After reading my colleague Corey Deiterman's musing on why there doesn't need to be a new Wu-Tang Clan album, I got to thinking about what it's like to try and rekindle something with a group of fellow musicians with whom you previously made magic.
I got a first-hand look at this last year when for a very brief time it looked like the Black Math Experiment might return to active music-making. After we went on indefinite hiatus, which is what you call a breakup where nobody punches anybody, five years ago I'd been more or less content to let sleeping dogs lie and concentrate on writing and occasional audio outings with the Ghost of Cliff Burton. I did miss the experience, though, and when the call came for my former act to hole up in a house with instruments and try to give it another shot, I was down to try.
In doing so I learned a few things, which I present to you if you happen to be thinking of trying something similar. They apply whether you're a giant, world famous rap-group or just a few local guys who want to relive their garage days.
5. There's No Going Home Loathe as I am to admit it, time travel does not exist, and even it if did you can still never emotionally return to the past. No matter what, time passes and we become new people. It's always fun to catch up with bandmates, but a reunited endeavor is a whole new endeavor. If you go in with the idea that you can pick up where you left off, then you're going to be disappointed.
That's honestly the biggest problem with the Wu-Tang album. It's basically an attempt to deny all the growth the individual members have had outside the collective umbrella. Ironically, you also have to think about...
4. Every Problem Is Still There Bands break up all the time for a variety of reasons, and sometimes those reasons truly are situational and fleeting. Maybe a key member is simply in too bad a financial position to contribute meaningfully, or perhaps he or she has a family situation that is overwhelming.
What seems to break up most bands though are the usual disagreements over contribution, direction and control, and those disagreements have likely not gone away in interim because they are generally part of the hardwired DNA of each particular member's artistic identity. Before you meet up you had better take a quiet stock of why you stopped in the first place, and be prepared to address them.
3. Know What You Want to Do There are a lot of ways to be a musician. Which do you like best? Do you like writing and composing the most? Or maybe you're at home in the studio. You might think performing is your favorite thing, the bigger the venue the better, whereas someone else might rather keep it small and low-key.
But when you restart a band, you need a serious plan about what restarting it means. When BME put out the call, I was mostly interested in recording a few songs, filming a weird music video or two, and then vanishing back into the ether, cackling. That was not the goal of some of the other members, who mostly wanted an excuse to hit the boards and play a few shows with new material. That's when you discover that your definition of reuniting may be very different from your mates, and you have to resolve that if anything is going to be done.
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2. Music Has Moved On Even more static genres like punk and metal experience significant movement, experimentation and evolution. What you did five, ten or 20 years ago might have been fresh and new, but now it's possible that the world has moved on.
Look at the state of the music world itself before you hit the studio. I'm not saying you should cater to current trends or something like that; no good ever comes from such an act. However, it's still important to view creation in the present tense and not the past. There's no point in saying things that have already been said.
1. You Should Have an Artistic Reason to Record There's nothing wrong with every '80s band in the world getting together to tour and make dough. God bless 'em. There's also nothing wrong with being a little bored and just wanting to play your old songs in front of a small crowd just for the hell of it. May the Lord smile on that as well. But an album is different. It's a concrete creation that is supposed to say something. When you put out a record it means that there is unfinished business in the world and you plan to address it through music. Way too many bands try and puppet that need in hastily organized reunions or late-stage burnout.
In the end, the most important thing to ask yourself before drumming up all the baggage of a band to make music is, "Why am I doing this?" If the answer isn't "Because I have something that needs saying" then just put down the phone, put on your old records, and wax nostalgic.
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