The Sound of Music

I had two parties one night that couldn't have been further apart in the music spectrum. The first was for a heavy metal band, and the second was hosted by a woman who works at a jazz station. I went to the metal party first. It started early, since they were recording three songs at Signature Sounds on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. This is where U2 worked when they were in town, and the studio has a platinum record on the wall from the Irish band.

As I walked down the hall of the studio, I laughed when I saw a sign that said "Quiet, recording" handwritten and taped to one door. I thought that was stating the obvious. Besides, I assumed these studios were all soundproof, so unless a bomb went off in the hallway, it wouldn't be picked up on a recording.

When I asked guitarist Mark Evans about the sign, he said, "Oh, Switchfoot is working in there right now." They're a San Diego band that has gotten popular nationally. I was at a Tower Records in La Jolla when a thousand fans showed up for their CD signing. I wondered -- if word got out that they were here, would fans be waiting in the parking lot?

The party was wrapping up as I arrived. I had seen the band, Kicking Kate, a year earlier at a military party in P.B. I was glad I remembered the singer, Frank Valenti, doing great covers of Van Halen songs. It's embarrassing when you forget somebody, especially when you watched their band play for an hour. And that's what happened when the guitarist mentioned playing the national anthem. I didn't remember, and he said, "How can you not remember? You wrote about how moving it was." Oh.

I asked about the name of the band, Kicking Kate. The band (who was without their drummer Bill, who was in Chicago on business) all started talking at once. Mark said, "It's like those signs you put on someone's back when you were in school. They say, 'kick me,' and you tape it on without the person knowing." I asked who Kate was and didn't get an answer. Frank said, "At first, I liked the name 'Bent' for our band. But 'Kicking Kate' is cool. 'Kicking' can mean so many different things. If you are hanging out, people say, 'We're just kicking it.' And someone might be trying to kick a heroin habit. It has so many meanings."

A studio isn't the best place for a party. The friends, fans, and groupies all want to talk and party. The band wants to lay down their tracks, mix songs, and talk with their producer. I talked to one guy who was leaving, and he said, "Yeah, the party was cool. The guys didn't cut loose like they normally do. We heard the three songs they recorded about a thousand times. They will always be in the hemisphere of my brain now. Just like 'The Piña Colada Song.' " I thought about how, in Mick Fleetwood's book, he mentions the band spent a million dollars on drugs and booze recording one album, just on the parties in the studio. All I saw around here was a few cans of beer and soda.

When the band played their cover of the Beatles' "Come Together," I looked at Mark's wife on the couch. She looked tired but smiled. I said, "How many times have you been forced to hear this?" She said, "A lot!"

I told them the song sounded like Aerosmith (who also covered "Come Together") meets Pantera. Frank raised his fist and was thrilled I said that. Pantera was one of his favorite bands, along with Tool and Metallica.

I asked what they had to do to get the rights for the song. Mark said, "It was $42 because of the length of the song. We had to pay the standard rate, which is 84 cents a minute. Since we are only doing 500 pressings of this CD, it wasn't that expensive."

Frank added, "We were doing three songs, so we thought we'd do a cover. I like the fact that the lyrics don't mean anything. And we wanted to really punch it up. The Aerosmith version sounds just like the Beatles. We didn't want that. On the ballad we do, called 'I'll Do Anything,' I didn't want a slow song at first. They talked me into it and I realized that could work. It was our pop song." He went into an elaborate explanation of the song and the lyrics, making fun of the fans who like those poppier-sounding tunes.

The last song they recorded was "In the Dark." I asked Frank if he had heard the Billy Squier song of the same name. He hadn't.

People were leaving the party, so the band had to give hugs and shake hands as I peeked around the studio. Producer Joe Marlett was showing me how the console works (which I knew a little about from my days in radio). Mark yelled, "We call him Joe Jitsu because he moves his hands so fast over that thing, like it's a martial art."

Mark told me Joe had worked with a lot of big-name bands, but Joe didn't want to get into that, though when he overheard me talking about Nirvana, he told me he was in the studio with Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic when they mixed the last new song by Nirvana.

I Googled Joe's name the next day and saw that not only has he worked with San Diego artists blink-182, A.J. Croce, Switchfoot, and Jewel, he's also worked with acts as big (and diverse) as Korn, Seal, Destiny's Child, and the Foo Fighters.

Frank is this good-looking, muscular, dark-skinned guy with a shaved head and devilish eyebrows. I said, "For a heavy metal singer, it's refreshing to see your arms aren't covered with tattoos." He laughed and said, "It's strange, because my stepmom in New York, she's one of the top ten tattoo artists in the U.S, and she did a tattoo for Scott Ian, the singer of the metal band Anthrax. She always said if I want a tattoo, go to her. One time, I wanted this Pantera album tattooed on my back. She said, 'Come back in a year. If you still want it, I'll do it for free.' The next year, I wanted something around my arm instead. Again she said, 'Come back in a year, and if you still want it, we'll do it.' I realized that having a tattoo is permanent. I wouldn't have regretted having the tattoos because they would show what I was into at that time in my life. But having ink done might not be something you want years later. I still don't have a single tattoo."

Since this band isn't how they make a living, I asked about their day jobs. Mark is a paralegal. Frank sells stereos. I laughed when he said, "Actually, they sell themselves."

I loved Frank's enthusiasm toward music. I would ask him a question and he'd be talking a mile a minute. I told him, unlike singer/songwriters who play acoustic guitars, he would never be able to play his songs for his aunt or grandmother. He went into a long explanation about how supportive his friends and family are. But I couldn't picture his grandmother banging her head to one of these songs or being at a concert and -- instead of holding up a lighter during a favorite song -- holding up her cane.

As I was leaving the studio to go to the jazz party, my ears were buzzing. I heard a few people complaining in another studio. One guy said something like, "I can't believe those guys even have a record deal. They're horrible." I have no idea who they were talking about, but it couldn't have been anybody working in Signature Sounds that night.

Leslie Ebner, who works for Jazz 88.3 FM, invited me to the next party. It was for her Nth birthday. (That was my little present to her -- not printing her age.) I brought her flowers because when I was in the store I saw flowers wrapped with paper that had horns and saxophones and thought that was perfect for a jazz lover. It didn't occur to me that they were wrapped that way (and inexpensive) because they were probably left over from New Year's Eve.

Her house off of Murray Ridge wasn't far from the recording studio. My eardrums were just recovering from being kicked by Kate, and I walked in to find a band playing in her living room. It was Big Time Operator, a band I'd seen before at a few clubs, with a complete horn section.

In the kitchen, I was talking to Leslie and a girl she works with named Jennifer. I told Jennifer she looked like Hilary Swank and she thanked me. But she actually looked a lot prettier and more feminine than Swank.

I asked Leslie how she got such a good band to play a party. "Did you use your radio-station connections?" Jennifer said, "She's sleeping with the trumpet player." It turns out Leslie's husband plays trumpet in the band. He's also a children's music teacher in Carlsbad. I asked Leslie if she played an instrument. She said, "Oh, no. I'm just a groupie." They have been married for well over 20 years.

I was talking to Lisa for a while. She sings in a band called the Rhythmakers. A few people congratulated her on a screenplay she just sold to Lifetime. We talked a little about writing. She ended up joining the band to sing "Chain of Fools," which sounded great.

Her hairdresser Lynette showed up, with her husband Guy Gonzales. Lynette was cracking us all up. She was making fun of people and saying crazy things. At one point, she asked if I had any coke to snort. She got up and sang "I Will Survive," and I laughed when she kept singing, "I hope you die, die, die, die." She said later she usually says a lot more risqué stuff, but there were kids at this party.

One of the kids, Melody (Leslie's cute 13-year-old daughter), got up and also sang "I Will Survive." Nothing better than hearing a young teenager sing about heartbreak. When she finished, the crowd went nuts. The band asked her if she wanted to do another song. I didn't hear exactly what she said, but something along the lines of "I can sing 'Rainbow Connection.' I know all the words to that." And she sang it beautifully. I was munching on some cake at the table, and one woman sitting nearby said, "I bet you'll be seeing her on American Idol soon."

There was a lot of great food. Leslie said, "My cousin Ellen Ross is the catering manager for the Butcher Shop." I said, "Oh, so you got all this for free?" "Oh, no," she answered. "I still had to pay for it." Geez. Where are the perks people should be getting from people they know? At least she probably got the band to play for free.

I asked if her neighbors ever complained about these loud parties. She said, "No. I always thought someone would from down below the canyon. But my husband practices every night, and we've never had anyone complain."

When I went back into the kitchen to talk more with Lisa, I saw the invitation on the freezer. It said, "Help Leslie celebrate her waning hipness."

I told someone I felt bad for telling Jennifer she looked like Hilary Swank when she's so much prettier. The lady said, "She probably took it as a compliment. But let me ask you this. Do you think that guy over there looks like Sam Elliott?"

I laughed. The guy was talking to someone in a Hawaiian shirt who looked just like Jimmy Buffett. I've seen so many men over 40 wear Hawaiian shirts to parties and clubs. I'm not sure what that's about.

When Guy Gonzales got up with the new band, he sounded great on guitar. He sang "Jump Jive and Wail" and in the middle did a tribute to Louis Prima. The kids loved hearing him make sounds that they had to repeat. I found out he was in a group called the Screaming Primas that does a tribute to Prima.

I was looking at all the trumpet players and noticed that the trombone player looked pissed. He was just standing there while the others swayed back and forth in rhythm. There was one time when he had a solo, and even after that, with the applause, he was frowning.

One woman looked like Jennifer Lopez and was dancing all over. I told Lisa it was strange to see a woman in her late 40s wearing a half-shirt. Yes, she was attractive. But to me, she was trying way too hard.

I had a blast watching the kids dance. Some were as young as eight. Watching them enjoy good music instead of Britney Spears was nice. They seemed to enjoy "Respect" and "Hold On, I'm Coming" as much as the current crap most kids like.

I went to get some wine in the back yard and met some people in their late teens. One guy was wearing an Iron Maiden shirt. I told him, "The band is going to play 'Run to the Hills' next" (a Maiden song). He laughed and said, "Right." He was standing next to a girl who was about 6'2". I said, "I know tall people hate when they are asked if they play basketball. But do you?" She smiled and said, "No, but I did crew when I was in college."

I went over to Jennifer, who was talking to a woman in her 60s. They were talking about cats. I said, "What is it with women and cats?" Jennifer said she likes dogs, too, and made us laugh with an explanation of the difference between the two animals.

The party wrapped up around 2:00 a.m. Leslie said, "Come back tomorrow and watch the football game. We'll have another party and eat all these leftovers."

I said, "You must have parties all the time." She said, "No, not really. We are going to start having more, though. Maybe a few times a year."

Lisa said, "Is there anything you want him to write about for his article? Everyone else is gone now. You have his complete attention and can say anything you want."

Leslie said, "Oh, no. I wouldn't think of doing that. I don't tamper with that stuff. It's his art and I don't want to meddle. Let him write what he wants and what he observed."

And so I did.

Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.

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