I want to break form for about 800 words this week and level with you.
Making music is hard. A lot of times it's not even fun. And it can be discouraging to put your energy, time and money into what a lot of people are going to tell you sounds like a fun hobby—generally before asking what you really want to do with your life. But a lot of you have been doing it anyway, and many of you have been doing it a lot longer than I have (about 17 years) and, also like many of you, I recently traveled outside the walls of our desert town to see what the far reaches of the United States had to say about my mettle as a traveling musician. In my case, this meant traveling to Los Angeles to play bass and sing backup in Ivan Antonio's psychedelic pop outfit The Bed Band.
The three of us making up Antonio's live lineup (he performs all instruments and vocals on his recorded material) have individually followed the garage and rock scene(s) for years. Labels like Fullerton, California-based Burger Records and Memphis, Tennessee's Goner Records, as well as artists like Laguna Beach-based garage rock statesman Ty Segall, have inspired each of us to keep pursuing gigs that don't pay and audiences that don't show up—all with hopes that some day we might be able to set up home recording studios we can also sleep in. Such was the dream of Burger's sibling label Gnar Tapes, whose founder Rikky Gage invited The Bed Band to play the label's annual music festival, Gnar Fest. The event's modest budget had already been fixed, so we would not be paid—and in fact, it would end up costing us money to play for 30 minutes alongside California crushers such as Gage's party punk band White Fang and the dreamy slack pop act Tomorrow's Tulips, who were headlining.
What else could we do? We took the gig.
How did a band from Santa Fe with just over 300 Facebook likes get this invitation? The "no worries, sounds cool" response to the lack of pay helped, but it was thanks mostly to Instagram and Gnar Tapes' now-defunct weekly livestream Gnar Tapes Gnight Live, which invited weekly music video submissions and featured The Bed Band twice. The label's social media presence lends a certain approachability, even as it grows and diversifies; Gnar Tapes even worked with Comedy Central recently on the hilarious web series Gnarnia. These musicians have managed to create their own record label and sustain themselves enough to tour extensively in the US and internationally with several projects, but even after all that, they still seemed to just kind of be guys in a band.
That is exactly how it felt being at Gnar Fest. No one was getting famous at the well-attended (but not overcrowded) two-stage affair, but some acts I never thought I'd see live shared the space with me. It felt like a big party—even if tall cans of PBR were $13 each.
The Bed Band played early in the evening to a side stage audience of about 20 people, and we noticed halfway through our set that LA/San Diego's Tomorrow's Tulips were hanging out watching our set with what read to us as enthusiasm. After all, they could have just walked away, and I feel confident that no one playing the early slots at Coachella can expect Radiohead to come check them out. In other words, I will take the downscaling if it means one of my favorite bands hangs out while I play.
Other highlights included a set from Chicago's Jimmy Whispers that exemplified the sort of crooning pop at once dripping with irony and stomping on your toes with its earnestness. The performance was generous even while antagonizing, complete with one of the most harrowing trust falls I have ever witnessed and clouds of baby powder coating band and audience alike.
Californian singer-songwriter Brendan Sepe's new band Venetian Blinds set a new bar for low-speed high-intensity lyricism. Sepe's affecting baritone and commanding presence brought some much-needed pathos to the partying. White Fang closed the night with their recent bizzaro-rock single "Big Silly Baby," a sort of Zappa-meets-Faith No More hybrid.
As the crowd dispersed and we loaded gear into the rental car, I sought out Izak Arida from White Fang and pop ballad mercenaries The Memories (seriously, they'll write and record a song for you for $100). Arida acted as our sort of rock camp counselor, making sure we were taken care of. As I gave him one last word of thanks, he gave me a brotherly hug, wished us well and asked us to come back sometime.
So yeah, it's hard making music and it can wind up feeling lonely. But you can make the world smaller than it seems. What you don't accrue in riches you'll more than make up for with the good things in life—good tunes and new buds.