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How Not to Start a Band

Four years ago two friends and I decided to start a band. My friend Jason played guitar. My friend Paul was going to play bass – he just didn’t know it yet.

Your inference is correct: no, Paul did not know how to play any instrument at the time we decided to form a band, so we decided he’d play bass. I’m sorry if I’ve offended bass players in any way.

Earlier that year we had discovered Purevolume, a site which, like Myspace, allowed anyone to create a band profile, upload music, create a short bio, and keep a calendar with show dates. In my eager anticipation of DIY greatness, I had created a Purevolume profile before we actually ever played together.

And yes, this also means we had multiple meetings to decide on the all-important name before every picking up instruments together. We decided on the “Endemic Din.” After we realized that no one knew how to properly pronounce it, including ourselves, we wanted desperately to change, but we couldn’t–we already had a Purevolume and hotmail address under that name.

And yes, we also wrote a group biography and individual biographies detailing our musical journeys, despite ever having began a musical journey.

With the details above checked off of our list, we were on the road to DIY greatness. We were just counter-cultural enough to make ourselves feel edgy, but not so counter-cultural that the girls thought we were too lame. We walked the “edgy” line with just the right amount of caution that eventually the girls used paint pens to create the first Endemic Din t-shirts. (We forgave them for misspelling our name on account of having forgotten how to spell it ourselves.)

Only three check-boxes remained: practice music, record an EP, and start playing shows. We planned on accomplishing them in that order, too. Paul’s brother had a PC, SoundForge and a few microphones, so our homemade EP already had DIY bonus points before we ever had music to put on it.

Our first practice was, in our minds at the time, a huge start: we arranged our instruments in my garage in such a manner that was most conducive to not only sound but to stage acrobatics as well, and taught Paul to play Weezer’s “The Sweater Song,” adding a second song to his repertoire, which had thus far consisted exclusively of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.”

To top off the afternoon, we took the ever-important publicity pictures that were to add aesthetic flavor to our Purevolume and then be artistically made into a montage in the liner notes of our soon to be released EP. Actually, these pictures appeared soonest in the clear front pocket of various girls’ three-ring binders. (These were different girls than the girls who would eventually make the t-shirts; these were older girls. We were quite happy with ourselves.)

Here is what our first two original songs were: a rip-off of “The Sweater Song” we called “Turtleneck,” which was different in the fact that it was instrumental (more soloing time) and slightly faster (Paul didn’t cope too well at first). The second was a song we called “Top Gun: Resurrection,” which consisted of the theme riff from the movie “Top Gun” coupled with a harmonizing riff that culminated in, believe it or not, a faster tempo and more soloing. The efforts of these first practices were fueled solely on a diet consisting of our collective desire to turn into DIY underground legends and a healthy dessert of more publicity photos at the end of each practice.

Box one of the three remaining boxes, check.

The obvious next step was to record our music in order that we may have music to compliment the photos and bios on Purevolume. We found out that recording was much harder than it seemed, but we persevered and, in just a few cumulative hours, put down both “Turtleneck” and “Top Gun: Resurrection.”

However, in less than a week, we realized we were completely unhappy with our recordings.

This was an unexpected setback. We were supposed to love our basement recordings. According to our DIY model, we weren’t supposed to be impressed with the quality, but we knew we were supposed to feel some sort of attachment to them. But we did not. We eventually just tried to forget about the whole ordeal. We moped for a few weeks, stopped practicing. Eventually, we found another friend who played guitar and sang, got inspired and motivated once again, changed our name, got a new Purevolume, and decided to start relentlessly practicing with the conviction that this time, this time would be the time.

This was the first of exactly three instances in which the entire process described in the paragraphs above would be repeated in the span of three years. The only constants were Paul, Jason and myself–each turnover brought new members, a new style, a new name, a new Purevolume, a new basement single and new dreams of DIY greatness. And each time, our master plan was spoiled, either by our own lack of commitment or by our inability to truly enjoy the music we wrote for more than five or six weeks. It was in these moments of self-loathing that things got tense. We had to practically force ourselves to play together. We argued over ideas. We got dejected at not meeting the goals we set, and responded not by trying harder, but by giving up.

And sometime this past year, when recollecting my thoughts much like I’m doing now, I realized that the most probable suspect of our repeated let-downs was our intention. We played with the intention of “getting big” and pleasing a fan base before we solidified the most important and foundational fan base: ourselves. Perhaps this is selfish, and if it is, well, it’s something everyone has the right to be selfish about.

I realized that in each of our former incarnations, we started out with plans that were too far-fetched. We wanted to record songs before we had any songs we were really sure if we liked. We wanted to play those songs at shows in venues before even getting deciding if we liked how the song sounded in my garage. In short, we were constantly playing music for the purpose of approval from various external factors, instead of allowing our music to grow organically and honestly from inside ourselves.

Earlier this year we realized that perhaps the latter of the two methods would be better. We started playing music together without any plans other than to enjoy ourselves. We started playing again because it was something we liked to do together. And we started making stuff we really enjoy playing. It has kind of turned into a group therapy of sorts; we get together whenever we have time, relax, goof off and just jam. Now it’s okay to do a fifteen minute instrumental jam. Now it’s okay to try really weird ideas, to add that djembe or that synth in the song–if the idea flops, who cares? The mood is a lot less tense. We lose track of time. We just play together, and it feels good.

I hope there is a good chance that your band can skip all the stuff in between and just get down to what really matters: playing music you enjoy with people you enjoy playing with.

Max Thorn