“What kind of music are you thinking of?” was the first thing I asked Jocelyn in reply to playing drums in this new band. Her musical taste was somewhat all over the place, and I wasn’t going to come out of retirement to play in some fey indie rock band. If I was going to go back to being a full time drummer, I was going to play The Drums.
“My heart really is in the warm 60’s garage rock that i grew up listening to, and that’s what I want to do…. not that directly. I don’t know if any of that would appeal to you but I would love to be in an actual band with you.” was her reply.
She had caught me at the lowest artistic point in my life. The previous summer, I threw a handful of DJ nights at the local all ages performance space. I was able to get a good friend of mine who was a world class DJ to headline the event, while I did a fairly simple opening hour. The first two nights were some of the best nights of the time; the bulk of the next generation finally getting their dance on as a group. My intention was that if the kids could see how a dance floor of people can function to inspire each other to higher levels of creativity and commitment, it would spill over into their rock bands that were flourishing. The third night was a let-down; the group mind was already dissipating, and having it the weekend before the holidays sapped energy. I thought to myself, we’ve had a nifty little run here, let’s put it back on the shelf until the next summer. Unfortunately, I let myself get talked into doing an opening set on New Year’s Eve; breaking one of my long standing rules- do not leave the house on New Year’s Eve. I ended up playing to a completely empty room- literally, there was not a single person in the room. I asked Anne to not watch, shooing her away when she made an attempt to hear my set, as she would have been the only person in the room. After my hour was up, I packed the crates and went straight home; not even a goodbye to anyone who was involved in putting on the event. New Year’s Day, 2012. I was sitting in a remorseful slouch, totally convinced that my live performance career had ended in an empty, old lumber yard building a half mile from my house. Six weeks later, Jocelyn and I
began talking about the influence of Echo & the Bunnymen, and how that would be the perfect direction for our new band.
Class Ring were the next generation’s best band. One day while working at the Palace, some of the band members asked me to come out to one of their practices and point them in the right direction. To visit them, i had to drive into an exclusive neighborhood in Stonington. A multi-generation family of five stare me down as a long haired, sunglasses wearing, van driving weirdo who takes the right turn toward the band’s practice space.
They had an interesting blend of a punk ethos combined with classic rock structures, and I was intrigued by their potential. As a five piece, they could truly branch out into expansive counterpoint, largely due to the guitar talents of Adrian Pearson, another slender reed of the scene. He had cut his teeth at an early age shredding metal riffs, and when he had mastered that craft and became bored with it, branched out into folk and gypsy punk. Dexterous, and melodic, he could coax a classic styling from a fiddle, or an amp cranked to eleven. Their practice that day left me encouraged; it seemed as if my experience in music was simply to help guide this group toward their own success. Class Ring became the biggest draw in the new Mystic scene, and I thought, could become a new Thames, perhaps even more so as their diversity created a larger context in which they could create. Fronted by a female / male duo, with a killer rhythm section featuring two brothers, their star quickly rose. But even with a modicum of success comes an added layer of new pressure to maintain upward movement. As they began branching out and playing in New London, and the Greater Southeastern Connecticut Autonomous Zone, inner turmoil began to tear them apart. In an effort to clear their heads and move forward, they deemed the underlying issue to be Adrian’s commitment to long term success. I was working at the Palace when the front couple and the two brothers met to tell Adrian he was no longer a member of Class Ring. Outside of the Palace, they tried to convince themselves they were doing the right thing. Under murmurs and bated breath, Adrian arrived to the meeting.
“Let’s go down to the Art Center and have a talk” one of the brothers said to Adrian.
I knew what they were planning to do, but you could clearly see that Adrian had no idea what was coming. About thirty minutes later, I caught a glimpse of Adrian as he made his way back to his car. The look on his face was something that would stay with me through some of the more difficult times in this new band. His entire world had been turned upside down by the people he trusted the most, and that sense of abandonment can lead an artist in one of two ways- disruption of continuity- or a revealed vigor one did not know was available beforehand. As Jocelyn and I began to discuss the possible members of the group, we knew that Adrian was our guitar star.
“I think we have to have Todd in the band.” Jocelyn wrote to me, kicking off another day of a hundred emails back and forth between us. The two of them go all the way back to TIR, and it made total sense to have Todd in the group; his intensity and emotional songwriting would be the perfect complement to Adrian’s more muscular offerings.
“Do you think Jeremy will try to wedge his way in once he knows we are all working together?” opined Joss.
“No. He’s dead set on moving to New York. And I think it will be good for him; he needs to get out and not be the loudest guy in the room anymore. He’ll find his way into some hotshot NYC band in no time.”
As we traded more emails about the perfect bass player fit, it suddenly dawned on me that with Jeremy’s departure, the answer to our fifth member was opening up right under our noses. Geneva Holiday was a long running, instrumental surf trio that somewhat bridged the end of the Thames/Station years and this next generation. Kids like Todd and Jocelyn had found their own “Thames” in their teen years watching Geneva cut up the night into 30 two minute surf screeds; with a matching energy and the matching uniforms they wore at every show. Rudy Badenhoff was their six foot, intimidating German bass player, and came from a long line of family musicians. Gangly, hyper, and yet an incisive definition; he was the heart and soul of the instrumental Geneva experience.
Without Rudy’s stage presence and panache, the Holiday would have been a two tiered moment, not the 3D spectacle that they were at the height of their powers. But in the last year, they had expanded to a four piece, adding Jeremy on guitar. Jeremy brought out a more rock driven side to their surf instrumentals, and as the song structures became more complex, they dropped much of their older material in favor of the expanded palette. But that was all going to vanish the moment Jeremy left for the city, so I suggested we recruit Rudy to play bass in the band.
“That is an inspired idea, I can’t believe I didn’t think of him.” wrote Joss in the ensuing email thread.
We decided to have the five of us meet at my house, to discuss whether or not we had enough of a musical overlap to create this new group. I was completely confident that we would, and personally was more interested in hearing what kind of goals they each would want to achieve. Adrian had already informed us before the meeting that he was moving to Brooklyn on Labor Day weekend, so we had roughly seven months to build up enough songs to play live. In the back of my mind, I felt that we could achieve whatever we set our goals as, but I insisted to myself to keep that well hidden; there was no need for me to create an agenda for the five of us. The best case scenario seemed to be that we make something dynamic, and continue with the lineup after Adrian relocates. The worst case is that we play a handful of local shows and have a great summer.
The meeting was in what I like to call the “mother-in-law” apartment- a tiny one story addition the previous owners of our house attached to the original 1930’s structure. As a kid, with a single mom, there was no way our unfinished basement was to become one of the cool rec rooms that were so prevalent at the time. So, now that Anne and I owned a house, we succumbed to the idea we could achieve what our parents could not. A homemade “bar”- fake porcelain tile, rugs from the discount store. It was where we kept the TV. I began the discussion by saying “What would you each like to achieve in the band?”
Jocelyn went first:
“I would love to be able to tour to some degree, regionally- the East coast. I could be very happy with that level of success.”
Rudy was a rock lifer, somewhat like me without the constancy.
“I just wanna rock, you know? I want to be able to play shows where people are like “oh my god, what the fuck did I just see?….”
Adrian was next.
“I know you guys know I’m moving to Brooklyn in the fall, but I just want to work hard for these next few months and see where we can take it. I don’t know if I could tour once I get to New York, but I’m really curious to see what we can come up with. We could make my move to Brooklyn work for us”.
Todd was incisive, as he always was.
“I just want to write the songs I hear in my head, and whatever happens, happens.”
I reassured them that I would harbor our collective perception of what may be possible.
“I’m an open page; I never even thought I would be in this position again. So, I promise you guys, I will do everything that I am capable of to keep this moving forward, as long as everyone agrees to what may evolve.”
There was one more thing that needed to be addressed right then, as I would not allow myself to participate in a band dynamic I had already lived through.
“I only ask for three things from the four of you. No band tee shirts on stage, no sneakers onstage, and no narcotics. If I even catch a hint of there being narcotics in this band, I will walk away.”
The band tees and the sneakers were more of an issue of seeking discipline. If you can’t get your wardrobe up to par without sneakers and band tees, you’re not really trying. It’s a basic request. But I had already lived through three waves of narcotics within a band, and it simply isn’t pretty. There is nothing so soul draining as being on the road with someone who can’t get their fix.
Practices were held in Centraal, and I went out and spent $600 to get us a working PA and microphones for the singers. The studio was also designed to invoke the classic Rec Room basements of my unrealized 70’s childhood. The walls were painted in three foot squares of rotating burnt orange, midnight blue, and Carolina blue, with an olive drab stucco panel between the two doors. As we settled in and the guitars were tuned, I asked if anyone had a basic tune we could get in to as a starting point.
Adrian piped in:
“Yeah, I have this pretty simple riff…..”
Playing through a tinny sounding, 10 inch amp, Adrian began a slow, churning line that all four of us fell into right away. I found a stuttering tom beat that supported the slinky guitar line, and Rudy punctuated that with a pulsing bottom end. As we had locked into the groove, Adrian went to a different riff, something much more upbeat and rocking. We began to grasp that the beat was changing, and Todd began staccato stabs against the quickening pace. We looped through the second riff for a few minutes, eventually harnessing it with relative ease. At that point, I had to stop us.
“So, you have somewhat of a song structure to this, don’t you?” I said to Adrian.
“Yeah, I have like, three or four parts.”
“Take us through each one really quick” I replied.
Adrian proceeded to lay out the entirety of our first original song- “Decisive”. I was a bit taken aback. My thought process was that we might be able to get through a few hours of playing, and hopefully feel comfortable with each other. But as we began to create the bed of rhythm for the song, it became clear that this was no ordinary group of musicians. A frisson was apparent, and within the first twenty minutes of our first practice we had the elements of an entire song. This is when Jocelyn invoked all of her experience in the studio, finding a cooing, breathy melody over the more turgid opening riff. Suddenly, everything clicked. You could sense that after Jocelyn began singing, even in a sort of scat form, the tonality of the group could be immense. We took a short break after about an hour, and when we came back in to begin again, Jocelyn had a rough draft of lyrics for the entire song.
“Let’s do this intro into the verse bit on a loop, so I can get the timing down during the change. That will totally set up the chorus to be something like this.”
“I’ll remove every bit of you”
No one responded to her, and the room that had been bursting with sound moments earlier fell silent. I don’t think anyone could believe how good and how quick we had come up with the song. The psychic sense between the five of us was that maybe we could do anything we wanted to. It was like hitting fast forward, arriving at a moment that should have been weeks, if not months away, in the span of an hour.
We settled in to a regular two practices a week schedule, and songs started to sprout. But, with such a limited time frame due to Adrian’s impending departure, we used found songs to make our own as well. Todd had recorded the lone non Borealis recording project at Steven’s studio; he recorded two of his own songs backed by Jeremy and the Class Ring drummer. They were beautiful pop tunes, and we learned “Mind over Body” in a few hours. We added a few cover songs as well, just to get used to playing more than four songs in a night, and to begin to stretch the band out to a set long format. There is a beautiful flowering tree, a weeping cherry, in the local cemetery that I always wanted to get a PR shot my band with Malthus and Brooke; Surface of Ceres, in front of. I was never able to get the timing down, as there is a very short window while the tree is in full bloom. Anne and I had a gorgeous flowering Japonica in our garden; it’s delicate white flowers blooming into infinity with sheer volume. I decided at the very last minute I would not lose the opportunity for that “blooming” group shot in front of a mass of flowers, much like Peter Hook described the cover to “Power, Corruption, and Lies”- a famous painting by French artist Henri Fantin-Latour reproduced by Peter Saville . “The design captured us in the exact bloom that reflected our musical growth” Hook said. I wanted that shot.
Anne and I hurriedly set up basic lighting before everyone arrived for that night’s practice. She had been working as a fine art black and white photographer for twenty years; her photos well received by galleries between Boston and New York, as well as being commissioned to illustrate several local publications during that period. By the time of the first practice break, with a healthy glow and modest sweat enveloping each of us, Anne captured the photo that would catapult us beyond any previous expectation; the blooms of the Japonica illuminated behind our perfect visage with an infinitesimal depth. She captured the intention of each member- Jocelyn in short hair intriguing, Adrian gazing skyward, angelic- Rudy and Todd in a close near embrace with myself slightly distant and behind them, right arm tucked underneath my left arm in a nod to the very pose I held during the first Thames PR shoot. We had all agreed not to speak to anyone but our very closest friends regarding the group; it was better for us to work in secret and develop at our own pace rather than expose ourselves to unfounded criticism, and a possible subtle jealousy. By the time of the first photo shoot, we had accumulated enough momentum to finally go public with the idea. The next day I put the group photo up on my Facebook page. What happened next was something that would change everything.
Whitney Roberts and Phoebe Stahl were the first of the next generation to migrate to New York City. Luckily for them, they were able to relocate just before the great recession, which kept many of the kids here in town. Not that they lived a life of glamour- bedbugs, squatting, and illegal performance spaces defined the climate of their time there. And the bedbug infestation of New York forced Whitney’s small camp to relocate with Phoebe and her roommates in a two bedroom flat in Brooklyn. What came out of that moment was quite extraordinary. The five of these folks, clinging to each other in a very Station House way, formed a band called All in the Family, and out of those humble beginnings ended up playing their slinky minimalist funk on several continents, getting signed to a record label, and achieving a level of success the Mystic musicians could only dream about. Their very first gig was at a tiny coffee house in town. I remember thinking “How are they going to get a five piece band in there with any room to have people watch?” Plenty of people would be watching in the near future.
The day after I posted the first group photo of the new band, and in the first days that we began to openly speak about it, Whitney posted a comment to the photo page.
“SUPERGROUP! I wanna hear!”
She totally nailed it in one word. We were a sort of supergroup, but not necessarily trying to relive some past glory- instead, essentially five people who came together for one reason- to create new music. This was not the street gang mentality of a bunch of friends sitting around watching TV deciding to start a band because they were bored.This was a situation where there were expectations, and for Whitney to comment in such a way built a confidence in us very few new bands receive. As word started to spread into the local scene that we were an actual band, we were busy crafting the last songs we would need to have a full set, and begin to play live.
Adrian and Jocelyn wrote another killer, rocking tune, Todd contributed three new originals, and we solidified a jam based number into a cohesive song. We had seven original tunes, and felt it was time to book our first show.
The Wishing Well was our local indie rock bar, an incredibly tight space that somehow accommodated the best shows in the area for well over seven years. It had been transformed from a sort of sad, little dive bar into an amazing showcase room, equal to the institutions of New York City. I had known their booking agent Caron Morris for years; I actually pleaded with him to manage Bold Schwa when I knew the business side of things was starting to overwhelm the band’s musical creativity. I emailed him and asked if we could possibly play a Wednesday night; an off night for them show wise, simply to lessen the burden on our own expectations, and to not ask Caron to sacrifice a spot on a weekend with a totally unknown group.
“Why do you want to play a Wednesday?” was his response to my initial request.
“I just figured it is one of our regular practice nights, and I didn’t want to put you out on a weekend show.”
“Forget that! How about Saturday, the 27th of July?”
“We’ll take it. Let me get in touch with everyone to confirm, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. But yeah, we’ll take it.”
Caron had booked our first gig without hearing a note of music.
However, we had nothing but fruitless efforts at finding a proper band name. With our debut show ten days away, we took a break during practice and I implored everyone that we needed to come up with a band name that night. It was usually cool for July, and we congregated in the middle of the gardens at my house to give the band name one last serious push; all of us in agreement that the name we decided to play under for the first show did not have to be the permanent name. I had been emailing ideas to everyone for weeks- with each of them being turned down. In all actuality, none of the names I suggested would have worked- the kids were right. I was famously known for finding great song titles, and terrible band names. However, as we began to talk with days to go, I became somewhat exasperated at their lack of seriousness. Adrian then blurted out “how about ‘Sarah Palin’s Nipple Piercing!’ ” I let out an exaggerated breath, and simply said “we can’t name the band that; for her that’s probably slander…..”
“That’s it!” shouted Todd, “Slander!!!”
Rudy responded with equal exuberance. “Yeah, that is IT!”
“Slander is a possibility……” I replied. I went inside quickly and looked up Slander on the web site the Palace used as one of their primary distributors. There was an English metal band that began in 1992 named Slander, and a burgeoning electronic duo from California also named Slander.
“How about Piercing?” proposed Jocelyn.