The characters are changing but the dream remains the same.
Since my last entry, I have enjoyed an incredible series of experiences with Useless Jester. We went into the studio and made a powerful record that I am immensely proud of. The seven song EP is titled Waking Up and it has been tremendously well received by our listeners. We’ve played a number of great shows with awesome bands in spaces that I was stoked to perform at. In July we went back into the studio to begin writing our next 8 song record. It’s a mix of old and new songs and shows tasty and technical growth. I took a little bit longer than last time putting down my parts, but, relatively speaking, I put my tracks down quickly. Again, I was stoked with what I put down. And before July was over I was out of the band.
Bands are like any other relationship. Only the people in the relationship can ever really know what that relationship was / is. Only they can really know what happened…and even then sometimes even they don’t really know.
This blog post is about love though. This won’t be a tell-all, vindictive rant. This is a meditation on the dream.
I will say that I found the reasons given to be very debatable. I believe that the decision was made for reasons other than the ones given. I also believe that there is a bigger picture at play and that everyone is benefitting from that decision. It seems to me that this has been a win – win split.
I have ambitious goals in a field that is known for shattering dreams. There are no safe bets in music. Successfulness in music is miracle work. Miracles don’t grow from saltiness, jealousy, spite, and fill in the blank negativity. Miracles only grow from love. I was surprised. I was hurt. I wasn’t all positivity. But I also accepted that this is what music is. I was grateful for all the milestones that Useless Jester made possible. I am increasingly grateful for all the milestones that Useless Jester made reality.
Since leaving the band, I am encouraged by the strides I continue to make toward achieving my goals. My dream continues to go incredibly well. My network is expanding in ways that it simply wouldn’t have if I were still a Jester. I’ve continued to play great gigs and find validating signs that I’m still on the right path. And Useless Jester has found a fantastic new bass player. He’s a good guy, a fine player, and probably a better fit. With much due respect to everything I confidently say that I brought to the band, I also know that Binh Ly is probably a better Jester. The truth as I know best is that we live in an abundant universe. There is enough music, there is enough success, there is enough of everything for all of us.
One dubbed cassette with two bands recorded on either sides forever changed how I heard and thought about music. I was in 6th grade...12 years old. I already loved music. I started getting grabby with my abuela's single speaker, single cassette playing boom box (I'm using that term HELLA LIBERALLY) at a young age...6 or 7ish. I listened to the radio and made mix tapes. I got sharp on recognizing songs in a single measure...in a single note. I could spit Paul Revere end to end by 4th grade. I didn't have a solid grasp on genre. I liked Tears for Fears, The Police, Aha, White Snake, Motley Crue, Newcleus, Herbie Hancock, Soulsonic Force, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, and Iron Maiden...but not getting too deep into any of them. I only knew what was on the radio and friends' older siblings' listening habits. But that one cassette, with Sex Pistols Nevermind the Bollocks on one side and Minor Threat Out of Step on the other, instantly recalibrated my ear, heart and mind.
After that first listen, I hated radio. I hated everything I had heard before that cassette...it was all bullshit. I learned to care passionately about music, to have the strongest opinions...nah...convictions about music. And I learned to dig hard for music.
For years I lived on a strict diet and code of punk. I was distrustful and dismissive of what I saw as corporate industry music. I was distrustful and dismissive of music playing on the radio, and only respected the music that I had to dig for or be put on to. My saving grace was that I found punk at a time when all the subgenera of punk where fresh, still blooming, and equally valid. I got the same thing I out of the Cro Mags as I found in the Violent Femmes. I got the same satisfaction from early Sinead O'Conor as I found in Gorilla Biscuits. I listened to hard core. The East and West Coast, NoCal and Socal all had different sounds. I listened to industrial, especially Ministry and Revolting Cocks. I loved The Damned, Bauhaus, and The Cult...which at that time was goth. I loved the Cramps and Psychobilly. Social Distortion, subtly at first and eventually full throttle, opened me up to country and Americana. How do I even describe what the Sugarcubes or the B-52s opened me up to? And last but not least, I found ska and reggae! Ska and reggae...that's the first time I looked in the mirror and recognized that I was a music purist and snob. When I found ska and reggae I developed the most exacting standards of what "acceptable" ska and reggae. I liked second generation, 2 Tone ska, but I only liked 3rd generation that pursued "authentic 50s and 60s Jamaican sounds. Fishbone got a free pass because I heard and loved them even before I had found The Specials and Prince Buster...No Doubt...not so much. I didn't realize it yet...I was a music asshole.
I wouldn't say I ever broke up with punk, but we took a break from each other that started in 1994. More on that subject next time. Stay tuned.
I'm listening to the rough mix of our band's upcoming EP...and I loooooooove it! Tomorrow we have a show in a market that I'm excited for us to break into. They have a great scene for music, art and food...and a genuinely special mash up of wide variety of truly cool people. The weekend before we jumped into the studio, we played a gig with a local up and dominating band that we all are super stoked on. Adding to that sweetness, we played with them at a venue we respect and look forward to having a good connection with. All of this is to say that band life has been shaping up very nicely!
So much has happened since my last post. My school year ended well. My summer was spent epicaly. At least that's how it feels in this now. There were plenty of moments spent joyfully with my family. The girls hit some impressive milestones, and my wife and I are swimming in deeper waters of marital bliss. I even found my way back into the gym. It's exhilirating to push my body's limits and to be punching and kicking shit again. The first week of school is done. The students are still honeymooning...they are still happy to be school, excited about a new year's clean slate, and aiming to please. That's a whole lot of happy. But this long run of awesome also coincides with a season of more gun violence than I ever ever ever hope to repeat. Police brutality. Deranged mass murderers. Protests. Counter protests. And I haven't mentioned the contentious roller coaster political campaigning that has friends and family at loggerheads. So much to write about, so much that I haven't written about.
I started this blog as an exercise in discipline. My intent was to focus my energy for music and creativity, to regularize my practice, practice my writing, practice my productivity. In so many ways I've been disciplined. In so many ways I've been exceptionally productive but, the fact remains, I have not been writing. I intend to step that up. Game on. Stay tuned.
It's been a long time. I shouldn'ta left you...without a dope rhyme to step to...
Damn, that last blog was a while ago...and it was sooo emo. Honestly, I almost didn't want to share it because it was more personal and...well...emo than I wanted it to be. But, ultimately, it was truth as I was feeling it at the time.
So much has happened since then. Shortly after I wrote that blog, like within a week or two, I found my new band! I'm hella stoked on this band!!! They have history, a sizable catalog of rad songs that I've had a great time getting into, dope original lyrics to be proud of, and, best of all, they sound like a band I would have put together myself from scratch.
This band search, and this band find, have had me thinking quite a bit about fit. The search was so much like on-line dating. Checking Craigslist. Keeping the listing fresh. Weeding through offers. And then there was the actual trying-out of bands. This band plays only covers, but the guys are cool and they practice close by. This band has a great drummer but one or the other members...welllllll. This band sounds great...but they have no vision or drive or communication skills. This band is perfect...except...the issues... There were a few bands I liked ok but I wasn't convinced about. I was straightforward, I'd keep playing with them when I could but I wanted to keep trying out other bands until I was ready to commit. After the last emo blog, I came across two bands I was excited to audition. I made plans to audition both bands one night after the other, but after playing with the first I knew that I'd be canceling my audition with the next. Funny how when you know, you know.
The last two months have been spent learning new songs and getting to know my bandmates. In this time, my last band has made a killer video featuring their new bass player and getting some better gigs than the shows that I played with them; and I can honestly tell you that I'm truly happy for them. I know how hard they've worked and invested for their good fortune, but I can also see how their new bassist is a better fit for them than I was. I can also see how this new band is a better fit for me. We all win.
It's been a busy month since my last blog. In that time, I've written countless virtual edits and re-edits of this post, trying to put a finger on how to frame what I want to say. I've been auditioning new bands and I've been weighing what to say and how much of it to share. One theme that I have visited often is how much of a finicky beast music is.
In this time I have accepted that I will no longer continue with my former band. There was relief there...creative differences to be free of. But there was also loss...the satisfaction of creating new music, the thrill of new opportunities that were presenting themselves, the security of knowing that I was going to get some music time on a regular basis, and also the loss of friends. Friends???
Friends??? That might be one of the strangest factors in this equation for me. Are we really friends with our bandmates? This is more of an existential question for me than it is an indictment on my former band mates. The facts are: we got along great, we never fought, the hang was good...a natural fit. But the facts are also: we met on Craigslist, we hung out outside of practice and gigs very rarely (and maybe I hung out the least given my family life and other responsibilities and shit), I wasn't with the band that long...or was I???, and we haven't hung out since I left. Regarding the last fact, I was definitely invited to hang out...I just haven't. That's my shit. Another truth is that I haven't been out to hang out because leaving a band is weird...at least for me it is.
It's funny how there is an element of "break up" ego bullshit involved in leaving a band. Like, I want to win the "break up" by starting or joining an even "better" band. A band that plays better, accomplishes more. A band with even more charming personality and bigger tits. Just seeing that thought in print seems idiotic to me, but there it is. Intellectually, I can see the faults in that kind of logic readily. For one, music isn't a competition. For another, that kind of thinking is an unnecessary distraction that might keep me from recognizing and fairly considering the true potential of a band that I'm trying out. And there is also the reality of how unpredictable life is. In this world of music, one can never be sure that we (or some of us) won't play together again. For that reason alone, I should hope that the best things in our world of music could happen to them.
...So the band search... And here is where I come back to this question of "fit". I've been playing quite a bit. There are some interesting options to choose from, the search is narrowing, but, to be honest, I still haven't found the perfect fit.
To be continued
My Goth Ebird is the instrument I play most. Official duties are split between my Gibson bird and my Epiphone Rivoli, but the one that I play daily for hours on end is the Epiphone Thunderbird I found for $80 on Craigslist. It's a solid mahogany body with a mahogany bolt on neck and rosewood fretboard. It has a fast neck, like a Fender Jazz. It sustains like a solid union job with a robust benefits package, and her tone croons like blues soaked soul singer. And she's versatile. Like her Gibson namesake, which she is a working class model of, her signature sound is her low rumbling growl, but if you turn down the neck pick up and turn up on the bridge you can dial in some tasty mids. I've been playing some ultra dead D'Addario Chromes on her for a few years now...my preference. I play everything from punk to classic rock (a la Stones, Animals, Beatles), hard rock (i.e. Led Zep, Blue Oyster Cult), reggae, ska, 70s funk, Afrobeat, and hip hop and she delivers convincingly on all of it.
Both Epiphone and Thunderbirds are polarizing makes and models. They have their loyal fanatics and they have their detractors. I have found that the balance of her pros outweigh her cons.
For starters, Epiphone is a budget make...pretty much...of the parent brand Gibson's flagship models. The Thunderbird is no exception. The Thunderbird was designed by auto designer Ray Dietrich in 1963 as part of a "futuristic" direction in reimagining guitars. The Epiphone version is true to the Gibson's lines, angles, and arcs but features a bolt on neck as opposed to the Gibson's neck thru design. A con or a pro, depending on how you look at it...keep in mind that all Fenders are bolt ons too. Gibson pays more attention on their makes to wood selection for tone and grain, apply more upscale nitro cellulose lacquer finishes, and my Gbird has an even faster neck. But the biggest difference is output. The pick ups on my Gibson are hotter than my Epi...and they should be based on the difference in price point. But tone for tone, my Epi sounds very true to my Gibson. And also like my Gibson, she stays in tune like an upscale instrument.
She's heavy, between 10 and 11 pounds. For years I played her with a two inch strap...that shit hurts after a couple of hours. But a three inch Levy's strap made her weight a non issue. These birds nosedive too. The newer Gibson birds are lighter and don't nosedive, but all the Epiphones do (yes...when I indulge in Guitar Center and Sam Ash browsefests I play the Epis as much as I do all the other brands...and I browse like Ulysses on an Odyssey). The Levy's strap also took the nosedive away. To be honest, the nosedive really isn't all that bad...it's real...it's undeniable...but really...how strong does your fretting arm need to be??? Also, a good strap resolves that shit.
Thunderbirds are ergonomic, which ironically their detractors say that they are not. The reality here, is that Thunderbirds are rockers' guitars. They seem to have been designed to be played slung low down by ones' naughty bits. In this position, whether I'm picking or playing finger style, anchoring on a pick up or floating my thumb, every attack feels natural. Even when I'm sitting, I find Thunderbirds very comfortable to play...more so than Fenders or even Ricks. Even my Rivoli is only comfortable to play standing.
There is however one character defect of Epiphones that can't go unmentioned. It's a minor detail, but one so ubiquitous that something really has to be said. The nut on the output jacks always come loose on Epiphones. It was already lost when I bought it, a detail I seized upon to haggle down the price. Epiphone sent me a Goth black replacement nut for free...good on them. It's come loose since, but I know to be mindful of that kind of thing. And I've noticed the same defect in other Epis. It happens on my Rivoli. It happens on my homeboys Sheraton. I saw Harold Oy of DRI play an Epiphone Thunderbird live. He sounded TREMENDOUS!!! And then during their encore, the nut fell off and he had to fix it in real time while the band played on Five Year plan..."I WIN...YOU LOSE!!!". A shame really. I'm a dyed in the wool Epiphone fanatic, but come guys...shouldn't this issue be resolved by now?
All in all, I've never regretted my purchase. And if there was a fire...and all my loved ones were safe outside...I'd run inside for my Ebird. Well, my Ebird and the Rivoli... but that's a story for another day.
My first bass was an early 90s, possibly late 80s Ibanez. It may have been a SR but I can't be sure. I wasn't a gear nerd then and it wasn't really mine. A good friend let me borrow it indefinitely so that we could start a band that we never did. I did have it for a good number of years. And I was in bands but never as the bass player. I did play it every day for a while but I never learned anything more than a sense of rhythm and some basic melody. I didn't know my notes or even the pitch of the strings. So perhaps this story really begins with an Epiphone Thunderbird Goth.
Two months before I got her, I had been holding $100 of birthday loot that I wanted spent riiiight. I thought of few different ways to spend it but the only other idea I remember was another set of Bones Swiss Ceramics (Super) speed bearings. But I's alreadys gots those...and it's not like I was skateboarding as much as I was used to. I wanted to get something epic that I wouldn't usually get myself. That's when it hit me how much I missed the Ibanez, and so my search for a bass began.
Now's a good time to mention that I love a good hunt. Kind of a funny thing for a vegetarian to say. But I do...I like a good long, drawn out search for something. My hunt game is strong.
I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted, not in a brand and model specific kind of way. I play a little game when I know what I want but not exactly what I want. I set parameters. The first parameter is that the whole rig and kaboodle had to be found for $100 or under. The next parameter was that the bass would have to stoke me. I was realistic that for $100 it would be next to impossible to find a Gibson, Rickenbacker or Fender, but when factoring in amp, not mention the cable, even a budget make would have been a Christmas Miracle. I believe in Christmas Miracles. Even in June.
I made the executive decision to skip over the fascinating details of my search because I have other designs on this here blog entry. ...So I found her on Craigslist... After stalking Pawn Shops like a jealous ex, and even the considered and rejected trade of my drum set (a theme that may or may not be for some other thread) which would have been a violation of parameter one, I finally found her after stalking Craigslist and Ebay like the NSA. In fact, back to that failed trade...it was how my heart became set on a Thunderbird. To be honest, Fenders just don't do it for me which means that I ruled out Squires early in the game. They just didn't satisfy parameter two. I found my first Thunderbird in a shop in Sanford. It was love at first sight. That body shape designed by Ray Dietrich in 1963 blew my mind. And The Tone!!! From my first unplugged pluck I was sold. I was so lovestruck that I was ready to violate my parameters and trade my kit so that I could afford the bass and an amp. This bass alone was way outside my $100 budget. But when the ante for the trade was upped to the kit AND my bones, the deal was off. One week later I found the Epiphone Thunderbird Goth package set, including 15W Epi Amp, cable, form fit gig bag (which, trust me, for a Thunderbird this is a rare and worthwhile find), tuner, guitar stand and cheesy learning video, for $125 four hours away in Naples. I eventually talked it down to $80.
My gear lust has brought other basses into the line up...basses with much more generous parameters, but I still play my Ebird more than the others. She's the one I started jamming with others with. She's still the one I practice on daily.
So about her...
Stay tuned for my next blog when I introduce my Gear Review occasionally recurring theme of this blogventure.
This chapter picks up at the crossroads.
This story is about more than even I realize, but it centers, for the most part, on picking up the bass guitar. The dream itself started over three and half years ago when my second daughter was born. Before we had children I spent most of my time outdoors, most of it skateboarding. There was also kung fu, there was some surfing, some biking...you get the picture. After the first child, outdoor access was limited some but it was still there. However, the second child felt like the fourth and the "outdoors" necessarily faded to a view from a window. So I eventually picked up the bass to satisfy my drive to progress at something.
I started with youtube videos, using videos to learn some songs. For a while I was satisfied to fluff my way through recognizable chord progressions unaccompanied. But when I discovered that I could make my way through some some songs playing along with the record, my appetite began to stretch. Sometime later two friends I was skating a backyard ramp with invited me to sit in on a jam. I was horrible. I kept time. That was good. But I stayed on a single note like a wallflower at a new school exclusively for beautiful people. And my appetite soared to new life with an insatiable hunger for playing with other people.
So here we are now, at the crossroads. As I write the first of my blog entries, I may be out of a band...my first real band. But this isn't a sad blog. Neither is it an angry blog. Nothing is personal and there is only love between me and the fellas. I mention the crossroads to emphasize a point... I had meant to start this blog months ago...many months ago. I meant to start this blog when I originally began my first search for a band. But...stuff...work...family...learning songs...auditioning...laziness...procrastination...excuses...blah...blah...and here am I starting this blog as I start a new search. But it works. It works because this series follows a dream... And where do dreams really start???
I should digress a moment to elaborate what I mean by "dream". When I say dream, I mean it in a shamanic sense...it is an exercise and practice of personal power. I have a dream for my bass playing. I might eventually share it with you. My wife knows it. It's ambitious. But I'm not attached to it in the sense of a career goal. The truth is, I already have everything I want. I have a strong marriage. No one will write a book about us, trust me, our marriage is the stuff of most peoples' marriages...but it is strong and we are grateful for each other. My kids are bad ass, and that's a fucking awesome thing. And I already have a career. I'm currently a multi-thousandaire and it's fucking fantastic. So this dream isn't about what I want to be when I'm all growed-up, this dream is about living most effectively. In the shamanic sense, all living is dreaming...but that's a future blog... For now, suffice it to say that people and settings may change but the dream stays the same.
I commit this page to my love of playing bass guitar and the pursuit of all things bass. Moreover, I commit this page to the practice of dreaming... To the meandering of dreams... To the actors inhabiting the dream... To the aspirations and practicalities of the dream... And to the appetite for progress that the dream is really all about.
Thank you for reading. Stay tuned, David