Something Beautiful

Wonderwall

It was just a piece of wood, with strings.  It was plain looking, and a bit beaten up.  I would have never guessed on that fall day, that I would begin a journey that would greatly transform and affect the course of my entire life.  Up to that point, music in my life was comprised of mainly singing.  I was a big high school choir guy, even though it was never anything I thought was that cool.  I did feel somewhat empowered by it and gained confidence with every 1st place medal I got in choir contests, and every lead I got in a school musical.  It was really reinforced when I got a small vocal scholarship to Augustana College and made their prestigious concert choir my freshman year.  I didn’t even realize what kind of honor that was at the time, but understood more when I saw people try and get denied year after year.  It was mostly females, in the ultra competitive alto and soprano sections, but still it was quite the honor.  Not enough to keep me in that choir though.  It would become a sort of theme that I took my vocal ability for granted.  In this instance I chose to walk on to the way cooler track team, which practiced at the same time.  I would never try out for the concert choir again.

Coming into college, my buddy Pete had effectively gotten me into hard rock and metal.  It was a transfer from the top 40 rap and pop radio music that I naively absorbed most of my early high school years.  Once in college, my roommate Derek started also nudging me in the direction of this new alternative movement, which included Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden.  This would prove a key moment, because as far as guitar goes, it’s much easier to plunk out a Nirvana song than try to keep up with the shredding of Kirk Hammett and Metallica.  It was my sophomore year when Derek’s friend Ryan (my future arch nemesis) loaned him a guitar so he could learn how to play and impress the ladies.  Derek was very consumed by attention deficit disorder in those days, and without much direction as far as teaching goes, he was doomed from the start to eventually let that axe sit in the corner to collect dust.  My choir friend Paul was a guitar player and I was always kind of intrigued by the idea of him being able to play it.  He dabbled in this little college band, and rough as they were, I got swept up in the idea of singing with them.  Paul and his band mates never allowed it to happen though, and I think it acted as my initial fuel to accompany myself with my own playing.  I would estimate somewhere in the neighborhood of 70% of people that try to learn to play guitar, put in down in frustration after a month or two.  Who is to say how or why that other 30% obtain the diligence and persistence to plod through the madness that is trying to make those 6 strings produce something pleasing to the ear.  Certainly, I am an individual who has a propensity to leave something by the wayside if it gets to frustrating or difficult to do.  In this case however, I don’t know if I just liked the sound of my own voice so much and wanted self accompaniment, or if I saw it as the key to swaying the opposite sex, but it held some sort of mystical power in my hand.   I would come home from class and pick it up and go to work.  I looked at this printed out chord chart that Paul had given me and worked to form each chord until it sounded ok to me.  It was like some sort of puzzle that I couldn’t let myself put down until I solved.  I finally learned it was relatively easy to form a rough power chord.  By holding down those 3 strings and learning how to move my hand up and down the neck without losing the shape, I was able to make some decent music, enough so to impress Derek.  It didn’t matter that I was forming these chords incorrectly and inefficiently.  All that mattered was that I now was able to scratch out something that resembled something you’d hear on the radio.  I clearly remember my first triumph being “Polly” from Nirvana.  This sent Derek into amazement, and it fueled my confidence every time I showcased it for a visitor to our room.  The fact that I could sing it well, and hack it out effectively enough on guitar to make it sound decent enough to impress people, infused me with this sort swagger that I hadn’t had before.  It was finally something that I could do that Derek couldn’t, and was my first real reason not to feel kind of in his shadow with our friends.  Soon, I started to get down the main chords shapes and could transfer between them pretty smoothly.  This opened the door to hundreds of new songs that I could hack my way through well enough to accompany my own voice.  I was getting tablature daily off the Internet for every song I could think of.  Every now and then, Paul would come over and play and sing with me, and the harmonies we could make just seemed to unlock this amazing thing that was special that most people didn’t have.  The big jocks couldn’t do it.  The smarties couldn’t do it.  It felt like we were leveling the playing field.  I lived on a floor of tons of athletes, and seeing them be impressed only fueled my desire to keep trying to master this thing.  Along the way, I started to fall in love more deeply with some of the stuff I was learning to play.  It was like I had a more special kinship with it, because I knew how they were making the guitar sound like it did, and I was on some level, recreating that sound myself.  I was able to take on a heightened appreciation for it by realizing how difficult it was to come up with those chord progressions and melodies on your own.  Writing music is truly a difficult art, and you began to revere those who are able to use those same skills that you have obtained, but are able to create something amazing, where when you try it just comes out blah.

The summer after my junior year I had moved into an apartment with some friends.  A lot of the music I had begun to really get into was aggressive rock with distorted guitars and crazy effects.  I DJ’d for the college radio station, and my show became the hard rock/metal hour featuring bands like Incubus, Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails and, of course, Mandatory Metallica.  I just couldn’t replicate these sounds with the acoustic guitar anymore.  For my birthday, my parents came and we went to a pawnshop where I got my first electric guitar and amp.  It was a $100 basic Epiphone Special, in the Les Paul body shape.  The amp was a little Crate with a distortion and clean channel and a basic EQ.  I’ll never forget the power I felt when I cranked the distortion up and played some power chords!  I could ROCK now.  It felt incredible.  I’d just play power chords over and over and over again.  I eventually got a Wah Wah Pedal, basically for the sole purpose of trying to recreate Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade”.  My roommates got kind of annoyed after awhile, but it felt so awesome to me to have an amp and electric guitar with cables sitting in the living room.  I even put a sticker of the Metallica symbol from the Load album, (which I spray painted silver), on the lower body.  Nothing looked more badass to me.

Soon, my glory years of college had come to an end.  I took a job at a local TV station, and a harsh transformation began to occur with me.  My job was very stressful, and my mental and physical well-being began to slip farther and farther away.  All the confidence I had carried with me in college was replaced with anxiety and self-doubt.  I felt sick nearly every day I was at work.  In my efforts to try to maintain a social life with the opposite sex, I often felt whittled down to a shell of my former self.  I felt nauseas all the time, and I shook with nervousness in any type of close proximity.  It was a nightmare.  A funny thing happened though, when I turned to my old six-string friend.  It calmed me and took my mind of things.  I specifically remember this co-worker Holly coming over one night.  She had a crush on me and we were going to watch a movie that night.  She arrived and I just couldn’t stop stammering and shaking.  She noticed my guitar and asked me to play something.  I did, and within 3 chords, I started to feel the butterflies leave my stomach and my confidence and swagger start to inch back in.  It was like the guitar was this magical scepter that I could take out and transform myself in a time of need.  This only increased my attachment to it and reinforced my belief in its power.  It was like my adult security blanket

I would rely upon it even more heavily as I made the move from Sioux Falls to Minneapolis.  I took a job as a sports photographer, and moved into a one-bedroom apartment in a city where I knew very few people.  After I got settled in and had worked a few months, I rewarded myself with the first guitar I would buy with my own hard earned money.  I wanted a new acoustic guitar….an acoustic/electric that I could plug into my little amp if I wanted to.  I headed off to Mars music, and after much deliberation, settled on a $250 Fender.  I had never been so proud of a purchase.  I kept myself company on those first four cold, lonely winter months by playing every song I could think of.  I kind of isolated myself from the world during that time, coming to grips with having this new job and really no friends in this new big city.  It sounds cliché, but that black guitar was my best friend. 

I got a surprise after a few months, when Paul told me he was moving to Minneapolis for a job as well.  I was pretty excited about this prospect, now having somebody to hang out with.  He was still very into guitar as well, which was very exciting to me, however he was living nearly 50 minutes away.  Around one day a week, he or I would make the loooooooooong trek to one of our places and play songs together ranging from “Wonderwall” to U2’s “Staring at the Sun.”  It was great fun and I looked forward to those days with a ton of excitement.  It was sort of fitting that “Wonderwall” was one of the first songs I’d ever really perform in front of a crowd.  The lyrics in the chorus are, “maybe you’re gonna be the one that saves me, and afterall, you’re my Wonderwall.”  Music sort of would become my Wonderwall. After my lease was up, we decided to get a place together, closer to the action of downtown.  It would serve as the beginning of a long and twisting roller coaster ride of a musical partnership and friendship.

Thuney and Hags

As my guitar skills continued to improve, I started to have a decent repertoire of songs that I could play and sing from start to finish.  A co-worker of mine, Johnny Z was a co-lead singer and guitar player for a band called Shakey Jake.  I started going to their shows before Paul even moved to Minneapolis, and became mesmerized by live bands.  I was the super fan who came early and was the only dude listening for the first set and a half.  I had never really been around local live bands before, and hadn’t even seen that many national concerts.  I saw Paul play in his college band once, but it came off as very amateur.  This was a good band with good musicians who played with good gear, coming through a real sound system.  In addition to all that, they even got PAID decently to play.  That’s probably when I first fell in love with the idea of performing.  I was just in awe of these guys, and I wanted people to feel that way about me.  I knew I could sing, and I figured people would enjoy me as much as these guys.  I had no idea how to go about finding a drummer, bass player and lead guitar player though.  I was kind of shy and insecure and had never performed in a rock band setting before, so I figured people wouldn’t be lining up in town to play with me.  Then Paul moved to the cities and all of the sudden I had an ally, who I knew played guitar and sang.  He had gotten kicked out of his college band, and still kind of carried that resentment around.  I knew it probably wouldn’t take much for him to want to be able to say he was playing in the cities.  I was working as a videographer at the time, and one of my jobs was to find interesting people in the area and do little stories on them.  I was on another shoot in this little strip mall in Brooklyn Park, when I saw a sign in the window of a Caribou Coffee.  It said “LIVE ACOUSTIC MUSIC – THURSDAY-SATURDAY.”  It had a little chalkboard with the name of the act playing that night.  I figured this was my chance!  I went inside, and talked to the manager, who also booked music.  I said I’d do a story on him bringing music to Caribou Coffee, in exchange for a slot playing there.  He agreed to it without even hearing me play or sing!  I booked a date for a few months out because I knew it would take time to get 2 hours of material ready.  I called Paul and asked him if he wanted to do it with me.  I recall him kind of being hesitant at first, but eventually agreeing and being very excited to do it.  We needed a name to go by, and after some deliberation, Thuney and Hags was born.  Thuney was my nickname all through college, so it seemed a fitting way to bring it to Minneapolis.  Paul just went with a shortened version of his last name, and it would eventually be set in chalk!

Paul was a junky gear hound in the beginning.  He would pillage these Pawnshops and come home with this and that item which was always quite the steal.  We were in this little two bedroom apartment, and loaded ¼ of the living room up with these huge speakers, an old 4 channel mixer, tons of cables, guitar amps, guitars, etc.  Paul has always admired displaying gear, and he was pretty proud of this set-up.  I’ll never forget the first time he decided to test his new PA out.  We were both home around lunchtime.  We had already had problems with this cranky old women upstairs and her noise complaints.  Paul turned the PA on and we played like one song.  Before we knew it we had a call from apartment complex saying there was a noise complaint.  We tried to scale it back and go through headphones after that. 

Paul and I worked diligently on putting together a set list for our Thuney and Hags debut.  We had worked in covers from U2, Oasis, Nirvana, Sister Hazel, Tonic, etc.  We started to jam around a bit and one night, the 1st ever original song was born.  I remember just playing a simple little pattern of E, G, A and then basically reversing it for a chorus.  I had been listening to Everclear and they had this instrumental song with this weird name like El Distorto, or something like that.  I thought it was badass, and would be an awesome opening track live in concert.  In my feeble attempt, I was trying to emulate that.  Paul just started noodling around, as he became infamous for doing.  He played some cool harmonic stuff and just had these atmospheric kinds of effects.  He was very well known for trying to emulate The Edge from U2, and his contribution to this tune was very influenced by that sound.  We played for awhile on those chords over and over again until Paul gained some consistency with his part.  I started making up dumb little lyrics about Paul’s cat that lived with us, just to humor us.  When we finally tired of repeating the song ad nasuem, we stopped and agreed we had created an original song.  It would just be an instrumental song, and we figured it was fitting to call it Kitty.  It would resurface off and on for quite a while after that evening.

After the noise complaints worsened in frequency and began to match the treats of the apartment management to terminate our rental agreement, we decided that we needed to find a new place to rehearse for this big debut gig.  Neither of us had enough money or desire to rent a practice space.  I could only think of one solution.  The TV station I worked at had a community access station attached to it.  It had 2 good sized studios where they shot various shows.  Typically on the weekends, the place was pretty much a ghost town until like 1pm or so.  Even though I knew it would be frowned upon, I took the chance of setting things up there to rehearse before anybody really came in.  Paul and I were so geeked out about playing at the time, that what we would do would seem unthinkable to me a decade later.  Here was our Saturday: We would get up at like 9am, and get a shopping cart from the parking garage of our apartment.  We’d load all our gear into it (which usually consisted of multiple trips), and pack it in our two cars.  We’d then travel the 15 minutes to the TV station.  We’d unload everything into the studio, and spend the next hour setting it all up and testing the sound, etc.  Paul always had to make sure it looked like it was ready to be shot for a TV show too.  We’d finally get a satisfactory set-up and then we’d begin to rehearse our set for the show.  I would get so giddy hearing us echo through the empty studio.  I remember my Fender acoustic sounded so awful plugged in, that I had to run it through an acoustic simulator and an EQ just to produce a decent sound.  No matter how much work it took though, or how tired I was, it was all worth it when we got to play for that hour or so.  Finally some staff would show up, and we’d hurriedly take everything down before we got in trouble.  Those Saturday’s were so rewarding to me.  I felt like I was part of something so cool.  My confidence began to blossom and I really felt like my life in the Cities was going to start to rival the best times I ever had in college.  Eventually after a few weeks of the studio set-ups, I got in trouble and we got banned from doing that anymore.  We felt sufficiently prepared though for our first gig.

I can’t even recall what day our debut was, but I want to say it was a Thursday.  I do recall, I was nervous as SHIT though!  I remember walking up and seeing our name fancily (misspelled) on the chalk marquee.  I’m sure we got pictures of it at the time, which are now long gone. Paul and I basically split the lead singer duties so I’d sing harmonies half the time and leads half the time.  We had tons of gear loaded up in the car.  I wish I had a picture of it, because it was an OBNOXIOUS PA for this little Caribou Coffee.  We had this area boxed off with guitar cases, and speakers and monitors, and cables.  It must have taken an hour to set the whole thing up and sound check it.  I remember Paul getting a call from his girlfriend as we were driving to the gig, about some mundane thing, and he snapped at her for bugging him before our big show.  It makes me chuckle thinking about how huge it was for us.  Paul had at least played a gig before, so he may have been handling it a little better.  I had sung in plenty of choir concerts, but this seemed WAY different.  It was the first time I ever played guitar in a public concert.  I remember just shaking before we went on, and going to the bathroom, feeling like I was going to puke.  I clearly remember thinking that this might be the last time I would ever do this again, because I wasn’t enjoying the experience AT ALL.  I was so nervous and nauseas that it was just miserable.  I can’t remember whom we all had for friends in attendance, but it was few.  I think we kept it from people!  After a few songs I remember loosening up and starting to have more fun with it.  The feeling got intoxicating enough that I decided it wouldn’t be the last time I’d do it.  In fact, I was very eager to do it again! Eventually we would be forced to rent a practice space in Minneapolis at a place called Profile Music.  I use the term “romantic” a lot to describe things about music and the atmosphere that surrounds it.  My first ever practice space had that feel too.  I remember feeling so legitimate when Paul and I would throw our guitars and amps in the car and ride down together to the space.  We’d see other musicians coming in and out and going to gigs and stuff.  I felt like one of them, and not just a coffee shop wannabe.  We’d listen to songs that we wanted to cover going to and from the space, and it all just had this magical exciting feel to it for me.  I loved going there, despite it being stifling hot in the summer months we had it.  I felt like I was a starving artist who was paying my dues, and I loved associating myself with it.

The Birth of Song

Learning all of the covers gave me confidence that I could really take a stab at writing my own original song.  “Kitty” was more of a jam than a real song, and I wanted to craft something with lyrics and a melody, etc.  I didn’t really know how people wrote songs, but it seemed easiest just to write what I could play and sing by myself and then let Paul add whatever harmonies and guitar parts that he wanted.  Since moving to the cities, I hadn’t really met or hung out with anybody besides Paul.  He had a girlfriend still that he met in college, and I found myself really lonely a lot of nights.  I kind of wondered how I would go about even meeting somebody, without the built in networking of college classes and events.  Everyday I went to work, and then came home and played video games and played guitar.  I didn’t like going out that much to bars because I didn’t like drinking, and I was pretty shy.  I kind of started to feel like not finding the girl of my dreams in college meant that I probably just wasn’t going to find one.  To make matters worse, my hair had gotten really thin, and I finally decided to just shave it off.  It left the back of my head with really bad acne and I just looked awful.  I was ridiculously skinny, and never left anywhere without wearing a hat.  I had this social anxiety, which made socializing and being “smooth” with the ladies impossible.  It got very depressing, and one afternoon, I sat down and just tried to write about that feeling of despair.  I played this simple little open power chord melody that sounded cool to me, and had a poppy, hopeful feel to it.  Out came my first ever lyrics.

“It’s quiet once again, as I watch another day go by. 
I look outside and I think about what I’d do if you were by my side. 
You’ve got that girl next door appeal and I’m at ease when you’re around. 
You take my boring world, and you turn it upside down. 

So if you’ve got the time then today is the day
I’ll take my concerns and I’ll throw ‘em away
Let me quit dreaming and make it all real
I feel like I know that you know how I feel
Give me a reason to get out of bed
I know that my thoughts are more than just in my head
You know that when the day’s through, you know I’d like you to share
my hopes and my dreams cuz my cat doesn’t care. 

I wonder what’s wrong with me why can’t I ever make things last 
I’ve had some good times but it feels like they’re all in the past
What’s the equation that shows me what it’s going to take
to keep you around me and not let me bubble break.”

Super cheesy, but I was really proud of it.  I called it G.N.D., an acronym for Girl Next Door.  A decade later I would hear a rumor that that song was picked to be in the background of some Beatles special on VH1.  It’s crazy how things work sometimes.

I was really excited about completing my first song, and Paul seemed to like it too.  I started trying to write more and more, and it seemed to kind of spark Paul to write songs too.  He brought a couple of ideas over from the college band he played with, as well as coming up with some new ideas with no lyrics.  We started working together to build up an original song catalogue.  It was really exciting to me to tap into that creativity and come up with something that I took a lot of pride in.  One of my biggest triumphs was actually written not long after G.N.D.  I was having a conversation with this musician I worked with (my little TV station seemed to be chalk full of them!)  He was this guy in his 40’s named Chris.  He was this bitter jaded musician who tried to make it in his earlier days and had nothing pan out.  Now he just kind of played recreationally.  He asked me one day what I wanted to do in life.  I said, somewhat jokingly, that I wanted to be a rock star.  It was kind of one of those, “who wouldn’t” type of statements.  Chris unleashed this diatribe about how he was a 4 times better vocalist then me and a 10 times better guitar player and never got anywhere, so I should just put that dream to bed.  Funny thing was, he wasn’t even trying to be mean.  He had really become that jaded that it almost came out like a pre recorded sound bite whenever somebody mentioned the music industry.  He later apologized, but it had given me enough ammunition to go home and write a song about it.  It was a very cliché song with very cliché lyrics, but it featured this cool, intricate intro that I was super proud I came up with at the time.  It was basically all about somebody telling you that you couldn’t do something, and you responding with, “My dreams are my dreams and if they keep me excited to get up each morning, that what’s wrong with that?” I called the song Rock Star.  Eventually that song would become one of my biggest “hits” if a local artist can really claim to have such a thing.  Over the next decade it would be the song that everyone would associate my project with, and would be the song that got everybody dancing, even on a dead night.  I’d end up playing it on the radio, multiple times for in-studio appearances.  It would be the song that bartenders of my favorite club would remember and say to me….”I know you…you guys play that ‘Rockstar’ song right?  I wanna be a Rock Star, Rock Star….”   Two big national bands actually came out with songs of the same title after mine, Everclear and Nickelback.  The Nickelback tune was a big hit, and people would always comment how uncanny the lyric similarities were to my version.  Obviously, it’s very very unlikely anybody from Nickelback heard my version.  It’s a very common theme to write about…it was just kind of crazy to think about them making tons of money off of theirs, while mine was very similar, but didn’t get past the Twin Cities city limits for the most part.  Plenty of the original songs would follow, but never has one seemed to have the same recognition as that one.

After awhile, Paul and I had built up a good 8-9 original songs that we’d play at the coffee house.  One day I heard that the cable access channel that was part of the station I worked at, was going to tape an acoustic showcase of sorts.  All sorts of different artists of different genres were going to come in and record like 30 minute episodes that would air in a rotation on the access channel.  I got super excited about this and immediately signed up for a slot.  We rehearsed our original material that we were going to do for the show, and finally the day had come to record.  I don’t know if it’s my background with television or what, but being recorded for TV or radio has always made me nervous.  It’s maybe that realization that once it’s shot, it’s immortalized forever.  It didn’t matter that probably only 50 total people would see this total on a channel that very few people received, let alone watched.  The environment, with camera people watching and zooming in and out, has always sort of unnerved me.  I sadly, no longer have the recording of that show, but I do distinctly remember one main thing from it.  Paul and I were sitting on these stools, and I had my tuner and acoustic simulator all hooked up and everything was sounding good in the control room.  It took a long time to get things working correctly and sounding good.  When you always exercise excess and you patch gear cheaply together, that seemed to be the result more often than not.  But we had finally gotten things working, and then it was …3…2…1…..cue.  I remember we had started out with a song where I was playing some sort of open power chord that moved down the neck.  Once I knew the camera was on, this sense of panic set in.  My legs shook and my body and brain seemed to just freeze up.  I had formed my hand in that power chord well before the cameras were on to make sure I hit it right.  I still wasn’t that proficient of a guitar player at the time.  When the cameras started rolling, I started strumming that chord.  The next position was supposed to be a regular G chord or something, and my fingers would not move from that power chord shape.  The muscles physically were locked down.  I remember sort of halfway forming the chord and strumming really lightly so it wouldn’t sound awful.  After the song was over, I started to breathe again, and flexed my hand of a couple of times to get the blood flowing.  From that point on, I finished the show ok.  It was the strangest thing I had ever felt playing though.  Complete muscle lockdown, due to panic.  This phenomenon would rear its head again in the future in a different manifestation.

We did several more shows at Caribou Coffee, and eventually Paul got the idea that we should have a drum machine play with us.  Again, as became a sort of trend with us, it was a bit of an exercise in excess.  Paul programmed a ton of drum tracks, and started playing his electric guitar so he could enjoy using his effects.  Some songs it worked for, and some, in retrospect must have just seemed silly.  Our sets became a string of …tick..tick…….tick..tick..tick..tick….as the click track counted us in.  It seemed to me like we were headed towards a sort of natural evolution, which is why I found it surprising that it was met with some resistance.  After watching Shakey Jake, and another co-workers loud obnoxious band called Swampp Gass, I begin to yearn for the full band experience.  My friend Jonny Z soon left Shakey Jake and started a new harder rock cover band called Gel.  Now that I was playing and singing myself, that group seemed to have enough confidence to let me come up and sing a song or two a night.  It was an intoxicating drug for me.  I started coming to their weekly Thursday night gig, and just sat there mesmerized by the pounding drums and crunching guitars blasting through the PA.  When they called me up on stage I felt like a superstar!  Jonny was kind of pothead and lazy ass, and his singing often reflected that.  When I went up there, I felt like I took it up a notch and impressed the band, but more importantly I saw the Gel fans sit up and take notice.  One of my staples was “Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots.  Whenever I got off stage, I felt my confidence soar, and I could all of sudden talk to anyone, and I had people coming up to me and saying “I rocked” and things of that nature.  I’d never really experienced that kind of admiration before.  Sure, some parents would say things in high school after a musical or choir concert, but that wasn’t that cool to me.  Now, I had cute rock and roll groupies coming up to me, where as previously, I wondered how I’d ever even find a way to start up a conversation with a girl.  Everyone looks for that skill that they can excel at in life.  The thing that makes them feel special.  To me, it was singing, and I knew I had to try to do something more than just sit in a Caribou Coffee on a Thursday night and play along to a drum machine for 10 people.

The first step was getting a gig outside of the Caribou.  A more hip type of gig, where people went to hear music, and not just pop in to enjoy a latte.  Paul actually landed us a gig at this little record store called Eclipse Records.  I think it was on a Wednesday night.  Eclipse was somewhat known for it’s live music.  It was kind of one of those romanticized little dive venues.  You shop for records on one side, but can go through a curtain and sit in a dingy little tiny space with a rickety little stage and hear live music on the other side.  Musicians and music lovers kind of hold places like this dear.  They are kind of the epitomone of “indie” and are in direct opposition to the kind of places where you’d hear a band with slick production and powerful label backing, and all the things that music purists would call the devil.  It felt kind of like the movie “Empire Records” which made it very cool to me.  I can’t even remember who else played the night, but I remember setting up all our crap on the little stage and hurriedly trying to get it to sound decent.  If memory serves right, we went on super late and cut the set way short.  I vividly remember that there were 3 people there to see us:  Krista, and her two friends. There were little chairs set up, very similar to what you might find in a kindergarten classroom.  I remember feeling happy about the gig, but also kind of felt this feeling that the drum machine was getting a little hokey for what I wanted to do.  I felt like people wouldn’t really take us seriously with these processed beats that were pretty rudimentary.  To me, there was only one thing to do, and it simply HAD to happen.  I wanted to be in a full band!

I finally told Paul about my feelings, and honestly thought he’d be gung ho about being in another full band.  He always talked about his time in the college band called the Cellar Dwellers.  He was left very bitter however, because they kicked him out for a female singer, without really telling him a reason.  If you know Paul, you know he needs to hear 100 different ways why you are doing this or that in efforts to slight him.  It’s probably what makes him a great sales person in his other career.  He annoys you till you submit to him!  I thought this would be a great way for him to feel redeemed, now being part of a rock band playing better clubs in the Twin Cities.  That’s a big step up from Sioux Falls.  He was very resistant to it though, curiously.  I kind of probed away as to what his hold up was, when it finally kind of surfaced. He stated that he liked it being just he and I, because there were no other personalities to deal with. No alliances between band members to worry about.   He felt like there was no way someone would try to kick him out if it was just he and I.  It said a lot to me about how that old band affected him.  I eventually would play with this guy Mike, who said…”.sometimes how you are becomes a self fulfilling prophecy” .  If you are afraid people will abandon you….eventually people ACTUALLY will abandon you.  I thought Mike was full of a lot of BS sometimes, but in this case I must agree that it kind of would become prophetic with Paul.

We eventually got kicked out of our apartment for too many noise complaints from our upstairs neighbor, an elderly women named Marlene.  Paul and I were ok with this, because we envisioned how great it would be to rent a house where we could rehearse whenever we wanted and leave things set up.  I really felt like we were starting to take the music thing full steam ahead.  We now had all of these elements lining up.  We acquired an 8-track digital recording station to write music on.  Paul spent hours trying to learn how to effectively use it.  We’d put mics in all sorts of crazy places trying to get new sounds, and we’d spend hours and hours recording, only to not like how it was turning out, and we’d scrap it all and start over.  In fact, Rock Star took on a change in structure because Paul programmed a drum loop too long and we didn’t want to scrap what we already done, so I added 2 measures on to bridge to make it work.  We practiced a lot of hours in that house and acquired more and more gear to outfit us.  We still were just primarily playing at Caribou though.  Then one day, I felt like I hit the mother load.  I called up our old college and tried to book us in the “Back Alley” where we had dances and concerts every now and then.  To my surprise, they agreed to it and offered us $800 for 2 hours!!  I couldn’t believe it….I excitedly told Paul, and I remember being really struck by his lack of enthusiasm.  I can’t remember the reason for his hesitation, but he eventually came around and became excited about it.  We planned the gig out with all the drum loops in order, etc.  Very few people turned out, but it was a big thrill for me to go back and play my old college.   More and more, the drum loop accompaniment was wearing on me.  It sounded so processed and fakey to me, and I kind of started to feel the degradation in our credibility.  Interesting enough, a decade down the road artists would start incorporating playing to drum loops more and more, but at a much higher quality level than the drum machine we were messing around with.   I started to wonder if I would take us seriously if I were a random person in the crowd.  It felt like all of my favorites artists would either go straight acoustic, or be in a full band.  I didn’t like trying to sound like a full band when were two guys.  It was obvious to me that Paul wanted to play electric guitar and use effects and he liked playing with drums.  He even programmed bass lines in for some songs.  I think it was soon after that show that I kind of said to myself…”This is ridiculous….we have a house to hold practice, we have all the gear we need, there is no reason we shouldn’t put together a full band.  So now it was just about convincing Paul, and figuring out where to find a bass player and drummer.

To Possess Harmony

I finally talked Paul into giving the full band a shot, and once on board, he seemed pretty excited about giving it his full effort and attention.  We wanted to come up with a name first to give it a bit more legitimacy.  We pondered tons of names and nothing seemed to stick out.  I remember one of my finalists was KillerWeakSweet, which was kind of a famed Cartman quote from the show South Park.  Finally, Paul had the idea that it should reflect something about the band.  We often got compliments on our harmonies, both being choir guys in college and all.  Paul started doing Internet searches for the word and came up with the term Concentual.  It was defined in the dictionary as “To possess harmony”.  It was a sort of adjective to describe something that had consonance.  Paul thought it was great because it was sort of a play on words, with people most likely thinking it was reference to the consensual nature of sex.  He even found this logo that was the reiki symbol for harmony, and it looked like a guitar head in a distorted sort of way.  He made up a mock logo, and it all looked pretty cool and made sense, so Concentual was born.

Now we had the task of trying to find band members.  Neither of us was very schooled in the best way to go about this.  The traditional way would be to make a poster and put it up in all the music stores, etc.  It seemed like a tall order to find somebody decent that would be into playing with two guys that haven’t played a full band gig in this town yet, and are basically starting it up from scratch.  We weren’t too picky though at this point. I really just wanted to experience what it was like to have some actual bodies on bass and drums that were halfway competent.  I really had no frame of reference to say what was a good bass player and drummer.  Paul’s uncle knew of a kid who played drums named Jeremy Booth and he got Paul in contact with him.  We set up a time for him to come over, and he rolled up in his beat up old boat of a car.  He pulled his drums out of the back seat, which were covered up by blankets.  He was a scruffy, skinny, punkish kind of kid with cocky swagger.  He worked at a surf shop, and was the kind of guy who crashed on people’s floors randomly to live.  He had an engaging personality though and seemed eager to jam with us.  He set up his gear and we tried a song out.  Just hearing real drums banging along to music we wrote, felt as amazing to me as running a pass pattern on the Metrodome turf and catching a ball from a Vikings QB.  I couldn’t hide my smile.  I felt so alive in that moment.  It didn’t matter that the drum kit was crap, and that Jeremy didn’t even really know what he was playing.  Just keeping a beat was enough to intoxicate me with exuberance.  We played a couple of more songs and then just chatted with him.  After he left, Paul and I decided we’d go with him as our drummer.  Now, we just needed a bass player.  I worked with yet another guy who played an instrument who had just started at the cable station I worked at, named Eric Tamte.  He primarily played acoustic guitar, and would throw these Dave Matthews riffs at me every time there was a guitar on set.  He wanted to be in a band in the worst way.  I told him about our situation, and he basically said he’d learn bass to be able to play in a band.  His enthusiasm was contagious, and we decided to give him a shot.  I vividly remember Paul and I kind of chucking and scratching our heads at his limited musical comprehension when he requested sheet music to our original songs.  It wasn’t enough to just tell him what the chords were, I had to make a tablature sheet and individually mark down the fret and string of every single note.  I didn’t really know what to do, other than write down the root notes of the chords we played.  I was so naïve at the time though, that I figured if he just played those notes in accordance with my chord changes, then that was all that we really needed.  Eventually, I figured he’d learn more and start improvising some other parts.  Finally, it was time to rehearse together as a BAND.  We let Tamte play through this super old Trainor amp that Paul had gotten for like $20 probably at some Pawn shop.  Tamte successfully was able to plunk out those root notes, and Jeremy was able to create a beat that we were able to follow.  In my mind, it was the most amazing sound ever.  I was in a real band, and we were going to write songs and play them in clubs, and have amazing rock and roll adventures.  We put together enough songs and practiced enough that we felt we could pull off a 40-45 minute show. 

The task at hand was to now find a venue.  The City Pages was the free local newspaper that all of the clubs advertised in.  That is where you’d go each week to find out who was playing where.  I desperately wanted to see our band name in there.  One venue, called Big V’s, listed in their ad…”Call Ed (or whoever) for booking,” and it provided a phone number.  I believe Paul called and they agreed to put us on a 4 band bill on a Tuesday night.  I couldn’t contain my excitement!  None of us were sure how it was going to go though, and Paul and I were both pretty nervous about it, so we didn’t really mention to anybody that we were playing.  The City Pages always came out on a Wednesday, and promoted the gigs through the weekend and the following week.  The Wednesday before our debut gig, I anxiously awaited the new issue hitting the streets.  I raced over to get one and quickly rifled through the pages.  I eventually got to BIG V’s and there I proudly saw our name in it’s misspelled glory!  When Tuesday rolled around, I was a wreck.  I couldn’t eat all day.  I couldn’t think about anything but the gig.  What would I wear?  Did I have everything I needed? What would we sound like?  Would the other bands like us?  Paul and I pulled up to the shady back alley load in area and hauled our gear in.  I got nervous butterflies as I saw the little stage area and the chalkboard sign that had our name written on it (misspelled) with the other acts.  Booth and Tamte soon arrived and the nervous wait was on for our set to start.  I distinctly remember the band that went on before us.  The name escapes me, but I have the vision etched in my memory of the lead singer playing a red Gibson SG with a lighting bolt strap like Rivers Cuomo from Weezer has.  I remember thinking they were amazing.  I thought everybody was amazing in those days.  I understand the existence of groupies, because when I was new to the scene, I was so drawn to people in bands and thought it was just about the coolest thing ever.  I guess that’s why so many people in the Twin Cities are in bands of some sort….some very successful, some garage band hacks.  They all want to feel a part of rich tradition that makes up the Minneapolis music scene, which spawned such success stories as Prince, The Replacements, Husker Du, the Jayhawks, Soul Aslyum, Semisonic, etc, etc.  I got progressively more nervous with each song the preceding band finished, because it got closer and closer to us.  Finally, it was time.  I must have been a sight trying to set up my gear and sound check it.  First of all, the place had virtually no PA.  I remember there was something like a six channel mixer that was off to the side of the stage.  The sound guy must have been used to not needing to really run it, because he was MIA.  I remember setting up my amp, and my guitars and fumbling with the cable connections to all of it.  My brain was just frozen with anxiety.  I remember Paul, as would be customary, had a ton of gear set up and all these gadgets and things to hook up.  We were starting to run late in our changeover.  Then I had Tamte asking me questions about how to set up his rig, while I was still trying to get my stuff situated.  It blew up into chaos.  I asked somebody where the sound guy was, and one of the staff said they thought he was playing pool!  He finally came over and realized he had no way to put my acoustic through the PA.  I remember dinking around with something forever and feeling more and more anxiety. Meanwhile Tamte was confused as to what to do, because they didn’t mic any of the drums or guitar amps up, and Paul’s’ little low watt Trainor amp he was using was too quiet to be heard by itself in the room.  Finally, he pretty much maxed it out and it barely was audible over the Booth’s drumming.  I don’t know how late we got started, but it was a significant amount of time.  We raced through the set, which I’m quite certain sounded awful.  When it was over though, I breathed in, and my stomach relaxed.  I realized I was hungry now from not eating all day.  I also realized that I had this new feeling.  It was this type of euphoric satisfaction, that I can only imagine is shared by those who climb mountains and the like.  It didn’t wear off quickly.  It’s the kind of feeling that keeps a person engaged in a journey for years, and lifts them through hardships and intense frustration.  It’s the kind of thing that exists that doesn’t allow a person to quit, even when it might seem to make the most sense.  It’s the same feeling that makes for tearful retirement speeches from pro athletes and subsequent comeback attempts, because it’s hard to imagine leaving the thing that creates it.  That is the type of feeling I was left with that night, and it allowed for everything that would follow.

There was another band that played that night at Big V’s called Gecko.  They were kind of a prog rock band, and me being the wide eyed newcomer, I was very complimentary of them.  Apparently, they knew one of the guys I worked with, and it was common enough ground that they asked us to play with them at this venue in Northeast Minneapolis called Mario’s Kellar Bar.  Mario’s was the lower level of this German restaurant called Gastov’s.  It was widely known as a huge polka joint on the weekends, but they had rock bands and the like on Thursday nights.  We excitedly agreed to the gig.  Armed with the confidence of a show under our belts, we actually promoted this one and tried to get all of our friends to come out.  Right away, a pattern was starting to develop with our set-up that was inconvenient and typically annoyed sound guys.  Paul and I each sang roughly half the songs.  Paul didn’t like the idea of one guy (me) being in front, even though I did all the talking between songs and was generally the spokesperson.  So we ended up with this goofy looking arrangement where I was off set to one side of the drum kit and Paul was offset to the other.  Tamte didn’t know what the hell he was supposed to do.  He couldn’t be in the middle….so he mostly kind of hung out back by the drum kit.  Sound guys hated moving the monitors around to accommodate this set up, so usually we left them, and it was odd because you were right in the middle of two different mixes.  We’d end up having basically one mix in all the monitors and then Paul would be unhappy because the acoustic was too loud , or he couldn’t hear his vocal enough or whatever.  Eventually, he conceded that I should be in the center and he would take a more traditional lead guitar position.  In my opinion, this was building block one of several blocks of resentment that would eventually steer things towards an inevitable course.

That gig was one of the first where I really started to witness the power that being a rock and roll singer had on the opposite sex.  I had known this girl Krista since college and she was a dear friend.  She moved back to Minneapolis to my delight, to attend post graduate schooling, and with that move came my introduction to several of her high school friends.  I had met a few of them before, and being the guy that was uncertain how he’d ever meet women in this big foreign city, I typically tended to flirt with whatever warm body I happened to be introduced to.  Krista had this friend Molly, who I found to have an engaging smile and porcelain smooth skin.  I previously had tried to deliver my charm to her, only to feel transparent.  Krista brought her and a few other friends to the Mario’s gig, and when we got off stage, I saw a new look from her.  It was a look of fascination.  All of the sudden, there were flirty touches, and close talking, and all of these other things that I had grown unaccustomed to.  All of the sudden, music not only made me feel important and creative, but it made me feel like I had obtained some magic potion that transformed my appearance to the opposite sex.  I started to feel like I at least had a great icebreaker now to approach people that I would have otherwise felt to be out of my league.  Over the years it would seem to prove itself to me over and over again.  I’d go out with Derek some weekend to the bars in Minneapolis and not even get a smile thrown in my direction….but get off stage after singing and playing a set of rock music, and all of the sudden it was a whole new ballgame.  This only fueled my desire to play more and more gigs and ratchet up my showmanship on stage.  The more confident I was up there, the more confident I seemed to feel off of it.

We moved from Mario’s to the bar that is infamous now for being the worst place I ever played in Minneapolis.  We actually played there several times, which is what adds to its place in my person legendry.  The place was called “The Red Sea”.   It was right across from a very legendary bar called “The 400”, but it was in a kind of shady part of town.  Right by it were two huge towers that were built with this multi-color siding.  It was supposed to be a groundbreaking housing area in it’s inception, but over the years it turned into a run down place that was an infamous dwelling for drug dealers and addicts.  It was nicknamed “The Crack Stacks”.  The Red Sea bar had this strange set-up where the bar was kind of divided into two parts.  One side was the music venue, and the other side was this predominant hang out for Somali people.  I used to actually go there once and awhile by myself to watch bands when I dreamed of being in one myself.  It was the only bar that my friend’s original music band could play in, so I ended up seeing them there.  It was also close to the U of M, so sometimes some college bands just starting out would take a gig there.  It basically had a horrid sound system and a rickety stage, and one or two red lights beaming down to set the ambiance.  In those days though, setting our gear up on it, and then looking upon it from the back of the room was an incredible feeling.  We were a real rock band in a real club!  They didn’t get tons of great bands playing there, so they fed off our naivety and kept booking us before we realized we could play in some better venues.  The one good thing about the place though, was that they recorded your shows and gave you a CD afterwards.  That was a HUGE thrill for us initially.  It didn’t matter that it sounded pretty bad.  We now had some recordings of our songs that we use as a demo to get into other clubs.  A lot of people were afraid to go to that place, but God bless ‘em, Derek and Krista always seemed to show up, whether it was a Sunday night or a Tuesday night. 

The Destructive Duo

It was only a few gigs in, when Paul and I started to grow a little tired of the Booth and Tamte rhythm section.  They became like best buds, and were always whispering stuff together in rehearsal.  Jeremy started to get a real cocky attitude, and begin to kind of rebel against Paul and I.  I remember the three of us sitting up in Paul’s room one night and trying to talk to him about our frustrations, only to have him by act out and respond with things like…”That’s your problem, I am who I am.”  Meanwhile, we started to realize that Tamte really was a below average bass player.  Every band we played with seemed to have a guy who played little runs and cool things on the bass, and Tamte just stood still in the corner playing root notes.  He would make mistakes, and he STILL was using Paul’s Trainor amp, which pretty much blew out at our first gig at Big V’s.  Paul and I wanted to ditch him, but didn’t really know how.  This ended up being important lesson #1 for me on how NOT to deal with people.  Paul and I didn’t want to fire him because we didn’t have anybody else lined up, and we had gigs on the horizon and we didn’t want to lose any momentum by halting playing.  What we came up with, was we would put an ad out in the city pages, but keep it anonymous and see what kind of responses we got.  We’d privately hold auditions between me, Paul and the candidates, and then when we picked somebody, we’d tell Tamte he was done and plug in this new guy.  We debated about if this was the best course of action, but ultimately decided it was our only choice.  Tamte made it harder by telling us he was going to go to a pawnshop and get a new bass amp to start using.  I kept trying to get him to put it off, but he seemed determined to do it. 

Playing these weeknight shows was really fun, but I would be so wired afterwards that I wouldn’t sleep for hours.  I’d be a zombie if I had to go into work early at all the next day.  I so badly wanted to have the experience of playing a weekend show, where everybody could hang out and stay up late afterwards, and then sleep in the next day.  We finally got our break.  We got into this place called Sharky’s Underground on a Friday night!  I had never been so excited leading up to a gig!  That excitement would lead to horror in the days to come.  Tamte found out somehow that we had placed the ad for a new bass player.  He had just bought an amp as well, so in his disgust, he informed Booth to tell us that he was quitting effective immediately.  Paul and I concluded that it was likely Booth who told him we placed the ad.  So now, everything was blowing up in our faces.  We had this great weekend gig a few days away, and we had no bass player and a snot nosed punk drummer who was rebelling because we wronged his buddy.  It was my first real taste of how much drama and stress a band can bring.  We tried calling Tamte several times but no one answered.  Finally, Paul and I found out what his address was and drove over there.  We needed him to play this gig, because at that time, not playing it would have been the end of the world for us.  We figured you get one shot at weekend gigs like this, and if you cancel days before the show, you might as well not even bother calling to try to get back in.  We got to Tamte’s place and knocked on the door.  He wouldn’t answer it.  Finally we hung around and were annoying enough that he came to the door and let us in.  Paul and I spun some elaborate tale about how we were just trying to see who was out there that could maybe fill in, in the event that Tamte got ill or something, since we didn’t know any other bass players.  It seemed to work, and he agreed to play the show.  Booth seemed to shape up a bit too, now that his buddy has back.  The day of the show arrived, and it never felt so awesome driving to a gig, knowing that the next day was Saturday and we could sleep in.  We pulled up to the venue and loaded in.  Sharky’s had two levels, an upstairs which was the main room, and then the Underground.  The main room typically featured hard rock cover bands, and had a huge booming sound system and big stage.  It represented a goal of mine, to someday be on a big stage like that on a weekend, with the kind of crowds that gathered for those cover bands.  The Underground was a smoky, dark joint with a low ceiling.  When there wasn’t music playing, the ceiling shook from the band on the mainstage.  Still, it featured it’s own booming sound system, and felt like the most rocking club we had played yet.  As an added bonus, the venue shot videos of the bands and sold them for like $10.  They even had fog machines and light show.  It felt amazing on stage, and it might as well have been Madison Square Garden to me. 

I felt like the show was a relative success, and booking agents seemed to like us and friends were starting to become regular fans.  Paul and I couldn’t shake our disillusion with Booth and Tamte however.  We felt obligated to keep Tamte on board after narrowly escaping him quitting before our biggest gig, and also since he actually bought an amp of his own.  We couldn’t stand Booth and his attitude, but didn’t know how he’d react to being fired.  We felt like it could have been anything from yelling and screeching off in his car, to burning our house down.  He was just the kind of dude you didn’t trust and was kind of a loose cannon.  Paul and I were still a little new at this and didn’t know what to do.  Neither one of us wanted to be the spokesperson to sit down and tell them they were fired.  We devised a plan that we thought was fool proof.  We would tell them we just weren’t feeling the full band thing anymore, and were going to quit.  Then once we quit, we were basically going to start from scratch and just find new guys.  That way we didn’t have to fire anybody, but we got rid of our two biggest headaches.  We told them the news, and as expected, things seemed to go much smoother.  They seemed more disappointed then mad, and that was that.  I remember Paul and I being giddy with excitement once it was over.  It felt like that person at work that you can’t stand, just got fired.  All of the sudden they were out of your hair, and going to work the next day seemed a lot more pleasurable.  The only problem was that, in our elation, we really didn’t sell the quitting part very well once they were gone.  I couldn’t wait to send an e-mail out to the mailing list, and it took me about 10 minutes after we delivered to news to let everybody know that Booth and Tamte were gone, and we were going to continue on by looking for new members.  Of course, it didn’t take long for this to get back to them, and they made their displeasure known with ominous threatening talk.  Nothing would ever come of it though, and the bottom line was that we were free to move forward and go about the business of upgrading Concentual.

2.0

Now with a few gigs under our belt and a growing library of music, Paul and I felt much more confident as to what we could offer potential new band mates.  We made a much harder push to gather qualified candidates.  We put up ads in all of the local guitar and music stores, as well as a city pages ad.  We got some solid hits, but nothing was really coming together as we’d hoped.  Then we got a call from a guy named Pete Berven.  He kind of felt like he was destined to audition, because our name had been brought up to him twice in a day.  First, he used to work at a grocery store with a guy who I now worked with at the station.  That guy called him and said that we were looking for a drummer and he should check it out.  Then he went to a placed called My Music Store where he had gotten to know one of the sales staffers named Andy Leaf.  Andy was a very accomplished bass player, and he had seen the ad we had put up.  He was thinking about auditioning himself, and when Pete came in, he showed him the ad, and suggested that maybe they both check it out.  Both were fans of the bands that Paul and I listed as influences, and they thought it seemed like a very good fit for what they were interested in.  Pete was a very talented musician who ended up dropping out of a local music school after a year.  He didn’t have a long resume of prior bands, but he seemed very eager to be part of an up and coming rock band again.  I remember talking to Pete for a long time on the phone when he called about the audition and we hit it off right away.  I remember being super stoked after we hung up because I felt like if he could play at all, it might just be a fantastic fit and maybe I could find a new friend in addition to a band mate.  The Booth and Tamte experiment really left me with this realization that finding people of good character was almost as important as finding good musicians.  I wanted guys that we could hang out with and have fun both inside and outside of practice.  I felt like that’s how the great bands became great.  They hung out together and spontaneously would write some music. 

The audition day came, and Pete arrived first.  I remember wondering what he’d look like.  Would he be a cool looking rocker dude?  Would he be an 80’s hair band looking guy?  As he descended the stairs, I was met with a very average, normal looking guy.  In my experience thus far, drummers always seemed to have this certain look about them.  It’s hard to explain, but it seemed like you could always sort of pick out the drummer.  Pete came down in a T-shirt and jeans, and could have passed for your everyday average accountant or something.  He had glasses, short proper nappy hair, no piercings,  and no tattoos.  I didn’t mind it….it just surprised me for whatever reason.  We helped him load his drums down into the basement.  He had fantastic gear.  It was a complete 180 from Booth’s setup.  Pete had custom built drums that he took meticulous care of.  They looked and sounded top notch.  Before long Andy arrived.  He was a short, portly guy with messy hair and glasses.  Again, not the rocker picture that one might formulate in their head.  Andy spoke very intelligently, albeit with a touch of a speech impediment.  He was a very nice guy, although he came across as the stereotypical video game playing, living in his parent’s basement type of nerd.  As is the case with some “less than popular” people though, it appeared he spent a lot of time by himself with his instrument, because he was a fantastic bass player.  The upgrade over Tamte was jaw dropping.  I’d never played with anybody who could find out what key you were in, and just improvise these intricate parts that all seemed to fit over the music.  Andy was a music nerd.  He knew a lot of musical theory, and what notes completed chords, and what types of scales should work in different keys of arrangements.  The audition ended up being composed of us mostly chatting.  We went back and forth talking about music we loved and we’d play it and comment on things we loved about it.  We absorbed bands like Tonic, Better than Ezra, and Toad the Wet Sprocket.  After hours went by, we called it a day, and told them we’d let them know what we decided, but that we felt pretty good about it.  Paul and I chatted after they left, and we both felt really fortunate to find good guys and great musicians.  It was like we had instantly gotten 5 times better with them on board.  It didn’t really matter to us that they didn’t exactly look the typical rock and roll part.  To us, it was about building a band that we could be proud of and one that would stand up to our peers.  We wanted a product that would be impressive enough to start getting us into the better clubs on the better nights.  We felt like Pete and Andy were a big leap in that direction.  It didn’t take us long to call them and tell they that they had the gig.

Rehearsals were great!  Everyone was getting along terrifically, and the songs were taking on a new life as Andy and Pete quickly learned them and put their own improvements into the rhythm section.  We got along great outside of rehearsal too.  We’d drive around cranking Tenacious D and singing along.  Pete even tagged along to a Dishwalla/Rubyhorse/Peter Stuart concert at the Fine Line that was actually my “first date” with this girl I had just started seeing.  I was so giddy listening to us create music, and I couldn’t wait for the people that had seen us before, to see the new and improved Concentual.  I remember one of the first triumphant moments I experienced with the new guys was covering Alice in Chain’s “No Excuses” at our first show together at the Red Sea bar.  As simple as it seems, Tamte would have never pulled off the bass intro to that song.  It kind of seems unfathomable to me in retrospect, but I distinctly remember feeling excited that we could FINALLY pull off that song.  The shows were starting to get better and better.  We agreed to finally swear off playing the Red Sea bar forever.  Then we landed what, to me at the time, was the coup de grau. 

The Finer Things in Life

Ever since I moved to Minneapolis, I had developed this affinity for a club called the Fine Line Music Café.  It was a classy joint that held around 600 people.  It seemed to hold this special kind of magic for me that I couldn’t explain.  It was kind of like when you fell in love while listening to a certain CD.  That CD forever has a special hold over you.  That was kind of what the Fine Line meant to me.  I had seen all of these amazing shows there.  Sometimes it was with amazing people, and sometimes it was just by myself.  I saw a local band called Leep 27 open for one of my favorite bands, Sister Hazel, there.   I saw Soul Asylum there.  I had the special memory from the aforementioned Dishwalla show there.  It also seemed like all of the best local bands played there.  It wasn’t like some of the garbage you heard coming out of the Red Sea Bar.  It felt like you had to have a certain degree of excellence to be allowed to grace that stage.  Before I even was in a band, I used to tell my friends Derek and Krista that someday I was going to play there.  It was probably my first real big goal when I started playing music.  June 10th, 2002, that goal would finally come to fruition.  We got booked to play a Monday evening new band night.  The line up was Bill Geezy, Dinner w/Gregg, Concentual and Cowboy Curtis.  Our slot was 11pm. It was such a big deal to Paul and me, that we commemorated the event by having the ticket stub, the City Pages ad, and the Fine Line calendar that they hand out at the door, all framed and signed by the members of the band.  It still hangs in my house to this day.  I was a wreck the day of the show.  I couldn’t eat and couldn’t focus.  I had a slight hoarse voice and was thrown into a panic about it.  I couldn’t believe that my big debut at the Fine Line might feature me struggling with my vocals.  I was mortified, thinking I might never get another chance to play there.  History would eventually prove that a ludicrous fear, as it became a staple of sorts as a live music venue for me.  The show went well, and we astonishingly had around 60 people there for us.  That was the beauty of being a new band full of young guys.  There were all of these pockets of supporters there were excited to have a reason to all gather at the same place and socialize, all while playing a part in trying to help the raw little band that could rise up the ranks and accomplish dreams.  It’s a contagious feeling, and several years later I found myself going to new band nights at the Fine Line every now and then just to drink in the wide eyed energy of these bands who were making their debut at a big fancy club.  It kind of has a way of renewing your soul a bit after the music business begins to chew at you and leave you jaded.  There was a band in attendance that night that had moved up to Tuesday nights, and had a show coming up.  They were looking for some new, well drawing talent to join the bill, and they were impressed enough that they offered us the slot.  Things seemed to moving in the right direction at a rapid pace.  We would end up drawing around 90 at that show. 

One of the best parts about being a musician for me, was it felt like you were in this sort of exclusive fraternity.  It was like a fraternity of people that were somewhat misunderstood by others, but perfectly understood by each other.  This website developed called Musicscene.org.  It was kind of a community for musicians to chat with each other and promote their upcoming shows, etc.  I remember one day getting approached by a guy named Jonny Charon via email, who fronted a band called Clovis.  He said he discovered us on Musicscene and wanted to kind of start a coalition of bands of sorts with similar sounds, that would always play shows together.  The hope was that each band’s fans would get familiar with the other bands and eventually it would grow into this large unified fan base.  He also was making a pitch to come support his band at an upcoming Battle of the Bands where audience votes determined the winner.  Johnny would prove to be kind of a “shrewd” used car salesman type of guy, and he probably made this pitch to every band he could think of.  I was naïve enough to swallow the bait and feel honored to do so.  He said “the family” consisted of 2 other bands called Grayson and Pasty White.  True to this word, we all would eventually play shows together to some degree.  Clovis went on to win that Battle of the Bands called the Leg Up contest.  At that time it was pretty prestigious and they won recording time, and eventually had a brief window where they were actually kind of big deal in town.  One of those “family” shows took place at a place that was called The Lab in St. Paul.  It featured Pasty White, ourselves, and another band I didn’t know called “A Band Called Delicious.”  I ended up being blown away by them!  It was the first real band that we shared the stage with that was in the pop/rock vein just like we were.  Pasty White was kind of psychedelic, Clovis was Bluesy, Grayson was Bluesy alt/country.  ABCD was straight pop though.  It was the kind of music I loved, and I was really enthralled by their set.  They were very pro in their set up and stage presence, as well as their demeanor.  They were fantastic musicians, and I immediately looked up to them immensely.  I bought their CD, and I remember going home and listening to it on my headphones and thinking…”There are legitimate hits on this CD.  Songs I would love hearing on the radio!”  I felt honored that we played a show with them and knew them.  They would go on to play an important role in the history of Concentual in the years to come.

Meanwhile, things were starting to evolve with the band.  I was writing more and more songs, and they all were starting to take on a definite pop/rock feel.  Up to that point, we were kind of a schizophrenic act.  We had the pop songs I wrote and sang, and then the brooding dark songs that Paul wrote.  They just didn’t seem to fit together that well in the set anymore.  It seemed weird to go from an upbeat song like “Rock Star”, to a moody song like “Bitterness Bay”.  I didn’t think they were bad songs, and I actually quite enjoyed playing them in the beginning.  However, as time passed, I felt like we dropped off in quality when Paul was singing lead and I was playing lead guitar parts.  The shift was starting to be made to me singing pretty much all of the songs, and Paul doing backing vocals.  This move was made very begrudgingly at first by Paul, but eventually he would state that he didn’t really like singing lead and he wanted to focus on playing lead guitar.  He did insist that his song “Van” stay in the set list though, and that he sing it.  It was kind of nod to U2 I think, where The Edge always sings at least one song a night.  In fact, I think Paul’s obsession with them is what finally allowed for the transition to occur.  When he accepted that his idols had the same basic arrangement, and he could play the role of The Edge, that seemed to pacify him and make it ok.  It’s hard not to make the assessment, however, that that was building block #2 of Paul’s budding resentment of me.  It was easy for him to read between the lines that it was my opinion that I was better suited to be the lead singer and he was better suited to be a backing vocalist. 

There was some resentment building with Andy at the same time.  Andy was one of those guys who was almost too knowledgeable about music sometimes.  He heard things in terms of theory and what was right and wrong, and not necessarily what just sounded right.  I had written a ballad called Strangers that featured a very cliché song structure, and it kind of screamed for the backing instrumentation to just sit underneath it and support it.  Andy hated its simple formulaic structure, and tried his damndest to make it more unique and interesting.  There was a particular spot in the chorus where I just wanted him to hit the root notes to support the chords I was playing.  He insisted on hitting this strange note that made it sound dissonant.  To everyone else it just sounded like he was constantly making a mistake.  He sighted music theory to us over and over as to why that note worked and how we must be doing something wrong for it not to sound right.  Paul, Pete and I all grew frustrated and winced every time he played it.  It was sort of ironic in a way that we couldn’t stand Tamte because all he did was play root notes, and now we were growing distraught with Andy because he refused to play them.   I remember one rehearsal, we were gearing up for a particularly big show.  We got to Strangers in the set list, and at that spot, once again he hit the “wince” note.  I, very out of character, stopped playing and screamed out “COME ON!!!!!!”  The room grew silent and I saw Andy’s face redden.  I had kind of shocked myself that those words escaped my mouth with such tenacity.  After a moment, I made some comment as to how I REALLY wanted to root notes to be followed for THAT song.  Any other song, he could do whatever he wanted.  I think that moment kind of lit the fuse for him though.  It was sort of like, the honeymoon was officially over.  There was yelling now that could occur, and disagreements.  I think Andy had a lot of trouble taking direction from someone that he clearly felt musically superior to.  I tried to smooth things over after the incident, but it never quite felt the same.  Not long after that, we played another gig at the Lab.  Another strange thing occurred that kind of left us shaking our heads with puzzled looks.  I had broken a string or something, and asked the guys to fill some time while I changed it.  Paul would have been the natural one to step up, being the other vocalist, but he always backed away from such opportunities.  Andy didn’t sing, thus didn’t have a mic.  As a result, he sauntered over and pulled my mic down to match his height.  He started out by trying to tell a really bad joke.  I was starting to get a bit embarrassed that our set was turning into Andy Leaf at improv night.  After that went nowhere, he begin pumping this gig we had coming up outside the music store he worked at, that supported the humane society or something like that.  He opened that string of words with something along the lines of….”How many of you out there would like to help kitties and puppies?”  The delivery would have perhaps been effective had we been playing a show for some kindergarteners, but this was a dark dingy rock club!  I abruptly finished what I was doing and jerked back up towards the mic.  It was now aimed at my stomach.  I yanked it up and tried to inject a little rock and roll back into the room by saying…”Damn Andy, you’re a short son of a bitch.”  When all else fails, always try to collect some rock credibility by cursing in to the mic.  Andy’s face distorted into a scowl, and he loudly barked….”Fuck You!”  With that, he threw his bass forward onto the ground.  It was still plugged in, so it made this dissonant sonic crash.  Then he stood looking at me, as if we were supposed to engage in fisticuffs or something.  I laughed nervously into the mic trying to regain some composure to the situation.  I didn’t know what to think, and all that was running through my mind was, “Dude, why the hell did you just throw a $1000 bass down and risk breaking it???  What the fuck is wrong with you???”  After a brief pause, he smiled like it was all a big joke.  He picked up his bass and happily tuned it in preparation for the next song.  His actions couldn’t be undone to the rest of us though.  We all talked afterwards about how we thought he had snapped and gone off the deep end.  Things just escalated from there.  He stopped showing interest in coming to practice.  Finally one day he called me and stated that he didn’t want to practice with us anymore because he wasn’t allowed to create anything.  He said I should just tell him what to play and he’d learn it and show up and play the gigs.  He knew that wouldn’t sit with me and it was clear he was looking for a way out without actually quitting.  I gave him his wish and told him that arrangement wasn’t going to work.  No one in the band seemed too broken up over the ending of Concentual 2.0.  We played one last gig with Andy, and it actually would prove to be a bit of a monumental one.  It was our first time at the historic Turf club in St. Paul.  As shows go, it was nothing overly memorable or fantastic.  I met an individual, however, named Scott Morrisson who became the link to some very key elements of not only my musical journey, but my life as well!  He introduced himself after our set, and was very complimentary of my writing and singing.  He himself was a singer, and headed up a group called “Something”.  He said he was searching around for local music and stumbled upon our page.  He liked the influences I had listed on our bio, and was intrigued enough to check us out.  He had worked a double shift that day and still came out to give us a listen.  He invited me to show he had coming up on a Monday night at the Fine Line.  I eventually would check him out and be blown away by the music.  It was one of the few local bands whose music I really got into.  We became good friends, and that relationship set off a chain of events that would be very instrumental to me in the years to follow.

 

The Golden Era

 

So now that Andy was done, the search was on for a replacement bassist.  We started to search through the usual channels, but things were starting to be different now.  The standards had raised, and we started to have a sense of what kinds of people were and weren’t going to work now.  Pete definitely wasn’t going to be happy playing with anyone below a certain caliber of talent.  The drummer/bassist relationship is a very important one, and has was going to have to find a guy he admired and felt was a person he’d enjoy being around.  I really wanted this next move to solidify the group as family.  I felt like that was how all of the really successful bands were.  I didn’t want a group of guys that just showed up for practice and gigs and then didn’t talk the rest of the week.  As fortune would have it, my dream gig at the time, was presented to us.  We had played the Fine Line on the weekdays a few times now and had done pretty well.  Now, we were being offered our first weekend gig!  That wasn’t all though.  The gig was an opening slot for Kory and the Fireflies.  Kory was GIGANTIC in Sioux Falls, where Paul, I, and a lot of our friends that came to our shows went to college.  GB Leighton was the biggest, most successful act in the Twin Cities, and Kory and the Fireflies were easily the Sioux Falls version of them.  They’d play outdoor events in Sioux Falls in the summer and have the streets filled.  I couldn’t believe I was getting the chance to open for them!  There was no way we were going to pass on this gig because we didn’t currently have a bass player.  Now that we had played out and met other bands for the last year or so, we finally had some contacts that we could reach out to.  I immediately contacted the best bass player I knew from the band I greatly admired….A Band Called Delicious.  His name was Brian Chelmeniak.  He was everything I coveted in a bass player.  He had great gear and outstanding ability, he could sing backing vocals, he was very personable and cool to talk to, and he had tons of experience playing big gigs with successful bands.  I knew it was very unlikely we’d find a permanent guy like that, but it wasn’t that big of a stretch that he might agree to fill in for a show with us.  We contacted him, and indeed, he was on board to do the show.  Now, I was twice as excited for the gig, because I felt like we were bringing in a real ringer.  Preparations for the show went great, and everybody was having fun jamming on the songs together. 

The big night came, and I remember just kind of feeling like it was a monumental moment for me.  For the first time ever, we were getting a monetary guarantee to play of $100.  Usually we got paid by the amount of people that came through the door.  You’d either split money from the cover charge with the other bands, or you’d have a situation like the Fine Line had on new band nights, where you’d get comp tickets to hand out and you’d get paid by how many came in the door.  Upon loading in, everything felt different and more pro.  All of the tables up front were taken out to allow for the standing room crowd.  Beer tubs were being positioned to accommodate the larger crowds.  The green room was open for the bands to relax before and after their set, and was stocked with water and beer for the headliner.  It held his whole new excitement for me.  It felt like the type of atmosphere that I witnessed when I first fell in love with the place seeing national bands play there.  Our set was solid.  At that time, the sound guy recorded the bands off the soundboard and would sell them the CD for like $10.  We bought one and after listening to it, we decided to spin off a bunch of copies and make some cover art and sell them as live CD.  We had this practice of making show posters that featured our logo incorporated in unique places.  One time we had the logo replace the ghosts in the Pac Man game.  One time we had it as a design in the fur of a cow as spin off to the Bush line in “Everything Zen”….”Mickey Mouse is drawn on a cow.”  For the live CD, Paul had it emblazed on the IDS tower under the title, “Concentual, Live from the Fine Line.”  The band was listed in the liner notes as me, Paul, and Pete, with special guest Brian Chelmeniak.  Things kept rolling from there.  We had such an amazing time with Brian on bass, that we asked if he would consider being in both bands, and if there was a conflict in scheduling, he’d play with ABCD.  He gave it some thought, and ultimately agreed to it.  ABCD was led by a very talented singer/songwriter named Owen Sartori.  The band originated in Wisconsin and was originally called Push.  They did very well, and won awards and everything, but they felt like their ceiling of success was somewhat limited unless they went to higher profile market.  Minneapolis is renowned for it’s music scene, so the band moved here.  The legend goes that they were on the doorstep of bigger success and were recording a new album.  Owen is a very opinionated guy, and apparently didn’t like taking the direction of the producer they hired.  He wanted the songs to sound how he wrote them, and there was a standoff.  Apparently it led to Push having a great reel of songs locked away, never to see the light of day.  The arrangement was ended, and somehow it led to the band starting over under a different name.  Brian told us that there was a lot of underlying resentment from members of the band, that Owen’s stubbornness held them back from greater success.  In addition, Owen was very particular about what he wanted the other instruments to play.  Brian would talk about how he’d create a bass line, and Owen wouldn’t like it, and he’s ask him to play the one he wrote.  I think all of this led Brian to seeing Concentual as a new and rewarding opportunity.  I wasn’t skilled enough to write bass lines, so he had the freedom to create whatever he wanted.  He saw that we had some good tunes and were making our way up the music scene ladder.  Most importantly though, I think, was the fact that he felt really wanted and appreciated with us.  We treated him like a prized free agent with teams getting in a bidding war for his services.  He got along well with everyone and saw a lot of potential in the project, and I think it impacted him enough, that he didn’t want to let the opportunity get away. 

The shared bass player situation went very smoothly at first.  There was never any scheduling conflicts, and in fact we ended up sharing even more gigs together and grew to be pretty close friends.  ABCD had a sort of delayed CD release party for the album “A Season to Taste”.  They devised this unprecedented plan to have 11 bands on the bill.  Each would play 3 songs leading up to the full set by ABCD.  We were asked to be part of it, and got a prime time late spot.  Brian played bass with us, and it seemed to be kind of an eye opening set for the crowd gathered.  We were super high energy, and many people commented that it just seemed to stand apart from the other acts.  Brian just was catching his breath from it, freshly having been in front of everyone, when he came back out with ABCD. 

On the heels of the success of that night, we actually went on a road trip with ABCD to their native Wisconsin, and played 2 nights with them.  It was my first real road trip with a band.  To save money, we jammed both bands and all the gear into one passenger van.  I remember how amazing of an adventure it was.  It really felt like I was in a national touring band, traveling from city to city, and sleeping on people’s floors at night.  It was a blast.  Everyone got along great.  I caught myself sitting there thinking….”Look at this.  This is a band I loved when I first saw them and admired greatly, and now that bass player is playing with us, and we are all on the road in a van having fun together and listening to music and playing gigs.”  I really felt like I was part of something special and unique that most people don’t get to experience. 

Brian kept playing and rehearsing with us once a week for about the next two months.  His role started to evolve.  New song ideas were starting to develop and he took a more proactive role in their formation.  He was no longer just the guy that came in and learned the set for a show.  He was more of a real member now.  That became solidified one day when he came to rehearsal.  He proceeded to tell us that he quit ABCD and was going to just play with Concentual.  I honestly couldn’t believe it.  He spent a lot of years helping to build that band, and I couldn’t believe he was just leaving it behind.  He cited that he felt that band was kind of stuck in neutral and based on past experiences, he didn’t see it as something that he’d enjoy moving forward with.  I was kind of torn, because I respected Owen and ABCD so much, and I felt bad that they were losing a bass player of this caliber.  However, I felt this immense sense of pride and legitimacy now that someone of Brian’s caliber believed enough in Concentual to leave a project that was so talented and solid.  It made me feel like I was on the same echelon now with some of the better bands in town.  I felt like I could look around and say, “We are every bit as good and deserving of success as this band or that band.”  That feeling was kind of cemented when we got accepted into that year’s Leg Up contest.  This was the same contest that Clovis had won previously, where afterwards I felt like they were really taking off.  The contest had kind of lost a little steam as far as prestige goes, but it was still a big deal to me. 

We came out and dominated the first rounds.  The winners were largely picked by audience vote, so essentially it was a matter of: “can you bring out more friends then the other bands.”  At that time, we were really rolling on all cylinders as far as a fan base went.  We still had the old fans from the beginning that were college friends and coworkers, who were still in that mindset of helping the little band that could.  Now, we had added other members who knew more people and had their own pockets of fans and friends.  Combine that with friends from the other bands that we had made, and people were starting to become a little curious about the small buzz that was growing, and a substantial fan base was in place.  We breezed to the finals with a couple of weeks to prepare.  In between that time, disaster threatened to strike.

 

Silence

We had booked a gig back at Paul and I’s alma matter, Augustana College.  It was the first time the full band would be going there and we were getting paid well to do it.  I was absolutely stoked to return there with a solid band of good friends now, and show them all the old hangouts.  I had this vision that maybe we’d have a packed house, like the old college dances used to be.  Maybe some college girls would be smitten and want nothing more than to hang out with us after the gig.  The whole experience was just bursting with excitement for me.  We even had people traveling from the cities to Sioux Falls for the gig.  Derek was going to make the trip and take in some nostalgia, and this co-worker of mine, Kari, was coming as well.  She had developed a crush on Brian and saw this as a fantastic opportunity to try to get some quality time in with him and pry him away from the girl he was currently dating.  Tragedy stuck however, as the morning we were set to take off, I awoke with a very bad cold and a very hoarse voice.  I wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew I wasn’t going to miss out on this trip now.  I hoped that an obscene amount of cough drops and tea would allow me to make it through the night.  I tried not to talk at all the whole trip down, which was immensely frustrating.  I wanted to laugh and joke with the guys, and instead I just sat mute most of trip.  We arrived in Sioux Falls and loaded in and got everything set up.  Paul’s sister was a student there, which gave me even more reason to hope that we’d have a healthy crowd.  My voice had gotten slightly better and I could kind of softly speak.  I could hum things in a very limited vocal range.  We went to the mall to walk around and kill some time before the show.  Before long, it was show time and my voice was going to have to give it a go, ready or not.  There was no way I was canceling based on how much we were getting paid, and seeing some of the old friends that showed up.  We were booked to play 2 hours.  We launched into the first tune, and I just had nothing.  I started to panic, and just sang louder and louder to get the vocal chords vibrating as much as possible.  I could sort of get through the songs when I basically yelled them, so I backed off from the mic and just let loose everything I could.  I figured I’d deal with the consequences later.  I had a developing trend of being a bit hoarse, and then feeling nearly fully recovered the next day after a night’s rest.  I figured, worst case scenario,  I would be hoarse for a couple of days and by the time the Leg Finals came around in two weeks, I’d be fine.  By the end of the night, I was really on my last leg vocally.  My voice was sufficiently warmed up now where I could talk ok, but the singing was going to be terminated shortly.  We finished the set, and I felt an immense amount of relief that it was over.  I exchanged pleasantries with a few people, and it was done…I had survived.  There was a small crowd that night, and not the jammed house that I had hoped for.  There would be no college party invites, or budding infatuation from any college ladies.  Instead, it was a trip to the hotel, where I spent the rest of the night listening to Kari do everything in her power to try to cash in on her infatuation with Brian.  I woke up the next morning, and could barely bark out any noise from my vocal chords.  It was a long, nervous trip back for me as I started to contemplate just how much damage I had done to myself.  The morning after that, I awoke and found the final remnants of my voice were gone.  I could produce no sound whatsoever.  No bark, no throat clear, no low growl…..just silence.  It is a very odd feeling when that occurs.  You take the ability to produce sound for granted such a great deal.  It’s sort of like waking up one morning, and having no thumbs.  It gets so frustrating that you want to just lie down and wake up when it’s over.  This would last for days.  I was seriously panicked.  I hadn’t ever experienced a complete voice loss.  The closest I had come might have featured something where a quick gargle with warm salt water would have at least temporarily provided a quick noise of some sort.  This time, however, there was nothing.  It was like somebody had went inside my throat in my sleep and removed the vocal chords.  I could only whisper, and from everything I read, that was even more damaging and to be avoided at all costs, so I just sat silent…..for days.  Finally about 4 days in, I started to get the bark back.  I classify the bark as the noise that occurs when are trying to make sound and there’s nothing, but as you push on, the vocal folds briefly vibrate quickly along a quick muted noise.  It’s sort of the same feeling as having a really stuffy nose, and trying to breathe in through it.  You exhale through your mouth completely and then try as hard as you can to take air back in through your nose.  You get nothing, but you keep trying until your head starts to shake your eyes are ready to bulge, and then…..very briefly….you’ll get a small stream of air that makes it’s way in .  After about a week, I had a hoarse voice back.  It sounded roughly similar to how it was before I sung that fateful concert.  I had one week to go before the finals.  In the meantime, we found out who the other bands were that we’d be up against.  In a small twist of irony, one of the bands was actually the band Swampp Gass that featured the guy I used to work with, who told Pete about the opening in Concentual.  It was on odd fit because the contest was sponsored by local radio station Cites 97, which featured a very soft rock format.  Swampp Gass was this odd hard rock, grungy sort of band.  Also on the bill that night would be Sasha, who ironically enough had ties with Clovis, and actually had members of that band playing with her. 

By the night of the gig, my voice was very close to back to normal.  I still had some problems with the songs in the higher register, but I altered them as to not have to attempt anything that would be difficult and sound bad.  The finals featured a combination of audience vote and judge voting.  We had a fantastic turnout, and judging by the audience response, it seemed to be a no brainer that we would have a majority of the crowd vote.  I couldn’t imagine judges picking Swampp Gass by any stretch of the imagination.  They got in on straight crowd vote through the first rounds, and now with us having the edge over them in that category, I considered them a non factor.  It was between Sasha and us.  I poured everything I had into the performance that night.  My voice held up pretty well for the most part.  I bailed out on a few high parts as planned, which was disappointing because I thought those parts were really powerful when belted out.  I tried to ramp up my stage presence to make up for it.  The whole band seemed to really take it up a notch.  The entire set was kind of a blur, as I was running on pure adrenaline.  In those days, I was still nervous enough when performing, that I didn’t really completely live in the moment and it enjoy it when onstage.  I was in a constant state of making sure I hit the right chords and didn’t forget lyrics and was being energetic, etc.  I remember getting really amped up though because there were people right up to the front of the stage and all the way to the back.  I was filled with such pride looking at photos afterwards, because we had such great fan support, and everyone was getting so into the show.  We finally got to our big closer, “Rock Star” and I ended it in my traditional way by jumping off the drum riser and crashing down on the last chord.  The place erupted, and I couldn’t hold back the huge smile that creased my face.  All the bands finished and I strolled through the crowd, breathing in the high fives and hugs and compliments.  My best friend Derek had on this wife beater shirt on which he etched his support with black sharpie.  The crazy thing was that wasn’t the only homemade Concentual shirt in the place.  We had this “superfan” who knew Pete, who had somehow put our logo and name on a black T-shirt.  It was an amazing time for us, when we didn’t even have merch to sell, but fans and friends were making their own like we were the high school football team who made it to state.  It seemed like an agonizingly long time for the votes to be counted, and the judges to make the decision.  It was during this time that one of my favorite fan memories occurred.  A drunken Derek, completely out of character, jumped onto the stage and shouted into the mic something along the lines of…”Give it up for Concentual….they rule!”  I don’t even recall if the mics where on or not.  He seemed to grasp the magnitude of his actions though, because he jumped down quickly without being escorted off and out of the building!  Finally a voice came over the PA.  “The winner of this years Leg Up contest is…….CONCENTUAL.”  A big cheer went up from the people still hanging out past the midnight hour.  I let out a small fist pump, and got together and hugged and congratulated my band mates.  I was kind of taken by how much it seemed to mean to them as well.  It was truly one of finer moments in the band’s history.  It seemed like we were on the brink of huge things, and at that moment all of us seemed to believe in each other and the band to the utmost degree.  We had good songs, good musicians, we were all friends, we had a terrific fan base, and now we were going to be able to start recording our debut album FREE of charge at a reputable studio.  I’m not sure I slept much that night as I replayed everything in my head over and over again.

Making A Record

A few weeks later we met with a guy named “Taco” who basically was in charge of setting up the studio time with a placed called Angel Beach studios.  It was kind of an interesting coincidence that Brian actually had a lot of ties to this place.  He knew the crew, and was actually involved himself, in the building of the studio.  He knew the guy who ran the place pretty well from his days in Push.  I was excited at this opportunity because some reputable local bands had recorded there, most notably Fade to Shade.  Our prize included 20 hours of recording time.  I was pretty naïve to the recording process, so in my mind 20 hours seemed like plenty of time to plow through a whole album’s worth of songs.  I figured we’d be economical and do a maximum of 4-6 takes each for each song, and BOOM, we’d be pretty close to having an album completed in a weekend’s time.  I knew this was probably a little hopeful, but I really had no idea what to expect.  I knew I wanted to have an album’s worth of songs ready to go though.  We worked with the studio and found an open weekend about two months down the road.  At the time we only had about 10-11 original songs that we played regularly.  We had phased a lot of the old stuff Paul had written out and definitely weren’t going to put it on an album.  We thought that 12 songs would be a good length for our debut, so our goal was to shoot for that.  We all agreed on the arrangements and quality of around 9-10 songs, but the others were kind of up in the air.  This is where the debate began.  “Atmosphere” was a ballad that I had written with Pete.  He had come up with a basic chord progression on guitar that would essentially become the verse.  After crafting a melody, the chorus and bridge parts evolved as well.  I finished it with some introspective lyrics about a relationship I was in, where I was teetering on thinking it might not last, and being sad about the pain I knew that that would cause.  Pete loved it and came up with a backing piano track on it that was really quite beautiful.  When the discussion about having it on the album arose, it was agreed by everyone that it should be on.  How it was to be arranged was a source of friction.  Brian wanted a  more up-tempo rock version that started with the chorus and never really slowed down.  Pete was utterly dismayed by this, feeling that it completely destroyed the beauty of it.  I was open to different possibilities, but leaned towards the version that it currently was in, due to the fact that the lyrics were centered around that arrangement.  Paul didn’t really know what to think, and wasn’t a strong advocate for either opinion.  Pete had sort of begun developing a method for getting what he wanted.  To use a metaphor, he sort of had this, “I’ll just take my ball and go home then” mentality, where he’d shut down and not be invested into anything we were doing if we didn’t agree with something he was in favor of.  Eventually, I think that assisted in the decision to have “Atmosphere” recorded in its original version.  We were still 2 songs short of 12 at this point though, and the next hurdle was a song called “Volcano”.  Paul had written the main riff for this song, which was a strong one, but the rest of the song around it was just a bit lacking.  I had written lyrics for it in a calculated attempt to have a racy metaphor as a theme.  It seemed like a lot of bit hits at the time had these sexual innuendos that the public seemed to eat up, so this was my attempt.  Despite none of us but Paul really digging the tune, we were content to play it live in the version it was in.  However, when it came to putting it on an album to be captured forever, one person in particular, was in strong opposition to it.  Pete Berven made his presence felt again, by outright refusing to play drums on it in its current version.  I had been willing to record it as is, but now the scramble was on to either completely write a new song to replace it, or change it.  Paul, or course, was adamant that it went on since he had come up with the original riff.  To try my hardest to please everyone and not have to entirely come up with new lyrics, I sat in my room and deconstructed the song.  I livened up the chorus and tried to make it more of an edgy rock song to match the lyrics.  I came up with something I was pretty happy with and presented it to the band.  Pete loved it now, and Brian also felt it was a big improvement.  Paul begrudgingly accepted the new version, likely feeling outnumbered, and the 11th track was agreed upon.  That left one more.  Paul had been working on another riff that was pretty catchy and strong.  He was having trouble creating a song around it and we worked together to create a driving, upbeat anthem that would be a strong complimentary album track.  We were trying to evolve into more of an edgy rock band and definitely wanted songs that would make you nod your head and pump your fist.  Everybody seemed to like the arrangement of the song, and we picked it as the final track that would be included on the album, despite it not having any lyrics yet.  As the deadline approached, I frantically tried to tie it all together.  Finally the night after we set up all the gear in the recording studio, I finished the lyrics to “Believe”. 

It was a warm summer day as we commenced day 1 of recording at Angel Beach.  As is customary to do, we set out to get all of the drum and bass tracks completed first.  The night before we had done a considerable amount of work micing up the drum kit and getting the right sounds.  It was such a gigantic thrill for me to be a in a real recording studio!  I just sat there looking at all of the equipment and wishing that all of my friends could be in there to see how cool it all was.  I felt like a real, big time rock star.  I couldn’t help smiling at the sound of Pete’s kick drum and snare and toms pounding through the studio monitors as the engineers tweaked things.  Soon, we were ready to hit record.  The general process is that everybody plays the song to a click track, and then each instrument overdubs it’s part until it’s perfect.  Sometimes, although rare, you might get a perfect recording playing it live together.  There was some problem with the equipment however, and the guitars and vocals couldn’t be recorded through all the high end processors at the same time as the drums.  What essentially resulted, was that everything sounded terrible except the drums on the scratch tracks, but they were needed obviously to serve as a reference to Pete.  This took a good deal of wind out of my sails because everything I recorded sounded awful, and it was obvious that none of it would be used or even serve as a something I could show friends and family as to how things were coming along.  We got all of the scratch tracks recorded, and essentially after a few hours of work, I was done for the whole weekend.  It was obvious to me now that our entire 20 hours would be dedicated to getting the drum tracks down.  Drums are the most difficult to record well, so having a professional studio to use to get them down was of maximum importance.  Day 2 essentially consisted of me walking around killing time, and watching Pete record.  At first, I tried to be a strong leader type and give my “yeah” or “nay” as to if the take was a keeper or not, but after awhile the tracks all sounded the same and I was tired of trying to listen for things that I didn’t always know I should be listening for.  I just trusted Pete and the engineer and dreamt about what the process would be when it was my turn to record. 

We successfully finished the drum tracks in 20 hours of time, and started to ponder what we were going to do to finish the album.  We had little money to book expensive studio time.  Brian had a friend named Brett Lanagher who was one of those that had a hand in building Angel Beach.  He now had his own studio in his house and was kind of eager to work with a band and record an album.  He wouldn’t even charge much since Brian was a friend of his and he hadn’t really had much experience with his new studio up to this point.  We agreed we’d give it a shot.  Thus began a year long journey of creating the album “Stranger Than Fiction.”

Brian went in first and whipped through his bass parts.  He wasn’t very interested in the recording process, which would prove to be very ironic in the years to come.  Then it was up to Paul and I.  We went to Bretty’s house constantly, whenever he had time to spare and was willing.  It was always Paul and I…..never Pete or Brian.  Sometimes it would be just Paul, sometimes it would be just me, but mostly it was both of us because neither wanted to have something get done when we weren’t there.  I kind of acted in the producer role a lot, subtly changing a guitar part or vocal line, or assessing the drum tracks, etc.  It was a very rewarding but grueling process.  I would feel exhilaration after every new part was finished and I heard the songs come together one piece at a time.  I agonized over vocal parts and trying to adjust to the different feel of being recorded vs singing live.  Paul and I began to feel resentment building towards Pete and Brian.  We had logged SO many hours tweaking parts and working on making the album amazing, while Brian and Pete just kind of disappeared from it.  Part of me understood, because essentially their parts were done, but part of me was disgusted that we were spending so much time doing other stuff on the album then just recording our parts, and they didn’t have to spend a second on any of it.  Mostly I was ok, because I was learning a lot, and it was nice to not have to argue about every little detail of things.  If Brett and Paul and I agreed on it, it was done….no need to get approval from anybody else.  However, things would become a bit stickier the closer the album got to completion.  Bretty started to get a bad taste in his mouth for Pete.  Pete was a bit on the arrogant side at times.  Bretty grew very frustrated at what he felt was erratic drumming from Pete on the recordings.  We also agreed that the sounds that Angel Beach got just weren’t rocking enough.  As a result of both of these factors, Bretty painstakingly replaced all of drum hits with samples.  He basically had a program that allowed you to take a certain drum sound, like a snare hit, and replace all of those sounds on your recording.  It also allowed Bretty to slightly move Pete’s hits that were out of time.  This process annoyed him greatly because it was something he felt he shouldn’t have had to do if Pete had played things well the first time.  Pete wouldn’t learn until years later that Bretty replaced nearly all his original drum tracks with sampled ones.  The album grew closer and closer to being finished, and there was only small details left to do.  Pete wanted to lay down some auxiliary percussion tracks to some of the songs, as well as his piano track that he created for “Atmosphere”.  This was where the real friction began.  We set up a time to do the tracks and Pete had to cancel.  We rescheduled for another day, and when that day arrived Pete had another excuse.  Despite Bretty having a small, condensed keyboard at his house to record piano, Pete insisted on lugging his standup keyboard over with the standard full keys.  It was threatening rain, however, and he didn’t want to take it in his truck because he had no cover.  We told him to come and try it on the small scale keyboard but he declined.  Then we asked him to at least come and do the percussion tracks, but he had an excuse not to want to do that either.  We all kind of came to the conclusion that he was just being lazy, and wanted to hang out with his girlfriend at the time.  We were all pretty pissed about it, so Paul and I did the percussion tracks and decided to call the album done.  Bretty was adamant that Pete was not getting his keyboard part on “Atmosphere” since he didn’t show up.  When Pete was told what transpired, he went into full lockdown mode.  He was disgusted we recorded percussion and very persistently made it known that he planned on working things out with Bretty to re-record what he wanted.  Bretty finally allowed him to come over and do his percussion tracks, but never gave in on allowing the piano part.  Pete finally, begrudgingly, gave up on it.  The album was finally done, nearly a year after we began.  Paul and I got a burned copy of it, and we just rode around in his car and listened to it over and over.  It was just the two of us.  It was the guys who were in it from the very beginning, who put the long hours into the album, and had to listen to Pete’s opposition every time we burned a copy of a recently finished song for him.  We felt a huge amount of ownership over the band and the album, and it felt fitting that we gave the whole thing the first listen together.  For that moment, all seemed right again.  No one was thinking about who wrote what parts, or who was singing lead.  We were just two guys who had a shared passion for something, and had just accomplished something we had worked very hard for a year on.

Legendary

In the meantime, while in the process of recording the album, we were still picking up steam playing live and building the fan base.  Our old bass player Andy had joined a band called Nothing Static.  Being the prideful people Paul and I were, we wanted nothing more than to outperform them on the local music scene.  We were given the direct, head to head, opportunity to do just that on multiple occasions as we got booked on the same bill at the Fine Line.  We had both ascended to playing weekend gigs there on a consistent basis, but we still were judged primarily by what kind of draw we brought in.  The Fine Line used a system of pay based on comp tickets.  They’d print out 250-300 tickets for free admission to the show and give them to the bands to distribute to fans.  The bands then would typically get some sort of deal that amounted to receiving around $1 for every ticket that came through the door with their name highlighted on it.  It was sort of an imperfect system, but it did allow for a tangible measure of a “winner” or “loser” in the quest to be the top drawing band.  We knew Andy wanted to outdraw us, and he knew it was important to us to outdraw his band.  In retrospect, it’s hard to even recall where some of these fans came from, but together we drew some gaudy numbers into that place.  We’d end the night in the neighborhood of 132 comps vs 140 comps.  Nothing Static got the best of us on a couple of occasions, but those numbers were kind of unprecedented in the history of the band.  The Fine Line on a Friday or Saturday night during that time period was our peak of popularity.  It was a perfect storm of conditions that seemed to create it.  It was our youth, and a time when our friends and coworkers were just looking for excuses to go out and meet people.  It was the curiosity of music fans wondering who this new band was that was drawing well on the weekends at the Fine Line.  It was the venue, which seemed to be the place to go at the time to catch some good local live music, and was enjoying a bit of a built in crowd.  Whatever created the conditions, we all understood that this was our “home run” club.

There was another club in town, however, that well eclipsed the notoriety of the Fine Line.  First Avenue was considered the landmark for the Minneapolis music scene.  Its stage had seen the most famous acts in rock and roll history, and had the stars painted on the outside with their names to prove it.  Hometown legend Prince put the exclamation mark on its fame by filming his movie Purple Rain there.  It was the place where he cut his teeth as a performer and began his superstardom.  Even after his worldwide visibility catapulted him a performance at halftime of the Super Bowl, he still was known to come back home and play last minute after hours shows there.  To get an opportunity to play on this hallowed stage was seen by many local musicians as the holy grail of gig opportunities.  On one brilliant Wednesday, Concentual got just that.  Scott Morrisson and I had become good friends since our meeting at the Turf club.  He had a friend who helped book him named John Dexter.  Dex, as he was called, was kind of a motor mouthed used car salesman type of guy.  He was kind of known for bugging club owners until they finally gave in and gave him show opportunities.  Somehow, without being that well know, he had convinced the booking agent at First Ave to let him put on a local showcase on a Wednesday night.  Luckily, that meant Concentual got the very first slot on the bill.  It was a mere 35 minutes, but it mattered little to us.  It was a statement to music fans in town that we were legit!  It was one of those gigs where you knew other musicians in town were saying to themselves, “How in the hell did THEY get that gig.”  It was an amazing experience there, right from the get go.  Roadies met you at the door and hauled your gear in for you. I’ll never forget how it felt to be up on that towering stage.  One of greatest moments was in sound check.  The sound guy asked me to play something so he could check my guitar.  I stepped on my distortion pedal, and ignited a crunch filled power chord.  They sound was coming through both my monitors and the gigantic PA out front.  The sound I heard just froze me in awe.  This monster sound echoed through each corner of the cavernous room.  It felt like I was on a mountaintop, and God himself was blasting out my tone for the countryside to cower down to.  When the curtain came up for our set, the crowd was pretty thin, but it wouldn’t have mattered if we were just playing for the rumored ghosts that roam the corridors.  It was 40 minutes of rock and roll fantasy camp for me, and something that at the end of the night, you sat back and crossed off your list of, “Awesome things I got to do in my lifetime.”

Cool opportunities seemed to be popping up all over the place on the heels of us winning the Leg Up contest.  I got contacted by Tom Pickard, the booking agent at O’Garas, about a particularly unique show.  Pete Best is infamous for being the original drummer of the Beatles, who got kicked out prior to their monumental rise to stardom.  He’s kind of one of those footnote trivia questions in rock and roll history.  He has tried to extract whatever living he can make off of that fame, and decades later, he still seemed to have a degree of relevance.  He had written a book about his time with the Beatles, and subsequently was doing a tour with a band at some small venues throughout the US.  They didn’t have a big budget though, so typically they tried to line up an opening band in each city that would provide them with gear.  Concentual happened to be a good fit, and we had drawn favor from Tom recently with some of our O’Garas shows as well as doing some opening slots for the band he ran sound for, Twin Cities icons, GB Leighton, so he gave us the nod.  It was the first time I had ever opened for any kind of national act.  Once I heard the news, I ran around to everyone I knew asking…”Do you know who Pete Best is?”  To the ones who did, I proudly rattled off that my band would be opening for him and his band!  We needed to line up not one, but two drum kits for the show.  We put out an ad out to obtain the second one.  A guy named Brian Henz, who would become important in the band’s history later, answered the ad and agreed to supply his kit for the second drummer.  Pete was pretty tickled that Pete Best would be playing his custom drum kit!  It was the first show that actually had tickets printed up with our name on them!  “Pete Best Band” w/special guest Concentual. “  The show arrived, and it was obvious to us that our music wasn’t going to be a home run with this older Beatles fan base.  It didn’t really matter to us that much.  It wasn’t a packed house, but we had an outstanding time nonetheless.  The Pete Best Band wasn’t too concerned about taking it easy on our gear.  Apparently disregarding the fact that amps were mic’ed, they jacked them up to 10 and did their best to peel some paint off the walls.  One of the amps ended up blowing a speaker, but the rest was no worse for the wear.  Pete and Brian were pretty stoked to have their drum heads signed by an original Beatle!

All of these shows were awesome, but we were running into a bit of a problem.  We knew Bretty was cutting us an amazing deal on recording the album, but there were lots of other factors involved that we were going to have to pay for.  There was the duplication of a run of 1,000 CDs, there were mastering charges, and there were charges for purchasing additional things we wanted to eventually feature at a CD release party.  These things alone would run a couple of thousand dollars easily, and we were making around $100 a show on average as a band.  It would take a LOT of shows to obtain that kind of money, and we were only playing around 2-3 shows a month tops.  We were booking ourselves, and doing pretty well as far as getting in front of bigger crowds by opening for the bigger local bands like Tim Mahoney, GB Leighton, Leep 27 and Dazy Head Mazy.  We usually were just playing 45 minute sets though.  In the Twin Cities music scene, it was well known that the real money came from playing all night and playing a heavy dose of cover songs.  We had known a band that was in our situation, that just played a few all night shows like that, and raked in  $400-$500 a night.  They were doing it to help pay for an album and then they were going to stop.  It seemed very logical to me.  We could do 3 months of shows like that and have well over $2,000 if none of us took any individual pay from the shows.  We agreed that we would try to do this and see how it went.  All of the most popular bands in town seemed to take this approach to some degree, so it kind of seemed like the next evolution of what we would have to do anyway.  We got a show booked at a place called Decoy’s for $400.  We set out learning around 2 hours of covers to mix in with our originals in order to have 3 hours worth of music to play.  The preparation for that show was actually very rewarding.  We had a goal, and knew what we needed to do.  We all worked hard to get the songs down, and every practice was really productive.  It kind of unified us a bit, working together towards something we were all excited about.  The night of the gig came, and we felt pretty prepared to make our Decoy’s debut.  It was actually a pretty cool feeling to be the only name on the marquee for the night.  It was great loading in, and not having to deal with other bands sound checking.  It was also nice to have a whole area to ourselves, without 4 bands worth of gear being crammed into a corner.  We got to take our time and have a nice long sound check.  Still, once we began I thought to myself….”My God…I feel drained after a 45 minute set, and now I have to do 3 of them in one night!!”  As the night wore on it seemed to get less and less daunting.  We were having fun, and once I relaxed a bit, it was kind of rewarding being able to take a 15 minute break after an hour and get kind of excited to go back up for another set.  The night went well, and it was a big bonus not to have to tear our gear down like madman like you have to do when you are part of a multiple band bill and there is a band following you.  We just left everything set up, and chatted with patrons and eventually slowly started loading everything out.  The best part was getting handed the check for $400 though.  It was like we just made a months worth of money in one night!  We were well on our way towards being able to pay for everything we needed to.

We had a nice connection now at Decoy’s, but none of us were very adept at booking venues like this.  We kept playing our original showcase shows, and were able to get into Decoy’s around once a month.  The really successful bands had tons of venues like Decoy’s lined up on their schedules on a consistent rotation.  It seemed hard to get into a lot of them unless you had a good booking agent.  Every big local band seemed to have one.  We somehow had gotten onto a bill with Dazy Head Mazy for a gig in Ames, IA and their agent was a woman named Doreen Clark.  She ran a small booking company called Square Planet Entertainment.  Not long after that gig she dropped them after a dispute and began adding new bands to her roster.  One of the first was our friends in the band Grayson.  They seemed to immediately start getting good gigs that paid quite well.  They were the kind of gigs that we would never get on our own.  You had to be well connected to get them.  Doreen was a bit of a shrewd person, but she seemed to accomplish what she wanted to.  We had a good talk with her that night in Ames, and kind of laid the groundwork for working together in the future.  Eventually, Grayson had finished a CD and were hosting a CD release party at the Fine Line.  They asked us to be on the bill.  We had a lengthy talk that night and it eventually led to us being added to the Square Planet Entertainment roster.  It was kind of a daunting move, and it sort of felt in a way like signing to a record label.  She had all of these rules and was very strict about certain things like always being available and never canceling shows, and drawing well, etc.  She would take 15% commission on all the shows, but she would also handle sending our promotional materials out, etc.  The most daunting thing to me though, was that it felt like we had entered into a different category as a band, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing.  We no longer were just playing a few 3 hour shows to make enough money to pay for our album.  Doreen was getting commission now from booking us, so she would go after as big of money shows as she could, which meant 3 hour shows and playing a healthy dose of covers.  The focus now seemed to be making money, and not as much about highlighting original material.  She agreed that we could still do the original showcases and be an original band, but in reality those kinds of shows would be a waste of her time to try to book.  All of the biggest local bands in town had seemed to take this route though, so after careful consideration we signed on the dotted line. 

It felt like we were taking all of these big steps forward, but we still were missing one key element.  We couldn’t wait to finally have a CD for people to purchase and take home and listen to.  I imagined people sitting at home or driving in their car and listening to the tunes and memorizing the words and falling in love with the songs.  When you pour so much heart and soul and money into creating something, you have to make releasing it a bigger deal than just an ordinary show.  CD release parties were always kind of fun to be a part of, because you knew that band would pull out all of the stops to get maximum fans in attendance.  We wanted to do everything we could to create a CD release show that would trump all other release shows.  The first question was, “Where would we have this epic event.”  It was a pretty natural choice and a unanimous decision to have it at the Fine Line.  We booked a date for, June 19th.   

The Show

Our promotion for this event was legendary, and somewhat unparalleled when considering we were using all of our own money and resources.  It was kind of amazing to realize that none of us had any qualms about draining our band bank account to put this event on.  We started by creating a custom ticket for FREE admission.  The Fine Line was in agreement that the place could be filled to capacity with people who got in free, and we’d basically be paid by how many of those tickets came in, along with a split of any admission that was paid.  It was in our hands now to distribute as many of those tickets as possible in hopes that people found the value in getting in free to a CD release party, and decided to make the Fine Line their destination on that night.  We went as far as going to big national concerts and splitting up to cover all the exit doors to flood people with free tickets as they left.  I estimated that a 5-10% rate of return was realistic, so if we handed out 5,000 tickets, we should expect to get 250-500 people there.  That would have been a mind blowing number for a local band show.  In addition to that, to create buzz we actually had 5 billboards up around town promoting the show!  Paul sold billboard advertising for Clear Channel, and worked out a deal where we would pay around $1,000 for the cost of making the things, and they’d put them up wherever there were unsold areas.  4 of the 5 ended up being pretty much off the beaten path, but one was in a pretty good location in Uptown near a Famous Dave’s.  We knew that the billboards probably wouldn’t create much additional traffic for the show, but we couldn’t resist the urge to have our picture blown up huge and slapped up over a road.  Who wouldn’t want to be able to say they were on a billboard!  That act did create a buzz as we got a little write up in an online concert review site.  I’ll never forget the feeling as Paul and I drove to one of the locations in Hopkins and stood next to it gazing up ourselves looming larger then life.  That whole stunt probably assisted us in getting the Fine Line to call in a favor to KQRS to get us on the big local show at the time, KQ Homegrown.  The show aired at like 11pm on a Sunday night or something like, but it was a highly respected and admired local radio showcase.  A lot of “hipsters” listened and followed it and it felt like you got some street cred if you were on it.  It was recorded live and I was pretty nervous to be on it.  I didn’t really have a great acoustic guitar that projected well at the time, so I brought my crappy little Ventura that I wrote all my songs on for the most part.  We played 3 songs live and promoted the CD release show.  I had it taping at home and couldn’t get there fast enough afterward to listen to it!  Another thing we did, was have a special promotion where we sold the very first copy of our CD on ebay.  We just did it to draw some attention and have some fun with it.  We thought it might get like $25 or something.  To our shock we got a good amount of bidders, and ultimately my sister and a super fan of ours named Rebecca Orio, got into a bidding war, and my sister finally won at a total of $75!  It felt like everything was really happening for us.  As the show approached, we begin crafting the set list and trying to think of unique things we were going to do to make the show eclipse anything that you’d normally ever see from a local band.  This was going to mirror a U2 epic experience as much as possible!  The first thing we decided, was that we were going to bring in extra staging and make a runway from the main stage all the way to the middle of the venue, where we’d then create a “satellite” stage.  It was something way over the top for a venue like the Fine Line, but it was different and cool and would be memorable.  Paul and I would both have wireless units on our guitars and I’d have a wireless mic so we could walk back and forth on the runway.  At one point, we’d do a small acoustic set from the satellite stage.  Brian was a big audio/video tech guy and he brainstormed this idea of having a video screen behind us on stage that was split into two separate images.  We’d have a ton of different images rotating behind us that kind of matched the song we were performing.  So for “Volacno” for example, we’d have different shots of erupting volcanoes, etc.  He had the task of downloading all of the images and setting them all up in progression.  We created this giant glow in the dark logo on a black sheet that covered the satellite stage, so it looked really cool from the upper level.  In addition to all of this, we created an elaborate intro featuring the song “Fanfare for the Common Man” which would lead right into our opening song “Poor Man’s Everything.”  We had everything choreographed and planned out, and we had a small legion of people with official Concentual “Staff” T-shirts to help us pull it all off.  We even had them check and set-up our gear during the changeover like a national band would have, so we didn’t have to come out on stage until we were ready to play.  It was truly over the top, with every effort possible to make this thing as epic as they come.

We had good friends open up the show….Scott Morrisson Band kicked off the night, followed by Grayson.  Finally it was the moment we had planned months for.  Our shiny new CD’s were stacked on the back tables in a nice display.  A large crowd had amassed, ready to see what the hell all of these bells and whistles were about.  I even had a ton of family there…my Mom and Dad, and sister and husband, along with my aunt and uncle and cousins.  My Grandma even made it out!  It made me feel a little weird doing my usual show in front of them, but I tried to block it out and say to myself…”tonight you don’t care….just be you….it’s your night!”   We huddled by the green room door as the lights went down and the horns of “Fanfare..” came blaring in.  We opened the door and walked out to big cheers as lights begin flickering to build the tension.  Then Paul kicked in with the opening riff of “Poor Man’s”  Boom!…lights came up and cheers intensified.  I boastfully stepped forward to hammer the first chord and…..NOTHING…..no sound!!  I whirled into a panic, trying to figure out what went wrong and WHY NOW!  I wasn’t familiar with using a wireless and I feared something had gone out on it like a battery or something, but my tech literally had it working 2 minutes ago!  I shot him a look as if to say…..”What the fuck did you do!!”  He motioned to the amp, and I raced back there to find that he had put it in standby for some reason.  I flicked it on, and came in with authority in time for the first verse.  Whew…disaster avoided!  We hammered into a new song after that, I took that opportunity to try out the runway as I jammed out the intro.  It was like a true rock star moment.  I had people touching my legs as I walked by.  I saw lots of faces I didn’t even know….it was amazing!  I just kept thinking….”Soak this all up….live in this moment.”  Soon we got to a cover song that we felt was super impressive.  We did REM’s “End of the World As We Know It,” which features these rapid fire lyrics and harmonies.  You couldn’t help but be impressed that Paul and I hit them all by memory.  We worked hard on getting that song down and felt like it would be a giant hit.  We had it planned that towards the end we would break it down and I’d walk out on the runway and have the left side, the ride side, and the balcony all sing 3 different parts of the chorus accapella.  Once they went through it a few times then we’d come crashing in and finish out the song.  They actually seemed to play along and do it, albeit sloppily.  Everything was just feeling incredible…I felt like I was in command of the crowd.  Soon we got to one of our big choreographed segments.  We played “Atmosphere”, and at the end, everyone dropped out and left the stage as I strummed the outro while I walked out to the satellite stage.  Once I got there I finished it by myself.  Then Paul joined me to do a few cover songs followed by one of our big ballads, “Strangers.”  Towards the end of that song, there is a big chorus that comes in.  At the point, Pete and Brian had snuck back up on the main stage, and crashed in as the lights went up.  At the conclusion of that song, we had an audio sample cued, along with a video screen montage to begin Volcano.  I walked back to the main stage and switched guitars and Paul disappeared.  Then, all of the sudden, Paul kicked in with the intro from the upper level!  He played it as he walked down the stairs and back to the main stage.  Once he got there, we all kicked in and rocked it out.  Everything was working out exactly as we had planned, and the crowd seemed very entertained by it.  Soon we had pounded through our hour and a half set, and of course left the stage without playing our big hit “Rock Star.”  We waited for the “One More Song” chants and happily strutted back on stage to deliver the last rock and roll blow to the crowd to cap off our amazing night.  I ended in the usual fashion by ferociously strumming the last chord and climbing up on the drum riser.  As everyone eyed me to get the timing right, we all crashed down on the final chord as I hit the ground.  In one word…..EPIC!

We ended up selling almost 100 CD’s that night, and probably had around 400 people total come through the door from the beginning to end.  My parents bought like 10 themselves to give to relatives etc.  All of the money we spent…all of the preparation….it was all incredibly worth it.  I often wish I could travel back in time, just as a spectator to take in what it looked like from the other side of the stage.  It was by far our finest moment.  We all felt part of something special.  We all worked hard together as a team to pull off something great.  Maybe we set the bar too high, and it was impossible for us to reach that kind of level again.  Maybe we expected too much in the aftermath of such an incredible show.  Whatever it was, we would bask in the glory for just a small period of time, before it all began to unravel.

Coming Undone

The first time I sensed some cracks in the foundation actually dated back to the show we played in Ames with Dazy Head Mazy.  The show was on a weeknight, and normally something we probably wouldn’t consider, being as it was a 4-5 hour drive.  However, it was a grade A college town club that hosted national bands on occasion.  It was kind of a famous Midwest hot spot for music, so we couldn’t turn it down.  In those days, we sincerely felt like we could show up and win over a crowd and get asked back and start building amazing things wherever we went.  We weren’t quite as tuned into the politics of the music business yet, and were excitedly zipping along with an unbridled naïve enthusiasm.  We played our set and seemed to get a  really good response, especially with the covers.  We got tons of compliments from the patrons, and I was on cloud 9.  I was living “the life”.  I was on the road on a Wednesday, playing to college kids, having adventures.  It was what I had dreamed of doing.  My sister and brother in law had made the trip from Cedar Rapids to catch the show as well, and they thought it was great.  I was brimming with confidence.  My sister and brother in law eventually took off, and I realized that none of my band members where around anywhere.  I finally decided to check up in the green room, figuring they wanted to get away from the noise and were having a great chat and living it up.  I climbed the stairs, and indeed found them all up there, however the mood was far from jovial.  Everyone was quiet and Paul had a dejected look on his face.  Confounded, I asked “What’s up guys?”  I was met with silence, as if no one was willing to be the one to burst my high spirit.  I honestly felt somebody got a phone call that a family member had died or something.  Brian finally broke the silence and delivered a speech aimed at pointing out how sloppy and terrible our set was.  He was careful to word things generally as if to evenly spread out the blame, but you got the definite sense that it was aimed at myself and Paul, with Paul getting the lion’s share of that.  I was completely blindsided.  I would have never thought in a million years that I would have heard that speech that night.  I honestly thought the show was stellar.  It was the first time I really had doubts about if my musicianship was as high of a caliber as my peers.  I kept thinking, “How could I have heard things so differently then those guys?”  Paul was in my camp, thinking that show was completely fine and was also a bit dumbfounded by this epiphany that Brian and Pete were having.  I left the venue and went to the hotel.  The next morning, it was still gnawing away at me.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that Brian and Pete thought we were not a very good band.  The preparation for the CD release party seemed to appease everybody temporarily, but after that it was almost like the focus had to be redirected somewhere again, and it fell back to trying to correct our deficiencies.  Practices begin to take on this weird military like precision.  We’d hammer these drills that Pete or Brian would come up with to start every practice.  Paul seemed to be a good sport about it, despite still feeling a little confused as to why it was necessary.  I started to embrace it, because I viewed it as a challenge and a way somebody was pushing me to go beyond what I was capable of alone.  I did feel like we were starting to really get tighter and improve as a band as a result of it, and that progress seemed to appease Pete and Brian.  Everybody was still on board and still believing in each other it seemed.

That cohesion was greatly assisted by getting booked for a string of great shows.  Doreen had been true to her word that she would still get us original showcases, as well as booking us for the all night money gigs.  One of those such gigs, was an opening spot for national recording artist Chris Schaeffer at O’Garas.  It made us feel great because it was actually a gig that her top band Grayson wanted, but they were already booked so she lined it up for us.  Chris was the lead singer of the popular 90’s band called the Why Store.  They had a big hit called “Lack of Water.”  This was his solo project, but it was assumed he’d still be playing some Why Store hits with his new band.  It was sort of a B level national act, but it was still a big deal to us.  We had never been part of a show where the cover charge was more than around $5, so this double digit admission was a sign that this was kind of a bigger deal than your average O’Garas gig.  The crowd wasn’t huge, but it was solid enough that we felt like a pretty big deal.  We played our hearts out I felt like we really won some people over.  One of the vivid images from the night was walking into the green room after our set and seeing a haze of marijuana smoke.  It was sort of a taste of what kind of perks the national bands get.  If that were a local band, they’d all have been booted from the place and not asked back, but since it was Chris Schaeffer…it was understood that everyone would just kind of look the other way. 

Some of the local “money” shows were home run hitters as well.  We got into a regular rotation at the Red Carpet in St. Cloud, which was one of those crazy college town joints that just always seemed to be off the hook.  We played there on Thursday nights until 2am, and usually returned home at around 4:30am.  Usually we all had to work the next day, but we didn’t even care.  Those shows were so worth it, we probably would have done them on a Monday night.  It was a place where you didn’t have to promote or have anxiety about poor attendance.  You just showed up, and after about 1 set, the dance floor would be packed right up to the stage with young beautiful people.  They all seemed to treat us like we were about to go on a big national tour in support of our new single burning up the airwaves.  You felt like a God when played there.  Every girl seemed to look at you like you were 5 times cooler than whoever they came with.  It was truly intoxicating.  I couldn’t help feeling like, by playing there, we were going to cultivate a legion of dedicated fans.  They would be the kind of fans who would travel to the cities to watch us play.  Eventually, we would be playing homecoming shows to packed houses.  It just seemed inevitable to me.  I think it felt that way to Brian, Pete and Paul too, and it kept the train churning.

We were about to get the biggest show yet, in my opinion, in the midst of everything.  Pete, Paul and I were big Vertical Horizon fans.  They had recently come out with an album called “Go” and were touring in support of it.  We saw that they were playing in Duluth at an old theater, and then the next night in Minneapolis at the Quest.  We decided to road trip to Duluth and then return home to catch them both.  They had an opening band touring with them called Stroke 9.  I wasn’t familiar with them at the time, but I soon learned they had a few minor hits in the early 90’s, including a song on the soundtrack to the movie “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” called “Kick Some Ass.”  We watched them both nights and grew to like them a good deal.  They had some dedicated fans at the Minneapolis show.  I bought their CDs and started listening to them.  Several months later they had released a new CD and were touring on their own in support of it.  They were making a stop at Station 4 in St. Paul.  It was a bit of a crappy venue, but I was super excited to see them live again.  I didn’t see any opener listed on the club’s website, so I called Doreen to see if she could pull some strings.  She came through with the biggest connection yet, and got us on the bill, playing right before Stroke 9.  I lost my mind! 

I went all out for the show.  I made hundreds of flyers on my own dime, and handed them out various places.  I went on Stroke 9’s website and inundated their chat room with the news that we were playing with them in the Twin Cities.  I had never been more excited for a show, (even though it was at Station 4).  The evening arrived and my mind raced with expectations.  Would it be packed in there?  Would they see our set?  Would they dig us?  I walked in the venue to find that they had already sound checked and were out of the building in search of food and entertainment.  We set up in front of them and had a good long professional sound check of our own.  The first band took the stage.  It was a duo named Jess and Zeb.  The crowd was pretty thin, but I figured as usual, people would roll in a bit late, understanding that there were opening acts.  I thought for sure that by the time we were up, there would be a healthy crowd ready to get rowdy.  I imagined all of those people from the Vertical Horizon show that were piled up to the front of the stage rocking out with them would be out in full force.  Jess and Zeb finished, and it was time for us to go on.  I kept monitoring the crowd as I moved my gear into place.  A few more people scurried in, but all in all, it was still pretty dead.  We exploded out of the gates with our first song, and my heart sunk a little bit.  Not only was there a very meager crowd, but Stroke 9 themselves, still weren’t in the building to even hear us.  More bodies trickled in as we powered through our 45 minute, but it was nothing compared to what my expectations were.  I kept thinking…..”Man, their fans really wait till the last minute to come see their band.”  I understood it being a slow night for our fans, due to the increased cover charge associated with opening for a national act.  Usually, the headliner alone can fill up the venue and the openers are kind of there to get the opportunity to get in front of new potential fans.  We crashed home our final chord with authority and took in the smattering of applause.  Stroke 9 was up next!  As they went about getting prepared to start their set, I finally came to the realization that they would playing to very few people.  It would be nothing like that evening at the Quest where they had rows and rows of people rocking out, crowded in front to get the best view.  On this night at Station 4, most people found a table, and a few traveling diehards took their place by the stage with plenty of elbowroom all around.  That was kind of my first mini awakening to the harsh reality of the music business.  I mean, sure, Stroke 9 wasn’t burning up airwaves, and hadn’t had anything resembling a single in years and years.  However, if I were them, I would have thought that Vertical Horizon crowd would have carried over more.  I would have thought….we rocked those guys just a few months ago….I bet they can’t wait to see us in a small venue up close and personal.  I bet they snatch up CDs like hotcakes.  The reality was that nobody seemed to care.  They were forgotten about once the house lights went up on that Vertical Horizon tour.  It was sad to me, but I remained undeterred by it.  I figured….nobody knew they were here tonight.  The marketing for this show was horrible.  If people had known they’d be here, they surely would have packed ‘em in.  Despite the lack of crazed fans, I still felt like a big rock start being allowed to go up on that same stage with them to grab my gear.  It was like we were equals at that moment.  I was able to walk right up to the singer and say nice show and shake his hand, and these mere mortals had to clammer in front of the stage, hoping that he’d acknowledge them and maybe even come down to their main floor territory.  The band was very cordial to us, and we even seemed to pick up a few new fans from the show.  My spirits remained high, feeling like we were moving up the local music scene echelon.  It was these kind of triumphs that sort of acted as temporary band aids that covered up the festering wound that was growing uglier and angrier as time went on. 

Band Psychology 101

Paul and I had a sort of love/hate relationship that featured very interesting dynamics.  To fully understand it, you almost have to go back to the very beginning and trace it’s evolution.  Paul and I entered college with sort of the same back story.  Neither of us were really the popular kids in high school, and college was kind of an opportunity to re-invent ourselves.  Paul came in one year later than I did however, so I sort of had the head start.  I had always looked up to those “homecoming king” type of kids who had any girl they wanted, and everybody lined up to hang out with them.  It was sort of like this elite club where if you were on the outside of it, then life just wasn’t near as much fun for you.  I came in to college and was benefited by having an outgoing, popular kid who was from the area as a roommate.  Instantly, there was a network of “cool kids” that I sort of inherited.  Through my campus job at Recreation Services, I got to know the athletes, who kind of hold the keys to the elite clubs.  In one year, I sort of felt like I had turned my college experience into the one I always wanted high school to be.  Paul came in a year later, and we met through choir and DJ’ing at the campus radio station.  He didn’t know that many people, and wasn’t around the athletes enough to gain access to those keys, so I kind of felt like the guy who could let him in the door, so to speak.  I loved that feeling, because I finally felt like the kind of person that I always looked up to and wished I could be in prior years.  To some degree, I felt like Paul saw me as that person too…here I was an upper classman who knew lots of cute girls and the lots of the star athletes.  He however, held a valuable card that was the ability to play guitar.  It was something that I coveted, and it really served to push me past all the frustration that people usually suffer when trying to learn, and propelled me to be proficient enough where I felt we were close to a level playing field.  My personality is kind of built in such a way that I don’t like when people are better than me at something, and that seemed doubly true in regard to Paul.   That dynamic seemed to work well for both us initially, as we kind of pushed each other at whatever we did, be it music, golf, etc.  The importance of pointing that out is that I think it eventually set up a sort on environment where shadows existed, and a battle begin to brew as he worked to step out of the one that I was trying to hold on to casting.

When we first became roommates, it was still very much a fantastic friendship.  We had loads of fun playing video games and working on music together.  We got in trouble together, and had adventures and it was really a terrific situation.  Eventually though, some cracks begin to form.  He had a good job, and then got a girlfriend.  We spent less time together, and the playing field seemed to kind of shift.  He was having more success than me in life, and I think he started to feel the sun starting to shine as he creeped out of that shadow and it felt good.  He was always kind of loner by nature, and the more time we lived together in our small apartment, the more I think he longed for that solitude.  I viewed his withdrawal at times as very arrogant and elitist.  I started to kind of feel a sense of satisfaction and validation when friends from work would come over and kind of get the same vibe.  It was the fuel that allowed me to hold on to that sunlight.  Paul sensed this I think, and it created the cycle that would eventually escalate into the friendship’s demise.  Bands are like any relationship you have with a significant other or a family.  It’s inevitable that there will be times when people get upset and gossip to the others in a subconscious or even very calculated effort to garner support.  Little alliances form and innocent venting turns harsh and begins to affect perceptions.  With the first line up, Paul and I were the alliance.  It was aided by the fact that were roommates and could complain about the other two until the sun came up.  Neither of us became close with the others, so it was as natural of a boundary as the Mississippi splitting Iowa and Illinois.  Once Brian and Pete were in place however, things began to shift.  We all got to be pretty close friends and put a lot of belief and passion into one common denominator, which was Concentual.  On the one hand it was great to have an “all for one, one for all” mentality about it, but on the other hand, everybody began to have very strong opinions on how it could be even better.  Bands typically have one of two structures.  Either you have a sole leader who makes the decisions, or you have a democracy where it is a majority wins type of thing.  When you have one leader, it sort of takes on a boss/subordinate type of feel where either the subordinate is happy in supporting the leader’s vision, or they leave and find something that is a better fit.  When it’s a democracy, the advantage is that everybody feels more invested and maybe puts more energy into it, yet sometimes making decisions can be excruciating.  Concentual was clearly a democracy, however I think tension arose as to how that was going to work exactly.  I felt like there had to be an initial vision that was going to be followed and somebody had to at least lead the democracy for things to get accomplished.  I felt that people respected and expected me to serve in that role, so it was something I embraced. 

It became very difficult though when the conversations began to commence about what we needed to do to get that mystical next level.  Pete and Brian were very technical guys in regards to music structure and sound.  They were extreme believers that the overall tightness and musicianship of a band was the key ingredient to being successful.  They highly respected the progressive rock bands that played in odd time signatures and featured the rhythm sections that were military precision tight.  Their heroes were musician’s musicians if you will.  Guys that were at the top of their game in skill level and proficiency.  Players that did things that most uninformed music fans wouldn’t appreciate or understand.  Paul and I were a little different.  We were more “feel” guys.  We loved music and musicians that were able to make you feel something.  We loved passionate vocals and guitar solos that you could sing along to, and most important, melodies that were catchy and memorable.  These two schools of preference were sometimes at odds with each other.  It could, at times, be hard to accomplish both.  The technical guys could easily get bored with song structures and parts that were too simple, even if they were very passionate.  The feel guys could get annoyed with difficult song structures and parts, feeling that it wasn’t catchy enough and the average Joe didn’t care or didn’t comprehend how technically accomplished the song was.  My philosophy weighted the performance aspect even a bit heavier.  I felt that no matter what you played, it needed to be delivered with energy and animation.  I watched U2 videos and saw how Bono captivated huge crowds.  I realized how different those songs felt to me after I saw them performed live.  Not unlike many musicians, I really wanted a bit of both worlds.  I wanted to be impressive and wow our peers as to how good of musicians we were, and I also wanted songs that were memorable and catchy and left crowds singing along to them for days.  I wouldn’t mind sacrificing a bit of tightness for an amped up stage performance, yet I didn’t want to sound sloppy or amateur. 

That green room conversation back in Ames initially started the stone down the slope.  As time went on, each passing show and practice seemed to cause it to pick up speed.  The focus began to turn squarely on Paul.  At first it was hinted at.  Then, it became strongly implied.  Eventually, it became an outright intervention, and somehow I was the one leading the meeting.  Brian and Pete started out talking to each other about how they longed for a guitar player that could really step up and nail solos and take over a section of a song.  They saw the top bands we played with, and all of them had one.  It was almost like a pre-requisite, like having a point guard on a basketball team.  It was simply something you had to have, and that person had to be good for you to be successful and have fans.  They would encourage Paul to learn cover songs that had more difficult solos so it forced him to learn standard movements.  They figured if he could just master the pentatonic scale he could get by and we’d look and sound much better overall.  Paul had zero interest in learning scales however.  He worshiped the Edge from U2, and was mainly interested in spending time tinkering with delays and effects and making them transform a few notes into something unique and wonderful.  Brian and Pete then started to get a little sneakier by incorporating scale work into practices.  They would have us each do one note of a major scale in progression under the guise of working on our “timing”.  In essence though, they were trying to force Paul to learn scales.  My competitive side with Paul kicked in, as well as my insecurities of not being a good musician, and I made sure I hammered the scales between practices.  I not only wanted to be better at them than Paul, but I wanted him to feel embarrassed enough that he would work hard on them and in turn develop into a stronger lead player.  This method seemed to work a little better, but he was still a long way behind our peers that we shared stages with.  Brian and Pete began to point out all of his deficiencies to me, and I became more in tune with their obsession to be “technically sound”.  They started to convince me that we weren’t going anywhere unless we had a better guitar player.  Those were words that sent me into a panic.  I hated the thought that our one time “all for one” mentality was dying, and being replaced with half of a band thinking, “we aren’t as good as everyone else.”  They would tell me, however, that they felt I was solid singer and rhythm player and I wasn’t at all a weakness.  With my insecurities and competition with Paul the way it was, that kind of talk was like heroin to me.  I was a junkie, and would join whatever train they were on if it provided me more hits.  Paul was the type of guy who didn’t believe in praise, and would never really give you more than a “nice show dude,” after a performance.  He was like a rehab clinic to me, watching me yearn for even a small hit and sternly refusing it.  I didn’t disagree with Brian and Pete’s viewpoint on Paul’s abilities, but I think I was a little more forgiving initially.  I always talked myself in and out of my support for him.  Some days I’d think…..”Damnit, we can never play a song like “Shine” by Collective Soul because Paul can’t pull off a searing, ripping solo.  We are amateurs!”  Then the next day I’d think, “There are plenty of bands that sell millions of records that never play a solo in their music.  We are just as good as they are, and my and Paul’s harmonies are outstanding and set us apart from other bands.”  Eventually though, Brian and Pete got to the point where they said, “We all need to sit down with Paul and address this seriously.”  It was the kind of talk where the suggestion was going to be that we add another lead player and become a 5 piece band, or Paul gets dramatically better, or the line up is likely going to change in some form with Brian or Pete likely leaving.  I knew that Paul leaving Concentual wasn’t going to be an option.  He loved being in the band, and invested a lot of his time and energy into it.  He liked the idea that he co-founded it with me.  I couldn’t even image how it would even possibly work firing him.  I lived with the guy first of all.  If there was plenty of tension before, it certainly would be unbearable after something like that went down.  Who would even fire him?  He felt like he was basically a co-boss if not an equal ¼.  He certainly wouldn’t see me as having any authority to fire him.  Even if it was a democracy and there was a 3-1 vote to have him out, I think he’d stubbornly hold on to being a sole member of Concentual.  It would be easier to just form a whole new band and go under a whole new name, and that would vastly waste everything we had just built up to that point.  In my mind, the only option was that Paul had to get better fast.  Despite the tension that existed between us, I still had plenty of fond memories with Paul, and I really did want him to be part of the band and be successful.  I figured if he was the guy that Pete and Brian wanted, we’d all get along better and have more fun and it would kind of have this way of fixing everything that was wrong.  I wanted to get back to that “all for one” mentality again.  I wanted Paul and I to get along great like we did in college.  I kind of hung all of these hopes on the fact that we’d talk to Paul, he’d be receptive and maybe take some lessons, and we’d start moving things back in the right direction.  Well, the inevitable day came and Brian, Pete and I gathered Paul in the room intervention style.  Everyone kind of sat silent for a moment.  I was hoping that one of the other two would take the reins and I could just sit back and offer support.  I knew better than that though.  Eventually I started in, trying to gently encompass everything that Brian and Pete had discussed with me.  I felt sort of hypocritical about the whole thing in a way, because really I was no better of a musician that Paul was.  It just so happened that my role was of a rhythm guitar player, and Paul was being held up against our lead guitar playing peers.  It could have just as easily been me sitting in front of the firing squad if I had agreed to try to move into that role and Paul had been shifted in the lead singer role.  I think he knew that as well, which made the words from my mouth particularly difficult to swallow.  Being that we’d already established building blocks one and two of Paul’s resentment towards me, I would have to say this was probably a strong candidate for number three.  I say this because had I been on the opposite side of it, it certainly would have been for me.  He was a bit defiant at first, but surprisingly, he seemed to take it pretty well.  Once Brian and Pete kind of began adding their two cents worth to the conversation, I saw his initial disgust kind of melt into disappointment.  Disappointment that we were having this conversation, disappointment that his friends didn’t think he was good enough to be successful, disappointment on a lot of levels really.  Then that slowly seemed to shift into a sort or resolve, like he was going to prove us wrong.  It ended well I thought, and he agreed he’d take some lessons if that was what we thought he needed.  I agreed that I would take lessons too.  Brian and Pete did a good job making it about all of us, claiming that they, too, were going to take measures to get better.  I don’t think they really held up that end of the bargain, but at the time it kind of seemed to strengthen that unification thing again.  It was a little uncomfortable just being with Paul when everyone left, but I really did feel good about things, and kind of felt like the dark cloud was at least beginning to dissipate a bit with everything out in the open now. 

Things started out real well.  Paul started seeing Brett, our producer of Stranger Than Fiction, and getting lessons weekly.  I started taking lessons at the American Guitar Boutique.  It felt like the conversation had bought the band time in my mind.  I felt like if Brian and Pete were unhappy and wanted to leave, then it would be pretty weak to not give Paul a good opportunity to improve.  Becoming a strong lead player doesn’t happen overnight, so as long as they saw progress, I felt like they would be satisfied and keep pouring their energy into things.  Honestly, my biggest fear was those guys quitting.  I remember going through auditions before and just being dismayed at the lack of talented people that showed up.  Brian and Pete were very talented players and I knew it would be very hard to not take a step back if they were gone.  On top of that though, I really enjoyed them for the most part.  Sure, we all had our little arguments and fights here and there, but for the most part we had a really good time hanging out.  Some of my best memories are the road trips we would take.  There was a period of time where we would take these weekend excursions to Wisconsin and play a couple of gigs.  Maybe more than 50% of my fondest memories of Concentual came from those trips.  It felt like we were a touring band, living the life of staying on people’s couches and having misadventures.  There were so many stories and funny inside jokes that developed.  There was the time when we checked into a hotel and started watching some cable access show with a guy playing guitar.  I called in and they put me on the air and I started bantering back and forth as the guys fed me lines and watched it unfold on TV.  There was the gig at Cheeseburger in Paradise where we showed up to find there were no mics, stands or anything really, and we had to go out and find a music store to buy enough stuff to get us by.  There was the time when Brian accidentally threw the van keys in Lake Michigan and we had to scour the shore in ice cold water to find them.  Probably my favorite memory though, was when we booked a two night stint in Faribault, MN and then Madison, WI.  We had planned on playing the first gig, coming home and leaving early in the morning to go to Wisconsin.  We show up however, and it’s dead in there.  No promotion, and just basically a lost cause.  They offered us a deal.  Either we could play to no one and make the full amount, or we could leave and they would pay us half.  We pondered it for awhile and finally decided that we would take the half, and then start driving to WI right away.  Once we got close, we would stop at a casino and split the money and try to double it, thus making our original pay.  We rolled into a casino outside of Madison at around 4am, and went to work.  Brian lost his share immediately.  I wasn’t far behind.  However, after a hot streak at around 6:30am, Paul and Pete were able to double their share and we checked in a hotel, breaking even.  It was ridiculous to do, but that is what made it awesome.  Going to bed at 7am, and waking up late to play a gig that night……that was the rock and roll life, and it was fun to live it out, if only for the weekend. 

For a window of time, the chemistry between us was pretty strong.  As with most things that endure, however, elements began to dissolve that crucial glue that gives things longevity.  Some things are “in your face” obvious, such as staging an intervention to address somebody inadequacy.  Some things start out very innocent, but eventually become like Chinese water torture and persist until you break.  One of those forces was the introduction of twin sisters named Cassie and Rachael.  They were friends of Pete’s from high school, whom he had a long standing crush on.  He had reconnected with them, likely in the hopes that his new rock star status would cast him in a bit more impressive light.  It was a show at one of our regular gigs, a place called Decoy’s, where they first entered our lives.  They were attractive enough girls, and came off as very sweet and personable individuals.  The fact that they were highly flirtatious made them a home run combination of people you liked to have around.  Not only would they be front and center and shows, but they flashed you all sorts of suggestive smiles and made you feel like the rock stars you wanted to be.  They also made you look more attractive to the bars and patrons.  If you had the choice of hiring or watching a band that had empty tables in front and no cheering section, or one that had attractive people yelling and dancing around in little outfits, which would you choose?  Their presence became a bit toxic on a few levels however, the more they hung around the band.  Rachael had a boyfriend, while Cassie did not.  However, this didn’t stop either of them from jumping on our laps at the end of the night and hanging out until everyone else had left the bar.  At first, they seemed to be giving Pete, Paul and I pretty equal attention.  Paul was single and he was drinking in pretty healthy doses of it.  Pete also was enjoying the nectar, hoping that this time he could finally push past the friend zone with one of them.  I had a girlfriend of 2 years at the time, but was starting to feel like it wasn’t something that was going to continue for the long term.  The attention was hard for me to shy away from as well, being a person who hadn’t enjoyed that much of it since I moved to Minneapolis.  Maybe it was because I was the front man, or maybe it was some other combination of factors, but I started to feel increased attention from both of them after awhile.  I remember getting a suggestive poem once from Cassie, and then having Rachael e-mail me not long after wanting to hang out just her and I.  It was, again, kind of one of those landmark “rock star” moments for me.  These two twins both seemed to be pretty in to me, and one even had a boyfriend!  That was especially intoxicating to me because I had never had a girl who wanted to be unfaithful to the guy she was with to hang around with me.  I was always the guy that girls were with when they actually wanted someone else.  I’ll never know what kind of conversations took place between them, but at some point, there was a definite shift, and Rachael seemed to turn her attention to me, while the single girl Cassie, seemed to turn her attention to the single guy Paul.  That left Pete, once again, a bit out in the cold.  It was easy to see it bothered him, and I think it served as a bit of a sliver in the tightness of the group.  He complained about those two girls every chance he got.  It didn’t help matters that he thought quite highly of my current girlfriend Paula.  To see Rachael hanging on me after a show disgusted him a bit I think, and likely shaved away at the admiration and respect he had for me.  I think in some sense, Paul shared those feelings with him.  It all was kind of under the table though, because the conversations and actions were all sort of done discreetly.  That all changed one night at the Fine Line.  Paula was sick and said she wouldn’t be coming to the show.  As soon as Rachael found this out, it was game on, since she wasn’t with her boyfriend that night either.  Immediately they were down in the green room with us, sitting on laps and starting in early with their usual fare.  They started kicking back some drinks and before I knew it, at one point, Rachael pinned me up against a wall and started kissing me.  No one saw it, but it was the kind of boldness that she had never demonstrated up to that point.  She always seemed to try to hide it a little from Pete.   Later, after our set however, she started dancing with me and had little regard for who saw her aggressively forward behavior.  Pete took it all in, and it was officially out in the open.  Despite that night, the role the girls played in the band dynamic was initially pretty minor.  That would all greatly change in the years to come. 

Last Call

At the time, there were much greater things to create division than a couple of chicks.  It seemed like all the momentum we had gained from the CD release party and high profile shows had run out, and we were getting sucked back into obscurity and no one could stop it.  Our draws were getting lower and lower and no one could agree on the answer as to why.  I had started keeping a journal of the shows we played, and looking back at this time period the entries all started to look the same.  “Horrible show”, “Nobody was there.”  At one point for a show at the 400 Bar, I wrote the following:  “Absolutely awful gig.  Tuesday night….10:30….We had 0 fans there.  0.  That might be a first.”  I think Pete and Brian started to have their opinion reinforced that the reason for this was because we weren’t a band of elite musicians.  Paul had improved, but not quickly enough.  They thought if it wasn’t a band they respected and would go see play, then why would anybody else.  I was torn.  I didn’t really subscribe fully to what they were saying, but I thought it had merit.  I thought it would help us if somebody that played like Slash were playing lead guitar or something, but I certainly didn’t think it would somehow magically make 200 people come out to see us.  I had seen lots of bands with killer guitar players play to an empty house.  I thought we needed to focus more on marketing the band and trying to come up with unique ideas and gimmicks to draw attention to us.  Pete was the first one to really check out.  His behavior got more and more withdrawn and he seemed to care less and less.  It stemmed back to recording the CD, when there was the whole fiasco with his piano parts not getting recorded because he wouldn’t come to the studio on the day Bretty wanted him there.  There was a whole series of behaviors that got more and more maddening.  He had a girlfriend now and there was more and more excuses as to why he couldn’t come to practice or do this or that.  Then there was the infamous time when we booked a gig at the Uptown Bar without asking him, and it so happened he was moving down the hall of his apartment building that weekend.  He flat out refused to play the gig because he had to move all weekend.  He hated the Uptown Bar and was using his moving as an excuse at we all knew it.  There was no way moving down the hall would take all weekend.  We even offered to have him play someone else’s kit and he wouldn’t even have to show up for sound check.   He could roll in 5 minutes before the set and leave immediately after.  He still refused and we ended up having to play it acoustic and royally pissed off the owner.  We never played there again, which didn’t hurt our feelings much, but Pete’s refusal to do this small thing for us left us incensed!  At some point Paul and I began crafting e-mails to Pete trying to carefully explain in well thought out statements, why were growing dissatisfied with his behavior.  Each e-mail got more and more venomous as we got more and more pissed off that Pete wasn’t seeing or admitting any validity to any of our points.  I kind of gave up after awhile, but Paul kept with it and eventually those two got into a pretty heated feud.  I can’t remember all of the bullet points, but I think eventually it boiled down to Pete’s assertion that Paul need to improve and Paul’s rebuttal to that, and retaliation with all of the things Pete should work on.  I remember them having it out once in the upstairs green room of Decoy’s on a set break.  Talk about an uncomfortable next set!  I always tried to be the neutral piece maker, because I could kind of see both sides of the argument.  I could definitely tell time was running out on Pete and Brian’s patience with Paul, and it strained my relationship with him too.  I knew he needed to get better fast or we were going to lose them.  I’d come home from something and he’d be playing video games on his computer until late in the night.  Then rehearsal would roll around and he’d gank around on the stuff we were supposed to have down.  On the one hand I felt they were being a touch unfair to him, but on the other hand, I didn’t see him putting in the kind of effort it took to make things better.  I think that was resentment building block 4 between us.  He saw me growing disgusted with him, and he probably felt it was unfair that I wasn’t suffering from the same scrutiny he was getting.  I sensed things were slipping away, because we had a string of some pretty nice shows that I thought went pretty well, and we’d have recordings from them.  The next rehearsal would start upstairs with a “critical listening” session and it would be a series of comments about how the guitars were off here, and Paul and I came in a millisecond late there.  To be honest, I would try really hard to listen to what they were saying and work on fixing it, but I didn’t even really hear half of the stuff they were picking out.  I guess more accurately, I understood what they were saying but really thought it was a bit irrelevant.  I mean, who cared if Paul was a smidge behind the drum beat….it wasn’t noticeable to the audience I can guarantee that.  If it didn’t jump out to me on a first listen, than I’m quite sure the average person swilling beers in the club didn’t hear it and say…..”Wow, this band sucks, let’s blow this joint.”  I think Pete and Brian understood this too, but what it seemed like they were doing, was setting up their eventual departure.  It was much like a crime movie where somebody plants a series of small pieces of evidence to help build a case that somebody is the murderer.  One little thing alone wouldn’t really make a solid case, but eventually if enough things built up, then you’d have some good rationale for a strong motive.  Pete and Brian seemed to be building their resume of evidence with each show. 

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how things were going to play out though in this drama.  Brian would occasionally pull me aside and tell me how much he believed in me and how strong of a front man he thought I was.  He’d say things that kind of led me to believe that no matter what happened, he was going to be hitching his wagon to me.  That made it hard for me to think he’d quit, because he’d risk the partnership he had with me.  Pete seemed to have developed a strong belief that he and Brian were kind of a rhythm section package deal, so if he quit, it seemed like he’d lose that partnership with Brian perhaps, assuming Brian wanted to keep working with me.  Tons of scenarios raced though my head.  Would they come to me together and say they wanted me to quit and start something else with them?  Would they have the bravado to suggest that we replace Paul…..a guy who started the group with me, and still LIVED with me!  That just didn’t even seem like a feasible option to me….I couldn’t image the black cloud that would permeate my living quarters everyday if that happened.  Would they suggest that Paul become the rhythm player, I just sing, and we hire a new lead player?  How would Paul take that?  Would they just up and quit together and try to build something else up on their own?  Well, eventually I would get my answer.

The first gust of the winds of change involved Pete.  This was becoming almost a forgone conclusion to me.  He was showing less and less interest in practice and never seemed to fully resolve things with Paul.  He had gotten more and more difficult and obstinate with each new thing that arose, whether it be a gig that Doreen had gotten us that he didn’t want to play, or a cover song that was chosen that he didn’t dig, etc.  Everything was becoming a battle, and it was my opinion that it was just a matter of time before he mustered up the courage to announce that he was quitting.  You would think that the actual details surrounding his announcement would be very memorable to me, but in fact, it remains kind of a blur.  I am pretty confident that it occurred before a practice.  In my memory, we all gathered in the living room and with his gaze fixed downward he announced that we just wasn’t feeling it anymore and wasn’t inspired.  He mused about doing session work and playing a smaller role with a bunch of different people to keep him motivated, and challenged.  He always talked about how important he felt it was to play with a lot of different people to help you grow as a musician, etc.  I even bought into that concept and briefly played with Grayson’s front man in the Jason Paulson Band months later as a kind of side project.  We never played a gig and it folded quickly, but I did sing backing vocals on a few tunes on a solo record of his.  Pete made to sure to mention the standard fare of how great it was playing with us and the great memories he created, etc.  It was noble, at least, that he did it in person.  I didn’t really freak out about it much at the time, because I had kind of expected it.  I knew it would be difficult finding a new drummer because good ones are pretty hard to come by, but I felt like we had built our name enough and had enough good things going for us like an agent that booked us gigs, etc, that somebody would be excited to jump on board.  I felt like with Brian still on board, we had the experienced leader type of guy that would assist us in picking out a top notch musician, and we could move forward and be even stronger.  Anytime you lose a member of a band, there is naturally the weight and frustrating of replacing them and getting that new person up to speed, but there is also a sense of optimism.  The new guy will be even better and he’ll have a better attitude.  He’ll have friends that he’ll bring out and it will inject new blood into the fan base.  All of the shortcomings that the member had, you are sure you can eliminate with the selection of a new guy.  I say “he” and “guy”, but that isn’t to infer that I would have ever been opposed to a female joining the band…..it just wasn’t something that we ever expected would happen I guess.  I took a day or so to process Pete’s news, and then mentally shifted into the mode of trying to get a new drummer on board.  It was probably about a week’s worth of time that had passed when I got a call from Brian.  He wanted to meet with me at a local restaurant called “The Sunshine Factory.”  Just me….not Paul.  He sounded kind of upbeat, like maybe he was going to drop some grand idea on me.  As I was driving there, I was convinced he was either going to try to persuade me to join some other project with him, or he had an idea about what we needed to do with Concentual and he wanted to try to get me onboard with it.  I suspected it might involve convincing Paul to switch to rhythm and hiring a 5th member to play lead.  In that event I would just sing, more than likely, and he probably wanted to see if I was on board with that before even mentioning anything to Paul.  I arrived and met Brian inside.  He seemed his normal jovial self, and carried a sly smile as if to indicate that he was about to unload some insider info on me.  We sat down and exchanged some obligatory small talk until I anxiously urged him into the meat of the purpose of our meeting.  While I’m sure it wasn’t his intent, his words felt like a heavy handed sucker punch, delivered square to my stomach as I was looking the other way.  He informed me that he was quitting as well, but would stay on until we found a new bass player.  He also told me that Pete was in for the next few shows, but wouldn’t be taking part in the upcoming 2 night stint in Pine City a month or so down the road.  I just sat there kind of dumbfounded.  He offered up the usual soothing words that are typically reserved for a person breaking up with another.  Things like, “it’s not you, it’s just something I feel like I have to do,” and “I’ve made some great memories that I’ll always be able to look back on.”  He made it a point to make sure I knew that he wasn’t leaving because of anything I did or any shortcomings I had.  It still was particular hard to swallow though because I really believed him when he confided in me that we were kind of “in this thing together.”  I respected the fact that he met one on one with me and talked to me face to face about it.  Brian was a stand up guy like that, so it was hard to hold too much venom towards him.  More than anything, I was crushed because I had just lost the 2 best musicians in the band, who happened to make up the entire rhythm section.  The thought of rebuilding that seemed completely daunting.  I drove back to the house after our meeting and prepared to deliver the news to Paul.  I still wasn’t really sure how I felt about everything.  I knew how Paul would be.  He would be pissed off at those two and vow to immediately bring on two new guys and make it bigger and better than ever.  He would be sure that they were primarily leaving because of him, and that would fuel his hunger to get back on the horse as soon as possible and show them we were just fine without them.  I wasn’t quite sold on that perspective however.  Paul and I still were getting along pretty rocky at best, and this seemed like a good jumping off point.  Maybe it was time to try something different or take a break from it?  When I ran that scenario through my head however, it just didn’t seem to end in a manner in which Paul and I still lived and co-existed cordially together.  If I joined something else, the situation kind of sucked because then I probably wouldn’t be as much of the leader and I would have to likely abandon all the songs I’d already written in Concentual.  If I tried to start up another band, diddo with the song situation, and than Paul would be pissed and hurt that I wouldn’t include him as the lead guitar player.  If I wanted to go ahead with Concentual, there was just no way around the fact that it would be Paul and I at its core, just like it was in the beginning….starting over from square one, just a bit more experienced now.  It seemed pretty clear to me that Paul was never going to let go of Concentual, and would probably clutch tightly on to it all the way to his grave.  There was no way he was ever going to let himself get ousted from a band again, so if he was going to put any work into one, it was going to be Concentual.  Since he “co-founded” it, he had lifetime immunity essentially.  All of these thoughts flooded my head on that short drive home.  Before I even really had a chance to let them settle in and stop swirling, I had to face Paul and deliver the news.  As expected, he was upset and wanted to put an ad out for new guys ASAP.  I really was proud of the songs I had written and the album we created.  Paul’s zest to not let the band end kind of created this temporary solidarity between us, and it kind of felt nice to feel like we were on the same team again.  I always kind of wondered if we had lived in different houses, if the path would have been different at this juncture.  The fact that we were roommates, and had been through all this together for several years now, kind of was the final swaying factor in me deciding to want to keep the Concentual flame alive.  In retrospect, I’d never say that was a bad decision, but I can honestly say that when Pete and Brian officially walked off into the sunset, it was officially the end of the best version of Concentual that there would be for me. 

Panic at the Disco

I have a lot of my most vivid memories from the times with that line-up.  Those guys were there for arguably some of the highest points I’ve had musically, but also were there when I went through one of the more difficult times I’ve had in my life.  I noted earlier how music kind of saved me and brought me confidence and helped get me out of the slump that I was when I first moved to the Twin Cities.  Everything had been rolling along great until one winter evening brought problems flooding back to me.  There was a pretty healthy snowfall coming down as I began my commute home from St. Paul around the 5pm rush hour.  Things were slow and go, but not overly treacherous at that pace.  It was conditions and a drive I had made plenty of times before.  Recently I had been experiencing little spurts of weird things though.  Sometimes I’d be in a crowded club talking to somebody and I’d all of the sudden feel kind of faint and be short of breath and dizzy.  I’d even have to kind of hold on to something to steady myself at times.  It would come and go kind of quickly though and I’d usually just blow it off to being tired or something.  Then, sometimes while driving I’d feel these little moments where I’d all of the sudden feel like I might lose control.  It was sort of that sensation of going around a sharp corner too fast and kind of realizing you might be in trouble, until the corner passes and you loosen your grip on the wheel and realize you are fine.  These spurts would be very quick and I’d kind of shrug it off as sort of catching myself falling asleep or hitting a rut in the road that would jerk my steering wheel slightly.  Well on this particular evening, it seemed to set in right away, but it didn’t go away.  I felt like I was having trouble breathing.  I even went as far as to turn off my heat because I felt like maybe some sort of carbon dioxide was pumping into my car or something.  My hands were just white, and I felt like I could crash at any moment.  I was so freaked out, yet I was only going like 5 miles an hour.  Soon, it increased to the point where I had my windows down in 10 degree weather, trying to blow cool air on my face in an attempt to snap me out of whatever was happening to me.  I slowly maneuvered my car into the far right lane so I could go to the shoulder and stop if it just got too much to bear.  I turned my radio off and just tried to focus on my breathing.  Soon I saw the Lowry tunnel looming ahead.  All at once I started to really freak out realizing there was no shoulder in there and I’d be stuck and hold up all this traffic if I stopped and caused an accident somehow.  Right before I was about to enter, I veered off to the shoulder and stopped the car.  My hands were buzzing and felt like they were trying to expand 3 sizes and break out of my skin.  My face felt the same way and my chin, nose, cheeks, and top of my head all felt like your arm does when you accidentally sleep on it all night.  My feet felt like they weren’t fitting in my shoes anymore, and the circulation was getting cut off.  I was so confused and scared and felt like I might be having a heart attack or something.  I stumbled out of my car and starting walking aimlessly up the side of the embankment.  I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going, I was just panicked and out of my mind.  Finally, I just sat down in the snow and watched the cars go by for a few minutes.  It must have looked so bizarre to the oncoming traffic.  There is this car on the side of road and a guy just sitting in the snow staring at the highway.  People probably thought I was high on drugs.  Finally everything started to feel normal again and I was breathing regularly.  I got up and went back down to my car.  I just sat inside, bewildered as to what just happened to me.  I was scared to put the car in gear.  I had no idea if it as going to happen again.  Finally I got enough courage to go through the tunnel.  Once I made it through there I found the first back road I could, and started taking them all the way home.  I took anything that wasn’t an interstate where I could easily stop if I had to.  It seemed to help and I finally made it home.  Brian was there and I told him the whole story.  He said it sounded like a panic attack and that he had had one before.  That eased my mind a little bit, and I looked it up on the Internet.  Understanding it made me feel better and like I had a grasp on it now and could overcome it.  That wasn’t really the case.  I never had one as bad as that night again, but I had many more less severe, but still quite uncomfortable, episodes in different situations.  There were more driving episodes, but I also noticed the frequency of difficulty breathing and dizziness occurring when I’d go out to concerts and other social gatherings.  None of this prompted me to take any action though.  Then one night, we were playing at a placed called the Urban Wildlife.  It was still common for me to get a little nervous before shows, but this show I just felt really off as I was waiting backstage for our set.  When it was our time to hit the stage, I found set-up really difficult.  I was out of breath and was fumbling around with everything.  I was hooking up pedals wrong and forgetting to turn off the standby on my amp, and all sorts of little things.  My hands were sweaty and I just felt kind of shaky.  We started the set and I experienced something  that had never even come close to happening before.  First of all, I was out of breath after the first song.  I was gasping between every verse and felt like some 350 pound, out of shape couch potato up there.  Even worse though, was that my brain felt like it completely shut off.  I was having tons of trouble remembering lyrics to these songs I’d played hundreds of times.  It was very much like when somebody asks you your address or phone number unexpectedly, and for some reason you blank out for a second and feel stupid and then all of the sudden it just comes to you.  Every song seemed to feel like that.  I’d sing a verse and then panic that I wouldn’t remember the next one, and thus my brain would lock up.  I’d remember it like a millisecond before it was time to sing, and in some instances it just didn’t come and I mumbled through until something came to me.  After about 2 songs like that, I got really rattled and just couldn’t wait to get the set over with and go home and hide under my sheets.  It was after that night, that I finally decided I had to try to do something about it.  I made an appointment with a doctor and went in to describe what I had been going through.  In addition to the driving and on-stage experiences, I was also getting some pretty strong headaches every weekend it seemed.  If I slept in at all, and didn’t get a soda right away in the morning, it seemed like I’d have this dull throbbing headache all day, and pain relievers and caffeine didn’t put a dent in it.  I’d have to sleep for a solid 8 hours to bring relief.  The doctor diagnosed me as having an anxiety disorder, and put me on a pretty healthy dose of the drug Zoloft.  A few days in, most of my symptoms were gone.  I was super calm about everything and I seemed to have a much healthier appetite.  I started to feel like this was how “normal” people go through life.  There were a few side effects however, and some weren’t even bad.  For example, I gained weight very rapidly.  I shot up from around 140 pounds to 170 in a relatively short time.  This delighted me because I was always so skinny, and hated hearing comments about it all the time.  I looked much more filled out and much better.  I never got comments about my size anymore.  The only real drawback to the medicine at first was that I got serious night sweats.  I’d wake up absolutely drenched.  I recall the first show I played after being on the medicine for awhile.  It was a show at Bunkers.  All day I was just excited to play.  My stomach didn’t have the butterflies like usual though.  It was more like I felt really content that I got to play the show that night.  I loaded my gear in, set everything up and sound checked.  Normally after that concludes, I would pace back and forth making sure I didn’t forget anything.  I’d double check that the set lists were on stage and that I had water ready, and I’d kind of mentally go through the set and visualize how I would be.  I’d start getting tinges of worry that not enough people were going to show up, or a bunch would and our set would flop.  This time however, I felt no different than I would feel if I were watching another band, or even sitting in my living room for that matter.  Bunkers, is kind of renowned to bands that play there because they let you cook up a free Bunker burger back in the kitchen with whatever you want on it.  This is a big highlight to most of the guys, but I could never bring myself to eat a Bunker burger before the show really.  I would enjoy one after, but my stomach was never really having any of it beforehand.  On this night however, I cooked one up not long before we went on stage and downed it like it was a bowl of Sunday morning cereal.  It was very weird.  It was a good feeling in a way to be free of the nerves that usually robbed me of fully enjoying the experience.  I was always the kind of person who enjoyed things in retrospect.  I might feel nauseas or jittery during a show and not really enjoy the experience much, but once I got done or got home, the pride and sense of accomplishment I felt was the kind of high that couldn’t really be obtained anywhere else for me.  I loved reliving the memories in the solitude of my house almost as much as I did making them hours before.  Part of me was kind of afraid that this medicine was kind of leveling me out too much and I might be losing the edge that I needed to be a highly energetic performer.  It was almost like getting a really tart green apple, and biting into it and having it be unexpectedly dull.  Your senses kind of want that overload.  You know you are going to squint and make the sour face, and your eyes might water a little bit, but it kind of feels good in a way.  The medicine sort of made me feel like the apple was getting more and more dull, or at least could potentially end up that way, and I hated the idea of that.  Once I started to feel like I had the driving issues and social anxiety stuff under better control, I started to wean off the drug until I was almost down to nothing.  I could never fully get off it, because there seemed to be harsh withdrawal symptoms that I could never get through, and I’d start to revert back to having more extreme reactions to things.  I eventually found a dose that was as low as I could go and still function normally.  That is not to say that I never suffered from symptoms again, because I’ll share more of those stories later, but I was able to manage them now without going nuts. 

I was thankful to be able to share that kind of stuff with the guys in the band, because it made me feel more comfortable about it and it sort of gave my confidence to deal with it all.  That just made it all the more difficult for me to have Brian and Pete walk away.  If anything though, I did feel more equipped to be able to undergo the large task of finding a new rhythm section that wouldn’t miss a beat or suffer any drop-off from what we had worked so hard to build. 

Version 3.0

So the mission began.  We set out to find the drummer first, since Brian was willing to help out more and play and hold auditions at his place.  We figured once we got a new drummer up to speed, then we could go about using that guy to help us audition bass players.  If a drummer happened to come know a bass player and wanted to come as a tandem, that was just fine too!  We put an ad in the City Pages, and hit the usual places that people go to seek out a new gig.  I was really curious to see the response we would get, because now we were much more established and had an agent and a CD and all of the things that people usually find attractive.  Most established players would never join a start up and go through the pains of trying to get enough material written to play a show, and then find a decent venue that would actually let you play on a weekend!  I figured there would be lots of talented guys who were in bands that were stuck playing Tuesday nights somewhere, and would jump at the chance to make some money and play a steady diet of weekend gigs at decent venues.  After the ad was placed I excitedly sat back waiting for the e-mails and calls to coming pouring in.  That wasn’t really the case.  We got a small number of promising leads, and chose to audition around 3-4 people.  1 of those guys we knew from his time playing with our friend Scott Morrisson, and he wasn’t so much auditioning, as he was just coming over to jam on the songs with us for fun.  Another guy had played in a pretty prominent band called Planet Melvin, and I was pretty stoked about him being interested.  I met him at Bunkers one afternoon and gave him the audition material, and that would be the last time we would speak.  He blew off 2 auditions and we were finished with him.  Then, I got a call from a familiar name.  Brian Henz was the guy who loaned us drum kit when we played with Pete Best.  He had come across our ad and felt like where we were at as a band, was something he was really eager to get into.  He played with some other groups, but none of them played out enough to really satisfy him fully, and they didn’t bring home much money either.  This was a chance for him to play steady gigs in good rooms, and Concentual was really at a place as a band that he had wanted to get to for awhile.  I met up with him and chatted a bit and gave him some audition material.  A few weeks later he came in and Paul, Bri C, and I ran through some Concentual tunes with him.  He was by far the most solid on them that we had heard.  It was obvious that he had good skills on the kit and he had a really laid back positive attitude about him.  He had a pretty decent look about him and was around our age.  Everything lined up really well with him, and we offered him the gig as the new drummer of Concentual!  It was really energizing to me.  It felt like weren’t losing anything or taking a step down from Pete, and Henz had the kind of personality where you could tell he wasn’t going to create some of the kinds of waves that Pete had.  You got the sense that he would never refuse to play certain gigs or certain songs.  He seemed like the type who was happy to just play drums and follow wherever the band was going to take him.  Armed with a newfound excitement and enthusiasm, I started thinking about the bass position.  I was a bit deterred by the lack of responses we got from our drummer ad, and I felt like we got lucky stumbling upon Brian.  I felt that now that we had 3 pieces in place, maybe we could convince somebody from another band to complete the puzzle, kind of like we did with Brian C.  I didn’t really know anybody well enough though that I felt it was realistic to approach.  Then, one day, I saw an announcement somewhere that one of the local powerhouse bands, Leep 27, was calling it quits.  I couldn’t believe it!  We had played with them a couple of times, and they still kind of seemed on top of their game.  Their bass player, Steve Moerke, booked them and we discovered at one point that we were both huge Third Eye Blind fans.  This kind of helped open the door to us getting opening slots for them at places like Bunkers and O’Garas.  It was always nice playing with them because they seemed to usually have nice crowds that followed them, which we would get to play for.  They were a little stingy with paying us sometimes, but it never mattered to me because it was a good show and a good opportunity to try to turn some of their fans on to us.  The news of their dissolving made it feel like God was smiling down on me with the timing of everything.  I told Paul about it and he seemed to share that sentiment and thought I should give Steve a call.  I eventually did as I was driving home one day, and we shared a good conversation about several topics, including my philosophy on song writing and what makes music good, and why Third Eye Blind resonates so much with us.  By the time I pulled in the driveway, I got the sense that he was growing more and more intrigued by our shared viewpoints.  He was very easy to talk to and seemed to be a wealth of knowledge about the local music scene and the people who kind of hold to keys to everything.  I finally mentioned in more detail, our situation to him.  He liked our music and felt like we had a lot of potential as a band to be successful in town.  To hear a person that I respected a lot say that, it gave me a big jolt of confidence and renewed optimism about everything.  To hear that person say that they were interested in the gig and would seriously consider it, really put me over the top.  At that time, to me, landing Steve Moerke was like landing a top tier free agent in a pro sport.  It was almost like when the Vikings landed Brett Favre.  Not only would we be landing an obviously competent bass player, but we would be landing a guy who loved the same music I did, knew a ton of people in the business and had big time booking contacts, had high name recognition with Leep 27 and would bring us heightened credibility, and would likely bring a big influx of new fans that wanted to see him play in a new band now that Leep 27 was done.  In my opinion, like Brett Favre, this was the missing piece that could bring us to the promised land.  We could be the next Leep 27 and be the band that headlines Bunkers and O’Garas and has bands calling us hoping to get the chance to open.  Steve seemed to think that could be a reality too, which was why he was willing to give it a serious look.  I was ecstatic!  I was pretty much willing to do whatever he thought was necessary to get us to that level.  I think that energized Steve as well.  I think he saw the opportunity to be the head hauncho of something, and have the respect to not be questioned like maybe he had been in the past.  I think it was empowering for him to have people that would defer to his opinion.  All of these factors seemed to help build the case to sway him to take the gig.  He called me to chat about it.  He warned me that he was quite opinionated at times.  I said I welcomed it.  He said he’d like the gig.  I told him he was in…..no audition required.  In time, I would reflect back on that warning he gave me.  Hindsight is always 20/20.

Before the next chapter could begin, the last one had to officially end.  Pete’s final shows were up first.  We decided to announce that his “official” last show date was a weekend show at the Fine Line opening for Pat McCurdy.  The whole situation was kind of bittersweet for me.  My friend Krista had this relatively large friend network who was huge into Pat McCurdy.  I never understood the allure with Pat in general, because he was this old fat balding dude who just basically played solo acoustic and wrote these campy funny songs.  He was sort of like a more PG version of Tenacious D, but not nearly as talented.  He also threw in 80’s medleys and other covers, and his sound guy had different things cued up to help fill the gaps in the show.  This guy PACKED places though, and had the hottest young women dancing up on stage with him every show!!  He played like 6 nights a week too around the Midwest, mostly in Chicago, the Wisconsin area and the Twin Cities.  He probably played around every other month at either the Fine Line or O’Garas, and people treated it like some big event.  I was so jealous that this old dude could get all of Krista’s friends out for crazy night of debauchery, yet only around 3 would show up for my shows if I was lucky.  I wanted so badly to open for him, just to be able to play for that group of people.  Well, we finally got that opportunity years later, and by that time, Krista’s friend group had pretty much dissolved and gone their separate ways.  The show was nothing special or well attended despite Pete touting it as his final show to his friends.  Of course, the minute we got off stage and Pat came on, people seemed to emerge out of the woodwork and there was a large gathering right up front.  I kind of had this mentality of the current chapter needing to come to a close, so we could inject new blood and life and fans into what felt like a dying plant, straining for water and sunlight.  Pete has his “actual” last show a few days later on a rare Thursday performance at Decoys.  It seemed fitting to me that it ended there, since we had all had endured so much drama during our shows there.  I was kind of hoping it would prove to be symbolic of the ending of band dramas as well.  Brian even seemed completely checked out of the show, and it really just felt like this transition to Henz and Steve couldn’t come fast enough.  In a way, I felt a little bad because Pete’s real last show was just this apathetic, lackluster affair that seemed to personify the current state of Concentual.  I remember thinking that I would hate to have my last show with a band I put so much heart and soul into, end on that note.

4.0

The next show officially ushered in the Brian Henz era on drums.  Doreen booked us for a two night stint at this place called Froggy’s.  It was over an hour outside of the Twin Cities, and we felt like it was a good chance to get Henz some live show experience with us, without the pressure of a bunch of our fans around.  My journal entry would later describe the night in 3 accurate and decisive words.  “A fucking mess!”  BC was still playing bass for these shows, and helping Henz with the transition into the group.  We all showed up at Froggy’s, only to realize that no sound guy showed up.  After the bar attempted to call him with no success, BC went about setting everything up himself.  Thankfully, he is very intelligent about how to properly run sound and set up monitor mixes, etc.  If it had just been me there, I would have definitely turned around and gone home and said “Screw this!”  As proficient as BC was, it was taking him some time to figure out everything, and he was already behind schedule because we were waiting so long for this sound guy to show until we finally decided to take matters into our own hands.  We were supposed to start at 9pm, and at 9:30, Brian was still trying to get things figured out.  I felt really bad for Henz that this was his first experience with his new band!  I started playing solo acoustic stuff just to kind of sound check, while at the same time giving the few people gathered something to listen to other than….”check 1..2…check 1…2…  I thought I was kind of doing something nice and helping the bar out, so their customers wouldn’t leave pissed off that there was no music.  Instead, I was getting heckled!!  People were yelling for the whole band to get up there, and to quit with the slow boring music, etc.  I was livid!!  By the time everyone got on stage and started playing, I was completely checked out.  I would have definitely walked out had it just been me there, but I sucked it up and played for Henz, and for the meager paycheck.  Most bands leave their stuff there overnight, but I had already talked to the rest of the guys and made the decision that we were likely not coming back here for night two.  We all seemed in agreement, so we packed things up to the confusion of the bar owner.  I was kind of rude to her after the whole ordeal unfolded, and I could tell she wasn’t taking much of a liking to me either.  The next day I called Doreen and told her the story and let her know that we didn’t intend on going back there.  After some coaxing and urging though, so convinced us to play night two, saying she would get us more money if we went.  I begrudgingly agreed, and we all drove out there for a second helping.  We arrived to find that the owner was having a “party” at Froggy’s after the Memorial service for her husband!!  There were flowers and signs all over the stage!  I just laughed and started to unpack my gear.  I was so completely done with this joke of a venue.  The sound guy decided to show up this time, but was confused how Brian had set things up the night before so the sound was still pretty messed up.  The patrons seemed friendlier this time though, and the night actually wasn’t quite as horrible as I anticipated.  With my expectations so low though, it didn’t take much.  I actually kind of enjoyed the last set, knowing I would never set foot in the joint again.  It was kind of like the last day of summer camp that you hated going to.  You are miserable all week, and then you actually kind of have a little fun the last day because you know it’s almost over!  The good news that came out of everything, was the Henz seemed to enjoy himself and he played well and had good energy.  He seemed like the right pick.  It said a lot that he handled himself well over the whole weekend at Froggy’s fiasco.  I figured that was the worst show he’d probably ever have to play with us, and the worst attitude he’d ever see out of me.  If he was still cool with everything after that, I felt good that it would only go up for him from there.

His first shows in the cities were a couple of shows at various Champps locations.  They were trying out live music on Thursday nights, and we decided to give it a shot.  Henz seemed to be getting better and better and having more fun by the show.  It was really encouraging to see.  Bri C. however, was the polar opposite.  He had seemed to have completely checked out mentally from the band.  It was barely a shell of the Bri C. that had first come into the band, and that realization was very depressing to me.  It didn’t help that the crowds sucked and we were playing as background music at a restaurant.  It was a far cry from those special holiday shows that were held at these same venues.  Those were lively and fun, and these were just like a glorified practice that we were getting paid for.  That might sound like a great thing…..to get paid to practice, but in reality it just felt excruciating and soul sucking to me.  The next few gigs felt a little more back to normal.  They were weekend nights at familiar, good venues for us.  As Bri C’s finish line approached, it seemed like everybody was pulling together and making the most of it.

In the meantime, Steve was on his own, learning all the covers and originals in preparation to make his eventual debut.  He started asserting his opinion about things right off bat.  First on his agenda, was voicing his opinion about our booking agent, Doreen.  He didn’t think she was really getting us near as much money as she could be, and he felt like she booked us at wherever it was easiest, and didn’t really take into consideration if it was a place we could succeed at or not.  He felt like she was kind of lazy, and that he did a much better job when he booked for Leep 27.  I didn’t have a big problem with Doreen, and thought she got us some nice shows every now and then, but I did kind of dislike that we were one of 3 bands she focused on, and kind of rotated the good opportunities between us.  I started to kind of give in to Steve’s belief that she was kind of low balling us to clubs, and not fighting for money like other booking agents did.  Still, I wasn’t ready to make any drastic moves yet.  Doreen had this policy that we had to give her all the dates we needed off well in advance, and then she wouldn’t even ask us if we wanted a particular show or not.  If our calendar was free and she thought we should play something, we basically had to play it.  Steve thought this was ridiculous.  With Steve now coming on board, Doreen asked us to get him to send her his off dates.  He called her right away because he realized he had a conflict with one of our shows on the books, and he felt she should be able to move it.  As the story would be retold, they argued about it and Doreen got very agitated with Steve’s cavalier attitude.  Steve started to get disgusted with her and made some claims about how he did her job for Leep 27 and never did the kind of stuff she did, AND he got them more money.  She fumed that he could just book Concentual then, and he, in essence, told her “Fine, I will.”  So that was the story of how before Steve even played one show or had one practice with us, he essentially took it upon himself to fire our booking agent and take over.  I should have seen that as a warning shot as to his personality and how he did things, but at the time I was just excited that we now were being booked by Leep 27’s agent, and possibly would have access to all the great things they got to be a part of in the past. 

Our next show was at the Red Carpet, and I was a bit nervous.  Doreen always claimed she worked SO hard to get us in there, and I was worried that she’d call them and end our great run.  We had heard some rumors that a lot of club owners didn’t like working with Doreen, and the Red Carpet’s owner, Troy, confirmed as much.  He seemed actually quite pleased that he wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore, and showed no intention of moving us out of rotation there based on the recent developments.  Everything seemed to be going in the right direction, and I was actually really energized to have Steve start playing gigs with us, and begin our new journey of dominating the local music scene.

Finally, that show would arrive.  Bri C had a conflict, and Steve assured us that despite the fact that we hadn’t had a single rehearsal with him, he was ready to play all of our originals at an upcoming Fine Line show!  I was really uneasy about playing an actual show without one single practice, but he successfully put our minds at ease enough to roll with it.  This blatant disregard for proper preparation should have been another warning sign, but again, I saw him as such a pro that I didn’t even really question it.  It was quite a departure from Bri C.  Brian basically played with no effects, and Steve almost went overboard with them.  Some of the noises he was making in sound check were startling to us, but at the same time I was curious to see how he was going to implement them into the original songs and what it was going to sound like.  Maybe I was just caught up in the newness and excitement, but I was really pleased with the show overall, and thought it went quite well.  Steve had a few problems with his pedal board, but overall, he seemed to get most of the parts right and there was no real train wrecks.  There weren’t a lot of people at the show, but it was ok to me, because it sort of had the feel of a band playing a secret show somewhere to prepare for their upcoming tour.  I was just happy to get the new chapter off and running and start getting the kinks worked out.  If it was that good after not even rehearsing, I had a lot of optimism about the levels that this new line-up could reach. 

Now that the new line-up was off and running, it was officially time to say good-bye to the last remnants of the old one.  Bri C wanted his last show to be our big outdoor show at St. Anthony Main.  This was a great gig, and kind of a highlight for me whenever we got the chance to play it.  It’s basically at area between Vics, where Paul and I played acoustic from time to time, and a bar called Tuggs.  It’s right off the river with a breathtaking view of the Minneapolis skyline and the Hennepin Ave bridge.  Lots of people like to go there in the summer just to walk along the riverfront and kind of breathe in the city.  The shows usually feature a nice built-in crowd of people who would be frequenting those places anyway, and see the live music as kind of a nice added bonus.  It was kind of a good opportunity to hopefully turn new people on to your music that haven’t heard you before and probably normally wouldn’t.  It was overcast all day and I was kind of bummed that it appeared it might be a rainout.  Even if it was cool and overcast that obviously puts a huge damper on the amount of people that feel like sitting outside and hanging out.  The temperature was holding up though, so I was still hopeful we’d get a decent crowd.  By the time the show rolled around it was still cloudy but it didn’t seem to be scaring anybody away.  After the first set, the clouds dispersed and as nightfall set in, it turned into a gorgeous, clear night.  It was a great last show for Brian.  He was in good spirits, and we had people dancing up front and enjoying our set.  It was one of those nights that felt kind of magical, and seemed to read like a very well written chapter that effectively closed a long and twisting story on a happy note. 

The new story I dove into was already beginning to have its first ugly twist.  Steve was becoming more and more controlling the more comfortable he got with everyone.  He wrote up a lengthy series of notes on every single song on our record, pointing out what needed to be fixed to make it a good song.  It ranged from everything to boring drumbeats, to uninteresting lead guitar licks, to forgettable vocal parts.  It was like Simon Cowell from American Idol ripping apart everything you’ve poured over a year into writing and producing.  I tried to take it all with a grain of salt, but it his overall personality that began to wear on me.  I felt sort of responsible because he was kind of acting like the rock god that I tried to make him feel like in order to persuade him to join the band.  The thing was, I was so confident based on the fact that we loved the same bands and type of music, and his statements that he really liked and believed in the songs we had written, that I didn’t imagine he’d ever really cut me down or try to take the reigns on the thing I had spent 8 years trying to build.  I prided myself on the fact that I felt I could take constructive criticism.  I think I tried to prove that to everybody by basically changing things I didn’t necessarily agree with.  I also felt I was being a role model for Paul.  Steve boldly made suggestions to him about stuff that I agreed with but never really had the fortitude to say.  I felt like if he saw me making sacrifices towards stuff he knew I believed in, than maybe he would be more willing to.  Paul and I kind of had this little battle that we would engage in from time to time.  It sort of entailed a situation where he was less inclined to do things if I wasn’t making the same sort of concessions.  It was part of the factor in me taking guitar lessons, because I didn’t want him to ever have the ammunition to say, “I worked to improve my skills, did you??”  So if Steve suggested I change a song structure around, I was inclined to do it, because I felt like it was ammunition for the future.  If Steve wanted Paul to change a guitar part, I didn’t want him to be able to say, “No one else changes their parts around based on your suggestion, so why should I?”  In retrospect it seems silly, but it made so much sense to me at the time that I went along with it.  It’s clear to see now how the tension between Paul and I continuously built, because we’d play all these types of little games instead of working together.  It was like this continuous power struggle where there was a giant whiteboard and we got to put checkmarks on our side every time someone agreed with our viewpoint or showed us some sort of favor.  We had begun rehearsing for our first 3 set show as the “new” Concentual with Steve on board.  We knew it was a lot of material to learn, but he’d assured us that he had been working on it on his own while we were finishing up things with Bri C.  The first rehearsals together were a bit rocky at best.  Coming off of Bri C and Pete’s military like precision, it was a bit of a culture shock adjusting to the sloppiness of the set with Steve kind of plodding through the tunes and learning them on the fly.  There didn’t seem to be as great of a chemistry building as I had hoped.  I was kind of down because we had a show coming up and it didn’t sound anywhere close to as polished as I was hoping it would.  Henz seemed a little put off by Steve’s dominating personality and take charge attitude in practice, feeling that it was Paul’s and my band and the direction should probably come from one of us.  Still, I thought it just needed time to gel, like any new relationship does.  It seemed to be slowly getting better, just in time for our first show at our old stomping grounds, Decoy’s.  I should have known based on my history there, that it wouldn’t be your typical run of mill, ordinary show.

To add some fuel, Pete and Bri C said they were coming out with their new band mates.  They had joined our old friends Grayson not long after announcing their departure from Concentual.  This was particularly bitter for Paul and I to swallow.  They insisted that they didn’t quit to join Grayson and that it just kind of happened, but it didn’t lesson the sting any.  We felt we were just as good as Grayson as a band, and to Paul and I it was a clear message that we weren’t good enough to play full time with.  How could you look it at it any other way?  They were playing the same types of shows, with a similar type of schedule and the same sort of venues.  They said they quit to take part in multiple things that would challenge and motivate them.  I thought that would mean being studio musicians or playing in some jazz quartet or prog rock band or something like that.  Turns out they just joined another pop/rock band, albeit one based more in blues, which typically is kind of a rudimentary genre for a rhythm section.  It definitely hurt, and I wanted them to see us thriving with the new line-up.  I wanted a packed house and a rocking, high energy set, and everything else that would trigger a level of regret in them.  We started out the first set, and I channeled everything I had into blowing everybody’s minds.  It was quickly sabotaged by numerous loud buzzes and chirps coming out of Steve’s rig.  Something was malfunctioning on his pedalboard and was creating all sorts of distracting, horrific noises that were throwing everybody off.  Henz looked just disgusted and embarrassed and Paul just seemed confused and hesitant with everything he was doing.  I got more and more red as I saw people in the crowd making faces that indicated a very unpleasant listening experience.  The first set ended and I went over to Steve as calm as I could and said, “What’s up with the rig man?”  He nonchalantly responded by saying that all his pedal patch connections were old and should be replaced but he forgot to do it.  He genuinely seemed unfazed by how horrific the first set was.  I slumped off while he continued to work on fixing it.  By the start of the second set he seemed to have it under control.  I was relieved because that’s when I saw the members of Grayson walk in.  I turned up my energy again in hopes of winning back the crowd.  Now I was met with more very odd loud noises coming from Steve that were ON PURPOSE this time.  They were things I never heard in rehearsal and it seemed like he was doing stuff just to keep himself entertained.  He’d hit a pedal and this boisterous, strange tone would emit, making the rest of us share confused and disgusted glances.  He realized how off it sounded, and he’d start adjusting his levels on the fly, thus missing whole sections of songs.  I was fuming inside because he was treating this gig like it was a practice in a basement.  It made it even worse that I looked over at Bri and Pete and saw what I only could assume were amused expressions.  Then I shifted over to my girlfriend Courtnie to see a look that would indicate her thinking, “What the hell is going on here?”  He painstakingly plowed through the second set and I raced off stage.  Pete and Brian shared their tongue in cheek opinion that Steve “needed a bit of work”.  I got more and more worked up the more I thought about it because every time I take the stage I think of it as a performance that somebody took time of our their lives (and sometimes money out of their wallet) to enjoy.  Sure, we might just be a bar band, but when I first moved to the cities, I would go out and watch bands and expect a certain level of quality in the show.  If I didn’t see that, I usually wouldn’t care to go out and see that band again.  So although maybe 3 of 150 people there might really be listening, those 3 people motivated me enough to try to put on an amazing show.  Steve was showing absolute disregard for those 3 people and it was in absolute opposition to my philosophy on being a performer.  I never subscribed to that idea that poorly attended shows were basically a “paid practice”.  We are getting paid to entertain, and I don’t care if it’s just the bar staff.  Unprepared, sloppy shows were just not acceptable to me.  I put lots of thought into set lists and song flow and transitions and all the things that I felt made a show look professional and high caliber.  Steve’s performance was basically showing a high disregard for that mentality.  The third set basically entailed me trying to channel my anger into every song.  I ferociously banged down on the chords and snarled out lyrics with every ounce is disgust I could muster.  Mercifully, the show finally ended and Steve walked up to the bar to mingle with his friends that had come out.  He showed no signs of embarrassment or regret from the night.  It made me even hotter watching it.  Henz came over to me, sensing my frustration and shared his opinion of how awful the night was.  I got the sense that this was the time I need to reassert my leadership and set forth my expectations to Steve.  It wasn’t one of my strengths to do this type of thing, especially to a personality like Steve’s, so I tried to choose my words carefully and professionally.  Henz gave me the opening as Steve walked by him on the way back to the stage to tear down.  Steve tried to tell him “nice show” or something like that and Henz just kind of grumbled and walked right past him.  Steve cheerily approached me and said, “What is wrong with Henz?”  I basically explained to him that he, and I and the whole band for that matter thought it was a shitty show.  I told him about my philosophy of putting on a great, well prepared show no matter what the venue or the crowd.  I told him he really has to get equipment problems he knows exist, squared away before a show, and not to try out new sounds and effects….that is what practice is for.  I tried to deliver everything like I thought a good leader would, and he basically shrugged me off like I was a joke.  I started to get a little more direct in an effort to be taken more seriously, and a yelling match of sorts ensued.  It ended as we were loading gear into the trailer and van (which Steve had convinced us we needed to buy from Leep 27).  Steve got in my face and said something to the effect of, “This can be my last show, I don’t need to play with you guys.”  Something additional and derogatory was added to stoke my fire that I can no longer recall, which led me to respond with.  “You’re done Steve.  You’re done!!”  I think I added some cursing for effect.  He mumbled something like “Whatever,” and got in the van and drove away with all the gear.  I had kept my guitars and amp back, because in my opinion, I didn’t want to have to go to his house and get them later.  I didn’t know how the rest of the band felt, but I didn’t really care at the point.  In my opinion, I had just fired him and if Paul and Henz were upset about it, they could find a new singer as well. 

I eventually called Paul and told him about how I felt, and described a complete rundown of what went down after the show.  I had cooled off a good deal by this point, but I still was hanging on to my feelings that Steve needed to go.  Paul was disappointed and hesitant to have to go through the whole audition process again, but he seemed generally supportive of what I was saying.  I was kind of surprised, and even a bit touched that he seemed to still be putting a good deal of stock in our history and partnership in this thing, despite all the junk we had just been through with Bri and Pete.  I figured that I’d tell Henz the next time we got together, and once I had a contingency plan in place.  Maybe that would be Bri C filling in…who knows.  Before long though, Steve called me to tell me about the upcoming shows he booked, and acted as if the whole incident never even happened!  I was kind of taken aback by it, and didn’t really know how to respond.  It’s always tough to follow a statement like…”Hey bud, I got us some killer shows, when did you want to get together to rehearse next” with….”um…..dude, I fired your ass and I’m still standing behind it.”  There was no closure to it….no apologies from either side….just a brushing under the rug.  I kind of hung up the phone in daze trying to figure out what just happened.  I couldn’t really call back now and be like…”hey, hey…forget what we just talked about…..you are out of the band!”  So I kind of convinced myself that everything was fine, and we could move forward. 

Some interesting things were starting to occur that began making me really feel like Concentual was a fixture on the local music scene map, and that I was even getting some recognition as being the front man of the group.  We were playing a show at the Black Dawg, and a stringy guy made his way up towards and front of stage and seemed to be watching rather intently.  As our set finished I saw him begin to approach me, and I expected the usual kind words about the quality of the band and songs and harmonies, etc.  Instead, this gentleman threw me a bit of a curveball.  He announced he was in the band Downside of Truth, and that they were looking for a new singer, and he had heard I was the guy to target.  I was kind of taken aback, and thought it seemed arrogant in a way to ask who gave him this recommendation.  I kind of looked over my shoulder, feeling a bit dirty about the whole thing, like I was interviewing for a new job on the grounds of my current job.  I was intrigued, but at the time felt like a group could only really be successful if your undivided attention was on that group.  So I politely declined his offer and thanked him for the consideration.  I had heard of the group before and knew they were a bit of a harder rock act, so part of me still questioned if this guy had gotten the right information.  Nonetheless, it really made me feel like our peers saw us as a top caliber band and one that was perhaps even coveted in some circles. 

The key to getting to that level always rests a tremendous amount on the shoulder of the fans.  If you don’t have any, you don’t get booked.  Every show you play, you are always hoping to stumble across one of those people that are just blown away by you, and they happen to be in that place in life, where they really want to attach themselves to you and help you achieve success in any way possible.  There are kind of different levels of fans.  At one level, you have the people that maybe just happened to be in the venue on that particular night and have never heard you before.  Maybe they are there for one of the other bands you are playing with.  They hear you set, and basically think…”well, that didn’t suck.”  They likely wouldn’t make a conscious effort to come hear you play again at another venue, but if it happens to work out where they are going to be at the place you are going to be playing at on a particular night, they may be pleased to hear you again and pay a little extra attention than they might for some other band.  The next level of fan is one that, again, stumbled across you and really dug your set.  They maybe even acted on impulse and bought some of your merch.  They might pay attention to your calendar, and if you happen to be in their neck of the woods, and they don’t have plans, they may rally a few troops and come on out and see if you remember them from that last time they saw you.  A third level consists of family, college buddies, girlfriends, co-workers, etc.  These people can certainly fall in the highest level of fan as well, but typically they are sort of what you call your base.  These are the people that come out to the majority of your shows because they have a connection with YOU.  They might not even really like your music, but they support you because of the personal relationship you have with them.  You count largely on these people to make the bar money, and keep getting booked at your favorite venues.  You appreciate them greatly, but with some, you kind of lack the validation that you really are something special.  You feel like you could play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” 12 times and they’d laugh it off and get drunk and still keep coming out.  In a way, as musicians, you sometimes would like that validation of being judged solely on the quality of your band.  If you stink, you’d like to see a deserved 15 fans out there.  It would act as a litmus test of how you were progressing.  You’d like to feel like the better you got, the more fans would start showing up.  Sadly, in time you realize that often isn’t the case.  You see amazing bands get tossed by the wayside for having low draw and you see the hack garage band fresh out of college that brought 100 friends from the area frat houses with them get elevated to weekends.  The highest and most coveted level of fans, are the ones who have no prior connection to you.  They happened to be at the venue on the night you were playing, and were floored by your performance.  They had to have whatever merch you were selling, and they are already circling their calendar for your next show, wherever it may be.  These are the people that get the tag “groupies” but to the band they are tagged “gold”.  They come to every show they can, they spread the word to friends, they memorize your lyrics, they know the meanings behind the songs, they know when you hit the wrong chord in the second chorus.  They love music and love going to watch it being performed, and you are lucky enough to be on their preferred list!  Even at the platinum selling national band level, these fans are few and far between.  I met my first one at the Red Carpet.  As usual, the joint was pretty hopping by the end of the night, but I noticed these 3 girls near the front of the stage seeming pretty engaged as to what we were doing.  As a musician you pick out these people, like actors at a haunted house pick out the people they can tell are scared.  You gravitate towards them and feed off their energy.  You can tell they are paying attention and not just trying to hit on the girl or guy next to them.  It’s a better energy boost then 10 red bulls.  At the end of the night, this trio of ladies hovered around the stage, and I could tell they were hoping to share their feelings about the band’s performance for the night.  I made my way over to them, and one by one, Brandi, Amanda, and Megan introduced themselves to me.  Megan seemed to be most shy and didn’t seem to know what to say, but she also seemed like the one who was the most into what the band was doing.  The girls all went to school in St. Cloud, yet still started making their way to several of our Twin Cities shows.  It was an incredible feeling, knowing that we had cultivated these loyal fans who had no prior connection to us.  They had no initial reason to come and support us, which made it even more endearing that they chose to.  Eventually as my career would forge on, Amanda and Brandi dropped off, leaving only Megan.  She would become one of the most loyal friends and supporters of anything I ever did from that June evening forward.

I had hoped my little run in with Steve at Decoy’s was an anomaly.  I tried to focus on positive things like gaining new fans like Megan at each venue we played.  I hoped if we all took on that mentality and focused on that common goal, we’d kind of band together like the time when the old line-up was planning the CD release party.  Every group needs goals to be successful.  They need a unified idea of something to shoot for and a common understanding on how to get there.  That last part is sometimes the toughest.  There was little disagreement that we all wanted to play to packed houses of crazy fans.  How we were going to do that became a very divisive concept.  Steve’s strongly opinionated personality began to rear its ugly head stronger and stronger.  The next problem he had was that Henz didn’t hit hard enough and was a boring drummer.  He really wasn’t in on the hiring of him, and therefore didn’t feel much attachment to him.  Rhythm sections in bands typically tend to band together because they have to lock up with each other and create a tight pocket.  In fact, sometimes when you are looking for new members, a bass player and drummer will look around and audition as a “package deal”.  They like playing with each other, therefore they don’t want to be split up in different bands.  Steve had his own ideas about what a drummer should be, and Henz didn’t fit his profile.  He spent many conversations trying to convince me as to why Concentual needed a new drummer to get to the next level.  I saw no problem with Henz though, and thought he fit very well into what I was looking for.  He was enthusiastic, easy to work with, showed up on time, and didn’t have strong opinions on things needed to be done.  He deferred to my leadership, and that’s the kind of person that I felt like you needed to hold on to!  There is a saying that too many cooks spoil the broth, and we had gotten a sour taste from Pete throwing in too many ingredients from time to time towards the end of his tenure, and realized it’s a pretty nice gift if somebody is happily willing to follow your direction.  I basically headed Steve off at each complaint, and told him the solution was for him to work with Henz and mold him more into how he wanted him to be.  I was not excited at all about the prospect of having yet another new member join the group and go through the pains of them learning the set list, etc.  Plus, I really liked Henz as a person, and thought he brought a lot of value to the band in multiple ways.  So Steve backed off and went about the task of trying to coach Henz to get what he wanted out of him.  This really got under Brian’s skin and before long he was lamenting to me how much he despised Steve and how he came into Paul and I’s band and tried to take it over.  The issues of contention got borderline silly between the two.  At one point, Steve convinced Paul and I that we should buy Leep 27’s old band van with band money and ride together to shows and store gear in the trailer, etc.  Paul and I agreed to it, but Henz had bad experiences with the band ownership of things and refused to give up his cut of the pay to purchase the vehicle.  Then after we ended up getting it, he refused to ride in it, preferring to drive himself and his kit to all the gigs, even the far out of town ones.  We all found it a little strange, and it was one of the only things about him that I raised an eyebrow at and kind of felt a tinge of resentment towards.  Ultimately, I didn’t really lose much sleep over it though.  Paul was kind of in the same boat, but Steve at times was just beside himself about how odd it was.  He felt like that was essential to a band bonding together and forming camaraderie.  Henz’s refusal only fueled his frustration with him. 

Steve’s overbearing personality didn’t stop with his opinions about the drummer position.  Henz also wasn’t fond of his criticisms towards me and Paul, and his continued persistence of dropping original songs from the set list.  Steve was a big believer that the crowd at the bars we played didn’t want to hear originals, so we should just pound them with more and more covers until we got big enough where they would be more receptive to our originals.  I fought this concept the hardest.  I didn’t want to be seen as a cover band.  I was very sensitive to the fact that I wanted our original music to be heard and liked.  I wanted to beat people over the head with it until they liked it, just like every lame pop song on the radio they got shoved down their throats.  I felt the music was good and there was no reason they shouldn’t like it as much as Maroon 5 or Sister Hazel, or any of the other bands we covered during our sets.  He’d try to derivate from our set list and yell out covers, and we’d occasionally give in, but mostly veto him and have Henz count off the next original on the set list.  Henz was in my corner on that issue and Paul, although not wanting to take a defiant stand either way, deep down was in that corner too, so it wasn’t hard to override Steve’s attempts at trying to throw 12 straight covers at the crowd. 

I understood the philosophy behind what Steve was trying to do with the set-list requests and the shows he booked, but it was just one of those things that didn’t fit my vision of how I wanted to band to be.  To be honest, some of the best shows I played were of result of Steve’s connections and efforts.  He certainly wasn’t out to sabotage the band or try to be underhanded.  I think he honestly just wanted to Concentual to be popular and successful as his old band, and this was the template in his mind, for how to do it.  None of us had taken any band to that high of a level before, so he obviously felt justified in his own ideas of how to get there.  In retrospect, I might say, “Man, I shouldn’t have ever let Steve take the control that he did and turn my vision into something that I didn’t even like being part of.”  However, at the time, I really did want to be as big as bands like Leep 27 and Tim Mahoney, and I would have been thrilled for Steve to do whatever it took for us to get there.  Only in eventual failure, would I look back and feel like I made mistakes.  To quote myself in a song I wrote, “Hindsight is always 20/20, but when you’re blind it’s hard to see.”

No Contest

It was easy to be blind to lots of things early on in Steve’s tenure, because we were enjoying a level of success and experiencing some really positive things.  It was very much like the old adage in sports, that “winning cures a lot of things.”  Henz may not have liked Steve, I might have balked at playing more covers, Steve might have thought we weren’t entertaining or good looking enough on stage, but all those things were forgotten when we’d land a great show or opportunity.  One of those things was landing on a TV show music contest called Strictly Original, which aired on the WB network in the Twin Cities. 

Like many things in the music industry and in life, connections were key to getting involved with it.  I happened to have worked with a girl named Jill Yerks at Hubbard Broadcasting.  She ended up leaving there and taking a job as a producer at the WB.  She had brainstormed this new show idea where local bands would submit demos and the WB would pick around 12 finalists to go on TV and compete on the show for a chance to win some pretty big prizes, that included recording time, gear, and free Pizza Hut pizza for a year!  All of that was, of course, in addition to having exposure on TV.  They had local media celebrities involved with it, and winners were determined by viewers going to a website and voting for their favorite group.  It was really kind of an unprecedented opportunity in the cities, and lots of bands of all different genres jumped on board to try to get on the show.  Jill actually emailed me about it, and told me to submit our demo, and since she had a large hand in picking the bands, there was a better than solid chance that we would make it on.  A few weeks later I got the call that we were chosen to be part of the show.  It was one of those moments where I started to feel like our efforts as a band were really starting to pay off.  People knew who we were.  We actually had solid connections now.  Steve had solid booking contacts, and I had a lot of media friends.  It seemed like we were really set up to make something happen despite the band friction.  We had a TV crew come out to one of our practices, and we all got interviewed, etc.  It was really a pretty exciting experience and we felt pretty proud announcing the news to our fans.  Anytime you appear on TV as a local band, it seems to impress people .  The live performance was set to be taped at the Mall of America, and we were going against a metal band and this strange Hmong band for our first round.  If we won, we’d be in the finals and the winner would ultimately be chosen by a panel of “experts.”  The day of the taping, my old nemesis crept up to bite me hard once again.  I woke up with a bit of a scratchy throat, but wasn’t overly concerned.  However as the day went on, it didn’t improve like it normally would.  In fact, it seemed to be getting worse.  I did my usual panicked routine of slamming throat coat tea, and warming up extensively.  We taped the interview segment, and things seemed to be going ok.  Then, it was time for the live performance.  We chose to do our big closer “Rock Star”.  We felt we couldn’t lose if we nailed it.  Everybody seemed to love it, and I was naïve enough to think that if the general public was exposed to it, they would be blown away by it’s catchiness and immediately go to our website to find the next time they could hear us perform it live.  I must have missed the part of the rules where we were told the song had to clock in at 2 minutes.  We learned of this subtle nuance a few moments before we were to take the stage for the first performance of it.  In a panic, I tried to figure out what to cut to make it time out correctly.  After some ballpark estimates, I figured if we cut a whole verse and the accapella breakdown part, we should be close. 

We got on stage and watched the producer count us down….3….2….1….then with her point in our direction, we crashed in with an abbreviated intro.  I sang my lungs out and tried to muster as much energy as I possibly could.  I tried to channel every amazing performance I’d ever witnessed.  To me, this might as well have been debuting on the Ed Sullivan show, or even the Dave Letterman show for that matter.  Everything I lacked with my shaky voice, I tried to make up for in frenetic passion.  We would catch glimpse of our images being shown up on big TV screens behind the stage.  There was live crowd screaming on cue like we were shooting a music video.  We hit it pretty well, and came crashing down on the final chord, spent and satisfied.  “Over” yelled out the producer.  She didn’t mean we were done.  We had gone over the allotted time, and would have to reshoot it.  Back in positions….speed up the tempo, and make the intro even shorter.  And….action!  With a bit weaker voice than before, I still poured every drop of energy into the performance, vowing to improve on the last one.  Final Chord…..Crash!……silence…..exhale……..”Over.”  FUCK!  Just barely this time….Everything got cued back up and we tried it again.  By this time, I’m getting a little rattled.  Now I’m starting to think a little too much.  What if I mess up the lyrics…..now it will be take 3.  The crowd has to be getting restless by now.  What if we go over again….how embarrassing!  We’d be a joke!  What if my voice gives out….then what will we do.  I felt like we had better nail it this time or else.  We get cued to start and immediately come blazing in, making sure not to waste a single second.  We arrive at the first chorus, and I can tell my voice only had 2 decent takes in it.  I was struggling hard!  It only amplified my anxiety.  I started nearly flubbing up lines and correcting them at the last possible second.  I was thinking as far ahead as I could about what we were cutting and what we were keeping.  It all became a blur and I was delivering everything with less and less confidence and more and more uncertainty.  We came crashing down on the last chord for the third time, and my previous exaltation, now was replaced with a pleading look of desperate hope that this take was going to be good enough.  It was right at 2 minutes and a keeper.  I hoped that they would do some creative editing to splice the best takes together.  I figured they had to listen to all three and realize the chorus of the last take was shit, and much better the first time around.  Surely, they would help me out, right? 

The big night came when our episode was set to air.  Recording devices were set and I huddled around the TV, pumped to check it out.  The interview segment looked great, and the back story on the band looked fantastic.  Then came the performance.  They had basically used the last take in it’s entirety, and I sat in mild horror listening to my voice crack and break throughout the whole song.  I was a little depressed, however, I was still relatively positive because I felt like we had a solid chance at getting to the finals and thus I would get my redemption.  The metal band was decent, but well to the left of a mainstream sound, and thus I felt they didn’t have much of a chance with a viewing audience.  The Hmong band was absolutely awful!  I later asked Jill how they even got on the show and she told me they were looking for diverse genres of music as well as musicians, and the Hmong band was a unique nitch to represent that minority, so despite being horrible they made the show.  Everyone pretty much universally agreed they were terrible.  The band joked with each other like…”Watch, we’ll get beat by the Hmong band now, just to prove how much of a sham an audience vote can be.  We had to wait a week to find out the results on the next episode.  We lost…….to the Hmong band.  There was a rumor flying around that they actually pooled money and took out ads in area Hmong publications to vote for them.  It was one of my first introductions into how little the general public really cares about local music.  The show got awful ratings, and it dawned on me that there wasn’t this big 20,000 person neutral audience that was gathered around their TV and voting for local bands like it was American Idol or something.  It was basically the bands fans that were going on the website and voting.  Whoever had the most fans would win the round.  It had nothing to do with which band was better or had the most potential or commercial appeal or whatever.  It was deflating to us, but it almost helped that the Hmong band was so comically bad in our opinion.  Had the victor been a little better, I might have been more crushed operating under the allusion that 20,000 people just thought we were an inferior band.  We forged on, still brimming with confidence.  I thought to myself….”There will be others.”  And there were.  At some point down the road, a contest to open up for the legendary Bon Jovi came up.  Bon Jovi had sort of become known for this practice.  In fact, a year earlier, they were playing at the Target Center and had their first contest to find a local band to open.  I remember going down to the Target Center to drop off my submission and there was a huge team of people collecting tons of CD’s from eager local bands, all wanting this once in a lifetime shot.  A hard rock, chick fronted, band called Scarlet Haze was selected from all the applicants to perform a 30 minute opening set.  Now, this go around, local radio station KDWB was holding the contest, and the gig wasn’t even in the Twin Cities.  The winner of this contest was going to open for Bon Jovi in Pittsburgh.  In fact, in sort of a weird twist, Pittsburgh was holding their own contest, and the Minneapolis winner was essentially opening for the Pittsburgh winner, who was opening for Bon Jovi.  Still a cool opportunity, but just a little bit of a strange scenario.  But hey, it was free airfare and a the opportunity to play a 30 minute set in Heinz Field where the Steelers play, and meet Bon Jovi!  This time, KDWB picked something like 12 bands as finalists, and then there was online voting to pick the top 5.  Those top 5 would play a gig and be judged by “label executives” and “industry experts” along with station personnel.  You never really know what the means.  It’s highly doubtful that a top ranking Sony executive is coming out to Minneapolis to judge a battle of the bands.  Nonetheless, it feels a little more legit, like it’s more than just a popularity contest.  The online voting finished, and it was actually SHOCKED that we made it to the top 5.  I thought that there was no way we’d have enough fan support to get us past the other bands, but someway or another, we ended up in the top group.  The gig was set to be outdoors at the Depot in downtown Minneapolis.  It’s essentially a big staking rink, that in the summer is sort of used as parking.  It was actually a really cool venue.  When we pulled up, I was kind of taken aback and how professional it all looked.  The staff treated it like a big deal as well.  There were big ramps up to the stage, and staffers grabbed our gear and loaded it all up there for us.  We ended up drawing the last slot, which was actually pretty cool because by that time it was getting dark and stage lights actually were more effective.  In addition to that, all of the other bands gear was loaded off, so it was like we were headlining a huge show with just our gear on the stage.  There was also fan voting involved, which is another kind of funny aspect of contests.  You never really know how much that is taken into account.  They kind of do it just to ensure that everybody gets as many people out as possible.  Still, it worried me though because by the time our set came around, we disappointingly had a very meager crowd.  The set itself was pretty fantastic though.  The stage was basically a national band, pro set stage.  Huge speaker racks and large banners on either side of the stage promoting the contest.  The monitors were top notch and the sound was booming!  The lighting rig was national band caliber as well.  I thought to myself, “Well, even if we don’t win, and I never make it anywhere close to the national stage, I can at least say that I feel like I know what’s it like to play on one.”  The results were revealed right after our set.  At least a couple of staffers and various people thought we were a shoe-in to go the Pittsburgh a few days later.  Alas, the announcement was made that a sort of bluesy rock Beatle’s-esque sounding band called The Charles Newman band, won the contest and would be going out to Pennsylvania.  Just another in the line of disappointments.  Another to file away in the “close, but no cigar” file.  I talked to the guys in the CNB after they played the gig, and was kind of comforted to know that while they had fun, it was kind of not all they thought it was cracked up to be. 

Yoko

There were still lots of positive things to draw from in our camp though.  We were getting some nice shows and a good response.  Steve was starting to get us raises at clubs.  The tension that was initially present was starting to fade a bit as everybody settled in and got used to each other’s personalities.  Then, and old familiar foe resurfaced just in time to reintroduce some toxicity into the landscape.  Historically, this foe has been a common one in the divisions of several bands over the years.  In fact, one such foe was so notorious, her name is now used in our lexicon to describe the destructive force.  That name…..Yoko Ono.  Many blame her for the destruction of the Beatles, and from there forward, any wife, girlfriend, mistress, or what have you, that caused any sort of turmoil in a band was thus dubbed as a “Yoko”.  I mentioned the introduction of a pair of toxic twins earlier in the band’s history, and said that they would become more of a factor later on.  That time was now.  Paul had been dating Cassie for some time now.  The other twin, Rachael who I had history with, had taken more of a supporting cast role since I had moved on to a serious relationship with my girlfriend Courtnie, and she was no longer emotionally involved with a band member.  It’s hard to say what makes people tick sometimes, or why certain things affect them the way they do.  It was clear, however, that Cassie had some serious issues with other females, and their interaction in a bar setting with a band.  Her demons lied mostly dormant before Steve’s introduction into the band.  We operated under a different philosophy before his arrival.  We always wanted to engage a crowd and make them have a good time, but the feeling was that the stage was our place, and for us to effectively do our job and perform to the best of our ability, we didn’t want other people jumping up on stage and tripping on cords, and spilling their drinks everywhere.  We didn’t have guest singers come up or other guest musicians.  We liked it that way.  Steve, however, took the stance that you weren’t really doing your job unless there were 10 drunk girls up on stage grinding with every band member.  You were the “fun memorable band” if you let drunk Joe come up and hack his way through a karaoke version of a Matchbox 20 song.  You were the fun band if somebody called out a song and you tried to play it, even in ¾ of the band had no idea how it went.  It wasn’t how I liked to do things, but I made concessions with Steve over time.  We don’t play songs we haven’t rehearsed.  We don’t let people come up and sing unless we know they actually have some talent and know the song.  We can allow chicks to come up and dance on stage once in awhile, but don’t solicit them to do so.  Paul, knowing about the fury that lurked inside Cassie, fought hard to never have anyone come up on stage, ESPECIALLY females.  He often lost that battle.  The first time Cassie had an episode, the situation was innocent enough.  That made it all the more baffling and unnerving about what might unfold in the future.  One might understand if a girlfriend gets miffed when a scantily clad drunken female comes up and chooses her man to rub against and remake a scene from Showgirls.  In this particular instance though, Steve had simply invited his girlfriend Lisa to come up on stage and sing a Sublime song with the band.  Cassie was put off immediately by Lisa when they first met.  Lisa had a very outgoing way about her, and kind of tried to become instant best buds with the other girlfriends of the band members.  For some reason this irritated Cassie and she wrote her off as fake and contrived.  Seeing Lisa up on stage being accompanied by her boyfriend just seemed to set her off.  Something snapped and she charged up to the Decoy’s stage right in front of Paul and started screaming at him.  No one in the band had any idea what her issue was, we just knew it was causing a pretty decent scene on the dance floor.  We couldn’t hear what was being said, but it was apparent she was very distraught that Paul was continuing to play, despite her disgust with the situation.  After around a minute or so, she stormed off and out of the building.  Paul had a dazed, confused look about him for the rest of the set.  During the break he abruptly left to attempt to contact her and smooth things over.  We were all a little miffed when it came time to go back on and he was still nowhere to be seen.  Finally as we began the next set, he came racing in and threw on his guitar, and finished out the night.  We could barely wait for the gig to get done so we could ask him what in the hell had transpired.  We all felt bad for him honestly.  Did she find out at that moment that he cheated on her?  Did he leave her favorite song out of the set?  We were anxious to find out what caused such wrath.  He didn’t have a real concrete answer that made sense to him or any of us, but he alluded to the fact that she didn’t like seeing anybody else up on stage and was miffed that Lisa got to be up there.  Steve had a response like….”No, seriously….what did you do?”  He reiterated that that was it, and we all kind of raised our eyebrows like….Ohhhh-Kaaaaay.  I think even Paul just chalked it up to her having some sort of bad night, and that it would be kind of an isolated incident.  He was wrong.

Not long after, we had a marathon night planned in our favorite party city, St. Cloud.  We were asked to play outside at a block party called Alive after 5, that basically took place on the street right outside of the Red Carpet.  After that hour set, we moved the gear inside and got ready to rock for what was always a great and rowdy crowd.  The show was off the hook!  People jammed up front, going nuts.  Girls were given me the looks, grabbing at me whenever I roamed to the front of the stage.  I felt like a huge rock band that was playing a secret show at a small club.  Of course, this environment was ripe for an eruption of Hurricane Cassie.  Her and her sister were in attendance and consuming drinks, hanging out at the side tables.  I could almost see the wheels spinning in their heads as the sets unfolded and got more and more rowdy.  Finally, I think they decided they needed to immerse themselves in the pit of college co-eds, to keep a closer eye on things.  The Red Carpet has strict policies in place and lots of bouncers roaming the area, because like most college crowds…things can tend to get a little out of hand.  One such policy is that everyone must wear shoes on the dance floor.  It’s simply a common sense safety rule, because people drop bottles and drinks all the time and the bar can’t be liable for someone cutting their foot open at their club.  Well, apparently on this evening, Cassie and Rachel didn’t feel like wearing shoes, and it might as well have been a violation of the constitution to enforce them to do so.  A bouncer approached them and reminded them of the policy.  They defiantly refused to take an action on the request for them to find footwear.  This led him to become more agitated and a bit more animated with his request.  This set them off, because in their minds he was ignoring all of the rules the sluttily dressed college girls were apparently ignoring.  He reiterated that he’d kick them out if they didn’t get shoes.  They still ignored his request and went about their activities.  He finally engaged in forcefully removing them from the bar, which was the gallon of gasoline on the fire.  They lost it, and started screaming and kicking at him.  At one point Cassie tried to go into mug prevention mode and kick him in the drop zone!  This really pissed him off and he got more and more aggressive with his removal of them.  At some point, for good measure, Cassie felt it was important to toss her drink on the gawkers who were marveling in the scene unfolding.  They got near the stage and Cassie tried to bark something at Paul and put an end to this atrocity.  In her mind, she might as well have been Rosa Parks, and the bouncer might as well have been a huge white dude with a swastika tattoo throwing her out of the back of the bus, and Paul was sitting next to her with his mouth shut watching it all unfold.  I really believe she expected Paul in these situations to cease playing (which we were getting paid good money to do by the way) and rush off the stage to save his damsel in distress.  It was such a mind blowing scene, the rest of us couldn’t really comprehend it.  Luckily while it was happening, I barely noticed it due to being so immersed in entertaining the amped up crowd in front of the stage.  After the show, we all kind of learned about everything that took place.  Paul again disappeared to go seek out Cassie and try to feebly present logic.  He left his gear all up on stage, untouched, so we packed it all up for him and began to load it out.  Honestly, nobody was really mad at Paul.  We all felt really bad for him, and astonished that he continued to put up with this kind of train wreck.  Finally he came back and didn’t discuss it much.  We drove back to Minneapolis in relative silence.  The next day I called him and kind of hashed out my feelings about everything and how I thought it was impacting the group.  It was a good talk, and he assured me he had it under control.  He agreed that she was way over the top out of line.  He kind of painted the picture that after the show he wasn’t being the dog whimpering to his owner with his tail between his legs.  He was the big dog growling and barking as Cassie was ashamedly cowering in the corner.  I do believe that was probably the case, and she probably sincerely felt terrible and embarrassed,  but it was like she couldn’t help it.  She had these demons that, in those situations, she couldn’t control.  It was like someone giving an alcoholic a bottle of Jack Daniels, and it was too tempting for them.  They couldn’t help but down it and become a monster, and then feel shattered by it in the morning.  My argument was always that club owners and fans of the band don’t care.  The owner of the Carpet even had comments for us about Cassie after that show though.  He didn’t seem pissed, but was more like….”Geez, were those girls with you guys??!”  You had the feeling that after a couple of episodes, he might take the approach of…”Ok guys, I can get other bands in here just as good as you that don’t bring this kind of drama to my club.”  I always kind of feared that because I loved the Carpet and places like it, and I hated feeling nervous every time some girls started having fun, that all hell was about to break loose.  My girlfriend Courtnie always told me…”Flirt with them…..make them have a fun time….just don’t cross the line with any of them!”  Deep down I knew she probably didn’t enjoy seeing a girl on stage grinding next to me and talking to me after a show like she wouldn’t mind extending the evening with me.  However, she never made me feel like I better not so much as look at those girls or we were going to fight about it later.  I appreciated that a lot about her.  It’s one thing that all band girlfriends/wives need to possess.  If they can’t, it doesn’t mean you have to find somebody else, but certainly don’t invite them into the lion’s den and hope for the best.  Maybe they come to the acoustic night at the coffee bar, and force themselves to stay away from the T&A showcase.  We would eventually add another club in Austin, MN called Torge’s that was very much like the Carpet, so now we playing with fire twice as much.  To fan the flames, Steve found Cassie’s behavior so ridiculous, that he kind of worked harder to incite the riot.  He always chalked it up to just trying to do his part to make the band more and more entertaining, but deep down, he was trying to egg Cassie on a bit.  I’ll admit that at times, my disdain for her behavior enticed me to play along.  Part of it stemmed from me wanting to see if Paul really had dealt with the problem like he said he did.  It was my way of giving the bottle of jack to the alcoholic so I could see them dump it down the drain in front of me and convince me they were recovering.  Paul was a sharp guy…..he knew what was going on, and that only deepened the cracks of division that we had forming. 

The Taste of Steak

There was a decent period of respite though.  It seemed like after that night at the Carpet, Paul’s message really did hit home with Cassie, and we all felt bad enough that Steve even toned down his efforts to create chaos.  It seemed like karma rewarded us.  Steve landed a HUGE show for us at a big street dance for Rochesterfest.  To this day, it remains one of my favorite memories of playing music.  It was a Friday evening.  We were getting the most money we’d ever made playing, and we had this gigantic stage all to ourselves.  We pulled the van up, and had roadies helping us set up all of our gear.  I had picked up these new shades that were kind of clear and Bono like.  I felt like a big time established rocker.  We started as the sun was starting to go down.  With each song, the crowd seemed to pick up more and more.  Everything was sounding large and fantastic reverberating off the buildings in the background.  From where we were on stage, there was this view down an alley with some tall buildings bouncing sunlight off each other, and it might as well have been us playing at the taste of Chicago in the heart of downtown or something.  That’s how it felt to me.  It looked epic!  As the sun faded and the streetlights illuminated the crowd, I noticed a bigger and bigger mass forming.  It was early enough for all the kids to still be out and rocking, but a lot of the older crowd were just starting to get their drink on as well to kick off their evenings.  It resulted in the biggest crowd I had ever played for by far.  We estimated nearly 5,000 people perhaps at its peak.  After set 1, I said into the mic….”We’ll be signing some autographs for anyone who is interested in between sets.”  I only really said it because we had printed out a ton of these promo photos to include in press kits when we did this big waste of time college radio campaign, and I really had no idea what we’d do with all of them.  It seemed like a good opportunity to let some kids take them and have a reminder of their night.  Everybody loves free stuff, so we figured, “Why not.”  We’ll sign a couple of autographs and feel like studs.  It always seem so pretentious to me for local bands to sign autographs, because really we are nobodies.  We have done nothing really to warrant it being cool to get our name on a piece of paper.  I understand signing a CD at a CD release party because you all worked hard on it and to the person who bought it, it’s kind of cool to feel like…”I was there when they released this, and I know the guys who played all the parts on this thing.”  But to sign a picture of you, always kind of make me chuckle.  Most bands kind of laugh at themselves for doing it as well.  It’s kind of like we are all in on the joke.  So we finish the first set and I make the announcement.  I go to the back of the stage because I needed to adjust something on my guitar.  I was kind of dilly dallying around there, expecting to turn around and see a couple of little kids clamoring by the stage, shyly holding their Mom or Dad’s hand and hoping to get their picture signed.  But then I heard Henz yell, “Thuney, get over here, you’ve got to sign some stuff!”  I thought, “Wow, that was quick, there must have been a group of kids, or maybe even some hot girls who want to flirt by having us sign their picture.  I stand up with my sharpie, and to my absolute shock, there was a HUGE line formed at the side of the stage.  We’re talking kids, hot girls, adults, friends, drunk dudes who dug the set.  EVERYONE!  We signed loads of pictures, hats, clothing, balloons, body parts…..you name it!  In fact we signed stuff solid for our entire set break and beyond.  It was honestly like 20 minutes straight before we said…”Ok, we got to get back up there for set 2!”  The second set was still packed and provided one of my favorite pictures of me playing that I’ve ever seen.  One of the girls went up in this parking garage that was near the stage.  They got up on top and took a shot down on the crowd and stage as evening had just settled in.  The stage lights were beaming, and there was a bright light enveloping me as I was performing a tune sans guitar and passionately grasping the mic, belting out a note.  Everyone was spaced perfectly, playing in front of the amps and behind the drum kit.  A light was illuminating our black backdrop, which featured our logo in glow ink.  But best of all, there was as soft glow revealing a giant mass of people, packed together, hiding the large patch of pavement that served as a dance floor.  It wasn’t a shot of a good number of people comfortably dancing in their own space, filling up a sizable area.  It was a shot of people bunched together, no gaps, all eyes on the stage.  It was something you’d see on a national band’s website of a shot taken from some big summer festival.  It was incredible!  By the 3rd set, the kids started to filter out as curfews were starting to near, and some people had moved on to other ventures, but it remained respectably full the whole night.  It was one of those nights that you realized you’d think about years in the future.

Hamburger Helper

After that, a lot of shows just kind of paled in comparison.  Sometimes it’s tough having a top notch steak dinner and then having to go back to eating hamburger everyday.  Now you know how good that steak is, and you want more of it.  The hamburger starts to not cut it anymore.  It started to feel like show after show after show of lackluster crowds and unfulfilling performances.  Everyone gets to a point where you start to say, “Is it us?  Is it the music scene in general?  Is anybody having success?  What are they doing different and better?”  Everybody started to get a little ancy because you started to figure that we had been together as this line-up long enough now, that we should start seeing some growth in the crowd support, etc.  There were always those individuals that gave you hope.  Every now and then you’d run into people that really became die hard fans, and you knew you’d always see them at particular shows.  A couple of those people came from our new Red Carpet of the south, Torge’s.  We ran into this guy named Dave one night there, that kind of became the band mascot for awhile.  He was a really interesting character that had a loose and strange relationship with this wife, and ALWAYS wanted us to come party with him after the shows.  We had free hotel rooms in Austin as part of the deal of playing there, so he knew we would be staying in town anyway.  Steve was the only one who really ever took him up on his offer, because I had Courtnie and Paul had Cassie, and Henz always had his girlfriend there as well.  If we didn’t, well, it just kind of felt like a better idea to not extend the evening with Dave and his comrades.  He was probably in his 40’s and always boasted about his place and how he had a real hole of golf on his property with the bermuda grass and everything.  He always seemed to kind of allude to the fact that he had some money.  Somehow, in a creepy way, a lot of people at Torges, including some of the young girls, seemed to know who he was which only added to his mystery.  There was one night where this girl in her early 20’s was flirting it up with me pretty heavy.  I was pleasant with her, but didn’t really indulge her much to Steve’s dismay.  Later that evening Steve partied with Dave and his entourage and reported back to me that Dave informed him that girl was really into me.  He almost alluded to the fact that she would have come over to Dave’s had I been over there, which to me begged the question…”How does this young 20 year old girl know this married mid 40 year old dude…..and why does she know where he lives and be willing to go there??!!”  Those kinds of things always made me happy to keep an arms length away from the Austin ladies.  There was one, however, that turned out to be just one of those cool fans of music and a cool friend.  Her name was Nicole.  Not dissimilar to Megan, I won’t deny that she may have initially had a bit of a crush on me, but her situation was a bit different.  She was older then me and had 4 kids!!!  She wasn’t even that old….maybe early 30’s when I met her.  You would never have guessed her to be a Mom of 4 though.  She’d be there every time we played at Torge’s and always knew the originals and commented on specific things about them.  I always admired that because most people there dozed off at our originals until you played some lame 80’s cover tune, and then they went ape shit.  I learned that she was divorced, and just liked to come out to Torge’s to check out the bands, but was always kind of bummed people didn’t play many originals.  She wasn’t somebody that I found super attractive or anything, I just really enjoyed talking life and my music with her.  I appreciated that she was a real fan and would bring other friends out to expose them to us.  To me, she was like a beacon of hope that maybe we could find more people like her that really dug the music and wouldn’t miss us when we were in town.  Maybe we could build a group of people that would be excited for us to release another CD, and with enough of them, we could become like a GB Leighton and have a dedicated army of real fans.  Sure, some of his fans started out as people that maybe thought he was hot, but then they got to know him, realized he was married, but found they liked the music, and the people who came to the shows became die hards.  That really became my #1 mission as time went on.  I didn’t care as much about trying to get signed to a record label or touring the country, I just really thought….”Maybe we can get big enough where we have this cult fan base and we get to play all the big events because people know we bring a crowd.”  Unfortunately, people like Nicole and Dave were a dime a dozen for us, and it was hard to parlay that kind of support into building momentum. 

All of the efforts that kept coming up short, started to cause the inevitable finger pointing and doubting.  I started to let my questions about Paul’s abilities creep into my head again, and Steve started getting back on the bandwagon of thinking Henz needed to hit harder.  Paul just thought we needed to keep doing what we were doing, which made me lose confidence in things because we all seemed to be on different pages.  I started to feel differently about gigs.  I no longer really enjoyed the feeling of setting up my gear, standing back and looking at it, and then playing to 10 scattered people who weren’t very engaged in what we were doing.  Paul on the other hand, still found it very rewarding to travel to a city and set up his gear and admire it, and just play, regardless of how the crowd was.  He enjoyed just being there.  Steve kept trying to get this person and that person to sit in with us at gigs, like it would show us what we were doing wrong.  I started to really kind of resent Steve for always making us all feel like we weren’t Leep 27.  It was always a story about how Rick used to do this, and Chad wasn’t amazing but hit hard as shit so everybody felt it.  The most annoying thing was how he always talked about how Leep had it easier because they had two great looking dudes as singers and that all the girls wanted to come out and see.  It always offended Paul and I, and we’d make comments like, “What are we, chopped liver?”  or “I guess I didn’t realize we were that hideous to look at?”  He’d always counter with, “Well, you guys are decent looking guys, but Jared and Todd were on another level.”  It started to wear on me, always facing the constant comparisons.  It was like he felt like he built Leep 27 into this dynasty and he was sure he could do it with Concentual.  Now that enough time passed and he didn’t see the results he thought he’d see, he had to start coming up with reasons why.  Obviously he was the consistent element in both those bands, and he was booking this band just like he did that band, so the problem has to lie in the 3 of us.  One night at the Boathouse it boiled over.  Our schedule had really become pretty full, and we were doing a lot of shows each month.  It wasn’t uncommon to do back to back weekends of 2-3 shows, each featuring 3 hours of music.  A lot of songs we did were at the top of my range, and I’d really have to belt to get to the notes.  This caused me to go hoarse a lot, and if I ever got a cold, I’d lose my voice very easily.  In the wintertime, when I’d be staying up late doing shows and being around all those people at the bars, I tended to pick up little bugs more often.  Most people power through them.  I always felt physically fine, but my voice would always take a huge hit and my performances would really suffer.  I’d had this conversation with Steve before about my voice, and he’d express his concern about how it was affecting us with clubs.  In my mind, there wasn’t much I could do about it.  He’d tell me to take voice lessons, but those cost money, and I had taken them in college already so it wasn’t like I had no idea what I was doing.  I really felt strongly like I was just singing out of my range and doing it way too often, and then we didn’t have long enough off for my voice to ever fully recover.  On this particular snowy winter night, we just got done with a very lackluster show featuring an ever dwindling crowd, and I was just getting kind of dismayed with the whole scene.  My voice was hashed and I was just beat and glad to be done with the week’s gigs.  I just wanted to go home and go to bed and wake up with the day to do whatever I wanted.  I noticed Steve kind of murmuring with Paul about something and getting quiet as I brought some gear out.  For whatever reason, the idea of Paul and him musing about my deficiencies was more than I could take on that night.  I inquired as to what they were talking about, and finally Steve started in about how I need to go to a doctor because I’m always sick and never have a voice.  Paul was chiming in, in agreement, which enraged me further.  I started to contemplate all of their shortcomings, and thought about how I powered through so many shows with not much of a voice and pulled them off fabulously all in the name of the band.  I didn’t feel concern or compassion coming out of their voices.  I heard disdain in every word, as if they were saying…”Dude, you are one holding this band back.”  I know in retrospect, it was likely a healthy overreaction, but in the state of mind I was in, it was like acid burn to my ears.  I felt like saying…”I started this band motherfuckers!  You guys wouldn’t be here if I didn’t start playing that coffeehouse and push to get that first full band together.”  It was even harder taking it from Paul, because Steve could at least say…”I had plenty of success without you in Leep 27,” but I felt like Paul owed me more compassion.  I asked him to play with me at the coffeehouse.  He didn’t want to be a full band because he was afraid he’d get kicked out like he did his last band, and I convinced him it would be ok, we could do it.  I teamed up with him us a solidified unit when we let go of Tamte and Booth.  I stuck by him when Pete and Brian quit, and forged on by bringing in Steve….MY contact.  I felt like everything he had enjoyed musically here was because I led him there, and now I felt like he was saying…”Yeah dude, we suck because of you….get some help!”  Again, I know in retrospect that he probably didn’t mean it like that, and honestly if he had a little venom in his delivery and kind of wanted to knock me down a peg or two, who could blame him?  I stood beside Brian and Pete when they told HIM that HE needed to improve.  I bitched about his girlfriend to the guys and claimed that she would be the death of us with these clubs.  Our growing resentment towards each other completely warranted his degree of satisfaction on seeing me get attacked, but at the time it only strengthened my disdain for the situation.  The wheels of my desire to remove myself from this situation were getting oiled and were picking up steam.

I really was in dire need of something big to re-engage me to the band.  I couldn’t take anymore of these horeshit gigs like the Midtown Tavern in Mankato or the Boathouse in Waconia.  Really, it wasn’t the gigs so much as it was the feeling that nobody really gave a shit about us.  I would play in a rundown house basement in the middle of winter with no heat if there were 30 people down there hanging on every word and note we played.  I just felt like we were in this big hamster wheel, running and running, just to run and never getting anywhere.  Then Steve delivered the best opportunity yet for us.  It was the type of thing where I reloaded all my guns, took a deep breath and said….”Ok, this is it.  Put everything you have into one final run starting with this.”  He had gotten us on the big NYE gig at the Hyatt downtown with Tim Mahoney.  It was one of the 2 or 3 really big New Year’s Eve parties every year.  It kind of felt like if you liked local music, you either spent New Year’s Eve going to the Tim Mahoney event, the GB Leighton event, or probably the Mark Mallman event or something like that.  There was going to be 6 bands on two different stages.  A few months prior we had played a show at the Fine Line with Tim Mahoney and Leep 27 and it there was a pretty decent crowd, especially by the time Leep 27 got on.  Of course, that kind of was discouraging to me, because Steve played both sets with us and Leep 27, and it kind of felt like most people didn’t care that he was playing with us first.  Mahoney saw the success of the night and wanted Leep 27 on the New Year’s Eve show, and Steve agreed to it, but wanted Concentual on the bill too.  The Mahoney camp agreed to it, and it was set.  Cities 97 was a radio sponsor of the show, and they initially just wanted to do a live on air performance with Tim, the week leading up to the show.  That got extended to them wanting to have some of the other acts on the bill like Leep 27.  One of the other headliners of the night was a Dave Matthews cover band from Chicago, so they weren’t going to take up one of the days to perform live on air.  The way Steve tells the story, nobody was really interested in having Concentual come on and perform, but he kind of went around a few people and got it done.  I didn’t really care how it came to be, all I cared about was that I was actually going to get to play live on the radio during the day leading up the concert!!  To me, there wasn’t much huger of a thing than this.  Who knew potentially how many people would be listening, but it definitely had the potential to be more then we’d ever played for before.  To me, being on the radio was probably the biggest step toward notoriety and legitimacy you could have.  You were reaching all the people who were just sitting in offices with the radio on, who really don’t go out to club shows much.  I thought to myself, “Maybe there will be 2,000 people who have never heard of us, who will be listening and think that our original song is awesome and they’ll be inspired to go to our website and order our CD, and maybe even want to come out to catch a show sometime.”  The fact that we were being showcased alongside Tim Mahoney and Leep 27 was a big deal too.  It was like we were being placed in the upper echelon of local bands.  The day came for the taping of our performance, and I excitedly took off from work to head over the Cities 97 studio C.  It was the same studio that all the big acts performed acoustically in when they came through town.  They even had CD’s and videos that boasted that the performance was “live from Studio C.”  The format of the show was going to be that we’d do a quick introduction, than play an original song.  After that, we’d do more of an extended interview and than we’d play a cover song.  We chose to do “Erase” as our original and “Semi-Charmed Life” from 3EB as the cover.  I was kind of skittish about doing the 3EB song because when it was on the radio, it would be the radio edited version and not the original.  There wasn’t any swearing in it, but it was a big of a longer song and it talked heavily about drug use and had the line “She goes down on me.”  We decided to roll with it anyway, because we felt it kind of showcased us best.  As I drove to the studio, I ran through all of the possible questions I might get and what kind of answers I would give that would make us sound cool and fun and somebody you’d want to get behind.  I heard lots of bands get interviewed on Cities 97, and there were some that really came off as idiots, and afterwards I liked that band a lot less.  Then there were bands that were funny and charismatic and it made me like them more and kind of want to support them.  I definitely didn’t want to come off sounding stupid and boring. We all got to the studio and got our gear set up and sound checked.  We had a little conversation with the DJ, and then the red record light illuminated and we begin our 10 minutes of radio immortality. When it was all over, I felt pretty satisfied.  I thought we played well, and sounded pretty cool, if not at least average.  I didn’t think we came off sounding stupid or lame.  Now it was just time to wait for it to air and see if people dug it!  I told everyone I knew basically to tune in at 4pm on the day of the airing, feeling so accomplished and semi-famous.  I was at work, and I closed my little office door, turned up the radio and just bathed in that 10 minutes.  NOW, it felt like we arrived.  NOW, I felt like things would maybe start happening.  I gave a little content exhale after it finished.  I quickly got a few messages from people saying, “Hey, I heard you on the radio, nice job!”  I couldn’t wait to see what transpired on the big night now!  I was still kind of naive enough to imagine a scenario where at least hundreds of people heard our original or our cover of 3EB and thought…”Dude, that was fucking sweet!  I can’t wait to check these guys out on NYE!”  Being the lowest band on the totem pole of the NYE line-up, we naturally got the worse slot.  We were kicking off music and on the secondary stage that the Dave Matthews Band was headlining.  It was going to be us, Leep 27 and then them.  They staggered the start times, so people could catch a little bit of all of the bands if they wanted to.  I think we started at around 7pm, and the main room’s stage started at like 7:30pm.  The day of the gig, a huge snowstorm hit.  It came down hard, starting right away in the morning.  When the time came for us to head over to the Hyatt for sound check, it was already treacherous driving.  I thought to myself, “If I didn’t have a ticket for anything, there is no way I’m leaving my house tonight!”  It couldn’t bode well for our time slot.  We finished sound check and I waited and waited as the seconds ticked away towards the start of our set.  By the time 7pm hit……EMPTY.  There were girlfriends of the band, some staff members, some of the other band members that were performing later, and that was about it.  I was kind of crushed.  In my mind, I had pictured this big party atmosphere, like the NYE show we had awhile back at Decoy’s.  Instead it was like we were sound checking for the big band, getting set to play hours later.  It was like the doors hadn’t even opened yet.  By the end of our set, a few more people started to filter in.  By the time Leep 27 took the stage, there was starting to be a decent crowd assembled.  It just kind of took the wind out of my sails.  I ended up leaving before Mahoney even took the stage, and went to Courtnie’s place to ring in midnight in her small apartment, just the two of us. 

I waited and waited after that night to see some sort of spike in our relevancy.  Maybe the weather kept people away, but they’d be at our next show?  It never really came.  One of the defining moments of my feelings about the band happened probably 2 months after that NYE gig.  We were playing a show at Bayside in Excelsior.  Typically this place booms in the summer because it’s off the lake and all the beautiful people like to frequent the patio.  In the winter months, it tends to be pretty dead though.  On this particular night, a woman and her friend in their mid 40’s came up to me before we started playing.  She told me that she had heard us on the radio, and had been trying to get out to see us ever since then, and finally we were coming out to her neck of the woods and she was pumped up to hear us.  GOLD! That’s what it was all about right!?!  I was more pumped up then I’d been in awhile to rip it up on that little stage with the shitty PA.  I wanted to give her a good dose of original songs so she’d get even more into us and take a CD home with her and become a new big fan!  Steve as usual was pushing for more covers to begin the night because he wanted to take advantage of the meager crowd that was there and get them dancing.  I was only focused on those 2 people for the whole first set.  It was my mission to do whatever I could to make them new fans for life.  I felt like I could see them sort of check out every time we played a string of cover songs.  In my mind, they heard the original song on the radio, and wanted to hear some new original band that had a sound that they liked.  I saw them head for the exits with a few songs left in the first set.  They kind of paused and hung around like they wanted to at least say good bye.  We finished the set and I kind of B-lined it over to them, hoping we made a good impression.  They gave me a story about how they enjoyed it, but had to get going.  I said it was nice meeting them, and I hoped to see them out again soon.  It was the last time I ever saw them.

It was those kinds of things that just slowly chipped away at my confidence in what we were accomplishing.  We had done some GREAT things.  Things I was very thankful and appreciative for.  However, it just never felt like we were gaining momentum.  It was like we were TV executives and convinced NBC to give our sitcom a chance.  We finagled a way to get it between two shows with high viewers, and still the ratings were dipping when our show aired.  We got them to move it to another night, and still…nothing.  We were running out of ideas, and pretty soon it felt like they were going to pull the plug on it.  To compound things, after a brief calm, Hurricane Cassie was starting to pick up again and it kind of got under my skin and got me venting about it.  The main recipient of my bitch sessions, naturally fell to my girlfriend Courtnie.  She’s one of those people who hates to see the people she loves, angry and frustrated.  Most people would like to say they possess those characteristics, but Courtnie seemed to have them even more so.  Whereas most people kind of get frustrated for a loved one’s struggles and then blow it off, Courtnie tended to kind of absorb those frustrations and have them transfer into annoyances of her own.  It was part of what makes her such a great companion, because you feel the level of her care.  With this particular situation, she was not only hearing the stories from me, but witnessing things firsthand for herself.  The world was sort of becoming entrenched in a new digital age.  The advent of a social media called Myspace was permeating a lot of people’s lives.  It was the online forum where individuals could share information about themselves, along with their thoughts about certain topics in the form of blogs, and status updates, etc.  Courtnie had seen somewhere a list called, The Top 10 rules for dating a musician.  She shared it with me, and we laughed about how many of the rules that Cassie was breaking.  In fact, a few of the rules, you’d swear were written specifically for Cassie!  In her amusement, she posted it as a blog on her MySpace page.  Of course, Paul was friends with her and had access to see her activity.  He immediately took offense to it, feeling it was specifically directed at Cassie.  He forwarded it to her, and they privately stewed about.  Enter in, the final and most destructive building block of animosity between Paul and myself.  Looking back at the situation, a few things kind of strike me as funny about it.  First of all, was it directed at Cassie??  Yes, it essentially was.  That’s what made it funny.  I mean, she probably wouldn’t have posted it had I not been going through what I had been going through with the situation.  However, she may have, just to show how perfectly suited she was to be in a relationship with a musician.  If she had even heard one other Yoko-ish story about people she didn’t even know, she may have posted it.  It was like she was specifically sending a message to Paul saying….”See dipshit, get your woman under control.”  Cassie wasn’t even on MySpace, so it certainly wasn’t intended to be a passive aggressive jab at her.  It was more of a half smirk to a few friends who were aware of the situation.  She didn’t write any of the rules, she just basically forwarded them on for other people to see.  That’s kind of why it’s amusing that Paul and Cassie got so worked up about it.  Paul read it and probably said….”oh, Cassie broke that rule…….and that one……and THAT one…..shit, she’s kind of broken every damn one of these!”  Had she not engaged in any of the behavior that she had, Paul would have seen Courtnie’s blog and said….”Hahaha….AMEN…..glad my girl follows all of those!”  In any event, it caused a huge division.  Cassie wouldn’t even speak to Courtnie at the gigs.  Courtnie tried to apologize several times and explain that it wasn’t written about her, but Cassie stubbornly refused to even acknowledge her or accept the apology.  To make matters worse, Cassie got her little twin sister sidekick to put the freeze out on Courtnie as well.  They also half roped Henz’s girlfriend into the game too, so now Courtnie felt really uncomfortable and gigs and didn’t even want to come anymore.  She lamented about how she wished she could just go and have fun and enjoy watching her boyfriend play, but all she felt was their glares and it wasn’t remotely fun to even come watch me perform and do what I love to do.  She begin to refrain from coming to shows, especially the further out of town ones.  However, Cassie and her twin Rachael still showed up every time, throwing out glares to any female who got to close to the band.  I grew incredibly resentful of the situation.  I resented Cassie and Rachael for being such bitches and not accepting a heartfelt apology and moving on.  I resented the fact that my girlfriend was too uncomfortable to be able to come watch a show.  I resented Paul for sitting there and not trying to help smooth over the situation.  I resented him for what I felt was him probably feeling glad that he had sort of “won” and his girlfriend got to stay and come to shows and my girlfriend pulled off the road in the game of chicken so to speak.  I resented that him and I couldn’t just sit down and say….”Dude, we started this together….we are in this together, let’s not let any of this stupid bullshit get in the way of what we want to do.”    If shows before were kind of wearing on me, now it was amplified several fold.   

The Death Blow

I plowed through a few more shows with the situation like it was, and then everything came to a head.  It was another typical night at Torge’s.  Lots of partiers, lots of intoxicated girls, and lots of Steve hoping to create a scene in the name of us coming off like the ultimate party band.  Things were going par for the course, until around the second set.  At some point, some drunk girl wandered up on stage.  Maybe Steve invited her up….maybe she came on her own accord.  That led to another, and another.  One was kind of grinding around on me, and one had the misfortune of wandering into the danger zone.  Stage right.  That’s where Paul was set up.  Out of the corner of my eye from the front of the stage, I saw another girl charge up the stairs.  It didn’t seem like it had the same aloof, party girl gate to it.  Then I saw it.  Cassie had stormed up and was in the face of the girl that was near Paul.  That girl quickly exited in confusion, followed by the others who were as uncomfortable in the glare as Courtnie had been.  I thought maybe that was the end of it, but Cassie remained.  She stood ON STAGE under the lights…….in front of all to see……. screaming at Paul, inches from his face, pointing and gesturing.  He continued to play on, as did the rest of us.  No one knew what was coming out of her mouth, but we guessed that it wasn’t romantic plans for after the gig.  After a few minutes, she stormed off but remained seated on the top stair to the stage, almost like she was the official gatekeeper of it or something.  The rest of us exchanged puzzled looks, but pushed on.  We ended the song and launched right into the next.  I could see the faces of the crowd kind of share puzzled looks as well.  They’d look at us, then at Cassie, then back at us, then back at Cassie.  It was like a homeless drunk man had wandered in and perched himself on the steps.  They couldn’t look away, wondering what would happen next.  All of the sudden, I just snapped.   I couldn’t stand the fact that her tantrum was taking attention away from our show.  I hated that people seemed almost uncomfortable, like they shouldn’t be having as much fun.  All of the sudden, I made it my mission to get their focus back to where it was supposed to be.  I had a wireless guitar rig, and the next song didn’t have vocals right off the bat.  I decided, it was time to do an extended intro of the next song, and I was going to do it from out in the crowd.  I bolted past Paul and then Cassie, and mustered up the most wild, crowd frenzying antics I could think of.  I wanted to be Steve times three.  I wanted girls taking shirts off and sticking boobs in Paul’s face.  I wanted everyone in a 50 foot radius to be showered in beer and mixed drinks.  I wanted people to spontaneously start having sex on the floor and have the cops come charging through the doors to shut us down.  I wanted all of this, just because it would enrage Cassie!  I plowed into the middle of the crowd, rocking out with my guitar and headbanging.  I didn’t care if the band followed me, or quit playing all together.  After a bit, I galloped back towards the stage to start the vocals.  I passed Cassie and she wheeled and socked me on my thigh as hard as she could.  She kind of whiffed however to my amusement.  Hoping the crowd was watching my every move, I paused and patted her on the head like a dog before I bolted back to center stage.  I don’t know if she tried to come after me or was humiliated or what happened after that.  I just know that she eventually left the venue to my pleasure.  Paul disappeared on the set break, and the rest of us didn’t even really talk about the incident.  I kind of disappeared as well and showed up back at the stage right before we were to go back on.  We played the 3rd set without incident and the night was over.  We all kind of mingled with people like nothing happened.  We were able to leave all of our gear on stage and pack up in the morning since we stayed at the adjacent hotel.  I got back to my hotel room and sat in silence for a quite a while.  I let everything sink in, and I weighed the pros and cons of being in the band.  I thought about possible solutions to fix what had gone wrong.  I thought about what life would be like if there were no more Torge’s or Mainstreet Bars or Red Carpets.  I thought about the previous 9 years and everything I had been through and done in the band.  I sat on my bed…….thought about picking up the phone to call Courtnie, but realized it was like 3:30 am………then flipped on the TV and laid my head down on my pillow.  I had arrived at probably the toughest decision I had ever made.  I was going to quit Concentual. 

The next morning, I went over to the club and Steve was already there, starting to get packed up.  We exchanged greetings and touched on the topic of what had happened the night before.  I was kind of withdrawn from it all, because my head was in another place.  I woke up, still knowing that I was done, but I wasn’t ready to tell anybody just yet.  I kept thinking, maybe if enough time passes something will change my mind.  Steve had an attitude about Cassie like….”Yeah, it’s fucked up, but luckily not my problem.”  To me, that just confirmed my feelings about leaving.  It WAS our problem.  It was the band’s problem, because that scene was ridiculous!  Paul wandered in and it was obvious he had spent a good deal of time thinking about it as well.  Steve and I quieted down a bit, and Paul immediately jumps in with a, “I know you guys were probably talking about Cassie, so we might as well talk together about it instead of behind each other’s backs” or something to that effect.  Steve and I really hadn’t said much to each other about it, so I said something like…”Well, we really weren’t talking it, but now that we are on the subject, yeah that was super messed up last night dude!”  He responded the way he always did, saying she felt bad and they talked about it, and it’s over and done, and blah blah blah.  I honestly kind of checked out, because in my mind, I wasn’t going to be dealing with it much longer.  The cherry on the top of the weekend was that she had to ride back with us to Minneapolis.  I just basically pretended to be sleeping.  She never apologized to US….the never acted remorseful to US.  I almost had a sort of peace on that ride home though, because it was like I had taken on Steve’s mentality.  This is no longer my problem. 

A week or so went by, and I kept waiting and waiting for my mind to change.  I had talk after talk with Courtnie, until she was absolutely sick of hearing about it.  It was just soooo hard to pull the trigger and officially make the decision.  On the one hand, I was miserable in the band and hated the thought of gigs and rehearsing and all of that stuff.  I’d see Paul or Steve or Cassie’s face and just get instantly annoyed and angry.  It would seem like a no brainer to quit.  On the other hand, though,  I started this band!  It seemed ludicrous to me that I had to walk away from something I started and built for 9 years.  I felt like everyone else should leave!  I didn’t see how it was even feasible to “fire” Paul or something though because he was pretty much there from day 1.  He felt like it was his band as much as mine, so how does one get fired in that situation??  I could fire Steve or Henz, but not Paul.  He’d never give up on principal alone, and I could see that scenario dragging out longer than one of those court cases that goes through appeal after appeal after appeal.  It seemed much easier just to start fresh and get all new people, and then I could take the songs I wrote with me if I wanted to.  I couldn’t image that they would want to keep playing them after getting a new member.  Why would you want to play songs that ¾ of the band didn’t even remotely have a hand in writing, especially when the crowd seems to tune them out anyway!  I figured the name recognition wasn’t getting tons of fans out anyway, so I wouldn’t hurt me that bad to just start from scratch.  In fact, I almost thought it might help, because sometimes people are more into checking out the buzz of something new on the scene.  So ultimately, that tipped the scale for me.  The more I thought about it, the more exciting it seemed, and the only reason I wasn’t doing it was because I didn’t want to have that conversation with Paul.  Finally one day, I saw there was a gig coming up on the schedule and I knew we’d be getting more booked soon.  I realized I didn’t want to be on the line for anymore shows than I already had to, so I e-mailed Paul and told him I wanted to talk to him after work.  I should have known that was a mistake, but I really just wanted to make sure I had the talk that night, so I didn’t want him to make other plans or be gone when I got home.  In typical Paul fashion though, he read it and called me right away at work.  I didn’t answer.  Then he tried to call my work phone…I knew it was him so I didn’t answer.  Then the cell phone again.  This time he left a message saying, “Thuney, I know you are there….you can’t write something like that and then not talk to me about it.  I want to discuss it now, because it’s all I’ll think about.”  Finally I gave in, and over lunch I went to my car and called him and delivered the news.  The first stream of the conversation was him asking “Why” every other sentence.  This kind of amused me a bit, because I thought….”you’re in the band right?  You’ve seen what’s been going on, and you are wondering, why??”  It thought it was pretty obvious why I would want to leave.  It’s like he just wanted to actually hear me say it for some reason though.  He knew why, but he wanted to hear me say….”I don’t think you are a good enough guitar player, your girlfriend is a Yoko and I can’t take it, Steve annoys the shit out of me, nobody seems to care about our music and we aren’t gaining new fans, we play a lot of shit shows, and basically it’s just not at all fun anymore for me.”  I wouldn’t give him that though.  I was diplomatic and just talked about how this particular project wasn’t fun for me anymore, and I although I want to keep playing music, I just think some other outlet will be more rewarding for me.  “But Why.”  I felt like it went this way for 30 minutes.  Then he kind of went into more of a pleading mode.  “Dude, just think about it for a little bit.  Don’t make the decision yet…sleep on it for awhile.”  I was like…”Dude, I’ve been thinking about it for the last 3 months….I’ve slept on it for almost 2 weeks….my mind is made up.”  The conversation finally ended with him saying we should get together as a band to talk about it.  I agreed to do so, but knew it was more of a chance to tell everybody personally, rather then be talked out of it somehow.  That meeting took place at Steve’s house.  I knew they had obviously already talked about it at length, and had come prepared with scenarios and such.  Steve seemed resigned to the fact that it was done and he was more interested in working out the business end of things.  Paul kept on his “Why” line of questioning.  Henz didn’t say a word.  When it was all said and done, I agreed to play out the remaining shows that were booked, and agreed to a buyout at the end.  So instead of any of my money going to band fund, I’d get paid my full percentage, and I’d also get paid back for investment in the band vehicle and PA.  I really tried hard to do the classy thing.  I know a lot of people who probably would have quit on the spot and said, “Find a new guy, best of luck.”  I agreed to play 2 more months of shows with the situation as shitty as it was!!  All I asked was that I get to play a Final Show and that was it announced as such, etc.  I left Steve’s that night sad, but with a sense of peace and excitement toward the future.  No matter what I did, I felt like I could do things that way I wanted to and not have to pass things through this or that person.  It was a liberating feeling. 

The next 2 months of shows featured a lot of dud venues, and it was a real chore to plow through them.  Finally, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  We agreed that my last show could be at the Mainstreet Bar and Grill.  In the meantime of enduring these wretched shows, Paul had been feverishly trying to line up a new singer, determined not to let me end his dream.  They had found a new guy named Lorenzo, who both Paul and I had been familiar with from some other bands.  Paul seemed to ease up after reaching an agreement with him, knowing that the band’s future would forge ahead.  Still, he was pretty cold to me at all the gigs.  I couldn’t wait for that final night to come, yet I was sad for it as well for all that it meant.  I really hoped that at some point as the gig got close, Paul would kind of have the same realization and nostalgia that I had and we could at least have one nice heartfelt talk to kind of bring closure to everything.  I kind of tried to reach out here and there, and one conversation sticks out in my head the boldest.  We were discussing some logistics of the Mainstreet show, like the set-list, etc.  I had toyed with the idea of having Brian and Pete come up to play a song just as sort of a tribute to my history in the band.  I had to pass everything through Paul though, because he wasn’t one to roll with things.  He had to be aware of them.  Plus, I was just kind of trying to be respectful of him as well.  I knew had a big problem with Pete and Brian ever sitting in with us, because “they chose to leave us, so why should they get to come back and play at all?”  That’s kind of how Paul was.  There was sort of a vindictiveness about him at times, but he was loyal if you were on his side.  He shot down the Brian and Pete idea of course, which led me to say…”You know there is a line in my favorite Third Eye Blind song that makes me think of you every time I hear it, and I guess I hope it doesn’t become true.  It’s ‘And this is last time we’ll be friends again’.  I kind of feel that way about playing the Mainstreet show, and I hope it isn’t that way.”  I can’t remember his response, but it wasn’t a dismissal of such a thought. 

The Final Chord

Finally the show arrived.  The e-mail notification went out of my departure, and Mainstreet was promoted as my final show in Concentual.  The e-mail blast notice was pretty business professional and stripped of any emotion or sappiness.  I could tell Paul wrote it.  It was something along the lines of, “Brian has chose to leave the band to pursue other endeavors.  He was instrumental in the group from Day 1, and he’ll be missed.  This doesn’t mean we are done.  We have a new singer starting soon, and we’re excited for the future and will be better than ever!”   That is a paraphrase of it, but that was the overall theme.  I didn’t expect much else I guess though.  It was a comfortable warm early evening as I made the final drive to a venue as a member of Concentual.  Everything seemed different, like it does when you are taking that final exam of college or that final walk out your door before moving or something.  I was more aware of everything.  I was the first to arrive and systematically loaded all my gear to my place on the stage.  I had my whole rig set-up before anybody got there, and I just kind of stepped back and looked at it.  I looked around the bar, and at the sign on the door promoting the show the night.  I just tried to live in the moment of it.  Finally everybody else showed up, and they all seemed to acknowledge the gravity of the event for me…..except Paul.  He kind of went about his business like it was just another show.  I tried to think about the words to every song as I sung it, realizing that I might not sing them again possibly…certainly not in this type of situation.  Certainly not as a representative of Concentual.  I was really touched by the crowd that came out.  I saw people that I hadn’t seen at a show in years, that told me they didn’t want to pass up seeing me one more time in Concentual.  I tried to get pictures with all of them, and let them know how I much I appreciated their support.  It was a good show….the crowd was engaged, the sound was good.  I had a good time, and I was really content that it served as my final show with the band.  Eventually we got to the final song in the set-list.  I made it “Rock Star” as I had done so many times before…especially in the days when we just did original showcases.  We got to the last chord, and I drew it out just a bit longer than usual.  I jumped up on the monitor and prepared for a big jump to come crashing down to end the song, just like I used to do.  My feet hit the ground, and music abruptly ended as a big cheer went up from crowd.  I swallowed back a bit of a tear and waved to crowd.  I walked up to the mic and said, “Thanks for coming everybody,” for the last time.  I gave out lots of hugs and handshakes afterwards until everyone had filtered out.  I got my final payment, signifying the end of my responsibilities with this group of guys.  I hung back just a bit……hoping that maybe Paul would hang back to.  Maybe we’d finally have that talk in the back parking lot in the wee hours of the morning?  I grabbed the last of my gear and paused when I got to Steve and Paul.  Steve thanked me for everything and wished me the best of luck.  I extended my hand to Paul and he shook it with a message of something along the lines of…”Yeah, see you later dude.”  Then I walked to my car and sat there for a second in the dark.  That was it.  It was all over.  They had a show the next night at a cruddy bowling alley with the new singer.  As I drove home, I cried a bit…smiled a bit, and reflected a lot.  I went to bed and woke up the next morning, ready to start the next chapter of my musical journey.

One of the first things I did was to take a few housecleaning measures.  MySpace was the big social networking medium at the time, and one of its features was the ability to put your “top friends” on your home page.  It always seemed like sort of a silly popularity contest feature that you always kind of wanted to question MySpace’s creator about, because you knew in the back of their sadistic mind they were thinking, “This will cause a few problems and hurt feelings!”  On my page I had the Concentual band members listed, along with my girlfriend and a few of my favorite bands.  Ever since I had announced I was quitting, and subsequently dealt with Paul’s attitude towards me, seeing his face on my front page felt like a sliver in my finger that I couldn’t ever get out.  I didn’t want to create more drama while I still had to play shows by rearranging those top friends.  Everyday that passed however, looking at it brought me this strange distress.  It was like I was living a lie or something, telling the world..”Hey, everything is cool with me and Paul, he is a great guy.”  It felt like I was going through a messy divorce but telling everybody my marriage was great.  It just gnawed at me, so as soon as I was officially done, one of my first orders of business was making sure I didn’t have to look at his face on my front page anymore.  I didn’t want to single him out or make people ask a bunch of questions, so I tried to do the judicious thing.  I took every band member off the front page, but moved Concentual’s band page up towards the top of the list.  Seeing the band logo up there didn’t bother as much for whatever reason.  Maybe it was because I still felt like all of those songs and things were a reflection of me and I was proud of what I had accomplished.  Plus, Steve had been cordial in the final months and Brian had been really cool and had some good parting talks with me.  So the band as a unit was much more tolerable then Paul’s individual page.  I didn’t want to send the message to people that I hated Concentual now and everything and everyone involved with it, because that honestly wasn’t the case.  Regardless, it seemed Paul had understood the action, and promptly took me off of Concentual’s front page as well as his own personal page.  It seems kind of silly in retrospect that men in their late 20’s were still playing these types of games, but you come to find out in time that the urge to partake in things of this nature and the hurt feelings it causes isn’t relegated to just teens.  People of all ages and maturity levels get hurt by the same things, and it’s ignorant to think that there is some sort of threshold where they won’t.  The months following me leaving the band is when things really started to get out disintegrate.   Paul had this practice to keeping people on the band mailing list, even when they requested off.  There was even a message at the bottom of all e-mails telling people to notify the band if they wanted to be removed from it.  Paul seemed to take it very personally is somebody wanted to be removed and he’d keep them on, almost as if to spite them or something.  I remember Doreen replying several times to be taken off after Steve fired her, and Paul refused to, almost like it was a “Fuck you” to her by seeing the gigs we were playing, etc.  I used to kind of join in and snicker at him doing it, but never really understood why he would want to keep getting hounded by these people who didn’t have interest in the band any longer.  After I quit, Courtnie received the next band e-mail and politely asked to be taken off.  Obviously, she didn’t care about the band any longer without me in it….anyone could kind of understand that.  Paul left her on though, and kept sending out e-mail after e-mail promoting every show and tidbit of news.  Courtnie asked several more times to be taken off and got progressively more upset when Paul refused.  Finally she snapped one day and wanted to take some sort of action.  She didn’t quite know what, but she wanted to let people know how unprofessional and juvenile the band was acting towards her.  She took to Myspace again and made her page private so only her friends could see it.  She wrote a blog berating the band and told people not to support them, etc.  She asked me if it was ok is she post it.  I was not really a fan of the action because I was trying to take the high road on all of these sorts of issues, but I was also super annoyed that this was going on.  It’s not hard to delete somebody from an e-mail list and in my mind, Paul was doing it just to piss her off.  I thought it was immature and trite.  As long as it was just to her friends and not a public post, I was ok with her fighting fire with fire a bit.  Most times I’d kind of condone turning the other cheek because it seems like only drama ensues when you try to stoop to other people’s level and fight fire with fire.  In this case though, I kind of wanted Courtnie’s friends to know what kind of pathetic things they were doing, and I DID want it to affect their support of the band.  After some deliberation, she made the post.  I immediately kind of felt bad about it, but I figured there was probably only about 5 people that would really care about it….Courtnie got to vent, and then it would all be forgotten about.  That wasn’t the case.  One of her friends was a girl named Amy, who was a big supporter of the band and got introduced to use through a friend of Steve’s.  To this day, we are pretty certain she was the culprit.  She forwarded the blog to Steve, and he forwarded it on to his whole mailing list of friends along with a message about how toxic I was to the band.   He didn’t stop there though.   He posted his message along with the blog, to the musicscene.org website.  It wasn’t like there were throngs of people on there, but it was a musician community and it was public so anybody could access it and see it.  This sent me over the top.  I had all of these people writing me and asking what was going on.  I made a rebuttal post on musicscene, but the uninformed were already casting stones at Courtnie and calling HER a Yoko and smearing her name around.   I was as livid as I’ve probably ever been.  I’d never seen such an immature thing in my life and I could hardly comprehend that it actually happened and that I was part of it.  It really made me evaluate how a situation could descend to this level.  One really kind of touching thing came out of it all though.  Steve’s little post backfired and the more people heard about it and learned about the story, the more people jumped to my defense.  Owen from A Band Called Delicious was a frequent moderator of the site and pretty well respected in the musician community.  He actually came out and posted about how big of a D-bag Steve was and how Concentual was essentially ME.  He said Paul’s contributions were important, but nowhere near on par with what I did to make the band successful.  Other people jumped on board saying how pathetic Steve was to make up an alias and come on the site just to post such ridiculous garbage.  Then the debate turned to Concentual still playing original songs that they didn’t write and how lame that was.  I would sit at my desk and refresh the site every 10 minutes to smile gleefully at the next round of posts ripping Concentual.  It was karma in its truest definition.  That little episode essentially put the final nail in the coffin in my relationship with Steve and Paul.  In the years that would follow, I would try to reach out to Paul here and there and start repairing some of the damage, but it seemed to prove too great.  It seemed like my prophecy from the 3EB song would remain fulfilled.  “This is the last time we’ll be friend again.”  Indeed. 

Phoenix

I had already begun plotting and working towards my next move the minute I announced I was leaving the band.  I knew I wanted to form another band.  I wanted to take the experiences I had learned over the 9 years in Concentual and replicate the things I was happy about and avoid the things that eventually led to it’s demise in my eyes.  The first thing I knew I wanted was that I had to get some grade A musicians.  I never wanted a situation again where I was looking over my shoulder wishing that I had this or that guy in my band.  I didn’t want to ever have a band assembled where 2 of the guys were coming to me saying we needed to upgrade at the other position in order to be legitimate.  I didn’t want to have to be the guy that went up to a band member and said, “Hey man, you gotta practice and get better for us to get to the next level.”  I wanted to feel like the weakest member of the band so I was constantly being motivated and pushed to improve myself.  I begin my quest by calling all of the musicians in town that were highly respected and regarded.  I thought there was always a chance that they were unhappy in their current project and wanted to be treated like that prized free agent pick up.  Perhaps they would be fine doing multiple bands?  I was ok with that as long as they were top notch players, because it would show they were highly sought after musicians.  One particular correspondence was exactly the ray of sun I was looking for.  Chad Whittaker was the bass player for the highly popular Tim Mahoney.  Tim was definitely the kind of artist in town who got the best musicians available.  He was one of the few established original music acts that could actually pay his band quite well.  There were really only a handful of those types of bands in town.  The rest of the grade A musicians played in frequently gigging cover bands because that is where the money was.  Those guys would never have enough time to do multiple bands, but Mahoney was kind of ramping down the full band sets and doing more and more solo acoustic stuff, which opened the door a crack for his band to possibly hook up with a few other things.  Chad already sat in with different projects from time to time.  Before joining Mahoney he even got asked to join the Beach Boys on rhythm guitar!  Chad was EXACTLY what I was looking for.  He played guitar and keys, as well as bass and had sung impeccable high harmonies.  He had a cool look about him and was right around my age range.  Chad joining my band would be a home run.  I couldn’t believe he was actually interested.  I was friendly with him from the times that Concentual opened for Mahoney, but I didn’t know him much outside of that.  We agreed to meet after work one day for dinner and talk about the project.  That day he gave me perhaps the biggest compliment I had heard to date.  He said something along the lines of, “I always thought you were really talented, but the other guys in your band always seemed to be kind of holding you back.”  I was blown away he said that!  It was like an injection of adrenaline that inspired me to work even harder to get this new project off the ground.  Then, a few days after our meeting he sent me an e-mail that made the situation even better!  He said Mahoney’s drummer Tait Cameron wanted in too!!  Are you kidding me right now!!  Brian Henz asked Tait if he could take lessons from him after one of our gigs with them!  Tait was a well respected seasoned veteran on the Minneapolis music scene.  So in the blink of an eye, I had one of the best rhythm sections in town in my new band!  It was INSTANT credibility for me.  These guys were even talking about how they could help me with the booking contacts, etc.  All of the sudden, my goal of being on the level of Tim Mahoney and GB Leighton seemed very attainable.  Shit, I had half of Tim’s band and his booking contacts already!  I seriously felt like I won some sort of contest.  This was going WAY too easy!  All I had to find now was a lead guitar player.  That seemed like it would be a pretty easy when I could lead with, “I’ve got Tim and Chad from Mahoney’s band on drums and bass!”  I put an ad out and got a pretty  good response right away.  I scheduled some auditions at my friend Scott’s rehearsal space.  It was sort of a weird process though because I hadn’t played with Tim or Chad before and had no real original material yet to audition with.  So basically we jammed on some covers and an original tune idea or two.  We didn’t find much to our liking out of the first batch of guys, but I already felt like some chemistry was growing between us.  I had to pinch myself at times when I looked at this dinky rehearsal space and saw those guys jamming with me, thinking…”This is my new band!”  They were already giving me feedback on my new songs ideas as far as which ones they liked and which they weren’t as fond of, etc.  It all felt really good to me.  It proved to be fleeting.  I began setting up a next round of auditions and asked Chad when he was free.  He didn’t respond right away and I was having trouble getting a hold of him.  Finally he replied saying that the next few weeks were getting tighter.  He said that they told Tim about the new side project with me, and he didn’t receive it very warmly.  They didn’t expect he’d care much because he had been on this kick of booking only solo acoustic shows.  However, he said he wanted to start booking more full band stuff again, and that obviously their gigs with him needed to take top priority.  Not long after that, Tait started to have second thoughts.  He felt like doing both was going to end up being more of a time commitment that he was ready to take on, because he knew where I wanted this project to go.  I think that delivered a blow to Chad’s enthusiasm as well.  He also wanted to start working on his own solo album, and he started to feel like he might have bit off more than he could chew doing everything, especially if Tim was going to start ramping up the schedule again.  I think both realized after talking to me that I ultimately wanted to get that level they were already at as far as the amount of gigs, etc.  When thinking about playing in Tim Mahoney and a side band, it didn’t seem that far fetched.  Playing in two Tim Mahoney type bands was a little consuming.  At least that’s what I like to think they were thinking.  It’s a very real possibility that they got together with me once and thought, “Whoa, this guy isn’t nearly as put together as I thought he was.”  I was immensely disappointed, but the compliment that Chad had paid me when met to talk about the project that night stuck with me.  If he played with one of the top acts in the Twin Cities, and saw enough in me to want to initially be part of what I was doing, that still spoke volumes to me. 

I put up a round of new ads, hoping to secure a guitar player first and foremost.  I figured at least I could have a songwriting partner then.  Brian, the old Concentual bass player, agreed to let me hold auditions and his house.  He would play bass, and Pete, the old Concentual drummer, would even sit in on drums to help me secure the first member of my new band.  Right away, I had a decent influx of interested candidates.  I pretty much brought them all in, not requiring hearing any previous work or learn about previous projects.  This would prove to be a mistake!  We had some douseys come through.  Brian recorded every audition and several years later we would still get together occasionally and play the audio of one of them in particular, that never failed to leave us wiping tears away from laughter.  Of all of the auditions we had, only one guy held any promise.  His name was Shawn Foster.  He actually was related distantly to the lead guitar player of the band Train.  He wasn’t as heavy of a guitar player as I had envisioned, but he was very tasteful with what he played and I liked his tone. One of his drawbacks was a lack of backing vocals, but at the time I felt that could be overlooked.  I was ready to give him the gig, but he kind of flaked out after the audition.  He would later tell me that was going through a divorce and it was kind of messy, so he wasn’t able to really invest himself in any sort of new project.

So the search continued.  I kept putting ads up on various websites, and one day, a familiar name popped up.  Brett Hanson, or B as he liked to be called, was a guy I met very early on when I first moved here.  I mentioned earlier how I used to like to go up and sing a few songs with my co-worker Johnny’s cover band “Gel” when I first started getting out on the town and catching live music.  Brett was the guitar player in that band.  He always seemed a little different than the rest of the guys.  Where most of them were all about party, party, party, Brett always seemed to be the one who cared about the music aspect of things the most.  He basically was the leader of Gel.  He kind of approved the set-list and handled the finances, etc.  I remember once Johnny was really pissed because he showed up late and Brett held his money from him.  Brett was kind of a no-nonsense guy, and I think he took a liking to me because I wasn’t this scatter brained partying pot head like Johnny.  I was an ambitious guy who loved singing and very much wanted to make something happen with my original music.  Brett admired that.  He always told me what I was trying to do was so much more admirable then him, because he was just making money playing other people’s songs.  There was always a respect there, and he always wanted to get together and jam and work on original stuff.  We never really did ever get around to doing that, and once Johnny left the group, I found out Brett bowed out a little while later and I lost touch with all of them.  Well here we were, years later, and Brett was answering my ad asking if I, indeed, was THE Thuney who used to come up on stage and sing Stone Temple Pilots and Fuel songs with his old band.  I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of him immediately, because I knew he was a very strong personality, and image wise I had been kind of picturing a younger dude.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought it might be a great move.  He obviously was well connected, and at the height of their popularity, Gel could fill clubs up pretty well.  I figured there had to be a throng of those people that would be excited to see Brett on stage playing guitar again and doing original stuff!  I wrote him back and suggested that we meet up and see what happens.

That first trip over to his house was kind of a surreal experience.  I hadn’t seen the guy in like 7 years!  I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.  Right away, the first major change was that he now sported a shaved head.  He was always kind of known for that look of wearing that floppy style fisherman’s hat, and having that long stringy hair pour out from underneath it.  We went down to his music room and I just basically played him some songs that I had been working on.  One of the first ones was “Something Beautiful.”  I was kind of intrigued to see what someone might play on top of the chords and arrangement.  After a few run throughs, he had come up with a kind of pretty little lick over the top for the verses.  Then he suggested a change for the outro where half way through the final chorus, I would change keys and finish out the song a step up from what it originally was.  At first it kind of seemed like a cheesy 80’s move type of thing to do, but after awhile it kind of grew on me and I settled on it being a good idea.  After the first meeting, it felt like we had already accomplished so much, that it almost didn’t even make sense for him to not be part of the group moving forward.  So there it was…..I had 1 piece of the new puzzle.  I felt Brett was kind of motivated enough to really help me get the final pieces is place, so I was pretty optimistic and excited.  I got right to work putting new ads out for a bass player and drummer, touting the line-up that was in place thus far.  I already felt I had an increased level of credibility being able to say that we had the lead singer from Concentual and the guitar player from Gel in place.  It felt much nicer not having to basically say, “I need all instruments, I’m starting this thing from scratch.”  We sat through a few clunkers of auditions, and then one response to my ad kind of spoke to me.  A guy named Matt had written me saying that he was essentially part of a bass player/drummer combo that was looking for a band.  They had a rehearsal space (which we still needed) in Apple Valley and were really interested in the gig because they shared a lot of the same musical influences that I listed in my ad.  On top of that, the guy wanted to get together and meet up at a restaurant near my house first just to chat and see if the personalities were a good fit.  It was quite the derivation from the normal types of people that respond to ads.  Most guys seem to kind of half heartedly have it together and just want to kind of come over and “jam”, not really willing to put in extra time or effort into learning anything to audition with when they might not get asked to join the band.  This Matt guy seemed very serious though, and very motivated.  I agreed to meet with him and his drummer at the Sunshine Factory.   I walked in and looked around the place and saw two guys sitting at a table.  One had long, kind of flowing hair, and some tattoos in his arms, and the other looked like a portly accountant.  I sauntered over, and the long haired one rose and said, “Brian?  Hey I’m Matt, nice to meet you.”  He clearly seemed like the ringleader of this operation.  He did all the talking, and spoke spiritedly about his love for music and his desire to be part of something special.  It turned out he was the bass player of the duo.  I was sold on his enthusiasm and spirit…now I just had to know if he could play!  The other guy, I was much less excited about, but I thought, “Well, maybe he’s a phenomenal drummer and they have developed this awesome pocket and chemistry?”  You don’t really see the drummer anyway on stage, hidden behind his kit in the deep recesses of the stage, which always seems to find a way to elude the stage lighting.  We agreed to pick a few cover songs to audition with, and Brett and I would travel down to Apple Valley and see what the guys could do. 

The audition, we would learn, was at the drummer’s parent’s house.  It totally fit with his accountant image that we would be rehearsing in his parent’s basement.  It was kind of a weird vibe when we got there.  The parents were home and seemed very enthusiastic about us being there.  It had this feel like they were excited their awkward little baby was making friends.  It all kind of reeked of inexperience and rawness to me, and that was completely the opposite direction of where I wanted to go with this project.  I wanted seasoned vets who could come out firing and had demonstrated that they have done it before.  That’s why Brett was here.  This felt like we were getting ready for a high school talent show.  The audition left a lot to be desired.  The drummer was not very good or well prepared at all.  He had this monster kit and didn’t seem to be able to really navigate it very well.  I wasn’t impressed with him at all, and neither was Brett.  Matt was better, but not overly mind blowing either.  However, he seemed to possess enough backing vocal ability, which I needed since Brett possessed none, and he definitely had the youthful energy, enthusiasm, and appearance that I was after.  On the way home, Brett and I kind of disagreed about Matt.  He didn’t think he was anywhere close to good enough, and I thought he had some potential.  My biggest argument was that he was young and super excited.  This was the type of guy who would talk about the band 24/7 and promote it and market it.  Sometimes a guy like that is almost more valuable then being a phenom player, because he’ll get people in the door, and the club will see that and book you in better and better time slots and give you better opportunities.  Clubs care very little about how good you actually are, it’s all about how many people come to see you.  I thought if Matt was good enough to just not completely suck, then he could be very valuable, if nothing else, as a morale booster to me alone!  When you are around people that are super excited about something, it can’t help but inspire you and motivate you as well.  I was kind of looking for at least one of those guys to have around.  I wouldn’t have wanted to build a whole band of Matts, but I thought one was good to have.  Brett eventually conceded to that idea, and we decided we would offer a spot to Matt if he was ok parting ways with this drummer.  To seal the deal, I found it ironic that the next day Matt sent me an e-mail assuring me that him and the drummer weren’t a package deal by any means….if we wanted one or the other it was ok.  It’s like he realized the same things we did, and wasn’t going to let anything come in the way of this opportunity for him.  I admired that, and we offered him the gig.  He was super pumped, and I felt pretty good about the 3 people we had in place thus far. 

Now, we only needed a drummer.  I had a vision in my mind of a young, energetic guy that would be very animated behind the kit, and would hit HARD!  Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters came to mind as a template to follow.  I put up another ad, finally just focusing on the need for 1 guy. I promptly got a lengthy e-mail from a guy named Jim.  I was immediately struck by detailed it was and how fluently he used language.  In the band world, more often than not when someone responds to ad it resembles something like….”Hey man, I play…lets jam….call me.”  This dude went on and on about how he loved the bands that I listed as influences, and he gave me a detailed history about his previous band in Milwaukee, and all the venues he played,  yada, yada, yada.  He also mentioned he sang backing vocals, which really sparked my interest.  On paper, he very much could have been the Taylor Hawkins type of guy I was looking for!  I was pretty excited to get together with him.  We set up an audition for a few days later.  That day rolled around and everybody was there ready to meet him.  10 minutes passed….then 30…..then an hour…..finally, we gave up and everybody went home.  I was pretty disappointed, especially since another audition we had planned the week before also featured a no show flake!  The next evening I got a call on my cell and suspected it to be him.  I didn’t want to answer it, but I decided I wanted to kind of bitch him out.  It was, indeed, Jim on the other end of line, and he was apologizing profusely and doling out detailed excuses why he missed the audition.  I decided there was enough intrigue about him, that we’d give him another shot.  That audition day rolled around, and for some reason or another Matt wasn’t able to make it, so we had to have my friend Rocky from the Scott Morrisson Band sit in.  That wasn’t ideal because he didn’t know the cover songs that we were auditioning with.  It didn’t really matter though, I was just interested to see what kind of person this Jim guy was and how he played.  We all arrived at the practice space and soon enough I got a call from Jim saying he was at the entry way.  I opened the door to find a very large, sweaty, long haired mass of a person.  He very much resembled Kevin Smith’s “Silent Bob” character in his popular series of movies, “Clerks”, “Mallrats”, etc.  Everything he did seemed to be at a rushed, frenetic pace.  He spoke fast, he loaded his gear in frantically……he almost kind of gave you anxiety being around him.  He got all set up and we started to go through a few of the audition tunes.  None of us were really polished on any of the songs.  We were doing a few stock songs like “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, and some of my other favorites, specifically picked to try to showcase specific things.  One of those tunes was “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters.  It’s a monster drum song, and if you are trying to find a Taylor Hawkins, then there is no better song to try to discover if you have him, then Everlong.  Jim quickly threw out the disclaimer that he hadn’t had much time to work on it, which typically is the excuse used when you can’t really play something.  He, indeed, was not blowing anybody away with his rendition of it.  I was kind of checked out on him, until the very end when we started to just kind of jam on different songs.  Jim, like me, was a big 90’s music fan and, in particular he was a big Better Than Ezra fan.  He could accurately reproduce the drum parts and backing vocals of all their staples I knew, like “Good”, “Desperately Wanting”, etc.  He was also nailing the high harmony on Tonic’s song “If You Could Only See.”  We starting kicking out 90’s jams like a jukebox.  I thought to myself, “I really do need somebody who more closely shares my taste in music and will get what I’m trying to do with my songs.”  Brett was a weird kind of 80’s rock/old school country hybrid of a guy.  I didn’t really know what Matt was, but it seemed like his tastes were a bit more eclectic.  Jim loved the same pop/rock sound that I did, and I thought it would be an asset to have that person around to bounce my song ideas off of.  Also, I felt like he’d get what the drums were supposed to do on music like that.  Pete was always kind of trying to make things more “interesting” and intricate with Concentual, and sometimes that overplaying led to a sacrifice of a simple driving 4 on the floor beat that made people bob their heads to it.  I also felt like I’d really need his backing vocals.  I wasn’t completely sold on what Matt could do in that capacity, but Jim had experience doing it and had the higher register to hit the right harmonies.  I asked the guys what they thought of Jim after he left.  The reviews weren’t glowing.  Brett and Rocky both thought he had major tempo problems and was rushing through a lot of stuff.  We agreed it could be chalked up to nerves, but it’s hard to tell sometimes.  Brett thought he was a nice enough guy and had good gear, but wasn’t completely sold.  Rocky wasn’t even in the band, but he threw his two sense in that he thought Jim was decent…not outstanding, but serviceable.  I mulled it over in my head for a few days.  I wasn’t getting any more great responses to my drum ad, and I was really starting to grow frustrated with how long this process of putting a band together was taking.  Jim had been in a big band in Milwaukee that played the legendary Summerfest, and all sorts of bigger events.  How bad could he be?  It had to be just nerves for his audition right?  He was a nice, intelligent guy.  He seemed really excited about the project…that was certainly important.  I am kind of a sucker for being able to provide somebody with something that they can’t do on their own.  Jim had tried and tried to play a lot of the clubs that I had already played a hundred times here and his band was never able to get in, being based in Wisconsin.  I liked the idea that I could make that happen for him.  Everyone else in the band was on board with whatever I wanted to do. After a long deliberation, I decided to offer him the gig.  Finally, the new band was born!

Desperately Wanting

I was adamant about getting back out there and playing before too much time had passed.  I didn’t want people to forget about me.  I kind of wanted to cash in on the support that Steve had garnered for me with this little Musicscene fiasco.  He had created this bad vibe around himself, and consequently a supportive vibe around me.  I thought it would be a great time to unveil my new project because maybe people would be like…”Hmmm, let me see how Bryan fared in this whole thing….what do his new songs sound like?  What kind of players did he get?”  The first thing that would have to be done, obviously, was to get a whole set of new original material.  I wasn’t about to play a bunch of the Concentual songs I wrote. It was still sort of hot topic that the new Concentual was still playing the original songs that I wrote.  I just thought it was dumb because I wasn’t going to play them and still have those guys play them.  I didn’t know why they wouldn’t just go to all covers.  That is what Steve wanted anyway right?  Paul was arguing behind the scenes that he had just as much of a hand in writing the songs as I did, so why shouldn’t they still play them.  My viewpoint was that there is no debating that I wrote lyrics on 11 of the 12 tracks, and wrote the basic skeleton and structure of at least 9 of the 12 tracks.  Paul certainly came up with parts to play on those songs, just like Pete came up with drum tracks and Brian came up with bass lines, but that isn’t “writing” the song.  I once heard someone explain it like this.  If you can pick up an acoustic guitar and play just the parts you contributed to the song, and it still sounds like a song, than you can claim you had a hand in writing it.  If you contributed a solo lick to a song, and you just played that, it wouldn’t sound like much.  You couldn’t go to a coffeehouse and perform that and call it a song.  Paul and I made a deal when Brian and Pete quit, to call ourselves “co-writers” of 11 of the 12 tracks basically just so we’d split the revenue equally if one of them ever took off for some reason.  “Van” was the odd track that Paul brought in from another band, and it was the only track he sang lead vocals on, so he could have all the credit for that one.  In my opinion, I’d call him a co-writer on “Don’t Let Me Fall Asleep”, “Believe” and “Volcano”.  I consider myself the sole songwriter of “GND”, “Rock Star,” “Normal”, “Strangers”, “Poor Man’s Everything”, “Erase”, and “Go Ahead.”  I’d consider Pete a co-writer of “Atmosphere.”  I know some bands list all members as co-writers, simply to split royalties equally, but in reality it’s usually one or two guys that are writing all of the songs.  In light of this big debate, I thought nothing would speak louder than me unveiling a whole new batch of songs, while Concentual was still toiling around playing the same album cuts over and over.  If there was any question about the heart and origin of the original material, that would just about put it to rest in my mind.  I had “Something Beautiful” already on the table as a new original, and had brought over a reworked “Confess” that wasn’t on the Concentual album.  I also had written a sort of “Confess part 2” which I called “Free Fall.”  There was another tune that was close to completion that I started before I moved in with Courtnie that was inspired by a note my friend Krista wrote me a long time ago.  That song was an upbeat rocker called “Kissed By A Fool”  I feverishly set out writing even more new material with a zest and vigor that hadn’t been present in a long time.  I felt this amazing sense of freedom knowing the songs didn’t have to pass through Paul, Steve and Brian liking them for us to do them.  These new people would likely have way more receptive ears.  I started pulling ideas for lyrics from all sorts of new places.  I was developing one during the whole process of trying to put together a new band, and thinking about how anonymous I would feel if I never accomplished that goal.  I ended up calling it Killer Sea.  It was kind of funny how it came to be because I just had this cool chord progression that began in the key of C.  I had no lyrics or theme at the time.  When I was trying to come up with a working title so the band knew which one we were working on, I thought, “Well, it’s a killer tune, and it’s in the key of C, so let’s call it “Killer C” for now.  When I came up with the theme of feeling anonymous without being a musician, I thought of the sea as a metaphor where you are all alone in the middle and all you can see is water on every side of you, and nobody knows you are there, so you just kind of become invisible.  That’s when “Killer C” became “Killer Sea.”  I also had an epiphany about how so many people just make small talk, and so many friendships are based on talking about surface things like sports, Hollywood gossip, etc.  Everyone is so afraid to peel back layers and have deep talks about stuff and really get to know what someone is all about.  I wrote a song called “Just the Weather” about it.  The best part was that everyone in the band seemed to really dig all the songs I was coming up with.  There weren’t a lot of, “Well, that one kind of sucks, let’s shelve it.”  The response was mostly positive and it just fueled me harder and harder.  I wrote a song based on an interaction I had with my boss at work.  It was the heaviest, most rocking Foo Fighters-esqe song I’d ever written, and it was called “Inevitable.”  It would prove to be this new band’s version of “Rock Star”; the song that would close the show and bring down the house!  We almost had a complete 45 minute set now! 

The practices started out at my house.  Matt had a tiny little mixer and two big speakers that we used as a PA, essentially to just run vocals and my acoustic guitar through.  We all crammed into an 11×11 room in my basement.  It proved to be a pain in the ass quickly.  Jim would have to drag all his gear down the stairs and set it up for EVERY practice, and then take it all down again and load it back up because he was also playing in another band at the time.  Of course, this made Jim sweat bullets, and as a result the odor that would be emitted from him would linger in my house for hours after he left.  He definitely gave off a very foul smell.  It was very loud in that room, and Courtnie was really great to put up with it, since it basically was directly under the living room where she would be trying to watch TV.  Still, despite the inconveniences, the practices were going great and I was really invigorated by them.  Brett was really the only downer at times, not liking this part or that part.  It was almost like he felt it was in his personality to be a hard ass, alpha dog leader, type of person and he felt out of place if he didn’t emit that vibe on some level.  I started to talk to my musician friends more about my new project as my excitement was growing.  My friend Scott Morrisson emerged with our first opportunity.  His band was playing a Wednesday night in January, just a few months away at the Varsity Theater.  This was an awesome venue that I had never played.  He asked if I wanted my new band to be on the bill.  I really wanted to play the Varsity and I thought a Wednesday night was a perfect sort of “soft launch” of the band so to speak.  It would take a lot of work to get ready for it, but I felt like we needed some sort of goal to work towards.  It would force us to get gig ready in a few months.  That would mean getting a polished set list, some sort of web presence and promotional material, which would require most importantly….A NAME!  I had been excited to play under a new name for a looooong time.  Truth be told, I never really full dug Concentual.  It was decent, but no one ever really got it.  People just thought we were trying to be perverted and were dumb and misspelled consensual.  It got misspelled SO many times when we were first playing at clubs, it was ridiculous.  It was like we were trying to be too smart for our own good.  No one was going to research it and discover it meant “To possess harmony”.  No one got the logo either.  That’s all fine and good when you are an established national band, and people give a shit enough to figure out what you are trying to do.  When you are trying to make a splash and grab people’s attention, they just met everything with blank stares, like…”I don’t get it?”  I always wondered what I call a new band.  I had a thousand ideas pass through my brain, but none of them stuck as something super cool that would grab you.  I knew a name didn’t have to be that clever or cool, I mean look at some of the names out there making it….”Foo Fighters”, “Goo Goo Dolls”, “Barenaked Ladies”.  Nobody’s name was this perfect epitomine of cool and edgy.  Still, I wanted it to be something I was proud to proclaim to people.  It would prove to be harder then writing an entire symphony!  Nobody could agree on anything, and all of sudden divisions were forming and frustration was growing.  It was like finding a damn name was going to derail this thing before it even got going.  I tried to do a scientific system where we compiled 20 names and people ranked them 1-20.  I’d add up all the points of the 4 of us, and the one that had the most would be our new name.  That yielded my idea, “Bottled Promise” which I took from the movie “Beautiful Girls”.  I actually loved the name, and was pumped it was the winner.  Brett then refused to take the stage under that name, so we were back to square 1!  Next up was something based on the mythical bird, the Phoenix.  It was kind of a cliché idea, but it was meaningful to me to think about being reborn from the ashes of something that burned itself up.  I had this ridiculous round about way of coming up with “Five Divides.”  It was something about a bunch of facts about the word Phoenix being divisible by 5.  Like Phoenix Arizona was 15 miles from something, and its population was divisible from 5 or some crazy shit!  It all worked out right and seemed cool, and then there was the extra meaning about the 4 of us, and anyone else would divide us….kind of a band of brothers thing.  Matt thought it was the most amazing thing ever, and he started to run with it.  I warned him to wait until the other guys agreed upon it.  He didn’t listen and skipped a day of work to work on several logos involving the name on top of the outline of a Phoenix.  He came to me the next day and seriously had a folder full of stuff on high grade paper.  I wasn’t even completely sold on the name, and I came up with it!  He was like a new puppy with a room full of chew toys, so excited about what he had done.  I said, “I’m ok with the name, but Jim and Brett have to like it to.”  They didn’t.  This hit Matt like a sucker punch to the stomach.  It was almost like he didn’t fully recover from it.  The flicker in his eyes had dimmed.  He was kind of this aloof dreamer, and if things didn’t go his way or there wasn’t complete harmony and positive vibes, it rattled him.  We went back to the drawing board.  Brett loved “Back in All” because if you put the words all together it was “bacchanalian” (sort of) which was this roman orgy.  I thought it was utterly stupid, and Matt definetly hated it.  Brett then thought we should just go with THUNEY until we found something else, but I didn’t want to take that route and the other guys seemed kind of put off by it too.  Finally we just sat down with a list of new names and tried to find something that everyone could stomach and didn’t totally despise.  Jim had come up with this name Mass Drastic, that no one particularly loved, but nobody hated either.  Thus, that was what we would be billed at our first show at the Varsity Theater.

The backdrop for this epic Bryan Thuney re-emergence was a FREEZING cold Minnesota winter night.  If it was hard to get people to come to a show on a weekend when it was 50 degrees out, trying making the case on a Wednesday night when it’s below zero out!  Oh, and there is just street parking mostly, so good luck avoiding walking a block or two!  We were slated to go on first at 9pm, which helped a lot.  People could still get home and be in bed by 10:30 if they wanted to after our set.  A lot of my friends realized the significance of this show for me, and braved the elements to show their support.  It also helped that we a young newbie bass player who hadn’t ever really played out much, so he still had the whole novelty appeal of friends seeing him do something different and cool that they hadn’t witnessed before. I was touched at the crowd we were able to convince to come out on that frigid January night.  My nerves were definitely in full effect as I hadn’t done a full band show in several months.  I got a kick out of Matt though, who was shaking in his boots since he had never played a place like this in his whole life.  It felt very vindicating taking the stage again and playing new songs.  There were plenty of hack jobs on the songs throughout the set, but it still felt great.  I had my old energy back, and the songs were much more rocking than people had previously seen out of me.  It also felt awesome getting back to play a 45 minute set and pouring all your heart and soul it.  In Concentual, it always felt like you had to pace yourself because you playing 3 hours.  You couldn’t go balls out in set 1 because you’d have nothing left for set 2 and 3, and most of the people weren’t even there yet more than likely.  The Varsity set just reminded me of the old days and it was fantastic being able to walk off the stage and chat with my friends that came out, and watch the next band perform as I basked in the satisfaction of the accomplishment.  The set wasn’t the only memorable thing from the night however.  Jim had to put his stamp on it by locking his keys in his running car.  He had loaded his gear in and kept his car running to warm it up, and somehow locked himself out.  Now Matt and I were out there trying to help him break in with hangers or whatever else we could find.  My hands were damn near ready to fall off from the cold.  Finally we decided that the only course of action left was for me to drive him 20 miles to his house to get a spare set of keys and then drive him back to his car.  This all kicked off at around midnight.  I think I finally got home at around 1:30am and had to work the next day, but none of it really mattered to me.  I felt like I was officially back!

Due to my years developing relationships with fellow musicians and booking agents, Mass Drastic never played a shitty show.  Our second show was a Friday night at the Fine Line.  Our third show, believe it or not, was a show at the legendary First Ave nightclub!  I was fortunate enough to have this be my second time playing there, but it was the first time it fell on a Friday night!  It was all hooked up, once again, by my friends in the Scott Morrisson Band.  SMB, of course, was going to headline and close out the night, but I got us on the opening slot for a 35 minute set.  I thought, “what better statement to make with my new band then to start with the Varsity, the Fine Line, and FIRST AVE as the venues for our first 3 shows!”  I also thought it was a great treat to provide to my new band mates.  I felt like such a pimp, and had a swagger about me.  It was like I was able to say…”Dude I told you….I have connections…hang with me and look what I can bring to you!”  I have to admit, I kind of got off on it.  I was worried initially that we’d have to start over playing shit clubs again and sort of build our way back up, but we are able to hit the ground running, and part of me kind of needed to see the appreciation from the guys.  If any of them had tried to start a new original band and hit the scene it would have been Monday night at the Fine Line, Wednesday at Big V’s…stuff like that.  I definitely saw the gratitude from Brett and Jim, because they kind of understood how difficult it was.  Jim had been trying to play these places with his band in Milwaukee and got shot down again and again.  He definitely appreciated the opportunities he was being provided.  The most puzzling reaction I’d been getting from the last month or so was from Matt.  Here was a guy who was basically fanning me with palm leaves when he first came on board.  Then he started to want to introduce more of his songs into the mix, which was fine.  I told him I had to get behind singing it and feeling it, and believing in it as a song, and if that meant tweaking it here or there than I was going to take the liberty to do that.  He was all about that, still fanning away with those palm leaves.  Then he introduced this slower song, which I really thought was pretty cool.  He just had originally made it painstakingly long, so I changed it up to get to the chorus quicker and shorten it up.  The guys in the band all thought the changes were a big improvement, so we decided to roll with that version.  I thought he’d be psyched we were playing a song he wrote.  A lot of front men would scoff at the idea of having to sing and perform something somebody else brought in, but I was trying to be totally supportive and cool and nurturing of his ambitions to play songs he had spent time writing.  The song was a ballad and didn’t even fit my vision of really being a Foo Fighters-esque hard rock energetic band.  We needed more songs however, and I wanted to keep Matt fully engaged in the project by injecting some of his ideas.  After my tweaks however, he just did a 180.  It was almost like he was manic depressive and missed his meds.  He would sit down on the couch at rehearsal and half hearted play through the set.  Finally we’d be like..”Dude, what is your issue?”  He’d always through some lame excuse out, and I just kind of left it alone, figuring he’d snap out of it eventually.  He didn’t, and then Brett started to get after him.  Brett wasn’t the type to coddle really, so he took more of the scolding approach like, “Dude, we only get together a few hours a week….get your ass up and work through this stuff with us and then mope on your own time!”  I did appreciate that about Brett, because it was one of those things I always had trouble doing.  I was always trying to give pep talks and keep the vibe positive.  Sometimes people need a kick in the ass, and I was never very confident in doing that.  It would work for a little while on Matt, and then he’d slink right back into his moping.  It took on a new level for me when the First Avenue show rolled around.  He had been having some problems with his ghetto bass rig.  It had been shorting out here and there at practice and he was always fiddling with it.  I told him…”Dude, you have to get that thing fixed before First Ave or at least borrow someone else’s.”  The last thing I was going to have, was the embarrassment of a band rolling into First Ave on a Friday night with gear that doesn’t work!  He said he’d take care of it, but that evening, sure enough he rolls up late with his original bass rig.  I asked him if he had fixed it and he said, “No, I didn’t really have time.  Do you think I could borrow the rig from Rocky in the SMB if mine doesn’t work?”  I was livid!!  It felt so bush league to me, and the fact that this kid was ok with the idea of his rig failing in the middle of a short 35 minute set at First Avenue on a Friday night just showed me how much he wasn’t ready for this band.  To top things off he wasn’t feeling well and was moping around the whole evening before we took the stage.  If the chance to play THIS stage for your 3rd ever show wasn’t enough to get you excited, than there was little hope for you.  I took a chance on his inexperience because I felt like his enthusiasm made up for it, and now that was at zero.  What positive aspect did he bring to the band then?  The straw that broke the camel’s back though happened right before our set.  He was in the green room and he had grabbed my acoustic guitar.  Brett walked in and he started playing him one of “his songs” that he thought we should do.  I walked in and he kind of stopped and put it away and got real quiet.  That, itself, wasn’t that big of a deal, but the next day Brett told me the conversation that was taking place right as I walked in.  Matt had told Brett, “I want to work on this with you and get it down before Bryan has a chance to get his hands on it and ruin it.”  I didn’t need to ask Matt if that story was accurate or not.  I called up Brett and Jim and told them I was canning Matt.  Nobody argued.  I called Matt right afterwards.  I wasn’t looking forward to it, because I truly, truly hate this sort of thing, even as upset with him as I was.  He answered all nice and enthusiastic.  I think he knew what was coming.  I made it short and sweet and he didn’t even ask me to elaborate on why.  I hung up the phone and that was last time I ever talked to Matt Hainley. 

Rocky Road

That was just the first rotation of what would become a revolving door for members of the new band.  It seemed like Matt’s dismissal officially signaled the end of the honeymoon period.  Grumbling about this guy and that guy intensified.  I felt pressure to find a replacement for Matt that everybody would like and be excited about.  Luckily that move came swiftly!  After our first show with the Scott Morrisson Band, their bass player Rocky came up to me and told me how much he enjoyed watching my stage presence.  It was one area he felt was lacking in the Scott Morrisson Band.  Scott wrote great songs, but the stage energy was a little stiff.  I think Rocky thought the key to enhanced success was to have songs that you could just rock out to on stage, and have a band full of musicians who were fully capable of doing that.  I think he saw of a little bit of that vision in watching me and Stealing Seconds.  I had made a conscious effort to have a set list of rock songs that really enabled you to jump around and put on a rock show.  I tried to leave the ballads behind, although there were a few that still made their way into the set.  It was much different that the mid tempo happy tunes I wrote in Concentual.  Rocky told me he’d love to play with me in a project sometime.  I had him in mind when firing Matt.  I didn’t know if he’d do it or not, but I knew he’d probably at least give it serious consideration.  To me, Rocky was damn near the perfect fit.  He was a great tasteful bass player who wrote really interesting parts that I thought would work well with the kind of stuff I was writing.  I didn’t imagine him as the type who would argue with me about the set list.  He was used to Scott’s dictatorship brand of leadership, so I figured he’d be ecstatic about the kind of freedom and input he would get with me.  He had pretty solid stage presence, and he was young.  He also had great gear, so we wouldn’t ever run into those Hainley-esque problems with him.  I knew Brett would respect his talent, and Jim would respect his easy going nature.   Scott wasn’t playing a ton of shows, so I figured he had time to do both bands. I called him up and asked him if he wanted the gig, and without much hesitation he accepted!  It was a HUGE upgrade for the band, and I couldn’t have been more excited to get started on rehearsals.  Right away, Brett and Jim were thrilled hearing him play and seeing how quick he was picking the songs up.  Everything seemed great and we were full speed ahead.  It didn’t take long for the next seam to start to pop, however.  Brett didn’t really have steady income.  He worked part time delivering pizzas, and then made money by doing handyman projects for people.  A lot of those handyman projects required him to work in the evenings in order to finish the job as quick as possible.  In the summer it was more of an issue because he’d work till dark, which was like 9pm, and we’d want to practice at 7pm and get done by 9:30pm.  First it was an occasional missed practice……then it seemed like it was almost every other practice.  It was hard to argue with him about missing rehearsal when that was how he was supporting his family.  It was like, I understood, but at the same time things weren’t going as I had envisioned them.  We were all getting a little flustered at the lack of progress we could make when we weren’t all there.  On top of that, Brett was kind of becoming a cancer when he DID show up.  He was constantly bitching to me about Jim’s fluctuating tempo and how it sounded sloppy.  He always argued it would sound so much better if he’d just simplify what he was playing and bash it out.  It was always supposed to be my responsibility to address it though since I was the leader and had the better “people skills”.  I was ok with that because I liked to think of myself as somebody who could deliver a message in a way that wasn’t attacking or condescending.  I liked to think of myself as a very good mediator type of person.  I knew Brett was brash and harsh and would probably just piss people off if he tried to deliver whatever message he had.  I tried a bunch of different ways to present the message to Jim, and every time he seemed to understand exactly what I was saying and never took offense.  I was always pretty proud of myself for accomplishing that, however the next time Brett would show up, I would inevitably get a phone call on my way home about how Jim just wasn’t getting the message and improving.  I felt a lot of internal strife, because I’d listen to Brett bitch and tell me how he was in the band for ME and believed in me and we were in this together as a team, etc.  However, at those practices where he wouldn’t show, the whole conversation would be about how Brett not being there was getting old, and how we weren’t getting anywhere because he didn’t have time to invest into the project, etc.  It was getting really stressful to me and I knew something had to give pretty soon.  Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that he had a presence on stage that really didn’t fit in at all with the rest of us.  We were trying to come across as a serious rock band that was fun, but still here to rock your ass off.  Brett comes out in shorts, white tennis shoes, a T-shirt with some tasteless sexual comment on it like “Gone Fisting”, and one of those floppy fisherman hats.  He had the lazy sort of cocky demeanor while playing, which was all right, but then he mixed in goofy stage antics like sticking the neck of his guitar between your legs while you were playing.  He did it once to Rocky, and I don’t think Rocky ever fully recovered from it.  It was just out of place.  That was kind of funny when he was in Gel, because by nature cover bands are kind of spoofing themselves anyway.  It’s hard to take yourselves that seriously when you are singing words and playing chords that other people wrote, which are annoyingly bombarding you 10 times a day on the radio.  Cover bands are SUPPOSED to be kind of kitschy and entertaining, so antics like that sort of work.  In an original band though, it felt grossly out of context and like we weren’t really taking anything we did that seriously.  That’s not the message we wanted to convey.  Soon, Brett was missing 3 practices to every 1 he made.  Shows were getting a little sloppy.  I had worked hard to try to get back in front of local band giant’s crowds again, and finally after an annoyingly frustrating process I landed us a gig opening up for GB Leighton at Bogarts.  It was a meaningful show for me.  I respected Brian Leighton a lot, and I wanted those guys to see my new project.  Concentual had pretty much stopped opening up for the GB Leighton’s and Tim Mahoney’s after we started taking the all night, 3 set money gigs.  Having the chance to play with bands like that again and try to build back up a fan base was really important to me.  About a month before the gig, Brett called me and told me that he forgot he had planned a vacation that weekend, and he wasn’t going to be able to do the gig.  He asked if I would just try to reschedule it.  I had to work a lot harder than I normally do to convince Bogart’s new piss ant booking agent to let us play the gig.  I basically had to assure him we’d fill the damn room up by ourselves in order to get it.  I never had to make those kinds of statements.  For some reason, he did not seem to like us or want us in that venue.  Dropping out of it was not an option to me.  I told Brett I was going to find a fill in for the gig, which seemed to kind of offend him.  I told myself after starting this band though, that that was how I was going to operate.  There had been too many situations in the past where ¾ of the band wanted to do a gig and 1 guy couldn’t so we lost out on a great opportunity in order to preserve everybody’s feelings.  This time around it was going to go like this.  If you tell me you have a conflict on a certain date, I won’t book a gig on it, but if you don’t tell me and the gig gets booked, then we are getting a replacement.  Furthermore, if a gig is a really great opportunity for the band and it will give us lots of exposure, (for instance opening for a national act), and you have a prior engagement….I’m booking the show and getting a replacement for you.  No hard feelings, but if we get a shot to open for Third Eye Blind and Mr. Drummer can’t miss his and his wife’s anniversary, there is no way I am letting some other band play that show!  If I got the call, there would be no, “Um, let me check with the guys and get back to you.”  It’s, “Yes, we will take the gig,” and I’ll figure out the rest later.  So, I informed Brett that that was the course of action I was going to take.  I guess I won that round of chicken because a week later he told me he was going to be able to do the show.  As it would turn out, 2 days before the show I completely lost my voice.  I desperately tried to make the show work.  I even went to the doctor to try to get steroid injections like the national touring acts get…all to just open for a local band at Bogart’s!  It seems very silly in retrospect, but that’s how important it was to me at the time.  I ended up having to cancel and got my friend Brian David to play it with his band.  It seems sort of hypocritical I realize that I would play the show without them, but we had to cancel when I went down, but that’s the way it works.  The singer is kind of the one part that isn’t ever really interchangeable.  It may not seem fair, but it’s reality.  Regardless, no one would have been able to learn the rhythm guitar parts and vocals for a 45 minute set in 2 days.  I did feel bad that Brett cancelled his plans only to have the show get cancelled, but that’s how life goes sometimes.  After MUCH hassle, I ended up getting another opening slot for GB a month later.  A funny thing happened though in the time leading up to that show.

The One

After Brett had informed me he wasn’t going to do the first show I had set up with GB, I immediately set out to find a fill in.  In the back of my mind though, I was thinking….”Maybe this person can eventually be more than a fill in.”  We were all getting kind of tired of Brett’s bit, and things just weren’t feeling the way I had imagined they would.  The bit of hesitation I had when first bringing Brett on, was growing more and more justified with each day.  If you were looking for new band members, the new “go to” place was Craigslist.com.  It just became sort of understood that that’s where musicians looking to find new gigs would go to first.  It was a free service and convenient so it blew away the old methods of buying a print ad in the City Pages or making a flyer and posting at the local music store.  One day when I perusing ads I saw a listing for a guitar player that was looking to join a new act.  He even posted a video link of him playing which was pretty uncommon because a lot of these ads featured idiots posting in broken english in all caps.  You’d see something like, “YO, I PLAY GEETAR AND AM PRETTY GOOD AND WANT TO ROCK SOME PEEPS…HIT ME UP!”  You have to sift through a lot of that to find the real quality people.  I was intrigued and clicked on the video link…..it was an Asian looking dude playing a cover of “Surfin with the Alien” by Joe Satriani.  He looked around my age, and my jaw dropped wider and wider with each second I listened.  He was so good it almost seemed like a hoax or something.  There was no way this dude was available to play in a local Twin Cities band.  It was like somebody found some video of a phenom floating around on Youtube and was trying to pose as that guy in order to get an audition or something.  I had seriously never heard anybody in town play that well, nor had I seen many national act guitar players shred that amazingly.  I wrote him immediately almost out of sheer curiosity to see if he was actually real or not.  He responded.  His name was Mike Geronsin, and by all accounts he did, indeed, seem like a real person living in the Twin Cities.  I asked if he was still looking to join a band, and he kind of shied away from the idea.  He told me that he was fed up with his current situation, and in a moment of haste posted the craigslist ad.  He sort of regretted it afterwards and was taking it down.  Had I not been looking on that very day at Craiglist, I may not have ever run across him.  He had most recently been in a cover band and was pretty burnt out from what that entailed.  I pitched him my history and my band vision and sent him a few clips of what our music sounded like.  His interest was piqued, but he really wasn’t interested in getting into another band after considering things.  I kept trading e-mails with him though and kept finding more and more common ground.  The guy even played drums and sang backing vocals.  Everything felt almost like divine intervention had made our paths cross.  Something inside was driving me to keep trying to work on this guy and get to a point where I could work with him in some capacity.  Finally I offered up the idea of him just filling in for the GB show, since Brett had tossed it aside.  He AGREED!  I couldn’t believe it!  My excitement level for the show went through the roof!  It felt like, for one night, we’d be getting to play with Slash as a special guest or something!  I emailed Jim and Rocky and said “The show is fully on…wait until you guys see the guy I got to fill in!”  They were all eager to play with a new guy too.  I was actually really let down when Brett called me to say he cancelled his conflict and was going to play the show.  I hadn’t sent the songs over to Mike yet, so he wasn’t out much as far as learning songs and then not having to play.  Of course, as I mentioned previously, I ended up losing my voice and cancelling the show anyway, so it was sort of a blessing in disguise.  I would have felt horrible telling Mike we’d pay him $100 to fill in, and then he learns all the songs and doesn’t even play the show!  Then, I’d still be out the $100 and not even have the income from playing the show to cover it!  Despite not needing Mike after all, I kept in touch in with him.  I just really had a feeling that the idea of us playing music together wasn’t over.  We had a few more shows on the books before the next opportunity to open for GB again.  The memorable one happened to be at a place called Station 4.  It was a dingy sort of a dump of a place that had changed names like 3 times just in the years I’d been playing.  It could never seem to change its reputation as a shit hole that was tough to get fans to come out to.  Jim was still drumming in another band at the time, and that band had booked a weekend gig there and asked if we wanted to be part of the bill.  I really wasn’t thrilled about it, but that band’s singer, John Lampson, was a really nice dude who had come to see us multiple times, and I thought…”What the hell.”  It could be fun and it would be meaningful to Jim, plus it would be a nostalgia trip for me.  Brett had bailed out of around 2 weeks straights of practices leading up to the show.  I wasn’t pleased, but I always had the mindset of, “If we can at least have one dress rehearsal and run the set before the show, we’ll be all right.”  Well, the week of the show, Brett bailed on the dress rehearsal as well.  He called me and was like, “Dude, it’s just Station 4…who cares, it will be fine.  Don’t worry about me…I’ve done this before…I’ll do my homework and be prepared…just make sure the other guys are ready to go.”  Since it WAS just Station 4 and I knew we wouldn’t have a massive crowd out, I begrudgingly rolled with it.   The night of the show he rolled in well after we had all been there, which irked me even further.  The 3 of us had been discussing this situation for the last 3 weeks and kind of had come to the conclusion that Brett’s time should come to an end.  I was a little more hesitant to make the move, and was trying to provide some exceptions for him.  “If he comes and knocks it out the park at Station 4, let’s give him another shot.”  After missing dress rehearsal, the other two were a little more adamant that Station 4 was his last show.  When he wasn’t there right away for load in, I got this pit in my stomach that that was going to be the case, and I’d be firing another guy.  When he finally did arrive, he was all peppy and buddy buddy with me.  The other two really didn’t want to have much to do with him.  I think he knew something was up because he kept trying to bring things up for the future, almost to gauge to see how I’d respond to that.  I’d just diffuse everything and say, “I just want to get through this one…I feel sort of unprepared.”  He’d ask me what was wrong with Jim and Rocky and I’d just sort of play dumb and shrug it off.  Finally, that painstaking down time was over and it was time to play.  Lampson had a habit of recording every show his band played, and to test things out, he recorded our set to.  He was taking a mix directly off the sound board, and almost as if another sign was being sent to me, the mix ended up featuring the lead guitar much more pronounced than any of the rest of us.  It enabled us to listen to exactly what Brett was playing the entire set.  We could all tell it was sloppy and rough from the stage, but once I threw some headphones on after the fact, and was able to single out his guitar, the truth presented itself in full sonic display.  There was a solo that was so ridiculously bad, that I almost couldn’t bear to listen to it.  I was embarrassed.  Not only now was I embarrassed by his stage presence and attire, but even more so by his playing.  Without a shadow of a doubt, he had played his final show with us.  I would have lost the entire band had I suggested anything different.  I hated making that phone call.  Brett was brash, and he wouldn’t be a push over like Matt was.  I hate giving people a reason to hate me, and I could see him flying off the handle worse than a lot of people.  He was a very proud person and used to allow me to play with HIS band when they were raking in good money.  Now I was telling HIM, he wasn’t good enough to be in my band!  It really wasn’t even about him not being good enough….ability wise, he certainly had what it took to play great.  It was really just his attitude towards the thing and it not being a good fit.  It didn’t make it any easier.  I remember calling him and conferencing in the other guys via phone, because I wanted to have some backing support.  We were having a family get together at my house, and for some reason, it had to go down right then.  I took a deep breath and said, “Ok, this is it.”  I dialed the number and he answered.  I did most of the talking.  Jim kicked in with some support.  I’m pretty sure Rocky didn’t speak.  In a way, Brett’s arrogance helped the situation go smoother.  He didn’t fly off the handle.  He anticipated it and turned it around towards him being relieved because he wanted to quit and wasn’t sure when to do it.  It felt like a pride saving measure, which was fine with me.  He threw a few nice barbs my way still though.  He said I needed a lot of work on leadership and communication and wasn’t an effective person to lead a band.  I just played the diffusive role of making statements like, “You’re probably right….it’s something I need to work on and get better at.”  It’s sort of like the QB taking the podium at a press conference after the defense gives up 35 points in a losing effort.  Inside he’s saying…”The defense fucking sucks, what do you want me to say.”  But to the press he says, “This one’s on me….I should have been able to execute that last drive for the go ahead score.  We all need to improve and get better.”  Over the years I kind of learned to handle band conversations like press conferences.  Never say anything that somebody can twist out of context.  Never fly off the handle and burn bridges.  Always lay a degree of blame on yourself….it’s nearly impossible for them to fire something awful back while disagreeing with you.  Once it was over, I felt this huge sense of freedom and relief.  I was excited to move forward!  Jim and Rocky had a bit of panic though…..”What are we gonna do about the show with GB at Bogart’s now?”  I calmly said.  “Don’t worry, I’ll find a fill in……I already have somebody in mind!”

It didn’t take long for me to get in touch with Mike again.  I was actually kind of giddy at the possibility of him playing a show with us being a reality.  It was such a different feeling than I’d ever been used to.  Usually, when you lose a member you kind of dread the next few shows because you know it will likely be sloppy and you won’t be tight with the new guy yet.  This time, however, I just had this feeling that with Mike sitting in we’d be twice as impressive.  I just had to hope he’d say yes!  I told him we had fired our guitar player and needed a fill in to open up for GB at Bogarts in a couple of weeks.  The set would be 45 minutes and around 11 songs.  Of course, I threw in the caveat that if he wanted the gig full time we could explore that arrangement as well.  He got back to me promptly and agreed to fill in for the show!  I was pumped!  Brett was already a distant memory in my mind.  I quickly burned a CD of all of the songs we would be playing that night.  I felt bad because they were all mostly live recordings, and it could be hard to pick out specific parts.  Mike ran a music school in Maple Grove, not far from my house, so I ran the disk over to him and met him for the first time in person.  Part of me just wanted to make double sure that the guy I watched in the video was actually the person who was going to be showing up for the gig!  Mike immediately had a very calming presence about him….I just felt at ease even walking into his music school.  We had a nice chat, and then I went on my way agreeing to meet up in a few weeks to have a rehearsal before the show.  It was literally 2-3 days later when he wrote me and said he was ready to rehearse when we were!  That actually kind of made me freak out a little bit and gave me some apprehension about things.  Who was this guy thinking he was ready to go after only 3 days??!  I have him 45 minutes of music to learn!!  Was he going to just half ass this gig?  There was NO WAY he was ready to have a dress rehearsal.  I wrote back and said we could do it next week.  That day soon came and I couldn’t help but think that we were headed for a train wreck of a rehearsal.  Mike had only had the songs for over a week.  This wasn’t a blues jam band where I could nod and have the lead player solo in a pentatonic scale for 4 minutes and then throw it back to me to finish off a predictable 1-4-5 chord progression.  These were rock songs with breakdowns, and starts and stops and the band dropping in and out on certain measures.  I was by no means a songwriting genius, but I tried to avoid being predictable and going where the mind would expect you to go as far as chords and melodies went.  In addition to that, I was asking him to learn lyrics and sing backing vocals.  Yes, I had convinced myself now that there was no way Mike was going to be close to ready to do the whole set.  Maybe he had gotten 3-4 songs down and we could start with those, but there was no way we’d be able to run the whole set that night.  The rest of guys arrived and we started setting up our gear to get ready to begin.  The mystery of Mike grew. We were ready to start and I noticed he had no music stand, no notes….nothing!  Most guys in his situation would still be going off notes ON STAGE AT THE GIG!  Here Mike was, after 1 week, just blatantly forgoing any assistance from such things.  It was time to test this out!  I’ll admit, I was bursting at the seams with anticipation of what was going to happen.  I said, “Ok…well let’s just start from the top of the set list……Killer Sea.”  I expected Mike to start sweating at this point.  At the very least I’d have to sing him a few bars so he remembered what song that was and how it went right?  Nope. Killer Sea started out with a tight staccato rhythm that we all played together, and then it launched into this driving lead guitar riff.  Jim counted it out…..1….2….3….4…..dadadada….dadadadad……..dadadada…..dadadada…………then off Mike went………..FLAWLESS!  The whole damn songs was flawless…..the solo section was even better than anything Brett had played.  We finished it perfectly together……I heard nary a mistake…..it was show ready.  I sat there in amazement and just muttered out……”That was awesome dude….perfect.”  The other guys chimed in similar things.  Ok, Ok, I thought…..he knew that would be the first song and he worked extra hard on it…….”Next song.”  PERFECT!  “Next song”  FLAWLESS!  It pretty much went this way the whole night.  There were a few instances where Mike was confused about a part because he couldn’t make it out in the recording.  I’d SING it to him…..he’d spend about 2 minutes working through it, then we’d try that part……NAILED!  It was honestly one of the most amazing things I’d seen in my life.  The dude was like a music savant or prodigy or alien or something.  In the years to come I would utilize other guitar players as fill ins and I still have never seen anything close to what Mike did.  We could have played the show that night and it would have been leaps and bounds better than Brett’s last show at Station 4.  I drove home that night just giddy!  I couldn’t wait to tell Courtnie all about it.  It felt like Christmas morning when you are 10, and getting that toy you have been wanting for months and months but never really thought you’d actually get.  In this case it was like I’d been waiting 8 years for something and finally was going to get to have it for one show at least!  When I first started putting together the new band, I had an ideal in my mind for each position.  I knew I likely wouldn’t achieve that but I wanted to get as close to it as possible.  Mike, unbelievably, exceeded my loftiest expectations for what I thought I might be able to have at lead guitar.  It would have almost been too good to be true to have him come on as the permanent guy.  I was more than happy to at least enjoy this one show with him.

I pumped that gig up as hard as I had in years.  I thought, if you were ever to come and see one show, make it this one with Mike on guitar.  It’s going to be something special!  We got a great crowd out that night, and I beamed with pride knowing that this was Brian Leighton and his band’s first impression of what I put together post Concentual.  We got lots of great comments, and Mike seemed to really enjoy himself.  The only damper was that Jim was beside himself after the set about how bad he thought he played.  There were a few mistakes, but none of us seemed too up in arms about it.  He was just berating himself profusely however, and blaming the drum kit he had to play on, etc, etc.  It kind of started to weird Mike out and he asked me if Jim was always like that.  I told him “No, not usually”, and he kind of blew it off, but he left kind of abruptly.   It didn’t matter.  The show was amazing to me!  I kept replaying each moment over and over in my head.  I had such a huge level of pride over the musicians I had on stage with me that night.  Every time Mike had a solo, I would step back and smile and just try to soak it up.  I didn’t know if I’d ever get the opportunity to do so again.  It was one of those magical sorts of nights for me playing. 

 

We had other gigs coming up on the schedule so I started trying to figure out how we were going to get through each one at the guitar position.  We had a few people in for auditions, but it was just depressing how much of a drop off it was from Mike.  I started to consider options like paying Mike a “for hire” rate and basically just giving him $100 a show.  That was tough though when we might make $60 on a poor draw night.  I finally just sat down and told him I was willing to do whatever it took for him to keep filling in with us.  He agreed that as long as he was available, he’d play the show and just take ¼ of the money earned from the gig that night, just like the rest of us.  This dude was just too good to be true!  Eventually we worked more and more together and developed a sort of connection.  His role at some point kind of unofficially morphed into being a regular member of the band!  It wasn’t your typical progression.  There was no announcement on Facebook really, or no notification sent to a mailing list welcoming Mike aboard.  He kind of phrased it like, “Well, I’ll just keep filling in indefinitely.  The last time I did that, I played in the band for the next 4 years.”  It was sort of like a guy being afraid to officially marry his girlfriend, but they move in together and just kind of say that are “dating” indefinitely.  I remember my old drummer Brian Henz having that relationship with his girlfriend.  They had been together 8 years and lived together but there were no plans of engagement or marriage.  Hey, whatever works!  All I knew was I didn’t have to go hunting for a guitar player anymore, and I’d get to keep playing with the best musician I’d ever come across!  Eventually, I’d sneak the official parts in there.  I’d list him as the official guitar player on our Facebook music page.  Then, we’d need a new promo photo and I’d take that stance of, “Mike, you’re playing the shows with us and I want to come across a 4 piece…you’re in the shot!”  He was an official member weather he thought of himself as one or not!  

One of the next shows we had booked was a CD release party for the band Section 30 at the Fine Line.  It was a good gig because these guys were from the outer northern suburbs and had this big following playing these little dive bars out there.  They were setting up multiple party busses to bring people to the downtown gig and back out to the sticks, so I had a feeling a good crowd was going to be there.  We got the slot right before them so you couldn’t ask for much better.  I knew people would be there and I knew they’d be drunk and ready to have a raucous time, so all of the best elements were in place for a rocking show.   We still didn’t have a new guitar player in place, and to my elation, Mike agreed to fill in again!  Things started off on a sour note for him before he even got in the building, however.  The sucky thing about playing the Fine Line is the parking situation.  You have to load in, but there is no free parking for the bands right by the venue.  The lot that is connected to the Fine Line usually costs around $10, unless there is an event that night, in which case it can jump up to as much as $20.  Most places you play, you never have to worry about paying for parking.  To make matters worse, the guy that usually runs the lot is pretty much an asshole.  He’s the kind of guy that Rocky got in good with by telling off color jokes to.  This is the kind of guy that Mike is fundamentally opposed to.  I was always nice to the dude and just usually took it in the shorts by paying to park right by the load in door.  The parking attendant was familiar with seeing me, and he didn’t give me any attitude, mostly because I never gave him any trouble or backtalk.  I tried that the first time and quickly discovered it was never going to get anywhere with it so that is where it ended.  Mike pulled in with his gear and tried to have a reasonable talk with the guy to get the cover down or something, which is usually what gets him bitchy with you.  I can’t remember exactly what transpired but it left this negative cloud of disgust hanging over Mike.  It came time for out set and I was pretty pumped that a good crowd had assembled.  It always kind of took my anxiety down a level in a way because I didn’t worry about the booking agent getting pissed that the night was a bust and that it might lead to us not asking us back again.  We ripped through the first song, and I felt it was important to keep the momentum going so I was urging Jim to start the next song right away.  I didn’t want to wait for the applause to die down.  He wasn’t counting the next song in, so I turn around to flash him a look like, “Get going!”  He had this deer in headlights look about him.  Then Mike turned around, sensing the need to get the next song started as well.  We are all waiting on Jim and finally he shakily 4 counts into the next song.  We launch in with fury, only to realize something is amiss.  Jim is playing the wrong song!  I laser lock my eyes to him, urging him to transition out of it so we can rectify the situation on the fly.  He seemed snake bit at this point and I committed the cardinal sin of playing live music.  I stopped playing!  You never, under any circumstances want to have to stop playing a song because it’s fucked up.  Good musicians should be able to get it back somehow and get on track.  When you stop, it’s the surefire way that even the bimbos at the bar who are trying to get drinks bought for them, who aren’t even listening…..know that you just fucked up.  It’s the mark of a band that isn’t professional, and doesn’t have their shit together.  Sure, it happens to even the best bands from time to time, but it’s hugely embarrassing.  Jim didn’t look at the wrong song on the set list.  He didn’t try something new that just got away from him.  He simply forgot how the song went.  I was plenty pissed.  I think it may have been the only time that has ever happened to me in 10 years of playing, where a song has to completely stop, followed by a few seconds of silence and on stage chatter, followed by me apologizing on the mic, followed by restarting the song.  It just set a bad tone for the whole set.  Despite that gaff, by the end of our set, I thought the crowd was really into what we were doing and I felt some good energy from them.  By the time we hit the last chord I had almost forgotten about how the show started.  I was actually in a pretty good mood coming off stage.  I went over to Mike once we had all loaded our gear off, to kind of debrief the set.  He wasn’t filled with much enthusiasm.  He seemed just odd and out of sorts.  Sure enough, only a few minutes had passed before he came up to me and said…”Hey man, I gotta get out here.  It’s just a weird vibe.”  Later he would tell me that things just didn’t feel right.  He said when we were playing he heard people yelling for Section 30 to get on, and it kind of messed with him.  I thought to myself.  “Ok, they bussed 100 drunk hicks from the sticks to come to their CD release party…it’s all their friends and they have been waiting through 2 bands already for them to get on stage…what were you expecting?”  My whole goal in those situations is to put on a show that gets 10 of them to stop and go, “Holy shit, this band is really good…what is their name?  We should go see them again?”  I’m not expecting them to turn into a rabid fan base throughout the course of a 45 minute set.  I’m sure Mike didn’t have that expectation either, but I think his was more along the lines of…”I hope they are respectful and enjoy our music.”  I’m not giving people that much credit.  One of my favorite artists is a guy named Butch Walker.  He comes through the Fine Line a lot when he has a new album out, and during most of his sets he has a few quiet ballad numbers that he plays by himself at a piano.  He’s requested on stage that people just “shut the fuck up” for 4 minutes for one song.  It would be easier to get Christians and Atheists to come to an agreement on the creation of the earth then it is for 400 people to respect the wish, for four minutes, of the artist they just paid $20 to come see.  That’s just the way it is.  I don’t expect other band’s fans to give a shit about us when we are on stage.  You have to come in with that mentality or else it just bums you out when you look out and see people with their backs turned or engaged in conversations when you are trying to rock for them.  For whatever reason, Mike seemed to have trouble with that.  I don’t if it came from him playing with Twin Cities legend, Mark Mallman, and being used to seeing people in front of stage going ape shit for him every show.  Whatever the case, he didn’t seem very satisfied or content when coming off the stage for the shows.  It always kind of concerned me, because of anyone, I really didn’t want to lose Mike.  Like I mentioned before, I felt like I had waited 8 years for him to come along and I was going to whatever I could to keep it going.  I quickly learned that due to Mike’s “zen” kind of nature that negativity was like kryptonite to him.  If you engaged in tendencies like gossiping, or ripping on other people, or arguing amongst the band…..it seemed to greatly cast concern onto him.  You could just see the disappointment transform his face.  As a result, I tried to shield him from it as much as possible.  I would tell Rocky, “Don’t bitch about stuff at practice.  Don’t get in that mopey, deprecating mood that you sometimes like to get into.  It will drive Mike away.”  I’d always preach to Rocky and Jim to be upbeat and positive.  I’d fight my own tendencies to express concerns I had about this or that and instead would try to always cast things in a better light.  It wasn’t easy for me though.  Jim would be late for the thousandth time and I’d want to just go off and be like…”I wonder what the fuck his excuse will be this time.”  I’d want to rip on him, but instead I’d try to be like, “He’s just running a bit late…ah that Jim, that’s a problem of his….I’ll have to work on a way to rectify that with him.  I’m sure he’s got a good reason though.”  Some days Mike would actually throw out the first snicker, and I would run with it like he just cracked open a closed door and I just had to kick it open.  He’d be like, “Oh, he got a speeding ticket, huh?  We should ask him to bring it in.”  I couldn’t help myself and would throw out what would amount to the verbal reaction of…”YYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!”  In those situations it was like he was opening Pandora’s box for me and I could vent for a few minutes about 2 weeks worth of stuffed backed up in recesses of my mind.  Whenever that happened though, the satisfaction of release was always fleeting.  It felt like I was giving a recovering alcoholic a shot of whiskey.  They downed it and loved it in that moment, but then probably cursed themselves out and felt miserable for the next few days.  It sort of felt like Mike had demons, and when I facilitated his rare rants about something, it was like I was facilitating him regressing back to place that he was trying to put behind him.  I never really got into an in depth conversation with him about this, but that was just always a sense that I had for whatever reason.  It tended to get worse as time was passing because Mike was developing less and less faith in Jim as a drummer.  Rocky had already arrived at that conclusion for some time.  I was a little disgusted with myself that I wasn’t able to clearly see what they were talking about.  I mean, there were clearly things about Jim that I wasn’t pleased with…..his lateness, his demeanor in practice, etc.  But Mike and Rocky were always hammering on the same thing as their paramount concerns.  Tempo.  They felt like he was all over the place, and they never got into a groove with him.  He didn’t command the drum kit and throw down a solid beat that they could fall into and mesh with.  Maybe it’s because I am singing and playing on stage and trying to entertain the crowd and I don’t have as much concentration left over to concern myself with that.  Maybe I just don’t have as rich of a musical background where I can pick it out, but it was harder for me to hear that.  I wasn’t disagreeing or anything, I could just never honestly step off stage and have any confidence if it had been good or bad.  I knew if he screwed up an important part….I knew if he was off key on harmonies, but I couldn’t really tell you if our songs were a roller coaster of tempo.  EVERY show, Rocky and Mike knew…and it was always a bad report.  This was of increasing concern to me, because if Rocky and Mike weren’t happy with him, they weren’t happy in the band.  If they weren’t happy, they wouldn’t want to do it anymore.  If I lost Rocky and Mike, to me it might as well be game over.  I certainly wasn’t fond enough of Jim to do what I did with Paul back in the day and say…”It’s ok, let’s just rebuild this thing….you and me!”  It wasn’t going to happen that way with him.  My eyes were finally really opened up when my old bass player Brian offered to record a demo for us for free, just to get some experience.  I really was chomping at the bit to get some recorded material out there because I was tired of playing shows and not having any recordings people could take home with them, or even be able to go to a website and listen to songs.  How was anybody ever going to get into us and want to come to a show if they couldn’t even hear anywhere what we sounded like? 

We lined a free weekend up with Brian and set out to record around 4 songs.  The session included only Rocky, Jim and myself.  Mike was busy and was going to come in later and record his guitar tracks.  That was kind of my idea because, again, I was trying to shield him from Stealing Seconds being any sort of hassle to him.  I figured he didn’t really need to sit around and listen to everybody do multiple takes of their parts.  The recording process is very rewarding, but also has long stretches of being very monotonous and boring.  Jim was late, as usual, and had a bag of food and snacks in hand, ready to hunker down for a long day.  We started out doing scratch tracks of each song, which is basically everybody playing the song together live, so that we could go back and overdub our individual tracks.  Immediately, it was evident that Jim wasn’t very comfortable playing to a click track, which for all those unfamiliar with the lingo, is a track with beeps that sets the tempo of the song.  Most bands, when playing live, tend to speed up and slow down a little bit, but in the studio, it’s of paramount importance most times to be able to keep an even tempo because it makes it much easier to do overdubs and things like that.  There were songs that we had to 6 or 7 times just to get close to the click track, because it got so ridiculously off.  That is when it really hit me what Mike and Rocky were talking about.  Jim was all over the place.  Some songs were better than others, but there were some that truly seemed like a roller coaster when you were listening to the tones of the click track and how behind and then ahead of them we’d get.  Brian gets to be a bit of perfectionist when recording bands at times, and it was clear that Jim was getting a little rattled at his own inability to stay on time with the click.  We finally got the scratch tracks down, and then it was time for Jim to be isolated and redub his drum tracks to perfection.  That got stressful.  He was sweating bullets behind that kit, figuratively and literally.  He was trying his ass off, but take after take was just not cutting it.  Finally I think everyone was getting a bit impatient and things were “close enough” and we moved on.  Rocky pretty much got his bass tracks down in one or two takes.  I, for the most part, got the rhythm guitar parts down in a few takes.  We ran out of time to really do any vocals, and since I lived close to Brian, we decided we could do those on our own at any time.  It was a long day, but I thought it was a decent start to the process.  Brian burned the demos of what we had done thus far to a CD so we could all go home and listen.  A week or so later I got back together with Brian and had Mike come down to record his lead parts.  Mike started with “Killer Sea” and after a few takes we sat down to listen to how it was sounding.  Brian was lamenting over how much work he was having to do on the drum tracks to get them to sound right and he wasn’t overly pleased with them.  Mike had the same opinion that they just weren’t quite right.  I gave a good hard listen, and had to agree that they just weren’t popping out of the speakers and inspiring anyone.  Brian offered his opinion that, “it was up to me of course, but if it were him he’d either have Jim come back and redo everything, or get somebody else to come in and play them.”  The latter wasn’t an option to me.  Nothing would cause more dissention then not even being on the demo that your band was peddling hard at shows.  Jim either had to get it right, or we’d just have to live with the subpar quality drum tracks.  I talked to Jim about it, and he was pretty dismayed about the conclusion of redoing the tracks, because essentially he spent a whole day doing drum tracks for nothing.  Nonetheless, he was willing to give it another shot and try to improve on his past performance.  He wouldn’t end up getting that chance. 

Not long after that talk we had a show scheduled at O’Garas.  It proved to a pretty ho-hum, lackluster show as far as the crowd was concerned.  It was one of those shows were I walked off stage and thought to myself….why did I book this show?  Was that really a great time for anyone?  We didn’t play horrible or anything, it was just that there was no energy on stage or in the room.  I asked Rocky and Mike how they thought the show went and they each separately had the unanimous response.  Jim was off badly.  I honestly didn’t even think it was that bad, which continued to frustrate me, because I thought I must be in the musical minor leagues if I wasn’t picking up on something that was so blatantly obvious to 2 other guys in the band.  Jim, of course, thought it was fine.  It was a little ironic to me that he cursed himself out so bad about his playing that first show with Mike at Bogart’s and all of us where like, “Whatever man, it was fine.”  Now he’s taking the “Whatever man, it was fine,” stance, and Mike and Rocky are beside themselves with the mindset of “Wow, that was rough!”  It was bad enough to Rocky that he began violating my cardinal rule for him.  He started bitching and getting negative about it to Mike, while Jim was still at the venue.  No band situation gets as awkward as when you are all bitching about somebody and they walk in the room and the conversation grinds to a screeching halt.  It makes everybody feel weird, and that’s the kind of stuff I was hoping I walked away from for good after leaving Concentual.  I certainly have never been innocent in partaking in those situations and have even led the charge on many an occasion, but my hope was to build something moving forward where there was no pull to engage in anything like that.  However, here we were again, 3 venting their frustrations about 1.  If that negative energy was, indeed, like kryptonite to Mike, I’m surprised he had the strength to walk out of the venue.  He did however, per usual, and texted me what would seem to be becoming his tag line after gigs.  “Sorry dude, had to get out of there, weird vibe.”  I left that night very dismayed.  I knew something had to change and I didn’t know to do.  Either we all had to really have a “Come to Jesus” talk with Jim and try to get him to turn it around and work his ass off to improve, or he was going to have to catch the next train out of Stealing Secondsville.  I knew deep down that he didn’t have the make-up to bust ass and turn things around in a short enough amount of time to appease the restless natives.  It was hard for me though, because to that point Jim had been a good guy who always believed in the songs I wrote.  If somebody believes in what I’m trying to create, I never blow that off as insignificant.  I had an opportunity to go over and work on a new song with just Mike a few days later and we revisited the talk about Jim.  Mike’s opinion was that any band he’s ever been in that has been successful has had a hard hitting, solid drummer.  He felt Jim was not that guy.  Mike is also a very good drummer and he mentioned it was hard for him to sit back and play with a guy that wasn’t able to deliver his parts as well as he would be able to in the same position.  Mike is very, very far from an arrogant person so when he says something like that, you know it really eats at him when he’s on stage.  Finally he delivered the death blow.  He said that it was ultimately my decision and he wanted to stand by me, but he didn’t know how much longer he could play with Jim with things the were they currently were.  That was the uppercut to the jaw for me.  I already knew Rocky kind of felt that way, but Rocky says a lot of things and tends to just kind of put up with stuff and slog along.  If Mike went though, then I saw everything start to unravel quickly.  At that moment, there didn’t even seem like a decision was left to make.  I was unhappy with several aspects of Jim, 4 people I trusted now stated he had major tempo problems, we couldn’t use any stuff he did from a full day in the studio, and now if he stayed on, Mike, and subsequently Rocky would most likely walk away.  Jim was done. 

Jack Lamarr

I was very much not looking forward to that conversation.  I never do, but with Jim it felt particularly hard.  My whole PA was his place still, and regardless, I wanted to talk to him face to face and show him a heightened level of respect by not doing it over the phone as I had done with Brett and Matt.  I made Rocky come with me, because I was hoping he would speak up and help paint the picture that this was a “band” decision and not just me not liking something and pulling rank and abruptly bringing down the axe on another member of Stealing Seconds.  I called Jim to tell him we were coming over and he obviously knew something was up.  He texted Rocky while Rocky was with me and was like, “Is everything ok?”  We arrive, and I thought we had a very respectful and adult conversation about everything.  Rocky even spoke up a bit, which I was pleased about.  Jim was disappointed, but seemed to take everything ok.  He even offered to help load the PA out.  He actually said, “See, I’m not going to be one of those assholes who storms off, I’ll even help you load the PA out.”  He said he appreciated the time he had with the band, and would keep track of it.  As we pulled away, Rocky said, “Wow, that didn’t go too bad at all!”  I responded with, “I know, that was the best parting with a band member that I have ever gone through!”  Little did I know, that it actually would end up being by far the WORST!

As soon as we got in the car and Jim shut the door to his house, he must have gone straight to his computer and began drafting his hatred manifesto.  By the time I arrived back home, loaded my PA into the house and sat down to check my e-mail, it was there, waiting in my inbox.  Through my previous experiences in dealing with stuff like this, I tried blow off most of what I read.  The one thing I wasn’t going to do was give Jim the satisfaction of feeling like he affected me in any way, and engage in some sort of e-mail war where each message gets progressively more bitter and full of angst.  In fact, once I got the vibe of the message, I tried to skim over most of the epic novel because I didn’t want to let myself get pissed off enough to fire back.  I realized that Jim was obviously not of a maturity level that I wanted to deal with, and I just wanted that chapter of my band life to be done and over with.  Most of the message outlined how I was a terrible leader, and tried to provide multiple points of evidence to support that case.  It kind of irked me how it was 100% directed at me though, and treated Rocky and Mike like these voiceless, helpless slaves that had to bow to my dictatorial power.  It, of course, had to reference the fact that Matt and Brett had recently been fired so that was obviously enough evidence to demonstrate this Hilter-esque ego that I had.  Jim apparently was content to conveniently forget the endless conversations we all had about those moves and how each one was a unanimous decision, which had to ultimately be delivered by me.  THAT history was ignored in regards to HIS situation though, and it was obvious that Mike and Rocky were huge Jim fans, and were cruelly being overruled by my iron fist.  I did, ultimately, respond however.  I chose to counteract his venom with what I felt to be the anit-venom:  respect and professionalism.  I could only imagine his frustration on the receiving end that message.  His stomach doing a little flip as he sees my name pop up next to that little envelope in his inbox, imagining what hateful, harsh things he would read, all pumping gasoline onto his fire of rage, propelling him to fire off the next crass e-mail in hopes of using his outstanding usage of the human language to chop me down word by word.  Instead, he opens up the e-mail to read something along the lines of…..”Jim, I sorry that situation has caused this much anger and discontent.  I understand that these situations are hard to accept sometimes because we all have a high level of pride when it comes to our craft.  I truly wish you the best of luck moving forward.”  BOOM!!  How do you come back at that??  It’s impossible to tear away at any new barbs I threw at him.  It was like trying to have a fist fight with a stone statue.  You can punch away at it, but when you realize you aren’t damaging it and you are just bloodying your own fists it seems pointless after awhile.  He may have sent an e-mail after that, but it pretty effectively shut him up abruptly.  I was really proud of myself with how I handled the situation, and I figured I effectively washed my hands of Jim Schweitzer.  Nope.

Obviously frustrated that his verbal jabs and uppercuts weren’t getting through, he had to devise a new tactic to try to get to me.  A few days later he sends an e-mail to me demanding that we change the name Mass Drastic, because it was his intellectual property.  I laughed heartily at this notion, trying to picture what kind of action he thought he was going to take.  Really Jim?  Are you going to spend money to get a lawyer to try to get back at the band that kicked you out?  It’s not like Mass Drastic had the name recognition of Metallica or something.  We’d played a handful of shows under that name.  It was not an issue to change it at all for me, but I didn’t want to do it out of the sheer principal of the matter.  I had tasked him with setting up the website a while back, which really only linked to our MySpace page at the time.  He wasted no time in re-rerouting it to some dumb blog he wrote on now and again.  That was a minor annoyance, but it wasn’t that difficult to get a new domain address that was www.massdrasticmusic.com or something.  I counteracted by beating him to changing the password of the MySpace site so he couldn’t access it.  That probably really got his blood boiling because that was our sole web presence anyway, so changing a meaningless web address that only linked to our MySpace address, didn’t hurt us in the least.  I could just picture him thinking he was outsmarting me, and racing to sabotage our web page only to be denied access and throwing up his fists saying…”Ahhhhhhh!!!  He’s beaten me again!”  What really made me stand my ground was him ending his e-mail with, “Change the name, I’M NOT ASKING.”  I replied with a smart ass remark that was a bit out of character for how I was trying to handle the situation, but it was just such a perfect set up.  I said, “Whew, I’m glad you aren’t asking me to, because I didn’t plan on changing it!”  I even went as far as officially registering the name just so he couldn’t use it for any other band entity in the future without me having the right to take legal action if I wanted to.  It was all pretty dumb and juvenile, but it was like he was trying to play this chess game with me, and I just wanted badly to have him in check mate, no matter what he tried to do.  A few days passed and I didn’t hear from him, as he was undoubtedly trying to strategize his next move.  As I was telling people about what was going on, I kept having to bring up our band name.  Every time I said “Mass Drastic” my face just soured a bit.  I now associated that name heavily with Jim as he WAS the person who initially had suggested that name as a possibility.  I thought back to how nobody really loved the name but it was the only thing we could all agree on at the time.  Now that whole group of guys was gone, and it just seemed really cathartic to have a new name to represent this new, much higher caliber group of guys.  This time around, it didn’t have to be this huge democratic decision either.  There was no drummer on board, Mike would never really concern himself with caring about something like a band name, and Rocky was a pretty go with the flow type of guy.  I couldn’t see him arguing much about whatever I wanted the name to be.  My only hesitation was that it was such a pain in the ass to come up with a good band name.  I thought for weeks about what to name the band when we first were getting started and nothing really sat well with anyone.  Then, it hit me like a ton of bricks!  There WAS one name that I loved, and a lot of people whose opinion I asked, loved.  One of the few people who didn’t love it and didn’t want to play under that name was Jim.  It was meaningful to me, it had alliteration, it could look cool in a logo.  I shot the idea off to the other guys, and they quickly responded with, “Cool, let’s do it.”  That day, we officially became Stealing Seconds!  Jim, no doubt, heard of the name change and remembered how fond I was of it.  Check mate. 

I immediately posted a wanted ad on Craigslist for a new drummer, under the new band name,  pointing out the things I felt were important.  I wanted a hard hitting drummer who kept a good pocket that could preferably provide some backing vocals.  I specifically kept it kind of vague, because I had this feeling Jim would be scouring the listings, since that is how we initially found him, and I didn’t want to be unprofessional and rude and emphasize us wanting all the things Jim wasn’t.  For example, I didn’t want an ad that said…Mass Drastic seeking drummer who can effectively play to a click track, is punctual, and is driven to work hard.  I got a few responses that weren’t overly thrilling, and the one popped up that was pretty intriguing.  It was a guy named Jack LaMarr who had just relocated from Oklahoma and said he was part of an award winning touring pop band there.  He said he had backing vocal ability and showed a picture of himself playing behind his kit.  He looked like an energetic younger guy, and I was pretty excited as I was reading.  The last line threw me for a bit of a loop though.  He asked what had happened to the previous drummer.  That struck me as odd because it’s kind of a frowned upon practice to ask a band you want to audition for what happened to the guy you are trying to replace.  I immediately smelled some sort of Jim tie in, but wasn’t sure what yet.  Did he get a buddy to write me to see if I’d say something bad about him?  It made sense because I wasn’t giving him the satisfaction of doing it to his face so he could fire back at me.  Was Jim really that pathetic though?  I didn’t think so……it all just struck me as odd however.  I enthusiastically responded to the guy and closed by telling him it just didn’t work out with the previous drummer…he was a great guy but there were some issues arose that made us feel like it was time to move in a different direction.  Just in case it was Jim’s handiwork, I asked the guy to provide some audio samples for me to listen to of his playing.  That shouldn’t be a hard request for a drummer of an award winning band, and it would be a little harder to produce then just throwing a random picture up of yourself playing behind a drum kit.  A few days later, Jack responded with 2 audio clips from a random band called the Muffs.  He said he did the drumming on the clips, and then needled further about the old drummer, saying something along the lines of, “you guys raise the bar pretty high.  I checked out some video clips and that guy behind the kit would be hard to replace!  What were the exact issues with him?”  OK!  Could you BE more obvious Jim.  He clearly had some tie in to this Jack LaMarr guy, but I wanted to figure it out completely and fire back at him like a dude on the stand of one of those law shows where this concrete piece of convicting evidence is dropped on them and they just sit there with a dumbfounded look on their face with no intelligent response, where all they can do is hold both hands up in the air as if to say, “You got me!”  The e-mails continued as I tried to set up an audition with this Jack LaMarr.  Try to pull that off Jim.  Are you going to find a drummer friend who looks like the dude in the picture and convince him to learn 2 of our songs to audition with??  THAT will impress me!

In the meantime, while all of this was transpiring, we had a show coming up at the Fine Line, and I needed a fill in, so we turned to another Scott Morrisson Band connection and got his drummer, John Eide, to play with us.  John had always wanted to play music with me, and was even contemplating being interested in the permanent gig with the band, so it was kind of a good audition for him.  If John had one big strength, it was tempo.  He always played to a click track so your tempos never wavered.  They never wavered from show to show either, so if you were super amped up on a particular night and tried pushing the tempo of a song a few BPM’s, Eide would reign you in, enslaved to the beep in his ear.  Sometimes that’s great, and sometimes it’s a little restrictive feeling, but one thing was for sure.  It was the polar opposite to Jim and it was something we embraced for the immediate future to help us sort of get back on track with being a tight sounding band. 

John did a great job learning the tunes and we were all pretty excited to play the Fine Line show when it rolled around.  The night was great and I had my video camera rolling.  We actually ended up having a few useable songs that I threw up on various websites.  That was actually kind of a big deal to me because I recorded almost every show on video in hopes of posting footage and there was always something wrong with every song.  My voice was off key, or the Rocky flubbed a bass line, or Jim stumbled over a drum part, or the audio just didn’t sound very good.  This show was a perfect combination of great sounding audio, good video and few mistakes from the band!  Jim was obviously zeroed in on the posting of this newest footage.  1 day after the show, Jack LaMarr popped up again after about a 2 week absence.  He claimed he had gone to the show and was disappointed because it looked like we had found another drummer.  That was funny in and of itself because the show was scheduled before Jim was canned, and I certainly wasn’t going to cancel it.  Obviously the guy playing could have been a fill in, but apparently “Jack” couldn’t comprehend that things work that way.  I responded by saying exactly that:  the guy was a fill in and auditioning for the permanent gig, but there was still time to audition if he was interested.  He responded, and I had to save to e-mail out of sheer amusement!

Jack Lamarr
To:  Bryan Thuney

Honestly i have to say don’t think i would be interested in playing with you any more. The show was fine, but a couple things have been bugging me. You say that if i came to the show that i should have an idea of what you want. Well if you think the guy you had playing with you at fineline was better than the guy you got rid of then your completely nuts. Compared to the videos and tracks i watched and heard he had nowhere near the feel or energy. if your considering him because you think hes an improvement. Hes not. and if thats what your looking for than you dont want me either.

Not just that, but the guy im staying with up here is good friends with some guys from a band you guys played with a couple times. And those guys say your rep is not too good and that you like to quit bands plus fire people at the drop of a hat. He said his freinds band played with you twice plus saw you one other time, and you never had the all the same people in your band any two times cause you keep on firing people! WTF. I want to be part of a band not just a backup guy who could get fired any second for any reason you feel like. I dont know what the deal is with that, but im not gonna sign on to a band where i always gotta watch my back cause im worried im gonna be the latest casualty. thats bullshit.

Plus when i went to your MySpace to listen to your tracks again it looks like you chaged your name to stealing seconds. Thats a seriously bad name compared to the old one. So to me it just looks like you like to change stuff around all the time to make it worse or something. i’m all about change but only when it moves a band forward. and so far what ive seen it looks like you want to go the other way. So i guess good luck. but im not a seat warmer. 

sorry it didn’t work out but good luck.

jack

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!  Oh my GOD, could you be more OBVIOUS!!!  It was like his rage and frustration was making him sloppy in his attempt to trick me.  I especially loved how he tried to dumb the dialogue down from his usual carefully thought out and structured sentences to throw me off the scent!  When he launched into how the name change was “seriously bad compared to the old one”, I probably spit out my Mountain Dew from laughing so hard.  It was clear that in his attempt to get to me, I had completely and utterly rattled him.  I had one last surprise for old Jack LaMarr.  I typed the song title into Google, of one of the tracks that he had sent me when responding to my ad.  It was curiously one of the few things that came up in my efforts to learn more about the history of Mr. Jack LaMarr.  You type in his name…..the name of the guy who was a drummer in an AWARD WINNING pop band, and nothing….Hmmmm…..How about the name of that AWARD WINNING BAND….Google search:  The Muffs……nothing…..how curious???  Well, lets put in the title of the song he sent me…….Oh, I get some lyrics to pop up from a band called “Admiral Twin”.  Let’s cross reference those with the song I was sent.  EXACT MATCH!  Really??!!  Oh, they are from Oklahoma??  Ahhh yes, I remember where I heard that name once before.  It was that one afternoon at Jim’s house when he was telling me he used to like to go on Garageband.com and review bands music, and one day found one he really dug called……ding, ding, ding…….Admiral Twin.  GAME….SET…..MATCH, Jim Schweitzer.  I responded to his ridiculous message saying that I agreed he wasn’t the guy for the job, and to tell Jim hi for me.  He shot back some ridiculous message, still under Jack Lamarr, about how I didn’t know what made a band successful, etc, etc.  This was my final uppercut to the jaw, send the mouthpiece flying, knockout punch!

Bryan Thuney
To:  Jack LaMarr

Well Jack,

I think the drumming on the tracks that you sent me are definitely IN TOUCH with what is successful. They are actually quite good! In fact, I think they probably went a long way towards helping to make ADMIRAL TWIN successful. I remember our old drummer Jim, (cool guy) talking about how much he liked them. What I don’t think makes a musician successful is making up fictitious people and bands and then responding to want ads to try to mess with a band and bring them down. Honestly, can we just end the BS? I’d really like to. It’s not going to change anything. I don’t know if it’s a way of coping to make you feel better? I mean, I’ve done everything you asked……we changed the band name upon your request and everything. When can it end? At what point will it be enough to allow you to be done once and for all? Turn your energy into making a new band work. Show us how successful you can be. Sincerely, I wish you good luck and hope things work out for you. 

Bryan

That was the last I ever heard from Jack LaMarr.  Jim Schweitzer would pop up again here and there, but that was mostly the last of him.  One positive thing did come out the experience.  I wrote a song about Jim called, “Not the Only One”, that I really grew to like.  It was a harder rocking tune that featured these lyrics:

I’m not the only one, who thinks the way that I do
        
I’m not the only one, I’m just the one who told you

Don’t say a word if you’ve got nothing nice to say
         
But you can’t see the light, even though it’s clear as day
        
Let me bring it to your attention if I may
        
Can you take it, well can ya take it?

        

Nobody thinks that you lead to the promised land
        
Arrogance and earned respect are things that don’t go hand and hand
        
Now it’s time for someone to make a stand
        
So now I’ll make it, yeah now I’ll make it!

I’m not the only one, who thinks the way that I do
        
I’m not the only one, I’m just the one who told you


        
Now there’s no intervention
         Just a quiet dissention
         I
I’ll be the voice of a million
         And I’ve got no problem being the villian

To tell the truth it would be easier to lie
        
But I can’t sit around and watch you let it die
        
Listen to me now and look me right square in the eye

I’m not the only one, who thinks the way that I do
        
I’m not the only one, I’m just the one who told you

Self Titled

It was instantly liberating having Jim out of the band.  I could feel everyone’s attitude pick up.  There was this vibe like we had been holding back on things because we really didn’t want Jim involved in them, and now that he was gone we could proceed full speed ahead.  One such thing was the important task of recording our first EP.  Ever since the debacle with Jim tracking drums at Brian’s place, I had been kind of consumed with the idea that we needed to get our music out there in some sort of recorded form.  Mike had a good friend named Chris Blood that he used to play in a band with, who now ran a very quality recording studio called “Sonic Edge”.  Chris had come to see us at a super shitty bar one night that we only played as a favor to Jim because his friends from Wisconsin had booked a show there and asked us to be on the bill.  Through that horrendous PA, Chris heard something he really liked in the song “Something Beautiful” and he told Mike he would record it for free for us!  I was hesitant at first, only because I had told Brian he could record the EP with us.  After chatting further with him though, and having gone through that whole experience with Jim already, I figured one really quality recorded song is better than nothing.  Who knew how long it might take getting something finished working around Brian’s busy schedule anyway.  I agreed that we would should track the song with Chris, but there was one small problem.  We didn’t really have a drummer.  I knew that Eide knew the parts from filling in with us, but I wasn’t convinced that I should hit him up to do the drum tracks.  My mind kept reverting back to the stories Scott Morrisson would tell me about how Eide was a solid live drummer, but that Scott himself would end up doing the drumming on the records or he’d hire somebody else to do them.  When they did their last EP, Scott paid Michael Bland of Prince and Soul Asylum fame to do the drumming.  Of course, if you can have Michael Bland play on your record, why wouldn’t you go that route, but there was always a part of me that thought, “Wow, if you don’t trust your drummer to record tracks, so much so that you’ll pay a handsome sum of money to a studio musician, I feel like maybe you should upgrade your drummer?”  I certainly didn’t have the money to hire somebody out to play on the recording.  Then, the obvious answer presented itself.  Mike offered to drum on the track.  He had told me from the very beginning that he thought he might be a better drummer than guitar player.  I obviously thought he was the cream of the crop as far as guitar players go, so it was a slam dunk for me that he would drum on the track as well!  He was a perfectionist and I knew he would have enough access to the studio and take enough pride in it, that he would take the time to make it turn out amazing!  So, we picked a weekend that everyone was available and we set out to record our masterpiece.  In the time leading up to the date, Chris graciously extended the offer that we could do a 3 song EP, and he’d forgo his regular hourly rate and just charge a VERY reasonable flat rate to complete the tracks.  I was ecstatic!  I was going to get my high quality EP after all, and I had top notch musicians playing on it.  Everything was falling into place with this new group, and it seemed like stars were aligning.  The big weekend came and we all arrived at the studio to begin work.  We laid down the scratch tracks first, and then Mike begin in on the drum overdubs.  I was really excited to settle in and listen, because I’d never heard him drum to the Stealing Seconds tracks before.  We picked “Something Beautiful” of course, along with “Killer Sea” and “Pour My Heart Out.”  I thought they were a good representation of our overall sound.  You had the ballady stuff, and then the middle of road rocking stuff.  I chose not to put the super distorted drop D rocking tune “Inevitable” on there, even though it was our big show closer, because I didn’t want to new listeners who stumbled across us for the first time to hear that track first and think that was what every song was like.  That was the heavy end of what we sounded like.  Mike killed it on the drums!  He hit hard and had good strong fills, and most importantly…everything was IN TIME with the click track!  Rocky breezed through the bass overdubs like always, and that was pretty much the end of day 1.  Day 2 Mike and I hit the guitar tracks, but mostly I really focused in on vocals.  That is always the hardest part for me.  It’s so much easier to go flat here or there or not have the right performance with vocals.  On a guitar, when you do rhythm tracks, as long as you are in tune and can play in time, you shouldn’t need many takes.  With vocals, there seems to be so many more factors.  Did I make that vowel sound right?  Did I annunciate the lyrics well enough?  Did I end up flat on the 5th note of that run?  Did I hold the note out long enough so when I do harmonies I can cut them off at the same time.  A lot of recording engineers like to double vocals on choruses, so that means singing the EXACT same way (or as close as humanly possible) twice in a row.  I always had a mountain of trouble with this.  It never sounded to me like I thought it was supposed to sound.  Instead of thickening up the vocals, it always just sounded like somebody put a really thick chorus effect on my voice, and it came out sounding like an alien or something.  I struggled to the point where usually I would get frustrated and burnt out of singing the same parts over and over and would kind of settle for “close enough”.  That inevitably would piss me off when I would revisit the recording days later, because it would sound subpar to me.  Unfortunately this would end up being the case with “Something Beautiful”.  The song turned out pretty nice, but years later, I would still listen to that recording and cringe at the vocals, almost to the point where I couldn’t listen to it anymore.  The studio can be a fun experimental place though where you tinker around with things and end up changing a song forever.  That happened with “Pour My Heart Out.”  Mike was recording a little guitar lick that he was playing during the chorus.  In the mixing process, Chris had taken out most of other instruments to just hear and mix that little lead line better.  At one point he had left my vocals in, and I thought hearing them with just that little lead line was awesome!  We quickly shifted gears, and when the chorus after the solo section came up, I had Chris cut out the drums and distorted guitars, and just leave the lead line Mike had just recorded with the vocal and harmony parts.  It was cool, but sounded a little empty.  I grabbed my acoustic guitar and went to the isolation room and played my regular part, only this time acoustic.  We gathered around and Chris mixed it in…..Brilliant!  When it was all said and done, Chris agreed that that song had kind of become his new favorite over “Something Beautiful.”  It was those moments in music that I lived for.  That was the kind of stuff that made me smile for weeks every time I’d listen to that song.  Those are the kind of moments that stick out to me when I think back on everything I have done in music.  The whole process of making that EP was like that great birthday party you had when you were 10 that you never forgot about, even when you were 30.  It was the camaraderie.  It was the excitement of creating.  Mostly though, I think it was the feeling that these great musicians seemed truly excited about Stealing Seconds and what we were doing, and they believed in it.  To me, that was what was priceless.  When the weekend wrapped up, we were left with things mostly being done in my opinion and Mike would just have to add some finishing touches.  Being the perfectionist that he is, Mike really ran with it.  He tried out all sorts of stuff and would be at the studio until 4am.  He added strings to “Something Beautiful,” he added a slap guitar solo to “Pour My Heart Out,” he even overdubbed some of my guitar parts!  I didn’t even care.  I was so happy that he felt so invested in the project, he could do whatever he wanted in my opinion.  I vetoed some things, and strongly endorsed other things, and he was completely cooperative with everything I said.  Some guys would work hard on a part and get the feedback that it wasn’t a great fit, and then get pissed off and pout about it.  Mike wasn’t like that…it was like he just truly enjoyed coming up with things and wanted to provide options A, B, and C for a part and truly didn’t care which, or any of them, I felt like I wanted to go with.  I had tasked him with trying to come up with an intro for “Pour My Heart Out” that kind of featured processed beats and drum loops.  He came up with like 3-4 ideas and I’d like one, but want him to change this or that.  He was never put off by that.  It was like he eagerly accepted the challenge.  Rocky, however, seemed a little put off by the extra time Mike was spending alone working on the tracks without us there.  It was weird to me, because Mike would always preface what he sent me with an apology, like “Hey man, I hope you don’t think I’m trying to take this over or anything, I just had some ideas I came up with and wanted to see what you thought.”  I was pumped up about him taking initiative…it was such a far cry from latest crop of people I’d worked with who didn’t seem to want to do anything unless I organized and headed it up.  I sent everything Mike sent me, to Rocky, just so he’d be in the loop and could offer his opinion.  Every response was always, “yeah, that’s cool, whatever you think.”  Then at some point, it switched to him getting this feeling of decreased ownership of the project because all he did was lay down the bass tracks, and Mike took over and ran with everything else and did drums, guitars, samples, etc.  I never really viewed it that way…I appreciated everything Mike did.  I understood where Rocky was coming from, but it’s like, “What did you want to do about it?”  “Did you want to go in at 2am and listen to Mike create drum loops?”  If so, I’m sure it could have been arranged?  That was when the studio was free, and Mike was able to spend all of that time in there FOR FREE!!  You are going to bitch about that??  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  I just kind of shook my head, and shrugged it off as Rocky needing to bitch about something.  At the end of the day, I was really proud of the EP and I was happy that Mike, at least, was really proud of it too.  So the disk was sent off to be mastered and we continued to attempt to solidify the drummer position.

Redemption

It was becoming clear that my craigslist ad wasn’t going to produce another Mike type talent this time around.  The most serious leads that we got came from referrals from other friends and musicians.  One intriguing candidate was the drum tech for GB Leighton.  He was a bigger dude who was aware of us from our times opening up for GB.  He was a really young guy though, who was barely 21.  We all really liked his audition, but he had some limited backing vocals, and most importantly, we knew he drum teched for GB basically every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.  He swore he could work around the schedule, but I really just foresaw a lot of problems and conflicts.  Ultimately, we decided to abruptly end the search and give the gig to John.  He did a real solid job filling in at the Fine Line and everyone seemed pretty happy with him.  To me, this was really as close to the dream band as I think I could get.  Mike was phenomenal and just seemed to get exactly what I was thinking.  He viewed me as the leader and he was happy to defer to whatever songs I wanted to play.  He seemed to like the challenge of just making whatever I came up with sound as good as he possibly could.  Rocky was a great talent on bass, and was aloof enough to never really argue about set lists or new song ideas.  He just basically wanted to show up, be told what we were going to play, and then play it.  Eide was very solid, if not flashy, and seemed to completely believe in what I was doing.  He was used to Scott telling him what to play and when to play it in his other band, so he certainly wasn’t going to be the type of refuse to play a certain song or argue profusely about how many beats per minute it should be.  I finally had the band that completely, 100%, viewed and respected me as it’s leader and songwriter and was ready to follow wherever I tried to take us.  It was very empowering and rewarding.  I LOVED the group of guys assembled that made up Stealing Seconds!  I liked practicing with them, and I loved gigs, and for once I didn’t feel that constant festering sliver of something not being quite right that I was wishing was different.  I was so excited that I wasted no time in getting band pictures taken, getting a new logo, and a getting a website created.  It was like I had held off on these things before because there was some element I wasn’t proud of.  There was something I anticipated would change, and thus I never fully gave into doing to the full court press on getting promotional material out there.  The timing of everything was perfect, because we got offered a gig that was sort of symbolic to me.  Every year, for probably the previous 6 years, springtime always presented the big Battle of the Bands that was sponsored by local radio station Cities 97.  When it first started it was called the Leg Up contest, which you’ll recall Concentual winning in its 3rd or 4th year.  The prize then was basically a day of recording time at a local studio.  At some point, Cities 97 started hosting a big summer band festival called the Basilica Block Party.  It was put on to raise money for the Basilica Catholic church, but ironically they would rope these Beer sponsors in and generate enough money to land big name national acts to play it.  It was always a big deal and drew tons of people over the 2 days it was held. Cities 97 changed the contest over to “The Basilica Block Party Battle of the Bands”, and now the winner would get to open up for the national acts on one of the stages.  It was a big deal to a lot of the local bands who had always wanted to be part of an event like that.  It was great exposure.  You would end up getting to be interviewed on the radio before the gig, and a lot of local TV stations would interview you on the morning news the day of the gig.  I really wanted to be in the contest that first year they changed it over.  A panel supposedly picked around 12 bands or so to battle it out over 4 weeks at various local venues.  Concentual’s booking agent at the time, Doreen, claimed that she had an in with one of people in charge of selecting the bands and we were all but a shoe in to make that initial field of competing bands.  I was already getting psyched up and strategizing how we could win this thing.  Then one day, I started seeing posts and e-mails from other bands saying that they had been selected.  I patiently waited, figuring Doreen just hadn’t passed along the good news yet.  The number of bands I heard confirmed kept growing and growing and I pretty soon I was realizing there weren’t many spots left for our name to occupy one of them.  Finally Doreen called and delivered the news that we were initially selected, but all of the bands were brought before the church board for approval, and somebody thought our name was “too risqué” for something associated with the Catholic church.  Concentual??  There were tons of jokes about priests and alter boys somewhere in that statement.  I couldn’t believe it!  I didn’t know if Doreen was blowing smoke up our ass because she felt guilty that she all but assured us we were in and now needed an excuse to cover her gaff in judgment, or if that really was a legitimate statement from somebody affiliated with the Basilica.  I was running with the latter, and it made me irate!  I was so pissed about the injustice that I crafted a press release and sent it to the newspapers and other publications, hoping to at least get some PR out of the deal.  To my shock, one of my co-workers at the TV station passed the press release down to the KSTP news department, and before I knew it, I was getting a call to come down to the newsroom to talk to the news director.  I was thinking to myself, “Holy shit, I might have actually pulled something big off here!”  They totally wanted to run the story, but they needed a spokesperson from the Basilica to go on camera and support my claim.  I called Doreen asking what to do.  She said she was ready to stand behind us, but she was scared about damaging her reputation because she wasn’t even supposed to tell us about what transpired apparently.  In the end, I dropped it, knowing no one from the Basilica would likely come forth and provide a sound bite to confirm the situation.  My anger would resurface every year, because we’d submit our material and never get chosen.  Finally, after 3 years in a row or so, we gave up.  Now, fast forward to present day.  I had started playing a number of solo acoustic shows around town to earn extra money and just play out a little more.  I had a booking agent for those gigs named Kris Boden, from 24/7 marketing.  It was kind of ironic because back in the day, Doreen had worked with her and her partner Jon to get Concentual a gig at this outdoor all ages show in Maple Grove.  We were supposed to provide our own PA and sound guy, and it just turned into a disaster.  We couldn’t get the PA working properly and we ended up going on like 45 minutes late.  People were getting pissed, and then to make matters worse, it started raining.  It was just a horrible show through and through.  Doreen reported to use that Kris and Jon were pissed and weren’t very thrilled to work with us again.  Then Doreen got us into a club a while later called the Black Dawg, which was also booked by Kris Boden.  After 1 show there, the report was that Kris was pissed about our draw and refused to book us again.  We never played another venue that she was in charge of booking.  When I started playing solo acoustic, there was a little bar called Oak City that was near my house that featured live acoustic musicians.  I went in to see how I could get booked there and they told me it was booked by a women named Kris Boden with 24/7 marketing.  OH NO!!!  I figured I was screwed, but I gave it a shot anyway.  I didn’t even mention Concentual in my first correspondence with her.  She ended up booking me there, and it went over great!  The bar was super happy with me and gave her great reports.  From that point on, she booked me a ton of times there and other places as well.  Eventually I told her about Concentual, and she didn’t really have much to say about it.  I chose not to dwell much on it and live in the “now” with her!  Consequently, I learned that she was the one mainly responsible for booking bands for the Basilica Block Party Battle of the Bands.  I asked her if I could submit Stealing Seconds for consideration, even though we didn’t even really have a press kit or songs recorded.  I told her where she could watch a few live videos and hear some audio samples, and that was about it.  She said she make the suggestion to the Basilica board and get back to me.  One thing that I found kind of funny…..when I was trying to think of a new name to replace Mass Drastic, part of my criteria was….”would this name be ok with the Basilica board, because damnit, it would feel vindicating on some level to get to take part in that battle when Concentual was never allowed to.”  Doreen got back to me a few days later…..we were in!

The timing was perfect too!  The EP was done being mastered and if kicked things into gear, I could probably get a run of CD’s available to debut in time for our opening round, which was taking place at the Fine Line.  There were 4 venues that were hosting the prelim rounds, some more favorable than others, and the Fine Line made it sort of feel like a “home game” for me.  We were up against 3 other bands, and the one with the most votes got to move on to the Finals.  I researched the other bands up against us, and it looked like there was really only one formidable opponent.  That band was called Postina.  I had all sorts of little research methods I did to analyze the competition.  At this time, most bands had a Facebook page and they would promote their shows via an online invite.  You could see how many people RSVP’d that they were coming, and how many people that band had invited.  It wasn’t an exact science, but in my experiences, it was kind of a decent gauge for finding out if that band was going to have people at the show or not.  One of the bands competing didn’t have an invite created at all, and didn’t seem to have that many fans even.  For a round where a winner was decided by fan vote….they were cooked.  The other seemed to be a newer band that was just nonchalantly promoting.  They had maybe 30 people RSVP on their invite.  Done!  Postina seemed to be a little more legit and they had around 60-70 people RSVP.  I was so determined to not show my hand, that I hid our invite list from the public so that bands trying to do the same thing I was doing, couldn’t see how many people were supposedly coming.  I figured if they thought they needed to bring about 60 to win, they’d bring 60.  If they thought they needed 100, they would badger people till they hit 100.  I didn’t want to give out any number to shoot for.  It turned out that we had around 50-60 RSVP, so I felt like it was going to be a 2 horse race, and we were a bit of an underdog.  At some point, as the show got closer, I became a little obsessed with winning that first round.  It seemed so close within reach, and my history with this particular contest just made it a really big deal for me to at least get to the finals.  I felt like if we got that far, it was judged by actual judges, and then our music and talent could stand on it’s own.  That was really what I wanted.  I wanted a group of people to validate me and throw draw out the window and say…”you are the best band here!”  I know that is silly because talent is subjective.  One person might think U2 sucks, while the other holds it up as their gospel.  Regardless, I wanted to get to that platform.  I upped our game.  I did all the artwork for our EP, and ordered a run of 200 copies on my dime, promoting that we would give away those first CD’s for FREE to those coming to Fine Line show.  I individually e-mailed hundreds of people, inviting them to come and stating how important it was to me.  I even gave an engaged couple that had hired Rocky, Mike and I to play at their wedding reception, a discount on the rate if they would come and vote for us.  I was clearly promoting the show, in my opinion, harder than of the other bands involved in the contest.  I was pushing my chips into the middle and going “all in” on advancing to the Finals.  It became like, “Bryan Thuney’s last stand.”  I don’t know why exactly, because things were great with the band.  If we didn’t win, it wasn’t like the band would cease playing and everyone would pack up their things and go home.  There was just this mentality in me of…”I think 100 votes should be more than enough to get us through.  I have been playing in this town for 10 years.  I used to not even promote and somehow 130 people would show up on a weeknight.  I am pulling out all of the stops and if I can’t get 100 people through that door for a early slot on a Thursday night, then it’s probably time for me to hang it up.”  It was like I just had to prove something to myself. 

The night finally arrived, and I honestly felt like I did everything I possibly could to make it a success.  As the other bands played, I started doing preliminary counts in my head…..hmmm…those people are obviously here for that band….1,2,4,5,6……..those people in the back, they look like they are hanging with the next band….that’s 1,2,3,4 for them…..it was ridiculous how obsessed I had become with it.  Finally, I kind of gave up trying and resigned myself to the belief that it was between us and Postina and it was going to be pretty damn close.  All that was left to do was play.  Play like you were trying to convince the other band’s mothers to vote for you over their own kid.  We took the stage and whatever people had amassed to support us, they were doing so in full force.  They were up in front on the stage, screaming and shouting, and it felt like old times again for the first time in a long time.  It energized me.  It energized all of us!  I could tell it looking around the stage.  I could tell looking at the people’s faces in the crowd that this was a better performance than usual from us.  Everybody seemed to be feeding off of each other.  It felt like I was able to live in the moment, and it was amazing.  I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t thinking about if I was going to mess up words or parts.  I wasn’t consumed with wondering if Rocky or Mike or Eide were going to deliver their parts…I just knew they would.  It had a very magical vibe to it all, and I felt like I recognized that right away and soaked up every second of it.  We launched into “Inevitable” to close the show and people were responding to it like I had always hoped they would.  They were rocking out and whipping up a frenetic energy.  We crashed down on the last chord as a hearty scream went up from the crowd.  Kris Boden came whizzing up on stage, almost seeming to forgo her responsibility as an unbiased event host.  “Give it up for Stealing Seconds everyone!  Wow!”  It was the kind of response where if you in the crowd, you’d say to your buddy, “Well, they’ll be advancing,” like it wasn’t even a debate to be had.  I came off stage beaming.  I was so proud that this was the first experience that a good number of people were having with us.  I was proud that we delivered that performance for Kris Boden, who put us in without ever even hearing a demo and just basically taking my word that we belonged there.  I was proud of my band most of all.  THIS was the band and the kind of performance I had dreamed of having.  There wasn’t one aspect where I was thinking, “Oh man, if only we could upgrade a little bit there, we’d be one of the best!”  On this night, I had no doubt in my mind that we were the best band to take the stage.  Be that as it might, it was the number of votes that would determine who moved on.  I wasn’t naive enough to think we swayed fans of the other bands to cast a vote in our direction.  I knew it was going to be a straight up head to head of “How many fans and friends did Postina bring out vs How many fans and friends did we bring out.”  My unofficial tally had us at around 70 people vs their 65-70 people.  I was honestly a little worried, and then upset that I didn’t get 100 people out there because they would have sealed it up, no question.  I started thinking…”Damnit Eide, did you do everything you could to get people out here?  Rocky?”  It did no good to think that way though, and I just had to hope for the best.  Some friends told me upon leaving that the door guy was also asking what band they were there to see.  That seemed odd to me, but I guess they were trying to sort of have the numbers roughly resemble the votes as to ensure nobody was stuffing the ballet box or something.  I was in pretty good with the door guy, so I asked him “under the table” to provide me with the numbers.  He went downstairs and got them and delivered the news that we had something like 50 and Postina had around 54.  WHAT!!  I knew there were more people there for both bands that that!  I had a few people admit to me upon my questioning that nobody asked them what band they were there to see when they came in, so in my hope of hopes, the numbers still could be off.  It DID confirm to me though, that it was going to be close.  The way Kris ran it, the bands wouldn’t find out until the next day who won.  She brought the votes home, counted them multiple times, and then contacted the bands.  The next day, I actually had off from work because I got invited to play a golf course in Hudson, WI from one of our work partners at the Minnesota Wild.  That made things easier because I wasn’t sitting at my desk waiting for my cell phone to ring all day.  In fact, I turned it off on the course and just blocked out the world until our round was over.  As we came off the 18th green and headed towards the clubhouse, I curiously dug it out to find I had several texts, missed calls and voicemails.  The texts were all about, “Did you find out yet?”  “Hey man, who ended up winning?”  Those were from friends.  The band mates all were inquiring if I’d heard from Kris or any of the other bands from the night.  Then, it was the voicemail I was waiting for.  “Hey Brian, it’s Kris…I really wanted to talk to you in person, but it’s going straight to voicemail, so I thought I’d just leave a voicemail.  I wanted to let you know that you guys were AWESOME last night…I really enjoyed the show….but…ugh….I’m soo, soo sorry, you guys came in second….Postina ended up barely edging you guys out.  I can’t give you the vote totals, but I’ll tell you it was really close.  You guys were really great though…keep it up, I’m sorry…I was pulling for you.”  My heart sunk into my stomach.  It wasn’t so much that I wanted to play Basilica THAT bad, or that I thought it was an end all be all opportunity.  I wasn’t even that jazzed about the line-up.  The bigger issue for me was that I put my heart and soul into accomplishing this one goal, and I failed.  I didn’t even go the route of blaming anyone else in the band for the number of people they brought out.  To me, I should have been able to get it done singlehandedly, and that was my mindset, and I failed.  The guys I had been golfing with noticed my demeanor and asked what was wrong.  I briefly told them the story and kind of swept it under the rug like I didn’t really care that much.  The next hard part was returning all the texts and voicemails saying that we didn’t win, and hearing all of the, “That’s BS man, you guys blew everyone away,” etc, etc.  Even zen master Mike kind of seemed a little fired up about it, and this is the sort of thing that you’d never expect Mike to get worked up about.  The silver lining was that it seemed to kind of unite the guys together even more.  We started to take on that “we are all in this together as an underdog” sort of mentality.  It actually felt quite good, in the same way that friends come out of the wood work to support and be there for you when you get dumped.  It was great hearing all of the comments like, “Seriously, you guys have something special here, I can’t wait to hear you play again.”  Also, as an added bonus, a big chunk of our CD’s got taken by fans of other bands, and the hope was always that they’d get into and become of fan of yours down the line as well.  I prodded Kris to give me the actual voting results.  She was hesitant to do so, but since we had such a good working relationship and she felt bad for the band, she divulged them.  I can’t remember the EXACT numbers, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of Postina 68, Stealing Seconds 65.  I definitively remember one number….3.  That was the number of votes that we lost by.

The whole experience seemed to kind of energize things for awhile.  There was this internal hope that we took a big stride and our attendance at shows would start picking up and we’d band together and create great new music now that the line-up was more solidified and we had rid ourselves of the negative energy surrounding Jim, etc.  Our next few shows were pretty par for the course, but we weren’t discouraged.  Then, I finally landed what I felt like might be our biggest breakthrough yet. 

Sex and Candy

My biggest contention with the struggle to gain new fans is that we weren’t able to be exposed to enough new music lovers.  When you play 4 band local bills, there are maybe 10-15 people in the room who come solely to check out live local music.  The majority are friends and family of the bands playing.  Even if we knock our set out of the park, the chances of getting band X’s friends and family to come see us are slim to none.  You are accomplishing something if you even get them to remotely pay attention to your set.  In my mind, what we needed was the chance to open for a national act.  To the random music fan, you are perceived as a MUCH bigger deal if you are on before the band that had a radio hit and sold a million records.  Even if you are local, the perception is that you must be on the verge of superstardom if you are playing on bills with acts that have, or are currently, touring the country in support of their music.  It’s like any business model of perceived value.  If you can get in free to see us, we must not be a big deal at all….if you have to pay a couple of bucks on a weeknight to see us, maybe there is some heightened importance there.  $6 on a weekend…..well now you are clearly a bigger deal than a majority of the bands around town.  If you have to pay $18-20, however, because we are packaged with a national act…well now obviously you are pretty important!  In addition to all of that, the national band isn’t going to be in town every weekend.  You might get to see them once a year if you are lucky.  If you loved our set opening up for them though, you can see us in two weeks for 1/3 of the cover!  What a bargain!!  Most importantly though, if the venue paid them good money to come and play, chances are they can fill up a venue pretty well, so your sampling audience probably increased by triple over your usual local band night.  One day, I was perusing the Fine Line’s website as I tended to do, to find out what new concerts were added.  A few months out, I happened to see “Marcy Playground w/TBA”  W/TBA became a phrase that shot excitement through my veins!  It meant there was likely no opening act selected yet.  If there was no opening act listed, there was a good chance the band wasn’t touring with anybody and was probably going to use local bands in the various cities they played as support.  Mostly bands that were big awhile ago and were no longer on a major label employed this approach.  If you were on a major label, chances are the label would put one of their newbie bands out on tour with the bigger fish to try to gain them more of an audience so they could sell more records, thus allowing the label to recoup their money quicker.  Once you were free of the label though, bands didn’t care to try to go through the effort of lining up a band to tour with them.  This was the case of Marcy Playground.  They had a huge smash in the mid 90’s called “Sex and Candy”.  It was all over MTV and radio and propelled them into sales of over a million albums.  They toured arenas in support of the record.  Each subsequent record lost more steam until they were dropped from the label and went on an independent.  They hadn’t released material in while, but now, well over a decade after the height of their success, they were releasing a new album.  They hadn’t toured in a long time, so there was a certain novelty value in seeing them if you had been a big fan.  To top things off, the singer was originally from the Twin Cities and named the band after a playground at the school he attended as a kid.  The situation was ripe for the show to feature a big crowd.  I had never really had a chance to open up for a bonifide national act yet in my opinion.  The Why Store was just the singer from the Why Store and his new band. Pete Best was a novelty show simply because he was an original Beatle that everybody forgets about.  Stroke 9 was probably the closest I had gotten, but even they were a band that I had never heard of before I saw them open for Vertical Horizon.  Marcy Playground was a bonifide act that EVERYONE had heard of before.  If you said you hadn’t, I could hum the chorus of “Sex and Candy,” and you’d go…”Ohhh yeah!”  I REALLY wanted the chance to, at least once, go on before one of those types of bands and have the crowd let up a roar of anticipation as we walked on stage because they knew the show was starting, and their favorite band was merely a set away from hitting the stage.  I was fortunate the show was the Fine Line, because I knew I could use my contacts and good standing there to try to land the gig.  I tried the Fine Line’s national act booking agent first, Kim King.  To my delight, she seemed open to it, but had to work it out with Marcy’s booking agent.  They came back and said they wanted us to provide backline, which means the amps and drum kit essentially.  Bands do this when they don’t want to travel with gear, and don’t want to pay to rent it.  They sent their specs over, and it mostly matched what we already played with.  Anything we didn’t have I was certain I could line up, so I snapped into gear and told Kim we could get whatever Marcy Playground wanted.  I’d figure out how to obtain it later!  After some back and forth, Kim wrote me and said, “you got the gig.”  I was ecstatic!!  I couldn’t wait to tease the show on Facebook!  I posted that we’d have a HUGE ANNOUCEMENT very soon!  Then, after a bit I posted a hint, followed by the video for “Sex and Candy.”  Not long after, I notified everyone that we would, INDEED, by opening up for the 90’s alt rock sensations!  It felt so gratifying to post it.  It felt like I’d finally arrived at a certain plateua that I had been working towards forever.  It was a “cross an item off the bucket list” type of realization for me.  I couldn’t help but wonder if Paul Haga was seeing it and cursing me under his breath.  I always wondered if he kept tabs on my new band and was sort of keeping score a bit.  If he was, this was certainly…point Thuney.  Mike was sort of helping me try to break that mentality and just let things go, but human nature is too powerful sometimes, and there was always a slice of me that did a mental fist pump when thinking I had accomplished something greater than Concentual.  Now that I had this chip in my pocket of opening for a national act, I was going to do everything I could to parlay it into a great promotional opportunity.  I sent press releases out to make sure publications at least listed us as the opener.  I created a poster hyping the show and posted it everywhere I could online.  I did a little teaser video of us covering “Sex and Candy” urging people to come to show.  We had another show at the Fine Line prior to the Marcy Playground show, and to try to maximize the attendance at that show I got two tickets to give away for the Marcy Playground show and had a drawing for them after our set was done.  I tried to be clever about it though and get our music out there, so to enter the drawing for the tickets you had to grab one of our digital download cards and write the code on the back on a sign up sheet.  Then I would draw a code out of a hat, and if it was on your download card, you won a pair of tickets.  It turned out to be a little complex for people and not well articulated because I didn’t get a ton of entries despite there being a decent number of people at the show.  My future brother-in-law ended up winning the tickets!  I felt like I did everything in my power to get the Stealing Seconds name out there and create a buzz about us.  There was no way any of it was possible without having the opportunity to be on a national bill.  The week of the show, the City Pages even did a write up about the gig in their section about the shows to catch.  At the end, it was miniscule, but still warmed my heart seeing…”Stealing Seconds will open the show.”  I was tickled when Kim sent me the official rider for the show.  Stealing Seconds will get green room B, towels, water and beer shall be provided.  Our sound check time was listed, our set time was listed….everything was such a heightened level of professionalism! The day of the gig finally arrived.  It was a beautiful, warm weekend summer day.  It honestly couldn’t have been better.  It was awesome having the whole day to just kind of relax and prepare and not rush out of work and get over to the Fine Line for load in.  National gigs are a whole different ballgame that local gigs.  Sound check is super early and there is tons of downtime before the doors open.  It’s not like local nights where you frantically set up, tune and make sure sound is coming out of your instrument just in time for the soundguy to fade the house music and hit the lights.  We were there even earlier then usual because we had to have the backline set up for Marcy Playground to sound check.  They arrived in their van and meticulously set up and tweaked the tones of every piece of gear.  It was so meticulous in fact, that their drummer didn’t like the kick pedal we provided, and Eide had to run all the way back to his house and pick up another he had and come back.  In this time, probably around 40 minutes, they were just about done sound checking.  Everyone from Marcy Playground was really nice to us, and it felt like we were on an equal playing field and not just the peon, nobody, local Minneapolis band.  Our sound check was treated with the same level of diligence as theirs.  It was awesome just relaxing and taking time to go through each instrument and multiple songs to make sure everybody was happy with how everything sounded.  It felt like we had hit the big time.  The levels were all set for us and wouldn’t be touched again until we hit the stage.  No adjusting on the fly and sounding shitty for the first half of the set.  The whole theme for the day was RELAXED.  I hadn’t felt that content and relaxed in a long time playing a gig, and that was weird because it was the biggest gig I felt I’d ever played!  After our sound check, I went to Pizza Luce and had dinner.  A few friends who were coming to show stopped in there as well.  This is usually the point where I start getting nervous.  It becomes more real, like, “Oh damn, so and so is actually going to be there watching me…oh man, people are here, that means the show is going to start soon….Ahhh!”  This time though, it was like….”Oh cool…so and so is here….this is going to be so fun!”  I went back to the Fine Line and descended in to the green room, vowing not to come up until it was showtime.  I wanted to be the total rock star and not mingle before the rocking was to commence.  I wanted that jolt of adrenaline seeing the crowd for the first time as I walked up to the stage with our gear already set up and ready to go.  Eventually, the call came that we were up in a few minutes.  The nerves had finally began to slightly kick in by this time.  It was more excited anticipation than anything though.  We stood together as a band and walked up the stairs, ready to greet the throngs of fans.  The door swung open and……..huh?  Hmmm….a few muttered claps rose above the din of conversation, but most shockingly was that the place seemed to be about 1/3 full!  The upstairs WAS open, and that took people off the floor, but I was kind of dismayed to only see a smattering of people hovering in front of the stage.  The rest were fixated at the bar or the tables further back.  It kind of let a slow leak of air out of my bubble, but I wasn’t going to let it get me down.  It would pick up once we got rocking.  We grabbed our instruments and Eide 4 counted us into the opener.  Off we went into a blazing 45 minute set.  It never fully climaxed into the scene I had anticipated in my head, but there were enough people in front of the stage bobbing their heads and nodding their appreciation, that it fueled me into rocking full throttle throughout the set.  I felt good energy from the rest of the band too.  We had a great set, and things did pick up considerably by the time Marcy Playground hit the stage, which made me feel good that the night somewhat successful for the Fine Line.  Everybody seemed in good spirits after the set, and we got some nice comments thrown our way here and there from the Marcy Playground faithful.  We even got to have a fun hang session in the green room with the guys after the show, signing the walls and taking pictures, etc.  The night felt like nights used to feel for me after playing a gig when I was first starting out.  There was this immense feeling of reward and accomplishment coursing through my body as I drove home.  The future felt good….the present felt like I had always hoped it someday would. 

I was on a bit of a hot streak with booking, and I noticed that my birthday happened to fall on a Friday night and the Fine Line had no act booked yet.  I pulled my usual strings and was able to land a 3 band night, where we could play the coveted middle slot!  I begin planning for a big Bryan Thuney blowout birthday bash featuring Stealing Seconds!  I made up another cool poster and flooded our online fans with it.  Since we had just come out with our EP, I was even able to land us a slot playing on TV!  KARE 11, the local NBC affiliate, had a morning show called Showcase Minnesota, and from time to time they would have musical acts on there who were promoting something.  Our digital download cards were a pretty unique thing so I pumped those on the show, and of course promoted our show that night, citing it was my birthday bash!  I was pulling out all of the promotional stops I could think of.  The night before, I even went downtown and handed out the download cards to people waiting outside to get into the Collective Soul show at First Avenue.  I literally walked the entire line asking people if they wanted some free music, and I told them how we sounded a bit like Collective Soul and that we’d be playing at the Fine Line the following night, just down the street.  It’s definitely not in my comfort zone to solicit people like that, but I desperately wanted a great turnout at the Fine Line and was doing everything I could to go for it.  I was starting to get a little perturbed that it was JUST ME making these kinds of efforts to get people to shows.  I get that the band was MY baby, and we were playing songs I wrote so naturally I would feel the most invested in it, but I got sick of hearing the grumbling about low turnouts when I’m walking the street handing out download cards while the other guys are barely even mentioning the show to their friends on Facebook!  I just kept trying to justify it like it was a solo project and I was just hiring these guys to complete the band.  In that scenario you wouldn’t expect anything from them but to show up and play well.  I just tried to think of it like that, and any promoting they did was icing on the cake.  The day of my birthday came and the big show arrived and certainly proved to be a memorable one.  I was planning on getting up relatively early because we had to be at the KARE 11 studios by 8am or something like that and I didn’t want to feel rushed.  Courtnie, however, came into our room at around 6am and told me to get up because there was a surprise waiting for me in the living room.  I was half awake and didn’t really feel like embracing a surprise, but I humored her.  For some reason, I had this feeling that there were going to be other people in the living room.  I don’t know why I had that prophecy, but I did.  Sure enough, I walk out to the living room and my friend Jen and her boyfriend who live in LA were sitting on the couch!  Jen used to work with me and we became really close friends.  She eventually moved to LA to pursue working in the music business, and had been out there for several months now.  They disclosed that they’d be staying with us for the weekend!  A normal person probably would have been giddy as a school girl to see one of their closest friends who had moved away and find out they’d be hanging out together the whole weekend.  Me, having the anxiety I do though, didn’t handle it as well.  It was likely the surprise, and the early morning hour and not being fully awake, combined with the stress and anxiety of performing on live TV (which I had never done before), that just sort of overloaded my system.  I smiled and hugged and joked, but inside I was fighting the urge to vomit!  My stomach was churning and cramping, and all I could think about was getting to the bathroom.  I excused myself, saying I had to shower and get ready for the show.  I went to the bathroom and then started up the shower, just letting water pour over me as I braced my hands up against the wall.  I didn’t want to get out and face everything.  Entertaining guests and playing on TV and preparing for the show that night and worrying if we’d have a good turnout just seemed too much to deal with all of the sudden.  I finally did get out and got dressed in my show gear.  I came out of my room to find that Courtnie had made everyone cinnamon raisin french toast.  I normally LOVE that for breakfast, but on this day, putting that first bite up to my mouth made me almost lose it!  I begin gathering my gear up to load into the car.  I was still able to play it pretty cool around everyone, and I was sure nobody caught on to how crappy I was feeling.  I was actually quite relieved to get into the car and just escape the whole morning scene that had just unfolded.  I felt a little more relaxed driving to the studio, with the rain mesmerizingly pelting my windshield.  Once I pulled into the KARE 11 parking lot though, my anxiety returned with a vengeance.  I walked into the front door and told the receptionist who I was.  She paged somebody to give further direction.  As I waited for the individual to meet me in the lobby, the nausea descended upon me like a plague of locusts.  I actually got to the point where I was eyeing where a bathroom might be because I was certain I would need to bolt in there at any second.  It RARELY got this bad for me, and I was kind of taken aback by the state that I was in.  Mike called me for some details on where he should park because he was arriving soon, and it was like I could barely even get a sentence out because I thought it would be followed by vomit.  I had NO IDEA how I was going to perform a song and do an interview, which fueled my anxiety even harder!  I imagined myself throwing up on the anchor on live TV.  I felt trapped.  I wanted to run away, but I knew that wasn’t an option.  Finally the guy who was running the sound for the broadcast met me and told me where to find the loading dock that we’d need to come in at.  I sauntered back out into the rain and drove to the loading dock.  By this time, Mike and Eide had arrived and began loading in.  Seeing them actually eased my mind a little bit.  The physical activity of loading my gear into the building helped distract me a bit and I was able to get a few deep breaths in.  We pretty much had completed loading in and setting up and ……STILL NO ROCKY!  I called him in a panic wondering where he was.  He finally answered and indicated he overslept and was on his way.  My anxiety shot up again as I pictured him not being there in time, and then trying to figure out what to do.  Finally he got there and was able to set up pretty quickly.  That frantic scene actually probably helped distract me from sitting around and thinking about things and working myself up more.  We ended up pre-recording 2 songs so they could use them as teasers throughout the show.  Playing actually calmed me down a lot, and like an answered prayer I sort of felt the nausea just drain out of me.  We were sitting in the break room after taping the teasers watching the show on a TV, and I finally felt a little calm come over me.  I was able to eat a pastry and drink my Mt. Dew and joke around with the guys.  I was still nervous, but I no longer felt the fear that I was going to throw up on anybody.  Eventually it was time for us to head to the studio and get ready to play live.  By now, I felt like I was able to fully embrace the moment and not want to run away from it.  I thought I did very well in the interview.  The anchor gave us a little lead in, and we launched into “Killer Sea.”  It was weird seeing their robotic cameras whirr about the floor, with their little red lights illuminating when their shot was the one going live over the air.  I tried not to look at them and just perform, but there were a few times I couldn’t resist staring into them and looking straight at the viewing audience at home, ala Bono at every U2 concert or TV performance.  Then, just like that, it was over.  I felt a huge sense of accomplishment, and more so relief as I wheeled my gear back to my car.  I couldn’t wait to get home and watch it since we were, of course, recording it!  I arrived back home to the cheers and hugs from Jen and Courtnie who had watched it live.  It felt much better walking into living room this time around.  I was so thankful that I could be more myself now and just enjoy my birthday.  We all hung out at the house for the afternoon, and then it was time for the evening festivities.  That was to include a photo shoot for the band the Courtnie had bought me as a birthday present, and an overnight stay at the Aloft hotel in downtown Minneapolis.  We left for the hotel to check in, and the plan was for the photographer to meet us there since there were lots of cool backdrops at Aloft.  While we were waiting we ordered pizza from Pizza Luce, and again, I could barely finish half a slice.  The nerves were beginning to creep up again the closer we got to showtime.  The band showed up for the photo shoot, except for one member…..Rocky!  He was confused somehow about where to go and how to get there.  Just more anxiety and stress to deal with because the plan was to do like an hour shoot right before we’d leave for load in at the Fine Line.  Now, 10 minutes had gone by…then 15….then 25….now 30…..finally Rocky showed up and there was like 25 minutes left to do the photo shoot.  We were frantically running around from spot the spot and the guys just seemed annoyed by the whole process.  It was really frustrating to me because this was my present from Courtnie.  She paid for this and people like Rocky were treating it like, “Man, I hate pictures, this is so lame.”  Finally we finished up abruptly and bolted out of there to get to the Fine Line.  We loaded in were able to relax for a few moments.  The opening band started to a small smattering of people, while we hid out down in the green room.  This is normally my time to kind of focus in and not be bothered.  If I go up and chat with people, etc, I find that I get paranoid that I’m not prepared and I’ll get up on stage and not have a capo, or forgot to tune my guitar or something like that.  I like to have as few surprises as possible, because if I get thrown a curveball, my anxiety will kick up and then I feel like I’ll get shaken and have a crappy show.  In addition, I just like running through the songs in my head to make sure I’m not going to forget lyrics or any parts of a song.  I like to feel like I’ve already played the set once and got the mistakes out in the green room rather then up on stage in front of a crowd.  Meanwhile, while we were in the green room, the photographer felt bad Courtnie didn’t get her money’s worth out of our photo shoot, so she came to the Fine Line to get some live shots and maybe some shots outside the Fine Line before we went on.  That was very nice of her and the concept was good, however, her timetable of how long she wanted to stay just didn’t match up with what worked out well for us.  So, here we were, 30 minutes before our set and I’m getting call after call and text after text from people.  This person wants to be guest listed, and can I come upstairs and put the photographer on the guest list so she doesn’t have to pay, and this and that and this and that.  It felt like 3 times the amount of the normal activity.  When I’m nervous for a show and trying to just block out the outside world, these contacts get me very irritated.  I don’t like to be like that, and I know people aren’t TRYING to annoy me.  Other people might welcome these interactions and eat up the attention, but I am not one of those people.  Before I knew it, it was about 15 minutes until show time and my phone started ringing.  I momentarily lost it and screamed at it.   “DAMNIT!!  WHATTT!!!!!  WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT!!!!!???  CHRIST!!”  I looked at the phone and it was Courtnie.  I felt a little silly for overreacting like that, but everyone else seemed to kind of laugh at it and get a kick out how annoyed I was getting because they understood how it can be.  She informed me that our photographer was wondering if we would come upstairs quick, and take shots outside.  “Are you serious right now!!??” That was my initial reaction, but I quickly shook it off.  I understood that she felt bad and was trying to get the most out of the Courtnie’s birthday gift to me.  She didn’t understand how I am before a show and probably thinks 15 minutes is plenty of time to squeeze something in before we hit the stage.  She wasn’t trying to be demanding or annoying.  I kind of sighed and asked the guys if they’d be up for doing a quick shoot before our set.  Surprisingly it was Mike who kind of lost it.  He was like, “Are you kidding me?  She wants us to come up now, 15 minutes before our set??!!  I guess it’s your present so if you want to that’s fine, but geez.”  That’s not verbatim, but it was the vibe he threw out.  I told Courtnie, “you know what, we can’t…it’s fine if she doesn’t get any more pics….I think we got plenty.”  Courtnie was totally fine and understanding about it.  Months later, Mike would cite that my blowup at that phone call was something that really made him feel uneasy.  It was strange to me because I got the vibe he was right there with me.  Finally, it was showtime and a chance to let all that balled up anxiety built up throughout the day, escape out into an energetic high octane performance.  We open the door that leads to the stage and I was pleasantly surprised with the crowd that had amassed.  By my count later on, I figured there to be at least 70-75 people there just to see us.  I had been hoping all my efforts would yield closer to 150, but in the moment I was just happy people were in front of the stage and welcoming us with cheers.  We had a great show and everybody seemed to dig it.  It felt very gratifying hitting that last chord, that all of my hard work promoting the gig and going through the anxiety of being on TV, etc was now done and I could just exhale and look back on it with pride.  We did end up getting some great pictures from photo shoot and some great video and pictures from the show.  In my mind, it was a success and something to keep building from.  A few days later I contacted the booking agent to thank him for the gig and kind of brag myself up for how many people I got to the show.  He replied coldly with a message stating his disappointment with our draw and that the door only estimated we had around 40-45 people there to see us.  I did my usual spin and sort of convinced him of the inaccuracy of that number, but deep down inside it was kind of a crushing blow to me.  I handed out probably 250 download cards to Collective Soul fans, begged my friends to come, had a friend from LA in town that got all of her friends she hadn’t seen in months to come, went on TV to promote the show, and basically spammed the show on every social networking cite I could think of for weeks leading up it, and STILL…….it wasn’t good enough.  We even had just played with a national act at the same venue just 2 months ago, which I had held as this huge key to gaining new fans. There was no way I could put that kind of effort into promoting every show.  I mean, this was a weekend….at the Fine Line…..on my birthday…..and I was able to wrangle up what the door guy says was 45???  It made me start to feel like the white flag was in my pocket and maybe I should think about waving it soon, at least towards what I was trying to accomplish.  Maybe I was too old now?  Maybe my music just wasn’t that good?  I had to run the possibilities in my head.  Further fueling my despair was just the things I had been witnessing in the music scene in general.  The biggest example that struck me was a girl by the name of Jessie Langseth.  Her brother was blues/pop recording star Johnny Lang.  She initially went under the name Jessie Lang and had moderate success playing the bar scene around town.  Then she had a kid of sort of disappeared.  She resurfaced all of the sudden when she got on the hit talent show American Idol.  She ended up making it to the top 13!  Another Minnesota girl named Casey Carlson also had made it relatively far, but Jesse was on even more episodes, each time performing in front of MILLIONS of people.  That is MILLIONS!  I was stoked about performing in front of maybe 150 new people playing with Marcy Playground.  She had write-ups in all the newspapers and was definitely known by the time it was all said and done.  She eventually got booted off and went about planning the next step in her music career.  She came back to Minnesota and planned her debut Jessie Langseth show.  She went on all of the local TV stations promoting it.  It was set for Wednesday night at the Fine Line.  They treated her like a national act.  Higher cover charge, earlier start time, pretty well known opening act…the works.  Courtnie and I ended up going late to check it out.  I expected the place to be wall to wall packed just coming off the TV show.  Instead, after ALL of the promotion and being exposed to ALL of those people in the Twin Cities area, the joint was about 1/3 full, IF THAT.  The door guy didn’t even make us pay cover.  It helps he knows me and has done this often, but if the show is hopping, I’ll usually have to pay the cover.  If it’s empty, they just want people in the door to maybe at least buy some drinks and try to recoup their money.  I was astounded.  If Jesse Langseth can’t get people to a show after all of that exposure, how in THE hell will I ever do something to fill up a venue??  It’s disheartening when you wrack and wrack your brain and can’t come up with any answers. 

The Fatal Wound

I needed to take a quick breather after that birthday show.  I wasn’t eager to take the stage again for a bit because after all of that pleading and promotion for the last show, I anticipated that about 10 would show for anything within about 2 months later.  I was a bit defeated and needed to regroup to strategize on what needed to happen next.  I wanted to record more songs, but we had no money since I scrapped the idea of a band fund in order to try in some way, shape or form to reward the guys for playing with me.  The next logical step to keep everyone engaged was to start working on some new material.  Maybe some new songs would be enough of a lure to coerce a few people back out to the clubs to see us, plus it would likely revitalize the stage show a bit because everyone would be having more energy and fun playing new stuff.  I basically decided I would kind of relax for the rest of August and give everyone a little break, and then ramp things back up in September.  Courtnie and I’s anniversary is September 6th, and this particular year that fell on a Saturday.  We ventured out to have a nice dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory.  When we arrived home, I figured I’d check my e-mail quickly before we settled in for a movie.  That moment would prove to be one of those defining moments that undeniable alter the course of a timeline.  I found a message from Mike Geronsin.  It was funny….I didn’t need to see the subject line or read a line of the message to know what it was about.  It wasn’t even like he’d been hinting at anything really lately.  I just knew in my heart somehow that it was over.  My stomach got that flutter as I opened up the message and began to digest the words on the screen.  To this day, I still don’t have a clear recollection of what it said.  I just remember the general theme of Mike feeling in his heart that it was time to move on.  I remember not completely understanding why, and I also remember realizing that it wasn’t completely important for me to.  Anytime you go through something like this, whether it be getting dumped, or getting fired or what have you, a lot of people get caught up in this…”But why!” mentality.  It’s like we want to hear a laundry list of reasons so we can debate each one of them.  What is the expected end result of that?  “Oh my gosh, you know what….you are right…..you DID have great reasons for never coming to practice…forget what I said….see you at practice on Tuesday!”  Sure, I wanted to call Mike up and say, “Hey, I thought you believed in me…I thought it was you and me together in this!  Is it because I’m not a good enough guitar player?  Is it because I’m not a good enough singer?  Is it because we don’t get as good of crowds as Mark Mallman?”  I realized though, that no matter how he answered any of those questions, there isn’t anything I can really do about it, so why put myself through it?  He had made an offhand comment at one point that he didn’t want to be part of a “revenge train.”  I don’t know if that was in reference to me wanting to be so much better than Concentual and showing off Mike’s talents to upstage Paul or something, or if it was in reference to me writing “Not the Only One” as a kiss off to Jim.  Whatever it meant, I can’t change who I am.  I think I’m a good person, and if I use my experience in Concentual to motivate me or if I draw lyrical content and inspiration from my experience with Jim, deep inside I don’t find anything wrong with that.  I can trace back to things getting a bit weird with Mike when I made a Facebook post one day quoting the band Rage Against the Machine, saying “Anger is a gift.”  I don’t remember what I was referencing, but I backed that philosophy because it’s evident in competition and life, really, over and over again.  People use anger about something and fuel it in a positive way to accomplish goals.  I don’t find anything wrong that.  One of my biggest idols growing up was Michael Jordan.  He always talked about how he got cut from his High School basketball team as a sophomore, and was so upset about it that he worked that whole next year harder than he ever had, and he ended up making the team the next near and going on to become the best player in NBA history.  Anger is a gift.  What is wrong with that philosophy?  Mike, however, debated me on it post after post to my confusion.  I wasn’t trying to rile him up or strike a nerve or anything…I just really wanted him to see my point of view.  I really couldn’t understand how somebody didn’t get that philosophy or thought it was bad.  To that point, I had always kind of walked on eggshells with Mike and agreed with most of what he said.  If I thought he was kind of out there, I just changed the subject and moved on.  I was always cautious of not offending Mike and trying to keep him in his Zen like bubble when around me and the band.  I just enjoyed the vibe and didn’t want anything to disrupt this terrific unit I had worked so many years trying to build.  That day, however, I guess I felt close enough to Mike that I could have a minor debate about something I felt strongly about and it wouldn’t cause any ripples because he knew me as a solid, quality human being.  I’ll never know if what transpired that day lit his fuse, nor did I ever really care to ask, but it DID seem like shortly after I got hit with the “revenge train” comment and then the e-mail stating his heart had gone cold on Stealing Seconds. 

Initially after reading the e-mail I cycled through the stages of grief in a matter of minutes.  My knee jerk reaction was denial, and I figured, “Oh, I’ll just talk to him and convince him to stay.”  That was quickly replaced by guilt.  “What could I have done to make him want to quit.”  That was replaced by the anger of me feeling like he believed in me and was now abandoning me and killing this awesome thing I created.  Then, my mind went into survival mode.  “That’s fine….it sucks but at least no one has to walk on eggshells anymore.  Maybe we can even get a guy who will be young and enthusiastic and get people to come to the shows…yeah….this is going to be just fine!”  I tried to live in that space for the rest of the night, but eventually it all kind of settled into this dark cloud of despair.  Mike was something special.  He was one of a kind.  I had never met anyone like him, and haven’t since.  It wasn’t because of his philosophy on life, or even his immense musical talent.  A lot of people in this town are very talented, but as I would come to find out….they weren’t Mike.  Mike represented the very thing I had been looking for, for almost a decade.  He was the antithesis of everything that frustrated me about all of those years with Paul.  He was ALWAYS prepared.  If he wasn’t, he was good enough where you’d never know it.  The MOST important thing to me though…..the thing that made me view him as the Ying to my Yang, was how he seemed to understand exactly what I was looking for in a song.  Whatever he played was what I imagined I’d come up with if I was as good as Mike.  I remember longing for the day when a solo section would come up in a song and I’d just sit back and smile on stage and be inspired by how amazing it sounded.  Mike never failed to deliver that.  One of my best experiences with Mike came at his studio when it was just him and me, and it was the day that I remember feeling like as long as he and I are a team, we can do anything.  I had written the basic structure to “Not the Only One” and started playing it for him.  He jumped behind the drums and just started playing this great simple driving drum beat.  I couldn’t stop smiling because we were having so much fun jamming on it.  Later, he got on guitar and I was showing him the basic chord structure.  He asked, “What are you thinking for a lead part?”  As I played through the song I’d kind of stop of share little notes.  They’d be as vague as, “Right here I just want like this aggressive sort of dissonant part.”  I’d kind of half sing the feeling I was going for and then I’d count it off and he’d launch in with exactly what I had envisioned.  Actually, that isn’t true…most times it was better than what I was thinking of.  I remember just shouting “Yes!” with amazement over and over again.  He did that with most of the songs.  There were pre-existing parts of half of tunes that we played in the Brett era, and Mike made them all infinitely better.  There is a song on a Switchfoot album called, “The Fatal Wound.”  To me, that was Mike leaving.  All of the other things I had been through since quitting Concentual were all minor setbacks.  Chad and Tait from Tim Mahoney’s band bailing….broken arm.  Firing Matt….a cut shaving.  Firing Brett….a burned hand.  Firing Jim….a sprained ankle.  Losing Mike was like a gunshot to the stomach.  I had to stagger around a bit and drop to knee before deciding if I wanted to try to get back up keep fighting.  I figured it would be a pretty big blow to Eide and Rocky as well, so to save them the grief of feeling like they wanted to quit, but would forge on out of loyalty, I decided I’d extend the offer of me blowing the whole thing up and taking a breather to figure out my next step.  In my heart, I really wanted them to pick me up with a “one for all, all for one” mentality.  I’d rather have them quit then feel anything less.  It was going to be an arduous process finding a new guitar player, and if they weren’t 100% in, then it was just going to be a grind that would drive them into the ground eventually.  I approached Eide first, because deep down I didn’t think we were really on the same page with what we wanted, and I kind of felt like he was sticking it out because he felt I was a good guy and he was kind of doing me a favor.  He really was more into recording new material, and the fact that he wasn’t on the EP kind of constantly ate at him.  He didn’t like doing covers, and really was just all about the process of creating new music and experimenting with it.  He’d be totally content if we just got together in a home studio and jammed and banged out music.  I was still much more into performance mode and marketing the band and getting the name out and trying to grow the fan base.  I had a good heart to heart talk over the phone with Eide, and we mutually agreed that it was a good point for him to bow out.  There were no hard feelings and it was the best conversation I probably ever had in regards to somebody departing from a band I was in.  I have a lot of respect for Eide, and I remember thinking…”this is how these kinds of things should always go.”  It was mature and professional and both sides demonstrated complete respect for each other.  Next up was Rocky.  I honestly had no clue how this one was going to go.  I was 50/50 on it.  I could completely see him rallying around me and being like, “We don’t need Mike or Eide….we can do this and that now, and we will forge ahead!”  I could also completely see him being like, “Eh….you know it was a good run Thuney…I had fun, but I don’t feel like going through auditions and all that shit again.  I’m here for ya if you get some other guys together, but I think I’m just going to kind of focus on some of the other stuff I’ve got going on.”  With a bit of a lump in my throat, I called him knowing inside that if he stepped away there was a good chance Stealing Seconds was over.  I laid it all out there for him.  I don’t know if he was under the spell of that sense of loyalty or he just felt bad for me, but he jumped on board and picked me up.  He was the soldier that saw me drop to my knee with that fatal wound, and he put my arm over his shoulder and walked me to the medical tent.  He probably didn’t know that I was teetering on just laying down in the long weeds and staring up at the sky, reflecting on the good fight I had put in.  Then again, maybe he did…..and maybe that’s why he came back to pick me up.  Either way, I’ll always appreciate that moment because it let the door remain open to some great things down the road.

Everything You Want

Almost immediately after, one of the coolest things to ever happen to me in my musical career presented itself.  It was almost as if the universe were “throwing me a bone” so to speak for me having to damn near start over once again.  I saw on the Fine Line’s website that one of my favorite bands was coming there in a little over a month, and there was no opener listed.  Vertical Horizon was the group, and it astounded me that they were even playing the Fine Line.  This was a band that I first saw at Roy Wilkins Arena opening up for my favorite band of all time, Third Eye Blind.  They later went on to have one of biggest songs of the late 90’s with “Everything You Want.”  The song was all over VH1 and MTV and radio and they were a bonafide touring arena rock band.  That first major label album went on to sell millions of copies and also featured the singles, “Best I Ever Had,” and “You’re a God” which was a staple cover tune of Concentual in my days with them, and my solo acoustic shows as well.  I must have played that songs hundreds and hundreds of times.  Like every band in that time, they had issues with their label and there were delays and fighting surrounding the release of their next album “Go.”  Their popularity had started to wane a little bit without a new album to support, and when it finally came out, a good number people had sort of forgotten about them.  Without the label behind them, the disk got no radio play.  They went on tour behind it and were encouraging people to make copies for each other and not pay for it, so the label wouldn’t make any money off it.  That was the tour that Stroke 9 opened for them.  Now, fast forward several more years, and they were coming out with a new album that even less people knew about, that was on an independent label.  Thus, they found themselves playing the stage at the 600 person capacity Fine Line.  On the one hand, I was kind of bummed for them, but on the other, I was super pumped because I thought maybe, just maybe, I had a fighting chance of landing an opening spot.  I tried to contact Kim, who had helped me sort out the opening slot for Marcy Playground, but she had been kind of MIA lately serving as the tour manager for Soul Asylum.  Brad, the guy who booked the local bands for the weekends, kind of stepped in, but I wasn’t getting far with him either.  We had talked about a month before the show, and he had said he’d look into it, and if there was going to be local support, he thought he’d get us in.  I was so pumped, but tried to curtail my enthusiasm until it was a done deal.  I’d check the Fine Line site everyday to see if some support act popped up, thus dashing my dreams.  It always stated Vertical Horizon w/TBA, still keeping hope alive.  I realized that I didn’t have a guitar player or drummer any longer, but I figured for THIS show I’d get somebody to fill in with little problem.  Now, however, it was getting to be a week before the show, so I kind of threw up my hands and said “forget it.”  Even if Brad offered it up, there was no way anyone could fill in with that short of notice, and Mike probably had lessons booked since the show was on a Monday night, so it didn’t look to be in the cards.  I just decided that I would go to the show and enjoy it, and harbor envy on whoever landed the opening slot.  It was Friday, 3 days before the show and I got an e-mail from Brad.

Dude,
finally finding out now……I’m thanking Kim for this.
Wanna open this show?
Lemme know asap.

peace…

Brad

You can’t imagine the excitement that coursed through my body when I read those words!  I, Bryan Thuney, was going to be opening for one of my top 5 favorite bands!!  But wait!  Shit!!  I just realized I don’t have a band of my own!!  I wasn’t going to let this derail me…I’d find a way somehow.  I e-mailed Brad back and asked if we could do the show as an acoustic trio.  I knew Eide would help me out on percussion, so a 3 piece was easy enough to make a reality.  He got back to me and said we’d roll with it because there was an act added to the bill.  It was a solo acoustic guy from New York that he found out was booked for the whole Vertical Horizon tour.  It was easier logistically to not have to set up a full band anyway.  Then, the day of the show I found out that Brad was going to put the national touring solo act on FIRST…THEN US….then Vertical Horizon.  So we had top billing over the national touring guy!!  It was BAD ASS!!  It made us look to the crowd like an even bigger deal, when this guy from New York is opening in front of us!  I immediately went on Facebook and blitzed the hell out of the info that Stealing Seconds was opening for Vertical Horizon!  In the back of my mind I wondered how Haga would feel when he saw the news.  Vertical Horizon was one of his favorite bands as well.  He would have loved this opportunity!  A little part of me was almost sad we weren’t experiencing it together.  It was kind of funny, because as of late it was like Concentual and Stealing Seconds were sitting down at a Texas Hold ‘em table.  We came first with Marcy Playground.  Then, they made an announcement a month later that they were opening for another 90’s one hit wonder band, Cowboy Mouth at the Cabooze.  Now, it was kind of like me saying…”Oh yeah, I see your Cowboy Mouth, and I’ll raise you Vertical Horizon!”  FOLD!  The warm spot in my heart for the Fine Line grew even warmer when I found out that a few other local bands had been trying to get this show as well, and Brad gave it to me!  I only had the weekend to soak it all up, and then it was Monday and show time.  I arrived plenty early to the Fine Line, just excited to breathe in the moment.  I walked in the side door, and there they were…..Matt Scannell and Keith Cane, the two singers/guitarists that were the driving force of Vertical Horizon.  It was surreal to me, because in the early days on Concentual, Paul and I kind of used Vertical Horizon as our template of a band.  2 good singers who featured terrific harmonies.  A backing vocalist who had a unique voice that had the ability to sing lead on a song here and there.  Hell, we honestly even looked like those guys!  The only difference was that Vertical Horizon’s lead singer, Matt, played most of the lead guitar, whereas Paul did in our duo.  I actually looked strikingly similar to Matt.  We both were kind of tall and lean and had a shaved head with a little soul patch under the lower lip.  In fact, Rocky told me that when I walked in, Matt kind of shot me a double take like, “Who is this copycat stalker freak!”  They were sound checking as I brought my gear in, and it felt like I won some sort of VIP pass to have the opportunity to be there.  Then they finished up and I brought my gear up as they were making a few last minute tweaks.  Matt looked at me and introduced himself and shook my hand.  I told him, without trying to sound fanatical, that I had been a fan for years and was very appreciative of the opportunity to share the stage with him.  We talked about his hometown of Boston, because Courtnie and I just come back from vacation there not long before.  He was a super nice guy, and the most amazing feeling was that he treated me…small time little old me….like a peer doing the same thing he was on that night, and not some star struck fan.  We completed our sound check and just hung out in the green room downstairs awaiting the show.  The solo act was on stage, and I wanted to check him out, while also gauging how the crowd was looking.  The tables were relatively full, but I was kind of dismayed that there weren’t people bodied up to the stage staking our their spot for Vertical Horizon to come on.  I chatted with Courtnie briefly and then went to head back downstairs.  All of the sudden, a guy gets up from a table near the front and proclaims, “Hey man, I’m really excited to catch your set tonight!”  I was like, “Hey, thanks man, I appreciate it.”  He goes on to say, “These are my friends…we came all the way from New Jersey to check you out!”  At this point, I raised an eyebrow in my head, but I rolled with it, saying something like, “Wow, that’s amazing man….well I’m super excited for you to catch the show!”  He then starts introducing me to the people in his party….”This is my friend James.”  I got out, “Hey….” and then it hit me that these people all thought I was the lead singer for Vertical Horizon.  I quickly called a verbal audible and said…”I’m….happy to meet you!”  If I had said, “I’m Bryan”, the cloud of discomfort would have stormed in as we all would have realized the awkwardness of what had just taken place.  I had been ready to buy these guys beers and chat for 15 minutes, but now I quickly removed myself from the situation by saying, “I gotta get back downstairs and warm up, but enjoy the show!”  I didn’t show my face up there again until it was time play.  I was hoping for that dream moment where the lights go down and the crowd presses up closer to the stage and a cheer goes up when that green room door opens and the band emerges.  I ended up settling for about 50% of that.  When the door flung open, I was greeted with a crowd that was still mostly sitting at tables with a few stragglers lounging about the stage.  Once I walked on stage however, I DID get the smattering of cheers.  It felt nice, except for I knew 98% of them were coming from people thinking, once again, I was the lead singer of Vertical Horizon.  I so badly wanted to start off with the opening chords to “You’re a God” and then stop abruptly and make a joke about it, but I thought that to be in bad taste.  I did make a little joke before I started our set about not being Vertical Horizon quite yet, and by the smattering of laughter I got, I knew that my assessment of everyone’s general misidentification was pretty much on target.  Nonetheless, it was a great show!  I always feel like my voice stands out better when thinks are stripped down acoustically, and it seemed like the crowd was really engaged with us and really enjoyed our set.  I got lots of nice comments afterwards, and even signed a few autographs and unloaded all of the free EP’s we had laying around the place.  Vertical Horizon then took over.  The crowd was a far cry from that first time I saw them back at Roy Wilkens auditorium.  It WAS a Monday night, but I was still shocked to only see 12-15 people deep in front of the stage.  They played great, and sounded great though, and even mentioned us during their set.  I never got the chance to talk to them after the show, but the whole experience was a memory that I’d definitely note as a top highlight of my 10 years of playing. 

Bottled Promise

The Vertical Horizon experience injected life back into me, and kind of motivated me to engage in that arduous process once again of finding some new members.  Rocky provided a very pleasant surprise that was not only a huge step in the right direction, but also endearing in the fact that it demonstrated a level of motivation in getting the band back on track.  He had been jamming around with some other friends of his, and started talking with a guy named Scott Schneider about the opportunity with Stealing Seconds.  Scott was in a large band with his Dad that featured a horn section.  They played places like VFW’s and mostly jammed on cover tunes that appealed to an older crowd.  He was excited about the chance to play some rock music and get into more traditional, youthful venues.  He was a guy who was dedicated to his craft.  He studied different techniques and styles and put lots of hours into sharpening his abilities.  Rocky sent me a video of him drumming to a Dave Matthews new that he had just taken a week or so to learn.  It was impressive because Dave Matthews drummer, Carter Beauford, was highly renowned for his skills behind the kit.  I watched it, and wrote Rocky to tell him that Scott had the gig if he wanted it.  I didn’t need to meet him.  If Rocky was vouching for him and already had a good relationship developed, that was ¾ the battle for me.  He was young, which fit my criteria well due to the hope that he’d have friends who were into coming out and partying and watching live music.  He was a good looking kid, and had enough skill from what I saw on video to make the decision a no-brainer.  My enthusiasm surged!  For once I didn’t have to wade through a bunch of BS and horrible auditions to find a quality band member.  Maybe things would be easier this time around!  As I set my focus on finding a guitar player, I quickly realized that replacing Mike was going to be damn near impossible!

I went about usual method of placing an ad on Craigslist.  I was getting some decent responses, and I was trying my best to screen though them and not waste everyone’s time with people that clearly weren’t a good fit.  Despite my best efforts, we were getting dud and after dud after dud.  One dude showed up with no amp and no effects pedals.  He brought a guitar and a cable and that was it.  We are looking for a guy to rip Mike Geronsin style guitar solos with a beautiful tone and this guy is asking us to “just imagine the parts with distortion.”  I had dudes show interest and then flake out.  What really shocked me though was how few of them even really knew the songs!  I get making some mistakes here and there, but when you show up and say, “I didn’t really get a chance to work on that song, how’s it go?”  Come on!  I sent out 3 songs and said to learn 2 of the 3.  Most maybe kind of had 1 halfway down.  It was just train wreck after train wreck and I could really see it start to wear on Rocky.  I started to worry because his attitude was already starting to rub off on Scott it seemed.  I had do something quick to keep momentum going and still maintain a high standard with the product so people who saw us before didn’t come out and go…”Oh my God….what happened to these guys!”  It was becoming clear to me that Craigslist wasn’t going to provide the next Mike Geronsin or anything even remotely close.  I started thinking about all of the guys in other bands that I’d seen around town who would be perfect fits.  I was hoping maybe I’d stumble upon somebody whose band kind of dwindled down and who was in that place where they were looking for another established band to jump into where they wouldn’t have the drop off of playing Thursday nights at 400 Bar again.  Each inquiry I made was pretty much coming up empty.  One day, out of the blue, I got a text message from Brian Leighton of GB Leighton.  That, in itself was super weird.  I didn’t know the dude even had my number.  I know he’d taken it down after shows when he was three sheets to the wind, but I thought there was little chance he’d be able to send me a text message or even ever have the desire to do so.  To my shock, he was asking me if my band wanted to open for him New Year’s Eve at O’Garas!  There was a time, where this would have been the Holy Grail to me.  NYE shows were MONEY because everyone comes out and wants to party.  Most gigs are guaranteed to be a killer night.  I’d played 2 NYE shows in my career and 1 got me an opportunity to play live on a big radio station in town, while the other one was one of the most killer bar shows I’ve ever played.  If you are going to play on NYE, there are 3 names that always popped into my head that you wanted to be associated with.  Mark Mallman, Tim Mahoney and GB Leighton.  There was a time I might have taken a New Year’s Eve gig at O’Garas with GB Leighton over playing with a national act.  O’Garas had lost a lot of steam since those days, but it was still a pretty choice gig and a big honor to me that he would even ask me.  Apparently he was impressed by my invite to him when we opened for Vertical Horizon and it made him think of me when they were thinking about getting an opener.  They figured we’d probably be able to draw some people out, even with the monster NYE cover that is always charged.  Better yet, Brian was going to be doing some sort of silent auction and giving away free food and stuff before we went on, so the thought was people would come out early.  It was something I just couldn’t pass up, but I didn’t have a guitar player, and it was a month away.  I asked Mike, but of course he was already playing a NYE gig with Mark Mallman.  I wrote Brian back and said, “We’re in!”  I figured I’d figure out the rest later!

My mental rolodex was now spinning about who I could get to do this gig.  Most of my really talented friends in cover bands and such, already had gigs that night.  Then I remembered a guy that my friend Jen used to talk about.  His name was James Smola and he had most recently played in a band called Copasetic.  I’d played on the same bill with him a couple of times in Concentual and then my second show with Stealing Seconds at the Fine Line.  Jen used to tell me that he would say the greatest things about me and say how great of a performer he thought I was.  I remember the show at the Fine Line, he was talking about how Copasetic was winding down and he was kind of bummed because he loved playing and performing.  I thought…”hmmm…..this might be just the guy I’m looking for!”  He was very technically sound as a guitar player.  He was one of those jazzy type of players who was inspired by odd chord shapes and scales and math rock and all that sort of stuff.  Not a perfect stylistic fit, but he could definitely play a guitar.  I reached out to him via Facebook, and it turns out he and has wife had just had a kid and she didn’t really like the idea of him playing out a bunch anymore.  He was very enthusiastic about the opportunity to play a one time show with Stealing Seconds though.  BAM!  It might not be the permanent guy, but at least I got the next show figured out!  We started meeting a few times acoustically to go over the songs and start working together.  It went…..ok.  He was definitely from a different world stylistically, and he kept throwing in things and new ideas that I wasn’t super thrilled about.  Nonetheless, I figured, “just get through the show, and you can move on.”  He was a good looking guy and had a decent voice so there were a lot of positive factors there.  Pretty soon, it was time to have a few full band rehearsals and introduce him to the rest of the guys.  That first practice wasn’t real pretty.  He was ganking on a ton of stuff, and just had this sort of cocky vibe to him.  It was kind of like he was oblivious to mistakes he was making and thought things sounded fine, or else perhaps he knew he was butchering some stuff but either didn’t care or didn’t have a fear that it would be that way at show time.  There were some parts that he just didn’t seem to be getting.  I remember “Just the Weather” never sounding right and not being able to get on the same page with how the intro went.  In any event, the night of the show inevitably came, and it was sink or swim time.

The crowd was a pretty big disappointment to me.  There were a decent number of people there but nobody was ready to rock.  Nobody was in front of the stage, nobody was screaming or rocking out.  It was almost like we were sound checking or something.  I remember feeling really odd with James up there too.  He was wearing this tight black T-shirt and his tones and parts just seemed so out of place to me once we were up on the stage and I was hearing things through the PA.  It just didn’t sound like Stealing Seconds to me.  It was this odd, watered down version of us that kind of kept gnawing at me.  He was kind of rubbing the rest of the guys the wrong way too.  He was hitting on Scott’s girlfriend, and just sort of acting goofy and arrogant.  I decided I was kind of done with him after that night.  It wasn’t horrible, and one of the guys from GB even said he really liked the lineup now.  It just wasn’t what I wanted though, so the search continued. 

I got contacted by Kris Boden of 24/7 marketing, who had booked some acoustic shows for me previously, and who had gotten us into the previous Basilica Block party Battle of the Bands.  She told me that a bar called the Parkway Grill in Burnsville was looking for an acoustic trio type of thing on Thursday nights for pretty good money.  Again…no guitar player.  I had been trying pretty hard to get a guy named Jeff Rutland to play with us in the full band.  He has responded to an ad I had put out looking for a guitar player awhile back, but then backed away citing he kind of responded in the heat of moment when he was fed up with his current project.  He had played in a band called Mars to Mercury, which I was a big fan of when I first started playing.  They were a pretty big deal around town for awhile, and Jeff kind of got let go from that band when he didn’t want to go out and frivolously tour around.  He ended up jumping on the cover band circuit and flirted here and there with getting back into something original.  I coveted his skill set.  Great singer….great guitar player….really good dude.  I could never get him to pull the trigger on joining forces though, especially when there was no money in it.  One day, however, I read on Facebook that that cover band he was in, Series 5, gave him the boot.  Apparently they felt he was trying to run the show too much. The timing was good though, because this Thursday gig was an easy low key way for him to keep making a little money. He jumped on it, knowing it was be easy enough for him to learn a bunch of covers and a few originals.  He wouldn’t pull the trigger on joining the Stealing Seconds full band though, no matter how hard I tried.  I got together with just him at first, and it was awesome!  It was the closest thing to Mike I figured I could experience.  We had a really good connection and had a great time.  When I brought Rocky into the mix, nothing skipped a beat.  Rocky and Jeff connected right away and it was a really solid trio.  Jeff was funny, and he actually kind took the gigs over a bit.  I was used to having to be the one who did all the talking between songs and stuff and Jeff would just jump in and run with it.  My only annoyance was that he catered to the crowd a bit too much.  They’d yell out a song that I didn’t know, and Jeff would start playing it and it would turn into an abruptly halted train wreck when we couldn’t get past the first verse and chorus.  Still people had fun, and it was a good time.  Courtnie would always get kind of annoyed though because we weren’t playing the songs in the set list that she liked…we were hacking through songs we didn’t even know and kind of coming off as amateurs.  As much fun as the trio gigs were, I’d have to say one of my all time favorite memories of playing acoustic shows, was actually me….by myself….and it wasn’t even really a show!

Time After Time

Kris had booked me for a time at a place called Oak City.  It was attached to a hotel, but despite that fact, it never seemed to ever get really busy when I played there.  It was a nice place, but didn’t have a very good PA set up.  They liked me there though, so it was always kind of a nice gig to make a couple hundred bucks on a Friday night playing to a few bar friends, bar patrons and my wife.  I usually brought 2 guitars with me to be ultra prepared in case something went wrong with my Taylor.  Sometimes it had a tendency to have electrical issues and cut out on me, and I never wanted to have the stress of trying to fix it mid set or something.  It had been performing great as of late though, and feeling a bit lazy, I decided to not bring a second guitar with me on this particular night.   I rolled in kind of late, and started my process of setting up and tweaking the PA to my liking.  Everything was sounding good, and I plugged in my Taylor to check the final overall mix…..nothing.  I sighed, a quickly switched batteries figuring that I had left it plugged in recently and my battery had died.  Still, there was nothing.  I started to panic a bit now because I only had a few other cables with me, and I was starting to doubt I had a bad cable anyway.  I switched a few out, but still no sound coming from my guitar.  I doubled checked every possible bad connection, and soon it was technically show time.  Minute after minute ticked away as I toiled to try to find some sort of solution.  I felt like it was too late to go back and get another guitar from home, and based on the meager amount of people in the bar, it seemed like a better solution to just call it a night.  I went up to the bar and profusely apologized for my equipment problem, and said I was just going to throw in the towel.  They still wanted to pay me part of the money for showing up and trying, but I vehemently refused to even take a nickel.   I felt so embarrassed and frustrated; I just wanted to walk out the leave my gear behind.  I lingered at the bar for a minute making small talk and then went about packing up all of my gear.  I got everything loaded up just had to come back for my piece of shit guitar.  I waved good bye to the bar, and headed out the door to my car.  Two ladies, probably in their mid 40’s passed me on the sidewalk and asked, “Are you done already??”  I said, “Yeah, I had to cut it short because my stupid guitar crapped out on me.”  One of them shared that they had come 30 miles to hear me play and were super bummed!  I said, “30 miles!  How did you even hear about me? “  They offered up that they were on the hunt to travel into the city and hear some live music.  They called Oak City and asked who was on their schedule and who was worth coming to see.  Oak City told them that they should plan to come out when I was next playing, so here they were!  I was floored!  That kind of stuff doesn’t happen to me that often, so I was sort of torn about what I should do.  I couldn’t let them come all that way and not hear anything!  After thinking about it for a moment, I said, “Ok ladies, I’ll make you deal.  Here was my set list for tonight……pick any 3 songs off it, and I’ll sit in the entry way and play them for just you guys, unplugged.”  They seemed kind of excited by that arrangement and began pouring over the list as we walked back into the building.  Finally they had picked a few out, and I took out my guitar and started in.  To my amazement, the acoustic in the entryway actually sounded pretty fantastic.  I was really kind of enjoying how I was sounding, and I was having fun doing something special for these ladies who travelled out to see me play.  3 songs turned into 5 and then into 7.  Pretty soon, it was starting to pick up in the bar, and people were coming in the front door at a more rapid rate.  Each time somebody entered I was met with this puzzled stare as to why I was sitting here in this bar entryway, playing to these two ladies.  Pretty soon I noticed this big group approaching the front door and they all seemed to have some sort of disability.  A few were in wheelchairs, a few had some artificial arms and hands.  They kind of smiled as they walked by and sat at a table right on the other side of the glass entryway.  I kept noticing them watching me, and before I knew it, one of the guys in a wheelchair came back into the entryway.  He said, “Hey man, I dig the songs you are playing….that’s my style of music.  I’m a big karaoke guy and I sing a lot of those tunes. “  I nodded my approval at that and told him I was in here because the electronics on my guitar crapped out.  I was supposed to be playing a show inside the bar, plugged in.  I told him it was too bad I couldn’t play a proper show for him and his friends.  Before I knew it, he had motioned for all of his friends to come in to the entryway.  There was actually a good amount of seating in there, and they all kind of piled in forming a big circle around me.  It turns out they were part of a special Olympics basketball team our something like that and were playing a tournament in the cities.  They were originally from Chicago.   The first guy that came in was named Gus, and he asked me if I could he sing a Gin Blossoms song if I played it.  I agreed and even sang some harmonies with him.  Everyone was having a great time now, and the party seemed to be in the entryway, rather than the bar!  Soon, a hat was laid down in the center of the room and people were throwing tips in for me to keep playing.  There ended up being $20 bills in there!  The waitresses started brining beer and food into the entryway for the patrons!!  It was the craziest thing I had ever experienced playing. My original night was supposed to be from 8-midnight, but when it was all said and done,  I ended up playing until about 1:45am.  I had a blast, and just found it so magical, like a scene out of movie!  Oak City had that kind of feel at times for whatever reason.  I remember on another night there when my guitar DID work, it was getting to be a kind a grind.  The patrons were very much a mixed bag, and I got the impression that 1/3 would have rather heard a DJ playing dance tunes, 1/3 wanted to hear country, and 1/3 would have rather listened to talk radio.  It seemed like 0/3 wanted to hear 90’s pop tunes and original music played acoustically.  I scanned my set-list for a tune that I thought SOMEBODY might like, but couldn’t find any.  Finally, just feeling kind of down and reflective I decided to pull out Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time”, just because it was a classic and I liked the way I sounded singing it.  To my surprise I started to see some people mouthing the words.  Then, I could kind of hear a few drunks at the bar singing along.  By the time I got to the last chorus,  I swear to God I cut out and the bar was all singing it accapella.  It’s moments like that that just felt so intoxicating.  It was hard for me to find other things in life that replicated that.

In any event, I was still doing my best in the meantime to piece together versions of Stealing Seconds to take the stage and continue momentum .  We got another show at O’Garas and again I needed to find sometime to play it.  We all agreed we weren’t going with James again, so I reached out to a guy who I always really admired that I knew wasn’t playing in the band that he was a fixture in for a long time.  His name was Jade Murphy, and he had been a pretty long time member of a really popular band called Dazy Head Mazy.  They had kind of fizzled out and I knew he wasn’t doing that much anymore, but his wife and he had twins on the way.  I asked if he’d like to play this one show at O’Garas and see how it went.  He agreed and seemed pretty enthusiastic about it.  I went to his place and started running through the set.  We had a good connection, and at least acoustically, I felt like he was doing some really good things, and he also had a great voice for backing vocals.  Once we started in with the full band rehearsals, it was kind of that strange feeling for me again.  Jade was a very bluesy guitar player who was used to soloing up the wazoo in Dazy.  They were very formulaic in their approach.  Every song was just a regular chord progression, nothing fancy, and then Jade would solo for a bunch of measures and the song would end.  They were kind of a jam band that way.  People loved it, but it was not what Stealing Seconds was all about.  We had a solo in pretty much every song, but I was all about very staccato, rhythmic playing with lots of drop outs and stops and starts etc.  It’s very hard to “jam” to anything in the Stealing Seconds library.  Jade did a very good job but there were still parts and tones that didn’t sound right to me.  He didn’t have the songs nailed like Mike did when he first played with us.  Nonetheless, the night of show he did a very solid job and we all agreed it was an improvement from when James had played with us.  We were all cool with giving Jade the gig permanently, but he couldn’t commit to it.  He politely declined the offer but said he’d fill in whenever we needed him as long as it fit into his schedule and his wife was ok with it.  Sigh….it was back to the drawing board!

I’d been reviving my craigslist ad here and there just fishing for something quality to drop in my lap.  One day a message came into my inbox and I thought we had nailed it!  A guy named Tim Walterson e-mailed me and said he was really interested in looking for a new band that played originals.  He had previously been in the Chris Hawkey band, which was another very popular cover band in the Twin Cities.  Chris Hawkey was a radio personality on a sports talk station and the band had a very good following.  They got paid very good money and always seemed to get to play the choice gigs.  His wife was the program director at another prominent radio station, so all of the sudden they’d get these gigs opening up for Collective Soul and Counting Crows, and you’d just go….”hmmmmm.”  Didn’t seem fair, but that’s how the business works.  None of us would turn it down if we got the chance.  Anyway, that band was kind of put on the back burner because a few prominent local musicians joined forces and created a band called “Rocket Club.”  They were a country/roots rock band and with Chris singing in that band and his wife helping to push them on the country station that the radio group she worked for owned, they were starting to make some noise on the national country music scene.  Tim and his mates were kind of left in the dust, and he was pretty fed up and ready to kind of make his statement by leaving the band and joining something new.  I looked at videos and pictures of him online and he seemed to be around my age and a really solid rock guitar player.  I was pretty stoked and felt like this might just be the gift from heaven dropped onto my doorstep!  We exchanged some e-mails and it seemed like we were on the same page as far as what we were looking for musically, etc.  We set up an audition and I sent him our typical sampling of 2 original songs and a cover.  The other guys were starting to get a bit jaded at this point with these auditions, so the mood was already a little terse before Tim showed up.  He arrived early and I went up to meet him in person.  The first thing that struck me was that the dude was a lot older than I thought he was.  I was picturing around mid 30’s in my head, and mid 40’s was the reality.  I might have even known he was older, but I guess I thought maybe he’d look younger.  He looked every bit of mid 40’s.  Now that may seem like an incredibly shallow thing to even concern myself with, but I had a very specific place where I was at, and a very particular vision.  Rocky was mid 20’s and Scott was barely a member of the drinking age club.  In my mind, I needed to be the elder statesman.  I didn’t think the chemistry would be right if we brought in somebody that could be Scott’s Dad.  Also, this band was kind of my last ditch effort in the back of my mind to accomplish something bigger.  I knew it was about the equivalent of winning the lottery, but I figured accepting a guy in that was in his mid 40’s was essentially accepting defeat and acknowledging that I had made the transition into “kick around hobby band” status.  I didn’t think we’d be taken that seriously.  In any event, I wanted to see what this guy had so I helped him roll in his massive 80’s rock set-up for the audition.  You could pretty much tell what he was all about just by taking a look at his rig.  He was going to be LOUD, and he was going to like ripping solo’s with lots of notes in hopes of getting a MILF in the front row to show her tits.  He could have fit in auditioning for Poison.  There would be no side washing his amp and putting it through the monitor for live gigs.  That baby was going to be turned to 11 and pointed right at his head!  That wasn’t necessarily an awful realization for me.  The previous guys we had gigged with since losing Mike were very bluesy as I had mentioned, and they didn’t really have that alt rock, Foo Fighters crunch tone in their arsenal.  It was something I had missed and felt needed to be there ideally.  We launched into the first song, which was a more rocking number.  Tim knew the song pretty well.  There were gankers, sure, but overall he had very good energy and presence and the dude certainly knew how to make a power chord crunch.  He had good tone on the solos, and I could tell those were the moments he got excited about.  The next song would be a good test.  “Something Beautiful” was the tender ballad, and I was eager to see if he could scale it back and be tasteful.  Overall, it was…..ok.  It still felt like an 80’s rock player sitting in with Jason Mraz or something.  He didn’t seem comfortable, but he made it work.  Then the cover we did, he knew well and performed it fine.  My single biggest hang-up with Tim was the backing vocals.  There was no tiptoeing around it.  They were awful!  He kept apologizing and saying he hadn’t had time to learn them, and he sang backup and even some lead vocals in other bands, and given time he’d get them down.  I took his word on that, and figured  that sometimes backing vocals can be hard to lock in.  The parts I had written definitely weren’t the easiest to pick up on quickly.  I gave him points for trying, because other guys we brought in just flat out didn’t attempt them.  The thing I liked about Tim is that you could tell he really wanted to be part of the band, and he liked the music and liked where we had gotten to as a band.  He wasn’t taking gigs at the Fine Line on weekends for granted, because he understood the business, and knew that those kinds of opportunities aren’t just handed to you.  That went a long way with me, and I was willing to look past the age and the 80’s mentality if the other guys felt the same way.  There was probably some weariness involved in the decision too, of…”I’m really sick of looking for guitar players, can this guy be close enough??”  After Tim left for the night, I pow-wowed with the guys to get their take.  To my surprise they were actually kind of at the same place I was.  I thought for sure the first words out of Rocky’s mouth would be..”That dude is old, and….Def Lepard called and are looking for their guitar player back.”  He was very elitist when it came to who he liked playing with, and I thought there was probably no way Tim was making his cut.  Everyone was kind of like me though.  They had that feeling of…”Eh, not bad….I saw good things…maybe give him another shot.”  I, in particular, really wanted to see the backing vocals come around before I called him up and said….”Dude, we’re unanimous….YOU’RE IN!”  I called him a few days later, and offered him an opportunity.  We had a show coming up at the Fine Line.  I wanted him to “fill in” for that show just like James and Jade had done before with us.  That way, we’d have a few rehearsals with him, and I’d have a few key questions answered about how he’ll be at a live show.  What will his set up be?  What will he wear?  Will he nail backing vocals when in counts at a live show?  Will he bring anybody out to shows?  That one was kind of key to me because if our draw didn’t start increasing, the good gigs would be over and we’d be looking at Thursday night at the Terminal Bar or something awful like that.  Some of these things may seem trite, but they had all burned me in the past and I was trying hard to learn from my mistakes.  I mean, Brett in the fishing had and the “Gone Fisting” shirt?  Eide bringing a total of ZERO people out combined for every gig he played with us?  Those are things that don’t seem as important initially, but 3-4 gigs in, pretty soon the chatter starts up and you’re feeling that same pit in your stomach that it’s going to end badly!  I was trying hard to cover every base this time and not overlook anything that would ultimately result in another firing situation or bad feelings.  Tim enthusiastically agreed to the arrangement, and we set out to play our 3rd straight show with a different guitar player.  The rehearsals went ok.  He definitely worked on the songs and learned them pretty well, but there was still that big gorilla in the room of backing vocals.  It wasn’t bumming me out so much that he was having trouble with them, it was bumming me out that he was enthusiastically singing things off key.  It’s like, when I hear them and it’s like nails on the chalk board, and he’s over there seemingly oblivious to the cats gathering outside the house, it was a big warning sign to me.  I realized he’d never be the guy that I go out and play acoustic duo gigs with and it’s him and I singing great harmonies like I could with Paul, and more recently with Mike and Jeff.  That was disheartening to me because it was a big element of what I was looking for.  I wanted a guy who could come over and write a song with me and we could sit in my basement and come up harmonies and parts and play off each other.  I didn’t see Tim as that guy really.  Nonetheless, maybe he would surprise me when an actual live show in front of people came around.  That night, I was pretty excited.  Tim’s enthusiasm was contagious, and that was another big thing I was looking for.  I wanted a guy to inject some excitement and life into things.  I needed an ally on that front because I got NOTHING from Rocky and Scott.  I’d be like..”Show time guys!  You pumped?”  I’d always get….”um….yeah, I guess…(sigh), let’s go do this.”  I needed somebody to pump me up, so I was happy with Tim’s enthusiasm towards playing with something new.  He even brought a few people out.  A few were members of the Chris Hawkey band, so I knew he was sort of impressed with the group and excited at the chance to be a part of it.  The show was pretty good.  It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t a train wreck.  It was sort of as advertised.  Tim was LOUD, he ripped solos with 80’s flare, and he botched 90% of the backing vocals and mostly didn’t get up on the mic too hard so it wasn’t overly noticeable.  What I found interesting, was after the show he invited the members of his old band down to the green room and they made a pitch for me to essentially replace Chris Hawkey as their singer and allow their cover band to continue.  I was pretty interested in that, especially because they claimed they could still command good money for gigs.  I told them we could together and jam on some stuff sometime and see where it goes, but I knew that it was a situation where if we didn’t accept Tim into Stealing Seconds, everything was kind of null and void.  A few days after the gig, I polled the rest of the guys about what they thought.  It was still very much in line with how I felt.  Nobody was sold, but nobody had any better options. They felt it COULD work out, although it wasn’t necessarily ideal.  UGH….that was tough for me.  I wanted something ideal, but was losing faith very quickly that that existed.  Do I settle for less than ideal and we move forward, or do I wait for ideal and probably never find it and have the band fold up? I mean, I wasn’t getting any younger.  We couldn’t exactly wait 2-3 years for the right dude to come along.  My biggest fear was telling Tim yes, and then finding out about somebody like Mike looking for a gig and going…”Damnit, now I’d have to fire someone else again to try to get that guy, or just sit and feel envious of other guitar players.”  In the meantime, I found out that Bon Jovi was coming to town and once again were running the contest to have the chance to open for them at the Xcel Energy center.  Unlike last time, where we got chosen to be in a final 5 and then had to play in a live battle and get judged, this time it was all music submission and a somebody picked the top 2 entries and those 2 got to each open a show for Bon Jovi’s 2 nights stand in the Twin Cities.  The catch for us, was that you needed to submit a photo of the band and all that jazz.  The last picture we had, featured 2 guys who were no longer in the band.  I didn’t want to submit that, so I figured, “well, who would play the show if we won?”  At this point, I guess we’d probably ask Tim.  I felt weird taking a photo with Mike or something and saying, “Dude, if we won, I’d ask you to play so I want to have you in the picture even though you quit the band 6 months ago.”  I could have taken a shot of the 3 of us, but I didn’t want somebody to go, “Oh they are 3 piece, we want a 4 piece” or something like that.  That’s the kind of dumb stuff I think about.  So, in any event, I decided….”Ok, let’s give Tim one more chance playing a live show, and if we get the Bon Jovi gig, he gets the gift of getting to play that one as well.”  I had been asked to play a show coming up at the 400 Bar, and I figured we could have Tim play that show.  I really didn’t have any other options for it as far as guitarists went, so in my mind I figured we’d just see if Tim wanted to play it as a fill in.  I didn’t care that much about it, so in my mind I thought we could do it as a 3 piece if Tim declined and no one else was available.  I had been sort of toying with that idea as of late anyway.  Tim came over and we cleared out the toy room of the Rocky’s Mom’s daycare where we held practice.  It had this old fireplace in it, and I figured it would work for a band photo in a pinch.  I told Tim, “This is just for the contest, we haven’t officially decided how we want to proceed on guitar.”  I didn’t want him getting the idea that this meant he was in now.  In hindsight, it was probably dumb and unnecessary to take those band photos.  We didn’t get picked to open for Bon Jovi anyway.  In any event, we kept rehearsing with Tim for the 400 Bar show.  He was pretty comfortable with the songs on guitar and was doing a decent job.  He wasn’t blowing my mind, but he had good stage presence, and he was solid.  Still though, the vocals were awful!  After that show, he was kind of hinting at trying to figure out what we were thinking as far as him being in the band.  I basically told him that I was going to meet with the guys that Wednesday and we’d talk about everything.  I thought about it all weekend, and I was still really on the fence about it.  Rocky and Scott were basically giving me the helpful contribution of, “Whatever you think, we’ll go along with it.”  Typical.  Make it all on me as usual.  Monday rolled around and Tim called me in the evening.  He asked what we were thinking as far as him joining the band.  I reiterated that I really wanted to meet with the guys on Wednesday and get their thoughts.  He wasn’t satisfied with that and pushed as to what I was thinking.  He seemed like a pretty mature guy and I sat and considered things for a second and then decided to move forward with my next course of action.  I was trying hard to be up front with people.  I had been preaching since the whole Jim escapade that I’ll be honest and tell things like they are and ultimately I think people will respect me more for that and maybe I can avoid some of these situations where people act like they are blindsided by opinions that come out, etc.  So, I calmly and honestly told Tim that I was kind of still on the fence.  I told him what I liked and admired about him, and I shared the things that were holding me back, like vocal ability.  The only subject that I kind of sugarcoated was the age thing.  I told him it wasn’t an issue with anyone, and honestly it really wasn’t, but in the back of my mind, it wasn’t something that I felt was ideal.  On top of all of this though, there was something like that was kind of pushing me more towards the no side.  I felt like Tim was sort of taking on a Steve Moerke syndrome.  He always talked about how much money the Chris Hawkey Band made and how we could do the same thing.  I wasn’t interested in turning this into a 3 set band that played 70% covers though.  I’d been there already with Concentual, and Steve kind of turned that thing south.  Steve is the one who started pushing generic party tunes like “Jessie’s Girl” and “I Want You To Want Me.”  We all knew they were big hits and would get a drunk crowd dancing, but it’s never really what I wanted to be about. I felt like Tim ultimately wanting Stealing Seconds to turn into the same thing.  He always talked about how he’d toured with a national act and had been through everything and knew so much about the business.  It just reminded me so much of Steve, that it gave me a really uneasy feeling.  Steve really is probably ultimately what led me to quit Concentual, and I didn’t want to ever go down a similar road again.  Tim met my words with a bit of disdain, but was overall pretty mature.  He kept telling me the backing vocals would come if given the chance.  The conversation ended with me saying…”Well I know the other guys are kind of deferring to me as to how to proceed, and I’m willing to keep giving it a chance.  I’ll talk to them Wednesday and see if we are in agreement, and then I’ll give you a call right away and tell you what’s up.”  He seemed pretty cool and respectful by the end of the conversation and I felt pretty proud of myself for how I handled the situation.  I thought, “See, it does work being honest, and I’m respected for it.  You may not be happy, but you appreciate my candor and we avoid a lot of the BS that I used to find myself in before.”  I was wrong.  By the next morning I received an e-mail from Tim talking about how he’s never had to have multiple auditions with a band before and he kind of has more respect for himself then to put himself through that.  He was withdrawing himself from consideration and no longer wanted to have any part in Stealing Seconds as a fill in or otherwise.  He deleted me from his friends on Facebook.  That was the end of the Tim Walterson era.  He did e-mail me months later again asking me what went wrong and what he could have done better because he really liked the band and wanted to be a part of it.  He was trying out for another band and wanted to try to avoid the pitfalls that he ran into with us.  I thought that was really mature, so I reiterated basically what I had told him in person on the phone.  He wrote something kind of snippy back, and I realized the whole thing was probably just one final opportunity for him to take a little shot at me.  I was pretty used to it by now, and at least he wasn’t scouring the Internet trying to flame me on anything he found me associated with like Jim did!  Back to the drawing board, and I was starting to care less and less.

Praise the Loud

We started rehearsing more and more just as a three piece band, and although I wasn’t writing much new material, it temporarily seemed more fun.  The attitude was better and it seemed to feel a little more fresh, just because it was something slightly different.  It had been nearly 8 months since Mike had quit, and nobody had emerged as an adequate full time replacement.  I seriously started thinking about how it would sound being a 3 piece.  Should I just go to only playing acoustic?  Should we morph into some Green Day/Marvelous 3 power pop thing?  I was totally on board with that idea, except I really felt like my guitar skills weren’t good enough to carry that load.  All of the original songs really seemed to need that 4th guitarist, so I’d kind of have to start from scratch I felt like.  Whatever I decided, I felt like I needed to do it quickly so we could move forward and not miss out on opportunities because things were still kind of up in the air.  We were all getting a little tired of the…”rehearse with a fill-in 2 or 3 times and pull off the show a bit sloppily, only to do it all over again for the next one.”  Spring had given way to summer, and that meant that it was once again time for the annual Basilica Block Party Battle of the Bands.  I was a bit mystified why I still cared so much about this trite opportunity, but it had become a sort of pride thing.  It was like wanting to beat your older brother at 1 on 1.  The older you got, the less of an accomplishment it felt like, however something inside of you just needed to see it done.  Kris Boden was still booking it, and I had continued to work with her in regards to doing acoustic trio stuff, so we were in regular contact.  I shot her an e-mail and submitted my request to be part of competition.  She accepted, and by the looks of the participants it appeared that less and less bands were holding it in that high of regard.  That’s not to say that the bands weren’t high quality, it’s just that fewer and fewer established names were taking part.  In the beginning, it sort of felt like a who’s who in the music circle were vying for a shot at the opportunity to play on the big stage.  Then, all of the sudden it seemed like the national band line-up was getting weaker and weaker and the competition winners were getting pushed into less desirable spots.  Local bands were getting outright selected to be part of the line up, and then it started to be a situation were the competition winners were almost opening for the bigger local act.  Their set times would be like 25 minutes starting at 5pm on Friday, when the gates had barely opened.  It was a far cry from the awesome gig that I used to think it was.  Plus, there was a part of me that was a bit jaded now, the older I got.  I had already secured gigs opening for the same caliber acts that were playing the Basilica, and I got to play 45 minutes and I got PAID to do it.  That may sound arrogant, but there was definitely a part of my that felt silly battling these newbie, wet behind the ears bands, for the chance to play 5 songs before a band that I have never even heard of before.  Nonetheless…it was a pride thing.  I wanted to say I had accomplished that goal.  The only problem now, once again, was…..”Who’s going to play guitar?”  These weren’t paying gigs, so somebody was going to have to be cool with just getting the chance to play the Basilica, and it was going to have to be somebody who could get the songs down relatively quick.  Ideally, it was going to be somebody who already knew them, so I started there.  I knew Mike was likely out because he taught lessons in the nights of the opening rounds.  I certainly wasn’t going to go with James or Tim.  That left one guy….Jade.  Jade wasn’t a consolation prize by any stretch.  Of any of those guys, I’d certainly put Jade up near the top of the wish list behind Mike.  In time, maybe he’d be even a better fit than Mike, but he’d just played the one show so he didn’t quite have the same level of polish.  I reached out to him, knowing if he declined, we might be taking this effort on as a 3 piece.  To the elation of all of us, he accepted and actually seemed pretty excited about it!  We set up a rehearsal to try to fine tune a set list as best we could.  The first round took place on a Wednesday night at the Blue Fox in Arden Hills.  That alone was an indicator of the direction this event was headed.  The venues all used to be top notch places and the pre-lims were always Thursday nights.  Now we were playing mid week at a cover bar venue that was a converted Dennys.

We stacked up pretty decent against the competition for round 1.  I’ll let you in a on a little secret that I’ve learned over the years.  Whether it be on the local level or the national level, everything is about who you know.  Nothing is as pure as it seems.  In relation to the Basilica Block Party competition, I’d say “pure” would mean that somebody painstakingly poured over hundreds of demo CD’s and picked out the very best 12 bands they could find.  Then, they randomly assigned those bands to various opening round battle nights.  In this case, I was on the receiving end of the “fix” if you will.  I found out from Kris which bands comprised the top 12.  I pinpointed 4-5 as being pretty robust competition.  I knew Chester Bay was the favorite because they were a young Dave Matthews-esque band with a big following of their college buddies.  There was no way we’d take them out in the first round.  I knew Standard Thompson was pretty well connected in the scene and could probably take us out as well.  There was Postina, who edged us out last year in round 1 and I had no reason to believe they couldn’t do it again.  Then there was the Jason Paulson Band, who were old friends of mine.  I knew they’d probably take us out as well, but just on principal I didn’t want to be in a situation where we’d have to knock each other out.  The rest of the bands I knew little about, but most didn’t have a strong social media presence or prominent gig schedule.  I figured I’d have the best shot against them.  I basically told Kris my preference was not to go against any of the top 4 or 5 bands in the first round, and when the schedule came out, low and behold, we faced off against two of the least known bands in the field.  I checked them out of Facebook, and neither really even promoted they got chosen.  Furthermore, one of the bands even dropped out a day before the gig, so Kris had to get a fill in!  It couldn’t have been better set up for us to get through the first round and make it to the finals.  I tried to do my best promoting it and getting people out, but my efforts were pale in comparison to the year before.  My full heart just wasn’t in it.  It was so much less sexy to me this year…..Wednesday night at the Blue Fox in comparison to a Thursday night at the Fine Line.  I hoped I had done enough, but my confidence wasn’t great.  The night of the opening round, the die hard regulars were in place.  Unfortunately, that had dwindled down to maybe 20 people.  My wife was there with friends, Rocky had a few people, Scott had his girlfriend and a few of her friends.  Jade could only muster up his wife, but I guess I couldn’t expect much from a guy who was filling in.  We got a few nice surprises here and there from people, and I just hoped that if ANYBODY sitting at the bar that was neutral actually gave a shit and voted, that we’d grab a few additional.  We were slated go on first.  It was a decent set.  Not great, but good.  I kept eyeing the crowd to see if the next band was starting to draw throngs of people in.  To my delight, they really weren’t.  I’d notice 1 or 2 come in at a time, but they were only occupying about 2 or 3 tables.  There was a shot!  By the time that band hit the stage, it seemed like their crowd was pretty much as big as it was going to get, and by my count, we had them beat.  I knew the last band wasn’t going to be a factor, unless they pulled off a miracle.  I didn’t see them make one mention of the show on their Facebook page, and unless they had a robust mailing list that swarmed when they sent out an invite to a show, they were going to be playing to the bartender.  I turned out to be right, and strangely, they ended up playing covers for most of the set anyway.  I don’t think Kris would have advanced them if the vote were remotely close.  So it was down to 2.  Most of the guys went home, not wanting to stay till the bitter end to hear the results, but I had put in the time………I was going to hear the words come live from Kris’s mouth.  She sauntered up to mic…  “And the winner of tonight’s Basilica Block Party Battle of the Bands……Stealing Seconds!”  I did a small fist pump in my mind.  It might not have been the best earned victory in the competition, but I was taking it!  The next morning, I was surprised to be inundated from the guys in the band asking if we advanced or not.  I honestly kind of thought they didn’t really give a rat’s ass.  One by one I told them we advanced, and the excitement they exuded kind of took me off guard.  Rocky, in particular, seemed as pumped as I would have been last year had we gotten through round one.  It seemed to invigorate him, and he started talking about the finals and rehearsing and who he’d got to come out and all that kind of stuff.  I hadn’t seen that from Rocky in….well…..maybe ever!  The finals were a month away, and I was just kind of soaking up every drop of the excitement the band was finally exuding.  I knew we’d get murdered on fan voting more than likely, but this round was judged.  This is what I had wanted.  If it TRULY was about how good the band was, then we should have a fantastic shot.  The top 2 bands got to play at the Basilica, so we just needed to beat out 2 bands!  The four in the finals were Chester Bay (as expected), an odd alt band called Hunter Hero, a softer pop rock band called The Cold Open, and us.  I had a bit of a moral dilemma in those weeks between the finals.  I had actually booked an opening slot, once again, for Marcy Playground.  This time it was at Pickle Park and there was another band from Las Vegas on the bill.  I booked it before we had confirmed that Jade would do the Basilica Battle gigs.  I wanted a gig in front of a national band to be as polished as possible so I asked Mike to fill in on guitar.  He accepted, and now that we had made it past round 1 with Jade, I was in the unique position of having us rehearse with Mike for the Marcy Playground show and having Jade sit it out, even though he’d probably have liked the opportunity and the material was most fresh to him.  Inside, I really wanted the chance to play with Mike again though, and I actually wanted Scott to play with him too to see what all the fuss was about.  Jade was fine with it, and that night came and went with little fanfare.  There was a very small crowd the whole night and it CERTAINLY didn’t feel like a national show, and definitely didn’t have the feeling that it did when we played with them at the Fine Line.  Focus was quickly redirected to the Basilica finals!  A week before the show, we found out the order the bands would play.  I tried to pull my “insider status” on Kris and put a mini fix on the outcome of that as well, but that well had run dry on me.  She pulled the 11pm slot for us!  It wasn’t midnight, but when you are in your mid 30’s and all of your friends are in their mid 30’s with kids and jobs to get up early for…it might as well have been.  9pm was late for that crowd, so 11pm was the death blow to having any hope of getting a big crowd out there.  I kept telling myself that it shouldn’t matter though.  If it was truly more heavily weighted on talent, we should still emerge.  The highly anticipated night soon arrived, and I made sure I arrived to the Cabooze plenty early. It was kind of a nostalgia trip for me as I hadn’t played at the Cabooze in a long time.  It sort of had a feeling of a déjà as my mind went back to when Concentual was in the Leg Up Finals, back when this contest was just starting.  I was getting that reflective feeling more and more lately, and it was sort of making me feel old!  There seemed to moments popping up all the time where I compared my current situation to those of the past.  More often than not, it seemed like I was saddened by the present and longing for the past.  One example from the night was glaringly sobering in that category.  My best friend Derek had always been one of my biggest supporters and fans.  I remember when Concentual was in this place all those years ago, and he rallied all sorts of people to come to the show, and drunkenly jumped on the stage and yelled into the mic when we were announced winners.  Now, present day, he showed up early again, just like before.  It was only him this time, and there wasn’t a drink in hand.  We talked about “grown up” things like him wanting to have kids, and his job.  Then, he told me he was going to cast a vote for us quick and run out to get some food.  He said he’d be back before we hit the stage.  He never came back.  Later he sent me a text saying, “Sorry man, I just couldn’t do it.  I’m really tired and it just isn’t my scene.”  It was something along those lines anyway.  That appeared to be a common sentiment amongst many of the friends and I fans I had accumulated throughout the years.  The other young bands had throngs of wild, vocal fans drinking and screaming and doing exactly what the contest backers hoped for.  We were now the old timers with half the fan support, seemingly out of place.  Thankfully Rocky’s enthusiasm finally carried over and his contingent was the only thing that prevented us from being a complete laughing stock in the fan support department.  It kind of irked me in a way, because that was initially what I was looking for in bringing the young guys into the band, and I didn’t understand why every show couldn’t be like that.  Regardless, the people that were there were energizing enough that I felt like we played a really good set.  Kris even came up to me after our set pouring out praise.  I really felt like if it was TRULY about talent, we had to be top 2.  In my heart, I knew Chester Bay was going to get 1st.  They were a tight band, and exactly the kind of style that fit in at the Basilica Block Party.  They were young, good looking dudes with tons of fans.  It was a no brainer that they would get 1st place.  2nd seemed like a reality for Stealing Seconds though.  Hunter (Hero) was decent, but weird.  I didn’t think they were that great, and didn’t fit in with the Basilica event very well.  The Cold Open was good, but I thought our energy and showmanship was far and above what they brought to the table.  A couple of guys from Chester Bay came up to me after the set, and were really complimentary of our show.  They felt like our bands were definitely top 2.  I felt pretty good about things as I was packing up my gear getting ready to hear the announcement.  In my mind, this was probably the last battle of the bands type of event I would ever take part in again, so it was now or never to accomplish the goal that I had in place.  Kris Boden took the stage and said her usual compliments to all the fans in attendance and the bands for great sets, etc.  “And now, the band in 2nd place, going on to play at the Basilica Block Party…..” this was it……..”Hunter (Hero)!”  My heart dropped, and I immediately started carrying gear off the stage.  I knew that was it.  Mission:  Failed.  My wife later told me that she looked over at me when Kris said that name and I wasn’t at all hiding the disappointment in my face.  I was off the stage by the time she named Chester Bay as the winner.  I stopped and clapped and tried to be a good sport, but I was really let down.  In my mind, this was the final frontier.  The event was being judged by Cities 97 DJ’s, and music writers from the Star Tribune.  These people, in theory, know music and were judging these bands on talent, and we lost.  That’s what was cemented in my head.  I asked Kris afterwards if I could look at the score sheets or at least see if the judges had any comments.  She told me the she couldn’t, but privately shared that scores very close and we got beat in “entertainment value” which is basically how much the crowd reacts to your show.  She said the fact that we had a lot less fans probably hurt us in that department.  So there you have it…..even when I was excited to be judged on ability, it still came down to DRAW!  DRAW, DRAW, DRAW!  It was becoming the bane of my existence, and every time I dealt with it in some capacity, I got more and jaded and wanted to play less and less.  I just wanted to show up, play my heart out, and have that be enough.  I wanted clubs to work on getting people to show up.  I would do my part to put on a great show for them.  I was getting so sick of my value being measured by how many people walked through the door.  It’s not that I didn’t understand.  People have a business to run and are trying to make money.  Obviously somebody who brings in 100 people buying drinks and food is more valuable than somebody who brings in 30.  I just wanted somebody to say…”These guys are great!  If we keep booking them, we’ll grow a loyal customer base when they play.”  Sure, it’s a naïve notion to have, but it was a utopian idea.  That’s why the results of this contest bummed me out so bad.  I thought…maybe, just maybe….we can have 1/3 of the fans of everybody else, but be so good, that these judges would think…..”Holy crap, we need to get these guys in front of as big of a crowd as possible so they can be discovered!”  In the end, when it still came down to that four letter curse word of DRAW, it just shook my faith in still having a reason to carry on playing.  I’m in my 30’s and have been playing for over a decade and I still don’t have that GB Leighton or Tim Mahoney following.  At this point, how would I ever get there playing once a month at places that don’t have built in crowds.  It’s just not going to happen.  That mindset was crippling to me.  It’s like…all this time, I still held on to a sense of hope.  Hope that the right combination of players and the right songs and playing the right venue on the right night would just cause something to catch fire.  Now, I was staring the hopelessness of that idea right in the face.  The words, “It just doesn’t matter,” were echoing in my head on a tape loop.  I won’t ever have a big following in an environment where I need to have a big following.  It was as simple as that.  It was depressing.  It was how I imagined pro athletes feel in a way when they are forced to face retiring.  It’s what they love.  It’s what makes them feel alive.  Yet, they can no longer do it with relevancy.  They know they should retire, but that means this whole thing they have built their identity around is over.  Now what?  It seemed to be this theme that I was revisiting over and over again.  And not unlike several pro athletes, I kept coming back, refusing to wave the white flag.  There was usually something that I used as fuel to get back up on that horse.  Surprisingly to me, Rocky stepped forward again.  I thought for sure, the usually jaded and gloomy figure would be deflated by the loss he had exerted so much unusual energy into.  However, he seemed inspired by it.  He kept saying to me, “Fuck ‘em”…let’s get back out there and show everyone we didn’t need to win some battle of the bands to play shows like this.”  Maybe he was inspired by the crowd he was able to pull for the show and thought they’d be permanent fixtures now.  Whatever it was, it was so strange for me to hear Rocky being the “Rah, rah” cheerleader guy, that I couldn’t help but be inspired by it.  We did have some encouraging things in our corner as well.  A few months back we were playing an acoustic trio show with Jeff Rutland, and he brought a friend out to watch who played guitar and was looking to get into a band.  Jeff actually gave this guy lessons at one point and said he was pretty accomplished.  I was skeptical he would be the right guy, just based on the past track record we’d had finding a permanent fit.  I thought, if he really was accomplished he’d probably be in band.  Most guys worth their salt were in this town.  His name was Matt Benassi, and I was at least curious to chat him up and see what he was all about.  He seemed like a nice enough dude, and he was the right age, and he seemed to like similar music for the most part.  I thought he was promising up front at least, not having heard him play a note.  He said he also sang backing vocals, so on paper he seemed like a solid candidate.  I sent him a few songs to audition with and said we’d touch base.  Things had gotten busy after that with the contest and all, but he showed up at the Marcy Playground show, and showed up at the Basilica finals, so in my eyes he was doing all the right things.  He was doing the stuff I’d do if I really wanted to be in a band.  We finally had a chance to set up the audition.  He passed the first few tests that others failed.  Does he have the gear capable of making the sounds he hears on the audition songs?  Check.  Does he look like he belongs in Stealing Seconds and not the Rolling Stones?  Check.  Does he know what I’m talking about when I say, “Let’s try Something Beautiful.”  Check.  Ok, we were off to a good start.  We launched into the first song, and there were a few hiccups here and there, but overall, I was pretty impressed!  He had good tone, and he was able to play parts that at least sounded like he was playing the same song we were!  He was pretty solid through all audition songs actually.  He didn’t sing much, but when he did I could tell he could at least carry a tune and wasn’t tone deaf.  He had a pretty good personality and seemed to get along with everyone.  Overall, I was pretty impressed with him and saw some great potential.  When he left I asked the other guys what they thought.  Nobody knocked me over with enthusiasm, but they all agreed he was the best we’d had in over a year and they were ready to stop the musical chair of guitar players and give Matt the gig.  I was pretty pumped to finally have some stability to the situation, and I was really pleased with Matt’s enthusiasm to accept the position.  So there it was…Matt Benassi was officially the 3rd guitar player to be a part of Stealing Seconds.  It was kind of a baptism by fire because we were still booking acoustic trio gigs that were of the 75% covers, three 1 hour set variety.  We had one coming up in a few weeks and Jeff couldn’t play it.  It was time for Matt to start learning quick!  He ended up getting through that one ok, but the real test for me was his first show as a member of Stealing Seconds at our #1 venue, the Fine Line.  He kept getting better with each rehearsal, and I felt like he was growing more and more confident.  He was starting to add in more backing vocals and overall the Stealing Seconds product was sounding better and starting to get some cohesion.  What made me the most happy was the fact that we wouldn’t have to start this process over with another guy once the gig was over.  One of the last rehearsals before the show, he brought in a new gadget he got for the gig.  It was a pedal board that was sound activated and lit up on bass hits and things like that.  It was pretty cool and it showed me that he had some showman in him that would be very complimentary to what I wanted to accomplish.  I pushed the show a little harder than usual, having confidence that Matt would put on a good show and being ready to unveil the new Stealing Seconds.  We got a decent crowd that night, but to my dismay, the Rocky crowd from the Basilica Finals appeared to be a one night thing.  Nevertheless, there were enough people to feel some energy in the room.  Matt wasn’t perfect, and there were a few glitches here and there, but overall I was very pleased watching him perform.  He had more swagger and energy then most of his predecessors, and his vocals were solid enough to fit in well in the mix.  We were off and running.  Well, that was until….

Tell Me I Sold Out

I’ve made mention before about the prominence of cover bands in the music scene.  They make the big money and it seems like all of the top musicians end up in one at some point, because it’s how they are able to make a living playing music.  I used to refer to cover bands as the place where great musicians go to die because they honed their craft trying to make it as an original artist and when that didn’t pan out and they couldn’t live off it, they turned to playing covers.  As a result, you almost had all-star bands of musicians.  You’d get the singer from this original band, and one of the best drummers from that band, and the guitar player another great band.  They would change bands too like pro athletes change teams for more money or a better fan base, etc.  One of the bands that kind of exploded onto the scene was a band called Sell Out Stereo.  It was started by the singer of a very popular original band called Panoramic Blue.  Out of nowhere I was seeing them in the City Pages ads for every top club, and I was seeing their posters and online presence everywhere I looked.  Eventually the band transformed and the original guy was out, and it started to become almost like a coveted job that musicians would want to apply for.  Like any demanding job, there was lots of turnover, but the band never seemed to miss a beat.  They were run like a business, and even had a house that was solely used for rehearsal and business meetings.  They took of a percentage of everything they made and poured it into promotion.  They had great on-stage backdrops and gear, and I remember the great promo posters that mimicked the Godfather movie posters and featured all of the members of the band.  I longed to have the kind of resources to do stuff like that.  I learned a good deal about them because Jeff, the guy who played the acoustic trio shows with us, had become their latest guitar player.  He would tell me the kind of money they would make and it would blow my mind.  They had a top line booking agent who got them the best and highest paying gigs.  Even when Steve was at this finest booking Concentual for similar gigs, it didn’t even enter the zip code of the kind of money Sell Out Stereo was getting.  That band lured top talent.  In fact, they had an opening for a bass player not long after Jeff had joined the band and I was pissed at him for telling Rocky all about the gig.  It prompted Rocky to audition and I thought that was going to be the death blow to Stealing Seconds, but he didn’t get the gig.  They gave it to one of the best bass players I knew, Craig Holets, who was already playing in a very successful cover band and was kind of jumping ship to play in Sell Out Stereo.  So their line-up as it stood was Craig, who I used to greatly covet back when he was the bass player for Jesse Lang (who went out be om American Idol).  On guitar, it was Casey Smith, who was another guy that would have been on my all time wish list of people to be in a band with.  He got all the top gigs.  He played with Jesse Lang as well, in addition to Tim Mahoney and Scarlet Haze.  It seemed like if you were a band that was really on the cusp of trying to make noise nationally, Casey Smith somehow ended up in your band.  On drums it was a guy named Walter Powell who had drummed on the Quietdrive record, which was a band out of the Twin Cities that got signed to a national label. I actually liked them enough to buy their records and always try to go see them live.  On guitar it was Jeff, and on lead vocals it was Justin McGuinn.  Justin used to be the singer in a band called Roger.  They were the big thing when Concentual was first starting to gain steam and started playing at the Red Carpet in St. Cloud.  The band was all brothers, and the labels love that sort of thing, so they had a powerful agent backing them and got all sorts of great gigs.  I remember them opening for Soul Asylum at the Fine Line once years back.  So, it really was an all-star line-up through and through, maybe more than any other cover band in town.  Then one day, I happened to come across a Facebook post from their manager that they were looking for a guitar player.  I was kind of shocked.  Was it Casey or Jeff that left?  Jeff was kind of the flighty type so I e-mailed him first wondering if it was him.  He got back to me and said that he, indeed, had decided to quit!  He thought they were awesome guys and he had a blast playing with them, in addition to making great money, but in the end he felt a little boxed in by having to do exactly what he was told.  Jeff was kind of a free spirit.  He liked to go off on tangents musically and entertain the crowd.  He’d be the guy who would hear a request and try to do it even if the band didn’t know it, which I had experienced first hand.  Sell Out Stereo wasn’t like that.  Everything was carefully scripted and followed.  Jeff had some friends in another successful cover band called Pop Rocks.  They approached him about taking a gig as their guitar player and he accepted.  So now Sell Out Stereo was in search mode once again.  Jeff had agreed to play the next couple of weeks of shows, and then they had about 3 weeks off before the next one.  I knew I wasn’t Sell Out Stereo caliber on guitar, because essentially Jeff and Casey were duel lead guitars and would trade off doing solos, etc.  I didn’t play lead guitar.  Almost as an aside, I wrote their booking agent and said “I don’t really play lead guitar, but if you ever considered a strong rhythm player and backing vocalist and had Casey take all the leads, I’d be interested.”  It was just kind a statement.  I didn’t expect anyone to take it seriously.  It was kind of like saying to the Timberwolves, “Hey if you ever need someone to come out and just shoot 3’s and not play defense, I’m game.”  It was kind of a “haha” comment.  In my mind, I actually thought it could work in Sell Out Stereo, because why do you need two lead guitars, but that was their formula and it obviously was that way for a reason.  A few days later, to my surprise, I got an e-mail from Casey.  We knew each other, and kind of hung in the same circle of friends, but it was still odd to me to get a Facebook message from him.  He wrote that Sell Out Stereo’s booking agent had contacted him and asked if he knew me and if I’d be worth auditioning.  Casey was made aware of my stipulation that I would be taking no lead guitar parts, and he thought it could maybe work out.  He told me to come and meet up with him and some of the guys from the band at his house a few days later.  I asked if I should learn some songs, and he basically just sent me a list of songs they did and said if I knew any of them, maybe we’d run through them.  It was weird for me because they were so business like usually, and I remember Rocky had to learn a few tunes when he auditioned. Jeff later told me the guys weren’t impressed that he wasn’t completely show ready prepared with them!  What the hell was I going to do?  I felt super intimidated, because in my mind I knew that I wasn’t up to the caliber they were looking for, and maybe Casey didn’t realize my deficiencies in guitar playing.  I figured I didn’t have much to lose.  I already had another band anyway, and I was still on the fence a bit about doing something that would completely take me away from focusing on that band, especially now that we just got Matt.  I figured I’d just go in, do what I do, and at least have the sense of pride that they wanted me to audition.  It turned out that I was only going to be meeting up with Casey and Craig, which were the two guys I knew the best and felt most comfortable around.  I showed up with my guitar and my pedal board and we made some small talk for a few minutes.  Then we went downstairs to have “the audition”.  Really though, it wasn’t like an audition at all.  They asked what songs I knew, and I mentioned a few.  We played through them and they were ok, but nothing  I had really come that prepared with.  They smiled and seemed impressed though.  I honestly thought I was being punked or something.  They told me that they had both obviously seen me play before so they knew my singing and playing abilities….they more or less just wanted to get together and hang out and see if they felt it was a good fit.  They said a few other guys had been in and weren’t right at all.  We jammed on a few other tunes and Casey and Craig both kind of looked at each other and gave a nod and said, “Well, here’s the thing….we need somebody for the next show coming up in 3 weeks.  The other guys told us that they trusted whoever we picked to come on board, so if you want the gig, you’ve got it.”  I was kind of in disbelief!!  Are you fucking serious!  Some of the BEST musicians in town just asked me to join the band they were in??!!  A band where each guy probably takes home an average of $200 a show and they play 5-6 time a month?  It was really that easy??  I mean, I wasn’t even really prepared to make the decision to join.  I told myself that I wasn’t going to join another cover band, and I was going to be dedicated to forming the best original band possible.  The ONLY cover band I really would even consider joining was this one, just because I had ALWAYS wanted to play with the likes of Casey Smith and Craig Holets.  I figured I wouldn’t even have a decision to make, because if Rocky couldn’t get the gig, I sure as shit wasn’t going to make it.  I probably wouldn’t even make it as the SINGER, let alone a freaking guitar player!  It was really just about having the experience to me, and I now I was getting offered the gig!  Then there was the…”Oh shit!  You seriously expect me to learn 40 songs in under 3 weeks, well enough to play them in Sell Out Stereo!”  I told them I just needed a day to kind of mull it over.  I thought about Stealing Seconds and how it would likely kill any momentum gained by getting Matt on board.  I thought about how I’d have to play damn near every weekend again, and if I wanted to book any Stealing Seconds gigs it would be almost impossible.  There was one other factor as well though.  My wife had recently told me that we were pregnant!  I was going to be having a kid soon, and I had no idea the impact that would have on us financially, but I knew we weren’t storing extra money away from each pay check as it was, so adding a kid into the mix wasn’t going to make things any easier.  I wasn’t going to be looking at any sort of substantial raise from my job, so this was a great way to help provide for the arrival of the little one.  After doing some soul searching, I called Casey.  I agreed to take the gig!

My exuberance and pride was quickly replaced with anxiety.  Casey sent me the set list and tried to leave a few notes about who played what parts, and who did what harmonies etc.  A few of the tunes I had played before so that was a relief, but the vast majority were new and there were several where I wasn’t just playing the rhythm guitar chords and singing.  I was playing little solo licks and picking out unique harmonies.  Songs like “Let’s Get Crazy” by Prince.  They weren’t super hard parts, but hard enough for me to nail perfectly every time, which is what I expected that Sell Out Stereo expected.  I set out practicing nearly 4 hours every night on the songs.  I’d eat supper and maybe watch a TV show, and then I’d be in my little band room from about 8pm to midnight going through all the songs, trying to get through 1 set at a time.  It wasn’t enough just to be able to play along with the songs…I had to try to memorize them, because I couldn’t be up on stage locked into a book of chords and words.  I had to sing lead vocals on 2-3 tracks as well, so I had to make sure to memorize those words.  At first, things went pretty well and I felt good that I was picking up everything quickly, but then I’d try to play without the song behind me and I’d get lost and makes mistakes somewhere almost every time.  To compound matters, I met with Casey after about a week and we went through all of the songs to solidify who was doing what parts, and it turned out I was learning the wrong parts on a decent chunk of them.  Now, I had to start from scratch and relearn the other parts.  I seriously was starting to stress out about that first gig.  There were a couple of songs like “Hotel California” where I was supposed to learn a duel lead part with Casey.  That’s not hard for a real lead guitar player, but for me to learn that smoothly, I’d probably have to have a personal lesson on how to play it and dedicate all of my practice hours to it.  There just wasn’t enough time for me to get everything down.  My first gig was a Friday night in September at an old stomping grounds, Bunkers.  The band had wanted to get together a few days before and run through the sets, but that day was my anniversary and I had already made plans.  I had learned that the drummer, Walt, was the read hard ass slave driver of the band, and he actually wrote me and told me he didn’t expect me to come rehearse on my anniversary.  I don’t know if he was being facetious, but he had a wife so I figured he understood.  In any event, I was going to be having ZERO rehearsals with the band before the first gig.  It seemed so unfathomable to me that that could happen with a band like Sell Out Stereo, but I figured they expected me to be professional enough that I wouldn’t need one.  I had the day off on the Friday of the gig, and spent the morning going through everything one last time.  I actually wasn’t as nervous as I would have expected for some reason.  I was able to eat lunch, which typically doesn’t happen if I have a lot of anxiety about something.  The first thing that goes is my appetite because my stomach is doing somersaults.  In the afternoon I went to Guitar Center and got a new music stand and some pics just to make sure I was completely prepared.  That last thing I wanted was to look like an amateur and have my rickety old music stand topple over in the middle of a song or something.  I was going to kind of try to hide it away, but having all of the songs in the set order with all of the chords and words written out was going to be a big security blanket for me.  I drove over to Bunkers plenty early, just kind of in shock that this was actually happening.  I didn’t really promote the gig or fact that I was now in the band.  It didn’t seem like they were either, so I figured maybe it was best to keep this first night under the radar a little bit.  I showed up with my gear to the side load in door and on stage is Walt, who was setting up his drum rig.  He looks at me sort of like, “What do you want?”  I told him I was Bryan, the new guitar player.  He extended his hand and simply said.  “Hey, Casey usually sets up over there, so I guess go on the other side.”  Wow.  Warm welcome.  I knew the sound guy though, so that made me feel kind of good that Walt saw him being enthusiastic to see me.  It was such a weird feeling.  I wasn’t setting up in the center anymore, like I had done for the last 10 years.  I was off to the side, and figuring out how to best set up my amp.  Eventually Casey and Craig rolled in and it was comforting to see them.  They were much more welcoming.  Finally Justin came in and made little acknowledgement of me.  The whole thing was just so strange.  Casey had warned me that Justin and Walt were kind of weird and cold.  Casey said sometimes Justin would kind of glare at him in the middle of a song and Casey could never tell if he was really pissed at him, or spacing off, or just messing with him.  Craig told me that Walt would glare at him all the time when he’d mess up a part.  It was all very intimidating, but the one thing that calmed me a little bit was that I was no longer in the spotlight.  I was used to having the brightest light on me and if I screwed up a song and forgot lyrics, there was nowhere to hide.  Here, Casey had already told me, if you forget how a song goes or you screw up, just drop out…I’ll cover you till you get back on track.  That certainly wouldn’t make the band happy, but I felt comfort in knowing, if I screw up, most of these people will have no idea.  Once everybody was set up, we ran a song for sound check.  Of course it was one of the ones I knew the least.  The good part was that it had a backing track that filled in a lot of parts, so I wasn’t that vital to it.  However, it kind of shook me how horribly I played it.  I thought I knew it well enough, but I was so lost during it that I barely played!  To compound things, Justin walked up to me and said, “Hey, do you know ‘The Weight’?  We are going to do that one tonight.  It’s easy….here are the chords.  Ok?  Cool.”  I had never played ‘The Weight.’  Great! Another thing that was odd was that there were a number of rap songs the band did, where there weren’t really any guitar parts.  The other guys created little riffs to play, but I wasn’t good at that, so I just kind of stood there trying to figure out what to do.   Before I knew it, it was show time.  The band always started out with, “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas.  I knew that, so I tried to prepare extra hard on that one to build some confidence.  I played it ok, but I was just stiff, buried in my book trying to make sure I didn’t make any errors.  One by one, I got through each song that way until the end of the set when there was a few numbers I had played before and could loosen up an just finally relax and enjoy things a little bit more.  After each set I had to go down to the green room and get notes on what I needed to fix.  Surprisingly, they didn’t have that many for me, which made me feel like they really weren’t listening to me that much and I was doing well enough not to be glaringly bad.  I powered through and breathed a sigh of relief seeing that last song on the set list.  We finished up to a modest cheer and this immense sense of satisfaction poured over me.  I did it.  I fucking did it!  I learned 40 songs in 3 weeks and played a show with one of top cover bands in town with no rehearsal.  I was pretty damn proud of myself!  I only got to enjoy it for a little while though, because the next night was another show and this one was a bigger deal:  The vaunted Red Carpet.  The guys viewed this as a home run venue and put a lot of importance into having a top notch show there.  I hadn’t played there in a long time, but I obviously knew how crazy it could get in there.  I was excited, but more nervous than I was for the show I just played.  To add a little fuel to the flame, Justin approached me after the show and said.  “Hey, not too bad for no rehearsal…tomorrow is the Carpet though, and that’s really like our home town venue.  If you could ditch the music stand that would be great.  It just looks a little tacky on stage.”  Awesome. 

The next day was way worse of an anxiety day for me.  I got a free pass for gig 1, but all the nerves I was expecting to have, caught up in full force for this show.  I drove the hour and half out to St. Cloud and arrived plenty early and begin to slowly set up my gear.  I got a little bit warmer of a welcome this time around, and it helped that the club owner remembered me from Concentual and said he was happy to have me back there.  It just gave me a little legitimacy in front of the guys, like this was old hat to me and I’d been here plenty of times before.  Walt asked me if I knew any songs really well that I’d like to sing tonight that would go over well, and I of course went to my go-to song, “Semi-Charmed Life” from Third Eye Blind.  I mentioned “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” as well because everybody knew that song.  We kind of hacked through them in sound check, but it gave me a little confidence knowing I’d be doing some songs that I was really comfortable with in front of the Carpet crowd.  I was almost starting to feel like a real member.  At the Carpet, the bands typically do 2 hour and a half sets with a 15 minute break, thus the reason we had to add some songs last minute to the set list.  We started out to a modest crowd, but per usual, it started to build as the night went on.  Somewhere in the middle of first set, something hit me.  I don’t know if it was the anxiety catching up to me, or something I ate, but I started feeling miserable!  It was my worse nightmare to just feel like curling up and puking during a show, knowing that I have over 2 hours left to play.  I’ve played sick before, but it was different when you are the lead singer, because it’s almost like you don’t have time to think about it.  Your mind is occupied with remembering lyrics and chords and things like that.  This situation was just crippling.  I felt so weak, and my guitar felt like it weight 200 pounds.  I tried to muster up some energy and rock out and forget about it, but all I could do was just kind of stand there in a daze.  I brought my chord book still, but hid it under my monitor so I could reference it if needed.  I just stood and traded my stares between it and the set list, painstakingly counting down the songs until I could escape this nightmare.  We finally made it to set break.  I basically chatted for 2 seconds with my wife and said I had to get to the green room to see if they had any notes for me.  They had a couple and I just slunk into the couch and closed my eyes, saying I was tired, not wanting to give away that I felt absolutely awful!  I slammed a Mt. Dew hoping it would pick me up a little bit, and the set break was over in a blink.  Set 2 came and I got to do Semi-Charmed Life.  The crowd ate it up and the band all smiled at me for bringing in the winning suggestion.  That seemed to calm me down and I was able to finish the set with some energy.  By the time I was driving home, I felt completely back to normal……the anxiety giving way to the knowledge that a Sunday of watching football was in front of me and I had a whole week before having to think about another Sell Out Stereo performance!

By show number 3, I was starting to calm down and feel more at ease.  The guys were joking around with me more, and I felt like I was catching on to the songs better and better.  Show 4 was the last one of the month, and it was a Friday night at Pickle Park.  I always kind of dug that venue so I was actually really looking forward to the show.  I also knew I was going to get paid afterwards for the month of shows, so that was kind of the tangible reward for all I’d been through.  There was 2 weeks off after this show, so I could kind of regroup and take a breath and work on some of the things I was still having trouble with in the songs.  The show went great.  We had a great crowd, and I felt like I was playing really well and loose.  I barely glanced at my book of chords, and I finally felt like I was really part of the band now.  I started looking ahead to the shows on the schedule and thinking how fun the return to the Carpet was going to be, and how excited I was to play this and that venue that I hadn’t gotten to before.  After the show, everyone was in great spirits.  Walt actually even came up to me and handed me a wad of cash and said, “Hey man, nice job!  It was actually better than I expected.”  I didn’t really know how to take that, but I figured it wasn’t a bad thing!  I left feeling really proud of the place I was at musically.  I was playing with an all-star caliber band, and I was making great money to support my family.  In a way, it was the fulfillment of the dream I’d had from day one.  Sure, it wasn’t MY band, and we weren’t playing songs I wrote, but I was still playing music and entertaining people, and making good money doing it.  Casey asked me to go golfing at one of the nicest Twin Cities courses that Sunday afternoon, and it was just the icing on the cake.  Not only was I part of this great band now, but I was making friends with them and developing a camaraderie.  It was what I had been searching for.  That next week, I held a Stealing Seconds practice.  I felt bad that because of all the work I had been putting in with Sell Out Stereo, I had basically abandoned my original band.  Here Matt just joins, and he gets to play 1 show.  I wanted to keep that group alive and make things work because I still had lots of pride in my original music.  Matt was a great guy too, and he was really enthusiastic about being part of the band.  Rehearsal just felt like a chore with Rocky and Scott.  They gave no feedback to anything I was saying, and just looked like playing the songs was the equivalent to doing taxes.  They’d only muster a little life when we’d try doing a cover song.  Half way through, I got a call from Casey, but didn’t take it.  It was weird…it felt like a mistress calling when you are with your wife or something.  I felt like I was cheating on the Stealing Seconds guys with Sell Out Stereo.  After practice came to a painstaking ending, I enthusiastically called Casey back, wondering if he had some notes for me from the guys to work on, or if he just wanted me to come over and go through some stuff or what.  He didn’t answer right away but called me back by the time I got home.  He sounded somber.  I said, “Hey Case, what’s up man?”  He replied, “Hey, the guys all got together and talked after the last show, and by “guys” I pretty much mean Justin and Walt.  They wanted me to tell you that they just don’t think it’s going to work out.  I really didn’t get much of a say in the deal, and neither did Craig really.  I don’t know, they are weird like that man.  I guess it’s just tough, following Jeff and having it always be 2 lead guitars.  That’s what they were used to, and they want something more like that.”  Casey wanted to make sure I didn’t have any hard feelings towards him, and after I expressed my disappointment with the situation, we hung up.  There it was.  The Sell Out Stereo era had come to end almost as quickly as it had started.  I later found out that they added a new guitar player in time for the next shows.  It was a guy Walt knew and had been trying to get in the band for awhile.  Pretty hard to win with the deck stacked up like that.  It was probably for the best though.  Within a few months, Casey quit, Craig quit and then eventually Walt quit.  Justin remained as the only member from the group from my time in it.  Casey told me that it just started to go downhill and he and Craig decided they had to get out.  I was actually kind of relieved after it had all sunk in.  I didn’t have to play 5 shows a month anymore.  I could go back to focusing on original material and songs I wanted to play.  I was really happy I still had Rocky, Scott, and Matt in place and I was rededicated to moving forward and trying to make Stealing Seconds truly something special.

Inevitable

Me getting axed kind of felt like a unifying thing right away.  Rocky got passed over by them, so we had that shared disdain.  I think Matt was enthused that I wouldn’t be focusing on that project anymore and we could book more Stealing Seconds shows now.  There was a slight injection of energy and refocus.  It still wasn’t translating into me writing new songs though, or us rehearsing more.  Once we got together a few more times, it felt like we were right back in that rut again.  I was really at a loss for what to do to make it better.  New songs seemed like an easy answer, but for whatever reason, I just wasn’t feeling it.  I have discovered I’m a pretty sensitive person, and I think Rocky’s assertion that my last new effort, “Restless”, seemed like a regurgitated idea and kind of boring to him, left me a little bitter towards trying to come up with new stuff.  I kept challenging the other guys to come to the table with new ideas, but that wasn’t happening.  I tend to get in the mentality that if somebody is pressing on me to do something and I’m finding it difficult, I reach a breaking point and react with, “If you think it’s so easy, YOU do it!”  I wish I could just adopt a personality of, “No, you don’t want anyone else to do it, because nobody can do it better than you.”  It’s not to become arrogant, but rather to just push yourself and have confidence in what you do.  What if you challenge somebody to do something you can’t do, and they CAN do it.  What benefit does that serve you, other than to feel like more of a failure?  In fairness to myself with this situation, I wasn’t really doing that with the guys as much as I was just trying to coax some more participation out of them so they would feel more ownership in the overall product.  The more invested they felt, they more they’d push people to come and see us, and the more they’d work to promote the product they were proud of.  In any event, nothing I tried to do was really sticking.  I booked another show at O’Garas just to try to keep momentum going.  Booking shows was almost proving to be a mistake.  We came out that night kind of flat and sloppy.  There were very few people there and that just demoralized everybody even more.  You come out all pumped up and there is no one in front of the stage.  You finish a strong amped up rock song and get a smattering of golf claps and woo-hoo’s from significant others and friends.  To me, it started to just feel more and more silly being up there.  I kept asking myself, “Why am I doing this?  Why am I here?  Does anybody really care?”  When I first starting playing, it didn’t matter that much who was there, it was just fun to be on stage, singing through a PA…hearing my amp blare out through big speakers.  In time, I got to taste playing in front of bigger enthusiastic audiences and I felt energized.  I felt important.  I felt like an entertainer.  Even better than that though….people would get a hold of the original music and they would tell me specific things about what songs meant to them, or how beautiful the words to a particular song were and how they could relate.  That was the strongest drug I could ever consume.  It fueled me to write more.  It made me feel like I was connecting with people.  I remember crazy Dave from Austin telling me how he would play a Concentual song “Erase” over and over because he had messed up his life and marriage and he felt the message of that song.  I remember people coming up to me and asking if we were a Christian band because of the lyrics, because I would reference praying, and “looking up high”.  That moved me so much, not because I was trying to reach them with a Christian message, but because they were actually listening to the lyrics!!  As of late though, all of that had disappeared.  “Killer Sea” has a great story, and not one person ever came up to me and said…”So, what’s Killer Sea about?”  I realize it’s a bit harder because Stealing Seconds didn’t have a ton of CD’s floating out there with lyrics you could read and try to interpret, but still it was really disheartening.  I don’t know how many people would tell me a story about how much they liked “Rock Star” or that their kids loved it and danced to it and sang with it.  It felt like I didn’t have an avenue to make that happen anymore with new material.  It seemed like it was all just falling on deaf ears, and that really was probably what handcuffed me into not wanting to write anymore or not feeling inspired.  I was about to have my first child very soon, and I was hoping that would kick start something inside of me.  Everybody always said that you’d have a flood of things to write about when you first became a parent.  I really wanted my child to be exposed to music and get all of the benefits from it that I had throughout my life.  I mean, as I have mentioned previously, music kind of saved me after I first moved to the cities.  I didn’t want my kid to miss out of how rewarding it can be.  That was kind of driving me to try to keep this music thing, that was hanging by a thread, alive.  I didn’t want to just tell them stories of how I used to play guitar and sing in a rock band.  I wanted them to see me play up on stage.  I thought it was so cool to see a Dad/Son or Dad/Daughter duo doing something together on stage.  I wanted my kid to see me, and want to grow up to be like me.  We even had music names picked out.  If it was a boy, we were going with Jenkins after my favorite singer/songwriter Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind.  If it were a girl, we were going to go with Emerson, after another of my favorite artists, Emerson Hart. 

I didn’t know what direction to go with the band anymore.  I couldn’t put many more shows like the last O’Garas one on the books.  We couldn’t get excited about just rehearsing anymore.  The band didn’t have enough money to record a Stealing Seconds album, so it felt like we were just stuck in neutral.  Than one day, I stumbled across the golden chalice.  I saw that the band Dada was going to be coming to Minneapolis and playing at the Fine Line.  They were another 90’s 1 hit wonder band, but the difference with them was that they had this giant cult following.  Some of these bands have a hit, get big, and then disappear.  The fans jump on and off the bandwagon just as quick.  There are some though that kind of build and grow underground and have this die hard following.  They are usually immensely talented and have a buzz and respect amongst music aficionados.  Then, they get a hit and go mainstream and pick up a bunch more fans and some of them become diehards.  Then, the band kind of disappears and reemerges sporadically, and the diehards sit in waiting and flock whenever the opportunity arises.  This was sort of the case with Dada.  One of those diehards was our new guitar player Matt.  I quickly hit the Internet trying to find out who booked them.  I got in touch with this small company who was managing them currently.  I sent off an e-mail asking if Dada needed opening support for the upcoming tour.  I offered that my band would open the Minneapolis show for a highly competitive rate.  To my surprise, they responded very quickly but immediately started trying to play hardball with me, probably thinking I was a desperate super fan or something.  They would give us the gig and offer no pay, AND….they wanted us to provide and pay for backline for the entire band.  Providing backline means that the band isn’t travelling with instruments and they need to rent them when they come into town.  The band had a very specific list of requirements for the gear they wanted and we were supposed to track it all down and bring to the show for the right to open for Dada.  My initial reaction was to say “Fuck off!, but I knew this could be meaningful for me, and for the band, and I knew it would be a dream come true for Benassi.  I responded saying that I’d agree to no pay, but we wouldn’t pay for backline.  I said that our bass player had the same rig as they were requesting, so we could provide that, other than that they were on their own.  He fired back a message saying that bands all over the country on this tour were clambering for the chance to play with Dada and we’d have to pay for backline or no deal.  We had a few more exchanges, but essentially I called his bullshit and told him that I’d see if they found somebody to take deal here in Minneapolis, and when it was a few weeks before the show and they hadn’t yet, I’d check back in.  I looked into paying for backline and it would have been like $300.  I talked to the Fine Line and asked them about the situation.  They were LIVID that Dada’s manager was trying to weasel their way into taking advantage of local band to pay for backline.  They said, “In no way does Dada know this is going on, and give me the name of who you are dealing with….we are going to exchange some words with this guy!”  At this point, I felt like there was a 95% chance we were getting the gig!  I had been around enough to know how these things typically work.  There was ZERO chance any Minneapolis band was contacting this guy representing Dada and offering to pay for backline.  No reputable band in town would do that, and the Fine Line wouldn’t let some high school garage band open the show even if they had.  So what was going to happen was that it would be 3 weeks before the show and the Fine Line would realize they needed a local opener for the show.  They’d ask a few of the bands that they liked and have drawn well as a reward for bringing people into their club, and as a bonus it would hopefully help that band get some new fans so they’d have an even bigger attendance at their next Fine Line show, thus making the Fine Line more money.  Now the Fine Line was already on my side for being jerked around by this D-bag.  I waited until a month before the show and sent an e-mail to Dada’s manager that went something like this.

“Hey it’s Brian with Stealing Seconds again.  It’s a month out the Fine Line has told me there is still no opener for the Dada show.  I don’t know how it works in other cities, but here, no band is going to pay to play to open for Dada.  As I see it, you have 2 options.  Option 1, I’ll cut you a deal…..you don’t have to pay us an opener fee, and we’ll provide a bass amp and you can use our guitar amps for back-ups if you want.  That will save on your backline rental cost.  You agree to us as on opener now and you’ll get 1 month of us promoting it in the city to our fans and on-line.  Option 2, you wait until the last second and let the Fine Line pick an opener…which will be us, because I’ve already talked to the Fine Line.  You’ll get ZERO promotion for the show from us and you’ll get no usage of any of our backline and you will have to pay the full rental amount.  Let me know what you’d like to do. “

After that I called Benassi and said….”Hey man, are you free to play a show on April 4th?”  He said, “Aw, sorry man, I’m going to a show that night.  Where is it at?”  What was endearing, was that I think he was thinking maybe he could still both go to the show and play a show.  I said, “Oh really, well never mind…where is the show at that you are going to?”  He says, “Fine Line….it’s like my favorite band of all time, Dada.”  I played dumb and said, “Oh…..well maybe you can do both, because the show that I’m working on getting is also at the Fine Line….opening for DADA!!!”  His reaction was one of those things that made everything I’d done in the last 12 years worth it!  I felt kind of bad dangling that potential carrot in front of him when we didn’t have the show yet, but I wanted to make sure everyone could play it.  I was pretty confident everyone could but I just wanted to double check before I went any further in the process.  A little while later Dada’s manager responded to my e-mail.  We got the show! 

It felt amazing getting another opportunity to open for a national band, but even more amazing was the feeling of getting to make Benassi’s dream come true.  He didn’t get to play the Marcy Playground shows or the Vertical Horizon show, and it felt great being able to say, “See, you come on board with this band, and you get rewarded with great opportunities!”  The show was on a weekend too, so I had high hopes that it would be a stellar turnout.  Rocky and Scott didn’t seem convinced that Dada was going to draw a big crowd, and their enthusiasm level seemed a bit tempered.  Benassi’s more than made up for it though!  I did a big promotional blitz on the social media channels like Facebook.  True to form for Dada’s fan base, it was the fellow musicians and music elitists who were the most impressed by our association with the show.  Other bigger name local musicians were coming out the woodwork and saying things like, “Nice score on the show, hope I can make it out!”  The average person seemed to treat it more like, “Oh, that’s cool….good for you guys.”  I, myself, wasn’t really sure what kind of crowd the show would draw, but Benassi’s confidence in Dada’s fan base made me hopeful it would be an amazing night.  I thought the weeks leading up the show would be filled with renewed energy and excitement.  I thought we’d gel together in rehearsal and this show would be the catalyst I was looking for to kick start things in a positive direction.  Instead, things were as drab and uninspiring as ever.  I was completely out of answers, and one night after rehearsal I just kind of laid it out on the line.  I never liked to introduce tension when we were leading up to a big show, but I needed to do something.  If this opportunity wasn’t turning things around, nothing realistically was going to.  Rocky and Scott finally offered up that they were really bored and uninspired by playing the same set list.  They felt creatively stifled, and things just weren’t that fun for them.  I made my usual arguments about them inputting more creativity, but the conversation just wasn’t going anywhere.  Finally, we arrived at the conclusion that after the Dada show we were going to take a hiatus and I was supposed to come up with a bunch of new material, at which point we’d reconvene and come up with a whole new set list.  In theory, that was fine, but Courtnie and I had our new baby boy just arrive in our lives, and I knew I wasn’t going to be sitting in the basement for hours writing new stuff.  I had hoped that inspiration would strike and I’d come up with new material, but if anything was coming, it wasn’t in the form of a good Stealing Seconds song.  I was disappointed, but sort of relieved at the same time.  It was getting to be a chore driving all of the way out to Rocky’s place to sit and look at each other for 2 hours and not get anything accomplished.  So the show now took on new meaning for me.  Although it wasn’t being announced as such, it really sort of felt like a grand finale.

Before I knew it, the show had arrived.  The Fine Line wanted us there super early since Dada WAS sharing our bass rig and using one of Matt’s amps as a backup.  I was a bit bummed to hear Rocky and Scott grumble about it.  It was like, no matter what opportunity I brought to these guys, there was something to bitch about and put a damper on things.  The Dada guys were pretty cool, and Matt got to talk to his idol, Mike Gurley, the singer and guitar player.  We had a big gap of time between our sound check and the show. 

Because of the decision to band had come to about our future, everything felt different.  Rocky was even saying things on Facebook about how we were going on indefinite hiatus after this show, so come out to see us before we disappear for awhile.  There was a whole nostalgia vibe coursing through my body with everything I did.  It really felt similar to some of the other closings of big chapters of my life:  My HS graduation, my last day of college, my last day in Sioux Falls, etc.  I tend to try hard to live in the moment in these instances because I want to bask in every second and not look back regretfully that I missed something or took it for granted.  I kept saying to myself…”well, this may be the last piece of pre-show Pizza Luce I eat in the Fine Line green room…..this might be the last song run through I do before a set.”  I sat down in the green room at one point by myself, and just looked at the names of the bands written in sharpie on the walls.  I saw Stealing Seconds name scratched up there from when we played with Marcy Playground.  A flood of memories just washed over me.  My first show here on a Monday night, in disbelief that I was actually going to be taking that stage.  The first weekend slot when Concentual opened for Kory and the Fireflies from Sioux Falls.  The battles for highest draw with our old bass player’s new band.  The unforgettable CD release party.  The first show here with Stealing Seconds.  The Basilica battle, Marcy Playground, Vertical Horizon!  It all seemed poetic that if it were going to end, it should end here.  It was like a pro athlete retiring after a Super Bowl victory.  I didn’t want our last time on stage together to be at O’Garas in front of 10 people.  As time ticked by, I resisted the urge to walk upstairs and peek at the crowd.  I didn’t want to know if it were big or small.  In my mind, the anticipation of what might be, was serving as a good elixir for the state of mind I was in.  I didn’t want anything to ruin it.   The guys were all downstairs with me now, and everyone was going through their pre-show rituals.  Spirits were high, and everyone kind of seemed to be sharing in my vibe.  It’s as if they knew I was having a moment and they were letting me have it.  The sound guy appeared in the doorway and gave us a “5 minutes” notice.  I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.  I thought to myself…”This is probably it Thuney….give it everything you have! No regrets.”  I made sure to walk up last.  Just one more time, can I feel like a Rock Star?  Can I hear a cheer go up when I walk on stage?  Can the electricity in the room take the show to a level I couldn’t ever otherwise achieve?  The door to the stage swung open and I saw a sea of people.  The house lights were off, and the stage lights were on.  I took the 3 steps up the stage and a cheer went up.  It was magic!  It was everything I had ever hoped for.  I grabbed my guitar and approached the mic.  I saw faces right up front staring back at me and smiling in anticipation.  I was, once again, a rock star.  I looked back at Scott.  Click.click.click.click….Boom!  We were off and running.  The next 45 minutes were filled with energy and passion.  We were putting on a rock show!  I watched as people danced and nodded and rocked!  I tried to soak up the look on Matt’s face.  I made every effort to absorb the sly little smile that Rocky had.  I drank in the approving looks Scott tossed my way.  It was all perfect.  The show, the crowd, the atmosphere…..it was just…perfect.  We got to the last song, fittingly enough, “Inevitable”.  Per usual we drug out the last chord.  Then, with one shared look with the guys, I look one last big leap and we crashed down on the “stinger” to end the set.  A mighty roar arose.  I stood front and center.  I tried to look into the eyes of every single person I could and mentally say, “Thank You.”  To borrow from the title of one of my songs and a phrase from the movie that inspired it, it was……something beautiful. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         
          
         



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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