I enjoy fantasy football. I don’t even care for football all that much anymore (blah blah blah), but I still play fantasy football. Why? It’s fun to break slightly from reality, create your own teams from real players, and then watch how your team does. Truly, though, the draft itself is at least 70% of the fun in a fantasy football season.
There’s a little video game series out there called NBA 2K; you’ve probably heard of it. Once upon a time, I had NBA 2K3 for the Nintendo GameCube. My favorite part of the game? Starting a new season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and turning on the fantasy draft option: That meant that all of the players in the NBA instantly became a teamless draft pool, and all 32 teams got to cycle through and draft a new team. It got to the point where, instead of actually playing through the season with my freshly-drafted team, I would just let the game simulate the entire season so I could see how they did, then immediately start over with a new draft. I could do fantasy drafts all day.
I also enjoy Matt Freeman. You’re probably less likely to know him than fantasy football and NBA 2K. He plays the bass guitar for the punk band Rancid (he also played in Operation Ivy and started the side-project Devil’s Brigade), a group I still listen to often when I need an energy boost. The unique style and speed with which he plays bass always captures my attention, and makes me want to tell everyone I know about him. Of course, I don’t know much about music, and most people I know don’t care for or about punk rock, so I usually shut up.
Recently, it hit me: What if there was a “rock band” fantasy draft? Would I pick Matt Freeman with my first pick? Since he’s relatively unknown, would I wait and try to pick him up in a later round? Who would play this game with me? Since rock bands don’t all look the same, how many members would constitute a “starting lineup”? Would we include keyboardists? Cowbells? My mind was a geyser of questions.
Ever a shirker of hard work, I decided to put the full draft idea on the shelf for now, and instead just get right to creating my own fantasy band: If I could craft a rock band out of members of any group, who would they be?
Here are the rules I’m following:
One singer, two guitarists, one bassist, and one drummer. I suppose the “conventional” rock lineup would only have one guitarist, but (1) there is no conventional rock lineup, (2) lots of great rock bands in history have had two guitarists, and (3) there are more great guitarists to pick from than anything, so why not have two. Think of it as the fantasy band’s running back, if you will.
I’m only picking active musicians. I know, I’m a horrible person who should die in a lake of acid. But, guess what? This is my story, and I know and connect with current bands better than classic bands. They may have the superior talent, but they’re not fresh in my mind, and I don’t have much to say about them.
That’s it, two rules. If you don’t like them, make your own! No, seriously, please do this. I would love to hear about other people’s fantasy bands; both your rules and your picks.
Ok, enough prelude; here’s my band:
Vocalist – Eric Davidson
I spent about 4 seconds thinking about this selection. These days, I listen to a lot of folk and bluegrass, so I hear a lot of great singing. But I’m creating a rock band, and that means two requirements in my mind, beyond being able to sing well: (1) the singer needs to be able to wail, and (2) the singer needs to have great stage presence.
Eric Davidson of the punk/garage rock band the New Bomb Turks (currently of The Livids) fits the bill for me. He can scream, he can shriek, he can sing; he can also dominate the stage, jumping around like a maniac and interacting with fans. Added bonus: He can write a tongue-twisting, pun-filled lyric like no other. “When you’re countin’ on your friends / And they’re countin’ all their change / Got that laissez faire stare!”
Unfortunately, the audio quality on the vocals in this video is not great, but it’s a good taste of his stage presence (plus, “Born Toulouse-Lautrec” might be the best song title ever):
Guitarist #1 – Tom Morello
The most inventive guitarist ever. I’ve made my affection for Tom Morello pretty clear already, so I’ll be brief here: Morello is as versatile as he is talented. Think about it: The guy came into Rage Against the Machine as a guitarist aspiring to play heavy metal in the tradition of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, and he proceeded to create some of the funkiest guitar riffs possible. He was so good, in fact, that I’m willing to excuse the generation of awful “rap-metal” bands that tried to copy RATM. I mean, should Steven Soderbergh be blamed for all of the terrible heist movie knock-offs that his Ocean’s Eleven reboot spawned?
The unconventional things Morello does from start to finish in this song to create mood and amplify the lyrics are amazing to me (if you just want the solo, jump to 2:58):
Guitarist #2 – Dan Auerbach
Here again I will admit that I know next to nothing about music. I don’t know music theory, I don’t know music technique, I don’t know anything about pitch, tone, or tempo, and I certainly can’t play music. My only experience: I played the alto saxophone from grades four through eight. And, yeah, because I practiced often, I could read the sheet music and play the notes that I saw very well, but that’s about it. Once, my middle school band instructor stopped a song and told us all “to keep pace by simply following the drummers,” at which point I realized I wasn’t listening the rest of the band at all, let alone noticing the rhythm of our own percussion section.
So, look, I don’t know what constitutes a “good” guitarist in an abstract or technical sense, but I do know that when Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) plays guitar, I notice. It feels like the sound is emanating straight from his gut. His guitar playing is dirty, smoky, layered, visceral, and emotional. I’ve said for a long time that he and Regina Spektor should collaborate on an album, because the combination of his guitar and her vocals would be amazing, but the truth is that I’d love to hear him collaborate with just about anybody. Hence, he’s in my fantasy band.
Bassist – Matt Freeman
When I try to think of how to describe what I love about Matt Freeman’s bass-playing so much, the two words that comes to mind most often are “bounce” and “forward.” He gives Rancid’s music a feeling like someone unleashed a Super Ball at a high speed in a small wooden box. Yet somehow, instead of feeling trapped, he also pushes the music along without feeling completely out of control. He’s like a tiny dog running around your feet and yipping as you walk to work, if instead of yipping it were giving you the day’s news and scheduling your appointments.
Drummer – Paul Banwatt
I first heard the Rural Alberta Advantage on Songza a year or so ago, and I’d wager that 85% of the reason I’ve fallen in love with the band since then is Paul Banwatt’s drumming:
Yes, he plays the drums fast, hits lots of things, and generally looks like a crazy person while playing, but it’s not just those things. The band is made up of an acoustic guitarist/singer, a keyboardist, and the drummer, Banwatt. That’s it. The sparseness of the band’s makeup means that every player is very exposed, and that every noise is more meaningful than in a traditional rock band with lots of noise and distortion. Banwatt creates incredible noise at times, but he also creates surprising quietness and depth at others; always in service of the particular song’s emotions. Many rock drummers tend to be mainly rhythm-keepers who occasionally break out in sweaty solos; Paul Banwatt has a much more complex and expressive role as drummer.
Wildcard – Dave Grohl
Yup, I just broke one of my only two rules and introduced a sixth, wildcard spot in the lineup. I don’t know exactly what his role would be in this hypothetical band, but would Dave Grohl not be the ultimate glue guy for a band? He can play any instrument, he can write songs, and let’s be totally honest with ourselves: Is there anyone who wouldn’t just enjoy the heck out of being in a band with this guy?
Now my comes my specialty in life: A string of buzz-killing questions! Hey Jeremy, how would this band actually sound? What kind of music would they play? Would they have good chemistry? Could they both record good albums and go on the road and play great live shows? Why did I draft Dave Grohl if he’s not going to figure this stuff out for me? This is my fantasy band of “favorites,” but in real life would it be a dysfunctional Frankenstein band of great individual parts, like the (insert professional New York sports team name here)? Maybe. Probably. But that’s why we play these games — to think about and debate the musicians we like, without getting too mired in reality. Crafting a truly great band of a particular genre that I think has a decent chance of succeeding would be a wholly different challenge. And perhaps one worth tackling. But not today.