Although no one really asked for another article from someone in a band telling you “how to be in a band” and “truths” and “how it really is” and “this is what it takes if you can handle it,” I figured with my head full of knowledge from our own little corner of making music, I had a valid perspective worth sharing with you.
I’ll teach a bit, you’ll learn a bit then we all go out with our collective knowledge and try to make the world a better place – aren’t we all so brilliant? This is the first of a new column I’m going to attempt to do on a somewhat regular basis. There’ll be advice rambles like this, lists of things I like that you might too, and any other stuff I can think of until Max says thanks but no thanks.
For starters, so the rest makes some sense, here’s me; I play drums in UK band Isaac and have played in various bands for over 15 years. Isaac so far have released one full length album, appeared on a split single, put out an EP, done a few videos and gigged fairly regularly around the UK all over the course of three years. We are in a place where we don’t do this full time, but we invest a lot of our energy and money to keep going. It’s possible to go further and do this full time, and it’s also possible to stop doing it tomorrow and no ones lives (except ours) will drastically alter. We are in the weird zone between success and failure where it’s all mainly judged by us and us alone.
Recently after a gig some younger-than-us-guys asked if they could interview us for a documentary they were working on for college. Never one to pass up the opportunity to appear on camera – as in, you know, never – we humbly agreed. The questions we were asked seemed more interested in money and how to measure the success of the band rather than; do you enjoy making music, why do you do it, what are your songs about, what new ideas are you exploring?
Admittedly when I first started playing in bands around the age of 15, my idea of success was record deals, world tours, slots at festivals, music videos on MTV (it’s a joke that MTV doesn’t play videos anymore, brilliant stuff Bill Hicks), and all that malarkey. Now I’m close to 30, and although a few of those things have sort-of-kind-of happened, there’s still that nagging voice in the back of my head that what I have achieved doesn’t count for shit and I’m still not a “success.”
The conversation is so often less about how great that thing you worked so hard on is, and more about how many people are coming to support it. The emphasis on press and even among peers, is that unless you are getting sold out shows making loads of money, getting endless YouTube hits, that what you are working on is not valid.
In reality the fact that I still make music on a weekly basis with friends is success. We work hard to do things beyond just playing in a room together on the reg, and the fact we still all do that is in itself pretty great. We have day jobs, we printed and glued the record sleeves to our latest album ourselves, and any money we get from also streaming online goes back into funding the next album.
Being in a band with the sole goal of getting rich and famous can be damaging to your music, your friendships and your mental health when those things fail to emerge immediately. It’s important to judge, talk about and support bands in a way that celebrates the very nature of its existence.
John Frusciante (former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist) just wrote a big old blog post talking on the idea that music is not a commodity to be bought or sold, and that it’s a gift to the world and to produce music is the goal. What happens to it afterwards is a crime built by corporations and talentless hacks. He’s coming from a good place with it, but he’s like SUPER FUCKING RICH, so coming from him it’s kinda SUPER FUCKING RICH.
The reality of being in a band on the night we were interviewed was; playing downstairs in a pub to around 20 people after having loaded our gear, driven over an hour from where we live, all after having worked a full day at our day jobs to then drive home, unload the gear at our rehearsal studio, then get in around 1am to then have to get up for work the next day. Sounds sort of shit? Well that night we sold records, played our music for people who’d never seen us before, were well fed by the promoter and all door proceeds went to a refugee charity – told you we’re fucking brilliant. It’s been that before and it’ll be that again. It’s a grind but it’s worth it. It’s not sitting at home watching Eastenders – no offence to the hard working crew of BBC’s flagship teatime drama serial – it’s going out and doing some living.
It’s important to take pride in the here and now. If that is playing music in your bedroom so it makes the bad stuff go away for a bit, and you don’t mind if no one else ever hears it, then it’s doing all it should ever need to do. If you are starting a band and you are going out and playing shows, then that’s making something tangible, something that wasn’t there before.
Working as a DIY band means creating our own independence, and having a say in what happens with our days. It’s a little corner of ‘ours’ that doesn’t answer to a boss or a schedule. It’s hard work that pays off. It’s a participatory. It’s friends helping out friends because we all love doing it. It’s putting up a band after they’ve played. It’s making a huge pot of pasta so everyone can eat before they play. It’s laughing at dumb jokes. It’s creating spaces that people can feel safe in. It’s supporting each other’s art. It’s about exploring and going new places and meeting new people. It’s being positive. It’s sharing knowledge so anyone can do this thing.
Now go make music.
Read: This Band Could Be Your Life – The GREATEST book about being in a band, the birth of DIY culture as we know and bastardise today! A destroyer of creating unattainable goals in your head. Black Flag was just a bunch of people in a van driving around playing to whoever showed up. That’s basically it, and basically all there is to all of this.
Listen: Daniel Jonston – All his early output circa 1980-ish. An icon of DIY and putting everything you are into your music. He recorded his first few albums in his garage live to cassette and hand drew the artwork for every copy he made. If he sold a cassette then he went back and RECORDED THE WHOLE THING AGAIN, rather than making copies. These recordings are someone putting their ALL into their music because he has to, because if he doesn’t he’ll explode. I’ll ignore his serious mental health issues and just honor the fact that this music bleeds that feeling of Just. Having. To. Do. It. Cause. It. Is. Everything.
Watch: School of Rock – Features maybe one of the most accurate portrayals of someone burnt out from never “making it”, rediscovering that making music is totally the best. He does learn this by kidnapping around 20 children from a school; so take it with a pinch of Hollywood salt and all that.
Coming up next time…
Surviving extended time in vehicles with other people in various states of hung-over land.
Daniel England plays drums in a few bands including Isaac