|The cover image of www.Nerdapalooza.com|
The past two months have been a colossal exercise in multitasking and time management as I've done everything within my power to put together a cohesive band from scratch, while at the same time maintaining a pre-existing band, a few day jobs, and a functional life.
Our story begins with a semi-serious application sent to MAGFest and Nerdapalooza in February or April on behalf of a semi-fictitious "10 person" Careless Juja Live Band. The idea behind the application was that I had some free time at the beginning of the year and I was very interested in opening dialogue with some friends (and family) I'd been doing recordings or collaborations with over the years who I normally had little excuse to talk to. I listened to the best tracks that Juja and I had made over the years and counted the number of instruments needed to fully bring them to life, concluding that 3 guitars, 1 flute, bass, drums, accordion, glockenspiel, piano, and violin would be "required." I called Juja to see if he was on board and after promising to cover his airfare he reluctantly agreed to play a single show with a "CJ [Careless Juja] Live Band", in the rare event that we were accepted to perform at either venue. I also checked with the aforementioned friends who happened to play the various instruments listed above and got a similar response: If we happened to get accepted, that they'd agree to play.
The application was very laid back as a result, because even though I came up with the idea I really didn't expect us to get accepted. Here's an excerpt:
"We enjoy horse rides (don't judge it), walks on the beach, painting tabletop miniatures, sex, non-lyrical music, video games, rescuing orphans from bulldozers, cats, good television, consecutive 18+ hour non-stop recording sessions fueled by a potent mix of energy drinks, propane, and King of the Hill."
My response from Nerdapalooza came in record time: "No." The application guy happened to be a friend of mine and did this every year whenever I applied as Random Encounter. I got a more formal rejection email a few weeks later from Nerda, along with a formal and friendly rejection from MAGFest. I specifically remember informing everyone in the "band" that we'd gotten both rejections and thanking them for being on call for my crazy idea... Then on August 12th, a mere two months, and one week prior to the festival, I got a phone call while was driving through North Carolina in hellishly warm clothing (a suit for work), on a hot summer day, in a truck that didn't have very good air conditioning. The call was from Nerdapalooza, asking if we were still interested in playing and if we'd still be able to pull off the show. I was in the denial phase, thinking the call to be a joke, so I confidentially told him that we could easily put together a half hour set (of music) from scratch, and it was only after the phone call ended, about 5 minutes past the point where I expected someone to reveal that the offer was a joke, that the gravity of the situation hit me. I immediately called all of my new band mates to verify that they could still be involved, and some were now unable to commit learning that much music in that short a time frame. It took about 3 days for Juja to understand that the application was serious and it wasn't until we were officially listed on the Nerdapalooza Website, a full week later, that we were able to confirm the band's full membership. I immediately commissioned the incredibly talented Jaime Kittens to make a logo for the new band that would give us a distinct look and feel from Random Encounter, whose toes I did not want to step on in the slightest.
I really wanted to start arranging the new band's music immediately, but I was already using all my free time to record an album, and playing shows as Random Encounter, which absolutely had to come first, so I didn't get to start arranging for CJL until a week and a half after we knew who as in the band. As I trudged through the first track, about a month and a half prior to the show itself, I had the very hard realization that arranging music for 9 instruments from scratch (in MIDI) was fairly time consuming work. This is the first song I put together, Cave Story: To Grass Town, where I envisioned all of the band members walking up on stage in a specific order to join in and add to the song, making it sound gradually more full. It took me over 6 hours to put together. As I was departing for Belize I downloaded Mixcraft 6 on my laptop so I could work from Central America and spent most of my nights there arranging without any way of effectively communicating with the rest of the band. Juja arranged two songs from his end and when I finally reached a steady internet connection I asked the 88 facebook fans of Careless Juja if they had any requests, because we still had about 4 minutes of music yet unpicked. Someone (I forget who) messaged me with "a song from Goldeneye" and by this point in the arranging/MIDI process I was getting very efficient to the point where I could put a song together in under an hour. At the very last minute Juja added the Game of Thrones theme and a mere month before the show the band mates were all given demos with their respective parts. A partial delay in the arrangement process was when one of the members of the band told me he couldn't commit to the show because a month wasn't enough time for him to deliver a quality performance. I admired his honesty and found a few extremely talented guest artists to take over his parts during key songs but in truth we were now an 8 piece band.
The practice phase for this band new 30 minute set should have taken every waking hour of my days, but Random Encounter had an album release show, an Escapist Expo, and a Nerdapalooza to practice for, which had to always come first as it's my life's work and passion where Careless Juja is more of my free time and an enjoyable hobby. As a result I focused the bulk of my practice efforts on key moments of the CJ show: the part where I'd reveal to the world that I'd been taking violin lessons for the last year, the part where I'd perform the ridiculously complex Professor Layton accordion solo, and the entirety of the Game of Thrones theme, which is my girlfriend's favorite song and the one people will most clearly recognize if I've screwed up. I was more or less on call for 4 weeks as band members would periodically check in with arrangement questions, transportation issues, or important realizations at odd hours of the night, like the fact that none of us owned guitar amps or a full sized keyboard. As I borrowed practice guitar amps from friends, rigged my computer speakers to accept a guitar input (yep, it came to that), upgraded my room-mate's guitar, and bought a glockenspiel stand, I started to feel excitement as the greater plan started to come together. The musicians I was working with were incredibly talented and if it was not for their collective and individual prowess I don't think we could have pulled it off. The band consisted of:
|Ben, Chris, Juja, AdamOne|
"Who Ya Gonna Call?"
Juja - One of my best friends, though he lives in Utah, who's just as quirky and into the music as I am. We only met once in person for two weeks but record music together regularly for Dwelling of the Duels.
H3lios - A piano-major in college who created Random Encounter with me many years ago. I see him less than once a year and he's all but my brother.
JY - H3lios's better half, a professional grade concert pianist from South Korea, and a dear friend.
AdamOne - A living, breathing metronome, and the original drummer for Random Encounter. He's now a father of two, a husband, a visual artist, co-worker, and a drum instructor with a few school-level music manuals under his belt. As a drum instructor his qualifications for glockenspiel, an incredibly unforgiving instrument, were perfect. He also can translate my gibberish into music-speech and doesn't get to interact with people our age often due to his occupations.
Lord Pike - A true rock drummer involved in quite a few awesome bands including: The Returners - VGM, and Lords of Thunder! I greatly admire Pike but for some reason we never get to hang out.
The Chris - Another fairly new friend, he is the bass player for Gimmick! and a fellow obscure-game enthusiast i'm sure I'd be extremely good friends with if we lived closer than a 17hr car ride apart.
Ben - The singer/songwriter/guitarist of Space Camp Dropout and my nephew. I can still remember the day he was born and though we sometimes record stuff together, we've never formally worked on anything publicly.
|Lord Pike, JY, Helios|
|Sort of like an engagement photo but they're already married|
|View from the Green Room between sets|
|Photo from the show, not the sound check|
|The Careless Juja Live Band|
|The first time we got to hear To Grass Town with the full band was on stage|
|Katamari on the Rocks w/ brentalfloss|
|A rare photo of Jeff Douglas, the guy who takes awesome photos of the bands|
|Who's that Icky guy?|
[The only band that my camera-phone was able to get a good picture of]
During the course of the week Ben had gone from an apathetic guitar mercenary, playing music he didn't really care about (so we could spend some time together), visiting a "weird and nerdy convention" he didn't identify with, to becoming one of us. It started with Shyguy's multiple instrument solos, the subtle references to Nerdy things Ben was familiar with but didn't realize were nerdy. It expanded through some genuine and friendly conversations with people we met at Nerda (and the CJL band mates). All night on Saturday (and all Sunday morning) Ben complained that he didn't have a 3DS, after Chris had talked to him at length about how 3DS's work, so I lent him mine to use on Sunday (after finding it) and Ben had a lot of fun picking up street passes and battling armored ghosts. By the time he saw The Returners, their blend of VGM covers with the addition of vocals and the non-vgm song pretty much won him over. Now whenever Juja and myself would hum a tune from the CJ or Returners set, Ben would join in (as opposed to cringing and putting a headset on, which happened earlier in the week)! Ben claimed that Juja and I were popular in the VGM scene and was surprised when he, walking all by himself, was approached by someone we didn't know to autograph a poster. I don't that's ever happened to him before and it left a big impact on him, realizing that he was now a part of the community he didn't think he would like. Later that night, at his request, we went to Best Buy to get Ben a 3DS XL and a copy of Animal Crossing, which he swears his friends in NY will never know about. I smile every time I think that he's become one of us... and as I dropped Ben off at the airport on Monday there was actual sadness from both of us because we'd had fun and wanted him to stay. Nerdapalooza had it's magical affect on him, and I've been getting text all week about how there are certain hotspots in his home town, or how he's frustrated that the stores near where he lives are sold out of Pokemon X and Y, and how he just got Pokemon Y and a copy of Monopuff. Nerdapalooza 2013 was a special time for all us. For Juja it was a chance to really shine, in his words: perhaps the only chance he'll get. For JY it was a time to meet friends from her new home town in Texas. For all of us it was a great time with friends... and for me, it was a chance to bond with my nephew for the first time in over a decade.