Soldiers of Fortune – ThrillA-G #2 Esklow
Soldiers of Fortune performing at their 12″ release party at Zebulon, Brooklyn on Feb 9 2011.
A flood of good shows and once I was swept by it in reality, I couldn’t be appreciative of an immense set of options flowing around my already petrifying body. I’m drunk with shows and I drank enough water to quench the tropical desert of my culture like Poland Spring – Well, I haven’t bought Poland Spring at least for two weeks. I have been drinking tab water. There must be other awesome NYC bands I’ve never heard of. Not that I wanted to go to all the trouble to get to them in this flood-ravished state. But I was lucky enough to encounter two of them, namely PC Worship and Soldiers of Fortune.
IMO, these two acts amply represent the current New York bohemia in the musical field, although you can also notice the topography of Seattle in the former and Bay Area in the latter. NYC bands of my interest are going hippie-apeshit with their own sort of virtuosity and kaleidoscopic vision. Practically, Magik Markers and Oneida are jammin’ psych rockers now. Hippies are big in NYC again and these hippies are not folksters but downright rockers. And is it an over-stretching of my love to assume Endless Boogie and White Hills are (and have been) two of the biggest NYC rock bands? Anyways, all these NY bands who rocked my socks off rock fucking hard. The Soldiers of Fortune + Endless Boogie free show in a soho gallery was my best rock show in NYC.
Here comes “An Oral History of Soldiers of Fortune” via Ny press. In one word, they rip your fucking mind and are true to their vocation, “Soldiers” (say, they handle about 10 bouts of passionate sex with their incredible muscles, stamina and skills in the form of music in one or two go). They released their debut album on Mexican Summer. I saw many hipsters carrying Mexican Summer tote bags. Soldiers of Fortune are a band of starry hipsters in every sense. The below history divulges it all.
Soldiers of Fortune is mythic. It has never toured, put out records, really practiced or played any of the usual music industry games. It plays live maybe twice a year if you’re lucky. A Downtown supergroup invented by bassist extraordinaire Brad Truax and featuring Kid Millions (Oneida), Matt Sweeney (Chavez, Bonnie “Prince” Billy), Mike Bones, Pat Sullivan (Oakley Hall) and studio maven Barry London, the band has finally recorded a 12-inch that comes out this week via Mexican Summer.
In celebration and reverence of top shelf shredding amongst bros, we present the first ever of Soldiers of Fortune as given by Truax and Bones. The group plays a rare show tonight at Zebulon in celebration of the release.
Brad Truax: The band started in 2004. I was in this band called The Broke Revue. Kid Millions from Oneida filled in at one of the shows and that’s why I started hanging out with Kid. He played a couple shows with us, and in early 2004 I would play on Oneida records. We were going to jam one time with Dave Pajo. He was in town and I met up with him during the day and invited him to jam. He was like, ‘Totally.’
I showed up at this rehearsal space with Kid, and Dave was texting, ‘I’m almost there. I’m on the way there.’ He never showed up. Pat, AKA Papa Crazee, who used to be in Oneida and later started the band Oakley Hall, was walking through and he came in and jammed. That was the first time we played together.
In the summer, I was really sick and in the hospital. I was in a bad state. I was hallucinating. I remember seeing what I thought was a magazine called Soldiers of Fortune. For some reason, it put it in my head. When I get out of the hospital, I’m going to start this crazy band.
I was thinking of a supergroup with Kid, Pat, Mark Moore (who played with Cat Power) and Barry London, who I was living with at the time. Sometime after that, maybe in August or September, this friend of mine I worked with at Kim’s had a really bad accident and was doing a benefit show at Tonic when that was still around. They asked if one of my projects would play and I felt it would be a perfect time to do Soldiers of Fortune. I booked the show.
The idea was that everyone was in bands and touring and had been around, so it was an idea of an anti-band—a band that doesn’t practice, write songs or put out records. I wanted to rely on chemistry and intuition. It’s either gonna be a train wreck or tight, but put yourself out there.
The night before the show, we decided what key we should jam in. We just ended up playing and it sounded kind of awesome! We played a show the next day with no clue what it would really sound like. The show was my dream rock band. Between Pat and Mark and me and Kid, it was a true powerhouse. It sounded like we had written stuff. It was exactly how I envisioned it.
Mark Moore’s Departure
The day before Thanksgiving, Mark went out drinking and we were supposed to have dinner the next day. He got super drunk and ended up falling down and hitting his head. He made it home somehow and then went to bed with his head bleeding and never woke up.
We spent Thanksgiving in the hospital and had no idea what was going on, just a real heartbreaking tragedy. He died on Friday. It was soul crushing. He was an amazing dude and one of the best guitarists I’ve ever met.
It killed the idea of doing Soldiers of Fortune again.
Enter Mike Bones
Mike Bones: I remember everybody going to Mark’s funeral. I was on Ludlow Street and bumped into Matt Sweeney and other Max Fish bros in suits. I had no idea he had died. I knew him as a guitar player, but not a person.
Everyone I knew then either didn’t work or worked at night, so every Wednesday we’d do this thing called Jams Day. We would get together in this space, and whoever was around would go and we would play. Brad eventually asked me to be in Soldiers of Fortune.
BT: This band Fireball that practiced in our building was putting out a 12-inch and they asked me to play at their release show, which was also at Tonic. I asked Mike if he was available.
MB: I remember you explaining the idea of Soldiers of Fortune. As a musician, it sounded like the best fucking band to be in in the world. You would never have to practice or do any of the bullshit work that comes with being in a band. We’ve been playing for almost 8 years and this is the first interview we’ve ever done. This is the first time any of the normal band stuff has happened. It’s all about being bros, showing up at this time on this day and playing music in front of people.
I remember meeting all the dudes for the first time and practicing the night before the show. I remember walking into the old Oneida studio and being like ‘Ahhh.’
BT: We only practiced so everyone could meet Mike and vibe him out. We did a Skip James cover that we shredded to pieces and then a Creedence cover or something. It was this idea of not having songs and just playing songs we like. We aren’t a cover band, but we’ll take a song and turn it into something else.
MB: We like songs with an easy structure. There’s no changes, really.
BT: We did a jam that Mark wrote the chords for called ‘Face of Battle.’
MB: So triumphant.
BT: Needless to say, everyone was blown away by Bones that night. We played the next day and that original thing I experienced the first time we played had come back.
Settling In As A Band Of Bros
Mike Bones: After I joined, we played like one or two shows a year. One of the most memorable ones was a show in Tribeca with Endless Boogie.
Brad Truax: We played with Comets on Fire. They are good friends of mine and they would come to town like once a year because they had jobs. At the time, they were one of my favorite live rock bands—an early inspiration for Soldiers of Fortune, just total guitars in the air and violent psych stuff. We played twice in one weekend, which was the first time that had ever happened.
The great thing about Soldiers of Fortune is that we pretty much only use other peoples’ back lines. It fits into the anti-band thing.
MB: Yeah, we never bring our own gear. We use the other bands’ stuff.
BT: Let it be known we respect their gear, though!
MB: There were lots of weird shows in those days. We played the dude who owns Main Drag’s birthday at some bar in Williamsburg.
BT: During that period, there was always a member out of town, too. We would have fill-in shredders. People like Johnny Rad. He had won the Max Fish guitar battle that year. He had been in New York for one day and walked by Max Fish.
MB: I think his girlfriend signed him up.
BT: Yeah, he was here for literally one day and was crowned ‘Shredder of the Lower East Side.’ We did a show with him opening for Blue Cheer.
MB: There was Derek [Stanton] from Awesome Color, too. He is such a tasteful guitarist and remember explaining to him, ‘Don’t stop playing. Just play as many notes as you can. Don’t stop.’ He would be like, ‘You can just do that?’ It was really cool.
BT: There started to be some interest after Bones joined the band. It was always interesting to explain how we weren’t a real band. We had dinner with VICE at one point and my friend Andy at Sub Pop was always asking for recordings. He signed Wolf Eyes and Comets on Fire. Keith [Abrahamson] from Kemado emailed me out of the blue to try to get us.
We entered [bandmate] Barry London’s studio to try to record, but we never really finished anything. We put those up on MySpace and that’s been the only time where we’ve had songs for the public. We rarely played because I was always on tour or Oneida was or Oakley Hall or everyone had to work. I still want this to be an anti-band with no stress or obligation to it. This is the most fun band to play in. It’s always disappointing when someone can’t show up to do something, but it totally fits into the vision.
MB: Our thing for awhile was just playing Christmas parties. It seems like for years that would be our one show!
Enter Matt Sweeney and Mexican Summer
BT: I was gone at one point and Matt Sweeney covered for me. I was honestly kind of bummed about it.
Lots of laughter.
MB: I remember we decided to lie to Brad and say it was ‘Only OK.’
BT: I was mainly bummed because it was the one time I couldn’t play a show after two years of having others not able to do it. Finally, the one time everyone can play a fucking show, I wasn’t in town and they got Sweeney to do it, who I love dearly, but it was still like ‘You fuckers.’
Last year, in 2010, Keith from Kemado, which is now Mexican Summer, finally got through to us. He’s been persistent for the last five years. He emailed me once every four months asking about us. He never gave up and started Mexican Summer, which was doing some great 12-inches. Finally, I got lunch with him and we decided that we wanted to avoid using Barry’s studio so he could really play with us. We wanted to do it all in a weekend.
Their label has a studio [in Greenpoint] off of Guernsey between Norman and Nassau. We were one of the first bands to get in there and test it out. I emailed everyone and we decided on a weekend to dedicate to the project. I was blown away that everyone could agree to focus on it for more than two hours.
We brought Sweeney in as a producer. Everyone thought that was a great idea. We showed up and walked in and Sweeney put on a guitar and never took it off. That’s how he officially joined. He was supposed to produce, but he put on a guitar and fucking jammed.
MB: He has the vibe. He fits perfectly.
And Finally, A Record
BT: We had three days to do something and had nothing prepared. We just pressed play and recorded whatever we did. Having everyone there, we would start these jams. We only had one reel of tape and the reel is only 30 minutes. Luckily, the engineer had ProTools setup, too, because we would go way past that.
MB: We would jam for an hour straight sometimes. The first song on the record, I remember being in the bathroom taking a leak and hearing them play it. You can hear me come in, put my guitar on and start playing. We just played for hours.
BT: We jammed all of Friday night. All day Saturday, we just jammed for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour at a time. Chris, our engineer, was super patient. Sunday, we just listened and picked four jams to work on. We put vocals on the separate tracks and edited the jams down so we didn’t end up with a triple-record. The amazing thing is that we were able to sculpt these jams into songs, but it never lost any of the integrity or vision.