Archive for January, 2013

Band Life, part 3

Posted in Music on January 17, 2013 by Niveous

I know that I’ve said it before but I think it’s worth mentioning again. The hardest part of having a band is finding people who are willing to hitch their wagon to your dream. It doesn’t help that I consider myself to be shy. Social interaction can be a tough thing sometimes and it has only gotten harder as time has gone by. Sure, I live in the Big Apple where you can find someone holding a guitar case at pretty much every train station. But that doesn’t mean you can just walk up and talk to them. NYC can be a quite exclusionary place sometimes. New Yorkers aren’t known for talking to strangers. But it’s been known to happen.

Back in my imperfect teenhood, I tried to find some bandmates outside my usual circles. My girlfriend at the time came up with the idea of a sign. Not the type that you put up on bulletin boards. I mean one of those big white pieces of poster board that you would use for a handmade protest sign or a grade school science fair. What would come next was a pair of teenagers holding a large handwritten sign inside a train station in Greenwich Village trying to get people to come over and find out about joining a band. This did not work. We got a lot of odd looks and the occasional person did walk over and talk with us, but it was mostly a bust. Still back when I was younger, it seemed much easier to find musicians to work with. When I was in Junior High, I was bound to have some friends with nothing better to do and an iota of musical talent or at least ownership of an instrument. High school worked much the same way. College was probably even easier because you’d just find music majors or you would just go to the floor where the music department was and ta-da. But then I got older and got a real job… with lawyers. And that’s about the point where the well started to run dry. I haven’t found a lot of people who spent their time passing the bar while playing bass in their spare time.

I eventually moved my hunt for band members to the internet. Most of my efforts in the past have been through putting up an ad on craigslist. The results have been a mixed bag. In one ad, I used the word “quirky”. I got a reply from a guy who started his e-mail without a hello or anything like that. He started by saying I’m down, if by ‘quirky’, you don’t mean ‘twee’ and then went on a rant about some band he saw over the weekend that sucked because they sounded like Beat Happening. One reply started by saying my ad was truly the worst one they had ever read, but was still wanted to know if we could play together. But on most occasions, it was a perfectly fine person, who I just didn’t meld with. Though looking back at some of these replies I had received, I wonder if Niveous circa 2006-08 was just too damn picky. But in the middle of all that, back in 2007, came one of my most interesting experiences with the internet ad. Though it wasn’t me putting out an ad, this was one of the rare times in which I responded.  

MySpace was an interesting website. I say it that way because Justin Timberlake’s resurrection project really hasn’t bore fruit yet. One thing I found interesting is the way people manipulated the site. Promotion was such a big aspect of the site that it was fun to see how bands (or the people they paid) advertised themselves. I was surprised when I stumbled across one page where a woman had turned the page into her own style of classified ad. Her stage name was Lucidia. Where as most MySpace pages were mostly annoyances (nothing like opening a profile and getting bombarded with 1-bad animated graphics, 2-the bad graphics your “friends” put on the wall, 3-a godawful song that played automatically at sonic boom amplitude), I thought Lucidia’s was clever. So I responded.

We ended up clicking. We had shared music tastes (like Rasputina). We both had gone through our share of previous band mishaps. But most of all, we got along well which with any band is priority one in my book. What came next was a whirlwind of activity. We recruited fellow Songfighter and mad genius Luke Henley and then went hunting for a bassist. Somehow that led us back to classified ads. I may have mentioned all those guitarists in New York earlier. The absolute opposite can be said for bassists. We ended up just going with Luke’s girlfriend in the end, who didn’t know how to play bass but was around at the time and willing to play.

We had a band and were full of excitement. Soon, the band had a name (Killed by Spiders) and a logo and a MySpace page and a domain and…

But we had never gotten together to play.

And we never did.

By the time we got our acts together and were ready to actually make some music, Luke had moved away. Instead of going back to the drawing board, Lucidia and I called it quits and Killed by Spiders was over before it happened. So, after an experience like that, why would I consider trying out the ad route again. I may have lost out on a band but I gained a friend. Since then, Lucidia and I have seen shows together. She’s come to my parties. We’ve had lunches where we’ve talked about finally making music together. And who knows, that may happen. Even if it doesn’t, I still feel like something great came out of the whole musician ad experience. So, I’m off to make a new ad and I’ll try not to be twee.

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Band Life, Chapter 2

Posted in Music on January 2, 2013 by Niveous

In the last chapter, I mentioned virtual bands and I feel like I should explain a little bit about them as well as tell you why I still want a real life band when I’ve got a virtual one.

I have been a part of a musical community called Songfight for many years now. At its most basic, Songfight is a musical competition where bands are given song titles (like “Brioche, Actually”, “I’m Eating A Wasp”, and “Hooker Pumps”. Yes, there are much better titles too.) and have about 10 days in which to make a complete song for that title. The songs are then posted on the web for all to hear. There is a vote for which song is the best and a winner is named. That winner gets nothing and then we do it all over again. But beyond that, lies a forum where musicians from around the world discuss their lives and just about every facet of music. Back in 2003, this all seemed very alluring and so I lurked around the forum for a while before finally entering my first song into the competition under my new moniker Niveous. The song was a quaint little g^2 (that stands for “guy and guitar”) number about atheism called “I Don’t Believe You” and I felt pretty good about it. I had spun some pretty good lyrics (I used the word demonology, that at least earns some cool points) and I had sung pretty well for something recorded in the bathroom of a dingy Brooklyn apartment while trying not to wake the children. That’s when I learned about one of the other parts of Songfight, the one that they don’t put on the advertisements- the reviews.

The site is not called Song Fight for nothing. Some days entering a song into a song into the competition is the equivalent of jumping a lion’s cage while wearing a pair of boxers made of meat. The musicians of Songfight are very knowledgeable and very opinionated but you have to have some bulldog skin to deal with some of the criticism (though we have mellowed over the years). What I didn’t realize back then is that I had no production values whatsoever. For instance, I think if you listen to the song, you can hear a dog barking in the background. That’s a no-no. Plus, I didn’t understand things like noise removal or not to stand too close to the microphone. In writing this blog I went to find the reviews for that song but the internet has lost them forever and I am luckier for it. Sadly, you don’t get to revel in the brutality but you can imagine it something like me being told to toss my guitar into a fireplace. It wasn’t really that bad but it stung like it was. 134 votes came in during the “I Don’t Believe You” fight and not a one was for Niveous. Two weeks later, I tried my luck again. I entered the “Put Cindy Back on the Bus” fight. I received one vote and it might have been from me. Even the guy who called himself Lightning Ear Fart and made scary noises behind clips from Gumby got two votes. What made me hang around despite the verbal thrashing?

I made friends.

This chapter is about one of them- Eric aka The Voice Inside Your Head. No, he’s not an imaginary friend. That’s just his stage name. TVIYH, for short.

As I struggled to get a grip on the nuances of production (I still suck at production ten years later) and tried to climb up the ranks at Songfight (third song I entered got 3 votes, still less than the fart guy but progress!), I found fellow musicians who were willing to give good advice and I enjoyed talking to and quickly became by first real online friends. It was a strange new concept, the idea of having friends that you would never actually see or would meet (though I would meet most of them eventually). Hell, I didn’t even know what most of these people looked like, except for little profile pictures on the forum, or those who had pages on that newfangled website called Myspace. But still, here I was talking to these people every day. One such person that I made a connection with was a bassist from Pennsylvania who called himself TVIYH. After many days of chatting, we decided to collaborate on some music. The two of us became a virtual band, combining our talents over the web by passing tracks back and forth until we had made our songs.

I being Ernie and he being Eric, we decided to name our band- Silent E. Yes, there are no silent E’s in either of those names but we thought we were being clever. And I can admit that I was swayed by the fact that I had 2 little boys who watched PBS’ Between the Lions where Silent E was a master criminal who could turn a twin into twine. We set out to make our first Songfight song- “So Kind Stacey”. Lyrically, it was not my best work. Production-wise, it was a disaster of epic proportions and it was all my fault. I had decided to try and put on a tougher gruffer voice for the song and I was going to scream and growl and be metal. There were some big flaws in that plan. The biggest flaw being that I made the vocal recording while hidden in the fileroom at work. There’s nothing like trying to do your best Iron Maiden scream while trying not to be heard by your co-workers or get busted for slacking at the job. Needless to say, this was a catastrophe. Eric tried his best to make it work but I had screwed up big time and Songfight let us have it. Not only did it get zero votes, it was murdered in the reviews. Murdered.

TVIYH & I were undeterred and decided to try again. Eight days later, we released our second song “Fear is Free”. A week isn’t the longest time for a band to get its act together but we attempted. Sure, “Fear is Free” again received not a solitary vote but at least we made a song that we didn’t feel so bad about and didn’t get destroyed on the board. In November of 2004, we put out our third Songfight song “I am Tempted”, a song about the desire to leave the US because Bush had been re-elected. The song got mixed reviews and no votes but it seemed like we were moving in the right direction as most of the reviews said that we had potential but needed better production (I get that a lot).

Here’s one particularly interesting review:

I have a vision of a daycare care giver. She is sitting in the middle of a circle of children reading a story. One of the children is playing with a hand grenade. The woman leaves in a panic. This is what I would liken to moving away at a time like this. It’s walking away from a huge responsibility. You can’t stockpile weapons, then let an overgrown child with no sense control them. Now about your song. I liked it.

But Silent E never did put out another Songfight song. TVIYH & I still collaborated on some songs including a rap song that I am not going to write about (you’re gonna have to find that one on your own) but never put another Silent E song into the competition. But that isn’t where the story ends. It’s just the point where the story goes from virtual into actual.

Fast forward to April 2006. Songfight decides to do a live concert in Pennsylvania. I was psyched but nervous. On one hand, I was finally getting a chance to meet a bunch of the musicians that I had been talking to and working with for the last 3 years. On the other hand, it would be my first time playing live in five years. It was anxiety and fear and a whole sea of emotions all wrapped together. It’s a strange thing to finally meet people that you’ve known for years and have never met and then try and make music with them in a church rec center. I walked in and met up with Eric and his wife Asya and immediately all the fear went away. I was with friends. Old dear friends even though this was the first time we were ever in a room together. It would end up being a phenomenal show. I butchered the French language while singing backup during Noah McLaughlin’s set. I performed for 2 crazy minutes during the Luke Henley set. I did a rendition of Gangsta’s Paradise during the end of the night jam session. And during my own set, Silent E performed live. We played “I Am Tempted” and it was a thing of beauty. We proved that Silent E could be something great.

Silent E

And then we never released another Songfight song…

But that still isn’t the end of the story. The next year, my life hit a snag. I had been living in New Brunswick. Our landlord basically started using the basement of the house as some kind of Russian immigrant hostel. When we complained about scary strangers sleeping where we did our laundry, the landlords retaliated by not renewing our lease and throwing us out. It was a tough time but my family survived and moved to another part of Jersey. It had been emotionally draining. I was in need of a mental break in the worst way and that break came quite unexpectedly. Eric & Asya almost out of nowhere offered to give me a plane ticket so I could come to their house in Pennsylvania. It was an amazing gift of generosity. What would ensue was just what the doctor ordered. Eric & I got into his homemade studio and rocked out for a weekend. I played electric guitar (that never happens!). We made a bunch of new tunes including a rocker called “Heat Wave”, an eerie piano murder-ballad called “Bridget” and an epic tune called “The Church at the End of the World” where we got Asya to help on the vocals. Add in some garage-sales, family get-togethers and a dinner at one of the most ridiculously named restaurants ever- Quaker Steak and Lube, it all made for one great experience that I am so grateful for. Not only did it help recharge my dying batteries but it helped remind me how awesome it was to just make music.

And you may be wondering whatever happened to those songs from that weekend. Who knows. We never released them. I don’t even have a copy and I’m not even sure if Eric still does. But it doesn’t really matter in the long run. The experience matters more. It had been a long long time since the break-up of my band Fear of Sleep and I basically hadn’t sat down in a room with a friend and just made a song in years. I didn’t realize just how much I missed that and just how fulfilling that could be, which leads to where we are currently in the story, kind of. I have had great experiences getting together with friends and making music throughout my life and I want more of that. And hopefully one day in the future, Niveous & TVIYH will come together as Silent E again, whether it be virtual or in real life.