For some of us, half the battle of being in a band is having the wherewithal to start one in the first place. Even if you're not a musician, you probably have at least one musician friend who has a ton of fancy gear in his or her basement but has never started a band -- let alone played a show. (Those folks are called the "never been gigged" set, as they're often people selling lots of good musical equipment on Craigslist that has never been used outside their home.)
My last band broke up about a year and a half ago, and I have been playing the sad-widow card ever since, laying all the blame for me not playing with a new band on the fact that I can't get over my old band being, well, long over. Every time I go to a show, I run into someone who excitedly asks, "Are you playing with a new band yet?" The answer, of course, is no (though I am lucky people even gave enough of a shit about my last band to inquire what I might be doing now).
But at last week's Girls Rock Camp, as I attempted to teach a group of nine- and ten-year-olds how to be in a band, I found myself wondering why I couldn't just take my own advice and be in a band.
At Girls Rock Camp, we teach the girls that their band can be and sound like anything: "There are no rules!" we tell them. "Write a song about whatever you want!" we proclaim. So when it comes to starting my own band as an adult, why do I pretend there are all of these invisible parameters around what it takes to be in a band? Now in year four of volunteering at Girls Rock Camp, I found myself learning a lot just by attempting to teach others a few things that I myself had yet to master.
I have to say that, based on observation and interaction, my little band of ladies weren't necessarily friends outside of the camp where they had to spend time together doing actual band stuff, but it didn't seem to matter. Regardless of whether they maintained any kind of BFF status, they still managed to come up with a band name in one sitting, write a song in less than an hour, then spend the remaining allotted time perfecting their sound. They were the most efficient band I have ever worked with -- or witnessed.
I'm not saying they weren't friendly with each other, but the members of this band definitely had a strictly professional relationship. It was interesting to see a band work so democratically: When musicians haven't had years to develop egos that inevitably wall off any feedback from coming their way, they can get a lot done.
This little band even managed to breeze through a mock interview in a way that made me wonder why so many adult bands can't seem to get it together when talking to the press. No one in this band -- they were called the Exploding Diamonds, by the way, after a few other possibilities like the Yadda Yadda Guavas were ruled out -- talked over each other. No one disagreed when discussing the meaning behind their song. There were some eye rolls here and there, but rolling your eyes and being a nine-year-old girl go hand in hand.
There are many components to Girls Rock Camp; beyond instrument instruction and band practice, these little women spend time in workshops that explore such topics as "conflict resolution," "stage presence" and "activism in music." The Exploding Diamonds didn't seem to need any help in resolving conflict -- unlike the rest of my daily reality, where everyone I know who is in a band could probably benefit from these workshops.
As I sat in the camp's break room during our downtime each day, I listened with envy as many of my peers who were also volunteering talked about their own upcoming shows, practice-space issues and the usual daily band dealings. The thing about being in a band is that (for me, anyway) it isn't just about music. Sure, music is what we do together -- but it is one small part of the job/lifestyle.
Being in a band is about being a part of something; some people compare it to a relationship or a family. These comparisons are both accurate, because when you deal with the same people over and over again in stressful situations, roles become clear. Someone in every band is inevitably the despondent dad or the overreacting mom or the control-freak big sister. It's just how things go.
But there is also this gang-like element to band life, one that is most appealing when you have chosen to be in a band over, say, having an actual family. When you are in a band, you are part of a group that is often identifiable to other people -- which is why the Ramones will be a popular band to emulate forever and ever. It's not just because they made music that is endlessly easy to emulate; it's because they had a look that whether together or alone said, "Hi, we are in a band."
After camp was over and my band of amazing nine-year-olds had managed to get the entire Oriental Theater singing the chorus to their song "Friendship Is Awesome," I was still thinking about why I wasn't in a band. If these kids who weren't friends outside of camp and didn't even know each other until the week they met for camp could make it happen, why couldn't I?
At our post-camp party, I walked into a conversation between a bunch of camp volunteers who also happen to be -- what else -- amazing musicians. One of them said, "I can't wait to jam on Sunday! But we still need a bass player." And with that accidental moment of intervention, I asked if I could be the bass player in this new, yet-to-be-named band. And it is all because of Girls Rock Camp.
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