To Jam or Not to Jam
You know, being in a jamband isn’t an easy thing. At the heart of the problem is mainstream music, in many ways. Those radio-friendly songs have brainwashed the masses into thinking that real music must never exceed five minutes, or feature anything out of the ordinary. Likewise, trying to sell your average bar going audience on a style of music that may see songs last 20 or 30 minutes, with no singing whatsoever, can prove quite challenging. And for this reason, most undiscovered jambands must also become tight rope walkers in their ability to balance songs and jams, often on a show by show basis. Hiding From Andy is no different. We constantly have to consider the nuances of a show in order to come up with appropriate set lists. And on many occasions in our decade long journey, we’ve had to revamp, rewrite, or redo songs in order to find the right balance, and avoid the dreaded, drunk-person heckle.
So what’s an undiscovered jamband to do? Well, based on experiences we’ve had in Hiding From Andy, there remain a handful of viable options. A band could decide to say ‘to hell with the audience,’ and despite knowing they’re NOT in jam-friendly territory, make a decision to stick to their jam roots anyway. In my opinion, this is a very honorable path indeed, and it can also serve a purpose as it may make converts of people whose anemic musical tastes are a direct result of musical starvation by the radio. Sometimes, people are hungry to hear something that sounds different and can really appreciate a jamband, even if they’re not particularly in the scene. However, that’s the best case scenario, and requires the most polished of performances. If you’re a band just starting out, and not as of yet terribly compelling, then choosing this option can have horrible results, as we found out the hard way early on in our years. Yeah, drunken people can definitely say things, means things, really means things that can demoralize even the most driven of bands, and quite possibly lead to a premature band breakup.
Though, it is possible to restrict your shows to only known, jam-friendly environs, to a band starting out that may harshly limit available venues. Another option, then, could be to forgo your jam identity altogether and simply stop jamming and start playing 4 minute songs and such. The problem with this choice is though you’ll definitely be more accessible to your average bar going audience, if you have jam in your blood, you’ll find yourself quickly dissatisfied with the structure of it all. Inherent in jamming is a personal catharsis, a spiritual release if you will. Without that, music can often feel like a lot of work as you stress to nail parts and start ‘focusing on’ and stop ‘letting go.’ Not only that, but you’ll constantly feel dirty and unable to wash off the stench of being a sell out, even with the strongest of organic soaps. So, in my book, this option comes with way too many drawbacks and a high cost, because if you’re not having fun while playing music, really, why are you doing it? Thankfully, there’s a third option.
What we’ve largely found is that whether you’re in a jamband or a regular band, at the core of well-liked music, is well-written music. Song writing must always take center stage regardless of instrumental prowess. Even Phish for all of their incredible jamming, also have fantastically written music at the core of their repertoire. So by presenting a bar going audience with well-written songs, a jamband can often win listeners over, enough so, that they may entertain and even enjoy the long instrumentals that follow. And, hopefully, some listeners may come to understand the power of jam, finding themselves swept up in the energy of the moment. That’s right, instead of just playing jamband music, you’re band becomes a veritable jamband-converting-machine. But there are even more benefits: great songs function as great launching pads for great jams. Where as once we use to believe in the purist sense, that it was in fact, all about the jam, we now have come to find that good songs lead to incredible jams. Good verses and choruses, well-written composed segments all provide the energy, themes, and overall character to a really awesome jam. Not to mention, your average mainstream music listener has quite literally been conditioned to look for catchy lyrics and compelling hooks. So why not provide that, and also slip in a kick-ass jam while you’re at it. In our experience, it’s the best of all possible worlds.