By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA
“Guitar is the best form of self-expression I know. Everything else, and I'm just sort of tripping around, trying to figure my way through life.”
Though a lot of people think that younger bands are living a life defined by promiscuous sex, drugs and rock and roll, the truth is that the majority of the musicians I’ve met are in a relationship, drink away the few bucks they make at each show, and spend most of their time outside of the rehearsal space working a pedestrian job. It’s not a glamorous life, or even a lucrative life, but your band mates become like family as you spend hours working your way through tunes, bickering, and debating chords and notes over an endless flow of beers and cigarettes. Our music is often times much too loud, though this is the case for just about every band in the facility with the exception of some vibraphonist with the name of a shrub or an herb who practices in the room next door to us and the passive-aggressive jazz guy who has his room across the hall from us. The former meekly asks us to turn it down; the latter leaves obnoxious notes on our door. Why these two have not opted to set up shop in a quieter locale is entirely beyond me.
Truth be told, Pistols 40 Paces, my band, may not generate the most pleasing sound to an older generation of people who find Bob James and Kenny G appealing. In fact, we may not even seem like a commercially viable band to such people. However, I know that our music is fueled by a lot of talent, a lot of bottles of High Life and the desire to create something entirely unique. It’s perplexing, rebellious and violent. It’s difficult, too, and it can be hard to keep up sometimes, especially when you’re eight beers deep and you have to hit several F#m7 arpeggios in a very quick 13/8. But you continue on, the riff eventually becoming second nature, even if your fingers couldn’t find the notes fast enough when you started playing it to turn it into anything that even remotely made sense.
Given the difficulty of some of the parts, we end up going over the same songs ten or twenty times in a given session. Consequently, practices go late. Really late. They have been known to flirt with the dawn, though sometimes we head out a bit earlier to have a drink. Typically we end up going to one of two places in the neighborhood—Lowlands (543 3rd Avenue, Gowanus) or the Draft Barn, which we have been calling the Booze Dungeon since it opened a few years ago. The Booze Dungeon is an Austrian-style beer hall that’s run by a bunch of Russians. It doesn’t pull in too many people, even with some of the best schnitzel I’ve ever had and a comprehensive selection of European beers. Perhaps it’s the cavernous appearance of the place, which certainly does have that minatory German feel to it. To me, however, the only real drawback of the place is that it closes around one or two in the morning. Unless we leave the rehearsal space early or stop in for food before practice, we typically don’t pop into the Dungeon, though it was, at one point in time, our second home.
The second bar, Lowlands, has become a staple over the past few months because it’s open until 4, a bit cheaper than the Dungeon and closer to the rehearsal space than any other bar. It’s a fairly new place, and has an aesthetic that has become common to south Brooklyn. There’s a certain element of elegance to the bar that makes it feel dated, kind of like a San Francisco dive from some grainy noir flick. A lot of musicians hang out at Lowlands well into the single digit hours of the morning. Some of them may not be from our rehearsal space at all, but just live in the neighborhood (Gowanus, which has recently become a hotspot for a variety of artists). Though gentrification is definitely occurring, Lowlands is still one of the only bars in the area—besides the Dungeon, of course.
Lowlands is the type of bar that is cozy, unassuming and usually fairly empty. This impression, however, may be somewhat skewed, as I usually find myself walking in with the band around two in the morning, arguing about politics or whether or not a portion of one of our songs is in 5/4 or some bizarrely syncopated 6/8. We take shots of Jameson, chase them with High Life and end up closing down the bar even if we promised ourselves that we would head home after one round. It’s not simply that we’re a bunch of drunks with a shared love for one another and the music we create; it’s something more important than that. True, we all want to be rock stars, to travel the country one stage at a time, to quit our day jobs and dedicate all of our time to writing music, but the actual joy of just creating our bizarre brand of music and hanging out over several beers in the rehearsal space or at a place like Lowlands is just fine. For now, anyhow.
Photo of Jay Fox by Ashley Sears