(Story I wrote for Victoria In Motion Fall 2010 issue) This is the unedited version, the original was cut for length.)
As I write this, I am sitting in my home office. My trusty synthesizer is at my side, its plug in the wall is warm from the hour or so of playing I have put it through. I am looking at the pictures on the wall, and the fliers and posters of the bands I have played in. It’s been a long ride with no signs of ending anytime soon. I click on my emails. News for the band… more shows are booked
next month and we are looking at the possible dates to do another tour in the fall. Life for my band THE LOVELETTER is good. It wasn’t always that way… I guess it’s as good of a story as any to tell you. Like any story worth telling… It began with a girl.
She wasn’t just any girl. She was drop dead “Helen- Of- Troy- Let’s- Start- A- War- For- Her” beautiful. I had been playing in bands for about six or so years already, girls came and went… but this one was different. So I did what any other normal punk rock kid who knows no other trade would do… I bought a piano and wrote some songs for her.
It’s important to note her, she was the start of it all, but not the journey. You see, to keep this part of the story short… I’ll give you the highlights. First, I wrote all these songs way back in 2003 for her. They were short simple piano songs with a percussive piano part and slow tender lyrics. I did a few solo shows, but I think what sealed the deal was the CD I put out and gave away at shows called “Cupid Hates Me” in which the liner notes pretty much told her (and the world) how I felt. Skipping most of the Nicholas Sparks stuff… we eventually began dating, then marriage followed. I found myself happy, content, and no longer in need of writing these songs of longing and unrequited love. So I put the piano away.
Then 2008 came. In events that won’t be relived, I found myself at the receiving end of a divorce. The life I had built over the last few years had crumbled around me and I found myself living with a void. The punk rock band I was in was deteriorating, and I felt truly lost. I don’t think it was much of a shock when I looked in the back of my closet to find the keyboard I had stowed away so long ago. I originally thought I would just play some of my old songs, just to make me feel better. When that started coming along, and I realized how much I missed that simple but soulful music, I decided to re record them in better quality.
To re record the songs, I enlisted the help of my buddy Neal to do so. As he was in my apartment listening to the new recordings of me singing to my piano, he looked up from his mixer board and said “You should add a guitar to this.” Since I don’t play guitar, he offered to help. Then he suggested I add some strings, maybe a drumbeat, and the next thing you know, he left my
place that night with the start of a new sound that would follow us the next few years.
Before long, the recording sessions became practice sessions. As we worked on new songs I had begun to write. The members of the band accumulated naturally and easily. I knew Aaron from my punk rock band, and new he wanted to keep playing no matter what the project. And Danny, I met in a bar after being introduced embarrassedly by a mutual acquaintance.
The band’s first “real” practice was in the back of Tejas Café in Victoria Texas (before it was turned into a pool lounge and separate from the rest of the place), we made a deal with the management that we would play and keep it down to a reasonable level as well as buy drinks and food all night. We didn’t mind at all. It was cheaper than renting a room somewhere and it was always nice when the cute waitresses would come spend their breaks in the back and tell us how good the music sounded.
After awhile, we sort of outgrew that practice spot in favor for a house. After the band had been practicing for a few months, we felt ready to try a show. Of course, being a new, unknown indie folk band didn’t leave many people banging on our doors, even on a local level. This meant we would have to take matters in our own hands. So we began looking into the local open mic nights.
Our first open mic was at Hasting’s hardback café. At that time, no one had even signed up, so the Barista was kind enough to show us the space set aside for anyone foolish to play and wished us luck as well as all as all the time we wanted to play. Despite our efforts to let everyone know, maybe five of our friends showed up to watch us play. This did not change the fact that we were petrified. I had played shows in front of screaming, massive, violent crowds, and here I was afraid to bear my soul to a lousy five people. It was suprising to me how honest the music came out.
Open mics became a standard for us. Then we began attending songwriter circles. Then more open mics, then finally a friend gave us a break and let us play a show in a club. Once again the petrified fear came out that night in Riverside’s multiplex as I looked out into the crowd and saw my ex wife watching the band play. The show… I learned that night… must go on.
The shows got easier and more frequent. We still kept doing the open mics and songwriter circles. The open mics helped us get a tough skin as we played for people more interested in coffee and laptops than us. The songwriter circles helped us learn to write better songs and really meet some cool musicians we never would have ordinarily. Then in May, on the anniversary of my divorce, we finished what we had been working all year to do. We finally finished the CD I began all that time. We dubbed it “Broken Heart Social Club” after the friendship the band had formed from all of our breakups that year.
Life seemed good for the band, then after a show (on Valentine’s day no less) the idea to set up a tour hit us. Why not? We could book it ourselves, plan our own route, and have fun along the way. It seemed so simple… What could it hurt? So we started the task of booking our first Texas tour. It was 2 weeks in Texas (we did it in a clockwise circle) and slept in cabins, motels, and friend’s couches along the way. The tour was an experience, where we played everything from big stages to small coffee shops. The crowds were everywhere from a packed house in Austin, to three people in Lubbock. But strangely enough, we made it home a little more wiser of the road, each other, and suprisingly… we made it home in the green.
Since then, the band has grown to a bigger monster than even I could anticipate. We did another tour in February, had a video shot by a friend filmaker, and had a few photoshoots done by our photographer friend, Mitch Ahrens. The band has become more known around Texas, and I find ourselves with a full schedule that I actually have to turn down some weeks just so we can get together and write new songs.
The future is unclear for THE LOVELETTER. We keep playing with our hearts, making sure we have fun. We acknowledge that from bad things, great things can occur, and we know that the human spirit is tough. Even though we keep traveling and trying new venues and playing with new bands, we always like to come back home and play a stage that is familiar to us. Our local friends, and stages have always helped us to be the best band we can. After being in so many bands all these years, we also know that we are lucky to be a functioning band in a place where cover acts thrive. We play each show like it was our last. We acknowledge that we are lucky to be doing what we want. Success isn’t measured by money or big crowds at every show. It’s measured by the way we deliver our message and if people feel the way we do when we play it. That’s something I can never let go. I always joked that I would send that girl a thank you card for letting me go. It sounds tacky, but maybe I should.