May 11, 2011

The Man in the Ironic Mask

dear aap:
My band has been together for almost 2 years. We haven't played out much because we want to already be 'good' when when start, so instead of rushing things we've been practicing and writing songs and trying to get better at playing our instruments and stuff, but now that we're getting close to being ready we're starting to disagree with how we're going to look on-stage I mean. One of the guys is getting more and more intense about us all wearing "masks" of some kind and actual costumes and stuff... I think this is a bad idea and not punk rock at all. The rest of the band seems sort of undecided still, what do you think? - No Costume Rock.

Dear NCR-
Well, it worked for KISS, GWAR and Slipknot just to name the first three that jumped to my mind... but you're right about one thing: It is extra tough when you're just starting out to really pull off the masks/costumes/stage-show aspect of Rock-and-Roll that these bands did (and continue to do.) It takes COMMITMENT and a decided lack of the ironic detachment that seems so essential to most bands (and people) now. The masks and all that stuff have to matter a great deal to you in order for them to ever mean a great deal to any future fans.

So is it do-able? Yes. Is it still punk-rock? It very well could be. Should your band do it? I have no idea.

It sounds like the whole mask thing is just one guy's vision and the rest of the band, you included, have probably been polite and indulgent since so far all the talk is just that: talk and theory... When the time comes, the band will have to decide, as a group, whether or not to suit up and that could lead to some conflicts for sure. I think you really have to address and decide this situation sooner rather than later... What is the point of spending more time rehearsing as a group if all of your personal 'visions' for the band aren't the same?

It is about personality and 'vision' and all that but it is also about the songs... Certain songs (and kinds of songs) are better tailored for the big theatrical rock-and-roll treatment, while others are not. As a whole, would you say your band's songs are "big" and anthem-like somehow? or are they intimate and more 'real/honest' ? Do you get what I'm saying? Would a big mask-show presentation really 'fit' the attitude, vibe and sentiment of the songs themselves? ... if not then what would be the point of all the showy stuff, if it all just obscures the music?

Although it might not sound 'punk rock' to throw around douchy new-media buzzwords like "branding" etc, the truth is, it has always been this way... Your band (or any band) needs to know what its CENTRAL message or theme is... While it is good to have grandiose plans for the future, you ARE just starting out, so you have to look at things realistically. What IS it you want to get across to the audience in the 15-25 minutes you might have as an opening band? ...and notice I said 'the' audience, not 'your' audience... because when you start out your primary job as a band will be to win over roomfuls of strangers to find 'your' audience... and if you're going to do that from behind masks, you better be damn sure you're wearing them for the right reasons... Because you can be sure that if you're not, the audience will smell bullshit before you play the second note.

Good luck.