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

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

Story Time with Jake – Power Poses

Story Time with Jake – Power Poses

Here’s our bassist Jake to take you through some performance basics. 

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: Every gig.
Venue: Every venue.
Crowd: With or without. 

Putting on a good show is down to a few different things, different factors of which musical talent is just the tip of the iceberg. Well, bit more than the tip actually, but you get my drift. There are other things. Energy for example, you go out there like it’s your 9-5 and no one is gonna have fun. Go out there like it’s your dream and everyone will. It is your dream isn’t? Because if it isn’t? Stop now.

But this brings me onto another point. Power poses. You’re out there on stage, feeling like a rock god, looking like a rock god, hell, to the people in the audience you ARE a rock god. So you’d best give ‘em what they want and pose like one. Strike a pose, not like Vogue, but like you’re the living embodiment of all the rage and rock that mosh pit is pouring out, like you’re the biggest bollocked bastard in the room.

 

Vocalist

You have choices galore you lucky git. You don’t have anything to get in the way like an actual instrument. And even the mic stand can be an excellent prop. You can cradle it like a lover and strangle it like… well a lover sometimes. But step away from the mic for a bit and consider…

Rock Jesus – Legs together, arms flung out to the side, you are the melodic martyr!

Foetal – Get down, get low, curl in on yourself because the rock is just too much. If you can, bring the mic into the huddle with you for some low and intense vocals. Rocking back and forth is acceptable.

Cocky Pirate – One leg up on a monitor (if you are lucky enough to play somewhere with those) and lean your arm across it. Stare out across the crowd as if they’ve hidden all your booty/rum. Bonus points if you do this while drinking rum.

 

Guitarist

Guitar Sex – That’s right, you’ve got an axe to grind… in the sexiest kind of way. Drop that six string betwixt your legs and pretend you’re the last stripper on shift.

Sky Beam – guitar to the sky like you are summoning angels with your playing. If you’re a lead guitarist you probably think you are.

Gettin’ Low – This isn’t a limbo-style maneuver, more of a hunch, bend over at the waist and just try to drop your guitar to about knee level, all while hammering the strings like they’re on fire. Bonus points if you actually set them on fire.

There is No Spoon – This is a limbo move. Bend back as far as you can like you’re dodgin’ bullets while you play. Woah.

 

Drummer

One Stick Salute – One stick, thrust triumphantly into the air while your other arm frantically tries to keep everything going.

Two Stick Salute – Both sticks in the air, best saved for the end of the song because there are some things even your mighty legs can’t do.

I See You – Pick a poor sap in the crowd and use one stick to point at them through the maze of toms and cymbals on your kit. Fix your best demented look and nod like they just agreed to a murder-suicide pact.

Standing Ovation – Best used at the very end of the set, tower over your kit like the beat-god you are and smash everything in reach with the power of your mighty arms. Imagine there are ants all over your kit, or pop fans. Whatever it takes to get you thrashing like an enraged kraken. When you are done throw the sticks carelessly over your shoulder and stride off stage. Bonus points if a cymbal falls over as you exit.

 

Bassist

Basically the same as the guitarist but way better because yours is bigger.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jake’s opinions do not necessarily coincide with the rest of the band.

 

Now, obviously these are just a few to get you going. In the white hot fire of gigging your body will automatically contort and bend itself into physical expressions of rock and roll. Trust me. But, only if you remember the golden rule, have fun. You can’t channel the music into power poses the likes of which Olympus will envy if you don’t have some bloody fun out there.

Photo by Andreas Ivarsson via Flickr

Story Time with Jake – Rehearsal Space Needed

Story Time with Jake – Rehearsal Space Needed

The following tales come straight from the mouth of our bass player, Jake. 

 

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: The earliest days of The Underdogs. 
Venue: Bedrooms and basements. 
Crowd: Understanding friends and a mum. 

Let’s be honest for a moment here people. You are never going to pull off a gig without rehearsing. It doesn’t how much raw talent you’ve packed into your plucking finger, stick-twirling wrist, vocal chords or whatever the hell it is that bass players do. You just won’t make it. So you rehearse. You get your ragtag band of musical wannabes and you wrangle a date out of them when you can all actually meet up and make some fucking noise. But where? You’re all broke, you aren’t famous yet. No fancy studio for you. You’re working with the bare minimum here; you need walls, a roof and electricity. And frankly, anything that ticks those boxes in one way or another is now your temple of sound.

The Underdogs have had our fair share of rehearsal spaces, by now you’ve heard about the ever-creepy and dank crypt under the church, but there have been some others along the way. Hold on to your mohawks punk-rockers and moon-stompers, it’s time for a trip down memory lane…

A Front-room Band

I guess like most bands, our first jam was just in a friend’s front-room. We grabbed some beaten up old guitars and thrashed out some dirty tunes whilst Graham warbled along about the girl that just broke his heart.. Or not caring about school. Something like that. And that would have been ok for one night, one golden night where a few friends got musical after a drink too many. But no, we came back to that front-room, to those beaten up guitars, time and time again.

So we moved a couple of amps into one corner, started cranking the volume like we had something to prove. And maybe we did. Before long it was like a true practice space, there were discarded pizza boxes covered in half scribbled lyrics and empty cans everywhere. We never managed to get a drum kit in there, our then drummer would sit in front of the sofa and just beat different cushions. I’m sure in his head the arm of the sofa sounded just like a hi hat, and him vigorously kicking the front was basically a perfect imitation of a bass drum. Somebody’s well-worn in arse mould was a snare,and the tasseled brown cushion the perfect ride. Of course to us the whole thing was just largely inaudible, muffled thumps. But not even magical sofa drums can last forever, we lost access to the front-room after an incident involving a 3am tuesday night rehearsal, a sleepy topless man and some “decorative” swords.

A Bedroom Band.

Eventually wee moved things upstairs… and into a different house entirely. It’s funny how quickly you can wear out your welcome when you play late-night punk at mid-day volumes. A wonderful lady friend of ours, Murph, offered to let us rehearse in her bedroom, it was right at the top of a house with no adjoining properties, so long as we didn’t go past 11pm… ish she was happy. We even managed to lug a drum kit all the way up the stairs. Our (new but still not Nicky) drummer was ecstatic. The bedroom was great, it always smelt quite nice… well, at the beginning of rehearsal, and there was enough clearance for some jumping.

And best yet it introduced me to one of our lady friends most incredible talents. She had a long wardrobe, all sliding doors. We’d be midway through rehearsal and she’d waltz in.

“I’m heading to the pub, just gonna get changed.” She’d say.

“Oh sure, want us to call it there?” Graham would offer, ever the punk-gentleman.

“Nah, keep playing.”

And with that she’d open one end of her wardrobe and step inside, the door sliding closed behind her like the beginning of the weirdest magic trick in the book. Minutes later she would emerge from the other end of the wardrobe in a completely different outfit. Total transformation. I think once she even did her hair in there. It became a game. She’d step in and we’d start to play and basically race her. She rarely lost. Unfortunately a few months later she had to move out and we lost another rehearsal space… but maybe this time it was for the best…

A Garage Band. Finally.

Yes. At last! We were finally a bona fide Garage Band. We found a garage with power that we could rehearse in, and no one cared, the place was insulated enough the noise didn’t bother anyone nearby. Rehearsal space jackpot. And it was free. And the owner of the garage, mum of a friend, was the flat-out nicest person alive. It may not be very rock ‘n’ roll to admit this, but we all like a cuppa. This lovely lady would periodically bring us tea while we rehearsed… and tell us we sounded good, not that she liked the music but she knew we were enjoying ourselves and she could hear the improvements. This was some sort of positive-reinforcement, tea-induced powerhouse of a rehearsal space.

We were there for about a year all in all and we came on leaps and bounds in that time. Probably due to the tea. Alas, all good things must come to an end, the garage needed to be repurposed for something else and were apologetically asked to move on. After being offered a home-cooked goodbye meal by the lady of the house. Seriously. It’s tough to be angry at the world when someone is being that unfailingly pleasant to you.

And now we rehearse in a church crypt. Swings and roundabouts eh? Or rather, bedrooms and basements eh?

The lesson behind all this? Anywhere can work as a rehearsal space if you want it enough. But try to find  somewhere with free tea.

Photo by Soundof78 via Flickr.

Story Time with Jake – Last Minute Gig

Story Time with Jake – Last Minute Gig

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: Early enough to never turn down a gig.
Venue: The diviest dive.
Crowd: Far more than we deserved.

Home truth time. Some gigs you should turn down, you need to look at all the angles and figure out if this will be a good gig for you to play. It’s not about the pay or the “exposure” you’ve been promised by that asshat of a promoter. Will the gig be fun? Will you and everyone else enjoy it? If not you should definitely consider a big fat “no”. Another truth for you, you won’t. You’ll play every damn gig you’re offered. But sometimes you really shouldn’t.

We get a call from a friend, Mike, he’s in a fairly popular local band, a bass playing hero much like myself, but the band is splitting up. Which happens a lot. They’ve decided to play one last show, a goodbye mosh, all self organised in an amenable local venue. Odds are it’s gonna be pretty packed. And their opening act just pulled out. Let me make this abundantly clear, this is where you live as an early band, waiting, pleading for misfortune to strike a gig and open up a slot for you. Yeah you’re untested, but they’re desperate. And desperate he was because the gig was in 2 days. Of course we agreed. I nearly reached through the phone and bit his damn hand off for it.

There was one major issue with agreeing to this gig, and in my excitement I didn’t even give it a moment’s thought. We were currently “in between” drummers, Nicky had yet to shamble his way into our lives and spring on us his particular brand of explosive freneticism and our last drummer had moved to the other end of the country. Possibly to get away from us. Two days is not a great timeframe to find a new drummer. Frantic calling of all the beatmen we knew got us nowhere but one day closer to our gig. Which was fast looking like it would be a whole series of nails in our collective coffin. Then we get a little ray of sunshine, a friend called Dan knows his way round a kit, it’ll do for me but Graham was in full panic mode, which he alleviates by demanding we rehearse. The night before the gig. For three hours. At 1am.

Gig O’clock: We’re bleary eyed, no one slept much through nerves and adrenaline. Dan vaguely knows the songs. Ritchie is running on fumes but is excited because he bought a new gig guitar. Downside is it’s right handed and he’s a leftie so he’s currently restringing it upside down. But he seems happy. Graham’s last nerve has been frayed down to a stub and there’s a wild look in his eye. I’m rocking a cocktail of nerves and stone cold dread. None of us drink anything. We need to be sharp to get through this Frankenstein’s monster of a gig. Mike sidles up to us and eyes the tiny space we have to play in.

“Ready when you guys are.”

So never then? I’m 5 seconds from running out the door but Graham stands up.

“Sure thing, let’s go guys.”

Man, he can fake the shit out of confidence.

We set up and forego the pleasure of a soundcheck, everything is set to loud, it’ll do.

The next 20 minutes is an absolute nightmare. The back line is in front of the drum kit. In layman’s terms, our stand in drummer can’t hear a fucking thing that’s being played, so he doesn’t know where we are or what’s going on. This becomes painfully apparent after he keeps drumming for a minute at the end of the first song. A quick and panicked conversation leads to the following stunningly rock ‘n’ roll plan; I have to stand dead in front of him so I can mouth “verse”, “bridge” or “chorus” at him and he can watch my hands to figure out what fucking song it is. From that point on I don’t see the audience that I presume hates us, which I guess is a small bonus.

As if that’s not enough, Ritchie’s lovely new upside down guitar? The volume dial is positioned perfectly so that he keeps hitting it with his forearm on the downstrokes and turning his volume off. He spends his gig looking confusedly at his amp or desperately turning himself back up again. Myself and Dan our drummer are locked on some sort strange miming conversation, Ritchie is eyeballing his volume dial like it said something about his mother so that just leaves our charismatic frontman.

Graham’s account of the gig was like some sort of horror story, like a nightmare you’re afraid you’ll never wake up from. He alone took the brunt of the crowd’s ire. Like a stalwart spartan he stood before them and weathered the looks of disgust and contempt as we fumbled our way through a 20 minute set. By the end he was a broken man, he apologised between every song, sometimes during middle eights and twice over Ritchie’s solo which we only heard half of. His last words into the microphone? “Don’t worry, we’re done.” This was no mere trial by fire, this was trial by all the elements and everything else on God’s green earth.

We didn’t gig for a good three months after that and the next offer we got we rehearsed for a solid week, everyday leading up to it. And we probably still sucked.

Kids, do yourselves a favour, say no to gigs.

Photo by Dineshraj Goomany via Flickr.

Story Time With Jake – Graham Alienates the Audience

Story Time With Jake – Graham Alienates the Audience

Jake always plays bass. Jake sometimes remembers what notes to play. Jake never cares. Please give a warm hand to Jake. 

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: A school night
Venue: A local sweat-pit
Crowd: Packed, capacity and then some.

Some gigs are golden. Everyone in the band is playing like their hearts are about to burst, the promoter is grinning like a cat in a cream factory and the audience is one huge appreciative mob. These nights are a balm that every small-time band needs, a reminder why we step out each night and put ourselves on the line.

Graham steps up to the microphone, his smile beaming out to the sweaty mass like a lighthouse on a stormy night. The sea of excited music-goers surge forward, eager for his next announcement. His patter has been amazing tonight, they’ve been putty in his hands.

“Everyone having a good time?”

The crowd roars like a hundred lions.

“Who here is drunk? Lemme hear you!”

Another roar, deafening. I let it wash over me and glance down to the set list, two songs to go and we might even earn an encore on this one. Graham holds his arms out to either side, falling easily into a classic ‘rock jesus’ pose as Nicky starts to bring us in with a simple beat. This song gets hard, fast and dirty, like a brawl in an alley. The crowd is gonna go wild.

“And who here…” the mass surges forward, ready for another chance to scream… “still has homework to do?” Everybody screams, then stops. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife called “realisation”. We’re playing to a bunch of illegally inebriated school kids. It’s a Thursday

If you’ve ever seen footage of a zeppelin go down you know how quickly something can go from touching the heavens to a flaming wreck on the floor. The promoter looks stricken, the bar staff go into a panic. We blast through our last two songs in half the time it should take while the mob in front of us stare daggers. Some gigs are golden, but sometimes it’s fool’s gold so I guess the lesson here is don’t look too hard.

Also, no encore.

Image by Mike Lowe via Flickr

Story Time With Jake – Nicky Drinks The Bar Dry

Story Time With Jake – Nicky Drinks The Bar Dry

Please welcome to the mic, our bassist*, Jake.

*other than the times he forgot his instrument and/or quit

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: 5 years ago, but fresh in my memory like new snow.
Venue: The Golden Bells.
Crowd: 7. At best.

Time for a lesson people, the kind of lesson that needs to hit home like a .45 to the brain. Whatever you do when you play a gig make sure you do this; get payment up front, especially when you’re playing in a shit-hole.

We’re busy setting up, I’m tuning my favourite bass, the one I play for our first two. She sounds like an angel in a brothel. Ritchie is fussing over his array of pedals, Graham is… doing the usual. He exists at a low-level of panic pre-gig, like a worried mother fussing over her chicks. This minute’s crisis? He can’t find Nicky.

There are seven other people in here and he can’t find Nicky.

I guess maybe the spotlight has affected his eyes. I see Nicky immediately. There he is propping up the bar, cuddling up to it like a new lover. Or, actually, it’s propping him up. He turns and waves, stumbles and rights himself. He looks like a jellyfish that suddenly found itself on land.

Our drummer is hammered.

Nicky sidles up to us and before I can stop him he looks Graham dead in the eye and says… “I love you guys”. Damn, like the motor in our last van, he’s fucked. There is no way he’s gonna make it through a whole set. But that’s no issue because I don’t think Graham will make it through the next sixty seconds. There’s a vein throbbing in his forehead that looks fatal. Nicky somehow seems to catch on, he knows we’re worried about his ability to play, which is impressive because he doesn’t seem to know how to stand at the moment. Then he utters the words you never want to hear from a drunk.

“Trust me. I got this…” then he turns to me, winks and conspiratorially taps the air two inches in front of his nose. “Always get paid first… bar… pays beer. More beer, more pay!” The hiccuping giggle afterwards really sets my mind at ease. Sometimes promoters will pay you with firewater. Nicky thinks tonight is such a night.

Graham starts rubbing his temple in the way I’ve grown to realise means he’s holding back a nervous breakdown. I know why. We’re not being paid at the bar tonight, we got the money when we turned up, it’s snug in Graham’s back pocket.

Graham is the closest to murder I’ve ever seen him when Nicky is saved by the Bells. Because they want us to start playing. I grab my bass, just in time to avoid Nicky stomping it on his meandering trip to the drums. He seems excited by the prospect of hitting them, more than normal anyway… I catch myself thinking maybe it’ll be ok. Stupid mistake, I know better than that. Positive mental attitude is for rookies and cat posters.

What a shit-storm in a cluster-fuck. Sure, Nicky held a beat. Several in fact. Just no one knew what beat. He definitely played the wrong song several times, including a drum solo during Ritchie’s solo. Never try to duet a lead guitarist’s solo, it’s like trying to kick his baby. I think the only thing that saved him from Graham’s wrath was the punishing, death-like, misery-bitch hangover we all knew he’d have the next day. And the fact drummers are so hard to find, like trying to pick out one snowflake in a blizzard.

So learn your lessons people, get payment first, but more importantly, check how the fuck you’re getting paid.

Photo by Kjersti Magnussen via Flickr