Feedback: the musical life

By Corinne Mooney

You’re a 20-year-old guitarist and are about to audition for a vocal position in a rock band. You’re nervous as hell and not sure your voice is good enough because you’ve only seen yourself as a guitarist, and been told you “sing like a girl.”

But the audition is a hit. The band loves you. You join their garage band and all its dramas: the guitarist and bassist are brothers; the drummer is dating their mom.

However, you get their band out there. Within the first two weeks you’ve scheduled shows for them in real venues (or house parties — better than mom’s garage.) Months later, playing at Battle of the Bands, you win first place over the heavy metal bands that have been trying to get that title for years.

Hereafter was Joe Goodwin’s first band in the ’80s from the San Francisco Bay area. Goodwin says he doesn’t know how all the members of Hereafter were able to meet up five nights a week, with car problems and orchestrating rides, “but we helped each other get there.” He adds, “We were totally dedicated.”

His dedication paid off, because since Hereafter, Goodwin has been through the music scene playing with big names like Van Halen, Jonathan Cain, and Eddie Money.

In the days of Hereafter, Goodwin was just a teenager wanting to play loud music, but he realized playing and performing music was about trying to find out who he was and defining him as a person. “I finally found something I was good enough to do something with. [Music] is my life,” Goodwin says.

His dedication shows in his environment, his studio walls are covered with photos of his bands, signed posters, and nearly a dozen guitars strewn about his recording and mixing equipment. Plus, his daughter’s name is Melody.

This photo of Hereafter winning their first Battle of the Bands.

This photo of Hereafter is pinned to Goodwin’s studio wall. They are celebrating winning their first Battle of the Bands, trophy and champagne in hand.

The Scene

According to IndieAvenue, Eugene has over 130 bands; and Exiled in Eugene has done a headcount of 300 local bands. The Craigslist musician page is updated daily with musicians reaching out to join bands or find new members. You probably have friends in bands, or jam with people every once in awhile. So what’s it all about?

Playing and performing music is an outlet to share and express frustrations you have about society and what you experience while building a community and sharing ideas. Growing up around music makers is usually an indicator of being musically inclined in the future, but your inspirations can also guide you toward something great that you’ve always dreamed.

Sickman's lead vocalist Uriah Kaykas-lea and back-up vocalist/guitarist Issa Koberstein practice in Koberstein's home, playing the last song of the night, Down in a Hole. Sickman is an Alice in Chain tribute band in Eugene since April of last year.

Sickman’s lead vocalist Uriah Kaykas-lea and back-up vocalist/guitarist Issa Koberstein practice in Koberstein’s living room, playing the last song of the night, Down in a Hole. Sickman is an Alice in Chain tribute band in Eugene since April of last year.

Sickman guitarist Issa Koberstein says he was “living the dream” when he got to play with Vinnie Paul from Pantera. “I used to go to their shows and mosh in the pits, way before I was in a band,” Koberstein says. “They were the people I listened to when I was learning how to play, and I actually shared the stage with them.”

Sickman is an Alice in Chains tribute band, not trying to “make it big,” just playing for the love of Layne Staley and fans. “Being in an original band is a whole different animal,” Koberstein says. “Sometimes when you’re trying to ‘make it to the top,’ it gets rough and the whole atmosphere of the band changes.” He adds, “The way you look at each other is more like a business rather than having fun.”

“Making it big” can be a slow and steady process, or quickly and be all about meeting the right people. Good energy and chemistry can move your band toward something great, or break under the pressure. Knowing when to move on can be the best thing for the members and their futures as musical performers.

Springboards

Sidney Taylor, singer in the Eugene alternative folk band Ivy, Cassidy and the Sundance Squid, had her first band experience when she was 16. She was one of three singers in a Christian ska band called Fire Storm, performing at Christian youth rallies and saving up to record their first album. For a year the nearly 10-member band played together, but disassembled when the youth leader’s house burned down.

Taylor says the members were all about to graduate and move away, so they gave the money raised to his family to help them get back on their feet. “For what we were, we’d have a huge crowd and everyone was really talented,” Taylor says. For a kid so young, she says it was a great experience, “But everyone went off to do non-Christian music.”

Although Taylor has stayed with singing, a band can open up new opportunities and experiences with other instruments, teaching you to open up and try new things. When Katie Rini was 15, she joined a band called The Lost Dogs of Zacatitos with some older retired guys, she says.

Rini says she originally started on the guitar, but one of the members had an old bass that she picked up quickly and ended up playing it for the band. “It had old amps and pick ups, so the sound would drop out sometimes.” She adds, “But I liked it well enough to keep up with it.”

The First Show

Imagine being able to run through a crowd of people and starting your own mosh pit — just dropping your microphone and getting into the crowd, turning the nodders into moshers. You’re screaming “Fuck media” as loud as you can through the microphone, and the crowd yells it with you. You roll on the stage with the mic, and even sing without it sometimes, getting drowned out by the sound of your bandmates.

Bassist Elle Belfatto from Vomit Violence yells along with lyrics.

Vomit Violence Elle Belfatto, even without a mic, yells lyrics of their “Potty Violence/Hardcore Punk” band, even without a microphone. Their shows are high-energy and their friendship shows in their tight performances. Phot: Joshua Isaac Finch, Exiled in Eugene.

Vomit Violence is a Eugene punk band made of 16-year-olds and a 20-year-old that played their first show last May. Their vocalist Gabe Lutes writes most of their lyrics, but his message wouldn’t get through nearly as well without his friends and bandmates backing him up.

Bassist Elle Belfatto says she had only been playing bass since July, but she says she caught on quickly and started the band with her boyfriend Traydon Brown, the drummer, Lutes on vocals, and Jordan King, the oldest of the group, later joined as guitarist. They’d been playing since August, and didn’t have their first show until May 5. Belfatto says she was nervous but, “We didn’t want to let anyone down,” she adds.

King says that playing a show was one of the most fun and gratifying things he’s ever done.”I’ve always loved music and I’ve played guitar since I was very young so it’s awesome to finally be in a full band,” King says. “It really is a great experience.”

According to Exiled in Eugene, after going through “an EP, lineup changes, impending shows and cancellations, a new EP and FINALLY a first show,” Joshua Finch, editor of Exiled in Eugene, says Vomit Violence could be the next big punk band in Eugene. Finch has only good things to say about their band, “Probably because they remind me of the band I played for in high school,” he adds.

Vomit Violence guitarist Jordan King says playing live is one of the most gratifying things he’s ever done. This photo is from their first show, May 5. Photo by Joshua Isaac Finch, Exiled in Eugene.

Results

Ponny Kosmos, singer and guitarist for Mars Water, says being in a band is rewarding and makes him feel accomplished. “It’s just great when people reach out and say they like your music from all over the world.” He adds, “Really makes you feel good that your efforts are noticed.”

Courtney Swain, vocalist and keyboardist for Bent Knee out of Boston, says singing and performing music grounded her in life and gave her an identity. “In committing to my band, I understand failure only as something that I can bring about when I give up on what I’m doing.” Swain says she realized her bands potential after they worked together on a side project remixing songs they’d previously recorded.

Music is an evolving art. It needs to be ever-changing to stay fresh and fun for the band. Break up the monotony by experimenting and exploring. You can open yourself up with music in ways that only a live concert can allow, so let it rip and play it out. You’re bound to make some fans (and friends) that support you along the way.

Side-bar:

So you want to join a band…

You’ve been playing for long enough to get some songs down and play by ear and are now ready to join a band. Joining a band is like a fellowship; everyone is trying to belong and is looking for their clique.

Following are a few good ways to start and what to keep in mind:

1. Craigslist. Check the musician page on Craigslist for anything that may sound interesting to you. Reach out and contact some people with a bit about yourself and some samples of your work if you have them.

2. Practice, practice, practice. Get to know the songs you like to play and covers of bands that inspire you.

3. Covers. These are great to learn because it gives the band a chance to play together without having to come up with something on the spot.

4. Know the difference between influence and ripping off. Of course bands want to “sound like” another, but there is a difference between being inspired by and stealing from a band. Take influences from everything that inspires you, and make a style out of it that fits the genre you’re searching for.

5. Be able to jam out. Have your own (functioning) gear, that way you don’t have to mooch equipment from others. Preparation helps.

6. Be open yet comfortable. Know your style and be comfortable with trying new things. Avoid capping or caging your music. You may find that you make a better singer than guitarist, or drummer than bassist. Be open to new ideas and change, or else your projects will fail.

7. Give/take criticism. When working with people, you need to learn how to take (and give) constructive criticism. Negotiate and understand where your to-be bandmates are coming from.

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