Sunday, April 29, 2007

Someone Missing?

In an effort to pump the Chicago Martyrs’ gig on Saturday, June 9th, for which tickets are now on sale at (800) 594-TIXX , I will dedicate as many blogs as possible between now and then to topics related to the Refreshments.

Our band needed one more member.

Even though Roger played guitar, he was more of a rhythm player, and there was lots of space in the songs for melody.

In keeping with our desire to stay as different from the pack as possible, we wanted any kind of extra instrument that wasn’t a lead guitar. We fantasized about a multi-instrumentalist, or a violin player, in keeping with Camper Van Beethoven. We wanted anything that was going to separate us from the sea of two-guitar bands that populated the Tempe music scene.

From this vantage point, Brian Blush was exactly what we didn’t want.

Brian was a lead guitar player in the most traditional Tempe sense. He played for six years in a band called August Red. August Red’s songs were “serious,” not unlike those of our previous bands. We weren’t looking for more seriousness. We were looking for someone who would get this new project in the same way we did.

Luckily, we saw past all that and set up a meeting with Brian at Long Wong’s. Brian was ecstatic to be asked, thanking us up and down for the opportunity. We learned that Doug Hopkins, the Tempe legend and former guitar player from the Gin Blossoms who had recently killed himself, was Brian’s best friend and mentor, and that our inquiry into his services seemed like a light of hope at a down point in his life. We were surprised he was so interested, so grateful. Roger got Brian a demo tape, and we set a date to practice.

Once Brian hit the intro lick of “Carefree,” it was obvious we’d found who we were looking for. His licks were so crisp and so melodious; they made the songs better than they already were. Our fear, with a lead guitar player, was getting a wanker, someone who only looked for excuses to play.

Brian was the anti-wanker. He played tasteful licks during the open spaces, subtle ones during the verses and choruses. He knew where to play and where not to. He got both the serious and funny sides of the band. He was the perfect reincarnation of Doug Hopkins for our project.

Many musicians talk about that moment of knowing when they’ve found the right guy, the right mixture of elements. As we jammed that night, it was clear we’d found ours. We went through the songs, “Carefree,” “Mexico,” “Suckerpunch,” “Nada,” and the music was so perfect it was difficult to keep from grinning. Something about these four personalities worked together. With the Refreshments, we’d found our collective voice.


Sunday, April 22, 2007


In an effort to pump the Chicago Martyrs’ gig on Saturday, June 9th, I will dedicate as many blogs as possible between now and then to topics related to the Refreshments.

Originally, I pictured our new band as a co-writing situation between Roger and me. I’d written much of the material for Dusty’s and my previous band, The Hanson Brothers, and I planned on writing as much as possible for this new project. All of that ended with “Mexico.”

Roger and I sat down at his house over a six-pack one night to work on songs. Roger said, “I have the beginning of a new song, but I can’t finish it.”

He sang the first verse.

Here comes another song about Mexico
I just can’t help myself
I lost my old lady

“That’s all I have,” he said.

I, of course, was laughing from the first line. It perfectly encapsulated the spirit of the band, and I liked that it embraced this Mexico theme Roger had begun working into the songs. “Play it again,” I said.

He sang the first three lines and at the opportune time I blurted,

Got my lures, got my bobbers
Now I’m gonna go.

Roger, trying to keep from falling off his stool, sang,

Got off in the wrong direction

And I yelled,

Found a hooker but lost my erection.

And Roger sang,

So I had to lie in the letter to the boys back home.

We were both giggling, thinking we were the funniest guys who ever lived.

This is the point in most bands where someone says, “Okay, guys. We’ve had our fun. Now let’s get serious.” Then the band would suck it up, and someone would write “appropriate” lyrics.

I was ready to get serious. I think I said something like, “Well, that was fun. Let’s forget it.”

Roger sprang off his stool. “I will not forget the greatest thing you ever said,” he said. (I would say the same thing a few weeks later when Roger would try to back away from a line he wrote that went, “Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people.”)

So, we had a verse—which would soon become two verses with the changing of a pronoun or two—but we needed a chorus. We both agreed we’d go home, each write the best chorus we could, and meet up the next day to see what we had.

I struggled that night with my acoustic guitar. While I loved Mexico and our new song, no one was confusing me with a tequila-swilling, border-jumping maniac. I eventually came up with something, which I was embarrassed about, but at least I’d done it. I went to sleep hoping Roger would write something better.

The next day, I met Roger in his driveway. He had his guitar.

“You come up with something?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Roger said. “You?”

“Yeah,” I said. "You go first."

Roger swallowed once and sang,

Well, the good guys and the bad guys
They never work past noon ‘round here.
They sit side by side at the cantina
Talk to senoritas and drink warm beer.

I smiled, climbed back into my truck. “It's finished,” I said. "I'll see you at practice."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Later, Back in Tempe...

A quick note on comments:

I’ve started posting your comments from my Blackberry, and that seems an imperfect system since some of them didn’t make it into the comments sections. I’m sorry if yours got deleted. I’m going to try to avoid posting them this way in the future.

In an effort to pump the Chicago Martyrs’ gig on Saturday, June 9th, I will dedicate as many blogs as possible between now and then to topics related to the Refreshments.

Roger came back to Tempe once that summer. Inspired by our ranch visit, he’d written four or five new songs, and he was excited to try them out with the band. The new batch contained “Down Together,” a crunchy little pop song that was the beginning of Roger’s penchant toward self-deprecating lyrics. There was “Feeling,” a rhythmic romp that I immediately added a clumsy bass hook to. There was “My Penis,” Roger’s ode to the male member. There was “Clown,” a groovy dance tune that barely made it out of the basement.

Roger’s lyrics had taken a decidedly humorous turn. Unlike the Mortals, these songs were more reminiscent of early Camper Van Beethoven or They Might Be Giants. We were fans of both bands, so we didn’t mind the likeness.

In 1993, in the middle of the grunge movement, the fun in rock music had almost been eliminated. Every band on MTV took themselves too seriously to our eyes. We were three young men living in a suburban college town, over-educated but not anxious to get jobs, poor but not destitute, a little confused but not overly so, and not horribly disgusted with the life we’d been given. If we were going to make music, it would be fun music, or it at least wouldn’t ignore the humorous side of things.

That night Roger drove back to the ranch, promising to return for good by the end of August.

From September to November we wrote and practiced. We added more songs, “Nada,” “Suckerpunch,” each with a nod to our locale next the Mexican border, or to the characters Roger knew from around town. With our songs, a band identity was forming, one that valued humor and good times while addressing the trials of being young and wanting in Tempe, Arizona. None of the songs could be dismissed as either too serious or too silly, which I thought was the perfect line to walk. It was “Lady” by Styx sung into a pristine desert night.

Next week, learn the origins of a spicy Refreshments classic.


Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Ranch

Hey, check out this new interview with me at The Dish where I ramble on about the Tempe music scene.

Anyone feeling nostalgic? Boy, do we have a show for you.

To continue from last week…

The summer of 1993, Dusty and I drove once to Roger’s family’s ranch in southeastern Arizona, and Roger came into town once. The ranch was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been. Miraculously, it was 15 degrees cooler than in the city, even though it was farther south than Phoenix and less than half an hour from Mexico. Desert and cacti rolled out in every direction from the run-down ranch house where we'd jam. I fantasized about sitting on the porch and reading a book all day, catching the light breeze as it rolled off the mountains.

But we were there to rock.

We set up our equipment in the front room of the house and proceeded to blow the doors off the place. We jammed all night, the same four or five songs we’d played before, but this time we actually knew them. I bet any living creature within those 5,000 acres knew what was going on, a strange thunder coming from the house, a storm brewing within its walls. We stopped only to pour tequila or to pop open a beer. We played the songs over and over again until early in the morning when we couldn’t play anymore.

Then it happened.

I don’t know who noticed it first, but there was a full moon that night. Dusty was the first to go out, and Roger and I followed. Roger and I watched from the porch as Dusty stood on the dirt road and stared up at the moon, the desert breeze rustling his white Bermuda shorts. Suddenly, Dusty, who sang back-up in the band but was notoriously shy with his voice, started to sing:

Lady, when you're with me I'm smiling
Give me, whoa-oh, all your love
Your hands build me up when I'm sinking
Touch me and my troubles all fade
You’re my

I was stunned. Here was Dusty, normally reserved with his singing, belting out the most pristine version of “Lady” by Styx I’d ever heard. It was a kind of celebration. We all knew something was happening; the full moon, the clear night, the desert, “Lady” by Styx, it was both so beautiful and so ridiculous. It was a vibe we’d remember.

Roger and I joined Dusty out on the road, miles of open desert surrounding us. We did some strange drunken salute to the moon, marched in place or raised our arms or something, but the moment had passed. We were already a band smiled upon, given something. Dusty and I drove home the next day, dazed and hung-over, but neither of us spoke of the moment from the night before. Nothing needed to be said.

Next week, Roger comes back to Tempe with new songs.


Sunday, April 1, 2007

First Practice

In an effort to pump the Chicago Martyrs’ gig on Saturday, June 9th, I will dedicate as many blogs as possible between now and then to topics related to the Refreshments.

Roger showed up to the practice with his guitar in one hand and his amp in the other, ready to play. He’d just returned from an extended trip to Taipei, Taiwan, and he was anxious to get back into the Tempe music scene.

We jammed four or five songs that night, a few old Mortals songs (“Psychosis” and “Girly” were among them) and one Hanson Brothers song (“Carefree”), while working our way through a twelve-pack of beer.

Our sound back then was somewhat reminiscent of the Violent Femmes. There was no lead instrument, everything was hooky and danceable, and Roger’s voice had the same urgent, self-deprecating presence as Gordon Gano's.

I can’t convey how much fun I had playing those songs that first night. All three of us were giving ourselves to it, pliant, anxious, and at the same time not giving a shit. A broken bass string threatened to end our jam, but Roger, pliers at the ready, tied a knot in the string, making it secure enough to keep going. We played another song or two before the string gave entirely. We finished the twelve-pack, thrilled with the jam session, and called it a night.

We talked afterward in the driveway, coming down from the buzz of playing (and the twelve-pack). Roger and I found we had a mutual interest in Camper Van Beethoven and the Pixies, and Roger wanted to play me the Pogues, which were sort of his traveling companion on his trip. Everything was falling into place.

The only problem, as we soon found out, was that Roger had planned to stay all summer on his grandparents’ ranch. From May through August, he would be four hours away, too far to commute to Tempe for band practice.

Still, we all wanted this new project to work. Roger promised to drive into Tempe for practice once for every time we came out to the ranch, and he would spend his summer writing as many new songs as possible. Then in September we would kick it into high gear. I had two general studies requirements I needed to finish that summer at ASU; I’d be busy anyway. I could wait until September. The promise of that one jam session was worth waiting for.

More next week.