I listen to and look at my favorite bands and wonder, “how do they do that?”
I don’t mean the rock star posturing or the songwriting. I’ve figured both of those things out, to a degree. They come with practice (in the mirror).
I mean the intuition. The knowing where a song goes, and how to construct the arrangement of thrumming bass and pounding drums that surround the initial guitar or piano that lie in the center.
I’ve always assumed Gina and I have some special magic in that regard in the the peculiar alchemy of our harmony. And, well, we do. It’s the intuition of best friends. We know each other so well that when one of us teaches a new song to the other it’s like we’re adding an extension of our own hands and voice. There is less and less of us asking “is this part okay?” and more of “yes, that!”
That hasn’t been our experience with other musicians. That’s not to say we haven’t played with some brilliant people who have made indelible additions to our songs. It’s just that the additions tend to add too much.
(A notable exception being Dante Bucci, who is invariably a perfectly intuitive collaborator in any setting on any instrument. Also, our friend Chaz arranged the definitive percussion for “Apocalyptic Love Song.”)
As a result, I assumed that there were only two kinds of potential bandmates – people who play well because they understand context (the Rolling Stones know each other, Gina understands me, Dante understands us, Chaz knows our influences) or because their bandleader dictated each note to them.
(That latter seems like an ultimate bit of hubris – why invite another player you respect and not trust them to do anything? But musicians can be freaks of control, and we’ve all seen bands run that way, so it’s certainly a valid angle (which is why we don’t (and may never) have a bass player).)
Now I understand that there is a third category – that an intuitive player can find their way inside of a song instead of adding layers to its exterior. Sure, practice helps. But, the intuition is an intangible. It’s either there or not.
Zina is there. Every one of our songs takes three plays. One to hear how we do it. One to try a few things. One with our new drum arrangement. Fin.
That’s not to say that she doesn’t continue to change and adapt her playing, or that we don’t ask for some tweaks here and there. It’s just that she hears it – us, the song, our gestalt with each other – and then she joins it.
I’m amazed every time. Now I understand my favorite bands a little bit better.