I Sing When You Shut Up. Part 23

Not only was the smart-a-s stripper potentially going to join my band, but the girl I'd been obsessing about since she dumped me was now setting aside her new guy to come see me play...

Ultimate Guitar

The most important thing about fitting band members with bands is supply and demand. The demand for excellent players is high. Bad players are plentiful and the demand is low. Likewise, bad band are not in demand. It is much harder for a bottom end band to add a quality player than it is for an established band.

Naturally, everyone would prefer their bandmates to all be phenomenal players and trustworthy, dependable friends. But since demand for good players is high, lower level bands usually end up settling for bottom-end players, unreliable rascals or clashing personalities. When you're starting out, you take what you can get.

This can lead to strange bedfellows. Take, for example, my own former band Panegyric. Mitch was a talented player, but he had specific needs. He demanded that the other players basically follow his instructions about the music, and play the songs he was writing. High level players are typically not interested in being puppets, so he had to settle for inferior players on bass and rhythm guitar, and a total non-fit on drums.

I played rhythm, and only had a dozen lessons or so before Mitch started teaching me how to play his songs. He directed my learning from there on out, and I was obedient within the limits of my slowly developing abilities. Ty, on bass, was similar. Ty was learning his instrument on the job.

Todd, our drummer, was a competent player. He just didn't really fit with the rest of us. He was an uptight Christian, who played with us because he wanted to be in a band, but hadn't had luck finding a group. He played with a church group, but wanted something outside the Sunday morning routine. He tried for a while to put together a Christian rock group but had no luck.

Mitch knew him because they went to elementary school together, or something way back and obscure like that. Mitch recruited him, but it was a bad fit. We were a band of guys who wanted to rock as hard as we could, and then drink and smoke a lot and talk about how great we were. Todd didn't hang in much for that, and never hung out with us outside of rehearsals and shows. But we were the best he could do at the time. And he was the best we could do at the time.

Even if we'd carried on indefinitely, I couldn't imagine Todd sticking it out with us. I don't think he liked us very much.

In my current situation, I didn't have much to offer as a band. I'd decided that starting my own band was the only way to go. I wasn't about to go out and try and hitch a ride on someone else's dream. I didn't want to be a sidekick, or filler, or worse, baggage. I wanted to set the tone, and the success of the project would be in my hands.

But being a subpar guitarist and a nascent songwriter gave me very little leverage when it came to recruiting. All I really had was an idea for the sound, and it was super-heavy riff rock with melodic industrial leanings and experimental tendencies. I was working toward this now by writing super-simple riff rock. Baby steps.

After seeing Megan do justice to an old Nine Inch Nails song at karaoke on Tuesday night, I knew that she could be the perfect vocalist for my as-yet unnamed group. She sang all-out, and gave a performance full of strut and angry, frustrated sass. And that was it: she PERFORMED. She didn't just go up and sing, staring at the words on the monitor. She performed like she was fronting a tribute act.

I knew she could fit with the sound and the style I wanted. She could be the Grace Slick in my Jefferson Airplane. Except heavier. Much heavier.

The only problem was how to convince her to join. I had little to offer. Starting a band from the ground up with a newb nobody does not have the appearance of an opportunity; it just looks like a lot of work, likely doomed to eventual failure.

The other issue was whether or not it was a good idea starting a band with a girl I'd already slept with, but who had issued a no-thank-you order on further romance. I figured this wasn't a potential obstacle, because since we'd already done it and it was out of the way, we didn't have to concern ourselves with curiosity and burgeoning feelings. And if we ended up sleeping together again, that was okay too.

I spent Wednesday at work crafting my sales pitch, and then called Megan that night. She was a little surprised to hear from me, and she didn't respond positively when I suggested she try out as the vocalist for my band.

"What? No, Nate, that's stupid."

"Hang on!" I said. "It's not stupid. You can do it. You can sing, you can dance, and you can own a stage. The ability to seduce an audience is everything, and you know you can do it. You could be really good at this."

"I doubt that, and I'm not interested in singing in a rock band, Nate. That's it."

"Hang on!" I said again. "Ask yourself for a moment if the performative aspect of your dancing job is something you might actually miss when you stop dancing. A rock band gives you an acceptable performance outlet that doesn't require you to..."

"To what?"

"You know..."

"No," she said. "What were you going to say?"

"You know. You don't have to get naked. You can just go onstage and sing. You can wear interesting clothes and go on stage and sing with an awesome, hip rock band. We could even cover that Rolling Stones song you like. But really amp it up."

She sighed. "There are about a million things wrong with what you just said, Nate. Look, I'm busy right now. I'll call you back later, okay?"

That was good enough for me. If she did call back, it meant she was in. If she didn't call back, I would ask her again later.

I played some guitar and read for a while. I sent her a text at eleven o'clock, and went to bed at midnight.

Megan called back maybe half an hour after I dropped off to sleep. I could hear bass-heavy dance music in the background when I took the call.

"Hey," she said. "Sorry to call so late."

"That's okay," I said, rubbing my eyes. "So. You into it? Do you want to be in my band?"

"Well that's just it, Nate," she said. "You don't have a band. It's just you, and you've said yourself that you're not very good. So there's nothing really for me to do. There's no band."

"Two people make a band. And obviously I want to add more players. But, you know, you've got to start somewhere, and I think you've got the potential to be really good."

"Yeah right," she said with a laugh. "I'm not even that good of a singer."

"Listen, come on over and we'll try to play a song together. We'll see if we can make some kind of connection. Being in a band can be a ton of fun. And it fits with your profile as an artist. It will give you cred. Just drop by."

"I'm not dropping by. It's late."

"Oh, no, not tonight!" I said. "I'm already in bed. I have to get up in the morning. Come by tomorrow."

There was a muffled sound of her hand covering her phone, and I could almost hear a brief exchange between Megan and another woman. It occurred to me that she was probably in the back dressing room at The Crystal House. She put the phone back to her ear. "Okay, I'll stop by," she said at last. "It would be nice if there was some beer on hand. And Nate, let me make this very clear for you: if this is a pickup plan, it is not going to work. I am not interesting in an ongoing hookup. So don't let that get into your head."

"Okay," I said. "No problem."

We agreed that she would drop by the next evening, and I had a hard time getting to sleep. Fantasies of leading a really credible rock band kept me awake.

I spent the night in, working my way into a few beers, waiting for Megan to come over. I got a text message from Carrie Anne while I was waiting. She'd asked me to text her the details of my gig with Terry on Saturday night. I wasn't sure how she planned to come see me without her boyfriend Charlie getting pissed off. I knew if he had a vote there was no way he would let her come see me.

Or maybe he didn't have the authority to say she couldn't come out. Maybe his mandate was limited to who she was allowed to sleep with. I was already on the Do Not F--k list, but I wasn't sure if he was allowed to say she couldn't come and see me play a show.

Either way, her text cleared things up. "Coming to show on Sat. Charlie not."

Damn, I thought. Saturday night, two weeks before Christmas, and she was heading out to see me without her boyfriend. What did it mean? I laughed, looking at the phone in my hand. It was incredible how things were coming together. Not only was the beautiful, smart, smart-a-s stripper potentially going to join my band, but the girl I'd been obsessing about since she dumped me more than two years ago was now setting aside her new guy to come see me play. Things were shaping up very well.

I had a strange feeling of foreboding, but dismissed it as pessimism.

Megan arrived. She had on a green coat and carried a big shoulder bag with her. "Freaking cold out," she said as she stepped inside my place. "I should be home. Gahh, what did I come here for?"

"You came to sing," I said. "And I'm going to play guitar for you."

There had been a dusting of snow that night, and Megan shook at the shoulders of her coat as she slid it off. "Really," she said. "And what are you going to play?"

"Well, I've been working on some original songs," I said. "But if you're more comfortable singing something you already know, we can do that too. Any favorites?"

She hung the coat over the back of a kitchen chair. My empty beer cans were on the counter, and she looked at them and then at me. "In the fridge?" she asked.

"Yeah, help yourself. Actually I'll have one too."

Megan grabbed cans for each of us. "So tell me, Nate," she said as she popped open her can. "What do you want your band to sound like?"

I smiled. "I'm thinking high energy hard rock with experimental leanings."

"That's meaningless," she said without a smile. "Those words are over-used and watered-down. Try again."

"Okay," I said with a laugh. "I'm thinking heavy riff rock. Some slow stoner stuff, but some faster stuff, too. A lot of distortion."

"That's still incredibly non-specific. Can you name me a song or a band as a point of comparison?"

"Oh." I paused. "I can think of some bands that would be influential, but none I would actually want to sound like, you know what I mean? I could mention Motorhead and Joy Division. Both would be influential, but since they don't sound much alike, you would still be guessing what I have in mind."

"Right. Look, I don't want to waste a whole bunch of time on this, Nate. I had no intention of being in a band before you asked me, so the odds are already stacked against you convincing me to join. But I'm here, on the off chance that you're actually up to something interesting. So this is your chance. Impress me."

This is chapter 23 of 30. "I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Receive updates about his work on twitter at @nolanwhyte.

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    Danjo's Guitar
    I thought he had already asked her last chapter? It came across that way anyway. Or maybe I'm just crazy.