time! It’s pretty much four on the floor and I’m good!”
Jen on overcoming stagefright early on…
“Honestly it was like throwing a baby bird out of the nest – either she’s going to fly or she’s going to fall.
“It was at that point where this could go really bad or really good, I’m scared to death. I’m a Christian and I pray a lot when I feel those things, but I was like, thank you God that you put me in this band and I just pray that you’ll help me do this. So I pray a lot onstage, especially before the spinning drum riser! I’m like, ‘Lord, don’t let me fall off this thing!’ But for me that’s my sense of peace in all of this. I don’t know, I don’t deserve to be on this stage with all these other amazing musicians but I happen to be able to be a part of a band and I get to play in front of other people. In many ways I just don’t think I deserve this role at all and I just thank God for the opportunity and just trust that this will go well and I’ll do what I can do well, and hope that people will enjoy my performance
Jen on practising and soloing…
“I have two solos written out. One is if we have a short set, one is if we have a long set.
“If we do have time, yeah, I have to work on those ‘cos they get rusty so fast – even last night I did a show and my solo was bad, I was like, ‘Oh gosh, I really need to practise during the daytime!’ But again, even with that I had a really fun time and the crowd were totally into it… even though I was, ‘Man, all the drummers are gonna know how bad that was, and feel embarrassed for me,’ but the crowd didn’t seem to care that much. But when I do have time to practise I work on my two solos, also I like to work on my double kick because I’ve noticed if I don’t get to practise it a lot it’s down and it lags quickly.”
Jen's advice for young female drummers…
“I had the honour of being a judge for Hit Like A Girl this year, and these girls are so much better than I will ever be on the drums. They are so, so good.
“And they can do Travis Barker and they can do whatever, and I was just blown away. I think my only tip is not feeling threatened by the people around you who assume you’re gonna suck. ’Cos I still have that, like we turn up to shows and people think, ‘She must be a wife, she must be a girlfriend,’ obviously I’m not going to be part of the band. It’s just like this is a man’s world and they don’t expect you to get up there and rock on the drums, so you know what? Don’t be threatened by the people that are looking down on you and assuming you’ll be terrible, go and show them what you’ve got and have a great time doing it. I’ve learned so much from stop panicking about what people are thinking and just be yourself and be true to how you want to play and have a great time, and people will feel inspired and enjoy listening to you a lot more.”
“I actually started playing drums because my older brother did and I grew up always wanting to impress my big brothers so I got really good at soccer, I was really good at sports in general and I thought what would be cool is if I learned the drums, ’cos then they’ll think I’m awesome, right?
“So it’s more to impress my older brothers. When I auditioned for Skillet they asked me to play Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and the lead singer [John Cooper] was like, ‘The harder you hit and the more passionate you are, and the more you’re like Dave Grohl the more I will like you. He’d already told me I had less than a five percent chance of getting the gig and his wife [Corey Cooper, guitar] wanted to audition me and she made it happen. And I really took that to heart and I love the way Dave Grohl plays because he’s flashy but he can groove and he’s so passionate that it feels awesome. And I love it when people are really passionate and they’re true to who they are and they just feel what they’re doing. And it changed everything for me, I never hit that hard until that audition. It changed my whole style. From being in Skillet I’ve discovered a whole new side to my playing and it really freed me up from a lot of those things.
“Before Skillet I was really scared, like I’m terrible! I got nervous playing at church in front of 200 people, and then my first show with Skillet was in an arena, maybe it was 5-10,000 people, first show, and it was, well… new season – play like Dave Grohl! Feel it. And from then on I’ve really changed the way I play, and that’s when I sort of threw up, ‘Don’t do things you can’t do, do what you enjoy doing, and really enjoy it too.’ And I attribute that to Dave Grohl because he inspired me and kind of opened my eyes to that whole new way of playing.
“I also had to play [Rush's] 'Tom Sawyer' [for the audition], and that did not inspire me. I was like this is so, so hard. I was the only drummer [John] made [play it], I think it’s ’cos, she’s a girl, she’s not going to be any good so he gave me the challenge of trying to play ‘Tom Sawyer’. I made my way almost the whole way through it and I botched up the end. But it won him over pretty good. It was like, ‘I can do it. I just really don’t want to!’”