|A Life In Music # 3 by Lord Zion of SPiT LiKE THiS|
|Written by Lord Zion|
|Tuesday, 20 October 2009 21:07|
You know, I spent the last couple of blogs complaining about the aspects of the music business I don't like. I probably came across as a bit of a whiny bitch and I was going to continue with that theme and tell you all about the time I was asked to appear on Fame Academy (long story but they called me, OK!), sucky music reality shows and how a musician needs to retain their integrity. But then I had a change of heart. I am in the music business for a reason, so I decided to write about that instead. Maybe I will tell you about the Fame Academy thing next time - it's an interesting story and is an insight into how those kinds of shows are REALLY made...
This blog is meant to inspire. It is for all those bedroom musicians who are dreaming about making their first steps. Maybe even for those that are already on the slippery ladder. I'm also hoping though that the non-musician will get something out of it and maybe get an understanding as to why people like me keep dusting ourselves off and keep perservering, despite all the knock-backs. Perhaps this is a blog less about the music business and more about me as a person, or the kind of character you have to be to have any kind of success in life. I'll let you be the judge of that. This blog is about my (musical) first time(s).
Every first time on my journey has been special. Every single one has been the goal that I have remained focussed on until achieving it and it has been one small step in this tale of thousands. So, I will rewind and start at the beginning.
My first record player: I received, for my 4th birthday, a small record player. It came in a carry case, which you opened to reveal a small turntable, the arm, a volume knob and not a lot else. I loved that record player and used to play the singles of the day on it endlessly and, I'm ashamed to say, used to try and enact the videos in my bedroom, thinking myself as some kind of pop star. Looking back over my life, I believe this was when the seed was first planted in my head that I wanted to do something in music.
Fast forward 12 years and you'll find me at school. A typical, introverted, shy, fat kid. Had few friends and was among the unpopular set, frequently bullied by other pupils and ignored by teachers. Then, one day, the drama teacher mentioned something he was thinking about putting on called a Pop Mime. Surprisingly, to both me and him, I signed up for it and, next thing I know, I am "performing" to over 1,000 kids for the first time. My fate was sealed the very second I finished as I punched my fists in the air at the climax of 'Pour Some Sugar On Me' and received my reward: A MASSIVE FUCKING CHEER! That was it, I wanted that fix every night for ever. I've tried many drugs in my time but nothing - NOTHING - comes close to that feeling you get on stage.
So now at least I had a mission: I wanted to be a rock star. I remember sitting in my careers advise class, looking at all the potential jobs on the wall, remarking that "rock star" wasn't on the list. "You will have to get a real job", was the apparent reason why.
I left school not really having a clue what the hell to do next. So I left home and moved into a flat owned by a local guitar player. Unfortunately for me, he was in his 40's and had weird bathing habits including a snorkel and mask. But, he had taught the guitarist from The Cure how to play, so I figured he might know some people. I figured wrong. He knew no-one but he was willing to give a young, dorky me a room and a chance at singing, so I took it. Together, we decided to form a band. One day, I came home to find another guitarist sitting on the sofa. He was in his 20's, took one look at me, laid his guitar across his lap and proceeded to do some 8 finger tapping, something I thought only Steve Vai could do. I was impressed. Very.
Within a few weeks, I came to the conclusion that we needed to sack the old guy. Quite tricky as I lived in his flat but, I was cocky so did it. And then got chucked out. Never mind, I found somewhere else to live and, with Mr 8 Finger Tapping, formed the first band I was ever going to gig with. And what a charmless bunch we were! Somehow though, we managed to put together our very first gig, at a Youth Hostel in nearby Horsham. We were called Outlaw (oh the shame)...
A surprising amount of people showed up and we prepared to rock. I had no clue what we were doing and our set contained mostly standard cover tunes. Moments into the set though, I was in trouble. A smoke machine had been hired and, seconds after it was fired for the first time, all moisture in my body evaporated and I barely had a voice left. Then the guitarist's gear started going wrong and I'm left standing on stage, looking at paying punters wanting entertaining having no clue what to do next. Luckily, the drummer and bassist were seasoned pro's so they just started jamming on a blues riff, which I started to sing along to.
That night ended with me and the guitarist stealing all the money, sacking the other two and starting all over again.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was pretty much how my musical career continued until I met Vikki. By that time, I'd done a ton of gigs in different bands, recorded some demos, had some near misses, been offered deals - good and bad - then generally managed to cock everything up by being naiive, stupid, impatient or all of the above. But time moves forward without you and, one day, you realise it is time to shit or get off the pot. It was time to get serious.
Luckily, I had pretty much hit rock bottom. One of my many business ventures had managed to put me some thousands in the hole (not my fault, honest guv!) and we were about to be made homeless. I sold everything I had that wasn't nailed down, including my PA and gig van, to pay our rent and it was at that time that Vikki and I came up with the notion of selling her used panties on eBay for some quick cash. "Britney's Used Panties" was born and we were pleasantly surprised by quite how much money could be made out of the world's perverts. We'd go to Oxfam by day to pick up a pair of 20p knickers, stick them on eBay at night and, by morning, be £10, £20, maybe even £30 richer. Every now and then, we'd hit pay dirt: one guy in the USA wanted his panties pissed in. I was more than happy to oblige, especially when he was willing to pay $100.
Soon enough, we had built up enough cash to buy some necessary recording gear, a new (used) bass for Vikki and set up our smellyourmum.com web site (looking for a slightly more legitimate avenue to earn our living from!). Ultimately, the perverts we sold to paid for our very first SPiT LiKE THiS EP and the first few smellyourmum.com tees hot off the press. That EP was called 'The Pop Shot!', named after the climax of every decent porno film. Somewhere, in the murky depths of this PC hard drive, is a photo of a very proud me holding the limited edition 200 CD's of that first run.
Our goals, at that time, were simple: make enough money to eat and function, whilst trying to make a bit of noise with SLT. We sent out as many CD's as we could afford and, within a few weeks, reviews started coming in. And they were good. In fact, they were positively glowing. To be frank, with my mindset at the time, if they had been bad, that probably would have been the end of things. But it was not to be - they were great and they gave me the confidence I needed to continue.
Within a few months, I had written and recorded our second EP, 'Anarchy For Two'. Again, this went out and, again, got great reviews. It was time to actually build a functioning band around these recordings, so we placed some ads about and things came together remarkably quickly.
'Anarchy For Two' was released in January 2003. By March, we had the first full line-up and our first rehearsal. This took place in our lounge and was a strange affair. We were actually due to appear on a TV show so the first rehearsal was us just miming to our CD! I'm not sure what happened to the TV show but, after that first rehearsal, we decided that was not a good way forward so we went to an actual rehearsal studio. We gelled quite well first time and, by the end of the night, we were playing those songs pretty damn well. It was exciting times! Those bedroom recordings now had a life to them that they missed on disc.
The very first SPiT LiKE THiS gig was in May of 2003 at the Metro on Oxford Street, London. Quite fitting as that is where Vikki and I spent many drunken night, during our courting daze... Someone, somewhere, has a video of that first show. I remember thinking we were quite good and enjoyed people complimenting my vocals, but we weren't exactly rocking hard. Not yet, anyway.
It's very odd, looking back from where we are now. Back then, we had big dreams and a lot of them have since been achieved. I am not sure though that we really, truly believed that this would be anything other than a project doomed to fail, like 99.9% of all bands ever formed. Of course, our line-up has changed since then so, for two of the original members, things haven't worked out so well.
We gigged quite regularly then, one day, were asked by Acey Slade from Murderdolls fame to enter something called the "Trashiest Band In The UK". We decided to do it because; a) it was held at the Underworld, somewhere we had never played and b) it was held in support of Acey's band, Trashlight Vision. This would be our first time supporting a named act.
I am glad to report that we won the competition and were crowned the Trashiest Band In The UK. Surprisingly, this garnered us a lot of attention. In fact, 5 years later, we are still occasionally referred to as the Trashiest Band In The UK! Another first was at that show: our first manager. More on him in a minute.
Just before this gig, we had recorded our first EP as a band. 'Dragged Kicking & Screaming' came out in 2004 and was notable by being the first music of ours I heard played in a venue by a DJ. We were waiting for Brides Of Destruction to come on at the Electric Ballroom and the DJ played our EP over and over and over again! Almost (but not quite) to the point of embarrasment. Sounded great!
Our first mention in Kerrang! capped the end of 2004, when readers voted us the 7th best Unsigned band in their reader's poll. Quite an accolade and one I am still very proud of. We didn't even know that the poll existed so, when we were placed, no-one was more surprised than us.
We were on a roll going into 2005 and, within a few weeks of it, we signed our first management deal and our first record contract. The contract was just for an EP but we were happy as someone else was paying the bill! We recorded our 'Sleaze Sells...But Who's Buying?' EP in a couple of days and, within a couple of months, awaited our first ever commercial release.
Things change for a band when they make it onto the shelves of HMV. You become a "serious" band in the eyes of the world and you also gain a huge degree of self-confidence in achieving that goal. Already, just by doing that, we had achieved more than most bands ever do. However, before the CD hit the hallowed HMV shelves, it was being pre-sold on Amazon. Unbelievably, we were Number 1 on the Amazon pre-sales chart, beating new releases by U2 and Oasis! This was our first number 1 and it was followed by a number 5 on the Amazon CD singles chart, number 8 on the Rock Chart and number 13 on a chart prediction chart. Alas, our EP was disqualified from the singles chart so it never charted nationally. But, hey, we weren't complaining!
The first time I actually saw our CD sitting on the shelves in a shop, I swear I had a tear in my eye. It's happened several times since then and I still get totally overwhelmed and excited. It is always a dream-cum-true scenario as you know that people you will never ever meet, will pick that CD up and buy it. Bonkers.
Our first magazine cover came later that year. Skin Deep tattoo magazine did an extensive feature on Vikki and I - a full 6 pages - and we graced the cover. To this day, that remains one of the things I am most proud of. My sister-in-law had it framed and I have no shame in saying that it is up on my bedroom wall! Around the same time, we were also in Bizarre magazine and Total Guitar. We even got a mention on Coronation Street! Our fame was spreading fast.
But what comes up must come down and, toward the end of 2005, we took the decision to fire our keyboard player. Leaner and meaner, a week later we were opening up for Wednesday 13 in our first show as a four-piece.
In 2006, we decided that we wanted to record our first album. Our management at the time though, had very unrealistic budget expectations and it soon became clear that we would not be able to record the album we wanted and needed to record. The next decision we made ended up setting us back at least a year or more!
We decided we needed to raise some money, so I had the bright idea of putting the 4 EP's we had recorded so far onto one CD and selling that. It would save people hunting around for out-of-print material and, ultimately, save them money. Plus, the income derived would hopefully be enough for us to be able to then record our first proper album. In theory, it was a good idea. I still believe that. However, the execution was not right. Management decided to sell this compilation as the debut SPiT LiKE THiS album. Remember, things had been riding high for us and expectations were high. In releasing 'Scary Tales: The Collection' compilation as our debut album, our manager mislead both our fans and the magazines. Most mags wouldn't review it (as it wasn't a proper album) and those that did marked it poorly as it didn't sound or play like a proper album. If you listen to it for what it is - ie, a compilation showing the progress of a new band through a series of demo recordings - then I still stand by it but, as our debut album? No way!
So, shortly after the compilation was released (which I would still encourage people to buy!), we parted company with our old manager and wondered what the hell we were going to do next. It wasn't long after that that we had our first member leaving on his own free will.
Here we are, October 2006, a 3-piece. I guess it is right about here that most bands say, "hey, we had a good run, but let's call it quits". But that isn't the SPiT LiKE THiS way. We pounded the pavements looking for a new guitarist and, one day, I had a phone call with a guy who was going to end up being my bandmate.
Our first rehearsal with Cyndi was strange. He didn't play guitar like our previous guy and it was weird hearing our stuff sound so different. He actually didn't play guitar like anyone I knew but, by the end of the session, I had decided that I really liked it. A LOT. So, he was in! He had about a month to learn our whole set back-to-front.
The first show with the current SLT line-up was at the Pressure Point in Brighton, a venue I hate. There were loads of bands on that night and we were just one of many. But we enjoyed ourselves and, two days later, we got to do it all again at the Engine Rooms, also in Brighton. Once we came off stage, we met a promoter who asked if we would play supporting Towers Of London a week later. We said yes and the universe started making sense again.
2007 was the turnaround year for us. We knew we had to record our album so, we sold what we could and spent over £10k of our own money recording our debut album over the summer of that year. None of us could afford it and, truth be told, we only finished paying for it earlier this year. But it was done and we were - and still are - very proud of it. It was later that year that we got our first decent festival booking at the inaugral Hard Rock Hell festival. Originally booked to play on the "New Blood" stage, we were soon bumped up to Main Stage.
December 2007 holds some of my fondest memories, mainly due to that one show. Cyndi had been in the band a year and, in that year, we had recorded our album, played LOADS of shows and were now ending 2007 in front of a couple of thousand screaming nutters at a holiday camp in Minehead. Life doesn't get much better than that!
2008 started much the same as 2007 ended - gigging! At the same time, we were trying to get our album signed, something we eventually did in August of that year. We did a "soft" release of our album 'We Won't Hurt You (But We Won't Go Away)' in November of 2008 but, due to complications caused by the collapse of the Entertainment UK distribution network, the "hard" release didn't follow as expected. It was very well received on the HMV pre-order chart though and was often in the high slots prompting HMV to roll the CD out across 150 of their stores, nationwide. 2008 also saw us sign with a new manager, but that didn't work out and, within 6 months, we were on our own again. We were able to end the year though with our second appearance at Hard Rock Hell - the first band to be asked back from the first year!
We're pretty much up-to-date now and 2009 has been a year full of surprises. We parted company with our original label back in March shortly after signing our 3rd (and hopefully last!!) management deal with a German management company. For us, and our music, this makes sense as Germany is potentially a bigger market than the UK. In July, we also signed a new album deal with a Swedish label, GMR. We are literally a few weeks away from our debut being re-released within the UK as 'We Won't Hurt You (But We Won't Go Away) - Ultimate Edition' complete with bonus track and music video! More exciting than that, it will be released across Europe in 2010, the European release being another first. It will also be the first time we will have any experience in how the majors do things as distro across Germany, Austria and Switzerland will be by Sony/BMG!
In December, we will be playing our 3rd consecutive Hard Rock Hell appearance. Our first main stage Saturday night one. An amazing end to an amazing year. Of course, 2010 will be bigger and better with more festivals, tours and album releases across Europe and other territories.
I hope this blog has inspired some of you. Of course, it doesn't contain ALL our firsts (we'd be here all day), but the significant ones. I am also excited by the ones we have in our future. Maybe that is the key to it: almost the very second I have achieved one of these long-sought-after goals, I want the next one. The bigger one. The one that will move us a long further. But, hey, we have come a long, LONG way since those first days selling Vikki's underwear for music gear and, personally, I have come a long way as a musician, performer and songwriter. It just goes to show that great bands aren't born, they evolve. There really is just one trick to it all - don't stop! Every day will be a new challenge and a new adventure. Every day will have suprises or knockbacks or nothing. You have to take the rough with the smooth, be tenacious and work hard. The second you stop though, it will stop and you will not succeed.
If I can do this, so can you!
Until next time...
SPiT LiKE THiS "We Won't Hurt You (But We Won't Go Away) - Ultimate Edition" is released in the UK on 2nd November on GMR (cat#GMRCD9019)
© 14th October 2009 Lord Zion