In 2003, Jessica Hopper penned a piece for Punk Planet called “Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t.” It focused on the burgeoning genre of rock that was drawing youth to live shows; a genre of music that was becoming about a new look and a lifestyle, at least more so than it had in recent years. Emo and hardcore music was evolving as its own scene, and even though there were thousands of bands partaking in the sound, there were still so few women participating. Why? Hopper said it was because the music had become all about faceless, nameless women who were heartbreakers, bitches and all around unworthy of the men singing the songs.
Where would a girl find herself in that?
“It truly did not occur to me to start a band,” Hopper writes, “until I saw other women playing music.” She cited the riot grrl movement and bands like Babes in Toyland and Bikini Kill as inspiring her to pick up a bass guitar. And now that riot grrl is unfortunately a thing of the past, it’s time for females to take part in this otherwise male-dominated subgenre of emo and hardcore music.
Enter Sandra Alva.
The 22-year-old drummer from Los Angeles has almost 20,000 followers on Twitter. She has fans intent on reaching her, sending her photos of them in her T-shirts, having her sign their CD covers. She also happens to be a lesbian.
Alva first became well-known as the drummer of Black Veil Brides, a metal group that performs donned in black paint. After leaving the band last fall, she joined up with Modern Day Escape, an otherwise all-male screamo group. But situated behind her drum set behind four guys, Sandra still steals the show.
“When i was about 10 years old, my cousins joined this band,” Sandra told AfterEllen.com. “They practiced at my cousins house and I would always sit and watch. I thought it was so cool how they were able to make their own music, so I decided I wanted to be a musician too. I tried the guitar, the bass, but wasn’t feeling it. Then I sat behind the drums, and I easily started playing beats.” She said it was a hidden talent, and she kept up with her newfound love of drumming.
Sandra says she left Black Veil Brides because they were a little “too metal” for her. She joined Modern Day Escape when the Brides toured with them on Hot Topic’s Sacred Ceremony Tour.
“Modern Day Escape is exactly the style that fits me and the guys are just so awesome,” she said. “I’m so excited and happy to be part of their family now and we have big things coming for 2011.”
Modern Day Escape just finished a tour with Taproot, which is where I met her in Davenport, Iowa. I was at the show coincidentally, and was not expecting to meet another woman, much less another lesbian, at the venue. My partner’s brother was in the opening band, and when I spotted Sandra behind the drum set, I was glued to her badass abilities — so much that I missed the part where the singer announced that not only did she have boobs, but she liked them, too.
Sandra is totally out as a lesbian, and said she’s never felt like she had to hide that in the hardcore music scene.
“When I started to grow as a musician, my band would be very supportive of who I am. Actually, in my old band Black Veil Brides we wore black make up all over our bodies, it was our stage make-up and we each had our own style of doing it, I actually would put two equal signs on my hands and an equal sign on the side of my face. Everyone knows I’m a lesbian and no one really cares. I’ve never dealt with homophobia or sexism.”
But Sandra remains an anomaly in the scene, as a woman, much less a gay woman. “I have actually not met any other lesbians or even girl drummers at that,” she said. “I would really like to though!”
Sandra is not the only female (or lesbian) drummer in the world, of course, so what draws so many fans to her? Besides the fact that she’s active on her social networking accounts and makes sure to appease fans after she’s done on stage, Sandra says she thinks it’s because she is authentic, and people can see that when she’s playing.
“I play hard and rock out like any guy would. I don’t care what people think about me, or only because I’m five feet two inches tall I can’t play hard enough or good enough because I’m a small girl, I like to blow people away,” Sandra said. “I stand up for myself and my fans and show the world that anyone could rock out and not all musicians are guys. My fans actually call me a beast behind the drums!”
And there are some who are even more into her because she is accessible.
“I talk to them to help them with situations that I had to deal with at their age, especially about their sexuality. They can relate to me,” she said. “I try to give back to them as much as I can because without them, I wouldn’t be here.”
With Sandra’s influence, I can only anticipate there will be more female drummers and musicians of all kinds starting and joining up bands in their own garages or bedrooms. Once you see Sandra behind the kit at a Modern Day Escape show, you might be thinking of taking it up, yourself.