Table of Contents
(pictures to come)
Most of us start off in the same place, usually in somebody's parent's basement. It's this period of time that playing in a band is at its purest. You're just playing music for the sake of music. It doesn't matter how good you are, what style you play or how you dress. You're free to dream away. No one can touch you when your only audience is a boiler, a pile of laundry and, in some unlucky cases, an overflowing litter box. I wonder if we knew what was in store for us, if we'd ever try to make the climb up the stairs from the basement to the stage, but from what I can tell we're all rendered powerless by these basement born-dreams so up the steps we go.
If you consider my musical partnership with Paul the beginning of Readymade Breakup, then I would say that ultimately RMBU begins where Kid With Man Head ends. KWMH had a hot minute on the local scene and even a lukewarm second on the national scene. I had been in the band for six years, but the other guys had been slugging it out together since they were in HS (over ten years) and it was pretty evident during the writing/recording process of the last record, Cassius Coleman: Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Whatchoo Talkin' Bout Willis, that they had lost a considerable amount of enthusiasm. Truth be told, by then I had grown pretty weary of dressing in drag and my now flubbery ass looked fairly unsightly in a thong. Needless to say, it was time for a change for everyone.
Manhead pressed on for a bit and it was while we were mixing Coleman, our long time producer and friend, Steve Evetts, introduced me to Pete DeGeorge, the guitarist from his former band American Angel. As luck would have it Pete and I (as well as Steve) shared a love of power pop. A friend of mine was playing drums in a new local band called Punchmonkey. I was listening to their demo and it was close to being banished to the stack of lost and forgotten demos in the trunk of my car when this full blown Beach Boys harmony bridge kicked in. There was nothing else like it on the rest of the demo, but who knows, maybe this singer kid, Paul, was hiding a secret love of the power pop as well. It was a long shot considering Paul was pretty young, 20 at the time, but it was worth exploring. Being the divisive jerk in sheep's clothing that I am, I approached my friend about trying out for Punchmonkey. I even practiced with them a couple of times knowing full well that it was merely a ploy to get in with Paul. Not one of my finer moments as a human being, but it was pretty effective.
I invited Paul to check out my “no pressure” recording project and he agreed to come down to Steve's apartment to cut vocals to some demos we'd been working on. When Steve hit record it was pretty obvious that Paul was something special. It was also pretty obvious that he hadn't a lot of prior studio experience, because there was this weird scraping and scratching sound on the track. Turns out that Paul was singing while wearing and strumming his unplugged electric guitar. After we wrestled the guitar out of his hands we recorded and smoked and smoked and recorded over the next six months to a year. Out of those demos and cases of Camel Lights our band, The Estradas, then Cassius Coleman, then later changed to The Blakes, was born.
Before we even played our first show there was a pretty significant local buzz surrounding The Blakes. That first show and almost every show after that was packed. The New Tattoo EP never received one single bad review and we were linked to two pretty powerful managers. It was all coming together quickly and exactly as planned.
Now of course it wouldn't make for a very interesting story if as quickly as it all came together, it didn't start to fall apart. See the thing is, we made a really great EP in New Tattoo and as a group of guys, we made a great recording project, but we never made a really great band and it only took three months after the release of New Tattoo before we called it quits. The egos exploded, the doors slammed, the tires screeched and before it was all over I was being referred to as Saddam Hussein.
Although The Blakes had disintegrated, the partnership between Paul and myself was now a friendship and it continued to strengthen. We were enthusiastic about starting a new project and from the day the Blakes ended we were in constant motion. We immediately started scribbling logo ideas and we came up with the new name pretty quickly. It was based on a weird story about a friend of ours who used to go jogging with this dude and they would always end up making out on their jogs. We were curious as to exactly how one broke in to a spontaneous jogging make out and if perhaps they brought along some kind of, “Jogging Makeout Kit” with candles and other items to help set the mood while on a run. That morphed into the “Readymade Makeout Kit” which eventually became the “Readymade Breakup” kit. Over time the story of origin of the name has changed dramatically and come to be something less superficial, but that's how I remember it.
So with a logo and a band name we ventured forward and started the audition process. Anyone who's ever been on an audition or even a job interview knows how completely awkward, nerve-racking and uncomfortable this can be...Well if you've ever felt that, try being the one who's giving the interview, cause it's downright painful. A couple of times a week these characters would trot in one by one. Some were very nice, some were very talented, too many were very arrogant (they were usually the least talented) and unfortunately none were a fit. And I can tell you this with precise mathematical certainty as we kept an Excel file assigning everyone who auditioned a numerical rating and as well as a nickname. Let’s see...there was, “Stumpy Jazz”, “Fromagnus” and ”Playboy Dave” to name a few. I’m sad as well as very relieved to report that this file has since been erased. Talk about fucking arrogance! Who did we think we were?
I had been getting emails from this dude Daniel, from Arizona who saw our ad on some music website and he was interested in trying out. He’d asked for a disc a few times and every time he asked I’d tell him I’d sent it, but I never really did because he was in AZ and it seemed pretty pointless. Well one day he writes and says he’s going to be in New York the following week and he’d like to stop by to jam. I still didn't believe he'd actually show. He told us when he’d be at the train station with the only identifying information being, “I'll be the Mexican holding drumsticks.” So I had Paul head down to the train station to pick him up and he gave me the play by play over the phone. “Ok, he's wearing a Skid Row T-shirt...he's got Doc Martins on...This could work”...click.
The first song we played together was “Say Yes” which was out of the last batch of Blakes songs. Paul and I would smile at one another or give a nod when we thought Daniel wasn't looking. It was pretty evident that he was right guy, but being the domineering pricks that we were (perhaps are) we wouldn’t let on and we told him to come back for another audition. So we ran him through the spreadsheet and the numbers checked out! We were a little hesitant of the implications of having some random person move across the country just to play in our band. We didn’t know him, what if he’s a giant d-bag?
On the ride to the Red Roof Inn where he was staying, we invited him to join the band on two conditions…One, that he change his name and two that he grow a giant afro. He mentioned that he used to go by “Picante” something or other in his prior band, which he translated as “Spicy”…Totally oblivious to the racist implications we thought it might be funny if he were half Mexican, half Irish. So after toying with Taco Torres, Burrito McGillicutty and a couple others….Spicy O’Neil was born. It would take 6 months or so before his afro would be in a full robust bloom, resembling more of a fuzzy lightbulb than the Jackson Five afro I had envisioned, but Spicy had fulfilled his obligations and was thusly an official member of RMBU.
A bunch of crap happened.
In 2011 Readymade downshifted from an active band to what I refer to as “semi-retired” mode. I guess life finally caught up with us and adult type stuff took hold; families, careers and whatnot… I cut my hair and almost instantaneously people started calling me by my real name. Like all of the sudden it was ok…Which I guess it was and made sense considering I was going to parent teacher conferences now and not playing shows or going to parties that didn’t have a Disney theme. It led to a bit of an identity crisis. I had been Gay Elvis the bass player for so many years and now I was just some dude named “Ralph” with short hair who collected comics…I’ve chosen to use the name “Ralph” as I refuse to use my real name within the context of the band and also out of respect to the underrated actor, Donnie Most…Oh about the comics, I, “Ralph”, needed somewhere to focus the energy that I used to put into the band, so I started buying, selling and collecting vintage comics. Let me tell you something, if you thought the music scene was wild, you should see the underground comic scene. I’ve been to NY Comic Con and I’ve seen some shit man…some serious shit…Nah, I’m just kidding, its nothing but smelly nerds, but I digress…That was life after Readymade…
Readymade was my drug for many years, but since 2011 it had become more methadone than a drug. Just enough to keep me from jonesing too hard, but not enough to get me overly excited. It just kept the edge off…We would get together occasionally, usually once every six months or so at a “Readymade Familyday” (RMFD) where we’d steal a corner of a room or sit on the porch to play a song and shoot a video. There were a couple of small home recording sessions, an odd show and even a couple of one off studio sessions. Fun stuff for the day, but nothing too inspiring and certainly not enough motivation for us as a group to say in earnest, this is something we should do again regularly or even soon for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated our little projects, but let’s face facts here…playing in a guest bedroom to an audience that consisted of a stack of coats and an Iphone while wearing the cliché “ugly christmas sweaters” or playing 30 seconds of a beatles cover in a garage while children whip beach balls at your head, aint exactly livin the “the dream” that made us starry eyed when we hit those first chords at rehearsal down in the basement so many years ago…
But who even wants to go back that far…Who even wants to go back at all. Ralph might at times, but I don’t…And while it might sound like I’m bemoaning adult life, as at many times I do, the truth is, this is a fulfilling life, as fulfilling as band life ever was, but in a different way…So I guess the question I/we were trying to answer is could the two lives melded together in a meaningful way. Once you’ve left the basement can you be happy playing music just for the sake of music? Can we have our drug and still be adults? Can I do cocaine for my 45th Birthday and not have a heart attack?
Maybe…We might have just cracked the code. About the music part, I’ll definitely die of a cocaine heart attack…So I probably won’t, but again…I digress…Paul had an idea. We should record a six song EP when Spicy comes in to town for a visit. A full EP…in one day. With no rehearsal. I could tell right away this was a good idea because, I was immediately overwhelmed and attempted to squash it out. See this is the relationship that Paul and I have…He comes to me with an idea and I tell him all the reasons why it won’t work and why I won’t do it…I make a big fuss out of it too…So then when I can tell he’s defeated and getting ready to slink away, I prop him back up…Alright Paul, we can do this…I don’t want to of course, but I’ll do it for you so it looks like it’s a favor. Hell of a guy that Ralph…But Ralph, I mean, I, was really overwhelmed and nervous… this was a monster of a task and I hadn’t played bass other than here and there over the past five years, but the idea of writing and recording a collection of music with substance was an exhilarating challenge. So we booked the studio and Paul sent us acoustic demos to 6 songs with about a week to learn them before Spicy came into town. So for a half hour to an hour every night after my wife passed out on the couch after making me binge watch episode after episode of homeland, I practiced…Stupid traitor Nicholas Brody…The show sucks without him by the way. Spoilers…He’s dead. I wrote and wrote…my fingers hurt and the bass rested against my belly in an unfamiliar way that made it jiggle every time I hit a note…Ready or not my me and my mushy belly were headed into the studio. Fuck you Ralph you nonstop potato chip eating mother fucker!
It was a different type of experience, but Paul had a vision. We played each song and recorded them live, 1 through 6, in that order…3 times each. Paul sang the lead vocals live and then we did some minimal overdubbing. That was it. This was all a great departure from the very meticulous and very combed over approach we’ve taken in sessions past. It brought a new and exciting energy to the process, but that’s not to say there wasn’t some old energy too…Paul did one of his traditional left turns where he writes a song one way and then when we get into the studio he starts task mastering us into recording it a totally different way and the next thing you know Paul has Spicy on the mic and he’s telling Spice to make creepy monster noises…no not like that…,more “monstery”…like Dracula. How would Dracula do it??? Ok I’m taking some liberties here but that’s what it felt like…So at the end of the night we were wiped out, but we had done it! What did we actually do though…Yes, we recorded 6 songs. Are they any good? It doesn’t really matter. At least for me, at least for one more time we were in full blown Readymade relapse.