Thu, 04 Aug 2005

A couple weeks ago, on a Saturday night, Warren and I went to see the folkie-country girl band Nathan. They were playing at the Brass Monkey, which is up in that second-level space on 21st Street where the Zoo Bar, among other failed nightclubs, once dwelled. It’s a pretty nice venue. Not too dank, fresh air breezing through the open windows, not too crowded. They had a good mix of young hippies, overweight hillbillies, and old dudes in ties.

I like Nathan. I even bought their CD – I think it’s the first CD I’ve bought in over a year. Between sets I turned to Warren and said, “These guys are awesome. They’ve got everything I’ve always wanted in my own band – banjo, accordian, theremin…” I paused for effect, and Warren anticipated the punchline. “…Cute girls,” we concluded simultaneously.

I wish I’d been able to come up with something clever to say to the cute lead singer when I was buying the CD, but the best I could do was “You guys are awesome.” Pretty weak, Michael. In retrospect, I should have asked about the theremin. Where did you learn to play the theremin? How much did your theremin cost? What’s it like playing the theremin? Is it rad? It looks rad…

After the show I came home and checked out the band’s website, where I found a link to add yourself to their mailing list. I clicked it and a blank email message popped up. So I filled up the message with various flattering comments about the band and the lead singer’s assured playing of the theremin. I also gave them a bit of advice: when you’re encouraging your audience to clap along with a song, I wrote, it’s important to also tell the audience when it’s acceptable to stop clapping. It’s embarrassing to look around and realise you’re the last person still clapping.

So a couple days ago I got a nice letter back from the cute lead singer. She apologised for the clapping thing and said she hoped I wasn’t too traumatised by the experience. Then she asked where she could listen to a recording of the rock opera. Apparently she’d clicked on the link to in my signature file and browsed around the website, but of course there’s nothing there to listen to, only stuff to read. What a wasted opportunity.

On the other hand, since the rock opera sounds much more interesting when it’s described to you than it does when you actually hear it, perhaps it’s a good thing that there are no extant recordings. It’s far easier to summon the correct atmosphere with words – words like “satellite” and “laserbeam” and “echo” and “spaceman” – than it is to perform music that actually sounds like those things. Pursuing this idea further, maybe I should abandon the writing of rock operas and stick to the conceptualisation of rock operas. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a rock opera where muppets had sex with unicorns? There. Done. I’ve created the concept. No piece of music could possibly do the concept justice. Therefore, why waste everybody’s time.

Among the songs we’re currently recording with Darcy there’s one called “The band known as Sea Water Bliss”, a kind of ryme-of-the-ancient-mariner ballad about an orchestra marooned on a desert island.

I think it would sound cool with a mournful trumpet solo, so I got Darcy to give me the number of this trumpet-playing girl he knows. I gave her a call yesterday. She told me she’d be happy to play a solo on the record…if we pay her. Maybe seventy-five or a hundred bucks, she estimated. She says that seeing as how music is her living it would be silly to give away her services for free. This is a perfectly reasonable position to take – I wish I were sufficiently in demand to take it myself – but it sorta messes up the whole trumpet-solo plan.

This is the same conundrum we face every time we go into the studio: how much are we prepared to spend in order to sound good? This shouldn’t be so damn complicated. Say you could pay $10,000 to sound as awesome as Loverboy, or $5000 to sound as good as Trooper, or a mere $1000 to sound like the Headpins. Then you could make a straightforward calculation based on your budget and how awesome you wanted to sound. But what if you’ve paid $10,000 and you find to your disappointment that you sound like Great Big Sea? Is it worthwhile to pay an extra couple thousand bucks in the hope of scraping up to the level of, say, Chilliwack? Maybe you can keep on spending forever and never get there. Or maybe you’re just one trumpet solo away from turning the corner. Who’s to say?


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