Meet my band, Publicist UK. We’re a heavy-ish band that’s frequently described as post-punk. Some parts of our songs sound kind of metal. Other parts sound like Sisters of Mercy. We get the “Joy Division” thing a lot. (Only, we’re a lot heavier.)
There are four of us in this band. And if you took our combined knowledge of all things tech, you’d have enough of it to know how to power on or off most computers, send email, share a few files, and otherwise not much else. Yet we’ve got technology to thank for not only bringing us together and allowing us to be a band, but for enabling us to be more a more experimental and creative group of songwriters.
The fact that we’re even in a band is a little crazy. For one thing, I live in Colorado. Our singer lives in Brooklyn. Our bass player lives in New Jersey about two months per year and spends the other 10 months touring the world with his other (very successful) band, Revocation. Our drummer lives in Virginia and also tours internationally with his other (also very successful) band, Municipal Waste.
As if geography weren’t enough to overcome, consider this: I knew the singer and the bass player, but had never met the drummer. Our drummer knew the bass player but had never met me or the singer. Our bass player knew me and the drummer, but had never met the singer. The singer knew me, but had never met the bass player or the drummer.
Confused? Let me put it this way: there wasn’t a single person in the band who had met all three other members. By the time I met the drummer—making me the first member to have met all three of my bandmates—we already had the bulk of an album written and had a handful of demos recorded and released, and we were considering signing to one of two labels.
By the time the rest of the members met each other, we had already written two albums worth of songs, signed to Relapse Records, recorded more than an album’s worth of material in a professional studio, and booked a tour. To be more specific: the first time all of the members met each other was in a van on the way to our first ever band practice (which also happened to be three days before our first tour, including seven shows at SXSW).
This is not the typical arc of a band. Usually, they have a band practice before booking a show or recording anything. Usually, they at least, you know, meet each other.
But when I had the opportunity to be in a band with these guys, I wasn’t going to let a thing like 2,000 miles of distance—or not knowing one of them—stop me.
So I got to work writing and recording songs. Not on Pro Tools. Not on Cakewalk. But, rather, on a free program called Audacity. Knowing I couldn’t record on my sweet Acer, I went to Best Buy and asked for the cheapest tower they had. My thinking was that I’d only use it for recording and sending files. I was able to buy a floor model for just a little more than I paid for the Acer.
This is how I was recording songs, and at first I’d been thinking of it as a necessary evil: write them, send the files, hope that they could somehow hear whatever potential I thought there was, and then have my bandmates record stuff on their computers and send it back for me to mix (something I’d never done). When I lived in New York, my band had practiced at least twice a week, for a sum weekly total of 15-20 hours. Here I was 2,000 miles from my bandmates, two of whom are playing for thousands of people, and I’m thinking, man, I’ve got to do everything I can to keep these guys engaged, or else they’re going to wonder what the hell’s the point.
What I didn’t realize is that by recording in this way, we were both liberating and pushing ourselves creatively. In a tiny rehearsal room, you can talk ideas out, you can disagree and then compromise, you can read each other. These can be great things when the chemistry is there. But when you’re thousands of miles from each other, you get and give no in-person feedback, no direction. There’s no talk about “make this heavier” or “let’s extend this section” or, even, “I don’t like this part.” Instead, it’s assumed, “OK, these parts are done, and now what do I do with it?” By the time I put all the other members’ tracks on top of my guitars, the song was completely unrecognizable from what I thought I might hear when I’d first wrote my parts. And the thing is, they’re always much better than I’d figured they’d be.
We kept our project a secret for about five months. Then in the spring of 2014, we posted a demo online and introduced ourselves.
Famed metal magazine Decibel immediately covered it and other publications followed. A couple months later, we posted another demo via Noisey, and what everyone kept writing about was something that had never really occurred to any of us: Publicist UK doesn’t sound anything like you’d think they’d sound. My longtime band Goes Cube is a metal-ish hardcore band, while Revocation and all of our drummer Dave Witte’s bands are either thrash, death, grind, or some other brutal genre. Singer Zachary Lipez’s band Freshkills was the only that was truly non-metal, but still they played an aggressive, frantic, explosive brand of post-punk.
Yet here were the four of us making music that had people name-checking bands like Joy Division and the Cure.
It was the distance and our ability to overcome that distance with standard, workhorse technology like basic computers and free recording software that made us what we are. If we’d all been in the same room together, I’d imagine we’d have some expectation of what and how the other person plays: “Oh, yeah, you’re one of the fastest drummers there is. So let’s play fast.” “Yeah, you play crazy discordant super-intricate leads on the bass.” That kind of thing.
Instead, I would write something thinking it would be fast, and our drummer would interpret it as slow and record it that way. From there, our bass player would seize on the groove of it and focus on the hooks and progressions, and our singer would get the instrumental songs with no idea of whether this was supposed to be angry, sad, happy, or even what we thought were the choruses or the verses. All of that became his territory.
So we surprised each other. And fortunately, we’ve surprised our listeners. And yeah, I miss New York a lot. I miss having multiple band practices per week. But I love Colorado. And I am astonished at the range of free, intuitive programs and platforms and services that allow a group of far flung people to create together. From Audacity to WeTransfer to even—no kidding—the first and only image we used until recently, which was created in Microsoft Paint.
So, maybe I am a tech guy. I might not know too much about it, but I sure do use it a lot.