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April 23, 2008

About Last Night...

As I lay awake last night, staring at my bedroom ceiling, my head buzzed with so much stuff it was hard to sleep.

Yesterday was my first experience of a number of things: playing with a real live band, learning to play a song in one session, being in a practice room, experiencing band inter-personnel dynamics... many, many things. I had planned on waiting a few days before blogging about it, as I felt I should organise my thoughts and feelings, but I figure that the more I get out now, the more I'll remember to talk about.

First off, I have to thank Axe Victim for arranging the opportunity for me to jam with "The Sociables". It was a most unexpected, most welcome surprise. My 'band cherry' was broken last night, much earlier in The Project than I expected, but not before time. For those in the London area, his main band "Magic Ship" are performing songs from their debut album on Friday 6th June. Details of the gig and links to their MySpace page can be found on his blog.

So, I turned up at the studio yesterday evening excited but tired (see previous post!). I was nervous that I'd be playing in front of strangers and using someone else's kit. I should also have been nervous that I'd be called on to play rhythm guitar a) standing up and b) on electric, both of which were outside my experience. I've only just let Red Dog out of his kennel again recently, so I'm rusty on the electric. Playing lead whilst on my feet feels natural. Strumming does not.

We'd pre-arranged that we'd jam on "Melissa" by The Allman Brothers, a song which I'm very familiar with, though it's been a long time (as in years) since I've attempted playing it. By the end of the evening we'd managed to hammer out a decent "Melissa" as well as grooving on some of Axe's original material.

If I go into too much detail this blog entry's likely to rival "War & Peace" on the word count front, so I'm going to try to crystallise what I got out of Band Day into bullet points.

In no particular order:

1) Be in control of your sound. Know your guitar. Know your amp. Know how to kick in volume when you need it. Know which switch position you want to use. If you're comfortable with all these aspects then you're not going to worry about them.

2) Keep spare picks in left hand pocket, or at least handy. When playing, the right hand pocket is hard to get at.

3) Finding people to play with isn't the only hurdle. Finding the right people is also hugely important.

4) You gotta give the drummer one. He's totally the backbone of the group. I was fretting about remembering when to switch between chord progressions so that I didn't get out of step with everyone else. Turns out the drummer gives you hints as to when chord changes are coming up! Never knew that! Playing for real it suddenly became blindingly obvious! The band's a team, after all, I suppose. Once you realise that the guys around you are helping out you can concentrate more on sounding good.

5) Barre chords standing up! 'E' forms? Easy. 'A' Forms... not so easy. I found myself constantly screwing up until Axe called for a time-out and we practiced 'A' progressions. I realised that if I pull my right elbow in towards my body the guitar fingerboard angles up, giving me line of sight on the chord. I'm sure that once I'm grooved on playing rhythm on the electric this'll be less of an issue. I need to spend more time on this aspect of playing!

6) Practice rooms are cool. Sorry, but I thought that was worth mentioning. This morning I checked to see whether there are any local to me. Turns out there's one just up the road! Score! If I want I can go there and MAKE NOISE, either solo or with others. It sounds stupid, but I'd never really considered that a possibility before. The one local to us will even loan you a huge amp for £1 an hour. Hmmm...

7) Right now I suck on electric. My fingers have completely forgotten what they're doing. But... electric is exciting. It's what rock's about. I need to get back into playing Red. As an aside, the Epiphone Les Paul that I borrowed from Axe was actually a totally decent guitar. It didn't feel precisely like Red, but it was definitely a relative. I wasn't 100% plugged into it, but that may have been the situation as much as anything.

8) Today at work I feel like Clark Kent. That's a good thing. I'm glad I got a taste of what it's like to wear my underpants on the outside. God, I hope that makes sense to someone!

9) When I look for a full-time band, it needs to have focus and direction. It needs to know what it's about. Without clarity it'll be hard to get 'a sound'.

10) Digital recording and PODs. I'd heard the term 'POD' used on guitar forums but never really knew what one is. Last night Axe was talking about how the band records 'live' in the studio using PODs for everything except the drums. Turns out a POD is a digital device which is effectively an amp modeller with an output for digital recording. If you use PODs rather than micing amps you can independently record everyone playing together in a room, using headphones to hear the other players. That way you get the whole song in one take before overdubs and mixing. It also means that you can experiment to get the exact sound you want at home, bring your POD to the studio and you're good to go.

11) I'm ready to form a band, but I still have a long way to go before I'm going to sound good. Having said that, I could comfortably join/form a pub band right now, learn 5 or 6 numbers and get out there.

12) I'm more interested in making original music than doing covers. The creative process is where it's at, rather than slavishly trying to reproduce someone else's sound.

13) I *can* drink one beer and still play. Used to be that any alcohol would throw things out.

14) I was comfortable in the studio. That's actually a biggie for me.

15) is an extension of 14... Mood lighting actually really helps. Bringing the light level down lets you relax into the music more.

16) You need someone to be in charge. Bands should not be ruled by a committee. You need a leader otherwise you don't move forwards.

17) You need a plan as to what you're doing in the studio. Even a 7 to 11pm slot is not really a long time when you're trying to work something out.

18) You need to PLAY LOUD to cut through the drums. Towards the end of the session I was trying (and failing) to up the volume when soloing (see item 1)

19) If your fingertips are turning purple it probably explains why your fingers aren't going where they should anymore!

20) Keep a towel handy. Things can get sweaty and you could fall off your guitar and hurt yourself.

21) The band does not mix the tracks, a mixer does. This is probably obvious to most, but as a DIY home recorder, it was something of a revelation to me. Do I sound naive or what?

Last but not least...

22) Trains stop running early in the suburbs! Know your exit routes!!!

I'm sure I'll remember more stuff that I wanted to say over the coming days and weeks, but for now I'll leave it at that. As we packed away our instruments last night, I suddenly became self-conscious about how well or how badly I'd played, having not really thought about it all evening. At times I felt like I was starting to find my feet then at times I counted more bum notes than good 'uns. As we all shook hands and went our separate ways I wondered what the other guys were thinking, whether they would want to meet up again or whether it was the musical equivalent of a one night stand. I don't think I'll be disappointed if it turns out to be the latter, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't be up for Round 2.

Irrespective, I had a great time and learned so much, both about my own strengths and shortcomings and about what it meant to play within the context of a band. What's clear is that I need to revamp my action plan over the next few weeks based on yesterday's experience. I'll admit that recently I've questioned whether The Project is truly viable. Last night I had my faith restored. 252 days 10 hours 45 minutes left on the ticker. That's just over 8 months, including all summer. I think we're in with a chance.


Axe Victim said...

Nice post dude. Just make sure that eveybody realises that you played with Axe's splinter group 'The Sociables' and not with Magic Ship - the awesome rock band that is about to launch its debut album 'LoveTel Motel' next month.

So you have a practise room locally eh? In which case I think that you have no excuse not to advertise for band members to play locally with eh?

What went wrong with the trains man? Did you end up catching the early morning mail run? I blame Isvanski. He's drives that line. He was probably on strike!

Finally, it was a pleausure meeting and playing with you mate. I am looking forward to seeing you again more socially perhaps for a drink or two?


Kenski said...

Hey, signed up on Party Sounds as per your suggestion. We'll see what happens. I thought maybe this weekend I'll take a walk to the studio (it's that close) and check them out, see if there's a notice board etc.

Northbound trains from Whitton actually quit at 23:20. Wasn't a problem, though. 10 minute bus to Richmond then fast train all the way home. Got to see a cool fistfight along the way and some verbal between the bus driver and a youf. Nothing that you don't see every day when you travel amongst the great unwashed :-)

I think I owe you a beer or two!

(And for those who didn't get the hint, check out Axe Victim's blog for links to "Magic Ship"... they do sound awesome, so CHECK THEM OUT!)

Further on up the road said...

Great post and well done and keep going etc.

One thing - whe not practice standing up at home? I do. Just arrange the room as needed, that way that issue about suddenly finding a bit you can't play standing up goes away.

Side note on this - I bought the latest Joe Satriani CD which had a free DVD in it with him talking about playing some of the tracks off his seminal Surfing with the Alien album last year (it's 20th anniversary). He had just that problem a mind blowing solo that he composed, practiced and recorded sitting down. He can't play it standing up at all. Now he is older he doesn't care and simply sits down to play it - but that track was off his live set list for 20 years because of that issue! Even the best of us....

PODS - I've sworn by them I have my second one as my main rig now. Live (I actually rarely, make that never these day play live) I run it through a small 80W PA, gives me a PA for acoustic as well.... Well that was the original theory.

Pocket Pod is one of the best headphone / practice tools about.

Axe Victim said...

Does pocket pod have a built in bass player?

Anonymous said...

Nice post - Glad you enjoyed it and glad you learnt something. With regard to point 4 - I'm really flattered. I've never been described as 'totally a backbone' before. Totally plenty of other things - usually by AV, but a backbone I take as a serious compliment.
You said you were wondering what we were thinking when we knocked off - well, it was along the lines of 'You could do well mate'. Keep going, glad to have met you and I'll see you at Axe's gig for the ritual exchange of many beers.
P.S. I'm not really anonymous - I just can't be bothered to register.



Kenski said...

Rich, thanks for stopping by. It was really good to meet you guys.

Not knowing a thing about drums (or bass) I was totally impressed at how well you (guys) were able to get up to speed on Melissa. Kudos. I guess if I think of it in terms of guitar where someone might say 'play a I-IV-V', I'd just know how to do that and it's the same for drums???

I'm still hoping I can make the Magic Ship inaugural gig but it's not looking good. We were going through stuff we have to do when the in-laws arrive and it'd be hard for me to escape my duties. Having said that, if I can't make that one I'll definitely come along to the next.

I'm trying to figure out my action plan right now, and I think one of the first things I'm going to do is put together a couple of home-recorded demos. Nothing too complex, just enough to say 'hey, I can play enough that you might recognise the song' :-) I'm not looking forward to programming drums now that I know a bit more about them! It's actually something I've been dying to do for a while but time's not been on my side and it's about time I treated myself!

Cheers again!

Axe Victim said...

Not gonna make Axe's gig! At this rate we'll be playing to an empty room...