It's Not Paranoia When It's Real
Nov 21 2012
So from time to time I shit on bands. But it's out of love. Love for shitting on bands. I did a shit on a band called Sabyrtooth, eight months ago, and they are stepping up to the plate to let me have it. I appreciate that in a band. Much more noble than the usual response to a shitting - which is crying on Facebook or Twitter. - Kelly McClure
"Did you just say fuck live on the radio?" KPIG rock radio host Sleepy John looked stressed. "I tried to censor myself," Abi Mae spoke calmly.
I knew she was full of shit even before she did. The truth is she tried to censor herself, but I know Abi Mae well enough to know censorship is something she's not capable of.
I call her "The Rock & Roll Queen," and that's why I left behind a career as a guitar player in order to start Sabyrtooth™ with her. For eight years I worked the L.A. scene, playing on records, touring with bands, mingling with celebrities. It's the only way I knew how to live, and I was good at it.
Here's a true Hollywood story, about when John Landau was producing the biggest budget movie in history, Avatar for James Cameron. John approached me while I was discussing the art of blending traditional classical and modern cultural fusion with composer James Horner (think Titanic). We were all in the control room at FOX's huge Newman Soundstage, a fifty piece orchestra was on the other side of the glass and no one but nobody was supposed to be in that room. Security on the lot was 9/11 tight and John Landau was suspicious. "Who are you?" he snapped.
"Hi John, Coley Read, nice to meet you," I said as we shook hands. When moments like this happen I become totally confident. Most people would fall to pieces, but not me...I fall to pieces over stupid shit constantly yes, but important stuff gives me all the motivation I need to be cool.
"Why are you here and how the hell did you get in this building?" Landau was persistent. I had been monitoring him for over an hour now. Watching how he answered the phone, his tone, his insistence on getting things done his way "or else." I knew he had earned his position as the biggest producer in Hollywood by doing many, many things right. I knew enough to pay fucking attention.
"Simon, come over here," I called, "John do you know Simon Rhodes?" His eyes widened: "Of course I know Simon Rhodes!" Simon is head engineer at Abbey Road Studios in London, and was the engineer/producer of James Horner’s score for Avatar. Simon worked for John Landau. I knew this.
"So you are a friend of Simon's?" he asked, still suspicious. Even Simon was looking a bit stressed. But this is how my subconscious handles these things. I stress people out so when I deliver the truth it's a relief. "How do you know Simon?" John wanted an answer fast. "Well," I said, "We met at a barbeque."
Big letdown, right? For you the reader, maybe. But for John Landau, a letdown was exactly what he needed.
I watched Landau's mind drift off. His defensive wall came down. He let out a comfortable laugh. "A barbeque," he smiled, "that's where all the good relationships start!" He shook my hand and welcomed me to the set. Was I comfortable? Would I prefer a seat closer to the middle of the room so I could enjoy the stereo spectrum? John Landau, great guy.
That’s how it's done in Hollywood, and that’s the way I worked for many years. Of course, being a guitarist and doing it out of sheer interest can be an advantage. It's less threatening. Unless they find out what's really going on.
This is Coley Read
When I got home that afternoon Abi ran to the door and hugged me. She'd had a good day too. She was working at a studio in Van Nuys with Don Was. Don loves Abi, she's a sweet Jewish girl after all. Ok she's not really Jewish 'but who needs to know?' In Los Angeles being Jewish is a very good thing. So who had she worked with that day, I asked. This cool old guy named Kristofferson. I paused. Are you fucking serious? Yes, she said, and he was super sweet. This is Abi's charm. Had she really not known who Kris Kristofferson was? Knowing Abi, it's very possible. When a girl knows every lyric to every Beatles song and still remains honestly naive of who she's talking to in a music studio, it's pure charm. Is it real? Oh who fucking cares?
So the story of Sabyrtooth™ begins. The story of our love. It's that's simple, which makes it endlessly complex. Over the past 12 months Sabyrtooth has written 70 or so songs, been evicted from Hollywood Blvd, moved to an estate in Malibu, forced into the back of a car in the Valley, and ended up with a tour van, a sick ass trailer and Voila! We've toured the entire United States & UK from LA to Seattle, Montana to Austin, Nashville to Brooklyn to London to Glasgow and back again. Sabyrtooth has art up in over 50 cities, been threatened with a $250,000 fine for swearing live on the radio, been caught red handed by a state trooper painting a highway in Pennsylvania, and had endless young blond girls ask us to sleep with them. Why all these curious hot young felines want to snuggle up with Sabyrtooth is not that hard to figure out: We're dangerously fucking charming. There are many stories to be told, hopefully over many years...this one begins 12 months ago:
If you had told me one year ago today that Abi and I would be where we are having done what we've done, I would have kissed Daryl Hannah like you’d kiss your mother. We would have hugged goodbye, and she would have wished me good luck...instead, I told her that she had dive bombed a perfectly good career, and that now at 50, she was a fucking loser.
Sure I had reasons to say it. She had been up my ass for weeks. As insufferable as any menopausal blonde who based her entire existence on youth and good looks could be. Most people with a wealthy uptight middle-aged blonde in their life would probably understand. Our hell began as we ran out of money trying to fix up Daryl's cabin so that we could upgrade from 3rd world style comfort to at least a 2.5. How does this happen in Malibu, on a movie star's property? Well, I'll tell you.
It had been a year since my last gig as lead guitarist with Shooter Jennings and the 357's. The whole band went on to do different things afterwards except Shooter who seemed to be stuck in a rut. Alan Parsons took me on as his engineer, I took him on as a mentor and gladly accepted his guidance, after all, he was the man behind Dark Side of the Moon, the Beatles and so on. But recording engineer never quite rocked my world like lead guitarist did. I love being in the studio, don't get me wrong, but I'm a raging musician first and always.
This is Abi Mae
The defining moment of Sabyrtooth came when Abi and I sat down at relatively unfamiliar instruments. She on guitar, and me on drums. It felt like middle school again. It felt fresh. We rocked.
Alan and I almost strangled each other once. He told Abi at the end of the day, "We almost came to blows." Abi laughed while I feigned surprise: "Really?" I lied, "I didn't realize you were upset." He glared at me and shook his head as he got in his car. That's when I laughed. A music producer is a manipulative emotion controlling machine and I'd been taught by the best.
Maybe it was that Abi hated living with Daryl, or maybe it was that I took such calm pride in knowing what I thought I was pulling off...either way, we needed to move on. Daryl had swept us off our feet and seemingly into paradise. Two months earlier our apartment recording studio in Hollywood had been shut down by a drug dealing pimp when he moved in with the hooker above us. He threw parties, he made rap records, but me, I could no longer play a James Taylor song on acoustic guitar without this ornery little motherfucker bashing on our front door. Happiness for me became a cold gun following the footsteps above me and wishing I could get away with it. I knew the LAPD. They knew me. I knew they wished I could get away with it too. But it was Daryl who really saved the day.
Sabyrtooth was alluring from the start. Daryl's boyfriend, a member of the Foo Fighters, suggested Dave Grohl play drums on our shit. That pissed me off but I pretended to be excited, or was it the other way around? Then he suggested to Daryl that we move out to Malibu. She loved the idea. She loved Sabyrtooth. A few nights in paradise, drinking wine and smoking weed with movie stars did the trick, and we agreed to build our studio into the cabin up on the hill overlooking the ocean. Nicholas Cage was our new neighbor and Sean Penn our lunch buddy. Had we "arrived"? Fuck no. The day after we moved in Daryl told us she was broke and trying to sell the place. Can you imagine that feeling? Yep. It sucked. But enough weed can make any bad feeling go away and a smoke machine can turn a crap ass set into Casafuckingblanca.
By mid August the heat was reminding me that Los Angeles is not a naturally habitable place. It's a fucking wasteland filled with black widows, rattlesnakes, moutain lions and on Encinal Canyon Road, at least one cougar. When “Blacky”, a five foot long Pacific Coast Rattlesnake, greeted me on the deck one morning I knew the end was near. 98 degrees, no insulation, no air conditioner, and an incinerating toilet still unopened in it's box on the porch sent me fully over the edge. I told Daryl to get her shit together. Install the toilet for god's sake, this isn't fucking India.
Daryl was insufferable after that. She had always been invasive of our home, but now she was barging in with sudden demands that we get out while she showed the place to buyers. This really meant showing off our studio and letting Tom Shadyac play my drums. (It's fine Tom, I was really just pissed I didn't get to do my Ace Ventura impression.) But in Malibu you can't just walk down the street and grab a coffee, it's the desert, anywhere is 20 miles away bare min. So what was once a studio in paradise now became a barricaded lockdown in hell. If we plugged in, she showed up in minutes with random demands like: rake the leaves, or feed the chickens or, do you have any weed leftover from what you stole from me last week. She wouldn't hook up the toilet, she wouldn't fix leaking roofs, she wouldn't fix the water heater. We might as well have been living in the 1800s, a place I realized Daryl herself might be fantasizing about, where no one knew who she was, or who she had been. But that wasn't our problem. We were a band, halfway finished with our first real EP with producer Andy Johns, who isn't exactly a walk in the park either. For Abi Mae and Coley Read, it felt like life was spiralling rapidly out of control, and then the cops showed up.
Pause. Abi's now humping my leg. She wants attention. “I hate this dumb article”, she says. Really? No, I just want attention. Ok back to writing...
Daryl called them because I threatened to. She wouldn't stop harrassing us. She wanted to call it quits "so we could go back to being friends," she insisted. But we were broke now. We'd spent our entire savings moving our life and recording studio 40 miles out of Hollywood to this wasteland/paradise, and what was left we spent trying to keep the place from falling apart. The real cost was that we were falling apart. Some people would say that I am paranoid to think that a person like Daryl Hannah, upon meeting a young girl like Abi Mae, would step in under the guise of mentor only as a tactic to take out her competition. But it's not paranoia when it's real. I'm not sure I find it stranger that a 50 year old actress would consider a 20 year old musician to be direct competition, or that a mermaid would engage in warfare with a Sabyrtooth, but either way it was a vicious fight, and it smelled fishy. In the end the cops sided with us, but advised that it wasn't worth fighting the property owner and reminded us for the second time since the pimp that they couldn't legally shoot her.
So we leveraged her boyfriend out of $1200 and called it on Halloween night, 2011.
November 1st - Abi Mae and I spent the night before moving everything we own into a storage facility in Calabasas. We didn't know what to do afterwards, so we pulled out a comforter and some pillows and nested up in the back of my two door 1991 Mazda hatchback. It was a rough first night, but at least we were away from DH. Come to think of it, we slept like kittens.
That morning we sat at a diner in Thousand Oaks and tried to figure out what the fuck we were going to do. We had an unfinished EP, all our gear was in storage, and now we were homeless. It reminded me of something Andre Agassi said: "Life will throw everything in your path but the kitchen sink. And then it will throw the kitchen sink." Our life at this point, felt like a tornado had just ripped through it.
Sitting at breakfast that morning, we thought about what was happening, and ironically it spelled optimism. Sabyrtooth was creating a buzz, even if it bothered certain people. Industry people like "same" stuff. In other words: safe. Sabyrtooth was different, and far from being safe. Sabyrtooth had been mentored by two producer-engineers, one responsible for the Beatles and Pink Floyd, the other for Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. It didn't then but now it seems more clear. All our friends in Los Angeles were movie stars, producers, and famous rock musicians and we were in the belly of the beast, growing and kicking.
[During the following month Abi and I went through every emotion possible trying to figure out what to do next. The standard routine was out. When you are a rock band there is no hiding. No waiting until everyone else falls asleep before quietly going to work on your dream. Nope, there was no way we could hide in plain sight anymore, the cat was out of the bag.] So we went to sleep every night for a month in that car, keeping our dreams alive, talking, making stickers and executing our version of guerilla marketing. We moved constantly, all over LA from the hills to the ghetto, from Los Feliz to Venice, and that’s where a magical moment happened. You see in Venice there are many people who live in cars, RV's, vans, and park benches. For us, benches were out. We started looking at the RVs with signs on them, and that's when we realized the simplest truth a band has ever thought of. We needed a van...not just to tour, but to survive. After one month on the streets we finally saw a tiny pin of light shed on our lives. We drove back to Calabasas and tore our storage space apart. We were down to $57 dollars but we finally had a plan.
(See previous VICE™ article on Sabyrtooth™ selling all of their shit to buy heroin; in fact, they were not buying heroin but saving their own asses which is in fact the opposite of Heroin, which Sabyrtooth™ adamantly suggests you avoid.)
Sabyrtooth is a complex mixture of everything dear to Abi and I, presented as simply as possible. A duo of drums, guitar and vocals, something we all owe to Jack White who pioneered the format in the sense that he made it work on a larger scale than ever before. "Cut out the bullshit" is what the White Stripes said to me. Focus on Efficiency. Get your point across. But most importantly, make it work. That's why Abi and I began to travel, and that's what took Sabyrtooth around the world this year. Brother and Sister, husband and wife, best friends, and lovers, that's what Sabyrtooth is all about: And that we can do it as a couple, without excluding anyone else at all. That's what the entertainment industry needs to embrace if they hope to survive because I'm telling you right now, we don't need them.
Our nine year old neighbor edits her movies on her laptop and scores it on garage band. Then she does her own voice over work. Did I mention she's a fucking nine year old? She also happens to be hotter that Haites, because in Santa Cruz they bake em good, but then, there's beautiful people all over this country, let alone the rest of the world. Nothing is sacred anymore and you don't need to be connected like Daryl Hannah Wexler to get a gig. You want a gig? Invent one, it's yours. Otherwise you gotta do what I did. I worked delivery jobs that sent me into studios until I met Prince, until Scott Storch invited me to cut a record for Paris Hilton. The best part about that record was that Banksy made a piece of art out of it that said in it "Guitars: Coley Read" That was awesome. Banksy's influence on Sabyrtooth is a whole other fuckin story, but that record did change my life. I found out Paris Hilton is actually super smart and sweet. Who knew? And Scott Storch opened up my mind to endless possibilities as a music producer. He is a fucking machine. He just laid it all out for free, then got me high and paid me out of a snakeskin briefcase full of $10k stacks.
I met the real life Scarface. Abi and I produced a record for Mike Fleiss, creator of "The Bachelor" and producer of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and that EP cost $15k but have you ever heard of it? Probably not until now when I'm writing about it in a van. When Abi and I walked onstage at Ozzfest Sharon Osbourne didn’t introduce herself. She was there to introduce Abi, but she didn’t even look her in the eye. Whatever, I ain't mad at her, I'm just telling the story because I think kids out there should hear it. Don't worry about Hollywood, and for god's sake don't play music if it isn't in your blood. Trust me, everyone out there has something amazing to offer. Something that will make you famous if you work hard enough at it, but it's got to be real. It has to be real. And when you find it, you will be happy about it, even if it's delivery boy because if that's what it takes to get you where you want to be, then you gotta find the positivity in it and do it with a smile on your face so that when you get the opportunity, you can present yourself with a great vibe. A vibe everyone will want to stick around and that means, you got the job.
Good luck kids, get out there and kill it, now go like us on Facebook.
Sabyrtooth™ is Abi Mae and Coley Read Art, Music, Fashion and whatever else we think of. For the sake of simplicity: SABYRTOOTH™ IS A BAND.
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