We tried to practice as much as possible with the four Piercing members who lived in town. Two nights after the New Haven show, the four of us, sans Adrian, were due to get together at 7.30 pm. Rudy arrived first, carrying somewhat of an attitude, I assumed in response to the chastising in the van.
“Hey, are you mad at me for getting on you guys at the gig Tuesday?”
“Nah, you were right. We should’ve been in there by the time you came out to get us. I’m just fucking pissed at my ex-girlfriend, she came by the apartment again today.”
Rudy had a contentious relationship with his ex-girlfriend. They had broken up months earlier after living together for two years, and every three weeks like clockwork she would show up at his apartment claiming she had left something behind during her move and wanted to look for it. Oftentimes, she would leave with a spoon from the drawer, or an unused sponge from the bathroom, but she always left with something. I wondered if she was secretly planting these items just to get inside his head.
Todd arrived a few minutes later.
“Hey sorry I’m late guys.”
“No worries, man. Joss isn’t here yet, yr fine.” I replied.
The three of us began to address some of the finer details of our involvement. And then the phone rang. It was Jocelyn.
“I’m not going to make it tonight, I think Marcus is breaking up with me……….”
She was softly sobbing, in such a refined way that I almost questioned her about it- as it seemed that she was acting like a grade school kid pretending to be sick to miss the days classes. But the two of them had been living in her mother’s house for months, and as she continued, I started to discern a different tone in her tears. She was petrified to be alone with her mom in the house; that much I was sure of. Not that she didn’t adore her mother, but that the situation represented failure. I could also sense a loyalty she never revealed to me. She had found a relationship in which she could be comfortable, where she could be herself and not what was expected of her. And she was perilously close to losing that.
“Hey- don’t worry about it. Rudy, Todd, and I can get some work in- take the night to try and make things right between you and Marcus.”
“Ok, thanks….” she said between sniffles. “I gotta go…..”
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
I hung up the landline. I still refused to buy a cell phone, always stating that Thames had no trouble navigating tours without them. I opened the door to the studio and Todd and Rudy had the exact same look on their face. They knew what was happening. They were far closer socially to Jocelyn and Marcus than I would ever be.
“Joss isn’t going to make it, she’s fighting with Marcus and is seriously worried they might be breaking up.” I told the two of them.
“What, does her pussy hurt?” was Rudy’s retort.
I was stunned. Being raised by women, I could have never imagined making such a remark. Was Rudy being serious? His misplaced misogyny always appeared to be part of a larger construct, where he was actually doing a parody of his worst thoughts, but this time it seemed , for the lack of a better word, genuine. Was he questioning whether Joss was cancelling her arrival due to a menstrual moment? Or was he correlating her fight with Marcus in the most masculine way, that she had just experienced a kick to a set of balls that she did not possess? Rudy had been a long time vinyl customer at the Palace; it was the foundation of the delicate relationship we had before he became the bassist for Piercing. I knew of his caustic ways, and yet, I couldn’t help but think that he really was way out on a limb here, and that he must have a specific disdain for women.
“Does her what hurt? Oh, come on man, I don’t want to hear shit like that…..” I replied to Rudy
“Yeah, that’s harsh man…” added Todd
“Well what, we’re all here, and it’s ok for her to just bail out at the last minute all the time? My job is ten times harder than the four of you combined, and I’m always at practice, always on time for the gigs. Fuck that shit.”
I understood where he was coming from as far as defending himself- he was always on time and was always ready. And his job of forging high end metals was at least four times as hard as working at a school, or going to college, or working at a record store, or painting backdrops for photo shoots. But this attitude could not stand; it was against the very creative principle that we had worked so hard to establish, and that we were reaping the benefits of. I wasn’t going to let his leaking misogynistic behavior derail us.
“Man, I can understand where you are coming from, and I don’t want to all of the sudden start laying out everything I do for the band just to prove a point. But this is no place for hating on people, we have no space and I have no patience for it. Don’t take out your frustrations about the ex-girlfriend on us. “
“That’s easy for you to say, living with Anne….”
“She’s had to put up with much more bullshit from me that the other way around. So, that angle won’t get you off the hook. Just ease up a bit on the Joss criticism, and I’ll talk to her about not missing practices at the last minute. Do we have a deal?”
“Remember what I said a few weeks ago about success? And how the immediate members of the band are the people who can create doubt about holding onto it? Because you might question their future performance? This is what I was talking about. We can’t be suspicious of each other, it will lead us nowhere.”
I suggested we start working on Todd’s new song, a lilting pop number that built in intensity to a subtle roar. This was new territory for us, trying to expand the set with a slow song. Our entire show up to that point was something of a rock and roll sprint- barreling, banging numbers competing for space. Now, we we’re prepared to hone in on a depth that was desperately needed. I found a slinky beat built off of simple eighth notes on the ride cymbal, alternating snare and tom hits on the two and four downbeat. It gave the verses a stuttering, floating edge that Rudy punctuated with broad whole notes, filling the room with a sonic scripture. Todd sat on top, gently articulating the main melody, which existed comfortably between the rolling drums, and the steady, deep bass.
“Let’s do that change from the verse into the bridge on repeat for a few passes.” I asked, trying to coerce a final arrangement to salvage the night.
“Yeah, sure. Just give me a look when you want to stop.” Todd was on top of his game this night, and I wanted to push him to finish.
Two hours later, we had a working arrangement. But, more importantly than that, Todd had nailed his guitar solo over the final build, and it was exquisite. As the arrangement took on more depth, and the beat and bass became somewhat epic, he tastefully executed a delicate picking riff, one that climbed up the frets in a calculated manner akin to the anticipation of waiting for the drugs to kick in. The final note from his guitar sat at the height of the frequency range, while everything else dissolved into near silence. It was as if Everett True was in our room, telling us to play QUIETER! – instead of his famous request of Galaxie 500, twenty three years earlier in a London nightclub. As we turned a specific corner musically, even as a displaced three piece, it became much more obvious that the “supergroup” element had unanticipated baggage of its own. As well as unanticipated success. It would be something we would have to corral in the foreseeable future.
As we made it through March, another complexity developed. Geneva Holiday had begun working on a new album, and were in the process of writing forty new songs. They were also playing every gig they were offered- bars, all ages shows, backyards. I was sensing a struggle within Rudy when he would call me to see if Piercing had a show on a night Geneva had an opportunity to play. In addition to their accelerated live schedule, they were recording in New Haven over the course of three consecutive Tuesdays in April. Continuing our well established routine wasn’t particularly difficult at that point, as we had gigs booked into May. But being in two very active bands certainly had to take its toll on Rudy.
During one five day stretch in early April, Rudy had a Geneva recording session in New Haven at 9pm, a Piercing gig in Manhattan two days later, a Geneva show in New London the next night, and finally, an all-ages show in Mystic the final night of the five. Three of those mornings were 6am alarm clock arrivals so he could get to the foundry by 7am. It seemed highly unlikely he could keep up that pace indefinitely.
One of the music bloggers who wrote about the first single came out to see us that Thursday night at the Water Co. in NYC. I immediately recognized her when she entered the room, and we mutually walked toward each other.
“Hello Ellery, nice to meet you in the real world.”
“Nice to meet you, Eden.”
“I love the single; so fresh, so unabashedly rocking- in a good way!”
I loved to hear people say we were rocking without being “rock”. That was the initial idea and it seemed as if we had honed in on it within ten months. I kept hearing the voice in my head say the same thing over and over- ‘give me another ten months, give me another ten months…..’ I noticed some people enter the club that she was trying to get the attention of.
“Hey, some friends of mine just showed up, I’m going to get a drink, but I want to talk to you after the show.”
I had been exchanging emails with Tabitha each day discussing the video for a few weeks before the Water Co. show. One day, when she suggested the audience members should be in all white, I went through the area thrift stores buying anything white that looked appropriate. I would then send her photos of the garments, hoping that our preparation would allow us to film the entire video in the three days she had carved out for us- exactly one month from tomorrow. This constant back and forth caught the attention of Anne in a way I had not anticipated. She declared on Wednesday night that she was going to the gig in New York the next night. That was fine with me; Anne had seen every facet of my musical ambition, and this would be the first time she watched me play in NYC with Piercing. And yet, as Tabitha approached the two of us, I was pleading for her to not give me the courtesy hug, which we had exchanged the first time we met at Cabinets. I reached out with my right hand, curled into the cone that initiated the secret handshake amongst the Palace regulars- “The Beak”, where two people can reach out toward the others hand, and quickly open the clasped fingers into a full hand. Jocelyn and I had introduced her to “The Beak” at the Cabinets show, and I was hoping she would redeem our reconnection here. Tabitha reached out, and then proceeded to give me the courtesy hug in front of Anne. It was innocuous enough, but Anne and I had a compact about other people and their immediate intimacy. We had been together for twenty-two years at that point, so we had faith in our subtle social controls. I could sense Anne shift as Tabitha said to her- “hello, nice to meet you.” They were both photographers, and I sincerely believed they could find common ground, as Anne and I had with so many artists we had worked with over the years. And yet, there was an intuitive change. Was it that Anne could sense what the band might become? And that I was headed down a road where she would be left home alone for weeks at a time while I toured? The intrinsic element about Borealis within our relationship was that there was no threat of touring; but with Piercing, it was becoming all too apparent.
We played a decent set, had a good response from the crowd, and noticed a handful of people that were not Anne or Tabitha taking photos of us. We packed all of our gear and proceeded to bring everything out to the van, so we could leave when we were ready to hit the road. After getting myself a beer, Eden came over.
“Hey, nice set, you guys could really be onto something.”
“Thank you very much. It’s been hard to refine the songs as much as we’d like to, having Adrian living in Brooklyn and the other four of us in Connecticut.”
“I don’t think it’s the songs themselves you need to refine, it’s your presence. How you sell the songs to the audience.”
“Do you mean everybody? I mean, not the crowd, but the band?”
I was a bit taken aback, did I not just witness Rudy dazzle with his histrionics while holding down a perfect bottom end? Adrian played a fantastic set, Todd was his usual timid self, but sang with a convincing emotion. Joss sounded scintillating from where I was sitting. After a pause, Eden continued.
“She’s not very confident, is she?”
“I think she is too aware that everyone’s eyes are on her. “ I replied.
Midnight. Sprinting up the FDR. The Willis Avenue Bridge. Bruckner. Hutchinson. I-95. New Haven. Groton. Mystic. 3AM. I grab a beer, turn on the computer, and check the band email. Show offers for June. Quotes from printers for merchandise. And a request for an interview with a Dutch music magazine.
After getting out of work on Saturday, I had one objective: to Dropbox the new single to the mastering lab in Brooklyn. For “Massive/Spirit”, I had felt that I needed to be in the room as the mastering process took place. But that turned out to be a very long twelve hour day, a round trip NYC jaunt when I had just driven that route four days prior, to watch Frank Wayne effortlessly transfer the studio masters into a finished product. We both agreed I could simply send the files, and he would send the mastering back.
My first attempt to load the files went horribly wrong, as I attached the wrong mixes by mistake.
He emailed me back with cute sarcasm “maybe you should have come down to Brooklyn! jk get me the .wav files.” I was temporarily mortified. With the proper files sent, and the download complete on his end, I heaved a sigh of relief. I closed out the programs, and shut off the machine for the night. The next morning, after tea, I fired up the computer, to be greeted with a black screen, with text in a font that brought me back to my eighth grade mathematics class. Our ancient teacher was enthralled with the possibility of computers, and part of his curriculum was having his students learn the rudimentary vagaries of programming. Malthus was his star student. I had trouble not being blinded by the blinking cursor, which is what I was staring at this Sunday afternoon. I had barely gotten out the new single for mastering before my ten year old computer swallowed its tail.
Malthus was able to save the contents of the C drive on the blown machine, and custom built us a new computer, loading our files into it four days later. This was crucial for Piercing because the biggest show of our young career was coming up in two weeks, at Huntington Grounds, the all-ages space in Brooklyn. The Grounds were the epicenter of the second wave of Brooklyn DIY alternative venues, and we were playing third of four on a bill with a national touring headliner, a local Brooklyn group, and Phoebe Kahn’s new outfit Finito. As much time as I had been spending doing PR for the band, this was our most crucial week up to this point.
brooklyn / grounds PR
call cabinets / 22 may
call joss/rudy video
check for water co. photos
email angela at TONY
check nyc listings
email caron / lineup switch?
finito at dr. watson / boston?
adrian / boston?
EPK / CMJ submission
check new haven shows
call cort about video location
register live in studio
call adrian about string gauge / practice
call joss todd rudy / departure time for HG
Jeremy and his partner Tricia Brown, who was also a multi-instrumentalist in Boyfriend, met us on the street outside of Huntington as I eased the van into a parallel spot. I prided myself with my ability to always know which direction we might be heading toward in the van, but Brooklyn continued to stymy I was totally lost with ten minutes until load in time at the club, and was begging Rudy to find the club on his cell as we wandered around the industrial section of Brooklyn that housed much of the burgeoning art scene. The moment I started to panic about the “out of town band” rolling in on their own schedule, Jeremy called Todd and talked us through three swift turns that put us in front of the Grounds.
“Hey man, thanks, I always lose my frame of reference in Brooklyn.” I told Jeremy.
“Yeah, of course. I figured since you weren’t here yet you must be lost. You never show up late to gigs.”
We hauled the gear up the two flights of industrial stairs, greeted by a twentysomething doorman who looked as if he was recruited from the opposite of central casting. A slight, gracious figure, but certainly miles away from the typical Manhattan doorman, whose intimidating presence was all the security that was needed on the LES. But this was just some kid, who maybe practiced at the Grounds during the day- there was nothing intimidating about him. His role was to collect the door cash and to create the initial impression that everything was underground, and if you simply played it cool, this could all continue to exist underground. I had only once before felt that vibration, when I was in Amsterdam and the locals all advised me to “leave Amsterdam in Amsterdam” and don’t take some hash with you on the plane. It wasn’t worth it. The people at the Grounds knew they were getting away with something because they didn’t flaunt their success. They were operating on a very Post point of view, and it’s attraction was indelible. I wanted to get to know these people and find out how they were pulling it off.
Maurice Lyon had grown up in Ledyard, just to the north of Mystic. We had never met until he booked Piercing for this gig, but he was quite excited to help a band from TGSECAZ get footing in Brooklyn.
“I had never heard of you guys until I saw the Eargum review. When I read that you were from Connecticut, I definitely wanted to book you at the Grounds.”
He had attended school in Brooklyn, and by the time he graduated, had become involved with a group of artists and musicians that were life-long city residents. Having been a guitar player the bulk of his life, Maurice found himself playing guitar in a long standing borough outfit known as The Constitution, whose confrontational lyrical content harnessed all of the great ‘80’s outsider music, without being derivative. The Constituition was made up of three neighborhood friends who had yet to spend more than four months apart since the time they entered kindergarten. Huntington Grounds was their baby; their contribution to the culture they had cut their teeth on. The room was one large, open space, with a handmade stage along the long, back wall. A soundbooth provided perfect isolation within its windowed walls, and a mural of the ancient Grounds from which they had procured the name ran the length of the corridor to the bathrooms and backstage area. There was enough room backstage to house each of the band’s gear for the night, and once we had loaded everything we had in there, we set out to see what was going on here firsthand, and not some recap from Jeremy two weeks later about how “you guys missed the best night ever!”
Finito opened the night. I had listened to their songs online, but that was not nearly enough preparation for the live experience. They existed within a wall of sound, but not the clichéd banging out max volume within each frequency. They were subtle, and daring; the dexterous guitar of lead singer Matthew Barbour sat on top of Phoebe’s throbbing bass and the slack fluidity of James’ drum stylings. And instead of the traditional Fresnel light can show, films were projected over the band that they themselves had shot and edited from the streets of New York. I wasn’t having a rapture moment thinking I was in the new Factory, but it was scintillating rock and roll; which was in desperately short supply. Bonaparte, a local Brooklyn band, played next, and they were a traditional tight, guitar based band, similar to the one The Infectious Reality had opened for in New Haven a few years back. But their bassist/lead vocalist was wearing a custom cut tank top that revealed his nipples with every turn of his torso. I was petrified as the Piercing members entered the van for a show in NYC- whether their clothing would betray us as outsiders from the hinterland. I myself had decided on a strict uniform that was best for me, after our very first show at the Wishing Well. When I saw photos of that show online, with my paisley button down and over-dyed magenta jeans, I looked like someone definitively not of the kids generation. I needed to be anonymous. It was black jeans and a black tee after that night. And yet, seeing his outfit was a relief. And in an interesting unconscious nod to the past, Jocelyn was shining in a maroon regality that evening, much as she was that specific night in New Haven, years earlier.
We hurriedly set up our gear so that we wouldn’t be responsible for dragging the timing of the night. This aspect of playing live was crucial at this point, and we were beginning to enact an exact choreography that enabled us to be in the best position to play the songs, and minimize what the staff was responsible for. That was a key; and each of us knew it. The songs themselves were the strength of our band, what we had to do was rise up musically to convey their inherent power. And on this stage, we would have to. Our aspirations depended upon it. I was slightly worried that Rudy had decided to play his hot pink 1980’s bass, I was praying that Joss and Todd would Listen for each other, but I was enthralled with Adrian’s look and his visceral attitude. Growing up in the punk scene gave him an edge the other four of us were not in possession of. And then Jocelyn introduced the band.
“hey, we’re Piercing. We’re from Connecticut, and ummm, Rhode Island, and uhhhh, Brooklyn.”
“yr from MYSTIC!” shouted Jeremy from his place in the front row, amongst a crowd of eighty people waiting for us to do something special.
“we’re from Myyyystic!” Jocelyn replied with a flourish.