Part 1: Scales, Nails, and Water Quality Cole Hankins and Ciyadh Wells do research for the show, and I asked them to record themselves doing something all musicians do, but rarely do in public. I asked them to practice, and to record their thoughts while they were doing it. When you think about it, practice and rehearsal are extremely intimate activities. We’re trying to improve so that when people finally see us, we’re the best version of ourselves. But of course the whole point of practice is to identify our shortcomings or challenges so that we can get rid of them. Or at least to hide them for a while. Today, we’re going backstage to sit in on 2 very different kinds of rehearsals with what I think you’ll find are in the end very similar goals. Note: the first segment includes some profanity and adult content. Sensitive listeners are advised to skip ahead in the podcast to the 27-minute mark.
Part 2: Dark Charly and the Tombstones If you live in a mid-sized city with anything resembling a local music scene, it’s probably at least partially due to the efforts of a guy like Chuck Irving. At 52, Chuck’s been banging around the underbelly of the Rochester NY rock scene for over 25 years. In that time, he’s seen his fair share of clubs come and go. And fads. And bandmates. He’s probably best known as the bass player and co-songwriter for a band called SLT, which earned a regional following in the early 90’s. We’ll hear more about them later. But Chuck’s most recent project is an outfit called Dark Charly and the Tombstones who are gearing up for their debut gig at Firehouse Saloon in Rochester on October 9th.
I met Chuck and the band at Enright’s Thirst Parlour, which is just a couple blocks away from my house, but it might as well be on another planet. Enright’s is a dimly lit, self-proclaimed dive bar without a shred of hipster accoutrement. I doubt anybody drinks PBR ironically at Enrights, or anything else. And judging from the looks I’m getting, not many people walk in with microphones and recording equipment either. But as soon as I say I’m looking for Chuck, who, by the way, lives in an apartment upstairs, I’m just another regular.
The bartender points me to the back alley, where I find Chuck working through a pack of Newports. He’s wearing a Johnny Thunders T-shirt, with black jeans and a pair of beat up Chuck Taylors. He introduces me to the other guys in the band, who are finishing up their drinks. There’s Pat Lowry, who plays drums, Jerry Flannigan on bass, Todd Agnello on guitar, and Danny Howe on lead vocals. We talk for awhile, and then head over to an industrial park on the northeast side of town, where Dark Charlie and the Tombstones and a few other local bands share a rehearsal space. It’s a Saturday, and other than the band, the building’s completely empty. It’s the kind of rundown place that, in a gangster movie, like the mob boss tortures a rat before feeding him to the fishes or whatever. In other words, it’s the perfect place for a Bowie tune.
In case you’re keeping a tally, Chuck (AKA Dark Charly) got hit by a car, Danny, the band’s lead singer had a pulmonary embolism, and Pat, who plays drums and co-writes all the songs lost his son. All these things happened since the band formed. And you couldn’t blame anybody if they’d wanna tap out. But nobody did. So here they are. Five middle aged guys, crowded together in a smoky rehearsal space in an empty industrial park trying to start something new. At least, that’s what I thought they were doing. So that band, the one with Luke Warm, The Thing, Chuck, and Pat Lowry was called SLT. They didn’t get around to making a full-length commercial recording, but Pat and Chuck keep pointing me to this one recording they did called “Dirty Sleep”, which features Luke Warm playing guitar. SLT had a good run in the early 90’s. They generated a solid regional following and were stockpiling a bunch of original tunes. I went back and looked them up in some of the local zines from that time, and there was a real buzz around them. So what happened?
Luke Warm died in his mother’s home in the Rochester suburb of Greece, NY. He was 35 years old. He had a tangible impact on the rock music community in Rochester. And when he died there was a lot of unfinished business, especially for Chuck and Pat. You see, SLT never made a record. I asked Chuck why, and said they thought they had all the time in the world. Turns out, writing new songs was just one part of the grieving process for Chuck and Pat. They eventually put together a project called the Rat Kings that combined some of the old SLT stuff with the new tunes.
I watch Todd, the guitarist who’s never played in front of people before, just grinning all the way through the rehearsal. For him, being in this band is a completely new experience and he’s obviously loving it. The other guys are coming to this with a different perspective, but they’re no less enthusiastic about making music together. I suppose any new band is a combination of all the old bands you’ve ever been in. You can’t help but bring your successes and your failures, your hopes, and disappointments to any new thing. And you keep coming back because, well, maybe this time, you’ll get it right.
Dark Charly and the Tombstones will play their first-ever gig along with New City Slang and the Keelers Friday October 9th at Firehouse Saloon in Rochester NY.
Part 3: Bethel Christian Fellowship I’ll admit that for a show about the guitar, Goes2Eleven can get bit existential. I’d argue that you kind of have to if you’re gonna cover guys like George Harrison, whose music was so intertwined with his search for God. And if you heard my interview with Marcin Dylla, you heard him describe his lack of belief as a powerful motivator to seek meaning and purpose, which for him is within the context of atheism. As the show has progressed over the past few months, I’ve been constantly reminded that music can occupy a pretty spiritual place. So it makes sense to reach out to people who are making music expressly as a form of worship.
That’s how I ended up at Bethel Christian Fellowship in downtown Rochester. I’m pretty sure you’d call Bethel a charismatic church. The Sunday that I visited, there was this girl who was dancing in the isle next to me. She kind of reminded me of a hippie from old Woodstock footage, except that she’d throw in an odd pirouette from time to time that was frankly a little difficult to contextualize. Oh, and there were people waving these enormous, multicolored flags throughout the service. I was never quite able to ascertain their function, or why there was guy—I’m not joking here—on the stage, painting a portrait of an eagle during the sermon. I know, as I describe this it all seems a bit disorienting. But when you think about it, all that stuff, it’s just window dressing. I mean, the mood was celebratory, and the people who were there to worship were doing so in a manner that seemed to bring them genuine joy. And anyway, I wasn’t there in some sort of anthropological capacity. I was there to learn about praise music. And to talk to a guy named Ryan Internicola. Ryan’s job is to coordinate a team of musicians who are mostly volunteers, to perform the music that’s used during the Sunday service. Now, this isn’t grandma Bettie pumping out “Abide With Me” on an organ.
Ryan is this impossibly energetic, upbeat guy who runs a very tight ship. The Sunday that I visited Bethel, the band’s set included 6 tunes, plus incidental music. It’s kind of a big operation. There were 8 people on the stage, plus sound guys, lights, big digital screens with lyrics and swirly background designs, all very professional. What surprised me is that the band only gets together once a month to go over new tunes. Rehearsals, they happen Sunday morning.
Now, when it comes to music from the Christian worship tradition, I tend to go for the old stuff. I love Gregorian Chant, Bach’s Passions, and even those stodgy old hymns that John Wesley wrote. But if you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on in Pentecostal churches over the past 30 years or so, you’re aware that traditional hymns are pretty much an endangered species. Of course the protestant tradition has been commandeering stylistic elements of vernacular music and repurposing it for worship since the days of Martin Luther. But it’s never quite been such a big business. Take Australia’s Hillsong Music, an affiliation of worship leaders, songwriters and composers, which has been churning out CDs, DVDs, songbooks, and concert tours since the 1990’s. Hillsong Laureate Darlene Zschech’s song “Shout to the Lord” is a certifiable mega-hit by anyone’s standards. According to Songfacts, “the song’s been sung by congregations worldwide by an estimated 25-30 million churchgoers every Sunday.” Goes2eleven hasn’t been able to confirm those numbers independently, but even a fraction of that is a lot of cheddar. And, yes, churches do pay royalties.
To me, Ryan offers a very elegant explanation to the quality of praise music and how it squares with his taste. Praise music is just that: music that serves the function of worship. Bach, Palestrina, Josquin, they all wrote music that served that function. And they were paid for it. Palestrina happened to be paid the Roman diocese, whose tastes in the late 1500’s gravitated toward polyphonic choral music. Vernacular music certainly existed back then as well, but churches weren’t really supporting its creation. At this moment in human history, praise music is being financially supported by a much more populist network that happens to prefer the vernacular stuff.
Some musicians I know say they make music because it brings them joy. For others, it’s to feel closer to a higher power. Some just feel compelled. Whatever your motivations are, I hope you keep practicing.
Goes2Eleven is production of Chuckleberry Flynn Music, produced and written by Matthew Cochran, with editorial help from Julie Ann Rivers-Cochran. Special thanks to this week’s guests, Dark Charley and the Tombstones who are playing their first gig at Firehouse Saloon October 9th. Go to thefirehousesaloon.com for more information. Thanks also to Ryan Internicola and Bethel Christian Fellowship in downtown Rochester, they can be found at bethelcf.com. And big thanks to Cole Hankins and Ciyadh Wells for letting us peek inside their minds as they practiced.
“It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie”, written by Billy Mayhew, performed by Fats Waller
“Cicadas at the Equinox” from Vapor Trail from a Paper Plane, written and performed by Matthew Cochran
“Atoms for Peace” from The Erasor, written and performed by Thom York
“Queen Bitch” written by David Bowie, performed by Dark Charley and the Tombstones
“Summer Scene”, written and performed by the Rat Kings
“Theme from Southern Comfort”, from The UFO Has Landed, written and performed by Ry Cooder
“Dirty Sleep”, written by Chuck Irving and Luke Warm
“It’s the Only Life We Got”, written by Chuck Irving and Pat Lowery
“Beautiful You” written by Chuck Irving and Pat Lowery
“We Belong Together” from Pirates, written and performed by Rickie Lee Jones
“Your Loves Never Fails”, written and performed by Chris Quilala
“You Are Good” by Israel Houghton, performed by Bethel Christian Fellowship
“Tonight (We Burn)” written and performed by Poah
“All Over the Earth”, written by Lee Land, performed by Bethel Christian Fellowship
“Worthy, Worthy”, written by Jacob Sooter, performed by Bethel Christian Fellowship
“Assassin’s Tango” from the Mr. and Mrs. Smith Soundtrack, written and performed by John Powell
“Holy Spirit”, written by Mia Fields, Brian and Kate Torwalt, performed by Bethel Christian Fellowship
“Rejoice”, written by Dustin Kensrue, performed by Bethel Christian Fellowship
“Shout to the Lord”, written and composed by Darlene Zscheck
“Even This is Time”, written by Bob Chilcott, performed by the King’s Singers
“We Belong Together” from Naked Songs, written and performed by Rickie Lee Jones