I am very excited to be introducing you to my guest today. Bill See is a talented musician and gifted writer. His band Divine Weeks made a bit of a splash in the LA music scene in the late '80s and early '90s. They toured America and Canada for a month in the 1980s, and that tour is documented in his book, 33 Days: Touring In A Van. Sleeping On Floors. Chasing A Dream..
As you can tell from the title of the book, Divine Weeks was not a major label rock band that stayed in plush hotels when they toured; Divine Weeks were a grass roots, indie band, touring because of their passion for music. They were four young men willing to take risks to chase a dream. The book is an inspirational memoir. Bill See's words exude wisdom. He is a man with an enthralling story to tell about his experience as an indie musician, and about his life journey.
Anyone who has ever had a dream will be able to relate to Bill's book.
I met Bill through Bookpleasures.com. He had requested a review of his book, and being a music fan, I could not resist reading it. I'm glad I did. It's now one of my favourite books.
As well as taking the time to answer my questions, Bill has very kindly agreed to give away an ebook copy of 33 Days to one of my blog followers, this is an international giveaway. (If the winner is from the US or Canada he/she will have the choice of either an ebook or paperback!).
To enter, all you have to do is 'like' this blog post or leave a comment below!
A winner will be chosen on 20th July 2011.
Here's the interview:
I read on your blog that you do not consider yourself an author and that you put 33 Days together to document the Divine Weeks tour. When I read 33 Days, I felt like it was written by a born writer. I definitely think you have a talent as an author. Have you ever dabbled in other writing, apart from writing song lyrics?
That's very kind of you to say. That's just my self effacing humor. I've always written. After all, "33 Days" is taken from the journals I kept at the time. I guess I just meant I'm a musician first and never fashioned champion myself as an author per se.
One very interesting thing about 33 Days is the way it’s like an interactive read because you have a website where fans of the book can listen to the band’s music and there are also lots of photographs of the tour contained in the book. I have listened to the free mp3s on your website and really enjoyed the tracks. Are Divine Weeks’ albums still available to purchase, or do you have any plans to re-release the songs?
Divine Weeks' first record "Through and Through" is out of print, but you can find copies on ebay all the time. Maybe it'll get reissued thanks to the book. That would be a nice bi-product. Our second record "Never Get Used To It" and the singles that were released around that time are available on itunes and amazon, I think. I did try and make the reading experience interactive and the 33 Days website is designed for that purpose, but the truth is I initially thought about making "33 Days" fictional or just slap a "base on true events" tag on it because I didn't want the book to be limited or relegated to the band memoir scrap heap. Because it's not a conventional story about a band's conquests on the road. If anything, it sets out to debunk a lot of rock and roll myths and show what it's really like at the most base level and show that, like a lot of other tragically under appreciated bands, we made music because it hurts too much not to.
Your bio states that you released 5 solo records. Can you tell us a bit more about those?
After Divine Weeks broke up, I spent a lot of time staring into my ceiling trying to figure out what to do next. I spent a few years dabbling in different genres and my first solo record "Lovecoats" reflects that. Kind of all over the map. "In Sickness and In Health" was my second record and as the title suggests is sort of me musing on the mysteries of marriage. After that I did a record called "That Mercury Sound" which is a more a soundscape record. Soundtrack stuff. Then I did a record called "Union" which was my response to 9/11 and George W. Bush's America. And the last thing I did was "Hillflower Grace" which is about love, intimacy, and finding out my heart was still capable of loving and being loved. It's funny, after making music for 25 years I'd never really done a record completely about love. I've always said if you want to know something about me listen to my music. It's all there. I don't write lyrics so it makes you feel like you're reading tea leaves. My life is all there in the songs and my records all capture a time and place and specific portion of my life. And as I say at the end of "33 Days," I'll be making music until my last breath. Whether it's music that ends up on the radio, on record or just stuck in an old shoe box stuck in the back of my closet. I'm a lifer.
From reading 33 Days, I got the impression that the month you spent together as a band touring was pretty intense and emotional; you all learnt a lot about each other. Do you still keep in touch with the other band members?
Well, we grew up out there on the road. Our lives were changed. It's impossible to deny or play down an experience like we had. I can't say we knew what was in store for us when we left, but we did leave town all feeling like it was going to be a watershed moment if just let it. And it was. We all had a lot of baggage we tried to leave behind, but it followed us anyway. We were 22 and facing big nagging life decisions. Rigid cultural expectations, stultifying family dynamics, decisions on school, deteriorating relationships. Had we not been best of friends first, maybe things would have been simpler albeit lonelier. "33 Days" is as much about friendship and finding out what you're really made of for the first time in your life. And that's why I chose that time period for the book because there's nothing like that 22 year old voice -- first time out on your own and no where and no one else to turn to but each other. So to answer your question, yeah, I'm in touch with the band. It's like having war buddies who share near death experiences. It makes for life long bonds.
Divine Weeks certainly seemed to create quite a stir in the LA music scene in the late ‘80s. Are you still quite well known as a musician out there? And, since releasing the book have you re-connected with any old Divine Weeks fans
Divine Weeks had modest success. We were a big deal around L.A. for a time but on a relative scale. We were not a big major label band. I'm not well known so much anymore, but sure, the book has stirred some interest, and I've been reacquainted with some folks who followed us back in the day. I've got a lot of friends who were in bands that had more success so in promoting "33 Days" I've tried to make it clear the book is not the Divine Weeks story. I didn't set out to try and prove my case that Divine Weeks not making it was some great act of injustice. Basically I wanted to write a book about a moment at the crossroads of our lives. That now or never moment we all have at about 22 where we have to seize or moment or fold up our tent. "33 Days" is for two distinct audiences. For those of us in our 40s or beyond, it's supposed to make you sit up in the middle of your life and ask yourself did you seize your moment? And it's for kids in high school or college just coming up to that crossroads, and it's a cautionary tale about the perils of sitting on your dreams.
Many bands from the ‘80s have regrouped for reunion tours lately. Have you ever considered doing this with Divine Weeks?
Divine Weeks regrouped for one show in 2004 as a send off to our bass player George Edmondson before he headed back east to become a professor at Dartmouth. I'd never play a Divine Weeks show without each original member of the band in place. Our guitar player Rajesh Makwana and I played a few Divine Weeks songs as part of my book release party here in L.A. last month, and it was a great to revisit those songs, but no, unless it was all four of us, I could never call it a Divine Weeks show.
For those who may not have heard of the band, or listened to the free mp3s on your website, how would you describe Divine Weeks’ sound?
Divine Weeks was a live band. Very physical, visceral band. In the book I called us musically close to The Who at Woodstock circa 1969 crossed with early REM. That's a fairly close description but probably still not quite there.
Many people have been comparing the recent changes in the indie book publishing world (the advent of ebooks, and self-publishing becoming more acceptable) with the way the indie music scene broke through into the mainstream. As someone who has experience in the indie music scene, what is your take on this?
I think there's a lot of similarities so far as technology opening up the possibilities to authors in the same way the internet fazed out total reliance on the middle man in music. That being record companies, record stores and distributors. The music business was revolutionized by the internet whereas in the publishing world, we're still in the early transition period so it remains to be seen whether we'll see the same overhaul or not. I think it'll depend on how the publishing world reacts to it. History has already shown us the music industry reacted slowly and arrogantly to file sharing. For all the talk of the morality of illegal downloading, the music business itself has only itself to blame. File sharing and illegal downloading was the reaction of consumers who didn't want to pay $20 for a CD that had only one good song on it. I don't know if you can make an equal comparison with the publishing industry, but certainly the insular world of publishing elicited a similar level of outrage from aspiring authors. So, we'll see.
In your opinion, is it easier or harder for a new band to make it in the music industry these days than in the 1980s?
I think the answer is, “making it” has been redefined. I mean, it all comes down to motives. If flying around in Leer jets is your standard of success, well, that takes a lot of money and hype behind you, so you'll probably have to find a major label and then pray for a lot of luck. But honestly, the old model of getting signed to a major record label and slowly building a body of work over a number of albums is a thing of the past. It's all about "the song" now. With the music industry in such a state of flux, “making it” is such a relative term now. What’s happened the last 10 years in the music business is the full maturation and modernization of the original D.I.Y. indie credo: eliminating the middle man, no longer having to be reliant on record labels, radio stations and traditional media outlets. Going indie is not just some middle finger to corporate America. It’s actually the only logical choice. But you can’t be afraid of work, rejection, and learning how to become web savvy.
I imagine that as a musician you keep up to date with the current music scene? I saw your video on YouTube about the music scene in LA back in the ‘80s. How much has it changed since then?
Well, you have to keep in mind, I came by way of the punk rock D.I.Y. movement of eschewing major labels, putting out your own records and booking your own tours. I was inspired by the whole idea that success doesn't come to you. You go to it. So while a lot of my peers in the 80s sat home making demo after demo and sending them off to big record companies who didn't know what they were doing, I was following the breadcrumbs left on the highway by bands like Black Flag, the Minutemen and Husker Du. The culture was to do it yourself. Get in a van, and take it to the people, forget staying in hotels, ask from the stage for a floor to sleep on. That's still going on for a lot of young bands. What's changed is the internet.
It's revolutionized everything and empowered indie bands everywhere. With a mobile network, laptop, and printer, you can make CDs, stickers and t-shirts from the back of your van, and consequently you can actually make some money while on the road. With Facebook, Twitter and YouTube you can get the word out about gigs, post live clips, release new downloadable songs anytime you like – self-promoting with little or no overhead cost.
It’s a new world now with bands finding alternative ways to get the word out. Some are still hitting the highways like always and some are “touring” virtually by monetizing its videos on YouTube. It's an exciting time. We’ll see where we are in 10 years as bands continue to evolve the new paradigm of touring, weaning themselves from reliance on labels and reestablishing an intimate connection with the audience.
What music do you enjoy listening to these days? Do you have any favourite bands?
Arcade Fire is the best big band in the world right now. And they still seem hungry. The proverbial sky is the limit for them. Anything Jack White does I love. I like Death Cab for Cutie's new record. Wilco has a new record coming out without a major label behind it that I'm looking forward to. I didn't love Radiohead's new record, but I'm still a fan. I'd like to see a strong willed producer come in and order them around for their next record. The Kings of Leon next record will be telling. They're at the same place U2 was in the mid 80s before they made the Joshua Tree. They could become the biggest band in the world with the right record, but we'll see how bad they want it.
CDs or mp3s/downloads? Which do you prefer?
I still listen to vinyl and cassette tapes! But I do listen to CDs, I do download MP3s, and I do love my ipod. So as a music fan, I welcome anything that improves the listening experience. For the music maker, taking a historical perspective, I'm saddened that the art of album making is dying. I'm a fan of bands and artists who show over the course of an entire album where they are and where they're headed.
In the mid-90s with FCC deregulating media and the rise of media conglomerates people forgot that record companies were beholden to radio, who were beholden to advertisers, so radio would hone in on only a snippet of a song. Radio would go back to labels and say your music didn’t test well and ask bands what else they had. So, it really became the search for THE SONG. Not a body of work. “What’s that song?” Not WHO does that song. We don’t care about a band’s career anymore. What we care about is hunting and gathering. We’ve got to have it. Not much different than the search to find the shades or shoes you saw Angelina Jolie wear in her latest movie. Gotta have it.
What was the last CD/mp3 you purchased?
Can't remember which was the last, but it was either the new Death Cab for Cutie's record or Adele's "Rolling In The Deep." I'm late to the Death Cab for Cutie party, but like their new record. And I love Adele's voice and love that she doesn't have a perfect pop star body.
Do you have any tips for musicians who may be starting out now and maybe planning a similar tour to Divine Weeks’ 1987 tour?
What did Bette Davis say? "Growing old isn't for sissies." Same thing for trying to make it on your own in the music business. It ain't for sissies. Basically it comes down to motives. If making music to you is art and a source of salvation and sustenance, going indie is a true viable option now. Forget trying to get signed to a major label and forget trying to get played on commercial radio. That old model is dead. Don't sit there waiting to be discovered. Go out there and make it happen. Don't tell me you would if you the had time or the know how. Those are just justifications for inaction. What’s happened in the last 10 years in the music business is the full maturation and modernization of the original D.I.Y. indie credo: eliminating the middle man, no longer having to be reliant on record labels, radio stations and traditional media outlets. But you can't be afraid of work. You've got to be web savvy, singular minded and committed to your goals, and reconcile that success is relative and something you have to define for yourself. Going indie is not just some middle finger to corporate America. If you know what you're doing and if you align yourself with band members that share your desire and vision, you can make a sustainable living now out on the road. What's great is there are so many resources to get tips for how to do it now. When we headed out on our first tour, all we had was word of mouth.
Your book is ultimately all about following your dream. What is your dream these days?
I spent 12 years writing my book so that, at the end of the day, I had exactly the story I needed to tell. No compromises. The motive was to be completely at peace before I let it go. That's something I knew I needed to achieve in order to be in the proper frame of mind to try and sell the movie rights. "33 Days" is filled with these made for the movies set pieces. I didn't set out to make it like that. It just naturally worked that way. So that's the next dream, I guess. And you know, it would be odd seeing someone take something so close and intimate and change it, but hey, I wrote the story I needed to tell and if someone buys the movie and changes it, this would be a good problem to have.
Do you have any tips for someone who is considering self-publishing their own book?
Don’t wait until you publish to start researching marketing and publicity. The one concession I’d make to commerce over art would be titling the book. That’s the number one search tool. Really think about the keywords people would use to find not just your type of book but things that may be connected to it and get those in your title. Utilize facebook, twitter, youtube and have an interactive website. And most importantly, don’t let go of editing the book until you are truly at peace with it. Because if you put yourself in the position of standing there waiting for someone to validate something you’ve poured your heart and soul into it’s like — holding out a beggar’s bowl and letting what’s dropped in there determine the value of your creation. And that — is a bad scene.
Who are your favourite authors and what is it about their writing that you like?
Well, of the classics, I love Kerouac, Salinger, Bukowski. These are authors that kind of shoved me out the door and hunger for experience. Of the more current ones, I really dug Mark Edmundson's "The Fine Wisdom and Perfect Teachings of the Kings of Rock and Roll" and Mahbod Seraji's "Rooftops of Tehran." Both are great modern day coming of age stories. I tend to gravitate to that genre and like I said, "33 Days" is modeled on that.
Is there a book you own that you’ve read more than once?
Gosh, several. "To Kill A Mockingbird," "On The Road," and "Catcher in The Rye," to name a few.
What was the last book you read?
Rob Sheffield's Love Is a Mix Tape. Very moving, very funny. Highly recommended.
Are you reading a book at the moment?
I'm reading the new Bob Mould book. He's a personal hero of mine. Plus it's put out on my old friend Reagan Arthur's company who also put out Tina Fey's book. I love to see great things happen for great people.
What do you think of ebooks?
I love them. I have my Kindle, and it's really made me get back into reading all the time. I think for self published authors, it's great because it's so affordable to produce and get out there. I don't agree with the criticism I hear from other self published authors who say we shouldn't sell ebooks for $2.99 or $1.99 or whatever because it makes it impossible for people selling them for what the major publishing houses sell them for. I think that's short-sighted. Especially if we're talking about a first book. It's all about getting as many eyes on your book as possible, building a brand name, and then slowly building a body of work. If you got into self publishing to make money, good luck to you, but personally I'd rather have people actually read my book than be obsessed over my profit margin.
What are you working on now?
To be honest, publicizing "33 Days" is a full time job. I had no idea finding time to write the next book would have to take a back seat like it has. It's frustrating on one level, but for me, I've always moved onto the next project too soon and not stood up for my stuff. I'm not going to let that happen with "33 Days." I believe in this story and I want to see the book get its just due and maybe get it on the big screen.
Where can people buy your book?
All the links to buy the book are on the 33 Days website at http://www.33daysthebook.com/
The ebook is at:
Barnes and Noble
The paperback is at:
Thank you Bill, for answering my questions. It was a pleasure to chat with you.
Remember, you can enter to win a copy of Bill's book by 'liking' this blog post, or leaving a comment below. Good luck!
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