Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Music History 101

Sometimes, I really miss being in a band. I covered a gamut of genres in my time spent in music, and that's probably why I can listen to the new Broken Social Scene and old Zao within the span of about five minutes. I never did anything quite as heavy as Zao, but I screamed just as hard as Dan Weyandt, and with perhaps just as much passion. I miss the catharsis, I miss the camaraderie, I miss songwriting, I miss having the new things I was learning about in the world filter into my lyrics, to be given an outlet that no one but me would understand, but others could obtain to form their own interpretations. I miss PS 150, I miss Sonrise, I miss All Books. After reading about the tenure of Deadguy through the eyes of their drummer, and watching the Zao documentary, The Lesser Lights of Heaven, I was inspired to script out my own musical history, mainly for the sake of nostalgia. I don't know if I'd call this post a memoir, but this is sort of a fleshed out reflection of my time lent to the wonderful world of music.

ISH HALL (1996-1997)
To quote the great Andy Garcia in Things To Do in Denver When You're Dead, "give it a name." That's exactly what we did. In '96, I got my first guitar. I was opened up to a whole new world at that point. I mean, I was terrible, but I had the passion to learn, and if not for Darrell, my next door neighbor, who had always been more of a friend of my sister's than mine growing up, I would've have learned how to play correctly. He taught me simple chords like G, C, D, E, and E minor. He was younger than me, but way more accomplished. We started playing together, mainly Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis, and Bush covers, he on lead, me on rhythm. We did this until we were comfortable enough to start writing our own songs.

Our practice sessions would consist of he and I sitting in my garage, playing and recording with a tape player, my dad's voice on the in the background every now and then when he came out to harp on me about something. The songs I wrote sounded like the Pumpkins and Hum, while Darrell's were more Dave Matthews merged with Tripping Daisy or something funky like that. When we had our own songs, we needed a name. I think we had a slew of options, but they were all either too quirky or too Smashing Pumpkins inspired, seeing as how I was still sort of obsessed with their "Siamese Dream" album. I wrote songs like "Star"and "Sleep," Darrell composed "Walsh" and "Freak Universal," and together, we wrote a tribute to Nina Gordon from Veruca Salt after I'd drooled over her "Volcano Girls" video. Our song was aptly titled "Nina of Aurora." It wasn't until we went with my dad to a Berkeley High School football game did we have a name. Berkeley's running back, an elusive bruiser named Ish Hall, had an incredible night on the field with the announcer shouting his name ad nauseum. Darrell and I just kind of looked at each other at one point, both recognizing what the other was thinking. Ish Hall was the fortuitous band name we had been waiting for.

We didn't end up being a band as much as a project. We dabbled with a full cast of players, but the commitment level wasn't there for all the members, and frankly, I think we just sort grew out of it. Darrell soon bulked up, got involved with football at Stratford High, and enrolled at the Citadel for college. I lived at home, was working a telemarketing gig, flipping burgers at Burger King, and going to school at a JC. I didn't have too much time on my hands either, but the passion for music was still there. I just needed some time to get better.

SEVENTH VISION (1997-2000)
7V was formed in the summer of '97. My sister and I were hanging with the youth group at church a lot, and hanging with each other quite a bit as well. This was our best friend period. A mutual friend from church named Justin had told us about this Christian club called PS 150 Verse 2 in North Chucktown. It was a bit of a haul, but we made the trek anyway. The place was bought by a guy named Ross, who converted an old warehouse into a sort of night club for youth. Justin introduced me to his school friends, Doug and Johnny. Johnny, strangely enough, lived in my neighborhood, literally right around the corner. Another dude I met at the club, Ben, was into some really cool music in the burgeoning Christian hardcore scene. He introduced me to bands like Zao, Training for Utopia, and Living Sacrifice. My favorite heavy band was Rage Against the Machine, and when Justin, Johnny, Doug, and I talked about forming a band, I told them that I wanted to do something more rapcore. The only rapcore acts in the Christian scene were POD and Every Day Life (EDL). It needed another.

I followed House of Pain pretty religiously for a  long time. As I followed the progress of the members after their breakup, the DJ, Lethal, made his way into a rapcore act called Limp Bizkit. Without hearing any of their stuff beforehand, I took a chance and bought their debut album, Three Dollar Bill, Y'all just because Lethal was in the band. I listened to the album on the way to my first 7V practice in Justin's living room, and was immediately floored and inspired. Johnny and I cooked up some riffs, and my friend Mike and I wrote some lyrics to a song entitled "Crown of Thorns." We rocked for the first time in that living room that day, and what a great feeling it was.

Over time, we'd come up with five or six songs and had been practicing at PS 150, which had quickly turned into a music venue as well. Ross recorded our first demo tape, which we actually sold out of the first night. I think we sold out because we were the only band who was doing rapcore locally and there weren't many Christian acts doing it period. Our stage presence was awful at first, but the more we got comfortable in our skin, the more exciting the shows became. I remember I bought a Freddy Krueger sweater for a Halloween show. Thank God I don't have any digital pictures of that to share.

After we recorded another five song demo at Island Sound in Chucktown, we didn't sell it, but shared it with Ted Cookerly of EDL, whom we had befriended. Ted loved it and had connections with Screaming Giant Records all the way on the opposite coast in CA. I mailed him the demo, he shared it will the label, and the next thing we know, we have a record deal. We recorded our debut album, Shock of tha Hour locally, but the quality of the recording was awful. The label had paid for it, and they were just as disappointed with the final product as we were. They understandably refused to pay for another. I was the only band member living on my own, so all my money was tied up in the rent. Justin, Johnny, and Doug got jobs delivering pizza and literally saved every penny to buy new equipment, and a new recording. The second one was good. We'd actually written a new song between the two recordings and decided it was our strongest, making it the first track on the disc. We re-recorded all thirteen songs again at Island Sound, and the product was for the most part satisfying. We toured with other Screaming Giant bands, Rod Laver and Jesse and the Rockers, and even shot a video is Dallas, TX. On the tour, one hotel was so bad that Justin slept in the van, Johnny slept on a luggage rack, and Doug and I slept on the bed on top of the covers. That hole in the wall literally had a hole in the wall, no lie. We played locally and regionally, and occasionally, remotely in support of the CD. We played with POD, Rod Laver, Luti-Kriss, who later changed their name to Norma Jean, Third Root, and Project 86, as well as some great local bands, such as our pals in Fountain and Source of Our Strength.

Screaming Giant eventually ran out of money and caved, leaving us label-less. We didn't really have the clout yet to just hop into another deal. On the first day of a solo tour, our van broke down, and we didn't have any other means of transportation. I remember sitting with the guys at a truck stop, re-thinking our path as a band, and thinking about the new direction I wanted to go in. I had been listening religiously to the Deftones album Around the Fur, and after a fateful trip to TN with Johnny to see Spitfire, Hopesfall, and 18 Visions, I was introduced to the Incubus song "Pardon Me" for the first time. Brandon Boyd, the singer, had a sort of rappy-singy thing that I absolutely adored, and being that they were the only band really doing that style, I immediately latched on and was ready to write new jams.

Shock of tha Hour track listing:
1. Crossover
2. Cerebellum
3. Quicksand
4. Alarm
5. Sick
6. Forefront
7. F.I.S.S.T.
8. America
9. Days of Sorrow
10. Tha Legend
11. Paydirt
12. My Dark Cloud

I was inspired vocally by the debut albums of Nelly Furtado and MIA, as well as Deftones and Incubus.  I wanted to take the heavy melodies of Deftones and mesh them with Brandon Boyd-ish vocal styles for the songs on our second album, which I later wanted to call The Fall of Fashion. Speaking of fashion, during this time, I was also listening to a lot of Placebo, so the androgyny of singer Brian Molko was sort of an influence on me as well (much to the chagrin of my bandmates). I painted my nails, mascaraed my eyes, and shopped in the girls section of Gadzooks for too small t-shirts riddled in girly, ironic phrases. Doug and I spent a lot at the mall, and our friends at Hot Topic gladly played our five song demo to help promote the new stuff.

We were rejected by Solid State Records, and didn't achieve the following we'd once had. Frankly, Chucktown didn't seem quite ready for the style we were bringing. I felt the new songs were a lot better than those on the debut album, but I also felt like we were sort of ahead of our time. We played with some great bands like Zao and He Is Legend but could never seem to have a stable tour vehicle. Soon after, Doug got married and left the band. A friend of ours, Josh, gladly joined in Doug's place, we added a DJ, Marvin, and we continued on for a bit. We were an odd-looking foursome. Johnny looked like Wes Borland from Limp Bizkit, Marvin and Josh looked like they played in the rhythm section of Coal Chamber, I was for all intents and purposes glammed out, and Justin was the plain Jane.

No automatic alt text available.
The day we played our last show, I started selling copies of a solo project I'd done called Plumeria. That was about the only bright spot at the farewell show we played at Sonrise Church. I think we were all ready to do new things, and the band had become more taxing than fun. We didn't fit into a genre anymore, and I think that probably wasn't a good thing for us. I'm not sure folks were ready for the sound we were giving out, being that it was such a far cry from our debut. I actually learned how to scream properly by this time, which would help when the next full band came along.

5-Song Demo track listing:
1. Ave Rose
2. Your Pretty, Hollow Eyes
3. Rockstar
4. ARV 110
5. Something Borrow, Something Blue

There's not a whole lot to say about Plumeria. It was just me with an acoustic guitar. I had so many songs inside of me that really didn't fit the Seventh Vision mold, so I experimented by recording a demo in Johnny's bedroom, making copies, and selling them. I think I sold three or four of them, but have no more at this point. My pal, Tracy, still has one, and reminds me of this every time I talk to her. She always says she's going to mail it to me. Funny thing is, she's been saying that for about five years now. If my memory serves me correctly, I recorded four songs with vocals, and four instrumental tracks. I was really into a band called The Autumns at the time, so they, and Chino Moreno from Deftones, really inspired the project. It was recorded on cassette tape, and the recorder itself was so crappy that it gave Plumeria a really low-fi sound, which is cool looking back on it. As for the name, I had an unnatural affinity for the Bath & Body Works scent - so much that I named a side project after it. The project sounded a little similar to Fog Lake, particularly the track above. Plumeria was melancholic, wistful, and .simplistic.

NEVER UNTIL NOW (2001-2002)
By the time Seventh Vision ended, I was back in college but still looking for a new band. I wasn't quite as zealous about it this time around, but Johnny and I still had a passion for making music. We did a lot of hanging out at this time. We were best friends, spending Friday nights eating Chinese buffets and pestering my cat, Danny Boy (who ironically hated Guinness). Doug was married and Justin was the lonestar, so Johnny and I were really all we had. Seventh Vision had played a few times with a local punk band called Never Until Now, and had become friends with their members. We really got to know each other one night after a show in upstate SC at a Waffle House. Good times, really bad coffee. I sadly don't exactly remember how it went down, but Never Until Now had lost a member to another band. That member sung and played guitar. One of the remaining members told me as much, and I offered to be their frontman. Much like Dan Weyandt and Ross Cogdell of Zao, Johnny and I were a package deal. We joined the existing three piece as a revamped Never Until Now. They were already heading toward a more emo sound, and in the later incarnation of 7V, my singing had improved a bit. The NUN guys wanted me to sound like Davey Havoc from AFI, but I was really into Glassjaw at the time. We meshed influences from Glassjaw, AFI, and Thursday to produce a sort of punky, ultra-melodic brand of screamo.
The pre-existing members had to have been skeptical about Johnny and I. We were a guitar and vocalist coming from a band that was absolutely nothing like Never Until Now. Knowing that fact, I was excited, but I was nervous, as I felt like I had a lot to prove to them and myself. Strangely enough, we practiced in our drummer's girlfriend's guest house. Though they were a bit younger, I bonded with each member in our own unique ways. I knew they were still skeptical of my singing and screaming, as you can't really hear how they sound playing on a practice PA. It wasn't until we went in to record a three-song demo that the guys finally got to hear me. I didn't sound like Davey Havoc, but there were no complaints. We spent 48 hours in the studio to record three songs. We all got goofy, delirious, and I thrashed my voice by doing too many takes of my favorite track on the demo, "If These Walls Could Speak, They Wouldn't."

It was strange. Never Until Now sticks out in my mind as the more successful band, even though we never left the East Coast. Seventh Vision had a record deal and a music video, but Never Until Now had such a good local following that it compensated for the lack of national accomplishments. We played with bands like Paint the Sky Red, Yellowcard, and a host of other great local bands like Summer Rerun and Quench. We played at churches, bars, venues, and one time, in a kid's backyard with no PA system. We played with a bunch of old, staticy TV sets stacked up on our guitar amps, adding an eerie but interesting ambiance. I think we wrote six songs in a year, which is not really not that good. But those songs were really so good. Three of our guys, John, Jonathan, and John (I sometimes announced us from the stage as Four Johns and a Will) were in their final year of high school, and they composed songs that far exceeded their years. At one point, Jonathan left to tour with Farewell to Fashion, so we asked Justin of 7V fame to fill in. One night after a show at the Music Farm, John and John told me they were also leaving at the conclusion of the set. That was the weirdest show I've ever played.

3-Song Demo track listing:
1. Goodbye Cruel World
2. If These Walls Could Speak, They Wouldn't
3. Epic Le Fin

SCARLESS (2002-2003)
By the time Never Until Now ended, Doug was back in the picture, ready to reform Seventh Vision. Justin was down, and Johnny and I, distraught over NUN but ready to play music again, were optimistic. Doug had a sort of enigmatic charm in which he could kind of talk you into anything. We didn't want to be called Seventh Vision anymore. We were the same band with the same members, but we were different people with different influences. Deciding on name was not an easy process, and by default almost, we went with Scarless. I was still listening to a lot of Deftones, Glassjaw, and At the Drive-In, while Johnny was still into the screamo stylings of Never Until Now. We sort of merged the styles into one with Scarless, the heavy crunch of his absolutely sick guitar tone the glue that bridged the genres. No more rapping, no more sing rapping. In Scarless, I sang and screamed, my lyrics heavily influenced by the things I was learning about in college and how they filtered their way into the ups and downs of my life. For some reason I can't recall, Doug left the band again, and that sort of zapped out my passion for playing heavy music.

7-Song Demo track listing:
1. My Two Sides, My Open Diary
2. Farewell to Thee
3. Actium Novena
4. Caesar and His Rosary
5. Nothing to Come Home To
6. Drama
7. Icepick

I had a brief stint with this band when me and a fella named Lee, the drummer for local band Quench, starting talking about the bands we listened to. I was really into Sigur Ros and The Autumns at the time, I'd just gotten a new telecaster guitar, and I was ready to trade in my mic for an ax. We were really a four-piece jam band, sounding something like an Explosions in the Sky cover band. We were dreamy, ethereal, and shoegazy, but due to inconsistent members and lack of a consistent singer, we fell to the wayside. We took a great promo picture, though I regretfully don't have a copy of.

POLLUX (2003)
Pollux was formed when Doug and I started hanging out again. I used to go over to he and his wife's apartment in Summerville after school and hang out for hours, talking about 7V, Scarless, and old times. He asked what I had been listening to at the time and I told I was really into this band Denali. They were part Sigur Ros, part Portishead, and they wrote just really good, somber, atmospheric songs. I had already delved into the genre with Slow Motion Picture, so I was eager to play some more guitar. Doug said he could play bass, and Becky took up piano and vocals. One night, I brought over some new Plumeria songs I'd recorded and showed them to Doug and Becky, thinking maybe we could do something with them. To add more moodiness and ambiance, Doug and I programmed a some beats, some sonar chimes, and other atmospheric effects around the song. Becky learned the lyrics, came up with some piano parts, and soon, we headed to the studio to record a three-song demo. The lyrics of the songs themselves, based solely on dreams I'd had, already meant a lot to me, but hearing the outcome of our studio session sounded like some new ethereal band covering my Plumeria tunes. I loved it. But the ups and downs of being in a band can pull you into different directions, and that's exactly what seemed to happen.

3-Song Demo track listing:
1. Pinstripes
2. Icepick
3. Sur Mes Levres

Pax Romana means Roman peace, which I'd learned in college. I'd become quite the historian, especially when it concerned Roman history. Pax was perhaps my most original bands, but ultimately short-lived. Much like Ish Hall, it had been more of a project, my friend Randy and I playing all the instruments. Randy and I were hanging out a lot, going to a lot of shows together and seeing a lot of movies. I also had a piano in my house and liked to compose a lot of really somber pieces, thanks to my newfound fondest for Frenchman Yann Tiersen, who'd completely done the music for the movie Amelie. I had also just gotten an accordion, and was learning to play when Randy and I decided to start something.

2-Song Demo track listing:
1. When in Rome, Do As the Comatose
2. Antony and Cleopatra

Randy didn't play an instrument, but much like Doug, he was great on FL Studio. I brought him over to my place and showed him the song on the piano. We then created some sounds and beats to fit around it, I added acoustic guitar and accordion accompaniment, and we had our first song. I was into this tune by The Crimea called "Opposite Ends," in which the guy did sort of a rhythmic singing, sort of rappy. It was way different. His way of doing it was even different from the way I did it in 7V. Randy and I had a mutual friend who had some recording equipment, and we took our FL track, my accordion, guitar, and a keyboard to his house and recorded. At the end of the track, Randy did what he did best, screaming the words I was singing in tandem with me. I loved the track. It was so different from anything I'd heard before, and to be honest, I really don't remember why we stopped playing. The year of 2004 was a really crazy one for me. I got really into my college courses, started writing and performing poetry, and eventually, I started to write my first novel. I never went back to music, transferring my lyric writing to the world of prose.

No comments:

Post a Comment