Friday, February 10, 2006

7. Are You in This Band Too?

I'll show you how to observe a strange event.
Your lord sends now for money.
——Timon of Athens,

In speech, dear reader, I am not verbose. Articulate, yes, but I'm usually a man of few words.

Print, however, appears to be another story. I'm endeavoring to make this essay fun to read, which is challenging because it's basically one long complaint. I rewrite bits of it to add more punch to the language. I'm endeavoring to make it as accurate as possible; I've changed descriptions and added or deleted things as I rediscover facts I had forgotten. I'm endeavoring to filter out picayune details and unnecessary tangents (well, most of them) in order to focus on the important events — the "bones" of the story, you might say.

And yet this tale is coming out longer than I expected. Perhaps my story is a fish: it has many small bones, all pointing in the same direction.

For eating purposes, I like fish in general, although I like some kinds more than others. One thing about fish, though: You would never take a few bites of catfish and then expect the remaining bites to taste like salmon. But as I review the events that led up to my Greece trip, hindsight tells me that's exactly what I was doing. Q. and E. were serving catfish, even if they claimed it was salmon, and the joke was on me if I really expected it to taste different once I got on the plane.

Speaking of which, the purpose of this chapter is to bring you a few steps closer to that event. Ready? Then let's get on with it.

There were, as I have suggested, a few more recording sessions, mostly at a studio in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood run by a talented engineer named Scott. At one of these sessions I first met Logan, the infant son of Holly, our lead singer (you'll recall that she was pregnant when I met her). More later about him. These sessions were all fairly uneventful (well, OK, I was rear-ended by a pickup on the way to one of them, but fortunately I was driving a rental car and had purchased an insurance waiver). As the months went by I received a lot of CDs from Q. that were meant to represent the progress being made on the Loudmouth record. Frankly, I didn't listen to most of them, but when I did, only a few songs ever sounded as though they'd gotten beyond the rough-mix stage. The others seemed to be subject to a lot of addition and subtraction of tracks, without getting closer to sounding finished.

I chalked this up to the fact that we'd rehearsed only twice in a year. If we'd taken time to establish our arrangements, then we'd have known what tracks needed to be on the CD. But instead we were arranging them as we went, one player at a time, while the studio clock was ticking. Really talented producers can make great music this way, provided that they know what they want and how to get it out of their musicians. But in place of a talented producer we had Q., whose lack of musical acumen I have already complained about, and whose concept of our sound seemed to be a moving target. On 3/18/2004, E. wrote:
Since we are not going to be using three finished tracks that have been done up (because [Q.] is wanting to re-do them), distributors have OK’d a pre-promo mini CD, limited run (meaning not many free copies) with some of these songs.
Ah, so that's why the songs never sounded finished — the ones that were finished had to be redone for some reason. Meanwhile, we had a bunch of musicians from all over Washington state who needed some time to get comfortable playing with each other, especially if we were going to play at the Olympics in front of thousands of people (let alone record a CD). I didn't mind being in a manufactured band as long as we had time to become a band. It doesn't happen overnight.

I thought that since I was the new kid in the band, perhaps only I felt this way. Later I learned otherwise: Holly had expressed the same concern to Q., who allegedly told her that our first five days in Athens would be exclusively devoted to practice. More later about that.

In early July 2004, just six weeks before our trip, some good things began to happen, but so did some weird things. The weirdest was an e-mail from E., claiming that there was some kind of quota on non–European Union performers in Athens, so we'd have to trim the size of the group in order to play at the commercial venues sponsored by Virgin Megastore. The e-mail was being sent to a "select few" band members, and those of us who wanted to "opt out" would be first in line for future outreaches in Hawaii and New Zealand.

Well, if you start "opting out" people, pretty soon you no longer have a band. Sure, they could perform without me and my "color instruments" — and in fact, the band had played a gig in California over the Valentine's Day 2004 weekend, which I wasn't able to make because I had a wedding gig booked. But apart from me, wasn't everyone else pretty essential? A band isn't a modular unit that can be reconfigured any which way, is it?

Well, is it?

More later about that. I'll tell you now, though, that when I got to Greece and asked some of the other band members about that e-mail, none of them remembered getting it. So just how few was a "select few"?

Anyway, the implication seemed to be that I might be able to go to Greece, but I might not be able to bring my wife, Sarah, to do her on-camera coaching. So here's part of an e-mail I sent to E. in response:
Look, I certainly don't want to cause you guys any trouble. I would be disappointed not to go to Greece, but mostly for selfish reasons. If you have room for me and not Sarah, she and I will see what we can do about finding a ticket for her on our own. She can go as a tourist and stay with a missionary friend of hers in Athens. In the end, though, you should do whatever's in the best interest of your goals for outreach & ministry.
I meant it, too. It's a funny thing, though: A couple of weeks after sending that e-mail, I got a voice mail back from E., saying that Sarah and I could both go. But she also asked us to pay for our airfare! Wait a minute, I replied, I thought our airfare was covered. She came back with this:
whoops, I made a mistake and I apologize, your ticket is totally covered. I guess you didn't get back to us in time whether Sarah could help with video production stuff over there.
So now I'd have to give her a money order for $1,352 to cover Sarah's airfare. (That's a dollar for every guitar picker in Nashville.)

You'll recall that I had confirmed Sarah's availability just a few days after Q. originally offered to cover her airfare. Now I was suddenly being told this wasn't soon enough, and I was being asked to cough up some serious cash or leave behind my wife — who had already scheduled the summer classes she teaches around this Greece trip, and whose expectations were just as high as mine. I asked E. whether I could sell my solo CD at our concerts, to help defray the unexpected cost. She said I could, except at churches and a particular gig being organized by Logos Music, which was to be the band's distributor in Greece. So I went to the bank and got the money order, paying for it with some of the revenue from those summer classes.

Now, if I were a cynic I would make a comment about the timing of E.'s sudden demand for $1,352, coming as it did a few days after my offer to find a way for Sarah to travel separately if it would help the band beat the quota system. If I were a cynic I would say it was awfully interesting that although the quota was no longer a problem, suddenly the money was — just after I'd sent an e-mail suggesting that I might have the means and the will to get my wife to Athens on my own. But I am trying hard not to be a cynic.

Still, dear reader, money is money. You might want to keep a running total of my expenses as you read. Just don't tell me what it is — I don't want to get depressed!

Speaking of not being depressed, I did mention that some good things had begun to happen. Namely, another rehearsal was finally scheduled, and we were to play a gig at Seattle's City Church before going to Athens. The rehearsal—our third, and almost exactly a year after our first one — took place at Holly's church in West Seattle. And it was a good one — we actually, finally, started to talk about arrangements. Even though this just consisted of deciding which instrument should be "on top" (i.e., playing fills and lead breaks) for each song, at least we were making those decisions.

One challenge at this rehearsal: The only people in the room I recognized were B., Holly, and Q. The rest of the band was new to me. As follows:
  • A new bass player, Ben Paris.
  • The cellist (I don't recall her name).
  • A keyboardist named Justin, who had played with the band before, but whom I hadn't met.
  • A new third rhythm guitarist/vocalist named Brian.
  • A new percussionist.
  • And last but not least, the drummer. I can't tell you for sure whether this was the same guy from the other rehearsals. There might have been a different drummer every time we rehearsed, for all I know — a real-life Spinal Tap situation.
So we were now a 9-member band. So much for quotas! At the end of the rehearsal I still didn't feel quite ready for our gig (for example, many of us were still playing from chord charts, some of which were still in the wrong key), but I was looking forward to it nonetheless. It felt as though we were finally starting to cook that fish. Or at least reel it in.


Post a Comment

<< Home