Monthly Archives: March 2012

Gary’s Foot

It’s time I wrote this one down.

I kept diaries when growing up, attending boarding school in the bush, living for a year up a mountain in Japan, and for all the tours I did. When I moved to England in 2005 (a wrong move if ever there was one) I left all my wordly possessions for safekeeping in a location. While living away, that location got flooded and I lost thousands of hours of writing and anecdotes. My remaining items were handed back to me in a couple of plastic bags to ensure the mildewy moistness didn’t stink everything out.

The point being, I’m now going to recollect a savage story from nearly ten years ago without any notes. My memory was impaired by alcohol, depression, and the cumulative brain-damage you collect from headbanging at over 300bpm. I was triple-retarded by that point of the tour, and I’m sure that other people might remember it all differently, but here’s my attempt at recalling it and setting it down for posterity before more time passes.

Berzerkers’ drummer Gary broke his foot on tour in the US in 2003, one week from the end of tour. Or rather, he had his foot broken for him. We were on tour with Nile, Napalm Death, Strapping Young Lad, and Dark Tranquility. We were fast-rising at that point. Our gig was better than ever. Kerrang had flown out some people to do a feature on us a couple of weeks beforehand. We were off to Europe in two weeks to do a headline tour. All the doors were opening and the stars were aligning. We were starting to reap the rewards of five years of work.

Then Gary broke his foot, and the band hit an extended layoff period from which it never recovered. We lost our momentum and missed the window of industry interest and could never regain it again. There was always a modicum of interest there, but there was definitely a ceiling set in place that we couldn’t bust through. So it’s safe to say that this was the night that changed the future of the band.

Band pic, including drummer with two functional legs

The gig was in Poughkeepsie, NY. That town could be bought by a billionaire and everything recreated in gold and diamonds, but to my mind it is and forever shall be a shithole. Our motorhome was a little more crowded than usual. Our tour manager Akim had only recently broken up with his long-term girlfriend and he was finding solace in strippers. He’d bought two along, I think he was dating one of them. There was a good and bad side to this. It was good to have some caring, nuturing girls riding around with us, especially hot girls. It was bad to wake up and see a mystery blanket pumping rhythmically opposite me, then have someones panting flushed face pop out from underneath it mid-orgasm.

We arrived at the club and received the usual warning you get at so many venues in the US: “Don’t go down the street by yourself”. This was the first place where I didn’t feel particularly safe at the club either. The bouncers were huge skinheads with swastika tattoos. I made a mental note to steer clear of them and make extra-efforts not to piss off the staff, and got about the business of loading in gear and setting up the merchandise desk.

We played the gig and it was a good one. I met Will Rahmer from Mortician afterwards, head of the NYDM gang. I remember we were having trouble talking as the music was loud and he’s a soft-spoken guy. Everytime he said something, he’d lean in to say it and I’d lean in to hear it, except we’d both lean into the same side so to an onlooker it probably looked like we were trying to tentatively kiss.

Will Rahmer, when he's not hacking people up for BBQ

I remember going to the toilets, always a good source post-gig for honest show feedback when you’re a mask-wearing band. You’d be having a leak and the guy next to you would be talking to his mate about how much you ruled/sucked and would have no idea who he was standing next to.

I remember working the merch table. We KILLED it in merch that night. We had the usual tricks up our sleeve – a TV playing at the table, backdrop on the wall, lights, two hot girls flashing their tits at everyone. There was a pretty good vibe except Akim got upset at Matt at some point. He’d brought some alien dolls along and Matt bit one in half. Apparently they were expensive.

It was at the merch table that things started to go wrong. I was talking with a Canadian friend called Ivan. It was good to catch up with him, he’d given me a copy a Massive Attack album the previous year. In mid-conversation, Gary walked up shaking a bottle of Budweiser. He said “Check this out”, and flipped the cap off. The cap and some beer foam hit my eyes. I consequently overreacted. Before I describe what I did, here’s a little background:

I had just got over a case of conjunctivitis. It had gone untreated for two days before I saw a doctor. I had caught it in Chicago, and woke up the next day with my pillow encrusted to my face. Nile took to calling me Pinky, and wanted me sealed in a bubble. Napalm Death claimed to be able to spot me easily in the pit due to my red glowing terminator eyes. My eyes looked like they were bleeding and really hurt. To this day when I get run-down or tired, one or both of the eyes will turn red.

Anyway Gary flicked that cap right into one of my recently-healed eyes then chuckled. Gary is a big slow Western Australian. Well he was back then, I haven’t heard from him in about eight years. I wiped the foam out of my eye, snorted up a big wad of phlegm, and spat it right down the front of his hoodie.

I wasn’t expecting a happy reaction but Gary acted like I’d just shot him. He gave a kind of shocked “awwwwwww”, and stumbled around a bit, then started chesting me. He actually seemed to want to fight me. For anyone who hasn’t heard what chesting is, it’s usually done in Australian Rules Football when one person keeps bumping up into the other person with their chest, usually because they’re too pussy to throw the first fucking punch. So this neanderthal bandmate was chesting me and muttering all sorts of semi-coherent shit. The gist of it was he thought I’d overreacted. I realised I had, and tried to make the peace.

Pussies

I tried to make the peace by popping out to the motorhome and fetching a couple of beers. I opened them both, gave one to Gary, said it was a peace-offering and that I was sorry. That didn’t seem to wash with him. He kept muttering unhappily, bumping into me regularly to make his point. I even tried ignoring him and carrying on my chat with Canadian Ivan but Gary would keep chesting and trying to start shit. Eventually I had enough and told him to fuck off. To my mild surprise, he did.

Fast forward to the Nile show. They were the last band on for the night. Towards the end of it, I became aware of something happening. All the tour managers, Luke, and some of the roadies were all talking with the promoter and some staff. They were all in a huddle and talking quickly. Luke didn’t look happy. There was definitely something going on. I went over and asked what was up. Luke said Gary had been shoved down some stairs by a bouncer, and had broken his foot. I wandered away trying not to laugh. Serves the fucker right, I thought. I was tempted to break both his legs myself by then.

From here on in, Gary wouldn’t tell me what happened. Every time I asked him about it, he’d say it was none of my business or he’d grunt and stay silent. Fair enough.  A day or two later I got something of a story from Nile’s lighting technician and Luke. You got to keep in mind, this is all third-hand stuff but apparently it went something like this:

Gary and the lighting technician were up on the top floor of this club, smoking weed together while the technician did the lights for Nile. They had one of those nifty little hash-pipe jobbies and they’d been smoking buddies for a few shows now. Luke was present as well, not smoking. One of the big skinhead nazi bouncers came up and told  Gary to stop smoking. Apparently, Gary’s response was to flash his tour pass and grunt that he was with a band. The bouncer said it didn’t matter, stop smoking or you’re out of the club. Gary repeated he was in a band. The bouncer said, right, you’re getting chucked out. He started pushing Gary, and when Gary failed to move sufficiently quickly the bouncer shoved him down a set of stairs. We all joked that was probably the fastest Gary had moved in his life. Matt later took to singing modified King Diamond lyrics to commemorate the event (“He pushed him down the stairs….to diiiiieeeee! No! Gary cried!!”)

The show was over and Matt and I loaded all the merch and equipment back into the motorhome by ourselves. We’d made a bucket on merch but it didn’t thrill us as much as it normally would. The tour was in uproar. Everyone was having quite a time Talking Very Importantly About What Had Happened. We told Gary we were taking him to the hospital. He kept belligerently replying “I’m fine” and refusing to go. We eventually got him and everyone back on the bus. Luke and I worked out where the nearest hospital was. It was late at night, cold, dark, and we were exhausted. Gary sat on one of the motorhome couches. One of the strippers was next to him, sympathising. Everyone else went to bed. We started driving, Luke at the wheel. The sympathy turned to hugs. Ten minutes later I turned around and Gary and the stripper were making out. I nudged Luke and nodded up at the rear-vision mirror. Luke looked, saw them, and focussed intently on the road trying not to grin. His eyes gleamed. A silent current of humour crackled between us. Akim had been boasting to us about how he had got both the strippers to blow him and swallow his load that afternoon.

Melts in the mouth, not in the hand

 
And that’s the end of the story of how Gary broke his foot.

Except it isn’t. I won’t describe the hellish week of trying to do gigs for the Worlds Fastest Band, but without a drummer. I won’t describe the ten day deadline in Florida of searching for a new drummer to play a headline tour with us. They can be stories of their own.

What I will say is that Gary ended up with a sprained ankle, broken foot, and some back injury. We were in the hospital for hours. He organised a special flight back to Australia through his insurers and left from Florida. The flight cost around US$13,000. I heard he had a special seat for his broken foot, a nurse, and the best steak he’d ever eaten. I think I traded one or two emails with him since then. Luke spent a year post-tour trying to get him to respond to the simple questions: Will you still play? Do you want to do gigs? Gary would chat with him but wouldn’t answer those questions. He never played or rehearsed with us again.

We put pressure on Earache, the booking agent, everyone, to sue the bouncer for assault. No-one would help us. There was a lot of yeah-yeah-yeah, and then everyone happily forgot about it. People sue for a hot coffee in McDonalds. People sue for injury, loss of earnings, distress. Gary had a great case for all of these and no-one would help him. Everyone sort of waited for us to get out the country then washed their hands of us. This is one of the many reasons I feel the way I do about labels, promoters, and clubs.

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Brutal Gig

Uberrock have a story of mine about a brutal gig I did with Berzerker in Nottingham up on their site under the ‘Hells Gigs’ section. Anyone who wants the full story behind the gig on the Berzerker DVD where I punch that guy in the face can get it here:

http://www.uberrock.co.uk/hell-is-gig-shaped/41-march-hell/4259-sam-bean-the-senselessthe-bezerker-gig-from-hell.html

* update 5/6/12: My good friend Mr.P found the youtube clip of the punch for your delectation at :  http://youtu.be/OtSafjE9IeQ?t=4m20s

Additionally, I found a brief electronic diary note from that show. We were travelling with a friend called Nails who’s a purveyor of snuff and porn (or at least was) and we wanted to incorporate projections and visuals into the show so we could have a truly classy multimedia event. We waded through a bunch of horrifyingly nasty footage while travelling on the bus and selected the highlights. Thus the Nottingham show was preceded with me  handing the sound desk a remote control and instructing them to commence the video “at the part where the pig gets blowtorched”.

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Ten Steps to Instant Stage Presence

I went to another metal gig the other week and got bored into a living coma. Death Metal bands tend to continually fuck one important thing up when they’re onstage: stage presence. A gig is not just a chance to replicate your music note-for-perfect-note, it’s an opportunity to get people off on what you do, and how you handle yourself on stage is an important part of that. This is angry energy music, not freaking chamber music.

Below are listed some basics for creating instant state presence. With the live bands I’ve done, we’d try and adhere to these as much as possible. These are guidelines, not so much fast rules. I saw Deftones recently do an amazing gig, intimate for a theatre, and the band members broke all the rules I’m about to make. They shuffled self-conciously, never looked up, stayed fixed to the ground…and they were still spellbinding. Your band will create a stage-presence all of its own with time and practice, usually on tour when you’ve played every night for at least straight week or two.

However if you’re just starting out and haven’t had time to develop your stage show then follow the below tips. These will put your performance ahead of most bands you’ll play with.

1: Do Not Walk

 If you are playing completely savage music at a million miles an hour, you will actually create an illusion of slowness if you sidle around. Someone shuffling casually onstage removes about 50bpm from a band’s perceived speed. If your emphasis is on appearing to be as fast as possible then no walking, from any of the members. Stride confidently, jump, sprint, twirl…but no walking. If a member can’t adhere to the no-walking edict, then nail their feet to the stage and have them play on the same spot all gig. But absolutely no sauntering around. No. Verboten. And now that I’ve said it, you’ll notice it when other bands do it. Sorry about that.

2: Make your performance congruent with the crowd

 For example, it’s best not to play to thirty people as if you’re playing to three-thousand. Tone down the “HELLO SPRINGFIELD I CAN’T HEAR YOU” yack. Talk to people. If the stage isn’t too high, try get into the audience. Still play your hearts out to anyone there, but match the performance to the crowd. If their energy is high still throw yourselves around if that’s your thing. If they’re more into sitting down and focussing on the music and musicianship then tone down the antics and ensure your playing is flawless. Great live performers know that one size performance does not fit all.

3: Use the stage

Move around; let different parts of the crowd get to see you. Feel free to jump up on the drum riser if there’s one. Don’t stay in the one spot the entire gig. If there’s foldback, put one foot up on there. Play to other bandmembers occasionally, especially moments where you have to lock in as tight as possible. Movement gives the eye something to follow, if the ear is tiring of following the music. Success coaches often say “motion creates emotion”, referring to how you can change your emotional state by changing your physiology or making movements. I think it works the other way too – how you move onstage affects your audience’s emotions, or at least their interest.

Emotions may include both fear AND terror


4: The less you have to stare at your instrument, the better

It’s difficult to create a connection with a crowd by ignoring them. When you see people speaking in public, who comes across best: the person reading off their notes who won’t look up, or the person who glances up at the audience as they talk?

Obviously you have to look at your instrument as much as possible so choose your moment to look out at people. Sweep your gaze around, stare people down, glance…all of these create a feeling of energy coming out from the stage. This is something both Gaahl and Zak DeLa Rocha do well. This is something you will have to rehearse. Most musicians are conditioned through years of practice to always be looking at their instrument.

5: Work on having as few leads and cords on stage

Those that have to be there, have them gaffa-taped down out of the way whenever possible. Otherwise you WILL trip over them, fall over, and cause random unpluggings. Nothing kills a performance like tripping over onstage, or having to stop playing and go plug your instrument back in. Schoolboy error this one. I sometimes see even experienced bands fall victim to random unpluggings.

6: Don’t be fazed by any technical problems

Don’t yell at the mixer or foldback guy mid-gig. Don’t make your between song banter a tirade at front-of-house. If you have technical problems, get about fixing them with as little drama as possible.
Early Berzerker shows were often write-offs as the singer would spend the first third of the set ignoring the performance and yelling at the stagehands and soundguys to get the sound right. The integrity of the songs was impaired, and the crowd were embarrassed and uncomfortable no matter how good you’d get the sound for the last half of the set.

That’s not to say don’t signal front of house, or the monitor guys, and give them brief instructions between songs. Hell, make light of them! Asking for more guitar in the mix? Command over the microphone: “Soundman! The people cry for more guitar! GIVE THEM MORE GUITAR!” Broken a microphone? I remember David Vincent doing that, playing through to the end of the song without vocals, and when it was replaced saying “They don’t make ‘em like they used to, I’ll tell you that”. And there will be plenty of times an amp will stop working or you break a string, or the kick triggers will go dodgy and you need to fiddle about with them mid-set.

But whatever you do, don’t get upset or lose your cool. People can handle dodgy sound to a degree, or a five minute break due to swapping guitar leads or drum skins, but they’ll be less forgiving of a band having a tantrum over sound problems  *

7: If the crowd is a little quiet but you sense they want to make noise, walk down the front of stage between songs or during the quiet parts of the set with the microphone pointing out at the front row

People will yell out trying to hear themselves over the PA, and it’s an easy way of squeezing the most energy out of a small crowd.

8: A Big Stage Performance is different from any gig you’ve done

All the tricks you’ve learned playing clubs and pubs can be chucked out the window. To a crowds over 3,000 you will appear to be small…sometimes ant-sized. So they won’t catch any subtlety. EXAGGERATE all your movements. EXAGGERATE your performance. Festival crowds more easily respond to prompting than club crowds, so if you are fist-pumping or doing “oi-oi’s!” give the crowd time to respond…don’t move too fast for them. And any talking or banter needs to be done loudly and SLOWLY. Talking can be muffled or lost in festival shows because of the large space that sound has to move across. Make yourself as clear and commanding as possible.

9: Mention your band’s name three times during any festival performance

This isn’t really necessary at club gigs, but at festivals you have heaps of bands playing and lots of random people who happen across your show not knowing who you are. Mention near the start, the middle, and at the end. First time I played a festival with Mithras I forgot to do this. We played a great show, and left roughly about nine-thousand or so people wondering who it was they just saw.

10. If you’re not a charismatic frontman, practice banter

Oh god, this is such an Australian thing. You get an amazing band, brutal singer, and they’ll absolutely kill their way through a number…and then at the end of the song, the singer mumbles something inaudible staring at his shoes, says something self-deprecating, laughs self-conciously, time stretches….aaaaand the next song. Urgh. It loses me every time.

If you’re a frontman make sure you make yourself understood when you speak into a goddamn microphone. If you’re aware enough to know that this isn’t your forte then practice a couple of lines, maybe even practice your between-song chit-chat during rehearsal. Hey, Silverchair did it on their 2008 tour of Australia. Every night, same off-the-cuff remarks at the same point in the show. And if your band is hinting that you need to improve your talking, take notice. As far as hints go, that’s a billboard-sized.
The best band I’ve seen for banter – BY FAR – was the german group Knorkator (Devin Townsend runs second). The singer spoke totally in german and I only understood every seven words or so, but I was totally entranced. I was there with another foreigner who didn’t speak any german and she was just as hooked. Raw charisma gets you over the line every time but if it doesn’t, then practice your banter, or leave it out altogether.

Now that I think of it, there’s one other option: the old-school grindcore style gig where you finish one song and immediately start the next one so quickly the vocalist can barely bark the songtitle out before you take off. It’s especially effective if your show is all about violence, and it removes any need for the vocalist to scream anything but the bandname, lyrics, songtitles, and thankyou-goodnight.

* heard a Henry Rollins story about touring with Cypress Hill where they had a technical fault in front of thousands of people, and dealt with it in the best way possible. Basically, the lead got pulled out of the jack on their DAT leaving them with no music mid-song. They dealt with it something like this:

RRRZZTT <crunch>
<music stops>

B-Real: Hey everybody, guess what
Massive Crowd: WHAAAAAAAT
B-Real: We Fucked Up
Massive Crowd: YEEEAHHHHH!!!!!!
B-Real: Now, I want y’all to say “Cypress Hill You Fucked Up”. One, two, three….
Massive Crowd: CYPRESS HILL YOU FUCKED UP
B-Real: We Fucked Up
Massive Crowd: YEEEAHHHH!!!!

Apparently they promptly fixed the problem and kicked straight on with it. Turned a nightmare situation into a fun interlude.

Thought I’d also throw in this Nile gig as an example of how to get it right. Not the best stage performance, but pretty good considering how gnarly those damn tunes are. Karl and Dallas keep the walking to a minimum. When they stand, they use an exaggerated stance that denotes power instead of hunching over all pigeon-toed and self-concious. A technical hitch is dealt with onstage with minimum fuss. They do big arm movements that the enormous Wacken crowd can see. The song is announced relatively clearly. Jon Vesano especially looks like he wants nothing more in life than to transform his bass guitar into a battleaxe and take on the entire audience, bonus points for that. None of this came about by accident. When touring with them in 2003 I’d see them going over crowd participation, what to say, and what worked best.

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Getting Tossed Offstage

I toured with Skinless in 2001, and had never heard of them before until we ended up on the road with them. It was a unique experience in many ways.

It demonstrated to us the width and breadth of America as a music scene. We didn’t know who Skinless were but they were universally popular and well-known throughout the country. Everyone seemed to have a shirt or CD of theirs. How the hell hadn’t we heard of them before? We found out later that they had spent some years in a van criss-crossing the country and were hardcore road-dogs. We’d turned up after years of touring gave them a contract with Relapse, and bigger tours.

They taught us many things about getting by touring. I think the most important skills they trained us in were the ability to entertain yourself anywhere, the ability to sleep anywhere, and how to run a merch stand. Their merch stand was the best at every show. They brought retail cases and stands for their CDs. They had made a VHS tape about one of their tours, and they were selling that. They had lights, disco balls, soft toys suspended from the ceiling. They had a TV playing either the Skinless VHS tape, or some mad Hentai shit like ‘Professor Pain’. No, don’t look that up.
A TV on the merch stand was like a buglight at a gig. People just honed in on it  (“what are they DOING to that girl?”) and before they knew what was going on they’d be standing right at the merch table. Akim, Skinless’s charismatic New York dogsbody, would yell some cheesy sales line at them and that would be that. “Only two girls shirts left!” he’d holler, despite a full box of them being at his feet. “Last chance for romance!”

Speaking of merch stands I should also note that Skinless were all wrestling fiends, and they powerbombed each other through Mayhem’s merch stand at the Asbury Park metalfest and got kicked out of the festival. You know Mayhem? A band full of death? Singer shot himself, band made bracelets out of his skull fragments? The drunken malevolent norwegians from that infamous Wacken interview: “Who are these people? Fuck them! We are the greatest metal band in the world! Fuck you!”? Yeah them. The poor bastards could only sit there as the Skinless guys launched each other straight through the flimsy trestle table housing all their CDs and smashed the lot all over the floor. They were banned from that festival, the second-last one in the entire country they hadn’t already been blacklisted from playing. They managed a full sweep by the end of the tour when they were banned from playing Massachussets Metalfest due to a massive stagedive by singer Sherwood.

This story happened just before they got banned from Asbury Park. We had all been having one of those typical touring band conversations around the question, what’s something you’d like to do on stage that you’ve never done? Most guys answer the same thing: get a blowjob, get naked, set someone on fire, piss on the front row, etc etc etc. My answer was that I’d like to do the rock’n’roll thing where you stage dive on a crowd while playing your guitar. Y’know, except I wanted to be playing at 300bpm, not rocking out. You sometimes see dudes do that stagedive, they surf around the crowd on their back while still playing and get passed around the audience. I always thought it looked cool.

Anyway, fast forward a couple of days to the Asbury Park metalfest. I was onstage with Berzerker, all masked up and we were playing to around two thousand people. We were about halfway through our set and had just started ‘Cannibal Rites’. I was playing guitar and yelling into a microphone and quite enjoying myself when Sherwood and Joe from Skinless walked up and grabbed one of my legs each. I had a really optimistic two or three seconds where I thought they were merely going to elevate me and walk me around. Instead they walked me to the front of stage, and on a count of three I could only hear dimly through my mask, they threw me over the security barrier and into the front row.

It didn’t work very well. There were a couple of metres gap between the stage and the barrier and I didn’t make the full distance. I landed half on the barrier and went guitar-first into the front row. I think my guitar plowed someone’s face. My mic leads were tangled up with me so the microphone got dragged briskly into the crowd and there was a loud THONK over the PA as it cracked someone else in the head. Security lost their shit. I couldn’t see anything as someone had grabbed my mask and was trying to pull it off and the eyeholes were now around the back of my head, and I could hear the bouncers screaming “jesus CHRIST!”  In the light it probably looked like someone was pulling my face off. I think a couple of them grabbed me and managed to place me back on stage. I’m not sure how I made it through the rest of the song, or set for that matter.

Sherwood was waiting for me on the side of stage after the show. When I walked up to him he did a who-me shrug and said “Hey! You DID tell us that you wanted to stagedive while playing guitar!”

Be careful what you wish for.

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Creativity, the opening salvo

Received this message on facebook today from a mate:

In all seriousness though well done on the album dude, someday I hope to achieve that kind of creative direction and focus when it comes to a project. Any tips or insights would be very welcome!

I’ve got heaps of thoughts about this, but I’m dying for a cup of tea and a sleep so I’ll post a link instead to a famous pdf entitled “How to be Creative” by Hugh MacLeod. The guy had drawing or writing in mind when writing this document, but a lot of it easily translates to music. It is so right-on it’ll have you pumped up and kicking over furniture and pot-plants:

How To Be Creative

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