We covered “We Care A Lot” by Faith No More, dressed as Droogs from “A Clockwork Orange”. My first time on stage in front of a crowd. I loved every second of it. Then Wept stole him as their keyboard player(!), which precluded further serious collaboration.
This band played many a show with Wept, and there was some inter-band rivalry. If I recall, both bands had grown out of previous things like “The Suckies” and “Baby On Board”, which had variously involved Pete Reavey, Skip Burns, and some of the Wept members?
I did a few sporadic instrumental recordings with John Hong and Brian Johnston. I played music with a bunch of people (Larry Rouvelas, Melissa Christopher Green, a brief stint with Mental Art Society), trying to get a band together.
I was also a big supporter of Wept and its members. I remember following Will and X around with a video camera for some kind of art project, which I can no longer remember. I do remember trying to get Wept and John’s stuff distributed through an art gallery my parents frequented.
Mona Lisa Overdrive/Shockwork (1988-1991. Half party covers, half originals)
Me – vocals, guitar, synthesizer
Chris “Chaines” Haines – guitar, backing vocals
Mark Graham – bass, backing vocals
Josh Marks & John Goodchild – drums
After a one-off attempt at creating something like my old high school band (where I played keys and sang backup), I decided that a) I wanted something different, b) I wanted to play guitar, and c) I wanted to sing.
Chris Haines taught me the basics (and good habits) of playing guitar. His friendship and musicianship were critical to my development. We shared favorite records – he gave me things like Metallica, I gave him things like New Order.
While we tended to co-write original songs, I was the chief architect of the band. I wrote all the lyrics and melodies, and many complete songs. I was also the person who transcribed and arranged all the covers and taught the parts to the band members.
The Coyotes (1989-1991. Cowboy music, covers and originals).
Me – vocals, guitar
Mark Graham – bass, backing vocals
Ian Davis – guitar, backing vocals
Because of how our school worked, people ended up taking different semesters off. When Chaines wasn’t around, Mark and I started a new band with our friend Ian. Somehow, it ended up being a kind of fake cowboy band, with a sound somewhere between Chris Isaak and Wall of Voodoo. We did originals and a rather diverse batch of covers including actual cowboy trail songs.
If I had been smarter, this is the band I would have tried to get signed with. It was fun, it was beautiful, and it was destined for a brief existence, as Ian went off to get his PhD and then start a videogame company while Mark became an architect.
Mark (in addition to his role in my other band) proved to be a great musician to play with – very melodic, and willing to try anything. Ian was also great – a showman, a gentleman, and able to put up with my Lead Singer’s Disease.
Shockwork/Figurehead/The Quiet Room (1991 – 1994. Post-industrial.)
Me – vocals, guitar, programming
Chaines – guitar, backing vocals
Chaines and I spent 4 hard years trying to get signed. We pushed each other in good and not-so-good ways. We wrote some good material and a few great songs. Just not enough. And we failed to sufficiently network with other musicians, and failed to play out enough to learn what it would have taken to build a following.
We did however, meet:
Chris Fudurich – drums, programming, producing
John Kaizen/Vurpillat – bass, programming
Chris and John had been in a synth-pop band together. We wrote songs and became great friends. They were the last rhythm section for my main L.A. band before Chaines and I parted ways.
Both Fudurich and Vurpillat would play synth in my brother’s band, Don Knotts Overdrive. I collaborated frequently with both of them as well, on my own projects and on their own solo projects, contributing vocals, guitar playing, and more.
Vurpillat, my brother, and I were also part of a Neil Diamond tribute band called “The Neilists”. We dressed in gold lame jumpsuits and played old Neil Diamond songs like AC/DC. We played 5 shows and got 6 magazine write-ups, including People Magazine. We were interviewed for a documentary.
Fudurich is now a rather successful engineer/producer/manager. Vurpillat has given up music and doesn’t talk to any of us anymore.
My brother Ryan deserves a lengthy mention. He started playing guitar around the time I started playing synthesizer, and immediately became a much better musician than I did. I have always looked to him as an inspiration.
He moved to L.A. and lived with me for a time. He eventually joined and started fronting Don Knotts Overdrive, taking them from a schticky, shitty costume band to a super-tight late-90s indie pop/rock outfit that would have slotted nicely between Devo, The Cars, and Weezer. Of course they got signed, and of course they immediately broke up.
Ryan also joined legendary space-rock Hawkwind associates Farflung as well as their offshoot project Anubian Lights. His work with both is by far their best.
Ryan and I did make one record together – an album called “An Observer”, where he brought mostly-complete sketches to my studio for production and finishing. I still think it is some of the best work either of us has ever done.
He’s mostly given up music at this point, being a husband and father, and also extremely bitter about the music business. Like you and John H., he remains someone I look to as a creative hero. He has always been inventive, cool, and ahead of the curve. If he has a weakness, it is a failure to finish projects. I may not be as “good” as he is, but I do finish projects, and that counts for a lot.
During the back half of my time in L.A., I also:
…played bass for Dan Meyer. Originally a member of L.A. post-grungers Dashboard Prophets, Dan made a great Americana/rock demo album but failed to get signed. We did a bunch of shows. He wrote great songs. Having moved back east and become a family man, he is just now getting back into music after 20+ years away.
…played guitar and co-wrote songs for Bug, an L.A. pop-punk band. Originally started by bassist/singer Tom Murray. He asked me to join, and I promptly fired the other 2 guys in the band (brothers, who were drunk and unreliable). We replaced the drummer with Bottom 12 drummer John Montgomery, and immediately gelled. We did a bunch of shows, and 2 albums – the cassette-only “One Last Page”, a kind of send-off to punk, and the deliberately commercial “Dropping Some Downers”, which attracted some label attention, but by that time I was “done” being professional.
…played synthesizer with Tyler Bates (ex-Pet, ex-metal guy, now famous film composer) in his last-shot-at-making-it band WIDGET. I had a blast, but Tyler and I were both at a point where we weren’t sure if we wanted to keep shooting for a deal or do other things. I left L.A. to work in digital music, he became a film composer
There were a bunch of other people I played with and/or knew and hung out with (Failure, Tony Hoffer, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Gwen Mars, Agnes Gooch, Electrolux, Gary Finneran (Ex-Idols, Tuscaurora)) but those are the significant ones.
Notorious (2001-2003. 80s cover band).
Me – Frontman
After moving to SF, I decided if I wanted to keep doing music, I didn’t want to be stuck with a bunch of kids determined to “make it”. I didn’t do anything for a long time, but after realizing how much I missed live performance, I decided maybe a cover band was the way to go. No pressure to write songs or make it, and everyone would be “pro”.
I ended up joining Notorious (I didn’t realize it was an audition, and I ended up beating out a good number of other contenders!) as their front person. Finally, I could just sing lead and concentrate on working the crowd and performing. I loved it, and honed stage presence and persona.
I also helped their musical direction, creating backing tracks, working on dance moves, stage business, song selection, and more. But it was tough to balance all of this work with the demands of creating Rhapsody, and I eventually quit. The other folks in the band saw it as a career, I saw it as a hobby.
Still, I learned more about being “pro” and performing during that time than the entirety of my previous musical existence combined. Ironically, the manager of Notorious (which was originally a Duran Duran tribute band) now manages the ACTUAL Duran Duran. Tragically, the band’s founder John Byrnes took his own life some years ago.
Sid Luscious and The Pants (2004 – present. Faux-80s revival)
Me – Frontman
At some point, every artist tries to bring together everything they know. Such was the case with SLAP. It was originally going to be a recording-only project – a “reissue” of a fake/non-existent 80s album period piece designed to exorcise all my 80s influences. I wrote and recorded everything in my basement from 2003-2005.
Some metal musician friends of mine heard the early demos and decided they would be the actual band for live performance. Over the years that line-up has shifted somewhat, but the drummer (Matt Gramly) has remained a constant.
Of course, it’s turned out to be the most popular thing I’ve ever done, and have spent much of the last decade pretending I’m a failed 80s pop star. I write catchy pop songs packed with covert and overt references and allusions to new wave favorites. It’s been fun, and a welcome alternative to the darker and more serious music I have also pursued.
I’ve also played guitar and bass for several of my friends’ bands (Palace Family Steak House, Disciples of Vice, Victim Nation) and done extensive recording engineering and producing.
Where are you aligned in relation to the post 21st century paradigm? Post record stores, post ‘hard copy’ cd/tape/vinyl into pure downloads? What did you think of the millennial generation’s odd feeling that music should be free?! How does the artist now navigate best this digital domain? IS the small band better off now being able to self promote using various free platforms to post music, including social media? Or was it easier in old-guard ‘pasteup flyers’/ record label hierarchy ‘majors’ era?
It’s a better time to be a musician than at any other time in history. You can make and distribute a record for practically zero dollars. High quality recording gear and instruments are dirt-cheap or free. The internet means you can even learn how DO all of that quickly and easily. None of that was possible 20 or 30 years ago.
At the same time, it is a terrible time to be trying to make a living as a musician. For one thing, thanks to the previous point, there are a ton of people making records now. That flood of content means people pay even MORE attention to hits and less to up-and-coming artists. And then there’s the fact that most people don’t care about music enough to pay for it – they either just don’t care, or they think it should be free.
Some people think music should be free. I disagree, but it’s easy to see why. For one thing, many musicians continue to tell people today that how they want to listen to music (YouTube, subscriptions, MP3s, etc.) is “terrible” and “not real music” and thus, not worth paying for.
For another, there’s been real inconsistency about what’s legal and not legal, and what’s OK and not OK. Why are some things taken down on YouTube and some aren’t? Why can some blogs give away free MP3s and some can’t? Why can’t fans redistribute the same free MP3 they got? And so on.
Fans hear over and over that record companies are bad and artists aren’t getting paid. So from their perspective, who cares about paying? The label can suck it, and it’s not harming the artist (since they’re not getting paid anyhow, or because the artist is so rich, why should they keep getting paid for a song they wrote 40 years ago?)
And there’s just a flood of music. Supply and demand. Lots of supply pushes demand down. For the last several years, I’ve been telling the music industry their biggest problem is not getting people to pay FOR music, it’s getting people to pay attention TO music.
What I’d say is many of the old obstacles are gone. But the obstacles that remain are the really tough ones: Are you good enough to stand out from everyone else? How do you get people to pay attention and care?
But also, maybe you don’t have to “do it for a living”. Is there anything wrong with having music be a hobby, serious or casual? In the past, you couldn’t make records without a deal. You can now. And you can get gear and play shows and whatever you want. There’s literally nothing stopping you from making great music.
Being a “rock star”? Well, that’s like saying your ambition is to be a “successful businessman”. You’re focusing on the wrong part – the money, the fame, the lifestyle. That’s the part that doesn’t matter, or that can disappear instantly. Focus on doing what you love, and find ways to enable that.