Jul 27, 2011

Kicking Ass and Taking Blame

Dear AAP-
I have spent plenty of time in moshpits which resembled brawls and I've been in a few brawls that were more like square dances with people shouting curses at each other... but now I find myself in a new dilemma. I got involved in an 'altercation' in a parking lot after a show that my band played in. It was the usual drama of some dipshit following us out to the load-out after the show, drunk and talking shit and threatening us. There was pushing and shoving but no cops were called... and then the next day I have cops at my door, charging me with assualt. Since when does a guy go where he shoudn't, say stuff he shouldn't, START trouble and then call the cops the NEXT DAY? What the fuck is that about? ...and more importantly what now? - Defender.

Dear D-
Welcome to America, where no one will take personal responsibility for their own actions. I'm glad you didn't share too many details of the altercation in your letter because the first thing I would tell you is to Stop Talking About It. Don't go on-the-record with anyone describing what might or might not have happened. Next: Immediately find a lawyer. Seriously.

Things you probably have in your favor: The cops showed up the next day and (apparently) didn't drag you away in handcuffs... which means they probably already assume it is a BS charge... but don't depend on that (repeating: shut up and get a lawyer.) Also in your favor: It sounds like the guy acted alone and hopefully you have at least one or two bandmate/roadie witnesses. You'll also want to check with the venue - maybe they have security cameras in the parking lot? ...or maybe a neighboring business does... be proactive in looking for this stuff. Basically find as much proof as you can to tell your side of the story and then keep it to yourself - Wait and see what happens. If you threw the first actual punch, you might have some trouble. Let's hope that the dude, once he gets over his hangover and his embarrassment, just forgets the whole thing... but be ready in case he doesn't

Jul 20, 2011

Pretty In Ink

dear ask a punk-
I'm a female musician. I've been in a couple of bands and I'm a decent player of guitar or bass. I'm not much of a songwriter yet so I do like being in a real band and not just sitting home and recording stuff by myself into my computer. The problem I'm running into now is that I'm once again looking for a new band to be in, I keep getting the vibe from people like I'm not cool enough for them. I'm cute enough. I've got style and can be pretty outrageous when it is called for. It seems the problem comes down to this mostly: I don't have any tattoos. It seems like it is now mandatory to have arms full of tattoos if you want to be in a band, or even be allowed into certain crowds. The thing is, I do like tattoos on other people, boys especially, I've got nothing against 'em and don't judge people for having them, so why am I being judged for NOT having them? That doesn't seem fair. - blank canvas.

Dear BC-
Skinny ties. Wide ties. Tight pants. Baggy pants. Long hair. Short hair. Leather jackets. Vegan shoes. Basically fashion has always been a way of indicating where our other cultural preferences are and who our chosen 'tribe' is... but all those things are temporary or removable. Hair grows out or can be cut. Old and/or embarrassing clothes can be replaced (and hopefully forgotten.) Styles, and with them, their era's definition of what is 'cool' are forever changing. It has always been this way... but tattoos are forever, right? ...and that is something very different.

What isn't different is that, as always, a 'non-conformist' subculture tends to start trying to instill conformity within the group. As I've said before, in the earliest era of Punk Rock, basically anything that didn't sound like Lynyrd Skynrd or Styx could be called "punk rock" ... including an act that consisted of two guys in suits, one playing the accordion while his band mate beat on a shopping cart (wired with microphones) with an axe handle. I know this because I opened for them. More than once ...but eventually "official" punk rock became something that carried with it certain requirements - leather jackets, torn clothes, Docs or sneakers, F-ed up hair etc etc. You get the idea. I guess the tattoo thing is/was the next logical step in pushing the envelope.

Don't get me wrong. Like you, I actually DO like tattoos (and I even have a couple.) but I don't think of them as a requirement. Funny also that, opposite of you, I usually think they look better on girls... probably due to the fairer sex being less hairy.

I would say that you have to stick to your guns here. As you said, you're not being a jerk, not judging them for having tattoos... so anyone who judges you for not having them obviously isn't on your level. Keep looking. Surely the world needs more cute and clever guitar girls who are also willing to play bass.

Jul 13, 2011

Joystick Division

dear aap:
I want to make music, but I don't want to be in a band. I think it would be cooler to make songs and music for videogames. How do I do that? Where do I start? - unsigned.

Dear Unsigned-
Ahh, the future. There was a time when every kid wanted to be a baseball player. Then every kid wanted to be a rock star. Some kids wanted to write the ultimate novel. Other kids wanted to make movies... now everyone under the age of 15 that I talk to wants to make videogames. I'm not saying that as an old fossil, I'm just pointing out the truth of it. Desires and thoughts of what is "awesome" shift with the generations, that is the way of the culture and that is cool, but one thing is constant: a tiny percentage of the kids who wanted those dream occupations ever take the steps necessary to make their dreams (possibly) come true... and only a tiny percentage of those people actually get that ultimate gig/life.

I'm not saying this to discourage you. I'm saying it to double-down your determination.

I know that video games buy/commission some real "songs" from established recording artists for specific games, but from the sound of it you were talking about making the 'music' for games too, and by that I assume you mean the scores/background music that fills gameplay and cut scenes. Before you even get to thinking about how to get specifically into games you're going to need some basic skills... and then some advanced skills... and hopefully some innate talent... and then some pure luck. But you asked "Where do I start?" so I'll tell you.

1) Piano Lessons.
Yes, and maybe years and years of them. You said you specifically don't want to be in a band... so buying a guitar and taking four quick lessons from the local stoner isn't going to give you the foundation you'll need. That foundation can be found in the piano, and in real, structured study of music theory. You'll need to be able to read music too, and understand rhythm and harmony and melody and all those words that serious musicians bandy about so easily. Seriously. Think of it like learning a foreign language- of the country you plan on moving to. "Real" musicians start at the piano. It is the most straight-forward instrument on which to learn the basics of all the things I just mentioned. Once you have the basics really down pat, then you'll branch out into learning all the styles of piano and keyboard music. Then you'll branch out into orchestration and all sorts of music theory. These are the basic building blocks.

2) Immerse yourself in gaming and gaming culture.
By this I don't mean just PLAY videogames every waking moment you're not seated at the piano (although, of course I assume you're an avid gamer already.) I'm saying you'll need to get into the esoterica and behind-the-scenes stuff. Start reading gaming INDUSTRY blogs and websites. Basically I'm saying: After you know the 'language' of your new foreign country home you have to also know the history and culture.

3) Start making stuff.
Start making your own games (another thing to learn) and/or align yourself with people who have a passion for making games so that you can learn about HOW games are constructed and how the music fits into the overall structure... maybe throw some understanding of coding and computer science into your bag of tricks. You'll also hopefully gain some experience in actually creating music for them. DIY still applies to the world of videogame-making... more NOW than ever.

So that is the most basic starting path. Develop the basic skills now, so that the advanced skills won't be as much of a reach for you later. Don't give up and don't get lazy, if this is what you want.

Good luck.

Jul 6, 2011

Draft Punk

dear aap:
It is time to throw a band member out. I know you have answered this sort of question before, but here is the twist, we have to throw out my brother. He is basically a drunk. He wasn't when we started, but now he is. We're all in our mid-twenties and as a band we've taken our music increasingly seriously and gotten better and even more professional in how we approach the whole thing, but he has taken it less and less seriously, more like he likes being a "musician" lifestyle-wise but not when it comes to actually PLAYING the music and getting better. He's the bass player, so it isn't like he's irreplaceable or anything, but still he's my brother and that makes it weird and even more so that I can't figure out what his problem really is because obviously we came from the same homelife and all that so I know exactly how fucked up his/my familly is - which is: alittle, but not all that much. I'm no saint and neither is anyone else in the band, but he is completely out of hand. So I have two questions - what do you think caused this slide of his and how do I go about throwing him out. - Done.

Dear Done -
It is interesting that you threw in the word "irreplaceable" because, as I read your email, the first thing I thought of was, of course, the story of The Replacements and how they had to throw Bob Stinson out of the band while his little brother, Tommy, stayed. That might sound like ancient history to you guys, but it might be worth digging up some books and reading about it... but I know that doesn't help your immediate situation. So let's get into it.

Sure you both grew up in the same home, but you would be surprised how differently siblings can experience the same home they grew up in, just as any individuals will experience and process ANYthing differently. Maybe he saw your mutual childhoods as a more difficult time than you did. Maybe he has had experiences (bad ones) that you don't even know about. Add to that the fact that every individual (including members of the same family) is a unique soup of genetics and brain wiring/chemistry and there is your answer. Things like alcoholism do run in families due to what many researchers are fairly certain is a genetic 'predisposition' to the problem, but even in the most besotted of families there are always a few who manage to avoid the landmine of alcoholism... Is it luck? Genetics? Determination? ...I'm not going to even pretend I have an answer for that, just know that it is a fact. Trying to figure out the 'why' of his problem isn't going to yield (m)any answers and isn't going to much help your current situation. Just deal with what you can see: His behavior and how it affects you, your band and your family.

Sure it would be easier to just toss a 'friend' out of a band for bad behavior, but family is tough, and contrary to what you said in your letter, I'll warn you that good bass players are much harder to find than you probably think. How far HAVE you already gone to address your brother's problem? Have there been ultimatums or interventions already? or have you all just been silent as he as gotten increasingly "out-of-hand" and just NOW you're getting to a breaking point? He's your brother. Have you talked to him one-on-one about any of this, not as a band mate, but as a family member? Trust me, on some level even he knows he is fucking up... He might be amazed that no one is calling him on it. He might be dying (literally and figuratively) for someone to throw him a line and pull him out... even if he says otherwise when drunk and confronted. Find a time when he isn't loaded, get him alone and SAY what isn't being said, then see if that changes things. Keep in mind that, if he is already in deep, and not ready to quit, he might say all the things you are hoping to hear, even if he has no intention of changing his behavior. You have to set some parameters and STICK to them, then judge the results by his ACTIONS not by his words. I say all this because, based on what little you said in your letter, it sounds like things are just beginning to go off the rails for him.

IF you have already been through all of that and he is still incapable or unwilling to improve and you really are at the end of your rope with him then of course you do have the right to take care of yourself and your band (and your family.) You might have to handle it like a real 'Intervention' and just sit him down with everyone, including the band and the family if possible. Let them all have their say. Tell him, with no negotiation or wiggle-room, what has to happen if he wants to stay in the band and then put the situation in his lap. It is tough, but the flipside is: You keep him in the band and let his problem become a problem for all of you. You have the right to protect yourself.

Good Luck.