Thursday, July 23, 2015

Come and a-Listen To My Story...

It has now been a year since I've started this blog. It started off pretty decent but my readership has declined as of late. It is a bit discouraging however I chiefly started this for my own personal journal of my time in the band.  I suppose some of it gets rather monotonous after a few entries. There are moments of excitement but generally much of what a band does would seem laborious to those not actively involved. It's somewhat a challenge to come up with clever and interesting ways to write about what we have going on without repeating the same ideas. If I were to inject a little of the cynicism and contempt I'm somewhat notorious for then maybe I would generate a little more interest, but this really isn't the forum for that.

Waitaminit... This is my goddamn blog, of course this is the forum for that!

So here's a story.

I was the proverbial late-bloomer. I was already 17 before I really discovered punk rock and just barely missed out the last waning moments of the era when it still held any relevance whatsoever. My friend Rebecca once said she remembered when I was 'green' - meaning my inexperience and naivety was still pretty apparent. Despite my best efforts, I discovered very quickly and very hard that punk rock was just another stupid social order - a fashion show predicated on worn out political clichés set to the tune of either very ineptly played heavy-metal or soulless pseudo-pop redefined and re-imagined as 'punk rock'.
So yeah, the green got scrubbed off hard with cynicism.

About a year and a half ago my friend Chris Piegler passed away. Although he and I weren't particularly close it was a sad loss. Chris was a perennial face in local music going back way, way, way back before I ever got hip to shit. He played keyboards in several pop groups before switching over to bass and trying his hand at punk rock. However his approach was almost always positive - or as I told his former bandmate Ryan McGinnis - he ushered people thru the door that I jealously guarded. I've not made myself the most friendly and approachable of people at times, so it should be of no surprise whatsoever that my attitude to the local 'scene' has left me with a somewhat less than stellar reputation. I've always reveled in the fact that I'm considered a dick, because frankly; I am. In contrast Chris was a fixture and virtually every show, no matter how big or small. He didn't just talk the "support" rhetoric, he walked it as well; perhaps more so than anybody I've ever known. As such he sort of became the defacto figurehead to a scene he in fact had relatively little involvement in. Just goes to show how far a smile and handshake will take you. Ironically despite Chris' best efforts to encourage and support other bands - most comprised of people less than half his age - his own shows were like bomb scares. It was as if Chris devoted his time, energy and dedication only to be rewarded with ambivalence, disinterest and a total lack of caring.

Here's another story:

Recently my personal favorite band Self Made Monsters released a new album. They have been together nearly twenty years. Their line-up has remained largely unaltered in that time. More than a mere band, they are truly a brotherhood; four guys thinking singularly and acting collectively to deliver some of the most potent rock and roll music anywhere. They are as honest and genuine as a band can be in this day and age and play for all the right reasons. I have watched with envy as they have been able to easily maneuver and grow as their skills have improved. They have outlived bands that have been celebrated, signed and forgotten. I've seen them numerous times and they never phone it in. Honestly I don't think they know how to do it any other way. They have outlasted trends in taste, fashion and style. There is no conscious calculation to how they present themselves or their music. It is raw honesty, and that's a mighty rare thing.
I find it pretty lousy that they haven't ever received the recognition and respect they so very much deserve. It's a sad testimony that the derivative convoluted staleness that garners high praise and hero worship in this town clouds over and drowns out something as mighty and great as Self Made Monsters. I guess umpteenth-generation Cult clones and dullards plying bad grunge rock shall be forever fashionable.

And yet another story:

Several years ago a somewhat famous "rawk" personality came thru town peddling his brand of solo acoustic singer/songwriter shtick. Being a fan I pulled myself off my otherwise disenfranchised ass and scurried down to the Tremont Music Hall. It was a typical turnout for Charlotte; about thirty wayward souls had wandered over to the South-End venue. Actually that wasn't too shabby for a Sunday night. I figured it would make for a more intimate and interesting set. After all, "rawk" guy playing solo acoustic leaves a lot of room for connecting with such a small audience. I had seen him many times with his full fledged "rawk" band - his stage banter was always witty and personable, even if he did crib some one-liners and asides from old Motorhead bootlegs.

His set was predictably brief and uneventful. Rather than engage with the audience he simply phoned it in, talking between songs as if reciting from a script. Every step was carefully measured and executed. The small crowd appreciated it, but he didn't seem to appreciate the small crowd. He played well, delivered his set with smooth professionalism but just seemed...  not there. Even now years later writing this I'm still not sure if he was disappointed, angry, sick or just apathetic.

He disappeared after his set so anyone wanting to get something signed or maybe just say 'thanks' or whatever missed out. Personally I managed to salvage my night later in the ladies room at the Thirsty Beaver with a girl I met celebrating her twenty-first birthday.
But that's another story...

Anyway. I'm not sure if the big picture is coming together very clearly here, but indulge me...

In January 1993 I was travelling with ANTiSEEN on a two week tour across the south. Green Day were simultaneously touring the same route. They had not yet released their breakthrough 'Dookie' album but were very obviously the Next Big Thing. We were almost always in the same city at competing clubs. FEAR was a day or two ahead of us, and if memory serves correctly, the Bad Brains were a day or two behind us. So needless to say we had competition.

One of my fondest memories occurred on this tour. We were in Gainesville, Florida, home of Tom Petty, Patron Saint Of Mediocrity. It was gonna be good to if not shake the foundations, at least jostle them somewhat.

The venue is called the Florida Theater. It is a cavernous place with a huge stage covered by a mammoth Van Halen style light rig. Two old rocker dudes appear out of the darkness. They look like the lost bastard brethren of Jim Dandy Mangrum - long thinning locks of bleach blond hair capped with bandannas to mask the receding hairlines. They wear silk shirts buttoned barely above the navel, revealing greying chest hair matted across tanned, aged leathery skin. Tight stonewashed jeans tucked into snakeskin cowboy boots finishes the look. Rock and Roll is clearly serious business to them. Introductions are made. One does the lights, one does the sound. "Yalls equipment truck comin'?"asks one. We explain everything is in the van. "Y'all aint got no Marshall stacks?" he asks incredulously. Sorry, no.
We load in and blow these old dudes minds with our gear; a single Fender Super Twin, a Sunn Bass head resting on a single cabinet holding a fifteen inch speaker and a small four piece drum set. "Man, thats all ya'll got?" Uh, yeah. "What kinda music y'all do?" Punk rock. "Y'all mean like thrash metal??" Uh, no. "Ya'll know Jackyl?? Thems friends of ours up in Atlanta!! We party with them awlla tiiiime!!!"

It wasn't like these guy were rude, just curiously clueless and a little cheesy. It took a while but eventually our common bond was made: we all loved pro wrestling. "Hell yeah brother, Badstreet USA!! Freebirds man, that was the shit!!" After that anything we wanted was A-OK. They went straight to work, the light guy eagerly climbing a giant ladder way up into the mammoth light rig to realign spots so everything remained uniform. The sound guy listened to my advice politely and adjusted the controls accordingly. They couldn't get over our "tiny" gear but were mightily impressed when the boys launched into a number at sound check.

The promoter noted with slight nervousness that Green Day were at another club down the street. Learning it was sold out, he suggested the turn-away might reroute over to our show. Well if any did it was of no consequence. About thirty people came out to this large hall that probably held about 2500. They stood at the front of the stage in a single line leaving the rest of the giant room sadly empty.
The boys came out to the intro music of Elvis' 'American Trilogy'. I'm not ashamed to admit great pride in inventing this gimmick. When mixed with the impressive lighting cued for dramatic effect, it's a showstopper. When the boys launch into their set its a deal-sealer. If they were disappointed in the turnout, you'd never be able to tell. They pop off one song after another, hitting every spot with rapid fire precision. The tiny crowd are really into it, shoving side to side, jumping up and down and hollering out requests. Clayton leans down to share the mic often, and people crowd around him shouting along with the lyrics. Its an intense set, one of the ten best I ever saw them give. At the end of the set Greg kicks over his drums and they leave the stage awash in the droning feedback of their guitars
The crowd roars for an encore. They seem either oblivious or uncaring that the drums are knocked over. I shrug and tell the soundguy that there wont be an encore. He's grinning like a schoolkid on the first day of summer. "Man, that whupped ass!!" They bring the houselights up, but then the next thing I know the boys come back out. Greg starts to set his drums back up. The crowd cheers anxiously.

"Well" says Clayton, "we kept hearing somebody asking for 'Jailbait'... We ain't played it in a while but we'll give it shot." And away they go, taking requests one after the other and playing songs they hadn't played in ages. They must have played another thirty minutes of unrehearsed songs all by request.

Afterwards they sat around signing records for everyone, answering questions and just shooting the breeze. It was totally spontaneous, an immediate and swift connection between the band and its audience. What could have been a miserable disaster or at least a forgettable random show instead turned into something that resonates with me to this day. It isn't even so much simple professional courtesy, its the drive to connect, to share something intangible with an audience no matter how large or small.

I suppose in many way I'm still naïve. I still stupidly believe in the importance and power of this music. It is about the only thing in this fucked up world that has any sense of permanence and definition. I feel forever out of step with standard convention and taste. People can (and do) laugh at my stubborn snobbishness and contempt. I have no shame and am not sorry - I cannot be so easily placated with whatever sewage comes dribbling down the pipe. I see so much of the stale, dry, boring and obvious. None of which would be quite so offensive if it weren't so goddamned prevalent. I think the Lazy Cowgirls summed it up best: "what's important - how it looks, or how it is?"

Sadly it seems anymore the answer is all too clear.

It's sorta ironic - here amidst raging rhetoric regarding gay marriage, confederate flags, gun rights and illegal aliens -  I sit ambivalent. Oh sure, I have opinions and ideas, but nothing strong enough for me to get angry over. Music, however, is another matter entirely.

Bad culture offends me worse than bad politics.


We've been trying out a few new ideas this summer, chiefly by playing more local shows than normal. Our Sunday "matinee" set at our home club Tremont Music Hall a few weeks ago was an interesting experiment. When I was a kid these sort of shows were common however now it seemed to confuse people. Which isn't to say we wont try it again. For those of you that missed it there were some songs in the set we've not played in a while and may not play again for a while. We've been changing out tunes pretty regularly so you can always expect something a little different. I personally do not feel I performed at my best due to the heat but the crowd certainly didn't seem to mind. It goes to show you can't always be too self-critical. The great response of everyone chanting our name at the close of the set was, although surprising, very much appreciated.
We returned to Raleigh two weeks ago for a show I personally was looking forward to. The last time we played Raleigh I suffered some equipment problems that threw me off point. Thanks to the generosity of 'Slayer' Doug Smith from KIFF and Demon Eye's Erik Sugg we managed to pull it off, but it wasn't what it should've been. So I was looking for a little redemption this time around. Of course as fate would have it the day before the show I managed to zip the ring finger on my left hand with a razor knife. I was concerned that I would be unable to play but with a little super glue and some Teflon tape I soldiered on thru. It was worth it - we pulled off the redemption I was seeking with a pretty strong set I feel really good about.

This past weekend found us over in Gastonia. Some questioned our reasoning for playing in such an unlikely locale. One thing I've always admired about this band -  they've never turned their nose to any town, and always preform at top level no matter the size of the city or the stage, or if there even is a stage. The set in Gastonia was one of the five best since I've joined. It was one of those rare nights when everything  and everyone falls together. We were firing on all cylinders and the set was pretty explosive. The crowd was crazy, slamming and dancing like spastics. The owner and staff of Freeman's Pub were great, too. Personally I look forward to going back.

Finally, as promised (or threatened depending on your perspective) we are about to record some new tunes. We debuted one at the Raleigh and Gastonia gigs called 'Can't The Working Man Get a Little Rest?'. The feedback has been positive and I feel really good about everything we've got worked up. I can't say too much about the plans for release yet, but I'm certain y'all will dig it. More shows are in the works heading towards fall. September is shaping up to be extremely busy and we're still working hard on something that  - if we can make it happen - will be really, really killer.  So be sure to check in on and our 'like' us on facebook for all the action.

Until next time.