Vacations. They’re great for getting away from it all.
Except when you’re getting away from your musical gear. And turning everything up to eleven. Then vacations are great for sucking the life out of you.
But it’s all done and P34 is back to work. Vacations out of the way, we kicked things off with a meeting at our favorite pre-jam hangout, Birreria Italico where we talked about how things have gone, and how they should be going. See, it’s officially been a year since we put Project34 together. We started counting the year when Izzy walked into our rehearsal space, picked up the mic, nailed every song on the audition set list, dropped the mic and dared us to find anyone better.
So, we started with our One Year Review. What were our goals, what did we achieve?
- Phase 1. Get Izzy up to speed. Well, that didn’t take long.
- Phase 2. Get a name, then get on a stage, anywhere, anyhow. We were lucky to have a local bar that hosts jam nights – The Pioneer – with a really generous stage and sound system. So, we played there twice playing mini 3-4 song sets. Just enough for everyone to get a taste of what Project34 was like – including ourselves!
- Phase 3. Get on stage with a full set. We got off to a roaring start by teaming up with friends Too Many Unknowns and Coast Of Virtues and playing at an insane St Patrick’s Day party at CroBar
- Phase 4. Repeat Phase 3 continuously and develop more contacts, make new friends and research places to play while we build a full set list. Well, we’ve done that and you’ve seen us play regularly, you’ll see the results of our developing, friending and building in the new year.
Besides reviewing our goals, we reviewed what worked on stage and what didn’t. We also reviewed which songs we loved, needed to add and needed to drop. Did we say DROP?
Yes, drop. The thing is, we’re always looking for ways to surprise the audience so that means we don’t reach into the same song bag as everyone else. Sometimes songs that were once edgy, rarely-heard gems suddenly become well-worn classics. It happens. A year is an eternity in the music business. We don’t even let our songs get NEAR the point of “classic”. In fact, when we hear other bands are covering the same songs as P34, we all shoot a dirty look at the band member that suggested it in the first place and start talking about dropping it.
We use other techniques to choose songs to pick up or drop. For example, we read advice columns from musician community pages like Cover Band Central explaining the criteria for choosing cover songs. We use that as a guide: if any of our covers meet any of this well-meant advice, we know we’ve done something wrong and torpedo it.
And that’s what we decided at our meeting. We’re going to do more of that. End Year One – Initiate Year Two: we’ll keep up the surprises, we’ll develop our style, our look and our media. And of course we’ll keep looking for songs you don’t expect, the songs other bands fear. Will we play songs our audience knows? Of course, because our audience is frakkin cool. But we’re also going to start playing songs we know you’re going to love BEFORE you hear it anywhere else. Watch closely.
We’ll be showing off two of our new covers at our next gig at Mademoiselle, Friday, 2017-09-08. It’s a surprise for our live audience, but YOU get to know in advance: we’ve added Figure It Out by Royal Blood and Prison Sex by Tool. We’re stoked about these two, even though we had to push some of our “older” favorites aside to make room. Don’t worry, they’ll be back. Maybe.
Unless they show up on some list of songs recommended by some well-meaning musician community page. Then we’ll charitably donate them to a more needy band.
A fierce night at The Pioneer. We shared the stage with our brothers-in-arms Too Many Unknowns as well as another cover band we’d never played with before, The Dirty Nuggets.
What a night. We hit it off right away with The Dirty Nuggets – their performance and song-choices are really strong and they’re all just great guys. We got along so well that we were unfazed when we found out that we covered the same song – Weezer’s iconic anthem about geek-vengeance, “Hash Pipe”. We saw that The Dirty Nuggets fast-paced and energetic version rocked – what were we going to do? We had a busy set, and we considered dropping it to keep from stepping on each other. Then our guitarist Chris came up with a brilliant idea: what if we covered the song anyway but got the guys from The Dirty Nuggets to come and help us out with the backing vocals?
So, we played the song, but not before goading The Dirty Nuggets on-stage with us while played our gritty, chunky rendition of the song. There they were – on stage with us, crowded around our mics, all of us singing our hearts out. We had a blast.
This show also introduced our new “P34 Superfan shot”. This is where we invite the rowdiest audience member up on stage to do a tequila shot with us. Our very first honoree turned out to be “Kevin” – an enthusiastic supporter who said he was amped because he had never seen a band cover Tool before. That’s right, Kevin. Because Project34 plays the songs other bands are too meek to cover, that’s why.
Then – Project34! Cheers! Shot.
After this show, the band decided to forego any gigs for August. We had some vacation time due and when we weren’t vacating (?) we wanted to polish our newer songs and add a few more to our set list. So that’s what we did. When we weren’t taking time off, we were developing new songs – among them, Tool’s “Prison Sex” and Royal Blood’s “Figure It Out”.
We’ve been working hard. We refuse to settle down and be predictable. In fact, we refuse to be classic. We plan on showing off our new songs at our next gig at Mademoiselle Resto-Bar on September 8th, 2017.
These rehearsals have been hard. But when we found Izzy taking a well-deserved break someone decided to capture the moment on camera (of course we had to plant a bottle of Tequila in the shot).
We’ve made two live appearances so far, both of them short-set “jam nights” at a bar with a generous stage for live bands, the Pioneer. Our plan was to use these first jam nights as a step towards defining who we are as a band, so choosing the songs for the two nights took some thought. Here’s a story about the songs we chose, the logic behind the choices and how they were received.
Knowing where we were playing, we thought about “risk” – did we care whether we’d alienate the audience with our material? We decided to go with a mix of heavy rock styles, not compromising who we are but still letting the audience warm up to what we do.
For our first show we opened with Stone Temple Pilots’ floor-pounding rocker, “Sex Type Thing” just to show that we aren’t messing around. Then we went straight into “Man in the Box” by Alice in Chains; it’s dark and grinding but familiar as an alternative hard rock hit. We followed that with Red Hot Chili Peppers’, “Suck My Kiss” – one of the Peppers’ most hard-hitting songs, a heavy funk-rocker that we max out instrumentally to really drive the point home.
Although the crowd was there to hear other blues and classic rock acts they were receptive to those songs, so we were encouraged that it was all working… so far.
But the real test was the fourth and final song which is definitely “out there” by cover band standards: Tool’s, “Sober”. It’s haunting, it’s punctuated, it’s unusual, and is driven by an unconventional musical element: an over-driven bass played like a rhythm guitar. It’s our standard-bearer. We played our hearts out, because we love the song so much. But, how was it received?
When you play in a club there’s a reality you have to face – no matter what, people are always talking. The audience’s attention is divided between the band and their friends. And when you record a show then play it back later (as we did) you’ll hear that the background chatter is always there. Always.
Well, almost always.
When we listened to the recording of us playing “Sober” we heard that when we hit the quiet interlude before the final chorus – where Isabelle hauntingly sings, “I am just a worthless liar, I am just an imbecile” – you didn’t hear that ever-present chatter. The audience is quiet, the chatter has stopped and people are totally into the moment. Maybe most of the audience didn’t know the song – a kind of alt-prog/metal anthem – but they were totally caught up in the drama of the song.
From there the song then explodes into an intense close with Isabelle holding a long, sustained note that grabs you and makes you pay attention until the final four hits that end it – like heavy steel doors slamming shut.
Well, the audience liked THAT.
Our second night at the Pioneer was shorter, only three songs – starting with “My Medicine” by The Pretty Reckless. We had just learned it and had decided it would be good for us to do something we had just picked up. We kinda played it safe by following with “Man in the Box” again, but it was a natural segue. Truth be told, we were initially set back by an on-stage sound problem but our sound was finally dialed in halfway through “Man In The Box”. Fortunately by the time the song ended we had it together and it was well-received.
But once again we decided to go for a risky closer: System of a Down’s, “Toxicity”.
The thing about System of a Down is they’re just plain weird. Delightfully weird, punctuated, shifting from idea to idea, going from soft to aggressive in a split beat. But for the average listener, still weird. So of course, we love them.
Musically, “Toxicity” is somewhat demanding: the drums are challenging, the vocal range is very wide, and the guitar and bass must be perfectly, tightly synced. It’s not an easy song to pull off. But this a song – like Sober – that we have full confidence in and we really identify with.
We played the song lustily with Kamal crushing it on the drums – and we brought it to a loud and climactic ending with Isabelle belting out the closing lines, “When I became the sun, I shone life into the man’s HEARTS!”. She shouted out the last word as we all clamped down on the final note leaving a moment’s silence for the audience to react. And I mean silence. Kind of a worrisome silence.
And a split second later, we got a reward from the audience – including some appreciative cheers.
Later on, some people came over to let us know how much they enjoyed the set – and Toxicity in particular – actually saying that their mind was blown by seeing material like that played on that particular stage.
It’s made us think: are we really taking risks with songs like “Sober” and “Toxicity”? Do we as musicians underrate the audience? Can we go darker and heavier and bring the audience with us?
In fact, our singer is so convinced that we can that she wants our next live show to include our most challenging (and controversial) Tool song: “Stinkfist”. If you don’t know why it’s controversial, look it up.
What do you think?
So that’s it, two shows. We’ve done Two Live, Crew.