I know, I know, punk rock (however you want to define it) is seldomly associated with guitar virtuosity, great tones, or even talent in general. Some of the “biggest” punk albums of all time really are a bit rough sounding by today’s production standards. Hell, half the time you’d be lucky if the guitars were in tune for a whole song. I’m not here to debate/explain what exactly is “punk” as those discussions tend to go off the rails quick. I’m here to talk about how I think it’s influenced my approach to music, and perhaps life in general. Punk grabbed a hold of me big time in high school after hearing Black Flag’s “The First Four Years” compilation. I still listen to it with quite a big of regularity.
Do It Yourself
Back when punk rock first kicked off, there were no affordable home studios, good studios required budgets, and frankly there weren’t many people willing throw big bucks at it. If you wanted to create your own music and art, you had to get industrious and find ways to do it yourself. The DIY ethics I picked up from the punk world has probably been the biggest influence of mine. There’s no relying on something to be handed to you, you have to go get it yourself.
By the time I came into the fold in my teenage years, (late 90’s/early 2000’s), home recording was becoming more prevalent. Because of that, to be honest, I’ve never recorded in a real studio, or with anyone other than me at the helm. In my high school era band (which I was playing bass in), we each chipped in a couple hundred bucks and bought a Fostex VF-160 16 track digital recorder. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of hours of stuff I recorded on that thing, doing all sorts of experimentation. Learning mic placement, EQing, compressing, room placement, and all sorts of other tricks by just trying it. I still have it, even though most of the recordings were lost when the hard drive had to be reformatted. Oh well.
I also have never taken my guitars to a professional luthier for repair or modification. Especially nowadays with tutorials of everything being available online, I just take a whack at any repair I may need. Whether its installing new pickups, fixing lose solder joints, adjusting the truss rod, level frets, fixing dead frets, blocking tremolos, I’ve just watched a few videos online and felt completely comfortable trying it myself. Sure, I’ve botched a few attempts and had to trash a few necks (well, I’m holding on to them in hopes of trying a full re-fret one of these days…), but through trial error I feel pretty comfortable trying almost any repair/hotrod these days.
Playing the live shows my band plays is a total exercise in DIY too. Even though we really don’t play any punk (we do top 40/classic rock covers..), I take most matters into my own hands. I bring the PA, I run the sound (set and forget), I do the promoting, and I do the booking. This is really more of an economic issue because sound engineers are scarce in my area and charge as much as the venues around here are willing to pay. The values I learned from punk DIY is what gave me to gumption and confidence to do this. Even though, when things go wrong it’s all on me to fix, but when things go right, it’s a great feeling knowing that I put all of it together. When drunkards come up to me after the show and say everything sounded great, it brings a lot of satisfaction.
This blog and my YouTube channel are also an exercise in punk DIY. I don’t really know what I’m doing, I’m just diving in and figuring it out as I go lol. To make my demo videos, I’ve figured out how to completely make them completely on my iPhone and a Go Pro with (at least I think..) good sound. I’m slowly catching up with lighting and framing, I’m still experimenting with that, but all while just trying to crank out as much content as I can.
Good Gear, Bad Gear, Doesn’t Matter, CRANK IT UP!
Most of the early punk was done on whatever gear they could afford or steal. It probably wasn’t the sound they wanted, but it was using what they had and finding a way to make it work. Hell, Greg Ginn of Black Flag just cranked old solid state Peavey PA heads for his sound. Whatever you get could your hands on to make noise, you found a way to make it work.
I spent most of my learning years, and really up into college, on a Peavey Predator and a teal stripe Peavey Bandit. Totally solid combination, I’ll give you that, but really not the best for the 90’s skate punk type sound I wanted as a teenager. But, I made it work. When you only have what you have, you get creative. Just crank it up a hold on!
This mentality I think has helped a lot now that I’m out gigging more. I’ve gone through phases of making a rig more complicated than it needs to be. Inevitably something will go wrong. I’ve seen a few guitarists go into panic and meltdown mode once something goes wrong, or if it doesn’t sound right. My view of it is that as long as you’re making a musical sound somewhat in the ballpark of what a guitar should sound like, 90% of the crowd won’t notice. There’s no stopping a show for things going wrong, you keep going. Crank it up and roll with it!
I feel like this has also fueled my obsession with cheap gear. Maybe I’m just a gear addict and cheap gear lets me buy more of it. Either way, I just love the challenge of “I have this specific set of gear, I want to get a certain type of tone out of it, how do I get there?” It takes me back to trying to get that Peavey rig to sound like what I was hearing on Rancid or NOFX cassettes.
The gear is simply just a set of tools to inflict sonic carnage.
As a wanna be angst ridden youth, the attitude of it is what brought me in. There was really no production value in the recording. It sounded like a group of youngsters just cranking it up and getting in your face. The sound you were hearing was the sound they were making. Their studio time was limited, so there was no making it “perfect.” You had one shot, you better make it count. The result was it actually sounded like people playing music. In today’s world with DAWs and being able to adjust every note and sound to the molecular level, the emphasis on a good performance seems to be lost.
Now, I haven’t done original music for some time now, so I haven’t really recorded a finished song, per se, in a loooong time. But, I’m constantly posting playing videos to social media and making demo videos of gear for my Youtube. Since I record direct to my iphone camera and not to DAW, there’s no going back and editing what I play. It’s a matter of getting the performance right in the first place. This has forced me to be deliberate in what I play, and to play it right the first time to avoid having to do 50 takes. I think the end result is it’s forced me to be a more consistent and deliberate player than I used to be.
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