Ask Van Hammersmith. Part 54

author: Van Hammersmith date: 08/17/2011 category: junkyard
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My spellchecker says "awesomist" is not a word, which is why I miss my typewriter. Anyway, I guess I'll have to describe this column as "most awesome," which makes me sound like Bill and Ted.
Oh Masterful Lord Of All That Rocks, please provide this humble rocker with some of your infinite wisdom. I'm a 17 year old military dependent, I play guitar, and I live on a tiny-ass military base in a tiny-ass German town on top of a frickin' mountain. I really want to start a band but it's very difficult to find people who have the time or are willing to dedicate it. I've recently met a vocalist who has more talent than anyone I've ever heard and would be willing to put forth the time, the only problem is my play-style covers most of the rock genre (basically everything from metal to punk and a bit of blues), but her influences consist of a lot of pop and similar genres (all of which I can't stand). My question is should I take what i can get and start a band with her and expand my range in the process or should I try to find people with a similar style and improve my skills in my preferred styles? Your humble servant requests your guidance. Thanks Dude, Strum McLightningfingers.
Tough call, Strum. Lucky for you, I know what to do. You'll need to get yourself a goat, twenty gallons of green paint (environmentally friendly stuff if you can, because Van Hammersmith cares), a stolen jeep (wear gloves so there are no fingerprints), and you'll need someone who speaks Mandarin. Okay, I just read through your letter again, and I think I may have gotten confused. Here's what you do. Form a band with LadySinger. Let her pick whatever happy dancey pop music she wants. As the instrumentalist, you will be providing the sound. Figure out the chords, and play them raw and heavy, as nasty and aggro as you see fit. I'm sure she'll complain, but you'll have an easy answer for her. Most pop music today does not use real instruments. It just has artificial drum tracks, synthesized bass, and a bunch of beeping to provide the "music" to back up the heavily processed vocals. Tell her you're doing the best you can to approximate the sound of the track on an actual instrument played by a human, and this is how you think it should sound. Best of both worlds, buddy! You'll be playing hard, evil tunes, and she'll be bopping along. This will work until I get the inevitable letter from some chick in Germany complaining that the guitarist in her pop band keeps playing really hard, nasty guitar riffs over top of her crappy pop songs. Man, I don't know what I'm going to tell her. I suppose I'll just rub my hands together with sinister glee...
Dear Van Hammersmith, I've been in a band for over a year now, and one of our customs is to make jokes about the bass player he doesn't understand. However, we're running out of jokes he genuinely can not grasp. What should we do, before we have to resort to making jokes he actually understands? Thanks, Bruce.
Have you tried just stuffing him in the trunk of a car and leaving him there overnight? And then in the morning, when he's covering in fear-piss and bloody-fingered from trying to claw him way out, explain to him that it was all just a joke. When he says it wasn't funny, tell him that he just doesn't get it. Then beat him with tire irons and road signs. Later, explain to the judge that it was just a joke, and that he just doesn't get it. When you get out of prison, burn down your bass player's house. Explain that this too is just a joke, and that it's too clever for him to understand. Follow this up by clubbing him in the knee caps, bashing him over the back of the head with a big stone, and when he's unconscious, remove one of his kidneys and sell it on the black market. In the hole where his kidney used to be, leave a note that says "Gotcha!" Man, that guy never gets your jokes. By the way, it sounds like it sucks to be in a band with you and your vicious, hateful friends. But humans, like chickens, will often pick on the weakest member of a social group.
Yo, been playing guitar for a bit and now I'm trying to improve my technical playing - solos, sweep picking etc. So I learned a few easy solos and a couple of scales and was wondering how important practicing scales is. Does relentlessly practicing scales help improve playing or should I just concentrate on trying to learn various solos? Cheers.
Ah, Cheers. Norm, Cliff, Sammy, Coach... those were the good old days. Here's what you should do, Cheers. Every time you start to practice, do some scales. In the "olden days" (like back when Cheers was still on "television") they called this "warming up." Do this relentlessly, for maybe ten or fifteen minutes. Then start working on your solos, or what I like to call "playing some songs for a while." Also be relentless when you do this. When you think your fingers are going to have to go around in little tiny wheelchairs because you've been so relentless with your practice, stop. Take a few deep, relentless breaths, give your hands a quick, relentless shake, and then do another ten or fifteen minutes of relentless scales. Just as a note to all of you relenting custards out there, it's time to stop relenting. If you're going to do anything, do it relentlessly. Get up and get a drink of water, but do it relentlessly. Do you know why Luke couldn't Jedi mind-lift his x-wing out of the Dagobah swamp? You got it: he relented. You guys have got to stop relenting. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go piss, relentlessly.
Hey VH, I've been reading your column for awhile now and I wanted some insight on what you think makes a band original or unique. Me and my friends are starting up a band and we love the things that we have come up with. Only problem is me and the bass player are constantly wondering if we sound too much like our main influence. He thinks we need to branch out more and incorporate more genres into our sound, but I like how we sound and I believe that while the music certainly sounds like our main influence, it is different enough to not be labeled a ripoff. I want to be original but I also want to stay within my favorite genre. My question to you is, what do you think makes a band "original?" Lyrical subject matter? Synthesizing a lot of different genres into one? How can we stay in our genre, but stick out in the genre as unique?
Best way to stand out is to be really, really good. But that is too obvious an answer to be satisfying, so I'll expand. Don't try to stand out by just grabbing different genres and smashing them together. Play the genres you like. If you play long enough, you'll find your own identity within your genre. Your songwriting will differentiate you from your influences, even if you start out by ripping them off. Eventually you will grow a "pair" (and if you and your bandmates are chicks, then yes, I mean a pair of ovaries. Big, hairy ovaries) and you'll find your own sound. And here's a thing: you as players probably don't sound the same as the players in your hero band. You will have to struggle with your own limitations, and you'll grow as players to do somethings really well, but if you're writing your own songs while you'll grow it as you write. This means that you'll write songs that let you do what you do best, even if that means the song doesn't sound exactly like a classic "Evil Band X" song. Are you looking for advice? Stop angsting. Play the genre you love, wear your influences on your sleeve, and just try to be awesome. And relentless. Don't forget to be relentless.
Hey there, Van H! I am in a band with my three best friends. Every time that we have jammed together, it has been great and I love being part of of the band. Recently, we have been writing a couple of songs. The problem is that we don't have a singer. Like I said earlier, I am in a group with my three best friends, and I would really like to keep it that way, I really don't like the idea of becoming a 5-piece, I wouldn't want to ruin the chemistry within the band. Lately I have been writing my own lyrics, and they all reflect on my own personal experiences, so I've been really wanting to sing my own lyrics. However I am a very average singer. I reckon I would have the stage presence that a top singer would have (I have no sense of embarrassment at all), I'm just a little bit tone deaf, which could turn people off our music. There is also my bassist, who can sing alright, but he is the shyest person I know. There is no way he would be able to let go on stage. This wouldn't really be an issue if he was just a bassist, but as a singer I feel that you have to have a certain aura which he just doesn't have. So my question is this: do I try and convince my band mates that my lyrics are important to me and that I want to perform them on my own? Do I let my bassist sing knowing that we may sound better, but we will suck live? Or do we risk the chemistry of the whole band and look for a new singer? Cheers for reading (and maybe even answering!) this. Sam
Hey Sam. Here's my suggestion. Put on some tight pants, go down to the rough part of town, and earn yourself a few hundred bucks. Then go to a shop where they sell some half-decent used music gear and get yourself some kind of effects box. Nothing fancy, just something that you can run through the vocals so you can cover up your tin-eared caterwauling with some nice, soothing distortion and chorus. If you do really well down in the nasty part of town, you could get something fancier and T-Pain yourself with some "Otto Toon." This could make you sound like you know how to sing, and might convince some of the dumber members of your audience that you're a robot. Then you can have your bass player sing backup vocals (or "BV" as we say in my new band, The Otto Von Toons). He can provide clean, crisp backing vocals but will be under no pressure to be frontman-worthy, while you will be able to Jagger it up all over the shizzle without having to know how to sing. (Or you could bite yon proverbial bullet and find a good singer. One good thing about being in a band is that you get to make NEW friends.)
Hey. I joined a band a month or two ago, but I'm starting to get second thoughts. Basically, the drummer (let's call him Chris because it's easier) is how I got in, and he's a legend, and one of the best drummers I know. The weak links are the other guys. Chris and I are both metal heads, but the singer/rhythm guitarist is into acoustic shit like Paramore, and isn't terribly good at singing, and is out of time in all fairness. Our bassist is this dude obsessed with manga or whatever, and so learns the riffs from Tekken instead of practicing. There are better bassists in the world. This huge divide in taste is starting to show in our own songs. We're also not getting gigs. The bands last gig was a charity thing ages ago. It's not like we're bad, we're pretty tight despite the singer's guitar outbursts. We're just not getting that experience. Thing is, I want to be in a band, but I don't know where to go if I leave this one. There just aren't enough good musicians where I live. You'll probably say something like I might as well leave now if I feel that strongly, but everyone is great to be around, and practice is always loads of fun, but we're just not going anywhere. Thanks anyway.
You kinda gave up on your own question there at the end, nameless stranger. Actually, I can't even find a question mark in your letter. WTF, MF? It's like, you just roll out this half-hearted statement, I'm in a band and it's fun, but we're not going anywhere. You'll probably say I should quit. Oh well. Thanks anyway. It's like getting a letter from Pooh's friend Eeyore. If practice is fun, why quit? It sounds like you guys just need to get re-energized and start working on getting some gigs. Hey, do you know why you guys haven't been getting gigs? Because you HAVEN'T BEEN TRYING HARD ENOUGH. What do you say about that? "No, it's because we suck." Bullshit. You're good enough to gig somewhere. Do you know how I know? Because I spend four or five nights a week in shit-house bars, and I see awful bands play all the time. You have a complete lineup, and probably you know some songs. If you have done any research at all on how to approach bars, event promoters, or anything else that will host a band, you should be able to find gigs. Quit sucking your own balls and start trying harder. Why the hell would you quit? You guys get along, and practice is fun. There are lots of people who play in bands and that's all they do. There are a lot of older musicians that realize they are never going to "go anywhere," but they still get together and play. Do you know why? Because "everyone is great to be around, and practice is always loads of fun." But if you want to "go somewhere," you'll need to get your nuts out of your pocket, hook'em back on, and start hustling for gigs. And do you know what? Your band will get way better when you've got some shows lined up. There's nothing like a little pressure to make people focus, you know what I mean? I guess what I'm trying to say is, stop complaining. Sure, you have some genre strife, but lots of bands do. Try to use this as a strength. Rock hard, and let your singer do his thing. If you jam and practice enough, this will synthesize into "your sound." If you guys are having fun, keep doing it! And if you want gigs, go get them. And for hook'em back on, brother. Hook'em back on. **** That's it! As always, you can send me your question by private message at my U-G profile page. But if you're going to do it, remember to do it relentlessly. Chee-ahs.
More Van Hammersmith columns:
+ Ask Van Hammersmith: Legacy Songs Artists' Discussions 01/09/2014
+ Ask Van Hammersmith: How to Dump a Band Fiction 01/06/2014
+ Ask Van Hammersmith: Band of Equals Fiction 12/24/2013
+ Ask Van Hammersmith. Part 62 (Final) Junkyard 10/12/2011
+ Ask Van Hammersmith. Part 61 Junkyard 10/05/2011
+ Ask Van Hammersmith. Part 60 Junkyard 09/28/2011
+ view all
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