Playing out (play)List

“We’re local celebrities now, I’m serious” – the youngerj

You may have noticed that the younger j has not been posting as much. While he blames it on procrastination and seems to think it raises my ire (well, more hackles than ire), the truth is, I know how busy he is. And, to boot, I also know that he’s doing something important.

See, my brother is in a country band. This all happened quite quickly. He started playing the bass before our father passed away and then got serious about it. (Cue crazy musical training montage.) Then, before I knew it he was in a band.

Now, I don’t really care for the genre (but I am a curmudgeon and way too picky). And I also wonder about the wisdom and message of the band name. (But I was in several bands with terrible names, so who can quibble.) But I am happy that he’s found something he cares a lot about and that he’s getting something out of it.

That people are paying them money is just icing on the proverbial cake.

Now, I spent some time in bands. They were high school and college bands and we never had the same dedication (some playing on the radio; playing in some bars; some recording but no money). So, from my less than impressive experience, I want to give my brother some unsolicited advice on the things he should never forget when playing out.

Hey, I’ve included some songs along the way.

  1. Duct-tape

“DIY Queen”, Tullycraft

You can use duct-tape in a pinch to fix most musical instruments. If you get the more expensive gaffer’s tape, it is much easier to lay down all the cables, secure them and put them away when you’re done.

Spend the extra money. Get a few extra rolls. You can’t go wrong.

(And there are many uses for duct tape in fixing up cars, clothing, you name it).

2. Extra Cables, Extra Strings, Extra Picks etc.

Always be prepared, so say the boy scouts. In the army, as our civilian father always told us, they say that if you take care of your equipment, it will take care of you. But cables wear out. Picks get lost. Strings break.

Simply put, don’t be a fuck-up. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

(And remember extra keys for the drums. And sticks. Drummers never do. Something about their IQs.)

3. Beg, borrow or steal back-up guitars

“The Guitar”, They Might Be Giants

Just like strings, guitars are fragile but they also have many moving parts. Pick-ups get fuzzy, connections fray, and sometimes things just break. Even if you have to borrow extra guitars when you play out, it is worth the trouble. A bad first impression cannot be corrected.

4. Don’t Drink and play (unless you drink and practice)

“I Got Drunk”, Uncle Tupelo

Performing on stage can be nerve-wracking. Being in a bar without drinking can seem just plain un-American. But, if you don’t typically drink while playing and then suddenly start, the results can be disastrous. Seriously, like going home with friends’ mothers disastrous. DUI ruinous. Or, you could just look like an ass. (Or drink away your night’s wages.)

Conversely, if you do drink while practicing, you should while playing. No debate.

5. Get an Intern

“Heavy Metal Drummer”, Wilco

For one of my bands, we knew a guy who was a tad annoying but generally nice enough. Once, when I cut off the tip of my finger, he filled in on drums so that the drummer could help out with guitar.

(He wasn’t very good and led to my wife asking why she never gets to play drums in the band. The Answer? No rhythm.)

But the unofficial intern made life easy. He carried amps, speakers and helped set up shit. We all know that drummers take forever to get ‘situated’. Any help you can get is worth it. An intern can give out cards, take email addresses, start clapping and do all the things that groupies will do once you have them

(well, maybe not everything)

6. Be friendlier than your brother

“We’re Going to Be Friends”, The White Stripes

No matter how talented you are, the early days of a band are contingent upon building a network of people who like you—not those who like your music, per se, but those who will come out and support you. Be nice to everyone, even the other bands.

(True story: after a set, I once lent a distortion pedal to the guitarist from a local band called The Rustic Overtones. I thought that karma would help me back. It didn’t. It could have…)

I was terrible at glad-handing and smiling and making nice. I can be surly, dismissive, and altogether self-absorbed. You’re already ahead of me on this one—you’re a natural promoter and people person. Remember that.

7. Accept that your bandmates will drive you crazy (and that you’ll drive them crazy too)

“We used to Be Friends”, The Dandy Warhols

Even if you start out best friends with your bandmates, the endless hours of rehearsal, the clashing of egos and desires, and the diverging interests will strain your relationships. Accept ahead of time that there will be frustrations, recriminations and protestations. This is normal and natural. Bandmates are like brothers or cousins. The good ones are worth every pissy moment and twisted decision. The bad ones need to be distanced. And quick.

8. Get psyched up

“Sunday Bloody Sunday”, U2

Sometimes you need a routine before shows to get you in the right state of mind. In one band, we used to do breathing exercises (seriously. I am so sorry to admit that). In another, we’d listen to U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” on the way to the gig. (And rehearsal.) Find out something to ritualize the process. It will add to the experience and help you to get in an appropriate state of mind after the late nights start to be a grind.

9. Seriously, duct-tape

You can’t get enough of it.

Oh, it doesn’t hurt to also pack: a change of clothes, cell-phone charger and a tooth brush. You never know where the night will take you.

(And always, always bag it. You know what I mean.)

10. Stop every once in a while and be grateful

“Forever Young”, Alphaville

Few people ever get to do something they love and get paid for it. There is also never a guarantee that there will be another show. Lives change unexpectedly. Interests evolve. Be thankful, be humble, be happy.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret any decision I have made and I know I wasn’t cut out for the long nights and smokey venues. I don’t miss being fake-nice. I don’t miss arguing over messed-up sets. I don’t miss the attendent cycles of insecurity and swollen heads.

But there are some times when I think about the feeling of the warm lights on my face, the feeling of a shock from a poorly grounded microphone, and the vibration of a tube amp behind me. A great memory.

Oh, and rock the shit out of their worlds.

23 comments on “Playing out (play)List

  1. theyoungerj says:

    i almost shed a tear reading this. I will have to write a full response.

  2. professormortis says:

    Let me know if you ever play down my way, or in this state, really. And good luck!

    • theyoungerj says:

      I will for sure. We are in Maine now but we will travel. If you ever hear of anyone needing a country/rock band called Nouveau Redneck, get at me. As for the show last night, I broke the cardinal rule of doing shots before the third set. It was lackluster at best and largely myself and the drummer’s fault. Luckily, it was late and most people had left already including the few I truly care for.

  3. […] rediscovered all my brother’s Elliott Smith cd’s after a show my band played a private party last weekend. The lead guitar player and I ended up having a few beers and […]

  4. originaldrummer says:

    Thanks for the drummer IQ comment ElderJ.

  5. […] even when he wants to kill me for not posting as much. I want to write more, but as he said in his post a few days back, he does understand that I have another artistic endeavor that is taking up some […]

  6. […] band had our biggest show ever last Saturday night, playing to well over two hundred people at the local dive bar. We spent a […]

  7. […] have discussed my band, my bass and my brother’s wonderful advice. At this year last time, I had my new guitar but no amp and our band was just me and my best friend […]

  8. […] amazing. I glanced at the same back country music store where my brother got his Telecaster in his band days. As usual, I found something that was out of this world.  He had a 1977 Fender  Studio Bass […]

  9. […] decrease the distance between the man I am and the one I want to be; it made my brother get serious about playing music and writing; and, whether or not we want to admit it, it accelerated other plans too: my son was […]

  10. […] I was growing up in Southern Maine, everyone loved The Rustic Overtones. This meant that I had to hate them. They were actually pretty good. I was (am?) a jealous jerk. […]

  11. […] and I believe the Elder J once peed in a urinal next to the lead singer while at a battle of the bands in about 1995. I guess he was kind of a dick, so I didn’t like this band forever because I […]

  12. […] Everyone who has ever been in a band knows that the load-in/out process is the worst part about playing out. My lead singer always says that we play for free, we just charge for moving gear which is an […]

  13. […] have discussed my band, my bass and my brother’s wonderful advice. At this year last time, I had my new guitar but no amp and our band was just me and my best friend […]

  14. […] my brother and I were talking about his band and some of the troubles they have had forging a unified idea of what kind of band they would be and […]

  15. […] I have planned for the evening. We are trying to keep it to two or three gigs a month now with the band, so it’s possible I could be out doing that as well. It’s that sweet Zen time of the […]

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