Hex Lubinger is the former guitarist of The Shipwrecks and has been working on his epic project, Zen Fuego for a Chinese Democracy amount of time. Confusingous sat down with Hex to discuss his take on The Shipwrecks:
Confusingous – So, how did you get into music?
Hex – Well, it’s a long journey, actually. Growing up in the 70’s my parents listened to a lot of the music on the country stations then (back when there was choice of country stations in the New York City area). I developed an appreciation for Alabama, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Eddie Rabbit and a lot of those artists that were big and becoming cross-over stars. However, with the advent of MTV I was exposed to a lot of different artists. Bands like U2, Journey, Judas Priest, and Def Leppard added a new layer to what I was listening to. I caught quite a rock bug. When I was in middle school I started listening to more classic rock artists. Beyond The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, big influences to me were Led Zeppelin and Cream. I also started listening to The Grateful Dead which I think helped to expand my genre base to bluegrass, blues and jazz which really opened up my influence horizons.
When I got into high school, I rediscovered a lot of that hard rock I was listening to ten years earlier and got very into Ozzy Osbourne/Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and AC/DC. In 1990 I saw AC/DC live at the Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey and I was so (thunder)struck that the next day I bought a guitar for $10 as well as a copy of ‘74 Jailbreak on cassette. It took me about three years to actually learn to play a chord, but I would say that seeing that concert set up what I really wanted to do in life. The power and volume sunk into my bones and it’s been there in some way since.
C – Why did it take you so long to learn to play the instrument?
H – For me, I definitely learn from seeing. Taking lessons was financially out of the question at that time. I had a book of folk guitar that my mom had from college but it did not register. A few years later I found that I have dyslexia and a bit of ADD so I’m sure that did not help. When I was in college a few friends from home began playing so I sat in with them and picked their brains. I learned a few chords and the pentatonic scale. Then, going back to the books, it made a lot more sense to me and I was able to follow it. I did eventually end up taking lessons but that wasn’t until 2003 when I was in a rut and wanted to expand my playing. I found the one thing about self-teaching myself is that when I sat down with an instructor or watch instructional tapes, there would be things in the beginner section that I would have no clue about and there would be things in the expert section that I can play circles around. I more or less learned what I could with no real pattern or curriculum. I’m not saying it was the way to go because I would definitely not say it worked for me. I would always advise a prospective player to learn to read music and learn music theory. It may take the fun out of it but you will thank yourself later on. Never limit yourself.
C – How did you come about joining The Shipwrecks?
H – Are you ready for another long journey? (laughs)
Short Answer – Chris Smith
Long Answer – Chris Smith and I go back to grade school. We went to camp together for ten summers in New Hampshire (William Lawrence Camp). While not a music camp, music was always a huge part of life at camp. Between radios blaring and people just playing music, I got exposed to a lot of bands there. I think I really got into Van Halen and Blues Traveler because of being at camp. Matt Nathanson went there. I can remember him playing some of his early material there.
Anyway, Chris Smith and some friends (Tom Winner and Chris Carbone – also both Ridgewood guys) began writing folk-like songs. We would all put together lyrics and Tom would put it to music. It was initially called the Center Table Posse – or CTP. Eventually, we changed it to Diana’s Bath named after a natural pool in the area that we visited many times on our days off. Chris eventually picked up the guitar again after not playing for a few years so he could start putting music to his lyrics. Chris eventually bought a new guitar and I bought his old Yamaha acoustic and began pushing him to show me some chords. I found it necessary because I was hearing songs but was unable to convey them verbally. I really learned more and more chords because I was hearing them in my songs and needed to be able to play them.
Over winter breaks from college, Chris and I would sit in his basement, drink beer and play songs. We would start building a set list based on our own material and covers. I’d bring in a Stones CD and be like ‘We need to learn this track!’ and we would pick up our guitars and learn it. Chris, who had been playing piano for as long as I can remember, really helped me to develop my ear. Really hear the changes and nuances in the music that was being blended in my ear. It’s not like I wasn’t hearing it, but when I went to play it was gone.
Chris went to Brown and began playing coffee houses as a solo act. I went back to the University of Connecticut and really began working on my playing. I had a resident assistant who was a great player and teacher and he sat with me and jammed. He taught me some scales and I really began learning the fretboard. Some nights after a twelve pack of beer I would pull out the guitar and begin playing things like ‘Bitch’ and ‘Knights in White Satin’ and eventually someone probably as drunk or drunker began singing with me. I remember once a friend of mine puked while we were playing. (laughs). Good times.
Anyway, fast forward to about 1995. I moved back home and took classes at Ramapo College part time. Just needed some time to level set where I was and where I wanted to go. Chris formed a band at school and I began driving up to Providence to see them and hang with them. The guitar player was a guy named Martin Small who came from a lot of the same hard rock/metal influences that I was into. We would talk all night about metal acts and guitarists and Marshall stacks and Les Pauls and on and on. Martin was also a killer player and I learned so much from him. I started informally working for the band, unfortunately called Smit Haus, and sometimes playing with them. The band ripped it up around Providence for a few years so I hung around as well. It was at that time that I met Frank Morris and Trevor O’Driscoll who would both be prominent in the world of The Shipwrecks.
In 1997 a good portion of the band graduated from Brown and decided as a last hurrah to travel across the country with Smit Haus in what was called the Force of Will tour. I was set to go back to UConn in the fall so I had a summer free as well. I hitched up with them and we played in a lot of the country and recorded in Chicago. I got to see a lot of the country that I never had seen and probably never would have. I met a lot of different people and saw a lot of different bands. It was really cool to talk shop with so many different musicians and club owners. And a real education.
C: What do you mean by that?
H: Well, I think you get very isolated being in the Northeast. It feels like it’s a scene on itself. There is a Northeast attitude amongst bands and clubs. You get outside of that and it’s very different. You play venues that have bands because they have ten square feet to put them. It’s not really set up as a music club but they have live music. You play places where an audience has never heard of you but they are so psyched that you are there to play for them. They dance. They come up to you and thank you. I’ve played shows in New York where people were sitting around and reading newspapers. And no one really had an ego. People were really psyched to talk about music. None of this ‘my band can beat up your band’ vibe that pollutes the NYC scene. So you learn a lot from people because you can talk to them and they are just as into it as you are.
Anyway, back to the story. I got back to UConn and played with a few bands but nothing really stuck. I did coffee houses and still played late night binge drinking sessions. I was set to graduate in December of 1998 and Smitty (note: Chris Smith) tells me him and the band were moving in together in a loft in Downtown Brooklyn. I told him if he could hold me some floor space I’d be there after Christmas. And I moved in on December 26th.
The loft was great because it was artists and musicians. Smit Haus rehearsed there and a few other artists used the space. Dowdy Smack for instance which featured Ze Frank (famous blogger) and Tad Kinchla (bassist from Blues Traveler). I began working on my playing and writing a bunch of material.
In early 2000, I was unemployed and went back to UConn to work in the dining services department (where I had worked during college) to get some cash while some interviews were being worked up by a recruiter. While I was away from the loft, Frank Morris and Trevor O’Driscoll began working with Smitty and Martin Small on turning some of Frank’s poetry into songs. I came back to the loft after two weeks and as soon as I came home, Smitty asked me to sit in and play a practice because Martin couldn’t make it. After the practice, Frank asked me to join. I guess because I was not as polished as Martin and Frank was definitely seeing the project as being more East Village/CBGB like then the West Village funk rock stuff that Smit Haus was playing. A few days later I got a job. So life was good for Hex. (laughs)
Frank and I began working on material. Trevor began working on gigs. And the rest is history.
C: I take it things were not as smooth as that.
H: Well, actually, it was all very organic. I’d take a riff that I was working on and Frank would look through his papers and he’d have lyrics that fit. It was like a two piece puzzle. (laughs) Eventually it became tough because we all became very protective of our contributions. If someone asked me to change something it felt like an attack. I can remember fighting over notes. I mean, how many notes are in a song? And we would fight over one note. It seems petty but we felt that that one note could make or break the song.
The gigs weren’t very easy either. Our first show was at our loft. We had a party for my birthday. We did a quick rehearsal the afternoon before the show and my amp fell over and broke. I had to make and adhoc stage amp by wiring two practice amps together and putting it through a 50 watt speaker.
Our first gig outside of our house (laughs) was in Tribeca at The Orange Bear. It was an open mic night. We followed several aging hippy artists and bands. And then we come on like an explosion. I think I broke one of Ryan (Sackrider – the drummer)’s cymbals with my fist. The owner banned us from the club. We did a CB’s audition a few weeks later so that didn’t really hurt us.
We did a gig at the Charleston in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where we booked the night. We had Metal John play (who we met at that Orange Bear gig) and a few other acts. We went on for our second set (we closed the night) and Frank is no where to be found. I went to the bar looking for him and he is gone. The bartender also has cut off the whole band from beer, which was our payment for the night. Turns out Frank was kicked out for some reason that was never made clear. I don’t remember what we did next but I believe it involved packing up and getting out of Dodge. (laughs)
C: Crazy stuff.
H: Hey, Mick told us ‘it’s only rock and roll.’ (laughs)
I think one of the nuttier things that happened was when we played Arlene Grocery for the last time. We had a song called ‘Fury’ and there was a line that said ‘I cut my leg behind the knee and let my blood flow into the sea.’ Anyway, we get to that line and Frank is kneeling at the front of the stage in a kind of Bono at Red Rocks pose. He sings the line. And he gets up. I notice that he is bleeding behind his knee. The guy has just cut his leg with a razor on stage! (laughs) I bet Iggy Pop was proud of that one! (laughs).
The first time we played Arlene’s I remember being so drunk that the only way I can stand was to keep moving. So I was walking in small circles around the stage just to keep upright. I listened to the tape of that show later and I couldn’t believe it. My playing was actually really good and some of my solos did not even sound like me. I figured I had a good night but did not tempt fate again. I was probably one PBR from laying in the fetal position on stage.
C: And it all ended …
H: Yes. All good things must come to an end. (laughs). I mean, it goes back to what I said before. We were all very protective of what we were contributing. We took it very serious. And some people were becoming paranoid. Like, we all thought people were talking behind out back and we were. We came together as friends and friendship was most important. To keep that together, we could not be a band anymore. So, we played that killer gig at Arlene’s and called it a day.
Smitty and I played with Frank in a project he had put together for St. Patrick’s Day in 2003. And The Shipwrecks played a gig in December 2004. And that was about it.
C: Any regrets?
H: None. I’d do it all over again. Exactly the same way? Probably not. But it wouldn’t be far off. I learned a ton and developed because of it. It’s all good. All good.
C: Any future for The Shipwrecks?
H: I guess they say never say never. So I’m pretty safe with that.
It’s funny because Frank asked me to play with his new band a few months ago. I was tempted but, honestly, it wasn’t in the cards. Plus, I had just sold most of my guitars and equipment right before that for the very un-rock and roll reason of freeing up closet space. I have two guitars left which are the first two I ever bought. So I’m right back where I started which may be the best thing for my music.
Whenever The Shipwrecks come up in conversation, people are always telling me we should get back together. It’s a good thing to hear that people are still into it and wanting it. For now, we’ll leave them wanting more. In the meantime, I saw that there is a Shipwrecks album on iTunes! Crazy. I remember trying hard to get something on the web! Things changed, I guess.