Thursday, June 21, 2007
Failed musician turned failed journalist turned musician
I originally started this blog because my attempts at starting a band had been going nowhere for three years. From summer 2004 until early spring 2007, my musical career was nonexistent. Because of my travels, graduate school and other distractions, I was unable or unwilling to focus on making music with people.
Instead, I spent a lot of time just listening to a wide variety of stuff. I did all the stuff that one could do without relying on other people. I finally learned how to play decent guitar solos. I learned how to make loops on my laptop. Anything that didn't require making phone calls or waiting around for someone.
But most importantly, I spent a lot of writing about music. I've always enjoyed doing research, so I decided to start writing essays about my favorite bands. I began publishing this blog and started to get some really strong feedback. Hell, for a little while I was hoping that I'd end up like Bob Stanley from St. Etienne: I hoped that after a career in journalism I would eventually get around to starting a group again. Unfortunately, I found out that most publications were uninterested in people like me and my school work was becoming a lot more demanding, so ultimately the music suffered.
Then, out of nowhere, I joined a band.
I met Brock through Craigslist. The ad he placed was supposed to be a joke, but apparently the bands that I listed were eclectic (and cool) enough for him to take notice and send a response citing his serious desire to play music. Brock then introduced me to Anna, who happened to bartend at Wonderland, our favorite local watering hole. We got together on a rainy night in March and jammed for a few hours while swapping police stories and drinking cheap beer. At the end of the night, Brock noted that he knew a drummer called Ken. Turns up that Ken knew of a decent practice space near Catholic University.
Two months later we had written about 10 songs and were rehearsing at least twice a week. And last Thursday, we played our first show to a packed house at Wonderland.
NUTS AND BOLTS:
When people ask me "What do you play?" my response is usually pretty long winded. Ra Ra Rasputin is unique because we use a rotating squad system. That is, everyone, except for the drummer, switches instruments regularly. Anna and Brock swap vocal, guitar and keyboard duties. I tend to go back and forth between guitar and bass, though recently I've become very fond of playing bass. As a rhythm guitarist, I always followed the drummer, so switching to bass was not terribly difficult. This is not to say that I'm not putting in work. On the contrary, I've been practicing my scales and Paul McCartney faces so much that I've arrived at a point where I enjoy playing bass more than guitar.
It's a shame that when I'm playing in a group, I tend to listen to a lot less hip-hop and electronic music. In that aspect, I suppose that I'm a bit of a rockist. But this is not to say that I have conventional aspirations for this band. The minimalism of ESG and the intricate funkiness of Talking Heads during their Brian Eno period have played a huge role in shaping my style of composition and performance for Ra Ra Rasputin. I adore Tina Weymouth's bass playing so much that I've been scanning E-Bay for an affordable Fender Mustang short-scale bass. Unfortunately when you've got no scratch, you have to deal with what you can borrow or afford (SIGH).
As per guitarists, I started listening to the Smiths again in order to get an idea of the kinds of sounds one can conjure up when playing a Rickenbacker 360 through a Roland JC-120 amplifier. I always enjoyed Johnny Marr's style of playing and arranging, even if it's impossible to replicate (closest anyone ever came was Bernard Butler on the first Suede album). It's frustrating at times because I can't really practice at my house, but that's nothing new.
Song writing in the band tends to be a mostly democratic affair. Anna and Brock are the group's primary lyricists, and they will often come to practice with a basic melody and song structure for the compositions. Most of the arranging, however, is done by the group. In some cases, songs grow organically out of lengthy jam sessions during practice. Someone will do a cool bass riff, or a guitar lick, something...and eventually it becomes a song.
I don't sing because I haven't bought in any of the songs I've written over the years. I have a lot of stuff was never used by SCAM and the Norm and the Shake. But I'm still not 100 % comfortable about introducing completed original material. At this point, I'm a lot more comfortable just working on the music and the arrangements.
When we played live last week, I was beyond happy once I plugged in and got playing. But during the three hours before our performance, I was anxious and miserable. I tend to get really anxious and pissed off before going on stage because, well, nothing ever goes right. People disappear, cables get lost, microphones don't work, etc. But once all that nonsense is settled and you set foot on stage, it's a wonderful feeling. I still get really nervous about playing guitar on stage. Mostly because I'm afraid of what people like me will think. You know,those people who pay attention to every little sonic detail. People like me.
I hope to play more shows and eventually get around to recording. Right now, all we have is a Tascam 4 track and a mixer so the recordings will probably be pretty lo-fi. Nonetheless, I do believe that it's possible to use our technological constraints to our advantage. It'll force us to be creative. Plus I could finally get my Lee Perry/George Martin/Brian Eno producer groove on....
Ra Ra Rasputin will be playing on the 14th of July with the Husbands @ Velvet Lounge in Washington DC. For more information, please visit www.ra-ra-ra-ra.blogspot.com. MySpace page coming.....eventually.