We Merry Few

For the older among us, being in a band was something of a badge of honour; sure, there were more than a few bands around, but not so many that it was still worth comment when people learned you played in one. Musicians were and are not all that common, but music scenes are inherently incestuous and the number of bands expands until nearly every musician is leader of his own that features players from other bands. It was comradely, fractious, fun, and instructive. But in the modern music world the concept of the band is in rapid decline.

Popular music, in all its hydra-headed forms, has become completely synthetic – written and recorded by a few faceless producers using fake instruments and fake plastic people as puppet fronts. Only the two underground genres, punk and metal, adhere to the band formula. Of course, because metal embraces the spirit of classical romanticism, there are more than a few stellar one-man bands – like Beethoven or Schubert musical geniuses who only need the assistance of some technical experts to give life to the musical visions they have created. By and large, however, there are metal bands. This truly is a prized possession for the genre that often goes unacknowledged.

What manner of bands? Friends get together to play in a totem to friendship rather than from any musical vision. Truly, some of this author’s dearest memories are playing in bands of this sort. Or one man with a kernel of a vision gathers about him other musicians he needs to execute his vision. This is a more difficult, but often more broadly rewarding, proposition: great songs and strong albums flow from a singular voice, but soon the human equation enters the formula and other members demand that their song ideas, often mediocre or at best unsuited to the visionary’s music, get some recognition; the visionary’s well runs dry and he must lean on others for more and more input; members chafe at being vassals of a single ruler and the band splinters and is never able to find the right pieces to again make a cogent whole. Bands formed to get chicks or make money – this author personally never participated in such bands, seeing those things as merely as happy, yet in practice quite rare, adjuncts to the main purpose.

The guitarist has a new riff idea. He starts playing. Feet start tapping along with the tempo and heads angle downward as the other musicians listen carefully and consider. A stark drumbeat enters like a spring shoot soon to flower into intricacy as the roots of rhythmic understanding of the riff grows deeper. A few bass notes drop here and there like raindrops, slowly forming into rivulets as the bass lines flow between the crannies of the riff and cascade off the stones of the drum’s downbeats. At first a ramshackle affair, especially if the band has not been together long, but quickly confidence grows and the riff mutates as new pathways are suggested by drum fills and bass lines. The vocalist enters singing or growling nonsense words, merely getting a feel for land. Each instrumentalist takes his turn in the forefront to take the idea as far as possible and thus create more room for growth. The riff expands and eventually starts to contract back to its original formulation. One musicians stops playing and waves his hands and yells, without much effect, over the din. Slowly each instrument tapers off. The first to stop tries to explain a new idea that would work with the riff; the vocalist makes funny noises into the mic, the drummer fiddles with his hi-hat and tightens his snare, the guitarist causes his amp to feed back. Nobody is paying particular attention because fucking with people is fun, especially with loud instruments. Soon enough relative quiet obtains and as beer and marijuana are consumed the idea is explained and the process starts anew.

Most bands fail. Most music produced by bands is terrible. But the process is sound. Friendships will be strengthened and deepened in a very profound way. Personal musical skill will be enhanced considerably as playing with a live band, playing even the most simple of music, requires a quickness of wit and a dexterity of technique that goes completely unappreciated by the layman. The sheer personal joy of rocking out to a cool riff while partially intoxicated cannot be matched. With these experiences and skills, musicians will go forth and found a new band and a visionary will emerge to produce something of worth; even the greatest trees and forests grow out of mere dirt. The metal scene, while currently somnolent, will always have the potential for rebirth because its seeds rest in the structure and process of the band.

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14 thoughts on “We Merry Few”

  1. Brunhilde Fan #1 says:

    Being in a band is cool! Huh… Wow!

    1. Charles Stuart says:

      Yes, it is cool. But not nearly as personally fulfilling as being a snide asshole in the comments section.

  2. dead butt dreaming says:

    I’m getting really mixed messages here

    Isn’t the cool thing now to denounce metal except for Burzum and move on to dungeon synth and autechre?

    Please tell me what to do i’m so lost anymore

    1. Nespithe & Burzum says:

      The only good dungeon synth are the instrumentals from the bad Morbid Angel albums. Listen to Drawing Down The Moon.

  3. Dirk says:

    This is a good article, which talks about camaraderie, and it’s effect on music. You see hockey announcers talk about this a lot, but it is unusual to see it discussed in terms of metal.

  4. Although there are visionaries who can create albums successfully on their own, often times these one-man band projects don’t have enough ideas, and/or the music becomes too self-indulgent. When there is some “push-back” by other band members, and different ideas are contributed, the result is usually much better and more nuanced. A good example of the necessity of multiple brains is Emperor; The more Samoth was taken out of the writing process, the more ridiculous and pointless Ihsahn’s noodlings became.

    1. Charles Stuart says:

      I’ve never been much of an Emperor fan and I think even on ITNE Emperor is pretty self-indulgent and cheesy. However, I understand at what your are getting. I thought I made it clear that the good one-person bands are the exception and not the rule, if not, in the future I shall strive for more clarity in my articles. In personal experience I have found that the best bands have one person doing all or most of the writing. Viewing the situation from outside it can be very difficult to determine who is writing songs: again, I know from experience that while one person is probably writing pretty much everything, songwriting credits on the albums will go to everyone. I.e. “Well, Joe did ‘write’ the drum lines, and Bill did ‘write’ the bass line, so we all should just share the credit even though there would be no drum or bass lines if I hadn’t thought of the riffs, melodies, and song structure.”

      1. I wasn’t trying to criticize the article. I enjoyed it. Perhaps beginning the paragraph with “although” made it come off a bit polemic. Hah. It’s always difficult to find a balance when delineating who did what in the liner nites. My bandmade and I try to be fair: if someone composed most of a track, or came up with it’s “essence”, then it’s their song on paper.

        1. Charles Stuart says:

          Yeah, I understand you weren’t criticizing. When someone makes a good response, I always strive to fully acknowledge that comment. And I am always trying to improve my writing and, although it seems I misjudged, I thought perhaps you were implying my writing was unclear. Situation resolved. Myself, I’ve always been team-oriented and when in the lead, I don’t mind sharing credit equally. At the same time, when in a subordinate position, I don’t begrudge the main creator taking credit where credit is due. The trouble comes when/if you start making some money.

  5. Frederick Dinkledick says:

    Even being in a mediocre band takes dedication and sacrifice and will probably lose you jobs, girlfriends, etc. I have a degree of respect for those who soldier on with making music for little or negative gain even if their music is lackluster. Should note that I’ve never been in a band but know an individual who is in a relatively well known one.

    1. Charles Stuart says:

      You’ve got that right. Being in a band is often a lot of difficult work and sacrifice. I didn’t really write about that part in the article because it was not so much about that. I can tell you from personal experience it takes a lot of dedication and you get little remuneration in return.

  6. Become Just B says:

    Very well spoken mate. I have been there, and look forward to it happening again. Nevermind never being liked by others, or never recording shit, the process of creation is a beautiful one.

  7. The Socially Retarded Retard says:

    Being in a band sounds like jolly fun… in theory. Then you realize all the socializing involved and the drama band politics tend to create in the long run.

    1. S.C. says:

      That’s why the sincerest musicians make music only with and for friends and family. They aren’t concerned with recognition or money. If such things come as a result of their music then it is a happy aside effect, but they are not the goal.

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