Corned Beef Cake

There comes a moment when you are a performing musician that someone will inevitably ask you the dreaded question “so, who are your influences?”.

Now, this is a perfectly acceptable route of enquiry from the listener/fan/journalist because they want to get a better sense of who you are, what style of music you play and where your music is coming from. The answer(s) you give will help them understand more about why you arrived at the sound and style that you have chosen, strengthen the connection between them and you and also (maybe) enrich their musical portfolio of acts to seek out and enjoy. Consequently, this is also good for you as an artist. Many a friend and fan I have made from this question after several pints of Guinness and drunken recitals of lesser-known Metallica album tracks.

When you start out on the journey of beginning a new band, this is the main question that new members ask. Along with “do you have a car?” and “after how many pints will you fall over on stage?” The influences of the individual musicians will ultimately determine the collective sound of the band.

The problems of how you go about answering this question are huge and create a potential mine field of unwanted misconceptions. Personally, I grew up listening to a massive eclectic mix of traditional jazz, blues, rock, metal, pop and dance but if I tell an eagerly awaiting fan that my voice was sculpted by singing loudly along to Andy Bell from Erasure and my guitar playing is modelled on James Hetfield then the best response I can hope for is a raised eyebrow and confusion. Too many influences given is like too many ingredients – I love corned beef but wouldn’t put it in a Victoria Sponge Cake.

On the other hand, if you don’t have enough influences, you seem uneducated and narrow minded. Our ex-keyboard player was obsessed with Muse and made no excuses to the fact that he had no real interest in any other acts. It was therefore unsurprising that the only contributions he made to the band were space-warping synth parts and ultra-soprano dog whistle backing vocals. (Note: never trust anyone who doesn’t like The Beatles).

When I was 23 I was in a rock band in Brighton. We all loved exactly the same musicians and tried to create something interesting. We wanted to be soul/grunge. As if Neil Young and Marvin Gaye had joined Nirvana. So we wrote a ton of songs and spent a crap load of time and effort making it happen. After several months we were excited with the results and started gigging, keen to reap the praise for our obviously plentiful genius. After our first gig, an overly hairy middle aged biker approached me and said that he had enjoyed our show as it had reminded him of Nickleback. Other comparisons from subsequent gigs were: INXS, Pink Floyd(?) and Motörhead. So the lessons learned there were; it doesn’t always sound like it does in your head and soul/grunge doesn’t work.

The members of my current band have a wide range of tastes and musical backgrounds from metal to drum & bass. We are all from different parts of the world and are varying ages from 23 to 45. So what do we tell people when they ask what our influences are? How do we craft a suitable list that: A) reflects the music we play without being too obvious, B) intrigues the person asking into expanding their musical catalogue, and C) doesn’t make us look like incompetent twats?

Unfortunately, it is quite obvious that I have no idea. Just turn your amp up until you can’t hear them anymore.

C x

Pay To Play

Last Friday was a wake up call.

I had been invited to a gig at the Alley Cat in Denmark street, a traditional rock venue set amongst the famous guitar & music shops in a part of London that had played home to legendary musicians over the years such as Hendrix, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

The gig was a final goodbye show put on by  friends of ours called From The Ashes and it turned out to be a raucous, yet emotional  thunder clap of a show. Fitting for a band that put so much work into what they loved doing.

However, as I supped my overpriced Mexican beer and listened to the band, I couldn’t help but feel a slight mixture of anger and frustration. What was going on with live music right now?

There are good bands out there in London. There are a host of talented guys who want nothing more than to strap a guitar to themselves and go crazy at a packed-to-capacity venue. The main problem is that they don’t have the cash to do it and their friends/fans don’t have the cash to come and see them.

It goes like this:

“Guys! I got us a gig in Camden!”

“Great! What have we got to do?”

“Well, we have to set up a Facebook event and put up posters ourselves to promote the gig. Then we have to get 20 people to come who have to pay £7 to see us play at 10pm. There are cheap tickets online but they’re £6 (with a £1 booking fee). Beers are £5 and we don’t get any free. Also we have to get off work early to be there at 4pm for soundcheck and hire a van to get all our stuff there. And we’re not getting paid.”

Even a normal gig on a wet Wednesday night can cost a band £100+ and you’ll only bring 15 people who are your close friends, so don’t imagine you’ll make any new fans.

Pay-to-play gigs are even worse. Some promoters will book you in to play and then tell you that you have to buy 50 tickets at £10 each off them. It’s ok though, because you can sell them for whatever value you like and keep the profits. Who is going to pay over £10 to come and see an unknown, unsigned band? You might get 10 of your friends to actually buy a ticket if you’re lucky, but you would still be £400 down before even playing a note.

The problem is, the vast majority of promoters don’t actually promote anything. There are some that do love what they do and will work day and night to make a gig a success, but the majority that we have worked with just think that booking the bands and putting up a link on Facebook is enough. This isn’t right. And now it has spiralled into a black hole of a small number of live music venues just worried about turning a small profit. Relying on the bands to bring people instead of actually creating regular, reasonably priced live evenings.

There is still an audience out there, there are still the bands out there, but sadly neither have anywhere to go.

This is our idea: a regular monthly slot at a small live music venue in London. Under £3 to get in. Cheap drinks. Good bands that can regularly play and build up a fan base. Good crowds that don’t have to take out a mortgage to listen to new bands and go crazy.

Who wouldn’t want that?

C x

p.s. Just to remind you, go check out my sister’s blog. She’s a sci-fi author.

http://www.authorinanotherdimension.com

 

 

Riding The Feather

What is cool?

There appears to be a very thin line in modern society that divides what is determined as “cool” and what is twatty. Cool controls fashion, music, art and all other forms of media that, in turn, control how society moves forward. Cool is the determining factor as to whether a film, tv show, band or indeed pair of trousers garner a huge amount of admirers or is lost into the cold void of obscurity.

If that wasn’t scary enough, cool is constantly changing. Like a feather on the wind – or a woman’s mind – the very nature of cool is scattered from hill to valley on a daily basis.

In an ideal world I would like to simply concentrate on music. It would be heaven not to worry about anything else but writing and arranging songs that I can play  to a willing audience and have a great time. That’s pretty much what the band is about. But in a digitally connected world where competition is high and judgement is passed in a swift click, the modern band has a much better chance of being a success if they’re cool. This means talking the talk, walking the walk and creating something that people can attach to.

Successful bands all had periods of cool. Longer lasting bands are the embodiment of cool. And some artists realised that to be at the top forever, you have to constantly ride the feather of cool and change everything to be the coolest. Bowie, Madonna, The Beatles and Michael Jackson were trend setters, refreshing everything from the hair and clothes to the style of the live show. The Rolling Stones found a style that worked of timeless coolness and stuck to it. Even though Keith Richards is nearly 103 he still pulls on the skin tight jeans, covers his wrinkled wallet face in makeup and swigs from a JD bottle to be the character that people expect him to be on stage. Even if the whiskey is replaced with cold tea (it is) then why should we care? It’s all for the illusion of cool.

Bands like KISS mastered cool for a period of time but would that work now? Face paint, matching costumes and excessive fashion accessories are a gamble. If you time it perfectly they can add a “fuck you look at us” factor to your show or they can forever tarnish you as a tongue in cheek novelty band. Look at the rise and monumental plummet of The Darkness.

As a rock band in modern society, the decision we have to make now is – how do we project an air of coolness without looking like dicks or being so cliché and bland that nobody notices us? Leather jackets and jeans but with a cheeky feather boa? Sandals? Selfie sticks?

Maybe we just let the music do the work and wear whatever we fucking want? That’ll never work.

C xx

Being real

“So, what’s the next step?”

As the band sat in a coffee shop next to our management company’s offices we grilled our newly acquired mentor about the progression of our careers in the music biz. Dressed in a tshirt, jeans and casual suit jacket our manager leaned back in his chair with the air of a seasoned yoda ready to outline all his secrets to his (young?) apprentices. As eager as fox Cubs learning how to hunt we huddled together and didnt breathe so as to not miss a syllable that poured from his lips.

“Image.” He purred. “Now we have a marketable asset we need to create a marketable brand and story to go with it.”

The asset he referred to was the 3 track EP that we had spent the past 5 days recording. It sounded good. Totally different to our previous attempts to record ourselves in our own dark studio, these tracks were alive. Instead of being meticulously recorded with individual instruments to a rigid click track and equalised to near perfection, these recordings were done live. We simply hooked ourselves up to amps and played as a good live band should do. The sound was raw, energetic and encapsulated everything that this band is about – having a good time.

We had decided a year or so ago that the band should have a structured image. We have a strong name and logo and consequently the live image of the band should mirror it. So we had the idea of wearing suits on stage, not full on double breasted numbers but shirts, ties and the odd bowler hat. This worked well for the most part as people seemed to remember who we were and could easily spot us in photos. But, it never rang true with the sound of the band. People seemed to be confused, were we pretending to be part of the establishment or playing rock in order to rebel against it? I think we all felt that we needed something to link us together on stage but I’m not sure we cracked it.

“I don’t like the shirt & tie thing.” Announced our manager. And that’s what he’s for. At this point we don’t need fans & friends saying they like what we do, because if we go on stage dressed like chickens they’ll say they like it. We need someone to have an objective monetary position telling us where we’re going wrong.

“The music is live, the songs are real and you sound really passionate. But the look of the band isn’t real.”

We concluded that we are better off being real. Wearing clothes that are natural and projecting an image that doesn’t bullshit the audience. Because, the music doesn’t do that so why should we.

“I fucking love the songs though.”

Then he finished his coffee, got up and left.

 

C x