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  • Writer's pictureCJ

Jess LeForte: Not Just "Good for a Girl"

Updated: Mar 28

Female drummers are as rare as they come in the music scene, second perhaps only to a professional thereminist.

A University of Victoria alumni and Surrey, BC native, Jess LeForte has a plethora of experience, with genres from her roots in rock music, to country, jazz, and most recently, shoegaze.

But playing as a female drummer is no joke. There’s been many times some bro has felt it’s his duty to give her some “friendly advice” before a set, which she thankfully ignores and proceeds to play with her distinct style and technique, a combination of her music degree, her rock and roll influences, and the jazz haunts she would frequent. 

I caught up with Jess to get a glimpse into her story, jazz influences, and how she keeps up with such a busy schedule. 

So why drums?

“I started drumming because I had been in piano classes since I was 5 but had always been more interested in tapping on the different parts of my upright piano to see what beats I could make. I joined a community concert band when I was in grade 6, my mom told me to pick the flute so it was easy to carry and quiet. I instead chose the drums and my back has hated me ever since.”

So you then decided to pursue music after highschool at Douglas College and then UVic, what were your influences outside of the more traditional class setting?

“I used to spend my Thursday nights when I went to UVIC at Hermann's jazz club with my buddy Pang” (Aaron Pang is a successful jazz pianist in the lower mainland of BC) “and prior to that, just about every weekend (and many week nights) at the Railway Club in Vancouver, going to see bands and participating in the afternoon blues jam. Those were just as important to my musical education as college and university.”

It’s no secret that sexism is too common in the music industry, what has your experience been?

“Outside of academia, my first band was a blues band that used to play open jams at the Yale, and where I would get annoying old blues guys come up and tell me I was good for a girl, or my dad told me once he could hear dudes in the crowd saying lewd things about me. Being a female drummer has always been fighting to get taken as seriously as a man, the shit other musicians have said to me they would never say to a man, they think they can mansplain my instrument to me after I play in the guise of being "helpful", when they would never do that to another dude.”

Having been in many projects over the years, Jess has an impressive resume, spanning many genres, and even having played for the Vancouver Canucks games.

“I've also played in a folk band, R&B band, rock bands, and my longest project was in an original country band, where I was one of the main songwriters.”

Jess’s current project is the drummer in the band “Soft Lady”, a self described shoegaze, dream pop, and noise quintet. I recently had the chance to catch them at The Biltmore Cabaret, where she and fellow band members (Vocals/Keys: Jennifer Bennett, Vocals/Guitar Jordaniel Bennett, Guitar: Dij Mannar, and Bass: David J. Hawks Gurtina) put on a hypnotic and exhilarating show, highlighting their elevated musicianship and complex writing that is too rare on the mainstage these days.

I had a chance to catch up with Jess the day before the show where she shared just how jam packed her schedule is these days and how balances her personal life with the demanding life as a musician.

“Well, we had practice both Tuesday and Wednesday night this week. I prepared by buying a pack of wet wipes because I had hockey practice” (as any good Canadian should) “immediately before band practice with no time to shower in between, so I didn’t want to get kicked out of the band for coming to band practice smelling like a sweaty unwashed hockey player”.

“As for how I prep songs, I'm a drummer who is most comfortable using sheet music, so for original rock music, which very much is not known for sheet music, I prep by printing out lyrics and then I listen, counting out bar numbers, making little notation marks for what I want in certain sections, adding dynamic markings. It's very methodical and very un-rock 'n' roll of me.”

Those who have played with Jess know that she favors a more laid back style of playing. “Charlie Watts didn’t feel the need to do too many solo’s, and neither do I”. Instead she focuses on solid technique and how she can best support the music. This doesn’t mean her skills are lacking, I have heard her nail Jesus of Suburbia so well that I'm sure Tre Cool (Green Day) would be impressed.

Not just a drummer, LeForte is also a guitarist, songwriter and teacher. In her previous project, Whiskey Karma, she was one of the main songwriters. By day she is an elementary school teacher, where she highlights great modern musicians along the more traditional topics. In her classroom you’ll find the typical classroom posters next to The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, and H.E.R.

You can find LeForte’s most recent project “Soft Lady” and their debut album HERE and follow them on instagram (@thesoftestlady) to keep up with their future shows.

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