As Yet Unbroken, Part One
We have come to the beginning of the end (for now) of the Magical (Musical) Mystery Tour, and what a long, strange trip it’s been. In our previous episode, the mythic bedroom/MySpace act Side Project 7 had fizzled out. A few months later, I moved out of Scott’s house and into a mid-rise apartment, which meant my drums didn’t get much attention (read: none) anymore, and at this point I was editing a new magazine (Racket) and didn’t have much time for musical frivolities anyway. It took almost a year before the next musical project would accidentally come my way.
I was at my pal Mark T. Zeilman‘s (now-defunct) art gallery, MTZC, in December, 2007. It may have been First Friday, it may not have been, but it was definitely during some reception or event. I may have been drinking. Mark introduced me to a guy with Wolverine sideburns he called his “singer.” Now, at this point, I had known Mark for about seven or eight years, but for most of that time, only casually through the art scene, but I had no idea he played music, and I expressed as much to Mark that night.
I learned that he and this spiky-haired guy Tim Beck were writing songs and jamming with various people (Mark on bass guitar). So of course I jumped in and said, “If you guys need a shitty drummer, let me know.” Turns out, they did. That was the one portion of the band they couldn’t nail down, and it seems they were less concerned about my skills as my availability/commitment. I was available Sundays, and that’s all that mattered. So we made plans to meet at Tim’s house to jam with the rest of the loose group.
Let’s recall that at this point, I hadn’t played drums AT ALL in about a year. I was still occasionally recording music by myself at home, but it was all sampled/programmed beats with me on guitar and keyboards, and I had only recorded two or three songs during that entire period, under the project name “Nomashok,” which was kind-of a catch-all name for any quasi-electronic, unreleased material I’d recorded over the years. But I was badly out of practice on the drums, and the last band in which I’d played, I did so playing along to a click track, basically. Playing in a live, hard rock band with four or five live human beings? Gah!
Despite all this, I dragged my drums down the six stories to my car (in a shopping cart) and drove out to Tim’s house in North Las Vegas on a bright Sunday afternoon. I set up my drums in his garage (something you can only do in winter here, lest you die of heat exposure), and met the two guitarists who were hanging around, Josh and Kyle. Josh was really young, maybe 19, and was one of those guys who could pull of metal riffs without appearing to put out any effort, but his songwriting was lacking. Kyle was a cowboy-type, not as technically proficient as Josh, but a bit older and more well-rounded, with more of a blues influence. I discovered Mark was a very good bassist, though it was obvious he was still getting comfortable with it (I later learned guitar is his first instrument), he plays a sick groove, plays with creative fills, and had a good sense of melody. Tim turned out to be an angry mix of Scott Weiland, Maynard James Keenan and Glenn Danzig. Now the sideburns made sense.
With beers and cigarettes being consumed in proper rock ‘n’ roll fashion, the garage door went down and we started jamming on songs they had already in mid-development. I think I kept up OK, but I was REALLY wobbly. Though the type of music (metal-tinged post-grunge) wasn’t my thing, some of the songs really caught me, especially “Alone,” driven by Mark’s Fugazi-like bass line (oddly, none of the other guys even listen to Fugazi). Others were a bit more grungy, or at least when I applied my rudimentary drums to them, they became so. We had a decent thing going, until the NLV police showed up, banging on the garage door. Apparently, a neighbor complained about the noise (I don’t blame ’em).
Shockingly, the guys wanted me back again. Or at least, Mark and Tim did. Possibly more important than how we each played is how we got along together, and the chemistry was there, despite our own varied musical influences and interests. So we reconvened on a weekly basis, but moved venues to the second-floor loft inside Tim’s neighbor’s house. That neighbor, Kenny, had a teenage son, Zach, who was starting to play guitar, and Zach actually co-wrote one of our eventual mainstay songs, “My Reality.”
The time at Kenny’s house was productive: We wrote or fine-tuned several of what would become signature songs there: “Pseudo Angel,” “Shots Fired,” “Someday,” and jammed on a lot of the dozens of lyrics Tim brought in, but a lot of those songs (for good reason) didn’t stick, and the lyrics would be put to better use in later songs. However, one thing was certain: We were terrible. No, I mean, bad. Like, really bad. Individually, we were OK. Mark was solid. Tim could wail when he wanted to. Josh and Kyle were doing their respective things. Me? I was pretty rough. It’s not like I was practicing in between jams. I was ONLY playing when we got together. But I could still hold a beat.
Regardless, something wasn’t working. First, Josh was somewhat unreliable (he only showed up half the time) — and potentially leaving town soon. Plus, he was a one-trick pony. The term “dynamic” meant nothing to him. Kyle, well, he was a nice guy, but not really a good fit. It became obvious that Mark, Tim and I had formed a solid core, but we seemed to be in need of an older, more consistent, more experienced guitar player, if we were going to take this thing seriously.
Also, did I mention we were terrible? Seriously, I set up a YouTube account to post videos of our practices, and while there are some interesting historical pieces in there, such as early versions of the aforementioned stalwart songs, there are also some really horrendous clips, so bad that I took them all down publicly. One is so bad, that despite getting almost 500 views, it also got appropriately vile comments. It deserved them. We all sound terrible. Josh looks bored, Tim sounds like he’s in pain, no one is playing in step, it’s just … bad. I won’t subject you to that, but I will link to a rarely seen early practice of “Alone,” with Kyle on guitar.
Next up: As Yet Unbroken, Part Two: The band gets a new home, a new name and a new guitarist.