The Ad Hoc Country band and the Art of Getting Things Done

Just as I was starting to write this post about the show Friday night, I got an email from Boris wherein he quit the band. Which is slightly difficult to process since quitting a band invented to play one show after which the drummer is going into some kind of semi-retirement seems unnecessary.

Boris cited two reasons for saying he didn’t want to continue 1) the ever-popular “musical differences” and 2) he didn’t think his playing was up to snuff last night and he wants to woodshed some more.

I didn’t know musical differences mattered in an ad hoc country band. I thought it was more about doing something with other motivated players. But when he’d ask for feedback and I’d say “Don’t play any walking basslines,” there’d be a discussion.

After we rehearsed with David the first time, Boris was concerned his playing wasn’t tight enough (David’s a guitar player foremost). I’d already told him that David wasn’t interested in playing beyond the one show so we could bring someone else in later if we continued. Boris went ahead and found candidates and he and I even practiced with one.

Boris wanted to bring in a guy to play drums on all the songs for the show. He asked me a couple of times (as recently as Thursday night) for the next batch of songs to begin working on. He told us that night that he wanted more of a definition of the band and that when he did things he went big.

When we’d first conceived of the band, I’d delivered a set list of 17 songs, 5 of which were “band” songs for David and Boris — the rest were me playing solo or with accompaniment from Allen. When Boris worried about his playing then, I said this: “You can’t play too few notes.” Just hit the root notes, I continually advised.

Boris went above and beyond and showed up at his first rehearsal knowing all the songs on the list pretty well and often having fairly busy basslines. At the first rehearsal with David, Boris pushed us to go through all the songs even getting David to drum on stuff that I hadn’t intended to have drums. At one point David said “so there were 5 songs on my set list and you’ve got me playing 11 songs.” He hadn’t signed up for that.

I detail all this not to make Boris look bad but to highlight two different approaches to getting something done. My approach is to strip away everything unnecessary: drums on only 5 songs, bass where possible, minimal set list, maximum reliance on my solo playing. I wanted to ask as little as possible from the guys playing with me. I wanted a goal we could achieve.

Then there’s the “Go Big” approach.

There’s been some sort of godawful precedent set by a few people that “Go Big or Go Home” is the way to approach creative projects. It’s not. Find the people who approach things this way and look at their catalog of work. I’m not talking about successful rock stars or Hollywood directors. I mean the people you know. Find the ones who “go big.” They’re the ones who are still working on their first record after 3 years. They’re the ones who have an awesome idea for a website and they just have to find someone to build it. Someday.

The way to get things done is to eliminate what you don’t have to do.

I completely understand Boris’s position that he wants to do something on bass that he can’t do in a country band that plays 2 minute songs. If someone invited me into a band that played long songs with tons of solos, I’d decline.

But it’s that second reason he cites — not feeling like his playing was up to snuff — that sticks in my mind.

What if we’d brought in a pro drummer for all the songs? What if we’d tried to learn even more songs? What if Boris had more notes to play? What if I’d stressed out about all the rehearsals we’d have to do to get someone else familiar with an hour long set? What if I had more words to memorize? What if we’d put all that pressure on ourselves in such a limited time frame? What if we’d “gone big”? How would the show have gone then?

Or what if the entire band had only played on 5 songs? What if we’d worked on those over and over?

You’ll see from the video (if I make it public) that Boris’s worries that he’s not up to snuff are completely overstated. He’s a fine player and he knocked everything out. We all made some mistakes. That’s just the nature of a live show. You rehearse as much as you can but you can’t rehearse for the live elements that appear — the sound system issues, the noise of the crowd. But what you can do is relieve the pressure on yourself to do everything right the first time out. You can eliminate the unnecessary.

Go small. And then go home. And do it again. And again. And again.