Meet Clay Kirchenbauer pt. 5 – California Dreamin’, oh and Dave Grohl

I’ll never forget that flight to LA. It was a 5 hour flight that felt like 20. I had never been to California, never seen the Pacific. A performance more important than any performance in my life awaited me. At last we landed, took a Taxi to our hotel, from which we could see the Hollywood sign from our window. I don’t ever remember feeling like a “big star”. We had too many people in our life keeping our egos in check, and too much uncertainty for that. But this, this was as close as I ever felt.downsized_0921091819.jpg

We headed over to the Warner Brothers building to meet the staff and to meet with Tom Whalley, the CEO. We arrived at the beautiful WB headquarters, which I thought resembled a ski lodge. It was beautiful. I remember seeing a giant Muse banner as we walked in. A lady met us in the offices and gave us a tour. There were multiple floors, a whole area for merchandise design and production, and lots of employees. We had signed our deal with Warner in June of 2008. It was September of 2009, and it had been 8 months since our separation from Cause for Alarm. We had been a Warner Brothers artist for minimum of 8 months, 14 if you count the time with CFA. We were never assigned an A&R person. (A&R is your liaison between the artist and the label), so our only contact with the label was through our manager Jon talking with Tom Whalley.  We met all sorts of staff, many were friendly, but no one, and I mean no one, knew who we were. They were generally shocked when we told them we’d been on the label for 14 months. We were kind of shocked too but we shrugged it off though because we had a meeting with Tom, and if the CEO knew who we were then we’d get through this no problem.

We walked into Tom’s office. It was beautiful. It was large and had artwork and memorabilia from Warner artists. There was a black baby grand piano. Tom was confident, and slightly intimidating. Maybe he wasn’t, I was just intimidated by the weight of the meeting. You see, when you hear the term “big wigs”, this guy is who that is referring to. Except, this was the biggest of all the big wigs. The guy with the most power. The guy with all the superstar’s numbers in his phone. The guy who just sold his house for 18 million and is managing Tupac’s estate. This guy could put us in the best position possible to be a huge success, or failure.

I remember Tom telling us he loved our record. That in and of itself was huge, and gave us some confidence. He told us we had some work to do to get better, but we knew that. He apologized for the delay in our progression with the label and said he’d do everything in his power to make it right. He was genuinely friendly and we left that meeting with a good feeling. That was the first good feeling we had had in a long time. All there was left to do now was play the showcase and get out of there.

We arrived at Center Staging in Burbank and began our setup. These places have multiple small rooms for rehearsals and showcases like this one. Someone told me that one of the guys from New Kids On The Block had just walked by me. The room was similar to the one we had played at in New York, and they even went out of their way to get me a Yamaha CP-70 piano, very similar to the one I owned. We got comfortable and headed out for lunch (where I had some unforgettable mahi tacos). As we pulled back in to the studio, in the parking lot, cigarette in hand, was Dave Grohl. I have a ton of respect for Dave Grohl, but for Jim, Brennan, and Kyle, this was like seeing one of their musical heroes. Dave was at the studio rehearsing for his Them Crooked Vultures project, and Queens of the Stone Age lead singer Josh Homme was in the parking lot with him. None of us recognized him. We could hear John Paul Jones’ bass riffs from the parking lot. We got up the courage to walk up and say hello. Dave asked what we were doing there. “Showcasing for Warner Brothers” we said. “Who you playing for? Tom? Tom freaking Whalley”. “Who’s your A&R guy?” he said. “You know what A&R stands for right? Alcohol and restaurants.
You get as much out of them as you can”. Dave was completely authentic and kind, and had a certain vigor for putting down record labels. “Always remember, they need you way more than you need them.” He wished us good luck, posed for a picture, which Josh Homme begrudgingly snapped for us, “I should just do this for a living” he said. Then we went on our way, completely starstruck and amazed at the interaction.

Dave’s words were prophetic. If only we knew then what we know now.

Showcase time arrived, and the room filled up. This was more people than we had playedIMG_0963 for at our previous showcases. There were roughly 30 people there, some of which I recognized from headquarters, others I didn’t. Muscle memory kicked in, and we ran our set, just like we did a thousand times before,
and it went off without a hitch. No messed up lyrics, no tech problems. Nothing. We all felt like we gave a really solid, energetic performance and we were proud of it. Jon gave us a nod of approval. We did our job. Afterwards everyone was really gracious and friendly. Tom Whalley came up to me, told me great job, he enjoyed it and would be in touch. We were on top of the world. Time to go home and get back to working on our craft. For the first time in 14 months we had a path and a purpose, and we were not going to let it slip away.

2 months later we were on our way home from Nashville when Jon called. “Check your emails. Idol is using ‘Something to Hope For’ in their ad campaign for their new season” “Idol as in ‘American Idol?’” “Yes. Buckle up boys.”

To be continued…

Written by Clay Kirchenbauer


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