Mother Drummer: Paige Powell Is Learning to Love "Lady Music"

Paige Powell and daughter CadenceEXPAND
Paige Powell and daughter Cadence
Photos courtesy of Paige Powell

Adam P. Newton recently became a father for the first time, so he has decided to explain the entirety of post-WWII Western pop music to his new daughter, "FIg" genre at a time. From time to time, he also chats with child-rearing Houston musicians.

Good morning, Fig! Ready to chat with another friend of mine about music and parenting? I thought so. With any luck, your mom and I will take these talks to heart as you continue to grow.

Back in the day, I used to be in a band called Prairie Cadets. That’s right — there’s a reason I clutter up the closet in the spare bedroom with a creaky drum set and guitar pedals. One of the folks who played drums in the band was a talented woman named Paige Powell. She’s a badass who currently plays with Fussing & Fighting and The Bad Drugs while also helping the folks at Girls Rock Camp Houston do such great work. And like everyone else we’ve talked to so far, she’s a parent trying to raise her kid to love music. Let’s see what she has to say.

Houston Press: What was the role of music and music-making around your house when you were a kid? Was it fostered purposefully or subliminally by your family?
Paige Powell:
I got started with music in kindergarten with our church choir. My father had played in the band when he was in school, and although he no longer owned any instruments, he would readily make up goofy songs about our day-to-day activities. Singing was easy and fun for me, and I joined the school choir as soon as I was old enough. My mother, who was more of an athlete, encouraged my participation in the arts and enrolled me in piano lessons beginning in third grade.

When did you know you wanted to play music in some capacity? Was there a standout, light-bulb-over-the-head moment, or was it a slow realization?
In fifth grade when we were deciding on which electives to take the following year in junior high, I learned there was a waiver available for marching band participants to get out of high-school PE. As an asthmatic, proud nerd, and emphatic non-runner, I had found my calling. I already enjoyed playing music, but this revelation really sealed the deal for me.

When did you get started playing in bands? How did performing music impact being a fan of music?
I joined the school band in sixth grade, played symphonic percussion for the next seven years, marched bass drum all through high school, and even did a couple of years of drum and bugle corps. I got my first drum set at the age of 22, when a couple of my buddies' buddies heard I was a drummer and invited me to come jam.

Though I had been performing in some capacity for most of my life, there was always someone telling me what to do or how to play. This newfound freedom was exciting and pretty overwhelming, so I started going to a lot of local concerts in order to critically listen to and observe more experienced musicians. Even to this day, I approach every show I attend as a learning opportunity.

How does being a musician inform who you are as a parent? Or is it parenthood that impacts your life as a musician?
Being a parent definitely affects my life as a musician. It's hard enough breaking into the music scene as a female, but it's even more difficult when you're a single mom who has to schedule practice and performances around bedtimes, school events, and your babysitter's schedule. It's taken a long time, but I'm so happy to have found bandmates who are understanding of the demands on my time. As to how being a musician has affected my parenting, I would say I am extremely tolerant of alternative lifestyles and radical approaches to parenting. I'm not sure it's possible to grow up as a creative type and not turn out liberal to some degree.

Do you introduce your daughter to music intentionally, or is there not a "talk" and you just keep music omnipresent in your home?
We always listen to music in the car and usually watch one or two musicals a week, so there's certainly no shortage of songs in our life. I prefer to listen to older music, most anything that comes out of KPFT, and albums from local bands. My girl only likes "lady music,” as she calls it — meaning female-fronted bands. I've never been into pop music before, but my baby digs it, and I figure anything to help her fall in love with music, I will encourage.

It's difficult trying not to impose your beliefs on your children, especially over something that you feel so strongly about. I give her plenty of exposure to the music I like, but I feel it's super-important to allow her to have autonomy and make her own decisions about the things that define her.

How do you convey your love of music and being a musician to your kid? And if you see this changing or evolving as she grows, what does that look like to you?
She knows I play gigs pretty regularly, and we play music together at home. We sing together on the daily, and she's actually a pretty smart little songwriter. We've got a few fantastic ukulele/d'jembe duets we like to perform for family, and I can only imagine the scope of that growing as she does.

What do you hope your daughter comes to love most about music?
Right now, she seems to only really enjoy upbeat, "happy" music. Music is excellent at helping us to understand and convey a wide range of emotions, and I look forward to the moment when she realizes that, too. It's such a beautiful, productive outlet for expression, even (especially?) when you're sad or angry. She's already a very emotive person, and I hope that she'll be able to use this tool available to her when she needs it.

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Do you see any signs of her wanting to be a musician? Do you want her to be a musician?
People ask when I'm going to start her with music lessons, but because it's so present in our daily lives, I don't have a strong drive to push her towards that. She showed an interest in dancing, so we did a season of ballet and tap last year. After a few weeks at MECA Summer Arts Camp, she's been talking about piano lessons. I'll be happy to entertain all of her whims in the arts, because they were, and still are, such a formative influence on my life.

What advice do you have for musicians as a parent and for parents as a musician?
Don't ever quit something you love as a sacrifice for your child. I sold my drums when I was pregnant because I thought moms couldn't be drummers, and it was undoubtedly the most miserable two years of my life. Do what makes you happy! Your children will see that and grow to embody it. 

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