I originally wrote this article while working at Harmonix for the late, lamented “52 Weeks to Rock” series on RockBand.com, instructing the wanna-be rock star on how to start on the long road toward being decadently rich and famous. I’ve always been proud of this one! I assume that Harmonix still owns it – not that I’d imagine they’d want it – so just to be safe: © Harmonix Music Systems. Thanks, HMX!
At some point it’s bound to happen: your band’s at rehearsal (assuming you bother to rehearse) or maybe playing a gig. You take a sidelong glance at your guitarist as her fingers slide smoothly up and down the neck of her beaten-up old Strat, or at the drummer’s glistening shirtless torso as he works up a serious sweat keeping the beat that your bassist can’t seem to find. And then you notice it: the sight of him or her in full Rock God mode makes you totally forget about the sights and smells from the misadventures with multiple Taco Bell Volcano Double-Beef Burritos and a two-liter of cheap vodka after last night’s show.
You realize that you just have to hit that, complex interpersonal band dynamics be damned.
Normally we like to inject these “52 Weeks to Rock” columns with war stories from the rock legends roaming the halls of Harmonix, but not this time. While I’m sure many of my fellow Harmonixers must have war stories about getting involved with their smokin’ hot bandmates, none of them seemed especially eager to share their stories – and that fact alone should demonstrate the beautiful, terrible power of intraband hookups, because my fellow Harmonixers seem to have no problem sharing anything.1
Stevie Nicks, perhaps one of the world’s leading authorities on the boons and evils of dating fellow musicians, said: “It’s probably the hardest thing in the world to do because it falls out of your hands and into the hands of the world, which tends to want you to not be able to handle it.” Well, yeah, Stevie, I do believe that’s true – we fans don’t think of our musical idols as people so much as abstracts of people who exist only to entertain and amuse us, and those abstracts are much more entertaining and amusing when they’re falling apart personally while continuing to rock out creatively. It’s a Proven Scientific Fact™ that terrible, soul-crushing heartbreak produces the best music (and art of all kinds).
To be sure, the allure of dating your bandmates is totally understandable: studies show that the number-one reason most people start bands is to score with members of their preferred gender(s), and the number-one reason people are fans of any particular musician is the pure animal appeal of that musician. Combine those two ingredients together and you’ve got a recipe for a tasty, tasty sex-n-music souffle – but one which could easily explode and get gooey bits all over the rest of your band…and your fans. But if you’re intent on pursuing the object of your ill-advised affection, please keep the following tidbits in mind.
And don’t say Stevie Nicks didn’t warn you.
Best Reasons To Hook Up With Your Bandmates
Intraband relationships can be a fun distraction from the grind of touring. (So to speak.)
Touring can be an enjoyable – or at least memorable – experience, but spending all that time in your van or bus and in strange places and strange beds can also be a bit grueling, especially if you’re touring for more than a couple of weeks or so. What better way to take the edge off all that highway monotony and terrible food than with an exciting new relationship of questionable judgment? Isn’t that why you recruited that person to play bass, after all – because of the way he/she looked in eyeliner and spandex? Be honest: it certainly wasn’t because of their intoxicating way with a pentatonic minor scale.
You don’t have to worry about the stress of finding a different groupie to shag every night.
Let’s face it, no matter how magnetic your personality or abdominal muscles may be, either finding or deciding on someone with whom to spend a few minutes or hours of hedonistic delight can still be a chore. At least when you’re involved with someone else in the band, you know where your next meal’s coming from, if you know what I’m sayin’. That knowledge saves a few of your remaining brain cells for working out more important problems – like whether to bother with the spiky-hair thing tonight or just leave it floppy, or if the audience will be able to smell your T-shirt.
Even if things don’t work out, you could ride the creative tension to the stratosphere.
Stevie and Lindsey, sometime in the 70s
The reason Stevie Nicks is one of the world’s foremost experts on dating within your band, of course, is because she was part of Fleetwood Mac in the 1970’s – a decade during which, I’m pretty sure, every member of the band dated every other member of the band. Sometimes simultaneously. 2 And out of all of that romantic and sexual chaos was born 1977’s Rumours, one of the single most successful rock albums of all time and the defining moment in Fleetwood Mac’s career. Longtime couple Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham broke up right before making this album, Mick Fleetwood got divorced and John and Christine McVie split up – all of which meant that pretty much every song on the album was written about someone else in the band. (Remember this point, it’ll come back up later.) But miserable as those recording sessions must have been, Rumours won the Grammy for Album of the Year (back when that actually kind of meant something) and has, to date, sold forty million copies. (And thirty years later, even wound up placing a song in this video game you might have heard of.)
Don’t expect to ride your depression and bitterness to that level of success, though; Rumours was a one-of-a-kind deal. Keep your sights lower: thirty million copies is a much more reasonable goal.
Maybe…just maybe…you’ll actually find happiness.
It may not be very rock-n-roll, but it could be that you and that special someone could hit it off perfectly, that none of the problems which plague most intraband couples will apply to you, that you could have a fulfilling musical career intertwined with a fulfilling love life and that perfect, pure happiness will be yours. And don’t let our cynical, jaded, withered hearts tell you otherwise.
But still, we should warn you:
Best Reasons Not To Hook Up With Your Bandmates
Your ill-advised passions could destroy your band.
If your hookup/fling/relationship/marriage goes poorly enough – and when we’re talking about the sorts of drug-addled egotists you and your bandmates surely must be, you have to admit it’s kind of likely – the relationship’s demise could be toxic enough that not only do you and your ex not want to be around each other, but no one else in the band wants to be around either one of you, either. And it’s difficult to play or tour or record if none of you can stand to be in the same room.
It doesn’t have to end quite this badly, of course. But depending on the circumstances, if you’re the douchebag in the breakup, you could wind up watching your ex-bandmates continue to climb the ladder of success with some new member who looks a lot but not quite like you, all while you sit in your tiny fleabag apartment taking a Sharpie to their picture on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. (Lesson: Don’t Be a Douchebag.)
You have to spend way too much time in way too close quarters with your paramour(s) – especially on tour.
Whether your relationship is rock solid or earthquake shaky, spending that much work and personal time with your romantic partner can be tough – and that’s true of any career field, much less the hyperintense world of rock. Little quirks become amplified into character flaws; larger character flaws become murder-worthy. When you’re thrown togetherall the time, her tendency to drink an entire fifth of Southern Comfort without sharing or his total inability to stifle his flatulence in public go from relatively annoying or minorly irritating to complete dealbreakers. Once the tour’s done, you can escape and avoid seeing most of your bandmates again for a few weeks until the memories fade…but not if you’re now co-habitating or otherwise involved with Ms. SoCo or Mr. McFartypants.
You probably won’t be able to find a different groupie to shag every night.
If you’re on the road with your significant other by your side or on the other side of the tour bus, your opportunities for finding some quick one-off Special Friends will be greatly diminished. Unless you’ve prenegotiated certain boundaries and rules into the relationship, of course, but let’s assume that you gave this relationship even less thought than you did the name of your band (did you really think that “Full Scrotal” was a good name?). Sure, you can try to go around your SO’s back and do your up-hooking on the sly, but A) that’s a lot more work, and we’ve already discussed the fact that you’re not going to have much time as it is, and B) it’s totally violating the “Don’t Be a Douchebag” rule.
If you’re dating the band’s main songwriter, guaranteed that when things end they write a song about how much you suck. (So to speak.)
This is where I bring up the point I said to remember a few paragraphs back. Did you remember it? No? Okay, go re-read the third item under “Best Reasons To Hook Up With Your Bandmates” and then come back here.
Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal, High School Sweethearts
Now, then: how do you think you’ll be able to handle it if you break up with Sexy Lead Singer and they start to write about you, and to sing to tens or hundreds or thousands of strangers every night about what a wretched waste of humanity you are? Ask No Doubt’s Tony Kanal how much he likes it. He began dating singer/lyricist Gwen Stefani soon after she joined the band, broke up with her shortly before they broke it big…and then Stefani subsequently wrote every single No Doubt song about Tony Kanal: Smoldering Pile of Misbegotten Horse Poo.3 Go back and listen to Tragic Kingdom again with the thought that all of those songs are metaphorical pants-punches to Tony Kanal.
Do you really want that to be you?
- I mean, have you been reading HMXHellion's articles in this series so far? When most people talk about "airing their dirty laundry," they mean it metaphorically. Not so much Hellion, who seems more like she's loading her dirty laundry into an air cannon and firing it into her audience's upturned faces. Holy crow, does it make for some entertaining reading, though. ↩
- This probably isn't true. ↩
- This is probably true. That every No Doubt song is about him, not necessarily the Smoldering Pile of Misbegotten Horse Poo part. We're sure Tony Kanal is perfectly lovely and that Gwen's just bitter. ↩