Doomed Ensemble

Guest Post by Max Pheiffer

A rock band is a car stuck in reverse. And many times, unless you’re a lucky one (which I’m not) it is a car that is careening down a dead-end road. As a guitar player, either rhythm or lead (it doesn’t matter, we’re all screwed), it is our job to bring the band out of clichéd garage rock, to bring the band up to the stage with powerful melodies, to drive the music forward stylistically, and to make sure that the bass player shows up. It’s not an easy fight, my friends, but stick with it – even the most doomed band of a-melodic pseudo-stars has a chance. A dim one, but a chance nonetheless.


Photo by pinkisawayoflife

Bands are a lot like a bad relationship. They trap you right off the bat with the excitement of making some music, they seem nice for a week, then BAM! it all gets turned around. Suddenly the drummer’s influences fade from his supposed Zeppelin and The Who, and he starts talking about how he “really thinks the Jonas Brothers actually have something there.” The bass player hasn’t been seen in days. The singer insists on using a tambourine on every song because it “just feels right”, and the keyboardist decides that easy-listening is the next big musical movement in store. We can’t let this happen. Not for one minute.

So why do so many bands turn out for the worst when they have so much potential at the get go? Taste. That’s it. That’s the answer. Taste. The reason that it is such a big issue is that most of the time, people are influenced by more music than they realize. Sure, in their ad online they claimed to be influenced by Classic Rock and nothing else, or maybe they’re a Coltrane kind of person, or into Metal. Whatever the false claim may be (which they probably don’t even know is false until it is much too late) it is always leaving out some stylistic subtlety or a shamed favorite band that they can’t get enough of (Okay! I love Blink-182, get off my back!) Whatever the deep dark secret or glazed over band that is hiding in their head may be, it will come out about, say, two weeks after the band gets really going. Everything slowly dissipates with the introduction of writing (but that’s another article. Stay patient).

Luckily, there is hope! And the hope comes directly from the problem. And here’s how: different styles colliding breeds invention. A moment of silence to take it in…. Good! Let’s continue. How about a band that everybody loves as an example – The Beatles (if you don’t love the Beatles please click away now and find a Beatles album that you do love. There is one for you, I promise.) Why were the Beatles bigger than Jesus? Because they took the normal and twisted it to fit in with each members’ style. The heartsick pop melodies of Paul McCartney mashed together with the acid-soaked genre-shattering songwriting of John Lennon were the main drivers that were backed by the often Eastern-influenced and subtle rock guitar playing of George Harrison and the laid back, smooth drumming of Ringo Starr. Let’s take inventory: heartsick, acid-soaked, Eastern-influenced, laid-back pop and roll. Somehow (don’t ask how) it all fits together to make something powerful, new (for it’s time), and influential. The mesh of sound and ideas that came from the Beatles was borne from their distinct talents that were not ignored or silenced, but molded to work. That is how a new sound is made.

With the apparently clashing, yet astonishingly innovative, style of the Beatles in mind, you must now decide if your band is really right for you. Not every guitarist is right for every band, and vice versa. Yes, it’s easy to just want all your styles, tastes, and influences to mesh perfectly into the next big musical phenomenon (unfortunately, we’re not all the fifth Beatle), but is it really going to work? That’s what you have to ask yourself. If you decide “no”, then move on. If the answer has a speck of hope, a long-shot “yes”, then work at it. No musical idea is completely unworkable, but perhaps if your band is full of arrogant musicians who want it to be their sound and nothing else, then a change of scenery might be what’s in store.

With all the bad parts of bands in mind, maybe a more positive outlook is needed. And here it is. Its all come down to this. The ultimate reason why bands can work. All of the previous has been about pitfalls (sorry for the catharsis, I’ve been in some bad bands) but now here is one glimmer of hope for your band: flexibility. In everything. First, every band member has a life outside of the band (for some it consists of girlfriends, boyfriends, work, normalcy etc. and for others it consists of writing internet articles about past failed bands, but either way, show some understanding). Let them live in the band, and let them live out of the band, and understand and be flexible when they don’t want the two lives to intersect. Second, musically, be flexible. Yes, your new riff you came up with is pretty tasty, but maybe it’s not right for the song at hand. Keep it in archives until the right song comes along where it can really flourish, and not only will the current song be its best, your riff will stand out as a high point in the song it does end up being in. Serve the song, not yourself.. And third, with your own playing style, be flexible. Nobody ever made it big with one chord progression set to one song pattern with one style of soloing. Keep your ears sharp to new grooves because they will make all the difference.

The road looks tough, I know. But bands are collaborative. As guitar players, we are at the threshold of ingenuity. We drive the rhythm when we have to, we provide the melody when it fits, and we melt the souls of even the iciest hearts with our passionate soloing. Past that, and the few pointers and pitfalls described here, we can’t do much else. But do what you can, its all for music.

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