By: Anna Escher
Candace Hansen is the person in the room who everyone wants to hang out with. She wears skinny jeans and square sunglasses above a silver Monroe piercing. The Garden Grove native has the restless, forward-driving presence of the punk rock drummer that she is, and the agenda of someone who wants to change the world.
"You play drums like a man," Hansen was once told after playing a gig. Ironically, since the beginning of 2013, she's taught that same confident musicality to girls and women at Rock Camp for Girls OC.
"For girls and women, it's really empowering to actually produce sound on an instrument," Hansen says. "You'll see that typically men are more comfortable making noise and drawing attention to themselves."
Hansen believes that the drums especially are a way to understand and overcome your fears and that percussion gives people a nonverbal voice through the instrument. Even in this day and age, women aren't always socially encouraged to have a voice. It's people like Hansen and those who work with Rock Camp for Girls who fight against those ideas. Rock Camp for Girls is a Portland-based feminist organization in which volunteers teach the basics of rock music to girls and women. Ladies Rock Camp (for women) can be a weekend-long intensive experience, and Rock Camp for Girls is a two-week long camp that is held during the summer.
On a relentlessly hot Sunday morning inside El Centro Cultural in downtown Santa Ana, Ladies Rock Camp is in session. Hansen jumps into the air with her tattooed arms above her head and karate kicks a red punching bag, nearly knocking it to the floor in this community-center-turned-studio. In addition to rock music, self-defense is also taught at Rock Camp.
About 45 women–20 volunteers and 25 campers–attend the all-female Rock Camp, which will be held again in the spring and fall of 2014. On a sparkling gold seven-piece drum set, a camper with turquoise hair plays a basic 2-4 hi-hat, snare, bass drum beat. Her fingernails, covered with chipped blue nail polish, clutch Zildjian drum sticks. Women passing in and out are careful not to trip over amplifiers and extension cords that snake across the wooden floor. Five other women and an instructor congregate in a separate room for the drum students who run through beats and take turns improvising. They talk drum fills, volume level and learn the "one and a two and a" jazz cymbal rhythm. Ankle high boots stomp on bass drum pedals and sticks fearlessly clang against reverberating crash symbols.
"Its like they're jumping into cold water," Hansen says of the women who start out afraid to hit the drum. She perches on a black amplifier in a practice room. Her arms are colored with tattoos, most notably a blue skull in front of a rose, a red drum on her left tricep and a pirate flag with crossed swords on her left forearm. "But its really about knowing that its okay to express yourself and be organically who you are and unashamed of it. To have a release and to have fun, and to connect with people. Women need that. Girls need that. Everybody needs that."
Hansen grew up in Garden Grove, California. She got into drums at a young age. She played in the school band, but it wasn't until she was 15 that the passion started to take hold in her life. She bought a drum set for $50 off a guy from school. From there, it was persistence that propelled her forward.
"I made a drum set out of boxes when I was a little kid. Not even little, I was like 13. What a nerd, right?" Hansen recalls. "I would tape myself playing the boxes trying to be legit." Her first love was punk. She learned to play '90s punk records and was in a ska-punk band for awhile. She then went on to expand to learn about jazz and the blues and shuffle. "I always am trying to stay tasteful and compliment the other musicians," she explains.
See also: Ask Exene: How Girls Rock Camp Changed My Life
When Hansen is not slugging punching bags at Rock Camp and teaching girls and women how to play drums as a private instructor, her feathered brown head of hair is in the books. She's majoring in history and minoring in gender studies at UCLA. She manages social media for Istanbul Agop Cymbals, which is based in the Republic of Turkey. She is a writer for Tom Tom Magazine, a community organizer and, of course, a drummer.
When it comes to drums, people tend to think of it as a male-dominated instrument–focused on biceps, forearms, strong hands. Masculine energy and an untamable, unabashed confidence. Still, people are shocked, and often skeptical, to see women behind the kit.
"The worst is when you're moving gear in and somebody will ask you, 'Hey where's the drummer?' or, 'Is your boyfriend here?' I've gotten that, and 'You're so good for a girl.'" Perhaps it's fitting that Hansen is showing her skills as a drummer, regardless of her gender, by playing with a trail blazing punk heroine who likes Handen's style, regardless of her gender.
Recently, Hansen recorded a Nina Simone cover "Sinnerman" in Joshua Tree with Exene Cervenka (a huge Rock Camp supporter), where vintage trailers are fixed up into recording studios. It has been released by Muddy Roots Records as a 7-inch record. Hansen describes it as a rootsy, organic, sound as if it was recorded at the end of a dirt road. She has mainly been playing sporadic gigs with punk bands and underground hip-hop artists and hopes for more stability in the future. "Working with Exene is amazing. She is such a force on the stage and in the studio. She is receptive and encouraging, and always thinking outside the box," Hansen says.
As for the future of Rock Camp for Girls OC, Candace envisions a year round program with a paid staff of women and girls and a permanent building. "I see a program that continues and becomes part of the culture of this community. Girls who were once campers coming back and volunteering, and women who were campers teaching their nieces, daughters, and friends how to play an instrument. We want to create more opportunities for young girls to become leaders in their communities through putting together classes, shows, or playing shows, and also by teaching what they have learned at camp. As the years go by and our program grows these things will happen."
For Hansen, drumming is more than just mastering the instrument, but using her skills to help the OC community. "I want to stay true to myself. And that means serving the community, meeting my own needs, and playing drums. As long as I'm able to throw out a big net and get all those things from the universe, I'm happy."
Recently, Hansen started an Indiegogo campaign to scrape together extra money for the camp with the goal of raising $1,000 for extra supplies. Today is last day of the campaign. See the video below.
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