I was flipping through some of the oldest tour diaries I have, looking for something relevant to share with you this week. There were lots of options, but when I came across the two entries below, they seemed the most appropriate. First, some context:
Jon and I were in a band together for a few years called The Shatterposts. When that fell apart, he and I wanted to keep making music together. Tallahassee’s scene at the time was amazing—and incestuous; if you were in one band, then you were probably in at least one more. Jon and I knew we were going to keep making music together, it was just a matter of who else were we going to get to join us.
At the same time, I was struggling to finish my second-to-last semester at FSU, trying desperately to keep a relationship together, and working as much as possible at a record store while still volunteering at V-89. It was chaos.
In the span of a little more than a month, I was about to take on not just one new band, but two.
12 December 1993
I’ve done half of the assignments I should have done during the semester. Although I’ve left them for the last week, I’m not as stressed as I have been in previous semesters. I guess I’ve learned that I can get through shit like this almost completely unscathed. flanders played on Saturday. We opened for Five Eight. Although we played 10 songs, our set was finished in less than 35 minutes. It included a cover of The Circle Jerks’ “I Just Want Some Skank”—very punk. A lot of people were surprised by how different it was from The Shatterposts. Maybe that’s because Julie moved and we had fun. Gruel wants to add another guitar player to make their sound a bit bigger. The funny part about it is that they asked me to be their 4th member. Holy shit! I’m honored and petrified beyond belief. My 1st gig with them could be as early as mid-January when they are scheduled to play a big two-day festival in Gainseville the weekend before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s outdoors and supposedly huge. That shouldn’t be nerve-wracking at all.
31 January 1994
It’s been a long time. Maybe not in days, but in events. flanders played with Spirex on the 13th, then the Gruel show in Gainesville: 1,200 people. 30º. I shit myself. What a weekend. We stayed at Misha’s lake place. A good time. Then, flanders recorded seven songs at Georgia Street. Seven songs in seven hours. Julie was sex. We were amazed. We played with Frankenfinger on Saturday at Waterworks; a weird gig. I’ve had stomach pains for three days; very disturbing. It rained all weekend; beautiful. Now it’s getting cold again. Behind in school, graduating soon. Not long ’til I’m a a fool in the world. I don’t want to be rich, I don’t want fame. I just want someone to pay my rent. “I don’t want to not knock things down. Style.” We forget so much after a little time passes. I hope somebody is writing it all down.
Being asked to be a part of Gruel is still one of the proudest moments of my musical life. It even means more to me than that other audition I had. Seriously. These guys were not just friends, they were major musical giants to me. They were the first local band I saw in Tallahassee. They wrote songs that felt like they came straight from the teeth-grindingly all-encompassing frustration I was having at the time: broken relationships, galloping thoughts, discordant demons of unfinished ideas and unattainable hopes.
Bruce pummeled his kit with power and grace, each contradicting the other. Chris had a jaunty, syncopated style starting from a right hand that picked up a heavy chorus of notes strummed up from the bottoms of thick, growling bass strings. And then there was Tommy. I could go on and on about his Sabbath-meets-Die Kreuzen guitar playing. Or his hummably dark, minor-key melodies. Or his meticulous recording prowess. Or his love of Divine. He was—and is—a major influence on my own guitar playing.
Every time I saw Gruel, they left me with my jaw on the floor. I always had a hard time figuring out how so much was coming from so few. And now they wanted to add me to the mix. I had no idea why. But I had no chance of passing it up.
One of the memories I still have from that first gig in the middle of an Alachua county forrest is how cold it was. I remember being completely underdressed. I had on white long johns under Army surplus cargo shorts and a red Woodenhorse t-shirt, to honor the set they had played the day before.
The only other vivid memory I have is how unbelievable nervous I was. I knew lots of people were going to be judging us, and me, very closely. I didn’t want to ruin a band they loved — a band I loved. I wanted us to be better than the sum of our parts. I wanted us to sound like we had always been a four-piece. I wanted us to be Gruel.
To this day, I have no idea how we sounded. People seemed to like us. My friends at the show told me it went well. I was too petrified to have an opinion. All I knew was that I got through it.
We went on to do lots more shows, and to write and record new songs together, songs that I helped create while still retaining that vaunted “Gruel” moniker. I overcame my own internal doubts and sizable insecurities to collaborate with a group I’d always felt in awe of. And we released stuff I still enjoy to this day.
I’ll always be proud of that.