College is easily known as some of the most formative years in our lives. Some know exactly what they want to do; others figure it out along the way; and, for others, we look to graduates ahead of us to see where they ended up and how they got to where they are today.
For drummer and co-vocalist Maya Tuttle, she found her earlier roots here in UC Irvine before forming the local indie rock band The Colourist, right here in Orange County back in 2009.
As a young girl, Tuttle was inspired by the image of the late Karen Carpenter, who sang and played drums simultaneously in The Carpenters. Tuttle has since then felt inspired to keep drumming a part of her life ever since she picked it up at 12 or 13.
Although the notion of the female drummer can be seen as a “novelty” within the highly male-dominated music industry, Tuttle doesn’t seem to feel particularly enamored by the idea.
It “kind of bothers me,” she says, “if I get some attention for drumming and then people will say, oh it’s just because she’s a female! It totally discredits that I’ve fought [for] what I’m doing. That I’m an artist.”
In a nostalgic trip back to her alma mater, Tuttle reflected to me on her times as an anteater and encouraged us all to “take advantage of this time here.”
Rachel Ann Cauilan: So what kind of person would you say you were in college? Were you involved in a lot of things?
Maya Tuttle: I wasn’t super involved in a ton of things, but one thing I found–I went to Cal State Long Beach for a year which is an awesome school and I had a great time there but–I didn’t find my people. Whatever circles I fell into I wasn’t really connected. So I got here and we’re all transfer students and it just seemed like we’re all on the same wavelength like, not too much of a party crew… I got here, I did the pep band for a semester, which was really fun, and I did a little thing at KUCI for a quarter. I didn’t do too much else outside of that, besides just being really engaged with my [English] classes and meeting people here.
RC: So how did you get started on making music your thing? Were you actively pursuing music when you were in college?
MT: Actually, college might’ve been a little break from music, because it’s really hard as a drummer to find any place to practice. That was actually a lot of the motivation for me to join the pep band… I took college time to just focus on myself, and I really grew a lot in that way. After college, I got a job working for a local production house/curriculum maker now called Road Trip Nation that had a show on PBS. Even in that time, I never was brave enough to drop everything and pursue music. I really am a backup plan type of person because I don’t feel safe enough if I can’t pay my rent, and I don’t have my family here to sleep on their couch. But, you do have 24 hours in a day, and when you’re in your 20s and you’re going for it, you can work a nine-to-five job and then after work you have another eight hours to do whatever you want. So that’s when the band would come into play and we would practice four or five times a week and we were writing all the time. Eventually, we got lucky enough and we were offered a record deal.
RC: How is it being a female drummer? Does that term bother you at all, or?
MT: It doesn’t bother me, but it’s tough because we kind of are socialized to see that as a really unusual thing. Numbers wise it is, so it totally makes sense. But it only bothers me if people are like, ‘You’re awesome for a female drummer!’ I think it can be a really double-edged sword sometimes.
I started drumming because I saw a woman drumming, Karen Carpenter, and I’ve never seen an image of a woman drumming and it just excited me so much. When you see someone that looks like you doing something you’re interested in, there’s a different level of inspiration that happens.
RC: I can totally relate to that. I play guitar myself and I feel like it’s so rare to come across female musicians, so when you see someone doing it, it inspires us–like, we can do it. There needs to be more visibility about it.
MT: Oh good! I think visibility’s important, for sure. This is what someone said to me once–it was an older man, he didn’t mean anything by it that he was aware of. It was something like, ‘It’s a good thing you’re doing the female drummer thing, because they tried the female bassist thing in the 80’s and it didn’t work.’
RC: Oh my God!
MT: [Laughs] And I was like, there’s so much context to what you’re saying that’s so awful, as if this is a novelty attempt and I was just placed here. That type of stuff bothers me, but anything else is just more flattering. I just take it as it goes. Haha.
RC: How old were you when you started playing drums?
MT: I was around 12, I think. I saw a VH1 Behind-the-Music of [Karen Carpenter], and I’ve just never seen that before. She’s just got this subtly to her touch, and all these ghost notes, and she sang and drummed impeccably. It’s incredible. And I do that for a living now.
RC: How do you do that?
MT: I don’t know how she did it too! If you listen to me try—because I don’t write while I’m drumming, the singing parts are written separately and I record them separately–so when I’m actually trying to sing and perform what we wrote, it takes a little bit. If you saw me in any of my practicing, I make sure no one can hear because I sound like I don’t know how to do anything… I really think it’s about just being patient with yourself. If you can be patient enough to suck for a while, you will get better. And I think that’s what people get frustrated really quickly.
RC: So do you have any fond tour memories on the road?
MT: Yeah. When we got signed [in 2009], our first sort of leg of tour was opening for a band called Metric, who I’ve always loved. So I was a little starstruck. It was like 2500 people, and we hadn’t even played for more than a couple hundred by that point.
We’ve been able to accumulate a number of experiences like that and I feel so lucky–like how lucky are we that we get to bare our souls and just be creative on stage, and there’s people that are taking it in and watching us? Now with social media, a lot of these people will connect with you in those ways and they’ll be super supportive of what you’re doing. I’m just so surprised by how supportive people are that we don’t even know.
RC: Are you a big fan of social media?
MT: Yeah, it’s always just fun. I guess sometimes it can be weird. I like aspects of it, and the aspects I don’t I just don’t engage in.
RC: Like what would those be?
MT: I guess some people treat social media in certain ways, like therapists? Which actually maybe I sometimes do too. But sometimes, I’ll see a post and I’ll be like, man I hope you have someone in your life you’re also telling this stuff to!
RC: Oh my gosh, that’s just the worst!
MT: [Laughs] Or, take this quiz and see which Golden Girl you are, which I actually have also done.
RC: I think we’ve all done that at one point!
MT: Haha yeah. But I think there’s a lot of value in it as well. Disseminating information and sharing interesting articles, sharing what we’re doing, creatively. It’s been such a huge, huge, huge asset. So, I like it. Post a selfie here and there. Oh! And my cat too.
RC: Oh what?
MT: Okay, I have an Instagram for my cat that is like twenty times more popular than the band.
RC: Wait, what is it? I have to look at this now…
MT: His name’s Richard Kitty. I just posted a really embarrassing picture of myself with Richard that a Colourist fan made.
RC: 127,000 followers?!
MT: I know, isn’t it crazy?! That’s probably the other reason I’m really excited about social media–like, a cat has really benefited from social media. Probably all the things that annoy people about social media, like cats and stuff, I’m totally into.
RC: Oh my gosh, that’s so funny! Hey that’s cool. You have your cat to be proud of.
MT: [Laughs] Yeah! To fall back on my cat if music doesn’t work out.
RC: So do you have any advice for people wanting go into music, from anything that you’ve learned?
MT: Yeah. A few things. I probably sound so pretentious because I don’t know a lot and I’m still constantly learning, so just take everything I say with a grain of salt. But I think if you’re really interested in being a musician, there’s this unhealthy focus on the fame aspect of it? And I think that’s not good and people can smell that in what you create. It’s also really tough to make money being a musician. Even ten years ago people were buying exponentially more records, and now it’s getting really hard and there will be a lot of pressure on you to make marketable, licensable music.
But also on the flip side, if you want to be an artist and express yourself, you have to hold onto that and remain true, even if there might be some sort of pressure to make licensable songs with happy themes and stuff like that. Maybe at the heart of it, I’m saying to really have an idea of who you are, because, there’s just something we’re probably all searching for, as a reason we want to get up on stage, we’re searching for some sort of approval or love or energy that we feel like we’re missing, and all those things go hand in hand with deep insecurities. Everything will be tested once you’re in front of a bunch of people. So, I would just say really know and really feel confident in who you are and do it because you love it and have something to say.
There’s a band called Fitz & the Tantrums and, Fitz is so wise–we toured with them for a few weeks–but, I listened to an interview he did on The Nerdist, I think, and he explained it so well. Touring is 23 hours of grind for one hour of glory. And you have no idea how true that is. It’s nothing like you dreamed about when you were at your desk in high school thinking about being a rockstar. It’s completely different. But then that one hour is everything you ever dreamed of. So, it’s weird. It’s surreal.
RC: Looking back on your college career, is there anything you would’ve liked to do differently?
MT: I graduated in four years and three of them were at UCI, [so] I kind of wished I took a little more time to really absorb everything in my classes… I think it’s such a rare time in your life where you’re in this atmosphere where you can explore different ideas and people and meet random people you’re walking by. I wish I was less shy about that. So just take advantage of this time here.
RC: However many weeks we have left here…
MT: Haha, yeah. The real world is much different.
Tuttle also mentioned that she was involved in a Battle of the Bands competition before graduating in 2006 with bands who had turned into local favorites Young the Giant and Milo Greene.
As another batch of graduates are to come in just one week, it’s interesting to see how UCI graduates always seem to come back to reflect on their younger years. Musicians, artists, writers and the makers of change in this world often come from small beginnings.
Upon leaving, Tuttle had asked me to take a silly photo for her with an anteater. We walked around campus and, as we searched around, Tuttle felt particularly nostalgic about the campus.
“It feels like just yesterday,” she said.
As Tuttle felt particularly lucky for the modest amount of success she has received, she noted to me, “I know people a hundred times more talented than me that haven’t gotten the shots that we’ve gotten. So I’m like, we’ve got something going on here. I’ve gotta make the most of it.”
A version of this article was featured in The New University.