Oct 30, 2013

There Will Be Thud

Dear Ask A Punk
Does a band have to have a bass player? I play guitar with my friend who drums and we like it just the way it is and I know a lot of bands I could name who only have 2 people in them but we practice at the drummers garage and his dad says we're not a real band. I think the bass part is boring anyway and we like the way we sound. - two only.

Dear Two Only
Some people think you can't have a "real" band without an accordion, or maybe a banjo, or clarinet, or, well, name any other instrument and someone, somewhere will think it is essential for a band to have one. 

So, yeah, your friend's dad is wrong, but I also think that, as you learn more about music and get a better handle on how you want to connect with your audience, you'll find that you'll want to add some more low-end. This might come in the form of you just playing more low notes on your guitar or, you might eventually realize that having a bass line running through one of your songs just might make the song even better. I'm not saying you have to have a bass player. I'm just saying that you should stay opened-minded and not rule anything out.

It is a lot of fun to blast distortion and screech out high-pitched riffs but, very often the people who aren't actually playing the music need to FEEL it in a way that only low frequencies can provide. The human ear can hear a wide range of audible frequencies... don't rule any of them out - but of course, don't let a lack of a bass player stop you from making the music that currently sounds so good to you. 

The world is full of people who are going to tell you things that they think are "facts" when they're really just opinions, and often not even well-informed opinions. The trick is to learn to tell the difference and be true to yourself. So, if some dad says "you need a bass player" feel free to ignore that free advice, but if you find your music isn't connecting with people the way you want it to, then you have to look at your own "opinions" about things like how boring a bass line might or might not be. In the meantime - keep playing they way you want to play.

Good luck.

Oct 23, 2013

The Agony of the Ecstacy

Dear AAP -
My friends have branched out from punk rock and are now getting more and more into going to EDM shows. I think they're doing it more for the drugs than for the music, because I don't see the endlessly repeating music as all that interesting and can't imagine that they would have found it interesting either before they started taking "Molly" and now that is all they talk about - going to the shows to get molly and trip out. I'm not unfamiliar with drugs of various kinds, but I don't see how this new drug suddenly makes music that they normally wouldn't have been able to tolerate, enjoyable. In fact it is the sort of music, and people, that we used to laugh at and it couldn't me more un-punk. What's the appeal? - Old School at 20.

Dear OSa20
"Molly" isn't a new drug at all, it is just a new name / marketing angle for plain old Ecstasy, but in allegedly more pure powdered form... which is how, 20 years ago, Ecstacy was usually sold. I say "allegedly more pure" because of course any powdered drug can be cut with a similar-looking powder to increase profit margins. 

You can easily look up the science and debate over the merits and dangers of Ecstacy elsewhere on the web, you didn't ask me about that. You asked me about why your friends' tastes in music have shifted so much, and so suddenly, and why they're suddenly so rapturous about EDM. You're right about one thing, it is mostly about the drugs, that and the drug-induced feeling of "connection" that often happens when a lot of people are gathered in a confined place, listening to loud and repetitive music and fed a drug that opens the floodgates of dopamine production in their skulls. They get a euphoric feeling that "wow, we're all here and we're all connected. We're all thinking the same thing." .... which in a weird sort of way they are...but all they're thinking is "wow, we're all thinking the same thing."   ...see the circular logic at work there? Everyone feels connected because they feel connected, not because they actually ARE connected.  The vibe is that you feel like everyone would agree with you if you were to say pretty much anything - but no one really says anything to test that theory.  Individuals just smile at each other, and feel like the other person is completely empathetic with them... but the truth is that other person is looking at you, thinking you're completely on their page. 

...not the worst way for humans to interact with each other I suppose, but not a lot really gets accomplished aside from hopefully having a good time for a few hours and hopefully not dying of hyper-thermia (high body heat) or dehydration. Every drug comes with a downside - physical, emotional and/or chemical, and we have to decide for ourselves what risks we're willing to take with our bodies and our minds, and then accept whatever comes after those decisions are made.

Your friends are probably so far just experiencing and enjoying the upside of their "new" drug discovery, along with an enormous crowd of people that seems to like and accept them (because everyone is in such a drug-induced good mood) but sooner or later the down side will creep in to a greater or lesser degree. You can't mess with your brain chemistry indefinitely without some of those chickens coming home to roost. Hopefully your friends are aware of that. 

As for you, it doesn't sound like you were contemplating joining them any time soon. Keep making your own decisions on what you like to listen to and (more importantly) what you will and won't put into your own body. You can express your concerns to your friends, but be willing to accept the fact that they're probably not going to listen very closely to what you have to say. In the meantime, you can make some new friends in the moshpit.

Oct 16, 2013

Bad Romance or Bad Romeo?

Dear Ask A Punk -
My girlfriend and I broke up. We're in our late twenties, so this isn't some teenage highschool thing. We were together for six years and we lived together or almost two of them, but now it is over. It is devastatingly sad. It isn't either person's "fault" is is just one of those things where we seemed to go as far as we could and then we just didn't like each other as much anymore. It was her idea to move out and to officially break up. So why does everyone in our circle of friends act like it was either my fault or my idea to break up? And it is a pretty small scene here. I know that every bar or club I go to, I'm going to run into someone I and we know, and they're going to probably take her side. She moved out on me, am I supposed to now move out of town? - Single.

Dear Single -
Well, now we know your side of the story at least. If everyone in your circle of friends is looking at you with that "WTF?!" look in their eyes, perhaps you need to re-examine your role in the demise of your relationship.

Just because she's the one who chose to break-up and move out doesn't necessarily mean that it is also all her "fault." Maybe you're not the charming and selfless boyfriend you seem to think you were. Generally, sane people break up and move out when the other person's behavior becomes intolerable. You didn't describe your girlfriend as crazy or unstable, and even if you did, I would still be somewhat suspect of your version of how things went down.

The fact that you're so concerned about "fault" and what your friends are saying tells me that, even though you're in your 20s, the mentality still feels a bit high school to me. Sure, some friends might be more likely to take her side over yours, but if everyone seems to be on the same page about YOUR culpability in this...except you... maybe it is time to re-examine things more objectively. I am sure plenty of your mutual friends will have something to say, why don't you try just listening to them for a little while without interrupting.

That is - if you want to get back together... and I really don't assume that because aside from a brief mention of it being "devastatingly sad" it sounds like all you're really concerned about is what all your friends currently think of you. It doesn't sound like you're hoping to get back together with this girl, you're just worried about salvaging your reputation.

Oct 9, 2013

Punk Rock Babies.

Dear aap
I'm going to turn 33 in a few weeks. I've been playing in bands since high school, but also managed to get through college. Not a fancy college, but I do have a bachelor's degree. I have played more shows than I can count. I have had a lot of fun and some interesting adventures and made some long-term friends. I have loved it, but since I'm a girl and not a guy, I have other things on my mind too like wanting to have kids and have a real life too. I love my bandmates, but never dated any of them - they are all guys - and while I know they respect me, I don't think they understand how different this issue is for me than it is for them. Kids are something they are terrified will happen to them accidentally, while I'm starting to get terrified that I won't have any kids.

This pressure is all coming from me by the way. My parents are very supportive and cool and are not the kind who would be hassling me about supplying them with grandchildren. This is all internal. I guess I'm realizing that, no matter how much I DO still love playing music and doing shows, I'm never going to make enough of a living at it that it will be able to support a family. I think the guys in my band still think they're just a click or phonecall away from some big break, but I know that isn't going to happen for a band with members between 32 and 38. I don't want to quit necessarily, but I also do want to get on a more serious track jobwise I guess at least find something more serious and steady than the sorts of jobs we all have now, the sorts of jobs you can take a few weeks off from so that you can to a short road tour. 

How do you decide when it is time to make this switch and how do I tell my band? - Tick Tock

Dear TT -
You have the right to live your own life, but you do owe it to your bandmates to be honest and to give them as much advance warning as possible before you made any big changes. You didn't tell me what your role in the band is - If you're just playing an instrument in a band full of equals, then leaving probably won't derail the band if the other members want to keep it going. If you're the lead singer & front-person and/or the main songwriter, losing you could be a tough blow for a band to survive, and they would probably have to re-form as some other kind of band/entity. 

Clearly you've hit one of those moments in adulthood where you're realizing that "keeping all your options open" is no longer an option. Every decision to walk through one door or pursue one kind of life over another now means that those other options, those other doors not chosen, might then be closed for good. It can be scary. It is also pretty much a universal part of the human condition, so welcome to official adulthood... sucks sometimes, doesn't it?

I've hit that wall a time or two as well. I was 31 when I stopped playing in my last real(ish) band. I moved from Boston to California when I was 32. It was a hard decision to make. It opened some doors, but it also slammed shut some others. The move changed the direction of my life in every imaginable way (some good, some less so.) ...but I also felt, in a very deep way, that the decision had to be made at that time. If I had waited another ten, or even five years, it would have been to late to make the jump. Are there regrets and "what ifs" ...hell yes there are, but I think the regrets and especially the "what ifs" would be even heavier if I hadn't made the decisions I did, when I did. 

Life is long, if you're lucky. If the music is really in you, it will never leave, it just might have to take a back seat to a few years of diapers and carpooling to soccer practice. After her early trail-blazing rock/poetry career, Patti Smith spent nearly 20 years in Detroit quietly raising her kids and has now come back as strong as ever. It can be done. 

You DO need to bring this up with your full band as soon as possible. Do it all at once, don't corner the other members individually to feel them out on the subject, that'll just muddy the waters and likely start gossip etc. Just sit down with everyone and tell 'em what is on your mind. Their reaction, whether it is good or bad, will probably go a long way toward cementing in your mind the path you have to take next.  

...and it doesn't have to be drastic. It sounds like the motherhood thing is still in the idea stage for you. It just no longer sounds completely outlandish to you that you could be a mom. It doesn't sound like you've picked out the father yet or have any set timetable in your head... you just know you have to start making some changes and preparations in your life so that you could hopefully include a baby in it. This tells me that you don't have to necessarily quit the band right away, or even soon... You just have to be honest with your guys and warn them that you could be opting out of their grand plans for world domination. 

Good Luck, and if it is a boy, I'll mention that "Thomas" is a good, strong and "classic" kind of name that doesn't get used much these days.

Oct 2, 2013

Cute d'etat! Cute d'etat! Cute d'etat!

Dear aap
I know everyone else probably complains about the start of school, but after a long, pretty boring Summer it is nice to get back to school, back to my friends - because we live really scattered around and don't see much of each other over the Summer. I'm not a big school geek or anything. I really really don't like getting up so early in the morning, but I don't mind being there. I have friends, most of the teachers are decent enough human beings and our teams suck so badly that the jocks more or less keep to themselves and can't get away with being douchebags like they can at other schools. I'm sure college will be better, but I just mean that school doesn't have to be a non-stop nightmare for most people, and it isn't for me. In fact things are going pretty good in unexpected ways. My girlfriend and I have been together for over a year, but even that is usually better during the school year, because at least we can see each other every day. The summer was tougher, even with texting and stuff. So it was great to see her and my friends and get everyone together. So the weird thing is that one of her friends, one of her best friends is now an enemy due to something that happened over the Summer, but I don't know what. So the weird thing is, her friend has always been ok with me but this year she is talking to me all the time. We are in 2 classes together and she wants to be lab partners and she goes out of her way to find me between classes and she is flirting with me pretty hard. I love my girlfriend, but it isn't like I've been with a lot of different girls and, if I was being objective, this other girl is really hot and has really gotten even hotter over the Summer, and it just seems like my girlfriend is getting mad at me for talking to her former friend, like I can help that. So the truth is that her friend is being nicer to me now anyway, and she is making it clear I think that she would want to date me. I'm not a jerk or anything, but if you could see what I'm in the middle of, you would probably say to go with the new girl. - Small Town Punk.

Dear STP -
I don't have to see anything to know you're in the middle of waaaaay more than you realize.

Sure, there is, statistically speaking, a verrrrrry slight chance that your read of the situation is on target: Your girlfriend has become an unappreciative harpy just as this other, hotter girl, who has known you for a while but never before expressed any interest in you, has suddenly, after having a completely-unrelated-to-this-situation fight with your girlfriend over the Summer, decided that you are the 2013 edition of Prince Charming.

Sure, that could be the whole story... but that isn't the way the smart money would bet. 

As a guy, you probably know exactly where you stand with your male friends 99% of the time, right? The guys you can count on, generally, stay that way, and the guys you don't trust or dislike probably feel the same way about you. If you piss off one of your good friends, accidentally or on purpose, he is probably going to let you know and call you on it, in very direct ways. He isn't going to weave some Machiavellian scheme to ruin your life that might also include innocent stooges who are unaware of the plan.

Girls often aren't so lucky. While your same-sex friendships are often based (and often only extend as far as) shared interests in activities, bands, sports, games etc., their friendships, especially at your age, while they might start in the same way as your guy/guy friendships do, often go a lot deeper and are often based more on emotional intimacy and 'trust' and the sharing and keeping of each other's secrets. That sort of sharing creates powerfully intense friendships. It can also breed very dangerous enemies. 

I hate to shoot you in the ego here, but if I had to bet, I would bet on this: This 'new' girl really doesn't care about you, or even if she does a little bit, what she REALLY cares about is sticking it to her ex-friend... your girlfriend. 

Come on, man. You said they had a fight over the Summer and now they're not friends anymore and you seriously think her new infatuation with you is just a coincidence? Timing? Have YOU changed that much this Summer that she would notice? Are you suddenly much taller? Better looking? Funnier? ...enough that she would suddenly notice you the way she now (allegedly) has? Highly unlikely. Look at it from the outside. This 'new' girl scores a win every time your girlfriend gets upset either at you, or in front of you... You start thinking badly of her, like "Why is she mad at me?" and "Why is she no fun anymore?" while this other girl seems so "into" you and so no-hassle... 

Can't you see this is a set-up? 

Granted, your girlfriend can't tell you who you're allowed or not allowed to talk to... just as you can't tell her who she's allowed to interact with, but I think you have to pay closer attention to the true motivations behind this new girl's attentions. You have to put aside the ego-inflating thought that "of course she's into me, she finally figured out how awesome I am... while, apparently my current girlfriend has forgotten how awesome I am."

Don't ask your girlfriend's other friends what their opinion is... talk about kicking a hornet's nest! There are probably six different sides to the story of whatever happened between them this Summer, so you won't find any clarity there. Talk to your current girlfriend about this. Directly. Ask her for details about what went down this Summer between her and the other girl. This is a chance for you to be both brave and honorable. I know that sounds like a tall order and that maybe I'm making a bigger deal out of this than I should, but the direct approach is always the best. Even if it ends up being painful, it doesn't cause any pain that wasn't going to happen sooner or later anyway (and likely be worse pain the later it occurs) and it saves everyone a lot of time.

If you break up with your current girlfriend so you can be with this new girl, I can almost promise you that the new girl will suddenly and shockingly lose interest in you very soon after that break-up occurs. You asked, so that is my advice. If I'm wrong, feel free to write back in a few months and tell me how it all shook out.  ...but I seriously doubt I'm wrong.