Sunday, March 2, 2014

The day I auditioned for the Vulgar Boatmen

The Vulgar Boatmen were partly based in Indiana, but that's not how I knew of them. 

I was a fan of the Silos and bought the Vulgar Boatmen's album You and Your Sister in 1989 because it came out on the Silos' label, Record Collect. 

Only later did I learn about the Indiana connection. That was exciting news, because it meant that I might be able to see them live! 

And I did see them live. I drove from Muncie to Bloomington, Indiana, to see them perform in a spaghetti restaurant, and I saw them play at the Patio in Indianapolis. They were one of those quiet, strummy bands, like the Feelies. I like that sound. I still listen to the Boatmen's song "Drive Somewhere" once in a while. 

Sometime in the '90s, I saw an ad that the Vulgar Boatmen placed in a free weekly newspaper. They were looking for a bass player, so I called the number. They gave me the address of a house in Indianapolis where I could go to audition. 

It was winter. I packed my bass guitar and amplifier into my three-cylinder Geo Metro hatchback and drove over in the evening. Indianapolis is about an hour's drive from Muncie. 

When I arrived, a woman welcomed me into the house and offered me tea. I accepted. 

I hauled my gear down to the basement, and Dale Lawrence and Matt Speake were down there. While I set up, I tried to make small talk, but I'm terrible at it. Somehow we got onto the subject of cars, which is a topic that I'm even less capable of discussing than other things. 

Dale and Matt started playing some songs and I thumped along on bass. I had done my homework, so I knew how to play all of their songs. I played plain vanilla bass lines, just like the ones on their records. 

They asked if I wanted to play any song in particular, and I requested "Allison Says" from the album Please Panic. I liked this song and went to town on the bass part, playing lots of notes. I thought I'd demonstrate my proficiency beyond the basic thump-thump-thump. 

Dale frowned. Matt said to Dale, kind of apologetically, "Well, he knows all the songs." 

"We'll call and let you know," they said, and politely sent me on my way. 

On the drive home, a massive snowstorm hit, and inches of sleet and snow fell instantly onto the highway. 

My Geo Metro wasn't great in snow. It was so lightweight that I got pulled over by a cop outside of Columbus, Ohio, one time because the wind was blowing my little car around so much that I looked like a drunk driver. 

As I headed eastbound on I-69 through the storm, a semi-truck passed on the left and threw a tidal wave of slush into my lane. I lost control of the car. The car spun around and around, and the rear end slammed into the concrete barricades between the lanes. 

After the car came to a stop and I came to my senses, I looked through the windshield and saw that I was facing the oncoming traffic. Dozens of headlights were coming at me through the curtain of snow. I expected to be killed soon. 

All of the cars drove around me, though. I sat there for a while in a daze, waiting for an ambulance or a police car to arrive. When I realized that no one was coming and that my car appeared to be drivable, I waited for a lull in the traffic, made a u-turn, and continued homeward. 

The Vulgar Boatmen never called, so I assume that I didn't get the gig. 

I also never got my car fixed, so for years afterward, it had a huge rusty dent to remind me of the day I auditioned for the Vulgar Boatmen. 

1 comment:

  1. That is hilarious. I had lots of interactions with Vulgar Boatmen from 1990 up until a few years ago. It must have been around the same time you are talking about, when I was in the bathroom at The Patio next to Matt. He asked if I would want to play bass with them, and I not-so-secretly was a huge fan of the band. Our bands played together a few times each year. I said that I would, but that I would want to practice, and he said that it probably wouldn't work out.
    Then in 2007-sh I got a second chance. They needed a fill in bass player for a run of shows while Jake was in England and their replacement for him was unavailable. This time I just said yes and got to work on the songs. Our 'practices' were really Dale showing me the changes, we would play a verse and a chorus, then move on. He would say "you've got this, right?" and I would just say yes. But my formative years were spent devouring that groove and I had seen them live probably 50 times. It was really all feel.
    My last show with them was at SXSW 2011. Me, Matt, Dale, and Walter in drums. So great. The Shuba's show was fun too because it was a sell out crowd and I think 4 of the songs we played I had literally never even played them before or had recordings of there's to reference.