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My Beautiful Secret: The Rock 'n Role Model Interview (Part I)
By Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, a.k.a. Dr. B.L.T.., The Shrink-rappin' Rock Doc
Those who say Bakersfield has no culture have never visited Chatte Specialty Tea and Coffee on the busy corner of Truxtun Avenue and Coffee Road. Part of the magic offered there is the arts-friendly ambiance that owners, Philip and Stephanie Morisky foster. Part of it is in the plethora of artistic spirits that have breezed in and out of the establishment, leaving ghostly relics of shadowy sight and sound behind following every enchanted visit. Since up-and-coming indie band My Beautiful Secret created magic here just a couple of weeks prior (check it out: http://www.tollbooth.org/2003/features/secret.html), it was only natural that the following interview be held at the same place. We sat at the same table where I witnessed the band creating Kern County history by making their modern rock sound accessible to the Free Folk world with an unprecedented, unplugged and totally impromptu performance of “Would You Die For?” I have the beat-up guitar case to prove it. It doubles as a drum set at such impromptu events.
But I'm jumping ahead of myself. Let me take you to the initial meeting. I espied the motley crew of tall, gaunt, dark figures as I pulled into the parking lot. There were a couple of admiring, dewy-eyed young ladies nearby, who were soon introduced as girlfriends (as opposed to groupies). I primarily focused on the band, but caught a glance at the girlfriends in my periphery vision. Tastefully and subtly, each brandished a tattoo, sported a body piercing, wore something in their hair, or displayed something embroidered on their jeans that, at least in my mind, connected them to the band. Each band member seemed to double as a member of the cognoscente, at least as it concerned Gothic, post-grunge haute couture. Multiple tattoos were de rigueur. Eye brows, ears, tongues and chins were all good points for a piercing. But I would soon learn through my own logical deductive reasoning methods that these were more than fashion statements. The self-inflicted pain it took for each tattoo and each piercing served as a metaphor for lives pierced by shattered dreams; fathers missing in action; unexpected, abrupt deaths; and divorce. Each piercing served to remind me of the nails that a fallen world drives into the palms of anyone reaching out for comfort in a cold and often comfortless, cruel world.
What struck me most vividly about this band (besides the fact that they all showed up, even the manager), was how a bunch of broken pieces can fit together to form such a beautiful, complete whole.
Any one of these guys could have already crashed and burned, like Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, who died of a heroine overdose while waiting for a trial date for the murder of his girlfriend. Instead, they just keep writing new compositions and playing their instruments with the same mercilessly painful intensity. The members of My Beautiful Secret have consistently resisted the __piece de resistance__ poison of the rock community--something Freud referred to as Thanatos, or, the death instinct.
Although the band did not identify itself as a Christian band, per se, and band members appeared rather private about the role that faith may play in their music, I was struck by the spiritual hunger and urgent spiritual pining in a number of their songs, as well as recurrent religious motifs underlying their lyrics.
Discover with me the winning ingredients or the glue that hold this band together--unbridled creative élan, unstoppable self-determination and a slightly older, yet every bit as youthful, business manager with all the obligatory skills required to turn dreams into reality. Follow the conversation. It's my way of letting you in on My Beautiful Secret.
Dr. BLT: Hi, I'm Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen. Most people either call me by my initials--Dr. B.L.T. or by my first name, Bruce.
Welcome to your first Rock 'n Role Model interview, and welcome to your induction ceremony. In the course of this process, you will be officially inducted into the Rock 'n Role Model Hall of Flame, inspired by the first inductee, Barry McGuire. His string of hits with folk sensations The New Christy Minstrels, his worldwide hit song and 60s anthem Eve of Destruction, his lead role in the original Broadway edition of the musical Hair were only the beginning of a journey that would lead to where he is today. His interview contribution and musical performance also spawned the article entitled the first Rock 'n Role Model Interview article, entitled, “The Fire In Barry McGuire.”
I have not had the opportunity to observe your lifestyles--one dimension in which artists often qualify for the esteemed title of Rock 'n Role Models. However, your qualification is based on your willingness to take creative risks with your music, to pour all of your passion and emotion into your musical compositions and to offer a high level of quality music--music that carves out its own path into unknown territory. You are now officially inducted into the Rock 'n Role Model Hall of Flame as Rock 'n Role Models. Congratulations!
My Beautiful Secret (in near unison): Thanks!
Dr. BLT: Some of the following questions represent an attempt to examine your music from the perspective of Cognitive Psychology. In case you haven't heard of it, Cognitive Psychology is a specialized branch of psychology that assesses the human mind along a number of dimensions. It has to do with the manner in which we go about attending to and accumulating information and knowledge about the world; how we go about storing, remembering, retrieving and processing that same information; and how we go about thinking, solving problems and formulating the words, phrases and sentences that we use to communicate with those with whom we interact.
We will get to questions dealing with these cognitive processes, but first, let's get some preliminary questions out of the way.
First of all,
Brian Armer: I was born here in Bakersfield and I've been here all of my life--good or bad. The event that has had the most influence on me both as an artist and as a person would be growing up with only women. Not having a dad around. That's got to be numero uno, starting with the moment you notice where that places you as a person.
Mitch Patch: Born and raised, pretty much, in "Bako." The one major event that most influenced me musically was the death of my parents in '93. It really filled me with tremendous anger and sadness and music was the only outlet--the only way I can get it off my chest.
Dr. BLT: I'm sorry that you had to face all of that... It sounds like you've managed to transform the pain into something meaningful and positive.
Patch: Yes, I have.
Mike Urner: I would say that I live vicariously through these guys. I grew up around music, but went into business. It started off with one person, but it kind of grew into this family. Seeing them evolve, and learn, and grow into good musicians and good people has had the greatest impact on me.
David Williams: I was born and raised in Bakersfield. I share in common with a lot of other members of this band the experience of growing up with only one other family member. We moved around a lot as I was growing up. I never really knew any security or anything. Being raised like that, I wanted to find something new and better for myself. It has to do with wanting to do something better in terms of a career and to know that you've achieved something. It's a matter of taking back what you rightfully own.
Ryan Mullen: I've lived in Bakersfield my whole life. When my parents divorced, I started playing more music. I needed some kind of outlet to transform all my negative energy.
Blake Tetter: I grew up in Lake Isabella. All we had to do in such a small town was to play music. The experience that changed my view of music the most was going to a Nine Inch Nails concert. Seeing other musicians so passionate about their music makes another musician feel the same way.
Dr. BLT: That brings me to my next question, and you've already answered it, Blake, so I'll direct it to the rest of you. What are some of you greatest influences in terms of bands and artists?
Pat: For me, personally, it's The Cure. It's a band that really influenced all of us in some way.
Armer: Definitely Oingo Boingo. The guy is our Mozart. A genius.
Urner: In terms of modern rock, I would say tool, The Perfect Circle, the cutting edge bands, the ones that kind of broke the mold--early Korn, that kind of thing.
Williams: I'd say Stone Temple Pilots. I never get sick of them. I play them over and over. That's the only band that really stands out in my head right now.
Dr. BLT: I understand that Scott Weiland has joined together with the remaining members of Guns 'n Roses.
Williams: Yeah, I think they have something out that's been playing on the radio.
Mullen: Mike Patten is probably my biggest influence. Faith No More. Alice in Chains. Bush. Nine Inch Nails of course.
Tetter: Nine Inch Nails. They're so serious about what they do and it shows in their music.
Dr. BLT: OK, now let's get into some food for thought. First question--Where would you like to lead your listeners?
Urner: I would just like to reiterate what Brian [Armer] said earlier in the Interview. By the time you get through one of our shows, you've gone through every single emotion known to man--saddest, anger, happiness, excitement, passion--hopefully not boredom (the band broke out in paroxysms of laughter at this point). I would describe it as a roller coaster ride.
Malone: I want to make people think--get them to see things from a different perspective. To see things the way we see them when we write the songs.
Armer: I like to be able to give people a voice and to let them know that they are not the only ones who have gone through really bad, hard difficult situations. When they see and hear us, they can say there's someone who has been through what I've been through.
Dr. BLT: O.K. Great.
Now, onto another matter. I don't want to arbitrarily put labels
on the style of any particular artist or band but I hear something in your
music that can be compared to emo--that is to say that like emo, your music
vividly expresses the full range of emotions, as you pointed out so eloquently,
Mike. However, I am curious in terms of how each of you would describe
Armer: I would say its beautifully angry music and candle less shadows.
Dr. BLT: That's profoundly poetic. You must be the lyricist for the band.
Dr. BLT: By the way, who else is involved in writing your songs?
Armer: We all just work off of each other, with each member contributing ideas to the songs. It makes it great because the song writing doesn't all fall on one person. It also allows everyone an opinion. I like that aspect as well.
Dr. BLT: It sounds very diplomatic. Does it always work smoothly, or have you run into some rough edges?
Armer: It's always pretty smooth, for the most part.
Mullen: Writer's block is the only thing we really run into. We don't really argue much.
Dr. BLT: Why don't you tell us a little bit about the Battle of the Bands event?
Mike: That was an event that was put on by one of the local radio stations. Brian had always told me about how remiss he was about losing in the final round with his former band, so I made it a personal goal of mine to ensure that these guys, if they did lose, would go down in a blaze of glory. The first few rounds were all about bringing fans in. We were constantly labeled the underdog--constantly pegged to lose. But each week we kept on winning. Everyone went into that gig thinking, well, we've come this far, we probably won't go much further. But I had a long talk with these guys before that gig, and I said, no matter who wins or loses, in my opinion, you won it, because you came out of nowhere. The band had been around only six to eight months. We waited on that stage for what seemed like forever, and we won. They won two thousand dollars in cash, and some recording time. It was a big, big night. It was an incredible experience. I really hope that these guys look back on it as a big achievement early on in their careers. That was judged by label representatives. Four different record labels came in, and they had never seen us before. We hadn't even had any direct contact with them so it was awesome.
Dr. BLT: Now before I get into some of the more psychological questions, let me ask you where you started, and where you are going.
Urner: The main thing with this band is the total grass-roots effort to develop a fan base. Marketing ourselves to record labels is kind of secondary, mainly due to the record industry right now and the state that they're in. You don't get noticed by record labels until you draw, and you can show them that you can operate independently, without them.
So my goal as a manager is to do two Things. Market these guys to the press, and, second, to make sure that they're getting on better and better shows. That campaign is just going to continue. The campaign is such that if you log on to any major web-zine in the country by the end of this year, you'll see these guys on there--signed or not signed. We've got some gigs lined up that will hopefully boost our profile, and we'll just continue to tour independently. The goal would be to continue touring for at least six months, and then, Systematically, let the industry know who we are. So that's really kind of the business plan, and the music. As for the development of the music, I'll leave these guys to talk about that.
So is that enough to whet
your appetite for more band secrets? In this, the first of a two
part Rock 'n Role Model interview with members of My Beautiful Secret,
we've covered the painful past, the band's most profoundly influential
rock 'n role models, the band's prolific present, and the their auspiciously
promising plan. In the next part of the interview, you'll discover
more about their musical development and what makes this band tic; you'll
gain a greater sense of the band's psychological core, and the meaning
of their music; and you'll gain a greater understanding about their immense
potential as stellar Rock 'n Role Models. Stay tuned.