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Life Sucks and Then You Rock
By Kirsten Ferguson
photos By joe putrock

 

Whether clearing a wedding reception or entertaining friends in a local club, Stephen Gaylord and the Wasted find solace in songs about life’s dark side

 

The Wasted are not the first band who come to mind as possible entertainment for a wedding reception. The local trio don’t have songs that could be construed as “romantic” really, unless you count the messianic codependency that drives the narrator in “Son of Sam” to spin seductive lines like “I’ll be your innocence, I’ll be your Reagan years/I’ll be the beautiful people that you could bring to tears/I’ll be your Abraham, your Son of Sam I am/Your Jesus Christ on ice, all for a low, low price.”

Last weekend, however, the Wasted accepted a friend’s invitation to play at a wedding in the western New York town of Medina. How did it go? Well . . . “We played one song and it cleared out the older people,” admits Wasted songwriter and guitarist Stephen Gaylord. Drummer Paul Hill, who actually played in a successful wedding band as an eighth-grader, mentions the band’s loudness, and possibly their failure to take requests for the typical wedding-song standbys, as factors in the ensuing exodus of wedding attendees.

In their natural element—say, basement practice spaces and unassuming local rock clubs—the Wasted’s bitter take on the world goes down a lot smoother. “We are already in hell,” the vocal refrain from the band’s song “Outside Cats,” isn’t the sort of hopeful view of the future that could enliven a wedding party, but in the dark room of a dank bar in upstate New York, the sentiment sounds pretty damn appropriate. Bassist Kelly Murphy’s vocal harmonies add some light to the darkness, sweetening Gaylord’s distinctive singing style, which I once heard described as “Calvin and Hobbes on acid.”

“It’s often been critiqued as annoying instead of distinctive,” Gaylord says of his singing style. “I tried singing like Johnny Rotten and it blossomed—or mushroomed—from there. Then I added [Cypress Hill rapper] B Real and Hank Williams and ended up where I’m at. It’s too late to go back now.”

With the Wasted’s lyrical subject matter ranging from cynical to scathing, fans are sometimes surprised to learn that Gaylord has, by rock standards, what appears to be a pretty together life: a wife and family, a house and a good day job as a computer programmer. “I think there is a misconception that if you were a depressed drunk guy—hypothetically speaking of course—and you were to get married and have some kids, then suddenly you’d be a happy sober guy,” he says. “In reality you’ll simply be a married, depressed, drunk guy with children. Actually the bleak, cynical view of the world seemed to be magnified when I had kids. I often say to myself, ‘What kind of selfish fucker are you bringing two innocent kids into this world you hate?’ Then that subsides and I take them to the library and I realize that it’s OK because they haven’t figured out the world sucks yet.”

The Wasted began while Gaylord was still playing in Beef, a trio who played some of the most riveting local rock of the ’90s, thanks in part to Gaylord’s songwriting and Brian Buono’s massively hard-hitting drumming. Gaylord, who attended SUNY Buffalo, met Murphy on one of his post-college visits to the Nickel City, where Beef would play on occasion. Murphy ended up moving to the Capital Region in 2000, and she and Gaylord formed the Wasted as a bass-and-guitar duo. Beef broke up in early 2002.

“For me, Beef was all about being in your 20s,” says Gaylord when asked about the difference between his former and current band. “It was more energized and fun. The Wasted is about being in your 30s, so it’s more beautiful and filled with regret at what you never accomplished when you were younger.”

Murphy and Gaylord played together as a duo for a winter, before adding drummer Dave Atkinson. “We didn’t know how [the band] was going to go at first,” admits Murphy, who also plays bass for local hard-rockers Small Axe and fronts the gloriously scuzzed-out rock outfit Empire State Troopers. “We found we could arrange songs together pretty well. Steve’s cool that way. He’s the songwriter and he writes the lyrics, but he’s not telling people what parts to play. He’s real open to input. . . . I look forward to practice nights. It’s like a night out. We get along well.”

“The way they both work together is very complementary,” adds Hill, who became the Wasted’s third drummer slightly less than a year ago, following the departure of Dave Reynolds, who left the band on good terms. Hill previously played with local experimental-noise band Struction, and he currently plays guitar and mandolin and sings in Grain and the Gestalt. “Steve comes up with a song and Kelly comes in with an amazing bass line. Their harmonies are great. When I play Steve’s songs I’m trying to serve the song, trim the fat away and do exactly what the song needs.”

“You’re a good cross between [former drummers] Dave and Dave,” Murphy says, supportively.

Hill contrasts the Wasted sound to his experience in Struction, a band that placed a greater emphasis on precision, to say the least. “In the Wasted, if there’s a little fuck up, we go with the ebb and flow of it. As long as everybody’s listening, it works even better than if it was perfect,” he says.

Gaylord’s gift for a phrase, whether lyri-cally referencing suicide bombers, dead presidents or trust-fund junkies in the form of Buddha, earned him the title of “best songwriter” in Metroland earlier this year. During an interview in the basement of Hill’s Guilderland house, Murphy speaks highly of Gaylord’s songwriting skills. “Steve will probably end up writing big songs at the end of the line. So if [Paul and I] stick around, maybe he’ll throw us a bone. That’s what I’m waiting for,” she jokes.

“The lyric writing is my favorite part of the whole band experience, so I am very meticulous about it,” explains Gaylord, who also performs solo as Gay Tastee. “I keep changing single words or entire lines, chop things out, add things on until I’m happy with it. So far I think I do a good job of editing myself, but I do live in fear that I won’t know when the lyrics become embarrassing. So if you or anyone else sees that happening do me a favor and let me know.”

When asked about the historical context that frames many of the songs on the Wasted’s only full-length album, We Are Already in Hell, Gaylord says, “I write a lot of songs from other people’s perspectives, either real or imagined. You exhaust your options pretty quickly writing from a personal perspective. “Painkiller Rain” and “Myth of Creation” are good examples. The first song deals with a person who is old friends with that addict who fucked up for the n-teenth time, and the second is about people who first have to settle in unknown lands, juxtaposing the United States and Israel. I read a lot of books in general, though for some reason I always feel snooty saying that. I’ve definitely written songs based on books about history.

“It all seems like a self-centered endeavor when I think about it, because most people don’t take the time to get past the music,” he continues. “The few who do don’t bother learning the lyrics, and that small subset of people who actually try to find the meaning is almost insignificant. I’ve had to explain some of the songs to my wife, who’s heard them more than anyone, so I have no doubt there are songs where I’m the only person who knows what I’m writing about. It reminds me of Andy Kaufman going to great lengths to create practical jokes that only he was in on.”

It’s been noted that Gaylord’s lyrical originality involves some rather creative uses of bad words: “p is for pussified” when you’re the “son of a son of a motherfucking money hungry dirt farming iron lung machine,” for instance. The alliterative curse words make for interesting listening, at the expense of radio airplay perhaps. “I swear a lot in my songs because I swear a lot in my actual speech,” Gaylord says. “Although it’s less now that I have kids, because I train myself not to swear too much around them. I actually swear less on We Are Already in Hell than anything else I’ve put out, I think. I’ll probably always swear somewhat though. ‘Fuck’ is a pretty versatile word. It’s become my lyrical Swiss Army knife. It can fill in as a noun, verb, adjective and adverb. It can also go from one to four syllables. That “schwa” sound is perfect too. Rhymes with almost anything you need it to.”

A crop of young local bands, including Struction, Complicated Shirt and Lincoln Money Shot, are often found sharing shows with the Wasted these days. I ask Gaylord whether the support of the younger bands has helped motivate the Wasted to keep playing. “I really don’t think the band would be around if that younger scene didn’t embrace us,” he says. “So they didn’t simply energize us. They resuscitated us, or at least me. The Beef crowd has grown up and they don’t go to rock shows. They’re home watching Mad About You reruns with their wives. If no one showed up to fill in that void, I think I’d have hung up the band thing and retreated to my basement with the four-track again. So I owe the scene a big thank you for that.”

For now, the Wasted seem content to put out small batches of songs on CD and play shows mainly in the area, where they can build their local fan base. “We’re all very busy. We’re not getting into a van unless someone wants to pay a lot of money,” quips Murphy.

They intend to release a series of three-to-four-song EPs in coming months, recorded in separate sessions by various local musicians: D.J. Miller from Small Axe, Troy Pohl from Kamikaze Hearts and Tim Snow from Empire State Troopers. And We Are Already in Hell is currently available for free download on the Wasted’s Web site, www.upstatewasted.com. “I wish I was more of a capitalist,” Gaylord says. “I just figure people can steal it, so why buy it?” (For those looking for an official copy, artwork and all, you can order it from Flipped Out Records’ online store.)

Still, Gaylord admits that greater renown for the band’s music would not be unwelcome. “To say I wouldn’t care about getting signed would be disingenuous,” he says. “I would certainly welcome it. But even if David Geffen happened to be thirsty while strolling down New Scotland Avenue one night and dropped into Valentine’s and thought we were the next Air Supply, it would still be difficult. Unless they were going to either give me enough money to take my family on tours with me or not really worry if I went on tour—neither of which normally happens—it wouldn’t be a real possibility right now.”

“This is where me and Gene Simmons disagree,” he continues. “I think that if you’re in a band to get famous, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. It’s really all about the art and has nothing to do with whatever success you may see, which is why I may be painting his house soon. . . . So far the band has been a lot of fun. It’s like our generation’s version of bowling night. Playing out with the band can be the most fun you’ll have or the most depressing night of your life. There’s not much worse than lugging your equipment around and losing sleep to play a bad show in front of a handful of friends. On the other hand, there’s no better feeling than when you lug equipment around and lose sleep to play a good show in front of your friends. Let’s just say I owe a huge debt to my wife for putting up with the music and all the time and money I spend on it. Once this article hits the presses and the money comes rolling in, I’ll be sure to settle up with her. She’ll get to sit and eat bonbons and watch Desperate Housewives all day long.”

The Wasted will play at Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany) on Dec. 9 with Struction and Pattern Is Movement.


ROUGH MIX

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