Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Diary of a band ... and community

After a decade on the road, you should have learned all the tricks, so there's no worries about Tiger Saw being shoved aside by the non-human acts on the bill, a fate that famously befell Spinal Tap in 1982 when its troubled Smell the Glove tour pulled into Themeland Amusement Park and its hapless interim manager discovered that a puppet show took top billing for the gig. Nope, when Dylan Metrano, the Newburyport-born but for the past couple of years Portland-based musician pulls into Jabberwocky this weekend to promote “All My Friends Are Right Here with Me: A Decade in the Indie Rock Underground” (a book, of all things for a musician to be peddling!) the puppets will be incorporated into the gig — er, reading.

Published by Burst & Bloom in Portsmouth, “All My Friends” follows Tiger Saw’s zig-zag musical history, from the pretty, melodic minimalism of its early years to the community-building choruses and singalongs of the middle years and, ulitmately, the controversial about-face of its basement soul — a decade-long run of some 800 shows in a dozen countries. In clubs, galleries, even in the branches of an oceanside fir tree, the anecdote that the book opens with — or, as author, and Tiger Saw founder Dylan Metrano says, “any place people will gather to listen to music,” it is the story of a restless, constantly evolving band, and like-minded colleagues and road dogs who have since become friends — and a look at the scene, a way of life with rewards that do not translate into bottom line. The book comes with a 13-track CD featuring new takes on old TS tracks performed by the musicians who have been part the story, from Jason Anderson and Moons of Jupiter to Picastro and Quiet Bears.

And the hand puppets? Form follows function. The book, part tour diary and part oral history, which would make for a confusing reading if you did it straight and an awkward and, not to put too fine a point on it, silly reading if you attempted to do voices. Odd as it may sound, a puppet show seemed “a more natural way” of presenting such material, says Metrano, during a recent telephone interview. He’s in Annapolis, between shows on a two-week tour with Tiny Fires, a new band featuring Metrano, Guy Capecelatro III, Jeremy Robinson and Jerusha Robinson, which has been tramping through the Midwest and up the East Coast, playing every night, without travel dates, to support their self-titled debut album. Metrano’s Nov. 13 reading at Jabberwocky represents the last date on the current tour and the start of a brief break before the next, in which Tiger Saw will add two notches to its country total as it stomps across Australia and New Zealand with Castanets and Alps. It's a crazy schedule, but "if you're not playing, you're paying,” Metrano says. “You do what you can, try to get in as much as you can. Lots of places to be, lots of people to see. It's good to keep moving, I guess. It feels right.” They’ve done the puppet-thing at a couple of the quieter venues on the tour. “People have been receptive,” Metrano says. “but it’s definitely a work in progress.”

Diary of a band

Working with handwritten tour diaries he's kept since putting together Tiger Saw at the turn of the century, Metrano took his first shot at getting together some kind of history about Tiger Saw’s first decade about a year and a half ago, but, first impression, it just didn’t sing. “It was tedious and boring stuff ... that no one in his right mind would be interested in if he wasn't in the band.” On the other hand, as he pushed forward, the road stories started to look “like something.” A book? He wasn’t sure. He passed on what he had to Greg Moss, his old bandmate from the Port proto-punk band Hamlet Idiot in the late 1980s and now a professional playwright. He agreed: There was something there. He suggested that Metrano flesh out the story with first-person accounts, something along the lines of “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk” by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. The project started jelling after that.

It's a small, in some ways unremarkable, story, without the kind of big-splash sex-and-drugs-and-rehab-n-roll in “All My Friends” that dresses up Behind the Music bios. There's none, actually. And no groupies or hotel rampages. What makes it work is the fact that, despite its lack of excess, the story is so rock and roll — though definitely not the rock fantasy that usually springs to mind. It could be the story of any band coming up, trying to make it — and doing it on its own terms, without corporate bankrolls. It’s about hard work and hustle and DIY necessities, being jammed into a vehicle with all your gear and your bandmates and crashing on someone's couch and staggering weary-eyed to the next gig. It's about community.

“Few oppornuties are just handed to you. You make it on hard work and with the help of your friends," Metrano writes. "I think I’ve learned something about myself doing it. We play what we want — and that feels good.” It is an honest, unblinking account, not only of the work it takes, but also of the conflicts within the band, which led, first, to the departure of original member Juliet Nelson, the cellist and vocalist who was, in large measure, responsible for the Tiger Saw sound — and even Kimchee Records executive Bob Dubrow's stinging dismissal ("I don't like R&B dance kockoffs done by white boys and girls that sounds like it's being done by white boys and girls.") of late Tiger Saw's party vibe. "It would be silly to exclude it," he says. "There will always be conflict within a group" — especially, he says, when you have to deal with someone like him, who is "very particular about what I'm trying to create."

Metrano, who hasn't performed in Newburyport since the 2007 show with Scary Mansion at the Firehouse. (“I don’t know know if there's much of an audience there anymore, or if there’s even a scene,” he says. “I’m not as connected as I used to be.”) says the book, of course, is also his story. “I was in my early 20s when I started the band," he says. "Now I'm in my early 30s. I grew up with this band. I don't know if I wanted it to be this, I don't know what I wanted it to be. I was interested in playing music, but also in writing and acting. Music ended up taking over. I don’t know where I'll be in another 10 years. I could have a different life, but it's not important to figure it out. I know what I want to do now.”

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Dylan Metrano will read from “All My Friends Are Right Here With Me, A Decade in the Indie Rock Underground,” at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at Jabberwocky, located at the Tannery, 50 Water St., Newburyport. The event is free. For more information about the reading, call 978-465-9359. For more information about the band, look here.

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