Beating the Tension

Matt Drums

As I got my drums out of storage, my nerves started to get the better of me. I felt that nervous or anxious feeling build in my stomach that always seems to pair with the excitement of something going to happen. It seemed as if my stomach was full of some sort of undiscovered element, free of mass or volume that was ready to explode at any minute. I stuffed my kit into the backseat of my truck, and started the drive down the winding road to the farm house that seemed like it would inevitably be the realization that I do not know how to play the drums. Once my drive started, I only had the winding turns of the back roads to look to for solace.

Let me put why I started to get so nervous into perspective. The guys that I was on my way to go play with were already established musicians. They had been in bands for about 6 years. Their most recent band All Falls Through had actually built quite a nice little following. AFT had recorded several singles, been on some college radio stations and been part of a ton of shows in the Portland area. They even got to play with a few bands that were very popular and toured through Portland, such as Bowling For Soup, The Ataris, Rufio, and Motion City Soundtrack. The music they played was really similar to the music I used to listen to in high school, so I was very excited to in a way become a part of it. CJ was on the guitar and behind the microphone, Jesse a very skilled bass player. I knew that I was going over there to just play with them and kind of keep them in practice, but I still began feeling like I was going to be some sort of imposter pretending to know how to play the drums. We had been friends for quite some time at this point, and I had made sure to let them know that I was no professional.

After the gut wrenching drive, I arrived at the house and started walking the pieces of my drum kit into the shop that we would be playing in. My feet were feeling much heavier than I remember them being, and I shuffled all of my pieces into the shop, knowing that I couldn’t keep stalling. As I set up stands, attached the drums and pedal together, this started to become a real thing. The nervousness started to grow back into excitement. I thought to myself, “Hey, even if this is just you getting to play a bit with some friends, have fun with this.” I popped open a beer, let the cool liquid from the first sip slowly travel down my throat. Why not just make this seem like we are hanging out drinking a beer? My sticks lying on the ground, I bent down with a little bit of trepidation and picked them up from their spot.

I stammered one last, “I haven’t played in a while”, and off we went. Cj and Jesse began one of their songs, and after listening for a few phrases I jumped in. Let’s just say that I did not play perfectly at first. It wasn’t necessarily brutal in the beginning, but it was quite close to becoming just that. I stumbled my way through the first couple of songs we ran through. That stumble slowly became a waddle. My ease with playing with these guys was starting to grow. Whether it was just playing or the beer I was ingesting was the cause of this, it was just a nice feeling to see myself progressing. My waddle started to become a slow walk. Comfort was growing. At the end of a few hours of just trying to jump in and play with these guys, I didn’t get much beyond a slow walk. What was encouraging was their mention of seeing how much I had improved in the short time. I could see in their faces a genuine excitement, and their want to play some more and see how I would improve. Although it started off slow, I was now starting to feel like I was fitting in. They invited me to show up the next week and play some more. If I had improved that much in such a short time, why not give it another try?

After practicing together for week after week, three months had gone by rather quickly. We had created three original songs, I learned two other originals that were left over from All Falls Through, and we put together a cover of Green Day’s ‘She’. The hours we put in just playing and playing had gotten the songs that I learned stuck in my head. I learned all of the transitions, the beat to the choruses, and the tempo of the verses. I found myself singing these songs in my head everywhere I went. Riding my motorcycle, sitting in class, watching a movie. We now had a set ready. My next milestone of nervous breakthroughs was about to come. We had our first show lined up a week later.

By the time that the day of the show had arrived, I had already asked about a million questions about how everything would go to ease my mind. All of our gear was already in the SUV, so we piled in and headed to the show. We arrived at Slabtown in Northwest Portland, and the realness of the situation hit me when I saw our name, 3 For The Win, on the chalkboard out front. What was I doing here?!

We were one of the first bands there, so I took this time to take in a beer and some food to get my mind right and focus. I had falafel and garlic fries. The amount of garlic in both foods was extremely excessive, and although I loved the taste, overpowered my taste buds. This actually did serve a nice purpose, though. It distracted me a bit about what I was going to do. I had an excuse to sit in a corner and not talk to anybody. After a short time, my beer and food were gone. I spent the next half hour just sitting, going through the songs in my head. The thought went through my head, “Come on, it’s only playing six songs, it couldn’t be that bad, right? You’ve played these before time and time again.” Maybe the beer was doing its trick. My solitude seemed to have calmed me down. That is, until I was told it was time to set up my drum set.

I went up to the stage and started setting everything up. I moved at a tremendous pace. This was my first show, and I didn’t want to hold anybody up or cause any problems with time. Sweat started to bead on my brow. The nerves in my stomach made themselves known at this time. The knot started twisting and churning inside me. Everything seemed to be happening in a whirlwind. My kit was set up in a fashion that was probably as quick as humanly possible. After completing this task it was the time to wait till we went on stage to do a sound check then start our show.

We went and sat down at a table. At the table we did some small talk, and I had on a fake smile and was pretending to be at ease, but this was definitely not the case. The tension was building with each minute as we waited to play. Another beer may have eased my nerves a bit, but because this was my first show I decided to not compromise my playing by drinking very much. Time could not move fast enough. As each minute passed the thought of running out of the building and down the street became more logical in my head.

When we got the call to go on, I started to trudge up to the stage, feeling like a condemned prisoner on his way to meet his fate. That is, till I sat down. Once I sat down, the universe was as it should be. My nerves went away, and I was ready to shine. I had this.

Our performance went by like a blur. I remember on the first song having to catch one of my cymbals as it was falling over on its stand. For those that have never played a drum set, this is not easy to do while keeping a beat. I remember the vivid images of looking at the faces in the crowd as I played. I could see about thirty people clearly in front of us, but the rest behind them were a mass of distorted faces. The heads nodded to the rhythms with approval. The song that was the newest, about a week old, was played flawlessly and in unison. Heck, we even had a couple of lighters waving in the air during the slow song that we played. Although I probably should have been tossing my head about like Animal from The Muppets, I seemed to sit back and watch the audience, soaking in this new experience.

The fatigue caused by our practice the week before the show seemed to be catching up with me on our fourth song. My arms started to feel like they were made of steel because of fatigue. They seemed to have the amount of gravity that only jet fighter pilots have endured. Even against these odds, time was flying by, and I was gonna make it. I rushed the last song a bit, speeding it up to a quicker than normal pace. Although it wasn’t much, I was feeding off of the crowd reaction. We were a new band, but I could see the happiness that we were bringing people, new fans being created right in front of me. The excitement was growing in my chest.

By the end of our set, I not only had a huge rush of adrenaline built up, but I was drenched in sweat, almost as if I had just gotten done running a marathon. The folks in front of us were cheering. Although I have been a part of numerous sports teams, this new feeling was like nothing else I had experienced. CJ and Jesse turned a little bit and had huge smiles on their faces. It was then that I knew I was hooked. Being on stage made me feel as if that is where I belonged, and I knew I was going to have to make this happen again.

Laurelhurst Slabtown

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