About ‘Condition Oakland’
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TRACK 3 – CHAPTER ELEVEN: FIRE PROOF
Once we have ten songs down, we reach a consensus that we want to get another show. A real show, in a real club. And in order to do that, we need to cut a demo; some simple recording to give as a sample of our sound to a club. We had the demo we recorded in my basement, on a tape deck, but it was all static and bass. I can’t believe we actually sold it at our first show.
We go to our friend Chris, who has some decent recording equipment in his basement, which he calls the “Rock and Roll Studio of Destiny.” And he’s a good enough friend to be willing to do it all for free.
We decide to record five songs, and record them well, using the equipment and editing software Chris has. But it is proving difficult. None of us has any experience with this sort of thing except Mark, who has recorded once with a church group when he was like twelve. So basically, we have no idea what we are doing. But we do have an idea of what we want to do.
It takes forever just to get one track down. We start with ‘Collapse‘, because we know that one best and think we can get it right. Only, we all get nervous when Chris tells us the tape is rolling. We get through the first verse OK, but then Mark drops a stick. So we have to stop and start over. Then my voice messes up on the chorus, and we stop. The third time through we get it right, but when we listen to it something sounds off. It has taken us almost half an hour to get the first track, so we decide we’ll move on and then come back to it at the end, maybe. We never do.
It’s a cramped and tense environment, low ceilings, lots of crap and Star Wars toys all over the place, so after getting the first two songs finished we take a long break, standing out on Chris’s back porch, drinking sodas and smoking. It feels so good to get out of the basement.
We go back in and try to continue, but then Sidney breaks a string. A bass string. We think we will have to stop and go buy a new string, so we’re all pissed off for a second, until Chris says we can use his friend’s bass. His band practices at his house and leaves their equipment sometimes, so it just happens to be there. Sidney adjusts his amp to try and get a better sound out of it, but the bass is pretty crappy. Sidney’s bass is an Ernie Ball Music Man, which is pretty much the best bass for our sound, but this replacement one isn’t so great. It has a flat tone, and sounds bad, but we play with it, and finally get the rest of the songs done.
It takes us three and a half hours to record five songs. By the end of it we all hate each other and never want to play again. It wears off, thankfully.
We call the demo CD “The Will to power,” just because we had a weird conversation about Nietzsche a few days before, and it’s a running joke at the time. It comes out better than we thought. Fifteen copies of the CD are made and we give some to our close friends. Charlin and A both get copies, and the four of us do too, of course.
The next day Sidney and I go to a few clubs to try and get shows. The only places that we can get the CDs to are ’the Pit’ and ‘the Holy Ceiling.’ The guy from the Pit says he’ll listen to it within a week and then call us, but some girl at the Holy Ceiling puts it in as we’re standing there. She listens to about thirty seconds of the first song and then stops the CD, takes it out. We are prepared for anything, and she does not let us down.
“It’s good. It sounds good.” She says it hurriedly, so I don’t know if she means it, but then she says: “Listen, some band was supposed to play tomorrow night, but had to cancel cause their van broke down. So we’re looking for a band to fill in. Are you interested?”
“Hell yes,” I say.
“Ok, well, get here by seven and bring your equipment up the back steps. Just tell this guy Dan, big fat guy with a Mohawk, that you talked to me. I’m Marla. And I’ll tell him to expect, uh…” She looked at the CD. “Down With Strangers. What the fuck does that mean? Anyway, tell Dan you’re Down With Strangers. Think you can do that?”
“We’ll be there.”
“We are the luckiest band in history,” I say to Sidney in the car. “Can you believe that shit? Some band can’t make it so we get main billing at the Holy Ceiling? That’s unbelievable. That stuff doesn’t just happen.” The Holy Ceiling is a medium sized club, with a pretty good standing. Not the biggest club in St. Louis by any means, but one of our favorites.
“Do you think we’re ready for it?”
“Sure, we can do it. We’ve been practicing in our little basements for two months now, and we’ve got ten songs pretty much down. So I think we can do it. The only problem is getting people to come to a show with one day’s notice.”
“We’ve got to mobilize the troops.” And we do. We call up everyone we know, which is a lot of people, and tell them they have to come to this show, or we will kill them. And we mean it. It’s our big debut, they have to come.
And we want to do something crazy.
We have a big surprise for the show, and we’re not even about to ask permission to do it because we know it would be denied. We don’t think about the fact that they might kick us out or at least not let us play there again, but we are living in the moment and are thusly lacking in foresight. We like to call it not worrying. We buy rubber cement and two of those giant lighters you light grills and fireplaces with, and then test out our plan the night before.
We take the stage at around nine p.m. and welcome everyone, everyone, to the show. There are close to fifty people there and we know maybe two thirds of them. The rest are either there for the other bands or were for some reason compelled to go to a show, any show, this night.
Lane starts the song “Collapse” and we are all looking over our shoulders at the drums, awaiting the inevitable. When the drums come in, the big cymbal crash, the lighters connect with the rubber cement that is smeared all over the cymbals, and ignites. The cymbals are fucking on fire. It is incredible. Fucking pyrotechnics at the Holy Ceiling tonight, folks. Everyone screams. No one had known it was coming except for the four of us onstage. Mark drops the lighters and picks up the sticks, and when he hits the cymbals again, the fire is out. They were only aflame for a few seconds, but the moment has burned itself into each person’s head that has witnessed it. We run through collapse, never breaking a sweat. I’m singing:
“The ceiling of your car is collapsing down on us,
But we’ve got tacks and safety pins to help keep it up,
And I don’t care where we go so you should just keep driving,
Got the music playing loud and we just don’t give a shit.
So tell me something new,
It’s been so long since I’ve seen you.
So tell me how you’ve been,
And when can I see you again.
When it’s spring I miss the winter, and when it’s winter I miss you,
I can’t wait until this summer when we’ll have so much to do,
We can drive around for hours, we can make a night of it,
Stalk the people that we love, all the rest we can forget.
Caffeine coursing through our veins,
We might never sleep again,
Doesn’t matter who or where,
How and why is all we care.
We’ve got no place to go. We’re never going home.
I miss everyone tonight, but as long as you’re with me I’ll be all right.
We proceed to play our ten songs the best we have ever played them. We began to loosen up by the third song, realizing it’s going well, and start moving around a little bit. We’re not the type of guys to go crazy onstage, but we are putting on a pretty good show. Charlin is actually singing along with me during some songs, having heard them so many times in practice. Avery is there, too, and she knows some words. I can’t believe how amazing the feeling is when I see someone singing along to our song, my words. It blows me away. I know that this is what I want, forever. It’s like a holy moment, a sacrament, and by the end of the show I am trying not to collapse from joy.
Everyone who sees us for the first time says we are great, and everyone who had seen us before says we are better. The show is definitely a success. Marla is there, behind the bar, and she says next time we can play even if another band doesn’t cancel, just no more fire.
We all go to Courtesy Diner, and we nearly fill the entire restaurant. I ask the woman working there if I can go behind the counter to take a picture of everyone, and she lets me. I still can’t fit everyone in though, so I have to take two. Then I walk back around and sit next to Sidney. It strikes me, right at that moment, that Mark, Lane, Sidney and I are more than just band mates. We are now actual, good friends. And it makes me happy to think of us having adventures together, maybe even going on tour or something someday. But I am happy for the moment just to sit here surrounded by friends.
We really couldn’t have asked for a better set up. From this one show at the Holy Ceiling we get enough exposure to actually start building a real fan base. In other words, people will start spreading our name around the city and kids will come see us just because they hear something through a friend or acquaintance. We got twenty-seven people to sign up for the mailing list that night, and this time I didn’t lose the sheet.
Three days after the show we’re back in my basement practicing, writing new stuff. We don’t want to go too fast with the songwriting and get careless or apathetic about the quality, but we’re in a creative mood, so we are messing around, jamming. Mark is playing this beat that he has been working on that is pretty hard to play, apparently, because he was having trouble with it. It sounds really cool, sort of dancy, and Sidney is playing a cool ass bass line. I’m just sort of standing there with my guitar and listening for a minute. Then Lane and I join the noise, playing complimentary guitar parts, I play rhythm and he plays octaves. I’m focusing on my part so I’m not trying to sing anything, but I don’t even think a vocal part would work over this song, it’s complex enough alone. After we jam with the song for a while, we pause, and I suggest we make it an instrumental piece.
“Or maybe we can have like a yelling part,” Mark says, “Away from the microphones, just all of us yelling random things.”
“I think another band has done that.”
“Who cares? We haven’t done it. Let’s at least play through it once with yelling and we’ll see what happens.”
We play the song and at the fast chorus-like part I start yelling in the background, “I don’t love you.” And Sidney starts yelling the same thing, echoing me. Then Lane walks up to the microphone and starts talking into it. Lane doesn’t really talk all that much, but when he does add something, it’s usually good. After each time Sidney or I say, “I don’t love you,” Lane is now singing in a simple melody, “But I remember when I did.” The music is chaotic, but the fashionable kind of chaos. The vocals keep repeating, drilling itself into any listeners head, and we have our first “different” song.
We call it ‘Ever Again,’ and decide we will end our next show with it. I admit I’m a little surprised that it actually comes off. I’m still working on having faith in our creativity as a group and in taking chances in general. Being in a band is so liberating for me, because I have always had all of these ideas floating through my head, never letting up, and I finally have somewhere to put them all, get them out of me and let them take root, in the band. We are all putting ourselves into the music, and that’s what makes it work so well. Each of us is unique, and has something to offer.