Monday, January 20, 2014

Stop Standing There, Bass Player

Greetings, my devil-horned comrades! I have come to you again to share whatever it is I have. The Clap, the Syph, Gon, Clam, Slith, Gloff... I've had'em all, usually twice. But that has nothing to do with this week's column! This week's Q+A is about some jerk and his jerk-band. Read on!

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Dear Van Hammersmith.

I have been playing lead guitar in the same band for four years. The band is me and three of my best friends. We used to gig at least once a fortnight - pubs/clubs/parties, but in the last six months we have been almost dormant. We now have gigs booked for a month away and haven't all jammed together in 4 months. Sunday just gone, myself, the bass player and drummer jammed, and we all played very well, especially after such a long break. However, the bass player only seems to be interested in his own "Progressive Rock/Metal" shit that is bass heavy. We wrote the music for a whole song (his song) and nobody had any problems doing so. The minute I bust out one of the many riffs and progressions I've been sitting on for months the bass player just fucking stands there and isn't interested like a fat woman at a salad bar. My renewed love for music which has come about from listening to bands like NOFX and Frenzal Rhomb (more so their attitude, rather than music), gets punched in the face, and I'm seriously thinking about punching the daylights out of my best friend for being a cunt. I am more than capable of playing in any other band. What should I do? Sorry for the long ass question bro.

Cheers, Beno.

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Cheers, Beno! Remember, we are enlightened motherfuckers, and we do not use the hateful term "cunt." Remember, vaginas are awesome and powerful, and do not deserve to be used as insults.

Penises, on the other hand are stupid and silly-looking. The tend to care only about themselves, and they tend to screw up situations for everybody else, so I'm going to have to say your bass player is being a real dick. A dick-head, if you will. A dick-hole. A dick-face. A cock-headed dick-brain. What do you call your buddy when he's standing up? Erect. When your buddy sits down, point out that he's "gone limp." Get the point?

Ha ha! That reminds me of this time my band was touring with this other band. The guys in the other band were Brazilian. They spoke very good English, but sometimes they would ask questions. One day the guitarist asks me, "Hey Van, what is an asshole?"

I say come on, you know what an ass hole is. It's the hole in the middle of your ass.

He says, "But why do you call a person an asshole?"

I think, and then tell him: "You call a person an asshole if all that comes out of him is shit."

He looks over at his lead singer and then nods. "Yes. Exactly. Asshole."

Anyway, what should you do? It sounds like your band has already broken up, dude. When you take breaks for half a year at a time for no reason, or if you go from gigging all the time to gigging twice a year, dude, you're band is on life support. You're pretty much a free agent and can cruise with other bands. And if your old buddies say "Hey man, what's up?" you can just tell them, "We never play anymore, man."

Exceptions include massive bands who tour and record and gig out of their minds for years and need extended vacations to stay sane. But if you're trying to get your band going and suddenly you realized you haven't even jammed in four months, you better start calling around and seeing if you're still a band.

But to your specific question, yeah, you should punch him. Wait, no, wait. Don't punch him. Talk to him. Ask him what's up? Don't be confrontational. Ask him for-seriously: why is he not actively participating when it's time to work on other people's songs? And if he answers that he's not interested in that type of sound, you've just got to communicate to him that if song-writing duties are being shared, he's going to have to do his part on everybody else's songs.

Gee, Van, we never thought of that, you sneer. Right? We never thought of talking to him. But did you talk to him? Really for real? Because it wouldn't surprise me if you just internalized your anger and said nothing at all. Or got mad and screamed at him but didn't calmly help him to understand how you feel.

That's what you gotta communicate, dick-head. Your feelings.

Also, communicate that he's being a dick.

Look everybody wants to get their riffs in, and all lot of the time you hate everybody else's riffs. That's life. That's music. If it totally doesn't work anymore, move on, bro, because like I said, you band sounds dead anyway. But if you think there's some future there, then you've got to patch it up with this prog-bag.

Gah, prog people. "Uh, I want a seventeen minute song with fifty tempo changes and never playing the same bit twice." Okay buddy, the audience will totally connect with that shit. But whatever. It's a valid and popular genre. But it's way over my head, bro.

Anyway, I veered off on a tangent there. Okay, send me comments or questions at mistervanhammersmith o'er yonder at Follow me @vanhammersmith, find me and like me on facebook. And punch a dick today, even if it's your own.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Where Can I Find Love? I Mean Bandmates

Hey everybody. It's Sunday night as I'm writing this, and although I'm crushing beers,  I'm also taking it a little bit easy tonight. After all, tomorrow I've got to put on a fancy suit, put a bunch of old newspapers in my briefcase, and head out there into the mean streets looking for a job. My plan is to start in the mail room but then somehow get the CEO's hot-honey wife to fall in love with me, and then somehow save the whole company through the power of rock and roll.

Will I play the solo from "Walk This Way" while standing on the table during a board meeting? Yes, I think I will.

Anyway, I want to draw all your attention to my previous post when I told you that I'm looking for bands to interview for an upcoming project. Starting-out bands. Gigging-at-the-local bands. Your band. Read the post, then read this chump's question and my derisive answer.

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What's up, Van?

I recently moved to the big city, I've written some material that I finally feel it's not corny crap, but I don't know how to start out. I'm in search of a drummer and a bass player but my internet searches have so far been fruitless and I haven't been here long enough to actually know people. I need your veteran rock'n'roller wisdom on how to start fresh in a new place where you know no one, since I'm sure you've had your fair share of travelling.

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Another nameless questioneer. I will call you "Cheshmire." Well, Cheshmire, I have traveled and toured and toured and traveled, it is true, but I must admit I have not often moved to a town where I knew nobody at all. Usually I go to a town because there's somebody there that either wants me to hold them in my big strong arms and love them all night long, or because they want me to come and join their band.

Actually, I've only moved twice to join bands. Once was a very short trip, two towns down the highway. My lease was up and I needed to find a new place, and I was sick or riding the bus every week to go to rehearsal, so I just got an apartment closer to where the other guys lived. That wasn't such a big deal because it was only about sixty miles, but hell, I had to figure out a new laundry place, a new grocery store, everything. But hey, finding that stuff on your own in a new town... that's how you get street smart, man.

The other time was when I moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco. My band at the time, a country covers band, had broken up, but an old buddy was starting a rock act in Frisco and invited me out West. I know what you're thinking: "Philly and Frisco are pretty much the same." Yeah, that type of thinking will get you beaten up.

Anyway, I've addressed this issue in columns many times, long ago, but since I want you to read this new column instead of poring through the archives at that other website, I'll answer your question fresh and new! How do you meet other players? Hmmmm.

Here is the easiest answer. Go to where the musicians hang out. That means find out where the guitar and instrument stores are in town and go hang out there for a while. Don't just lurk around, looking like a thief. Approach and talk to one of the staff. Tell them you are new in town and you don't know much about the local scene. Tell them you're looking to meet other players. ASK QUESTIONS. Here is what you need to find out:

1. What are the bars where the local bands play. Who gives a shit where Aerosmith plays when they pass through town? Find out where Joey Dirtmonkey and The Buttfucks play on Saturday night. Find out what bars host the local jams. Ask about a few different places. Is there a rock bar? Country? Goth? God, I love Goth bars. Because I love Goth chicks. Sexy nerds dressed in fishnets and latex? I am there all fucking night. I spike up my hair and show up in a leather jacket and no shirt and walk around saying I know Jaz Coleman. Awesome.

2. I lost my train of thought. Right! Ask the guy about local practice facilities. They might be a good place to check out. They often have a posting board where people are looking for players. You might bump into some people too, but don't hang around like a dickhead stalker. Put up a poster with your details: "Guitarist named Cheshmire seeks band. Must love Prong. Email pronglover@prong.prong."

3. Ask the guitarist guy if he knows anyone looking for players. Ask about the local scene, ask about where people connect in this town. And if he gives you a dickheaded shrug to all of your questions, find someone else to ask. And go to the other shops in town too. Talk to as many people as you can. Usually if you ask five people you'll get five different answers.

After you've pumped these assholes for information, drop twenty bucks on some new patch cords, or strings or something. Don't wimp out and buy a pick. He'll say, "That butt-tard asked me questions for twenty minutes and then spent fifteen cents. If he comes back DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME ON HIM."

Next, go to a jam night. Bring your guitar. Ask to play. Ask the hosts who the regulars are and introduce yourself. Say you're new in town and you're looking to meet other players. You gotta talk to people, baby.

That's the problem with this internet thing, man. It's easy to meet people, but it sometimes makes people forget how to approach strangers in real life. Be brave, be cool, and don't get too wasted.

I'm out of time. Take care, babies. Email me at mistervanhammersmith on yonder with your questions. Follow me on twitter @vanhammersmith and find me on Facebook. When I finally get 25 "likes" I'll post a URL.

Kiss me. I secretly love you.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Dear Dickhead, You're Fired

I am so, so hungry right now. It's a little bit sad, but I'm not sure how well I'm going to be able to answer this question-- which I might point out is a brand new question, submitted within the last few weeks by... huh. He didn't sign his letter. No matter. I will call him "Thunderin' Joey Amos."

Anyway, yeah, I'm hungry. I'm short on cash and haven't been able to buy any food or beer, and I was waiting for one of my ex-girlfriends to come over and make me some dinner, but it turns out one of her more recent ex-boyfriends called up with a crisis more dramatic than being hungry. All I've found in the house was a baggy full of left over marijuana stems, so I boiled them and made some weird tea. It didn't give me much more than a mild ten minute buzz, but it did make my hunger worse. I'm starting to wonder about putting rat traps in the alleys. You know, for the meat.

But I'd better get busy and answer Thunderin' Joey's question. And then? Go to the park and eat acorns, I guess.


First, it's awesome to see you back.

I'm one of two lead guitarists in a 5-piece metal band. The other guitarist, the drummer, and myself write basically everything, and what we're writing is awesome - at least, we love it. Our biggest problem has quickly became our vocalist and our bass player, because they don't show up for practice and now they're both out of the loop on this stuff we've got done. To make matters worse is their work ethic- to say the least, neither of them have one anymore.

The vocalist sucks. He can write wonderful lyrics, but his voice is god-awful...but he's got an ego to the point of thinking he's god's gift to metal, and any attempt to get him to take lessons has failed. Even when people tell him he's bad, it just rolls off him.

The bassist used to be the other guitarist until I came along. Since he took up bass, he doesn't try to learn anything. He just plucks open notes instead of learning the material; whenever told to practice or if I've written a good bass part for him (because it's came down to me writing parts because he won't) he doesn't try to learn them, because "he plays bass".

The answer is obvious to me- fire them. They don't pull their weight. My big question is HOW. The vocalist got me in the band in the first place, and both he and the bassist formed the band; the other hurdle is getting the other guys who do pull their weight on board with such an action. They're all friends, and they don't want to hurt feelings, which I don't want to either, but something's gotta give. They aren't trying anymore. We have gigs lined up, and we won't be able to play any of this new material because these two don't know any of it.


I like this guy. No wasting time with hellos and goodbyes. Thunderin' Joey Amos is all business.

Okay, TJA, you're in a sitch that's very familiar to many a workin' guitar man: you're in a good band that has a few bad players. And the obvious answer is the one you're already come up with: fire them. As for how, bend your ear and listen to wise old Hammersmith lay it down, not old school, not new school, but (toke, toke) hi-i-i-i-i-i-gh school.

(Just joking. As I've already pointed out, my weed is long gone.)

You've got a couple ways to handle this. The first solution is the old "quit and reform" trick. If the vocalist and the bass player are the guys that formed the band, but now they're the ones who suck too much to be in it, all you have to do is have the other three guys say "Your commitment is no longer there, and we've decided to jump ship. We're QUITTING THE BAND."

Then you walk across the street, form a new band, and start trying out really dedicated bass players (not disgruntled guitarists who have been kicked off guitar in the band they started and are super-bitter about it). Also start looking for vocalists who... you know... don't fucking suck.

If this is not the way you want to go, or if you can't get the other guys on board with the plan (or if the band already has some name recognition that you don't want to lose by starting again under a new name), then there are still other ways to go.

If the most glaring problem the band has at the moment is attendance at practice, then there is a real shitty solution. It rarely works, and the people that try to enforce it usually end up looking like assholes, but it's worth mentioning. Go down to your local dollar mart and get a notebook and use it too keep track of attendance at practice. If everyone agrees on a time and someone bails, then mark it down. Say something like three absences and you're out.

Of course there will be an excuse for every absence (Dude, my sister was having a crisis! She had no food or beer, and I had to bring her my old weed stems!) but you've got to hold the line and explain that if someone is not able to attend on a regular basis, then they are simply too busy to be in the band.

Like I said, this is a dickish way to operate, but the important thing is that you communicate to the guys who are often absent that they are holding up the band's progress because they never show. And they either need to step up or they need to recognize that they don't really give a shit anymore.

That's right, boys: STEP UP or STEP ASIDE.

But let's back off and analyse these guys as human beings for a second, and maybe we can think of ways to "fix" them. First, your vocalist. You acknowledge he's a good lyricist, but he's a shitty singer. If he won't take lessons, you could suggest he tries an effects box for a few songs. Rent some piece of shit for a few practices and get him to sing with some vocal distortion and reverb for a while. It's a patchwork defence, but it might be a temporary Band-Aid that helps him in the long run. He might use it to make himself sound better, cover over his weaknesses, or generally hide behind it. If it makes him sound a little better at gigs, then hey! Partial solution.

If he's some kind of purest snob who doesn't think real metal vocalists use effects, then offer to bring in another singer to take over some of the duties where he's weak. If he refuses this, that and the other thing, and you find yourself just stuck with a shitty singer, then... well, not even my awesome powers can help you. Either FIRE HIM or acknowledge that he will limit your band's potential, and live with it.

As for bad bassy, I can see why he's acting so shitty. He started the band with bad singy as the guitarist, but he got kicked down the totem pole by a better player. He views bass as beneath him and unworthy of his time. He's bitter for being usurped. He feels marginalized. He feels... um... besmirched. Sorry, my vocabulary starts to go when I haven't been eating properly.

What I think you guys need to do is have an H.R. night. Yeah, I mean human resources. As in that woman in the nice suit who meets you in an office (sometimes with a witness present) to ask you what you want out of your career with the company.

Go to a pub and order a few pitchers of draft. This is important. You all want to be on the same team. You all want to be drinking from the same jug of beer. It shows camaraderie. Next, go around the table and ask each member what they want to get out of the experience of being in the band. Rock stardom? Good times rockin' the songs? The gigs? Or chicks, man, chicks. Whatever.

Ask each member if they are getting what they want right now, or if they think they are effectively working toward getting what they want. Ask if they think it's possible to get what they want in their current role. What would have to change for them to be satisfied with their role? Because seriously Thunderin' Joey Amos, your bass player is not satisfied in his current role. It's obvious he hates what he's been asked to do.

Look for compromises. If he's unwilling to give bass his full effort and attention, see if there's another role he could perform. Maybe you guys could trade off bass and guitar for some songs, like the ones he wrote on guitar IF he's willing to give 100% when he's on bass.

If the only thing you guys are willing to let him do is play bass, you'd better let him know. "Dude, it's this or nothing. If you don't want to play bass, then you might want to think about looking for another band. Because you're holding us back."

He's be pissed. Absolutely he will. He was one of the band's FOUNDERS. But bands that succeed make these hard decisions. If he's not up to the rest of the group's level, it might be necessary to move him out.

Just make sure he gets song-writing credits where he deserves them when your album goes platinum.

Do albums still go platinum? One Billion Downloads. Whatever. The Van is out of touch with modern society.

But I know how band dynamics work.

That's all I've got for you, baby. I'm going to go hit the food bank. Don't worry about me though, I've got a gig this weekend, and I should pick up a few hundred for it. It's with a cover band, opening for a classic rock band. I won't name names though. Why not? Because I owe people money and I don't want to be found.

But if YOU need to find me, just email your questions to vanhammersmith (at) I don't answer emails, but I do reply to tweets (@vanhammersmith) and you can find me on Facebook. Two people have liked me so far! Hooray, I'm internet famous!