About Almost Milwaukie
Almost Milwaukie is the third band I've played in since I started playing again four years ago. It's an interesting band. When asked about the genre, I usually tell people that it's "ambient psychedelic metal". Mary-Suzanne calls it "goth-in-denial".
I joined AM last winter right after their second guitarist (a very good guitarist, judging by the recordings I heard) had to leave because his employer moved him to the graveyard shift. We rehearsed for about a month (all original material) and were just about to start booking gigs when the singer (whose style fit very well) decided that she'd rather leave to work on a hip-hop project. (visual: imagine me rolling my eyes)
So we started a search for another singer. After few months, we found a singer who liked the demo material and wanted to join us. He had a great voice (reminiscent of Maynard James Keenan of Tool) and hit the ground running: he came in right away with lyrics and vocals to a couple of songs, and we seemed to hit it off well. After that he stalled... Every week we'd rehearse the songs he had mapped out, then he'd stand around and brood while we ran through the rest of the set - encouraging him to try out whatever he wanted.
It's important to understand that AM's music is a bit off the beaten path. Our songs run 7 to 10 minutes and tend to develop linearly - think symphonic movements rather than verse/chorus/bridge/solo... At any rate, after several months of tweaking the words to the couple of songs that he was comfortable with, the singer approached us with a plan to slice and dice one of our songs to convert it to a pop song. We declined. That led to a discussion of the type of music the band played. Turned out that the singer was more interested in the band as a vehicle for his own material, rather than going with the established vibe. He didn't formally quit, just stopped showing up...
That led to another search for a singer, replete with unanswered calls and emails. (In Portland, the only thing harder to find than a good singer is a drummer who can keep time and be creative.)
At about the same time, the guitarist that Mary-Suzanne has been writing with (his name is Don) was out of town for two weeks. Having some free time, Mary-Suzanne came to hang out at an AM rehearsal. She realized that she could probably fit some of her old lyrics to the AM material, and asked to sit in with us at the next rehearsal. She did, and we loved the way her voice fit with our sound. (Taking a page from the Grace Slick school of vocal technique: find a place in the mix where the guitars aren't, and fill that.)
With that for background, here's the gig story. AM played at an outdoor block party last night, fronted by Mary-Suzanne. This was her third time singing with the band, and she had material prepared for both sets. We had an audience of about fifty or sixty people. Most of the crowd paid attention and cheered us on. A vocal few were of annoyed that their party had been invaded by one of them newfangled rock 'n roll music groups...
Despite the wide-open space, we had to be susbtantially quieter than we're used to playing. That worked out surprisingly well. Our drummer has the ability to keep the same feel over a wide dynamic range, and both of the guitarists use master-volume rigs. (I use my Mark IV, and the other guitarist plays a Pod Pro through a stereo pair of Roland keyboard amps.)
I played the first set with my Sennheiser wireless, and wandered out front to check the sound and balance the vocals. (We had no monitors.) By the end of the first song, everyone was dialed in, comfortable and sounding great. After I got done doing double duty as wandering sound guy, I went corded for the rest of the night. (The Sennheiser eats a battery in a few hours, and I hadn't started with a fresh battery.)
I love playing outdoors. That, more than anything else, has been my biggest rock 'n roll fantasy since I was in college. So, coupled with the fact that we played well and got some good audience involvement (something that's rare in a bar gig), last night's gig was a blast.
Afterwards, we hung out until 2am celebrating. Mary-Suzanne is officially in the band - we're going to retrack the vocals on the demo so we can start booking gigs. And we're going to invite Don to the next rehearsal to see whether he'd be interested in joining. With three guitarists we may have to change the name to The Almost Milwaukie Orchestra.