People ask me what came first, my play or my band, Less the Band. And the truth is: the play. In 2002, my play Finer Noble Gases was premiered in Louisville, Kentucky. It is about a fictional band called Less, who forget they're a band. Confusing I know. And it gets more confusing: this summer I directed a new production of the play at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, where the actors and I not only performed the play, but played two shows opening for the mighty My Morning Jacket.
My play's band became a real band in New York. When the play was produced there, I started rehearsing with the actors - all of whom needed to and could play rock instruments convincingly - because I needed to teach them a song from the play. After they'd learned the song, I kept playing with them because it was fun. This strange, unexpected group of five actor/musicians and a writer/director who fell in love with being a rock band somehow kept collectively authoring the spaces between the text of the play, forging a real-life band's history that originated as a band with only an imagined past.
For all the tedium that making the band real has brought - negotiating five large men around small-town America with instruments nudging our ribs, keeping us from sleeping; eating bad food; getting fed up with each others' weird habits; bickering over nine-volt batteries, quarter-inch cords, tuning devices, lyrics, set lists, song titles - it is tempered by the pure joy of making rock music, of finding the chorus, of discovering the first guitar hook that leads to a verse. For Less the Band, it has become an almost religious pursuit whose absence leaves a sense of despair so profound it can sometimes feel like clinical depression (I know it well).
There was a moment in Edinburgh, following our second show with My Morning Jacket, as were taking our gear from the gig venue back to the theatre, when I had this terrifying but exciting thought: that maybe the band is bigger than all of our petty individual artistic pursuits; bigger than all the plays and novels I have authored; bigger than the two films I have written and directed; bigger than all of the accolades and achievements that my bandmates and I have garnered over the years; that Less the Band just might be the reason why we've been all toiling for so long; so that this group of five foolish men could come together and make some important-feeling art, in this case music.
And somehow, despite this romantic, perhaps even sentimental notion, it feels OK, because what I have realised is that, while it doesn't happen very often, a great song can accomplish in three or four minutes what a play, novel or film might take hours, days, weeks, or even months to do. So now I'm addicted to this band. And I'm just glad we still like each other.
· Finer Noble Gases is at the Bush Theatre, London W12, today and tomorrow (020-7610 4224). lesstheband.com