Hello there. My name is Paul Maroon, and I’m a professional musician who’s played in bands for the past 30 years, most recently in a group called The Walkmen. In that time, I’ve picked up a fair amount of information, some of which is actually pretty useful: How to kill a week at a Toronto airport hotel. How to solve the puzzles at Cracker Barrel. What to do when your bandmate literally falls asleep onstage at a SXSW showcase. I’m now hoping to pass some of this experience on to you—the aspiring musician, as well as the listener who may be curious about music in general. So I’m offering my services in the form of this advice column for The A.V. Club.
If you have any questions—about being in a band, about touring and recording, or really anything at all about music—please send them to me at this email address, and I’ll answer them here. Actually, if you have any questions about anything, send them on in: kids, politics, sports—whatever. Anything you’d like my advice on, I’ll be glad to offer it.
As a non-musician I’ve always wondered about this: Do musicians enjoy listening to their own music? I’ve heard plenty of actors say they won’t even watch the movies they’re in, so I wonder if it’s the same for musicians. If you hear your band’s song on the radio, do you enjoy it the way you would with someone else’s song? Is it possible to separate yourself from it?
I’m surprised to hear that about actors, because most of the filmmaking process doesn’t involve them. You’d think they’d be curious. With music, you’re there for the writing, the recording, and the mixing. Then you perform the song over and over. I think we did the math on one of our early songs once and, no joke, we had played or heard it something like 1,500 times. So no, you would never enjoy listening to it.
Also, I think there is a built-in assumption that, since a record is finished and released, it is exactly what the group hoped to make. They love it, they think it’s a masterpiece, etc. But more often (and I speak to lots of folks in bands), musicians feel as though what they made is a pile of crap.
Have you ever been chased? By a person or even an animal? (I’m not including brothers or sisters here.)
Not really. My father-in-law’s dog chases me around the pool. I do have a friend—in Boston, of all places—who was surrounded by wild turkeys in her driveway. She was on her motorcycle and they encircled her, then slowly closed in (snapping their fingers, I suppose), until she fell off her bike. Satisfied with this, they gobbled off.
Likewise, my sister had a bear break into her house in California. It looked through the fridge, chugged a nearby bottle of olive oil, then headed upstairs and shit in her bed. When the bear remediation/service guy came, he wasn’t even through the door before asking, “Did it shit in the bed?” I can’t imagine why that’s important. Maybe it’s just on the form he has to fill out.
What’s the farthest you’ve traveled for one show?
—Ann in San Francisco
My wife was teaching in Lisbon for six months. While we were living over there, The Walkmen played a one-off in Santiago, Chile. That was a schlep.
How many speeding tickets does a touring band get, on average?
—Yvonne in Baltimore
Not surprisingly, this depends on the band—and the driver. We would get one every four or five days. My bandmates hated my terrible driving. After 15 years, everyone just hates everybody else’s driving, for one reason or another. One day in Kansas, while traveling with Matt [Barrick], I got pulled over four separate times. From Denver to Lawrence, it’s 600 miles of straight, flat driving with no scenery. You pass Russell, birthplace of Bob Dole and Arlen Specter, and that’s it. The police didn’t seem to care about what I was doing. They would just punch my license into some system—probably the national Caucasian database—fine me again, and then let me go. The fourth time, they didn’t even give me a ticket. But I should have been further disciplined. They should have made an example of me.
Will we get cheaper guitars now that Gibson Guitars has gone bankrupt? Should we buy them as an investment?
—Hans in Spain
You know when Donnie brought a Gibson guitar out for “Made In America Week,” I actually remember thinking, “Oh no, what if he bankrupts Gibson, too?” What a clown. Anyway, no, I wouldn’t bother picking one up now. Their older guitars are the ones you want anyway.
What do bands typically do before a show? In my mind, they’re all back there getting loaded and nailing groupies, but it’s probably not that exciting, right? Go over the setlist, watch TV, read a book? Maybe I watched too many Poison and Guns N’ Roses videos as a kid.
At first, we did drink pre-show. But that kind of gave way to more mundane activities, like texting or reading the paper. Regarding “nailing groupies,” keep in mind there’s only one, maybe two rooms backstage. So it’s difficult, unless you’re into nailing in front of everybody.
Most of the bands we played with—especially as we got older—were kinda quiet folks offstage. Occasionally you would find yourself opening for a band like the ones you mentioned, but it was always a huge surprise. They would roll into the venue in their buses, and everybody was on drugs by noon. Their crew would be walking on eggshells around them, trying to avoid getting yelled at or having a hamburger thrown at the back of their head. It’s hard to explain, but these bands almost seemed like victims of circumstance—as if they were expected to act this way. It felt like everyone’s job depended on it.