A Jigsaw Puzzle in a Closet

I've never really fit into a single mold. I guess most of us don't... But at least musically, I feel like most writers or performers tend to find their niche in the genre spectrum. You're into punk and you play in a punk band, or you're into metal and you play in a metal band, or you're into country and you play in a country band (bearing in mind, of course, that those distinctions lead only to further distinctions: black metal, or pop-punk, or bro-country, and on and on to a near granular level. Specialization is modern man's blessing and his curse). I think most musicians have much wider palates as listeners than those divisions would suggest (see also: Big Boi as Kate Bush fan, or Ryan Adams' many many Iron Maiden t-shirts), but when it comes to their work, find your scene, find your tone, and run with it.  

Far rarer are the people who confound, who release an electronic album on the heels of a wildly successful rock record, or follow a raggedy alt-country success with a billowy multi-tracked psychedelic almost-pop record, or do whatever you want to call what Tom Waits did in the 80s. I feel more of a kin with those iconoclasts to a degree: yeah, my songs are all pretty sad-bastard, and yeah, most of them sound pretty together when played by a dude (well, okay, me) on an acoustic guitar. But I feel like I'm constantly unsure how to present them, or myself: am I a solo folk-singer who rattles around coffee houses? Am I an indie rocker, banging away on an electric in smelly rock clubs? Should I lean towards the country part of my writing, or the harder, yellier parts? Should this band be super-tight and power-poppy, or should it get loose and jammy? Should I be in shirt and tie, or a t-shirt with a snarky logo? Boxers or briefs?

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I raise these questions now more than ever as, for what may actually be the first time, I'm building a band from scratch. In high school, it was friends who also had instruments; in college, new people mixed with the old ones; in Philadelphia, each band had at least one member of the previous band coming along for the ride. When I was 16, I didn't know enough about myself as a musician to do anything besides follow my instincts musically and work to the skills of my surrounding cast. Later, as each project formed, I already knew how one to three of the other people played, so it was only a matter of the one or two new people finding their way into the mix. 

I had an audition the other day with a bassist. Good player, nice seeming dude, ticked off a lot of my boxes. But is he the right player for this project? What IS this project? Is it time for me to lean into one direction over another? And which one? It's been a looong time since I auditioned a new member, and an even longer one since I did it without the bulk of a band already together. Maybe he's great in a vacuum, but won't pair with the drummer I eventually find. And if so, who do I keep? I don't even know how many options I'll have, or what differences will be between them, so: how long do you hold out for an ideal player? Particularly when you don't know exactly what you need him to play?

I'm discovering that this process is kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle in a closet: I'm not sure what picture it's trying to form; I'm not even sure what shape it will end up being. And given a piece, I don't know how it will fit with other pieces, nor how many pieces there will be when all is said and done. It's in this realm that the question of genre and direction are so important, and the answer to those questions is so far from me. I don't WANT to have to choose to be loose or tight, to be country or rock, to be acoustic or electric or electronic. I don't WANT to leave anything out. I'm also aware that a lack of specialization can be fatal too: if you don't choose ingredients and their quantities carefully, everything ends up kinda brown and mushy and tasteless (this can also be used as an explanation of why my wife does the cooking in our house).

 It's the dawning of a brave new day, and my new band can be anything I want. Soo... what do I want?

1 comment

  • Paul Eschmann

    Paul Eschmann

    James, You write so eloquently.

    James,

    You write so eloquently.

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