While he's away
Chris Savage didn't sell his soul for rock and roll, but he did quit his job for it. He enjoyed his work for the most part, training to be a veterinary technician at the Highland Park Animal Clinic. Well, he liked it much as anyone can take pleasure in being surrounded by death constantly, watching animals come in as pets and leave as statistics. But he didn't leave his job for the last time a week ago because of that, or even because he found himself at 31 years old cleaning excrement out of cages almost every day of the week. That might have made his decision a little easier, but it didn't cause it.
No, Savage quit because he decided to become a full-time musician again, something he thought he'd given up a couple of years ago. His wife, a schoolteacher, pays the bills now, while Savage tries to make a music career happen for him, as it had so many years ago when The Buck Pets signed to Island Records in 1989. "I have to stay home and fold clothes sometimes now," he says, laughing. "That's a trade-off."
Music was once his life when he was a member of The Buck Pets, but it had gradually become a hobby, something he did in his spare time. Savage seemed resigned to that fact, playing music because he enjoyed it and nothing more. He'd work on songs with Ricky Pearson -- his roommate and former Buck Pets drummer -- but they never had any aspirations for the stuff they were recording on Savage's four-track. They were just passing the time. Savage was working while his wife finished college, and Pearson was happy enough serving on Tripping Daisy's road crew. But recently, Savage realized that wasn't enough after all, so he went to the clinic and told his bosses he wasn't coming in anymore.
"They were really nice people there, but it was like six to seven days a week, and that really didn't leave much time for the rock lifestyle," Savage says. "I was like, 'Man, you know, I'm only going to be able to do this for a little bit longer, and I'm really going to regret it in a few years if I don't do it now.' So I just chucked it all and said, I'm going to be a pitiless bum for a while."
And now, almost accidentally, Savage and Pearson are in a band together again. Along with former Hagfish drummer Tony Barsotti and bassist James Means, Savage and Pearson (now playing guitar) have formed Pelicans, and they are hard at work getting the band on its feet, making demo tapes, trying to set up shows. The band hasn't played yet, and Savage doesn't even know how to properly describe it, but you can hear his excitement over the phone as he talks about staying up until all hours of the night recording, apologizing for not waking up until almost 4 p.m. It's so easy to fall back into old habits.
Savage's return to music was sparked by the unlikeliest of scenarios: playing Roger Daltrey in a Who cover band. But A Quick One isn't just any cover band, wrapping itself around Who classics until you can't see the original anymore. The group -- featuring Savage on vocals, Pearson on bass, and Tripping Daisy's Phil Karnats and Ben Curtis on guitar and drums, respectively -- is the rare tribute act that actually makes you think, "This is what it must have been like to see The Who in 1967." Save for the white Pete Townshend jumpsuit Karnats was sporting at A Quick One's performance at The Cavern on August 20, the group looks nothing like The Who, not that it matters much. Just seeing Savage and Pearson on stage again, you can tell that's where they need to be. And after the band's first gig in July at Bar of Soap, they knew it too. But Savage doesn't necessarily think his place is on stage with a cover band.
"That's kind of what re-ignited me to do our own thing again, a little bit," Savage says. "Doing the Who stuff and realizing how much fun it was, and if you're playing with the right people, how fun it can be. Ben and Phil are pretty fucking awesome players. But I don't know if I want to do [A Quick One] again. Once is kind of a novelty, twice is maybe pushing it, and three times, it's like, you're a cover band. It's already a slightly ridiculous idea, and if you start doing it too much, you're gonna start looking like a parody of that. It'd be a parody of a parody."
A Quick One was a joke to begin with, an idea tossed around by Karnats, Pearson, and Tripping Daisy's booking agent Chris Penn while the band was out on the road. Savage was drafted into the group by Pearson, agreeing to join only after the other members allowed him to call his own shots. "I made sure they let me sing the Pete Townshend stuff so I wouldn't exclusively be Roger Daltrey," Savage says, laughing. "I'm really more of a Pete fan, I think."
Now that he's involved in music again, Savage believes A Quick One has run its course. He didn't even want to play a second show, and he'll only play a third if the other members promise him it will "absolutely be the last one." He's ready to move on with Pearson in Pelicans, ready to jump start the career he'd let idle in the garage for the past two years. He wants to leave A Quick One as a good memory, the thing that got him back on stage.
"See, I knew we shouldn't have even done it twice, because the first one I thought was really fun, and I had a good time, and I thought it sounded OK," he says. "And then the last time, it was just fucking horrible. That place sounds terrible, and we sounded terrible, and I thought everything was just bad. I knew we should have just left it at one. A third one, not that it takes too much out of your time, but I'd kind of like to just concentrate on what we're doing." He pauses, and you can almost hear him grinning through the phone. "I'm totally revitalized about it, after doing other things for so long."
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