I got to the rehearsal hall early, but was the last one there. This is a good sign. Punctuality is important when the space is rented by the hour.
I fist bumped everyone and made small talk while setting up. I’d never met two of them and only knew the other two from hanging out at shows, which is a completely different setting. Here, on a Sunday afternoon, there’s less alcohol, some silence to fill, and more casual clothing. Not a necktie or vest to be seen, and definitely no eyeliner, male or female.
The word “trepidation” might be a little strong for what I felt. I was looking forward to playing music but had no idea how this would go. I wanted to play well but wasn’t sure I would.
Those of you who came here from The Number Ones know me a little. You know I was in a band called Pussycat Doghouse and occasionally play with Duette and, honestly, anyone who asks nicely. If the gig pays money, sweet.
Then there was a pandemic. You may have heard about it, it was in all the papers.
Duette decided to put things on hold for a while and Pussycat Doghouse had to call it quits. Two members, one from Canada and one from Kentucky, had to move home to be with family. Losing the Canuck and the Kentuck broke my heart because they’re both good friends and, of all the bands I’ve ever been in, it was probably my favorite.
You don’t have to be friends to play music with someone, but it’s always better that way. In the past few months, I’ve jammed with two pals of mine on a very loose basis. We’d schedule a time to get together but something would come up. One or another of us would have to postpone. I think we’ve jammed a total of three times, though we did decide to call ourselves The Two In Ones. That’s been the extent of my playing with other people since the pandemic started.
So, aside from goofing around on my bass at home, alone, I haven’t played much for the past two years. My fingertips lost their calluses. I worried I’d lose my internal metronome.
In a way, it was good to take a break. With rehearsals and gigs, and a full time job, it was easy to overextend myself. I’ve relearned the joy of actually sleeping for eight hours. I found it’s even possible to wake up naturally, fully rested, before the alarm. Who knew?
There’s a band here in Nashville called RAYGUN, in all caps. They’re a cover band specializing in underground hits of the 80s. The cover The Plimsouls, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, and others. They’re very good at it and their shows are usually packed.
The singer/guitarist and the singer/keyboardist are a married couple, Steve and Cally. Late last year, Steve put out a solo album called Tinfoil Hat and said on Facebook that he wanted to put a band together to play it live. After listening to a couple songs, I asked if he had a bass player yet. He said he was hoping I’d be interested. That made me feel good about myself for days. Sometimes it doesn’t take much.
Eventually, he pulled the rest of the band together with another guitarist and a drummer. I didn’t know either of them but I figured it’s Nashville and they’d be good. I started learning the songs.
After a couple weeks, the drummer backed out. He had thought it was a one time studio thing, not a live band with gigs to be booked. His summer is already blocked out with a tour of some sort and other gigs. Double-booking happens a lot in this town if you’re not careful.
A few more weeks go by and I hear from Steve that he’s found a drummer. I don’t know this guy either but I assume he’s good, too. Steve set up a rehearsal for that next Sunday afternoon. I frantically run through the tunes again. Once on Thursday, once on Friday, and twice on Saturday. I really didn’t want to be the worst player in the room.
So when I showed up at the rehearsal space, I knew the songs but not the people. It’s always a little awkward, like going to a party where you know only the host, but musicians always have a couple topics to fall back on, and that day we started talking about equipment. The guitarist talked about why he brought his Epiphone and not his Gibson, and said I won the biggest pedalboard contest. I told him I cheated because I was going to use only two of the nine pedals.
What didn’t happen was extraneous noodling. Each of us got our volume and tone set and stopped making any other sounds. That, for me, is the sign of professionals. Why make a racket by yourself when we’ll be playing together in a couple minutes?
The drummer was using the set provided by the space. He used his own sticks and that was it. He arranged the kit but the hi hat clutch had issues. I guess it sees a lot of use and abuse and it didn’t want to screw tight onto the rod anymore.
The guitarist was the last one to be ready and he played the riff from one of Steve’s songs as a test of his amp. The drummer joined in, then me, then we all fell in and started playing the song.
The drummer had only had the songs for a couple days and understandably didn’t know them well, and he was a little rusty. A couple years off will do that to you. Still, he might be good. On the other hand, the two guitarists had already worked out their parts together. They didn’t step on each other and, remarkably, none of the five of us overplayed.
This. This is our common language. Never mind equipment small talk. Playing together with other people is how you get to know them. And it felt good.tnocs.com contributing author Bill Bois
That’s another good sign for me. Overplaying says that you care more about yourself than about the song. It happens all the time when jamming, when you can put your ego on full display, but it shouldn’t happen in front of a paying audience, or in a rehearsal preparing to play for them. Play the song, nothing more.
But having said that, there’s a huge reward in hearing yourself in the mix of what everyone else is doing. As a bass player, my goal is to find a groove with the drummer, keep the tempo more or less the same throughout the song, and give everyone else a footing to lay their parts on. It’s “bass” but it could just as easily be “base.”
We ran each song twice and went on to the next one. Hearing my internal metronome working made all those worries go away. We didn’t sound like a band, but we sounded like we could be.
I forget which song it was but the note was an A, precisely placed and dynamically nuanced. The joy in that one perfect note… man, I live for those. They’re the reason musicians play. Forget sex and drugs and fame and fortune. It’s that adrenaline joy that brings us back through shitty clubs and bad food and little sleep. And sometimes it’s only that one note that keeps us going.
And then it happened. We simultaneously landed on a note, in the middle of a lot of notes that were off by enough microseconds to sound sloppy.
In that note, it’s no longer about pleasing an audience or appearing like we’re good musicians. Appearances no longer matter. It’s a physical, visceral, emotional, reaction to that one note, the sound of musicians, people, coming together in a single moment. It’s an agreement that this is the note and this is how it’s meant to be played. For that instant, the note is all that matters.
Of course, we got so excited by that note that we got sloppy again, but it happened. No one can take that note away from us. We did it once, we can do it again.
I can’t wait for the next rehearsal.
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