Memoir: I’m With The Band

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Memoir  I m With The Band actresscumsinger 266x200 jpgIt’s a Thursday night, and I’m onstage at Bar Matchless in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My boyfriend, Jay, is next to me, tuning his guitar and getting ready to sing. We’re in a band called Actress-Cum-Singer, and this is our second show. I rushed here from my job as a restaurant hostess in Midtown, so I’m frighteningly sober, and I haven’t had time to put on my usual Robert Palmer-girl style stage makeup. I am not ready.

“Jay? I don’t think I can do this,” I say.

“Oh, you’re doing this!” he responds. He has a low tolerance for stage fright.

A friend asks if I need anything, and I hand her my drink tickets and say, “Two Jack and cokes.” I down the first and set the second within easy reach on the side of the stage.

When the keyboard kicks in to start our first song, I grab my tambourine and my hands do what they’re supposed to. I’m playing to the beat. I smile. Of course I can do this.


I didn’t think I’d ever be in a band. I had a guitar when I was thirteen and I could probably still strum the beginning of “Blitzkrieg Bop,” but I never progressed beyond learning power chords. I’ve always been a little shy, and the idea of performing in front of people intimidated me.

Then, this summer, I met Jay. He’s been in several bands–one was even signed to a Warner Bros. label for a while. (What you need to know about signing to a major label: they promised the band they’d tour Europe; Jay still has a passport he’s never used). When he told me he was starting Actress-Cum-Singer, I jokingly suggested that I play tambourine. He said, well, why not?

So I bought a cheap plastic tambourine in a music shop for $10, and played along to ‘60s garage records in my room for a week or two. Then I started playing with the band at practice. I don’t know what I thought practice spaces looked like, but ours is probably smaller than your bedroom–and imagine what it would be like to cram five people, a drum kit, a keyboard stand, guitars and amps into your bedroom. It also gets loud — and hot. We have to take breaks every 30 minutes because the PA overheats.

Despite all this, practice is one of my favorite places to be. As someone whose main creative outlet is writing–a solitary, bookish activity–it’s a nice change to do something creative with other people, something where I don’t really have to think. I get to bang this hunk of plastic and metal for a couple of hours every week. It’s a good stress release. I imagine this is what other people feel when they go to the gym.

Stage Fright, Be Gone

Eventually, you have to leave the womb-like practice space and play in front of an audience. At first, this made me very nervous–like that night at Matchless–but as we’ve played more shows I’ve gotten less and less apprehensive. Lately, I’ve even started singing backup vocals. It’s fun!

Occasionally, I’m reminded that I’ve only been doing this a couple of months and my bandmates have been doing it for years. At our first show–a CMJ showcase–Nick Zinner showed up to watch another band on the bill. “It’s Nick Zinner!” I stage-whispered to my bandmates. “Yeah, we see him,” they said. “And shut up, he can probably hear you.” They’ve all had practice spaces next to bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Interpol, etc, and they’ve seen those guys and girls around town–it’s no big deal. Nick Zinner is just another guy in a band.

That’s what’s great about being in a band–you can be like the people you admire, you don’t have to put them on a pedestal. You can create your own version of what’s cool. The music is obviously the most important part of being in a band, but there’s also fliers, album artwork and the clothes you wear onstage—you have the opportunity to create a whole aesthetic, a whole little world. Hopefully, other people will respond to it and agree that yeah, that’s cool, and want to be part of your world. I think that’s why anyone starts a band.

By Anastasia Friscia

Actress-Cum-Singer recorded a six-song EP at The Fort last month, and will be releasing it in late February or early March. They hope you like it. If you don’t–start your own band!