How Joining a Band Made Me Brave

I’ve been enthralled and determined to play music since the second grade. In the third grade, I was finally allowed to play violin at school; the following year, I could pick up a wind instrument instead, settling on the clarinet. In middle school, I would dabble with the trombone and return to the clarinet in high school, when I would also start learning the electric bass.

The same year I started college, I joined a band–Wallace–with my best friend, Koa, and his friend Tony. At the beginning, I felt like nothing but a replacement for the bassist that left–a man of far greater talent with far greater experience than me– and never having had any confidence in myself, I was intimidated, resentful, insecure. I was still new to the bass, having only played it for about a year and a half by then, still struggling to wrap my mind around what it meant to be a bassist with the backbone of the song on your shoulders as opposed to the running, trilling clarinet lines I was used to, a problem that my band mates tended to point out to me constantly.

Hell, there were a lot of times I wanted to quit the band even. I was never sure if Tony really liked the band or if he was just there. Koa and I would fight about lyrics constantly as my writer-self tried to take control. I always felt like the weak link, the one least practiced on my instrument. But if there is one thing stronger than my insecurity, it is my stubbornness. I refused to quit, preferring to stick to the band until it’s slow demise.

And yet…

Instead of slow decay, there came a blossoming. From a mere bud, Wallace has begun to blossom into a strange little flower, with a distinct personality all of its own. But the most amazing thing was not that Wallace began to blossom, but that I did as well.

I grew out of that intimidated, resentful, insecure little girl into a confident, no-bullshit, brave young woman who is ready to change the world. I have become more socially-outgoing because of the duties being in a band requires (if you actually try to make it work that is), gaining friends and connects that have helped me when I’ve needed it. I’ve created a never-ending project for myself to continuously work on and grow with, increasing my overall productivity. I learned how to collaborate creatively within a team, working out the smallest details together until we have all agreed to a compromise. I’ve learned to take rejection and criticism gracefully, using it not as an excuse to stop playing, but instead as an excuse to practice more with the intent to impress later. I have even landed an internship under the very fine Dan Vado at SLG Publishing and Art Boutiki recently, an unbelievable opportunity that I’m sure I will look back on with nostalgia and appreciation many years later.

But more than anything, Wallace has made me brave. It has made me do things I never would have done otherwise, like walk up to a perfect stranger just to tell them you loved their music, or Facebooking every last one of your friends about the amazing show I have coming up. I’ve sent out dozens of emails asking for a stage to play on; I’ve done my best to create offbeat marketing strategies; I’ve dropped every ounce of brainpower, sweat, and time I could into Wallace, and it’s paid me back more than I’ve given it. Even if my band is still a small local group, I have learned skills joining a band that I’ve never learned in the workforce or school, skills that contribute to my success in all aspects of life.

I suppose the point of my story is don’t be afraid to chase the dreams that seem impossible, because the likelihood is that they will make you a better person just because you’re chasing. As Bob Marley once said, “If you don’t start somewhere, you’ll never go anywhere.”

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Eli and the Sound Cult at the Art Boutiki

On April 17, Eli and the Sound Cult will be playing at The Art Boutiki, making their first appearance in San Jose. Describing the project as their musical brainchild, Elijah Jenkins and Jason Bove choose to define their duo project as “indie-neo-electro-psedo soul.” Their expansive sound lets them fit into into a variety of settings including: night EDM clubs, festival line-ups, or, as in this case, local rock shows. Although clearly electronic, the band works off of common rock beats, fusing those beats with with dancey tempos to achieve a unique sound.

Having recorded the pop-infused “Bet of Pop,” in October of 2013, Eli and the Sound Cult have released their new EP this year entitled, “So Much Yes.” The new  EP holds a dirtier, barer, more soulful sound, drawing a striking difference from their first EP.

Sharing the spotlight will be local up-and-comers The Frenzys, a local garage funk-punk trio, with a fiery, and yet, quirky performance. Opening will be Berkeley/Oakland act The Blondies.

Say It Ain’t So

I’m in my car and Koa’s iPod is shuffling through 50,000 songs when  Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” comes on, and then suddenly I’m four and a half years in the past, sitting in the garage of my old house, a cherry-red Dean bass in my hands, strapped around my neck, and a thick, purple pick stuck unfamiliarly between my fingers. Koa is counting off and we begin the song, trying to work our way through it together. He is much better than I, playing all the fancy guitar riffs with his  extra year of experience as I struggle to separate my pinky finger from my ring finger to reach across the fretboard. We both have been playing music since the third grade, but it is only now, at 16 years old, that I try to play the electric bass for the first time. Used to fingering a clarinet, I fumble around the fretboard’s strings, confused. My pick hand can’t consistently keep the beat, and so I abandon it  mid way through the song and finger pick instead, internally convinced I’m doing it all wrong. The bridge comes up and we almost fall apart, but somehow we stay together, working our way shakily through the solo as well, and finally finishing it strong. When it’s done, we give each other a look of embarrassment and play it again and again until we get it down perfectly. We haven’t play a cover for the last three years of our musical journey together, but we all started somewhere, right?

Aaron, The Dota 2 Player

One of Aaron’s favorite past-times is Dota 2, a MOBA (massive online battle arena) strategy game. When asked why he prefers Dota 2 over its popular competitor, League of Legends, Aaron responded saying “Dota 2 is more challenging. [It] has more consequences,” citing challenges such as gold punishments for dying, taxes for buying, and only a consistent stream of gold instead of chunks for kills. Aaron has been into the Dota series since middle school, beginning with Dota 1, a more buggy and less refined version of Dota 2, which is much improved. His favorite character to play is Ursa, the Bear. “He’s a carry. He just eats people’s faces off […]. For the cubs!” he said, ending his remark with Ursa’s motto. Although he plays Dota 2 for pure enjoyment and not the competitive nature of the game, Aaron recognizes the game developer’s attempts at balancing the game for the more dedicated, hardcore players, changes that do not effect amateur play.

Mike Watt

Where do I even begin with Mike Watt? He is a a 57 year-old working musician and has been since 1980, beginning with his first major project: Minutemen. Minutement comprised Mike Watt on bass, D. Boon on gutiar and George Hurley on drums, a dynamic punk trio who is said to have pioneered the way for all post-punk bands that came after. Tragically, Minutemen ended in 1985 when D. Boon died in a car accident, sending Watt into a depression before he would form fIREHOUSE with Hurley and another guitarist later in 1986. Mike Watt would continue his musical career with solo and duo projects, as well as joining the reformed Stooges as their bassist and joining Banyan as well. He still plays, performs and records today.

Mike Watt has become something of my personal bass hero in the last year. As most bassists, I started off adoring Flea and then Les Claypool. I drooled over virtuoso bassists like Victor Wooten and Jaco Pastorius. I’d even find bass prodigies in-training on youtube and covet their skills. But last year, a very good sound guy at one of our regular venues suggested Minutemen to us as we continued to develop and solidify our unique voice. Mike Watt’s playing was as simple and “stupid” (as I put it) as my playing, in a way validating the way I play bass and sparking new ideas at the same time. Watt is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated bassists in the musical world currently. What he lacks in skill, he makes up for in creativity and taste.

1. How did your style develop?

2. After Minutemen, what project that you’ve been involved with has stuck out the most?

3. Tell me more about your project, Dos.

4. What do look for when someone asks you to play in a new project with them?

5. Do you have any favorite musical devices?

6. What kind of music did you listen to in your youth? What about today?

7. Where do you see your legacy going?

8. Where do you see the future of punk going?

9. Do you think you’ve ever recorded a perfect album? song?

10. How do you approach songwriting?

No Patience

Stan: “Hey, I talked to Austin. He’s not doing too good. It didn’t help you guys already told him.”
Neal: “He came in here asking all kinds of questions. The fuck am I supposed to tell him?”
Stan: “It wasn’t your place. It’s mine and Alyssa’s. If you guys have a problem with him, why don’t you just talk to him?”
Neal: “I’ve tried to talk to him, but he takes any advice I give him as a personal attack. I’m always here for him, we’re always homies.”
Stan: “Well, he thinks you guys clearly drew a line and aren’t homies. He needs a friend right now. You know he’s feeling abandoned and I went through it too when I got sent away and I can sympathize with him. It doesn’t make any sense but it’s a feeling. Maybe instead of alienating him, you guys should go talk to him.”
Me: “No offense, but I don’t think you know this whole story or much about what has been going on. We don’t alienate him, he alienates himself. We’ve always had an open door policy. He chooses not to be here.”
Stan: “Well, I’m not saying I know the whole story. I can just see things from his perspective.”
Me: “Austin came in here asking us directly what is going on tomorrow and we had no other choice but to answer him.”
Neal: “Yeah. I just told him I know my shit cleared and I’m allowed to stay but he has to go talk to you guys. Still, I see what you’re saying. He definitely helped me out of a dark time and I dont wanna leave a homie out to dry.”
Stan: “Maybe it’s time to help him back out of his dark time.”
Me: “I’ve been through this shit before with Austin. I’m out.”
______________________________________________________________________________________

It was 11:45 pm and I was already half-asleep on my bed, the room lit only by the dancing glow of computer screens as Neal and Ken played Minecraft at the desk two feet away. Then there was a knock, and I heard Ken get up from his side of the desk to answer the door.
“Hey, I talked to Austin.” It was Stan, my step-father. “He’s not doing too good. It didn’t help you guys already told him.” My back was turned away from the door and my eyes were still closed but I was fully awake suddenly.
“He came in here asking all kinds of questions. The fuck am I supposed to tell him?” Neal said after a moment. I never heard Ken come back, so he must have been standing silently next to the door.
“It wasn’t your place. It’s mine and Alyssa’s,” Stan said, and a tension filled the air as the silence persisted. I still lay still on the bed, irritation looming in the back of my mind. It wasn’t worth the trouble of arguing. “If you guys have a problem with him, why don’t you just talk to him?”
“I’ve tried to talk to him, but he takes any advice I give him as a personal attac,” Neal repeated the same thing we’ve been talking about for a few months now in a hushed voice, as if Austin would pop up around the corner at any time. “I’m always here for him, we’re always homies.”
“Well, he thinks you guys clearly drew a line and aren’t homies. He needs a friend right now. You know he’s feeling abandoned and I went through it too when I got sent away and I can sympathize with him. It doesn’t make any sense but it’s a feeling. Maybe instead of alienating him, you guys should go talk to him.”
I didn’t dislike Stan, but right now he was talking out of his ass, acting as if these were things we haven’t been working to solve in the last three months, ignorant of the fact that it was Austin who abandoned me when we were just 15. I sat up suddenly in the bed and turned to Stan. “No offense, but I don’t think you know this whole story or much about what has been going on. We don’t alienate him, he alienates himself. We’ve always had an open door policy. He chooses not to be here.”
The tone in my voice made him reevaluate his position quickly. “Well, I’m not saying I know the whole story. I can just see things from his perspective,” Stan said, backtracking.
I thought of how bias and skewed a perspective could be, especially Austin’s who tended to overexagerrate everything. If only Stan knew how badly Austin had been treating Neal, how little he helped around the house, how often he dismissed all our opinions for his own illogical, irrational one. Stan was right in that none of us had talked to him about these problems, but none of us wanted to kick him out either. Still, by the miracle of deus ex machina, the decision had been taken out of our hand and Austin would have to leave because of some problem with his background check. With my mother so close to getting her large license and under a petty investigation, she couldn’t risk his living in the house anymore.
“Austin came in here asking us directly what is going on tomorrow and we had no other choice but to answer him,” I told Stan outright.
“Yeah,” Neal said. “I just told him I know my shit cleared and I’m allowed to stay but he has to go talk to you guys. Still, I see what you’re saying. He definitely helped me out of a dark time and I dont wanna leave a homie out to dry.”
“Maybe it’s time to help him back out of his dark time,” Stan said, a little more than insistently. Silence ensued again as Neal was lost in thought. Ken still stood next to the door, against the dresser, not a word escaping his lips.
Another thirty seconds passed, until I plopped back down in bed. “I’ve been through this shit before with Austin. I’m out.” Stan left the room and Neal went to find Austin. Ken came to bed with me and we happily fell asleep.

Surface Level Only

Pulling up to the curb in front of Johnny V’s in downtown San Jose, I see what can only be the usuals at the dive bar, standing outside the door and waiting for the place to open. I get out of the drivers seat and shove my way passed the bouncer who doesn’t say a word, Tony and Koa (my bandmates) not far behind me. Walking up to the bartender, I tell him I’m with the band and ask where to put our stuff. He shines a glass while he tells us to go look for a dude with long hair and a limp named Spencer, completely unaware of the normal procedure of the place. The guys and I search for Spencer and find him in the room over playing pool with a friend, the chairs on his side of the bar still up as if he isn’t expecting anyone to be there.
“Spencer?” I ask behind him. He doesn’t hear me. “Spencer?” I say it a little louder this time, and he spins around. “We’re Wallace. Where do we put our stuff?”
His eyes dart over us for a second, dazed and confused, almost distrusting. “Wallace?” he asks.
“We’re playing here tonight. We’re one of the bands.”
“Oh, just put your stuff in the back,” he says and turns away quickly to go back to his game. Bothered by the lack of manners and organization, I turn towards the guys and realize he must think we’re nothing worth listening to as two skinny guys and a chick, all of us looking too young to be in the bar. Still, I shrug it off and we get our stuff and bring it into the back.
As more bands show up, I notice Spencer talks to all the other groups more personally, excited for their performance later in the night. We blow him away during our performance, but he never comes up to tell me this. Instead, he talks to our drummer and guitarist. To me, he hands our $20 of the night and the exchange is done.
The strangest thing is, most of our musical performances go this way. I do all the organization, all the talking and diplomacy, and when we finally show up and play, any critique about our music is directed towards the other members of the band. Sure, I’ll get a “You were amazing. Truly amazing. So talented,” but I don’t get the intelligent, thought-provoking inquires and comments that my other band members get.