That was also probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done musically, because I’m not a great sight reader. For SNL, you have to be able to read music and for the auditions we had eight songs that we had to run down. So basically they’d put a song in front of me and say, “It’s this song. We’ll give you a second to look at it.” And then the drummer, Shawn Pelton, goes, “All right, I’m gonna count it off,” and then we’re in! I’m looking at the chart and then he goes bah-bahboomp- boompboomp, and I’m just like, “Oh my God!” and I’m already playing down the song. I’m thinking, “What the hell am I doing?” and then the song’s over. Then he counts in the next tune. It was just crazy.
After I was done, I tried to say hello and thank you to everyone for letting me come in. They were really nice and tried to make me feel as comfortable as they could, even though no matter what they said I wouldn’t have been comfortable, but they were amazing during the auditions.
About a month later I was flying to San Francisco for a vacation. My girlfriend at the time picked me up at the airport. We got in the car and started driving and within five minutes I got a phone call from Lenny. I was like, “Oh shit, this is either gonna ruin my vacation or be amazing.” He said, “Hey man, it’s Lenny. You got the gig!” I was really excited and, to be honest, I was psyched to finally be able to make a living playing music – it took a long time to do that. Plus, I was really honored to be chosen to play with world class musicians. It was a really huge accomplishment for me knowing that I auditioned for that and I got it. Plus, I was excited about all the things that could possibly come out of being on TV, playing music and starting to build up some gear. I’ve never really had money to buy gear.
I’d like to revisit the gear thing later, but this is the kind of gig that your aunt and grandmother could be stoked about. I can imagine it’s one of those gigs that your folks can play up because everybody knows Saturday Night Live. It’s not, “Oh, he got signed and his band is doing well.” That’s nebulous to a lot of people. This is a for-real, huge thing, yeah?
It’s funny, because I’ve been doing music my entire life. I’ve been in a signed band, I’ve done my own stuff, I’ve done a lot of work and no one ever cared. I get this gig, and everyone’s like, “Wow!” Does that mean everything else I’ve done is total crap no one cared about? [Laughs]
It’s just the profile – it’s a very high profile gig. How is the gig itself? What was it like going in for the first time?
After my one week vacation, I was going to be in L.A. for the summer. Lenny sent me a package with a ton of CDs and sheet music so I could get familiar with the material – there were over 150 songs. I spent a lot of my vacation going over that music so that I was ready to go when I had rehearsals with the band. I take what I do very seriously; I’m not the guy that takes it so seriously that you can’t talk to me, but I make sure I’m on time and I’m prepared. I didn’t want to make any mistakes – I wanted to show the rest of the band that they had made the right choice.
I worked my ass off that whole summer on sight reading and working on the material. We had two rehearsals – four or five hour sessions – which was the first time I met everybody, and they were so cool. For the second or third song of the rehearsal we played a Jimi Hendrix tune. When it was time for my solo I just really went for it. After the song, the trumpet player came over and started waving his hands in front of me to cool me off. Everybody was laughing and being kind, so it was pretty funny.
Tell us about playing a show.
We soundcheck and basically load into Studio 8H, which is where we do the show. When I got there it was kind of a trip; I’m onstage at my station with my new molded in-ears because we don’t have any sound on stage and my amp cabinet is in the back in an isolated trunk – it was strange. It was the first time I was using this new amp I had bought and I could only hear it in the monitor. You have a mix – there’s a ten-piece band and no one is even touching their mix dials – they already have it down – and I’m thinking, “What am I doing?” I kind of started to get it toward the end [of rehearsal] and then we had our first show.
What happens on the day of the show is we have band rehearsal from 11a.m. to 1p.m. – I usually show up around 10:30. After that, we have a break until about 4:30 before coming back and doing monologues with the host. We play the song down once, then we have a dinner break. After that, we have the dress rehearsal. That is when we play five or six songs before the show actually starts; three or four tunes and then there’s some standup comedy and then we’ll play one or two more songs for the audience and the show starts.
We play the show, and once the show is over we have a half-hour to an hour break, depending on how long the dress rehearsal runs. Next, we do the same thing over again live. I remember that first dress rehearsal; I couldn’t have been more nervous. One of my friends came down to the dress rehearsal and I had no idea he was coming. It was the kind of thing where I just wanted to do it on my own and not have anyone there – I just wanted to get it over with and he was in the front row – it was nerve-racking. Once we played that monologue song, there was another, “Oh my god, this is SNL”moment. Another thing is that once the monologue starts and I’m on screen, my face itches uncontrollably – of course. Now I know to itch when I’m not on camera. It’s calmed down, but that was insane! How long was it until you caught the show’s rhythm?
It took me many shows to really get into the flow. It’s strange, we play the whole intro thing and we play the theme song, the monologue and then the sketch, so we play two and a half to three minutes of a song and then there’s a sketch – it’s always different. Then we play a song and then there are two sketches. Then we have to get off stage while the other band plays and, of course, come back. I used to be like, “Wait, do we leave now? Where do we go? How long do we stay here? When do we have to come back?” Everyone was just like, “It’s cool. Just come back.” It didn’t make sense to me at first; everyone else thought it was easy because they have been doing it for so long.
When did the coming and going get comfortable for you?
It was right before the writer’s strike – probably our fourth or fifth show – when I finally started to get it, then we had the strike. Of course, the one year that I get here, there’s a writer’s strike. That’s so appropriate for my life!
Along with the SNL gig, you’re also doing session work on the West coast. Were you doing this beforehand, or has this been happening since the Saturday Night Live gig?
I started coming out to L.A. last year. My ex-girlfriend lived here, so I was coming out quite a bit because of that and the music thing. That started during the SNL season – I hadn’t really been to L.A. that much before that. I’ve started doing more session work since then because I was out here often and had the time, especially during the writer’s strike. I used to do session work in New York, but there’s not a lot of rock/pop things happening for studio musicians – a lot of people are doing everything at home. But in L.A. there’s still a huge studio scene; every time I come out here I’m working.
What kind of work are you doing?
I’m primarily doing two things: recording sessions for artists like Kate Voegele – she’s on One Tree Hill
and has a MySpace record, a soul, R&B-type record for Josh Hogue and a rock/pop session for Ace Enders [ex-The Early November] for Drive-Thru Records. I’ve done all sorts of different things, which is really fun for me. The people who call me have me playing all types of sessions. I’m also taking this time to write. I do a lot with other writers, and I have a writing partner, as well as a bunch of other writers that I work with. We’re writing and producing these songs to get pitched for major Top 40 acts.