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At a recent Chicago Acoustic Underground show (http://www.chicagoacoustic.net/) in which Short Punks played a set, another musician asked me about what rehearsals are like for us. This may seem like an odd or weird question until you recognize two important facts about Short Punks: 1) We’re a duo –guitar and drums; and 2) We’re married…to each other.
Issue #1: Where’s Our Buffer?
On one hand, it could either be easier to rehearse as a duo because there are fewer people’s schedules to coordinate or, on the other hand, when there are only two people in a band there’s no buffer. You know, the third guy in the band that keeps the other two from fighting — the guy who keeps everyone calm and reminds them to think of the bigger things. Like the bass player in Spinal Tap. Andy Summers in The Police. Instead, when we fight it’s two people fighting with no buffer. Two people fighting who are MARRIED to each other… which brings me to issue #2.
Issue #2: Play That Chord and You’re Doing Dishes for the Week
Being married to each other also looks like it could be a really sweet and romantic thing too. “Oh look, you can go to shows together and play music together and isn’t that great?” Yes. And no. Yes, it’s great to be able to share an experience like playing music live with the person you’re married to. But…rehearsing to play that live show is a whole other experience. For instance, a typical rehearsal exchange goes like this:
The drums roll along on an easy groove waiting for the guitar to enter with its clean, melody-driven riff. But instead, the sound of breaking glass repeats over and over like a Mack truck has rammed into a bottle recycling truck.
“What the hell is that sound?” I say.
Brian looks up from his guitar, his face serene, nay, angelic. “What?”
“That crunching sound. What the hell is it?”
“That? Oh that! That’s the my new pedal: The Heavy Metal Pedal.”
“What do you mean ‘why?’ ?”
“Why are you playing it?”
“I just got it back from the guy who modified it.”
“Well it must not have worked because it still sounds like a heavy metal pedal.”
“No, no, but it’s not ’cause you see I had him [insert gearhead gobbeldy-gook here]. See… so really, it’s not a heavy metal pedal anymore.”
“Whatever it is, it’s giving me a headache.”
This is when Brian gives me the look that I have come to term, “the boo-boo face.” A thirty-three-year-old-man’s best approximation of an eight-year-old’s face when he’s been told to stop bothering you and go out and play. Lips pursed and pushed out from his face about a mile. “Well, if you don’t like it…I don’t have to play it.” He puts his foot on the button and the pedal shuts off with a loud click. Guilt isn’t a natural occurence — it was invented.
“No,” I say. “It’s fine. I just need to hear it more. If you’re going to use it we need to rehearse with it more so I can get used to it.”
“No. I won’t use it. You hate it.”
“No, it’s fine. Just use it.”
“No, I won’t”
And this is when Brian has me exactly where he wants me.
I pick up my drumsticks and tap out an eighth-note beat on the hi-hat. “Just use it.”
And Brian with a smile I’m sure is somewhere deep inside him but unreleased lest he show far too much of his hand, hits the button of the heavy metal zone pedal and we’re off. Short Punks rides the Mack truck.
In the end, despite whatever happens in rehearsal, the live show is a whole other animal. Depending on the acoustics of the room, the quality of the P.A., the bass response of the stage, Brian himself might decide not to use the Heavy Metal pedal because it covers up the basic melody of the riff. One reason we play well live with each other (which I like to think we do) is because I ultimately trust Brian’s musical instincts on stage. When we’re in rehearsal, we experiment, try things out, but on stage, we play from the moment, the feel of the audience, the sound of the room, and also, from our own mood. And this is when being married to each other is a good thing. We know each other’s moods. I know when he’s had a frustrating day at work. Or, if he’s been troubled or elated I know that will effect how he plays. That happy little lick in “I Wanna Live” could have an edge tonight. Or, “Olivia” may sound softer, sadder. At the same time Brian knows if I’ve been obsessively listening to Ginger Baker or Max Roach or Shelley Manne. “Jukebox Baby” could swing more. “Good All Over” could have a back beat. So even if we know the details of each other’s lives and days, when it comes to playing the songs on stage, anything could happen. But more importantly, we trust each other enough to LET anything happen. For this reason, every Short Punks show is different — the songs may be the same — but the mood, the quality of what we’re expressing is always different. Which is why I’m still doing it. Still hauling gear out of our house at 9 pm on a Tuesday. Still hauling gear to rehearsal at 5 in the afternoon. Still in the back room practicing beats on a rubber practice pad. Still married to a guy with a “boo-boo face.”