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 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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