So you wanna be in a band?
In 2004 I would’ve done nearly just about pretty much anything to be in a semi successful band. I mean almost anything. In fact I had already spent almost a year and a half playing shitty bars and basement scene shows to no one. It seems this was not enough to make it big. In 2004 I found out just how far some people are willing to go.
It was early summer and the living was oh so easy. The first real band I was in was gearing up to go on another American tour down the west coast all the way to (you guessed it!) California. I remember crossing the border, holding my breath as the border patrol guard inspected our faxed recording contract from a small studio in Riverside CA. On previous tours we had used a fake contract to get across the border as well, only this time it was actually real. We were headed down to Southern California to record every single song in our entire 5 song catalog. Could life get any better? To top it all off, we had also arranged via dial up internet email, to meet and have a “listening party” showcase kinda thing with the owner of a moderately large indie record label. At 18, it seemed this was my big break, I mean come on, my band had played a few decent shows in our hometown, played about 30-40 shows on tour in North America, and we had 5 songs because apparently thats all you need.
Our quest for international stardom began down the west coast, playing shows almost every night, sleeping in the van in Wal Mart parking lots, and rolling the dice every night hoping that the promoter would pay us enough for gas to get us to the next town. A few unattended bar shows and a few nights in the van and before we knew it, we were in the studio, perfecting our absolute magnum opus to date. I was extremely excited to finish this demo because once it was finished, we would have not only the greatest demo in the world, we would have exactly what was needed to get us SIGNED. Back then, that was the highest level of accomplishment; all we ever wanted was a record deal.
Our demo was finally finished, the sun was setting, and we were (sort of) lost on the way to the record label guy’s house. As we stopped for directions and snacks at a gas station (this was way before GPS), we noticed a pretty steep and large dirt hill behind the station. Then we noticed the shopping cart. Then I remembered I bought a pack of cigarettes, not because i smoked which i definitely didn’t at the time, but because I felt that was the proper way to pre-celebrate my band finally getting signed. Also,our guitar player Robb and I felt it was necessary to pre-celebrate as well by riding the shopping cart down the hill. Now, reeking of cigarettes and covered in dirt, much to the disapproval of our other band members, we continue on our journey to greatness.
Arriving late as usual to the mansion sized house our future master lived in, we scurry through the intricate landscaping and eagerly ring the doorbell. We are greeted by an average height and very above average weight man in his mid to late thirties, as well greeted by the life size Star Wars storm trooper mannequin thing standing there obviously protecting the front door from intruders. We come in and are led upstairs through a gigantic house, complete with huge Star Wars figures and various other nerd toys etc at every turn. He leads us into the master bedroom, where we are instructed to wait while he finds his CD player. Nervous and semi confused looks are exchanged between all of us, trying our hardest to make each other laugh while we wait. He returns with a CD player in hand and gets down on the floor, plugs the stereo in and then lays on his stomach, puts our demo cd in and presses play. Then, he says something I will never forget:
“Well what are you waiting for? Get on my back!”
Now. Lets back up a bit here. prior to this tour and meeting being setup, there was a few back and forth emails sent to this record label founder. One of which was a little strange, yet for some reason wasn’t concerning to any of us at all. He had agreed to a meeting with us to listen to our music and talk about our band (this was very common back then and one day I’ll attempt to count all the music meetings I’ve been in and just how many times I’ve been rejected) on one condition; we had to crack his back for him. He had some elaborate story about how and why he had back pain and how he needs it cracked very frequently. No problem! Thats all we have to do to get in the room with a record label owner? Little did we know it was so so so much more than just “cracking his back.”
So there we are; five 17-20 year old emo kids with terrible self butchered haircuts, kneading the back, thighs, and calves of this enormous man with our feet. There was a moment right after 3 of the guys immediately stepped onto his back after the initial request/demand, where Robb and I look at each other with confusion and quite possibly a touch of fear.
“Guys! Get on my legs!’ the beached whale commanded.
“On your legs???” I manage to croak out meekly.
“On my legs!” he adamantly replies.
Again we exchange another look I’ll never forget, then we both shrug our shoulders and step on. I was on one leg, Robb on the other. Just positively crushing this dude’s knee caps and shins and ankle bones into the hardwood floor under the weight of my too thin yet beautiful emo kid body.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever walked on the back of someones legs to get a record deal, but it is much harder than you can imagine. Robb and I reach out to the wall and window to steady ourselves as we continue to tread not so lightly on a gigantic human body and I don’t know for sure but I’m willing to bet in that moment we were both wondering exactly how much more of this absolute bullshit we’d have to endure.
Our demo plays on, so loud that I was half hoping the speaker would blow and we would be freed of this inhumanity. The last note rings out. Followed by an awkward 10 seconds of 5 young idiots breathing as quiet as possible and socked feet mashing the back and legs of a clearly unhinged individual. One by one we slowly step off and look at each other with gazes that were screaming for some sort of clarity in this situation. The man on the floor speaks:
“I like it. You guys sound really good.”
At this point we were all holding our breath as if we were under water in anticipation for what was to come next. Our foolish grins beginning to spread across our faces, waiting to hear those fateful magical words. Instead, we hear:
“Well, let me know when you guys have more songs…”
(Was 5 songs total not enough orrrrrr?)
He stands up, thanks us for coming over and explains quite bluntly that he needs to get some work done. We are extremely slow to take the hint and and then finally get it: he wants us to leave. Now.
So many emotions, so many questions. It felt similar to that blank stare hazy confusion feeling, as if a girlfriend just dumped me or I just got fired from a job. We are hastily ushered out of this oversized house with adult sized toys and adult sized broken dreams. Silence plagues us as we pile back into the van, like in a dream when you want to scream and all that comes out is a faint whisper, completely unsure of what just happened but also unsure of what to do now. Our drummer Matt begins to drive, as if on autopilot, to a place that was becoming a reoccurring residence for us: Huntington Beach. We ride in silent confusion until our destination is reached, looking out into the ocean of darkness, listening to the waves. The bubble of silence finally bursts when we all blurt out in jumbled unison: “what the fuck was that?!?!”
Allow me to unpack this scenario. I was under the impression we were meeting with the owner of a successful record label to showcase our band’s music. Turns out, we essentially just went over to some rich dudes house and walked on his back while listening to our demo. Can’t help but feel a little duped, a little bamboozled, a little bit fooled. What was that saying we had? Oh thats right: “Life gets weirder every day.”
Ive learned so many, probably too many life lessons in my existence, but what on earth is the moral of the story here? I have no idea. All I know is walking on a dude’s back does not in fact guarantee a record deal.