Story Time with Jake – The Question

Story Time with Jake – The Question

Please welcome our bassist Jake. It’s his turn to write a blog. 

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: Anytime someone finds out you’re in a band.
Venue: The street, work, gig, bathroom… anywhere.
Crowd: The inquisitive bastard in front of you.

Oh no. It’s happened again. Will it ever end? No. Never.

A new person has found out that you’re in a band. They’re curious, which is great. Yay. You can promote the band, maybe this person is a fan-to-be, a super-fan-to-be, maybe they own a record label… dear gods of punk maybe this is Mr Epitaph himself.

Whoever they are, they’ve asked you THE question. Now there are many questions musicians might hate… Will you play my kid’s birthday? What’s the money like? Can you play something by Taylor Swift? (yes, but that’s not the point) How about you play for exposure? Who wins in a fight between Lemmy and God? (Trick question, Lemmy is God)

No. This one is worse.

“What do you play?”

Shit.

No, wait… we don’t play shit. Well sometimes we do, bad gigs happen. I play a bass. No, that’s not what you want either. You want genre. You want me, in a short sentence, to sum up my music. I’m not about to drop amp right now, produce the rest of the band out of the wormhole in my wallet (that’s why it’s on a chain, dangerous stuff) and rip through a taster set. No, you want me to explain our sound in an easy to digest way that will allow you to decide whether you want to hear it or not.

I don’t blame you. There is a vast amount of music out there, how on earth will you know what to drip onto your eardrums like sweet, sweet poison if you don’t at least have a guiding light? Genre is your guiding light.

Except it’s mostly bollocks.

Genres have been divided, subdivided, re-imagined, re-worked, been through multiple waves, been back to their roots, been cross-pollinated, hybridised, bastardised and melded until the question barely means anything above the base line. Worse still, our understanding can vary wildly… the nuances of musical genre are mind-splittingly deep.

But wait! There’s another problem! I’m a musician! I don’t want you to think I’m derivative, I want to tantalise you, sell you the mystery of my art. I can’t just say…

“Punk.”

Who cares? Plus, what kind? Post? Pop? Pre? Papier mache? 

“Well, we play kind of a Neo-Rock/Punk-Dissonance with Vibing-Bluegrass-Jazz harmonies.”

Now you’re intrigued aren’t you? You’ve only heard some of those words before and rarely strung together in that order… maybe you’re hooked, or maybe I’ve gone too far… the eternal struggle. Now I just sound like a jerk and the moment between you asking the question and me answering has become an infinity. So I answer in the best way I can…

“Loud.”

Image by Veronique Debord-Lazaro via Flickr

Bunch of Animals in This Town

Bunch of Animals in This Town

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: Long time ago, in a hive of scum and villainy far far away.
Venue: The thunderdome.
Crowd: Us.

The next song is a short one, but a good one.

A few miles down the road from our hometown lies a place that would’ve made Mos Eisley look like Kensington. At least, that’s what people from out of town thought. I went to school there. To me, it was another run down seaside town with not enough jobs and too many pound stores. To the rest of the band, it was renown for the drug use, homelessness and petrol station stabbings.

Naturally, we played there all the time.

On one such occasion we were already venturing into the bowels of the centre when Jake voiced his concerns.

“I don’t wanna play here.” Jake mumbles.

“We play here all the time.” I reassure him.

“But it’s not safe.” Jake is currently wearing a badge saying “See you in the pit”.

I sigh. I do this a lot in conversations with Jake. “We’ve been playing here for three years. Have you ever seen any trouble here?” Jake pauses, furrowing his brow. “Exactly. The second we actually see a fight, or anything else, then you can complain. ‘Till then? Suggest you shut up, or book the gigs yourself.”

Ritchie slams on the brakes as two guys fighting each other tussle and bumble into the road. We sit, watching this bizarre scene unfold. Fists are exchanged with reasonable commitment, before they stumble towards the car. I look to Ritchie for a solution. The answer comes in the form of a shrug.

The two struggle, rolling around on the bonnet of Ritchie’s car. It’s hard to pick a winner, the two are a blur of limbs. But as quickly as they’d appear, they scuffle and roll their way back onto the pavement and into the night.

I turn to Jake, awaiting the barrage of abuse and complaints. But he says nothing. Without saying a word, Richie drives on.

Bunch of animals in this town.

 

Photo by Katherine via Flickr.

The Punk Guide to Social Media

The Punk Guide to Social Media

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: Every minute of every day.
Venue: The WWW.
Crowd: 0-1 billion, depending on your popularity.

The internet has irrevocably changed the way we discover and consume music. No longer do we trade CDs with friends. Gone are the days of holding a tape recorder up to the radio on the off chance they’ll drop the new Wildhearts track. You never, ever, have to venture into another HMV.

Happy days.

But with brave new frontiers, come the indigenous population. Enter: social media. What follows is a punk’s guide to internet based promotion. How to get the best out of what technology has to offer your band.

 

Facebook

Facebook is the perfect platform for your band. Assuming you want your music buried amongst birthday notifications and pictures of cats in hats. The one chance you have is to name your band “Cats in Hats” in the vague hope someone looking for pictures of feline headgear stumbles across your musical offerings. It’s a niche market, but worth pursuing if you’re desperate.  

 

Twitter

Twitter restricts you to 140 characters. Which is perfect, because that’s 100 characters more than the average punk song. You can post your entire album’s lyrics and still have space for the thank you notes. The significant downside is that Tweeters cram the majority of Twitter space with snarky memes about Piers Morgan. And memes of cats wearing hats.

 

Instagram

Instagram, being a pictorial platform, is a critical addition to your band’s social media presence. It’s the most useful way of proving you were at practice. Except no one will see it, because Instagram is dominated by pictures from a milliner who makes bespoke hats for his pet cat Douglas. Douglas has 100 times more followers than your band.

 

Snapchat

Snapchat posts disappear after 5 seconds. This is approximately the same as the attention span of your average drummer. I’d recommend using it to organise practices, except most drummers still use Nokia 3310s. Therefore stick to using more conventional methods of rhythm section communication, like tattooing rehearsal time on the drummers forehead.     

 

Youtube

YouTube is the land you travel to in order to display your band’s new killer music video, crowdfunded and shot in an abandoned warehouse just east of Shoreditch. It’s free to post, and easy to share. But punk bands don’t have music videos. Your best option is to get grainy phone footage of a gig, and share it with your friends. Far more authentic. Douglas has a music video. He’s playing a piano whilst wearing a handmade, gluten free fedora.  

 

LinkedIn 

LinkedIn is for people with briefcases. If you carry a briefcase to practice, you’re either playing the world’s most compact guitar, or you stumbled into a rehearsal studio whilst looking for the local Starbucks. Even Douglas shuns LinkedIn. It’s beneath him.  

 

To summarise, Social Media is the system. And as punks, we brave new frontiers to do one thing: f**k the system.

Please follow: @B2Thebone
And like: facebook.com/Band2TheBone

 

Photo by Sean MacEntee via Flickr.

The Wedding Crashers

The Wedding Crashers

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: The Wedding Day.
Venue: Reception.
Crowd: Oh so many wedding guests.

If you stay in a band long enough, eventually your friends will need you for something. Someone will have a house party, played plenty of them. A friend learning stage tech at uni will need a guinea pig for her final show, played one of them too.

But then you’ll get old enough your friends will start getting married.

It’s hard to say no to a friend, but the image of playing “I Just Shat My Pants” in front of Grandpappy Oldface is the sort of thing that triggers my anxiety. For the record, “I Just Shat My Pants” was a surprise sleeper hit off our first demo “Hairier Than Sasquatch”.

In any case, we decline the wedding gig invite on the grounds our punk sound would not be what the crowd would enjoy. We are promptly offerered £300 to perform and agree without a second thought for the guests’ audio well-being. It’s important to stay true to your punk values.  

We had a song called “Gas Chamber”. We used to open sets with it. It was the loudest, most aggressive we ever got as a band and it was great fun to set the bar high at a show. One glance around the room upon arrival, and I refuse to play it.

“We have to play Gas Chamber! It’s our best song! They’ll love it.” Ritchie argues. I glance over at the kids table, and politely disagree. “If we’re not playing Gas Chamber, I’m not playing Erotic Lunging.” He retorts.

“I’m not sure that was ever an option.” I offer.

In hindsight, we could’ve had better names for our songs.

After ten minutes of haggling, three threats of quitting and at least one serious case of “I’m going home”, we reach an accord. Deep in our back catalogue we have a few lighter tracks. We decide to play those, take our time between songs and at some point we’ll call it a day and put some Lionel Ritchie on the iPod.

But the songs in the last minute set are woefully under rehearsed. With every song littered with more mistakes than a pro life rally, it becomes embarrassing, even more so when the newlyweds try to slow dance to Sausage Festival.

After a not entirely unreasonable amount of time, we decide to offer the speakers up to Endless Love and call it day, but we’re stopped in our tracks by a particularly disgruntled Groom.

“You HAVE to play Gas Chamber! It’s our favourite song!”

“See?!” Our guitarist Captain Smug chimes in.

I breath an unholy amount of regret deep into my shame filled lungs and survey the room. This wouldn’t be the first time I disappointed a room full of OAPs.

So we play Gas Chamber. The Bride and Groom dance. The room taps its feet as if this were the party jam they’d been waiting for the whole day. And there, throwing shapes left and right in the middle of the dance floor, is the Bride’s Grandma.

We should definitely crash more weddings.  

 

Photo by Kimberly Vardeman via Flickr.

The Album Rules

The Album Rules

Date: Time immemorial.
Venue: Your head.
Crowd: Potentially 0 if you screw it up. 

Punk crushes societal boundaries. Lays waste to the bureaucratic nanny state that controls and dictates our every day, neutered existence with rules and regulations. Anarchy remains the last great vestige of hope in an otherwise regimented life.

So, naturally, there are strict guidelines you must adhere to when deciding on the track order for your band’s new album. We call these simply; The Album Rules.

Generation after generation pass these rules down unthinkingly. The Underdogs did not create them. Our forefathers, and their four fathers (and so on, and so on) before them birthed these timeless principles. When putting together your new album, follow these rules lest it be cursed and destined for your local charity store.

Tracks 1, 2 + 4

These must be your singles. The three songs you want most in the earholes of your adoring public sit here on your album, and nowhere else. These are the gems you will release. But for the love of all that is Joe Strummer, NEVER ever release them. There’s nothing punk rock about a single release. You may as well be Britney.

BONUS: Your band earns extra points if you can begin track 1 and 4 with audio from an obscure, preferably black and white, movie.

Track 3

Your quirky track resides here. It will generally be in an odd time signature. It will always be written by your bass player.

Track 5

Track 5 is where you bury the bodies. This is the song that you wrote at the last minute to boost the number of tracks so your fans didn’t feel steamed at paying more pounds than there are songs.

BONUS: Legitimise the songs existence by giving it the same name as the album.

Track 6

It doesn’t matter what song you out here. Every music fan since time immemorial, bar none, skips Track 6. It’s the Bermuda Triangle of music. They just heard the nonsense you served up at Track 5. This song has no hope. You’re better off leaving it blank.

Track 7

No song on your album will be better than this one. Seven’s the key number. It’s generally when your fans will start to tune out and start thinking about better albums. Cram your best song here so they don’t miss it.

BONUS: Extra points for crowbarring Bill Hicks audio into the Middle 8.

Track 8

The eighth song on your album is genre specific. If you’re a metal band, you’re going to want to put your heartfelt ballad here. Ska band? This is your instrumental. If you’re a punk band, this song must be about alcohol, the opposite sex or driving at inappropriate speeds. Every other song is a thinly veiled critique of the current government, so you must give the fans a break. Sing about parties.

Track 9

After the first three singles (that you didn’t release) go triple platinum, the record label (which you’re not signed to) will insist on capitalising and releasing a fourth (which you MUST not release). Enter: Track 9. It’ll be a good song, but everyone will know the barrel has been scraped.

Track 10

Track 10 is where you bury the other body that wouldn’t fit in Track 5’s shallow grave. This is where you must hide the Courtcase Waiting To Happen TM. Every punk band has a track identical to a NOFX song. Put it here.

NOTE: Since you cannot sue yourselves for plagiary, NOFX  are exempt from the Track 10 rule.

Track 11

Choose a sexual position, food stuff and/or swear word. Write a song about it then place it here.

Track 12+

Should never exist. It is known fact that every album ever written only has 11 tracks. If you happen to write more, congratulations. Record them, then put them in a folder ready for a B-Sides album. When the time comes, you must burn that folder. No one wants to listen to your B-Sides.

 

The most important thing to remember when choosing the order of your songs is that no one cares. Happy recording!

 

Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov via Flickr

Story Time with Jake – Choose Your Weapon

Story Time with Jake – Choose Your Weapon

Please welcome our bassist Jake who is locked, loaded and ready to march you through the finer points of instrument choice.

Date: Before you’ve even started.
Venue: Bedrooms and garages and music shops across the globe.
Crowd: The inner you.

Choose your weapon. Pick your poison. Select your euphemism.

There will be a number of momentous decisions in your band life. Most of them will revolve around what you can afford to eat, what order to play the 6 covers you know and how the hell to get your gear to gigs. (spoiler alert: it’ll be your mum’s car) They will also mostly take the form of raging battles  with the other members of your band. You know, those guys that you rely on, wouldn’t ever be without but desperately want to execute and chuck in a ditch. Yeah, them.

This decision though? Oh, this one is all yours. What do you play? What are you? Which particular deity of the Rock Pantheon will you channel? There’s a variety of factors that could help you decide this. Cost of gear, size of gear, how much patience you have, how much natural rhythm, bravado. All of these will factor in, but mostly, it’ll come down to which one you think will make you seem cooler. Or sexier. So let’s have a little look at the options shall we?

Lead singer – Regardless of whether or not you’re the actual frontman for the band, you need to have the confidence of a war-time general, and preferably, a decent set of pipes on you. While many bands have made it with the raw warbling of an angry, oppressed punk at the helm, it does help if you can intentionally hit a few notes. You need a tonne of confidence, charm and charisma. Or at least the ability to fake the hell out of it.

  • Bonus: Your equipment is, well, in your damn throat so getting it to gigs should be pretty easy.
  • Downside: The slightest cough or chill can ruin your performance and you’ll become super sensitive about getting the sniffles near gig time. Stock up on honey.

 

Lead guitarist – Want to be a lead singer but really can’t sing? Or do you just need something to hide behind? Learn to make a guitar sing for you, with nimble fingers you can make your six-string wail like a banshee. Just make sure you get at least one solo per song if not more. Do be warned, this role comes with a high chance of addictive guitar buying. Also there’s going to be about a million of you at every audition, you’re basically the first job filled in every band so… happy hunting!

  • Bonus: You don’t have to worry about your looks, no-one is looking at your face, just your fingers.
  • Downside: You can’t just solo your way through an entire song. Unless you’re in an 80’s tribute act. Also expect to be told to turn the volume down a lot, so learn to lie. 

 

Rhythm guitarist – Generally a bit more down to earth than your lead counterpart, a solid player who doesn’t need to show off. You’re almost certainly just happy to be here. Expect to be designated driver a lot.

  • Bonus: No need to destroy your fingers learning to play blistering solos.
  • Downside: You’ll always be known as “the other guitarist”, if you’re even noticed.

 

Bass player – Well done, you’ve chosen to do the job no one wants! Bass players are the unsung heroes of the band, the golden rhythm keeper providing a spine to the music. Your thumping lines will keep things moving in the right direction, and they can be simple, or complex as hell. You have chosen well, but no one will care, or remember you.

  • Bonus: You can phone it in and no one will notice you.
  • Downside: No one will notice you.

 

Drummer – A brave choice indeed. Ignoring the fact that you need the rhythmic talents and coordination of a particularly musical octopus, plus the stamina of a pro-athlete, you also need to be OK with being hidden. You post up behind your fortress of percussion at the beginning of a gig and don’t emerge until you’re bathed in sweat. That’s not to make mention the fact that starting out as a drummer you’ll find it incredibly hard to rehearse because your gear is huge and always noisy.

  • Bonus: Save on gym membership, every rehearsal and gig is essentially a full body workout.
  • Downside: Getting your gear anywhere is a massive ball-ache. Plus your life expectancy is basically zero.

 

Some other kind of instrument – Well done indeed, you have committed to trying to rock out in some kind of incredibly niche fashion like Folk-Metal, Fantasy-Power-Rock or Brass-Core. While I admire your stones I’m sure I’ll never hear you play.

  • Bonus: Conversation starter?
  • Downside: No gigs. Constantly explaining what your band actually plays.

 

So there’s my take, but who am I kidding? You’re gonna go with your heart first, your head second and your natural ability someway further down the line. And that’s fine, confidence makes up for a lot of things, so play it like you mean it and most people won’t even notice.

Even better, play it loud and barely anyone will.

 

Photo by Judy Dean via Flickr

Access All Areas: The Ballad of Woozy Scamp

Access All Areas: The Ballad of Woozy Scamp

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: The end of days.
Venue: A zoo.
Crowd: The pale, bloated cadavers of decomposing festival-goers.

In the late summer of not very long ago we were invited to play a festival. Festivals are great fun for many reasons, even better if you play halfway up the bill. It leaves less time for your bassist to get involved in inebriation related shenanigans before the show.

At this particular festival, on the grounds of a local zoo (the absolute truth, I swear), the trouble starts upon arrival. On the drive in, queues of cars back up for miles from the entrance. Ritchie, ever the pragmatist, asks for help from the nearest stewards. The stewards shrug. This non-committal gesticulation of total and utter cluelessness would become company policy by the end of the weekend.

We eventually find the stage we are due to play, but nowhere to camp. Between ourselves and about three other bands in the same predicament, we resolve to pitch our tents where we’re parked. Enter: Grumpy Steward. Grumpy Steward projects the same unhappy demeanour as every other steward, but for some reason is actually making decisions. His latest involves us camping with the rest of the public. On the other side of the arena. For our troubles, and despite protestation, we are given wristbands with the lowest level of access. That means we’re lucky to be able to use the toilets, let alone get back stage.

So the wagon train rolls slowly around to what can reasonably be described as the Kansas City circa 1850. A conservative estimate would put the attendance at 10,000. That’s 10,000 people that have no clue what is going on, where to camp, where to park, where to get wrist bands, water or food. It becomes immediately and painfully apparent that this festival is doomed. Collectively, we decide to lean into it.

And get drunk.  

The festival miraculously starts, albeit 2 hours late. Our set, from what I recall through the whiskey induced haze, alters people’s perception of the world with its ground breaking innovation and musical prowess. Or it was dreadful. I’m really not sure. It was a pretty thick haze. But our bassist could’ve performed Mein Kampf with interpretive dance, and it still wouldn’t have been the most catastrophic part of the weekend. So the fact we didn’t get bottled is a win.

After we play, rumours start to circulate through the crowd. The promoter failed to raise the cash to pay for all the artists. This doesn’t matter to proles like us who play for free. But the rumours extend to the potential pulled performance of a prominent grime artist. To protect the innocent, we’ll call this particular rapper Woozy Scamp. But more on Woozy Scamp later.  

The music abruptly stops an hour and a half early. Bored, and not yet totally floored by the all-day drinking, we stagger towards the nearest place labelled ‘bar’. We casually wave our ‘Access No Areas’ wristbands and zig zag our way inside. Which is when we realise we’re in the VIP area. After looking around, it’s clear there are no VIPs. I look back at the steward who let us in, stood next to a gate that is wide open for all. We catch each other’s glance, and in that moment I see the quiet resignation of someone who gave up enforcing the rules.

“Guys, I think this place is falling apart.” I offer.

“What do you suggest?” Ritchie asks.

I shrug. “See what we can get for free?”  

At many major festivals, a large gate next to the main stage looms over the arena. More terrifying than the Gates of Mordor, it bars plebs like us from the wonders and candyland dreams of beyond. Tonight, we breach that barrier. Because there is literally no one guarding it.

It becomes apparent after a few moments that the rumours, along with our recent supposition, are true. What I’d hoped to see was a Hunger Games inspired mass of destruction. Guitars flying through the air. People garrotted with bass strings. Drums pumping the blood of war around adrenaline filled veins. Some front men just want to watch the world burn. But it’s no man’s land. It makes Gallipoli look like party central.

Amongst the post-apocalyptic debris, we scavenge for food. We find a sparsely populated marquee serving dinner to the few optimistic musicians that haven’t abandoned this fiasco altogether. Nicky and I resolve to fetch dinner for the crew. Confidently waving our inadequate wristbands, we stride past the uncaring staff to the bounteous feast. But as we’re being served, we’re denied by a familiar face.

“You’re not supposed to be here.” Grumpy Steward exclaims. I respect those who take pride in their work, and right now this guy is Sergeant at Arms. We make a swift exit before he sanctions a firing squad.

Dejected and hungry, we trudge around the backstage wasteland. Around this time, we realise Jake has been absent for some time. None of us remember the last time we saw him. This kind of disappearing act is not uncommon, especially after a war with whiskey. But this battleground is Grumpy Steward’s territory.

After a fruitless and uncharacteristically thorough search, he returns. We breathe a sigh of relief before seeking answers.

“Relax. I saw an old friend that played the main stage. He gave me his wrist band. Access all areas.”

Nicky presses him. Demanding to know where he’s been and if this place contains food. To be honest, we’re all eager to here if there’s somewhere to eat.

“I dunno. Found Woozy Scamp’s trailer though.”          

“Did you find food?!”

“No. I took a shower.”

Ladies and gentlemen. If there’s one lesson to be learned from our entire time together this past year, it’s this; when you get the opportunity to access all areas, you access ALL areas.

 

Photo by Emily Tan via Flickr.