Southern Fried Frustration
by Dominick DeSade
Well folks, I haven’t had much time to scout out a Nashville band to report on for you, as it has been a busy month with the recording my own band’s demo as well as moving to a new apartment. I will additionally justify my neglect by stating that summertime, apart from Fan Fair and a few sundry events, isn’t the best time of the year to stomp your boots and swing your partner ‘round and ‘round here in Music City. You can find all sorts of cover bands playing in beer tents at county fairs but strangely enough, many of the bars in Nashville do not believe in air conditioning so it proves futile to go out for a cold drink to escape from the heat. And who the hell wants to pay to play a gig in a smoky, 98 degree bar with no ventilation?
June’s traditional Fan Fair didn’t really floor me with interest this year. For those of you who don’t know what Fan Fair is; it is Nashville’s time to turn into a L.A. during the Academy Awards. This equates to a surplus of traffic, a boost in the economy from tourism and many well-paying catering gigs for my other half. The Country Music Industry “thanks the fans” by pushing its latest finds in into the forefront. Fan Fair goers brave the exorbitant hotel package fees and swampy summer climate to spend time basking in the sounds of southern twang and all that shakes rattles and rolls. Many come to enjoy family-friendly events hosted by Cowboy Troy but then there are also outlets for more “underground-minded” fans. If my opinion counts for anything, The Legendary Shack Shakers and the PovertyNeck Hillbillies were the only acts worth seeing out of the slew listed. The Legendary Shack Shackers are a much loved, loud and raucous local Rockabilly outfit while The PovertyNeck Hillbillies have a few highlights to their credit (their name for one) although I just can’t line my undying devotion up behind bands who don’t take total control over their songwriting. Bob Corbin, a former writer for Alabama, Hank Jr and Kenny Rogers has written some of Hillbillies’ radio friendly songs. But the Hillbillies do have a great look and there are elements of a fun Country attitude back boning their unfortunate commercial production. Check out the Shack Shakers and the Hillbillies at their official sites.
So anyhoo, to tell you the truth I was actually hoping and planning to bring you a full feature on a great Nashville band called The Hillbilly Casino, but after trying to contact them repeatedly for several weeks, I’m left to think that they fancy themselves too “big” for our little website. I hired them for my company’s xmas party last December and they were total prima donnas throughout the whole gig, but I just tried to focus on the great music they make together. So, it is their loss to turn down exposure! I’ll take this platform and use it to send an official “WHATEVER BITCH” to The Hillbilly Casino for blowing off someone who respects their music and is eager to help them out. (Okay, I’ll be Mr. Nice Guy and send you to their website regardless. Check out Hillbilly Casino for some kick ass Rockabilly fueled by one of the best voices in the genre and some excellent stand-up bass work. These guys have a set ready for every occasion and blow me away each time I see them live.)
So this month I am bringing you a scene report of the area, but from a different angle. I would like to relay to you non-musicians what your musically-inclined neighbors face in this neck of the woods when forming a band. Nashville is an odd town laden with irony as there are so few grey areas when it comes to how one pursues success. The “middle ground” here is full of landmines just waiting to knock you off your feet just when you step up to a comfortable pace. I don’t mean to sound grim, but starting a band here from ground up is next to impossible. Singer/songwriter types move here to find back up bands (i.e. hired guns who float from gig to gig with no other ambition than to make a quick buck playing music “color by numbers” style) and shoot for the stars with only their own success in mind. I understand wanting to do your own thing in your own way, but at some point credit must be given to those who help to create one’s sound and also uphold an image. Take your average “country bumpkin” type who moves here because he/she thinks they have a great Country singing voice. They may go out for auditions, bat their eyelashes for an assembly-line-minded producer, grab a little financial backing and suddenly their egos swell like Rocco Siffredi’s 9-inch penis in a room full of Italian porn sluts. The gig becomes their trip and they act like they are hiring corporate Administrative Assistants when auditioning band members. I don’t know where the attitude comes from, but being “professional” soon turns into being undeservedly arrogant. It leaves musicians like me a bit jaded because we moved here looking to form cooperative units in which exist brotherhood and commitment, otherwise known as bands. This is seemingly a foreign concept in this town. No one here wants to experience that romanticized “starving artist struggle” that comes from writing your own music and holding out long enough to get the project off the ground. It is much easier to whore yourself to songwriters you don’t share any musical or personal interest with, just for 75 bucks a gig and free beer. Well, I have a decent day job, so making money isn’t a dire need for me. I look to music as a release and escape from the meandering manner in which days can pass. I had hoped to find 4 or 5 guys in Nashville who shared that frustration with me.
So far, I’ve met two.
Two is definitely a start! Meet my current band members, Jeff Kneeland and Bill Givens. I responded to an online add and originally spoke to Jeff about an “alt-Country” band he was starting. He made it clear that he was looking for a band scenario in which everybody wrote and contributed as long as the music didn’t sound like Toby Keith or some other top 40 Country sewage. I was refreshed and anxious to meet and jam. I instantly liked their songs because they are simple and fun with a very simplistic lyrical approach. They weren’t trying to get artsy or pretentious with their songwriting like some of the “Country crossover” (that term cracks me up) bands in this town do. So, I learned the material and tossed in a few ideas of my own and voila, The Van Buren Boys were hatched. Although lacking a drummer, we are currently working on a 4-song demo and can safely bust out a set’s worth of material.
The search for a drummer has brought us to the brink of homicide on numerous occasions. Drums were actually my first instrument, but my preference is to play bass as I feel more comfortable with it and frankly, I have a lot more fun. I fancy myself quite fair on both instruments, however, I don’t need a Neal Peart clone to keep me interested in grooving on bass. In the 3 months I have been playing with Jeff and Bill we have auditioned 13 drummers and spoken to even more. Drummers in this town are a breed all unto themselves. I have yet to meet a drummer who generally wants to play Country or even likes the genre. Let’s face it, Country is not much of a drummer’s sport, but nonetheless I truly believe there is fun to be had with less is more drumming. We’ve met several drummers ranging from metal drummers to dinner theater-style lounge lizards. Everyone is looking for a gig that will pay, but bands that play originals and don’t follow the Nashville rulebook don’t make money. At least not off the bat. Even when this is explained over the phone BEFORE the audition, the idiots still waste our time by coming over. And most of them suck on top of it. Most of the good drummers and bass players in this town are already working. The ones who peruse online and newspaper ads are the “factory rejects”. These are the despondent few that non-cover bands like us have to settle for. It is a frustrating, but true fact. We’re just hoping one of them will come along and have at least enough grey matter to locate our practice space, show up on time and know what hi-hats and symbols are for. These traits have yet to be met by our previous “auditionees”.
I offered to play drums in the studio so we can at least approach this search with a professional package in hoping that it will entice the least damaged of the surplus “scratch and dent” drummers in the area. (Some of you may be thinking; “why don’t I just shut up, play drums and look for a bass player instead”? Well, I know how to fuck a woman, but I really don’t want to. Enough said? My preference simply lies with playing bass and besides, I’ve heard it is just as hard to find a bass player). So as of now we’ve recorded all four tracks and we’re at mix down stage. Next will be mastering and then comes duplication. Ads are still out but responses are few. Nashville is a fairly decent sized city, but we’re already getting re-calls. This is not a good sign. As of now, I refuse to dish out money to some asshole with his head up his ass just to play a 45-minute set, but I may have to swallow my pride on that one sooner or later. There is a “when in Rome” attitude with bands in our situation here in town and as a result of the “bend over and take it” attitude, the vicious circle continues. Ambition and talent take a backseat to sporadic offers of free drink tickets and mere drum stick money. In many ways, Nashville is much worse than Hollywood.
On the upside, there are great musicians everywhere you look in this town whether they are gigging or not. Nashville earned its nickname “Music City” once upon a time, for being a melting pot of musicians willing to play anywhere just to be heard, be there a promise of making money or not. Music Row has undoubtedly destroyed this phenomenon but I still move forward and keep trying to find that drummer who will fit personally and professionally.
In most cities I have lived in, forming a band isn’t nearly this difficult. You may compromise your vision in the process, but at least you can get to the point where a set is down and local stages are conquered within a suitable time frame. This adversity was unknown to me before moving here, but I have no intention on going anywhere. I’ve met some guys I like playing with and that says a lot for a cynical bastard like me. The music we’re playing may not piss off the people I so love to humiliate and terrorize, but I actually look forward to band practice and playing on stage with these guys. I’m also not a crazed, junkie pillhead like I was in my last band. All of these factors combined make things bearable, second rate drummers aside.
Many non-musicians have a vision of our lives going as such: learn an instrument, start a band, play some gigs, record a demo, get signed, make millions. I can assure you, unless you are in a boy band formed by a Florida-based producer/pedophile; it doesn’t happen that way. It enrages me when non-musicians think that if you’re not on a major label after playing for a year, you must not be any good. Or worse than that; if a band IS on a major label, whoever is signed obviously has more talent than you. (Could there be a better reason to wing a Corona bottle at someone during happy hour?) I try to steer clear of confrontations of that sort, but Nashville crowds are made up of two types of people; the aforementioned and fellow musicians; none of whom like you because they are comparing what you’re doing to what they’re doing and thinking how they could do what you’re doing better than how you’re doing it. It actually is an unexpectedly tough city with extremely critical crowds. Southern hospitality is a farce, trust me. (How could such a concept exist in an area of the Country dominated by republican/conservative/xtian prejudice anyway? Okay, so I had to throw in a teensy-weensy socio-political dig.)
To close on an optimistic note, I’m anxious to get my pompous ass out there and show who’s got more lasting power and who can generate more interest from a strong presence and a relentless pursuit of success.
Dominick DeSade is an independent writer and active musician in the Nashville area, showcasing artists from the Nashville music scene. Thanks Dominick! ~WC~
Copyright ©2006 Dominick DeSade