HMXHellion is a Producer/Senior Writer at Harmonix and plays guitar in the band VAGIANT. She is loud and moderately insane, but makes up for it by cooking the world’s best chicken-fried steak. Also, she just hit Exalted with the Timbermaw, so she must be doing something right.
I want to state right off the bat that I am totally qualified to write about how to get along with your bandmates. I know this because, at the time of writing this, I have punched only one of my bandmates in the face. I say “at the time of writing this” because it’s quite possible that I will have punched another in the span between writing this and it going live on the website. And since I’m a total procrastinator, that’s only a difference of an hour or so. And yet still, I might punch another bandmate during that time.
This is not solely because I am a big jerk. It is mostly because people who play in bands are utterly crazy. That’s just how it is. I don’t care how adorable your hair is or how universally likeable you are or how awesome your Snickerdoodles are.(1) The fact of the matter is, you are going to have some rough times getting along with your bandmates. And honestly, it’s probably a good thing. The way I see it, the crazier you are, in general, the more likely you are to create great, or at least wildly interesting, music.
Let me illustrate this point with a helpful graph:
Let me explain my scientific methods a bit. As you can see, it is very unlikely that you will be any good as a musician until you are at the very least “a little cuckoo.” I have resisted naming any musicians or bands as examples here due to fear of offending any bands or their record labels, but I think we can all name a few bands that fit into the lower left-hand quadrant of this graph, or, as I call it, the “Dull Zone.”
Your creativity improves drastically once you are elected the “Interim Mayor of Bonkerstown”. As you continue riding the Crazy Train, you will hit a brief plateau of genius. This is where the majority of really successful bands live. The great majority of bands on a top ten list will be plotted in this region.
The interesting bit of the graph is the dip that occurs when you have crossed over into straight-up loco, esse. At this point, the creativity level briefly but dramatically decreases. This is where I would put that horrible crazy girl from your high school who is constantly and violently confused about why she never gets the lead role in the musical, insisting that it is due to the director’s jealousy, while in reality it is due to the fact that she is completely tone deaf. This is also where all of those nutso American Idol people live who tend to shout things like “Oh I KNOW I am good. I am going to be a star, no matter WHAT that Simon Cowell says”. We all know these people. The one element worthy of note here is that these people are STILL far more musically creative than the really sane people. It’s very easy, when you are sane, to construct a straightforward, popular song using time-honored traditions. It is very difficult, however, to write a song as unique as “Chocolate Rain” without being at least a little bit wackadoodle.
Once you cross this “uncanny valley” of insanity and move into “Speedy Motorcycle” territory, the genius level suddenly skyrockets. At the very high end of the creativity spectrum, most people don’t even understand what you are doing – it is just too creative. As a child, I wrote a much-maligned song called “Keep Away the Darkness.” I was probably about 4 years old, having only recently stopped calling myself “David Recipe” and planting a flag in one of my early mountain-climbs toward crazy. “Keep Away the Darkness” was a deep and haunting ethereal lullaby whose lyrics were as follows:
Keep away the darkness.
Never let it go.
Put your hands inside your head.
Never put them in your nose.
At the time, and still today, my family believed this to be a hysterically funny song. Clearly, their lack of insight places them squarely in the lower left-hand quadrant of the graph. The depth and power of the lyrics were not understood in their time and remain wildly misinterpreted. I can only assume that in fifty years, “Keep Away the Darkness” will be my very own Guernica, with music theorists worldwide wondering how my early genius could have been so thoroughly unappreciated.
So, yes, no matter what you do, it’s going to be difficult to get along with all of these crazy people in your band. Here are a few guidelines to help make things more manageable:
- Don’t sleep with your bandmates’ significant others.
- Be honest, but be gentle.
- Don’t be late to practice all the time.
- If everyone in the band thinks that what you’re playing is weird, try in good faith to convince them ONE TIME, and then give up the battle.
- Don’t over-tease your bandmates about things they are super sensitive about.
Don’t even do this if the drummer cheats on her girlfriend and treats her poorly. The lady is still off limits. You’d think this was common sense, but there is a reason that this advice wins the number one slot in the list. (Guitarists.)
One of the reasons that it’s so hard to always get along with your bandmates is that the relationship requires an incomparable degree of honesty. People are constantly putting themselves “out there” with their music and lyrics; it’s like putting your heart on your sleeve every day. And then conversely, people always have to put each other down and criticize each other’s work – if they didn’t, you’d have a very happy, very bad band. The trick is to be completely honest, but as gentle as possible.
An example of a common band interaction:
Good – “Hey, your bass part on the chorus sounds a little off to me. Let’s try to figure out what is strange about it.”
Bad – “I slept with your boyfriend.”
I’m not even sure why I put this on the list, since your guitarist is always going to be late no matter what I say.
Yes, you are a super genius. But despite all your bandmates being less talented and brilliant than you, their combined ability still trumps yours. You are probably in the wrong here. Unless you are Prince, in which case you are always right.
I actually didn’t come up with that one, Elena did. Oh, who’s Elena? Elena is my former bandmate who I punched in the face. To be fair, I punched her in the face because she poured a full beer on my head at a party. And after I punched her in the face, she hit me with abeer bottle. (2) And what was this epic battle about? It was about Green Day. Yes. Yes it was. Well, Green Day and the fact that in the middle of the argument about Green Day, I was continually interrupting Elena to insist that she “knew nothing about music” and “sang Heart’s ‘Alone’ too much” and was “as dumb as salt water taffy.” So, you know, MAYBE there is an argument to be made that I might not be the IDEAL bandmate ALL the time. (3)
The reality is, you will fight with your bandmates. You will probably punch them in the face and then get hit with a beer bottle. It’s okay. Consult the graph frequently as a reminder that, unlike with the girls that you meet online, when it comes to making music, crazy is GOOD.