By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
By Derek Askey
Being a Big Blue Couch fan has been both a source of pride and frustration for a great many local music aficionados. Giving the group props on its musical merits is easy enough. There are few bands anywhere -- much less the Valley -- with the attitude and chops to leap confidently from the raw power of the Stooges to the druggy droopiness of early Pink Floyd at the drop of a plectrum. Combining a space cadet guitar hero with a Jaggeresque front man, and backed by a killer rhythm section, the quartet managed to house punk-rock toughness and prog-rock pretensions all under one roof.
Unfortunately, under that same roof came a fair share of Big Blue baggage. Tons of it, actually, schlepped all the way from Lansing, Michigan, where guitarist Chris Doyle, bassist Jon Demrick and drummer Jayson Gilbert have been operating some incarnation of Big Blue Couch for the past nine years. In that time, each has quit in high drama more than once, dated another member's sister, ex-girlfriend and, worst of all, dared to tell one another how to play their instruments. Couple that with a tendency to play gigs haphazardly, a general lack of direction and some intense personal conflicts, and you have Big Blue Couch, a talented but rudderless four-headed monster going around in circles.
Recently, at least one head ceased to be a factor. Last December, lead singer Michael Brandon -- an Arizona native who joined the band in 1998 -- called Demrick and Doyle from Tent City and informed their answering machines that he'd be sporting Arpaio stripes for six months, just as the band was preparing to release its debut CD. For the band, Brandon's incarceration -- the result of DUI-related charges -- was the proverbial final straw. For everyone else, that straw might have been the group's disastrous (and, by now, legendary) September 2000 gig at Long Wong's where, in the midst of an onstage tussle, Demrick and Gilbert managed to shove each other through the club's plate glass window a few songs into the set.
What's more rock 'n' roll than that, you say? No argument there, but on the other hand, staging an episode of Behind the Music before your tunes ever get heard is a little more than self-defeating. That the group seemed to be losing all the momentum it had built up from its triumphant New Times Music Showcase gig a mere four months earlier points to how chaotic the band's dynamic had become.
"Long Wong's was the breaking point," says Doyle, not strictly referring to the window. "Everybody lost their minds that night. We'd started opening gigs with 'Waiting for the Man' because Brandon was always late, jumping onstage when we were a minute and a half into our first song. He'd begun distancing himself from the band, and I remember thinking at that gig, 'I'm gonna kick his ass in.'"
Doyle never got the chance, as Demrick and Gilbert (who live together in the house Big Blue Couch uses to rehearse) beat him to the punch. "The window thing culminated with Jay because I was just tired of his nit-picking at home and onstage," says Demrick. "Jay knows what buttons to push to get me riled up, and if he's frustrated he'll push them. I had anger problems I had to seek treatment for. I just lost my temper and I ran through his drum set. There was a lot of testosterone in that bar. It was football season at ASU, so when we started fighting, all the jock types started cheering. I stayed in bed for two days after that."
For passersby wondering "how much was that dogfight in the window," the band had to pony up 750 dollars that night to avoid charges being pressed by the club. Although it wouldn't be the group's final show with Brandon (an anticlimactic Hollywood Alley gig in December closed that book for good), the end was clearly looming.
For his part, Brandon -- released two weeks ago after serving a four-month sentence -- says his own actions were symptomatic of a bigger problem within the group. "Nobody was listening to each other or giving each other respect," he says. "I loved collaborating with those guys, but it was getting to the point where the egos were coming back. Instead of forgiving one another and moving on after a dispute, there was this constant snowball of emotions and tension. Maybe that contributed to the energy onstage, but it was also very stressful. Maybe that's why I showed up late. I hated being around that stress. I wanted to quit and form my own thing because they weren't interested in doing fliers or working on songs together. But I loved the music we were doing and I was hoping things would change."
As to his firing/departure from the group, Brandon adds, "It's better that they did it than me because I felt I couldn't do that to them. I don't have any deep-seated issues with any of them. I wish them all the best and hope they find what they're looking for."