Get Smart about being in a band
Don’t deny it. You’ve thought to yourself, “Self, we could rock.” Let Lawn Chair Kings and Farmington Hill songwriter/guitarist/bandleader Erik Nordstrom tell you all about power chords, big amps, and ... being in touch with your communicative side.
What bands made you want to start one?The Beatles, Hendrix, Rolling Stones. Uncle Tupelo was certainly big as far as my country punk leanings, and a lot of the alternative music that I grew up as the ’80s became the ’90s. Pavement was huge to me.
What’s so great about being in a band?If you were to break down the amount of money you make per hour, it certainly doesn’t seem to pay off when you consider the amount of time it takes to song-write, practice, figure out arrangements, load up all of the gear, get to the venue. And sometimes the venue is great and sometimes it’s not and sometimes the audience is receptive and sometimes they’re not. But what makes it for me is to have those moments where everything seems to be coming together and the music is fun and the audience – or maybe just a couple of people – are connecting and you have that sense, in some way, that you were able to connect with other people through all of this crazy hard work that it takes to play music.
Advice to a first-timer trying to put a band together?The very first thing is to practice some instrument and to learn more about the music you love. The natural thing that comes out of that is the discovery that most music comes from somewhere else, and my bias is to learn more about roots music ... that allows you to be more versatile as a musician. As you’re starting to work with other people, being able to compromise and work with other people while at the same time trying to be very specific about what your vision for the band is so that everyone’s on the same page.
What do you look for in a bandmate?Somebody that appreciates at least some similar musical influences, somebody with some talent who can play, and somebody who has some people skills to communicate and work together as a collective unit. After that, it’s are they able to dedicate themselves to the project, put in the practice time, and commit to the shows so that it can actually work.
What won’t you stand for in a bandmate?We’re human, we all get angry ... but it’s how you handle it that’s important. Certainly for me, I try to avoid working with anybody who’s going to yell or threaten or handle things in a Donald Trump-type fashion. You need to be mature and to be able to work through things. And then the other thing is to follow through on a commitment. If you’ve got a bandmate that doesn’t show up to practice all the time or is cancelling gigs, that can be frustrating after all the promo and scheduling work.
What does it take to stay in a band?Well, I think you need to be able to give and receive feedback without it becoming a personal issue. There certainly can be a lot of egos involved – we’re all human – so that’s a delicate balance itself to be able to decide your own feelings and try to listen to other people and try to negotiate and cooperate. With [Lawn Chair Kings bass player] Dan [Leek], we’re able to communicate to each other without our feelings getting hurt. If we don’t like a certain part of a song, we’re able to speak up about that and the other person will listen. Often it’s almost more important how well you get along with people than their actual musical talent. Not to say that it’s not important to be able to play your instrument, but those human qualities are more of the “make or break” deals.
Do songs change when you bring them to the band?Absolutely, all the time. Often I’ll write a song and play it with the band and it just doesn’t sound good so I’ll shelve it for a while. Other times it’s pretty straightforward from how I wrote it and it sounds decent so we keep playing it. But many times there’s some other twist that I didn’t predict that it becomes a life of its own and I think those moments are some of the most rewarding as far as being in a band. You’ve kind of set the ship in motion as the songwriter and then the band takes over and you end up in this totally bizarre destination and it’s kind of neat that way.
How do you name a band?[laughs] If you think of an idea, write it down. Sometimes inspiration is sudden and quick and it just works, and other times I’ve been in bands where it’s just been painful. The strange tension is not to worry about it too much because if you’re up for days and weeks on end, then you’re probably trying too hard. The more ideas you have, the better in a sense, but if the band name comes to you naturally, then great – that’s the ideal. Farmington Hill came from Bryant Liggett who said, “You guys should call yourself a local name like Farmington Hill,” and that was it.
Cyle Talley once got to rock the Durango Cyclery with Erik. Tales of that fabled eve are still told in hushed and reverent whispers. If there’s anything you’d like to Get Smart about, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org