In today’s installment of our full-time artist series, we interview NYC-based percussionist, Lisa Pegher. Lisa’s unique approach in pursuing solo percussion work in the world of chamber music is enough to turn heads, but her work ethic is just as impressive. She’s earned sponsorships by some of the best percussion gear companies in the world, travels internationally with orchestras, and runs a few side projects that allow her to explore various percussion genres and styles.
In this interview, Lisa talks about her pursuit to make classical percussion music accessible and how discipline can be every musician’s best friend.
1. For readers who have never heard of you or listened to your music, can you give us a quick rundown of who Lisa Pegher is?
I began my career as a drummer and decided very early on that I wanted to become a soloist. It became immediately apparent to me when I was playing in a youth symphony and I saw and heard the soloists at the front playing all these amazing melodies. I wanted to find a way to do that with percussion. It’s strange in a way because in the jazz world drummers have always been looked upon as the core and center but in the classical world they are seen more as the icing on the cake and somewhat in the background.
So eventually, my goal began to be to find creative ways to bring percussion and drums to the front of the stage by creating music and shows that are centered around percussion and drums being the solo voice. I wanted to craft it in a way that is atypical of what people would normally expect when they think of drums and/or percussion. When you hear the music I play, it can be anything from performing as a soloist with an orchestra, chamber group, to hearing me play and sing behind the drums with my band. What you’ll find is that I’m always trying to do things with percussion that haven’t been done before and I that’s what continues to drive my creativity.
I don’t know that I ever “made the decision” to do it full time. For me it was always a “failure is not an option” attitude. The rest occurred somewhat naturally as a result of hard work, never taking no for an answer, and constantly setting goals for myself.
2. Over the years we‘ve spotlighted working artists who use music-making as their primary or sole source of income. Can you tell us how you decided to go this route? Was it an easy decision? Have you ever second-guessed your decision?
I grew up in a hard working family. My step dad ran his own business as a bricklayer and I think that unknowingly at the time that had a huge influence on me. I was learning how to be an entrepreneur and didn’t realize it. I’ve also always had a weird knack for marketing. I remember being like four years old and drawing up logos for my name to put on my bicycle. When it came to the business of music I was fortunate to be around other musicians in college who were always emphasizing the business part and how to make money from it. So, my upbringing, work ethic, and influences are what guided me on this path. I don’t know that I ever “made the decision” to do it full time. For me it was always a “failure is not an option” attitude. The rest occurred somewhat naturally as a result of hard work, never taking no for an answer, and constantly setting goals for myself.
As far as second guessing it, I think we all second guess the path of music and our creative endeavors – especially in the hard times, and we all have the hard times. It is, after all, against the typical norm of what is seen as “acceptable” in or society. We have passions for things that are beyond capital worth and gain. Staying true to yourself and closing your eyes and ears when the 9-5 life with benefits can look so much simpler and comfortable is always tough. I always told myself that if I couldn’t do what I loved within the music world that I would find something else to do that I love equally as much. But always will I refuse to become a victim of any general concept about there being only one acceptable way to do things in this life.
3. Here on Grassrootsy we spend alot of time spotlighting singer/songwriters and folk bands. But you exist more-so in the world of Chamber Music. What does pursuing music as a classical artist and solo percussionist look like from the business perspective.
To me, singer/songwriter and solo artist are pretty much the same thing but they just have different meanings across genres. I’ve actually built my career in the indie-classical chamber world by modeling myself after pop singer songwriters in a way. So much in fact that my latest project Controlled Chaos I sing and play drums over electronic bass lines and music I’ve written with my band. In the straight classical world, it’s still viewed as percussion being the solo voice, front and center. So again, it goes back to the same sort of model – just in a larger format and in somewhat of a more restricted environment when it comes to the type of music that is being performed. At the end of the day, “solo artist” and “singer/songwriter” are both still up front, but the backdrop and musical environment changes depending on the genre.
I was driven very early on to find a way to make what I do accessible to more than one type of audience. In a way, this somewhat molded my career…so I began to deal with it by creating shows and commissioning and writing music that could bridge the gap between the classical world environment and the popular world.
4. Often classically trained artists deal with the challenge of making their type of music accessible to the average ear. As a solo classical drummer is this something you struggle with? And how do you deal with it?
Yes, this is an ongoing dilemma in my life. Being that I grew up in a very “non-classical” environment (unless you count classic rock) I was driven very early on to find a way to make what I do accessible to more than one type of audience. In a way, this somewhat molded my career because I was always trying to find a way to make my non-musician parents like the music I was practicing and performing. So I began to deal with it by creating shows and commissioning and writing music that could bridge the gap between the classical world environment and the popular world. It’s a lifetime endeavor but one that I’m somewhat obsessed with tackling. The one thing I do have going for me in this arena is that I’ve found that everyone can relate to drums in one way or another. So, no matter how difficult the music is, people typically still find a way to connect with it.
5. It’s every artist’s dream to endorse and be Sponsored by their favorite gear company. You’ve got some pretty excellent sponsorships with Evans Drumheads, Marimba One, Black Swamp Percussion, and Matt Nolan Custom Cymbals. How did that happen and how have those endorsements helped your career along?
Endorsements are great. I’ve found that being part of the family of craftsmen that are making the instruments and gear I perform on helps bring everyone together. It’s a mutual respect and it’s great to get to know what goes into both the performance and the instrument making. The most helpful aspect to my career has been the support they provide when I’m traveling. They always get me the gear I need no matter where I end up in the world.
My earliest teacher emphasized the importance of being able to play all instruments and genres in the percussion world if you wanted to make a living at it and that idea always stuck with me.
6. In addition to performing solo, you also collaborate with other instrumentalist, perform alongside Symphonies, and have a side-project called Controlled Choas. What are the pros and cons of wearing many hats. Do you feel like your fan base gravitates toward one version of you more than another?
I think in my case it’s always been necessary to wear many different hats. As a multi-percussionist, it’s always been second nature to me to be doing multiple things at any given time. My earliest teacher emphasized the importance of being able to play all instruments and genres in the percussion world if you wanted to make a living at it and that idea always stuck with me. In the early stages I only wanted to be a soloist with orchestras and I focused all my energy on that for years. It wasn’t until later when I began finding my own creative voice that I started developing all the different projects that I’m involved in now. I like the idea of reinvention and try always to have a beginners mind. This way you can keep building on what you’ve done but you don’t get stuck in the idea of having to only be one version of your creative self.
Nobody’s going to get you to where you want to be any faster or better than you. There’s no silver bullet to success except the hard work you’re willing to put in at any given time.
7. Last but not least, what is the most significant lesson you have learned living as a singer/songwriter?
The most significant lesson? There are so many but I guess this one goes back to one of the golden rules. “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” What this has meant to me is don’t fall for the optical illusions in the industry. Nobody’s going to get you to where you want to be any faster or better than you. There’s no silver bullet to success except the hard work you’re willing to put in at any given time. This seems to always hold true.