Thursday, October 8, 2009

I was a punk rock also-ran: cautionary tales from an old washed up band dude Vol. 1: the myth of the "Killer Opening Slot."

So, since we just played our final Northwest show of the year tonight (we have two pending Bay Area shows slated for December), and there really won't be too much to share in Police Teeth land for quite a while (we're planning on recording album number three in April 2010. Now you know as much as we do.) we can use this blog for other things. Such as this:

When we were finishing up mixing Real Size Monster Series, I had this exchange with Conrad Uno:

Conrad: I think this is going to be a really good record. Too bad it's probably going to be your last.
Me: What?
Conrad: Well, the lyrics sound like you guys are really down on the industry.
Richy: Well, if by the industry, you mean "life."

Of course couple that with The Stranger's review of that record, penned by Teh Grandyz, and it's pretty easy to see how one could get the impression that we're a bunch of sourpusses that hate fun. And we're not, really. We all really enjoy playing music in general, and playing in this band in particular. It's just that we've been around the block a couple times. It gets pointed out to me quite a bit that it's dumb for someone who's 28 to feel "old." I know I'm not old, but I've been going to shows since the early 90's and playing in bands for nearly as long. I love this shit, and I'm going to keep doing it forever, but certain things get tedious, and some things lose their luster pretty quick.

And I'm a rap at you about one of those things right now:

A lot of folks younger or less experienced than I think that landing the "killer opening slot" is a shortcut to becoming popular. Oh, man! We're going to play with [insert band here] and they're going to watch us and they're going to be so stoked on us! And we're going to shotgun beers and become Facebook friends and we're going to trade merch! And they're totally going to ask us to do the whole West Coast with them next year, and...


If you're really lucky you'll get to split a game of Arkanoid with Damian from Fucked Up and he'll share an anecdote with you about touring China and covering "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in Beijing. Or the dude from the Bouncing Souls will compliment you on your stage banter and help you move your guitar amp. Or you'll get to politely ask Eddie Vedder to move out of the way because he's leaning on your bass cabinets.

That's usually as good as it gets. The dudes in these bands will see in the neighborhood of 1oo bands on their current tour. They think that your band is a bunch of chill bros and they might actually think you're pretty good, but do you think that they're going to remember your band when they get home? Even if they do remember your band, chances are that they confused your name with the even shittier local band that played first that night.

"But," you'll say "we'll get to play for all those people!" Uh yeah. Good luck with that. First of all, you know who's in the club at 8:30 pm on a Wednesday? Fuckin' nobody. It's hard enough to get your friends out on a Saturday night at 11:00 when the cover is half as much. And the hardcore fans of the headliner that you're trying to convert? They're at the bar. As far as they're concerned, you are a barrier between them and what they actually came to see. I know what you're thinking: "the reason you can't win them over is because you suck!" Yeah, you're right, but they won't actually leave the bar long enough to have an informed opinion on your suckage. As far as I can tell, the difference between opening a big show and playing for the 30 people who are actually willing to brave the showroom and headlining one of the hole in the wall bars on a Friday night for 30 people is that the 30 people in the little tiny place are actually interested in seeing you.

As far as I'm concerned, the best reason to take one of these opening slots is this: to get to see a band you really like for free. Tonight, I got to see New Model Army for free, and they were fucking great. I would have paid to see them, but I've had a rough last few months. Opening for them was the best way to go to the show without having to eat three meals of ramen a day for the rest of the week. I got to see Fucked Up for free this past spring. And got a free case of beer, too. The playing music part is just what I did instead of coming up with $15. It's analogous to having to wash dishes at the restaurant when they bring you your check and you realize that you left your credit card at home.

I don't want to sound like an ingrate. I actually appreciate the opportunities we've gotten, and we're probably going to open some bigger shows after we start playing again next year. This is just something Chris and I were talking about on the way home, and I wanted to get it down while it was still fresh (also note that I'm not bitching about the show we played tonight. Aside from a few little things, it was great. It was just the catalyst that got my wheels turning on this topic.)

So dudes in bands. No more of this "Dude, if we play this show, we're going to start doing so much better!" talk. Knock it off. It's a dream they sell to children. Enjoy your free tickets and your flat of Pabst. If you want to grow your audience, keep playing the hole in the wall with the band that's doing just a little bit better than you are.