#WCW: Drummer, Teacher, And Maker Liz Aponte Takes Matters Into Her Own Hands

Liz Aponte is a drummer, teacher, and a drum builder. After trying pretty much every other instrument, Aponte settled on drums at the ripe age of 13. Since then, she’s played in garages, churches, on Warped Tour, and all across the country. She specializes in rock, gospel, punk, metal, and acoustic. She makes custom drums through her company, Respira Collective.

Women are underrepresented in the percussion world. Our weekly series, Woman Crush Wednesday (#WCW), aims to recognize, celebrate, and inspire female percussionists of all stripes. Each Wednesday we’ll feature a profile of a drummer, who will share tips, advice, and videos. Want to be featured yourself? Send an email to anna.pulley@stringletter.com telling us more about you.

What is your city, country, and age?

I currently live in Salt Lake City, Utah, and am 31 years old. I originally grew up in Moorpark, California and I’ve also lived in Nashville, Tennessee.

What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?

I own a custom drum company called Respira Collective, so I make my own drums! My main kit is a Respira clear acrylic kit (9” x 12”, 14” x 16”, 20” x 22”) with a 7” x 14” ten ply maple snare. The snare is actually the first drum I ever made so it’s pretty special to me! I love the extra depth that 7″ brings.

I use all Meinl Cymbals, currently 14″ Byzance Dark Hats, 20″ Byzance Sand Ride, an 18″ Extra Dry China, and a 20″ Byzance Jazz Medium Thin Ride that I use as a crash. The Jazz Ride is my absolute favorite cymbal ever. I used to work at Meinl Cymbals and will forever play Meinl! Amazing products and even more amazing people.

All DW Hardware, including my 5000 Series Lefty Double Bass pedal (I play lefty).

What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?

I currently play in a rock band based here in Salt Lake City called Swans of Never. If you like Saves The Day, The Get Up Kids, or Jimmy Eat World, you’ll probably dig us.

I also play drums at my church, Ekklesia Salt Lake City.

What led you to your instrument? What’s your origin story?

After trying out guitar, bass, piano, and even trombone, I finally landed on drums by accident. Growing up in Southern California, I was always going to shows and grew up in the punk rock / DIY world. By age 15, I had played venues like The Whiskey, The Roxy, and The Knitting Factory in Hollywood. I was completely obsessed with drums. I also loved business and I started making drums out of the desire to have rad drums, but not pay thousands of dollars for them. Drums, business, and giving back are my passions in life.

A lot of my origin story comes from my parents. Outside of the obvious, they worked hard their entire lives and came from nothing to give me something. They always instilled a hard work ethic in me and wouldn’t let me get away with stuff or give up on stuff. I hated it when I was younger, but I’m so grateful for it now. They really taught me that if you want it, put your time where your mouth is and work hard for it. They also taught me to take care of other people and to not see people for what they can do for you, but to treat people as people. I can’t thank them enough for their love and support, even when I didn’t see it at the time as love and support.

Who is your favorite drummer and why?

Ben Sesar (the drummer for Brad Paisley) is one of my favorite drummers. I’ve had the chance to take a few drum lessons from him and talk shop and I love the way he approaches the kit and playing.

While I’m pretty intentional and planned out in my live playing, he goes into live shows with creative freedom and each show he plays is different. That scares the crap out of me, but at the same time, I want that freedom. He also has some weird cymbal choices, which I love. I stole the idea of using the Jazz Medium Thin Ride as a crash from him, as well as using an MB10 20″ Crash as a ride (on my secondary kit) from him.

How do you practice? Do you have a routine?

I try to approach practice with a similar structure in how I teach my students, by breaking things up into three different categories:

1. Warm-up: Jamming along to songs, getting warmed up with something familiar, and having fun

2. Something new: I’ll choose one thing to learn or improve upon, whether it’s learning a fill from a song, applying a rudiment to the kit (my current fave is the nine-stroke roll), or working on hand/foot speed and control, etc.

3. Application: I’ll then take what I just worked on and apply it to a song I was warming up on or pick a completely random song to try to adapt it to. And in typical drummer A.D.D. fashion, sometimes I’ll throw this out of the window and play whatever I feel like at the time if it’s not working for me that day. I think it’s important to give yourself grace and flexibility so you don’t feel stuck in a routine or too restricted. It’s good to have a sandbox, but make it a big sandbox.

Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum readers?

The biggest thing I’ve learned is to just remember to have fun. I know that sounds obvious and silly, but I’ve really struggled in the past with a lot of self-doubt because I was just taking things too seriously, or never feeling like I would ever be good enough. I think about where I would be now if I just kept practicing and didn’t pay attention to those voices. That’s neither here nor there, but I’m glad I’ve finally broken through those strongholds. Just. Have. Fun. And push through when it’s tough.

Also, connecting with people is so important. Reach out to other drummers and tell them something you like about their playing. Don’t do the music and drum journey alone — be inspired by other people.

What’s something you believe about drumming or music that other people think is crazy?

Always help others and be kind — whether it’s giving someone a free drum lesson or giving someone else a gig because you know they’d be a better fit than you, or helping a competitive business, or walking away when someone tries to bring you down. Give without expectation, because when you help others, you really help yourself. We live in a selfish world with corporate ladders and people looking out for their own and living in silos. When you start to bridge gaps and listen and help others, people unify and beautiful things happen.

As artists, the goal post for “success” is always moving. There’s not one “I made it!” point. How do you think about and define success?

Success is whatever you want it to be — it’s completely relative. For me, I’ve always had a goal of making music my full time gig. At first, I always thought that there was only one path: Playing in a band and touring full time. We live in an insanely exciting world where things are so accessible. Now I’ve made music my full-time thing by doing a ton of different things — playing drums and owning my own businesses. Wearing a lot of hats and always working on something fits my personality, so for me it works.

I think one important part of success is that it’s never quenched. I’m always hungry for more.

It’s important to give yourself grace and flexibility so you don’t feel stuck in a routine or too restricted. It’s good to have a sandbox, but make it a big sandbox.
Do you have any quotes or sayings that you live by?

I can’t say that I have certain sayings that I live by, but I’m constantly being inspired by people around me. People’s actions and the way they carry themselves seem to resonate more with me than words.

When you sit down to make music and are starting with a blank canvas, what’s your process like?

For me, it starts mentally. I can really get into my own head when the canvas is blank and be stricken by all the possibilities, that it keeps me from moving one step forward. I usually try to clear my mind of all expectations and try to think about first thoughts after hearing a certain riff, or just think about the basics, or even what I’ve been inspired by or listening to lately. Then it tends to naturally flow from there.

If I hit a road block, get discouraged, or am just not feeling it, I usually go for a walk or do something else to clear my head, then get back to it.

How important is failure in making music/performing?

It’s insanely important — because you’re either going to use failure as motivation to push yourself, or you’re going to let it get the best of you and mess with your potential. As much as I’d like to say I always use failure as motivation, that would be a false statement. There’ve been plenty of times it has definitely gotten the best of me and made me question everything.

But when I think about why I started playing and what motivates me to play, it helps turn that failure into something that fuels creativity and drive.

Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?

Yes — DO IT! Don’t contemplate, just pick up your sticks and start playing. The world — not just the female drumming community — needs you. Yes, the entire world.

My life would be completely different had it not been for drums. I wouldn’t be married to the man I am married to, I would have different friends, and my life would not be as enjoyable and purposeful had I listened to the constant doubt and fear early on. Do it!

If you had to put together a school or resources for would-be drummers, what would the training include?

It would include a lot of street smarts; real life experiences on failure, to be honest. A lot of stories of people doubting themselves, then figuring out how to break through that. Then it would include the practical stuff — rudiments, fills, songs, etc. But for me, I find so much value in other peoples stories and how they’ve overcome stuff that once I hear that, the creativity just tends to flow. I try to channel that.

Where else to find Liz

FB/TW/IG: @lizapontedrums

I also co-own a musical products company called Offer Music. Some of our flagship products are bottle openers and jewelry made out of broken drum cymbals. We also love working with artists — if anyone would like to work with us, please contact me.