Yup, Mike Luno Band has been around for twenty years now. We weren't called MLB when we started, and we were a four-piece with a different lead singer and bassist for the first few years, but the sound, the philosophy, the songwriter, drummer, guitarist and even some repertoire has remained. I see it as the same band, albeit somewhat evolved.
When we formed, bands still made wide use of professional recording studios to make their music, and even wider use of CD's to sell it and promote it. Hootie and the Blowfish, the Spin Doctors and Alanis Morissette were hot new acts. Jean Chretien and Bill Clinton were seeking re-election. Quentin Tarantino was bringing old music and faded movie stars – like “Miserlou” and John Travolta, respectively - back from career-death and giving them longevity. The world had just witnessed genocides in the Balkans and Rwanda, but North America seemed more preoccupied with a murder trial of a former football star. Victoria and Vancouver, BC, were shut down for a week by a blizzard – as much because their snow-removal equipment had been removed recently as a cost-saving measure. There was a handful of smaller clubs in Victoria, our hometown at the time, that provided live, contemporary popular music – although DJ's were starting to eat into many of those venues. Trance/club music was starting to get traction, and bringing the Fender Rhodes electric piano back from garage sales and junk shops to live stages. Onstage racks of guitar effects were being replaced by low-tech stomp-boxes and smaller-wattage amplifiers (not to get quieter – just to make them sound better by working them much harder). I drove a Ford Thunderbird and recorded my demos on 4-track cassette tape – which is also what played on my T-bird's stereo.
If my present self could time-travel and go fill in my 1997 self on what was to come in popular music, the first challenge would be in describing what has been happening. “The big trend is the lack of big trend – just sort of a bunch of micro-trends of various length and intensity. Artists tend not to reach iconic status nearly as readily – or for any reason to do with music. Musically and in stage presentation, you might be the next Led Zeppelin – but you'll never have Zeppelin stature anymore. Best you can hope for is to be the next Dave Matthews band. At least the musicians will respect you and support you after the general public has moved on”.
Knowing all that, would the '90's me have continued?
“Oh, and by the way, Young Me – you'll still be playing with Curtis, and own a lot of your favourite guitars”.
Still, knowing all that, there are certainly things I would have done differently. Knowing the internet age would allow any artist to (theoretically) reach the whole world – without requiring a major-label deal - I'd have fostered much more the traits that made our band distinctive, and cared less about 'fitting in' enough to gig locally. Cult followings can be a great way to pay the bills and support the music habit. I'd have fought harder to keep the original band together, and by fighting harder, I mean not fighting at all. The first line-up of this band – 'Victoria Secret' as we were called – had huge potential, but personality conflicts, and our 'spirited discussions' often generated much more heat than light. I now know a little more about human nature, and that drama is generally quite unnecessary and counterproductive...not 'cathartic' as we might have once believed. Likewise, I see more clearly now where my own deficits were – choosing cover tunes, stage presence, consistent guitar tone, and letting the circus atmosphere of live playing keep me from digging deep for good musical performance – and I'd make countering those deficits a high priority.
After 20 years, I can at least say that I'm proud and happy to be playing with longtime accomplice Curtis Leippi, the artful Jason Nickel on bass, and alternate bassist extraordinaire Kirby Barber (cause good bassists stay very busy in this town, so it's good to have a spare!). I've written a goodly number of tunes I can still listen to and play live with full commitment, and I've learned a lot of lessons that make performance, writing and recording a greater pleasure than ever. I've rubbed shoulders with some inspiring bandmates, nearly all with which I'd happily share a stage again. The lessons I learned over the last couple of decades are all pretty applicable now, and as a current teacher of a course called Rock School in the public school system, I'm observing and making suggestions and adjudications about rock music performances on a daily basis – you can't help but learn from that, even if the musicians in question have a fraction of the experience I do. Experience is hardly the only or even the most valuable coin of the realm. I've also had a handful of former students go on to have successful music careers, and I learn a-plenty from observing them, too. The decades do bring a pretty unique perspective, at the very least.
Of course, the decades also bring grey hair (and/or a lot less hair), a droopy face and the stigma of “old”, as well – and a lot worse if you don't do something to keep as fit and healthy as possible, or if you've developed any habits that add to the general wear-and-tear of age. In my own case, I've lived a healthy life, so my voice, strength and stamina are probably better than they've ever been – but it's fair to say I look my age, and perhaps then some (to all but me, that is – I still see a 25-year-old in the mirror, though I know I'm delusional)...but I just haven't found that to be a problem yet. In previous decades, the generation gap was such that a rock musician had zero credibility past the age of 30, but these days, it seems, anything goes. If you can come up with the goods, you're welcome onstage at any age, despite what Madonna might say – and that's definitely a change for the better. In any case, it's a good excuse to keep on keepin' on. Got some new tunes getting finishing touches on the workbench now. As Paul Simon would say, still crazy after all these years.