Twenty Five Years Ago
Twenty five years ago, back in late May of '92 and a few days after graduating from college, I joined a band as a guitarist. Not only was I playing guitar in this band, but I would soon be drawing illustrations as flyers to promote our gigs.
What you see in front of you is one of those flyers from September 1992: a rough, crude illustration I did for my band, Armored Assault Vehicle. The illustration was one of the few flyers that I did to promote our gigs. A friend of mine- a former bandmate- sent this to me via Facebook. Don't remember doing this particular job, but it was for a gig we did at a place called Underworld on Bleecker Street in New York City. Seeing it again, I think, oh yeh, I sort of remember putting pencil and ink to paper and coming up with this bizarre cartoon illustration!
I graduated from Bard in 1992, a liberal arts college tucked away in the Hudson Valley of Upstate New York. Idyllic, serene with greenery, ivy on stone walls on campus, the Hudson River flowing not far from Blithewood, a scenery that was the the opposite of the concrete brick, asphalt, steel, glass, grime, noise, violence and dirt of New York City, the pre gentrification of NYC back in the early 90s. It was within a few days, after graduation, that I hooked up with some Bard alum, plus a friend with one of the alum, in a band back in the city. They auditioned a lot of guitarists before I came but nothing really clicked for them. I stepped in, did an audition for them at Giant Studios on 14th street between 5th and 6th and got the gig. I remember it being an incredibly hot night in the city, arriving at the studio where there was no air conditioning in the lobby, the studio windows open wide, you could see the cityscape beyond the window frames. The place was dark, barely any or no lighting in the lobby and the gear in the studio rooms were either shot, broken or roughed up. I think I remember seeing a cracked cymbal on a drum kit and an amp lying in a corner, as if it went thru a lot of wear n' tear thru the years. But it had its charm, the place. And hey, it was fun to bash out a few tunes in a few hours.
My future bandmates showed me a couple of their tunes in the studio and I was able to pick up on the arrangements on their material, as I put my own spin on them: an octave riff on one tune, another riff here and there, maybe a solo at the end of another tune or suggesting to change the arrangement of a song to give it drive. Nuance, texture or piledrive punk rhythms bashed out on my Fernandes Strat or a splattering of notes with the volume turned up. A distortion pedal would soon be on the horizon to beef up the sound, a first investment in the world of pedals. Reckless abandonment on the guitar neck but knowing the structure of the tune. I guess they were knocked out by my ability to pick up their material quickly and hashing out new musical ideas on their tunes constantly, that they asked me to come back Sunday for another rehearsal. Looking back, something did click. Our playing meshed well and I had played with the bassist and drummer before at Bard. Everything came into play. Three days after graduation, with no idea what the hell I was going to do with my life-even though I had a direction somewhat- I was in a band.
During that summer, we rehearsed at a studio on 23rd street near the Flatiron area, a weekly ritual, maybe a few days a week. Started writing new material with my bandmates and then recorded a demo tape to book gigs at clubs. I think we knocked out a few tunes in a session and then the mixing session came later. Each was a step by step process, rehearsing, writing, recording and then send a tape of your demos/material to promoters at clubs so you can book the gigs, perform at them and start building an audience. Sounds easy? No way, brother. A tough slog up the mountain. More about that later.
It started to happen in the fall of '92, after Labor Day, the summer heat slowly turning to cooler temperatures, sunsets earlier in the evenings, the sweat n' grind of hot humid summer fading to a memory. We got some gigs in the fall, even though we played one gig during the summer, but we had to get a new drummer. Got thrown off the tracks a bit but it happens. Tensions between bandmates caused our original drummer to be let go so auditions started somewhere after our demo was recorded and it happened sometime in July. It set us back in terms of gigging out to the public. Sad. I got a lot along with all of my bandmates, but it happens: politics, tension, headaches, emotions etc. These things creep into band dynamics and if you can navigate the waters, you'll be okay. It's hard. One day, I'll have to write about that: Band Dynamics 101. When to keep your shit together and not screw up when you're trying to build a music career or a musical journey with bandmates.
As being a guitar player in the band- and contributing to the material after a few tunes were written with the bass player and singer- I also utilized my artistic skills in illustrating flyers to promote our gigs, same thing I did back at Bard, where you posted flyers around campus to promote your show at some dorm. So, let me draw some flyers that we can used to promote our gigs around the city. Did it before, can do it again was my thinking. At that time, I was influenced by the EC artists of the 1950s: Wally Wood, Johnny Craig etc. and also Will Eisner, soaking up the Spirit comic books that were reprinted in the early 90s. As a guitarist, I was still practicing, working on music books, scales, chords etc. but learning tunes to pick up on licks, solos and trying to write my own material.
At that time, to me, music was exploding in terms of sound, volume, anger and intensity to name a few. On one side, you had the Seattle bands plugged into amps with heavy riffs and then the hip hop acts with these sonic textures and overtones, a mishmash of sampled riffs, beats, loops etc. over their own rap/street poetry. In England, there were loud buzzsaw guitars, grooves and beats too. It could be the Manchester bands-Stone Roses as an example- or shoegazing bands such as Ride or House Of Love. A wall of guitar squall, texture, atmosphere, not a million notes played over a track, showing off dexterity or chops. These were the sounds I was listening to each day. I was trying to tap in to that intensity with my band, as we were soaking up Public Enemy, Fugazi, Pixies, Sugar, Helmet, the Wedding Present or going back to the Buzzcocks, the Jam and the Clash. At that time, Paul Weller's debut disc came out and that never left our cd player. So was Honey's Dead by the Jesus and Mary Chain. Mixing with what was current with blues and rockabilly. Chess Records and Eddie Cochran. Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Carl Perkins next to Husker Du and Mission Of Burma. That was my breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you look at the flyer, you can see a rough attempt at penciling, composition, inking and lettering like the music I was playing at the time: raw, maybe crude, but you see the beginning of something in terms of the pencils and inks. Each year, it was trying to refine those skills like music: practice, draw every day, keep your chops up. Listen to music, look at art, read comics, absorb structure and technique, try to learn something everyday. It would take me many years to learn the nuts and bolts of both comics and music: panels grids, one shot connecting to the next, chord theory and how to apply it to your own music. Looking back, my attempts at songwriting, soloing or drawing comics was at a different stage then it is now. Back then, I didn't have a grasp at connecting shots from panel to panel or how to finish tune, arrangement wise. All my tunes had major chords or riffs in 5ths, where you just play the root note and the fifth. Add distortion and chug it along and it sounds great. With comics, I had an idea of close ups, medium shots or long shots, but I didn't really knew the visual language of storytelling or its nuances in terms of spatial arrangement of visual elements in a panel shot, the foreground and the background. And I'm still learning this stuff, trying to get the mechanics, the nuts and bolts of storytelling composition. Trying to do the best I can.
Regarding a tough slog up the mountain: nothing is easy whether you're in a band or trying to make a living drawing comic books or illustrations. Some days are great and other days aren't whether it's bandmate tension, getting exploited in clubs- i.e. paying to play at clubs or calling tons of people to come to your gig and hopefully, the promoter will book you again for a second show- or your portfolio not being tops in the eyes of art directors and editors. If that's the case, you got to work harder at it. You think you reach certain plateau in your playing or your drawing skill. Then an instructor or an editor can give you a critique and point out what's missing, what needs to be worked on in terms of your ability to write, perform, play or draw or tell a story visually. I can go on and on about this, but perhaps at another time, I will write this in greater detail.
Looking back, twenty five years later, I see some things that work in the flyer and other parts that needed to be more developed: composition, inking, lettering etc', but it has a look to it. Some guy with a spinning house for a head! Where did that come from!?! An interesting idea to use at a later date. Knock it out to the best of your ability on paper like solos: hit a few right notes, a heavy riff, maybe you trip over your strings, maybe the execution is not seamless, but the attitude and the drive is there.
And hopefully, that attitude and drive still exists.
Artwork and words (C) Copyright Rich Terdoslavich 2017