Massachusetts duo Drug Rug
, AKA Tommy Allen
and Sarah Cronin
, know a little about bands. Allen, a bartender at Boston’s The Middle East worked up the nerve to talk to Cronin, who covers sounds and live recordings for the venue, and the duo quickly got together both musically and romantically. After swapping each other’s music, the pair recorded some demos together and eventually grabbed the ear of Apollo Sunshine
drummer/label head Jeremy Black
. What emerged was their self-titled debut, a beautiful, fuzzy mix of blues, folk and lo-fi sounds that sees frequent vocal harmonizing and recalls both Elephant 6 and classic 60s vocalist duos. After getting to know them a bit, Baeble picked the brains of two people who, combined, have seen thousands of bands over the past five years to find out the biggest mistakes bands make.
Baeble Music: You both work at The Middle East, one of Boston’s premier live venues. How’d you guys meet?
Tommy Allen: It was only six or seven months ago even though she’s been working there for the past three years and I’ve been working there for like five. I kind of ignored her for the first two years I saw her. She was intimidating. Finally, I was flirting with her and I was like, “Yeah we should switch demos and get together.” We did, but I didn’t expect her demos to be very good for some reason. I didn’t really think too hard on it but it blew me away. And I guess mine blew her away so we got together.”
B: Switching demos: the oldest trick in the book.
T: It was, kinda.
B: Which came first, the dating or the musical collaboration.
T: We started dating and writing songs at same time. I’ve been playing in Boston bands for a few years now and I had to quit a few bands to start playing with Sarah. A lot of my friends were definitely looking down on me just laughing behind my back about it. Like, that’s not gonna turn out great. It’s cool that it did though. I knew it would come out awesome cause after hearing her demo, she has such a unique voice. She’s totally weird and funny. I knew it would be a good combination.
B: There’s a very lo-fi sound on the album.
T: That actually comes from me being obsessed with Dr. Dog the last couple of years. I was really into [their first two albums] Toothbrush
and Easy Beat
. The way it was so lo-fi, it really turned me on to listening to more of those type of recordings and really appreciating them. Everyone’s using all this digital crap and it’s really, really boring. I think a lot of people spend too much time listening too hard to the perfect sound that they’re not gonna find.
B: Was there anything else that inspired you to play?
T: Sarah and I were both obsessed with the Paul and Linda McCartney album RAM. There’s a really youth-like vibe on that album that’s just amazing and I think we were just trying to capture that. I got it at goodwill for 25 cents. If you disregard the silly, unnecessary Paul McCartney voices, it’s a really good record.
B: Working at the Middle East, did seeing so many bands teach you what to do and what not to do or do you try to keep the songwriting and working separate?
T: It absolutely inspires you because it tells you exactly what not to do. You watch so many crappy bands and you’re like, I’m not gonna do that or this.
With this, Sarah joins in the conversation so the duo can collaborate for:
TOP FIVE (+1) TIPS FOR BANDS (FROM THE PEOPLE WHO WORK AT THE VENUE)
“Bands will apologize on stage for playing something the wrong way or making some sort of mistake. We hear that night after night and it makes them looks really bad. It takes them out of what they’re doing into this mode of critiquing their own performance while it’s happening and no one wants to hear that? Bands want to be honest but it backfires. I feel that you can be too honest. If you make a mistake, just work around it and don’t dwell on it.
Don’t Fool Yourself:
“Bands will come in and play to ten people and act like they’re playing an arena. That happens a lot more than you think. They’ll give Celine Dion hand gestures and yell “Hello Boston!” and there’s two people there. Or they’ll talk really loud in the mic when you don’t really need to. Don’t have any illusions about who you’re playing to and where you are.
Be Yourself Onstage:
“Don’t try to be someone you’re not cause it’s really obvious and doesn’t come off well. There’s a lot of bands who will fake English accents on stage. They’ll do that, then go over to the bar and obviously will be from America. My dad plays in a band where they play Irish music and onstage he fakes an Irish accent. So I’ve kinda seen that up close and personal.
“Also, there are bands you see, and I don’t know if their management does this or them, that wear matching wardrobe or dress according to their genre of music. Some bands are obviously matched too well to possibly be authentic.”
If You Offer Your CD to Staff, Don’t Charge:
“Tommy has had bands come up to them and ask him if he wants a copy of their CD. He doesn’t want to be rude so he doesn’t decline, but when he accepts it, they’re like, ‘Well, it’s $5.’”
Don’t Assume the “Sound Guy” is a Guy:
“This happens all the time. Every single night, I’ll get there around 5:00 to set everything up and check the house sound. The bands roll in around 6:30 and, not all the time but a lot, will look around totally bewildered. I come up to them and introduce myself and they’re like,
“Oh, you work here?”
“Yeah, I’m doing sound for you”
“Oh really? How long have you been doing that?”
They’re always looking past me looking for the guy. They do a double-take and go, “Oh. Wow.” It still annoys me, but Tommy thinks I should get used to it.
Be Humble to Staff:
It’s incredible when bands get free drinks all night and they don’t tip at all. They’re not rock stars, but even if they are, tip better!
Drug Rug’s self-titled debut comes out Sept. 18. Check ‘em out at MySpace
. - Jason Newman