Trying not to overthink

The other night I went to see Faun Fables at the Mix in Seattle. They are Dawn the Faun, and Nils from Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Both have a commanding stage presence, and strong voices. Together, their music can be very hypnotic. Their voices are very different, one high and sweet, the other low and a little raspy. But together, it blends. These are musicians who have spent a lifetime on the road, and live a life of performance, and it shows in the magnitude of their personality.

What stood out to me that night, was the fact that they could enrapture the room with just two people. Whereas most bands would have at least 3 or 4 people on stage, they kept us transfixed with the two of them. Sometimes just one person on guitar. Sometimes Dawn played a bass drum. Sometimes Nils would play a flute or a bass. Each song had its own personality, but with an amazing minimal simplicity.

I had to ask myself, can I do that? As a percussionist, it’s going to be a little difficult. But what would it take? A strong voice, compelling lyrics, a heartfelt performance, and some percussion accompaniment. It’s tough, but doable. And in fact, this takes me back to the first Shakespeare on the Troll performance in Fremont. They asked me to come in and provide sound effects and entertainment between scenes. That was a huge challenge because there was no music accompaniment, and I had the keep the volume very low with just a snare, a tom, some brushes, and a variety of percussion doodads. That was a huge challenge, and just as much of a reward whenever I did have a breakthrough. I had to think more about percussion as melody, and it was enlightening.

Could your music be distilled down to the very basics like that, and have it still be compelling? I’m not saying that it should be, and I certainly play in bands that have a lot of complexity. But these are the moments where I have to ask: is it a bunch of bells and whistles? Distraction?

At the very core, I think music must be able to stand on its own. Something in the very core must inspire something deep inside the listener and stir them. I’ve never seen Dragon Force live, but I wonder if one of them could play a song with the same intensity on accoustic guitar on a street corner? Hopefully someone knows the answer, and the answer is yes. My point is that I think this is a pretty universal exercise that you could employ, the test being: try to play your song on a street corner with one or two people. Could you draw a crowd of passers-by? If not, then you’re in luck! Why? Because you just discovered something important to work on. I certainly just learned that lesson at that Faun Fables show.

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