Strung Out, Part 1
A multi-part story about how a guitar guy goes off the grid with a musical project using no guitars.
A luthier by trade and a guitar player by choice, I’ve been deeply impeded in the music scene since the early part of the millennium in one form or another. The college years allowed punk roots to give way to acoustic songwriting, and later a hard-rock band followed more recent by an indie-rock stage & studio effort. In the middle of that mix was the birth of my career as a luthier, as I make a living today building and repairing fretted instruments of all shapes & sizes.
So when I sat down in late February and decided to do something different, I kept coming back to a tiny voice that was nagging at me. It seemed to be saying something I never thought I would agree with: no guitars.
I’d like to think my musical palette is pretty diverse. Those who are patrons of my shop (BordentownGuitarRescue.com) commonly take note of the musical selections while there and utter, “This isn’t what I would expect to hear at a guitar shop”. Well, honestly I wouldn’t expect to hear much of it in one either. I can (and do) bounce from Chopin to Kesha, from Metallca to ELO, from the Police to Tupac. I have come to appreciate all types of music, and whatever fits the mood of the moment will pour out of my Bose Soundtouch in a heartbeat.
A lot of my friends would joke around with me and say that they can’t keep up with the number of musical projects that I claim to be part of. It’s true: I do have a lot of ventures that I can call “projects”, and all are in various stages of assembly. The Paper Jets is my “lead guitar” band, while “Dust of Days” is a group that I play bass for (yet, I still play it much like a down-tuned guitar). Those two bands couldn’t be more different in style, but I like them both and my fellow band members are second to none in friendship.
I’ve tried on many occasions to start my own solo projects in which I would write all of the material and perform if called upon to do so. While The Mike Virok Project and Mosquito Geezus & The Soft Teeth never left the ground, it was nice to have a few dreams cooking on the back-burner while life came to a rolling boil. I always liked writing my own material, but without the other components (drums, etc) I really didn’t have a solid direction to follow.
It wasn’t until September of 2017 that things started to change. My wife and I settled into a new home - back in our hometown of Hamilton, New Jersey. The sense of comfort in the new place sparked some creativity and drive the likes that I have never experienced before.
So I followed the guiding voice that seemed to be calling from inside my guitar. Daily I would pick up my acoustic guitar and write. And then I would write some more. And then some more. It was cathartic. Every little idea would just get fleshed-out into something else. And then the vocal ideas came in. Yes! Finally I was able to come up with something that I could work on -
But like all previous ventures, this failed. Countless iPhone recordings into writing and about a month of time invested, nothing came of the mountainous songbook that I penned. Focus shifted to Dust Of Days and a quickly approaching debut show was in the works. I needed to practice playing bass, and I did it a lot. Every day I slammed away at the bass, giving birth to even more ideas than before, but this time they were on bass & not acoustic guitar.
It felt different writing on something other than a 6-string guitar. Something changed in the approach that I had to the songs that were forming. No longer did I have the typical open chords or familiar patterns that I would fall into on a typical guitar; now I only had 4 strings to perform on.
Doing what I always did, I grabbed my iPhone and started recording these new ideas. I shared these with no-one, these sloppy bass lines and distorted melodies needed some time to ferment. I didn’t even know what I was going to do with them!
In the middle of September I travelled across the country to Nebraska for a small family trip. On the flight back home I opened my iPhone and grabbed a note-pad. Listening to all of my recently recorded ideas, I franticly started crossing out titles, renaming others, and jotting down song-structure ideas. Was this the beginning of finally making progress on a solo act of my own?
… to be continued.