Re-Building Musical Momentum

In yesterday’s blog, My Destruction and Re-Construction, I gave mention in the introduction about the “momentum” of my music. While I dove into my personal destruction and re-construction, I feel that I didn’t get into the issue of momentum all that much.

As I noted in the previous blog, linked above, I had a momentum where I was always playing music. Over the decades, my confidence built up to the point that it was not an issue.

Shortly before the labrum tear and other issues that interrupted this momentum, I had no fear, no concern, and no questions. If I wanted to show up to an open jam to play drums, bass, guitar, or whatever I wanted, then I would just do it. If I found an opening for a band looking for a musician, then I would answer the ad.

This is not to say that things always worked out. I did step into an audition for the position of drummer with a band called “Absolute Zen.” I just stepped in and said that I would love to audition, based on hearing just one of their songs.

But when I listened to the entire album, it became clear that their drummer, singer, and leader, Tony Medeiros, was a rather unique performer behind the kit, doing things that I’d not ever worked out, because I felt that I would not encounter a general need for these skills.

For example, he could play a really fast double-stroke roll on the bass drum near the ending of their song “Wonder Drug.” It was insane, to say the least. Cleary, Mr. Medeiros had talents that I could not touch without months of wood shedding. Considering the fact that the audition was only a few days away from my acceptance, this was clearly not an option.

Needless to say, I failed miserably at the audition. On their side of it, the band ended up splitting because they could not find anyone to replace Mr. Medeiros, which speaks volumes to his rather unique approach and abilities to the drums.

After I failed the audition with Absolute Zen, I assessed the situation. Firstly, I acknowledged that I may have jumped in too quickly. Then, I acknowledged that I should consider the demands of the position before taking it on. Finally, I noted that the band also failed in finding a replacement.

With this assessment, I had no hard feelings about any of it. I carried on, with great confidence, and continued to learn and build my talents in an effort to open more doors.

Tony Alva Bass
Skateboard legend Tony Alva, playing bass.

When I think about my musical momentum being interrupted, I think about how I used to be an avid skateboard rider. I was really good at it, not in a Rodney Mullen or Tony Alva kind of way, but still good.

I could send the board rolling down the road, run up to it, and jump on it while it was moving. I could handle dropping into a half-pipe, roll on two wheels, do some kick flips, and more. I would fall on occasion, such as when one of my wheels would meet a tiny pebble on the road. But I’d get back up and get back on, completely unafraid of falling.

After taking a few years off from skateboarding, I bought myself a new skateboard. Just trying to stand on it was a scary thing. I had no confidence in my abilities to ride, but also had a level of fear regarding falling down.

I went from being someone who could do anything he wanted with a skateboard, including trying new things, to someone who couldn’t even get on a skateboard, let alone actually ride it.

This is probably the best analogy to use in describing the interruption of my musical momentum. I felt that I could no longer compete. I felt afraid to audition, or to play an instrument in front of others.

This was difficult and more than a little tricky, as well as time consuming. However, I was able to get my momentum back to a workable place, where I could play music with others and feel good about it.

Visiting the past. The past is something that is easy to dismiss. With the skateboard, I just acknowledged that “the past is the past,” [a thought-terminating cliche], and moved on. The truth was that riding a skateboard again just wasn’t as important to me.

But with music, it was a different story.

I wanted to get back to music and start playing again. I had to dig deep and look at my accomplishments from the past. I had to look at my wins. I had to look at my losses. I would recall stories about my early competitions as a snare drum soloist and my marching band successes.

I would look at my successes with bands like The Beertonez, where we had great music and were well-received. I would recall my success as a songwriter with Ruby Cassidy. I would also re-visit my past with bands like Noodle Muffin.

This had nothing to do with re-building my ego, so much as it was about reminding myself: You’ve been here before. You did all of this in the past, and you can do it again.

It is easy to forget the past, mostly because the past doesn’t matter, so much as what you can do now. Could I still play? Could I still be a contender?

It’s one thing to declare that you can do it again, and it is the first essential step. But it is another thing to prove that you can do it.

Renting space, setting up drums, and wood shedding was the next step. I had to re-build my ability to play rudiments, which I had always taken for granted because they were things that had never gone away before.

Finally, I was standing on that skateboard. But it would take many, many hours of work.

Those hours of work involved rudiments, playing beats, re-learning old songs, playing new songs, and so on. If I wasn’t playing along with a song, then I was playing along with a click. I was re-building that ability as well.

The work continued for months. I will admit that it was difficult and a bit scary at first. But the more I did it, the more I could fall back into my old seat.

It’s one thing to ride a skateboard up and down your own driveway. It’s a completely different thing to ride at the skate park in front of others.

I found some open jams and signed up. This went well, and I met some cool musicians along the way. This opened more doors to other people and other situations.

Today, I am still active with Noodle Muffin, as I have been for 15 years. When I’m not traveling to Los Angeles to work with them, I’m working with other musicians in my area, playing music because I love to do it.

Maybe I’ll get some paying gigs down the road with a cover band, but that’s not what drives me. If money were my primary motivator, then I would just get a job, and that would be enough. I wouldn’t have to put the effort into re-building my abilities, my confidence, and my overall momentum.

I could have given up, although I think that I would have regretted doing such a thing. Music has always been a major part of my life, so it’s hard to imagine carrying on without it.

It feels good to be back on that skateboard.

tony alva skateboard

My Destruction and Re-Construction

1966 Baby
Summer of 1966

A funny thing happened on the way to life.

My interest in music started at a very young age. As soon as I was old enough, I started my active pursuits, beginning with trumpet and moving onward.

Through grade school, high school, college, and into most of my adult life, it never stopped. I enjoyed a great deal of what I call “momentum” when it came to music.

Then, one day in late March 2014, it came to a crashing halt with a Labrum Tear. It was so painful that I couldn’t even lay down to sleep. Thanks to physical therapy [no surgery!], the pain became manageable after about a month. However, it took well over a year before I could pick up an instrument again, and it took over two years before I could move a drum set and play it.

At the time, I wondered if I would ever play an instrument ever again. On top of the pain in my right shoulder, my right hand was mostly numb. The struggle to return to work was difficult enough.

I knew that it was time to start over because of the Labrum Tear, as well as other events that had taken place in late 2013 and early 2014. Long story short, a cancer scammer had me convinced that she needed money, so I sold some excess gear, gave her every penny I had, and went into debt. During that time, a studio partner decided this would be a good time to rip me off by changing the locks and declaring that I was in cahoots with this scammer.

This resulted in a loss of gear, loss of money, loss of confidence, and loss of reputation. The one thing I did gain was a good amount of debt.

The studio scammer took me some time between December 2013 and January 2014. As for the cancer scammer, I finally figured out that I was being taken in July 2014. The hard part was accepting the fact that I had been scammed.

With this financial, psychological, and social devastation, it was time to make a change. In late 2014, we packed up and moved to a location that was more quiet. Getting back to work had been my first goal after the injury, and that was coming along as well as could be expected.

But music was still an area where I wondered if it was even worth trying. My confidence in life had still been shaken up. Plus, there were so many questions. Would I ever play drums again? Should I keep on? What is the point of it all?

My momentum had been interrupted, and I felt lost.

The question of whether or not I’d play drums again was clearly up in the air. The question of whether or not I should keep on was dependent upon my goals. This raised other questions, such as what I wanted to achieve with my music.

The answer to that only required that I remember why I was playing music in the first place. That is, because it made me happy. Did it still make me happy?

Again, more questions. The more answers I found, the more questions appeared.

But in the end, I had to think about Noodle Muffin, the one band — that one group of people — who did not give up on me. They were still calling and asking me to record. They were still asking me to sit in on mixing sessions. Why would they call if I had nothing to offer?

Ultimately, this question answered lots of things.

After a year of getting my physical issues in a good place, and paying off all of the debt that I had accrued, it was time to start re-building my home studio.

The interesting thing is that when you get used to sending every penny you have to someone who claims to have cancer, you get used to living on a very tight budget. This lifestyle continued after her scam was uncovered, purely out of habit. It also continued after my child support obligation ended. During that time, we all got a major raise at work.

The timing was right. I was debt-free, a major financial obligation had been lifted, a financial windfall had headed my direction, and I was now able to do whatever I wanted, all for me. The stars had aligned.

At the time, all I had was my TJS Custom Maple drum set, a small collection of cymbals, a few rack mounts, and some other drum hardware. This was fine, so long as I would be returning to drumming. Until then, I needed other avenues for creating music.

I also had a $130 Fender acoustic guitar that had been with me since around 2002. But that just wasn’t enough to get back into the swing of things.

MD02 AKAI Professional MPD18 copyA powerful computer, a solid interface, a DAW [Reaper], Addictive Drums, and some VTS plugins was where I started. Getting the basic tools for recording. After that, MIDI controllers were needed, so I got an Impulse49 MIDI controller keyboard, and an AKAI Professional MPD18 compact pad controller.

Although I could not yet swing a drum stick, finger drumming was in my future. It wasn’t the same as swinging the sticks, but it was something.

After that, some guitars, basses, and a few synthesizers were in order. I ended up amassing a solid collection of axes that inspired. But there was still something missing.

This was actually the more difficult part. Re-building after a major life-changing event can be a daunting task.

But this wasn’t the first time. I experienced a carjacking in early August 1993. The guy actually put the gun to my head and pulled the trigger, but it didn’t go off until after he ran away.

It took months just for me to regain the ability to leave the house after that experience. But the way I see it, I did make it through that, and every day that I have to live beyond that day is definitely a bonus.

This time, it wasn’t so bad as it initially felt, for a few reasons. For one, it primarily involved people who were my social networking contacts, most of whom never really liked me in the first place. From the people I knew in grade school, high school, and college, to acquaintances I met via annual gatherings, to former co-workers, I came to realize that how they felt about me did not matter.

When the dust settled, I realized that I only had maybe five friends who actually cared. I also came to realize that this is true for just about everyone.

With regard to my reputation, it was limited to these circles of people. Reputation is all about how others feel about you in the past. Given that most of these people never really liked me, the reputation angle did not matter. Sure, they were dumping on me, but all this did was help them to feel better about themselves.

Besides, I still had a solid reputation with people who truly know me.

What really matters is a person’s character, for this is who they truly are. While I felt my character was good, overall, it had some major defects that left me open to being harmed by others. I had been too eager to help the scammers, but had also been too eager in general when it came to pleasing my “friends.”

Call it “Codependent,” or being a “white knight,” or a “rescuer.” Whatever it is called, it wasn’t healthy.

When I gave my all to that person who ended up being a cancer scammer, most of the people who witnessed this forgot the fact that I would have done this for any of them, because at the time I sincerely believed that they were my friends.

They also conveniently forgot the fact that my fiance and I had a rather healthy income flow at the time, so we had no need to be engaging in ripping off others. Their ignorance and anger allowed them to believe the rumors that I was ripping people off, while allowed them to not see that I was being manipulated.

I actually cared about them, to the point that I’d let them stay with me for a few days, or even a few months. I’d pick them up at the airport. I’d give them rides to our annual gathering in Death Valley. I’d be their shoulder to cry on when someone would lose a job and feel as if their lives were over. I’d go out of my way for them, time and time again.

The scary part about this realization is the fact that ANY of them could have scammed me at ANY time. It was only a matter of time before it happened to me, and it was all because I was so overly-giving of myself that it did happen. A few did take advantage of me in a major way, but I thought nothing of it at the time.

Quite obviously, with perfect 20/20 hindsight, my character was the weak link in this situation. As a result, I learned about setting boundaries and how these are essential for healthy relationships. Setting boundaries meant being able to say something that was previously not in my vocabulary: “No.”

Today, outside of a select few immediate family members, there is no one I would try to help in that manner. At best, I’ll send you whatever I can afford to send at that time, and will wish you the best of luck. I now have the option of saying “no,” and that feels liberating.

Other people’s problems are no longer mine, especially the problems of those who were once my “friends.” My life is all about me.

About time!

Learning about myself and growing from this experience has been a challenge. But I also decided that growing musically would be an equally important things to do. With that, I started taking some guitar lessons in order to improve my musicality.

It was more than just pointers on how to improve my abilities on the guitar. It was various scales, Pentatonics, modes, and other aspects of Music Theory. Instead of just feeling the music, I was now also thinking about the music. These lessons could also be applied to bass and keyboards. The concepts translate very well across disciplines.

The more I learned, the more I grew. The more I grew, the more my confidence improved.

When things went bad, with the cancer scammer, the studio scammer, and the labrum tear, I was crushed. I didn’t want to carry on living. Reality hit hard and without mercy.

Although I’m doing better, sometimes I will still flash back and question myself. Without going into detail, it happened earlier this week. More time will fix that.

File Photo - Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin
01 Nov 1995, New York City, New York, United States — Crocodile hunter Steve Irwin and alligator “Irvine” pose together at the Central Park boathouse. — Image by © Najlah Feanny/Corbis

I’ve mainly written this for myself, but I’ve also written this for those people who have gone through similar things.

Maybe you’ve been scammed or cat-fished, or maybe you’ve been the focal point of ridicule among your peers. Maybe you’ve made the mistake of trusting people who did not have your best interests at heart.

Maybe you’ve had experiences similar to mine, where you make a big mistake, and then people point at you and declare that you’re stupid, or suggest that you’re a bad person.

Maybe you’ve screwed up so badly that your life gets destroyed. Been there, done that.

Your first inclination will be to agree with them, and to believe what they have to say. You’ll feel stupid, without giving a though to the fact that the people who screwed you over are professionals, or maybe they’re Pathological Narcissists who take what they want and don’t care who gets hurt.

There was a time when I believed that only the stupid get scammed. Not only that, but I also believed that I was way too smart for this to ever happen to me. This arrogance left me open to exploitation. While I had boiled it all down to intelligence, I had failed to acknowledge the possibility of emotional manipulation.

After all, there’s nothing more manipulative than a woman who is crying because she’s going to die because her friends don’t care about her.

I also had no knowledge of a manipulative practice known as gaslighting,” where someone else can get you so confused that you question reality. Clicking the link will give you a great deal of insight into what happened. Both of my scammers were Pathological Narcissists who used my own weaknesses against me for their own personal gain.

But enough about them, for they do not deserve any more attention or consideration from me.

Mentally and emotionally speaking, I feel rather healthy. Thanks to hitting rock-bottom and the opportunity to re-build myself, I no longer fear the possibility that I will end up in another situation like this. It won’t happen again, not because I’m smart [although I did learn lots from the experience], but because I’ve set up boundaries.

Dan PRS 170616
Playing one of my guitars, a PRS Custom 24 Artist Pack, which is the best of the best in a Paul Reed Smith. 

Musically speaking, I’m doing well. I still write my own music, although I don’t post everything I write because I write lots of things for myself. I will still travel into Los Angeles from time to time to work with Noodle Muffin. My guitar/music theory lessons are going great.

As for drumming, I now have a few kits to choose from, depending on the musical style and venue. My abilities are on-point, my timing is solid, and I’m enjoying every moment that I have behind the kit.

Socially, I’ve met some really good musicians in my area, and we get together to jam regularly.

I’m writing a few songs here and there, most of which are for me. The ones I am releasing this year can be found here. Some of the songs will be related my experiences, especially with regard to the episodes I’ve noted here.

Overall, I’m having a great life. If I were to die tomorrow, I could say that it ended on a positive note.

The Control Center

Tempo All Over The Place! Part II: The Open Jam and More

In yesterday’s blog, I discussed the concept of rehearsing a song to the point that playing it becomes second nature, and how this opens you up to doing other things while drumming, such as singing, controlling samplers and sequencers, and paying attention to a click track. There could be other things to do, but this is a good start.

However, this does not address other scenarios, so I wanted to touch upon those.

I used to attend an open jam a few years ago. This was a scenario where lots of musicians would show up. There would be a “core” set of players, usually someone on guitar, and others would sign up on a list.

Most of the time I signed up to play drums, although there were a few occasions where I signed up to play fretless bass. For the bass, it was relatively easy, as I could look at the guitarist’s songbook, which was on a music stand, and read along. More often than not, I would watch his hands. It was easy to figure out the key, and from there I could utilize scales, triads, modes, and so on.

But for drumming, it was a bit different.

In both cases, I would have no idea what songs would be played when it was my turn, and I also did not know with whom I’d be sharing the stage. The most interesting moment, as I recall, was when the leader said that we would be “playing ‘Stairway To Heaven,’ but the three-minute Reggae version.”

On the surface, it would seem that there is no real way to get ready for such an event. But there were things that I could do, as a drummer, to optimize my ability to perform.

Patterns, with a click. This involved playing a variety of beats/patterns at different tempos, and staying at those tempos for roughly 3-5 minutes, or the length of a song. This got me used to being able to hold a tempo.

Fills and riffs, with a click. I have a set of fills that I like to use, so I would run these with a click, as well as their variants.

For example, I have a fill that goes down the kit in 16th notes, with a crash on the one, and the bass drum on quarter notes.

SN SN SN SN  | T1 T1 T1 T1 | T2 T2 T2 T2 | T3 T3 T3 T3 | CR
R    L   R   L         R   L   R   L      R   L   R   L      R   L   R   L       R

Rather basic. I would run that for a while, but then I’d change the pattern to include the snare, and maybe leave out the crash.

SN SN T1 SN | T1 T1 SN T1 | T2 SN T2 T2 | SN T3 T3 T3
R   L   R    L       R   L   R    L      R   L    R   R      L   R   L   R

Some days I would pick just one fill and see how many variations I could come up with.

Understanding On-Stage Body Language. This is something that I don’t think can be taught, but it can be learned through experience. It’s when the guitarist gives you “the eye” with an upward nod, to signify a change or an end. It could be the downward push of the guitar head stock that indicates a “tight” ending, instead of a rock-n-roll thrash ending. It could be a sway with a change of pace, indicating a ritardando that approaches an ending. It could be a finger in the air, signifying that we’re doing one more pass through the riff before a change.

This is a complex topic, and maybe I can expand upon it more in the future.

When you get used to maintaining a specific tempo for the length of the song, it becomes habit. This can open things up, so that you can think about where things are going next.

When your fills become second-nature, you won’t find yourself trying to figure out what to do when that opportunity arises.

Finally, understanding body language improves non-verbal communication between musicians, which can improve one’s ability to improvise.

I’ve had a few different types of fill-in gigs, so I’ll cover two specific types.

The first type of fill-in was for a band whose drummer quit on them at the last minute. They were taking the stage in two hours, so when I got the call I had almost no time. I changed shirts, threw the drums in the car, and drove to the venue.

The guitarist met me in the parking lot, where we sat in my car. He described the songs [i.e., rock, swing, funk] and we worked out approximate tempos. We also worked out endings.

Body language came in handy, along with the fact that I’d shared the stage with this guitarist before. The one place where it wasn’t helpful was when people were demanding an encore. He approached me and said, “This is a new one, it’s like this, this, and this tempo, this feel, rock ending, etc…”, to paraphrase.

That was more than a little unnerving, but it got me future gigs.

In this first scenario, the “open jam” prep comes in handy, because most of his songs were jam-like in nature. But there was another situation where a little more preparation was involved.

The second type of fill-in was for a band who required more precision. My band, WHIPLADS, was opening for another band named Thomas’ Apartment. This gig came with the promise of exposing my band to a larger audience.

The leader of TA called to let me know that they would have to cancel the gig, because their drummer had to go to Texas for something work-related, and the time that they needed him there got extended.

I told him to bring me their CD, with the promise that I would learn the entire album within 24 hours, and that we could run through it once in a rehearsal the next day. He agreed to this and dropped off a CD.

My process for learning the CD was simple. As a side-note, it is important to understand that you must engage in active listening. This is for work, not for fun. That’s not to say that you wouldn’t enjoy this work, or enjoy listening to the songs. It is important to remember the purpose of this activity.

Let’s get started!

For the first listen-through of the CD, I would write down the name of each song as it came up. Each song got lots of pauses and rewinds to be certain things were noted correctly. I would also note the patterns. For example:

INT[ch] | V1 | CH | INT/2 | V2 | BR [v/2] | Solo[v] | CH \ END[chx2]

In this example, we have an intro, which is the same as the chorus, followed by a verse, and then a chorus. We then have an instrumental movement that is the same as the Intro, but only half as long. Then a second verse, followed by a bridge that is like a verse, but half as long. The solo is the same as a verse. Then a regular length chorus, followed by the ending, which is half of a chorus.

For the second listen-through of the CD, I would sit with a metronome and get the tempo down early in the song, and add that information to the notes.

For the third listen-through of the CD, I would write down lyrical cues, and would note anything in the drum or band performance that varied from the norm.

For the fourth listen-through of the CD, I would read my notes as I once again actively listen to each song. Do my notes make sense? If not, then some adjustments are in order. If I make adjustments for a few songs, then those songs get a fifth listening.

Finally, I would clean up and organize my notes.

My notes were not something that I could pass off to another drummer and expect him to understand what I had written. That said, some aspects of it would make sense, such as tempo and song structure.

By the end of my extensive listening session, I would have one page that looked like a setlist.

When I met the band the next day at the rehearsal hall, they were impressed, to say the least. I sat with the band and discussed the order of the songs, and made notes on my “cheat sheet.” When I got home after the session, I re-organized my sheet, printed it out, and put it in my stick bag. As a back-up, I printed a second one and put it in the cymbal bag.

At the session, the bass player was skeptical that I could pull this off, so he came into the session a bit apprehensive. My performance and understanding of the songs put him at ease. He even noticed that I was mouthing the words to the songs while I was playing. He left the session confident that the gig would go well.

It did.

Unlike the open jam and the jam-like band fill-in, I shot video of this show and analyzed my performance afterward. Video, or at least audio, can be a good tool when it comes time to self-critique, for the purpose of future self-improvement.

There were a few sections where I did speed up a little bit. It was not as bad as Rush’s first performance of “Tom Sawyer.” Still, it was notable. In my analysis, I figured that a little more time with the band would have made things more perfect.

Also, I noted that it could have gone worse, had I not been prepared.

The best way to be prepared for anything, as a drummer is to constantly practice, especially with a click. Build your endurance for maintaining a tempo. Build up your tool box of fills and be sure that you are not rushing them. Play with other musicians and improve your “spidey senses” on the stage.

Make your abilities second-nature via practice. Become a solid drummer in this regard. Then, you can start practicing singing while playing, and engage in other value-added activities that will give you the edge that you need to land that gig.

Tempo All Over The Place!!

This entry is brought to you by the shock that I experienced while listening to Rush performing their hit “Tom Sawyer” for the first time. This really caught me off guard, mainly because Neil and the guys typically sound so perfect and on-point. It is now clear why they don’t want to release bootlegs.

I think another reason why this caught me off-guard was because I just finished watching the Blu-Ray of their Clockwork Angels tour. This offering, much like their others, is perfect, spotless, polished, and almost not even real.

There are many reasons, or excuses, for why this is so shocking. They were still working out the song. Alex goes nuts on the guitar solo, and it is missing its iconic passages. You can sing the guitar solo for this song. I know it. Yes, you can.

The lyrics are somewhat different. The drum fills are different. Everything is different.

The song had yet to become the polished, finished masterpiece that it would come to be.

Still, I just can’t get over the relatively sloppy nature of the drums. Maybe they weren’t performing to a click for this particular song. I wanted to think that it was a sound check, so they weren’t trying their best. There is a sound-check performance of “Limelight” on the Clockwork Angels Blu-Ray. But no, he addresses the audience at the beginning.

Look back to the drumming of the time. In some Led Zeppelin tracks, our beloved Bonzo can vary his tempo by as much as 10bpm on some songs. Even then, it’s still more smooth than what happens in this performance.

I suspect that it’s a combo of the song not being finished, and them not using a click for this particular performance. But I also think there is something deeper at play here.

When I’m working out the details of a new song with a band, sometimes tempo fluctuations will occur. This is because I’m thinking about what I’m playing. Ideally, the song will eventually be rehearsed to the point that I’m not thinking about what I am playing.

This is when it becomes second-nature. Once the drumming for a song reaches this level, it opens up the door for other things, such as singing, triggering samplers and sequencers, implementing stick twirls and general flair, and paying attention to a click.

If you’ve ever tried to think about what you’re playing while paying attention to a click, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s like holding a phone up to each ear, and listening, comprehending, and responding to two completely different conversations.

I give the great Mr. Peart a pass on this one for a few reasons. The song wasn’t yet perfected, and the performance had yet to become second-nature. But most of all, the band played this song for those fans who were there, in the moment, just for them. They weren’t setting out to have this recorded.

This was a rare glimpse into the creative minds of three respected musicians who have arguably formed one of the most iconic bands of all time.

Yes, I cringed while listening to this recording. At the same time, my level of respect for them increased dramatically.

Your Voice, Your Happiness

Every note has been played. Every song has been written. Every idea has been thought and shared. For every band and performer that is out there, one can find another band or performer who might be better in a variety of ways.

When over-thinking it all in this way, it’s easy to see why one would simply give up. The more difficult question to answer is why one would continue. Why carry on, when it’s all been said and done? You wake up every day, as you do. You drink water, eat food, breathe air. You’ve done it all before, you’re doing it now, and you’ll probably do it again, should you live to catch a glimpse of that mythical beast known as “Tomorrow.”

Tomorrow never truly arrives, as it gets replaced with Today. This does nothing to provide the relief that would come with the answer to these questions.

For every band and performer out there, one can find different tones, different shades, different deliveries, and different combinations to the never-ending nuances that exist. This is why some music is “the best” in the heart of the listener, while another person will not understand why, or maybe will even hate it.

That’s the listener, and there are billions out there. But there’s only one you. What about you and your voice? Why do it?

You do it because you deserve to be heard. Everyone has said, “I love you,” and yet its meaning is not diminished in the slightest when it becomes a heart-felt truth. You say this to express how you feel. The way anyone else feels is no less or more important in this arena.

There will be people who hate you. They will tell you to shut up. They will say that they don’t like your music, your lyrics, your art, your poetry, your book, how you work, how you play your instrument, and so on. They will be quick to compare you to others who might be more proficient, have a voice that is more sweet or tart, a brush that is more wide or narrow. This will be their criteria for criticism, if they even have any criteria at all. Sometimes there is just hatred.

To them, all you can do is say, “I love you,” and then move on. Life is too short to have any concern about what others think about you, your thoughts, your feelings, or your creations. So get out there and create something today.


Red Flags and Best Practices for Musicians

I had originally started writing this entry to be about the bands I had joined that never got anywhere, bands that failed, and why they failed. I was about 2,000 words into it, when I decided to delete it and start over.

This was because I did not want to give any bad or negative people any exposure, even in an anonymous form. As Carly Simon might say, “You probably think this blog is about you.”

Instead, I wanted to be more positive and more productive by writing about red flags one might encounter when joining a band.

A red flag is something that should serve as a warning sign that there are potentially bad things ahead. It can be really big and obvious, or it can be small and easily dismissed. Either way, it is dangerous to dismiss these red flags. Instead of dismissing any of these things, it’s a good idea to investigate and think about these things.

Sometimes red flags can be identified as things that go against your personal boundaries. This is why it’s important to implement some “best practices,” or things that you consider essential benchmarks for a band to meet if they expect your participation.

These boundaries should revolve around your standards. For example, when rehearsing, do you like to avoid alcohol during the session? If so, then your boundaries regarding this are clear.

Some boundaries might be more personal. Is someone in the band having money trouble, and now they’re asking you for a loan? Does someone in the band appear to have a drug problem or mental health issues? Has a band member asked if they can live with you for a while? Has a band member made some inappropriate gestures toward your significant other? Is one person in the band always late, or otherwise unreliable? Does the band leadership keep you guessing, and you feel that they’re lying to you?

Other boundaries might be more business-related. Are you being asked to chip in for a lockout, to make phone calls to radio stations, or to spend money on a local tour, even though you have no ownership of the band? Do you not know if you’re a band member or a hired gun? If you’re a hired gun, are you getting paid? What do you expect to get out of this experience?

These issues, and more, are things that you really need to consider before playing one note with a band. Should you encounter these things after you join the band, remember that you can quit.

There are things that should be avoided. Some of these have been touched upon earlier, but are worth repeating and/or detailing.

Respect. Do your band mates disrespect you? It’s one thing to tease someone about something once, although that’s not very professional. But it’s another issue when they have no respect for you. If they show disrespect for your taste in music, disrespect your significant other, or are constantly saying negative things about you, then it’s time to leave.

This also extends to others in the band, so you should be concerned if they gossip about another person in the band when they’re gone, or have disrespect for someone else in the band. This means that they’re talking about YOU when you are not around. This is neither healthy nor productive.

This is not to say that it’s wrong if the band leader says, “Joe hasn’t really been putting his heart into this, so I think we should consider letting him go and finding someone else.” Sometimes, difficult discussions like that one are essential. But if they say, “Joe’s such a loser! Did you hear how badly he fucked up last night?” then you have a problem, because gossiping about Joe and putting him down is more important than doing what is right for the band.

There was a guy in one of my bands who started drawing a comic book with us in it. Everyone looked regular, except he went out of his way to make one fat. He said that was me. Looking back, I should have booted him out of the band immediately. He ended up leaving a few months later.

Do not accept favors. I once had a band mate offer me an apartment in a building that his parents owned. I was in no need of a place to live, and it wasn’t that much cheaper than where I was at the time, but I took it because I trusted the person. Besides, he was my “bro” because we were in a band together.

It was a big mistake, because it gave this person power over me. As a result, it was the endless favor which was never paid off. Whenever he wanted or needed something, he hung it over my head. In his eyes, he was the selfless, giving savior, and I was the loser who would be homeless without him. It got that ugly.

Do not leave your gear anywhere. I’ve had countless incidents where I’ve left gear with someone, or in a lockout, and it has walked off. It was the lockout where we later figured out the bass player was a crack addict. It was the house, where the guy said he had a party and someone must have stolen it. It was the studio where a “friendship” went sour and the locks were changed.

Even if you have a lockout and you share the cost equally among other band members, consider leaving a beater kit or your least favorite amp if you must leave anything behind. Should something go wrong, you won’t be heart-broken over it.

This is one area where I have been lucky, for I’ve never lost any gear that had any significant value or personal attachment. To this day, I still have my best gear. It’s one of the few areas where I’ve not screwed up.

Discuss business up-front.
I’ve joined bands, and then later we’d discuss business. That can be disappointing and demoralizing. One band told me that they’d have to re-coup 15 years of investment before I’d see a dime. I had to re-think my participation in the band, and what I wanted. After determining that I wanted to be an equal partner, and that I wanted my share after a show, I decided to quit the band.

Get your business dealings in writing. Never trust someone because they are your friend, or that their handshake is their honor, or that their word is “a man’s word.” Things can flip on a dime, and you’ll find yourself holding the bag that used to contain your money.

Friends, acquaintances, and business. When you first join a band, if it’s all about business, then keep it as such. Later, these people can become acquaintances. Eventually, they might become your friends. Just remember that they are NOT your friends in the beginning.

Think of it as being like Facebook. Sure, you have 250 “friends,” but most of them are acquaintances, at best. You only have 2-5 friends. Most of those people don’t really care about you, so why are you fooling yourself? When it comes to a band, you cannot afford to fool yourself.

Sloppy finances. I once shared a lockout with a few people, and we’d all write checks to the band leader [before the days of PayPal and VenMo]. Every single month, without fail, the band leader would “lose” our checks and ask us to write new ones. It got old quickly Sloppy finances are a sign that there is trouble, and that it is time to leave.

Skill and talent aren’t the end-all. I’ve been in bands with incredible guitarists who can play like Al DiMeola, yet they don’t ever want to rehearse, or they’re always up to something devious. Over the years, the number of people I’ve met who are talented, yet are also throwing it away, is staggering and heart-breaking.

Sure, the person might be a great musician. But if their ego is out of control, if they abuse substances, if they can’t show up, if they’re unreliable, if they’re aggressive toward you, or have any other issues that will get in the way, then they are not worth it. They can go be a guitar god on the edge of their bed. They won’t be getting any further than this until they fix what has them broken as a human being.

Keep your bullshit meter on.
I was once in a band where the singer/leader kept saying that “her lawyer” was pulling things together for us. We used to go by the band name, but suddenly she started referring to the bass player and me as “et. al.,” because she once read it in a contract.

The three of us were supposed to be equal partners, since we were all paying for the lockout, and we were all writing our own parts for these songs.

But it seemed, based on how she talked, that she was the leader who would be taking in the lion’s share, and the bass player and I would be suddenly re-classified as “hired guns.” If you’re a hired gun, then you should NOT be chipping in equally for the lockout. In fact, you shouldn’t be spending ANY money at all. You should be getting PAID money.

Talk of the lawyer continued, until one fateful night after a gig at The Martini Lounge. I went myself and played a show, even though I had Bronchitis and a temperature of 102.7F. It took me 40 minutes to pack up and load up my drums before I could get upstairs to the after-party.

I wasn’t going up there to party, however. I was going up to finally meet this evasive “lawyer.” I had asked for his phone number and email for a while. I had asked for a name. I asked for lots of information, and yet was getting nothing from her about this lawyer.

What I was getting was the idea that I was supporting a venture that wasn’t going to support me. That is, we would get somewhere with equal effort, creatively AND financial investment [lockout cost], and then SHE would declare herself the owner and dictator, and our status would suddenly be changed to hired gun.

We also had nothing in writing, which made this even worse.

When I finally made it upstairs, she came over to me, drunk and giddy. “Damn! You should have come right up after the performance. The lawyer just left. He wanted to meet you.” I told her that I had to load the car, and noted that if the lawyer REALLY wanted to meet me, then he would give me his number, an email, or would contact me directly. At the very least, we would have had a band meeting with him by now.

She blew off all of my serious concerns with some lame, drunken excuse. That’s when I quit the band, and took the bass player with me. Whatever plans she had were crushed, and whatever we were wasting our time, money, and creativity on had suddenly come to an end.

I suppose that “protect your own ass” could be the summary of all of this. If nothing else, remember that if something doesn’t feel right, then it probably is not. NEVER write it off. NEVER make excuses for it. NEVER let it slide. Never become “instant bros” with band members.

I’ve made all of these mistakes, and I’ve paid for them.

There are lots of good people out there, but there are also lots of bad people, too. Trust your gut instincts. Get things in writing. Business is business. Be stingy with trust. Set your boundaries and enforce them when things get out of line. Any disrespect at all is grounds for dismissal, if it is your band, or grounds for leaving.

Noodle Muffin, and Politics in Music and Art

In this blog, I am going to walk on that tightrope between discussing politics in art and leaving my personal politics out of it [even though it may be obvious, as there is no masking what is said between the lines].

Also, I will have a message at the end for those who are disappointed in Roger Waters for “being political” in his latest stage presentation.

I once lamented to someone close to me that it’s a shame that comedians tend to tell us the truth about what is going on while politicians screw us over. They suggested that it has always been this way, citing the existence of the Court Jester, who would often times joke about what the king was doing, while in the presence of the king.

The king would then ignore it and go about his business while the people laughed. This might be a lesson in approach for those dictators who want to sue comedians for laughing at them.

Comedy is but one art form where addressing politics can be effective. There are movies, paintings, and other forms. Since my blog is mainly about music, let’s jump straight into that.

I joined Noodle Muffin in 2002, which was before I knew anything about the politics of the band’s leaders and founders, DJ G2S and Major Noize. While I wasn’t certain of their leanings, it was somewhat obvious in the song Withered Hand,” which was a song that I would play guitar and sing during our live performances.

The band had mostly wacky offerings, such as “747,” a song about a man who laments the problems that accompany the plight of having a penis that is too large. The band’s focus on comedy was strong at this time.

By this point, we were roughly half-way through the first term of George W. Bush. Without getting into detail, lots of things were going wrong, including Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, The Patriot Act, and more.

These issues were painfully obvious, and were occupying space in our heads. Situations like this can often times cause people to express themselves, especially when they feel helpless to do anything about any of it. This was inspiration enough to take things in a new direction.

NM-ORCIn 2003, we started working on “Regime Change,” which was all about the GWB presidency.

The album had its dark moments, such as in the song “Christian Taliban,” where President Bush is dreaming about a dictatorship that he controls via political manipulation through Christianity.

“Of course, the Liberals stand and scream ‘you facists raped Democracy’ / But for them he’s got a special place / Guantanamo Bay / Then Abe Lincoln’s ghost starts furiously screamin’ / ‘You’re givin’ my Union a-reamin'” / For Abe, he’s got a special place / called Abu Ghraib…. Georgie wakes to realize that this was all a dream / and that Constitution’s in his way / But that’s nothing he can’t change…”

There were also some relatively lighter pieces, such as “Bush in 200 Words.”

As you can see in the clip above, I was playing fretless bass. This happened for more than one reason. When we started working on “Regime Change,” our bass player and violinist, who were dating at the time, were solid Conservative Republicans who didn’t want anything to do with these songs.

They left the band and formed “Falling Moon.” The bass player for Noodle Muffin was also in WHIPLADS, another one of my bands, so I was playing drums in Falling Moon at the same time that I was working on “Regime Change” with Noodle Muffin. I stayed with Falling Moon through one album When WHIPLADS disintegrated, I ended up leaving Falling Moon.

These were some interesting times, no doubt.

The above video was preparation for a show at a time when Obama was taking office. We didn’t have a full band, so we had drums, some synths, and some backing vocals on a digital play-back [backing tracks]. But I’m chronologically getting ahead of myself.

It was a fun show. At the same time, the live band we had came to an end, and I was bummed about that development.

When GWB got his second term, we started working on a second album, Long Live the Spin.” This album was more aggressive in its approach.

This album provided me the same opportunities as the previous one, which was to play some drums, fretless bass, some guitar, some keyboards, and other various sounds.

Looking back, I’m proud of my involvement in both albums, not because of their political nature, but because the music is really well done, from the writing, to the engineering and production.

The band stopped writing political pieces after Obama was elected. We had a performance the night after Obama took office. This clip is called “Balls, from “Long Live the Spin.”

After this, we didn’t focus on anything political, and instead began working on some new ideas. Sometime in 2012, we came up with the idea for “Meatbowl and The Donut Throne,” which should be out later this year. This is an epic musical, complete with a live orchestra, and is currently being mixed by Ira Ingber. I don’t want to say any more about it, other than it will be most epic.

When it looked like Donald Trump was going to become president, we did step back into the political arena with a single, “Morning in America.”

This single got some decent play on Dr. Demento, and performed well for us in general.

I think at this point, the focus is on the new album. After that, I rule nothing out. This band will continue to do what they do, and will utilize whatever themes are relevant, positively inspiring, or negatively inspiring to them. This is what artists do, or at least it’s what they should do… which leads me to my next question and point.

Art is a reflection of our times. Should a band or artist view our times as being politically difficult, then they should definitely get political. They do risk alienating a large chunk of people by doing this.

However, in the case of Noodle Muffin, I seriously doubt that anyone who was Conservative would have been listening to the band’s brand of humor, either. But I could be wrong, and might not be thinking about that Conservative person who is tapping their toes to “747.”

I’m currently writing a playlist on SoundCloud called The Year of My Birth [2017].” This collection of songs will be primarily about my personal experiences and feelings, as they relate to experiences that I’ve had over the past five years.

For me, it’s an opportunity to express something different and more personal. I have no reason to do what Noodle Muffin is doing, for we’re already doing that! Re-inventing the wheel is never fun. It’s a chance for me to be myself.

This leads me to what inspired this blog in the first place. I had read an article about how a fan was upset after spending $300 to see Roger Waters live in concert, only to have his feelings hurt when Mr. Waters ranted about President Trump. For this person, I have one major question to ask:

Where the HELL have you been for the past half century?

Roger Waters has almost always been political. Maybe this person just thought that “Money” was some kind of catchy toe-tapper, and completely missed the message. Or maybe he missed the entire point of “Animals” or “The Final Cut” or other pieces.

This would be like spending what one would spend on an album, picking up “Regime Change,” which sports a drawing of President Bush as a baby playing with oil, and then getting upset because it had something bad to say about him. It’s ignorance in the highest order.

In the case of Mr. Waters, the warning label has existed within the context of what he has said and done for half a century.

Then again, maybe this person is one of those people who needs an actual warning that spells it out for them, kind of like a trigger warning:

CAUTION: In case you haven’t been paying attention for the last 50 years, or at least in the past few years, Mr. Waters is a politically-active Liberal artist who does not like President Trump. As a result, he will say bad things about him that might hurt your snowflake feelings. Proceed with caution, but be prepared to dive into your safe space if your feelings are at-risk.

It’s like someone going to see The Commodores in concert, and then complaining that everyone in the band is black, or going to see Cannibal Corpse and then complaining about their lack of dance numbers.

There are two types of artists in this world: The ones who put out mindless art in exchange purely for money, and those who put their own perspectives and feelings into what they do. I’m proud to be in the camp of the latter.