My band has played two shows. The first was last August, at another party for Ben Brown's So New Media. I told Ben I wanted to have a band, so Ben hooked me up with his friend Dakota Smith. I saw Dakota do a solo gig in a convenience-store parking lot in South Austin. He played the guitar very well, and his songs were really goofy. I'd written a bunch of songs of my own. Even then, I had half an eye on recording them for an album. But I needed help.
Dakota was a perfect match. He had a similar sense of humor and, unlike me, he actually knew how to play musical instruments. I e-mailed him a bunch of lyrics, told him what I wanted the songs to sound like, and went over to his house a couple days before the show. Within an hour, we'd written six songs.
"These would be great with a drummer," I said.
Dakota's roommate Nick had been hanging around.
"Nick used to be a drummer," Dakota said.
So that Friday night, Dakota, Nick, and I played a show. Ben summed up the experience well when he said it "surprisingly rocked." That was generous, considering that I'd dumped a beer on Ben's head during the performance. But I agreed. It had certainly gone well enough to warrant another gig.
Our second show took place in November 2002, during the Texas Book Festival's inaugural "After Hours" program. Unfortunately, the Texas Book Festival had no way of knowing that they'd booked us at the exact same time as X was playing at Emo's. Yes. That X. The band with John Doe and Exene Cervenka. Possibly the greatest rock band ever. All of us wanted to be at that show. The 10 people in the audience probably wished they had been. We'd gotten wasted and skipped the sound check. Dakota and Nick couldn't hear each other. We were horrible.
In the car on the way home, Dakota said, "When am I gonna start getting paid for this shit?"
The band was in trouble.
Two nights ago I called Dakota. I really needed him. He had the drums, the PA, the mics, and a cable modem. And he's the only person alive who knows my songs. He didn't really want to talk because American Idol was on. But I told him that even though I'm working with Jim Roll, he'd get publishing credits for the songs he developed. Even if Jim tweaked his tunes a little bit, they'd still be his tunes. He could still be in the band if he wanted. We needed him, I said.
Sure, Dakota said. We could practice at his house. Also, I had to meet his new puppy, Roxie.
Last night, Jim and I picked up Daniel, our new drummer, in front of the Chipotle on Guadalupe. My cell phone rang. It was Dakota.
"Are you still coming over to rehearse?" he said.
"Yeah," I said. "We're on our way."
"Um. Am I just showing Jim the songs tonight? We can't make a lot of noise because Nick's taking a nap."
"Daniel's with us," I said. "But he can just pound on a bucket or something."
Ten minutes later, we were at Dakota's. Almost immediately, he and Jim started talking about some musician who sings about robots. Thirty minutes later, he'd taught Jim the songs. Daniel pounded his own lap with his sticks.
"You think these songs need tweaking?" I said.
"No, man," Jim said. "I think they're great. Can't wait to record them."
Then we wrote two new songs. One we just put to the tune of "Cadillac Ranch" and decided we'd tweak it later. For the other, Dakota slapped on some Velvet Underground MP3s, and we started jamming. Within 15 minutes, we'd written the music for "Vein." It kind of sounds like a lost Velvets song, but then again, it might sound nothing like a lost Velvets song. I don't know. We did it only once. I have Jim's notes for the song in front of me. They read, "Octave Drone. Riff in 'D.' " You tell me what that sounds like.
It was 9 p.m. Rehearsal had taken less than two hours. Dakota said, "I rented Rocky for my Xbox." We watched him play it for a while. I let Roxie lick my face. Then Jim and I played NBA 2K3. Daniel let us know that he never drums in public with his shirt on. He said too many bands take themselves too seriously and that rock'n' roll should just be about getting drunk, acting stupid, and having a good time.
Amen to that, I said.
Dakota and his girlfriend needed to go over to their friends' house because he'd TiVo'ed American Idol for them. Jim was exhausted and needed to crash. Daniel didn't have much of anything to do, but he didn't mind going home.
"The songs sounded a lot better tonight," I said to Dakota.
"Yeah," he said. "That's what happens when you practice."