Sunday
Jan152012

« Drummers With Attitudes: the Second Exile +20 »

In recent months I've told the tale of meeting Matt Zuniga at Subway in late 1991 and finding he had an affinity for drums just as I was being pressured to not play my drums at the house any more. Meeting Matt was one of the oddest shapers of my destiny, for sure. I mean, at that point, I'd not played in any real bands, and the one stage performance on drums to date was with a one-off group from high school, playing Walk This Way. Until Matt and I met, all the rest of my drum activity was at home in my bedroom, where I guess I imagined myself seated at the throne behind Rush or Jethro Tull. Playing material from either band was a staple of my musical diet.

bedroom set up with the stuffy window dressing to try to dampen the soundBedroom set up, c. April 1992. You can see the blankets and towels that tried to reduce the sound to the outside, but it was more effective in making the place stuffy. This is more or less the kit we used, though the rack and the smallest toms were new then.

After the first exile in November, I moved my drums over to his studio apartment where he let me bike over and play, and I let him use my kit in our little exchange of conveniences. I used to impress Matt with my attempts at YYZ or La Villa Strangiato or Tom Sawyer. To egg me on, he'd always try to get me to try to play Natural Science, a driving and particularly challenging Rush track that featured all manner of meter changes. Tull material wasn't so interesting to him though when I let him listen to Stand Up, he liked the harder, more driving stuff that evoked anything close to Black Sabbath's riffing. (Apparently late 60s English minor key rock was acceptable to him, otherwise he was mainly into grindcore and other extreme metal that shocked the living hell out of me then. We really connected over Rush. I recall he'd play Grace Under Pressure and other Rush tapes on his car stereo, at earsplitting levels.) That little arrangement at his apartment came to an end just about this time in January, barely six weeks or so after it started. His studio was upon the garage at his grandmother's place in Clairemont. Being raised up and not very well primed for drum sound pressure levels, it radiated sound over the neighborhood even more than if it were at ground level. So this arrangement, barely negotiated between he and his grandmother, I'm sure, was doomed to fail since she got the brunt of it. I don't know what kind of discussion they had but he told me he couldn't host the drums anymore.

(As an aside, there was one weekend when my old man took his girlfriend on a weekend tour and I had Matt bring the drums back to my house where I could wail in the old fashioned way on familiar turf. Clandestine stuff of teenage rebellion, this!)

I'd used paid rehearsal rooms on a couple of occasions, mostly to know what they were and what to expect. There wasn't much to like about hauling in the drums to set up in a florescent-lit, smelly, carpeted room with other gear in the room, play solo for a couple hours, and then haul out on time, shedding maybe $10/hour to do it all. That was doomed too. Totally uninspiring. And, since I didn't have a car of my own, or even regular access to one, there was really no way I'd go for that. Matt had a car his dad gave him. It would fit the drums just fine. At that time, the kit was just a five piece anyway, so we somehow got an idea to pile things in and go scout out a place to play outside, or under a bridge like we'd heard of others doing. In fact, at that time, I knew of stories of a drummer who set up in Mission Valley but never actually saw anyone doing so for years to come. Armed with some vague idea of there being places remote enough within the city that we could do such a thing, we started locally.

First stop on the evening of the 15th was near the old Balboa Hospital which had closed up and was generally an empty space. We drove there, scouted it out, whacked a snare drum a couple times and decided it was way too close to houses considering the delightfully echoing and boomy space we were in. Onward.

I can't remember if we tried still other places but we did settle on one place that was far enough away from housing, and in a commercial zone, and also just in the shadow of the I-5 freeway. As we entered into Pacific Beach on Garnet, there was an empty driveway that services a self storage place. It was a dingy enough space to play drums at full volume without attracting attention for the most part. There was just the Gold's Gym parking lot, but since we were out there after 9 pm, there wasn't traffic in that lot, but traffic was zooming by on Garnet and Mission Bay Drive. There isn't much to remember about the night itself but for the breakthrough it provided me/us. In fact, a great deal of playing to come during 1992-1993 was to be done outside or in these odd places. This location in Pacific Beach was good for several afternoons or nights for about the next month. The background noise was a welcome mask. For a first place, it gave us a feeling of freedom that even a closed up house could not offer. Of course, it was insecure and in the open, exposed to sun and rain. One night I was down there solo, and since it was winter time, a great rainstorm came and did a number on my plans for the evening. I was out there with no shelter at all. I can't remember how it was worked out but my old man picked me up in his truck and got me home where I had to scramble to dry the drums before any water damage set in.

the drums partially set up at Volt. the escort car is behind the drums, showing our first 'tour bus'A standard day's setup, any time after about late June 1992. Here we're at Volt, a place with AC power and some shelter but not underground. It was an office building we could use over the weekend for a while.

That downpour set me looking for another place with some shelter about it. Apparently I had occasional access to one of my grandparents' cars and I went to my high school one Sunday in February and tried things out there, just between classrooms, and in about the most isolated spot I could find. Not so great. Less than a month into our little exiled drumming life, we happened upon a great remote spot in Mission Valley directly under the CA-163 freeway, right next to the river. That was a hoot. It was easy to see but fenced on that side, and on the entry side there was a rather serpentine path to our spot. Such a spot offered a massive sounding space where the drums sounded godlike, and it was sheltered from weather (a good thing; it rained some of the times we were there), and it also gave us a rather secure location where people could see us but only a couple were curious enough to bother tracking us down.

 drums at the bridge in Mission Valley.Mission Valley, March 8, 1992

It was in this one location, on March 8, 1992 when it's fair to say my real recording era started. Being winter, and often being at night, it made better sense to fight the cold by moving around more than sitting in the car. So we'd be out doing the oddest shit to stave off boredom as the other of us actually drummed. Maybe it was breaking glass. Maybe throwing stuff around. Maybe making faces at traffic. Whatever it was, it was rather dumb, but it's not like we had smart phones to make the time pass while the other was playing Rush or Napalm Death and Black Sabbath. Matt in particular liked to do some odd screaming and to do other shit to annoy me while I was perfecting my from-memory performances of my favorite Tull and Rush tracks. Sometimes he'd come over and double drum or do a randomly placed cymbal crash. The stupider and ruder, the better for his entertainment. Eventually, on that day in March we brought my boombox tape recorder and set to to capture whatever nonsense we were engaged in that day. (I caution you to not set out looking for it. It is pretty damned stupid shit.)

That tape amused me enough that I made a little sleeve for it with the liner notes to explain who played what, and on what track; where we recorded it; and to include some drum catalog clip art for the cover. I called it Stop Playing Those Damned Drums, Vol. 1, named in honor of the protestations my geezer neighbor Ray Merritt used to make while I played at home. We were billed as Drummers With Attitudes. Despite some earlier nonsense that was on tapes that I lovingly crafted into "albums," because this was done with Matt, the first of any "collaborator" who was around long enough to develop any ideas, it was the real start of my recording career. Yep. It was sort of punker than punk (though I was never using such language then, being proudly into prog rock, thankyouverymuch). No guitars or bass. Just drums and the stupidest vocals, and young men being even younger men!

Matt in San Clemente Canyon, June 1992, with the drums appearing in their new wrap, with the new rack that my old man made for us. On the black clamps for the upper toms, there are stickers that spell out D W A.Matt in San Clemente Canyon, June 1992, with the drums appearing in their new wrap, with the new rack that my old man made for us. On the black clamps for the upper toms, there are stickers that spell out D W A.

I'd be fooling you to say Matt was ever really into this. Amused, maybe. But never really a collaborator except in the fact that we'd want to go out and make noise. But what happened was that during 1992, the roles settled in where, over time, as I was intentionally writing stupid lyrics about people with mental and behavioral issues and other songs about farm animals, it tended to be that he "sang" and I drummed. The first "song" we did was an ode to and a trashing of our new Subway owner-operators, a Jewish couple and their kids who really had no interest in being a compliant Subway franchise, and where I was fired a month after they took over. Their acquisition of the store where Matt and I worked was just three days after that first Mission Valley recording was made, so for me, the DWA/Subway/songwriting thing are all of a set, and the flux of events very much shaped things to come as I had more time to play drums after getting fired, and more emotion about their legal action on me (restraining order on trumped up charges). Since I was paid up and ready to fly to Europe in a few months, I didn't worry myself about finding a job before I was to leave. Aside from my classes at school, it was just a matter of doing stupid shit with DWA and refinishing my drumset, which had grown a couple pieces along the way.

During the first half of 1992, I called our little "thing" Drummers With Attitudes. In my universe, the early days of DWA was just our thrashing out whatever drumming and oddness came to mind, and little else. The "song" era of what we were doing was worthy of a different name: Rhythmic Catharsis. I used that name in May 1992 for the final Drummers With Attitudes tape. It also had the image of the stickman drummers that for me was the image of RC. The tape sleeves and a damned goofy and self indulgent "fanzine" for our four "fans," the Rhythmic Catharsette, were far more premeditated and interesting than anything we did on drums! After six weeks in Europe though, the image, the lyrical ideas, the Catharsette, the whole thing had helped me see it more as if it was a band to actually cultivate with some effort. It was in the second half of 1992 when I made more conscious efforts to write lyrics that either of us would try to "sing," and by early 1993, it was basically that Matt vocalized and I hit things. I can't say Matt sang, because he didn't. He was into his extreme metal primarily, but he was also rather goofy too. He also had a sufficient disrespect for my stupid lyrics that he often took out his frustration about the words I handed him in the performance itself. He'd do the oddest stuff. Growls, shrieks, demonic laughing. Maybe he's no Mike Patton, but you might use him as a reference for the odd vocabulary of vocalizations that emanated from Matt's throat.

For a while there, the outdoors playing was what allowed me to keep playing drums on a semi-regular basis, several times a month. Eventually I did get use of the Escort and drove things most of the time, probably because the drum set had grown, and because the grandparents who had made the initial investment in my musical endeavors back in the mid 80s were now able to see this might be one way to pursue any of that. I kept the drums at home once again and it was Matt who joined in, carting things out to the car and then setting up out under whatever bridge or parking garage or warehouse park we could find. The matter of recording started to make more sense, otherwise we ran the risk of being quite aimless in doing all this. Recording kept us accountable to ourselves, and I had no way to know how far I'd take it. We used a boom box. Then another. Then a field recorder I got from Mesa College. It was the first steps on the recording technology treadmill. Hearing ourselves back gave us some idea of how to improve, and after Europe, we didn't really consider what we were doing just as a chance to play drums to the music of our favorite bands. It turned into much more than that.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. There is enough to tell many stories about what Matt and I were doing in those years. 

Here I'm emulating the Rhythmic Catharsis stick man logo

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