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The Other Steve Miller
Posted in Music Retrospecticus

Metal Face: The Beginning

Just a typical Sunday afternoon for Metal Face. (Photo by Kenneth Jarecke)

I’ve been involved in a number of musical projects over the years, but the one group that’s stood the test of time, and appears to only be getting better, is Metal Face.

Although somewhat of a joke, Metal Face has a mythology worthy of a VH1 Behind the Music episode, or at least a Wikipedia page. We tried the latter about six years ago, but a group of responsible moderators shut us down, saying that a Myspace page didn’t connote legitimacy. (Disclaimer: This page is two years and an album behind.) Luckily, those moderators’ powers are useless here.

Metal Face began June 1996, when my younger brother, Alex (age 6 at the time), my good friend Caleb (also 6), his younger brother, Ryland, (2 or 3) and myself (8) were climbing fences and running through strangers’ backyards and came across a punk-rock band rehearsing in a nearby garage. They probably weren’t very good — I remember the front man singing into a microphone covered with a tube sock, which I still don’t understand — but the experience was so profound that we immediately went back to Caleb’s house and started a “band,” calling ourselves the Nets, which I think was inspired by a pair of ski boots that reminded me of the New Jersey Nets logo circa 1990-1996. (What a hideous design.)

The original Nets lineup was as follows: Alex on the books, meaning he hit books together; Caleb on the snare drum, the only actual instrument in the group; Ry played air bass, making sound effects while holding a PVC pipe and/or a plastic sword; and I was the lead air-guitarist and occasional lead singer, though we all shared front man duties, each to disastrous results.

We changed names several times after that — from Shaving Cream, to Peppery Boys (that’s probably the most embarrassing), to Casanova, to Smash, to Stumblin’ Weet during our rap-rock, Limp Bizkit phase — before settling on Metal Face in 2000, a compromise between Alex’s desired band name of Dot Face and mine of Metal Balloon (a huge Led Zeppelin rip-off, I admit). In that time, we eventually phased in real instruments, such as Caleb’s violin, a five-string acoustic guitar that I didn’t know how to play, a Yamaha keyboard with hundreds of drum loops and song demos. (I also remember constructing a makeshift guitar from a perforated block of wood wrapped in rubber bands. We scrapped that instrument after one of the “strings” snapped and hit Caleb in the face during a basement “concert” June 2000. The performance was postponed until April 2007.)

By early 2001, we began recording a collection of songs that would later be known as Metal Face I . We drew much of our inspiration from various mainstream pop and rock songs at the time, and often borrowed elements from several at once to the best of our immature musical afforded us. This wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as it sounds: My interpretation of the intro guitar solo for the Backstreet Boys’ “The Call” and Alex’s interpretation of Pearl Jam’s lyrics in “Nothing As It Seems” resulted in “Not How It Is”; Alex’s interpretation of a song heard in a Taco Bell commercial (can’t find link) resulted in “Love of My Life”; my interpretation of Green Day’s “Warning” resulted in “Dangerous”; Caleb’s, Alex’s and Ry’s interpretation of an A-minor pentatonic scale and the team-bonding scenes in Remember the Titans resulted in “Soul”; my interpretation of Monster Magnet’s “Powertrip” riff and Alex’s interpretation of Coldplay’s “Yellow” resulted in “Brown.” You get the idea.

All of these songs were likely terrible, but we had a lot of fun recording them, and by the summer of that year, we had amassed upward of 20 songs. And I say “likely terrible” because there’s no way to judge the material by today’s standards. Unfortunately.

After spending those months capturing the songs with Sound Recorder on Caleb’s computer, we had enough for a double disc — one disc with the heavy (louder) songs, the other with the mellower material. But we ran into a problem: There was no way to extract the files from the hard drive, as the computer didn’t have a CD burner. We considered transferring the songs via floppy disks (you remember those, right?), but soon discovered that it would take multiple floppies to transfer a standard three-minute song, and many of our songs stretched well beyond that point. I think we also considered transferring the songs to mini mp3 players, which were new and hip at the time, but there was still no way to get those songs onto a disc. We — or, rather, our songs — were stuck.

There was also some contention with the act of recording itself, as our parents (rightfully so) weren’t always in the mood to hear a bunch of prepubescent kids screaming about “Pigs” (a song dedicated to our fans), being “Illuminded” (another song, whatever it means) and other semi-coherent nonsense while banging on a snare drum and playing power chords on an out-of-tune, distorted guitar. We were ofttimes barred from recording, which resulted in us sometimes playing in secret, leading to feelings of guilt for some of us.

By fall 2001, Metal Face no longer recorded or played, though we occasionally collaborated on the early Fan Be albums (more to come later). The songs sat dormant on Caleb’s computer for months, neglected, forgotten. Then the Max Payne installation happened, which proved to be too much for Caleb’s computer, causing it to crash. We lost all our songs. There was no trace of Metal Face.

Or so it would seem.

Postscript: “Rainy Dae,” from 2001’s Fan Be Projects, Volume I, is the closest thing there is to original Metal Face. It was recorded by me, Alex and Caleb around the same time as Metal Face I, and whereas I lacked self-awareness and was likely terrible, this is decisively self-aware and goofy — but no less terrible. I’m not posting it now, however, as I definitely don’t want it to be the first song featured on this blog. Such a thing would drive away listeners/readers. It’s that bad.