Bandalism [ban-d?l-i-z?m] n .: the willful or malicious destruction of, or damage to, the fabric of a rock/pop/indie group brought about by one or more of its members
Axl Rose's monumental meltdowns . . . Kurt Cobain's tragic band-slaying suicide: The long history of platinum-selling überband implosions is more dramatic than a Russian novel. But even local cover bands can suffer the ill effects of the limelight.
Multi-rock-band veteran Julian Ridgway's Bandalism is a can't-miss guide to rock 'n' roll survival, offering sage advice on how to avoid the pitfalls that can doom your group. Here's how to:
And much more, including the handy Healthy Band Checklist, an ideal MySpace profile generator, and the Second Album Venn Diagram.
The Right Band
The starting point in your anti-bandalism quest is, obviously enough, to form the right band in the first place. If you construct the right band from the start you are instantly removing some of the pressures of disintegration. But what is the right band? There are hundreds of different types of music you could be playing (or at least ten). Hundreds of different bands have been put together with thousands of different members. How can there be any such thing as a "right" band? How can you form it? What are you looking for? Good players? Good people to spend hours of your life hanging around with? People with loads of friends they can bring to gigs with them? Well, all of those. Sort of. But there's one more crucial ingredient . . .
It doesn't matter what sort of band you're forming, you have to have the right chemistry between you—the feeling that this collection of people is special, or that you're somehow on the same wavelength and going somewhere exciting. If you want to form a brilliant band, it has to feel like there's some bond of potential, some kind of shared and wonderful future that only you can have. Some of the time anyway.
Chemistry, though, is a very silly word. It's like "beautiful." A catch-all term people use to describe something they can't explain. Unfortunately it's the word great bands themselves most often choose to describe what makes them so effortlessly wonderful. Which is a bit of a shame, as having a more specific term available might be quite useful. Seeing as it's so important and everything.
Usually it rears its head when bands say things like, "We started playing and we just knew we had something special—this kind of chemistry." Does this mean people in great bands are just gifted with magical self-confidence? If you don't go around just knowing things all the time should you give up and do something more sensible with your life? Something with qualifications and things? Are people in great bands specially chosen ones whose works humble mortals emulate at their peril?
It seems unlikely. If this was the case, why is the history of rock 'n' roll littered with the rotting carcasses of terrible journeyman second albums, or bands that spend their whole careers getting incrementally less interesting? No, people in great bands are not Gods set among us (Johnny Borrell take note). They are ordinary people who got it right. Usually, just ordinary people who get it right for a bit then mess it all up. But when they get to tell the world about their band and its luminous interpersonal chemistry in interviews they are at the peak of fame. Nosefuls of hubris and a disorientating series of slaps on the back leave them with a temporary amnesia to all the hundreds of times along the way they sat round thinking, "Yeah, but are we actually just shit?" Oh no, by then they just knew all along.
So is it all utter nonsense? Is there no such thing as chemistry? Is it, like Santa Claus and social mobility, a beguiling abstraction dangled in front of us when we start asking too many questions? Is it instead closer to the truth to say that any band will do—that being a great band is more about a bit of hard work than this teasing phantom "chemistry"?
No. Sorry. Hard work helps and everything (it's pretty much essential), but great bands do just feel right. Great bands make the members feel, however much they may love or despise one another, that this is the band. It is this that marks them out from mediocre ones, and without it, you're wasting your time.
"Okay! What is it then?" you scream. Erm, well it's a bit tricky to explain. Like love, it comes in many forms but you know when you've got the real thing. Also like love, in most cases you don't have it but are deluding yourself to make life feel less hopeless. And again like love, it's very, very hard to define. But if we can't prescribe it, we can at least diagnose it. Here are five telltale signs your band has chemistry and five that say it doesn't:
1. You can't stop smiling after rehearsals
2. You don't want the songs to end when you're playing
3. You feel like you're doing something new
4. You look round the room and the rest of the band looks really cool
5. You actually sound good and people like you with little persuasion
1. You begin rehearsals hoping that the bass player won't turn up so you can knock off early
2. You know exactly how many carpet tiles there are on the floor of the rehearsal room
3. You believe it will all somehow click when you've been playing together for a couple more months
4. You wish the drummer wouldn't do that
5. You never tell your friends when you're playing gigs
If you're already in the first category, you have chemistry, so move right along to the next section, "Who Plays What." If you're in the second—and now you really have to be honest—it's time to form another band. And quickly. Think of how many bands you like that had made it by the time they were your age. This time it needs chemistry. And that means finding the right people.
Luckily, you are only looking for one of three things in a band member. And just in case you aren't so liberally buttered with self-belief that you know already, here's what you're after:
Band Members—What You're Looking For
1. You Like Them
The easiest of the lot. They just seem okay. You get on with them. They're the right sort of person. But how do you know if you like them? Actually, that's getting silly. You have friends, don't you? I can't do everything for you. Do you want me to come over and write the songs too? It doesn't really matter why you like them. Though in the case of bands, it's probably because they're a bit like you. It might seem like this criterion fits "nice" bands the best. It's unlikely that a violent hardcore band would lay as much stress on something as lame as liking someone as would, say, a delicate, pigeon-toed jangly indie band. But that depends on your definition of "like." You might "like" being with aggressive people who pay scant regard to personal hygiene and social etiquette. I'm not here to define all the parameters of taste. Sadly.