Karen Biller is a v
Karen’s career as a professional drummer spans more than 20 years, reflecting both an affinity for challenges and a deftness at vaulting among musical genres. In addition to Rosie Flores, she plays full time— as Karen “Scaren Killer” Biller—with Pretties for You, an all-women Alice Cooper tribute band.
“When I first started playing drums, it was all hard rock and heavy metal. I feel like I’m definitely a rocker at heart,” says Biller. Growing up in Indiana, she was often told that girls couldn’t play drums. “I was pretty rebellious as a youngster and I loved playing drums, so I decided that’s exactly what I was going to do.”
Her parents, neither of whom are musicians, were supportive, enduring countless hours of Metallica and Megadeth on their daughter’s behalf. Biller went on to earn a degree in classical percussion from Indiana University, where she also played with a jazz big band. Then, in 1994, Biller moved to Austin. The weather was right, the rent was affordable, and “you could go out and play every night and learn your craft,” she says. She plied her trade at venues up and down Sixth Street. “I was able to develop all these styles of music that I hadn’t developed at that point.” This included country, swing, roots and surf music and led to performing with folks such as Cornell Heard, Johnny Bush and Teisco Del Rey.
Today, Biller performs with Rosie Flores and Pretties for You, as well as pickup shows with musicians such as Lara Price and Chaparral. When not drumming, she’s samba dancing. In just a few years, her favorite pastime quickly morphed from something she “wanted to try” into glittery costumes, feathered headdresses and a place on center stage at the Austin Samba school. “To me, dancing and drumming are the same thing,” she says. “It’s all rhythm. I love it!”
Being a percussionist in a male-dominated field has had its annoyances. The falsehood that women drummers can’t hit hard persists. “I’m like, ‘You’re kidding, right?’” says Biller. “No one has ever had to ask me to play louder. I’m going to play what fits the music. I play a lot harder than a lot of men do. And I have a lot of energy, so I have to kind of hold myself back sometimes.”
This isn’t the only myth she confronts. “People come up to me all the time and say, ‘You’re the only woman I’ve ever seen playing drums,’ and I’m like, well, do they not go out very much? Because in Austin there are a lot of great female drummers.”
Biller is a captivating force, with thousands of shows to choose from when asked for the most memorable. Gigs stand out in different ways, but it’s the Country Cruise she circles back to. One particular show coincided with 40-foot swells: “So I’m at a 45-degree angle trying to play drums and I have all these other musicians watching me. That was fun.”