The two of us became good friends throughout high school and beyond, and spent every weekend together jamming out in the basement. It changed the way I played. Sitting in front of a guitarist gave my drums a new sound. It sounded much better – purposeful sounding for once. We had officially become an unofficial two-piece band — without a name.
We didn’t really have any material to speak of. Most of our set was made up of half-ass cover songs. Neither one of us were songwriters by any stretch of the imagination, but managed to eke out a few original songs on top of our Van Halen set list. We even had a small following. On occasion a few friends would come over to watch us play. When I look back, there always seemed to be a direct correlation between how long everyone stayed and how much free beer was left in the cooler. When the beer was gone, the show was over. I guess it was better than no crowd at all…
As time went on, we began accumulating bigger and better equipment too. I became a regular haunt at a local music store and learned quickly that playing an instrument – particularly the drums – isn’t a cheap hobby. It didn’t matter though — it was go for broke, for me. This was my ticket to ride, but I needed a serious set of hardware before stepping on that bus. My kit was rounding out and becoming bigger, badder, and louder.
At one point I finally broke down and began taking lessons. It was a minor setback at first, but long overdue nonetheless. It was a pretty humbling experience at first. The unorthodox garage-drummer stuff didn’t hold up very well when seated next to someone that’d been classically trained. After a few years of studying Studio Funk, I caught up on theory, notations – all the boring shit. For as dumb and repetitive as it seemed at the time, it would eventually pay great dividends. For hours on end I would practice the pads. The routine would go something like this: 1.) Play rudiment, 2.) Screw up, 3.) Cuss, 4.) Smoke, 5.) Repeat…
On the nights that we didn’t practice we were out watching bands touring the local circuit at the time. We went to a lot of shows. Some of the bands were really good and some were really bad. In my mind it set the bar for what I was up against. I was constantly sizing myself up with other drummers, paying close attention to each and every one that I came across. The drummer was the vital puzzle piece of every band in my mind – the conductor. If the drummer sucked, the band sucked – period. I would always silently criticize, watching and listening to the consistency and color of his rhythms. During the show I would count in my head, taking mental notes of all of the mistakes the untrained ears in the audience were oblivious too. The more shows that I went to the more I realized that I was finally coming into my own.
One night after band practice I pitched the idea of starting a legitimate project to my guitar buddy. The two- man-band thing was getting old to me, and I was feeling like I’d long outgrown it. It was fun while it lasted, but in my mind it was time to get serious for once. I wanted to write music and play in front of a crowd, not sit around on a Saturday night playing stupid-ass cover songs in a basement.
It only took four and a half years for me to finally discover that the guitarist I’d evolved with — who I was counting on to start a band with –had had a severe phobia of performing in front of crowds. I couldn’t believe it. In a way I felt cheated – betrayed almost. While the monologue unfolded in my head, the voice of reason promptly interrupted the crazy talk. Fuck him. I don’t need him.
After the officially unofficial two-piece band broke up, we parted company and never really played together after that. He wanted to stay in the basement – alone – and I was looking for any way possible to get to the stage. There’s no way this minor hiccup was gonna throw a wrench in my operation. It was time to do some legwork.
I looked through every community board at every record shop within a thirty mile radius. I needed to find an audition. It ended up being a complete waste of time. I digress — it turned out to be one ridiculously funny story after another. One thing I learned through trial and error is that wanted postings are always inaccurate and wildly embellished. After reading through a good number of them and going for a few auditions, I eventually learned how to interpret them. For example, “10 years of experience” often translates into “I bought a guitar 10 years ago, but never played it until last Tuesday.” Another example, “Looking for Drummer – Some Original Material”, typically translates into “Shitty Cover Band with No Singer, Either”. It was deceptive advertising at its finest.
For a brief period it felt like all was lost. But, as luck would have it, I ended up catching wind of the potential break I’d been desperately searching for.
A friend of mine told me about an upcoming show featuring a new band on the local scene. They were ready to pop. They had it all – a playlist, booked gigs, solid guitars, and an edgy vocalist who sounded like nothing else around. The only thing that was holding them back? The drummer sucked. This was my in. I had to find out for myself what all the hype was about, but more importantly, I had to do whatever I could to sweet-talk my way into an audition.
I met some friends at the venue that night. The crowd was surprisingly thick for a relatively new band on the scene. The energy was electric — I could feel the buzz in the atmosphere. It wasn’t like a lot of the shows that I’d been to in the past few years. This one felt different to me. It might have had something to do with my hypersensitivity to the scenario I’d become aware of. I was giddy. I’d never been a big believer in fate, but in that particular time and place, it felt like it was destined to be from the very beginning.
The band started playing and they were nothing short of electrifying. They were exactly as advertised – heavy, raw, aggressive, different – it was everything that I ever wanted. The only drawback was the drummer. What an embarrassment. It was hard for me not to criticize everything about him. I can recall his sloppy limbs flailing around like a monkey in a litter box, missing every note, and keeping horrible time. I knew right then that this was my ticket.
I stuck around after the show to mingle, and the friends that I’d met at the venue introduced to the band. They had a certain swagger about themselves unlike any other group of musicians I’d met before. They were good and they knew it. I knew it too. We sat and talked for awhile about the local music scene and all that jazz. I didn’t realize it at the time, but was surprised to learn that they’d already heard about me from our mutual friends. Well, everyone but the drummer heard about me…
We closed the place down that night and talked after everyone had cleared out. The rest of the band had left, and I sat with the guitarist pounding down gin and tonics. Seemingly troubled, he finally asked what I thought about the drummer. As tastefully as I could, I beat the guy into the ground — his playing, anyways. It was no time for mincing words. I made it clear that the drummer was holding the band back and I wanted his spot. There wasn’t a single shred of doubt in my mind that I couldn’t take the group to the next level. Maybe it was the gin, maybe it was frustration — maybe it was just my time.
We parted company late that night. As I closed the car door, I felt something resisting it from the outside. It was Mike — puffing with a wide grin and holding a handful of disks. “Give it a listen, we’ll see you next weekend for an audition”, he said. I went home that night and didn’t sleep a wink.
It was finally my time to shine…
Click Here for the Conclusion
- The Conductor of an Aggressive Symphony (Part 2 of 3) (righttobitch.com)
- The Conductor of an Aggressive Symphony (part 1 of 3) (righttobitch.com)