Get The Shell Poppin’
By Liam McKenna
Watchdog journalism, breaking news, investigative reporting — journalism features phenomenal work that has a huge impact on society.
Journalism can be fun, though. The SandPaper gets this. I had a chance to have fun with this story, covering a local band. This was the first piece where I made the lede as nontraditional as humanly possible, and prayed my editor let it fly.
A SpongeBob reference was my selection for the lede.
I wanted this piece to be accessible, descriptive and — above all — fun. In order to do that, I put in a lot of quotes in hopes of making the story sound more like the reader was chatting with the band.
Additionally, I took a video of the band jamming. Videos are one element of my job that simply is not work. From shooting, to stand-ups, to editing and eventually to posting, I love every element of production. My father is a technology geek, and that rubbed off on me. Cell phones, computers, cameras: I love it. In fact, I may add a review of my new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge to this blog just for fun. We’ll see.
Back to the point: I love journalism — and even more when I get to incorporate technology.
8.28.2014 — SpongeBob SquarePants was certain he had included all of the ingredients to his Krabby Patty, despite Bubble Bath claiming otherwise. SquarePants looked at the customer with skepticism.
“Wait a minute,” SquarePants said. “Look, he’s been hiding the pickles under his tongue the whole time.”
Right around this point in the episode, guitarist Tom Rutledge and his fellow band members knew what the name of their band was going to be: The Pickles. The band, like the children’s cartoon, would focus on one thing: enjoyment. For the Pickles, enjoyment from listeners can be obvious: dancing. Other times, it is more subtle: a head bob or lip syncing.
The group has been around for nearly 15 years. There is only one remaining original member, Rutledge. He goes by Boose, though. In fact, let’s stick with Boose from this point forward. The nickname comes from being called Boo as child, then evolving to Boose — short for caboose.
“I haven’t been called Tom in years except by police officers and teachers,” Boose said.
On Aug. 22, the band brought enjoyment to the Sea Shell. Children danced. Adults videoed with their iPhones. And after each tune, hands applauded. Before the Pickles showed up to play, the skies were overcast, the breeze brought a feeling of autumn, and the crowd was mum. This made for a very subdued atmosphere. Bassist Todd Raupp says it’s always easier to play to an excited crowd. Obviously, though, bands do not always get such luxuries.
“We can be the background music to people’s conversation or we can be the party,” percussionist Charlie Berezansky said. “If it gets crazy, I love it. And if it doesn’t, I love it, too.”
“Sometimes, people are out here to drink and have a good time,” he explained. “They don’t want to hear a band at full volume. Sometimes it’s nice just having us behind them.”
While Raupp said he gets a feeling of accomplishment from being in harmony or rhythm, he also gets the feeling when people are dancing and clearly enjoying themselves. Unfortunately, he is never certain whether a crowd will be hyped or ho-hum. Because of this, the band has no set list.
“There’s no plan going into it ahead of time,” he said.
Looking for some preview of what’s to come? Next to Boose is a sheet of paper with every song the Pickles have in their jar of songs. It includes Bob Marley, Cee Lo Green, Johnny Cash and more. The band will pick some stuff off the Billboard Hot 100 from time to time. At the Shell, they covered Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” which was a top-five song earlier this summer.
“The current stuff is fun, but we’re not a dance band,” Berezansky said. “We love to make people dance, but we’re not always going to take a dance song and make it into a rock song.”
The band appears to be willing to try anything, though Kendrick Lamar was nowhere to be found. Most of their material seems to have some hints of rock to it. On Saturday, they rocked the crowd with their fifth song. They belted out a booming “ho” to begin their take on the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey.”
“We just try it, and if it works, great,” Berezansky said. “There’s maybe 30 or 40 percent of our songs that we’ll play for a month and then say, ‘see ya later.’”
This diversity gives the Pickles versatility.
“One day, we can play at a biker bar and then the next day, we can play at an island wedding,” Berezansky said. “That’s the fun of it.”
With no set list and a steady stream of new music, some bands can become vulnerable to arguments and hurt feelings. However, the Pickles have been around for a long time. The current form of the band has been together for a bit less than five years. All of the Pickles are past their childhood years. For these reasons, Raupp feels the group is experienced enough to have some fluidity.
“I’ve been in this band probably eight years, and you just start to lose a little chip off of your shoulder,” he said. “You get a little bit more mature. You don’t take everything to heart.”
Raupp said diversifying the musical selection also helps the band from getting bored.
“That’s how I’ve always thought about music: You can have different opinions, but you all are trying to do what’s best for the band,” he added. “The three of us are friends, and this is probably the tightest the band has ever been.”
Berezansky is the peculiar Pickle, being the only member to work a “day job.” He runs a recording studio and works in extermination; he picked up the Pickles gig when his wife was expecting a second child and the couple decided it would be best for her to stay home.
“She was a nurse. We couldn’t have her work; it just wouldn’t make sense. The kids would have to have been in day care,” Berezansky said. “They were looking for a drummer, and I said, ‘Oh, that’s awesome. I wish I still played.’ And Todd was like, ‘Well, do you want to play?’”
Berezansky picked up over 50 songs in just about a month. Despite having a packed schedule, he said he is still able to be the family man he wants to be. Excluding the performance this story is focused on, most of the Pickles’ work comes in the evening, giving him that family time.
“My family understands that this keeps us afloat,” Berezansky said. “It’s the best job in the world. They pay me to play drums and talk to the nicest people in the world.”
He added that no matter what he is going through on a particular day, he knows his goal is to help his fellow members keep the beat the moment a note is played.
“I only think about the songs and the band when I’m playing,” Berezansky said.
Before picking up the guitar and leaning toward the mike to sing, “Who’s to say what’s impossible” from Jack Johnson’s “Upside Down,” Boose was worried about his ability to adequately get those lyrics out of his mouth. With playing roughly six nights a week during the course of the summer, Boose’s voice is not at 100 percent. Each performance, he tries to approximate where that percentage is.
The second thing he worries about is the crowd. This worry mainly concerns the mood and level of engagement of the audience. However, Boose also joked about worrying over the size of the crowd, specifically finding parking.
On this particular afternoon, Boose was hoping the audience would be hyped and ready for the show, to end the season with some noise. Yet the crowd was not quite at that level.
“It’s a mix. They want to listen, but they’re also starting to loosen up as they get some more cocktails,” Boose said. “We’re taking them away from their regular life for a moment, and that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re entertainers. We’re not just musicians.”
Boose admitted that being taken away by music happens not only to the listener, but to the player as well. He said playing takes him away from reality, providing examples ranging from car troubles to the death of a loved one.
“There’s the sad clown behind happy makeup,” Boose said. “As an entertainer, you do have to leave your problems at the door.”
This was particularly difficult when the group lost its keyboard player four years ago this Labor Day weekend. Boose said he had lost his best friend, Brian Bozarth, and still struggles to shake off feelings of sadness heading into performances. However, he added the loss can inspire and motivate him as well.
“He got us started in a great direction,” Raupp said. “He’s always in our thoughts and is a driving force for this group. Even to this day, we always think about him.”
Boose has been on guitar for 16 years. After losing Bozarth, he began taking reps as the Pickles’ lead vocalist alongside Raupp.
“The two of us, we really had to find ourselves as a duo act,” Raupp said. “I had never sang a note in my life, so to learn harmonies or even lean in and talk into a microphone, it has always been a challenge.”
Boose feels his vocal range is decent despite a slight “southern growl” he compared to what one might find in Gov’t Mule. This range became clear when he sang the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey,” then later while performing Johnny Cash. However, Boose would like to be stronger with his vocal acrobatics. Want to know what he means by vocal acrobatics? Listen to Christina Aguilera. While he may never be able to sing “I Turn to You,” he would like to find some middle ground between that and where he currently is. As for the band as whole, he would like to get into rangier tunes, providing the example of John Legend.
“You gotta stay with the times to become non-expendable,” Boose said. “Classic rock is great. Newer stuff is nice, too, though. You gotta keep up — keep up with what the people want to hear. We gotta do a lot of it.
“My dad said if you throw enough wet rice at a barn door, something’s going to stick,” he added. “If you throw a lot of genres out there, you’re going to hit somebody.”
The Pickles are constantly fighting to keep things fresh, and not just for their music. This fight also applies to their reach and even a revamped website.
“We’re always trying to get to a new level,” Raupp said. “We’re trying to get something together where maybe we can go down south to New Orleans or the Keys in the wintertime — a mini tour, a snowbird musician thing.”