Thursday, May 19, 2011

bringing the arena into the club

All of these moves are carefully planned
--Inspector Clouseau

Lately, I've been thinking about particular, arenas.

For the record, I am currently in what might I humbly consider a kick-ass band, with a great singer/guitarist, drummer, and bassist. Clubs are our environment...we've played pretty much everywhere there is to play in this town and made three forays into Toledo, playing with acts both national and local. Over the year plus three months we've been playing out, we've assembled a nice baker's dozen of pretty awesome original songs (three of which you can sample via the video clips on the right) and a few recurring covers. Our drummer, though, is leaving town, so our days are numbered (make sure to come to our farewell show on July 30th at Howard's after you buy some merchandise, end of plug).

Which begs the question: what next?

Once Analog Revolution is gone, I initially pictured myself just sitting on the couch, plunking on guitars while absent-mindedly reminiscing on past glory. Maybe, I supposed, I would record the occasional psychotic instrumental. It would be a far cry from playing on a cramped, sweaty stage, but the year plus in the band has miraculously made me conceive of myself as a guitar player again, and that's something I refuse to give up.

Life, though, has a habit of happening. Rather than reverting to a couch guitarist, I have instead been recruited by a friend to start a new band. My friend is in three other bands, but I guess that's not enough for this madman...he seems to like my playing enough to want to play with me, which is nice. Additionally, as he seems to like my songwriting and has so many other commitments, he has also given me free reign over much of the songwriting. This is perfect, because I have always loved writing as much as playing, and since Analog Revolution hasn't (for some reason) been using any of my stuff for a while, I have a backlog of material ready and waiting. It's even kind of thrilling, knowing I will get to hear my new songs finally performed.

What is most different about my new, yet-unnamed band, though, is that we have time to plan, plot, and scheme. I still have a few months of Analog Revolution, and my friend has his other three bands, so we're not hurting for outlets. Also, I have urchin on the way, so I have other commitments for the immediate future at any rate. We might as well take our time figuring out what our band is going to be. This means that while Analog Revolution was an example of evolution (we never really had a plan and just kinda grew into our identity), this band will be closer to intelligent design.

So, how does space fit into this?

A few sessions ago, we were blasting through a song (okay, more its skeletal framework than its complete structure, but you get the point), and, when we ended, we spontaneously broke into the endless bashing chords with solo guitar over top which is so common in many of the more self-indulgent forms of heavy music which I dearly appreciate. We both laughed, and my friend immediately suggested we end all our songs this way...which made me realize how much I'm gonna love this band. I then quipped that, when people ask us what we play, we needed to call ourselves "alternative arena rock."

This, however, let me into a tough mission. I then had to figure out what exactly "arena rock" meant...and then figure out a way we could possibly be an alternative to it.

I polled friends. I had cigar-based discussions. I drank and thought. Most people seem to tie arena rock to (surprise, surprise) rock and roll played in arenas...but this didn't really work as a set of conventions for me. When asked to get more specific, some people brought up theatrics, some brought up pyro, some brought up commercialism. One online friend said all our songs have to be about "beer and boobs." Others listed possible arena rock bands as including Foghat (which I can see), REO Speedwagon (sure), Styx (maybe early stuff), Motley Crue (hah?), Queen (nah), and WASP (ooooookay). Most people seemed to think a "corporate stooge" label was essential.

There were a lot of qualifications others brought up which I just didn't buy, of course. But through all the debate, I came away with this definition: loud, guitar-based rock and roll, with songs based on simplified (often blues-based) chordal structures containing big/catchy/sing-a-long choruses. This I can do. That arena rock tended to take place in arenas is evident, but I think it could also work in a club environment. Moreover, I know of many cool bands (The Hold Steady on a national level, and the Matt Truman Ego Trip here in Toledo) who are already doing this kind of stuff.

But I doubt they are doing it quite as weirdly as will we.

This means, though, I have to start figuring out how to apply this to the riffs which I have stockpiled. To this end, I have tried several approaches. I have started carrying around a notebook to record cool-sounding lyrical ideas. I have started to keep a recorder near my guitar for any riffs which might present themselves. I have started to, when plunking on riffs, figure out what bits sound more "chorus-y." I have started to try and sing along to said chorus-sounding bits...mostly in a "na-na-na" kinda voice, because I figure anyone can sing nonsense syllables. I have learned drum machine software so that I might construct structured demos. In short, I have been thinking about how to take the "we want everyone to feel the power" attitude of arena rock and translate that into something that will blast people off their barstools.

Moreover, I have been thinking about space: where to fill it, where to leave it open, how to slowly build. People might get crammed into arenas, but they don't need the entire space to be filled. No one wants to be in wall-to-wall humanity and get hit with a million beats. After all, if the band never shuts up, how will the crowd ever participate? It is, I feel, about strategically filling the space...knowing when to hit the damn instrument and when to simply let its vibrations ring out.

I'm still not 100% sure I know how we're gonna do this...but I got a feeling it's gonna be good.

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