“Why does it say ‘Ex-Rockstar’ in all of your bio’s?” That’s a question I sometimes get asked by people who find me online for the first time. I usually wrap up the question by saying that I play drums or that I used to perform a lot.
For future inquirers and for myself, I will attempt to assemble my humble musical biography into an actual timeline with lots of actual music mixed in. If you make it to the end of this page, I hope you had a good time and learned new things about me and yourself.
Here Come the Drums
It all started with me banging on my parent’s pots and pans. Apparently my mom thought I had rhythm or maybe she just wanted me to lay off the pans. Either way, that Christmas, at the age of 5 or 6, I was given my first drum set. I remember when we got rid of it; it was completely destroyed. It had a good life.
A couple of years later, and after many drum pad and snare lessons, I got my first real drum set. It was a bowling-ball-blue Ludwig from a neighbor across the street. It was a single bass kit with two upper and two floor toms. It was on this set that I really started to study drums from masters like John Bonham, Carmine Appice and a bunch of 80’s pop and hard rock drummers. I played as often as I could. My parents were exceptionally supportive, house rattling and all.
The Second Movement
Like most music nerds, there was over a decade of school band starting in middle school, a little orchestra, a lot of percussion ensemble, a bit of field percussion and lots of practice with musical friends. There were jazz bands and classic rock bands, years of drum wars in the talent shows… the usual stuff. In junior high I even did a few shows with some college kids in their college jazz band. (Possibly helped by the fact that my dad was the Dean of the college, but that didn’t cross my mind at the time). What was maybe less usual is that when I wasn’t doing these activities, I was usually at home drumming.
Junior high through high school involved a lot of headphone drum practices with my heroes: Lars Ulrich (Metallica), Dave Lombardo (Slayer), Tommy Lee (Motley Crue), Charlie Benante (Anthrax) and Igor Cavalera (Sepultura). Many, many others. I will always attest that the best drummers in the world are jazz drummers and metal drummers. Period.
By this time I had upgraded my drums to a Tama Rockstar kit. My childhood neighbors and good friends Jeff and Pat were also drummers. Pat and I would setup our kits in one house and spend the summers having drum wars with each other or practicing out loud to bands like Led Zeppelin, Anthrax and Cream. Pat was more technical than me and had an amazing ability to deconstruct complex drum fills.
Music theory was something I pursued for a couple of classes in high school. I really enjoyed the beauty of music in the mathematical sense and turned out to be very good at it. It was natural for me to draw pictures of sounds and compositions on paper. I could also color them. At the same time, I didn’t want to turn music into black and white math. I therefore pulled back from further formal theory training, aside from one class in college I took for an easy A.
My extra-curricular high school music experience was dominated by thrash metal bands BROWN and Caine. Both bands were challenging and a lot of fun. There were probably fifty live shows between the two all over Chicagoland. BROWN played the most shows and I’m not even sure how we did it all back then. Definitely a lot of help from friends, especially my buddy Josh.
BROWN was crushing city venues while we were still in high school. I remember we played on a boat tour where people had no choice but to listen to us because the boat wasn’t all that big and we were out in Lake Michigan. I learned to play steady drums on a moving boat (back and forth, up and down) that day. We didn’t hurl though I can’t say the same for some of the audience members. It was magical.
The Third Movement
With my high school bandmates separating for college, I started a new group called InFriction. We were more electronic-based and the music was objectively… badass. Think Smashing Pumpkins meets The Prodigy. We moved into this big Victorian house in Waukegan, IL and made our over-sized living room into a studio. The studio was big with drum risers, sound-proofing and lights. Needless to say, it became a popular hangout where we would both write and perform frequently. Those were really good times.
We were all working professionals at this point in 1997: one a website/IT guy, another an electrician, me a budding accountant. AUP and I wrote the music. After a year-and-a-half of writing, practicing and recording, we had one big show in 16 January 1999 and then things fell apart. One of the members, (not AUP or I), enjoyed the parties more than the practice; a not uncommon story in the music world. Getting that right recipe of personalities to make a startup organization work, I was learning, was extremely difficult. This would later become an important business startup lesson for me too.
Back to the Front
My role in music was not limited to just the drums. In most of the bands I wrote the lyrics, played a major role in the songwriting and arrangements, wrote keyboard tracks, sang backup vocals, etc. It was after the collapse of InFriction that I decided to move from the back of the stage to the front… to leave the drum throne and to be a front man and keyboardist. I was done with other musicians controlling my musical fate. This came to reality with my solo project futureBLU.
futureBLU was my baby. Aside from a few guitar tracks that master shredder AUP handled, I wrote and recorded everything by myself. I wrote the first album, painstainedFACE, at my home in Chicago between 1999-2000. The vocals and guitars were recorded at the famous Wax Trax Studios in Chicago, IL in 2001. I’ll never forget because supergroup Ministry had just completed recording their songs for the soundtrack to the movie A.I. One of my engineers also worked on that soundtrack with them and some of Ministry’s processor settings were still in the vocal processors. I tried singing through a few of them, but couldn’t recreate anything that sounded even partially decipherable. Ah well. Still awesome.
Super proud of the music and album painstainedFACE. The music and lyrics are a masterpiece. I used a Kurzweil keyboard, but created most of the sounds myself using samples I would record and edit. (i.e. – a drum kit might be made from a can getting hit with a broom) The problem came when I made the n00b choice to send the album off to a remote location for mastering and duplication. It turned out AWFUL. The vocals were on a different audio plane from the music. Much of the instrumentation could not even be heard.
It sounded like garbage and here I was with like 1,000 physical CD’s in my mom’s basement. You can actually check out the entire painstainedFACE album online. The top-rated song in digital sales was Anger Within the Ring. (Remember to listen with headphones as LOUD as possible for best sound) If I had to choose, my favorite tracks would be breatheME, digitalDEVIL and Anger Within the Ring. And FB9. And all of the others.
Although the album’s sound was a disaster, the music and shows were awesome. We killed a final Illinois show at the Elbow Room in Chicago before I moved myself, and futureBLU, to Southern California.
Immediately after moving to Southern California, I was scouting new musicians. I had ads and flyers everywhere. My Chicago drummer moved out for a bit, but had to move back to Chicago after a couple of months. I worked with a new guitarist, who was great, and we did some home studio work. I did some gigs where I would play these electric drums at various clubs in Long Beach, CA. That was a ton of fun and I worked with the top DJ’s but that wasn’t the same circuit that I would find futureBLU performers in. It was time to switch focus and complete my second album.
Suiastera (meaning “your star”) was my sophomore album. Much more catchy and less industrial. I wrote most of it from my Newport Beach, CA apartment and was using different equipment and sounds than the first album. After a year I had fifteen or so tracks; twelve of which would make the album. This included an industrial-rock cover of “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane.
It was time to go to a real studio to record the vocals on professional equipment, mix and master the music and then Suiastera would be done! However, while preparing the tracks in ProTools at my home studio, a software problem disassociated the audio files from their placements in each song. I talked to experts, friends, everything… the songs were lost. I could see where certain tracks belonged in the arrangement, but the sound files were completely renamed and disassociated.
What I was left with was an incomplete second album with mostly “whisper” vocal tracks acting as placeholders for the forthcoming “real” vocal tracks. Luckily, I had many of the songs downloaded in digital form. I would burn them to CD’s so I could test the audio in my car while driving around the OC. Here is one of the demo reels I created to start to market the forthcoming futureBLU album Suiastera on radio and my website.
Perhaps there is a universe where I would have rewritten Suiastera and the album would have turned out better than the original, but I was not up for it at the time. I was musically broken. I haven’t written a song since this incident. It was pretty devastating. There was a third album that I had just started titled Planemo, but it all stopped.
I have no regrets, but if I could go back in time I would tell myself to rewrite the album and stop being a quitter. In realty, I was also dealing with an increasingly busy accounting career and that played a role too. On the side I was interviewing bands for Hollywood Music TV, which kept me around cool people, lots of concerts and famous musicians. That was a good segue out of music since I also acted as their CFO.
Below is the first single from Suistera titled “anyotherWAY.” This would have been a hit if this had gone to the studio for proper vocal recording and mastering. Still very proud of the music and lyrics.
It’s Not Over
That ends the past. I have molted out of that lifestyle, but if I said there wasn’t a creative void in my life then I would be lying. Today, I have a small home studio and my dream electronic drum kit. I make music for myself. Usually more sections or pieces than full compositions or songs. I loved every moment of my rockstar life and it’s not over.
One of the coolest things in the manmade world is when a nerd and a little electricity can create a wall of sound that can sonically activate a room of thousands. That is the most powerful feeling to me and anyone else who has been in that position. Nothing better.
When I create new music, I will release it here first! As they say, stay tuned.