Sunday, July 14, 2019
It’s been an eventful few days. Suffice it to say that we’re making rather exciting progress! Angie and I had an abbreviated session on Friday night and it is abundantly clear that when our time comes to return to the stage, it will be a hell of a show. We recorded a brief snippet of “Fade into the Disconnect” on my cell phone, overdriving my phone’s mic (only to later discover that my phone is so advanced that I could have set the mic to record at loud volumes – live and learn, I guess). There’s a piece to the tune that has given people fits, an upbeat transition in ¾ that will surprise you if you’re not ready for it, but Angie found a way to master this small 1.5 second section. Super fucking cool!
A recent text exchange – textchange? – with Nicole led to her proclaiming, “I loved every second of The Bends.”
I try to listen to music Nicole sends me, and she tries to check out what I send her – it’s a pillar of our friendship. One of my favorite records is Radiohead’s 1995 effort, The Bends, and receipt of her text message was a real breakthrough for me: someone gave an honest listen and achieved honest acceptance to the record that would shape how I view guitar interplay.
We spent some time discussing the material, and that of Radiohead’s follow-up, 1997’s OK Computer, considered by many to be their superior album; such talks are always enlightening because you really get to know a person a little bit better.
Of course, this all raised quite a sense of hope in me, and through some discourse, we’re open to adding a guitarist to the group. After all, the foundation and design of Below Blackstar is that of a strong drummer and bassist, and three guitarists.
Context, of course, is always in order: Munki, having had the longest tenure, has been there to see how spectacular a failure the three-guitar setup can be, and do allow me to explain: most popular groups officially have one or maybe two guitar players, and the perception of this setup is that it’s either one guy* doing everything, or the duties are split between “rhythm” and “lead”, with the “rhythm guitarist” somehow being considered “less important”. This indoctrination in the culture of guitar has been the source of some consternation, mostly because the realities of such delineation are not so clear. Many professional acts hire additional musicians for touring, will play live to a backing track, or create more than one guitar track on an album so the overall sound is thickened.
Guitarists of Below Blackstar were always meant to share duties, with no one being more “relevant” than the other. The hope was that everyone could do anything at any point, an oversimplification could mean playing lead figures, keeping the rhythm, or making weird noises (hence all the pedals, if you’ve ever seen us perform live and always wondered, “Y U NID ALL DEM PEDULZ”). This has represented a challenge to the guitar community at-large, known for blazing solos, loud guitars, big attitudes, pentatonic scales, “vintage-correct” instruments, and little room for debate.
However, there have been moments where it’s worked perfectly, and let me tell you how absolutely beautiful an experience it is when all the gears are turning in that well-oiled music machine – it’s glorious and magnificent!
So, here we are again hoping to cross paths with just the right person. In the past, I’ve rushed into decisions when it came to adding that special someone, and experience has taught me that it cannot be forced. I have to thank Munki for keeping me patient, keeping me grounded, and for helping me see what not to do. This endeavor has garnered doubt and derision, including a recent exchange with a person who went on to berate and threaten me with physical violence.
It’s just about guitars, man. It’s just guitar. It’s not at all worth getting weird about it.
Munki is right – this time needs to be different, and the sort of person that’s going to be allowed near us HAS to be different than almost all of their predecessors. I do think of cats like Andy Cook and Brandon Wilson, both of whom made it look so easy. Even though we’ve not played together in a long time, I still feel extremely fortunate to have shared studio and stage with two guitarists and two human beings of their calibre.
What did they have that others didn’t? Brandon was able to find space where he could fit, use any tools to his advantage, and not turn the mix into mud as a result. There is still some of Brandon in the final cut of Under a Concrete Sky, and that’s a testament to his creativity. He was a good guitar player and a good friend.
Andy is a gifted musician and a kind person. Andy is a gear-head and I’m a gear-head because of Andy (that’s my story, asshole, and I’m sticking to it). Andy is one of those once-in-a-blue-moon musicians who just gets it, and doesn’t take it personally because it was never meant personally. Andy is the only guitarist to hear the three-guitar idea and not ask if it was being done because we were dissatisfied with his work (we never were).
Both are still in contact today, even though neither lives in the Greater Seattle area. We talk gear as much as possible.
Despite this, there has never been a requirement for someone to live up to the spectre of any possible pasts; each of them carved out a place where only they exist, and they left indelible marks on me and the project in the process… and that’s an arduous task for anyone. It’s not impossible, but like anything in life, you really only get what you give.
What do you want out of it?
“Not fitting in is how qualified people get fired!”
“Yeah, but a lot of the time, it’s how they end up working here.”