Throughout my career, I have explored two options as a working musician: being a part of a band and being a hired gun. Though both carry positive and negative aspects, I find I prefer being in a band, but have taken on hired gigs due to financial, and sometimes, career affecting reasons.
Up through Racer X I was always in bands. When Paul got his first record deal with Shrapnel Records he never wanted to have a bunch of hired guns. He was being influenced by Shrapnel to call the project Paul Gilbert, but when he and I started making headway with Racer X, he wanted to make sure we gave it a name, and not just to use his own. We made a compromise with the label and titled the first Racer X record Racer X featuring Paul Gilbert. In those days, I would often get for-hire offers from signed bands, but I always felt there was no future in them. It basically meant coming home from a tour and having nothing lined up for the future. A band, however, is like an investment, and you hope that your investment will bring about some sort of financial future.
My next venture was born out of three members of Racer X: The Scream. We got signed as a band, and we were a democracy but we lost our drummer, Scott Travis, to Judas Priest. Scott took the hired gun gig because, at the time, The Scream couldn’t offer, financially, what Judas Priest could offer. Eventually, Scott got cut in Priest and The Scream, as an investment, got dropped after our singer, John Corabi, got picked to front Motely Crüe for one record.
It was not until after spending some money losing years in another one of my bands, Distortion Felix, I joined Pet as their for hire bassist. I was paid a salary and, as a result, was not as invested in the project as the other members, and my attitude was not as productive as it could have been (even though they eventually asked me to come on as a member). Once Pet became a band situation for me, I really got into my role more and felt more creative.
As my career evolved, I began experiencing financial challenges. This led me to take another hired gig in Doctor Octagon. Once again, I was on a weekly salary and had no investment in it. I did it because it was an amazing musical project and I knew there was more to gain than simply money. That turned out to be true: it was my first time as part of a hip hop group, and a very innovative one at that.
Cut to me starting my own band: Big Sir, with Lisa Papineau, and more years with Distortion Felix. I made no money on these projects but, as an artist, they were important to me and my development as a songwriter. Again, financial challenges led me to another hired gig, this time, in a disco cover band. That was one of the most humiliating gigs I have ever done, but I have no regrets: it was a job and I needed money.
Since it was becoming increasingly difficult to have a successful a career as a musician, I decided to go back to school . At 34 I ended up back in class, and eventually got my degree in English Literature. Though the music wasn’t full time, I was still doing tours with Distortion Felix and gigs with Big Sir while studying. Once I got into the academic groove I realized how exciting learning could be. Exercising my mind during this time was such an ego boost. I saw the improvement in writing and reading comprehension and felt like an artist again. I was working a full time job, playing in three bands, and going to school full time. I could not have been more creative. Around then, I got a call, while at my day job, from Omar Rodriguez and decided to take on the bass duties for The Mars Volta. At first it was a hired situation like the others, but eventually I was brought in as a member and my future truly became brighter.
Presently, I am out on tour with Deltron 3030, again, as a hired gun. But like Doctor Octagon, it is a group of artists that inspire and teach each other. I am absolutely excited to be around guys like Dan The Automator, Del The Funky Homosapien and Kid Koala because it is a learning experience as well as a gig. Additionally, the band ZAVALAZ that consists of Cedric Bixler, Greg Rogove, Dan Elkan, Nate Walcott and myself, have recorded some really great songs with producer, Dave Fridmann but it is like any other band, an investment with no guarantees. With hopes of completing our record, other members have had to do what it takes to survive and what we thought would take a year, is still a work in progress with no completion date.