Looking back at 2014… Year of the Guerrilla

Max asked if I would write a piece summarising Guerrilla Monsoon‘s 2014. If you know us personally or know anything about the band then you’ll appreciate the year has been productive and hectic in equal measure!

The year nearly killed us (literally and metaphorically) and looking back I can’t believe it happened.

For those of you that don’t know us, we’ve each been working hard in bands for around 10 – 15 years and not really had much to show for it. With that in mind it’s hard to explain why we “keep on keeping on” to those not involved in our (musical) community; most recently my mum was asking me that very question at a time (and she is right to say it) “I’ve much bigger stuff to deal with.”

Simply we formed Guerrilla Monsoon (with the expectation that our career highlight would be opening for a small unknown international band as they trudge through Birmingham’s offering to the punk rock basement/toilet scene) because it passes the time and making music is really fucking cool. But then things kinda happened for us when we least expected it; it’s weird and a little fucked up. So here is how it went down…

In December 2013 we had our first band practice and (so Facebook tells me) I opened our Facebook band account on 22/12/2013 before posting “Year of the Guerrilla” as our first status in early January. At that point, having only had a handful of jams I had no idea how right I would be!

Almost to balance that and to act as a timely reminder (at least to myself) I would say (very briefly just to give it context) that whilst 2014 was rad for my band it was probably the worst year my family has had. I don’t wanna delve into that save to say that real life was going on at the same time as all this and in many ways having something focused and tangible to hold onto (music, our records, new friends) kept me going/posi.

We played our first show at a metal pub in Birmingham (Scruffy Murphy’s) with my friends The Amistad (Sheffield based) & Don Blake (Bolton/Manchester based) with around 30 people turning up, which is a great turnout for a show in the second city.

At that point we were signed up to a scheme through Kidderminster College that supported local bands and gave (limited) free studio time. It enabled us to record our first 5 songs; without that assistance we would probably have recorded a couple of tracks over the summer months. The assistance pushed us on no end since that initial demo is when stuff got moving and things escalated quickly!

As I always do when I record a new project I sent the demo to my closest friends and the comments were very supportive.

One of those recipients, my buddy Daniel Baker, runs a clothing company called The Moving Development and through that he met/knows some ace bands. He forwarded the demo to a band called Gameday Regulars (shortened as GDR), whose music I knew through No idea’s annual music festival, Fest, and I genuinely loved their two EPs released in 2012  and 2013 respectively.

When GDR came back to us and said they would like to do a split I was very surprised. I mean it’s not every day a band based 3,500 miles away – who you really dig and are eagerly anticipating their next release – asks you to be part of that next release. It all seemed so far away from my reality. If things stopped there I would have said 2014 was the best year ever, but (in the best possible way) it didn’t.

The next logical step was finding a record label. So I emailed everyone I could think and also spoke to David and Alex from All In Vinyl on one of our regular pub outings. Earlier in the year I had asked them to put our demo out but frankly they laughed at me when they realised I wasn’t joking. That said I knew that GDR’s last EP was in David’s top 5 EPs of 2013  and one of his favourite shows at Fest 12. So I tried again and he agreed (after about 8 pints) to put out our split. Let’s be clear: it wasn’t our side of the split he was interested in!

Shortly after Paper + Plastick (Florida based, run by Vinnie Fiorello Less Than Jake/Fuelled by Ramen) got in touch and agreed to co-release our 7″ split since they were into the demo and loved GDR. Beach Community also got in touch (who we knew since it is a subsidiary/sister label of Big Scary Monsters, one of my favourite UK labels) and asked us to release a follow-up to the split. Again Paper + Plastick were down for the co-release after chatting to Vinnie/thrashing out the details on the Less Than Jake tour bus at Slam Dunk in May.

At the same time as all of this we started to book shows. We were getting offered loads of tours and trying to jump on everything we could. All the shows were offers from friends in UK bands that we had helped in the past but also a few new people who had heard our demo/heard the rumours about us signing with Paper + Plastick.

This year we will have played over 65 shows (again, the first was in late February). Unfortunately we’d quickly ran out of annual leave so (for example) we’d play London during the week, get home at 2am and up for work at 7am. It’s not bad as a one off but we were doing this almost constantly from May – October; the lack of sleep was wearing us down. Rob/Lewis drifted off at the wheel once each. It got really fucking stupid so we decided to ease off the gas a little this Winter.

I say this only because of a ridiculous article about touring bands has been doing the rounds (it should be obvious): For the avoidance of doubt we don’t break even on the vast majority of shows we play/promote but our expenses are rarely more than petrol/food/drink & we always go in eyes open. We often travel 6-hours round trip to play in front of 10 people for no money. We do it because it’s a hobby we love. When you factor the College assistance we may break even on our records; that’s why we have jobs.

There are so many events that I gotta skirt over because I don’t wanna write a dissertation about this. We got paid with a bong in Bridgend touring with Leagues Apart; we got stuck in traffic and missed our time slot (thankfully we swapped with bands) on a couple of occasions; we finished tracking our EP halfway through our tour with French band The Traders and 15 minutes before we were due on stage in Nottingham; we got stuck for 17-hours in Paris on our way to Fest 13; played lots of rad shows but particularly for Kev Fenton in Leeds, Paul’s Southampton house show and also for Surprise Attacks in Worcester; playing a bunch of headline shows; hanging out with Less Than Jake and our label mates in Florida & our transport breaking down on the way back from BYAF (Dundee, Scotland).

For us the key event that we were looking forward to was Fest. How many bands can say they had played there at a great slot (8pm on Saturday) after just 9 months of existence?! We played a stage with some of my favourite artists like Franz Nicoly, Leagues Apart and Arms Aloft. My friend Steve from Murderburgers tried to get in to see us but was told it was at capacity (probably for the bands after us but still… ace). If he was lying fuck it, it was a lie that made me happy.

As good as Fest was I preferred BYAF in Scotland. I think 200 people were there and we sold like 20-25 records after that show. To travel that far, not lose money, eat/sleep well, make new friends/”fans” and play so great its very life affirming.

The executive summary is crazy: one year; two international releases; UK 7″ press sold out in two months; performances at ManchFESTer, Fest 13, BYAF, Scene Not Heard all dayer; 65+ shows; 3 videos; 5 tours; bunch of best friends made.

Let’s not forget the bullshit though.. Lots of that. Paradoxically, 2014 has contained my lifetime highest/lowest points, but even the low points remind me how privileged I am.

Looking forwards, we’ve been asked to write/release the album; we’ll probably do a split first. Personally I just want to have as many positive life experiences as possible (both in/outside this band) because life is short.

Writing all the above does make me realise how hard we worked this year but more importantly how many people believed in us/gave us a lucky break. For example we would not have recorded so early in our band’s lifetime if we weren’t supported by the local college; if my friend Daniel did not send our resulting demo to GDR, we would not have released those songs physically or signed to Paper + Plastick/Beach Community, played Fest 13, toured with so many rad bands or write an album in 2015. Kind words, inspirational people/bands and friends & family all played crucial roles too and I’m so grateful.

To that end I have to close with two words that I find myself uttering sincerely so often these days (despite their impact feeling well short of my intention): THANK YOU.

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Mark Bussey

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