If Grown Ass Lady were an actual woman, she’d probably be best friends with Merica Lee. This New York-based musician plays drums for the neo-blues duo Naked Heroes alongside her husband George, and she’s just released a line of jeans under the name (what else?) Merica Lee’s. And don’t even get us started on her cramazing hair. We wanted to know what makes this rad woman tick, so we asked her to spill her guts. Don’t be too concerned if you fall madly in love with her—it’s a pretty common reaction.
GAL: Tell me everything about you. Where did you grow up?
M: I grew up in Florida, the weirdest state in the country. We ended up here, because I love New York. I’ve been here for about 10 years.
GAL: When did you start playing drums?
M: It sounds weird, but when I was coming up, girls just didn’t play drums, really. The ’90s was like, a time with women and the bass. Everyone had a female bass player. But I didn’t see many lady drummers, so that wasn’t something I ever felt like I could do, until I got older. So when I was 22, my brother bought me a kit, because a friend was selling his. It’s a Mapex, and I still fucking play on it. I was in a bunch of shitty bands in college, because I didn’t know how to play yet. And when I moved to New York, I was like, “I’m gonna go for it and take lessons.” So when I was 28, 29, I started taking lessons.
GAL: Who’d you take lessons from?
M: I found him on Craigslist, and he’s the most zen, awesome guy. I got so lucky. His name is Yaki Levi, and he’s Israeli. He moved back to Jerusalem, but he and his wife were living here, and he taught drums from his little apartment in the East Village. There was a year or so that I couldn’t pay—because New York’s expensive and I got fired from jobs or whatever—and he gave me lessons for free. Such a cool guy.
GAL: What music did you first start playing along to?
M: Well, I started playing to Led Zeppelin.
GAL: That’s what I did too! And then I was like, “Oh, it turns out I’m not as good as John Bonham. That’s so weird.”
M: I think everybody in the world thinks that, when they first play along to John Bonham. But he had the best groove! When did you start playing drums?
GAL: I got a kit in college, and after I moved to the city, I took lessons for about a year in my neighborhood, and rented space by the hour in recording studios. But eventually I just sold my kit, because I never had time to play it. How long have you and George been playing together as the Naked Heroes?
M: Well, the band and us as a couple kind of all started at once. We’ve been together for 10 years, and we met at a bar in the city called Hi-Fi. We bonded over a music video—my friends were making fun of what they thought was a lame era of Rod Stewart, but I love late-’70s, early-’80s Rod Stewart. And George was sitting next to me at the bar, and we just started talking. We started jamming right away, and he’s awesome, and handsome, and hilarious, and shreds on the guitar, so of course. Everything just happened all at once.
GAL: So was that like, your fourth band?
M: You’d only call them “bands” very loosely. I could hardly play in college—I couldn’t keep anything steady. It’s good, though. That’s what I would recommend to people, to join bands. Because then you’re forced to practice, and you get better and learn. This is like, my first and only “real” band.
GAL: Who are your drumming idols?
M: It’s hard. I wish could say that I was really into the drummer from Vixen or something—a lady drummer. But that kind of stuff didn’t exist for me when I was younger… I actually love Meg White, even though people love to slag on her. She’s brave enough to play super simply, which sounds tough. I love all those fucking ’70s rock guys who created rock and roll as we know it. I’m not really into flashy players, like the guy from Rush. I mean, if I was going to say my musical idols, it’d be people who don’t even play the drums, like Poison Ivy [from the Cramps]. Just because of their spirit.
GAL: How’d you get into the denim-making game?
M: I’ve been working on this pair of jeans for about three years. I came at it from absolutely knowing nothing, and just thinking I could do it, but not knowing how hard it is. It took me a really fucking long time. I don’t really know how to sew, I don’t know anything about patterns, I didn’t know anything about basic jean construction. But I definitely learned the hard, expensive, embarrassing way.
GAL: What inspired you to start doing it?
M: There’s a couple brands I really love, and one lady who I love in New York stopped making jeans for a while. So unfortunately for George, one night when he was drunk, he was like, “You should just do it!” And I was like, “Yeaaaaah!” So I did.
I have this friend who’s a beautiful Amazon who can’t buy clothes off the rack, because she’s gigantic and amazing. So she knew this lady, this amazing, sassy, really hard-to-work-with lady, and my friend would buy clothes off the rack and bring them to her. This lady would make a pattern, and then make a sample. So I was like, “Mind if I contact her?” And this lady got me started by making the original pattern. It took me a while. A lot of dumb mistakes. But I’m really happy with the pair that I have now! They look really good.
GAL: How would you describe the woman who wears these jeans?
M: Oh, that’s a good question. I was thinking about this, because I was setting up a photoshoot. The only thing is that sometimes, the kind of girl who would wear Merica Lees can’t afford them, because they’re really expensive. [laughs]
GAL: Get your shit together, ladies!
M: I know! It’s kind of a disconnect. But one of my friends models for me, and she’s really curvy and a badass. She just went on tour with this band and fuckin’ drove their truck, and did their merch, and did all the heavy lifting. So she’s super hot and tough—I feel like it’s that kind of girl. But the jeans are not flashy or crazy. They’re the kind of thing you can wear to a show, or to the airport, or to meet your mother-in-law, if that’s the kind of thing you’re involved in. They’re cool, but I think they work in any situation.
GAL: So what’s this event coming up on March 26th?
M: It’s the launch party for the line, a big-ass party. I’ll have some models, obviously wearing the jeans, and some other fuckin’ cool stuff. It’s gonna be at The Ides, the rooftop bar at the Wythe Hotel. I’m really excited.
GAL: We’ll be there! Who are your personal favorite grown-ass ladies?
M: How do you define a grown-ass lady?
GAL: A woman who is fearless, smart, funny, and a badass. Someone who’s a weirdo, but she owns it.
M: You know, New York is so chock-full of those ladies, which is why I love this place so much. Actually, Judi Rosen, who lives in New York and has been making jeans forever and ever, she’s such a grown-ass lady. My mom’s really badass, and super country, and tough and hilarious…Oh my God, Poison Ivy again. I don’t know—who are yours?
GAL: Um, Grace Jones, Carol Channing are two. I have a weakness for loud, brassy women. Dolly Parton, obviously. Missy Elliott, Lady Miss Kier. Too many to list. What would be your top time-travel destination?
M: Oh, God…I never want to go back. I only wanna move forward. I work at this restaurant in Brooklyn, and there’s this guy who comes in who’s an art dealer, and managed Basquiat, and was a hipster in the early ‘80s in New York. So I Googled him, and he was this super cool, handsome guy in the ‘80s. The next time he came in, I said, “Hey, I Googled you, and you’re just as handsome now as you were back then.” And he said, “Don’t you hate looking back? It’s so boring. I only want to move forward.” I thought that was so fucking cool.
GAL: Finally, what are some of your obsessions right now? It could be pop culture, food, fashion, anything.
M: Well, I just started DJing, which sounds really lame. But I felt like I was starting to get stuck on the music I loved growing up. Because with Spotify, you can go back and listen to the entire discography of everyone you’ve ever loved. So I was like, “This Barbra Streisand duet is so good!” No one wants to hear that. But DJing has kind of reinvigorated me, and made me excited about new music that I would’ve never paid attention to. I also really love catsuits and costumes. If there’s anyone out there who wants to do that stuff really cheap for me, get in touch.
GAL: Do you have to baby-powder yourself before you put something like that on?
M: Well, I don’t have a true latex catsuit yet. Latex is actually not very strong, and if you rip it, that’s it. But I’ve been really obsessed with vinyl S&M catsuits. They’re not easy to play in, because they don’t really breathe well. But if you look at Freddie Mercury and the ones he used to play in…So inspiring.
And if you’re in NYC, come out to the launch party on Thursday, 3/26! It’ll be at The Ides (the rooftop bar in The Wythe Hotel) from 7pm to 10pm