Mar 30, 2011

Does this guitar make my ass look big?

Dear aap-
What's your take on bands wearing any kind of uniforms matching clothes and stuff? The band I want to join says that when we start playing out we'll all have to dress a certain way. I think that is automatically lame. What do you think? - No modeling.

Dear NM:
Well, it isn't automatically lame, but there is always that potential. As with all things fashion-related, if you're not committed and 100% confident in whatever you might be wearing, you run the risk of looking foolish.

It really varies from band to band. In some ways it is good that people in your band are thinking about the 'bigger picture' much as we want to think it is "all about the music" really isn't. Some effort and thought should go in to what message the band wants to send not just sonically but visually as well. Every band has to answer the "what are we going to wear?" question sooner or later - whether the guidelines stay kind of general or you all decide on a specific uniform. ...and deciding to NOT dress alike is a statement too.

Rock bands, punk or otherwise, have defined themselves by how they do (or don't) dress themselves since well before the dawn of feedback, and it hasn't changed much since. The Hives? The White Stripes? DEVO? Gwar? The Ramones? ... I could go on because the list is endless. All of them give you some idea of where they're coming from before you've heard even one note of their music. That isn't necessarily a bad thing especially when you're just starting out and trying to develop your audience and establish your sound/look/vibe.

You just have to be careful. You have to make sure that you're not spending more time and energy discussing the band's "look" than you're spending on getting tighter and better as a band. So many new bands, when they're trying to just get off the ground, have that one member who has .... a "vision" ...and that person gets tooooo wrapped up in what to wear and what the website should look like and "are we really sure we like this name for our band." ...etc etc and a million other things when everyone's top priorities should be: to make great songs and to get good at playing together... Nail that stuff down and then you can start worrying about how everyone should look on-stage etc. Nothing is worse than being in a band that looks great but sounds like crap... don't be those guys.

So basically I'm saying that you shouldn't base your "join or don't join" decision solely on the possibility that you might have to wear matching shirts... Base your decision on the music they're playing and on the dynamic of the personalities involved... because if either of those things don't work for you from the start, then you'll never get to the costuming part anyway.

Mar 23, 2011

Low down on the low end.

Dear AAP=
We've got a band together but no one wants to play bass. How do you decide or pick or tell someone that they have to play bass if they want to stay in the band? - six strings.

Dear SS-
A common problem. Anecdotes abound about people who considered themselves guitarists first and foremost, but switched to bass to either stay in, or get into a band they thought would take them places... so it has been done but, really, the choice HAS to be the person's... If you give someone the ultimatum "switch or you're out of the band." ...that person might switch, but KNOW that he/she will always be looking for (or starting) another band that'll let them play guitar instead.

...and think about it... If you're friends anyway (and it sounds like you are) do you really want to lay down some 'my way or the highway' choice for a friend? Sure the LOGICAL thing to do would be to figure out who the best guitarist is in some sort of controlled way - like having a play-off to see who is better... and then maybe the loser will relent, in the name of band unity and pick up the bass... but maybe not.

Keep something else in mind: Who says ANYone HAS to play the bass? Why not have all guitars? It has been done... and I mean, come on - the "rules" went out the window years ago... and since the White Stripes there has been a wave of 2 person bands anyway (and if you've read earlier posts you'll know I've mentioned that this started WAY before the White Stripes... just google "House of Freaks" for example.) why not have a multi-guitar assault but trade-off the 'parts' on a song by song basis... Take turns playing leads or keeping a rhythm on the low-end of the strings etc. All it takes is some decent chops and a little cooperation.

The bottom line is, if you all can't amicably figure out who should play what in a fair, or at least fairly straight-forward, fashion that is fair to all, well, then you're going to have ENDLESS troubles in coming to agreement on the much bigger decisions you'll all have to make (together) IF the band does make decent progress in the music biz. Know what I'm saying? ask yourself what is really happening in this "Who should play bass?" situation... Is it really a question, or are you all looking for a way to get rid of one member or another.

The truth is: There are millions of half-assed guitarists out there in the world (I should know, I'm one of them) but true bass-to-the-bone bassplayers are born not made - that is why they're so rare and why, when you've got a GOOD one... it makes all the difference in the world. As much as I like a good 'bass player' joke, the position is too important to be filled by someone who isn't going to put their best effort into it because they don't have the innate soul for it. Yes, I said "soul."

Good luck

Mar 16, 2011

You have to buy-in before you can sell out.

dear aap-
This might sound like a dumb question, but seriously, where do I go to buy my first guitar. I live in the middle of nowhere and the one music store anywhere near my town has maybe three guitars and even to a beginner like me they all seem like junk. So what now? - strummer.

Dear S-
If Google Maps can't find you a decent guitar store within driving distance then you're going to have to go online obviously. I know this seems weird and tricky and, believe me, I understand. Guitars are like shoes... Even if you know the brand, make, and model you THINK you want, once you have the guitar in your hands (or the shoes on your feet) the FEEL might be all wrong for you. I get it, but from the sound of it, you probably don't have any choice.

The easiest place to start is probably ebay. There are 1000's of guitars on sale there every day. Pick a seller with a good reputation and start bidding on something. Since it is your 1st guitar it is likely you don't even know exactly what to look for so try to keep it simple. Set a price limit in your head first, and keep it pretty low - I really couldn't shell out A LOT of money for a guitar I've never held in my hands, nor should you - but finding something inexpensive makes some sense. Stick to the guitar brands that are at least officially affiliated with some of the big names, such as "Squire" guitars are basically super cheap versions of Fender guitars (and some of them play beautifully.) and "Epiphone" guitars are affiliated with Gibsons. It is a place to start at least.

Is there anyone in your life who knows something about guitars? When you finally win that auction and get your new axe in the mail, it would be helpful if someone with some experience could at least look at it. Is the neck straight? Do the strings or pick-ups 'buzz' in ways that they shouldn't?

Chances are you'll end up with an "OK" guitar at the very least. A good starting point. Then BUY A TUNER !! ...nothing derails a new guitarist faster than having a guitar that they can't keep in tune. A little battery-powered chromatic tuner can be had cheap... and yes, you can find them online too.

Good luck. Rock out.

Mar 9, 2011

Give 'em the boot... but which laces?

Dear aap:
I'm 17 and have been into punk since I was 13. I love it, and now that me and my 2 friends are old enough to drive we can find some all-ages shows and clubs - there aren't any in our hometown which is small. We thought it would be great, but the problem is we go to these shows and we still get shit on by people there because we don't fit in or we don't dress exactly right. So how is that any different from the jocks and people who shit on us at home? How do you figure out what to wear that'll be right when we seem to not even know what color bootlaces we're supposed to wear. I didn't even know there was a code. Is there? If there is, what is it? We're all really bummed out about this. - Cotton.

Dear C-
I could tell you what the code for all the different color bootlaces is but there is just one problem: I would probably get it all wrong... That is because there is NO single universal code for this stuff - as much as people might tell you there is, trust me, there isn't. This is especially true because you didn't give me any idea what part of the country you were writing from or really even what country you're in. I'm just guessing it is the US or Canada based on the writing.

In some parts of the world for example, red shoelaces in your black Docs means that you're a communist or socialist, while in other subcultures it means you've spilled blood for your group's cause. In other places the color of laces doesn't mean anything - but the color of your suspenders (or "braces") means everything... or it doesn't. Or what you scrawl in white leather paint on the sleeve of your leather jacket means something... or it doesn't... or what color bandanna you have tied around WHICH boot (left or right) means something... or it doesn't.

See what I'm getting at here?

All that stuff, all those 'signifiers' of belief, stance, status, rank, what have you... no matter how carved in stone it might seem within one scene somewhere, you can almost bet that it has no relevance someplace even a few miles from where you're standing.

It is all about enforcing conformity... and some punk subcultures are as guilty of that as the most upper-crusty prep schools. All these things are a quick visual way of showing who 'belongs' and who doesn't... and if you're thinking to yourself "wait a second, I thought punk rock was about NOT conforming."'re right and you've stumbled upon a basic disconnect with the group-think that is created when ANY group of humans bands together... even when the people in that group think they're all free-wheeling Individuals with a capital "I."

We can't help it... Any group of humans will eventually organize around a basic principal of "us" and "them." ... I'm not saying that is good thing... It is actually probably one of our greatest flaws as a species.

Which of course means that this problem isn't going to go away any time soon, so you have a choice to make: Do you want to 'fit in' with these strangers just because they were hanging out at the all-ages club first, so THEY get to determine the dress code? ...or are you going to be true to yourself and dress as you please?

I say that with this disclaimer: Be prudent. You don't want to wear the wrong color in the wrong place if it is really going to get you physically hurt... shunned is OK, but there is no point in getting a beating (or worse) because you insist on wearing a certain color shoelace that makes the local goon squad go nuts. It would be like wearing the wrong gang color in the wrong neighborhood (which of course is an example of exactly what I was talking about.)

One of the most 'punk rock' guys I ever knew wore pennyloafers and a blazer to nearly every show... which was a pretty ballsy thing to do back then, or now.

If you're really trying to live for yourself, shouldn't you be dressing for yourself?

Mar 2, 2011

Rhymes with "Funky Drummer"

Dear Ask A Punk: our drummer is totally rad. can pelt out awesome beats and solos and may be more of an icon than our guitarist. But we all promised no matter what, under all circumstances, for any and every reason we'd stay clean (not like straightedge- no sex no drink but we'd stay off drugs). So our drummer is one of the worst drug addicts i've ever seen and i've had personal experience with the homeless will do anything to get a hit group. What gets me is that she's violent really violent and she drops off the face of the earth, literally. like just last week her mom called me and asked if i'd drive her to the hospital because our drummer was in the hospital. We've tried talking to her and sending her to rehab but so far nothings held up. I could stand to lose her as a drummer but as a friend i couldn't bear it. Any ideas? -JSinner

I have a bunch of ideas actually.
The first is to tell you that you don't have to worry about losing her as a friend... because you already have. From what you've described to me, it sounds like her best friend now is 'drugs' and, assuming she follows the standard trajectory (and believe me: she will) at some point soon drugs will be the only friend she has room for in her fast-crumbling life. All of those homeless-will-do-anything-for-a-fix "types" you mentioned didn't start out that way... They started out as people more-or-less just like your friend. They had other plans for their lives but due to what? genetics? trauma? funky brain chemistry? or some combination of all those factors (and others) once they decided to let drugs deal with their various inner pains, their lives went off the rails. As I've said before: Once they made that one choice, all the rest of their choices were/are made by the drugs.

I appreciate the loyalty and faith you have in your friend. No one is ever completely beyond hope for some form of redemption but, I have to warn you that your faith and your friendship are NO match for an addiction running at full gallop. I'm trying to save you possibly the next 7+ years of your life here... When addiction takes hold so firmly in someone so young, the problem is they have a lot of energy and youth to fall back on, so the trip to their true and final bottoming out can take a long long time... Are you willing to sacrifice your youth, your life and your band for all that? I telling you to abandon your friend? No. I'm telling you to watch a few episodes of Intervention and figure out that 99% of the "help" that well-meaning friends and relatives offer to the addicts in their lives does nothing but keep the addiction going. Offer your friend every kind of help/support to get well... but realize, heck, expect, her to not want your help and to probably curse your name. This is the addiction speaking through your friend... and as long as IT is talking louder than her, then she isn't ready for help.... and if she isn't ready, realllly ready, then rehab etc won't help her a bit.

She has to see consequences. What I'm saying is - no matter how good a drummer she might be, you probably have to throw her out of the band... and be prepared if even that might not be enough to get her attention. The truth is - if she's already deep in the swamp of addiction her drumming certainly isn't going to improve... and chances are she'll start selling off pieces of her drum kit for drug money soon anyway... Believe me, I know how tough it is to find a good drummer... but do you really want your entire band to be a bunch of planets orbiting a junkie sun? You (as a band) will spend so much time and energy dealing with your F-ed up drummer that it'll cut into everything else: rehearsal, songwriting, playing gigs... You'll lose time and opportunities that you can't even imagine right now... as any self-respecting, self-absorbed junkie would make sure of it. They're such experts at self-sabotage they don't even notice the collateral damage (you, your band, your friendship) they cause on the way to their final tragic flameout. Is that really a ride you want to take?

I'm not sure how much else you can really do. You and your friend are both still minors [I edited some details out of the 'question' due to what I thought might be privacy issues.] so the ball is really in her parents' court... You said the mom called you for a ride to the hospital, so obviously you have a decent relationship with them... Talk to them about what they're seeing in your friend vs. what you're seeing. DO they have a plan of action for her? ...I know I'm making some assumptions, maybe her homelife is her biggest problem... but try not to automatically stand behind the generational banners on this one... Look at things as coolly as you can: What is her homelife like? Can you approach her parents with this stuff. Can you talk to your parents about this? I know you want to protect your friend and you're probably worried that your folks' automatic answer would be to cut you off from her... but remember, I suggested the same thing.

The sad truth is, your friend might pull out of this nosedive and she might not. The fact that there is really nothing you can do about it is the hard truth. Al-anon meetings might be a source of some information & strength for you... but othewise the number one rule of dealing with addicts in your life should be: Protect Yourself ...and by that I mean everything from protecting your money, person & property to protecting your time and your peace-of-mind.

Sorry if this sounded harsh, that wasn't my intention. I just had a vision of what the next decade of your life is going to look like if you think you can somehow have more influence over your friend and her choices than her drugs do... It isn't a pretty picture. Save yourself the heartache.