Split Split definitive definitive
It’s the old story. You and your mates form a band. You’re convinced international stardom is imminent. Six months later it all implodes. Tony Clayton-Lea has the gruesome details of the classic band split
And tto think your first demo sounded so good! There you were – you and your mates, in your rehearsal space, in your sewn-on jeans and your late teenage sweat, listening back to the not-really-brilliant recording of a few of your early attempts at songwriting.
You can hear the flaws in the tunes, and at least one of your band mates mutters swear words above the sound of the music, but the sense you all get from this first playback is that the ability to pluck the elusive “magic” out of the air and display it for all to hear, is in your collective grasp. You have yet to acknowledge the existence of the phrase “creative differences” because you and your mates are lifelong friends. You are blood brothers and sisters. You are the five musketeers or the riot grrls you don’t want to mess with that. You are one and you are the same – yes, even the percussionist you don’t know very well and whom you asked to join the band because she knew what a coaxial cable looked like.
Consider yourself lucky if you’re in a band that actually manages to get out of the garage – most bands don’t get that far. After a few attempts at trying to acquire some level of musicianship and songwriting know-how, many bands realise that the logistics of actually getting time to rehearse can be mind-boggling. That pesky thing your parents unfairly – like, really unfairly – term “real life” often kicks it right out of the playing field.
Interestingly, however, you start to understand something your parents have been familiar with for quite some time: self-sacrifice. You don’t mind travelling long distances, bus-hopping, for virtually no financial gain. And you don’t mind being stuck in a room with the other people, because they’re dreaming the same dream as you. So what if the drummer is a full-time medical student? So what if the guitarist works part-time as assistant manager at Dorothy Perkins? So what if the bass player smokes more jazz Woodbines than you’d ideally like? And so what if your good self – the band’s rather slim, good-looking lead singer – is married and is the parent of two kids under the age of five?
You make it out of the garage; you overcome the nitty-gritty of time pressure and personal commitments, and you start writing songs that you eventually play to your friends and family. The responses are encouraging – even from your uncle with the ridiculous ponytail (he likes the “vibe” of the tunes, which makes you feel a bit queasy). The very early gigs go reasonably well, although at each subsequent show your guest list for friends and family members decreases. Yet you are progressing nicely, gradually. You get reviews from a few enthusiastic bloggers, and a week later, at your next gig, you see more people paying in than are on the guest list.
You notice, however, that the guitarist likes to direct the collective songwriting style (well, it’s supposed to be collective) more to her own taste than to anyone else’s. You notice that the bass player likes to really show off on stage. You notice that the drummer is requesting more fills and breaks so that, as he says, “I can express myself better”. You also notice that the percussion player’s boyfriend is extremely handsome. But you bite your tongue and you zip your lip. Focus. Focus. Focus.
Within a year, you sign a small record deal with a solid indie label. You release your debut single, and have a batch of about 20 new songs that you all reckon you can whittle down to 13 for your debut album.
Sadly, however, the recording of your debut album never happens. Why? Well, the good ship goes down in a manner something like the following: the guitarist feels the new tracks sounds dated and wants to write all subsequent material on her own. The bass player (who you always thought was a bit dodge) has upset his drug-dealing friends and ends up with two broken arms. The drummer wants to bring a pair of bongos on stage, but is vetoed, so he walks. The percussion player finds out about you and her boyfriend’s weekend away in Carlingford, and tries (almost successfully) to ram her mini xylophone down your throat.
Which means that for the next few weeks you will not be able to sing. You come to the conclusion that reality is indeed a bummer. And that first demo? It doesn’t sound so good now. The “vibe” just wasn’t right, was it?