Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I Wanna Turn You Off

Greetings young Van Hammerlings! Sometimes, when I am sifting through day old newspapers and snuffling food from old pizza boxes, the question comes to me: Van Hammersmith, are you really qualified to give young people advice? And then my land lady attacks me with a broom and tells me to get away from the garbage cans, so I move on without really answering my own question.

But I want to answer Ex-Eye's question this week. Because Ex-Eye needs help, and not just band help, but life help. He is under the thumb of a woman who is doing him wrong. I've been there, Ex-Eye, and I want to see you on top again. On top of the WORLD, Ex-Eye. But it ain't E.E.'s lover who is doing him wrong, it's his bass player, and that shit won't flush, baby. Because there aren't too many bass players who have the right to push around the other members of their band. Roger Waters, maybe. Paul McCartney I guess. Others? Probably. I'll have to think about it. Send your suggestions to my twitter feed or facebook page. See how neatly I put in the social media plug? For an under-employed half-hobo, I know how to pimp my brand.

Here's Ex-Eye's question:

* * *

Dear VH,
I play guitar for my thrash metal band and we have been having a problem with our bassist. She is rarely at practice, always has an excuse for not knowing our songs, telling us what to do even though she does nothing, and acting like she is so much more mature than the rest of us.

Her little brother (drummer) formed the band two years ago and he and I write everything. When I got kicked out of my parents' place I moved in with them. So I live at the mercy of our bassist (I can't get my own place because I can't get a job) and I wanna get a new bassist but I think she'll kick me out on the streets if I fire her.

I'm not the only one that wants to replace her, our other guitarist and even her little brother wanna get a new bassist. We've talked to her about her attitude and going off with her boyfriend for weeks on end. However, nothing has changed despite her many broken promises and joblessness. We got some shows coming up soon and I don't want her bullshitting the songs again. Is there anyway I can keep a warm couch to sleep on and have a good bassist?
Your new fan,
* * *

Okay, E.E., here's my first thought: even if you dumpster this sour-note plucking butt-fire, are you really guaranteed to get kicked off the couch? Aren't you her little brother's friend? Can't he stand up for you and prevent you from getting thrown out into the street? And can't you appeal to their parents as well, reminding them that they are doing a great thing by providing you a home?

Also, it might be a good idea to try to smooth things out with your parents. Unless there is a really dangerous situation there with violence or substance abuse or something, it's probably worth trying to smooth things over. Believe me, life is better when your parents are on your side.

Where was I? Ah! This is GOLD, people. I have some smooth-ass moves to lay down for you. Here's how to deal with someone who sucks but also has a massive power-trippin' ego. It's all about psychology, my Van Hammerlings.

Okay, here's the deal. Nobody joins a band because they want to be made a fool of. Nobody says "I want to get up there on stage and look like a fucking tool who's ruining everything for the band." Nobody says that. The problem is that sometimes people don't realise that they're actually doing just that. Sometimes people thing they look AWESOME, even if they've been putting in the absolute minimum effort, and actually look like steaming shit-bags on stilts.

Now! Here is how we need to deal with the bassist. CLEAN your hearts and minds of anger. Cleanse your souls, because what you are about to do, you are doing for her. You are doing this for her OWN GOOD! and it will not work unless you can be absolutely sincere about wanting to help her.

If she does not know the songs, and if she does not attend practice, and if she sounds awful when the rest of you sound halfway tight, you need to have a chat where you COMMUNICATE to her that you are worried about how the upcoming show is going to go.

Tell her you are concerned that if she doesn't know the material, she will stand out and she will LOOK KINDA BAD. People will notice that she is the one member OUT OF STEP. And this might be embarrassing for her.

Now make her the OFFER. Tell her you will do everything you can to help her learn the songs and get up to speed so she can be really awesome at the upcoming shows. But if she makes excuses and refuses to put in the work, tell her the best thing to do is TURN HER AMP ALL THE WAY DOWN.

This is an ASSHOLE MOVE. It is also an effective way of communicating to someone that they suck so much you would rather no one hear them because they suck so much. Say something like, "Look, it sounds really bad when you're all out of time and playing the wrong parts and screwing everything up. Let's just turn you down so you don't look bad. It will be better for you."

Tell her she can turn up when you play the one song she plays kinda okay, if that will make her feel better.

This does not solve your problem, but it gets things moving, because this should move her to realise how unsatisfied you guys are with her performance, and she either needs to step up or step back.

Let's role play how this can go if she refuses to turn down:

HER: Fuck you, I'm not turning down.

YOU: What, you want to suck really loud? We're trying to help you out here.

HER: Fuck you, I don't suck. I'm awesome.

YOU: Sure, but you don't know the songs. It's impossible to sound good if you don't know the songs.

HER: Fuck you. Read this long list of excuses I have about why I've been too busy to learn the songs.

YOU: We accept and acknowledge all of you awesome excuses. But you don't know the songs. You will sound terrible. Please just turn down your amp.

If she agrees to turn down her amp, you either get her to work way harder, or you slowly start moving on without her. If her work ethic doesn't improve, just gradually move toward her air-bassing with an unplugged instrument, then add another bass player who is actually plugged in and playing over at the side of the stage. Eventually she will get the idea and fuck off.

The problem with getting rid of a bad player is that the focus is usually on the people doing the firing. You need to make the whole thing about HER, and that's what the turn-down trick can give you. Yes, you will look like assholes, but she might figure out that she's not keeping up.

If you're afraid of the actual sit-down confrontation, try it casually in practice. Have her brother (who she presumably can't throw into the streets) just tell her, hey, maybe you should turn your amp down a bit. More. No, more. A little more. More. That's it. Why? Because you don't sound very good. You don't know the song very well.

I'm recommending this as a SLOW solution to your problem because I don't want you to get thrown out on the street. I hope it works out. If it doesn't, let me know and I'll try another suggestion.

And the rest of you are welcome to ask me your weird life/band/music questions. Email them to me at mistervanhammersmith at

You're welcome.