Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Drummer's Part to Play in Songwriting

sheet music for drums
Our band writes most of our songs as a group. There are times when the guitar player or bass player will have a few ideas, and bring those to rehearsal. We tend to build upon those ideas, adding a part here, taking out a part there. Rarely, does anyone present an entire song to the group. When these parts are being hammered out, I’m sitting behind my drum kit, playing beats in my head. By the time something is put into place, I have a basic beat cooking on the drums. When someone comes with a whole song to teach us, it’s even easier to find the drum parts. That is if you aren’t painted into a corner by the song writer.

The person who writes the song should take some time to figure out how to communicate the beat that they had in mind with the drummer. It starts by telling the drummer what time signature the song is in. We can usually figure that out in the first measure, but it helps to hear it too. If it’s “common time” we can pretty much handle it from there. If you ask us to play something in 7/8, it’s just a matter of where you want us to place the notes. I always think of The Fish by Yes when someone calls for a song in 7/8.
Finally, does the songwriter want to take time to tell me if I can play 8th or 16th notes on the bass drum? Are ghost notes on the snare allowed? Should I open the song on the snare, playing as I see fit for the first measure? When do you want me to get into the “pocket” and just keep solid time? These are all important things to relate to the drummer. All drummer jokes aside, some of us can actually read music, or play odd time signatures.
If you have a beat going in your head, tell me how it sounds? Act it out. I’ll pick it up, and that will make you happy. If you don’t have an idea on how the drums should be played on a song that you wrote, then by all means leave it up to me to find something that works. Someone told me an interesting thing about songwriters. He said “If you are in a band where someone tells you every note to play, giving you no room to play your own parts, then you are a hired gun, and should be paid by the band for your time at practice and shows.” It’s a bit harsh, but pretty much spot on. Let the drummer help you make the song great.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bonnaroo 2012 Review by My Outdoor Festival Expert

Bonnaroo 2012 Review
My friend Jess came back from Bonnaroo last week.  She had many stories to tell, almost all of them great.  I took some time to ask her a bit aobut the festival.  Here is part one of two about Bonnaroo.

WMM: Was Bonnaroo staged well? Did things seem to move smoothly from one band to the next? Were the facilities easy to get to and was there enough of the important things?

Jess: This was my first time at Bonnaroo and the grounds were actually quite a bit larger than I thought they would be. There are camp sites that surround the main area where all the stages are which is called Centeroo and some of the camping can be quite far away. My campsite was about a 35-45 minute walk away from Centeroo. There were about a dozen stations spread throughout the campgrounds called 'pods' that had showers, ATM's, water fill up station and other necessities and there were port-a-potties all over the grounds so you were never too far from the absolute necessities. There were also many vendors and food carts and trucks all over the grounds that sold all different types of items, including camping supplies, jewelry, merchandise, glassware, etc. No matter how far away from Centeroo you were, you definitely had amenities close by which was definitely nice.
Once you are inside Centeroo though everything is pretty close, I would guess it is about a 10-15 minute walk from one end to the other. There were 2 large stages (the What stage and the Which stage) as well as several smaller tents (This tent, That tent, Sonic tent, etc) that all surprisingly had good acoustics. When you were at any one stage, you pretty much couldn't hear music from the other stages which was very nice. Inside Centeroo there were also many different food options, vendors and other activities including a Ferris wheel, a hair salon, a Rolling Stone sponsored musical instrument tent, air conditioned comedy tent and a HUGE water slide. Centeroo was set up well and there was plenty of free space to chill out in the grass or under trees or shade tents to relax between music and other activities.

WMM: You say that you slept outside most nights. Did you feel a sense of community when you did that, or was it just a matter of finding sleep wherever or whenever you could?

Jess: I have been to a couple different music festivals before (Primavera Sound, Lollapalooza, and Pitchfork) and I have always felt a sense of community at these multiple day festivals but Bonnaroo is where I have felt this most and I think that is because of the camping aspect. Bonnaroo honestly felt like its own little self sufficient world for the 4 days that I was there and it was so cool to see so many different types of people of all ages, races, backgrounds come together to see music. I felt completely comfortable sleeping outside wherever I could find a good spot, both inside Centeroo and throughout the campgrounds. I met a lot of really kind and genuine people so I think the positive community vibes were felt throughout the whole event. One example of this is that during one point, I had lost all of my friends and needed to find someone with a cell phone to try and call someone I knew and I randomly walked up to some people and asked for their help and they were more than accommodating to me. They let me hang out with them until I found my group and made sure that I was safe and sound before they left. It was so cool to be surrounded by people that all just wanted to have a good time and make sure their neighbors were having a good time too!

WMM: What did you think of the RF ID tag on your wristband?

This was my first experience using an RF ID tag, and I had mixed feelings about it. It was very convenient to not need any kind of ticket to get into Centeroo because I feel like I would probably have lost that pretty quickly, so the bracelet was very convenient. My RF ID was linked up with my Facebook page so anytime I checked into a certain stage or into Centeroo, it posted an update on my page. I also went to a photo booth at one point and scanned my wristband and that picture also ended up on Facebook. While I think it was a cool way to connect and share my experience with my friends back home, sometimes it was a little creepy to feel like I was being "tracked". It was also the only time I have ever experienced a line to leave a festival, because you had to scan your wristband to leave the grounds!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Say Goodbye To Sidney Hih

Sidney Hih Lost Dutchman's Mine
My first club show was at a place called The Lost Dutchman’s Mine. It was the basement bar in the Sidney Hih building. Later, the bar would go on to be called The Unicorn, and it was run by a locally famous man who went to open a number of Mexican restaurants. In between all of that, it was a gay bar called “The Golden Shaft,” but few people remember that. Many great national bands played at The Unicorn, and just as many local artists took their turn at the wheel in that dark, musty club. We now see that the Sidney Hih building is about to be torn down. Upon hearing the news, a small number of nostalgic folks want to keep their memories alive by forcing the city to reconsider the demolition. While I will never forget that my very first gig was in that building, I say it’s time to move on. Tear down Sidney Hih.

When it was called The Lost Dutchman’s Mine, the entire place was painted dark brown. The plaster walls were formed in a way that you really felt like you were in a mine. There were faux timbers above the bar, booths set deep in fake dead-end shafts, and a conversation pit in the main room was always a great spot to hang with your friends. From what I hear, it was not the best place to partake in hallucinogenic adventures, unless you were into that “I must be dead, because I’m deep underground” feeling. The stage was tucked into a corner of the main room, and I remember that the drum riser was soft, as the wood was rotting away. Most nights, the cover was $3 or less. This was a punk bar where drinks were cheap, and the bands didn’t make very much money. Still, we liked playing there. The crowds were good, and as long as you could make it up those overly carpeted stairs at the end of the night, you were probably going to make the club a regular stop as a band or a fan of live music.

As for what to do with the building now, I’m against restoring Sidney Hih. One of the charms of the building is that it was a cheap rent heaven for local musicians. The same could be said for the retail space on the first floor. Cheap rent usually means that the building is falling apart or not well maintained. That was certainly the case when it comes to Sidney Hih. The building has been unoccupied for a very long time, so why didn’t someone speak up when the last tenant moved out? It’s time to keep memories, and let go of the structure. The very nature of bars, clubs, and retail spaces is that they evolve to keep up with the tastes of new generations.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Reunion Shows Are Funny Things | Who Wants to See Old Rockers Perform?

Milwaukee Reunion Show
It was easy to say no to the offer to play a reunion show in late September of this year.  I suppose that I could have waited a bit before hitting the reply button. I could have mulled it over, but I didn't. We just watched thirteen bands get back together at Turner Hall. How can anyone top that?  The timing of the request could not have been worse for me.  Perhaps it was a "strike while the iron is hot" kind of request, but in my opinion, it seemed like the worst time to announce a "second" event.  I just can't see it happening.  The last one was amazing.  Anything else will be a let down. 

The email that I received from my bass player stated that he was interested in getting together for just such an event, but not on that date.  His idea was that we get paid for our efforts.  It was a nice idea, but does he realize what it took to put together the last two reunions? Breaking even would be a lofty goal.  Making money, a pipe dream.  We did it all just six years ago, and he wasn't the one making all the calls, doing the promotions, handling the logistics, etc.  He just showed up on Sunday mornings to play those same 25 punk songs that we learned back in the mid 1980's, nothing more.
I'm all played out when it comes to reminiscing.  That time has long since passed. If we get back together for one night, anytime in the near future, it will look like we got the itch after seeing so many of our friends do it with such perfection.  We're not perfect.  The last reunion was even further from perfect. When it comes to making music, I think that I'm looking forward from now on. The past is the past.