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It’s Only Rock & Roll Part 8

  • Written by Puppy
  • March 6th, 2010
  • 5 min read

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I had placed adverts for musicians in the usual places: Ajarn.com, Craigslist, Bangkok Jungle and Musolist. At that time, I used to sift through prospective band members and weed out the usual lead-swingers; those who had little, or no experience in bands,
the Filipino choir singers (although that sounds good on paper, singing in a choir is a different world from singing in a band) and general time-wasters who were trying to get on a gravy train out of the teaching profession.

Back then, I would meet the more promising candidates at Bully’s Bar & Restaurant near Sukhumvit soi 4, a nice place to eat and drink and quiet enough to talk without the distractions you get in other places in that area. Having
face-to-face chats with people is the best way of finding out what they are about. The idea was to give everyone a CD of 5 songs to go away and learn. Then I would audition everyone and see if things clicked.

Since the Associates days, I have always used Music Boom rehearsal studios in Petchburi soi 15. Although parking can be a nightmare there, the rooms are well equipped and the owners speak English fairly well.

Now auditioning a new member for an existing band is not too bad. You just get each guy in at 30-minute intervals. However, one person trying to put a totally new band together can be a living nightmare. For the first week, it’s a
case of “suck it and see”. There’s no way you can get 3 or 4 guitar players, bassists and singers and organize them all in one afternoon.

So we had one Filipino guitar player who claimed he was recovering from a fever and that was his excuse for not learning 5 songs in 10 days. Also an English rhythm guitar player came along who didn’t do too badly. I had arranged for
3 female singers to come down as well; the first one cancelled, as she had just signed a contract to work at the Hard Rock Café. The second girl came in clutching a different CD to the one I gave her and asked if we could audition her with
songs that she knew instead of the ones everyone else had learnt (goodbye and good luck). Actually we gave her a shot at singing a couple of the songs and it was clear that she had not even attempted to learn them. I leapt upon the opportunity
and did what Frank Zappa used to do in these situations – smiles, shook her hand and said “thank you so much for coming along”.

The third singer was not bad at all and had learnt every song and didn’t have a bad voice at all (or so I thought). So from that afternoon I just had a singer. Her name was Jennifer. Having always worked with Farang musicians, the
one thing that struck me about her was the difference between Farang and Filipino / Filipina musicians.

What tends to happen with Farang musicians is that unless you get a group of people who are EXACTLY on the same page, in other words; of the same level of competence, experience, professionalism and judgment, there will always be disagreements
and friction within any band, particularly over song choices. Filipino musicians generally tend to go with the flow and not cause arguments.

When I first came to Thailand, every member of Fourplay was on 5,000 Baht a night. That’s more than anyone gets at the Hard Rock Café or a lot of hotel nightclubs – and that was nine years ago. Yet still they were winging
about having to rehearse new songs to improve the show. What I love about Thai musicians is that they go home, practice until it’s perfect, get together and rehearse until it’s perfect and are just so happy to be playing for a living.
However, the one thing I believe Farangs have over Thai musicians is that, apart from being able to pronounce lyrics perfectly, they put much more passion, feeling and energy into playing music than Thais do. Thais are far more mechanical about
playing music than Farangs. Maybe this is because they are playing Western music and not the music they grew up with. I just wish there was a happy medium of professionalism, perfectionism, passion and energy – then you would have great
all-round musicians in Bangkok.

Another thing worth mentioning here is that Thai musicians are far more afraid to make mistakes than their Western counterparts. This I believe, is purely cultural. I remember watching a documentary about the making of Queen's Bohemian
Rhapsody. Brian May was in a recording studio in 2004, explaining how all the tracks were laid down, and the difference between today's technology and that of 1975 (apparently, because they are so old, the master tapes have to be baked before
you play them, otherwise they would just fall to pieces – thank God he and Roger Taylor got it on to computer as soon as the technology became available). The point I'm making here is that he spotted one or two mistakes in the piano and guitar
tracks. He just said "a couple of mistakes there, but who cares!" If it's good enough for Brian May, it's surely good enough for Somchai the guitar player.

I had never been in this position before – no bass, no guitar, just a drummer and a singer working together. Many people would wait and audition other musicians, but knowing how hard it is to find them, I felt continuity would be a
good thing and it was only the two of us rehearsing for 2 or 3 weeks. Most of the time was spent going through songs she felt she could sing and ones we felt would go down well with audiences.

I received a reply to an ad from a French keyboard player called Guillaume. He had decided to come and live in Thailand with his French girlfriend and quit his full-time band in Paris, very similar to my situation 7 years earlier. I had been
communicating with an Aussie guitar player called Dan, who was coming back to Thailand in a couple of weeks. Shortly after Dan arrived, we auditioned a few bass players and chose an Italian called Simone. The band was complete. From finding Jennifer,
it must have taken about 5 weeks before the band was complete. Complete, but not perfect…

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Stickman's thoughts:

Interesting what you say about Thai musicians being mechanical. I think we can apply that to things other than music too.