Bad Ass of the week: Chiyo Nukaga

Chiyo 1

Hailing from Japan, Chiyo is a mother, infamous drummer and art school volunteer. Talking music and sharing interesting insights on Oakland’s changing neighborhoods.

Before we get into it I have to say Chiyo is sweet beyond words and possibly the most humble human being I’ve ever met. Her music and success as a drummer means so much to so many and she’d be the last to agree. I am honored that she has given me a chance to write about her. In the words of Wayne and Garth “I AM NOT WORTHY” pretty much sums up how I felt being welcomed into her home for the interview, trying not to seem as excited and nervous as I was. Thank heavens for the beer she offered. It helped 😉

Taking first roots in San Jose with her family, Chiyo made it to the states at 8 years old. Inspired young, she looked up to her older brother who was a guitarist in an 80’s metal band worshipping the likes of guitarist Randy Rhodes and Queen. He played fast, hard, and made a big impression on his younger sister who grew up to become the drummer of NOOTHGRUSH.* Well done big bro, there are thousands of people out there who would love to shake your hand and thank you 😉

Being a huge fan of NOOTHGRUSH and having watched her beat the shit out her drums on many epic occasions, I wanted to hear about her current kit and the one that started it all:

My 20th B-day in 91’, I rented a “CB700” kit. REALLY cheesy dude, they’re like all metal you can’t tune or tighten them. I want to say they were $20 a month, but they were probably more like $50, haha. Shit it was a start though, you know? I set-up in my friend Roy Page’s garage and he showed me some beats. He’s not a drummer, so I’m not really sure how that worked out. I scored my current set in 97’ for $200 from Chew the drummer of CORRUPTED after touring with them” –Siiiiiiiiick.

Having been born in 87’ I’m one of those weirdos who feel like I missed out on a lot of the fun times, bands and concerts of the 80’s and 90’s. I don’t listen to many bands that came after 1999. I mean sure, I can listen to and worship bands born before my time as well as anyone who was lucky enough to BE there. Let’s be honest, buying a record at a store vs. having memories from their 96’ show at Gilman are two very different experiences. Today we young-ins will get a unique insight about what Oakland was like and what its heavy music scene had to offer in the 90’s:

Music brought me to Oakland from San Jose in 98’. I was renting a room in a 3 story, 9 bedroom, brown shingle house on McArthur for $187 a month. The house was affectionately known as “The Compound” I remember ASUNDER played in my roommate Jerry’s bedroom  . It was awesome. It was a grittier scene at the time…”

(Why couldn’t I have been born sooner?)

Back in the 90’s Warehouse shows were plentiful and there was still some preservation of Oakland’s roots and more local and family owned businesses were intact. I’ve seen a lot of changes in Oakland and they aren’t all for the better. With this sudden popularity and surge of people crossing the bay in search of cheaper rent, rent isn’t cheap anymore. For the last 10 years I’ve watched as one by one my neighbors and friends are being forced from their homes and their businesses are going bankrupt. While investors are thriving and things are getting “cleaned up” Oakland is losing it’s roots. Community happenings like “First Friday” are great; they bring art to the community. I get it when people complain about the lack of parking and the crowds but shit, don’t you remember not having anything like that around? Educational public events and the promotion of art and community are what we need. Not yuppies that look at our streets and people and see dollar signs. We need more DIY venues, fests and community programs. While Gilman and Epicentre aren’t DIY, they booked bands like SLEEP, GRIEF, EYE HATE GOD, NASUEA, NEUROSIS and Melvins .When they started coming through, I was inspired by SLUDGE and the slower, doomier side of drums. Ellen of “Thirteen” and Lori Black of the “Melvins” have been two of my biggest female inspirations musically and otherwise. Man…looking back, style wise I wanted to drum like Chris Hakius (Sleep). I really dug Lori (Melvins) she was so cute and so little, tearin’ shit up!” Gilman had a two day fest every year called “Fiesta Grande” it was all Power Violence and Grind bands. We were always the slowest playing ones there! It was crazy; Crazy AWESOME. We got to play with Dystopia, Spazz, Man is  the Bastard, ect. Good times. Some of the funnest shows we’ve played. Or at least I think so (haha). Though I think my favorite show we’ve played in Oakland might be the BOLT THROWER show at the “Oakland Metro Opera House” Last year.  While Fiesta Grande may be no more, I look forward to “MDF” (Maryland DeathFest) on the east coast and “DEADFEST” every August here in Oakland at the “Oakland Metro Opera house”  –NOOTHGRUSH will be playing both fests this year! Buy your tickets now before they sell out!

When Chiyo isn’t on stage bringing joy to the black hearts of those who attend her shows, she volunteers at her son Laney’s school as an art docent and is an art model that works with community colleges. She enjoys immersing herself in creative, artistic, educational environments and not only teaches but inspires and encourages her students.

There’s nothing like seeing a diverse group of kids from all walks of life making art and finding new ways to express themselves. They have unfiltered imaginations and it’s such a wonderful thing to witness. Kids can get discouraged sometimes, I try to give them a lil’ nudge in the right direction and some support to keep them trying. I leave at the end of the day feeling so lucky to watch these kids express themselves and walk away happier for it. It really is amazing. I really think we need MORE public art schools! There are some, but limited free resources for kids to take educational art classes. I recommend “Studio 1” in Temescal and “Junior Science Center” right at Lake Merrit by the Bird Sanctuary. A lot of the time the teachers volunteering at these free classes are Professors at UC’s and other reputable art colleges. The classes are great because only people who really want to be there are attending, as opposed to bored co-eds just looking for credit. Civic centers and city sponsored art events are also great resources. Of course I also recommend Laney community college where I volunteer as well as Berkeley extension sites.”

At the end of her day whether she spent it educating or blasting for the masses, she enjoys most of all, coming home to her partner Rick of 14 years and her ADORABLE son Laney.  Who knew someone could balance being a successful musician and drummer worshipped by so many and yet still be a loving mom, partner and true supporter of her art community and neighborhood alike.

Chiyo, may you never change and never stop inspiring those around you. You are one of the raddest ladies I have ever met.

Oakland is lucky to have you.


Type NOOTHGRUSH into YouTube and you’ll find all the videos your little black heart desires. The video I’ve chosen to share is one with a sentimental story behind it:

We were touring with COFFINS in Japan and ended up playing at a venue called “El Puente” in Yokokama, 2 train stations from where I grew up. We pushed the tables aside and played on the floor. At one point Dino turned to me between songs and said “Welcome Home” I got all teary eyed. I feel so lucky. I’ so grateful for everything”