MOONBOOTS has been taking the summer kinda off, at least as far as playing shows, because at least one member of our five-piece band has been out of town pretty much every week since June. We did manage to get one song recorded and released (“The Omen“), and then last week, the songwriting core of the band got together to jam out some new tracks.
One of them was based on a riff that I originally wrote and recorded about four years ago, when As Yet Unbroken was still together. The sound was a little too “pop” for AYU, but when I joined MOONBOOTS, it definitely felt more “right,” so I introduced it, and they seemed to like it, and then I was able to finally figure out a chorus change for the song by workshopping it with the band. Singer John added lyrics he’d already written, which gave the song its structure, and then last night, I spent about three hours putting he whole thing together in GarageBand, including writing a second riff for the chorus and figuring out my bass part.
This is pretty much how I always used to work on music. Late at night, holed up in my home studio, layering and cutting and pasting and not stopping until something resembling a song appeared. It’s something I don’t do enough, or at least haven’t in the last few years, because it’s really hard for me to find enough hours strung together to get “into the zone.” My attention span is short, and the most amount of time I can usually spend on any one project is about an hour.
I’m also terribly methodical about these things. I’m not into self-diagnoses, but there’s a pretty good chance I have SLIGHT O.C.D. My brain processes activities, songs, the passage of time, etc., into neat structures. I do everything the same way every time I do it. I always wash myself in the shower in the same order, in the same pattern of movement, and then towel-dry in the same order each time. And if I deviate, it completely fucks me up. I always have my keys in my left front pocket and my wallet and Chapstick in my right, and if one is missing, I can “feel” it. (On the plus side, I never lose my wallet or keys.)
This makes me both a good musician and a terrible one. I’m really good at perceiving and understanding the structure of songs and compositions, and therefore memorizing them. I just have an innate “feeling” of when something sounds “right.” I visualize these things, not like seeing musical notation, but there is definitely some sort of visual structure of a song’s parts in my head as I listen or play. It’s why, even from my earliest days writing songs, people said my stuff sounded “radio-ready.” That’s another way of saying a song is predictably structured.
What’s bad about that is I’m terrible at improvisation. I mean, it doesn’t help that I’m just not a great musician. That’s not self-deprecation. It’s just a fact. I’m naturally attuned to playing music—given enough time with any instrument, I can figure out how to adequately play it—but that ease of familiarity means I’ve learned how to play a lot of different instruments passably, but not excellently. Aside from two weeks of entirely forgettable guitar lessons when I was maybe 10 years old (the only thing I remember is being shown how to hold my left hand so I wasn’t “palming” the bottom of the neck) and one semester of basic piano in college, I’m entirely self-taught, and nowhere near that “10,000 hours of practice” level of mastery for which we’re all supposed to strive.
When I told this to a friend the other day, she said I have to be better than I think I am, or else I wouldn’t have been playing music for this long. But that’s just not true. First—and not to sell short the groups in which I’ve played or the music we’ve made—I’ve played in a series of local bands that have thus far not gotten past playing the Vegas bar scene, and they’ve all been rooted in punk rock in one way or another, which doesn’t require a musical virtuosity. Second (and probably more importantly), I usually make up for lack of skill by overcompensating with personality, charisma and dedication. I’ve learned in this world that being nice, treating people decently and actually showing up all go a long friggin’ way (Conan O’Brien would agree).
This week begins an approximate 10-day stretch in which all members of MOONBOOTS are all in town at once, so we’re going to spend a few nights rehearsing our existing songs really well, because in early August, we’re going into another studio to record some more tracks, and we’re going to have to get ourselves super-tight again after all this downtime. In theory, if all goes well, we should have something approximating at least an E.P. ready for release in the fall, and hopefully will be getting back to regular gigs again. As much as I like recording and songwriting, ultimately, nothing beats playing music live for people. A little attention-whoring never hurt anyone.