In the spring of ’07, I heard somebody use the phrase “the big drum in the sky religion” to mean, basically, “some weird religion”. I immediately wrote the phrase down, knowing that it would be the name of my next band.
I’d been in a few bands at that point, all of them improvisational and heavily influenced by punk, heavy psychedelic, free jazz and noise. They were all fun, but all had ended when the bass player moved away or my girlfriend dumped me. I decided that The Big Drum In The Sky Religion would be myself and whoever I could get to join in at any given moment, thus freeing myself from dependence on any particular other people; that BDSR, as it became abbreviated, would follow Albert Ayler’s example of being free to improve or play riffs and melodies as wonted; and that I would use BDSR to bring together my two main interests – freaky, abrasive, feedbackety music and the world’s vast treasure trove of myth and religion. (At the beginning, I was still somewhat influenced by radical, anarchist politics, as evidenced by the title of BDSR’s first cd – Humanity Won’t Be Happy (Until The Last Bureaucrat Is Hung With The Guts Of The Last Capitalist. I grew out of that.)
Having no set line-up, no reliable vehicle and no desire to travel around playing in basements, I focused on local shows and recording, building a largish list of contacts through what was then considered social media, namely Myspace. I knew that the key to finding an audience would be longevity. Many, many bands get started. Few survive their first year. Those that last and continue to be active will inevitably find their niche. I looked at a few bands who I respected and liked – some of whom I still respect and like, but not all – and saw that they were around for a decade before I heard of them and they all toured extensively. It seemed perfectly reasonable then that it would be at least a decade before people like me heard about BDSR.
So, BDSR played a bunch of local shows with various line-ups for a few years. There were few, if any, people in the audience who actually wanted to hear us – or me, since I sometimes showed up alone. I kept thinking that if I just kept showing up, people would catch on.
That is a huge factor in BDSR – just keep showing up, just keep doing it. There have been times when I felt crushed by the apathy of the local scene. No one cares about this, why do I keep doing this? The thing that kept me plugging along was my belief in the righteousness of it. See, I am a person of faith. My interest in myth and religion comes from my experience of the Divine Mystery. I do believe in something that can be called “God” and I am absolutely certain that when one lives in accord with God’s will, things will happen. Life will get better. The Universe will provide opportunities. BDSR has always been an evangelical unit and I’ve always known that I was doing the will of my Higher Power. In my down times, I just had to remember that if I kept on doing the work, a way would open up.
And there were many victories. I put out the first few cd’s from home, burning them on my laptop. Eventually, somebody who had a label was willing to burn cd’s on their laptop and do the distro, which was amazing. I well remember how good it felt that somebody other than me thought BDSR was worth the price of twenty cdr’s. The fact that it became commonplace for BDSR to release stuff through labels hasn’t diminished my appreciation for those people who put our stuff out, but it isn’t as big a deal as it once was. I enjoy putting individual tracks and cd-length projects up on the BDSR Bandcamp, but at this point I could find a label to release most anything if I wanted.
But the local scene never really warmed up. We hammered away at it for a good seven years, lugging the gear to play for two people in dank basements and providing patrons at local bars an opportunity to go outside and smoke. I set up shows with really amazing touring bands who nobody came to see. And then one night, after a show, I decided “fuck this noise”. It was no longer fun or interesting to show up and play so there were no BDSR shows for about a year and nobody seemed to mind, least of all me. Eventually, I started to want to play so I threw some inquiries around to places we’d done shows outside of Harrisonburg and got some good gigs which were not exactly SRO, but there were people and they seemed to enjoy what we did. At this point, I’m looking forward to a few shows this summer in Charlottesville, Fredericksburg and DC and I hope to never play between metal bands in that basement on Old South High Street again. I wasted no little time wondering why the locals don’t like BDSR and then I accepted it. We do well in other areas, especially when we play in art spaces with other freaky, performance art noisicians, so that’s what we’re gonna do. Not saying BDSR will never perform within the city limits of Harrisonburg, VA, again, but there would have to be cash on the table or some other compelling factor.
Last December, I got an email from some git in UK who wanted to release a BDSR album. Like on vinyl. My first thought was “yeah, right, I bet you also wanna sell me a time-share and you can introduce me to single, horny MILF’s in my area”. I responded to the guy, skeptically, but politely, and he seems to be legit. And again, despite my suspicions and utter disbelief that this could actually be happening, I just did what I was supposed to do. I set up a session with a guy I know who is starting a studio in Richmond to do the recording. When that fell through, I set up a session at a space in Harrisonburg, drove over to the drummer’s house and trucked him and his gear to the space. The four-track recordings turned out to be unusable, but I had also recorded the whole session with a single mic, for no reason other than it seemed like the thing to do at the time and that came out somewhat decent. I had been planning on overdubbing the live material, so I had the skeleton of the thing and just had to put some flesh on it. When it was done, I sent the wav files to Jolly Ol’ England half expecting the guy to have vanished or to hate the material.
At this writing, the files have gone to the press and we’re just waiting for the test pressings to be shipped back. The label guy is gonna do the cover art and there’ll be BDSR vinyl on the market in time for whatever winter solstice holiday you celebrate. Unless it turns out to be a scam, which I still think might be the case because that would, at least, make some kinda sense. I mean, deep down inside I know that I am a mentally-ill, alcoholic fuck-up who can barely hang onto a minimum wage job and certainly can’t keep a driver’s license. I’m the kinda guy who crushes up Percosets, Xanex and meth in an ashtray and snorts lines. I used to drink mouthwash and vanilla extract. Left to my own devices, I’d be sleeping in a box under a bridge, at best. The only reason I’m alive and well, clean and sober, properly medicated and relatively sane, licensed to drive and part-owner of a local business is I committed myself to a spiritual life. Seriously, that’s it. The SSRI’s are certainly necessary, but meds can only take you so far. The secret to my success is my utilization of myth and religion and I avow and affirm that that is exactly what myth and religion are for. All of us are born with the possibility of bringing some unique, wonderful reality into being, if we are willing to do the work. Most people won’t ever try. The only reason I was willing to adopt a spiritual way of life was I realized that I was going to die of an overdose or suicide in the immediate future if I didn’t do something and somebody suggested I try spirituality.
I never would’ve guessed that I’d someday own the first restaurant that refused to serve me alcohol because I was too drunk, that I’d be the father of a wonderful, intelligent and terrifically sweet little grrrl or that somebody would want to release an LP of my sloppy, fuzzy music.
Bizarre. Strange ways, indeed.
But it does seem to be the case, so I’m waiting for the test pressing and there are cd’s about to drop and we might have an improv vocalist at the next show. Things are happening and most of them are pretty good. I keep showing up, keep on doing the work and the Divine Mystery, the Source and Sustainer of All, keeps on opening doors in places where I didn’t even think doors existed.
I thought it would be at least ten years before BDSR got to the level where somebody like me would hear about us and possibly be interested. I don’t know if that’ll happen – we’re into year nine right now – but I don’t care anymore. That kind of thinking mattered at the beginning – it gave me a reason to dig in and keep plugging along. Now I don’t need that. BDSR has become part of how I live, like showing up for work or not buying Night Train at the gas station. Its normal and I like it, so it doesn’t matter if we get cool gigs opening for awesome bands or some ‘zine reviews a release and loves it. That stuff is fun, of course, but it isn’t necessary. Doing the work is really the important
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.