Lise wasn't very happy when I told her that she couldn't come inside the bar to watch our gig. She gave me a hard time about it, but in the end she said she would come out anyway.
"You still want to come down and stand on the street?" I said. I was calling her using the phone behind the bar.
"It's better than sitting around the house here," she said. "Besides, Smokey and his friends are going, so at least I'll get blazed up. And at least I'll be able to hear the show."
"Right," I said. "Okay. I'll see you when you get here."
I hung up the phone. Ryan was outside smoking a cigarette. Jed was at the back, sitting and mucking around with Ryan's blue Les Paul. I decided to head out and join Ryan.
He gave me a cigarette without waiting to see if I would ask. "Should be good tonight," he said.
"Yeah? Think so?" I replied. "That's unusual to hear out of you. No offence, but you tend to be a glass-half-empty kind of guy."
"You really think so?" he asked. "That's funny coming from you. Man, you've always got some drama to deal with. But seriously, I think we'll do okay tonight. I wasn't crazy about having dick-balls in there agree to stay after saying he wanted to quit, but at least there's a feeling of stability. I don't like the in-fighting and crap. And we're sounding better too."
"Yeah. It would be nice to get things moving in a more positive direction," I said. "You know. Focus on the music instead of the lineup."
"Right, exactly," Ryan said. He flicked his butt out into the street. "I've been thinking a lot about the music we've been playing and my guitar style. I know I'm not a great player. I've still got a long way to go. But here I am trying to write songs, and I wonder, would I be better off writing these crappy songs with my limited skills, or should I focus on technical stuff and, you know, try to play better? Because sometimes it really seems either/or."
"Tough question." I took a drag on the cigarette.
"Yeah. And I know a lot of people would just say do both, like, write songs and still practice, and eventually I'd write better songs and become a better player. But there are so many guys out there, like upper-level pros, who seem to just stay at the same technical level their whole career. Like Motley Crue or KISS. The Ramones. Motorhead. Maybe they're good bands, but it's not like they get way better. They stay the same, even after years and years."
I shrugged. "So you think if you do nothing but scales or something for five years you'd be in a better position to start songwriting?"
"I don't know. That seems logically flawed somehow. It should be more organic than that, right?" I had a last drag and crushed out the cigarette under the toe of my shoe. "Look Ryan, first off, you're asking the wrong guy. Remember, you're the one who started teaching me to play. I know less than anyone, and I'm writing songs too. Hell, we're writing songs together. And some of them are okay."
"Don't sell yourself short, man," he said. "You came a long way this summer. A real long way."
"Anyway," I said, "you're over-thinking it. If you want to relax on the songwriting, then do it, but I don't think it's necessary. Just do what you think is right, okay? You give me a headache with these types of questions."
"Hah! And you call me glass-half-empty. Come on, let's go in. And speaking of new songs," he said, pulling the door open, "are you ready to do your new one tonight?"
"Sure," I said. "I'm fine. It sounded all right at practice, didn't it?"
"Yeah," he said. "But we've only played it like, three times. I just don't want you to muff the words like you did the first time we played this place."
"It will be fine." We got coffees at the bar and walked back to join Jed back by the gear. We were going to hang out this time, and we had a long wait until nine o'clock.
At seven-thirty the bar was still quiet. There were a few of the usual scrubs, who usually cleared out when the young crowd arrived. There were a few more of these types than usual this time around. There seemed to be a few more middle-aged working types hanging around, ordering wings or burgers and pitchers of beer.
Nick arrived, and he had two students with him, a guy and a girl. The guy was stout and square-headed, with a Montreal Expos hat and Winnipeg Blue Bombers jacket. The girl was big, with a head of curly black hair and crystal blue eyes. Her black sweater held in an impressive bust.
Our manager directed the two of them to sit down at a table, and he came to meet us at the back where we'd been hanging out. "Dudes," he said. "You ready to do some press?"
Ryan's eyes lit up. "Press? What are you talking about?"
Jed looked over at the guy and the girl sitting at the table. "Those two? What are they from, The Typesetter?"
The Typesetter was Garrison Valley University's lame-ass student newspaper. It was what you might expect from a small school that didn't have a journalism program: strictly amateur hour stuff. A few pages of "university news" (usually griping about some administrative decision that no student could care less about), a few pages about university sports, some campus entertainment stuff, and some columns and classified pages. Nothing exciting. Or even interesting.
"Yeah, The Typesetter!" Nick grinned. "I know, they suck, but it's cool, isn't it? I went to the editor and asked if they wanted to check us out tonight. We could get a full page. Maybe with a photo!"
"What are they going to do?" I asked. "Are they just going to watch the show, or what? Do they want to talk to us?"
"Of course," Nick said. "What do you think? They came down this early for the ambiance? Come on."
"Not me," Jed said. He stood up and stretched. "That's a shit paper, and I don't like the politics of most of their writers. I'll go get something to eat. I'll let Eric and Ryan whore themselves." And without another word, he walked the length of the room and out the front door.
"What a guy," Ryan said. He nodded to me. "What do you say, Eric? Are you going to leave too?"
"No," I said. "But do you think we should figure out what we're going to say first? Try and work out our strategy?"
"Our strategy?" Ryan smiled and stood up. "Dude, we're a band, not a political party."
"Sure," I said, getting up, "but we want to project an image, right? Riot Band. It's serious, you know? I want to present a unified front."
Nick slapped me on the back. "You make a good point," he said. "But these guys are here right now. And we really haven't worked out anything about our philosophy, right? So just be yourself."
Ryan walked right up to the table and sat down. I followed, and Nick took a seat between us. We introduced ourselves all around, made an excuse for Jed walking out, and asked what they wanted to do.
The square-headed guy, named Cliff, put a small digital recorder on the table. "Why don't we just let you guys introduce yourselves," he said. "You know, who you are, how you got together as a band, what kind of music you play, that kind of stuff."
"So you want us to interview ourselves?" I said. "Come on, man. You've got to ask something."
"Okay," Cliff said. "Um. How about telling us how you guys got together? As a band."
Ryan and I looked at each other. The night we met, I stopped him from getting beaten up by a former band-mate after he had sexually propositioned the guy's girlfriend. Then, after finding out I had no musical talent and played no instruments, he asked me to form a new band with him. Is that what these inept student journalists wanted to hear? I decided not to give them a good story. I figured if they were good writers I could give them shit and they could write a good story out of it.
"We met outside the bar one night," I said. "We got to talking and decided to form a band."
"Okay," the girl, Emily, said. "Have you guys been in bands before? What's your background?"
"Jed's been in some bands," Ryan said. "Eric and I are novices."
"What are your influences?" the guy asked.
"Jeez, these are some lame questions," Ryan said. "You guys aren't exactly NME, are you?"
"Well, we don't know anything about you," Emily said. "Usually when you get ready to do a proper interview with a band you get a press pack, or you can at least check their website for the simple background stuff. We don't have anything on you guys. We'll need some basics."
"Ooh, a press pack," Ryan said. He nudged Nick with his elbow. "That sounds cool. We should have one of those. You should write that down."
"To answer your question," I said, "we don't have specific influences. We listen to a lot of different music and try and learn from everything. Rock music, mostly. Some punk, metal, classic rock, psychedelic, different stuff like that."
"So what do you sound like when you play?" Cliff asked.
"You're going to stay for the show, right?" Ryan said. "You listen, and you say what you think we sound like."
"Oh, I don't think you want me to do that," he said, shaking his head.
"I'm a sports reporter. I'm just kind of along for the ride here."
Ryan snorted. "Right." He waved over to Keith at the bar and held up his hands to indicate a pitcher of beer was necessary.
"What do you think about the Garrison Valley music scene?" Emily asked.
"We have no idea," I said. "I'm not even sure there is one. I've never seen another band in this town. We opened for a band once at a house party, but that was the last gig they played. As far as I know," I said, "Riot Band is the Garrison Valley music scene."
Ryan smirked and started clapping. "There's the title for your story."
Keith brought around a pitcher and some glasses, and we suffered through more bland, inane questions and gave...well, I suppose we gave stupid, pompous, pretentious answers. I was saying things that I thought sounded stupid, even as they were leaving my mouth.
At eight-thirty I looked around. The bar had more bodies in it. Some were clearly from the university. Many were not. Strangely, the place had a much older crowd than the few previous weeks.
Jed came back and we abandoned the journalists. We went over the set list, knocked back another beer, and got ready to play. Outside Lise was standing with Smokey and his pals. I checked in with them and got a good-luck hug. It looked like Smokey was selling weed, but I couldn't be bothered about it. As far as I was concerned, it had nothing to do with me.
At nine o'clock we got up on stage. The lights came up, and we got an ovation from the crowd. It wasn't the same group as we'd seen the last few times. It was more diverse. There were older guys, most of them eyeballing the young women in the crowd. Some of the students hadn't returned, but they'd been replaced by new faces.
"Let's go," I said to Ryan and Jed. They were ready. I looked to the front of the bar. Through the windows I could see Lise standing on the sidewalk, watching us. It occurred to me that there were probably some good song lyrics to be written about a girl standing on the street watching her boyfriend's band play through the window of the bar, but I didn't have time to write anything down. I was busy.
"We're going to start with a new one tonight," I said into the microphone. Jed tapped out the count-in, and Ryan started to play, moving slowly along with a blues lick. It was a stark change from our usual all-out assault to open a show, but we all liked the new song, and we wanted to keep people guessing.
I hit a doom-laden low E, and started to rumble along with Ryan. And then, doing my best to look straight out into the audience instead of at my fret-hand, I started to sing:
Too many nights on whiskey had me thinking I was mad To get up every day and try again, And every time I tasted whiskey things always turned out bad, So I decided it was time to take up gin.
Now I've been running down the highway looking for somewhere to go Where I won't be reminded of the state I'm in, But every time I turn a corner, whiskey's knocking on my door, And that's why I was so wise to take up gin.
There was more, of course, including a nice chorus and some bits where Ryan sang backing vocals. The song, although silly and glib, was a fairly solid metaphor. I wrote the lyrics the morning after making love to Lise for the first time, because it explained perfectly how I felt: I had managed to get away from Jasmine, but I ended up straightaway with Lise. Two different girls, no doubt about that, but sometimes you can't help but feel that when you make a change you've just traded an old set of problems for a new one.
2010, Nolan Whyte