Lemonade!…

Yes, I know. It’s not the rest of the spring training journal. So shoot me.

This is better anyway.

Towards the end of last year my pals, Bottles + Skulls, got their van stolen and all their gear ripped off. They recovered the van, but the gear and a lot of their merchandise was gone. Probably forever.

It’s always a crap shoot how a band will react to something like this. When I was in college someone broke into the rehearsal space my band used and stole our guitars. We’d just started the band and hadn’t really done much. We’d played a few shows but that was about it. It didn’t seem like anyone in the band particularly cared about its continued existence. Then the guitars were gone and we fell together like a wilderness family fighting the cruel elements. We hung tough, replaced what we’d lost and got back to playing. Only this time we actually gave a shit about it. It was almost like we were saying, “Fuck you party clown. Steal our stuff and think that’s going to shut us down? Well, you’re wrong.”

In 2002 I was in another band, called Three Years Down. TYD had been a band for 10 years that fall and I’d been with them for almost 6 of those years. Our big project for 2002 was to go on a short tour in Europe. It was going to be the crowning glory of the band. Unfortunately our drummer had a less than firm grasp on the process for obtaining a passport (it’s a very long story) and we ended up having to bail on the tour at the last minute. Money was lost. Tears were cried. Walls were punched. Drummer was 86’d. Shortly thereafter Paul, the drummer for the aforementioned Bottles + Skulls, offered to sub for our departed drummer. Since Paul’s one of the best drummers we’d ever seen, and a dead cool guy, we roped him in and for a little while it looked like we might have rebirthed the band. Then we took a short road trip up the coast to Vancouver and all the edges of the band started fraying. By the time we got back home I think we pretty much knew it was done. A couple days later Jason, the singer, called me to tell me he was out and since TYD was pretty much his band that meant it was over.

So, when I heard what had happened to Bottles + Skulls I feared for the worst. They’ve been one of my favorite bands, if not my favorite band, since I first saw them playing in this cramped little basement club in SF. They made an instant impression on me. Terrific rhythm section, great songs, lively performance and oh my lord did this band move some serious air. Do you know what I mean by that?

To digress a bit, sound is created by vibrations in the air. The air moves, your ears and your body sense this movement and your brain interprets it as sound. I’ve said it many times, in rock and roll and in classical music, she/he who moves the most air wins.

Bottles + Skulls move a shitload of air. Or at least they used to. Before their gear was stolen they had the standard rock band gear – a Marshall half-stack, a screamin’ Fender Twin, a classic Ampeg SVT with the 8×10 cabinet and a bitchin’ drumset with a snare that went *CRACK* when Paul hit it. Post thievery, this is how Bottles + Skulls’ replacement gear looks:

1 mysterious Peavey, solid state combo amp
1 Roland JC 120 combo amp
1 drumset composed of mismatched pieces

Hildo, their bass player, doesn’t even have a bass amp anymore. When they play shows he has to hope that one of the other bands will let him use their bass rig and he borrows his roommate’s Fernandez P-Bass copy.

Speaking of replacement guitars. Brent, the singer, is playing an old Ibanez Les Paul copy with the neck pickup missing. Kringle, the other guitar player, is playing some semi-hollowbody guitar that makes him look like Alex Liefson.

Most bands would, I think, be crushed under the weight of all this. I know guys who’d sooner cut their penis off than play through a Peavey amp. Most of the musicians I’ve known wouldn’t have the intestinal fortitude to walk up to other bands, night after night, and say, “Excuse me, um, I’m the bass player in one of the other bands and I don’t have an amp. Could I use yours?”

Hell, when TYD was preparing for our failed Eurotour one of the statements I heard over and over again when I brought up the fact that we’d be using borrowed equipment on the tour was “If we show up some place and I find out I’m playing on some fuckin’ Peavey Bandit I’m just not going to play.” And here is Bottles + Skulls showing up to clubs with what most folks consider sub-par equipment and what happens? I’ll tell you what happens, but if anyone actually pays attention to this it’s going to massively cut into sales of overpriced gear at Guitar Centers.

Last night I saw the post-theft Bottles+Skulls rip the motherfuckin’ roof off of Thee Parkside in San Francisco. And they did it with a Peavey amp, a JC 120 (of the precise vintage used by Duran Duran back in the day), a borrowed bass rig and a cheap drumset. How is this possible? Simple. The sound of a band doesn’t come from their amps, their guitars or their drums. It comes from how they interact with those components.

Probably thousands of teenagers started playing guitar today. All of them will try to get their guitar playing to sound just like the playing of one of their heroes. They’ll never succeed, because a guitar player’s sound is in his or her fingers, not the instrument or the amp. You can furnish the exact same guitar to a million people and no two will sound alike playing the same song. On a larger scale, thousands of bands have played on near identical sets of equipment – same amps, same instruments, same drums, same sticks – and sound utterly different. This is how we can have had so many similarly configured bands over the years who all had unique sounds to their music.

The other thing that occurs to me about having my musical ass kicked by a band playing out of amps I probably wouldn’t use as planter boxes is that punk rock has gotten a tad too formulaic. No one is trying to sound different anymore. They’re all just trying to sound like different versions of the same thing. I guess one of the things that drew me to Bottles + Skulls in the first place is that they didn’t sound like anyone else. So it sorta makes sense that when the world gave them lemons they’d make loud lemonade.

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