Friday, 3 February 2017

My Limited Experience of Starting a Band (by Omar Ramlugon)

I must start this with a fairly length caveat. When I compare myself to the bands and musicians whose music I love, and whose attitudes have had more of an influence on my own person than I care to admit, my own musical progress pales in comparison.

I’ve been in about three bands since I was fourteen, and two of them self-destructed due to the remorseless sweep of time and circumstance. I’ve played a few shows, but I’ve never toured. There’s plenty of bands who’d already pumped out a few albums, toured relentlessly for a good portion of their adult lives by the time they’d hit twenty-five, a fact which continues to shove itself into my head whenever I have the gall to consider myself a musician.

But maybe that’s alright. Music isn’t something in which your success can and should be attributed to the time you’ve spent doing it. Perhaps you don’t even need to measure it by any level of success at all. Perhaps doing it for how it makes you feel, whether it’s in the bedroom or the stadium, is worthy and meaningful. So without further ado, here is a recounting of my most recent foray of starting a band.

As with could be said of a lot of things these days, it began on the internet. Fresh out of university, I found myself back at home, band-less, depressed, and in a job to which I was about as suited as Alan Partridge is to Norwich Radio. Completely lacking in the wherewithal to get involved with a music scene directly, I instead turned my hand to JoinMyBand and Bandmix, websites of fairly good repute. It’s worth noting that JoinMyBand is free, while Bandmix allows you to do everything up to actually messaging other users, at which point you have to start paying. I trawled through ad after ad, searching for a bass player and a drummer, and it was this exercise that brought something home pretty hard; as soon as you leave school or university, finding people willing to play music with you with any kind of regularity or commitment is bloody hard. The advantage of being surrounded by people of a similar age, with a similar level of available time, dies unceremoniously on its arse.

At my last count, I went through six bass players and two different drummers before finally putting together a line-up that, so far, has remained consistent. And this was over about three years, long periods of which were simply me and a drummer, with a gaping sonic void left in the practices by a bassist’s absence. It was only when I finally stumped up and actually paid to send some messages on Bandmix that I found a bassist who fulfilled the basic trifecta of things you need for a functioning bandmate; musical proficiency, a personable attitude, and actually turning up to more than one practice without making some mealy mouthed excuse and disappearing off the face of the fucking earth.

To their credit, the drummers tended to stick around for somewhat longer, and the second drummer even recorded my current band’s first demo with me before leaving for a better job outside of Bristol, for which I will always be grateful – Paddy, if you’re reading this, you’re a good chap.

With the line-up decided, the next thing was deciding on how we were going to sound. Now I don’t know whether this is because I’m insidiously dictatorial without actually knowing it, but all of the bands I’ve been in have by and large have been loud, guitar based, and somewhere between R.E.M and Propagandhi in terms of heaviness. In spite of listening to bands that run the gamut from Elliott Smith to Mastodon, I’ve never ended up writing anything that’s as simmering and reflective as the former or as all out bludgeoning as the latter, mainly because sitting somewhere in between gives you the scope to edge in either direction.

Luckily we ended up coming to some sort of arrangement; given that the three of us seem to listen to quite a lot of different genres, it was lucky we ended up where we are now. We seem to have settled on what I hope is a sort of tough, rough-hewn sound, borrowing from a lot of punk rock and alternative rock bands, but at the beating heart of it all is always a melody. I’ve never been one for death metal screaming, but then again neither have I been one for adenoidal crooning. I’m not much of a singer, but I do what I can to best fit the material. I’m very lucky to have found such an excellent rhythm section to bind everything together, and for my part, I like to think Leatherface’s Frankie Stubbs best sums up my approach to guitar; “It’s all about the sound […] You know, making the guitar go, AAAAARRRRRAAAARRRRGH!”[1].

Practicing has now become something of a routine, which I can’t stress both how much I love and also how absolutely critical this is to being in a band. At least once a week should be pretty much mandatory if you have any aspirations of playing for anyone other than yourselves; furthermore, a decent practice space means you can crank up the volume a bit and let loose, and see first-hand how the parts interlock and bleed in and out of one another. There is something inherently powerful about music at loud volumes; not intentionally deafening, but loud enough to feel it in the viscera and the gut as well as in the ear canal.

Also it is definitely worth paying for a practice space; unless you’re lucky enough to live far out enough where no one can hear, and have an adequate means of amplifying vocals, you simply can’t practice by jamming with acoustic guitars and a cahon, if you plan on making music anything like what is usually featured on this blog.

Racehorse managed its first show back in December. Hopefully there will be a lot more to come, and I think it’s fair to say that it’s a lot more possible for a relatively unknown band to jump right into gigging, with the right tools. As much as I hate to say it, Facebook and other social media does mean it’s perfectly possible to get right in touch with promoters instead of having to be a face and name on the ‘scene’ before anyone will recognise or allow you to play, and we’ve been lucky enough to avoid the poisonous ‘pay to play’ bullshit that seems disquietingly commonplace. Long may that continue, although I have a sinking feeling we may come across it someday.

For our part, Jon from The Fleece took a complete chance on us, and I can only hope we repaid him in kind. But with the right team backing you and the right attitude, you’re going to have a good show no matter what. Sure, the subject matter of your songs might be grim, but genuine passion and emotion transfers to your listeners. And that’s why being in a band will always be relevant. Music can transcend language as well as so many boundaries that we will always need it in our lives. Of course, it’s easy to shit all over politically outspoken musicians, but as Propagandhi’s Chris Hannah puts it; “And yes, I recognize the irony that the very system I oppose affords me the luxury of biting the hand that feeds. But that's exactly why privileged fucks like me should feel obliged to whine and kick and scream - until everyone has everything they need.”[2]

So, you ask, what was the point of this rambling piece of guff? Be the change you want to see in the world. If you’re musically and politically inclined, then don’t hesitate to give the fuckers both barrels. Or, if that’s not your thing, then don’t feel obligated, because good music doesn’t always need to do that. If you write about what you know, and put your heart and soul into it, you’ll end up reflecting upon the strife and struggles inherent to the human condition in one way or another, and that is in and of itself beautiful and worthy. Just do your thing, do it loud, and do it with fervour and conviction. Because the world needs people like you now more than ever.

P.S. If you’re Jason Derulo, then disregard all of the above and stop making music. You fucking suck and you contribute nothing of value. C***.

[2] ‘Resisting Tyrannical Government’ – Propagandhi, Less Talk More Rock, Fat Wreck Chords, 1996

Check out Omar's band, Racehorse, on Facebook here and on Bandcamp here.