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An Interview with Sheridan Riley

Photo by: Will Oliver

Sheridan Riley is a Seattle based drummer who is currently touring with the Canadian dream pop band ALVVAYS. Prior to ALVVAYS, Sheridan was a major contributor, drummer, and touring member for Avi Buffalo. We took a moment to ask her some questions about her life to get to know her a little better.

Hi Sheridan, please share your story with us and how you got started as a drummer. How did you get to where you are today?
My parents gave me a drum set for Christmas when I was 11 years old. It had been a lifetime of waiting! I can’t recall a specific moment in which I realized I wanted to play drums, I just remember always wanting to play desperately. My parents weren’t immediately enthused with the idea, so they encouraged me to play other instruments first, like recorder and cello. I really enjoyed these, but it never distracted me from my desire.
I played along to the radio a lot, my dad is a guitarist and he would play with me on the weekends. In middle school I joined the jazz band and played in the symphonic winds band. One of the other drummers in the jazz band was James Wackerman, son of none other than Chad Wackerman, Zappa’s longest running drummer and session extraordinaire. Chad accompanied James daily to jazz band because James has a condition called Fragile X.

Photo by: Will Oliver

It was really inspiring being in middle and high school jazz band with James, his musicality was undeniable, and he faced odd time challenges with ease! Chad was really helpful, he gave clinics from time to time and was always encouraging.
In high school I started playing with Avi Zahner-Isenberg. We had played together during lunchtime in middle school but now that we were a little older and both in jazz band and combo together we had more to work with and experiment with. He’s a really gifted songwriter and guitarist, and playing in his band throughout high school and into early adulthood provided so much learning and growth. When I was a senior, his band Avi Buffalo was signed to Sub Pop records.

Photo by: Ilysia Van Deren

Most of my last year of high school was spent in a van, I filled out a lot of math and english packets. I recorded on the two Avi Buffalo albums and toured off and on with the band between 2010 and 2014. When I wasn’t working with Avi I was playing a lot around Long Beach and Los Angeles, anything from community college jazz combo, a psych folk garage band, quiet singer/songwriter material, experimental improv, I really tried to immerse myself in everything. In the process I met a lot of amazing teachers and friends.

How did you start touring with ALVVAYS?
I was playing with Chris Cohen, I loved it! I was so ecstatic when I got the call to play in his band because I had been a fan for a number of years of his solo music as well as his contributions to Deerhoof. He plays all the instruments on his records, his drumming feel is so unique and musical. We were opening for Andy Shauf in Toronto and Al, Molly and Kerri from Alvvays were in the audience.
Afterwards, they reached out about needing a drummer. I was really shocked and also quite honored! About six months later I played an audition gig with them in Boise. It’s been really fun and a good challenge. I’ve had to really zero in on my rock pocket, being conscientious of the volume level of each limb and how that effects the feel of the part. I have to push the beat more than I’m used to and that’s been really eye opening and exciting. Learning Chris Dadge’s drum parts from both of their records was really educational. It’s been a lovely adventure.

Overall, how has the journey been? Has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I feel like I’ve been really lucky. But I also have worked 80 hours a week/ 7 days a week for months on end. I have a creative existential crisis about once a month! Making music can be so esoteric and frankly in this day in age it can be really hard to distinguish the value of your hard work. It takes effort not just to get a good gig but to stay present.
Photo by: Will Oliver

It can be a really fun challenge to balance growth in all the areas you want all the while maintaining some sense of stability. Outlook seems to be a lot of it. Keeping in touch with what inspired you in the first place, and staying open to all the lessons out there is so important.

What are you most excited about this upcoming year?
I’m excited to keep practicing. When touring winds down I plan to take Tabla lessons. In my spare time i’ve been learning more about sound synthesis and brushing up on my theory. I’m excited to devote more time to that. I’m excited to play with friends, new and old.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to a musician that is planning to pursue a career in percussion?
Practice a lot. Play along to your favorite recordings, find out who your favorite musicians were inspired by. Be compassionate to yourself and your colleagues.
Photo by: Devin O’Brien


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