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 new 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.
Hello Marooned, I can’t seem to stop talking. Do you have any advice for how to stop?
—Andy in Colorado (age 10)
P.S. My dad helped me with this.
One of my girls has the same problem, but despite all her talking, she’s never come up with this great question!
First of all, let’s think of your goal as listening, rather than “not talking.” Your parents love you, but your arrival put them on edge. If they think you’re listening, that’s fine. But if they think you’re “not talking,” they will panic and get on the internet, which will make things worse.
Even better, let’s make “conversation” your thing—you’re the world’s best young conversationalist! When you want to tell someone how you feel, instead ask them how they feel. When you want to tell them what you did yesterday, ask them what they did yesterday. And when you want to tell them that Jayden has a cellphone (I know… you already did), ask them about their cellphone. Remember to wait until folks completely finish answering one question before asking another, because fifth grade isn’t a courtroom drama.
I have separate advice for group settings. In a crowd, aim to cultivate an air of mystery. I used to have a cat named Bee, and she was a total badass. Always watching us from afar, doing everything slowly—standing up, walking, cleaning. She even blinked slowly. It was so cool. One day I walked by my room and Bee was in there, just staring at the wall. Maybe four hours later, I walked by again, and she was in the same spot, about a foot from the wall, still staring. So cool. I walked up to her and petted the top of her head. After a little while, I stopped petting and just looked at her. I looked at the wall, then back at her. I started waving my hand in front of her face. No reaction.
My point here is that it’s pretty hard to tell the difference between being cool and being, you know, out to lunch, or maybe going blind. In practice, there isn’t that much difference. But Bee was so hard to read, she kept us fascinated us for years.
Andy, you can get that level of mystery going, if you want. Is that enough incentive to just zip it now and then? When I was your age, it would have been for me. But really it’s up to you. I will say that everyone loved that cat.
You’re known to use flatwounds on your guitars. I’ve been a fan of flats ever since I found out they were key to a lot of my favorite guitar tones. Luther Perkins, Scotty Moore, The Beatles—they all had that extra-warm “clunk.” That said, I eventually had to switch back to roundwounds after getting tendinitis in my fretting hand. Did you ever feel limited or run into issues with flatwounds?
Indeed I’m a big believer in flatwounds. For some reason I ended up with some pretty bright guitars, and the flats have a darker sound. Pyramid makes nice ones, but the most beautiful-sounding are by Thomastik. They are also the darkest-sounding strings I have found. Unfortunately, they break the bank at about $25 a set, so the drawback is you never want to change them. If you don’t restring often, you build up small kinks that will mess with your intonation. Still, they are a real treat and have more of an effect on the sound of a guitar than any string I have tried. There are other options, of course. D’Addario flatwounds are too bright and almost chorus-y sounding; they will make your instrument more autoharp than guitar. I’d say DHS is a decent middle ground.
In terms of having fun, one of the biggest drawbacks with flats is you can’t do pick slides. Not a big deal until your band breaks into “Waiting Room” or—and it is painful even to write this—“Reclamation” during sound check, and all you can do is joylessly come in with octaves right on the beat. Flatwounds are harder to bend and grip, and if shredding is your thing, then you’ll find they are slower strings. But your hand will get stronger and you will get used to them (sorry about your tendinitis). You’ll then think roundwound strings, especially 9s or 10s, are imprecise and flimsy.
In the studio, flatwounds will record differently because they are more percussive when you hit. You can flatten the attack and draw out the sustain with compression on a slow release, but that will change the character of the sound—perhaps not to your taste. The squeak of roundwounds is a taste thing you have to decide on as well. Finally, I’ve found that a lot of the sound of flatwounds can be mimicked by using ribbon mics—a Royer 121 or a Coles 4038—if you don’t like the way they play.
Have you met any of your musical heroes and been totally let down by them? What about the opposite, where they blew away every expectation you had of them?
I’m not sure I’ve been let down by any of my heroes. I had a funny interaction with Frank Black when we opened for the Pixies. I said, “Hi, I was in the opening band,” and he said, “Oh,” in such a dead, conversation-ending way that I think he must practice it. My favorite musical hero memory is meeting Lux Interior of The Cramps. I don’t know what I expected, but he was the sweetest guy. I was only 20 at the time, so it felt like I was meeting a super nice dad who was dressed as Elvira for Halloween, but had had a kinda long night. To this day, it makes me happy to think about. Bless him.
I used to have a rehearsal room in New Orleans near Fats Domino’s house and would drive by hoping to see him. It never happened. I can’t think of anybody I would have wanted to meet more. A lot depends on who the person is. If I had met Fats and he was a jerk, it would have broken my heart, like, forever. But I didn’t really care that Frank Black wasn’t so nice, because his music—to me, at least—isn’t about warmth and sweetness, even though he’s great. I’ve watched folks on TV meet Lars Ulrich or Dave Mustaine. They are—you’re not gonna believe this—complete pricks, and the fans seem crestfallen. I can’t help thinking, what did you expect?
Lastly, when I was in college I bumped into this guy late at night at the Christopher Street newsstand. I had my Walkman on, and I was listening to The Velvet Underground. Anyway, he turned around, and it was John Cale. I took off my headphones and stammered, “Jesus Christ. Uh… sorry. I was just listening to your old band.” Without missing a beat he said, in that great Welsh accent that narrates The Gift, “That’s probably why you’re standing on my foot,” and walked off.