Thursday, May 13, 2010

On the Band Front...

....or in the rear view mirror...

I've been sitting on this post for a while because...well, because first, it doesn't amount to much in the grand scheme of things, and second, because the epilogue sorta sucks. This isn't meant to be a rant, though it will likely come off as one. This isn't meant to be vindictive, though I readily admit it does not come from a good headspace. I blog it because after about a month, I feel I have to...maybe afterwards, I can Leave It All Behind, so to speak.

That said, about a month ago, I left New Ben Franklins. And I'm still not even really sure whether I quit, or whether I got the boot. It doesn't matter really, but the taste in my mouth is still bitter, but perhaps some background is worth shedding light.

My participation in New Ben Franklins began back around 20 months ago or so, after I answered an ad on Craigslist looking for a bass player. As it was put to me, the band was to be a melding of alt-country songwriting, with big shoegaze tonality. Hell, I was excited. I'm not a country guy by any stretch, despite my abiding love of The Sadies, but I've always been a big fan of shoegaze, even if the term is somewhat amorphous at times.

Now, New Ben Franklins wasn't exactly a "new" band, but a new old band. The frontman/guitarist of the band started the project back around '92 or so, and had run the band a couple times over the years, in a couple of iterations. But it was new to me, and it felt fresh. Having been bandless for the previous two years, most anything would, and the situation felt welcoming.

Anyway, as bands go, the beginning weeks were fits and starts. We had to replace our drummer after a month, because he'd missed half the rehearsals...okay, so we did, and we moved on. We eventually picked up the Wedge on drums, and we started playing shows in late November or early December of 2008. Hell, we even did an instrumental surf tune I wrote years ago for The Florenteens, slightly westernized. Matinee Idol Tommy joined us on pedal steel, and stuck around. Things were good.

Winter into spring, the gigs became fairly numerous, at least for a local band without a huge fanbase. I had no trouble booking us shows at several of the local Denver haunts, we even got to play the Bluebird Theater, we shared bills with some bands I really enjoy, and we started talking about, and eventually, recording.

Somewhere along the line, things started to go sideways.

The new songs were more country, less sonic, more sorta singer-songwriter-y. It felt like more covers. More slow tempo, more desire by the band for me to play, as I now put it, mostly whole notes with dotted whole rests between notes...and yeah, I started to chafe against this direction. Time to digress...I'm pretty fuckin' far away from being Jaco, or Stanley Clarke, or Victor Wooten. I hope I'm never asked to play pop and slap, because that's just not what I do. Count amongst my heroes the Ox, Bruce Foxton, Graham Maby, Paul Simonon, so yeah, I probably do overplay. I'm certainly not one of those who's going to be happy just playing root notes on the 1 and 3 all night. I mean, I can do that, but if a band wants their bass player to do that more than about 15% of the time, then we're probably not right for one another. And that's fine.

But I felt like this band was changing, in ways that were just making the music not fun for me. And I became petulant and surly during rehearsals at times. Yeah, I can wear my heart on my sleeve, consider it a fault, I suppose.

But we *were* a band, and a team. And no matter what else, everyone connected with the band was so incredibly loving and supportive and helpful and understanding during the Good Doctor Mondo's hospitalization and afterward. We were a family -- sometimes a bit more dysfunctional than before, but that's like, what...98% of all bands that have ever pulled into a PA.

And then I felt dissed.

The 5-song EP was finished, and of the songs had no bass. Okay. And then the last song had a bass player that was not me. Fuck. Seriously. Fuck. Our frontman decided to have a mutual friend of ours come in and play bass on a track. That's when I really felt to begin I wasn't part of a band. No one had asked my opinion about it first. That's when I decided what was a band was really the frontman's show and project, 100%. The rest of us were just sidemen. That's how I felt, anyway.

But I stuck around. We continued to play a few shows. Our shows were usually pretty well received. But my attitude didn't really get any better. I'm not sure why it would. I was the only member of the band who'd been replaced for part of the recording. The one song that had no bass had no drums, either, and I get that. Still, if you're going to leave half the band out, it's a bit less dismissive of those guys if it's on, say, a 10 song full length record, ya know?

And new songs were being written. And more shows played. Even learned a bunch of Waylon Jennings tunes for a tribute show. And yet, nobody in the band...well, at least not the front man, liked any of the bass parts I came up with for the new material. Too busy. Not enough pauses, not what he wanted. Okay. I try something else. No dice. I try something else. No dice again. Fuck it, back to surly Mondo.

Then I go from beyond dissed to pissed. Or, dissed and pissed.

Randomly surfing Craigslist, I see an ad for a bass player that didn't mention the band, but was unmistakably an ad for a replacement bass player for New Ben Franklins. It had all the code words that made it unmistakably clear that I was on my way out. Of course, I immediately quit the band via e-mail, even with gigs booked out in advance.

And then I had that little tiny shred of doubt, the kind you get after you've 4-bet KK preflop, and are min-raised. Does he have AA? A 5-bet always means AA, right? Could I have been wrong?

Well, I wasn't wrong. Good read, Mondo. Shitty situation, but good read.

The frontman put the ad out on his own, without telling the other guys. He came clean to us about it a couple of days later. I guess his plan was to just keep me around until he found someone he liked enough to take my place, and then just spring it on me. And I'm not going to be anyone's punk. I do respect him for coming forward and admitting it after the fact, though because of the way it went down, I doubt he would have done so if I hadn't figured it out myself first and called shenanigans.

In truth, I was on my way out. As I told the band, I probably would have muddled along in the band until July, because playing the Denver Post Underground Music Showcase is one of the coolest things ever. It really is, and the band's been slated to make a return appearance this year. It's going to hurt not to be a part of it. Yeah, I think I was planning on sticking it out that long, and then leave. But not sneakily, like bailing the night before a show, or anything.

Like I said, New Ben Franklins has always been his deal...he's certainly entitled to do what he wants, like when he was interviewed in the Westword a few months, and made no mention of anyone else in the band at all. Whatever, I don't think any of us have any real ego in terms of press and adulation. But I'll readily admit to having a certain ego when it comes to bass playing. I've been told many times that I write interesting bass lines. Other bass players I respect have complimented me on what I've contributed to songs. But in New Ben Franklins, I felt as if my creative input was unwanted. Whenever the band wanted to add a cover to the set (we'd do 2-3 covers a show), it was never anything I wanted to play, despite what I most often pushed for being a song by one of the frontman's favorite bands.

Anyway, yeah, I'm still bitter. In a cruel epilogue, I'd spent 18 months trying to get the band into one particular Denver venue, my favorite, because I've seen so many bands there I love and used to play shows there in a previous band. Each time I came up empty handed, the room wanted nothing to do with us. Now, the very first gig the band actually booked after my departure (not including already-booked shows), is at this very venue, an irony that is not lost on me. Now, the band was added to the bill by the headliner, and it wasn't booked directly between the band and the club, but that's splitting hairs.

We are still family. I don't forget how genuinely friendly, generous, and human those guys are. Hell, I love them, even the frontman. Though I haven't seen any of them since the break, we've been in touch. I hope to remain friendly them. I hope exorcising my anger this way allows me to be friendly with them. But I can't, and won't, forget the way in which I was dumped.

I wish them each well both personally, and as a band. Though at present, I have no desire to see the band play.

Fortunately, there is no small amount of excitement for me coming up real soon, on the musical front...more on that later...


BWoP said...

Sorry to hear about how that all went down.

But bigger and better things are in store for you!

lightning36 said...

From what you wrote before I was guessing that you were no longer with the band, hence my question a few posts ago.

One of my favorite quotes, from Brian (Tom Cruise) in Cocktail: "All things end badly, or else they wouldn't end."

Sorry to hear, but as ck said, maybe something better is awaiting.