THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter One

A FICTIONAL INDIE ROCK MEMOIR

It’s getting harder to deal with the blood in the toilet.

I had always subscribed to the notion that I would succumb to a stroke, as my father, and each of my four grandparents had. Perhaps this is the totality of my chosen lifestyle; a detriment to all concerned. I fear I am rotting from the inside, repeating the same mistake I vowed not to. Succumbing to a stroke was the main tenet of my mortality- that thought was something I always could depend upon; like holidays, or capitulation. The lesson from the experience of coming out of “retirement” and joining an active rock band at age 43, and playing drums with Piercing, has been that you never know.

You never know what is going to happen. My health could be due to stress from the band, or perhaps the larger context in which the band contributes toward it- the rescheduling, the negotiating, the cajoling, the convincing: The reinforcement of a belief system. I’ve been doing the work of four people for two years now; drummer, manager, roadie, publicist. Perhaps my body is rebelling against the demands I have placed on it. Hopefully, it won’t take long to find out; I have never before felt my musical life would threaten my actual life.

Jocelyn emailed me, a random inquiry I was not expecting, asking me to play drums in her new band. At that point in my musical life, she was the only person I would even consider coming out of retirement for, but I was shocked at first. Jeremy, a mutual friend and regular at the Record Palace- our local record store where he was a regular and I worked, had regaled me about her disappointment in the studio project Borealis, which Jocelyn had participated in with a coterie of musicians- creating songs at random, in a total studio setting. Steven Giles, Malthus Prufrock, and I had spent half a decade- from 2006 until 2011, deep in the studio, crafting two full-length albums and four singles as Borealis, and Jocelyn had sung on roughly half of those songs. Steven, Malthus, and I had been friends since meeting in 1985, as high school students with an inherent and sincere love of music.

Jeremy loved to tell me about Jocelyn’s reservations about the Borealis material, mostly the production.

“She doesn’t even like it, you never built the reverb bed she was striving for…” he would say, reveling in my frustration, as we felt the songs, and the production, were spot on. I couldn’t understand his motives in revealing this information to me. Was he jealous of Jocelyn having the opportunity to appear on the Borealis material? And why did I not hear these criticisms directly from her? And yet, I had trouble reconciling within myself why it would matter what he said, or what she told her friends who were not involved. Was I being possessive? Did I subconsciously view Jeremy as a threat? A threat to what? I had given up on a career in music, but by returning to the fray as the drummer in Jocelyn’s new band, was that feeling to be exposed?

I first met Jocelyn when she, Jeremy, and Todd arrived at my demo studio in 2005 to record their teenage band The Infectious Reality. Jeremy and Todd were local Mystic kids of the next generation of musicians from town, a tradition that had gone back twenty years by the time they started their first band. While becoming regulars at The Record Palace, they would spend hours there, buying all of the correct albums of the time, such as Broken Social Scene, Daft Punk, and Outkast. They also were privileged to be a part of the extended Palace world, which exposed them to the timeless catalog- Byrds, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Spirit, Primal Scream, and Augustus Pablo. I had been working at the Palace for eleven years when the two of them first showed up to haunt the bins.

The Palace was one of the last great record stores; one of the few that survived the transition from the analog world to the digital world. A great portion of the store’s survival was due to owner Benno Bluhm liquidating his entire savings and retirement, as well as selling his house,to keep the store afloat during the Great Recession. In addition, there was his clientele’s fierce loyalty to the tiny 600 foot store, it’s walls covered in a collage of promo posters, autographs, and local memorabilia- located at the very heart of Mystic. The Palace was the only place I knew of where you could buy a used copy of the Carole King LP your mother used to serenade you to sleep with in the seventies, see actual tickets from the Woodstock Festival which Benno attended, as well as albums signed by the Beastie Boys, guitars signed by Blink-182, or the ubiquitous Graham Nash autograph, who was a close friend of Benno, following Graham’s first visit to the store, in 1989. In this small town, The Palace was a unique treasure.

One afternoon, Jeremy and Todd asked me to record their new band, and I immediately agreed; secretly thrilled that there might be new music born in the town. The entire philosophy surrounding my musical career was to put our hometown on the musical map. As someone who watched plenty of talented musicians leave town for the more fertile ground of NYC, which was a short two and a half hour drive from Mystic, I found a direction as a young musician that arriving at “success” would be far more meaningful if it was accomplished here. I had spent the past twenty years playing in bands, playing in side projects, producing demos, setting up shows and curating festivals. In addition, my extended group of musician friends ran a collective rehearsal space for five years, hosting various musical acts for practice space, and darkroom services for photographers. We also organized underground raves to help offset a sudden $700 heat bill in January, or any other financial issues. And, of course, the DJ’s were all members of the Collective.

The talent of The Infectious Reality hooked me immediately. Once Jocelyn stepped into the studio, that night of our first recording session, I knew she was a star, or at least I had the overwhelming feeling that she could be. She carried herself with a graceful insouciance beyond her years. But what really attracted me to the project of recording their first demo, was the quality and breadth of their music; and Jocelyn’s singular voice. The Infectious Reality had a sound which was perfectly retro; a groove driven punk rock aesthetic, with searing dual vocals unheard from such young musicians, while simultaneously lacking derivation. It was a tall task on a canvas that had been almost completely filled, and for a pair of fourteen year old kids, with a 16 year old singer, it seemed that their possibilities were endless. They wrote the basis of their songs on an outdated Casio sequencer, and yet both Todd and Jeremy could sing, play bass, guitar, and keyboards. In all of my years of making music, and striving to get traction in the music world, here were three kids who I thought represented a better chance of making it than any of the previous groups in town.

The Infectious Reality recorded two four song EP’s at my humble demo studio, which I dubbed Centraal Studios, in a nod to the Amsterdam train station. I had been to Amsterdam twice on the recommendation of Benno, and found the train station so immense, it was a perfect opposite of my studio. The room was twenty-two feet by twelve feet, and every inch was filled with recording equipment, drums, guitars and amps, as well as my turntables and mixer. And the kids loved working at Centraal, so different than their own or friends bedroom studios,with parents listening down the hall.

After completing their first EP, they hawked their home recorded CDR’s, with Xerox cover art I had designed, in the halls of their high school, and at their shows. The cover image was an ancient abacus with an electrical cord photoshopped onto the left side of the first analog computer. They believed in the analog / digital contrast of the cover design, as they were musically mixing live guitars over drum machine programs. I explained exactly how they could go about selling it to their school peers, as the members of Thames utilized the exact same strategy when we released our first home recording. The Thames EP was on cassette tape, which was the only available medium at the time. The Infectious Reality sold their record on CDR- “Digital Cassettes…” said Jeremy.

“Ok, during breaks between classes, find the busiest hallway, and offer the record for a plain five dollars.” I explained “and what makes you think you know the busiest hallway when you haven’t been there in almost twenty years?” sarcastically offered Jeremy.

“I don’t think he means the same fucking hallway as in 1987 ya punk….” Offers Todd in a slow drawl, at once to poke at Jeremy and to let me off the hook. “Look, it’s easy. Have you ever been offered to buy a local bands CD in the hallway at school?”

“No.” they respond in unison.

“That’s the hook. And people want to be around people who are getting things done, making things themselves.”

“See and be seen.” Jeremy restates an axiom from the Greenman Collective days that I have weaned them on since I first felt they were worth the investment of my energy and the Post Generation ethos.

“Get the grinder and eat it.” offers Todd.

“Point of completion.” I add as a final statement, as if we were fighters pointing our swords toward a central point.

We agreed the finances of the group, which I meticulously accounted for, (having been part of many monetary mishaps within a working band) would not discount their voices. After six months of selling their first EP, they were able to buy their own PA and began to see a return on investment in real time. Invigorated, they recorded their second EP- distributed it in exactly the same way, and built a considerable local audience within the all-ages set. For the most part, everything was going according to the plan- there was a great working relationship between the four of us, and yet Jeremy and I held a more intimate bond, as he began to work at the Palace, and was constantly honing his depth of knowledge through countless hours of listening and conversation.

“Did you know Radiohead is named after a Talkingheads song?” offers Jeremy in the cool silence of an early summer Friday morning at the Palace. The heat at the Palace could become unbearable as the day went on; the sun clearing the roofline of the building around 1 PM.

“Wait, what?!?” I offer somewhat shocked. I was a huge Talkingheads fan, I chose their song “The Great Curve” as the submission for my Music Listening 101 exam as a high school sophomore.

“Yeah, side two of True Stories.”

I head over to the Talkingheads bin about ten feet in front of the counter. Sure enough- a copy of “True Stories” is there; it’s minimal yet garish design so evident. I flip over the jacket, scanning the song titles. Track two on the second side. The kid was paying attention to the details.

The Infectious Reality eventually got a big break, an opening slot in New Haven- their first out of town show. I volunteered to drive them down in my conversion van; a pretty nice ride for your first excursion beyond the city limits. They acted like young professionals, each of them dressing it up in an appropriate manner- Jocelyn especially shined in a purple dress with satin regality. They certainly presented themselves as wise beyond their years, but the music would have to back it up. And it did. Slashing guitar lines, pristine harmonies, and a smooth transition between songs, with no amateur fumbling.

They performed to the height of their capabilities, and after the set, the headliners, a New York City band of mid-twenties guitar slingers couldn’t heap enough praise on them.

“You guys are just teenagers? That show was fantastic! You should definitely keep it going and we could probably hook you up with shows in the city.”

Unfortunately, their set at The Free Frame of Reference in New Haven would be the final Infectious Reality performance.

I had known Steven for twenty years when we both found ourselves, for the very first time, without a live working rock band as part of our daily routine. We met in high school in 1985, when he was a junior while I was a sophomore. For the next nine years, the two of us, with Brent Davis and Thomas Field, would play music as Thames until 1994- our ungainly end included a $20,000 debt. Steven had recently built a studio in his house, a transition solely made toward recording over assembling a live act. It was the smart move; as the internet was becoming the new record label, and as such, you could now reach a possible wide audience without ever packing the van or risking a finger being smashed in a closing door an hour before the show. As much as Steven and I had worked together in the past as members of Thames- sharing a vast musical dialogue- adding Malthus was the easiest answer to a way forward. While Steven was building the studio, he put in an incredible amount of time to learn the new technology, but Malthus was already a tech genius. He and I had lived together for a few years in the early 90’s, and I’ll never forget one particular night when he called me downstairs to his room.

“Hey man- you have to check this out.”

On his desk was a phone receiver sitting on a small plate with two recessions to let the phone settle into its framework. I immediately recognized the “plate” from “War Games”; one of the seminal 80’s movies we had all seen a hundred times. Malthus was the first person I knew who was on the internet.

Steven had recruited me by promising that I would not be involved in the project only as a drummer- after twenty three years of being told to “sit down, shut up, and play the drums.” My evolution as a drummer followed a somewhat predictable arc. In the early days of Thames I was a spastic bundle of energy, desperately seeking the attention of the audience above what the band was attracting. I even came up with beats for two early songs where I stood up and played the drum set more like a marching band drummer, so I could stand on stage like everyone else in the group. Years later I realized it was another attempt at attention, although the beats actually worked perfectly within the framework of those songs. If they didn’t, Steven and Thomas would have let me know about it. I was able to eventually settle down into the role of the drummer, and once I made that adjustment, Thames truly took off.

I was looking forward to exploring, within the structure of Borealis, what I was actually capable of musically, without having to replicate the song for a live performance. It took quite a long time to actually get to that point, as at the very first session to record raw material to the computer, with designs to later cull and splice the best indeterminate moments, I was sitting behind a mic’d up drum set in Steven’s new studio. As it had always been between the two of us, once we began to play together, I could sense exactly where he was going melodically, structurally, and where the arrangement was headed. Within the first hour we had written enough material for the very first song we would complete; a driving off beat stomper that had more in common with music from our teens than what we had initially set out to do in this project. And the song was incredible. It was exhilarating to feel the grab of youth again, because of the upbeat tempo and pulsing beat. And yet, it was our maturity that was the most intoxicating element of the session. It seemed we had become adults who possessed the tenacity of youth through our ability to make music.

A week later, Malthus and I showed up for the second session, and Steven had arranged an entire four minute song from the various takes of the previous week. He had created an incredible pop number with rock flourishes none of us had used in our respective previous musical endeavors. We were stunned at the accuracy of the intention, and immediately decided to work for 4 more weeks cutting tracks from live guitar and drum sessions until we had an album’s worth of material.

A month later, after volunteering for an arduous schedule, the three of us felt comfortable that we had a full album. We had to be meticulous and get inside the songs in a way only a recording project allows, as there were no live ramifications. The liberation was palpable. We faithfully worked twice a week, honing the initial ideas with added layers of programming, keyboards, and the singular vocals of Malthus. The majority of the tunes were being realized within three working elements: rough, guitar driven rock songs, slinky electro grooves, and a minimalist blend of live guitar and sequencers. But there was one scintillating number we couldn’t get our heads around. “Out at Home” was an ambient song which was built around the application of a trip hop beat, yet was an expansive piece that demanded the listeners attention. While struggling to find its place among the other songs, it dawned on me that Jocelyn would be the perfect vocal fit. “Do you think she’ll be up for it?” asked Steven. I felt confident that she would, but there was no sense in making promises at this stage.

Jocelyn arrived ten minutes late, which I thought was a sign of confidence for her first serious recording session in something more than my little demo studio where I had recorded the two The Infectious Reality releases. Malthus and Steven had heard all of her recorded material, and seemed to be supporting me in my decision to bring a 19 year old into the fold. My initial sense was that Jocelyn would have no trouble finding her place in the working environment- she displayed a secure sense of her abilities, and never seemed to shy away from getting the actual work done. As she entered the front room and we rose to greet her, there was a palpable sense of disbelief- how could this slender reed of a person exhibit such a soulful, powerful voice? Since I had worked with her before, this was of no surprise to me. And yet, Malthus and Steven were speechless; I actually had to prompt them to get past their initial shock. This wouldn’t be the last time a producer or engineer would be taken aback seeing Jocelyn in person for the first time.

Steven had prepared the studio before we arrived, one of his incessant traits while recording; a possession that was so much of the attraction for both Malthus and myself. The four of us listened to the song a handful of times, discussing the peaks and valleys, and what we thought would work vocally. With some slight trepidation, Jocelyn stepped to the mic in the faceless basement. I stepped into the opposite half of the room with Malthus to give her a bit of space, but after a pass of the first verse, Steven could not contain himself from peeking around the corner, hands on head in a complex mesh of disbelief; realizing how good the song would become, and how she had changed everything. Her range was voluminous, hitting all of the appropriate high notes without ever sounding strained, and a full throated lower range adding a confidence contrasted against her revealing upper register. After each pass of the song, we were finding more and more subtlety in Jocelyn’s delivery, which prompted us to have her sing backup vocals on two additional songs. She added sublime moments that coaxed even more out those tunes. Jocelyn excused herself after a final pass of the vocal mix, and headed up the wooden cellar stairs, her tiny heels clicking on the treads, as if a tap dancer were warming up. The three of us again looked at each other in silence.

“I feel like we have a complete debut album.” stated Steven, which broke the quiet of the basement; the computer buzz and the water pipes having been the only audible sounds for the last minute.

“Well, let’s put it out!” added Malthus.

“I’m sure I can cobble together a PR campaign, but it’s going to be a tough sell with no live act.” I suggested, hoping to plant a seed that might lead to a live act, which I was sure would be an incredible band to see in person. We had all of the tools and all of the people.

Steven, Malthus, and I decided to take a few weeks break from writing and recording to focus completely on getting music blogs to review the record. It was as I had predicted; with no live act it was hard to build any momentum in the music press. The local paper did a piece on “veteran musicians” of the Mystic scene, but that was the extent of the coverage. We decided to reconvene and write an entire new album based around what we thought Jocelyn could do as the sole singer on a record. After writing sketches of new ideas over two months, the three of us felt we had the framework of a great recording, a specific growth from the first album. There were sixteen ideas, and a bunch of other snippets, things we would casually poach from- similar to an auto mechanic that had a parts car. Deciding it was finally time to bring Jocelyn in to suss out the new material, I volunteered to reach out to her, and to get the four of us on a regular working schedule.

I called Jocelyn on the night of a new moon, secretly hoping the lunar cycle would work in our favor.

“Hey Joss, it’s me Twining.”

“Hey, how are you? I’ve been meaning to get in touch but I’ve been incredibly busy. How are the sessions going?”

The connection was pretty bad for modern phones- it somewhat reminded me of phone calls from my grandparents in Florida on Christmas Day. I had spent approximately some or all of 27 days in my life with them in any capacity. That noise, and their physical distance, always defined their emotional distance. But this was a local call to Jocelyn.

“Fantastic. We have an entire album worth of material, and we really would like you to sing the whole thing, with Malthus adding some counterpoint. But we basically wrote the whole album with you in mind.”

“Wow, I’m honored, and thrilled, but as usual with me, the timing is off. I’m moving to Boston in two weeks.”

After I hung up the phone, I began muttering to myself “shit shit shit Shit Shit SHIT….” Malthus had already done proof cover art, as he was always looking to be one step ahead of the music with the image. His designs were minimalist takes on the visible spectrum of the northern lights, and he found the perfect font for BOREALIS as the working title. Well, that brilliant idea had just gone and walked out the door and cruised the 95 corridor to Boston- we would now have to reconfigure the entire album. Undaunted, we strove for a concise point of completion over the next four months, crafting a wider palette that would include many of the singers from the first album. Brooke Easterhaus, who also sang brilliantly on the first record, was asked to listen to possible tracks that she might feel a fit with. Meanwhile, Malthus had started tracking some rough vocals as we massaged the material into song form. While we were creating a working blueprint for the new record, I decided to give Jocelyn a call in Boston about five months after she relocated. I was hoping we could catch her on a weekend home, where we could squeeze in a few sessions- and at least repeat her singular performance on our new album.

“Hey, how’s it going up there?” I asked “Terrible. I’m working at an Urban Outfitters following people around all day picking up after them. It’s like being a chambermaid for some low grade royal family” she replied, with a resignation of someone who had walked into the first serious misstep in her life.

“Are you going to be in town anytime soon?”

“Yeah, I’m going to visit my mom for three days in exactly three weeks.”

“Do you think you might be able to carve out a few hours and sing on some of the new Borealis tunes?”

“Oh my god, thank you- that is something I desperately need right now…. Just the chance to let loose for a few hours, do something creative. I’m in.”

She seemed genuine about getting into the studio to at least sing on some of the songs, and even expressed resignation about moving after the whole album was written with her in mind. But at this stage of our music career- people who committed themselves to getting “a record deal” and fell short of that goal, nether Steven, Malthus, nor I had any expectations of success in traditional terms, or even finding an audience. We were quite content making the music we heard unfettered by any concept of “success”. The weekend after the Fourth of July holiday she would be back in town, and we booked a session for that Saturday night. As I had anticipated, it was as if she was in the studio the night before, not a six month absence. Pouring herself into the work, she was editing lines as we wrote them, and then singing the revisions immediately.

“no, that just doesn’t work as an idea after the first verse”
“no, that makes little sense in the overall scheme of the song”
“no, that’s really a rebuttal when we need a rallying cry”

Steven had relocated the studio from the basement to the room over his garage for the summer, to access air conditioning. And for the most part it worked out; the bulk of what we recorded was unaffected by room noise. But tracking live vocals was something else entirely for the controlled climate of the room over the garage. There was no way to record the vocals without the mic picking up the air conditioner hum, and the windows had to be closed as well, to prevent ambient sounds from the outside to leak into the live track. Malthus was wiping sweat from his brow with a soaking wet handkerchief. Steven was wiping his glasses on his shirt every two minutes. Jocelyn was unmoved, with no outer emotional reaction to the heat. I am dripping sweat and loving it, remembering that one never has to shovel humidity.

Jocelyn knew what she was capable of, and was cognizant about the flow of words within melodies almost to a savant like degree. The three of us always trusted her on her take, and were furiously writing the song lyrics line by line, word by word, right there in the studio. We would reach consensus on a single line, and she would nail it in two or three takes, and we would write the next line, repeating this process until we had a finished vocal. Unconventional, but thrilling; as the pressure was really on, knowing the limited time frame coupled with the rawness of the arrangements. And again, by the end of the session, we had a completely finished vocal, with background accents and harmonies working in a seamless tapestry. A week later, the song sounded like we had wrestled with it for months, not one four hour studio session.

We continued with the sessions throughout an incredibly hot summer. The feel of the humid wall after sitting for three or four hours in the air conditioned studio was like a re-entry into another world. The music we were creating was our new world; it was that intoxicating. Malthus and I would drive the twenty miles from Steven’s to Mystic listening to the new mixes, and each songs fruition led us to believe we had something special on our hands- and in true Burroughsian fashion, we were exploring “how random is random?” One thought was constantly at the forefront of my mind on those drives home- maybe everything was leading up to this moment, to Borealis. The deep green of the leaf canopy belied the scorched fields between the ancient stone walls of the farms which covered the back roads we traversed. Perhaps we were now mature artists who were becoming the canopy, and not the scorched earth?

The first week of September, I received an email from Jocelyn:

“I’m coming back home, the Boston thing is just not working out.”

It’s tough being twenty and moving out on your own, much less to a metropolitan setting, and even as we knew she was going through an unfortunate moment of growth, I was inwardly thrilled with this prospect. “I say we still keep everything that Brooke worked on,” proposed Steven, “but let’s add Jocelyn to the Malthus songs, and we’ll re-record vocals with her that didn’t seem to be on par with some of the more interesting performances.”

Once she was ensconced in her mother’s house, we began a grueling three nights a week schedule in order to finish the recording in time to submit it to our local music scene’s awards show- which was really just a huge party thrown by the major local music promoters. Their idea for the awards show was “Theme Party” and the theme was “Awards Show”. Local booking agent Caron Morris was the brainchild behind the TAZZIES- in an interview before the inaugural event he was quoted in the local paper:

“I love awards shows!I watch them all whether it’s the Grammy’s or the MTV music awards. I love the whole idea of celebration. So, I thought, why not a TAZZIES show?”

The judges were a collective of booking agents, promoters, and club owners in the NYC to Boston corridor who worked with Caron, and a separate online “people’s choice” balloting. At the show seven or eight bands would do a single number, and interspersed among the performances were awards in categories like “Best Indie Group” and “Best Americana Group” as well as more traditional awards like “Song of the Year” and “Album of the Year”. We were working feverishly in the late winter, the album we titled “Our National Emblem” was submitted for the TAZ Awards right on the deadline., January 31st 2011.

I decided to wear my vintage Beatles Apple Boutique Nehru jacket to the TAZ awards. Dressing in excess was encouraged, and I knew I could set a personal precedent with the evening’s wear. The jacket was given to me by Ricardo Maddalena, one of the cool uncles of my longtime partner Anne Maddalena. Anne and I had been living together for nineteen years by the time of the second TAZ awards, and Ricardo had bought the jacket at the original Apple Boutique in 1969, coincidentally the year of my birth. We had garnered the nomination we were hoping for, “Pop Album of the Year” and felt somewhat confident that we might win. And while the TAZZIES were not about winning and losing, and much more about having fun on a grand scale- it’s always more fun to win. And we did. After Steven, Malthus, and I heard “Borealis”…………… we looked at each other in the same dis-belief that we shared during Jocelyn’s first night in the studio recording “Out at Home”.

“Holy Shit!!” Malthus stated quietly under his breath, so only the three of us could hear it.

“All that hard work paid off, eh Malthus?” I replied just as quietly while we turned on the peastone gravel path. Steven was uncommonly silent. Winning always seemed to bring about some sort of internal conflict within him.

Making our way to the stage for an improvised “acceptance speech”, one of the local musicians with long time ties to the scene yelled out “Where did you get the jacket?” A thick audience laugh followed his witty comment- so perfect for this night of serious/not serious fun.

“Anne’s Uncle bought this at the Apple Boutique in London in 1969. Coincidentally, the year of my birth.”

“How old are you?” came from an unseen voice in the back.

“Well, let’s do the math” added Malthus in a deadpan PBS broadcast voice.

Consequently, much of our acceptance speech was me talking Apple Boutique. Certainly it was a functional facilitation of an awards speech, but I noticed one thing missing. Jocelyn, who I knew was at the event after running into her in the parking lot, was nowhere to be seen. I stammered through the necessary “Thanks You’s” trying to buy a few moments to see if she would make it to the stage.

“Where’s Jocelyn?” I eventually asked the crowd.

And in that moment, after a brisk walk, she skipped down the red carpet- wearing a beige mini dress with high black, glossy heels. The crowd was completely silent as she climbed the stage stairs and joined us. But by then we had already taken up too much time, so I said one last thank you to the crowd, and with both hands, pointed towards Jocelyn, and said “The Voice”. Little did I know at the time it was a moment that would come back to haunt me in Piercing.

After finishing Emblem, we decided to take a month long break before coming back together to take a stab at a completely minimal electro record. The vast majority of the songs Borealis had written featured guitars in traditional or transmuted ways. We decided to eschew them completely. There was quite a bit of static going around in Mystic musical circles as we began rough drafts of our new ideas, following the TAZZIES. It seemed that Jeremy again started speaking for Jocelyn, to some degree. And the impression we were getting was that she wanted to do something completely different from the studio environment. I couldn’t really blame her- the three of us were in full retreat mode from the rigors of a live band, but she was at the precipice of that possible moment in her own life. Why be cooped up in a studio with three “retired” musicians, no matter how creative the environment or the splendid recorded results? And yet, it was strange to hear of this second hand; Jocelyn never expressed these reservations or limitations to me, it was her circle of friends that frequented the Palace that conveyed the information. Perhaps she didn’t understand that the three of us had already come to terms with musical ambitions that had much more at stake than Borealis, and a new “New” beginning was nothing we had not collectively dealt with before. The three of us held a few sessions at
the studio- half-hearted- mostly due to sonic fatigue, but also somewhat because we were fumbling in the dark for the perfect exaltation of our new motivation.

“What do you think of this bass drum sound for this beat” opined Steven during one of the new recording sessions.

“Eh, it’s a bit full, you know? Not the crisp punctuality I think we’re looking for” replied Malthus, a bit reserved.

“Ellery, what do you think?”

“I agree with Malthus.”

“Now you guys are going to gang up on me?”

Steven was in full sarcastic mode, but he would reveal a hint of his true feelings when he reacted that way. I had been witness to it many times over during our years together in Thames and Greenmanville. And I’m quite positive he had lines I would cross that were as equally irritating. I suppose we all had moments of that nature, but Malthus and I simply exchanged glances of disbelief. We were now going to endlessly discuss the tone of the bass drum? It’s not as if we were the Cocteau Twins circa 1989, with unlimited time, drugs, and career choices.

A few weeks later, I received an email from Doug Roosevelt, one of the very successful local musicians who came of age when Steven and I were playing in Thames, our first band that we formed during high school in 1985. Doug was putting together a benefit show for a close friend, Matt Keller, who had passed away suddenly at the young age of 30 years old, from a congenital heart failure that was programmed into his DNA. It was a tragic time, as Doug and Matt had been roommates at a local house, rented by 5 or 6 people at a time during the early nineties when the Gulf War and the first Bush recession forced those of us in Mystic even closer together in an effort to survive. Anne and I, along with two long-time friends, had held the initial lease on Station House, beginning in December of 1991. As the years went by, and people could afford to move into an apartment without 4 other roommates, a next group would fill the void as those kids were trying to gain independence. Doug and Matt were part of the last phase at Station, and that moment held the same immense, interpersonal bond that all of the previous roommates had shared. Everyone was clinging to each other in a concerted effort to be as creative as possible and to stay there. Station House was something that would not exist for the next generation of Mystic kids, of which Jocelyn, Jeremy, and Todd were a part of.

Doug asked Thames to perform at the Memorial Show, which the four members were in total agreement with. It was a long standing trait of uniting under a banner for the common good that defined the two generations of Mystic musicians which preceded the kids now hanging at the Palace. Thames was the band where I first began playing music with Steven, along with Thomas, and Brent . The four of us had an incredible run at the prize, spending nine years together making music that almost catapulted us to the level we were striving for. The band had actually reunited as Greenmanville in the late ‘90’s, running the gamut of the NYC indie scene from 1998 until late 2000, as one of the band’s earliest supporters had become a minor player in the music management circle based out of an office on the Lower East Side. Thames were actually repurposed simply because of the efforts of James Quirk, an NYU graduate working in the management office that handled Jeff Buckley. The Greenmanville concept was that the band would showcase to all of the important NYC players and redeem the Thames season. It was all for naught, as James quit managing the band after three years amid the strife of timelessness and the lack of timely success.

The four of us shared an easy camaraderie that occurs when creativity and close living quarters are enmeshed over decades. The Thames practices were fluid and furious; the details that made the songs come to life in the first place were being heightened by our musical and personal growth. On the night of the show, I was curious to see which of the next generation would come to see if all the stories I had told them over the years of Thames’ “prowess” were simply overblown memories of a past failure. Surprisingly, the audience had swollen to near capacity by the time we went onstage, and it was impossible to gauge the extent of attendance. Thames were in peak form, an elastic time travel which only further revealed the depth of the songs- and on this night, the long wished for ending of an incredible effort came to fruition. The applause was deep and genuine, with a touch of a goodbye that had never previously materialized. There was no nostalgia.

After packing up the gear into the van, thinking that very well could be the last time I ever play in a live band again, I head to the outdoor patio adjoining the club. It was a sweltering July night, and after changing out of the gig clothes which were soaked in sweat, I was surprised to find Jocelyn waiting for me outside. I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in over three months, so it was nice to see that she made the effort to see Thames play.

“You guys were incredible! It seemed as if you had never even stopped playing together.”

“Thanks” I replied with a coy twist of my head. “Now do you believe me?”

I let out a chuckle, hopefully assuring her that I was as deprecating about Thames as anyone, but that we were as earnest as a young band could be when we were active. We took ourselves very seriously; but that was a function of putting your entire faith in the power of the songs. It was how we defined ourselves.

“How are you doing, what are you up to?” I asked with genuine curiosity. Other than her time spent in Boston, this was as long of an interruption in our working relationship since she first walked into Centraal.

“I’m not really doing much of anything. I got a job at the new senior housing complex in town, working with the dietary department making sure everyone gets their pills. And I moved back into my Mom’s house… which is…. daunting. I’m as much of a pain in the ass to her as she is to me. But I love her.”

“Borealis are working on some new material. No guitars this time, just machines and programs.”

“How’s that coming along?” she replied, with a touch of distancing herself from the topic.

“Ok, I don’t think we really know what we’re shooting for yet, and there is a bit of sonic fatigue.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean; I was totally burned out after the rush to finish Emblem. I didn’t even want to sing along to the radio.” She had a nervous laugh before continuing with the train of thought.

“I’m sorry I didn’t stay more in touch with you after the record was done.”

“Hey, that’s ok. We made some incredible music, and I couldn’t be more happy with Emblem; it’s the record I always wanted to make. I don’t even care if anyone ever hears it again, I know I can listen to it, and be instantly back in the studio with you guys and feel that rush of excitement.”

That was the truth. Things change, circumstances shift; even Thames came to an ugly end. The four Thames members were, after a time, able to manage to become closer friends following the conclusion of the group; but normally- these things end badly. At the same time, I had recorded nearly every single piece of music she had ever sung on or written. We had a fantastic working relationship, and she always seemed to push through an issue with a single minded determination that belied her laissez faire social stance. She had guts; a quality not every young musician is blessed with.

“I just didn’t want to be cooped up in the studio all of the time. I think I’d like to do something else, but I don’t even have an idea of what it could be. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”

“Yeah, I kept having Jeremy come in to the Palace and tell me how disappointed you were in the results, that the reverb bed wasn’t appropriate…. I would have rather heard it from you, but you know how
he likes to slip into his Asshole Costume and poke at people with a hot match head…”

I replied, trying to contain my disappointment in not hearing it directly from her. Jeremy was a singular talent, to be sure, but he loved to get under peoples skin just for the reaction. He himself didn’t even believe half of the bullshit he’d spew, as long as people were uncomfortable.

“I never told him to tell you that….”

“Look, I know what the recording experience was like for all of us, and its fine….”

She interrupted me before I was able to complete the thought.

“I totally enjoyed my time in the studio. Sometimes I would get a little irritated because I don’t have the technical skills you three have, and maybe not enough of a musical dialogue to get my point across. But I’m very proud of how I sang, and proud of the record.”

That was a relief, and it sounded as genuine as she could’ve been about it.

“Look, I just want you to be happy.” I told her.

THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Two

“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.

THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Three

Following the somewhat triumphant debut of our live show, I sensed it was time to head into an actual studio and give Whitney something to hear. There was no way I was going to be able to capture the true sound of this band at Centraal, so I got in touch with my friend Jimmy Fiero, who operated a small studio in Middletown where Greenmanville, Bold Schwa, and Borealis had recorded or done some mastering .

Jimmy was the perfect producer for a band at our level- finding out what the group was capable of within the context of their development. The first of two scheduled nights was exceptional, the band getting tracks down in record time, and the direction from Fiero being implemented immediately. We ended the four hour session with all of the instruments recorded and dialed in- in addition, scratch vocals from Todd and Jocelyn were recorded on both tracks. We all agreed that the next session would be to finalize the vocals, and to possibly get the entire mixing slate done, bringing us in at budget and accomplishing the goal of having a three song demo to begin showcasing the Piercing sound.

When I arrived at Jocelyn’s Mom’s house to pick her up for the second session, she wasn’t waiting for us in the yard. That wasn’t particularly uncommon, but with so much riding on the night, I thought she might be agitated to the point of uncomfort; anticipating singing her first final vocal session in a real studio.  Jimmy had an old fashioned light in the studio with “RECORDING” written on it that she had taken a photo of the night before, and posted online. I thought that was encouraging, as we would more than likely need to boost the social media aspect of our existence in shrift time.  I hated to honk the van horn to get someone’s attention- it has always felt so rude in a residential neighborhood, so Rudy volunteered to call Jocelyn on his phone.

“Hello…?” Rudy drawled into the cell.

We could hear through the static of loud voices that something strange was going down, something that we shouldn’t be privy to, and that this was a backward moment for Jocelyn. Rudy turned off his phone.

“She’s not coming tonight…..”

“What?!??!” I replied. “What the fuck is going on?”

“Something bad man, I don’t really know…..”

I had an overwhelming urge to turn the van around, drive back to Mystic, and say “Thanks, but no thanks……” How do you cancel a studio session at the actual last minute? Jocelyn was living in her Mother’s house, with her boyfriend Marcus, which I was sure created its own inherent hazards. But Jimmy was running a business, not some demo studio or home recording nirvana, like Steven. We were going to have to pay Jimmy for the session whether we showed up or not, so I put the van in drive and headed up the rural highway toward Middletown, without her. Little did I know at the time, it was the first glimpse of how the band would almost always exist in a fragmented form.

Upon arrival, Jimmy immediately noticed that Jocelyn wasn’t with us. I could sense a slight pang of disappointment in his voice, as if he may have been waiting all day to record her singular sound.

“What’s up with Jocelyn?” said Jimmy

“A domestic issue. She won’t be here tonight. Which means, we will probably have to book a third night to finish everything….  perhaps we can get the bulk of the mixes programmed in, and when we come back… she can add final vocals and we can mix accordingly.” I replied, trying to mitigate anger and opportunity.

“That sounds like a plan.” Jimmy responded with his usual delicate nature- which kept everyone focused on the task at hand. Jimmy was right, let’s not get sidetracked by inconvenience or interruption. Keep moving forward. It was a lesson we were lucky to learn at such an early stage.

The night went by in a blur without incident, as Jimmy rolled through the three songs with, professional ease. We had the bulk of the mixes set, and we had a burn of the tracks to listen to on the hour long ride home. Salvaging the session was paramount, and fortunately Jimmy had an opening two days later so we could bring Jocelyn in for final vocals and to clinch the mixes.  I had to come up with $200 of my own money to cover the third session, which I was confident we would be able to recoup, having made $220 at our very first show. I had rarely let myself think within a band situation that there would be enough income to offset the expenses, and yet with  this group that detail seemed completely different. Perhaps it was the absence of the street gang mentality- we were all together to be professional, and not simply a sequential hobby that might sprout wings. Ours was a singular determination, even at this early stage, that we all seemed to share. It made Jocelyn’s cancellation all the more puzzling.  I asked her about it when I called to schedule the third session.

“You don’t want to know anything about it.”

There was a certain totality to her vacuous answer. For a moment, I was absolutely petrified- was she hinting that something in my own personal life had leaked over to her own personal life? I had to come to terms that the possibilities of that were remote, and that we were also not quite as transparent with each other as I had previously thought. I was fine with that development; as long as the music and the band her primary focus.

The third session with Jimmy went as well as I had imagined the second session would have gone. Jocelyn was fully prepared to sing, and get her ideas across in a moment’s notice. That night reaffirmed to me that the entire foundation I had built with Jocelyn, and Todd to a certain degree, was strong enough to get us through the momentary distractions, which I well knew would be voluminous. With Jimmy, we had captured a raw version of our sound, and we could now begin to imagine what it should be, at least musically. There was not a conversation to be had as the five of us put the burned disc into the stereo and hit repeat. Four passages of our first EP culminated as Adrian, Todd, Rudy, and I crossed the drawbridge in the center of town; it’s grid platform ringing out under the weight of the van.

We had decided as a group that Jocelyn would dictate the image of Piercing, not necessarily what people would wear onstage, but the cover image for the EP was the first test of her acumen, visually.

We exchanged a few days of emails, when she came to her conclusion:

“What I envision is something like a Lichtenstein comic panel- “a woman in distress”.

“Somewhat Lynchian?” was my reply.

“Not directly, but an image that conveys there is so much more going on. I think it’s fitting for where we’re coming from.”

That night, I began to pour over back catalog work from Anne’s portfolio; thinking there must be a singular image within that would catapult our cover to completion. The very first picture I pulled out of the twelve archival storage boxes was a shot of June Geneva, one of Anne’s longtime models. For that particular shoot, Anne had a concept loosely based around “What Price Fame?”  Since she had hundreds of test prints of June over the years, she was able to cheaply set up a photo shoot where June was in a room plastered with photos of herself, trapped within her own fame. This particular picture had each element Jocelyn was looking for; June with hands clasped over her face, showing a weave of fingers, her bowed head, and nothing else but beautiful photos of herself. I immediately felt this was the perfect image- “A Woman in Distress”. Black and White. Stark. Produced by our circle of artists. A Mystic thing. But I insisted to myself that I must look through each of the twelve boxes, the chances that my initial intuition was correct seemed to be too confident for the work at hand. Three days later, that very first photo I pulled would be chosen by Jocelyn as the cover of our first recording.

We released the EP on a website designed and run by Malthus, and printed a small batch of 200 CDR’s to send out to whatever media outlets we could approach, and mostly to give away for free to the people who made it out to our shows. “Be prepared to give your music away for free” was something I remembered empirically from an early internet diatribe about where the business of selling music was going. That was in 2002. This was ten years later. Malthus took the Anne photo and put it through his machines; getting an incredible crop that only added more tension to the concept. He also found the font that would help define the Piercing image, a singular grace sitting between the future and the near past, which we would use on every subsequent show flier, cover design, and PR kit. In some senses, we were enacting the next stage of The Infectious Reality, where I would have joined Todd, Jocelyn, and Jeremy- as the drummer for their third EP. That never materialized in the wake of their splintering. I asked Jocelyn about it one night after a Piercing practice.

“What really caused you guys to break up? I never was really able to put it together…. ”

“I just didn’t like the direction the music was heading, especially Jeremy’s newest songs. I felt that TIR was being pulled in three separate directions, and none of them really appealed to me as a long term, viable option. And I am so happy with Piercing, it’s exactly as I imagined when I approached you”

Some local reviews started to trickle in, and that was when I realized what a slough this was going to be; creating a media groundswell for a band that was simply one of thousands of groups using the same channels to gain some traction in the indie music world. The landscape was dominated by a few major music blogs- similar to the era when Thames were going through the same PR machinations. But instead of Rolling Stone and Spin as the polar opposite directives, today it was web based giants Hellhound and EarCandy. And yet, every review noticed the presence of Jocelyn on the recordings, a trait that would continue with each subsequent release. As good as the band was musically, as much prowess as the musicians brought to the table, it was her voice that made all of the difference. We collectively knew this, and it seemed in this early moment that people we didn’t know could sense the same thing. I decided then to make sure that getting Jocelyn in the proper place to achieve maximum effort was paramount. Managing the band as well as being in the band was starting to fall into place. I found the perfect Gemini situation for me to exist in- as I began to think of myself as two different people within the context of the group- the drummer, and the manager.

I decided to send the songs to Whitney after a few weeks of debating when would be the right time. The more I pondered it, the more I literally didn’t know when the right time was, so I may as well take that chance- she had asked to hear us after all- yes?

“hey! im listening right now, so cool! v dino jr SY etc, but if kim sang like gwen stefani, right?! these demos are rly solid but you guys should maybe get someone to produce for you in a studio. Massive is really really cool. i love jocelyn’s voice! if you guys feel like going to new york, you should record with my dear friend michael. he’s done every all in the family recording, and has been doing a bunch of other great stuff – get on a cool label! Go on tour! Etc etc! michael is expensive but amazing… I’ll get you in touch if you want. very cool stuff, send me more when you have it.”

I was a bit taken aback by Whitney’s response. I knew we were onto something good, but to head into Brooklyn and record a debut single within six months of the band’s inception was an acceleration I had not anticipated. I found Michael and his studio online, and sent them a simple email request, referencing Whitney in proportion. They got back to me promptly- the very first evidence of how professional they were.

“Whitney is a great friend of ours, and if she recommends a band, we always look into it. We have a basic schedule for a single ten hour session at $750. Normally, we can record and mix one song in that time frame, but sometimes, if the band is prepared, we can get two in during the same ten hours. It all depends on how well the band can execute in the studio.”

I was thrilled they actually responded to our inquiry, but coming up with $750 was going to be pretty tough. The kids in the band had no money, except for Rudy, who seemed unlikely to part with any for a “frivolous” recording project. I was confident his response would be that we could do the same thing locally, for much less. But this was a real chance to solidify the group once Adrian left for Brooklyn- he would be living there as we began to craft an identity within the New York indie scene. We could become bilateral- if everything worked out efficiently. We would have the connections from the studio, and some instant credibility, in the sense that our PR could be bolstered by the fact that we recorded with Michael, and not some home studio which was the ubiquitous reality of the modern age.  It was too much for me to pass up. I sent an email to one of my very best friends- a regular at the Palace for over 15 years.

Robert Spargo’s nickname was “Folk Mass” at the Palace. Many of the regulars at the shop had similar nicknames, based around their collecting obsession. There was “Bobby Byrd”, who was not a funk fan, but a Byrds collector- Blues Dave sought out first pressings of early blues. Beatle Bob, GaryU2, REMCharles- this list was endless after thirty years of being in business. Robert had always been kind toward my drive for musical aptitude. More than once over the years he offered to help financially, within the context of a current musical ambition. I had always refused, as his friendship meant far more to me than money. But Piercing was different; perhaps that was why I had waited all of this time to ask for his assistance. If the Folk Mass could loan us $500, the remaining five of us should surely be able to come up with $50 dollars apiece to make up the difference. Even if the band imploded after recording with Michael, the experience would be worth much more than $50. I knew this for a fact, as during the Thames days, Brent’s parents fronted us thousands of dollars to afford to record with Russell Johnson. Those were some of the very best days and nights of my life, so if borrowing $500 from Robert could facilitate that for Jocelyn, Rudy, Todd, and Adrian, it was well worth the risk. Even if I had to repay all of that money myself.

After procuring the investment from the Folk Mass, and getting everyone in the band to contribute their $50, I emailed Richard at Stormy Harbour, the business side of the operation. He and Michael were partners in the studio, and while Richard was an exceptional producer/engineer in his own right, Michael handled the bulk of the day to day recording and Richard handled their finances.  He offered us Saturday the 22nd of September- two weeks away. Following several phones calls, emails, and Facebook messages, I was finally, after full day of communication, able to get the members of Piercing committed, so I could confirm the date with Stormy Harbour. It was the beginning of a routine that would dominate each day of the week for me during the next year and a half. The dynamic had totally shifted.

The attempts to get in touch with the four of them illustrated that. Previously, if I didn’t hear back from one of then about a practice night, there was little at stake other than our forward momentum. But Michael and Richard at Stormy Harbour were professionals, and fortunately, I had plenty of experience dealing with people in the recording field. Once we agreed to borrow capital, and follow through for our connected friends efforts on our behalf, everything was at stake.

Jocelyn, Todd, Rudy, and I left Mystic at 10.30 am for a scheduled 2pm session in Brooklyn. Adrian had already moved to the city three weeks earlier, and had the luxury of a morning that was not delineated by a commute. I had done my time in NYC when Thames reformed as Greenmanville; so the drive in and out of the city was no big deal to me. I had driven there and back hundreds of times, and even learned a secret “no toll” route to any of the five boroughs. As I drove down the Hutchinson Parkway making our way in, I thought of Adrian grabbing his guitar case, opening the door on Montrose, and taking a left down the street toward Broadway. The kid had been in Brooklyn for three weeks and yet, there he was, just as so many others were, plying their dream on the street. As much as I wanted Adrian to stay in Mystic, this was the best scenario for him as a writer, which would certainly benefit the band. I admired him for it. The longest time I spent in the LES was four days, exiting up the 95 corridor to work and make some money while playing with Greenmanville.  This slender reed was just twenty years old, and had a drive that was pure determination. Adrian and I had been friends for years, with him telling me stories of teenage pranks that had landed him in jail from the moment I met him. We were always open and convivial with each other, and I instinctively knew I had to make a greater effort to enhance our relationship while he was living 177 miles away.

When we arrived at Stormy Harbour, I was somewhat surprised that it was so far inside the building. We had to descend two flights of stairs, toward a long corridor that turned left at the end of the hall. I was feeling a bit claustrophobic, which hardly ever happened to me. When people ask how tall I actually am, I always like to say “five foot, one” in deference to the Iggy Pop song; and yet most people don’t catch on. When I then say “I’m five foot, five”, it frames my lack of ever feeling that the walls might be closing in. But as we opened the door to the actual studio, another long corridor greeted us, this one filled to near capacity with seven full drum kits, each descending tom size stacked upon the bass drum, with cymbal sets balanced precariously on the top. I began feeling as if maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, and that maybe I should have done more research. It was a brief moment of paranoia. As we entered the main studio, you could see Michael and Richard’s genius on display in the incredible Feng Shui execution that was their personal work space. Every inch was meticulously maintained, in a room no bigger than the Palace in Mystic. Amplifiers were stacked four high and three deep in the unusable bathroom. The isolation booth Rudy and I were to be mic’d up in was about four feet by eight feet with a slant on the corner facing the engineer, so those in isolation could see the control board, and the other band members. Michael believed in getting live takes of all of the instruments, then adding only the most necessary  complimentary tracks, while creating a vocal spectrum as intense as the need for getting the band in one take.

Michael greeted us with a story about his lone visit to Mystic.

“So, you guys are from Mystic. I went up there for a weekend with Whitney about two years ago.”

“Really?” I replied. “What did you think of the big town?”

“I loved it. We didn’t go out and do the social thing, but we did swim at this pond on a local farm that left a lasting impression.”

“Kittles Farm?” we all responded in unison.

“Yeah, that was it! There was this kid who was doing reverse back flips off of the diving board secured to a floating dock.”

“Brian Capuano!” the five of us shouted in misplaced harmony- our totality surprised Michael.

Yes. Even Michael had his exposure to the Mystic kids. They were unforgettable. This was the mantle we had begun to articulate with Piercing, this notion that it was now our responsibility to capitalize on all of the advantages the people before us had carved out. And one unique link was that I was there. I had been on the “Cruise to Nowhere” ferry shows in the ‘80’s, I was there for the resurgence of the local rock clubs in the early ‘90’s. I was at Station House, I was at Saturn Hall. I was at the Portersville Collective. It made sense that I would be here for the final quest for the grail, a moment if only briefly, where the efforts of our inspiration were exalted in the musical culture. Piercing was straddling an irreplaceable opportunity, as many before them had.

As I began to set up my drums in the isolation booth, Michael noticed that this was not a commonly seen drum set.

“Hey man- where’d you get these drums?” he asked with genuine inquisitiveness.

“Back in 1990, I went in to the local music shop just to pick up some sticks, or something. The drum guy, who had sold me my very first drum set- the Stewart Copeland Imperialstar, complete with 4 octobans-..”

Michael let out a hearty laugh that interrupted my statement. I was hoping he would get the reference, hoping that he would realize I didn’t take myself seriously, but that I did take the music seriously.

“Sonor had just sold their distribution license a week earlier. The previous distributor was still sitting on a bunch of stock, so they were offering these kits at incredibly low prices. If I could come up with fifteen hundred dollars before the next day at closing, I could get a Sonor kit for half price. At the time, I simply had to make it happen. The funny thing is, these drums are older than most of the kids in the band. Todd and Adrian….  Joss was a year old, I think, when I bought these. Rudy was about five years old.”

“Wow, that’s an incredible sequence of events.” replied Michael, a telling response that began to reveal his depth of what musicians were going through combining their day to day lives- making money to exist- and making the time, having the energy, and the mental acuity to actually write original rock music. And perform it in a live setting. To be able to make succinct recordings. All artists come up against the same terms of commitment, but Michael and Richard were illustrating a new breed to me. As I finished setting up the last of the cymbals, and as a Broadway Brooklyn sweat began to seep in, we had come to a moment that we had built for ourselves. It was all up to us.

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Four

We quickly laid down all of the basic tracks for the two songs we were to record, leaving ample time for a few guitar overdubs, and vocals. The intensity started to build after Adrian and Todd had recorded their respective overdubs. The scope of the music was changing instantly in real time, as Michael massaged the various tracks into something we could not have imagined on the ride down.

While most of us took a break to eat, Jocelyn and Todd began a process of finality- recording the vocals that had already defined who we were. This was the true reveal in the potential attraction of our music, I went so far as to think the next four hours could change all of our lives. But instead of adding more layers of pressure, I made sandwiches in the drum hallway from a picnic basket I had prepared with Anne, the previous night. I knew money would be tight, and I had no desire to wander the streets of Brooklyn trying to find something to eat. I also knew Jocelyn and Rudy would be anticipating the moment they could have genuine NYC food. As I laid out the picnic blanket on a guitar case, Todd began his vocal takes. Sixty minutes later, he came out of the studio to meet Adrian and I for sandwiches that we had just finished; I had a fresh one for Todd.

“Are you completely done?” I asked, somewhat curious regarding the process.

“Oh yeah, Joss as well…..” explained Todd in his nonchalant fashion when trying to cover how excited he actually was.

“Sixty minutes?”

“Yeah, we’re going to start mixing after everyone eats.”

Michael spent the first hour of the mix honing in on the room mics he had placed to capture ambient and reflected sound from the amps and the drums. After about thirty minutes, I started to get worried. I was thinking to myself- “man, it seems like you are a genius and all, but nine inch nail remixes are not what I had in mind for our debut single….”

We were more than willing to let Michael shape the sound of the songs within his own vision, but what we were hearing were industrial trappings and brutal distortions, as none of the direct tracks had become present in the mix. At one point, I almost started to address my fear about his direction, but decided against it, as I didn’t want any negative emotions to rise in the room. If the other members were worried, they would have to take it upon themselves to make their point. This was a moment where they were becoming responsible for their own music. As that thought crossed my mind, Michael began to dial in the direct tracks over the room mic bed he had so meticulously worked on. A palpable sense of relief, coupled with an intense moment of magic, came over the five of us. I had never been involved in a mixing session where the engineer mixed from the inside out. What Michael had done was expand the sonic possibilities of the room mics, so that he had an even greater frequency range to display the song’s palette. It was a genius move. Whitney was right.

We packed all of the gear, paid Richard, and individually plied Michael with “Thank You”s and “We Will be Back”s. There was only one thing on everyone’s mind, and that was to get on the road as quickly as possible and put the CDR into the stereo. After five ejects and reloads, we realized the disc wasn’t going to play- either the van’s stereo was shitting the bed or perhaps the finalization wasn’t complete. I was leaning toward the former. Instead, we listened to one of Rudy’s favorite discs, a live recording of Rainbow from 1978. That was followed by Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, a newly acquired gem in Todd’s musical pantheon. I inserted St. Etienne’s “Foxbase Alpha” into the stereo following the final track on Tusk: “Never Forget”. By the time we crossed the Connecticut River at Old Saybrook,

how random is random? played its most recent card; as “Nothing Can Stop Us Now” blasted through the speakers.

During the drive home, I couldn’t stop thinking about one line in Whitney’s email suggesting that we should record with Michael. She was so spot on about what the recording session would be like, I couldn’t help but turn that sentence around in my mind, between calls for pit stops and safe spots on the interstate to partake.

“get on a cool label! go on tour! etc etc! michael is expensive but amazing…”

We had gone to Michael. We had made an amazing recording. We had found the money. Was it that easy to get on a label? All in the Family had a meteoric rise following the release of their debut single, and I kept trying to stifle the thought that we could replicate their success. Joss wasn’t yet the performer that Whitney was, but she had the voice, and repetition and practice would hone her live skills. I decided to shop the single to labels instead of simply putting it up on the internet for free. Let us find out if we have a great single on our hands; something a label would want to put out, before we unleash it into the digital river.

I also realized we had to immediately start a serious stretch of live shows to garner some attention for the single, with or without a label. Jeremy had started a new band in the city named Boyfriend, and I was able to procure a show for the two bands in Brooklyn at one of the free performance spaces on Broadway. This part of the mission was so much easier than in the pre-internet days, where booking an out of town show usually meant an actual drive to that club, be it in Providence, Boston, or New Haven – and hand delivering your PR kit to the booking agent. That was the only way to stand out amongst all of the other competing acts, and then concise follow up phone calls for weeks after might get you a show. Might. But for our first show in NYC, and only the second Piercing show, I sent two emails to the club and secured the gig.

The first Piercing interview happened in Jeremy’s apartment before the gig with our local daily newspaper, which happened to employ a GSCAZ native who had relocated to Brooklyn.  Lionel Hoinsky was part of the wave of Palace kids in the mid-1990’s, and we had been friends since his arrival at the shop. He even left a brand new copy of Belle & Sebastian’s “Tigermilk” LP at the store which he had procured during a semester abroad- “I have to head back to San Bernardino, play this for people at the store while I’m gone, it’s more important than it being unplayed on a bookshelf in my room out there.”

That was classic Lionel, always thinking of others, always spreading the good word. He became an excellent reporter/journalist, and I was secretly thrilled he would be the first person to write about the band. The interview was brief, and I tried to let the kids tell the story of the band. There were a few stutters, and I filled in the missing information seamlessly, but as the interview went on, we all realized there wasn’t much yet about Piercing to discuss. There was a palpable sense of how much work we all were going to have to commit to building our identity. When we  mentioned that tonight’s show was our second gig, Lionel immediately noticed, and that helped set a template:

“You’re playing your second show, and it’s in Brooklyn?”

Shopping the single, to possibly skip the steps of actually building a fanbase, was to be a fruitless exercise. The record business had not really changed much from Thames trying to turn a national review into a deal. Simply because there was a plethora of indie labels sprouting up across New York, didn’t mean the volume of bands in the ratio of label signings to actual acts was any different. It became increasingly clear that “signing to a label” would be no different than it had ever been. Perhaps, even more difficult. After hearing absolutely nothing in regards to the “Massive b/w Spirits” single we recorded with Michael, the group decided to release the songs online, just like everyone else. Perhaps I had misread the intensity of possibility. But I was also prepared to brace myself for the probable long distance. The band was too exceptional, and there would be no rational reason for me to still be in a rock band after all this time unless it was to capitalize on the possibility of great music.

We would need a classic cover image to stand out amongst the other bands searching for the same success we were striving for. Jocelyn and I began another conversation via email to decide what image suited our next move.

“I want to continue on the same tack we’ve established with Anne and June. How about we do a new shoot featuring June?” was my pitch to Jocelyn.

“Interesting. I like it. We should stay within a minimalist black and white aesthetic for this single. I envision a seedy motel room….”

There were few seedy motel rooms in the greater Mystic area. But I thought the Lamplighter Motel on the Connecticut and Rhode Island border might fulfill her ideas that defined desperation.  I emailed the motel one unseasonably warm night in December about shooting our cover art outside of one of their rooms. To my surprise, they got back to me within minutes.

“We would love to have you shoot your record cover at the motel! The best night of the week for us is Wednesday, can that work within your schedule?”

I replied that of course it would, and thanked them for the opportunity. After sketching out some ideas for the cover, I kept coming back to our theme of the finger weave crossing June’s face from the first. Perhaps that could be a recurring image that defined the band; her fingers, her hand. But it was really more about using her hands to hide something, that an idea or train of thought must be protected. I could see June walking into the motel room, hiding her face in a full fanned hand of stiff fingers, as if someone were trying to capture proof of her presence there. To me, it exemplified the idea that we were hiding in plain sight, and also- hopefully, that  a torrent of attention would continue. June was a total professional the night of the shoot, in the pallid cold of early January. Wearing a black mini and heels while walking the same five feet over and over again, Anne tried to frame the hand hiding June’s face into an image that would define the moment.  The plastic soffit liners above became a figurative grid, the darkness of the door became a witness, and June’s stabbed step defined the element of our progress; in a simplistic manner. After proofing the shoot later that week, the three of us felt we had created something that contributed mightily to the concept, toward the “totality of image” Piercing were seeking. I was confident that Jocelyn would find our next cover within the depth of these images.

Once the cover was finished and the five of us agreed on the content, I decided to send the tracks to Whitney before we went live with them. I was reticent to ask her for help in the search for a label, feeling that she had already done enough  opening  the back door of the club to let us in. And yet, having resigned ourselves to the fact that instant success was not necessarily in the cards for Piercing, Whitney at least deserved to hear the Michael recordings before anyone else did. I sent her the tracks with a simple thank you for giving us the heads up about Stormy Harbour, and hoped she would listen to them, and enjoy them- personally. Generations of Mystic musicians were always writing songs about each other, and that topic lent itself to an inner dialogue which was meant to be the essence of our inherent theory- that criticism held a responsibility toward shaping art. If Whitney should relay that we made the right decision, it would be much easier to move forward. Shockingly, she sent me an email asking if she could forward the tracks to her friend at Earcandy. It was easy to respond.

“Of course you can, thanks for thinking so highly of the recordings!” I replied.

I knew immediately upon hearing this news that we were going to need a video to support the single. It was a fascinating trend to witness, as the early days of MTV had such a profound effect on me as a young listener. In those days, you could only dream of having a video being seen on a national stage. Today, if you didn’t have one, you were either making an extreme statement, or had no desire to be mentioned on the influential blogs. We had already explored the “what price fame?” and seedy motel angles; I began to imagine a video that brought these previous elements toward an even wider palette. I began to write a script that was tethered by the various threads involved, deciding that we would go back to the Lamplighter- and the spirit of the song would be June herself, trapped in a seedy motel room by her own desire for fame. And Piercing would be unwittingly trapped in her void of course, as the entertainment.  I had never attempted to write in this manner, but once I had settled my mind on the imagery, it came together rather quickly. I sent another request to the Lamplighter, asking if we could use a vacant room during the weekend of the annual Arts Fest in New London, which we were asked to participate in as the opening act on the music side of the festival. It was the only weekend  where Adrian was to be in town for more than two days, which provided a window of opportunity. But it was going to be a tight schedule, with a group practice Friday night from 7.30 to 11pm, and then having to arrive at the motel the next morning by 9am to shoot the exteriors for the video before noon.

Saturday night was the festival appearance, and then we needed to be back at the Lamplighter by noon on Sunday to shoot  six hours of interiors. If that wasn’t enough Piercing activity for one weekend, Adrian also had to take a three hour train ride back to Brooklyn Sunday night, arriving at his apartment by 10pm, as he had to be at work at 9am on Monday morning. Todd had to drive back to New Haven for his Monday morning class.  Rudy at the Foundry. This was the kind of commitment I was secretly seeking since our very first meeting- an absolutely massive effort to maintain the day to day and create at a high level. If we could pull all of this off, and everyone made it to their job on Monday, I would be convinced of our staying power, and at becoming something more than potential.

I met with a local videographer named Revel Gamble, whom everyone he knew affectionately called him Rev. He had done some good work that we found interesting, but it was really our lack of budget that brought us together. Rev was willing to do the video for $200, editing and every other detail. At first, I couldn’t believe the symbiosis, but he assured me that he wasn’t in it for the money; he was trying to build the broadest resume possible as he made his way toward film school in Los Angeles; his own big dream. I showed him the finished script, and took him through the basic staging for each shot.

“I tried to make each shot as simple as possible, so you won’t have to search through layers of film to find what you need. It’s fairly straightforward, but it is eight minutes long.”

Instead of making one video for one of the songs, I thought perhaps, to stand out amongst the hordes of other videos that would be released in just that week, we would make an eight minute short film encompassing both songs of the single.  The concept was simple, each of the Piercing members would show up individually to the Lamplighter and check in- carrying no instruments, each with a small overnight bag. We would all be wearing regular gig clothes as we checked in. I showed Rev how he could set up the camera in one spot and get each of us arriving by van, and then capture each of us from behind the front desk as we checked in. These would be the shots for Saturday morning. For the second session on Sunday, he would set up another single shot to film each of us individually entering the room, tossing our bags on the bed, setting each motel key on the nightstand, and entering the bathroom.  The final shots of the first song would be of June appearing in the room’s lone mirror, poised inside the empty bathroom. She walks out into the room, and each member of Piercing follows her in single file- a room full of instruments awaits us. In my imagined continuance of the film, the second song begins, and it is revealed that all of the artwork in the room has been replaced by huge framed pictures of June herself, trapped in her own desire for fame.  We were now her personal house band, playing “Spirit” to her as she writhed on a queen size bed, covered in decades of photos of herself shot by Anne.

As we arrived at the Lamplighter there was a perfect thin layer of snow covering the grounds. This exemplified the wintry element of the songs, and would add dimension to our intended black and white footage. Adrian was the first to drive the van up and set the stage. Rev improvised an inspired shot from the front of the van toward Adrian, while keeping the simplicity of the other repeating shots intact.

“Yeah, when you reach to turn off the van, look at me, but don’t look at me, look like I’m not there….”

It was an insightful move, his direction added confidence at this very early stage. Jocelyn followed, then Rudy, then myself, and finally Todd. We each exited the driver’s side of the van, and opened the back door, to get our personal belongings; each shot a repetition of the previous. We then enacted the same process at the front desk for each member. As we wrapped up the morning’s shoot, we all went back into the front desk area to thank our hosts.

“You know, with the casino nearby, we get lotsa show people staying here. We were more than proud to help you folks get this video done.”

Louise then turned, and with her left arm outstretched, with her first finger pointed sharply at the back wall, directing our attention to the black and white glossies autographed, and then framed, of entertainers who had stayed at the Lamplighter. Crystal Gayle, Hank Williams Jr, a race car driver whose name I didn’t recognize… But Louise was making the point that she was thrilled to have us there, as if we were on the level of Crystal Gayle and the son of Hank Williams. A part of me found it quite polite and endearing, the more I thought about it, the more I realized we looked like a real band to people who didn’t know us. We were a real band. Our presentation and preparedness was professional and simultaneously ambitious, and even the people running the motel at the state line could sense it.

We opened the Rock Show at the annual Arts Fest to a curious crowd waiting to see if all of the initial interest was genuine. This was the biggest stage we had yet to appear on, simply in pure size. Rudy had no issues with this, and proceeded to exaggerate all of his traditional rock moves, heavy handed- but tried and true, across the voluminous space. Adrian conveyed his trademark presence effortlessly, but confined himself to a degree I found unusual. Todd played it totally safe, as was his wont, standing mostly erect and accentuating only the most concise moments, where he would not necessarily be in a moment of exposure. Jocelyn put on a puzzling performance. Dressed in a tight wool mini and schoolgirl sweater, she seemed poised to prowl , to find audience members to entrance- but instead, she retreated into  vocalist only mode, pitching perfect sounds from her repertoire but holding back on the essence of being our focal point. This was a norm in the studio, where she could exist behind the glass, but that wouldn’t translate onstage. Even considering those elements, there was a definitive definition about where we actually were. This was only the fourth show Piercing had played.

We were entertaining, as the songs themselves proved to work in a large hall, but there was obvious room to grow. And yet, we were filming our debut video within the moments between shows, and our responsibilities. Piercing as a whole was beginning to understand what it would take- invoking an essence- to return in full on the advantages that we possessed.

The dawn on Sunday brought in even colder weather, fortunately for us- we would be filming indoors the entire day. The Lamplighter people were incredibly professional, offering us a second room as a staging area and a place where we could execute the changing of outfits, as well as a warm haven when certain folks were not in the camera eye. To create the changed world in which June as the Spirit existed, we had to strip the room of almost all of its furnishings, replacing the art on the walls with framed Anne photos, and many nights work from Anne to photocopy hundreds of June images that would adorn the bed at the center of the video.  Everything went into the second room, which helped hide our presence from the rest of the guests. As is usually the case on a video shoot, something had to be missing. I had brought the wrong cords to plug the CD player into our small PA, so we could play along in time to the recording that would be matched up to the video in post-production.  It wasn’t such a bad moment for us to grab a breather, but I had to sprint back the 10 miles to Mystic and retrieve the proper connections. The windshield was caked in winter’s salt sand mixture, and the low sun pelted me with a searing brightness as I squinted to see the highway. We had to wrap by 6pm- the motel needed the room that night and the Piercing travelers needed every extra minute they could save on their respective commutes. The dry, cold landscape whirring by at 70 miles an hour defined the distance we would have to cross to make all of this effort come to fruition. I leaned on the gas pedal and got the van up to 75.

June was brilliant, taking my awkward staging of each shot and gloriously adding effortless grace to the character. And Rev was getting everything down in one shot sequences, just as we had talked about. Each Piercing member was also articulating their image at a high level, and the fashions we wore were a purposeful reflection of the previous decades in music- I was wearing the Apple Boutique Nehru jacket as a sixties figure, Adrian wore a loose paisley shirt with maroon pants, beaded jewelry dangling as our seventies image, Todd in a tight khaki Bill Blass suit representing the efficiency of the eighties, and Rudy in a traditional black suit with white shirt and black tie- our nod to the nineties when rock had reached nirvana and would exist in the world of business from then on. Jocelyn was draped in an elegant twenties gown from Anne’s collection of model fashions, representing the eternal underpinning of each of these decades.  We would be prepared to immediately release new material into the world if the Earcandy review was as positive as it seemed it was going to be. After capturing the interior shots for the “Massive” half of the video, we stopped to let Anne photograph us in that environment for our next PR photos. The four instrumentalists stood at each corner of the bed, while Jocelyn sat within the mass of June photocopies.

“Joss, lean back on your right hand

yes….

just like that…..”

THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Five

Little did I know that Whitney’s contact at Earcandy was the associate editor of the entire operation. When she told me of the opportunity, I imagined that she had friends who wrote sporadically for the site, which I’m sure she did. But Paul White wielded a singular authority within the context of the indie music world. He was the epitome of the modern mogul; a reflection of the best of the previous era, when one insightful person could shape a culture. This wasn’t John Hammond coming across Bob Dylan, but in the modern world where the internet articulated the possible audience, his voice was extremely influential. I exchanged charged emails with Paul for a few weeks, as he began to grasp the tenor of the Piercing story, which only months before we had collectively agreed was bereft of any context.

Eight weeks later, we had to explain ourselves, and for the most part, it was left up to me to express this message. I had signed up for this role when I agreed to work with Jocelyn, but I hadn’t anticipated this accelerated schedule. How could have anyone? We had played our third show in late December, with one of the local bands that had set the template for us to emulate. Blow-Up had been a Brooklyn band, treading the same streets Adrian was now, and coming to the conclusion they could achieve the same goal from their childhood home of New London, relocated at the height of the musical resurgence in town. Bold Schwa were getting regional and national attention at that point, in the mid Aughts-, and the Up’s escaped the madness of NYC without sacrificing their access to it. They were beginning to subscribe to a Post Generation concept, which defined the Station House aesthetic- that in that moment, we just happened to be in a singular place- there was no way to play a gig in NYC and go to work the next day if you lived in Iowa. We had an advantage.

And people in local bands were starting to capitalize on this. Piercing would become part of that cyclical endeavor in ways that would define a singular expression of what was possible, within the framework. Not only did I own the van we used to transport the music, Anne and I also owned another van, the two of us participating in travelling roads to define our art- myself with the various bands, she with her fine art photography which she showed at traditional New England Art Shows held throughout each summer.

One van for music, one van for photography. But now that Anne was running the family business, and was sacrificing her artistic schedule for practical purposes. Piercing inherited the blue photo van; with its high scoop top, allowing for the interior TV/VCR combo to be above the heads of the passengers. This served her well on the road doing art shows, as she could change into “show clothes” after getting the booth ready, while being able to stand up. For Piercing, it allowed Rudy and Todd to stretch their legs on the three hour ride to NYC for a show. Another hindrance removed.

Paul had decided to name Piercing as one of Eargum’s “Bands to Catch”, which featured a new group every six weeks, as something their audience should look into. With the volume of music being released, these websites carried enormous clout, and to have our very first single be featured created two new fronts. The first was something I told the band after a typical winter practice at Centraal- the furnace blasting for Jocelyn and a fan blowing air on Rudy so he didn’t overheat- we had two microclimates battling it out within the room as we attended to the musical details of the band.

“The Earcandy review will change everything. There can be no more last minute cancellations, no weddings, parties, or funerals that take precedence over a show. The only funeral we can cancel a show for is your immediate family.”

My hyperbole was supposed to actually bring the point closer to a clear realization; as the intent was not so much to draw a line in the sand about what we should tolerate, but more to add new definition to opportunities we had passed on. In September, we were offered a Brooklyn loft show that we couldn’t play because Jocelyn and Adrian had a wedding and a memorial to attend to. And there was Jocelyn’s last minute studio cancellation. The second part was the lynch pin- there was absolutely no point in continuing the band, with the press we were sitting on, to not make this the focal point of everyone’s personal daily lives. It had to become Piercing- and then anything else. The kids needed to be able to acquiesce to this new reality, otherwise it was going to be difficult for me to continue. I had been with Anne for twenty two years, and here I was asking her to support me getting back on the road, again. I was positive it would be the last chance I would have.

The second part had an interior element that I wanted to talk about with the band. “Certain levels of success are quite exciting, and as each of you experience these moments, you need to let them leave their mark, sort of what Joni said in “Blue”- ‘songs are like tattoos.’ Let the progress seep in deeply, and if we can all do that together, we’ll be in much better shape. Letting each little victory exist as a manner of course will lead to expectations that may not be met. And the people you will be most suspicious of taking away that feeling of progress, will be each other. As we move toward each goal, the people you will be most afraid of taking it away will be the members of this band. Don’t give in to it.”

I was met with a silence I had yet to hear at Centraal, which was almost always filled with sound, or at least noise. Hopefully they understood the message. Expectations need to be reserved solely for the work itself;  the next song, the next visual representation, the next flier, the next idea. Chasing success is a damning exercise; and I didn’t want any of us to witness the eventual dissolve into a social cold war which is so common when a band isn’t capable of articulating their potential.

We had scheduled a show with Boyfriend at the Warehouse in Mystic. After witnessing so many great shows there while I was in the studio with Borealis, I had a secret desire to play a gig in the old lumber yard building, not a DJ set- at least once. Everyone in town knew that the continued existence of the Warehouse was precarious at best- I had never been around an all-ages performance space that treated the performers like some 1960’s cattle call. Artists were never paid on time, and rarely the correct amount. Admission prices fluctuated as the need for revenue changed. You might pay $7 to see three local acts one month, and then $10 a few weeks later for two of the same acts. Everyone knew the business end of the operation was a shitshow, but the venue was spectacular. An open floor that was full with 70 people, and a U shaped balcony wrapping the whole room a story up, bringing in another 30 people, all the while creating an illusion from below that the room was infinite. I went all out with the local PR, stapling fliers to telephone poles in a way I hadn’t done in twenty years. The local paper had featured the show, and there was a palpable sense of excitement in town that Boyfriend and Piercing would deliver a classic night at the Warehouse. Earcandy had decided to run their review of our debut single with a short interview on the following Monday.

As we practiced for the show on the Thursday before, word started to leak out that we were in for a brutal blizzard, a February to remind us of 1978 in these parts.  The show would be cancelled on the Friday before the Saturday storm, and there was a bit of disappointment and unease, hearing about it. Inside, a small part of me realized that Piercing would never play a show at the Warehouse. It was a thought I needed to corral and then let be, the romantic notion of being a living part of the next Mystic Music Collective was not part of the master plan.

The power went out at 7pm that Saturday night. The winds were already sculpting the snowdrifts, and there was no logical way to imagine the show could have gone on; everyone trapped inside the Warehouse with no power. Instead, we were all safely ensconced inside our respective dwellings; hoping to safely ride the storm out. But a power outage in the winter is quite the opposite from the power being down during the warm months of the hurricane season. The temperature at our house dipped to a frigid 54 degrees overnight, and then plummeted as residual heat dissipated into the post-storm winter silence. Anne and I made it through the day with some inspired outdoor fire pit maneuvering, but as the sun set, and we entered a house with no power and no heat, we were settling into pure survival mode. How long could we sit dormant in a 44 degree room covered in blankets, with candle wax dripping? And yet, there was another element to the situation that made this a moment of pure essence-. the Eargum review was due to be posted Monday. Hopefully, we would have electricity back by then, so I could see the review as it was entering the digital realm. The blizzard was certainly a sign. “How patient are you willing to be?”

The power was restored at midnight between Sunday and Monday. I decided to binge on Live Aid performances from  1985, hoping to exhaust myself into a sleep that would last until the review was posted. It’s still somewhat mindblowing to think that Lionel Richie escorted Dylan, Keith, and Ron Wood off-stage after their horrible performance.  I also had a renewed appreciation for the electrical grid.

The review could not have been better. The new national spotlight that was shining on us for this brief moment in the culture created a seismic shift in the way the business of being in this band would exist. I found it easy enough to book Piercing locally, through the email channels that were not afforded to Thames. But there was no way to be prepared for our new reality. Every single day for two weeks the inbox was flooded with requests- from clubs looking to book us, to publications wanting to write about us, to filmmakers who wanted to use some of our music in their film. The cacophony was as intense as any modicum of success I had found as an artist.  And yet, it was almost effortless to keep in contact with the various interests. I had already been committed to a daily routine of promoting the band, but now I was spending anywhere from two to eight hours each day, every day, to keep up with the sudden interest. The nature of indie music had become so fierce, so dense, that unless you were swimming, you were busy dying. We had to become the shark that never sleeps.

Later that night, I received a phone call from Jocelyn. “I’m worried about Todd. He’s living with a bunch of dealers, and he’s siphoning off the supply.  And they are letting him” she told me.

This was one of my lines in the sand, something I told them I would walk away from the band over. But the Earcandy review had run on this day. How was I going to leave this potential behind? I had dealt with the issue multiple times over my career, and even had my share of blow outs with band members accusing me of dragging down momentum with my own decisions. But this was different. Jocelyn had an acute sense of time and place- and she knew that waiting until a good review from Earcandy to reveal this would keep me from upholding my position. She was quite conscious, from the years of recording together, how much this opportunity with Piecing meant to me. And she played it perfectly. I was rather impressed on recollection. I was secretly hoping that her acumen could work to our advantage.

“I’m going to leave it up to you to handle Todd. I won’t make an issue of it if you get him to be under control, and for him to consider the much bigger picture. It’s up to you to keep him on the straight and narrow. Do you feel okay about taking on that responsibility?”

I think she knew any other answer may have determined an outcome in no one’s favor, except for what she did say to me:

“I can do it.”

The comments section at Earcandy was one of the areas where the modern cultural battles raged. I remember Jeremy showing me the comments section on one of the big blogs when All in the Family had released their debut LP. Some of the remarks were scathing, and it took me by surprise because their debut was one of the records I had most fully enjoyed in years, and that had very little to do with knowing Whitney or Phoebe.

“That’s the sign of success, now. When people are anonymously trashing your hard effort- it’s the new compliment.” Jeremy enlightened me, with the spittle that was so often caught between his lower lip and top row of his teeth fully evident.

I certainly believed him, as he had spent a year and a half in Brooklyn hanging with Whitney, Phoebe,and their extended circle of friends. So I decided to closely watch the comments on the Piercing article.

There wasn’t much activity there, which underscored how difficult this effort would be, regardless of our inherent advantages. But one comment of the few gave me quite a bit of validation, as the criticism had been addressed before the Eargum review was even published.

“I’ll give them a listen, but I won’t be surprised if I never hear about them anywhere else ever again. Y’all have a tendency to declare a new artist a “Band to Catch” who actually isn’t even at a level of the slightest buzz yet”.

We had the long form video for “Massive/Spirit” already in the can. We were prepared to capitalize on the initial interest in the band. And the commenter would become an ally of Piercing over the next year.

Our first show after the review was in town, at the local all ages hall that had been hosting shows since Thames booked a four band bill there in December of 1991. That night was the next iteration of the Mystic New Music Fest, which ran for five years showcasing the area bands at a variety of venues. This night was also something of a festival, as the rhythm section brothers of Class Ring wanted to build a small memorial in their yard for their recently deceased dog, who would actually walk the short distance into downtown from their house, navigating the crosswalks, and chill in various stores for hours on end.

Locals and visitors alike were so taken by the fact that this dog had become so sociable, it seemed like the right thing to do. I helped organize the night, and soon came to regret that decision. If I had expected any help from the bands playing the show to actually set up the PA, lights, and run the door, I was being nostalgic for 1991. Times change, and the group mind that we had all so willingly subscribed to in our twenties was not present in this next generation. By the time I had singlehandedly unloaded the contents of our van into the hall and onstage, Jocelyn, Jeremy, and Todd pulled up, and offered their assistance.

“yeah, we’re all good….. everything is already inside….”

I was talked into one of the locals being the “MC” for the evening. As I was always looking for ways to get people to participate, I wholeheartedly agreed. I asked “Where is the script? Or is he just going to wing it up there?” My trepidation was the undercurrent of resentment toward Piercing from a segment of the local musicans after the Earcandy review came out. You could sense within certain segments of our world that there was a righteous indignation that this kind of praise was being heaped on us. Many a Mystic musician felt they deserved such attention, and that it was being wasted on Piercing. In our rush to gather songs for the Piercing live set, Adrian had decided to revisit a Class Ring song that he had written- and we took his guitar part and wrote a completely new song around the riff, making sure to stay as far away from the original as possible. Adrian approached the Class Ring members about his imagined reworking of the song, and they replied that it was of no concern to them.

And yet, after the Eargum review, the Class Ring bass player wrote on our Facebook page: “hey Piercing- Class Ring wants their bass line back.” Rudy was livid hearing about the post, as he wasn’t active on Facebook. But I don’t think Rudy was prepared for the MC to use that same line, as he introduced us- the first band of the night.

“Hey Piercing, Class Ring wants their bass line back!”

His act was supposed to be similar to a comedy roast, which at the time were making a moderate comeback. I thought it was incredibly immature, and revealed a specific jealousy; which we were not perpetuating at all. I took one look at Rudy after the comment, and thought I was going to have to restrain him.

“Fuck it,” Rudy said, “let’s fucking open with it!”

We had decided beforehand to not even play “Age of Resent”, and bring any possible animosity into the equation. But now we were being called out on it.

We were set to open with “Massive”, but I thought, ‘Yeah, let’s battle it out here, it may come in handy over the next six months to assert that we were here to stay, and were not afraid of criticism.’

The five of us walked onstage, slowly, deliberately. There were a good hundred people at 7.30 on a cold March night to see us in a smoke filled hundred year old hall. Once we plugged in, and looked to each other for the start, Adrian waved his hand.

“Fuck it, let’s not give in to this bullshit, let’s just play our set.”

As Morrissey so succinctly stated – We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful.

We had a full band practice the next day, as we had all agreed to practice every weekend that Adrian was in town, regardless of prior commitments.  There was an expected lethargy, following a long night, but I could sense a change in each of their individual emotional connections to the band. There was now tangible proof that we had all made the correct decision in forming Piercing. This was the crucial moment I had been squinting to recognize ever since our first practice. And opening the band email the following morning served to cement that inspiration- a PR company in NYC wanted to talk about possibly working with Piercing to support the next single. As difficult as it was to push the first single to labels without any press, the press was actually opening doors I had not even remotely considered at this stage. Keith Taylor had been working in the indie world for years, beginning as so many do on his college’s radio station, where he would spend the last years of the century. After a few non-starts on a date and time we could mutually talk, a phone call was set up for the evening of Wednesday the 13th, at 7pm.

I was pacing along the long rug in front of my dj set up in the studio, drinking a warm beer, waiting for the phone to ring. I had a sudden pang of nervousness- “maybe I shouldn’t be having a beer right now?”

But if this was going to be rock and roll, and not some cool kids club, I think one beer before I talked to Keith wouldn’t disengage his interest in Piercing. And it didn’t. But my approach to the meeting would begin to haunt me months later. I felt we were literally on the verge of getting to the next level- why else would he even be calling? Why should I leave anything to chance? I decided to explain as much of the complete picture as possible, discussing my time and experience in each band I played with before Piercing, and this seemed to pique his interest- that this was obviously no ordinary group of kids trying to find their way. He asked me what our goals were, and I stated that we “wanted to sign with Year Zero” the boutique label that continued to thrive in these difficult times. YZ0 had released seminal records for decades, and had even survived a dearth of interest in their bands during the musical depression of the Aughts, but rebounded recently in a manner few labels can attest to. But that was the GOAL, not what was necessarily the next step.

“What we really need is to sign with “sound Vision” (which was one of the many small independent labels I had unsuccessfully shopped the “Massive/Spirit” single to during the previous autumn). “Yes, they are the hot label for a band making music like you guys do. Tell you what, keep me posted about your NYC gigs, and we’ll keep in touch.” We would exchange emails occasionally over the next seven months, but I would never meet Keith in person.

The show offers were the most interesting element of the new shift. Clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn were now asking us to play, the inverse of constant emails begging for a chance to perform, or heaven forbid, a return to hand delivering the PR. We ended up booking seven shows over the next eight weeks, a considerable haul when we had played a grand total of five shows since our inception eleven months earlier. The second night of that stretch was in Bushwick, at one of the local coffee house / performance spaces that were gaining so much traction all over Brooklyn at the time. I didn’t have time to genuflect about our role within gentrification, as I needed to focus everything on maintaining our public perception. Jeremy had set up the show with a local opener, Piercing, and Boyfriend. Fortunately for us, while there were some snow piles on the street corners, it was unseasonably warm; which helped bring out a decent crowd. At one point, I had to head back to the van to get a replacement guitar for Jeremy, who broke some strings tuning prior to the Boyfriend set. Sticking with my age old routine, I insisted that we pack our gear into the van after our gig at the earliest possible chance. On my way through the quiet, sloping streets of Bushwick, I couldn’t help but think, “What if these people see me as the enemy?” Not that I was fearful- far from it. And yet this notion that their neighborhood- beautifully manicured miniature city lawns, with decorative flair built up over decades, were being altered by my presence. As if they were being forced to accept me. Living in a tourist town, I was constantly welcoming people- but that night I felt like an intruder.

We took our scheduled practice night off, to rest and be ready for the next show in NYC, this time our Manhattan debut, on the LES where I had lived through so many weekends with Greenmanville.

Bold Schwa also gathered much of their steam playing the LES, especially tonight’s venue, Cabinets. In the early 2000’s, photo blogs of the newly vibrant NYC indie music scene fueled its resurgence. There were difficulties finding a way in those early  internet days to host massive photo files, but a handful of ambitious artists who understood the implications of the new media began to be scene shapers of their own accord. When Bold Schwa first was featured in one of those photo blogs, it became much easier to book shows in NYC. Without those tastemakers, things would have evolved in a much different manner for their entire career. Tonight would also mark another first for the band- Tabitha Williams was a young videographer/photographer working on a short film who wanted to use a portion of “Massive” on the soundtrack, and she came to meet us at Cabinets.

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Six

In the days following the Earcandy review, I found a very interesting email in the inbox. A small independent film company in Brooklyn was asking to use a Piercing song in a short being directed by a young director in their stable. Marc Gentilowski, the producer of the film, sent me some initial contact information for Tabitha Williams. A link to her website, a Tumblr address;  basic representation of her work that we could peruse, to see if we were a fit within her artistic vision. At the time, I wasn’t worried at all about deciding whether or not to let her use the song, in my mind it was a done deal unless the film was about some unspeakable intention.  As someone who always trusted  intuition, I felt that this was simply another step forward in the accelerated world of Piercing. After sending a copy of the email to Thomas (who was working in the legal department of a NYC book publisher) asking him to see if we would still be holding the song rights once we became involved with the film, I settled in to do my research on Tabitha.

Her website was extremely minimal, which I thought was  a great sign. Text riding down the left column, a single color image of a young woman against a suburban chain link fence centered on the front page. The model looked familiar, but I dismissed that as an internal error. I clicked  on the first video link, and up came a forty second micro-movie featuring the model from the front page. Now that she was a moving image, I could not curtail the thought that this was someone I actually knew. But how, exactly?  Certainly Tabitha was a Brooklyn resident, and this must be a model from the city. Slick cuts of close ups of her model and some hotel architecture spliced together created an immediate story of a girl lost, amongst none of her own kind- forging a possible danger. And that’s when it struck me- the hotel steps that she was sitting on, they were from a lodging in downtown Mystic- The Seafarer, a once raggedy tourist trap restored to its 19thcentury splendor a decade earlier. But how could Tabitha have filmed in downtown Mystic? How could she have known where we were, filmed here, and then “stumbled” across the band. The short ended with the model stretching out on one of the hotel beds. I hit pause on the film and took a good look at the screen. I did know who the model was- she graced the header picture of the Dance Party Facebook page. She was the best friend of a friend of mine’s niece, and the pair- draped in glowsticks and sweat- inspired arms raised which formed  a circle between them, was the image we used to define the party and its online presence. My heart began to speed up, as the paranoia shrouded the research. I thought to myself, “You are being set up… “

It was too perfect. I had a deep sensation that some of the local musicians had conjured this entire episode, in an effort to embarrass Piercing, mocking the middling modicum of our success. As I thought more about the possible plot, it seemed to be a generous dissertation- that a fake video company, a fake director, and a fake model who just happened to be a Mysticite, were all pulled seamlessly into place to give us our comeuppance. There was no possible way any of the locals could have pulled off such a clever stunt. Or could they? My mind was racing, and it was being put into overdrive. Months later, I would realize that these events would charge my thought process  so that I could keep up with our ever evolving public relations agenda.  A paranoid conspiracy theory surrounding our first contact with the film world would pale in comparison to what was awaiting Piercing. I watched the short a few more times, telling myself that this was all legit. It had to be. The rest of her website revealed no contact with Mystic, but was saturated with a modern, distinctly feminine take on sexuality. The more I looked into Tabitha’s work, the more dangerous it felt. Not that the images she concocted were threatening, but I had always believed that in music, you wait until the third album to use sex as a selling point, unless you were Blondie. As much as I was intrigued to take this possible massive leap, I was concerned that Piercing would try to articulate a perception that did not necessarily reflect where we actually were.

The next morning, I emailed Tabitha from the address listed on her Tumblr. I expressed how I was confused at seeming to know the model in some of her work; I wanted to displace my internal conspiracy as soon as possible. Her response absolutely stunned me.

“I grew up in Mystic, but went to a private high school in Sussex County. I’m roughly the same age as Jocelyn.”

“So, you don’t know any of us? You don’t know who we are?”

“No, I’ve never met any of you. I stumbled across “Massive” from the Earcandy review and I really love it. I knew immediately it would work in my short.”

“Have you ever been to the Palace?”

“Oh yeah. Not a ton, because I don’t collect vinyl, but yeah, I’ve been there.”

“I’ve worked there every Friday for the past sixteen years. Have we ever met?”

“No, I don’t think so. I was away at school for eight years, and then I got a job in Manhattan. Why do you ask?”

“The model in your short film, she’s sitting on the steps of the Seafarer Hotel, isn’t she?”

“Oh, you caught that. Very sharp.”

A Mystic kid had found us. What were the chances that the very first person interested in working with the band on that level would be from town? I, of course, took that as a sign that we were heading in the right direction, and that our motivation was resonating in the proper manner. I held in high regard that the actions the band took in our day to day would manifest itself in tangible outcomes; we were working incredibly hard and this was a reward. Once I knew that Tabitha was one of us, even remotely, my fear of her milieu taking over our image levelled out. We were working with professionals, and there was no reason to doubt their intentions or abilities. We literally were all in this together; Tabitha, Michael, Richard, Jimmy, Paul, Whitney- everyone depended on each other in some capacity. I needed to find a way to channel this realization to each of the band members.

Tabitha and I exchanged emails for the next few days, discussing ideas for the shoot. She had become possessed with  a “Cult of Piercing” being the central theme.

“I want to dress the cult in all white, have them slowly materialize out of a wooded area and become the audience for the band.”

I loved the idea, somewhat of an inversion of our first video. I was imagining possible locations, when a distressing thought entered my mind- how much is this going to cost?

“How much do you normally charge for a video shoot and edit?”

“My starting rate is $2000.”

I almost blurted out “nice to meet you!” followed by dramatically hanging up the phone. There was no way we could justify spending that amount of money on a video. We could return to Michael at Stormy Harbour for two complete singles for that kind of money.

“Well, I guess you are a professional!” I replied, adding a hint of a compliment while carving a way out of working with her, without jeopardizing her interest in the group- she was a fan of the band first and foremost. We were trying to see if a professional integration could work as well.

“Is that out of your price range?” she quietly replied

“Not necessarily, but it would take quite a bit of time to raise that kind of money. The kids are broke, I’m spending every available dollar of my own trying to keep us solvent, $2000 is just beyond our capability right now. And in 3 months, when we have the money, it will be too late.”

“I’ll tell you what, I really like you guys, I think you are onto something. Let’s block out a weekend as soon as possible, and I’ll come into town and we’ll piece it together. I can do that, plus the editing, for $500.”

I dropped the receiver and caught it with my left hand before it hit the floor.

Piercing was the second of four bands on the bill that Thursday night at Cabinets. The opener was a trio backed by a clean drum machine, with female vocals and a guitar / bass duo rounding out the lineup. Their pop stylings were easy to digest, but I couldn’t help noticing that the flat, two dimensional drum machine took away any possible depth. And then it dawned on me- these three were my age or older, and they would rather sacrifice dimension for a perfect beat that was always on time to every gig and practice. They had downsized. They were tired of telling the drummer to “sit down, shut up, and play the drums….”

I was secretly happy that such a band opened, as the room was anticipating a sonic explosion that we would hopefully create. The lights and sound were always spot on at Cabinets, and that element certainly helped drive our show. We played a tight set, that was punctuated by Rudy’s rock edge and a very fine night vocally from both Jocelyn and Todd. They were beginning to realize the way each could occupy the space where the other was not. And Adrian and I were really becoming the tight rhythm section found in every good band, only we were now upending the traditional drum & bass foundation for our drum & guitar bedrock. We had a decent crowd that responded to each song accordingly, but the aftereffect which meant the most to me was how much more we still had to do. And yet, we were elevating in incremental steps, a positive outcome of an 18 hour day which included 300 highway miles.

After we finished our set and were taking gear off the stage, I tried to start up a conversation with the next band. They were from Ireland and were doing a small tour of the states, and this was their first gig following an appearance at SXSW.

“Hey, did you guys have a good time in Austin?”

Their bass player stuttered a bit, and then came out with a “Yeah, it was alright.”

But this wasn’t some foreign cool, he seemed genuinely uncomfortable talking about his experience- at least with a total stranger (although we shared a stage). I replied “well, have a good show here” and wandered off to load the van. I couldn’t help thinking about our very brief conversation. Had he already had his fill of talking about it? Perhaps. But it reminded me more of getting invited to parties during the early success of Thames, where we would encounter a much older crowd than we were used to. And at times we could articulate ourselves astonishingly clear, other times more muddled. It was the distance between ages. There were no other 40 year old musicians in these clubs, and the people over forty that an emerging band came across more than likely want to exploit them for some kind of cheap profit. I had come of age in this world, grown up listening to and playing music in clubs; I became an adult with the backdrop of neon and cheap beer. This was the moment when I realized I could not be the face of the band in any capacity. Not that I looked as if I didn’t belong, but relationships to help build our audience were going to have to be the responsibility of Jocelyn, Todd, and Adrian. They were of this generation in a way I was only culturally a part. When I joked about seeing the moon landing to younger musicians, it was always met with a confused indifference. But it was now obvious that I would have to become anonymous at gigs, and in the public setting. I could establish and maintain all of our business relationships with no setbacks, continue getting our pay at the end of a night, and continue driving the van. But the kids now had to be the actual presence of Piercing.

Once we had decided to work with Tabitha on a new video, we had to book a recording session with Michael. Fortunately for Piercing, late March wasn’t an in demand month, and we were able to schedule a ten hour block on Sunday the 24th, four days after meeting Tabitha. Todd had an early morning class on Friday, and I thought it would be good to get him out of New Haven that night, with a full two nights and a Saturday to recharge before we headed back to Brooklyn that Sunday. I arrived at his apartment at 7pm. We talked casually about the upcoming recordings, how the press was responding to our early work, and the method of writing the next batch of songs. Not once did he betray a hidden agenda- it seemed as if Jocelyn’s handling of Todd’s crossing of the border had taken effect with minimal damage. These kids were so aware of what was being said about them, talked about them, written about them, it was more often than not hard to get them to expose the depth of their own individual struggle. This was not an easy task we had set out for ourselves, and everyone had an acute awareness of the implications- the other four people in Piercing depended on you as much as you depended on yourself. Adrian’s first song “Decisive” would be one of the new singles, and Todd’s “High Tide” would be the second. We began looking at the recordings in a manner similar to The Smiths- that each song was precious, and had its own identity and worth. These were not A sides and B sides. Todd agreed, and his confidence convinced me that the worst was behind us. A detail had been dealt with.

Richard and Michael had relocated from their cramped headquarters on Broadway to a three story walk up on Mesarole Ave. They had converted the top two floors into apartments that they each occupied, and the street level was turned into a world class recording studio. As I walked in lugging a very heavy cymbal stand bag, I had the sense of being all the way back.

Thames had gone through a similar gestation as This Infectious Reality. Thames were an ‘80’s version of the popular, local high school band. We had sold homemade cassettes in the hallways to help fund the early operation and to spread the word. But there were no Centraal Studios in the pre-Digital age. Recordings at that time were done on rather expensive four track machines using cassette tape as a source medium, or a fully-fledged 12 or 24 track analog studio. There was no middle ground. Thames were fortunate enough to get our parents to chip in a few thousand dollars as an offset to the bands earnings to record with Russell Johnson. Piercing were spending $850 ($500 of which the Folk Mass had fronted us) to record in basically a Brooklyn relocation of Russ’ Connecticut studio from the ’80’s. The detailed wood, staggered to create more surface space, the slanted control room window, the perfect execution of wiring inside the walls. Effects were plugged in and out from central panels located on the east and west walls. Perfect.  Simple.  Efficient.  Richard and Michael never ceased to amaze me with their organization and genius.

We recorded all of the basic tracks for each song in two hours. It was as I anticipated from the effect of our first experience with Stormy Harbour. That was the driving reason behind returning; in that we were establishing a relationship with the studio while minimizing risk.  The process played itself out for “Decisive/High Tide” as it had for “Massive/Spirit”, and we were completely prepared. As the recording gave way to mixing, I noticed that Rudy was enraptured by a game on his cell phone. While Michael was tuning effects to the correct frequency, dialing in the sounds that would define us, Rudy was staring blankly into a miniscule screen with nary a smile or a frown; his face didn’t even reflect contentment- simply a solitary glare. I began to wonder if he actually understood the magnitude of the afternoon that we were experiencing. I imagined that Rudy possessed an inherent trust that I did not, which afforded him the distance between focusing on the evolving mixes or chasing digital trophies. That was not to be the case.

We set out from Brooklyn at midnight, and proceeded to cede the CD player to Rudy for our drive out of the borough, over the Williamsburg Bridge, to the FDR, to the Willis Ave bridge and then onto the Bruckner with a quick sidestep onto the Hutchinson Parkway where I would merge with I-95 North at the Bronx city limits. A quick sprint to the tollbooth just before the Connecticut border was the next zone to traverse. Once in our home state, the drive was divided into six stages- the first leg was from the border to New Haven, where Todd was attending  his senior year at school. The trek from the highway was always fraught with tension, as we were usually driving through town at 2am, with very little traffic accompanying us. It’s hard to drive a conversion van around any city after 2am without arousing suspicion.  Once we dropped Todd off and made our way back to I-95, we would have to get off in New London to drop off Adrian a friend’s house. This required another streetscape trip back to I-95, where we would cross the bridge at the Thames River and immediately take the first exit to drop Jocelyn off where she was staying with her mother. One more trip through the back streets of Groton City put Rudy and I back on the north corridor, where two exits down we would descend the valley side in Mystic to my own home at the base of the river. Rudy would then have to drive himself another 20 miles to his rural home near the Rhode Island border. These recording sessions and gigs in NYC, which were absolutely essential to our career, were a test we would have to master. There was no way around it.

We were to return to New Haven for a show two days after recording, and I was asked to do a radio interview on one of the regional college radio stations on the Monday between. Following the cold winter in which we survived the blizzard, seeing the trees in first budding on the wooded back roads felt like a victory. We were in the midst of a three day, 500 mile trip, but I always found it relaxing to be driving the van. Perhaps it’s because driving is the one thing my father actually taught me, telling me as a young driver to “just go get lost, and try to find your way back. That’s how you’ll learn to navigate.” In some senses, that was his entire world view, but he never really got back from being lost in his own life.

The interview was at 5pm, and I was the only member of Piercing who could make it. It was a disappointment for me, because I had come to the realization that I must be an invisible member of the band, the silent one. And this was a missed opportunity for Joss, Todd, and Adrian to get used to the encroaching environment and to be able to speak clearly about themselves and the group in a low key setting.  Then I realized that I hadn’t exactly been actively interviewed in quite some time. There was plenty of work to go around.

After months of trying, we finally were able to secure a booking with the biggest live promoter in the state, Myopic Insights.  I had targeted them early on as the best people to work with outside of New London, and they completely lived up to my expectations. MI was essential a company of two- William Burr, and his intern Michael Silva. We had first been added to a bill they were booking in late January, but the headliner declined their offer of Piercing opening that particular show. At first, I had assumed that once William had booked the band, it was a done deal. But we were to find out that the regional touring headliners more than likely wanted last say in who opened their shows. It was surprising to see the power shift, where the touring bands held at least that much sway over the business machinations. I was hoping that wouldn’t become a serious issue for us, because William and Michael seemed to be totally behind what we were doing.  Finally, it was our debut night with them; at a small café in New Haven that was an institution in the city. We were opening for a national headliner from the west coast, who had been touring in support of their debut album, which was released that January. In between Piercing and Scare Tactic were our friends from New London- Blow Up. This was the perfect recipe for us to engage in the totality of the moment, working with national players with support socially and professionally from peers who were on the same path as us. The best booking agent in the state, in the best live music town in Connecticut. The only drawback was it was on a Tuesday night, but that should be of little consequence to our commitment. Hopefully, we will find ourselves in Richmond, Virginia on some Tuesday night.

In my experience over the years, I always felt New Haven was the best town to play in. You could almost cook to the timer that was the arrival of a New Haven audience: show at 10pm? Room littered with eight people at 9.45? No worries, they will all be here in 15 minutes. That wasn’t to be the case on this night. We took the stage in front of 12 people; fortunately a few Mystic kids going to school near the city made it out, otherwise it would be a room full of musicians and bar workers- a trepidation of the highest order while at the club. The five of us were crammed onto the tight stage, and I had to hold my left arm at a funky angle to not drag it across the back wall while playing on the hi hat. Blow Up were complete professionals as always- noticing the near empty room, they stood three deep right in front of the stage to offer us encouragement, loudly clapping at the conclusion of each song. After finishing up a thirty minute set, we packed the gear away in the van, and I drove it down a block from the club into a small parking lot off the street. This would give all of us a modicum of privacy for the remainder of the night. I went back in, and engaged in light conversation with Chris Curtis as he set up his guitar effects for the Blow Up set.

“I’m surprised there are so few people here, usually New Haven gigs are always a late arriving mob. But they arrive! Have you guys been playing down here much?” it had been seven years since my last Bold Schwa show in the Elm city.

“We play here about once every six months, and yeah, this is a new quiet for us. Could be… Tuesday?  Could be break is over and the college kids have work to catch up on…. Could be this show should have been booked in New London.” He chuckled after a pause, and then continued his train of thought.

“You know, we’ve been doing this a long time, and I just don’t care about how many people show up anymore. I just want to get up there and do what I do.”

It was refreshing to hear his back to basics attitude. We had found ourselves in the same position with Thames after the CMJ press yielded no record deal. Let’s just play. Sort of an athlete’s mindset, within a musical context. I had to remember what Chris was preaching, as our initial success was somewhat intoxicating.

And yet, there were certain parameters that had to be held to a most stringent manner of discipline.

Blow Up had watched every note of our set, and they were friends and contemporaries. But after four songs of their show, I noticed that I was the only member of Piercing in the room. I briskly stood up and walked out the back door when they began their next song with sturm und drang. I passed Adrian, who was on the phone with his girlfriend back in Brooklyn. As he had to board a train in New Haven to Grand Central by 11pm, he was more than likely discussing his return to their tiny apartment. I continued across the street, into the small lot where I had parked the van, where inside Jocelyn, Rudy, and Todd were participating in one of the rituals a rock band. But this was no time for selfish isolation.

“GUYS! What are you doing? The Blow Up watched our whole show, and they are four songs in and you are still in the van? Come on, you don’t want to be that band……”

I tried to voice a sign of resignation toward the end of my statement, as I was trying not to give in to the impulse of screaming at them. It was a generally understood dynamic that the kids did not want to be in a band with Dad, and I could understand that. I had no ambitions to even have children. But I couldn’t help but scold them.  Every interaction and moment defined who you were as people, and therefore, who the collective was as a creative unit. If you were not willing to support those who supported you, the greatest songs ever written might mitigate such behaviour. Might.

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THIS IS NOT SLANDER Chapter Seven

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?”

“Yeah….”

“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.”

“Of course.”

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

twitter blast

call cabinets / 22 may

call joss/rudy video

check for water co. photos

LLC *

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.