Why do bands play live?
Is it because they want to be seen?
Obviously there's a big thing here, the rift between art and audience. Theres the creation, the work of art, and then there's the public, the receptors. I'm the tree falling in the woods. And not making a sound. Obviously nobody knows any James Rabbit songs, they're only played in my computer's headphones and probably about three other pairs of headphones across Fresno (seriously though, localized within a square between Shields and Olive and Palm and Blackstone). So it follows that I would want to get my sound out there, right? Well here's the problems there:
#1. Capturing the sound in my mind and putting it on record. The stuff that you end up hearing is usually a compromise between what my brain wants to hear and what I am capable of playing. My hands are probably five or six years musically behind my brain. This is made worse by:
#2. The inability to work with others. James Rabbit was around for two and a half years before Conner and I started playing together. This doesn't seem unreasonable until you consider that we both have (had) gallons of free time and are both musicians and both like the same kind of music and talk about music all the time and sleep about twenty feet away from each other. This is how the dialogue went whenever we worked together (before it started working somewhere before Heart of Gold):
Tyler - Okay, give me something like 'boom boom chak boom badda boom chawk'
Conner - I don't know what you want
Tyler - Just take what I'm playing and fill it in, but not too much
Conner - like this? (plays)
Tyler - I'm sorry, Smash Mouth called, they want their idea back
Conner - what?
Tyler - Just play better
Conner - like this? (plays)
Tyler - yeah, but not so fast
Conner - like this? (plays)
Tyler - Okay, now its too slow
Conner - how about this? (plays)
Tyler - Yeah, still too slow, go back to earlier when I said it was too fast.
Conner - like this? (plays)
Tyler - and now you are playing the wrong thing
Conner - what were we playing again?
Tyler - "Charming"
Conner - which one is that? erg. Lets get some soda.
I mean, its since worked out, and now we have good playing together, but this is after having lived together forever and constantly arguing with each other etcetera etcetera. Anyway, working with other people doesn't work for me. First, right after everybodies shown up and tuned up, its a democracy, we all think for ourselves, then its apparent that it won't work that way because we aren't a jazz band. We're a pop band and pop music is made by eccentric geniuses not entirely unrelated to dictators in spirit. Pop music isn't screaming teenage girls and posters (or the indie equivalent, mumbling teenage girls and patches), thats the cultural byproduct. Pop music is Phil Spector trapping the Ramones at gunpoint, the moment where it stops being about your personality and starts being about MY personality. Most college age kids around here don't like being yelled at, especially not the ones that I have tricked into coming over to my house to 'jam' (there's a deathly democracy word if ever there was one). All of a sudden, johnny college is forced to forget his "Freebird" in favor of 'build the c minor up, and move it reluctantly up to an e flat', it doesn't translate well.
Here's a problem then, I need session musicians but don't have any money. Also, and more pressing of a pickle, is the fact that even if I could afford sweaty forty year olds with a beverage holder and a schedule, I wouldn't know what to tell them. 'solo here', 'follow the other trumpets', 'sound like you are falling down while playing', that's what I think to myself when I pick up whatever instrument. But you know what goes on when that happens...
#3. I have no money. The 'starving musician' thing means that I don't have money, even for amps or mods or pedals or plugs or cords. I, myself, own a keyboard and a trumpet. My money is spent on food when I can afford it and blank cds, when I'm not hungry.
#4. There is no demand. I guess that is created with presence though. We can't just establish ourselves like that, no matter how many copies of Le Fou I blanket the streets with.
#5. We aren't ready. One of my gifts/flaws is that, especially when it comes to sound, I can empathize with people really well, but I can't do anything about it. Like I knew when we played "Lost" they dug it, of course they did. But a song like "Bonnie" with not as much to grab onto they didn't. There's a certain sinking feeling that when I'm writing/performing something, it won't be good enough, and what I'm currently playing is just filler for when the good idea shows up. When the people near the back said 'where's your guitarist'? they meant 'where's your distortion?', that's the part I would have written, it would have been as simple as telling them 'C Ab F Eb Gm', because there's nothing really to play there otherwise. We have to fill up the space, even if it means doing it unexcitingly. I mean, isn't that how it goes? Guitars play what the bass plays, but maybe with an extra note a fifth above? And if we're arty, we'll add the third for good measure. But seriously, this the-guitar-is-just-as-good-as-Spector thing is total shit. Screw guitars, give me DRUMS and lots of them. Start a band with five drummers and an organ and a piano and a choir. Throw your guitars out. The bass can stay.
Next, there is to be addressed why I make music:
I've used this explanation before. Its like an addiction. I need it, and I need it frequently. I've had pretty bad freakouts before where if I can't make music for a long time, I'll just shut down. I have to create, I have to constantly be making something. If I'm not playing on the keyboard or guitar, I'm writing a song, or maybe thinking of a song that I've recently heard that I could possibly steal something from. Its ironic, every time I've gone to music camp, I've felt this panic, because playing with wind ensemble or something you just aren't creating, you are interpreting. That's like asking James Rabbit to play covers. Yeah, it would be great if people knew the songs we were playing before we told them, but that's not the point. I have a demon sitting over my shoulder saying 'go go go go go go go' and he only sometimes allows for me to pause to learn the chords to "Desperado". And I'm not about to ruin that song just so the drunk guy in the back can sing along.
So here's what it comes down to:
Album artist: next to zero recognition. I'm 'james rabbit', the dork that passes out cds to everyone that wants them, and many that don't. I get many reactions varying from 'i'm sorry i don't know how to say I didn't listen to it/didn't like it' to 'it was good'. I guess I'm happy that some people are somewhat happy with what I've done.
Performing artist: some recognition. I'm 'James Rabbit!', the dude that plays punk songs (I am simultaneously honored and insulted by this) and freaks out sometimes onstage. Girls tolerate me, guys hate that I write better songs than them, all are equally likely to leave in the middle of the set. The reaction I get is 'when are you playing again?'.
Probably never, but not because I don't want to, because James Rabbit isn't really a live band. Yeah, I get all adrenalined up, and yeah, its cool when people clap (they don't clap for your record, let me tell you that), but these things can be accomplished outside of the James Rabbit universe. Conner has his All Dead. They played a show tonight (saturday night), he tells me he was allowed to take over a song. I don't know exactly what that means, but I know what it sounded like.
When I was recording Rodeo Radio I obviously wasn't thinking about playing it live, I was thinking about how I'm going to fill this song out, or how I'm going to approach the next song, it was about living past the moment, and that's what those ten copies of the cd are going to do, whether or not I make good decisions on who to give them to. Obviously they aren't Pet Sounds or Sgt. Peppers, they are more like reminders. When "Zombie Bones" smirks at you, and the chorus of "Only With Models" kicks in, and when "Politics" smacks you on the head with MORE falsetto of course I'm not Brian Wilson, not even Ric Ocasek, but you know that something is going on there. And I know that something is going on there. And until I can stop writing obtuse lyrics and embrace honesty and find people to sing my songs and other people to play my music, I've got to keep these otherwise brilliant ideas on hold somewhere.