Friday, June 6, 2008

Recollecting my punk, jam band, emo, techno, rock-n-roll past

It's Friday, and as part of my continuing efforts to de-stress and get a grip after a couple of nonsense-filled weeks, I'm going to tell a story about my career as a musician.


No, wait, don't run away! See, I just had a fascinating blog pointed out to me--For Those Who Tried to Rock--and it got me to thinking about the various bands I've been in over the years. Bands with ambitions that varied from "just wanting to rock for the sake of rocking" to "we're totally gonna make it!" And how I reserve a special place in my rock-n-roll heart for each of those projects, regardless of their overall quality or longevity.

Here now, a comprehensive list of the bands and musical projects I've been involved in over the past nearly 27 years:

1) Grace Presbyterian Church Talent Show Band (year unknown)
Christmas, the late eighties: I got what ranks as one of the best gifts I've even gotten: a Fraggle Rock kids drum set. Shortly thereafter, I made sure to show off this new prize to the only captive audience I could find: the congregation of my dad's church. They were holding a talent show, so naturally I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to make my debut as the awesomest drummer of all time. I recruited a misfit band of fellow church kids with varying levels of musical ability--it didn't matter, because ultimately we'd be lip-syncing along to our chosen song.

There was the boy who had an actual guitar, the girl who was supposed to play a keyboard but ended up faking it with a plastic trumpet thing, the budding ham of a lead singer, and me with my rad drum kit. Our chosen opus? "Jump" by Van Halen. Oh man, we tore that shit up (well, pretended to, anyway), and my crowning achievement came when, every time David Lee Roth yelled "Jump!", I actually hit the bass drum pedal! Whoa man, those church deacons didn't know what to make of me! I was so in their face! It was an absolute triumph.

Major influences: Van Halen, Jesus Christ

2) The Shrooms (1994, for one month)
Finally, after a good year of saving every one of my weekly chore allowances, I had saved up enough money to pay for an actual drum kit. My parents took me to a local pawn shop, where we'd found a reasonably priced, ruby red, 5-piece CB 700 International set. Not wanting to waste any time on my rocket trip to stardom, and despite the fact that I could barely yet properly play an actual drum kit, I immediately set out to form my first band. In this endevour, I recruited three of my good girl friends: one on tamborine, one on guitar, one on bass. Only the girl who played guitar could actually, y'know, play--but that didn't stop us! Being in the midst of the mid-nineties faux-hippie revival, we decided on the very clever band name "The Shrooms", thinking that it sounded cool. It's worth noting that we had no idea what it actually meant.

We wrote, I think, lyrics for three songs, but never actually played any music together. Sometimes, half the fun of having a band is planning all of the great things you're going to do together.

Major influences: Phish, They Might Be Giants

3) Milk (1995-97)
This was my first actual, honest-to-goodness, writing-songs-and-playing-gigs band. Me and my two best friends at the time--Dave and Alicia--decided to start the project one bored suburban summer. Dave was actually a really good guitar player, and I had finally started to get the hang of the whole playing multiple percussive instruments at the same time thing. All that remained was convincing Alicia to take up the bass, which, even after our several years playing together, she only ever did half-heartedly. Still, skills aside, she was incredibly good-natured about the project.

We were, in essence, the "silliest punk band in the land," as we liked to say. We wrote a metric shitton of original songs, and spent countless hours in my basement writing and playing and recording it all on our little 4-track cassette recorder. We played a bunch of shows, too, either on our own (most notably at the neighborhood block party--PUNK ROCK!) or in concert with the several other local bands. One such gig ended with me learning a valuable lesson that I carry with me to this day: never let other drummers use your snare drum, especially "punk" drummers, as it will be returned to you looking like a topographical map of the Andes.

Milk was great fun, and even after the members began to drift apart at the beginning of high school (and when I moved away), I looked back on it fondly as a major contributor to the more formative years of my life. And even now, listening to those old songs, I think we were pretty decent for what we were--a totally un-serious, upbeat, very young punk band that realized right away we had nothing deep to say so instead wrote songs about ridiculous things.

Feel free to judge some of our work by checking out songs from our second album, "Non-Alcoholic White Liquid," right here.

Major influences: Operation Ivy, Ween, Mister Bungle, Minor Threat, Lamb Chop

4) Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) (1997-98)
My first foray into electronic music, this project was very lo-tech: just me, two friends, a 486 computer, an early version of Fast Tracker, a microphone and a boombox. We ended up composing an album's worth of material that was actually really popular at our high school for about three months. Ah, the sweet smell of success! It is one of my great regrets that I have since lost my only copy of that album ("Tripping on Ice"), and have not yet been able to track down another person who still has it. I'm going to keep looking, though, because I'm a sap like that.

Major influences: Moby, Tori Amos, the Dead Alewives, KMFDM

5) The Beat-Me-Ups (1999)
I looked around one day and realized, much to my dismay, that I was in an emo punk band. I blame Oklahoma, and a severe lack of options. Still, I had fun with these guys, and rocking out in my tiny, backyard woodshed/clubhouse with them was one of the things that kept me sane during the two years I spent living in Oklahoma. We played one show, in a friend's dad's warehouse, to a crowd of live-music starved adolescents who were remarkably appreciative of our stuff.

Major influences: NOFX, emotions

6) Forte Diem (2001-02)
Otherwise known as the "band with the worst name ever", Forte Diem was my first college-era band. We were all actually pretty good musicians, but weren't together long enough to become a cohesive unit. The guitarist wanted us to become a jam band, the bassist was thoroughly repelled by that idea, the singer belonged in a much better blues/jazz act, I just wanted to play music, and the guy we had playing auxilary percussion was just happy about everything.

Amazingly, the first proper gig we ever played was a Battle of the Bands, held at my school, in which we somehow managed to win first place against several much more well-established acts. There was even someone in the audience who claimed to worked with the Big Wu, and talked about having us open for them sometime. Like all still-green acts that are met with sudden success, we folded our cards soon thereafter, unable to resolve several key disagreements on direction between members. We did get in one last, really fun (and well attended!) show at the Electric Earth Cafe, though, before finally throwing in the towel.

Major influences: Phish, Victor Wooten, Widespread Panic, Sarah McLachlan

7) Aporia (2003-present)

One day, in a break between classes, I wandered into the commons area at my college with the intention, I think, of taking a nap in one of the big, over-stuffed chairs that were there. Instead, I came across a guy playing an acoustic guitar and singing "Little Plastic Castles" by Ani DiFranco. Intrigued by this rare creature, I promptly sat down, introduced myself, and expressed an interest in jamming with him sometime. Happily, that guy turned out to be current band mate and good friend, Justin.

Over the course of the last five years (wow, time flies!), we've gone from being a coffeeshop folk duo to being a four-person rock band, and during the course of that time, I went from being a I-will-literally-vomit-if-you-make-me-sing-in-front-of-people person to a lead singer who loves what she does. It's kind of mind boggling when I think about how much this band, and its members, have helped to change me.

Major influences: Sarah McLachlan, Ani DiFranco, Jeff Buckley, Tool, Fugazi, Peter Mulvey

8) Lick My Love Pump (2005)
With a Spinal Tap reference right in the band name, you know it has to be good. It's like Smuckers. Sadly, this was a short-lived side project, but it sure was fun. Only ever practicing in my basement and never playing out, we were three girls in search of the ultimate cock-rock cover song. We did "Rock You Like a Hurricane" (which was when I discovered just how hilariously awful and filthy its lyrics are) and had, like, three originals, one of which had a name that I can't print here for fear of earning eternal damnation in a fiery pit of lost souls.

Major influences: Spinal Tap, Sleater Kinney, Scorpions

9) The Buffali (2007-present)
The first band I've ever been in that I joined in-progress. I had nothing to do with their awesome songs and decent level of popularity, just came in and started playing the drums for them when they asked me to. Aporia had played several shows with them back when we were all just starting out, and I was impressed with them from the get-go. So I was flattered when they asked me to join up and help out.

10) The Shabelles (2008-present)
The second band I've ever been in that I joined in-progress. When their last drummer left, the lead singer asked me if I'd like to join up and play with them, which I happily did. At this point, I've only played two gigs with them, but already I'm having a blast. Diabolical future plans involve them playing with Aporia for our next CD release party, and possibly learning how to surf while playing the drums at the same time. It would feel somehow appropriate.

And that's about it! There are a number of smaller projects that I've been involved with over the years, but these are the more notable, substantial ones.

Will I ever make it big as a musician? I don't know. Do I want to? Really, my biggest dream is to be a working musician--that is, someone who can make enough to get by (and get health insurance) through music and writing alone. Even that, though, I recognize to be a pretty hard-to-reach goal. Still, regardless of what level of success I ever reach with it, music has always been, and always will be, an essential part of my life. I've learned so much from it and the people who share it with me, and I wouldn't trade anything for that. Not even winning American Idol.

Come to think of it, that's about the last thing I'd ever want to do.

Have a great weekend!


M Big Mistake said...

My Own Musical Resume (from

1982-1989: Public School Ensembles (cello); 1989-1993: New Mexico Tech Orchestra (cello); 1992: Pogues tribute band (banjo/guitar); 1993-1996: University of Wisconsin-Madison String Orchestra (cello/violin); 1993-1994: Wyrd Tuesday (rock cello); 1994-1995: Dark of the Moon Contra Band (mandolin/fiddle); 1995: Un-named String Quartet (cello); 1995: Madison Area Technical College Pit Orchestra/The King and I (cello); 1995: Madison Community Chamber Orchestra (cello); April -Nov 2003: The Motor Primitives (bass); Nov 2003-present: Pants del Fwego (bass/guitar); Summer 2006: The Sea Turtles (drums); Aug 2006-July 2007: The Lollards (drums); April 2007-present: Another Mistake(guitar, vocal, songwriting); June 2007-present: Shanghai Party Boss (drums)

Emily said...

Oh, well, if we're counting school bands, my post would have become even more unwieldy and long. :)

Anonymous said...

This post is useful for the proper nouns alone. Very very cool.

The CDP. said...

"Sometimes, half the fun of having a band is planning all of the great things you're going to do together."

So true. I remember spending the better part of a weekend designing my first band's logo.

"Never let other drummers use your snare drum, especially "punk" drummers."

Yeah, sorry about that. I've broken my share of cymbals, too.

"Forte Diem; Otherwise known as the 'band with the worst name ever.'"

My first band's name was Representative Watlet. I'd call it a push.

I like posts like this. A heaping helping of nostalgia mixed with a current mindset and positive memories. Good reading all around.

Anonymous said...

If only I could make music, I wouldn't be flogging it like I do.

Keep on.

The Lost Albatross