Crappy Concert Moments: Vance Kotrla of Sci-Fi Romance

How Many Mics Do You Need?

Every band ever has been asked “How many mics do you need?” when they walk onstage to set up at a new venue. Twice, the question has wound up meaning more, in retrospect, than it should’ve.

A million years ago in Texas, I was playing drums in a metal band called Black Spiral. We were very young and still trying to find our sound. There had been three of us — a bassist, guitarist, and me, on drums — and we’d been trying to add a fourth. First, we’d auditioned a weedly-weedly lead guitarist who could shred but came with bleached-blonde hair and a vibe to match. No. Next came a singer, and dude had a great voice. He fronted a band we were friends with on the local scene, singing and playing guitar, and when he said he’d be open to doing vocals with Black Spiral, we felt like we’d hit one over the fence. We rehearsed, wrote a couple new songs, and felt like we were really heading in a great direction, so we put a show together. We handled the whole night — we got a new band we believed in to open, and the singer’s other band, and then Spiral would close out the night. Everything was going really well until…halfway through a song…our singer announced he needed a smoke break, and just straight bailed. Walked offstage.

After a few bars, it became clear he wasn’t going to come back. Again, this wasn’t just the middle of a show…this was the middle of a *song*. So after some awkward eyebrow flashes and urgent jerks of the head from me and the guitarist, our bass player stepped up to the only mic onstage. He started singing, but wasn’t a great singer. As he delivered the performance, though, the realization of what had just happened washed over him, and he started *screaming* into the microphone. I started banging the shit out of the drums, and we became three musicians united under a banner of rage. As it happened, somebody was running a recording off the sound board that night, and we heard it a week or so later. In that moment, our band was born. Even though our bassist wasn’t a great singer, he could growl and scream with the best of them. When we heard the sound board recording, we realized — really, all at once and in unison — “This is the band. This is the sound.” We stopped looking for another member, our bassist stepped over to the one mic, and we owned that we were a screaming, angry death metal band. So when we recorded our only full-length album a couple years later, that was the lineup we went to war with.

Fast forward to another century, and I’m in Los Angeles, now playing guitar and singing for Sci-Fi Romance. We’re setting up at a place on Hollywood Blvd. called The Pig N’ Whistle, where Judy Garland held her 16th birthday party. We’re loading in, and a guy comes up and asks, “How many mics do you need?” It was just me, so I said, “Just the one,” but he said, “Is it cool if I set up two?”

Uh…? I asked why, and this guy — who I thought belonged to the house — told me that he’d told the door that he was in my band so he could get into the venue for free. He assured me that he could lay down “some sick freestyles over my shit” if I just let him hang on stage with us. I demurred. By that time, I knew who Sci-Fi Romance was as a band, and was pretty secure in the fact we didn’t need a freestyle rapper to give the joint character. I knew then and I know today I made the right decision in that moment, but I am a big enough man to admit that there is some small part of me that wishes I could have seen the train wreck that would have resulted from a freestyle rapper on Hollywood Boulevard laying down some sick freestyles over my folk songs about steel-driving men and old sci-fi novels and outer space shit. Oh well. I’m sure one day Kanye might come calling…

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