Behind the Music
Because I’ve never cared much for music, you’d never guess I wanted to be in a band. I own about four CDs (all Richard Pryor stand-up), and the last time I opened iTunes it was in need of so many updates that it crashed my computer. I know, many of you just shuddered because OMG how do I live without knowing the joy of Arcade Fire? The glory of Panda Bear? You can trace my disinterest back to middle school where I chose drama geek over band geek. My extreme distaste for boys who strummed their acoustic guitars in the hallway of my dorm, combined with my deep disgust of drum circles, further cemented the fact that music and I were probably not MTB.
But still, I’ve always had a nagging feeling that one day I’d be in a band. An intense interest in music isn’t a prerequisite for being in one, right? Didn’t one of the guys from White Snake or Def Leppard (or one of those ’80s hair bands with an animal name) say that the only reason to be in a band is to get laid and that anyone who says they’re doing it for the music is a big liar? I believe it. I’m not infatuated with the music, but I am intrigued by the rock ’n’ roll experience. I want to have sex with multiple groupies at once and then burn a hotel room to the ground. I want to have a band rider that’s a mile long and includes requests like three drunk
strippers and a claw-foot bathtub filled with Courvoisier. I want the sex and drugs, and if I have to put up with the rock ’n’ roll to get it, so be it!
Knowing that I’m not getting any younger, I decide that today is the day that I start my band. Besides, the sooner I get to it, the sooner I’ll be snorting lines of brown M&M’s off Kate Hudson’s chest. Livin’ the dream.
I decide my first step in making the band is to book a gig before finding bandmates. The thought behind this is that I don’t like going into things knowing I’ll fail. If I have a date set, it’s almost like there’s already a roadie in my dressing room removing the brown M&M’s and covering the furniture in plastic. I check out a few venues and settle on Hemlock Tavern because I love the space and a friend has a connection there. I tell Tony Bedard, the awesome booker, that I have no talent and my band isn’t even fully formed yet, and he’s still willing to give me my big break. The world needs more Tonys – people who believe in you. That’s important to a musician. Almost as important as other people to play with.
With a gig booked, I know I can’t delay the inevitable any longer: I need a band. But where to find funky fresh bandmates with the musical skillz to pay the billz? Or at least not get me booed off stage? I decide to tweet and Facebook my request. I figure I can draw from friends first and once I suck up all their musical talent, I’ll turn my attention to Craigslist. My friends start replying immediately. Who knew I kept such talented company? Soon I have a band with about 50 people in it. I decide to let everyone in the band because I’m bad with rejection. I guess we’re gonna have to be a ska band?
We meet for the first time on a Wednesday evening in the Tenderloin at a bandmember’s house. I ask everyone to bring their instruments so we can get down to business with the quickness, but the first item on the agenda is to pick a name. We spend about half the time brainstorming. Should it be Colonel Angus? Or Princess Beef Pizza? I think, Laura and The Rest of These Fools has a nice ring to it but nobody else is impressed. We finally settle on Dino Bike, stealing the name from a bunch of preschoolers my friend teaches. Classy.
Now that we have a name, we start the less fun work of actually trying to play. We have one real musician in our band, Walker, who has agreed to shape us into something not humiliating. If you’re looking into starting a band, it’s key to have one person who knows what the fuck they’re doing. This is the only moment I kinda wish I’d gotten real musicians to play with. Well, the other moment is when Mark busts out the violin he hasn’t played since high school and butchers “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” I start to worry; however, my bed is made and I must lie in it, no matter what a rickety piece of shit it is.
With limited rehearsal time, Walker says the only course of action is to become a cover band. I’m into it, as long as we can cover super-crazy shit. Oh, and I want to be the drummer. However, since playing the drums takes major ability, everyone agrees I’m more suited to the tambourine or playing a pot with a spoon. Fine. Set list ideas are tossed around and Walker agrees that “The Sign” by Ace of Base is a doable number for us. We practice the song repeatedly and sometimes you can even tell what we’re playing. Score! We part ways with the promise that we’ll each think of easy songs for the band to play, and we’ll meet again before actually going on stage.
At our second rehearsal, it’s obvious that we’re more invested. Several people who couldn’t hang with our rigorous schedule and shitacular stylings have dropped out. We’re left with a group of hard-core crazies: Abby on the ukulele, Jonas on the bass, Walker on electric guitar, Dan on trombone, Ed on lead vocals, and me, rounding it out with back-up vocals, iPad drums (there’s an app for that! Actually, there’s about 50), and tambourine. Oh, and Mark abandons the violin for the omnichord, which is this sort-of like an electronic substitute for an autoharp.
We hem and haw over a set list and come up with some stuff that’s not impossible to play and should be funny to laugh with or at. Whatever, we’re not picky. We settle on opening with “Thong Song” by Sisqo, followed by “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells. Pause for applause, a remix of “Kids” by MGMT, and Walker’s most genius idea yet, a Top Gun medley! We do “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin transitioning into “Danger Zone” by Kenny Motherfucking Loggins. Finally, we take it down a notch with “Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga, and bring it home with “The Sign.” We’re two rehearsals in and we’re sounding less and less awful by the minute. Unfortunately, our gig is the following weekend and we don’t have time for further band practice. Such is the life of a rock’ n’ roll star.
The night of the show, we load in to the Hemlock along with our opening band, Red Light Circuit , a real band that agreed to play with us because they’re rad guys. While they play, I down many vodka sodas and start to panic as people around me talk about how good they are. But my nerves eventually subside when they clear the stage and it’s our turn. Setting up is not easy. We have to make sure the inputs, mixers, and mics all work. So much to think about! We do a quick sound check and the crowd starts to cheer when I press a button and the iPad drum kit starts blasting a fly beat for the honeys. Lez do this.
The show passes by in a blur. Ed kills it on “Thong Song,” Walker and Jonas play “Crimson and Clover” perfectly, and Abby and Mark do the most amazing mash-up of “Kids” with several Disney songs. Dan on the trombone makes us seem totally legit. The coolest part of the night is hearing the entire audience sing along with Ed to “Take My Breath Away.” It was the rock ’n’ roll rush I’d been seeking, and I didn’t even need hookers and cocaine to get it. Well, maybe next gig.
Start a band! It’s easy, even if you have no musical talent like me, you can make it work. First, find some musicians to jam with, get a decent rehearsal space. Lennon Rehearsal Studios provides spaces at hourly rates starting at $40 a session; other spaces have monthly rates at varying costs), practice the shit out of it, and book a gig. Most venues pay you to play and give you free drinks; the deal varies from venue to venue.