You don’t need to tell drummer Jermaine Poindexter to be ready for anything at a show because the man who drummed for both Ella Mai and Kanye West during the same Coachella weekend in 2019 is always prepared. “I started rehearsals for Kanye the week before and then started rehearsals with Ella for Coachella later in that week around Friday. I had to learn both of their shows in one week,” Poindexter told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the drummer extraordinaire explains how performing with a gospel artist prepared him for Ella Mai. He also discusses missing family funerals while performing on the road and being ready for it all at Kanye West’s Sunday Service.
Was Ella Mai the first major artist you performed live with?
Yeah, on the secular side. But, playing with Marvin Sapp was the first professional, big gig I had. He’s a huge gospel artist. I started with him when I was 19. That’s what gave me the experience to play with Ella. I traveled the world with him doing live shows. We had to bring their records to life, so it was the same thing. I learned about lobby calls. I learned what to say, what not to say, and when to say stuff. I also learned how to retain music. We had to perform almost 20 songs with Marvin.
How did you first connect with Ella Mai?
My bro Quentin Gulledge was the music director for her when I first moved to L.A. We were at a jam session, and I was on drums already, and someone else was on keys. I looked to my left, and it was my bro Quentin. He didn’t know I lived in L.A. and told me, ‘I would’ve hit you for this Ella gig if I knew.’ He hit me less than a month later, and I’ve been on the gig for the last four years.
How was your first show with Ella?
It was different. It was a private, all-women event for Adidas. About 50 or 60 women were in a room working out while we were performing. It was crazy. I never did anything like that before. That was in March 2018. Q hit me four or five days before the actual gig, so I had to learn the music in three days, and we rehearsed the music for one day. We rehearsed that day and hit a red-eye flight that night on our way to New York.
You were thrown into the fire really quickly. So, how did you and Ella develop your onstage chemistry?
It’s crazy because Ella and I never had problems musically. Our chemistry came from us rehearsing and playing live shows. That’s how I found out she loves when I catch her lyrics. Say if we’re doing a song like ‘Boo’d Up,’ she loves when I accent her lyrics. That kept growing and growing, but there was a time when we did a certain performance where I was catching too many lyrics. It stuck out to a couple of other people and me. Then, I had a moment when her producer Mustard told Q I was catching too many lyrics. From then on, I was cautious about how many lyrics I caught. Ella never complained, so I had to adjust while still catering to Ella, knowing that she liked it. I learned not to always do too much. When you’re younger, you want to shine when you are on stage. But the older I got, the more I learned it’s not really about us.
What was the first show when you felt you two had a good groove?
My second gig with Ella was when I felt comfortable that I could do this with her. When we did ‘Fallon’ in October 2018, I’ll never forget how seamless the performance was. I was only 22. When you first start, you doubt yourself. That was when I felt great and comfortable doing what I was doing.
“Boo’d Up” came out in February 2018, a month before your first show with Ella.
She dropped her music video in April 2018, and I’ll never forget how everything changed when she dropped the video. The video created such a buzz. I remember she counted one million, two million, three million, and so many views every week. Now ‘Boo’d up’ is almost at 500 million. I was there through the whole process.
How did you watch the live shows change as the song grew over the months?
As she went up, we took it up a notch, and she wanted us to. Ella is someone who loves live music in the sense of live instrumentation and arrangements. She loved it. Once she got more comfortable with us doing it and killing it, she was like, ‘I love this.’ When she released her new music and we did that tour, I felt like we knew we could dial it back a little bit because it was a new phase where we wanted to let the music do the talking.
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What do you remember from that “Boo’d Up Tour”?
‘Boo’d Up’ and ‘Trip’ were already out, so it was crazy that her fans were going crazy over these songs. I’m from Chicago, so my dad and friends were at that show. The shows when people I know and care about are there are the best.
Speaking of family, I know your mom went to Paris to see you perform. What was that experience like … having your mom fly to another country to see you?
It was incredible. I was at the Eiffel Tower with my mom for the first time. Ella loves her. Ella calls her Auntie Maine because my mom’s name is Tremaine. The whole crew was surprised that my mom flew out there. I could even see my mom in the crowd at the Paris show.
How did you see Ella Mai evolve as a live performer?
I saw Ella when performing was still new to her, so I enjoyed watching her get comfortable. It was almost like she felt, ‘Yeah, I’m a new artist, but now people know my songs. Now I have two hit songs.’ I watched her get comfortable. Also, she always called people on stage. She’d have them sing ‘Boo’d Up.’ She’d have the girls sing ‘Boo’d Up’ and then have the guys sing it, too. She would bring couples on stage. She got so comfortable because of the fans. I think she felt that energy and got more loose and free instead of thinking, ‘Oh, it’s 5,000 people in front of me.’ It can be scary. It’s different being the artist and being the drummer. I’m backing her up, and those fans are there to see her. So, the pressure’s on.
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What are some life events you had to sacrifice to tour with Ella?
I missed the funeral of one of my favorite uncles, Uncle Perry. I wasn’t home when my great-grandmother died. She died while I was on the ‘Boo’d Up Tour.’ We actually had an off day in Chicago on the day of my grandmother’s funeral, so I was actually able to go. That was crazy because God worked that out. I missed my uncle’s wedding being on tour.
How do those moments you missed affect your live performance?
They don’t affect them as much because everything goes away once we’re on stage. For the deaths, they gave me more of an incentive to play for them that night.
What are your favorite Ella Mai songs to perform?
‘Shot Clock’ has always been one of my favorites to do live. Ella is so killer vocally, we can play to her vocals. Ella is so musical; it makes it easier for us to play her music. She also has a song called ‘Sauce’ that I love. I love playing ‘Trip.’ For ‘Trip,’ it got me more known as a drummer because I have a drum section at the end of that song. That’s what we did on ‘Jimmy Fallon’ and ‘Saturday Night Live.’ I was doing solos on live TV. Our goal is to make the artist’s records sound like they are on steroids. There’s a music break on ‘Trip,’ so they had me solo right there. Those are the vibes we enhance. I think us playing to her and to her music is what makes it a thing when we make it more exciting. We make what’s already on the track bigger.
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How collaborative are you with Ella in her live show?
Our music director is more locked in but when we get to rehearsals, that’s when we go, ‘Let’s do this.’ Ella and I have had moments when she’s like, ‘I actually like that Jermaine. I like when you catch that lyric. I like that buzz on the snare.’ She’s really vocal about if she likes something.
You also performed with Kanye West, right?
Yeah, in 2019 and also right before COVID in February 2020. I started working with Kanye in April 2019. It was actually the week of Coachella. I started rehearsals for Kanye the week before and then started rehearsals with Ella for Coachella later in that week around Friday. I had to learn both of their shows in one week. It actually worked out. I was around everyone while he did Sunday Service. Dave Chappelle was there. Kim Kardashian was there. Winnie Harlow was there. It was crazy being around all of those people.
What was it like performing with him? What direction did he give?
It was cool because it was already laid out. I was coming behind my bro Rico Nichols. The gig was already laid out; I just had to learn his recordings and be ready for whatever else they threw at me. They literally changed a song 20 minutes before the Sunday Service started, and I had to be ready. Ye will let you know if he doesn’t like something. I think it was once when he looked at me and nodded ‘No.’ Everything else was good. Everyone was happy with what I did. They loved me because I came in knowing what I needed to do. That came from experience and being confident. I did Coachella with Ella and Ye on the same weekend.
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What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
We have festivals lined up with Ella. We finished a rehearsal [the week before April 22], and we started them up again [the week after April 22]. We’ve already taped a show. So we have a lot coming up.
Photo Credit: George Jeff, Anthony Campusano