Never Stay Down
I went through quite a process yesterday, something that had been building up for a couple months now. Frustration, anger, hopelessness, disappointment and fatigue caught up to me. I almost quit Alice Sweet Alice.
I started Alice Sweet Alice in October of 2007 – a return to music after a 10+ year hiatus, where I had quit to get a culinary career under my belt. I had been in bands since I was a teenager. I started playing bass when I was 13 and played in the San Jose, CA punk scene to start, and then released my first album at the tender age of 19 – on vinyl, CD and cassette. We eventually had a bad falling out with our record company, who in turn had a bad falling out with the music industry. We experienced the unfortunate situation of becoming blacklisted in the industry due to the record company’s failure to keep their word. So back then was where I learned the art of self-reliance, but also knew that we as musicians needed help in order to continue. Not having anywhere to turn, I decided to change gears and get a career under my belt. I forgot about music for quite a long time, but something in my life was missing. Something big.
Fast forward to early 2007. During my very successful culinary career, I developed a very serious drinking problem. One that almost killed me. On January 11, 2007, I was in very serious condition with an attack of pancreatitis, a potentially fatal condition. I quit drinking, and realized through treatment that I was suffering from depression, and was probably using alcohol to self-medicate. Dealing with the depression was the first step to my recovery – getting back to music was the most important.
Fortunately for me, I had never gotten rid of my music equipment, and was able to start laying down some ideas that came. A lot of what I did is now on Alice Sweet Alice’s debut album, First Light, and there are scores of interviews we have done, as well as a bio on our website that tell that complete story.
Over these past few years, I have tirelessly, diligently and stubbornly worked this band – almost like an addiction – a replacement for the addiction that almost killed me. But this one has, for the most part, been a rewarding experience.
Not being a stranger to disappointments in the industry, I decided back at the beginning that Alice Sweet Alice would be a “D.I.Y.” band – especially since my very first experience back with a record company in 2008 was VERY QUICKLY turned into another potential debacle. Being experienced with those, I remedied the situation by self-releasing and promoting the remainder of Alice Sweet Alice’s albums myself, beginning in 2008.
So that is how it has been since 2007. I have been working this group online very hard for the past 5½ years, and up until recently, experienced frustration until we discovered a formula that worked. Alice Sweet Alice is currently enjoying many, many hundreds of new fans every week – many of which we hear from often – and this has really given us a ray of hope during all the struggling that we do as a group. Struggling internally as people and individuals, struggling financially to keep the beast afloat, and struggling as a group to “rise above the noise”.
I may be accused of being a hardass and crass, with a “steamroller” personality and for being brutally honest. I’ll admit to that, but one thing that people really don’t know about me, is that DESPITE all that has happened to me in this music industry in the past – I am still a VERY trusting individual. One of the reasons is because – I AM BRUTALLY HONEST. I don’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, and if I say I’m going to do something – by god or Odin, I do it. This is probably why I am so trusting of people – because I simply cannot imagine being any other way. So, as world-worn and street smart as I am: I am very tragically, NAÏVE.
Fast forward to now. Alice Sweet Alice is trying to release, what I think is simply the best album I have ever had the pleasure of being involved with. I would daresay, one of the best musically put together and executed albums I could even have in my collection. Of course I am biased, but I am also picky. We as a group have been excited about that. We have also been very wary and frightened too, BECAUSE this band – essentially is going about this ALONE. We don’t have a record contract, we don’t have money, and we yearn to do this the right way. We’ve reached out and did a KICKSTARTER campaign and tried to get the help of individuals, but at the end of the day, we cannot really expect anyone to whip out their financial information to help us out. Who ARE we anyway? So we tried and failed, because we had nothing to lose by trying, but that doesn’t make losing any less difficult. It certainly IS frustrating when we see so many other bands successfully doing it. So why can’t we? I don’t know, so we change gears and move on to Plan B, whatever that may be.
We also tried to get people involved with our project, asking them to participate in the making a video for our new album on a voluntary basis. And out of the list of 16 people that said they would do it, only 2 actually delivered. So, obviously, we have to change gears on that now too (the two that delivered are getting the new album and gifts from the band.)
We seemingly have the growing support of the local scene too, but over the past few months, I am also beginning to realize that there are many people here too that talk out of the sides of their mouth. I had heard about it, but now I am actually seeing it. There are a LOT of liars. And I know this because I am a sounding board for many facets of the scene here, and based upon what I know (and keep to myself), a few of the people “in charge here” are less than honest. However, this is not saying the Kansas City music scene sucks and let me be perfectly clear – there are many hard-working caring honest people in the KC Music scene. And as far as many, MANY of the bands are concerned – KC is a talent hotspot and I couldn’t be happier and more honored to share the stage with these great groups. I don’t think that “a screwy scene” is a unique situation for any city, unfortunately (if it is, I want to know where you live). So where do you turn for support when you don’t know who you can trust, or who will turn on you? I don’t know. It’s unfortunate. It’s a sea of vipers out there, and I don’t have a snake bite kit. Fortunately for us, I never really thought about being limited to one area (as happy and honored as ASA is to be based in KC). My plagiarized saying I adopted for this group has always been: “act locally, think globally”.
I guess the most disheartening thing for me, was all of the people that said they would help – simply disappear. And this is not just locally. This is people all over. What I’m beginning to realize, after all of these decades, is that MOST people really don’t have any gas in their tanks. They’re dreamers, and they – for whatever reason – think they will do something. So they tell me they will do things, and of course, being the naïve person I am, believe them – and then get depressed and disappointed when it doesn’t happen. It adds up. And the crazy part of it is, most of what I’m talking about was UNSOLICITED help. Meaning, people offered to help by volunteering, and then they disappear. So this is what is the most aggravating thing about it. Nobody had a gun to his or her head. They contacted US. And then pulled a disappearing act when reality sank in. So I made plans, believing it, and then yet again have to change gears. Again.
I think a lot of it for me, is that we really DO need help to do this right. And I’m frustrated to know that we will have to settle with “doing our best” when I know it could be so much better. But there is nobody out there to help us, so do this we must. Sometimes to me, doing music seems like a futile effort, and as a logical thinker – this tells me that perhaps it’s something I shouldn’t be doing.
None of what I have described is fun, and they say that if you’re not having FUN, then there is no longer any reason to keep doing it. And it does build up over time. So this is where I was yesterday. I am a big guy, but I was emotionally crippled and on the verge of tears. The pressure got to me finally. I broke. I was beat. Tired.
So as I lay there in bed, feeling like I was kicked in the stomach, I contemplated leaving the band. I was starting to think – maybe it’s just “ME”. You hear about people going from one relationship to another, only to experience the same bad situation time and time again. And I’m one of those people that would say – “well, maybe the problem is YOU”. (That’s the logical, brutally-honest side of me.)
Of course, it’s not just ME in this band, and Ali Kat, Ron Bales and Billy Brown have poured their hearts and souls into this band as well. We have seriously put blood, sweat and tears into this group – and finances that we ALL don’t have, and have taken many risks, and have fought and made up, and laughed, and have just have never stopped fighting for what we all believe in. So even though this started as “my band”. It isn’t just about me anymore – and this is a good thing. So I couldn’t be selfish and say, well, you all have to stop.
So what I was going to propose to the band, was that after our next show, that they look for a replacement for me. Because, after all, the problem MUST be me, and I wouldn’t want them to suffer because I didn’t have the strength to continue.
Something in me made me get up, and I just got busy around the house. I got into serious deep cleaning mode, deeply thinking all the while. Maybe it’s slightly ironic that I was cleaning house, because what I finally decided was, that I need to stop communicating so much with people that have a history of the behavior I have described above. Most importantly, this band needs to NOT rely on anyone or any thing. I need to separate the wheat from the chaff, because I just emotionally cannot handle it. It distracts me from what is REALLY important, and that is the music that I make and the fans that want it. The music is the most important thing at the end of it all, and for me, it’s what I need to focus on.
So this is why I decided not to quit or give up. Because I really DO need the music in my life. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen, at the end of the day, as long as I have this band and music as an outlet – life is good. I’m not going to sit here and wallow in self-pity and just GIVE UP. I’m just going to change my focus. I decided back at the beginning that Alice Sweet Alice would be a “D.I.Y.” band. And so this is most definitely what will be our focus. Doing EVERYTHING ourselves, and this way, nothing holds us back – we get what we want, and we take it straight to the people. Our people. And if people volunteer or want to help, we say “OK” but continue to do what we were originally planning. If something actually does come through, then great, but we won’t count on it.
I have found a certain peace in this, as disturbing and uncomfortable as my process was. I persevered, and I think I feel stronger about ASA’s future – despite the lack of financial support. I know there are people out there that believe in us, and part of what gives me strength is knowing there are quite a few of our fans who REALLY DO appreciate what we’re doing, and honestly, that’s all I care about right now. ASA’s music, and our fans. If we have that, we really don’t need anything or anyone else. My social network may grow smaller, but that doesn’t really matter to me. I have always said, I like to keep my Christmas list short.
So a sea change has occurred in my life, and I am ready to meet whatever challenges are before us. I have a great band, we have great fans, and I have a killer family too. Really, at the end of the day, what else do I need? Life is good.
If you’re in a band reading this, and are in a similar situation, you’re not alone. Remember what is important, and TO HELL with everything and everyone else. Most of all, never give up, and when you get knocked down – get your ass back up.
ALICE SWEET ALICE
April 1, 2013 (this is NO joke)