Musical glue

What does it take to keep a band together?


In many ways, the concept of what a musical band is has changed over the years. When I was young, a band seemed like a spiritual and creative brother or sisterhood that the musical among us yearned for.

Our examples were the long-held partnerships of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and then the more intricate relationships of mixed-gender bands, such as Fleetwood Mac, and the mythic quality of their interpersonal relationships made for reasons and excuses for their demise.

Then, there were the supergroups. These are bands that formed with outstanding members of established and acclaimed bands, now in a new, meta context. Cream and Traffic were interesting, but suddenly, Blind Faith was like a whole new world.

Even locally, bands form and reform. We even have seasoned bands that have changed members very little over the years, like Mezcal. Others rename themselves every time a new configuration is formed.

We asked musicians and friends on Facebook and in conversations what it takes to keep a band together these days, and the answers are varied. From "spiritual connectedness" to "cash on the barrel-head," the answers are as eclectic as our own musical tastes and talents.

There were some funny answers. One was from Fax Sinclair, a performance artist now living in Hawaii, who said, "A drummer who can keep time." This is especially humorous in light of a comment once made back in the 1990s by a drummer who wished other members of a band he was in wouldn't depend on him so much to keep time for them.

Fun seems to be one of the biggest requirements for a lot of people. You often hear the comment, "It was no longer fun," to explain why a person dropped out of this group or that choir.

Jon Gold, a singer-songwriter and audio engineer who splits his time between Taos and Lyons, Colorado, says fun is the most potent ingredient you need.

"Have fun. Keep having fun. if you're not having fun, figure out why. Then, if all else fails, go have fun with someone else. If it's not fun, you're doing it wrong," Gold said.

Personalities and egos are other factors that will come up when you bring up band cohesiveness.

Angela Pope, a singer-songwriter who moved to Taos from the Pacific Northwest in the last couple of years, had this to say: "Leave the egos at the door."

Ray Seale, a former Taoseño and music producer, said it pays to know how people tick.

"A degree in psychology is a help. When I was getting into studio production, a guy told me 80 percent of the producer's job was psychology. If you're leading the band, just pay attention to the personality types and understand them. It helps," he said.

Kim Treiber has been a member of several bands in Taos, including The Boheims, an iconic 1980's Taos band. She said communication was most important. She added, "It's a marriage. … And a degree in herding cats" probably wouldn't hurt.

"A sense of humor" is what it takes, according to Red River publisher and musician Fritz Davis.

Artist and musician David Hinske said, "Forgiveness and acceptance."

Grace Jones, who makes music with her husband, Paul Jones, said, "When Paul and I started making music, it was an intense friendship. He was composing music on his flutes and making them. We performed for powwows and large events in New Mexico and California. You both have to have a passion and love for music. With our style of life and music, our spiritual and cultural experiences have influenced our style of music, which is Native American flute and flamenco."

She went on to say recording was another level where you had to learn how to grow together.

"Recording music together takes it to another level, where your audience can grow to local and international performances. The key is to have fun making music. It becomes a lifestyle and art."

Janet Miller asked a friend. According to Miller, her friend "knows a lot more about it than me." She said they answered her by saying, "Making music is a long way from the music business. If you play, that's great and all, but if you're in business, then your job is to perform and record, not to love your co-workers." Then she added, "I would say - it has to be worth it - just like any relationship."

And, just like any relationship, money has to come into the conversation at some point. Money is one of those subjects we've been taught to avoid, but when your art is your living, it's often a necessary part of any conversation about booking a gig and who you're going to get to populate it.

Having gigs is important. It may seem like we're stating the obvious, but K.K. Valentine Smith said she feels if you're going to have a band, you need to put together gigs - or there won't be anything to keep the group playing together.

Larry Audette has played upright bass in many jazz combos in the area for decades and he answered the question with a Duke Ellington quote: "To keep a band together, you need a gimmick; the gimmick I use is I pay them money."

Christine Autumn, a jazz singer who performs regularly with Audette, said, "Find gigs that pay for more than the gas to get there."

Carl Stewart, a guitarist who plays solo and with groups, said, "Everyone needs to have an invested commitment - lifelong musicians who will be playing with or without the band. The enjoyable factor of surrounding each other with your talent and musicality and the creativity factor of being able to take a 24-bar solo if the muse strikes. Equal money ... equal work. Oh, and no drunks or egomaniacs."

Sometimes substance abuse becomes a huge part of band conversations.

"Multiple gigs with individuals whom I've had to ask to consume less - if it affects the music, it's a problem. If it's an every time thing, it's an ending. Asking someone to be a professional shouldn't need to happen," he said.

Mark Barlos, who has played in several different local bands, said, "I am one of those 'sober-ites,' and I am usually the one member who observes everything and doesn't say much about others' condition."

He added that health is also a concern. "Stay healthy by all means and make the rest of the members of the band sound great. I love playing in bands and we form families, including the rest of the road crew, other management and pros who help. Radio, fans and other support are so important."

He also pointed out the importance of the unseen members of any band.

"Balance between the work and personal life, never forget the spouses and keep them very happy. Have some chemistry and a sense of humor for the interviews." He followed with a funny quote from the "Band Whisperer": "Keeping a band together can be as tough as a $2 steak."

Reyes Cisneros had several points to make about what keeps a band together. He fronts the reggae band Iriebellion and said, "We've gone a little over a year now and it seems to be for us to have a sense of direction, keep fresh material coming and listen to everyone's ideas, but focus and implement those that will help the band continue to progress."

All of these pieces of advice seem like good points for all of you who are currently in bands or thinking of forming one. Speaking as a fan and follower of live music, your tenacity and drive for making music and keeping a band together are appreciated. We know it's not an easy thing.


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