- Check out The Biters: Wearethebiters.com
In November of 2007, I half-jokingly started a band, ThrowAway Grrls. I quietly harmonized and plunked the bass while my friend crooned and thrummed the guitar. Along with two other friends attempting percussion, we practiced for a few weeks in a desperate attempt swiftly to master our instruments for a premature show into which we had managed to charm our way. We were scheduled to open for a few tribute bands on a sold-out Saturday night at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, but as soon as we walked into the upstairs club for our first sound-check, all our feet froze to the floor. We knew we were ill-prepared; we did not even know which amp was for the bass and which one was for the guitar. We only prepared four slap-dash songs, but with the help of a patient sound engineer, we persevered! Although, I must admit, for those 15-20 minutes, I wobbled like a gelatin dessert.
Around August of 2009, I grew frustrated with the constant, suffocating stage fright. Until then, I averaged a show or two per month. I spent hours with my head in my hands wondering what ways to overcome my cowardice. At the behest of an ex, I slammed one fist into the other palm and challenged myself to play 100 shows to remove forcibly the fear through repetition and experience. I did not give myself a deadline, because I was unsure of how to count a performance. However, I eventually decided to count any time I performed in front of a crowd of strangers, anything from an open mic to a proper show.
Beginning that September, I counted 15 prior performances. As much as I pep-talked myself to be non-nonchalant and reiterated that I did not care what others thought of my lack of technique, the thought of making a fool out of myself overwhelmed my convictions. Fortunately at that time, I re-read Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, which not only inspired me, but also helped me feel less inferior since I realized that I was no better or worse for trying than were my peers. By January 2010 I reached performance number 65, and throughout the month I played 25 more times including one of my personal favorites, an “in-store” performance at Never Records, a fake record store. Continue reading
On Christmas night, my dear friend and ex-bandmate from The Merch Grrls, Charlotte Eerie, visited New York City from London. After my delicious, filling, meat-less holiday meal and her long, fatiguing flight, we rendezvoused at our old neighborhood quaffing grounds, Black and White, on 10th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenue. I extinguished a cigarette after only a few drags, and dropped the remains into the dented metal pail hanging in a corner of the smoker’s recess under the awning before stepping into the warmth of the votive-lit bar and my friend’s tight embrace. Our bartender, a mutual friend and a wry writer with dark, disheveled humor and hair, poured our mixed drinks. He mingled witty repartee into our gossip and convivial conversation while an unlit cigarette dangled from his lips. (Plug: Check out Richard Allen the first Sunday of every month at Black and White for Fahrenheit, a five minute open mic for writers presented by the Antagonist Art Movement.)
Comfortable in old habits and hangovers by the next morning, we sojourned to our favorite diner, 7A Cafe, (where the front windows conveniently framed our favorite “dive” bar, Niagara) for our regular brunch as though a year had not passed. While we devoured our usual orders of vegetarian eggs benedict, mimosas, and coffee, snow began to fall outside. After eating, we attempted to brave the already vast and intimidating snowpocalypse. First we tried taking a cab uptown, however when the car drifted and hydroplaned on the wet road, we opted for the crammed subway at Union Square. Before that week, both Charlotte and I struggled with the superflu on our respective coasts, but, upon her arrival, we pretended the virus was not severe because we wanted to see one other. However, as soon as we trekked back to the apartment, Captain Trips (read: Stephen King’s version of the flu) flourished like the onslaught of the blizzard raging outside. Since Snowmageddon and sickness barricaded us indoors, we settled for a slumber party. Continue reading
Continued from previous post:
The train ride from London to Crewe lasted three hours. Crewe is a large town in south Cheshire, in the north west of England, and it was a stark change to London’s bustling urban environment. The windows of the train framed rolling hills of a lush rural countryside. Students, returning to school from break, stood in the isles or sat on the floor. (Clearly I consistently chose the ideal time to travel by train.) Luckily I found a seat on the overcrowded coach next to a middle-aged man and across from two elderly women. As I opened my notebook to slip into some reclusion and journal about the new friend I met in London, the old woman sitting directly accross from me opened her purse and removed numerous mini-bottles of alcohol and spirits. The middle-aged man inquired as to whether or not she thought it too early to be drinking.
She retorted, “It’s never too early for a drink.”
The talkative old woman and the middle-aged man engaged in a wonderful conversation, which I overheard as I vainly attempted writing in my journal. He was traveling to visit his son and grandchildren, and she was 80 years old, but did not look a day over 60. Her friend listened silently, nodding every so often in agreement. I filled pages of my cheap composition book with the old woman’s quotes about the importance of trust in a marriage and travel for the soul, as well as the energy of youth and the wonder of life. Continue reading
The only cure to stage fright is to get on a stage and keep performing. I got an electric acoustic, the Bubinga Butterfly (Daisy Rock) to cure the feedback problem I had been having from mic’ing the lil’ pink guy. I began performing solo at open mics around the city at Nightingale Lounge, Banjo Jim’s and Common Ground. Niagara started a weekly variety show on Monday nights called Alphabet City Soup, where I played a few times. I even got booked at a few Undone shows at Corio, which were webcast on NYC Live Rock. Although I still felt the butterflies in my stomach, with each performance I gained more confidence. …Which brings us pretty much up to date (although I am sure I will reflect back on some stories/adventures every now and again).
Taking a cue from one of my favorite books of all time, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I decided to read two books a week: a non-fiction work and a fun one. I did not think I would have the time with my day job and other responsibilities to try to read two a day, however in the two weeks since I have begun this project I have been able to read one a day (but I am still trying to keep it at two a week just to have time to practice and what not).
I do realize that in a recession I should not complain about having a job. That said, although I am happy to be working, I do find myself super frustrated most days. In 31 years of life, I have never been a morning person.
Then last weekend, I was feeling more frustrated than usual. As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been taking stock on everything since I started this whole music thing. I have two acoustic guitars (I refuse to use that wrist slasher of an electric), I have a small practice amp, a few cords, a few pics, two capos, a stomp box and 11 original songs (they may not be epic masterpieces, but I composed them begin to end, and I think they are swell). I am also fluent in the two aforementioned covers as well as most of Jack’s Mannequin’s Everything in Transit album.
For my two non-fiction books for the past two weeks, I’ve done my research. Jessica Hopper recommends an octave pedal to fill out a guitar sound (I tend to hit a lot of the high strings in my current songs) in her Girls Guide to Rocking (It’s aimed for teens, but I really did get some good ideas out of it…plus she is a Chi-town gal). So I trudged through a steady downpour of rain to Guitar Center (again) to test what the Electro-Harmonix Pog sounded like with my Bubinga. I thought too many octaves sounded like an organ, but I figured I might get some use with the lower octave, especially if I had to play solo.
The next day, half-jokingly, I asked my friends on Facebook if I should get the pedal, a mic for my iPod, or a pick-up and pre-amp for the pink guy? It turned out to be a pretty busy day at the office, so I did not get to check my poll until later that afternoon. I was surprised to find a long thread of responses. To make a long story short, turns out I do not have to buy anything. Vito, Rev Luv’s guitar player, had both a pick-up and an octave pedal just lying around the practice space so he sent them to me. I wish everything in life worked out so easily.
One bartender at Niagara introduced Charlotte and I (The Merch Grrls) to a drummer, Este, and we began practicing once a week at Tu Casa in the East Village. Mostly we met after work for an hour or two and attempted to go over a cover of “Handle with Care” and learn the two new songs I had written, “The Way You Look (audio link)” and “Forgive and Forget.”
For my birthday, Marky had bought me a glittery blue Retro H Daisy Rock, but the pick-up kept falling. Every few songs I could hear the sound change. I would have to stop, pull out a screwdriver and adjust. After that became intolerable he sold it and bought me a three-quarter scale Greco that had these two little screws jutting out of the bridge that would cut up my hand when I played it.
The drums in the studio were a sorry set. The rims were bent beyond belief and the cymbals had large chunks missing. Nevertheless, we were contented to have a back beat. After another handful of practices we booked a show for the Antagonist annual holiday party. Ironically we got the late slot, which meant Schocholautte was opening for us. Although it was not a tragedy of Spinal-Tap proportions, Este was not interested in performing live.
The Merch Grrls played its first official gig at Niagara in December 2008 with a drummer, Joe, and Marky on lead guitar. We had two practices with Joe and none with Mark, but he had been playing long with a recording we had made the night before in preparation. The boys were fantastic and really made us sound like what I thought a band was supposed to sound like. Unfortunately, we girls were just plain off.
My legs were shaking so much I thought I was going to drill a hole right through the floor, and I had the worst case of verbal diarrhea imaginable. Every sound that came out of my mouth quivered off key. Every attempt at humor was an utter disaster. I could not wait to get to the next song only so we could do the song after that and the song after that. I cringed with every missed note.
When we finally played “One More Whiskey and Water,” our usual finale, I was relieved the show was over. Although I thought the performance probably was not as bad from the audience’s point of view as it was in my head, I ran into the kitchen to pack up my gear and wallow in my disappointment. All I wanted to do was be good, but the more I thought about it, the more I did not know what “good” meant.
So what is a girl with a guitar and a few songs to do? Why, she should start another band, of course (and by “start a band,” I mean “find a bass player”)!
Fortunately, I just happened to know a bass player who was looking to start a band. Char and I were already spending much time working together as merch girls for other bands, participating in local music video filmings, and boozing in bars in and around the East Village that forming a band seemed like a natural progression. More so, we had the same vision.
So in what little spare time having three jobs apiece afforded, we began to practice. We would rehearse in Tompkins Square Park, in bar basements, in my livingroom, or anywhere. For fun, we started covering “Honest” by the Long Winters and Mike Jordan’s “One More Whiskey and Water (link covered by Michael McDermott),” because we figured we could relate to the lyrics and they were somewhat easy to play…at least they were somewhat easy the way we played them.
The band name, the Merch Grrls, came about pretty easily as well since that was what we were usually. We sold merch for the Antagonist Art Movement’s art slams every Thursday night and other occasional openings. We also sold merch for bands like the Duke Spirit and Ayabie. Other people either loved the name or loathed it, but we thought it was suitable so we kept it.
Artist James Rubio had a housewarming party in Jersey City, and Schocholautte was playing. He and comedian Julian Stockdale invited the Merch Grrls to open, and Char and I thought it would be amusing. We had a handful of practices and learned a cover of Cinderella’s “Shelter Me” to add to our four song set. There was just one thing I did not count on…stage fright.
Once all eyes were on me, all I could think about was how every single part of my body was jittery. I was proud of my song and the way we performed the covers, but no matter how much I tried to convince myself that I was surrounded by friends and that everything was okay, I could not relax. In retrospect, I think I was self conscious. I was worried too much about what the audience thought, even though they were mostly friends and close acquaintances. Perhaps it would have been better had I performed first in a room of complete strangers.
I did everything one is not supposed to do. I acknowledged my mistakes, and I started songs over. I even apologized to the crowd. I do not think I stopped sweating until about 20 minutes and two Red Stripes after we had finished.