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Fan Landers: First Tours, Glow-In-The-Dark Basses, And Dealing With Kicked-Out Members' Backbiting

Are you a musician? Is your band having issues? Our new advice columnist, who we're going to call Fan Landers (a.k.a. Jessica Hopper), is ready to give you Real Talk about any problems your musical outfit might be having—whether professional, practical, or sartorial. Send your problems to sotc at villagevoice dot com; confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Fan Landers: First Tours, Glow-In-The-Dark Basses, And Dealing With Kicked-Out Members' Backbiting

Dear Fan,

I am in a (fairly) young band. We've been playing gigs for about a year and a half now, and naturally we think we're pretty good. What we'd like to do is get out of our home city to play some shows elsewhere, in the hopes of attracting a few more fans. As we're in Ireland, there also aren't that many places to choose from, so we'd probably like to play some shows around the UK as well. What's the best way to go about arranging a few shows (or a tour) outside of our local area? Should we just buddy up with a slightly bigger band and wait to secure an opening slot for them on a minor tour of theirs, or get off our asses, book several venues we'd like to play in, and get from each one to the next, without too much worry over the size of audience we'd be playing to (as we'd be playing in places where people have most likely never heard of us, and therefore don't care about seeing us)?

—Noel

I am glad you are already pretty realistic about your first tour. Chances are no one will be there to see you, and audience indifference will be pretty high. It is encouraging that you are willing to get out there and start laying the foundation for your band despite this. First tours are generally equal parts miserable and fun. If you are friends with another band in your area that is known regionally, there is no harm in hitting them up, if you have already played shows together and know them. You can also mention it to every other band you play with and open for that you are looking to do dates, or you can say, "Hey, we are looking to come through Cardiff in September—we should totally do a show together!" Playing with a decent-drawing local in each city might even be a better prospect than touring with a more popular band from your hometown. Piece together a tour that way—draw on that reciprocity and networking—and you could wind up with a couple of OK gigs to make up for the show you play to four people in a shed in Dumfries. You could also try hooking up with another local act and doing a few package dates, which might be of more interest to a promoter.

The crucial thing for early tours especially is to assume that everyone you deal with is not doing their job. This sounds fucked up, but it'll save you disappointment on the backend, and being a young band has their shit together will be a pleasant surprise for the promoters/clubs you're dealing with and make them want to work with you again. Xerox some cool posters and fliers for your band and mail some to the promoters you're working with, but also ask them if they have a list of record stores in town you could mail some to, and if they have a list of press and radio contacts. If they don't have them, ask a local what gets people out to shows. If they don't know, Google each area's record stores, college radio, and local papers and blogs. Budget a couple of bucks (euros?) in postage and a few hours of online research for every show. It's a lot of work, but as a result you have contacts for your next time through, or to share with other bands. A few posters and a little writeup can make a difference—you might get two people coming out to your show instead of none. Applying a little effort is better than just throwing yourself out there and hoping for the best. Good luck!

 

Dear Fan,

I am building a fretless whamola bass (look it up#0151;it's really cool!) and I have an unfinished fretboard. I was wondering if how spray-painting it with glow-in-the-dark paint and coating it in something will affect the sound. (The finished product will be spiral black and white and have neon strings, so the glow-in-the-dark fretboard will really look cool.)

—Haley

Hi Haley.

I applaud your ambition, but I fear my advice might dampen your creative impulse. I called up an expert, Shawn at Third Coast Guitar Service in Chicago, who does a lot of customization and painting: His advice, straight up, was "Don't do it." Because of the nature of the fretless bass, the paint would immediately get beat up and get caught in your strings that are scraping it, which will mess up the sound of your bass. Secondly, there is the issue of the paint itself: "You don't want to spray paint on that type of wood. To paint a fretboard, you would want to put a sealant on first to keep the paint from soaking into the wood. If you want it to truly glow in the dark, you don't want to use normal house paint or spray paint." Shawn says that glow-in-the-dark paint that is right for guitar will run you around $100 for a very small can. And if you want the paint job to last, you'd want to coat it with quite a few layers of polyeurethane. "With this type of refinishing, the probability of messing up your instrument is really high, so it's the sort of thing best left to the professionals," he said.

That said, if you are interested in getting really DIY with your guitar customization, your best bet for supplies is Stewart MacDonald—the website sells the sort of paint and finishes you will need. If you would rather turn the job over to professionals, it'll likely run you about $250.

All that said, when I was 16, I painted and drew and stickered the hell out of my bass too, but it was a Mexican Fender I bought off a friend for $60. Perhaps you can get a second bass, used, for cheap and decorate the shit out of it—make that your crazy bass, rather than the one you have lovingly built yourself.

Hello Fan Landers:

Our guitarist and backup singer kept trying to wedge her songs into our set, which would normally be all fine and dandy except we're not a country band—we're a power pop band on our way to the darker side of own. Post-rehearsal arguments soon led to unreasonable demands, so rather than endure any more tension so we chose to kick her out. She's a huge gossip. How do we combat the negativity she's going to spread about us without lowering ourselves to her nonsense? Thank you.

—Anon in SF

Gossips are always fun to have in your band—until they aren't in your band. If she is as huge of a gossip as you say she is, then everyone takes her chatter with a grain of salt. You are probably rightly anticipating word will get around—all scenes love to talk—but how bad will that word be? Does she have ferocious secrets about your personal lives or other business you don't want her putting in the street? If that is the case, you need to appease her, even if it's a totally B.S. olive branch. Ask her if she wants to open (or, if the dirt is dirty, headline) your next show, or offer some plum out-of-town gigs. Tell her that you feel bad about how you parted and really want to help her launch her solo thing, since that is obviously what she is meant to do. Whoever in the band got along with her best should be the messenger. If all she's got is typical "the bassist was telling me how to play and no one ever wanted to do my songs" complaining—well, everyone who has ever been in a band has had that complaint. It's not the sort of thing that's going to get further than barstool commiseration, so don't sweat it.

Got a problem? Ask Fan Landers (a.k.a. Jessica Hopper) at sotc at villagevoice dot com.

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