More video this week: http://www.youtube.com/user/MLinsenmayer#p/a/u/1/u3nNXdV8tbQ.
The linked song is one of two I've just put up there from a 1997 gig by The Fake Johnson Trio. This was the very last gig for that band, and one of the few played as an actual trio: I switched to bass for a couple of shows for that incarnation. The song is "Retrogress," a cheery tune with lots of little arrangement nuances to screw up the band. It's about not letting yourself get pulled back into moldy old modes of feeling.
Also now on my channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/MLinsenmayer) are songs by two different line-ups of Madison Lint.
Both of those bands (FJT and Madison Lint) had a good deal of turnover, which brings me to my topic: how much ownership do you have to have for an artistic project for it to feel fulfilling? From a young age, I was always someone who had to either lead the game, or I wouldn't play. So though I've flirted with being "just a sideman" in bands, it would never stick: I like playing my own songs. I do enjoy my current situation as co-frontman, though; I am able to feel good about filling out my fellow New Peoplers' songs, so long as that isn't my only role.
So I've fundamentally never understood the sidemen I've played with. Why are you here? Why would you put up with being in your situation for very long? Well, they don't. For some (drummers, mostly), playing in a band is like doing a sport, like intramural soccer or something. Few would SUFFER for a commitment like that in the way that is routinely required to play in a band (i.e. driving a lot, hanging around dingy clubs with bad sound, small crowds, long hours in the studio). Clearly, these guys were doing me a favor, and in return, I, the leader, was obliged to set up situations for them to enjoy themselves, which usually involved getting lots of good shows, which I was--through ineptitude or lack of patience or simply facing tough odds--seldom able to do, so of course these awesome musicians would wise up and move on for the hope of something more stable and rewarding.
...And, like a VH-1 Behind the Music special, I'm supposed to say now that that's all behind me, and I'm in a good place, playing with people who do not see themselves as sidemen and so will not quit. So that's what I'm saying. All is right with the world... for the moment.
-“topic: how much ownership do you have to have for an artistic project for it to feel fulfilling?”
I would love to weigh in on this discussion because I am also a musician/song writer/band leader. I’ll preface by saying I have always been the predominant song writer for every band I’ve played with. The primary song writer has a major influence on what that band is going to be modeled after, yet not entirely in control of the bands sound.
I’ve been frustrated by having fellow musicians perform my parts flawlessly but use a real horrible 80’s guitar tone, as well as play drum beats with zero feel to it. I often wondered why these guys would continue to play my songs and listen to me try and urge them to strip away whatever slice of individual imprint they attached to the tune. The ones that do hang around usually did so because of friendship. So many bands and band practices are like being in a bowling league. As long as everyone is having a good time they’ll deal with your bullshit.
Nowadys I no longer rely on my complete autonomous input on how songs should sound. I’m finally involved with a band that makes the music I write sound greater than I could ever do alone. I realized that by committing to a distinct arrangement is only good for complete geniuses and for lesser folk its just perfect to the author.
So how much does one need to own the project to feel fulfilled? I think the question is not complete because I feel complete satisfaction the moment I write a piece, or even get the idea for it. Once it is tossed between a group of people it must become something different, it must become a part of the band as a whole otherwise one would have to expect their fulfillment to include the players they are expecting to play the parts (those they would have to have in mind as playing the parts during the writing process). Without this fore planning fulfillment is something elusive, and the cause of so much torment in artists.
If I have a song where I expect the section written for you to go over exactly how I authored then my fulfillment can only come from hearing you do what I want. If I don’t have those expectations and I don’t feel fulfilled somehow then I will be chasing fulfillment of something I haven’t penned yet, so I need to complete the arrangement or understand my objective for writing the song.
In closing I’ll explain that I now get fulfillment from writing music that is open to interpretation. I try to destroy my expectations and distinct ideas for arrangements in an effort to absorb the characteristics of those who are going to actually play the music with me. By getting the natural inclinations of the drums, guitars, and vocalist I can fit the song to the band rather than fit the band into the song. While I relinquish some ownership by doing so, I have increased my fulfillment twofold from the years before.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Good point, Brian. I started out in orchestras, and in my earliest bands, I more or less wrote out parts for everyone to play, which was not so fun for them, but quickly grew out of that, so that I typically go in with a song I can play by myself (at least when I was fronting bands as a rhythm guitarist) and let the other guys do whatever they want behind it, only I have some definite ideas of how the dynamics should shape throughout the song, and when I play other folks’ songs myself as a bass player, I do like it more if I can put my stamp on it in that way, so that provides some explanation: people want to be creative, and if they’re not songwriters themselves, then coming up with their own parts fulfills the same purpose for them.
BTW, I thought it was funny to see you wielding a Kawai F2B in the video for the tune retrogress. I have the darker wood model and love that bass.
edison c says
The reason, Mr. Lint, is because (if you are not just doing it for exercise, chicks, drugs, money, or a sport, and are actually SMART) – it’s because as a good ‘sideman’ – you LOVE THE CONTENT! And, you don’t want to write. You just want to play something that you respect, and do it justice. This, I get.
I don’t think a lot of (inexperienced) band folk consider this much when they decide they just want to play “in a band”.
Sidemen, if you don’t love the content as it is presented by the primary creative cabal of your group, and you’re not just trying to pay some bills, get the frak out of there. Stop trying to fit your square peg into their round hole, and when people want you to come on board – specifically ask said cabal “what do you want me to do for you? tell me RIGHT NOW”. Also, tell those guys exactly what you want to do for them.
If you don’t like what comes out of that discussion, DON’T SIGN UP. Sure, if they lie to you, quit. Expect that often “collaboration” will mean “yeah, that sounds like a great idea! but what will eventually happen is, I Want You To Do What I Tell You, Because I Don’t Like Your Ideas.”
But don’t pretend like if Lead Guy X says “I want you to play exactly what I tell you, show up on time, and don’t drink 80 beers until after you’re done playing,” you heard “my cat’s breath smells like cat food.”
I think I shall put this on a poster, to be tacked up anywhere musicians are recruited for any reason that is not solely monetary.
This blog was probably the wrong place to post this comment, as I suspect I am preaching to several (very smart) choirs.
~ the end ~
p.s. your Maytricks certainly pulled off many successful collaborations over the years (which regardless of how much I liked so-and-so’s songs over the other guy, always impressed me), but I think this is pretty rare. How the armada of musicians that was Yes didn’t kill each other, I have no idea.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Re. Yes and other bands like it: bands that are living the dream shouldn’t have trouble keeping members, at least until they make enough money so they can do whatever they want anyway (e.g. Roger Waters and Pink Floyd). Of course, there’s the “I am missing my kids grow up because we tour too much” thing…
MayTricks was a two-man partnership much like what I’ve got going now, which has its dynamic, and you can eventually get sick of adapting to each other (on both a stylistic and personal level), but there’s plenty of room in a band for two (creatively, anyway; I know with FJT I was at the point of feeling like to present a coherent show, it should be one face/voice driving the thing). The tricky thing is adding that third songwriter, and with MayTricks, our 4th member was a constant rotation and we couldn’t keep a 5th for more than a couple of weeks (we did, briefly, have four different 5-person lineups, i.e. had keyboardists on board, those most slippery of characters).