The Road to Destiny: A Career in Creativitity One Show At A Time
The ship hovers towards Chattanooga.; there was a procedure to make sure that we had enough oil and air coolant to keep the van afloat for a few hundred miles south to Chattanooga, Montevallo and back. Without a spare tire we were moving luck aside for leg room and positive karma and leaving behind the Land of Manson, the university, parental control, and tradition,
I was traveling with the Nashville band Deep Machine to seek a story about redemption, fame, and the pursuit of success through touring and whether it was possible to survive off gigs alone, or so I thought. The story took unexpected turns as the opportunity to survive on creativity comes with a cost.
We were out of Nashville. Away from the cynics who had abandoned the city for Austin, Texas. Moving down the state line tug boating a trailer of musical equipment, most of which had experienced each and every venue in Nashville. I had known the band before, mostly from the perimeters of catching late night sets among the tranced out refugees escaping university boredom . Brennan Walsh , Ben Crannell, and Brian Cline I had seen before but Zack Bowden was new to the band. Brennan played in Thief, a rock and roll tantrum with classic rock and psychedelic/ experimental sound. Thief played most everywhere in the mid state during the past few years. Crannell had played in other bands that mostly toured the college town of Murfreesboro, TN, where Deep Machine formed. The story begins, that each had a gig the same night and in between sets Walsh, the guitar player of Thief, and Crannell, the drummer of Childhood TV Stars took up their instruments in between sets and Deep Machine was formed. Brian joined after moving into town from Oklahoma with friend John Conant of Penicillin Baby to attend the recording program at MTSU. Brian was a natural fit in the band. And Bowden is fresh and already in the pocket, the way all bass players should be.
The ride to Chattanooga was under way and I had the feeling we were on the crest of something progressive that was neither good or evil, but maybe a little of both, in search for the push behind the madness so many bands before had done and failed to do; taking to the road without a label footing the bill. It was too late to get back home and write the entire idea of going along on tour as a pipe dream with the arching theme of those who can’t do teach, and those who can’t teach write about it. We were on our way south.
No one was at the venue when the band began to unload the equipment but I suspected that people were hiding in the shadows getting their head leveled. We had extra coolant and oil in the van if anyone was interested, but there were no takers. This is the first tour Deep Machine had been on since reforming early this year with Bowden behind the bass. I ask DM what caused the split with their last bass player in the time before the set. “There were a lot of reasons,” Walsh says, “things are just going to work better this way.” It seems, like all relationships, bands are no different, capable of discovering the worst and best in each other quickly and without mercy and If the positives are not reiterated, the negatives creep up and have trouble ever going away.
It has only taken Zack a week to learn the complicated time changes, rhythm relapses, hyper metal dance beat mix ups, and the color wheel of changes that make up the bands set list. “We can get fucked up when we are jamming, but I’ll wait till after the show,”Walsh says and Bowden agrees. Starting to get worried about who will attend, “Shows don’t get started here till later,” says Crannell, who had spent the past year living in Chattanooga while Deep Machine had been on hiatus.
10:30 P.M. and the opening song filters through JJ Bohemia. Tribal women in the front row move their feet with piercing screams. I think of what Walsh said when I asked him what he thought of having fans that are considered stereotypical hippies, what ever that word means. He says he thinks having fans, whoever they are, is great. “Hippies know how to have a good time, they dance, they are always in a good mood. They are awesome.” It did not hurt that Walsh forgot his black boots and went with sandals instead, as most of the crowd moved about in sandals and t-shirts.
Earlier that day we arrived in town at a diner where the band waited for to-go orders and we looked at the local newspaper already on the table, trying to avoid the full plates of left overs gone uneaten by a family of food mongers on the adjacent table. I wondered why they didn’t take the rest home. Reading the front page of the local bi-weekly rag, I felt like the band was doing something special and that their story would be on the front page of this magazine or one like it soon. And while I saw the idea of touring as an attempt to define one’s own future on chosen terms, I began to wonder why anyone would care. And if anyone would see this endeavor of low budget touring as anything beside roaming from city to city like carefree gypsies with music and good booze on their side.
After the set, it came as no surprise that a friend of the band was in the audience. A heavy set crooner in a hunting cap could be seen lounging with the top half of his back on a large red sofa chair while the rest of his body hung lazily off the side, pressed in by two women, sliding down the rounded arm rests. He was loving it.
“This is who we are staying with,” says Crannell, pointing to the sturdy mass getting squeezed into a smiling position on the chair.
I wonder how long riding under the radar it will be until this band gets discovered. In Montevallo we are a moving mirage. The guys don’t expect to make any money here. Money is talked about openly; it is noted that everyone needs to know not to get in trouble or spend too much, for costs must be kept low to make it home. Tonight they are playing at a house party, and while the house owner says he will cover gas, the expenses of food and nourishment won’t be covered. But fans are there and even better, potential fans. But discovery does not mean fame and the guys know that, discovery means making a living playing and touring, discovery to the point of leaving the day jobs to play music and be called professionals in every sense of the word and the amount of dedication it implies. “We want to do this full time, it is too much fucking fun,” says Brennan as he steps inside and looks around for the best place to set up.
In the year of hiatus while Deep Machine took a break, the landscape of popular music has turned and twisted upon itself into a complex melodrama of man vs. machine. As Skrillex has become the most famous beat maker in the world and producer David Guetta prostitutes his beats to the highest bidder, and while our hometown of Nashville has become the center for garage and punk rock, and Franklin bands Paramore, Kesha, and others shell out radio singles, Deep Machine has emerged again at a time when the duality of stage presence and live recordings have peaked to the point of no return. “The gig has to be a spectacle and the recordings must emulate the live show,” says Brook, the promoter in Montevallo.
From the front of the van waiting before the show, the men of Deep Machine look out the front window toward the ultimate uncertain destiny of their chosen path and the sky melts around them. Toward fear or fraternity, the smoke hidden in the safest place is released into the air and everyone smiles as the fire is hidden again for there is no starting over after passing the finishing line, and jail costs more than two hundred dollars to leave. They are traveling not a part of the world but upon it, and outside the broken blinds the world looks trapped in the idea of shame, that inside this van exists the only truth of life.
But It is hard to not feel, at times, that for choosing this life, we must all be insane, and me apart of them, as if the tradition of desks, cubicles, and electronic time sheets is an admirable path and one this band is destined to overwhelming hardship for not taking. I wonder if independence is nothing more than an escape from the ugliness of life, put in route by creating a parallel brand of ugliness under the demonic democracy of freedom and utopia. Are they vagabonds out to change the world or are they on the ride of an endless party? The ground in between is safest but at some point they will have to choose.
“Why tour without a label backing you?” I asked.
“It is the only way to play a show every night. We can play in front of new people and develop a regional fan base. Some people play in Nashville and expect to be discovered. Thief tried that but we think this will work better. “
“What are you working toward, as money can’t be the answer I assume?” I ask.
“We want to do this full time,” says Walsh.
Each member is the leader of the band in one way or another, but it is Walsh who seems to be followed. He is a guitar virtuoso like I have never seen before. He is playing the guitar at all times and is comparable to the best in Nashville and around the world. Playing almost his whole life and studying Spanish Classical while listening to Radiohead, My Morning Jacket, and John Coltrane , Walsh’s ability and focus to perform hard and fast is one component fellow bands and listeners come out to witness and learn from but rarely emulate.
Cline has an insatiable appetite for creation in painted art and music. While traveling to Montevallo, in the time it took the gas gauge to go from half full to a quarter tank, Cline composed an entire song that could be played at any festival. Each song is layered in his variety of color, darkness, and light, through the manipulation of electronic sound.
Ben Crannell moved to Nashville this past month to rekindle the band he had help form in the winter of 2008 with Brennan Walsh and to bring grace and balance back to the planned chaos of DM. Crannell never seems to get off beat and pours his heart beat into the sounds. Paired with Zack’s bass, the creation of a pounding dance beat and thunderous matchstick gripped applause, Crannell’s drumming is mesmerizing keeping the machine alive
Newcomer and bass master Zack Bowden could not be a better performer and band member. Bowden stepped onto stage each night to hit each note with ferocity and vigor. He has recently been ill and was advised to be careful on stage,, often being advised by Walsh in a half serious manner, “we can’t let you die Zack.” Bowden made the absence of the former bass player less painful and a smooth transition. He has helped build on songs that had already been laid by putting his own twist on them with a soulful style all his own and adding a powerful professionalism to the new tunes released this year.
Brian tells me that the times between shows are when they become a family. He continues, “this all seems fun but even the fun, if constant, gets boring. We try to mix things up both in the show and while traveling so that everything stays fresh and new” he continues, “ it is impossible not to have down time with nothing to do, but that is part of the experience, using whatever time is available to think, practice, and embrace the experience.
“Do you think this is why bands fight so much?” I ask.
Brian laughs. “Yea probably.”
The band is out to create something original. How to exist in a world free of advertisements where the creation of the will is upon the only visage they exist. Traveling down the state and through counties unmarked beside the upcoming fast food sign, it is difficult for them to not feel absolutely alone while surrounded by the world of capital they don’t have. Deep Machine is neither on the side of good or evil but exist as a force moving forward and even without immediate avail will never stop, and as long as they don’t stop there will be an inevitable victory as their energy will prevail. There is no room for fighting anymore, they have momentum, riding destiny as troubadours of fate.
And the band settles back home, the vans last stop ending at the grocery at the corner of the street that leads home, we sit ending in the sort of routine we had dismissed, but the intrepid fear of reentering normal life has gone away. The desire to speed away, plot out strong drinks, cheap food, and free solace, and get back in the cage to entertain is still with the men of Deep Machine; but back home, with a longer tour on the horizon, the band is constantly hurdling forward while even standing still.